Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

April 2010

This months News



Nature Notes

April is known for the unpredictability and changeability of its weather – “April weather, rain and sunshine both together”.  The April rain is very welcome to us gardeners and especially on the vegetable plot, but the notorious frosts can literally nip young plants in the bud.  Thunder in April is traditionally seen as a good omen “when April blows his horn, it’s good for hay and corn”.

One of the traditional signs of spring is the blossoming of the native blackthorn, the tree of the hedgerow.  Flowering before its leaves appear, the white blossom is heightened against the dark leafless branches.  The flowering usually takes place after a particularly cold spell, hence the saying ‘a blackthorn winter’; and indeed the blossom is so thick it can look as though it has been covered in snow, and against a dark thundery sky it looks magnificent.  This blossom is a particularly important source of nectar for bees, hoverflies and many beetles, and when the leaves appear they are attractive to many more insects including nearly 100 species of moth and the rare Black Hairstreak butterfly.  Beware though, the tree has long pointed thorns which are vicious if they catch you, which is why it makes a good hedging plant for livestock.  The thorns can puncture tyres, which I know to my cost.  The artist, Sir Alfred Munnings, a master of light, was in fact blind in one eye caused by one of the long thorns of the blackthorn entering his eye while he was out rabbiting with his terrier as a young boy.

My theory that village gardens are the ‘new countryside’ are well supported by the abundant numbers of pheasants visiting or nesting in our gardens this year.  I think just about every garden receives a visit, attracted of course by the bird food put out for wild birds.  In fact the pheasant is not strictly a wild bird, but was introduced for the table.  The first British record is 1059 and it is now thought that the first substantial introductions were made by the Normans towards the end of the eleventh century.  By the end of the sixteenth century they appear to have been fairly well established over much of England.  Earliest introductions were Phasianus colchicin, which came from the Caucasus and this became known as the Old English pheasant, but then round about 1780 stocks from China, P. torquatus were introduced, their white neck rings earning them the common name ring-necked pheasant or Chinese pheasant.  In the early nineteenth century the Japanese P. versicolor and the Mongolian P. mongolicin were introduced.  Of course all these species freely interbred to provide an amalgam of features and characteristics, the resultant range of hybrid plumage could be spectacular, but the consequence was that many of these birds became smaller, would wander more, and more importantly were reluctant to fly, thus making them “poor sport” for the guns.  Some ten years ago game bird breeders decided to breed out the hybrids and return to a larger, strong-flying breed, which is basically the English ring neck, the bird in your garden, and what a magnificent bird he is, especially at the moment in his breeding plumage, bright red wattles, and those large tufted dark green ‘ears’.

A couple of days ago we were standing in our garden and out attention was drawn to a ‘tap-tap-tap’ which we through was a woodpecker, but it was very close.  Then we saw it – I had parked my van very close to the garden hedge and a male great tit, obviously flying up and down the hedge looking for a mate, had seen himself in the wing mirror, assumed he had seen another male on his patch, so kept attacking it, flapping his wings and aggressively pecking at his own reflection.  He kept this up all day until I moved my van away.

Collect Easter eggs – otherwise Pasch, Pace or Peace Eggs for Easter Festivals and games.  “To name and dye Pace Eggs, first hard-boil them in plain water, and while they are still warm, write your name on them with a sharpened candle-end.  Then boil them again with gorse-blossom for a yellow colour, cochineal for red, onion-skins or nettle-roots for yellow-green or Pasque flowers for bright green.  The dye will not take on the candle-wax, so your name will stand out in white.”

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: April 29, 2010