Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

November 2004


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Nature Notes

November, in Anglo-Saxon Blotmonath  - the month of blood, in Welsh Tachwedd, the month of slaughtering, which refers to slaughtering of livestock traditionally begun on November 11, Martinmas, the festival of winter’s beginning.  With grazing becoming scanty, Martinmas was the time to slaughter all cattle, sheep and pigs that could not be maintained through the winter.   It was therefore an unusual and welcome opportunity for feasting on fresh meat, remaining cuts being either salted or hung in chimneys to dry cure, the innards and offal were made into puddings and sausages, providing a winter’s meat supply.  When we moved to our cottage twenty-five years ago the inglenook fireplace was open to the sky and about six feet up inside a piece of oak branch, about 3 inches across was sett into both the back and front of the stonework.  Bark was still on the two ends, but the middle section was worn smooth and grooved (by rope or hooks?) obviously from joints being hung up in the smoke.  The wood itself was pickled black and sticky from who knows how many years of wood smoke.

While walking along Church meadow a few days ago I disturbed a buzzard which had been sitting in one of the big ash trees.  He casually dropped from his perch, very close to me, and with no great haste gave a few wing beats to cross the meadow.  From nowhere almost instantly a carrion crow dived out of what was a clear empty sky and with its feet hit the buzzard on the back making quite a loud thump.  The buzzard was unperturbed, but in a couple more wing beats was attacked again and hit.  The buzzard then put in a feint as if to attack the crow but then flew on with the crow still pursuing, but from a distance, until they both went out of sight.  I don’t know why, but the crow family and especially the carrion crow have an inbuilt dislike for all birds of prey and owls.  Other bird will quite often gang up to “see off” an intruding bird, but none with the persistence of the crow.

Another instance of this that I saw several weeks ago was a kestrel sitting on a branch at the top of the dead ash tree behind the pub.  In minutes a gang of six or seven crows alighted on branches around the kestrel and every few seconds one would move forward to peck at it.  Each time the kestrel would “swear” at the crow and drop down to a lower branch or move in closer to the trunk.  As no time did it seem to make any effort to fly away.  This went on for several minutes.  Quite suddenly on seeing a hole in the trunk the kestrel did what I can only describe as a “nose dive” into the hole and seemed to vanish completely out of sight.  (I am fairly certain that this is not a nesting or roosting site for a kestrel).  One crow approached and kept trying to peer down into the hole, but to no avail.  The other crows flew off leaving the solitary crow on guard.  He hopped about and kept trying to peer down the hole for about five minutes until he obviously got bored and flew off.  I waited for another ten minutes or so, but the kestrel did not re-emerge.

The kestrel is a falcon and is easily recognised by its beautiful red-brown back and grey head.  The sparrowhawk is a bird of woods, hedges and now gardens, but the kestrel prefers open land and these days also road verges and roundabouts.  The kestrel’s most distinctive behaviour is its superbly controlled fluttering hover (colloquial names include windhover, hover hawk and wind fanner) from which, even in strong winds, it maintains a steady focus on the ground beneath,  Its main diet is mice and voles.  A BBC Living World scientist recorded how he fixed his theodolite on the beak of a hovering kestrel and observed that the head stayed in the same position varying only within 1 cm for twenty-eight seconds, even though the body, wings and tail moved in various directions compensating for the wind.

As we go into winter, watch out for colds.  Sneezing to the left hand is held to be unlucky, but sneezing to the right is prosperous.  “We have a custom, yet in mode, that when one sneezes everyone pulls off his hat, and bows, and cries ‘God bless ye Sir’” – John Aubrey: Remanis of Gentilism 1688.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: November 09, 2004