Oxhill News

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

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

January 2008

This months News



Nature Notes

January 6th is the twelfth day of Christmas and Christmas Day Old Style.  It is the feast of the Epiphany.

                Now Christmas is past; Twelfth Day is the last
                To the Old Year adieu;  Great joy to the new.

This was once the most festive day of the twelve.  Its celebrations were ruled by the King of the Bean and the Queen of the pea – respectively the man and the woman who found the hidden bean and pea in their slice of Twelfth Cake.  If the woman chanced of the bean, however, she could choose the King, while the man who got the pea could select the Queen.  This custom continued, but in a different form.  When I was a child a silver sixpence was hidden in the Christmas pudding and the recipient would have good luck for the year, made a wish, and also kept the sixpence.  Of course it was always put into the child’s pudding secretly in the kitchen – I suppose it would be a £1 coin today!

Please remember this is the most important time of the year to feed the birds, and also to put out water, especially on frosty days.  In our garden we have several holly bushes and one of them this year was absolutely laden with large red berries, ideal we thought for Christmas decorations, but within one single day the Fieldfares completely stripped every berry, but we don’t begrudge them their Christmas feast.

We also watched with amusement a Great Spotted woodpecker fathoming out, with great acrobatics, how to get seed out of one of our “small bird” feeders.  It is due to large numbers of peanut feeders in gardens that the numbers of Great Spotted woodpeckers have dramatically increased over recent years.  It is estimated that there are 27,000 pairs spread all over the country.  Not only do they raid the bird tables, there are records of them foraging for mussels on the foreshore, eating grain, raiding peas, and stealing the cream from the top of milk bottles.  One was also seen catching sticklebacks, just like a Kingfisher.  They are not averse to raiding nests and nest boxes for young chicks or eggs.  One pair was known to work systematically through a House Martin colony of 35 – 40 nests, hammering holes through the mud cups and seizing about 100 eggs and young to feed to their own chicks.

I have recently heard the familiar “drumming” in the village, which usually doesn’t happen until Spring.  Did you know that woodpeckers make between 5 – 20 strikes per half second, and up until 1942 it was thought the drumming was actually a vocal performance.  It has now been found that woodpeckers have a pad of shock-absorbent tissue between the base of the bill and the skull to neutralise the impact, and apparently research was carried out into this to see if the results could help improve the design of motor-bike crash helmets.

January 11 is Old Style New Year’s Eve, with witches active again after Christmas:

A charm to find who hath bewitched your cattle.  Put a pair of breeches upon the cow’s head and beat her out of the pasture with a good cudgel upon a Friday and she will run right to the witches door and strike thereat with her horns.

The Discovery of Witchcraft 1584.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: January 02, 2008