Oxhill News

www.oxhill.com / www.oxhill.org.uk

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

January 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

New Year’s Day is the seventh day of Christmas and everything you do on this day will influence your luck in the coming year.

Take a walk on New Year’s Day (or within the first week) and the first bird you see and can identify, make that your bird of the year.  Think of it throughout the year and it will bring you good cheer.  Nearly all of us often think about birds without being fully aware of it – one for sorrow two for joy; that a raven is a portent; that a stork brings the new born; the thieving magpie; that doves are for peace and robins are for Christmas; that swallows make summer, and to crown it all, bird poo on your head is good luck (how can that be?).  Birds are the only wildlife that remain constantly visible – walking riding or driving, look up and within a few moments you will see a bird.  One never tires of them; I still get as much enjoyment watching the sparrows squabbling, the wren turning leaves, or the woodpigeon waddling around the lawn.

As I write this it is the end of December and I am watching a cloud of gnats in the garden.  A week or so ago we had a bee on our flowering rosemary, and every morning we have a dawn chorus led by a mistle thrush.  The other morning two pigeons were doing their “summer cooing” to each other.  There are reports of butterflies and dragonflies still in flight, and ducks with ducklings.  The tortoiseshell butterflies hibernating in our house keep waking up and fluttering about, along with the odd bluebottle.

During the Christmas round of drinks in the village, I was pleased by the number of people who said they enjoyed these monthly notes or “jottings from the plashy fen” as Jane calls them!  I thank you all.  The other pleasing thing is the number of enthusiastic amateur naturalists within the village all keen to impart to exchange information.  There was one sighting in particular that I thought very exciting and I am green with envy.  In late summer Charles MacCall saw on his garden path a Wryneck (Jynx torquilla) that stayed there long enough for him to make all the right “checks” and indeed all his observations of its attitude and colouring leaves no doubt in my mind that is what he saw.  The Wryneck is a member of the woodpecker family Picidae.  In the mid-nineteenth century it was described as a common species and was sometimes kept by country children as a pet.  A fall in numbers was noted, but in 1909 it was still described as plentiful and generally distributed throughout.  By 2003 however, for the first time ever, there were no British nesting records at all.  This is an ant-eating bird and its gradual demise is almost wholly due to agricultural intensification and the loss of suitable grassland habitat through changes in land use (it should visit our garden – we are overrun with ants nests).  The decline is also recorded in most of Europe.  The Wryneck’s brown/grey plumage is similar to that of the Woodcock and Nightjar.  Its most striking features are the chocolate ellipse shaped stripe running through the grey mottling on its back and a warm ochreous throat patch with cross-hatched fine brown lines, with a snake-like head and orange and black eyes.  The “torquilla” part of its scientific name means “little twister”, a reference to its extraordinary ability to writhe its head round in a reptilian fashion.  The resemblance to a snake is all the more striking if a Wryneck is disturbed in its tree hole, when both the adult and chicks will sway their heads, occasionally with their long tongues darting out, and emitting a bizarre and disconcerting hiss.  This routine has the ability to deter cats and other potential predators.  The bird is now a summer visitor from March to September, mainly to eastern and southern counties of England and Scotland, but is now a rarity and very rare in the Midlands.  Charles is a lucky man to have seen it.

Which reminds me – I do not have the monopoly on Nature Notes, so please if any of you in the village see rare or interesting things, tell us about it.  It’s nice to have a village of nature lovers.

17 January is St Anthony’s Day – the patron saint of domestic animals, especially pigs; he has a pig and bell as his emblem.  The smallest pig of a litter, the runt, is also known as a “tantony pig” and the smallest bell in the church tower is the “tantony bell”.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: January 03, 2007