Oxhill News

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

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

February 2004


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Nature Notes

The month of Purification – named from Februa, the great Roman feast of purification.  In Gaelic Faoilleach – the month of ravaging wolves!!

As I write these notes, I have been taking part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, which is spending an hour watching the birds in your garden and making a total count of each type of bird at any one time, thus ensuring that you do not count a bird twice.  I am struck by the relatively high numbers of House sparrows.  Sparrows were for many years among the commonest British birds and the most frequent visitors to garden bird tables.  However in reality House sparrow populations have plummeted in recent years, for reasons not yet understood, possibly loss of food sources, nesting sites and changes in habitat, and numbers are down around 40%, so they are no longer everyday birds.  Perhaps the reason we have a good count of them in our garden is the bird “Hilton”, a fallen damson tree covered with honeysuckle and a rambling rose, now a thicket 12 to 15 feet high and a bird heaven.  We also have four or five pairs of House sparrows nesting under the eaves (probably due to lack of pointing!).  We also have the so-called “hedge sparrow”, in fact the Dunnock, unrelated to the sparrows.  “Spearwa” was the Old English name for sparrows and the two true sparrows were not recognised in Britain until the early eighteenth century when the Tree sparrow, first called the Mountain sparrow, was acknowledge as a distinct species.  The Tree sparrow is a bird of open woodland and areas of scattered trees and is slightly smaller than the House sparrow.  The main distinguishing feature is the white neck with a bold black patch on the cheek/ear area.  This species has declined even more dramatically than the House sparrow, by over 60%.  I did not see one around Oxhill last year.  By the way, for those of you puzzled by “Scalloped rust cola” in last month’s nature notes, I am afraid that the phantom spellchecker had been at work and this should of course have been Scolopax rusticola.

To those of you owning a dog or thinking of purchasing one – a cautionary tale.  Most dogs are bred for a specific purpose, for example guarding and utility (doberman), going to ground (all types of terrier), sight-hunting (greyhound, deerhounds), scent-hunting and retrieving (labradors, spaniels), companions (dalmations, pugs etc) and herding (collies).  This means that for hundreds of years they have been bred to do specific tasks and their instincts can easily be awakened: gundogs will hunt cover, sight hounds will chase, terriers will go to ground, and herding dogs will herd.

Our dog Alice is a longdog (a cross between a greyhound and another sight-hound, probably a borzoi).  She came from Birmingham Dog’s Home, so we do not know her breeding, but all sight-hounds or gaze-hounds have incredibly long sight and can easily define a hare 300 yards away.  If they lose sight of their quarry (i.e. it goes through a hedge) they stop coursing.  This week Alice put up a muntjac and proceeded to chase it down the village street.  Fortunately the muntjac made good its escape, but we will be on guard in future.

February is the month of snow:

Walk fast in snow
In frost walk slow
When frost and snow are together
Sit by the fire and save shoe leather

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: June 04, 2004