The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 670/Notes and Queries

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

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 1, issue 670, p. 164–170

4042434Notes and QueriesApril, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant




Human Bones at Bromehill.—On both sides of the Little Ouse River, for several miles between Brandon and Thetford, human bones have been at various times found on the surface or unearthed in considerable numbers. I myself have found them exposed on the ground on several spots on the north bank, chiefly near Bromehill Mere, in the parish of Weeting, and at St. Helen's Well (or "Tanner's Pit"), the site of St. Helen's Church, Thetford. The bones at the latter place were doubtless buried there at various dates. In February, 1885, in the meadow a few yards west of Bromehill Mere, I saw, by the mouth of a rabbit-hole, part of a human skull, many human bones, bones of cat, horse, sheep, and rabbit, two flint "scrapers" of neolithic work, three "plague-pipes" (tobacco-pipes of the date of Charles II), and fragments of pottery ancient and modern, glazed and not glazed. Some of the ancient bits were of a greyish brown (as if they had only been dried, but not burned or baked), and contained in the substance of the clay many small white stones. One small bit of this grey-brown or unburnt ware has the imprint as of wicker-work on its convex side, as if it had once formed a clay lining to a basket, possibly to make the basket water-tight before folk knew how to make pots to stand alone without a basket to hold them together. On enlarging one of the numerous rabbit holes (nearest to the human bones) with my hands and feet and sheath-knife, I grubbed out three more human skeletons, apparently perfect. Whilst taking them out the Weeting gamekeeper came and watched me, and told me of an old man who once ploughed this meadow, and who declared that he turned out men's heads all over the place. I was benighted by the time I had secured three skeletons, but from what I have seen and heard there must be many thousands only just covered, or partly covered. These three skeletons seemed to have been hastily "crowded" in, so that they were somewhat mixed and in different postures. I could not find any sign of east-and-west posture, or any specially recognised posture, nor any trace of violent death, nor of any metal, pottery, ornament, stone implement, or clothing with them. This particular spot is marked on the Ordnance map as the site of Bromehill Priory. The various articles I saw on the surface are no evidence of date for bones just beneath the surface. I fancy these three skeletons, and most of the others ploughed up formerly, and found at intervals between Brandon and Thetford, belong to victims of the Black Death in 1349. The severity of that plague in the eastern counties, and especially in the Thetford neighbourhood, seems to account for the crowded condition, various postures, and absence of ornament, metal, or other possessions.—Frank Norgate (Bury St. Edmunds).


Breeding of the Roseate Tern in Britain.—I have pleasure in reporting the fact that this elegant and most beautiful of our Sea-swallows, Sterna dougalli, is not yet extinct as a British breeding species, and that it still has a regular nesting haunt in the British Isles. Your readers will be aware that eminent and leading ornithologists have for some years been of opinion that the Roseate Tern only visited our coasts as a casual summer migrant, and this has been so stated in all recent works on British birds. Indeed, the late Mr. Henry Seebohm writes, "It is doubtful whether the Roseate Tern nests in any part of the British Islands at the present time." However, for the past few years I have known of a colony of these birds nesting annually in Britain; but of course, for obvious reasons, I must refrain from naming the precise locality. In 1895, I sent Mr. J.T. Proud, of Bishop Auckland, specimens of their eggs, and informed that gentleman of the whereabouts of the locality, and last year he visited the place, saw the birds, and obtained their eggs himself; and I understand he has had the pleasure of supplying the British Museum with such specimens, and has satisfied the British Museum authorities that this Tern is still a British-breeding species.

It is satisfactory to know that these rare birds have selected a portion of our islands for rearing their young where they are not likely to be much molested by man; in fact, as can be supposed, it is far from the path of the ordinary tourist or collector, and it is to be hoped that those gentlemen who are already aware of the habitat in question will keep it secret for the sake of the birds and British ornithology. I may also point out that their eggs are readily distinguishable from those of other and closely allied species.—E.G. Potter (14, Bootham Crescent, York).

[In our last issue (ante, p. 130) Mr. Gurney does not seem to think it improbable that these birds may nest again in Norfolk, as they once were known to do not many years ago. Mr. Ussher, in the March number of the 'Irish Naturalist,' writes:—"The Roseate Tern is recorded by Thompson to have bred in Down, Dublin, and Wexford; but at the present day no breeding place of this species in Ireland is known."—Ed.]

Little Auks and Little Gulls at Scarborough.— I notice that in Mr. Gurney's interesting notes from Norfolk, he remarks that the last two winters have produced scarcely any Little Auks in his district. My experience during the winter of 1895–6 was similar, as I noted only two occurrences of single birds in each case; but it may be interesting to record that during the past winter this bird has occurred in greater numbers than usual, although the migration has not nearly equalled that of the winter of 1894–5. The following extracts from my note-book will give an idea of the comparative abundance in which they have occurred:—1896, Oct. 29th, two seen in North Bay; 31st, one shot in North Bay; Nov. 1st, one caught alive in South Bay; 5th, ditto; 6th, two washed ashore. After the early part of November they did not occur in numbers regularly, although a few stragglers were noticed; but in January and February of the present year considerable numbers were seen, in small flocks of from three or four, up to a dozen together. On Sunday, Feb. 7th, I picked up five which were washed ashore dead, but all quite fresh, on the beach between Scarborough and Gristhorpe.

I notice also Mr. Gurney mentions that more Little Gulls than usual have occurred. Four were noticed here during January, which is in excess of the usual occurrence of the species in this district. They were all immature birds. The Sclavonian Grebe has also been more abundant this winter; I have had four examples brought to me, and have seen several others.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).

Red-legged Partridge Migrating.—As the Red-legged Partridge is not usually considered a migratory species, the following notes may prove of interest to readers of 'The Zoologist.' I must first remark that this bird has not extended its range, as a resident, into the Scarborough district, and we have only three records of its occurrence during the last seven years, which took place under the following circumstances:—On April 4th, 1890, one was seen to come from the direction of the sea and fall exhausted on Filey Road (only a few hundred yards from the beach), when it ran into a doorway and suffered itself to be captured. On April 4th, 1896, another was seen coming over the water from the east; it alighted on the East Pier, where it was picked up, too weary to make any attempt at escape. The third example was seen coming over the sea from the east on March 22nd, 1897, and dropped exhausted in the water a short distance from land. It speedily drifted ashore, and was secured and brought to me. The fact of the only three examples of which I have records having all come in from the east, at the same period of the year, in a very weary and exhausted condition, seems to point to the conclusion that in isolated cases, at all events, this species maybe classed amongst our migratory visitors.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).

Strange Discovery of a Tit's Nest.—On Nov. 12th, 1896, the sawyers at the wood-yard of Messrs. S. Allsopp & Sons were engaged in cutting up into planks a very fine broad-leaved elm-tree, the trunk of which was five feet in diameter at the base. The tree had been felled in front of Kinlet Hall, near Highley, Shropshire. Judging from the size, the tree must have been from two to three centuries old. About seventeen feet from the base they found a small cavity containing three nails and also a perfectly-formed bird's nest; on this was a perfect egg, which was unfortunately broken during the manipulations. But on removal of the upper layers another nest was found, containing four eggs in a fair state of preservation. From their size they were probably laid by a Blue Tit, and the markings are quite plain, although somewhat faded. Judging from the disposition of the woody fibres, I think that the original aperture must have been closed by the growth of a large branch which finally coalesced with the main trunk, and so cut off all communication with the outside. I am indebted to the courtesy of Mr. Maxwell Tod, the secretary of the Company, for the opportunity of recording these facts.—Philip B. Mason (Burton-on-Trent).

Yellow Wagtail in Argyllshire.—I beg to record the occurrence last spring (March and April, 1896) of a solitary specimen of the Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla raii, about a mile from Oban, Argyllshire, N.B. It alighted on a stone bridge within a yard of where I was standing, enabling me to quietly and minutely examine and determine the species certainly to my satisfaction. I note Messrs. J.A. Harvie Brown and T.E. Buckley, in their 'Fauna of Argyllshire and the Inner Hebrides,' remark the scarcity of the bird thereabouts, so send you this account of ray own personal observation.—Robert Robinson Davison (3, Waterloo Avenue, North Strand, Dublin).

The Ostrich.—In an important article of last month's 'Zoologist,' Mr. Schreiner calls attention to a great many fallacies which have hitherto been generally accepted as facts. The German naturalist Brehm, several years ago, in an essay entitled 'The Steppes of Inner Africa,' wrote a description of the habits of the Ostrich which agrees in several points with Mr. Schreiner's views, as, for instance, in the question of polygamy or monogamy; but in a quotation added by the editor to the English edition, which appeared last year, are the following remarks; and I think they are characteristic of the misconceptions existing in scientific circles as to the habits of this bird:—"Ostriches, though sometimes assembling in troops of thirty to fifty, commonly live in companies of four or five—one cock and the rest hens. This is especially true at the breeding season. All the hens lay together; the cock broods during the night; the hens take turns during the day, more it would seem to guard their common treasure from jackals and small beasts of prey than directly to forward the process of hatching, for that is often left wholly to the sun. Some thirty eggs are laid in the nest, and round it are scattered perhaps as many more, which are said to be used as food for the newly-hatched chicks."

When the zoologist reads corrections of errors which have existed up to the present time with reference to a bird with which man has had direct acquaintance for nearly half a century, he may console himself with the thought that the zoological field has not been entirely explored, and that there is still room and time for fresh discoveries and observations.—G.W. Smith (Winchester).

Ornithological Folk-Lore.— In reply to Mr. Bird's query (p. 144), Mr. Moore ('Folk-lore of the Isle of Man,' p. 151) states:—"Some of the names" (i.e. of the "seven sleepers") "vary. Craitnag (the Bat), Cooag (the Cuckoo), Cloghan-ny-cleigh (the Stonechat), and Gollan-geayee (the Swallow), are found in all the lists; the others being Crammag (the Snail), Doallag (the Dormouse), Foilljean (the butterfly), Shellan (the Bee), Jialgheer (the Lizard), and Cadlag (the Sleeper), a mythical animal." Mr. Kermode ('Manx Note-book,' No. 4, p. 122), says:—"I have always heard that there were seven, though there seems a difference of opinion as to which were the seven. The following list I have received from a Manksman, now nearly ninety years of age, who knows every part of the island, and whose memory is good:—Foillyean (Butterfly), Shellan (Bee), Jialglheer (Lizard), Craitnag (Bat), Cooag (Cuckoo), Clogh-ny-cleigh (Stonechat), Gollan-geayee (Swallow). The Hedgehog is not included, and I fancy has no more claim than the Dormouse, which has been included by some, but which, not being a native of the island, is unlikely to have a place in any Manx tradition." The Stonechat mentioned above is probably, as elsewhere pointed out by Mr. Kermode, the Wheatear (often so called in the island), as Saxicola rubicola does not disappear in winter. It will be observed that our "seven sleepers" are not, like those of Dorset, all birds.—P. Ralfe (Laxey, Isle of Man).

Amongst the Birds in Norfolk.— Green Sandpipers.—A pair of these birds appeared on the Haddiscoe marshes on Jan. 11th, and allowed me to get within easy shooting distance before they took wing; another of the same species appeared on Feb. 22nd. These birds somewhat frequently appear, more especially during August and September.

Golden Plover.—A specimen of this bird attracted my attention on April 4th. During January large flocks of these birds were daily feeding on the marshes, the greatest quantity I have seen during the past ten years; one flock must have numbered about a thousand.

Redshanks.—On Feb. 15th I flushed five Redshanks on the verge of the river Waveney, a rather early arrival. Some thirty couples of these birds annually breed on the ronds by the side of this river, and the adjacent rough marshes between St. Olave's Bridge and Burgh Castle.

Wagtails. —A specimen of the Yellow Wagtail appeared on the marsh on March 29th. A large number of Pied Wagtails are now scattered about the district. Yellow Wagtails breed in quantity on the marshes. Grey Crow on Haddiscoe marshes, April 9th.

Wryneck.—I have only heard the Wryneck's note once during the past three years; the birds seem to have forsaken the district, though the reason why is not easily understood.— Last. C. Farman (Haddiscoe, Norfolk).


Frog attacked by a Rat.—Is it not unusual for a Rat to attack a Frog? My gardener was walking beside a hedgerow the other day when he heard a commotion and squeaking in the ditch. On investigation he saw a large Rat with a fair-sized Frog in its mouth. He then threw something at the pair, and the Rat allowed the Frog to escape, which hopped quickly away into a place of safety.—T.A. Gerald Strickland (Oakleigh, near Ascot, Berks).

[Frogs killed by Weasels are recorded in 'Zoologist' (1851), p. 3273, and ib. 3rd ser. vol. xii. p. 140. A more remarkable case of a Rat killed by a Frog is described in 'Zoologist,' 1849, p. 2471.—Ed.]


The Magpie-moth eaten by Birds.—Last spring my garden was visited with a regular plague of the gooseberry grub and moth; the leaves and fruit-buds were entirely eaten up, and the stems of the bushes were covered with the brightly-coloured grubs; while a little later the moths were all over the place. I caught them by dozens (both grubs and moths), and put them in my aviary, containing Greenfinches, Bramble-finches, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Redpolls, and Canaries, by whom they were greedily eaten; the moths were eagerly chased and caught, and so keen were the birds after them that I only remember seeing one escape out of the large numbers that were put in. I am told it is very unusual for birds to so readily devour this species. There is always plenty of food in the aviary, so it was not hunger, but simply choice.—W.T. Page (6, Rylett Crescent, Shepherd's Bush).

[This well-known moth, Abraxas grossulariata, generally known as the "Currant" or "Magpie" Moth, is usually reported as "protected" from the attacks of birds. Poulton, in his 'Colours of Animals,' speaks of the "slow-flying moth itself, with white wings rendered conspicuous by yellow markings and black spots," as defended, like its larva and chrysalis, by nauseous qualities.— Ed.]


Asterias tessellata, or Scutellated Star-fish.— During the month of January last I received from the Rev. J. Rae, of Lindisfarne, owner and occupier of the property whereon St. Cuthbert lived so many years, a very fine living specimen of Asterias tessellata, a species that I have never found on the east or north-east coast. It is also the first that any of the fishermen of Holy Island can remember having seen.

The Brittle Star, Ophiura granulata, I have also never seen on this beach, but I have had the species brought from the Farn Islands, where, I am told, it is plentiful. The dimensions of the specimens of O. granulata sent me were in thickness 1 in., diameter 7½ in., circumference 22 in. — James Sutton (33, Western Hill, Durham).

[Asterias tessellata is given by Prof. Jeffrey Bell, in his 'Catalogue of the British Echinoderms,' as a synonym of Pentagonaster granularis, Retzius. The same authority gives as its distribution "both sides of North Atlantic; to Arctic Ocean and White Sea on the east." Mr. Percy Sladen, under the synonym of Pentagonaster balteatus, has described the species from the south-west coast of Ireland (lat. 51°1' N., long. 11° 50' W.). Forbes, in his 'History of British Starfishes,' does not mention it.

Ophiura granulata is, according to Prof. Bell (l.c. p. 129), a synonym of Ophiocoma nigra, Abilg., with a distribution as "Scandinavian Seas; Barents Sea." Forbes (l.c.), under the name of Ophiocoma granulata, records it having been found at Cornwall, Berwick, Strangford Lough, open sea on coasts of Down, Dublin, and Kirkwall Bay, Orkney. Thompson ('Natural History of Ireland') states that it is common on the Dublin coast.—Ed.]