Oxhill News

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

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

January 2006


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Nature Notes

It is said that “as the day lengthens, the cold strengthens”, and January is usually the coldest month of the year.  For those who pay heed to weather lore, however, frost and snow are not unwelcome at this time – mild weather in any of the winter months, especially January, is an ill omen: “Summer in winter and a summer’s flood, never boded England good”; “If January’s calends be summerly gay, ’twill be wintering till the calends of May”; “A January spring is good for nothing”.

During my early morning dog walks, it is interesting to note that apart from owls, the first birds to stir and take to the wing (even in the dark) are the corvids: the crow, rook and jackdaw. 

As I walked back from Church meadow the other morning in complete darkness, passing under the tall tree opposite the church gate I heard the familiar hooting of a tawny owl which appeared to come from just above my head.  I switched on my torch and shone it up into the branches, and there on one of the lowest branches, right above me was a large tawny owl, and as I watched, he gave the typical three syllable hoo-hoo-hoo.  Now, I have never before seen an owl hoot, and for those of you who have watched a cockerel or a cock pheasant crow, then the owl’s head movements were exactly the same.  He did this twice before becoming aware that he was in the “spotlight”.  His head swivelled 180º and he gazed down at me with those large dark eyes and a look as if to say “Yes ….. is there something I can do for you?”

I switched off my torch and left him in peace.  Whenever you go to post a letter in the post box by the church, take the time to stand and look up into the fir or chestnut tree.  I have often during the day seen tawny owls roost here; they sit on a branch and usually press themselves up against the main trunk.  Take your time and let your eyes scan slowly (the birds are well camouflaged) and you could be rewarded.

The 14th of January is celebrated in All Souls College, Oxford, by a great merrymaking, in commemoration of the finding of an overgrown mallard in a drain when they were digging foundations for part of the college buildings in 1437.  The boisterous torch-lit duck hunt that formerly took place on Mallard Day is now restricted to the first year of every century.  In other years the occasion is now celebrated in a more subdued manner.  It is thought that the original “mallard” may simply have been the seal of a certain clerk names William Mallard, found by medieval workmen at the site.  Any excuse for a party ….!

At the end of January listen for the mistle thrush, also called Holly Cock, Stormcock or Jeremy (January) Joy, who sings loudly at this season, even, or especially in rough and tempestuous weather – which its song is said to presage.

 Grenville Moore

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Last modified: February 19, 2006