Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

August 2010

This months News



Nature Notes

The Anglo Saxon month of Weodmonath – month of weeds – often brings some of the hottest days of the year.

‘Signs of hot weather.  Many bats flying abroad sooner than ordinary.  A white mist arising out of moors or waters, either before Sun rising or after Sun setting.  Birds flying high in the air.  Crows or ravens gaping against the Sun.  Store of flies playing in the Sun shining towards night.’

Swallow’s Almanack   1633

And here’s a saying perhaps we should remember ‘ If the first of August be warm, winter will be long and white’.

The hot days often bring curious behaviour; one hot afternoon a week or two ago Jane came rushing in saying “come quickly there are tiny birds walking on our pond”.

Indeed on arrival I was amazed to see two tiny birds (smaller than a wren ) dropping down from the top of an overhanging field maple tree onto the surface of the pond and rapidly dashing across the water surface picking up either water droplets or small insects.  There is considerable sub surface water weed which I am sure helped.   These tiny birds were in fact Britain’s smallest bird, the Goldcrest, mainly a bird of conifer forests, local names include Marigold Finch, Wood Titmouse, Tidley Finch and Golden Wren.  At 4-7 grams you get at least four full-grown Goldcrests to the ounce so it is hardly surprising they can ‘walk on water’!  I was especially pleased to see them after such a hard winter; they are a frequent victim to long severe cold spells, when eight out of ten birds are thought to die, but as we see here they are resilient little birds.  After that long hard winter I was also concerned for our Kingfishers; frozen brooks, ponds and lakes means they unable to fish, and again many perish, but thankfully Sue Hutsby at Nolands reports to me that she has seen possibly up to six, which probably includes juveniles, so that is good news.

Many of you may have noticed that the OWLS logo is a pair of Little Owls (if you haven’t, PLEASE take a look at www.oxhill-owls.org.uk, a brilliant site created by Rhian and Josh).  The Little Owl (Athene Noctua) was introduced to Britain by the Yorkshire naturalist Charles Waterton, in 1842, and several others including Lord Lilford to his estate in Northamptonshire, where it was referred to as Lilford Owl.  In Greek mythology, the bird was sacred to Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom and the patron deity of ancient Athens - hence the scientific name which literally means ‘Athene by night’ and from this we also get the saying ‘as wise as an owl’ or ‘wise old owl’.  The Little Owl is unusual among other owls in being almost completely diurnal; its diet is mainly small mammals and insects but has been occasionally been observed taking sparrows, also pulling up earthworms and falling over backwards when the force of their efforts prevails unexpectedly!  They are certainly my favourite owl, they have those wonderful ‘eyebrows’ that give an facial expression of either total surprise or intense irritation and their bright yellow eyes will hold your gaze while their head will bob up and down without losing eye contact.  Now the reason I mention all this is because in the field behind my house and the bungalows on Green lane, there is a long wooden cow shed and this summer a pair of Little Owls have successfully reared two young inside, as I write this two or three can regularly be seen perched on the roof.  When the hay had just been mown  we watched them over several nights.  As the adults hunted to feed their young, they would pounce like cats and burrow beneath the cut hay, returning to the shed roof with the kill, where it was dismembered and fed to the waiting offspring.  While all this was going on a Kestrel was also hunting almost alongside the owls.  This summer has seen Little Owl, Tawny and Barn Owl all in and around Oxhill and the Red Kite has also been seen.  I have also had reports of a Long Eared Owl round the Whatcote area, a very impressive bird, so keep your eyes open.

Have a thought for all our Oxhillian schoolteachers: August 13 is the Feast of St Cassian, a severe Christian schoolmaster disliked by his pagan pupils, who stabbed him to death with iron pen-nibs: he is the patron saint of schoolteachers.

Footnote [sic]

In the 17th century salted owl was taken as a remedy for gout ! 

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: August 16, 2010