Oxhill News

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

South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

February 2008

This months News



Nature Notes

February is the shortest month of the year and the one, generally, with the most unpleasant weather.  However traditionally farmers welcome the snow and rain that February brings for it prepares the ground for seed sowing and germination: “February fill dyke, be it black or be it white, but if it be white, it’s the better to like”; “if in February there be no rain, tis neither good for hay nor grain”; “much February snow, a fine summer doth show”.

I expect like many of you in the village we put food out for the birds every morning.  This task usually falls to Jane and should she forget, she is quickly reminded by the hoard of sparrows “calling” for their breakfast.  We have a regular clientele visiting our bird table – about 20 house sparrows who live in and around the house, assorted finches and tits, a pair of very fat woodpigeons, a great spotted woodpecker, jackdaws, and now, every day, a fine cock pheasant and his two ladies.  Of course it is not only in the country but also in towns and cities that people feed birds.  It is quite curious how tending to the needs of wild birds seems to have become embedded in our culture, a gesture of giving.  One thinks of the legend of St Francis.  I must share with you this wonderful passage from Birds in London by W H Hudson with its strange sense of ritual; it is an account of those feeding the sparrows in the Dell in Hyde Park:  “I call these my chickens and I am obliged to come every day to feed them, said a paralytic-looking, white haired old man in the shabbiest clothes, one evening as I stood there; then, taking some fragments of stale bread from his pocket, he began feeding the sparrows, and while doing so he chuckled with delight, and looked round from time to time, to see if others were enjoying the spectacle.  To him succeeded two sedate-looking labourers, big, strong men, with tired dusty faces, on their way home from work.  Each produced from his pocket a little store of fragments of bread and meat, saved from the midday meal, carefully wrapped up in a piece of newspaper.  After bestowing their scraps on the little brown-coated crowd, one spoke ‘Come on mate, they’ve had it all, now lets see what the missus has got for out tea’; and home they trudged across the park, with hearts refreshed and lightened.”

Now with all this talk of feeding birds, I have had a report of an unusual visitor to the bird table of our Editor – a redpoll.  There are three redpolls that visit (and two breed) in Britain; the lesser redpoll (which is a regular breeder), its larger cousin the mealy redpoll, and a rare visitor, the Arctic redpoll.  From George’s description it is almost certainly the lesser redpoll, a member of the finch family.  It is the smallest finch and looks very like a twite or a linnet, being marked not unlike a sparrow, but with a pale breast flushed with pink, and characteristically a red forehead and black chin.  It is a seed-eating bird that favours woodland with alder, birches and larches.  Sunflower seeds apparently will bring them into your garden, and Gwyn reported them eating the niger seed.

This year we have February 29th – Leap Year day or Job’s birthday and a horrendous day for single men!  Leap Year’s day is particularly ill-omened and this is said to be because it was Job’s birthday which the prophet blighted when he ‘cursed the day he was born’.  In his mercy however, the Lord only allows it to occur every four years!

“Ladies have full and absolute license to propose marriage to single gentlemen on this day, and if the gentleman is so rude as to refuse, he is infallibly bound to give the spurned lady a present; which is traditionally a pair of gloves on Easter Day.”

Footnote:  Jane proposed to me on February 29th 1976.  Unfortunately for her I accepted – she was only after the gloves!!

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: January 31, 2008