Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

October 2006

This months News



Nature Notes

Fruit time and Fall-of-leaf: in Anglo-Saxon Wintirfyllith - the month of the Winter Moon.

This month hot drinks and meals be good

To keep thy health and nourish thy blood

Provide warm clothes, and go foot dry

Thou shalt escape much danger thereby

Neve's Almanack (1633) 

Take your mind back about three weeks ago, a Saturday night, warm strong southerly winds and a clear starry night.  At about 10.00 p.m. the phone rang and Janet Gardner next door called to say she had been alerted by a large moth, which was attracted by an outside light, bumping against her back door.  I went to look, thinking it would be a red or yellow underwing, both quite common large moths, but it turned out to be the most enormous moth I had ever seen.  Its body was thick and about two inches in length, banded in pink and black stripes, long silver grey wings reaching to a span of four to five inches.  This was a Convolvulus Hawk-moth, once known as the "Unicorn" or "Bindweed" Hawk (one of its food plants — plenty in our garden!). This is a rare visitor from the Mediterranean and I suspect had arrived on the strong winds.  It was in pristine condition.  Its wingspan is the largest of any insect found in Britain and its proboscis or tongue is also very impressive at an amazing three-and-a-half inches.  When not in use the proboscis is curled up like a watch spring under its large head, and in the chrysalis its tongue is housed in a separate case.  This is one of the most powerful flying insects that visits Britain and is capable of flying 300 - 400 miles in a day.  Mainly found along the south coast and a few eastern counties, sightings elsewhere are now rare.  Food plants for this dusk flying moth include clematis, honeysuckle, evening primrose, soapwort and tobacco plants.  I reported this sighting to the Butterfly and Moth Conservation Society, who said that for Warwickshire they only usually get one sighting a year.  Mine was the first for this year, but this has been a very good year for butterflies and moths.  The person I spoke to had been on the Dorset coast that weekend and had seen four Convolvulus Hawk moths.  So keep your eyes open - it flies well into November and you can't miss it.

An interesting observation I noticed when watching a Southern Hawker dragonfly that had been resting for some time on a leaf was that, as I watched it, one of its wings started vibrating, then another followed until all four were "firing" (rather like an old four prop piston aircraft).  Once all four were at full revs it took off.  I noticed that the Convolvulus Hawk moth behaved in exactly the same manner, and we watched in amazement as its five-inch wingspan took off into the night — it could easily have been mistaken for a bat.

Ruth Gibson tells me that she saw a badger going down Back Lane the other morning, and I have also had reports of vigorous "diggings" in some back gardens.  I have also noticed unusual scrapes and diggings down Back Lane.  Some have suggested a young wild boar, which is not impossible.  Finding the droppings or hair caught on a fence is the key to this mystery - any volunteers?  Meanwhile I would be grateful for any other indications or sightings of this mysterious Oxhill beastie.

October 11th is the Feast Day of St. Gomer, patron saint of woodsmen.  Vincent Holt's "Why Not Eat Insects" (1885) suggested alternative sources of protein to the frugal woodsmen, such as tree and ground grubs “When the plantations are cut down, why should this delicacy be wasted — even the strong-stomached and hungry sailor will rap his sea-biscuit on the table to shake out the worms before eating it.  Let him shake them out by all means, but let him collect them, fry in lard and spread the dainty on his biscuit.”  Perhaps we could harvest all these Craneflies that are plaguing us!

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: October 04, 2006