Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

August 2008

This months News



Nature Notes

Let’s hope August brings us some hot days – we certainly deserve some warm weather.  However, gentlemen who are of a thin thatch, like myself, should always wear a hat, although you could try this cure from Edward Potter’s Phisicke Book (1610) “To remedy baldness of the head.  Take a quantity of Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum) and put it on kindled coal to bur; and being made into powder, mix it with the oil of radishes and anoint the bald place, and you shall see great experience.”  Hmm – definitely worth trying for the ‘great experience’.

Some weeks ago we were having a drink with some friends in a pub garden at Wichford, and just a couple of feet away from us was a fir tree.  My friend suddenly said “Oh look, is that a mouse”.  Something very small was moving in the lower branches just feet away from us, and then we saw it, a Goldcrest Regulus regulus.  Gold-crested wren, Golden wren, Tidley finch, Wood titmouse, Miller’s thumb, all are local names that make reference to its diminutive size.  Along with the Firecrest, it is the smallest bird to be found in the British Isles; in fact the smallest across the whole northern hemisphere.  It is a mere nine centimetres and there are at least four adult Goldcrests to the ounce (28 g).  It is a very pretty little bird with distinctive head markings: orange-yellow in the male; lemon yellow in the female, offset by a line of black.  This insectivorous bird spends most of its time in conifer forests.  They tend to prefer the canopy and you will hear groups of them moving from tree to tree, but can rarely see them.  W.H. Hudson describes the song as “the smallest of small songs, two notes, almost identical in tone, repeated rapidly without variation, two or three times, ending with a slight quaver, scarcely audible on the last note”.   On a personal level I am pleased I can still hear these little birds because it is said that the call notes are “a useful standard to test one’s hearing, as it is said to be the first song that old age loses”.  They also nest quite high in the fir trees; apparently the nest is a tiny cuplet of moss and spiders’ webs, regularly overtopped with a layer of tiny insulating feathers, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful nests made by any British bird.

Another amazing thing about this tiny bird is its endurance and capacity to cross the North Sea during migration from Northern Europe.  This migration starts towards the end of Autumn, and on the Yorkshire coast it is said to precede the Woodcock migration by just a couple of days, which gave rise to its local name of Woodcock Pilot.  The name Tot o’er Seas comes from the coast of East Anglia and there are records of these tired little birds landing on people and instead of flying away in surprise, proceed to pick among the fabric of their clothes for any tasty morsel.  We watched our Goldcrest for about five to ten minutes as it flitted about picking insects off the lower branches just feet away from us, with no sign of fear, a real treat to watch.

You may recall me writing about unimproved grasslands and watching a Barn Owl hunt, catch and eat a rodent, up to seven Roe deer grazing and lying up – these meadows are now becoming a thing of the past, a rarity.  They are a rich source of fauna and flora and very important to our eco system.  I am talking about one of my favourite fields, halfway between Oxhill and Whatcote on the right.  Earlier this year, the beautiful mellow yellow of the cowslips carpeted that field – well now it’s totally a flat dull brown, no green, no wild flowers, no eight or nine different grasses, no insects, no birds, certainly no Barn Owl coursing the grass tops, no deer, just dead - sprayed with weedkiller.  I want to weep!

On a cheerier note, August 5 is “Oyster Day” – definitely one of my favourite foods, although Samuel Johnson wrote “Twas a brave man that first ate an oyster”

Greengrocers rise at dawn of sun
August the fifth – come haste away
To Billingsgate the thousands run
Tis Oyster Day! Tis Oyster Day!

Every-Day Book 1829

Those who believe that oysters should only be eaten when there is an “r” in the month prefer to wait until 1 September.  It was formerly though anyone who ate an oyster on August 4th would not lack money for the rest of the year.  I must try it.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: July 29, 2008