Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

November 2009

This months News



Nature Notes

November brings the beginning of winter.  By the end of the month all the trees will be bare and many of our hibernating species will begin their winter sleep.  Traditionally this month is, for the countryman a period of final preparation for the cold dark months ahead.  11th November is Martinmas, or St Martin’s Day which was the given time for slaughtering cattle, sheep and pigs which could not be maintained through the winter.  It was therefore an unusual and welcome opportunity for feasting on fresh meat and much drinking:

It is the day of Martinmas

Cups of ale should freely pass

What though winter has begun

To push down the summer sun

To our fire we can betake

And enjoy the crackling brake

Never heeding winter’s face
On the day of Martinmas

Those of you who visited the nature photography exhibition may or may not have noticed a print of a young wood pigeon (squab) sitting in a nest in a grape vine with a large bunch of grapes over its head.  This was a picture I took three to four feet away from our back door.  This bird went on to survive, although its fellow squab fell out of the nest and died.  This summer the wood pigeons seemed tamer, more daring, and certainly more plentiful; they were everywhere A couple of years ago it was estimated that the wood pigeon population was around three million pairs – six million in total!  It is now Britain’s most numerous large truly wild bird as well as being our most serious agricultural (and allotment) bird pest. I came across this piece from Gilbert White (a renowned 18th century ornithologist):

“November 24 1770.  The wild Wood Pigeon begins to appear.  They leave us all to a bird in the spring and do not breed in these parts; perhaps not even in this island.  If they are birds of passage, they are the last winter bird of passage that appears.  The numbers that come to these parts are strangely diminished within these twenty years.  For about that distance of time such multitudes used to be observed as they went to and from roost, that they filled the air for a mile together: but now seldom more that 40 or 50 are to be anywhere seen ….”

Of course the increase and almost universal presence throughout the British Isles is strongly linked to the expansion of arable agriculture during the last two centuries, which has created an abundant food supply, especially through the winter months.  In the 1950s the government funded organised culls to reduce the population so there was less damage to vulnerable crops.  In fact I remember in the 1960s and 1970s all the farmers would occasionally arrange a certain day when all the shooting fraternity would assemble, usually in the autumn, to shoot the ‘woodies’.  The idea was that you had guns on every farm so wherever the birds went they would be shot.  For those of you who have never eaten pigeon, I can highly recommend them; they are very tasty.

If you have never really looked at a wood pigeon, next time one lands on your lawn take some time to study it.  It is a bird of considerable beauty, slate grey on its back running to a soft pale warm blue-grey on its underside, black and white barring on its tail, a wonderful muted pink breast, set off by a brilliant while half-collar, large rose pink feet and in inquisitive beady black eye set in a bright yellow circle.  In many parts it is still referred to as the ring dove, not to be confused with the Eurasian collared dove which surprisingly didn’t breed in Britain until 1956 and according to the RSPB is the seventh most common garden bird … but that’s another story.

This brings me to the OWLS garden survey.  If you haven’t already dropped yours through my letterbox (next door to the pub) can I please have them as soon as possible.  A special thank you to Harry and George Bevington, aged 14 and 9, who are certainly Oxhill’s new budding naturalists.  They have given me a fantastic list.  I would also like to say a big thank you to Rhian Cooper and the rest of the team for organising the photographic competition.  I didn’t realise we had such talent in the village.  We are currently in the throes of selecting pictures for the Oxhill nature calendar, which should be ready by the end of November.  More details in December’s Oxhill News.

All over the counties, Pack-Rag Day, hiring fairs or Mop and Running Mops now taking place:

Servant men, stand up for your wages

When to the hirings you go

For you must work all sorts of weather
Both cold and wet and snow.

                      Shropshire Ballad

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: November 09, 2009