Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

December 2006

This months News



Nature Notes

The month of Christmas or in Gaelic, An Mos Marbh – the dead month.  The 21 December is the winter solstice and also the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle:

St Thomas grey, St Thomas grey
The longest night and the shortest day

He is the “doubting Thomas” who questioned the resurrection and is the patron saint of carpenters and masons.  All over England, poorer women and children went “Thomassing” on this day for Christmas “goodenings”, especially wheat for frumenty and flour for Yule bread.

While walking down Main Street the other morning I was surprised to see a Pied Wagtail moving ahead of me.  Although a common bird I don’t see them very often in Oxhill.  The bird’s smart black and while plumage of summer turns a greyer tone in winter – sort of “shop soiled”.  It has a typical wave-like bounding flight and when in flight utters a brisk cheerful double note ‘chissick chissick’.  Apparently a prominent ornithologist, interviewed on radio, said his pet name for the Pied Wagtail was the Chiswick Flyover because of its habit of leapfrogging past you as you walk, calling loudly.

The Pied, Grey and Yellow Wagtail are all often referred to as Water Wagtail, but the Pied Wagtail is the least restricted to water, particularly where it has adapted to an urban or suburban way of life.  However, they are attracted to areas where there is water; gravel pits, reservoirs or park lakes.  They also seem to be attracted to car parks perhaps because of large puddles after rain storms, and I have often watched enthralled at them picking dead insects off parked cars.  On occasions I have also observed them flying aggressively at reflections of themselves in car mirrors or windows.  I assume they think they are chasing off competition for their larder of insects:

Little trotty wagtail, he went to the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again
He stopped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry

John Clare

Great excitement in the Moore household, when a female Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) alighted on to a branch inches away from the window of the summerhouse.  This diminutive bird, together with the Firecrest, is the smallest bird to be found in Britain.  Barely 9 cm in length, many of its colloquial names reflect its size: Wood Titmouse, Golden Wren, Thumb bird, and Tidley finch.  As we watched we could clearly see its head markings if lemon yellow (male, bright orange yellow) offset by a line of black.  These birds are predominantly creatures of conifer forests and plantation.  You hear them before you see them, and in fact you rarely see them as they favour tree tops and will flit from tree to tree in search of spiders, insects, and their eggs and larvae.  Like the tit family they are quite adept at feeding upside down.  The song is a rapidly repeated high pitches ‘sisi’ ending in a squeaking twitter.  I have heard them several times this year in and around Oxhill, but only once, many years ago, seen them.  Being insectivorous and so small, they are extremely susceptible to severe winters and in the past their numbers have on occasion been severely decimated.

When buying bird food, always try and buy several different mixes so you are catering for the grain eating, fruit eating, and insect eating birds.  The number of Goldcrests has happily now increased more than tenfold since the late sixties, so let’s hope this continues, and now the leaves are off the trees, you may get to see one.

 When ordering your turkey or goose for Christmas, bear a thought for one Reginald de Cornhill, who on 17 December 1213, was ordered to start preparing for King John’s royal Christmas feasting.  The enormous grocery list included “twenty hogsheads of wine, costly, good and new, both Gascony and French wines” also “200 head of pork, 1000 chickens, 500 pounds of wax (?), 50 pounds of pepper, 2 pounds of saffron, 100 pounds of almonds, good and new, 100 ells of linen cloth to make table cloths”.  The requisition concluded “Ye shall send thither 15,000 herrings and other fish, and other victual as Phillip de Laugeburgh shall tell you”.  One would imagine Reginald was mightily please he wasn’t footing the bill.

Have a jolly Christmas.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: December 01, 2006