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Notes from the Sticks: Welcome back, redwings

THE other day I was pleased to see half a dozen redwings busily turning over leaves in the field at the back of our house. It is quite a few years since I have seen any.

They are winter visitors from Scandinavia and are the equivalent of our song thrush. Here is a redwing (Turdus iliacus):

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redwing_(Turdus_iliacus),_Westing_-_geograph.org.uk_-_4224396.jpg

And here is a song thrush (Turdus philomelos):

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Song_Thrush_(Turdus_philomelos)_(2).jpg

(It is probably my juvenile sense of humour but I think it is a shame that the song thrush has been renamed from the original Turdus Turdus.)

The redwing is a tiny bit smaller than the song thrush but you would not notice unless you saw them together, which you rarely do. As you can see, the redwing can be easily distinguished by the stripe over the eye and the red flanks, which extend to the underwing,

though when birds are flying against the sky I don’t find it very easy to see their colours.

Redwings come from Iceland, the Faroes and Scandinavia to the UK and arrive in October, often travelling by night. They are often seen in flocks with the other visiting Scandinavian thrush, the fieldfare (Turdus pilaris). Here is a lovely picture in a British garden where the owner puts out apples for the birds.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fieldfare_with_bait!_(8414622998).jpg

The fieldfare is the equivalent to our mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus):

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) captured at Borit, Gojal, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan with Canon EOS 7D Mark II

The fieldfare is a bit smaller than the mistle thrush but again you would need to see them together to be able to tell. It has a grey head and rump, and dark brown tail. I have never seen nearly as many fieldfares as redwings.

I found this rather elderly chart showing all four birds together.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_birds_in_their_haunts_(9785305162).jpg

If you can’t read the legend, top left is the mistle thrush with the fieldfare below, and top right is the redwing, with the song thrush below.

Both visitors eat insects and worms but they are particularly fond of berries, notably rowan and hawthorn, and fruit if there are windfalls or anyone is kind enough to put some out. Occasionally they are joined by the native thrushes but they seem to prefer each other’s company. I suppose they have a common language. One thing about them is that they have a sort of social distancing system – if you see a flock in a tree they are always roughly equally spaced from each other, maybe 18 inches or so.

They head home at the end of April or the beginning of May, apart from a handful of pairs of each species which sensibly save themselves all the bother of migrating by staying here to breed.

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The customary greeting round here, in shops, pubs, restaurants, GP surgeries and everywhere else I can think of is ‘Higherite?’ which being interpreted means ‘Hi (good morning/afternoon/evening), are you all right?’ Often it is extended to ‘Higherite there?’ or abbreviated to ‘Yerite?’ If the question is issued in the street it does not demand an answer beyond a nod or a grunt. I don’t know if this peculiar to Lancashire or if it is common all over the country.

***

Horse of the Week

THE Suffolk Punch is the oldest, smallest and rarest of the four British heavy horses (the others being the Clydesdale and Shire, both native, and the Percheron, which was imported from France so long ago that it has honorary native status).

The first known mention of the Suffolk Punch (‘punch’ is apparently an old English word for a short stout person) is in William Camden’s Britannia, published in 1586, and it thought that the breed has not changed much since then. It is about the same height as a racehorse (16 or 17 hands) but much bulkier. All are chestnut coloured. (In Suffolk Punch parlance chestnut is spelled chesnut, the traditional Suffolk way.)

The Suffolk Horse Society says: ‘Horses took over from oxen for farm work and heavy haulage because a horse collar is more efficient than a yoke for pulling. They are easier to shoe because a horse can stand on three legs while the fourth foot is shod.  An ox cannot do this and had to be held up in a wooden frame.  

‘Farm horses were gradually replaced by tractors from the early 1940s and this trend accelerated hugely during and after the Second World War.  Huge numbers of much-loved farm horses had to be sent for slaughter and many of the recordings we took from old horsemen in our 2013 oral history project tell how upset the horsemen were to see them go, many being shipped live to the Continent for horsemeat.

‘By the 1960s the population of Suffolk Horses had fallen to such an extent that only nine foals were registered in the Stud Book in 1966.  A few farmers kept the breed alive over the next few years with a gradual increase to 50 foals in 2010.  In 2019 34 foals were registered in the UK and in 2020 there were 32.’

There are now fewer than 500 Suffolk Punches in Britain and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust classifies the breed as ‘critically endangered’. One ray of light is that as riders get heavier they need stronger horses, and the Suffolk Punch makes a perfectly good riding horse.

As a symbol of their county, Ipswich Town FC incorporate a Suffolk Punch in their team crest.

Here is a video showing how strong these animals are.

I wanted to find some archive film of ploughing but this is the best I could do – I hope they let the poor old guy at the back have a rest after the filming.  

Finally, a pair of youngsters running off some energy.

You can read more at the Suffolk Horse Society website, and here is a good little film produced by the society (there’s a lovely clip of a foal right at the end).

The Suffolk Punch Trust at Hollesley, near Woodbridge, breeds the horses and is open to visitors most days in the summer (please check before planning a trip). 

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Here is a 1978 Rover 3500 SD1, 3528cc.

This is from a site called fleet first. 

‘The Rover 3500 made a dazzling entry to the late seventies executive car scene. Prettier than a Seven Series, roomier than a 380SEL and faster than an XJ6, the innovative new high end hatchback won European Car of the Year in 1977. And with strong styling cues from the Ferrari Daytona, it had striking good looks too. The SD1 proved an instant sales success, packing dealers’ showrooms within hours of its 30th June 1976 launch date.

‘Sadly though, things could only get worse. The car many believed could save British Leyland proved a constant headache as soon as the launch party was over. The SD1’s tragedy is that it should have put Rover back on the map for design excellence, but ended up reminding punters how badly BL built cars.’

One notable feature of the SD1 was a redesigned badge. The badge underwent many revision over the years, usually featuring a Viking longboat.

This one is from a 1965 Rover 2000 P6.

DeFacto, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For the SD1 the ship became skeletal, and this is on the car I photographed.

The designers played around with the idea for a few years but in 1979 they returned to the tried and trusted.

For enthusiasts, here’s a good film about the SD1.

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