Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

September 2006

This months News



Nature Notes

Firstly let me apologise for the loss of last month’s Nature Notes.  I wrote a long epistle on the loss of English hay meadows, the “send” key was duly pressed, but George’s magic box did not receive, so August Nature Notes are wafting about somewhere in the ether (well that’s how I like to imagine it anyway!).

September is the ninth month of the year now, but was the seventh month of the Roman calendar and derived its name from the Latin septem, seven.

                Married in September’s golden glow
                Smooth and serene your life will go

September also marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  The work autumn comes from the Latin “autumnus” and its origin dates back to the 14th century.  Many people think the term “fall” is an Americanism, but both autumn and fall are in the English language.  The latter appears in 16th century texts in the longer phrase “fall of the leaf” but by the second half of the 17th century the shorter “fall” was in frequent use and would have travelled to the Americas with the Pilgrim Fathers.

A couple of days ago I entered Mrs Rodwell’s lower field to cross the footpath and I thought I would just walk along the edge of the brook (ever hopeful of a water vole!).  I was heartened to see several minnows because I haven’t seen any fish there for several years now.  Further along the reeds there was a magical “cloud” of banded demoiselle damselflies, which at a glance look black, but in fact are purple-brown with a large deep Prussian blue bank on the winds.  However, further on I came upon the badly decomposed remains of our resident (I presume) heron.  I hear a cheer rise from all you pond owners who have lost fish, but you have to ask yourself who was here first?  I could see no signs of how it had died, but the curious thing was that there were two beautiful Painted lady butterflies feeding on the rotting carcase (make mental note here not to kiss any painted ladies!).

While on the subject of butterflies, this year seems to have been very good for most species.  We went for a walk along Horley old railway cutting (a nature reserve, well worth a visit) the other weekend and we counted 11 species of butterfly .  They were, Large white, Small white, Common blue, Small blue, Meadow brown, Gatekeeper, Speckled wood, Small skipper, Red admiral, Peacock, and Painted lady.  The Painted lady is a summer visitor; all the others breed here.  We had hoped to see the Marbled white butterfly which we had spotted there previously.

The dragonflies also seem to have had quite a good year, and if there is warm autumn weather we will see them flying well into October.  The term dragonfly covers two groups – dragonflies and damselflies, and within the dragonfly group there are hawkers, skimmers, chasers and darters, and with the damselflies there are damselflies and demoiselles.  The larger dragonfly species will be seen darting about or hawking along a beat in search of prey, suddenly soaring up into the sky to catch a passing insect.  The smaller damselflies can be seen flying in and out of the bankside vegetation or making low excursions across the water from one side of the pond to the other.  The legs of dragonflies are suitable for grasping and they form a sort of basket in which flying insects can be scooped out of the air and fed upon whilst the dragonfly is in flight.  We have seen eight to ten species in Oxhill and several breed in our pond.  You should be able to see at least two of the largest and most impressive, the Southern Hawker, green in colour, and the Brown Hawker.  The Southern Hawker is very curious and will approach you and circle round, occasionally landing on you.  Contrary to popular folklore, they do not sting or bite.  Their wonderful flashes of iridescent colour in an insect little changed from Prehistoric times are to be treasured.

Watch out for September 14th.  It is the Devil’s Nutting Day.  It is said that those who go gathering hazelnuts on this day or on Sundays will meet the Devil engaged in the very same task.  The superstition may have been an attempt to discourage young people from indulging in frivolous and amorous activities on a holy day, which would surely happen in a foray into the woods!

Footnote:  The barn owls did not return to the church, but the kestrels reared a second brood.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: October 03, 2006