Oxhill News

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

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

May 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

“In the sixteenth century it was customary for the middle and humbler classes to go forth at an early hour of the morning in order to gather flowers and hawthorn branches, which they brought home about sunrise, with accompaniments of horn and tabor, and all possible signs of joy and merriment.  With these spoils they would decorate every door and window in the village.  By a natural transition of ideas, they gave to the hawthorn bloom the name of May and called this ceremony ‘the bringing home the May’ and the expedition to the woods as ‘going a-maying’.”  (Chambers Book of Days – 1864).

As a child I remember my grandmother saying “never cast a clout till May is out” and believed it to mean keeping all your winter clothes until the end of May, and for many years I would swelter in my T-shirt and sweater until I discovered that it referred to the May blossom!

Well – it finally happened.  I knew that the rather strange village signs the Council erected a couple of years ago would cause trouble.  I’m sure you have all noticed them – a very large duck apparently attacking a small child, thankfully being rescued by a parent (are these the only signs like this in Warwickshire, or indeed the country?)  You see it was an open invitation to any marauding bands of mallard, large or small, to invade our village, and this spring that is exactly what has happened – very large fat semi-tame mallard, probably hand reared, can be seen waddling down Main Street, Back Lane, Whatcote Road, and Green Lane, sitting in flower beds and gardens, and worst of all, in our garden ponds.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a bird lover, but mallard are aggressive, promiscuous and opportunist, and will foul any small to medium pond.  They are a dabbling duck and will eat and pull up all shoots in and around the pond (they took the heads off what would have been a fantastic display of snakes-head fritillaries).  They will eat small frogs, tadpoles, diving beetles, dragonfly larvae and newts – in short the pond will become sterile (obviously this does not apply to large deep ponds or lakes).  In short I directed them to the brook where they belong, where I saw the other morning a duck with seven ducklings.

On one of the numerous beautiful warm days in April I was walking along a hedgerow just outside the village, when I spotted in two different places, two curled up basking grass snakes taking in the morning sun.  They are cold blooded and hibernate between October and mid-March and have to warm up each morning to give them the energy to enable them to hunt.  Don’t be afraid of snakes, they are far more likely to be afraid of you, indeed I was very lucky to see these two as normally they can sense the vibration of humans approaching and will quickly slide off into cover.  If you do catch grass snakes in the open they will often feign death by lying on their back with their mouths partially open.  Some years ago our cat caught a grass snake, which feigned death.  We rescued it and as it seemed completely unhurt we took it up to our pond and carefully laid it in the grass by the pond.  We sat quietly a short distance away to watch it recover and slide away.  After about ten to fifteen minutes it had not moved a millimetre.  I turned to Jane and said that I hoped it wasn’t dead, and in that split second when I looked back it had completely vanished.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, May was the high point of the bird-netting season.  “All manner of small birds be good and light of digestion, except sparrows, which be hard of digestion.  Titmouses, colemouses, and wrens, the which eat spiders and poisons, be not commendable: of all small birds the lark is best, then is praised the blackbird and thrush” – Andrew Board Dietary of Health, 1547.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: May 01, 2007