Nuthatch Grove

You know how in films and dramas, when someone is being hypnotised or perhaps is talking to a psychiatrist, they will be asked to think of some calm and quiet place which they liked or where they felt at peace?  Well, if I was asked that question, Nuthatch Grove might be the place I would withdraw to in my mind.

Of course it’s not officially called Nuthatch Grove, that’s just my own name for it.  I know exactly where it is, but perhaps I’d better not tell, because I wouldn’t want the hordes of people who might read this (!!) to flock there and make it busier than it already is.  I shall merely indicate that it is located in the South of England, within a particularly large and attractive landscaped garden which is open to the public.  If you go down a particular pathway, and then take a fork to the right, through the woods and along the side of a hill, you come to this particular place.

It is essentially a clearing in the woods, or not even that, because there are still trees above and all around you.  It’s just a place where the pathway broadens out, and there is a bench under a tree, and in front of you a little fence or railing, beyond which is a delightful view – of a valley full of woodland and rocks and interesting plants.

You must come there with me in your mind!  Take a seat on the bench, look around and absorb the atmosphere.

There are no major roads nearby, so you will not hear any traffic noise.  You may hear the rustle of the wind in the trees, or the sound of various birds calling in the woods.  Depending on the time of year, you might hear a mysterious plopping sound behind you, which will be the fruit of a huge tree dropping periodically to the ground with a little thud and a bounce.  If it’s very still, you may hear the sound of rushing water from a stream down in the valley.

But the main feature of what there is to experience here, is what there is to see.  In the vista before you there may be glorious flowering rhododendrons and azaleas, or later in the year beautifully coloured autumn foliage.  But it’s within the grove that magic unfolds, because of the visiting wildlife!

Food is put out here for the birds.  It is scattered on the ground, under the bushes, but also along the top of the fence and at several special bird tables, and sometimes fruit and nuts are suspended from the branches right in front of the bench.

Two types of birds visit.  Firstly, pheasants and sometimes smaller partridges.  Nearly always there will be two or three golden pheasant males slowly pacing and pecking about under the bushes, with maybe four or five females quietly shadowing them.  It’s a joy to suddenly see the pheasants arriving, tentatively picking their way towards the food, maybe glancing up at you, more with curiosity than trepidation.  Occasionally they will call out, their harsh croak echoing through the woods, sometimes answered from a distance.

Sit quietly with me and watch them – count how many you see over a period of time.  I won’t be surprised if we see as many as ten pheasants.  Their presence is reliable, they are nearly always here, pecking around under the bushes.

But the small birds!!  The scattered food attracts them in large numbers.  They flit and fly about right in front of you, the air humming with the sound of their wings.  Nowhere else in England do I know or have ever been where there are quite as many wild birds flying around in a small space.  Maybe some people witness such activity in their gardens, but I still doubt anyone has as many in their garden as there are here in the woods.  It’s like sitting in an aviary!

You will see lots of blue tits and great tits, also the rarer types of tits, long-tailed and the little white and brown coal tits.  Several robins will be present, and without doubt you will see a chaffinch or two, maybe some bullfinches and greenfinches as well.  I virtually guarantee a wren.  And – to me the most unusual and interesting visitor – the nuthatch.

This is such an easy to recognise bird, with its unusual shape of head and beak, and lovely gentle pinky colouring.  It is always pictured facing downwards in drawings and guidebooks, and sure enough on my first visit not one but two land on the tree trunk right behind me, dutifully facing downwards and jumping slowly down across the silvery bark.

They also land on the bird tables, though, taking their turn with their fellows.  I am so chuffed to see them.  I have never seen one before and though apparently they are common, it’s quite a rare event for a city dweller like me to observe these beautiful creatures so close and so clearly.

I have been back to this clearing two or three times, and always seen nuthatches, hence to me it has become Nuthatch Grove.

On a summer Saturday it can be quite busy, as there are lots of visitors to these gardens and many people walk down this way, presumably to see the birds, same as me.  It can be difficult to get to sit on the bench, and harder still to experience a moment of private communion with the birdlife.  But on a quiet weekday morning, then you can sit alone and watch nature at its gentlest and best!  Then you can rest and reflect, and wait and watch, marvelling at the number and variety of little avian visitors, and feeling that sense of peace from having nothing around you but nature, no sound in your ears but the gentle rustle of the pheasants in the undergrowth and the flurry of little birds’ wings in the air all around you, as chaffinches and robins and nuthatches swoop down from the trees where they gather to partake of what must be a reliable feast.

Sometimes, if I can’t sleep at night, I transport myself to Nuthatch Grove in my mind, imagining what it must be like there at night – so quiet and still and scary!  Maybe in the night-time foxes and badgers and deer visit.  It’s such a magical place, I wouldn’t be surprised if magical creatures were spotted there – I’m sure they have been in some child’s imagination, anyway.

Is that a unicorn peering out from behind a tree trunk, with moonlight glistening on its horn?  Is that a centaur stepping slowly down the path?  Did you see that little elf perched on the edge of the bird table, scooping up peanuts?  And what’s that strange glow coming from the rocks in the valley – are the fairies gathering for a celebration?

Well, thanks for visiting Nuthatch Grove with me, but I’d better let you get off now!  The psychiatrist will be wondering what on earth is going on!

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