Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

April 2008

This months News



Nature Notes

The Anglo Saxons called this month Eastermonath which has obvious connections with Easter and may be derived from east, the direction of the sunrise, or of the cold winds that usually come from the east at this time of the year, but of course April is the month that Spring begins to make its presence felt.  Trees become heavy with blossom and new leaves appear.

“All day long the bees are busy among the blooms, making an unceasing murmur, for April is beautiful to look upon; and if she hides her sweet face for a few hours behind the rain-clouds, it is only that she may appear again peeping out through the next burst of sunshine in a veil of fresher green, through which we see the red and white of her bloom.” Chambers Book of Days (1864).

The air on April mornings is filled with birdsong.  The birds begin to pair off and nest building starts in earnest.  Listen out for the first Cuckoo, usually in the Midlands round about 10 – 12 April, but don’t be misled by the coincidental arrival of the Collared Doves, a Cuckoo sound-alike which often catches people out.  Last year I only heard the Cuckoo, briefly, on two occasions in the village, and this was in early May, and it was much the same in 2006.  Cuckoo numbers have declined dramatically over the last few years; this corresponds with a significant decline in their choice of “hosts” – in the Midlands and South, the Dunnock is the chosen foster parent, while in the North it is Meadow Pipit and in the Eastern counties the Reed Warbler.  These three birds apparently account for 80% of Cuckoo host nests.  There is another factor in its decline and that is down to its specialised diet, feeding almost exclusively on caterpillars and in particular the hairy and sometimes toxic varieties.  Dissected gizzards of Cuckoos are often covered in these hairs, so much so they look like fur!  Such a specific diet, which has been severely affected by half a century of intensive insecticide use, may also be a factor in its decline.  Also a wet, cold spring will delay the emergence of caterpillars and the Cuckoos with either move on or perish.

One of the advantages of writing these nature notes is that many people in the village will stop me, phone me, or even screech to a halt in their vehicles to report or ask about something (usually a bird) they have seen.  I have even had letters and emails from far afield where people have read nature notes on line.  I recently had an email from a gentleman living in the Chilterns asking about Red Kites.  What emerges from this though is what a wonderful selection of wildlife we have within out village boundaries, with occasional visits from rarities such as Redpolls, Wrynecks, Convolvulus hawk moths, and just recently (from a very reliable source) a pair of Little Egrets – standing in a field alongside the village.  It is a medium-sized pure white heron with distinctive yellow feet, black legs, and has become one of the most successful colonists of British coastal areas in recent times.  They do move about, but I suspect this pair were “wind blown” as we had just experienced quite severe storms.  This gives me an idea.  Why don’t we – everyone reading this – do our own April Nature Watch (this is not an April fool!)?  I don’t want precise numbers, but for the month of April, tell me what you have in your garden – mammals, amphibians, butterflies and other insects, birds – and the number seen at any one time.  For instance we have a colony of about 15 to 20 House Sparrows, when I know other houses in the village have none, but it would be marvellous to build up a picture of just what we do have.  Just scribble it on a piece of paper and pop it through my letterbox – Peacock House next door to the pub – or email me on mooreandmoore@beeb.net.  If I get a good response I will include a précis in the June issue.  Let me have your observations by the end of April if possible.

“In April the 28th 1772, there died at Mile End a goat that had twice circumnavigated the globe, first in the discovery ship Dolphin, under Captain Wallis, and secondly, in the renowned Endeavour under Captain Cook.  The Lords of the Admiralty had, just previous to her death, signed a warrant admitting her to the privileges of an in-pensioner of Greenwich Hospital, a boon she did not, unfortunately, live to enjoy.”  Chambers Book of Days (1864).  No-one explains why the goat went on the voyages – 2nd officer or “goatswain”?  But I suspect to eat all the galley scraps and give milk in return.

Our visiting pair of Curlew is back in the village – listen out for them.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: March 29, 2008