Notes on the Ornithology of Oxfordshire, Aplin 1899-1900

 

THE ZOOLOGIST

 

 

No. 700.— October, 1899.

 

 

NOTESONTHEORNITHOLOGYOFOXFORDSHIRE,
1896-1898.

By O.V. Aplin, F.L.S.

 

Where no other locality is mentioned, the notes refer to the parish of Bloxham.

 

1896.

January 1st.—The Rev. J. Goodwin, of Milcomb, told me that he had recently seen a Hawfinch in his garden.

25th.—Large numbers of Bramblings have frequented a stubble-field dotted with manure-heaps for a week or more; I saw a small flock to-day, but they were gone two days later. The Rev. J. Goodwin told me he saw some between here and Milton last week.

26th.—Blackbird singing; early. Nuthatch has the rapid rattling or trilling cry. Rooks at their nesting trees most of the day.

27th.—Chaffinch sang the first part of its song, and a portion of the second part.

February 3rd.—News from Mr. Fowler of a Peregrine Falcon shot at Sarsden last month while in pursuit of a Ring-Dove.

5th.—Only one Chaffinch singing; these birds are strangely scarce, although common a few days ago. Possibly the winter birds have just left. One of my nephews has stuffed a Kittiwake (immature), shot at Bodicote a fortnight ago.

6th.—News from Mr. W.W. Fowler that he saw a Hawfinch in Christ Church meadow on the 4th. He remarks, "Not a Chaffinch to be seen or heard."

15th.—Yellow Bunting singing.

17th.—Rooks very noisy at their trees.

26th.—News from Mr. W.C. Darbey that he had received a black Skylark from the neighbourhood of Stanton Harcourt.

March 6th.—Rooks began building.

7th.—A young Song-Thrush, fully fledged, brought to me.

10th.—A Grey Wagtail in the village brook. The body of a Peregrine Falcon (a Fox having bitten off the head), which had died of shot wounds, was picked up near Horton Spinney, Waterperry (H.G.T. in litt.).

16th.—Strong wind; one Rook's nest here blown out.

18th.—Rooks have built four more nests. There are now eight.

19th.—Saw two Chiffchaffs in the warm spot by the brook, where I always look for, and generally find, the first; one was in song.

24th.—Saw three Bramblings settle in a tree in the "Ridgway." This is a late date for them to remain here.

25th.—The Rev. J. Goodwin told me of a pair of Hawfinches seen at South Newington, and a pair of Spotted Woodpeckers in an orchard at Hook Norton, recently.

26th.—News from Mr. Fowler that he heard six Chiffchaffs at Kingham on the 22nd; that the Rev. S.D. Lockwood saw the Wheatear there on the 20th; and that Mr. Foster-Melliar saw it the same day on Shipton downs. News from the last named that young Blackbirds flew on the 16th, and that he heard the Wryneck on the 22nd at North Aston.

April.—I had news this month from Mr. R.W. Calvert of a female Buzzard shot at Ascott-under-Wychwood, while flying away with a wounded Wood-Pigeon on the 30th December, 1881; and of another seen by him there in September, 1893 (in litt.).

2nd.—Went to Kingham to examine the Rookery destroyed by Crows (vide Zool. 1896, p. 144).

3rd.—A flock of about fifty Meadow Pipits in a grass field on Bloxham Grove.

7th.—Examined a Mealy Redpole (Linota linaria) which was shot from a flock of about fifteen Redpoles at Wickham Mill in March.

10th.—A Swallow seen by Mr. D'Oyly Aplin over the Sorbrook at Bodicote.

13th.—A Swallow seen at Barford.

15th.—I saw a Wren's nest built in the fork of a young tree on the bank of the Swere. As an object the nest was very conspicuous; not so as a nest. It was built of flood-rubbish, and looked exactly like a bunch of this caught and left in the fork, as a bunch often is when a flood goes down. The hole in the nest faced the stream.

With regard to the date at which the Carrion Crow breeds, the following information, acquired while destroying the nests of this (with us too numerous) bird this spring, may be of interest:—April 15th, two birds shot from the nests, one of which sat until a stone was thrown at her; apparently both were incubating. April 17th, four birds sitting on nests. April 18th, bird sat on nest, about 25 ft. up in a young willow, until I came close under it. May 7th, bird sat on nest in tall elm until thrown at. May 8th, nest containing partly fledged noisy young. May 11th, nest with squab young, the pen-feathers just sprouting.

18th.—Willow Wren, Wheatear, and Ray's Wagtail appeared.

19th.—Several Tree Pipits singing; none the day before.

20th.—I think the resident race of Goldfinches must have been nearly exterminated by the frost of the early part of 1895. I could see none about here until a week ago; now I see a fair number. When in the garden to-day I heard loud alarm cries of Starlings, and, looking up, saw eight in a confused mass high in the air. They reformed, and went on in a N.E. direction, and what I believe was a Peregrine was flying away rather heavily; but I could not tell for certain whether it was carrying anything or not. I believe that a good many of the Starlings we see here in April, and even in May, are not going to breed, here at least. Even as late as mid May one sees little parties, up to a dozen or a score in number, flying overhead rather high up. They may be birds which are going to breed in the far north.

21st.—Redstarts appeared. My wife saw half a dozen "Blackbirds, one light coloured underneath," fly out of an ivied tree at the edge of Milcomb gorse. This is about the date at which the Ring-Ouzel has visited us, and it has occurred in this gorse before. I have no doubt these birds were Ring-Ouzels.

22nd.—Swallows appeared about the village. There is always an interval between the appearance of a few early birds and the arrival of the birds about this date in numbers.

23rd.—A Turtle-Dove seen at Woodperry by Mr. H.G. Thomson.

24th.—Cuckoo appeared.

We spent a week at a village in the Chiltern hills about this date, and were delighted to find that the Stone Curlew still inhabited the downs. We located three pairs, and examined a specimen shot at Assendon in September, 1894, and another in an old collection of birds at an inn. A portion of the 'Weekly Dispatch,' 1860, was pasted on the back of the latter case. Grasshopper Warblers were frequently heard on the gorse-covered commons, and Nightingales were not uncommon; at Henley they seemed to be more numerous, and we heard three singing at once there, and not more than fifteen yards apart. Although there is much beech-wood on the hills, we could find no Wood Wrens; in my experience this bird chiefly frequents oak-wood. We saw one day a large hawk which I believe was a Honey Buzzard (darker than a Buzzard, with more pointed wings and a longer tail) flapping slowly overhead. It passed over D'Oyly Wood towards the big woods at Stonor.

The Red-legged Partridge was seen at Stonor and Henley. A great many Peewits still breed on the slopes of the downs and the open stony fields at the foot. We saw hundreds of pairs. On April 30th we watched four young ones in down, perhaps a week old, near some penned sheep. There is a raised ridge of down to be seen at the back of the occiput, making them crested even at that early age. A Sparrowhawk took a bird from the hedge close to us, and, popping over our heads, flew, heavily cumbered, against the wind, low over a big ploughing. Time after time a Peewit rose under him, and he was mobbed all along his course, one bird handing him on to another, until he reached the shelter of the spruce and larch belt, which doubtless held his nest. Some Wheatears apparently breed on the downs; we saw two pairs. Stonechats, which I remembered very common about the juniper bushes on the hills sixteen years earlier, were very scarce. I think these birds must suffer greatly from hard winters. I examined, at Henley, a Little Owl shot at Turville Heath at the end of 1894. The birdstuffer told us he preserved three local Little Auks during the visitation in January, 1895. I may mention that one obtained on Port Meadow at that date is preserved in the University Museum; the Chipping Norton example has come into my possession. In an old collection of birds at an inn I found a specimen of White's Thrush; unfortunately no particulars respecting the collection are forthcoming. During our stay we noticed the arrival or presence of Grasshopper Warbler, April 25th; House Martin, 26th; Whitethroat, 26th; Lesser Whitethroat, 27th; Common Sandpiper, 29th; Sedge Warbler, 29th; Swift, May 1st; Turtle Dove, 1st. We heard the Wryneck twice; this bird is not common now in Oxon.

In Oxfordshire the Stone Curlew is known as the Curlew or Curloo. Barren open stretches on the undulating downs, as open and exposed as possible, are the haunts the Curloos chose; for there the bird's long legs and watchful eye enable him to guard against a surprise. The spot they select on our hills may be a vast field, partly under plough and partly derelict arable land, fallen back to poor condition, or "tumbled down," as they say, sweeping smoothly down to the foot of the hills in gentle basin-like slopes. Here on the short bare grey-green herbage, strewn with grey-and-white flints, the great down Hares sit out in perfect safety. As I examined the field with the glasses I counted five of them. Many pairs of Peewits were scattered over the field, and now and then one or two would get up and tumble about in the air, and their sweet calls came softly up. Rooks and Starlings were dotted about, the former probably up to no good. Again, the haunt may be a turfy down, with a great white blaze on its side, and on its lower slopes big juniper bushes, some old yew trees, and a belt of spruce and larch. The scrubby herbage is strewn with flints and white chalk-stones raked out of the rabbit-burrows, where a pair of Wheatears flit and run. From its most barren slope, thickly strewn with flints and chalk-stones, and sparsely clothed with short wiry grass and stonecrop, and dotted with dead plant-stems a foot high, I heard the "clamour" of the Curloo; and from it a pair rose and settled again, in view, but where the dead stems stood thickly. On being raised once more they went over a swell in the down, where, with the glass, I could just see against the sky the head of one bird peeping at me over the ridge. When I followed, one sounded the alarm before I could see more of them, and they flew back to the old spot. A great undulating arable field, on a slope, its surface one mass of flints, held another pair. The cry of the Stone Curlew sounds to me cur-lwee or curl-wee, sometimes currr-lwee. A shrill sound, the second syllable drawn out and very sweet. Sometimes the cry is repeated several times quickly; this seems to be the "clamour." From the slight opportunity I have had of making observations, it seemed to me that the "clamour" was uttered when the bird was on the ground. Once, after a pair settled, one further on than the other, the former called, and the other bird ran up. When taking one of their quick runs (they go very fast) with sudden stops, they exchange an upright position for a stooping one, with the body nearly horizontal. I have seen Bustards run in just the same way. One bird was mobbed after settling, and after taking short runs, by Peewits, which stooped down and buffeted him; but he only ducked his head each time. I once (but not in England) came suddenly on a pair of Stone Curlews not ten yards from me. One struck a curious attitude, facing me (while the other ran up to it), and staring fixedly at me with its large beautiful yellow-irised eye.

May 2nd.—Reed Warbler at Oxford.

9th.—A Nightingale at Milcomb gorse. Swifts numerous here; not seen earlier.

12th.—Among the Rooks shot here were two with part of the lower mandible light-coloured, in one white, the other buffy white; another with a black bill had the whole of the chin-feathers white. Turtle Dove appeared.

14th.—Spotted Flycatcher appeared. These birds arrived at Bodicote on the 13th. The old nest over the drawing-room window there has been taken down, as it was in a very foul condition. The birds used it for four years, and reared two broods each year.

16th.—Spotted Flycatcher singing. The song was continuous, but low in tone; there was no attempt at a fixed strain, and the notes were just jerked out (but there were sweet notes here and there), and the song was distinctly Shrike-like in character.

20th.—News from Mr. Fowler that Mr. Pycraft saw a Cormorant at King's Weir, Oxford, on the 17th, and a Black Tern.

22nd.—Mr. Fowler saw a Blue-headed Wagtail on Port Meadow; "white eye-stripe, and a very dark head even for that species, I should say" (in litt.).

24th.—A Song Thrush sang from the ridge of the house-roof. It uttered its rattling alarm-note once in the song, and the quiet alarm-note two or three times. But this might have been accounted for by the fact that it was uneasy.

28th.—A Spotted Flycatcher in the garden is an unusually frequent singer. The song is low, but shrill; weak, yet remarkable when heard at a short distance. It comes tinkling out like the sound of a tiny streamlet, but the notes are thin and shrill.

The Rev. J. Goodwin tells me of a Hawk, which, I think, must be a pale grey Harrier, seen at Broughton lately.

29th to July 8th.—Away in Norway.

June 5th.—The Marsh Warbler arrived at its favourite osier-bed at Kingham for the fifth year, and was heard by Mr. Fowler to-day, the same day as in 1892. It was only heard in song occasionally after the 13th. Nest found on the 27th.

July 10th.—Brancher Spotted Flycatchers.

19th.—Covey of Partridges, thirteen in all, the young nearly as large as the old. Hot dry weather for some weeks.

20th.—Another covey with young quite as big.

August 4th.—Saw a Hobby at Kignell Spinney, near Barford St. Michael.

10th.—Many Swifts; very noisy.

11th.—Not many Swifts to be seen, though some still nesting. Saw a Nightingale in the paddock-walk. How little we know of this bird in the late summer. Also saw a Wren's nest, which I had never noticed before. It was against the trunk of a slightly ivied tree, and built of moss with a thick outside covering of some plant. The latter is now withered and brown, and the nest is very conspicuous (a great drought had prevailed during summer), but I have no doubt the plant was green when the nest was built.

13th.—Still some Swifts.

14th.—About this date I saw a flock of fourteen Missel Thrushes.

26th.—One of my nephews at Bodicote reported that early in the night of the 24th Wild Geese (cackling like tame Geese) passed over low enough down for the swish of their wings to be heard. I believe these early grey Geese are Grey-Lags. The late Lord Lilford wrote:—"I can speak positively as to the occasional passage of flocks of Grey-Lags over the neighbourhood of Lilford in September and October from my intimate knowledge of their cries, which exactly resemble those of our farmyard and stubble Geese, who are no doubt lineally descended from this species. These cries differ greatly from those of the three other species of 'grey' Geese that occasionally visit us late in the season.... Many reports of their passage near home annually reach me, and although I am well aware that the present species is considered to be rare in our part of England, I am nevertheless inclined to think that such reports in August, September, and the first half of October are generally referable to the Grey-Lag." ('Birds of Northamptonshire,' vol. ii. p. 140.)

September 16th.—Many Meadow Pipits in standing mustard.

18th.—Many Pied Wagtails on the fresh ploughings.

28th.—Many Meadow Pipits in slightly flooded meadow. Saw two Turtle Doves; a rather late date.

30th.—Big flock of migratory Peewits.

October 1st.—Close and warm. A Missel Thrush singing fairly well. A rare occurrence in autumn. Blackbirds, abundant for some weeks, are now extraordinarily numerous.

10th.—A Grey Wagtail in the brook below the village.

17th.—Meadow Pipits roosting on a high-lying barley-stubble, with a great deal of sprouted shed corn; they were not there early in the afternoon.

19th.—Grey Wagtail in the brook.

20th.—A few Fieldfares. An immature Golden Plover shot at Ascott-under-Wychwood by Mr. Calvert (in litt.).

21st.—Mr. Darbey, of Oxford, informed me he had received a good many locally-killed Gulls recently, and showed me examples of the Herring Gull, Common Gull, and Kittiwake.

29th.—Vast flock of Starlings on barley-stubble; a little flock of Meadow Pipits in roots late in the afternoon. A good many Redwings. It was reported in the 'Banbury Guardian' that Mr. Valance Elam, of Little Tew Lodge, Enstone, flushed eight Woodcocks in one cover on the 24th.

November 2nd.—Near Heythrop, where these birds are numerous about the stone-wall country, as the sun came out to-day, the Common Bunting was singing gaily.

6th.—A Sand Martin was seen at Milcomb by two friends of mine who know the bird well.

16th.—This afternoon, at 3.40 p.m., I noticed a great noise and excitement proceeding from eight or ten Hedge-Sparrows which were scattered about in a laburnum and some orchard trees. They became silent when I went out to look at them, but soon began again, answering one another with their thin tseek. No cat or other vermin was to be found, and the birds were in some cases some distance apart. The excitement lasted about a quarter of an hour. It was near roosting-time. I have once or twice since noticed a similar occurrence.

22nd.—A very mild but dull day. A Blackbird sang for some time just before sunset. The notes were rather poor, but numerous. Perhaps the bird was a young one of the year, early hatched, as many were last spring. In my experience the Blackbird is very rarely heard to sing in autumn.

30th.—A Water Rail shot close to the village. In two swede-fields I found a good many Meadow Pipits: a late date for a flock to be here.

December 6th.—Missel Thrush singing well.

9th.—Wind strong from the south. A flock of about two hundred Ring Doves passed over at a fair height, going due south, and battling with the wind.

11th.—Song Thrushes sing very well now.

18th.—Severe frost for the last few days. Two Jack Snipe shot.

19th.—Vast flock of Chaffinches on clover and stubble; as far as I could see they were all females.

24th.—Another Jack-Snipe shot here.

31st.—A Sclavonian Grebe shot at Chimney-on-Thames. It is now in the Oxford Museum. In the course of correspondence about this bird with Mr. Darbey, he gave me information of the following Oxfordshire examples of this bird, not previously recorded:—One picked up at Pink Hill (or Pinkie) Lock, near Eynsham, in the winter of 1893; in the possession of Mr. Curtis. One killed in the same winter on Port Meadow; in the possession of Mr. Greenwood, of St. Giles Street. Another in the same winter on Port Meadow; preserved for an undergraduate of Keble College. One killed in the winter of 1895-96 on the Isis, at Oxford. One killed at Newbridge in January, 1896; in the possession of Mr. George Kent, of Newbridge.

Mr. A. H. Cocks reported in 'The Zoologist' that eight adult Sandwich Terns passed the greater part of the 10th April, 1895, at Great Marlow, going in the afternoon about three-quarters of a mile up the river (vide 1895, p. 190). These birds were not far from our borders.

(To be continued.[1])

 

 

NOTES on the ORNITHOLOGY of OXFORDSHIRE,
1896-1898.

By O.V. Aplin, F.L.S.

(Concluded from vol. iii. p. 442.)

 

Where no other locality is mentioned, the notes refer to the parish of Bloxham.

 

1897.

January 12th.—Fieldfares and Redwings only just beginning the large crop of haws, which, almost untouched, simply redden the hedges.

15th.—Flock of from two to three hundred Ring and Stock Doves.

20th.—Some snow; sharp frosts lately.

21st.— Two Redpolls.

22nd.—Snow on ground. Large flock of Fieldfares and many Redwings. Large flock of Larks.

23rd.—Very hard frost, and snow on ground. A Great Crested Grebe shot on the Thames at Cassington ('Oxford Times').

29th.—Thaw. Three hundred and fifty brace of Partridges killed this season on a beat of about 4000 acres of rough ground, in the parishes of South Newington, Swerford, and Rollright. This season and last have been very good ones here; hot and dry summers.

February 1st.—A vast flock of Skylarks on a stubble. News from Mr. Darbey of eight or ten Sheldrakes seen on floods at Charleton-on-Otmoor. They were very wild, but one was shot and sent for preservation.

20th.—Blackbird singing well.

23rd.—Large flock of Fieldfares.

A Great Crested Grebe, recently shot on Port Meadow, reported in the 'Oxford Times,' 5th March.

Writing to me on February 6th, Mr. R.W. Calvert, of Ascott-under-Wychwood, says:—"At the present time I am acquainted with about half a dozen nesting sites of both the Barn and Long-eared Owl, all within a radius of about seven miles of this place.... On March 21st [1896] I went to one, a spruce plantation about two miles away from here, and saw a Long-eared Owl fly off her six hard-sat eggs on the top of a Squirrel's nest. On April 3rd I discovered another Longeared Owl's nest with four eggs in a plantation close here." These eggs and the next two clutches were taken by Rooks; from the fourth clutch four young were reared. Writing again on May 29th, the same observer mentions having seen, up to that date of the present season, three pairs of Long-eared Owls nesting. And on June 15th he wrote that he had recently seen four lots of young.

March 6th.—News from Mr. Fowler that he saw a Buzzard at Kingham on this day. It flew in a south-easterly direction towards Bruern Wood, after coming nearly over his head. Although very high up, its flight and shape were unmistakable.

13th.—Rooks built one nest.

20th.—Song-Thrush's nest with two eggs in shrubbery. Eighteen Rooks' nests in the far rookery.

26th.—Chiffchaff in song.

One day this spring (exact date not preserved) I saw in my brother-in-law's garden here a Missel-Thrush's nest with eggs, placed, not more than seven feet from the ground, on and near the end of a slender, nearly horizontal bough of a yew tree which stretched to the edge of the tennis lawn. The way the Missel Thrush has of putting away some of its shyness in the breeding season and approaching our dwelling-houses to breed is well known. Possibly in this case the slender bough was chosen as being difficult of access by cats, which are the greatest curse that the birds of Bloxham gardens suffer from. It is absolutely useless to pass (and even to enforce) laws for the protection of small birds while no restraint is imposed upon the keeping of cats. Curiously enough, when I was at Rainworth the same year in July, Mr. Whitaker showed me a Missel-Thrush's nest from which young had flown, also placed at the end of a yew bough extending to the edge of the croquet-ground, and only about four feet from the ground. Nests at these low elevations are, I should think, not common.

April 11th.—Blackcap in song in shrubbery. Several Redstarts by the brook.

13th.—A Swallow seen at Bloxham Grove.

15th.—A good many Willow Wrens.

18th.—Swallows pretty common about the village. Cuckoo noisy. Mr. H.G. Thomson watched, through glasses, two immature Golden Eyes in the middle of a large field on Otmoor, and within a hundred yards of him. Stormy weather had then recently prevailed (in litt.).

20th.—The same observer saw two Spotted Woodpeckers at Woodperry; he has also seen this bird in the garden there (in litt.).

24th.—Otter hunting in the Cherwell Valley (when we killed a bitch of 17 lb.), and saw Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Sand Martin, and Tree Pipit.

25th.—Ray's Wagtail and House Martin.

27th.—Whinchat.

May 2nd.—Garden Warbler.

4th.—Sedge Warbler.

7th.—Swift and Spotted Flycatcher.

9th.—Turtle Dove.

17th.—Carrion Crow's nest with four young with feathers just showing.

June 4th.—Heard Corncrake; getting scarce in recent years.

8th.—Pair of Red-backed Shrikes established at Wickham.

18th.—A young Cuckoo in Redstart's nest in a hole under the thatch coping of garden wall. Being now too large for the hole, its tail sticking out attracts attention.

15th.—News from Mr. Calvert that he had up to May 10th seen twenty-seven new nests of the Hawfinch in Wychwood Forest, but all empty—the work of the Cuckoo, aided by Rooks and Jackdaws.

16th.—The above Cuckoo flown.

26th.—The Red-backed Shrikes at Wickham have a nest in a hazel bush in the roadside hedge, and young flown.

28th.—Cuckoo in the fields at the back of the house still sings the full song.

July 3rd.—Blackcap, which became quiet about the end of May, sings again now. Garden Warbler sings.

6th.—Flycatchers with brancher young, and very noisy.

10th.—A young Cuckoo in Robin's nest in hole under the thatch coping of kitchen garden wall; feathers only just sprouting. The shells of some of the Robin's eggs lie at the foot of the wall.

17th.—A young Cuckoo (the third this year) about the garden; my man says it appeared on the 15th.

23rd.—Saw a Barred Woodpecker. The last young Cuckoo has emerged and frequents the garden.

August 3rd.—A young Cuckoo still with us.

22nd.—Many Swifts; very noisy.

23rd.—Some Swifts.

September 4th.—A big flock of Peewits.

7th.—Many Missel Thrushes about the fields, in small flocks. I shot a very heavy Red-legged Partridge at Milcomb; it was an old male, one of three very wild birds. Although in moult, and the spaniel in retrieving it (it was a runner) pulled out nearly all its tail, it weighed only a shade under 20 oz. I find that 17½ oz. or 18 oz. is a good weight for a full-plumaged November bird.

Partridges showing a pure white horseshoe have been much more common of late than was the case ten years ago. These birds are usually (? always) females. The following examples came under my own notice this year and in the previous autumn.

Moulted young one, sex not noted down, pure white horseshoe, Sept. 15th, 1896. Three females killed at Milcomb and Barford, January 4th, 15th, and 25th, 1897, two with pure white horseshoes, and the third white just marked with a few brown spots. Female with pure white shoe, October 15th. Female with large pure white shoe, November 6th. Female with small patch of brown on white shoe, November 9th. Another the same day, sex not noted, pure white shoe. Birds with the horseshoe chestnut and white mixed are often met with.

12th.—A Grey Wagtail by the Sorbrook at Bodicote.

18th.—About 8 a.m. (the sun just coming through the mist) a cloud of Swallows flew up above the roof in a mass, and went up high in the air; distinctly fewer to be seen about the village afterwards.

21st.—Many Meadow Pipits (migrants) in the roots to-day and yesterday.

30th.—A Turtle Dove at South Newington.

October 13th.—A good many House Martins and only one Swallow.

14th.—A party of Martins high over the garden.

23rd.—Redwings.

31st.—Fieldfares.

November 12th.—A Woodcock, a rare bird here, seen at Milcomb.

16th.—Great flocks of Starlings. A farmer here recently caught a light greyish (nearly white) variety.

19th.—Examined a Peregrine Falcon—a male of this year—shot near Chipping Norton early in this month.

21st.—Missel Thrush singing lately. Grey Wagtail flew over the garden a few days ago.

24th.—A good many Redwings here, but hardly any Fieldfares.

December 23rd.—About 12.30 a.m., calm and starlight with a little haze, Grey Wild Geese very noisy, and apparently wheeling over the village, rather low down.

24th.—A few Redwings; no Fieldfares to be seen. About a dozen Siskins in some alders by the brook at South Newington. Their note on the wing at this season sounds like tweee or tweeze, thin and wheezy. When settled they utter a poor thin twiteree or twitzeree.

Marsh Warbler.—Mr. Fowler did not find a nest at Kingham this year; but he felt sure there was one (if not two), for he saw and heard the birds' as late as July 22nd—his latest date.

Jays.—A copy of a publication called 'The Gamekeeper' (December 1897) came into my hands. It contains an article by Mr. Charles Stonebridge, head gamekeeper to the Earl of Jersey, upon shooting Jays at Middleton Park. The writer states that, in one of the coverts, there is a plantation of what are locally called "Spanish Oaks," the botanical name of which he believes is Quercus cerris. The variety grows nowhere else on the estate, and seldom fails to bear a crop of acorns. In those years when the ordinary oak bears no fruit, Middleton is visited by a "plague of Jays." As a rule there are, he says, very few Jays about the place, but the season of 1897 being marked by the conditions stated above, a swarm of Jays then appeared to feed on the acorns. The writer continues: "The strange part about it is, that at this time the Jays appear to drop the artful, suspicious ways which are characteristic of the family, and one is able to shoot at them all day without frightening the birds away. On heavy mornings, when the mist and smoke hang in the trees, they come just the same, and at times severely try the quickness of the breechloader. If one should happen to be winged, and falls screaming down the tree, the Jays fly in so quickly that the gun-barrels soon become hot in the hand. From about nine to ten in the morning is the time when the Jays appear to be feeding most freely, and it is then when myself and one of the under-keepers wait for them, as, having other duties to attend to, we are unable to spare more than an hour or so each day. However, in that short time we generally manage to kill a dozen or more. During one season a few years ago we bagged two hundred and fifty Jays, up till the end of October, feeding on these acorns.... The only injury they do now, is the manner in which their screaming annoys the Pheasants." This last is a most "gamekeeperish" remark, and it would be curious to find out what, if any, grounds Mr. Stonebridge has for making such a remarkable statement.

The tameness of the birds probably points to their connection with one of those immigrations of Jays to the east coast of England which occasionally take place, and affect Oxfordshire in some degree.

 

1898.

January 5th.—Many primroses and one flower of Pyrus japonica in bloom.

6th.—Examined at Mr. Bartlett's a Manx Shearwater captured at North End, Warwickshire, in September last. Although this bird occurred three or four miles outside our boundaries, it may not be out of place to mention it here.

10th.—While waiting for Wood Pigeons, I watched a Barred Woodpecker for nearly half an hour. It once uttered its loud qui-qui-qui-qui-qui, more commonly heard in spring, and also, but less so, in autumn. It is also heard in summer. The notes of this cry are so run together as to sound like quick rather than qui. This bird also once uttered the alarm cry gik or gek.

13th.—Snowdrops well out.

14th.—The "dark still dry warm weather" of Gilbert White.

15th.—Two Blackbirds, old and young, had a prolonged running fight, with occasional halts. When they faced each other, one of them (at least) sang a few high-pitched shrill notes.

19th.—A small flock of Siskins in alders at South Newington.

20th.—Had news of many Crossbills seen in a plantation of spruce and larch at Wardington.

21st.—Blackbird sang well; very early.

22nd.—Received two Crossbills which had been shot a few days ago at Wardington. They had been killed too long for preservation, or for the sex to be ascertained. Dusky birds with dark feather-centres, and the feathers of the crown and (but less so) mantle with yellow edges. Rump of one bird yellow; of the other, shot away.

23rd.—One crocus bloom out.

24th.—A pair of Starlings investigating a former nesting-hole in the roof of a thatched cottage.

30th.—Pied Wagtail singing well.

31st.—Wood Pigeons numerous. I saw two or three large flocks; one flying to the Tew Woods late in the afternoon numbered three hundred at least. Jays have been rather numerous since the end of October. With few exceptions the Jay (on account of the absence of woods, and scarcity of even small plantations) in this immediate district, is an autumn visitor for the winter.

February 19th.—Bullfinches made a heavy onslaught on the plum buds; they chose the best-flavoured plums.

2lst.—Hard frost and snow.

22nd.—Thermometer down to 25° (at four feet from the ground) last night. Wind N.E. lately.

24th.—Apricot blossom expanded.

25th.—White frost, 25°.

March 2nd.—Cold and stormy for some days; daffodil in flower.

3rd.—News from Mr. Darbey, of Oxford, that he received "the other week" a particularly fine Peregrine Falcon, shot near Woodstock; also that he had been told that another frequented the same neighbourhood.

4th.—Frost and snow.

9th.—Wintry weather, and N.E. winds lately.

10th.—Sharp frost.

18th.—Milder the last few days. 55° in the day, in shade.

21st.—Frost again.

24th.—Strong N. wind and snow.

26th.—It has blown hard from N. and N.N.E. for three days; some snow. Starlings building in hole over the granary door.

27th.—Wind moderated, with rain. Much peach and apricot blossom strewn on the ground. [Yet from one apricot tree I afterwards thinned out over one hundred green fruit, and gathered one hundred and twenty ripe fruit.]

April 1st.—The first Chiffchaff appeared; in song, in the garden. I searched carefully in the most likely spots without finding one earlier.

7th.—Some (unknown) bird has in the last few days attacked my black currant bushes, biting off the fruit buds and eating them, although the leaves (many of which are strewn on the ground) are as large as a shilling. I have never known this happen before. We prevented further destruction by stretching black cotton about the trees. And I may now add, that this done early in the next season (1899) probably prevented a repetition of the damage to the bushes.

8th.—Good Friday. Saw a Swallow about the buildings at Bloxham Grove.

12th.—Several Willow Wrens in the garden. Redstart.

17th.—Cuckoo.

18th.—Swallows about the garden (the first on the 15th).

20th.—Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat.

23rd.—Tree Pipit. Otter hunting in the Cherwell below Kings Sutton. Killed a dog and bitch of 18 lb. and 16 lb.

26th.—Sedge Warbler. As I passed in the train I saw a Coot on its nest on a piece of water on the east side of the G.W.R. near Wolvercot. Examined (and afterwards bought) a nice red Crossbill, one of four received from Buckland in December, 1897. Buckland is just inside Berkshire. Heard a Nightingale at Wolvercot.

30th.—House Martin.

May 1st.—Whinchat, Whitethroats, Wryneck, and Grasshopper Warbler.

2nd.—Garden Warbler in shrubbery. Two or three Swifts. A Song Thrush sang from my barn roof ridge this afternoon. Rather a wet day.

4th.—The Lesser Whitethroat sings nearly every day in a bird-cherry tree (Prunus padus), the branches of which come close to some of the windows. I can thus listen to the song at very close quarters. The bird sings at pretty regular intervals. His warbling notes, which precede the outburst, are sometimes really very good and rich, but low in tone and not very numerous—often hurried, so that at a distance they are often not heard. They vary a good deal, and occasionally, in style, remind one of the notes of the Orphean Warbler. In these cases they might be set down as therut therut therut; but this kind of prelude is rarely heard, and the notes are usually of a warbling nature.

7th.—On April 15th I set up in the shrubbery a nesting-box made out of a piece of an old pump—the fondness of Tits for a pump as a nesting site being well known. A pair of Greater Titmice had completed a nest in it by the 30th. On the morning (about 10.30 a.m.) of May 1st Mr. A.H. Macpherson and I looked into it and found it empty. On the 4th I saw the bird on the nest, and to-day the nest contained eight eggs. Even supposing an egg was laid on the 1st, after we looked into the nest, the bird must have laid two eggs in one day.

14th.—Found a Jay's nest with live eggs in a thorn bush in a small ash-pole spinney at South Newington. The Jay rarely breeds here. Turtle Dove.

15th.—Heard the resonant notes of the Wryneck, now a rare bird here, from this house. Several Spotted Flycatchers appeared in the garden for the first time this year. They were fighting and pairing. A pair of Wrens whose nest was torn by a Cat from an ivy-grown stem, are building again in the same spot. I imagine it is the same pair.

18th.—Starling feeding young.

27th.—Flycatchers have one egg in a nest built in half a cocoanut-shell fixed under the eaves of a wall. A Nightingale established at Bloxham Grove.

June 1st to 15th—In Belgium.

20th.—Mr. H.G. Thompson saw a white variety among a flock of Starlings near Headington.

23rd.—Cuckoo still sings. Examined at Mr. Bartlett's a Shag, just beginning to moult old worn feathers, which was picked up in a very thin condition in a meadow near Banbury about the 1st of the month.

25th.— Went to Kingham to see the three Marsh Warbler's nests found by Mr. Fowler. A photograph of one of these nests (the one in which the Cuckoo's egg was afterwards found, vide 'Zoologist,' 1898, p. 356) is here reproduced.

 

Zoologist2475 0044.jpg

 

This example exhibits very well the peculiar characteristic (always more or less developed, so far as I know) of the Marsh Warbler's nest. The nest has the appearance of being hung on its supporting stems by basket-like handles, somewhat similar to those of a common garden scuttle-basket. This nest is supported by three stems of meadow-sweet, two of them close together. The walls of the nest are formed of dry grass, with a very little moss and some wool. The lining consists of a fair amount of horsehair, and a very little wool is to be seen, as well as a patch of the latter as big as a threepenny-bit in the bottom of the nest (vide 1898, p 357). The second nest was supported by two stems of meadow-sweet (a third stem was only attached to the nest slightly). It had very well developed "handles" coming up high above the general level of the walls. The walls were entirely of dead grass, and the lining of horsehair. The third nest was supported by two stems of meadow-sweet and one of osier. The "handles" were well defined, but slight and small. Walls of dead grass; lining of horsehair. The three sets of eggs were each of a different type, though the individual eggs in the clutches resembled one another. Mr. Fowler has presented the first nest, with the Cuckoo's egg, to the Oxford Museum.

29th.—Mr. Fowler and I saw a male Red-backed Shrike and an impaled Bumble Bee near Lower Tadmarton.

July 2nd.—Cuckoo singing full and well this morning; heard from the garden.

4th.—Two Cuckoos still in full song, one at the back of the garden, the other near South Newington.

5th.—Cuckoo still in full song. Starlings very destructive to my neighbour's ripe cherries. Weather dry.

6th.—The Lesser Whitethroat may be heard not uncommonly singing in this and other gardens in the village throughout its period of song. It is much more of a garden bird than the Greater Whitethroat, which only appears in the village and about gardens on its first arrival (and that very rarely), and again (commonly) in the bush-fruit season. Lesser Whitethroat is indeed an unfortunate and, in some respects, a misleading name. The habit of this species of frequenting gardens, rather than open spots like the Whitethroat, was remarked upon by Edward Blyth sixty years ago, as well as by Herbert at a rather earlier date.

9th.—A Cuckoo in full song all the morning in the fields at the back of this garden. The old idea locally is that the Cuckoo's voice becomes broken when it can no longer get little birds' eggs to wet its throat with; hence it changes its tune in June. An ingenious man once suggested, to account for a Cuckoo singing in July, that each bird has a certain number of cuckoos, to get through, and if he had not finished them by the usual time he had to go on after the other birds had finished!

15th,—Very dry weather. Starlings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, and Robins punishing the raspberries and red currants.

18th. —A young Robin caught to-day was half through its moult, and had a good patch of red on its breast. I saw another showing this a few days earlier. The heaviest hay crop for twenty-nine years; and "got well."

20th.—Saw a female Red-backed Shrike on the Lessor Farm, Milcomb.

22nd.—Chiffchaff still sings.

30th.—A good many Willow Wrens about the trees, plants, and pea rows in the garden, taking small flies, &c, during the last few days.

31st.—Several Robins singing. All those that I can see well are young birds over the moult. Spotted young are still to be seen. Great numbers have been reared this year, and I have liberated as many as three from the Sparrow-trap in a morning. Most of them will leave us in autumn. Pied Wagtail on the roof of an outbuilding with food in its mouth, and probably feeding a second brood, as there were big young on the lawn some time ago.

August 3rd.—A young Cuckoo about the garden lately. Was this the progeny of the old Cuckoo which sang so late in the season close to the garden? And was the old bird hanging about until the young one was safely launched? I did not find a Cuckoo's egg in the garden this year, but I have no doubt this young one (which had evidently only just left the nest) was hatched with us.

13th.—Many Swifts, high up and noisy, in evening. Two Red-backed Shrikes on the telegraph wires on the Lessor Farm.

14th.—No Swifts to be seen.

15th.—The drought is very severe; apples and plums falling unripe from the trees.

September 1st.—Chiffchaff singing again. The hottest September I ever knew. A bad season for Partridges here, taking into consideration the large stock left at the end of last season. Barren birds numerous, but what coveys there are being good on the average. A dry season is usually good for the birds, but apparently it can be too dry, and I believe that this year many young birds died from want of water. It is on the dry hilly land this year that birds are scarcest; while the contrary is usually the case with us.

2nd.—Chiffchaff in song. Saw a Wheatear in two places near South Newington.

5th.—The cracks in the ground are larger than any I have seen since the dry summer of 1867 (or 8), which I remember being pointed out to me as the probable grave of many young Partridges. Straggling flocks of Missel Thrushes seen every day almost this month, so far. It is a curious thing that during the late autumn and winter the Missel Thrush can hardly be called a gregarious bird in England, and that we do not see flocks after early autumn. In winter the Missel Thrush is seen singly, or, at the most, three or four together, until early spring when it pairs. I think this bird was more common here when I was a boy, judging from recollections of nests found in apple orchards and the fork of forest trees—an ash for choice; judging also from the birds shot with Fieldfares in hard weather in the thorn and other berried trees. Those who were accustomed to shoot Fieldfares as they came to feed in the thorn bushes, hated the "Norman," as it is called here; for if one arrived in a bush where the Felts were gathering, it straightway began to swear with its harsh screaming voice, and to fight, and so drove the other birds away, causing the hoped-for family shot to fade away. A Landrail bagged. Only a few seen this season; but I did not expect any, as I do not think I heard one in the summer. Mr. H.G. Thomson wrote me word that in the neighbourhood of Woodperry they had been conspicious by their absence. In 1897 also they were rare with us. A Wheatear seen.

7th.—For the first time the oppressive heat quite overcame us this afternoon. The thermometer stood at 70° after 7 p.m.

8th.—Temperature in the shade 84° at 1 p.m.

9th.—Have shot this month Partridges with the horseshoe pure white (two females); white with a few chestnut feathers; mixed; and pure chestnut. I made this note in consequence of a suggestion in the 'Field' newspaper that this white shoe was a "stage" in the change of plumage. This is of course a wrong idea. But it seems likely that the pure white horseshoe is almost confined to the female Partridge, if, indeed, it is not entirely so.

11th.—Chiffchaff sings well.

13th.—Flock of Peewits on swedes.

16th.—Drought still continues. News that Mr. G. Colegrave has seen one Quail this year, and that Mr. E. Colegrave heard one in the spring at Milcomb.

17th.—My garden is nearly deserted by birds (on account of the dry weather). Caterpillars (Pieris brassicæ) swarm on the cabbage tribe, but the birds do not touch them. As for the Sparrows, not one is seen about my garden and the outbuildings; they are all away in the cornfields.

21st.—Very dry; about 75°. Still many Missel Thrushes in loose flocks.

22nd.—The bulk of the village Swallows gone.

23rd.—The caterpillars of Pieris brassicæ having eaten all the green from a considerable quantity of the cabbage tribe in a large garden near here (leaving an array of skeletons), went over the wall in swarms, and across the village street, the people on the other side having to shut windows and doors to keep them out of their houses. The side walk was covered with caterpillars, crushed under foot by the passers-by. I may here add that during the winter of 1898-9, green vegetables were scarcer in the village than they had been for very many years. Drought and blight partly accounted for this. My own plants were only saved from caterpillars by hand-picking. Whether it is that there are now so many more insects which are "nasty" to birds, or whether the birds have changed their habits and got into bad ways in the matter of their food, I cannot say. But it is certain that, although ordinary small birds (except Swallows and Martins) are commoner than ever, they seem year by year less able, or less willing, to cope with the insect pests of the garden. Began apple gathering in the orchard; an early date.

26th.—Thermometer down to 35° last night. Hot sun but cold air from the E. and a slight whirlwind about midday.

27th.—Showers. Song Thrush sang in a low and subdued tone; the notes very poor.

28th.—Country and grass fields perhaps never before in my experience so brown, dried up, and dusty.

29th.—The drought broke up and a good rain fell. We have met with only three or four Landrails this year, and I have heard of some half dozen others.

October 3rd.—A young well-grown female Partridge nearly over the moult, with white horseshoe.

5th.—A good many Jays about.

9th.—A Grey Wagtail in the brook here. Alarm note in flight is a highly-pitched sharp and very hard itch-it or itch-it-tit, uttered quickly.

10th.—Many Meadow Pipits in loose flocks and singly in swede fields. Lark sang poorly.

12th.—Redwings about hedges. Many Meadow Pipits again. Lark sang.

15th.—Some Swallows hawking flies round a big oak at Wickham. A Woodcock seen on Bloxham Grove.

29th.—The 'Field' to-day contained an announcement by Mr. W.W. Fowler that Mr. W.C. Carnegie saw a Swift at Churchill in company with a large number of House Martins on the 15th inst. This is a record late date for Oxon. Swifts were recorded as seen this month at Edinburgh, Bath, and in the Isle of Wight.

31st.—Song Thrush singing well. We have now only our (comparatively) few winter Robins. Mr. H.G. Thomson saw three Grey Crows flying over from north to south at Woodperry on the 23rd.

November 1st.—Fieldfares passed over my garden "chacking."

4th.—When pike-fishing at Byfield Reservoir, Northamptonshire, not far over the Oxfordshire boundaries, I saw no fewer than three Cormorants, which I was told had been there for about ten days. One bird was fully adult, and another quite immature. They passed most of their time sitting on the mud edge (the water being very low), occasionally hanging their wings out to dry, but I saw one busily fishing. The shots of a Snipe-shooter alarmed them considerably in the forenoon, and they took wing, circling round at a great height, and I thought they had gone for good. But they soon returned, and I afterwards learned that they were in the habit of visiting Clattercote Reservoir, in Oxon, occasionally remaining there for the night, and roosting in some tall elms on the bank. I think they remained about six weeks in the neighbourhood.

As my man was walking up the shrubbery to-day, a hawk dashed at a small bird. The latter dropped through some lilacs, and the Hawk following hit against a bough and lay stunned on the ground for several seconds.

6th.—Weather still very mild. Twenty-eight different plants in bloom in the garden.

19th.—Heard Redwings' notes overhead, at intervals, about 9 p.m.; rather foggy, calm, with wind N.E. to E.

21st.—Many Redwings and Fieldfares; these remained in good numbers all the winter.

22nd.—A female Partridge—a bird of the year, I believe—with pure white horseshoe. Very cold. N.N.W. wind.

23rd.—A Woodcock shot out of gorse on a hillside at Milcomb. News from Mr. Fowler that he saw half a dozen Crossbills in the parks at Oxford, on the 22nd. These birds have been numerous this year in various parts of England. Deep snow on the ground this morning, and more fell in the forenoon, about five inches on the ground; but thawing.

28th.—Cold winds lately. Obtained an immature Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria) here. (Vide 'Ibis,' 1899, p. 160.)

December 11th.— Missel Thrush's joyous rollicking song.

19th.—Very mild again. Violets, pansies, and primroses blooming; also wallflower and alpine wallflower, to a small extent. Our tortoise has foolishly emerged from a covering of leaves and earth at the foot of a bending wall just where it faces south-west—the spot it selected to lay up in.

20th.—Frosty for a few days.

28th.—Winter aconite in full bloom.

Mr. H.G. Thomson reports Wild Ducks, Wigeon, and Teal, plentiful this winter on Otmoor, owing to large floods. But wildfowl are not so plentiful there as in former years. Mr. Surman received a Cormorant from the neighbourhood of Witney this month; and he tells me he had one from Headington Quarry in the winter of 1896–7.

 

The following fragments of the history of two birds once found commonly in Oxfordshire may be worth preserving.

When I was at Kingham, in 1892, I interviewed Mr. Tom Phipps, aged sixty-three, who had been postboy and postman for fifty years. He had an excellent and accurate memory, was fond of recalling the former condition of Kingham parish (then much more wooded than it is now), and of birds and beasts. About thirty years before 1892, Tom Barnes (nephew of John Barnes, the old keeper, who would have been then over ninety if living), who afterwards went to New Zealand, saw a Kite feeding on a Crow in Bruern Wood, but failed to shoot it for Phipps. I wish now that he had succeeded, for Phipps would without doubt have preserved it to this day. This was the last that either of them heard of the Kite. But Phipps's father took a Kite's nest in Bledington Heath Wood, probably eighty years earlier, for it was when he was a boy or young man, and he would have been over a hundred years old if living then.

Mr. R.W. Calvertt was told, in 1897, by one Curtiss, of Charlbury, former gardener to the late Dowager Lady Churchill, at the Ranger's Lodge, Wychwood Forest, that Kites were quite common down to about the year 1850. Although he never took any interest in birds, yet he knew the Kite and its forked tail.

It was about fifty years since Tom Phipps saw a Raven. He was, as a little boy (of ten or twelve), "leasing" in a field on the Churchill side of Kingham, when a bird, looking like a great Crow, flew over, calling, in a deep hoarse low voice, "cork cork corrk," and the women in the field looked up and said: "Look at the Raven; there will be sure to be someone die at Kingham, for he is calling 'corpse corpse corpse.'"

Mr. George Wise told me, in 1891, that about fifty years earlier, he went with his father up to Tusmore Park in a donkey cart. While they were inspecting some sheep in a pen, a pair of "great old Ravens" came out of Tusmore Wood, and flew over the pen. They were the last he ever saw. They were, he said, bigger than Gor Crows. Mr. Wise is noted for a wonderfully good memory. He does not know the Kite, which, owing to the lack of woods, probably became extinct in this district long before it died out in the wooded parts of Oxon. But years ago I have heard ploughboys speak of the "Kite-Hawk," bestowing the name on the Sparrow-Hawk. And in the same way Mr. Wise speaks of the "Buzzard Hawk" and Sparrow Hawk, when he means the Sparrow-Hawk and Kestrel. The names, in fact, survive long after any recollection or tradition of the birds they really belong to. I once heard a man call a large female Sparrow Hawk a "Hare Harrier." The 'Hawk and Partridge' inn, at Bloxham, has a very old signboard, painted many years ago (sixty or seventy, at least, as far as I can ascertain). It represents a very large Hawk striking at a fat Partridge standing placidly in the middle of a field. A very old keeper once described Harriers to me most accurately, and he called them "Partridge Hawks" (vide 'Birds of Oxon,' p. 34).

 

  1. See vol. 4 (1900), p. 11—[Wikisource ed.]


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