Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

March 2006


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Nature Notes

March is the month of new life – in Anglo-Saxon Hrethamonath, the month of the goddess Hretha.

In old country lore 8th March is the day to start to sow garden herbs and water them, but hope for a dry, dusty month to benefit the crops: “In March; the moon being new, sow garlic, chervil, marjoram, white poppy, double marigolds, thyme and violets.  At the full moon, chicory, fennel and apples of love.  At the wane, artichokes, basil, cucumbers, spinach, gillyflowers, cabbages, lettuce, burnets, leeks, and savory.” – Markham, The English Housewife, 1683.

Over the last couple of weeks while working in Cheltenham, almost daily I have been watching a nuthatch busying itself in the garden.  This small attractive bird is plump and short tailed, with blue-grey upper parts, buff underparts, and reddish flanks.  It has a strong pointed bill with a black stripe running down each side of its head; both male and female are alike.  The old gardener working at the house tells me in Gloucestershire they call them woodjars or nuthackers.  Their strong beaks are capable of dealing with food as large and hard as hazel nuts and acorns.  They jam the nut into a crevice of a tree or wall and with the weight of their whole body, they bring their beak hammering down until the shell is broken.  The nuthatch I have been watching spends a lot of time in a large oak tree, tapping the trunk in the manner of a woodpecker, which apparently earns it the name of woodhacker and woodcracker.  The jarring sound of its hacking has also given rise to the name woodjar and jarbird.  It tends to be a bird of parks, parkland, large town gardens (I have never seen one in Oxhill), and woodland.  It scuttles about the tree upwards, downwards or sideways with equal agility, sometimes doing its “hacking” from an upside down position.  The nuthatch is in fact the only British bird that can travel ‘down’ a tree.  It was once thought that they roosted head down! but they actually choose holes in tree trunks or walls to build their nests.  They make the entrance hole smaller by stopping it up with mud, until it is exactly the right size.

By 30 March badger cubs now begin to appear above ground, but beware: “He hath very sharp teeth, and is therefore accounted a deep biting beast; his legs (as some say) are longer on the right side than the left, and therefore he runneth best when he getteth to the side of a hill”  - Edward Topsell, The History of Four-footed Beasts, 1607.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: March 06, 2006