Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

May 2011

This months News



Nature Notes

May brings with her the beauty and fragrance of hawthorn blossoms and the song of the nightingale. She is a beautiful maiden, clothed in sunshine, scattering flowers on the earth while she dances to the music of birds and brooks. She has given a rich greenness to the young corn, and the grass is now tall enough for the flowers to play at hide-and-seek among, as they are chased by the wind. The grass also gives a softness to the dazzling white of the daisies and the glittering gold of the buttercups.

Chambers Book of Days 1864

Well!  I am surprised that to my knowledge no one twigged my April Fool in last month’s Nature Notes; that either proves I am a good story teller or that no one ever reads my ramblings… perhaps we will leave that one unanswered!  The Canada goose was not from New England and was not known as the Colonial goose, it was in fact from the Great Lakes and was called the Canada goose from the start, it did not receive its name from being canned!  The Swedish inventor who invented the tin can…Rapol Foil…the answer is in the name, never existed and goose meat was, as far as I am aware, never canned, and it was not taken on the Arctic Expedition. However everything else is in fact…fact! 

Those of you who sleep with your windows open will no doubt be fully aware of the wonderful dawn chorus happening at the moment and almost unbelievable in its volume and diversity, of course as the days progress this cacophony will subdue into a gentle ripple of bird song.

A couple of days ago I had taken a cup of tea out into the garden and was sitting under our lilac tree, I was aware of a starling some four or five feet above my head, he seemed totally unaware of my presence and was chattering away, he suddenly imitated, with great precision, the call of a buzzard several times, then back to chattering and next he was a lapwing, once again word perfect.  He then did something very unusual, the call of mallards chattering in flight but the strange thing was that he did it very quietly, indicating, that he had only heard them at distance or flying very high.  This reminded me of a blackbird, back in the winter, who sat in a very thick bush in our garden and for days sang his song very quietly, almost inaudible, you could get within a few feet of him and he was singing away, but in a whisper!  Back to the starling; he did the mallard calls several times and whist he was doing so a cock pheasant at the top of the garden called out with that familiar  ‘chur chuc’ immediately the starling went quiet and suddenly tried several times to imitate this call, he couldn’t seem to get it quite right so he gave up and just flew away, or perhaps he went off to get closer to the pheasant for a better analysis.  Apparently Mozart kept a pet starling; he had bought the bird in 1784 and it was already an accomplished performer and, remarkably, could whistle part of Mozart’s own Concerto in G minor, although, strangely Mozart had never performed it in public.  Where had the bird heard it?  One wonders if that was the reason he bought the bird.  His pet lived with him for three years and when it died in 1787 he honoured it with an elaborate funeral.

Aristotle wrote:

Certain species of birds above all animals, and next after man, possesses the faculty of uttering articulate sounds. During the 17th and 18th centuries bird keeping reached its zenith and there was a practise of slitting, trimming or loosening the birds tongue to increase its talking ability. Rather alarmingly this practise actually came from an older practice of dealing with tongue-tied children when the membrane under the tongue was cut to ‘loosen the tongue’ hence the phrase “speak up child or I’ll have to loosen your tongue”.  It neither worked on bird or child and by the mid 18th century was deemed cruel and completely unnecessary.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: May 14, 2011