Oxhill News

www.oxhill.com / www.oxhill.org.uk

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

June 2005


This months News
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005


Coventry Cathedral
July Issue
Cover Picture
Chernobyl's Children
Hell and Back
Nature Notes
Service Times
Festival Choir
PCC Meeting
The Jephsons
Scarecrow Weekend
Parish Council
Plant Stall
Car Boot Sale
Garden Club
WI Report
Shipston Deanery
Volunteer 2005
Old Fire Station
Compton Verney

Back ] Next ]

Nature Notes

The midsummer month, in Gaelic – An t’Og Mhios, the young month.

I was recently asked how I seem to see all these wonderful birds and animals in and around Oxhill.  It’s not so much in the looking or seeing, it often comes down to listening, especially picking up on bird’s alarm calls that herald some sort of intruder.  Also at this time of year we have the dawn chorus with birds singing their hearts out in mating rituals or territory declaration, and the squawking of fledglings left to wait in trees and hedges while the parents go in search of food.  When walking in the early morning I will always take a few minutes just to stand still to listen and watch (which always baffles the dogs).  I had a very good naturalist friend who always said “If you sit or stand still for long enough, something interesting always comes by” and he was right.

To me the most evocative sound of an English summer is surely the song of the skylark.  If you take a walk down Manor Lane to the bottom where the set aside fields are you will have the pleasure of being able to listen to this beautiful sound of summer.  The word “lark” is an ancient name traceable to Old English and simply means “little song”.  The skylarks’ song starts the moment it leaves the ground (it is a ground nesting bird) and its delivery continues non stop as it rises higher, often becoming just a small dot in the sky.  Here it will hover with small rapid wing movements still singing.  This song can easily be heard from the ground even when the bird is virtually out of sight and lasts on average about three to four minutes, but apparently full-scale oratories of an hour or more have been known.  As the song finishes the lark descends quite rapidly by “parachuting” with the wings extended and the feathers opened out, rather like an umbrella and the bird gently falls to the ground, whereupon it usually starts the whole routine again.  Many poets and writers have eulogised the skylark’s song.  Wordsworth wrote:

There is a madness about thee, and joy divine
In that song of thine;
Lift me, guide me, high and high,
To thy banqueting place in the sky

But it took a composer, Vaughan Williams, in his quintessential romance The Lark Ascending to come as close to evoking the real bird song as anything composed before or since.

Considering that from earliest times larks have given us so much pleasure, we have in the past treated them rather badly.  Larks like other singing birds were prized as cage birds and it was not so long ago that caged larks were cruelly blinded in the barbarous belief that they sang better and louder with their eyes put out.  They were caught in large numbers by laying out on the ground small mirrors, or “alarking glass” and when they came to investigate, nets were sprung.  Not only were they kept for cage birds but also for falconry where they would be released for merlins to pursue, but by far the biggest use was culinary, especially in France, for lark pie.  Apparently they quite a distinct flavour of their own.  Until mid-century they were sent to London markets in thousands, but were not considered fit for roasting unless they weighted 1¼ oz each.  Larks in aspic were still a favourite at May week dances, both at Oxford and Cambridge, up to about 1925 and were also associated with hunt ball menus until the 1940s when they seemed to go out of fashion, probably due to the expense and labour of dressing and boning them.  I have a book published in 1952 The Master Book of Poultry and Game by Henry Smith that has no less than 21 recipes for lark!

I do urge you to go down Manor Lane to listen to this bird of summer, for in many counties you would be unable to as they have vanished.  Since the early 1970s the skylark population has dropped by a dramatic 65% which seems to be in response to changes in farming practice including a decline in mixed farming and rotational cropping and an increase in autumn sowing.  However, recent trials have revealed that if a square of land approximately 25 square metres, the size of an average living room, is seeded and left wild in the centre of most large fields, the current skylark population would increase by about 25% - 50% in just two years.

11 June is St Barnabas’ Day.  St Barnabas is invoked as a peacemaker and for the amicable settling of disputes.  In the pre-1752 “old style” calendar his feast fell 11 days later and then coincided with the summer solstice, hence the rhyme:

Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright
Light all day and light all night

On this day it was customary to deck churches and houses with Barnaby garlands of roses and sweet woodruff.

Grenville Moore

This site is maintained by villagers of Oxhill for the benefit of the community and those interested in the history, news and activities that make the village such a pleasant place to live.

Send mail to the editor of the Oxhill News at news-editor @ oxhill.org.uk.

©2005 Oxhill Village (Terms and Conditions of use)

Last modified: May 30, 2005