Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

July 2006

This months News



Nature Notes

The month of haymaking, in Gaelic Am mios buidhe – the yellow month.

Apologies for missing June nature notes – we were having a nice wet, windy and cold summer break in Pembrokeshire – where I also had a “first”.  The cottage we rent is next to a marshy rough area with dense reed beds, and on the second night we were treated to a strange and mysterious reeling song.  My first thought was that it was crickets or grasshoppers.  The song continued and I realised it was a Grasshopper warbler (Locustella naevia).  The bird has various names, grasshopper lark, reeler, and cricket bird, and the Latin name Locustella means “little locust”.  The song is very like a continuous cricket call, and it has also been likened to spinning wheels and the winding of a fishing reel and apparently can carry for over half-a-mile.  Eric Simms (distinguished BBC wildlife sound recordist and naturalist) studied the song in detail and calculated that it ranged between 3.3 and 7 kHz, a frequency often beyond the capacity of the older human ear (we could hear it!!).  He also estimated that it included 1400 double notes a minute, while a bird can sing 250,000 notes during the course of a single night.  Indeed our bird on several nights sang well after dark and I suspect it was only the cold and rain that stopped it.  It is found throughout the British Isles, but its numbers have declined substantially, mainly through loss of habitat.  It is a highly secretive bird and apparently few people ever manage to see one.  We spotted ours twice and it really is a LBJ (little brown job) and kept itself in the reed beds for the week we were there.

Staying on the subject of bird song, I’m sure those of you living in the centre of the village can’t have missed the continuous song of a Song thrush.  This is good news; for the last few years we have had only the occasional thrush.  I hope their numbers in the village are increasing.  The Song thrush was recently voted Britain’s favourite songbird and our ancestors clearly shared the opinion, because in the 1860s British settlers took Song thrushes with them to the Antipodes.  It spread quickly and widely into New Zealand and is now one of the commonest garden birds throughout both main islands, and also occurs  on some smaller islands.  Our Song thrush sings morning, noon and evening, often the first bird to open its beak – at 20 minutes past 3 one morning! and is also usually the last.  The song is sweet and loud, will full-tones clear notes, scattered with repeats and “ornaments” giving the impression that it is created of happiness, pure and simple.  The Song thrush improves its song year by year as it reaches maturity.  It has been estimated that an individual has about 100 different phrases to draw upon, which it does at random and then repeats each unit three or four times.  In the 1920s Lord Grey notes that one common phrase resembles “did-he-do-it”.  Our bird has two phrases we recognise instantly – “Doreen-Doreen-Doreen” and “Hoovie-Hoovie-Hoovie”.  It is said that some of their repertoire resembles human phrases and they will also pick up on other bird notes, and even man-made objects like trim-phones!

“That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!”

The name can be traced back to the fourteenth century where it comes from thrustle or throstle and it has strong links with the Midlands.  It was used by the Warwickshire poet Michael Drayton in the sixteenth century – “the jocund throstle”.  It also appears on the badge of West Bromwich Albion Football Club and is the club’s mascot; the supporters club is still known as The Throstles.

In the last 25 years Song thrushes have declined to just 1.4 million pairs.  A widespread threat to the bird is the widespread use of pesticides in gardens, especially slug pellets.  The continuing survival of “Britain’s favourite songbird” lies in our own hands.

I was both cheered and saddened (if that’s not a paradox) to see a pair of Kestrels had nested in the roof vent of the Church.  I watched one young bird being fed mice early one morning as it sat on the ridge tiles.  They have now all flown and I am hoping that the Barn owls will still have time to come and once again rear some young, but as yet I have seen no signs.  Perhaps one of the congregation will let me know if the hear that eerie “hissing from above”.

July 10 – village feasts fairs and revels now frequent.  “This is to give notice that Yattendon Revel will be kept on 10 of July, and for the encouragement of gentlemen, gamesters and others, there will be given an exceedingly good Gold-laced Hat of 27s value, to be played for at Cudgels, the man that breaks most heads to have the prize.  Two shillings will be given to each man that positively breaks a head, for the first ten heads that are broke; the blood to run an inch, or will be deemed No Head.” – Advertisement in the Reading Mercury 1782.

Perhaps this could be included in the Scarecrow Festival next year!

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: July 03, 2006