Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

February 2006


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Nature Notes

In Anglo-Saxon: Solmonath – the month of cakes, now offered to the Gods.  February 2nd is Candlemass “St Mary’s Feast of the Candles” officially the Feast of Purification and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.  Today lights and candles are blessed in churches and candlelit services and processions are held:

                   Candlemass Day, plant beans in the clay
                   Put candles and candlesticks all away
                   If Candlemass Day brings snow and rain
                   Winter is gone, and won’t come again
                   If Candlemass Day be clear and bright
                   Winter will have another flight.

Fine weather on this day is feared since it shows that the worst of winter is still to come.  In America February 2nd is Groundhog Day.  The groundhog or woodchuck (similar to a squirrel) is said to emerge from hibernation to check out the weather: if it is dull or wet he stays out and about because winter will soon be over, but if he can see his shadow he goes back to his burrow for another six weeks.  As I write this in January we have just been enjoying wonderful spring-like days.  On the 19th in Cheltenham I saw bumble bees in the garden, and jackdaws are now pairing off and selecting their chimneys, and I have heard vixens intimating their wants to the male by three or four little sharp yelpings or barkings, frequently repeated, all rather earlier than would normally be expected.

A friend who lives in Kineton has a mass of ivy growing up his walls and outside his bedroom window, which provides a warm roost for all the house sparrows that inhabit his garden.  Over several evenings he has observed a tawny owl that quietly flies up to the ivy, hangs on with his talons, and then vigorously flaps his wings against the ivy, causing a sparrow to fly out, which he then manages to catch.  I believe this to be unique behaviour which shows acute observation and ingenuity, and it is also very unusual for a tawny owl to take other birds.

I was visiting a friend with a farm on the borders of Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire the other weekend and whilst walking through a small coppice we flushed a Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) out of some dense ground cover.  Many people confuse the Muntjac with the Chinese water deer, the latter being much rarer.  It is one of only two species of deer with no antlers, but the male is very distinctive in that he has two downward-pointing canine tusks two to three inches in length.  With their woolly faces, they look rather like sad vampires!  They are shy, dog-sized deer from China, where they are now endangered; they are reddish brown in summer, but turning grey in winter.  A few escaped from Whipsnade Zoo during the Second World War and groups are now established in the Norfolk Broads and some adjoining counties.  This one in Bedfordshire is at the edge of the breeding area.  It is thought that their numbers may be declining as they are very vulnerable to the cold, and being more timid than a Muntjac, the young are often taken by foxes.

The other day our large black cat Frank brought home and ate a weasel – a pity he hadn’t read this first:

To drive away mice.  If the brains of a weasel be sprinkled upon cheese or any other meat whereto mice resort, they not only forbear to eat thereof, but also to come nigh that place

Edward Topsell – This History of Four Footed Beasts, 1607.

  Grenville Moore

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Last modified: February 20, 2006