Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

June 2004


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Nature Notes

The midsummer month, in Anglo-Saxon Litha – the month of the midsummer moon.

Apologies for missing May nature notes, but a holiday in southern Italy is the main excuse.  It was interesting that the dawn chorus was absent in Italy , as were many birds, some of which may have made the journey north for summer.  The Mediterranean male unfortunately has a fondness for shooting or trapping song birds, although this is now illegal in many parts.  I have on one occasion in Greece been offered a tray of deep fried small birds, no larger than a Blue Tit, complete with head and feet.  The taverna owner also showed me a bundle of eagle feathers and made a motion of rubbing his tummy and licking his lips.  I hasten to add we did not take up his offer of a meal.

For the botanists among you, the most interesting find in Italy was the reasonably rare Wavy-leafed Italian Monkey Orchid, one of the Orchis militaris group, which all have large “man” shaped flowers.  It was a beautiful robust plant 20-50 cm tall with blotched violet flowers.  A sub-species grows on Majorca and is called Orchis italica longispenis and I don’t think the variation needs any further explanation!

In April I was walking early one morning along the brook, I was alerted by that glorious haunting call of a Curlew.  Looking up I was pleased to see a pair flying quite low along the line of the brook.  It is a large bird with a long down-curving beak and a voice that has a slightly human quality, some say reminiscent of a lament.  They are easily lured by imitative calls and I called as they flew over and one circled back right over me.  They are birds of moorland and estuaries but have now spread to lower ground and farmland, but as a British breeding bird numbers are declining because of changes in farming practices and the drainage of wetlands.  For many years now, most summers we have had one or two pairs nesting just of the perimeter of the village, and recently I have heard that master of mimic the starling giving a very passable rendition of the Curlew’s call.  Estuary curlews will call at night while feeding, and birds which do this are often accorded a sinister significance.  In the north of England a flock of curlews calling in their eerie, haunting voices was said to presage a death, and as such, flights of the “seven whistlers” were feared.  In Shropshire and Worcestershire it is said that six whistlers search, calling for a lost one, and when they reunite the end of the world will come!  Curlews are also associated with the Gabriel Hounds and the Wild Hunt.  Until the 1960s Curlew were legal quarry for wildfowlers and were referred to as “hen-footed fowl”.  From the 1931 Marsh and Mudlfat “The autumn is the best time for shooting curlew, they are then very good eating and give excellent sport.  September birds should not be skinned but merely drawn, winter birds taste a bit kippery and should be skinned.  Whether in autumn or winter the Curlew provides a good nourishing fare for the humble folk of the shore cottages”.

When I first came to Oxhill I became friends with the late Tom Firman who used in the 1960s to wildfowl with Peter Scott, who of course later became a world renowned naturalist.  Tom once told me “put your Curlew in the oven with a house brick; when the brick is cooked the Curlew’s ready”.

Thankfully this interesting bird is now protected.

A summer warning – remember “Raw cream, eaten with strawberries, is a rural man’s banquet: yet I have known such banquets that put men in jeopardy of their lives, by the excess thereof”

Andrew Boorde – Dietry of Health 1547

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: June 04, 2004