Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

December 2007

This months News



Nature Notes

December brings the Winter Solstice that traditionally and astronomically takes us into winter.  The word winter is of Old English origin and thought to be related to the word ‘wet’.

Now wet appropriately brings me to the brook.  Every time I walk down Manor Lane I always stop for several minutes and look over each side of the bridge, and a couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to see a shoal of about 20 roach.  I say thrilled because one rarely sees anything alive in our brook.  The roach is a coarse fish and is common throughout Great Britain.  In different environments the roach varies from silver to nearly black and body depth varies from slim to fairly deep.  The shoal I saw were youngish fish, slim, about six to seven inches in length, silvery black with the characteristic orange fins.  They can grow up to anything between 8 – 14 inches, but a fish weighing over 3 pounds is rare.  They are often the main food of pike, perch and zander, and of course the heron, which I regularly see along the brook.  I spotted this shoal of fish several times over the course of a week, but they now seem to have vanished.

Also walking down Manor Lane you may have heard or seen the pied wagtails which seem to have done well this year – I recently saw nine all sitting in one of the willow trees.  The wagtail is sometimes called the “gypsy bird” because of an old belief, apparently prevalent in Warwickshire, that if you see a wagtail, a gypsy will be somewhere near.  The Romany people themselves have a saying that if a wagtail is seen while they are travelling along a road, this is a fortunate sign; if it stays in the road as they approach, they will meet strangers; if it flies away, they will encounter relatives.  As well as gypsy bird, it also has many other colloquial names; waggie, piedie, quaketail, dishwasher, washtail, and washerwoman.  It is thought that the names referring to washing relate back to washerwomen of old, dressed in their black and white clothes, and the bird’s bobbing, jerking actions imitate those of woman scrubbing clothes or washing dishes.

You may recall last month I mentioned crows dropping “something” in Mrs Rodwell’s field.  Well, I have returned to the spot and found several empty walnut shells.  These birds never cease to amaze and indeed amuse me.  I have recently been working in Wellesbourne and the room looks out over some pony paddocks.  I watched three crows picking up what appeared to be chunks of bread and crusts thrown down for the horses.  Most picked away and ate what they picked up, but one was hastily hopping about picking up as many pieces as it could, cramming them into its beak.  It flew over the fence to an area where there were a lot of fallen leaves, and it very carefully moved about placing a piece of bread on the ground and then pulling a leave over it.  The bird went on to repeat the action until it had hidden three pieces and then hopped away and settled down to enjoy his remaining piece.  However, this had not gone unnoticed and one of the other crows came flying over the fence, went straight to where the bread was hidden, took the leaf off and began tucking in.  Our devious crow gave a motion, that had it been human would have been hands on hips, a deep shrug and sigh as if to say “Well!” – it was a treat to see.

Wassailing comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast “waes hael” meaning “to your health!”.  It was customary to drink this toast at Christmas or New Year from a bowl of spiced ale or wine, which was passed from person to person and became known as the wassail bowl or wassail cup.  People from the poorer classes used to go from house to house with such a bowl, often dressed with ribbons, flowers and evergreen in exchange for money.  This wassailing is probably the origin of carol singing.

If you have enjoyed my ramblings over the past year – thank you – and I will raise my wassail cup to you all at Christmas and toast WAES HAEL.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: December 04, 2007