Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

May 2006

This months News



Nature Notes

In Anglo-Saxon: Thrimilci – the month when cows give milk three times a day – the dairy month.

“Cow’s milk is not good for them which have gurgulations in the belly, but is very good for melancholy men, and for old men and children” – Andrew Boorde – Dietary of Health 1547.

As last year, the Easter weekend was warm and sunny, the skylarks were singing.  I heard the curlew calling, and on Easter Monday, driving out of the village, a Curlew flew low over the road, being pursued by a Sparrowhawk (the Curlew would have been too large for a Sparrowhawk to take, it would be defending its territory).  I saw several Lapwings, once again doing their mating flights, and a cuckoo flew directly over our garden, but I have yet to hear one call.  Also in the garden on two occasions we saw a tree sparrow.  I got quite excited about this (sad fellow, I hear you say) because I have been looking for a sighting for several years without success.  This is now a rare bird, although I have a farmer friend in Kineton who has a theory that House and Tree Sparrows have now cross-bred, but I somehow doubt this.  The distinguishing features to look for on the Tree Sparrow is the distinct while collar with black cheek spots, the top of the head is a uniform chestnut brown (which can look black in dull light), whereas the House Sparrow has a grey forehead and only the male has a while collar.  With the Tree Sparrow, both male and female have the same markings, as do the young – please look out for them – perhaps the numbers are increasing.

Checking back on last year’s nature notes for May I noted that five Buzzards had been riding the thermals high over the village.  Well also this Easter I had walked the dogs to the top of Mrs Rodwell’s field and had sat down on the stile just to take in the sights, sounds and smell of spring (also a good spot to watch the Lapwings) and my attention was drawn by the familiar “mewing”.  Quite close and low were (once again) five Buzzards all circling in quite tight formation like something out of a spaghetti western.  As I watched, a solitary crow appeared and started attacking the Buzzards one by one.  I could almost hear the Crow shouting, “come on, come on, five to one, that’s fair odds, I’ll take you all on!”  He didn’t give up until he had moved all five away from “his patch”.

Recently on two occasions when walking down the hedge side of Church meadow, I have seen a Yellowhammer darting along the hedge only a few metres in front of me.  Sadly this small beautiful bright yellow bird, sometimes called a Yellow Bunting or Yellow Yorlin, is becoming very scarce, changes in farm practice and loss of habitat now having the same effect as they have already had on other seed-eating migrants.  Chris Mead recently commented that the bird is in dire straits and while the last census returned a population for Britain and Ireland of 1.5 million pairs, this number is now “dropping like a stone”.  This little bird is probably best known for its song “a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese” in northern England, and in Scotland this turns into “may-the-devil-take-you-too”.  As the devil’s bird, the yellowhammer was reputed to drink a drop of the Devil’s blood every May morning.

                The brock and the toad and Yellow Yorlin
                Tak a drap of the devil’s blood ilka May morning

The eggs of the bird are more or less covered with irregular lines or scribbles and these were thought, especially in Scotland, to be demonic messages, consequently the poor little bird was much persecuted.  Thankfully this has long died out.

I have recently received a commission, part of which includes painting an oversized Dog rose – Rosa canina.  I was curious as to why it is called a Dog rose.  The 16th century herbalist Gerard also questioned why the emblem of England itself and its monarchy should have a flower called “dog” suggesting “of no worth”.  Apparently the Ancient Greeks called the wild rose “dog rose” because they believed that the roots could cure a man bitten by a mad dog.  The Romans adopted the name Rosa canina, which was then translated directly into English – so there we have it!

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: April 28, 2006