Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

February 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

February from the Latin Februum – purgation – the month of purification.  The Dutch call it Sprokkelmaand – vegetation month; the Anglo-Saxons called it Solmonad – mud month (very true at the moment); the French revolutionaries renamed it Pluviôse – rain month ….. so not much going for it you would think, but wrong, it’s my birthday month!  Also just as we move into February something I have been long anticipating.  I was travelling between Hatton and Honiley in the early morning when it was just getting light.  I could see coming towards me a large bird being pursued and dive bombed by a single crow.  My first thoughts were “oh, another Buzzard” (now apparently more common that the Kestrel), but then I noticed that the wings were slightly longer, slender with upturned fingers at the two extremities and then as I drew level I saw the V-shaped forked tail, the rust red colour just visible in the morning light – a Red Kite (Milvus milvus).  Its languid mastery of the air soon left the crow returning for home.  The Red Kite’s rarity has conferred upon it an additional layer of glamour and I have long awaited their arrival in Warwickshire.

Back in the seventies I made a special trip to central Wales and was taken out by a bird warden in the hope of seeing one of the few remaining pairs in the British Isles.  From that mere handful the numbers have now risen to several thousand and surely is among the great success stories of modern conservation.  Apparently experts say that this bird has been hugely successful in helping to reconnect people with the landscape and encouraging a greater interest in wildlife.  In a recent RSPB poll it was ranked with the Golden Eagle and Song Thrush in the nation’s list of favourite birds.

The dramatic increase in numbers does not originate from the Welsh birds, but has hinged on a reintroduction scheme which covers six sites in England and Scotland.  The introduced Kites were originally taken from Spain and more recently Sweden.  The first English releases used just six pairs located along the ridge of the Chilterns in 1989 and when these had reached a healthy, stable population (some of the early introductions were poisoned), subsequent introductions were made in Northamptonshire in the 1990s.  Altogether there are now around 3,000 Kites in Britain, with the Chilterns population topping 1000 and their breeding success well exceeds the productivity of the Welsh Kites.  In 1903 a species that had once been considered as “common as the Carrion Crow” was down to just five breeding pairs.  In the same year the British Ornithological Club formed a “Kite Committee” in a last ditch effort to avert extinction.  Enduring for 90 years and “without parallel in the annals of bird protection anywhere in the world” the committee was central to the birds’ recovery

Red Kites are not great hunters – the odd mouse, rabbit, or wounded pheasant could fall prey, but it is predominantly a scavenger.  Ironically Kites were never birds of the countryside or woodland; they were the common bird of Medieval townscapes, their status “hovering between valued scavenger of edible refuse and annoying opportunist snatching titbits from baskets and stalls”.  In Tudor times there are accounts of Kites snatching food from children’s hands.  They also had a penchant for pieces of paper and linen which they would line their nests with.  There is a Roman account in London of a Kite taking hair from a man’s head to line its nest!  By Tudor times the London population of Kites was protected by statute for its valuable service of refuse disposal.

By the mid-seventeenth century the birds has reached such levels that bounties were put on their heads, and by the eighteenth and nineteenth century when sporting shooting reached its peak, huge numbers were killed and poisoned.  They are still prone to poisoning by taking dead “bait” put out for foxes and rats, but thankfully that’s quite rare – so look to the skies over Oxhill.  I would love to hear from anyone who makes that first sighting.  It is easily recognisable, with long slender wings reaching a span of five feet with reddish plumage, white wing patches, and of course that large forked tail.

If hard weather continues, beware of taking cold: protect your provisions from hungry mice.  To drive away Mice.  If the dried brains of a Weasel be sprinkled upon cheese or any other meat whereto the Mice do resort, they not only forbear to eat thereof, but also to come nigh to that place.  The History of Four Footed Beasts, 1607.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: January 30, 2007