Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

August 2005


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Nature Watch

In Gaelic An Lugnasda – the month of Lammas festival.

Firstly, let me thank my good friend and neighbour Old Muckraker for standing in for me while I was on holiday.  By golly he does see some strange things.

Fantastic news for Oxhill.  We have had a Barn owl successfully rear one (or maybe two?) young in the roof of our church.  The congregation have been very aware of this as the young Barn owl in its cry for food makes quite a fearsome hissing noise.  If you ever hear this noise coming from inside a hollow tree (their usual nesting site) it will send quite a shiver up your spine.  At dusk we watched as the adult returned with food, but it was cautious and sat on the church roof for some minutes before entering to feed the young.  While the adult was away, the hissing would continue and occasionally a white face would lean out to look round, and although we were very quiet and still, it would spot us and duck back in.  The adult birds have been seen during the day hunting the fields around the village.  The Barn owl population in Britain has dropped dramatically in recent years from an estimated 12,000 pairs at the beginning of the 20th century.  The British Trust for Ornithology and The Owl Trust have been looking into this drop in numbers and the loss of old barns and farmyards is certainly one of the contributing factors.  However, at a national meeting in 2000, the Barn owl was said to have been “pulled back from the brink of extinction”.  By the time you read this the young will have flown, and of course the nesting site is protected by law.  We now have at least five birds of prey nesting and breeding within our parish boundary, tawny owl, barn owl, kestrel, sparrowhawk and buzzard.

Last month while walking at the bottom of Manor Lane very early one morning I surprised from the hedge a Hobby (Falco subbuteo), which is a summer visitor to Britain (although I believe that some do stay through the winter now).  About kestrel size, it is dark grey above and pale underneath and has a shorter tail than a kestrel.  In flight it has sickle-shaped wings and looks like a large swift.  It will prey on swallows and martins but also takes large insects.  It used to be one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey, but in recent years it appears to be on the increase.  It used only to be seen in open countryside close to woodlands, but there are now reports of them from all sorts of countryside.  As a prelude to hunting, the hobby will sit in a hedge or a tree (it is sometimes known as a Tree falcon) and will then take off and fly about in an apparently casual fashion.  Then with extreme suddenness and speed it will streak forward like a bolt from a bow into a flock of swallows or martins to make its kill.  A friend of mine says he has seen, in their breeding season, hobbies exchanging the “kill” while in flight; presumably the more successful hunter carries on hunting while the partner feeds.

As this particular hobby took off from the hedge I watched over the top of the hedge as it flew straight and fast across the next stubble field, and as it passed, several lapwings rose into the air giving alarm cries.  The hobby ignored them and flew on and the lapwings settled down again.  I observed the lapwings over the next few days and saw three pairs nesting on the open stubble.  I could see at least one young bird.  One morning as I watched, a pair of crows flew over and then returned and settled on the ground close to one nest.  Instantly all six adult lapwings appeared and started the most amazing “aerial bombardment” of the crows – on some dives I could actually hear the lapwings hitting the crows.  The crows quickly got fed up with this and flew away.  Unfortunately a few days after this encounter the field was sprayed and ploughed – I hope there were no eggs left and any young offspring were able to make an escape, especially as I haven’t seen lapwings nesting around Oxhill for many years.

On August 9th observe the Harvest Moon:  “The moon doth always piss when she is pale, when red she farts: when white, she wipes her tail.  Countrymen observe as a certain rule, that a dripping moon (that is, perpendicular) presages wet, especially the moon being of a cloudy and blackish colour in a clear sky; and that the weather will last so a good while”. – Aubrey “Observations” c. 1865.

August 10th is our own St Lawrence’s Day, the Cooks’ festival.  “On this day in 1787 died at Bolton in Lancashire the Reverend Richard Godwin of Gateacre.  His death is supposed to have been occasioned by eating too large a quantity of Plums, the preceding day, after dinner” – The Derby Mercury, 1787.

Grenville Moore

(And there was me thinking all these years that Subbuteo was just a tabletop football game.  It's terrible how such ignorant people can still rise to the dizzy heights of Editorship.  Ed.)

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Last modified: August 05, 2005