Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

February 2005


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Nature Notes

The month of Purification, in Anglo-Saxon Solmonath, the month of cakes, now offered to the gods.  The first day of February is also St Bride’s day whose Pagan namesake and predecessor was the Celtic goddess Brigit and her feast day known as Imbolc is the Celtic feast of Spring’s awakening.  On this mystic day adders were believed to abandon their winter lairs and the oyster catcher (bird) – called in Gaelic Gille Brighde, “the servants of Bride” – made their appearance bringing Spring with them.  Well, I’m sure no self-respecting adders would venture out on the cold days we are experiencing at the moment, but February/March is when they usually start to come out of hibernation, and on a warm sunny spring day they can be seen basking in groups.  I have seen grass snakes around Oxhill, but never an adder, although we did meet a walker two summers ago who had seen one basking on the footpath across the large arable field behind Back Lane.  Don’t be frightened of adders; they are more frightened of you and in most cases will be long gone before you arrive.  They can sense vibration and movement.  They do have a poisonous bite, but there has been no death from an adder bite in Britain for over 20 years, and the only vulnerable people are the very young, the very old, or those already in poor health.

Talking of Spring, the Corvid family (crows, rooks, jackdaws, ravens, jays, magpies and choughs) are generally the first group of birds to start mating and paring.  Crows, ravens and rooks start displaying during January and February.  When walking down Church Meadow recently my eye was caught by a group of Carrion crows and I saw three birds break away from the group and start twisting, diving and soaring in typical mating behaviour.  Two of the crows locked their feet together and with wings flapping began a downward tumble and as they neared the ground they released their claws and flew off together making a “kaah, kaah, kaah” noise.  I have read that ravens have been seen doing this mating performance, but never crows.  These three birds I am sure would have been last year’s birds, two male and one female, as once a partner has been found and the birds paired, they stay together for life.  Even when not performing their mating display they are well worth watching because outside courtship, I believe they are the only group of birds that actually play in flight, giving us some spectacular aerial displays.  They are also certainly one of the most intelligent group of birds.  In certain parts of London crows have been noted standing on the pavement around traffic lights.  They fetch walnuts from the parks and put them on the road.  The cars crush the nut shells and when the lights turn to red, the crows hop out and pick the kernels from the crushed shells, retreating when the lights turn green.  

Tradition has it that 14 February is the day that birds begin to pair off and this seems to have been the reason why this day has become the festival for lovers.  Certainly the two Saints Valentine commemorated this day have nothing to do with romance.

                   “Oft have I heard both youths and virgins say
                   Birds chose their mates, and couple too, today
                   But by their flight I never can divine
                   When I shall couple with my Valentine”

Herrick: Hesperides 1648

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: January 30, 2005