Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

November 2011

This months News



Nature Notes

November 2nd is All Soul’s Day or Soulmass when “Tindle” bonfires were burnt to light souls out of Purgatory.

“In many counties there was an old custom at Funerals to hire poor people who were to take upon them all the Sins of the party deceased.  The manner was that when a Corpse was brought out of the house and laid on the Bier; a loaf of bread was brought out and delivered to the  Sin-eater over the corpse, as also a Mazer-bowl full of beer, which he was to drink up, and sixpence in money, in consideration whereof he took upon him all the Sins of the Defunct, and freed him (or her) from walking after they were dead.”               John Aubrey, 1688

I was recently working at a large 1930s house set in large grounds with many shrubs and mature trees close to the house – but not one house sparrow – not one!  The owner said he had been there six years and had never seen one.  Nationally they are on the decline, but not in Oxhill.  I think here in the village we host a very large population.  In my garden we have a constant group of approximately 20, most of which nest in the garden and under the eaves.  I know that from talking to people in the village that similar numbers are present at the majority of properties.  The hard winter seemingly had little effect on their numbers and I estimate we must have several hundred in the village.

 I have also noticed we have good populations of all the Tit family and this year even coal-tits.  The long-tailed tits have done well this summer and the other day I noted about 15 chattering and flitting through the garden.  Blackbirds in some cases had, I think, three broods, and I saw thrushes early in the year, but not so many recently; I’m not sure why.  I have seen the odd bullfinch and a few chaffinches, but virtually no greenfinches – which have been severely hit by a disease similar to E-coli called Trichomonosis.

 It is actually a parasite and was first observed in greenfinches and chaffinches in 2005.  Since 2005 the finch population has declined by 30%.  The parasite causes lesions in the throat, making the bird unable to swallow, so it finds very difficult to eat and drink.  It also causes it to regurgitate and other birds will then pick up this food.  If you see a finch that is fluffed up, lethargic, looking wet around the bill, and not moving about much, it is infected.  If you find a sick or dead finch, please contact the BTO or RSPB.  It is important, especially at this time of the year, to clean out all your feeders, give them a good wash and scrub with a vet-safe disinfectant, and follow up again in the spring.

A couple of weeks ago we were woken at sunrise by a cacophony of bird noise, a raucous shouting by jackdaws, crows and magpies in the birch trees opposite the house.  We could see something lying in the road, obviously dead, and the birds were quarrelling over who was going to be first to tuck into breakfast.  I went out to see what the fuss was, and saw a polecat, not a ferret, but a wild male polecat (Mustela putorius).  It had been struck on the side of its head by a passing car – what are the odds on that in the early hours of a Sunday morning?  It was a beautiful animal.  It was once only found in Wales, but since the 1990s it has started to spread out into England.  The scientific name alludes to the odour they give off from an anal scent gland, although I did not get a hint of a “whiff” from this chap.  The name “beech martin” was often given to the polecat, but that name properly belongs to a quite distinct and non-British animal.  Apparently polecats prefer to live in the proximity of farms and they feed mainly on rabbits, rodents, perching birds, frogs, carrion, insects and other small creatures.  As far as I am aware, this is the first record for Oxhill.  I have lived here for more than 40 years and I have never seen one; indeed I have never seen one anywhere.  I would like to know if any of Oxhill’s farmers have seen one in or around their farms – if you have, could you please let me know.

The common cold seems to be rife this autumn, so remember:  “Sneezing into the left hand is held to be unlucky, but sneezing to the right is prosperous …. We have a custom, yet in mode, that when one sneezes, everyone pulls off his hat and bows, and cries “God bless ye Sir.”

John Evelyn, Remains of Gentilism, 1688.

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: November 22, 2011