Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

July 2004


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Nature Notes

July – the month of haymaking.  In Gaelic Am mios buidhe – the yellow month.

The other morning I was walking down Back Lane and approached the bridge quietly.  I was pleased to see gliding through the water under the bridge a mallard duck with five ducklings.  When she saw me watching she stopped and ushered her offspring behind her and called with a low-note rapid quacking.  After a few seconds four more ducklings came furiously paddling out from under the bridge and joined the others, and together they slid off in amongst the water weeds and disappeared.  This interested me as I understood birds could not count to more than three; the ducklings under the bridge were certainly not making any sound, and she did appear to check her first contingent and then turn to see where the remainder were.  Nature can always dispel a myth.  Mallard are the largest, most plentiful and most adaptable of all the inland ducks.  Most varieties of domestic duck are derived from the mallard and have had a long and close relationship with man, indeed there are records of the Chinese keeping mallard 2000 years ago.  Even today among many country people and especially wildfowlers the word “mallard” refers only to the male and the word “duck” to the female, and coastal birds are just referred to as “wild duck”.

The other afternoon I was walking down to the long meadow below the church and had just crossed the footbridge when to my left my attention was caught by clouds of butterflies.  Just inside the field there is a patch of thistles which were in flower and the butterflies were going mad for the nectar in the afternoon sun.  I counted five different species; small copper, meadow brown, small skipper, common blue, and ringlet – a wonderful sight.  There are a total of 59 different butterflies in the UK with nearly half being localised, scarce, or very rare.  Around Oxford there are several nature reserves where in the right conditions you could see upwards of 50 of the British butterflies, although obviously not all in one go!  In our garden we have recorded 24 species over the years, so I urge you to leave some nettles and thistles and plant some wild flowers as a nectar source.

Have you noticed how nearly every house in the village has at least one chimney with a pair of jackdaws nesting in it.  These intelligent birds will relentlessly throw sticks down a chimney until one gets lodged which then traps others to make a nest.  But remember to clean your chimney in the autumn to prevent chimney fires – which happened to us last Christmas.  The old name for the bird was Daw  and in the sixteenth century Jack was added – which meant knave and rogue, and the Jackdaw became renowned for its thieving habits.  I was working in a house in Warwick last summer and we heard a kerfuffle and squawk in the chimney, and suddenly a pile of sticks and soot came crashing into the room.  Something shiny caught my eye and among the sticks I found the following: a small piece of silver jewellery chain, a new one penny coin, a milk bottle top, several bits of silver paper, and what looked like a two-inch section of the top of a car aerial!

In my late teens I lived with my parents at the Butchers Arms in Priors Hardwick and a young Jackdaw fell down my bedroom chimney into the hearth.  Apart from being very dusty it seemed unhurt, so I decided to keep it.  To start with while I fed it, it lived in an old parrot cage, but very soon became so tame it would sit on my shoulder while I went about my daily tasks.  He became a favourite of the locals and was known as Fred Daw.  He had his own pint pot which would be filled and he would perch on the edge and sup his beer with the locals.  He was also fond of pulling a cigarette out of packet and holding it while it was lit, but he never did master the art of smoking.  The back door was left open and he was free to come and go as he pleased, and eventually the time between the going and returning got longer and longer until he didn’t come back.  However for months afterwards when I called his name he would fly down on to a fence or guttering and put his head on one side and fix me with his beady eye.

27 July – Beans are now ready for gathering, but a cautionary warning:

“The Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth happened to let a Fart, at which he was so abashed and ashamed that he went to travel, seven years.  On his return the Queen welcomed him home and said, ‘My Lord, I had forgot the Fart’”.

John Aubrey, Brief Lives, late 17th Century

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: July 01, 2004