The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 668/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (February, 1897)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issue 668, p. 83–89

4035136Notes and QueriesFebruary, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant




Breeding of the S. African Galago in Confinement.—The interesting little animal known to the Boers as the "nagt-apie," and to zoologists as Galago maholi, was generally an inmate of my small menagerie in the Transvaal, and is a common pet both there and elsewhere. It can usually be purchased at Pretoria from the bush-veld Boers who bring their waggons to the market, and the little animals—for they are usually pairs—are simply secured by a light thong round the neck.

The first pair I kept, and in a moderately small cage, bred within the initial twelve months of captivity. One was produced at birth, which evidently died at a very early age, for after death it was thrust outside the sleeping or day-hiding chamber, when I first saw it. I should probably have succeeded in rearing stock from this pair, but for one of those untoward and unforeseen events which dog the steps of the keeper of live animals. The cause of the trouble in this instance was a Meyer's Parrot, Psittacus meyeri, between which and the male Galago a remarkable antipathy existed; the last would leave his nest, even in the daytime, if the bird was loose and came in front of his cage. One morning, when the Parrot had been loose all night, I found the male Galago dead, his snout being lacerated where the bird had bitten him through the wire netting. This proved that he had sought to fight the Parrot, as otherwise he was perfectly safe and protected in his cage. It is an interesting question whether there is a general antipathy between the Parrot and the Galago, and if so, why? Dr. Günther informed me that G. maholi bred in captivity in England in 1894, and, as the animal is frequently brought home, success in breeding may probably be obtained by those who will take the trouble to secure it. That possibly may be best achieved by interfering as little as possible with the sleeping or day-hiding place of the animals, or, in other words, by leaving them alone.—Ed.


Eared Grebe in Cumberland.—An Eared Grebe, apparently an adult bird in winter dress, was shot upon the river Wampool early in December, 1896. It was quite alone, and was resting on the sand at the water-side when it was shot by one of the professional wildfowlers of the Solway Firth. This species is rare on the N.W. coast of England.—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, near Maryport).

Fulmar and Surf Scoter in Cos. Sligo and Mayo.— On Oct. 19th, when driving to Ballina, I observed a dead Gull (as I thought) entangled in a small thorn-bush on the side of the road near the village of Castleconnor, Co. Sligo; but to my surprise, on examination, found it to be a very fine fresh specimen of the light-coloured variety of the Fulmar. As we had a continuance of northerly and north-easterly gales for some days before, the poor bird had evidently been driven before the storm and blown into the bush, from which, in its exhausted state, it was unable to extricate itself. The place where I found the bird is at least two miles and a half from Killala Bay, and nearly half a mile from the nearest part of the Moy Estuary. Although I have found dead Fulmars washed ashore by the surf on the Ennicrone Sands, and on one occasion found a pair alive, but too exhausted to move above the edge of the surf, yet I never met one inland before.

When out punt-shooting on Dec. 19th, I was fortunate in obtaining a very fine female specimen of one of our rarest American visitors, the Surf Scoter. A smart frost the night before induced me to launch my punt, and look out for any Mallards driven down by the frost to the estuary, as they usually are when the mercury in the thermometer falls below 26°. On reaching the stony point where the Ducks rest at about 7.30 p.m., owing to the faint light, I was unable to make them out lying amongst the brown seaweed; and, after waiting for some time vainly trying to see them, six fine Ducks rose out of the wrack, going off without a shot. Letting the punt drift down channel with the ebb-tide, I met seven or eight Wigeon near Bannross, and fired, knocking down five out of the bunch, but picking up only four, one cripple escaping by hiding in the seaweed. Loading in a hurry, I hastened on to cross the flats to Moyne Channel before the tide left the banks, and was barely able to do so, having to leave the punt and push her before me in the shallow water for a hundred yards or so, until I got into the channel. I found the sands on either side well covered with Godwits, Curlew, some flocks of Dunlins, and Sanderlings, and on the Bartragh side, a flock of forty Sheldrakes resting after their morning's feed, but well out of shot.

Meeting neither Wigeon nor Ducks, I still kept down channel, till, reaching "Moyne Pool" (an expansion of the channel), I saw a large flock of Godwits at the lower end, nicely placed for a shot. Seeing no chance of Wigeon I sat down to the Godwits, but before coming within shot a pair of heavy black Ducks flew past up channel for a short way, then turning, flew down again, pitching about a quarter of a mile below me. Thinking them to be Common Scoters (of which numbers are always in the bay just out side the surf), I left the Godwits, and began to paddle down to the Ducks; but before I had gone fifty yards they rose again, and as they flew past, observing some white showing on the head of one, it suddenly struck me that they were the rare Surf Scoters, birds that I had never seen alive. So, turning the punt, I paddled up to where they had pitched, about a quarter of a mile above me; they were not at all shy, and, letting me get within fifty yards, I fired my big gun, loaded with an Eley's wire cartridge, but unfortunately at the moment forgetting that at short range the cartridge threw high, I did not depress the muzzle sufficiently, and the consequence was that the body of the charge went over them, a couple of grains only taking effect, one killing the female, the male being only winged. On the smoke clearing away I saw one bird lying dead on the water, the other having disappeared on being struck. However, he soon appeared on the surface about forty yards off, when I saw that he was a beautiful adult male, his orange-red bill and white patches on head and nape of neck contrasting strongly with his jetty-black plumage. Taking up my cripple-stopper, I let him have a charge of No. 6, which had no more effect in stopping him than a charge of sand. This shot sent him under water again, and then began a most exciting chase all about the pool and channel, the bird diving and turning in all directions when under water, and by these manoeuvres throwing me off of his line so frequently, that, though always keeping him moving, I could never get closer than thirty or forty yards, and as he always swam under the water, showing only his head and neck stretched out on the surface, offered no mark to fire at from such a distance. Although I fired four times, I do not think a grain touched him, for he used always to duck the flash, the shot striking the water over the place he had been, and just too late. The chase, unfortunately for me always a stern one, lasted for over an hour and a quarter, when, getting into a dark patch of water caused by the shade of the land, he fairly blinked me by darting back and getting down channel when I thought he had gone up, and I lost time searching the upper part. Losing such a prize after being winged was most annoying, but the strength and endurance of the bird was surprising, for at the time I lost sight of him he appeared as fresh as when the chase began.

The Surf Scoter is one of our rarest visitors, W. Thompson recording only one specimen, an adult male, shot at Ballyholme, Belfast Bay, on Sept. 9th, 1846 ('Birds of Ireland,' iii. p. 118); and Sir R. Payne-Gallwey mentions a second as shot in October, 1880, at Clontarf, Co. Dublin ('Fowler in Ireland,' p. 113); while Mr. R.M. Barrington obtained an immature female, shot at Crookhaven, Co. Cork, on Nov. 5th, 1888 (Zool. 1889, p. 32). Mr. Sheridan, of Achill, Co. Mayo, speaks of shooting a female with a rifle-ball in Achill Sound in 1870. So the five above-mentioned records show what a very rare visitor this Duck is to Ireland, as rare as another American Duck, the Hooded Merganser, which has also occurred only five times.—Robert Warren (Moy View, Ballina).

[With reference to the Surf Scoter whose escape is so graphically described above, Mr. Robert Warren has just informed the Editor that the wounded bird of Dec. 19th was shot by his friend Mr. A.C. Kirkwood, of Bartragh, in the Moyne Channel, near Killala, on Jan. 18th. We feel equally pleased that the specimen has been secured, and that the sufferings of the bird are at an end.]

Landrail in Chester in December.— A Landrail, Crex pratensis, was shot on the meadow-land bordering the estuary of the Dee on Dec. 23rd, 1896. It was a male bird in good plumage, but weighing only 5¼ ounces. Its failure to migrate in the autumn was probably explained by the fact that one of the wing-bones (the radius) had evidently been fractured somewhat recently, though perfectly united at the time of death. The specimen has been deposited in the Grosvenor Museum, where Mr. Newstead, the curator, examined the stomach, and found it to contain woodlice, dipterous grubs, and other animal matter, besides the usual quantity of small pebbles. W. Henry Dobie (Chester).

Rare Birds at Hastings.— On Dec. 5th, 1896, a young female Gadwall, Anas strepera, was shot at a swampy place called the Fleet, which is just within the boundary of Kent where it joins Sussex; weight, 2 lbs. ½ oz. It wsa with a young Pintail, which was also secured. Another almost identical specimen was procured at Iden, near Rye, Sussex, on Boxing Day. On Dec. 8th last a young male Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, was shot in the Alexandra Park, Hastings, at one of the reservoirs that supply the town; it weighed 6 lbs. 1 oz., and the gizzard contained a roach weighing 1 lb. It has been presented to the local museum. It had probably been blown inland by the gale of the day before, as where it was found is about a mile from the sea, and in the centre of the town.—George W. Bradshaw (Hastings).

Capture of a Common Bittern in Darenth Wood, near Dartford.— On the morning of Jan. 14th a Mr. Nettlingham, having occasion to go about some wood which had been cut, noticed what he at first thought was a hen Pheasant. Closer observation, however, proved that this was not the case. The bird was sitting with drooping wings, neck and head laid along the back, and with the beak pointing straight upwards. Arming himself with a few stones he approached the bird and knocked it down at once. I saw it alive the same evening, but it died the next morning, and is now being preserved by Mr. Davis, of Dartford. This is the second specimen of the species I have seen, and the third I have heard of as occurring in this neighbourhood within the last few years.—A.B. Farn (Mount Nod, Greenhithe).

The Wood-Pigeons in the London Parks.—That birds and other animals accommodate themselves to their surroundings is well known to field naturalists, but a few remarks showing how the habits of the London Wood-Pigeons have been affected may perhaps not be altogether uninteresting. In the first place they have taken to perching freely on the buildings in the vicinity (as is the case with the Brighton Rooks), and on one occasion I saw a pair carrying on a courtship on the top of one of the chimney-pots of St. George's Hospital. I was struck with astonishment at seeing a Wood-Pigeon sitting on its nest in the tracery outside a large window of the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam in 1891, and I subsequently learnt that the nest had been seen in the same situation on a previous occasion; but I was still more surprised to see one of this species gather a twig from a tree in St. James's Park and carry it to a window of the India Office, where it disappeared in a niche, just the sort of place for a House Pigeon. In the wild state I have often found them breeding from April to October; but three or four years ago, on Feb. 8th, during a hard frost, when hundreds of people were skating on the ice in St. James's Park, I saw a Wood Pigeon sitting on a nest within fifty yards of the skaters. The nest was, however, forsaken shortly afterwards. The weather had been previously very mild. This winter, on Dec. 27th and 29th, 1896, I noticed one of these birds preparing a nest in an elm tree opposite to the India Office. The greater number of them, however, leave London in the autumn, returning early in spring. I once witnessed such a return between 4 and 5 p.m. on a February afternoon. A large flock was circling round at a great height, gradually getting lower and lower, till it finally settled in Kensington Gardens. From that date the parks were full of Pigeons. They become very tame, perching on the arms and shoulders of those who are accustomed to feed them. In the early spring they may be seen busily feeding on the tender shoots and flower-buds of the elm and other trees. Numbers of House-Pigeons have found their way to the lawn on the north of Rotten Row, which is frequented by their wild cousins, and they have learned to perch in a large plane tree in the dell, a favourite resting-place of the wild birds. I have seen as many as fifty tame birds sitting in the tree at the same time.—John Young (64, Hereford Road, Bays water).

Rooks in the West End of London.—With reference to my communication (Zool. 1895, p. 227) recording the nesting of Rooks in Connaught Square and Stanhope Place, I am sorry to have to state that both these sites have been untenanted during the year 1896; so that I fear in all probability the year 1895 will be the last date for the breeding of Rooks in the West End. Strange to say, there were still a few nesting in Gray's Inn Square. — John Young (64, Hereford Road, Bayswater).

The Stock-Dove in Ireland.—I shot a Stock-Dove here on Jan. 6th. It is a level wooded locality about twenty miles from Ravensdale, where Lord Clermont recorded the first Stock-Dove in Ireland (Zool. 1876, p. 4798). I have shot many hundreds of Ring-Doves here, but have never secured a Stock-Dove before.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).


A Proposed Explanation as to the Appearance of Light- and Dark-coloured Butterflies during the Day.—Dr. Gregory, in his 'Great Rift Valley' (pp. 275–6), has made some original suggestions on the colours of butterflies as observed by him in East-Central Africa. He writes as follows:—"Another point which interested me in reference to insect coloration was the influence of the different capacities for the absorption of heat possessed by different colours. A black object becomes more heated than a white one, when both are exposed under the same conditions. An insect has so much surface in proportion to its bulk that dark-coloured species are heavily handicapped when exposed to the intense sun of the tropics. This is the simple explanation of the fact, which impressed itself upon me as soon as I began to collect butterflies, that the light-coloured species fly in the daytime, and the dark ones in early morning and at dusk. I made considerable collections at Ngatana, at all hours of the day, to test this point. Thus on Jan. 30th I began collecting at 5.45 a.m., and found only species which are mainly of dark brown colour, such as Hypolimnas misippus and Junonia clelia. At 6.30 a reddish-brown species, Limnas klugi, began to appear, and this was the only species caught during the next half-hour, though this was abundant. A little before half-past seven a light brown species, Acræa cæcilia, made their appearance, followed immediately by numbers of light-coloured butterflies, such as Teracolus syrtinus, which is all white except for a red tip to the wings, and Catopsilia pyrene, which is wholly of a light creamy white. The dark brown forms disappeared from the open steppes before seven, and they were followed into obscurity by the light brown Limnas, of which not a single specimen could be found during the heat of the day. Then the open 'barra' was tenanted only by white and light coloured species. This rule, however, is not universal, for other factors modify it. Thus in dull cloudy weather the dark-coloured forms fly abroad all day, while some species of rapid flight habitually do so, such as many of the swallow-tail butterflies. Papilio demoleus, for example, a common species in the Sabaki and Tana valleys, was met with at all times of day; but it lived mainly under trees, darting out across open places from one shady place to another."

Dr. Gregory is such a good observer that we can only accept the facts he gives, but at the same time I have never noticed the correspondence myself when collecting butterflies either in the Malay Peninsula or in South Africa. There is probably here a partial but not absolute rule in the appearance of these insects, and, though I cannot support it from my own experience, it would be most interesting and valuable to obtain the observations and opinions of other tropical field entomologists.

Lord Walsingham in 1885 advocated parallel views on "some probable causes of a tendency to melanic variation in Lepidoptera in high latitudes." In discussing the probable explanation of the white covering of many arctic and alpine mammals and birds, and the dark hue of many lepidopteral species in the same habitats, he accepted the views which were at least enunciated by Craven in 1846 as explanatory of the first phenomenon, which accounts for the same by the well-known fact of white being a bad radiator of solar energy, and white-covered animals thus being able to retain their heat to the greatest advantage. The dark insects, on the contrary, are considered to have their advantage in being better able to absorb the solar radiation.—Ed.


Distribution of Worm-eating Slugs.—As there appeared in the November number of 'The Zoologist' a note regarding the distribution of worm-eating Slugs (Testacellæ), it might be interesting to record that these animals are found here, often in considerable numbers. I might mention that here they are chiefly found in the gardens near the sea.—Alec Goldney Headley (Portchester, Hants).