Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

January 2005


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Nature Notes

January 6 is Twelfth day of Christmas, or Christmas Day old style (the Julian calendar was changed in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII to the new style or Gregorian calendar, correcting a solar error by missing ten days).  This was once the most festive day of the Twelve Days, its celebrations being ruled by the King of the Bean and the Queen of the Pea – respectively the man and woman who found the concealed bean and pea in their piece of Twelfth Cake.  It the woman chanced on the bean however, she could choose the King; whilst a man who got the pea could select the Queen.

I was pleased the other day to see a Jay (Garrulus glandarius).  Although a common British bird it is the most arboreal of the crow family and the most retiring in its native habitat, but with the leaves now off the trees you are more likely to see one.  In the summer months you are far more likely to hear its formidable screech, its Gaelic name Schreachag choille means “screamer of the woods”.  Colloquial names include devil scritch, scold, blue jay, and in the Midlands jay pie, referring to its colouring, pink-brown with a striking white rump, black tail and eye-catching blue wings with black bars.  The Jay is omnivorous and in spring will readily raid nests (as will its close relative the Magpie) for eggs or fledglings.  It used to be a bird of farmland, but they now seem to favour parks and gardens and breeding Jays are now found in all the London parks.  In the West Country they were known as Oak Jackdaws as they are particularly partial to acorns and to beech mast, the second part of its Latin name “glandarius” means precisely that – eating acorns and beech mast.  It has long been thought that the Jay has played a great part in the spreading of oak forests through its habit of burying acorns for a food larder.  Due to its habit of taking eggs and fledglings and particularly those of game birds it was considered “fair game” by gamekeepers and countrymen, and indeed if you considered yourself a true countryman it was almost “de rigeur” to wear the blue wing feathers in your hatband.

At the moment my early morning dog walk is taken in the dark, and most morning will hear the “keer-it, keer-it” of the grey or English partridge and the “chick chick chickar” of the French or red-leg partridge coming from ground level.  I also frequently hear the Tawny owl; the most familiar note is the long quavering hoot and often a sharp “ke-wick”.  These two notes are the origin of the traditional tu-whit tu-whoo, usually done from separate birds communication, one tu-whits followed immediately by the other’s tu-whoo.  The other morning I could hear no less than three Tawnies, all calling to each other.  Walking home just as the first light was rising over Edgehill, I became aware or a raucous scolding which I knew was a crow, but why was this calling in the dark?  Standing still this noise moved closer and closer to me until suddenly over the hedge came a Tawny owl with the said crow in hot pursuit.  In the half light I watched them jinx, dive and swerve until the owl was obviously out of the crow’s patch, whereupon the crow flew back to where it had come from and arriving back in the trees behind the Old Rectory was greeted by what I can only describer as a chattering applause by its comrades!

January 21 is St Agnes’ Day, and the sun enters the House of Aquarius.  In the Kalendar of Shepheards, 1604, women born under the sign of Aquarius are described:  “The woman shall be delicious, and have many noises for her children; she shall be in great peril at twenty-four years, and thereafter in felicity.  She shall have damage by beasts with four feet; she shall live seventy-seven years after nature. “

In the History of Four-footed Beasts 1607, for the months of January and February it states “Keep good watchdogs about you these dark nights ….. these dogs ought to be black-coloured and great mouthed for barking bigly, so that he may terrify the thief both night and day”.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: December 29, 2004