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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Nature Notes for May.

by M.L.A. (probably Mary Armitt)
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 322


If May comes in with a day of sunshine and suspicious clearness, wind and wet are sure to follow, often accompanied by a touch of cold, which is peculiarly trying to travellers from over seas. In such conditions, birds are not easily recorded, for they keep in shelter and sing but little. However, in the two days prior to May such birds as the Whinchat, the Whitethroat, the Blackcap, are likely to put in an appearance, as well as the Corncrake, and the House-martin; while the Swift and the Sedge-warbler follow soon.

The flowers come quite as fast as the birds. To stand by the flowing beck's side, and see the wealth of them around is not to wonder that poets have raved of May, cold and wet though it may be. Great clumps of Wind Flowers, scarcely withered, all about the meadow; Primroses sprinkled up and down the braes; clustering orange Marigolds "that follow in Spring's footprints"; Ladies' Smocks "all silver white"; Hyacinths that tint the banks, Crab Blossom showering summer snow (and alongside, on the 4th, is real snow on the mountains); racemed Bird-cherry of the hedge; sweet Cecily that makes the ruined cottage corner smell like an apothecary's shop, and good King Henry, with an attendant court of Lords and Ladies by the roadway. These, and more, make the old earth gay. All is verdant but the Ash tree. The Wych-elm even (green this long while, but with the swelling of the big seed so early set) has put forth leaves. The Sycamore is starting the seed. And the birds, in pause of sunshine and quiet, are jocund enough. Throstle and Tree-pipit will sing as if they loved the rain, as the mosses love it, opening their deep-fringed capsules from the wall like hungry mouths. Nesting adventures go forward,--such as do not meet with disaster. Early broods of Throstle, Missel-thrush, and Blackbird are flown by the first days of the month. Many hen Chaffinches still sit; while other birds are not so far. The pair of Marsh-titmice still sport round each other with joyous sounds, their bodies (all but the velvet cap) as ashen grey as the ash bough to which they cling. Earlier migrants are settling into a domestic vein of thought. Paired Willow-warblers, conscious of secret projects, call "hu-id" nervously at the pausing stranger. The Redstart has lost his first electric-alert look, and perches on the low branch, round-backed, and engrossed,--his tail going like the pendulum of a clock from which the weight has been removed. He is really intent upon the hen, hidden by the hedge. She flashes by, to the barn-side, and he after; they play about the face of it, and enter a hole, where no doubt the nest will be. When they emerge, still in perfect silence, she disappears at once (no cloistered nun could keep closer from gaze than the Hen-redstart does now), and he drops in the tree-shadowed road to feed. What does he find there amongst the million beechen bracts that bestrew it with brown?

The Wood-wren is now stationed at the very outposts of the tribe; and as he leans and stretches to take the insect pest from the hanging Oak flowers, he trills his sibilant song. The Whitethroat, after bouncing out of the hedge in bursts of song, makes a supper of what he can get by carefully eyeing the closed bud bunches of Whitethorn. (It was possible, by reaching far and shaking a shower of rain-drops down, to secure an open flower on the 8th; this is wondrously early). And the Whinchat acts after this kind. The birds are present, two pairs of them, about this bed of Sweet Gale that clips the reed-fringe about the tarn. Red-brown is the Gale with fading blossom; white are the old withered reeds; blue is the water within, on this sunny seventh evening of May; and over its surface chase Swifts, then Sand-martins and Swallows. But the Sweet Gale--about whose wet roots the Marsh Violet blossoms--holds more than the Whinchats that perch conspicuously on its tops. A Reed Bunting, unseen within the thicket, twangs a three-noted chord, in tones like a toy harmonicon. A Sedge-warbler is feeding in it too, but says little, till he is frightened out to the reeds. There, low down, he bursts out into a song-protest, his little swelling throat and body straight as a stem between the stems. But he is soon silent; and then a Whinchat begins to imitate him, taking his stand likewise on a reed. But he perches high, with the dry grass head close above him, his legs all astraddle, one up and the other far down. There, with wiry, rasping tones, he does his utmost to beat his model. For the Whinchat, with small powers of song, is ambitious. Even birds try sometimes to do what is beyond them!