Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Scene from nature


Blithe as the lark on Summer’s morn,
When green and yellow waves the corn,
When harebells blow in every grove,
And thrushes sing, “I love! I love!”—Rogers.


I love a green and smiling copse; I love the primrose and blue-bells which flourish in it; I love the warbling of the birds, and the cawing of the rooks. Even the various mosses and fungi have charms for me, as I wander under the shade of the trees. Then the wood-pigeons coo their notes of love, or sometimes take alarm, and their loud flapping flight is heard as they move to settle on some distant tree. I hear the wailing of the nightingale as I approach her nest,—one of those unmistakeable sounds which denote fear: “her wail resounds,” as Thomson notices, for he lived, and wrote, and died in the haunts of that bird. At a short distance the male pours forth his song, “more sweet than all,” with all its modulations and changes, in this leafy copse. It is, however, “when all the woods are still,” that his song is heard in all its beauty; for then he strains his little throat, as he answers a rival, with all the enthusiasm of love and jealousy. Sweet bird! how beautifully has the good Walton, in his charming pastoral, described “the doubling and redoubling of your voice and your sweet descant.”

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But now I hear the wild cry of the green wood-pecker, who, as Mr. White of Selborne remarked, seems to laugh at all the world. The jay, with its harsh note, appears to give the alarm of approaching danger, for I see the rabbits scud towards their holes on hearing it. I like the jay, for he is not only a pretty but an affectionate bird, living lovingly in one family till the next breeding-season. They are, however, sadly persecuted by keepers—for what reason I know not. The jackdaw, that cunning bird, has, I see, a nest in a hole of that old and gnarled pollarded beech-tree, setting marauding boys at defiance. He is no great favourite of mine, though I like to hear his tenor when mixed with a flock of rooks, or when he caws on the projections of a church tower. In fact, I am sorry to say, he is a great thief. I would forgive him for pecking up the seeds of my French and broad-beans, and for other depredations in my garden, but he not only steals the eggs from the nests of my blackbirds and thrushes, but only yesterday he destroyed three half-grown young ones to feed his own brood, who, in time, will be as bad as himself.

See that little creeper (Certhia familiaris), how actively it runs over the rough bark of the trees, by means of its sharp claws and stiff tail-feathers, in search of insects. It sees me, and is in an instant behind the tree. The wren, also, “pipes his lay,” and, with the activity of a mouse, hides himself in yonder bush. The shrill note of the nuthatch is heard. It is a favourite of mine, for all its actions are peculiar and amusing. Sir William Jardine informs us that, when roosting, it sleeps with its back and head downwards.

But among the sounds I hear in the copse let me not forget to mention the cuckoo—for,

In May
He sings all day.

What pleasing associations do his notes produce in the spring! From the peasant boy to the steady old labourer, from the milkmaid to the queen, by rich and poor, it is heard with delight as the harbinger of fine weather, and as one of our most joyous rural sounds.

Hark! the cuckoo’s sprightly note,
That tells the coming of the vernal prime,
And cheers the heart of youth and aged man.
Say, sweet stranger, whence hast thou ta’en thy flight?

But it is time to quit the copse and return homewards: but before I do so I must visit the little brook that runs through the lower part of it, and listen to the pleasing notes of the sedge-warbler, and also of my favourite blackcap, who generally haunts this secluded part of the wood. He is, in my opinion, but little inferior to the nightingale, having a great variety of sweet and imitative notes.

My way home leads me over a wild heath (my scene is taken from nature in one of the beechen copses of Buckinghamshire), and there the plover—

her airy scream,
Circling, repeats, then to a distance flies,
And, querulous, still returns, importunate.
If man intrude upon her bleak domain,
Clamouring loud, close at his feet she skims,
With wing fluttering, as if impeded by a wound. J. Grahame.

It is indeed an interesting sight to watch the cunning, indeed bold artifices to which this bird resorts to draw off intruders from her nest. I would not hurt thee, poor bird! but will retire to my home as quickly as possible to remove all thy fears and anxieties. I will only add, in the words of Mr. Rogers,—

Dear is this woodland to the murmuring bees;
And all, who know it, come and come again.

E. Jesse.