Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

April 2004


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April 1
Cover Picture
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Long March Take 2
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25 Years Ago
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Nature Notes

The Spring cuckoo’s month and the Roman Aperilis – from aperio, to open or display: the month when the earth opens.  

As I write this month’s notes we have just had a stormy weekend with very high winds, and on Friday morning we were woken by the wind rattling our bedroom window at about 5.30 am, but the wind wasn’t the only noise we heard.  There was a continuous loud solitary bird song although there was barely a glimmer of light.  It was in fact a mistle thrush.  It is a noticeable feature of this bird’s behaviour that, unlike most other birds who seek shelter from stormy weather, this bird seems to be stimulated by approaching storms and will sing or call lustily before and during bad weather.  As a solitary singer it is particularly conspicuous  and is often referred to as the stormcock or storm thrush.  It has been heard singing during a driving snowstorm.  Not normally an aggressive bird, it is fearless in defence of its nest and will drive off marauding jackdaws and rooks and will even attack and beat off a kestrel or sparrowhawk.  It is larger than the song thrust, greyer in appearance and the breast markings are more blotched and spotted, which is nicely described in another local name – the marbled thrush.  We were particularly delighted to hear this song bird because like its cousin the song thrush, numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years, thought to be related to the loss of damp ditches and field margins where the birds find much of their food.

While walking down the long meadow below the church the other morning, my attention was drawn to movement in the group of Ash trees as you enter the field, and saw a grey squirrel which seemed unaware of my presence.  I then noticed a second squirrel sitting on a higher branch.  The first squirrel, which I presume to be a male, started an amazing “trapeze act”, spinning, turning, and doing a fantastic tail waving display which was obviously his courtship tactics.  Although most people look on the squirrel as an endearing creature, it is in fact an American alien and spread in the 1920s from the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park .  It is now so widespread and destructive that it is often referred to as the “tree rat”.  It eats young shoots, buds, roots, bulbs, eggs and even fledglings, and it can also ring strip the bark on a tree, eventually killing it.  I’m afraid unlike out gentle indigenous and now rare red squirrel, the grey does need controlling, and Frank, our large black cat has done his bit to make amends for the occasional bird he catches by killing (don’t ask me how because he is fat and not very agile) no less than three grey squirrels.

April is the first month of spring, and with it comes the cuckoo.  This migratory bird from Africa will leave the south of France on or about 21 March and since the 17th century seems to arrive on the south cost of England on 15 April, reaching the Midlands by 20 April.  However, apparently global warming in the northern hemisphere over the last two years had advanced nature by two to three days, so listen out for that first cuckoo from the 15th onwards.  And remember, folklore says that when you hear the first call, turn your money over in your pocket so you won’t be short of it for the rest of the year.

With April comes Easter, so here is an Easter recipe from “The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, opened 1669”:

To make an Eastertide Tansy take three pints of cream, fourteen new laid eggs (the whites of seven putt away), one pint of juice of Spinnach, six or seven spoonfuls of juice of Tansy, a Nutmeg (or two) grated small, half a pound of sugar, a little salt.  Beat all well together, then fry it is a pan with no more Butter than is necessary.  When it is enough serve it up with juice of orange or slices of lemon upon it.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: June 04, 2004