The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 674/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (August, 1897)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant
4042622Notes and QueriesAugust, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant



Swallow-tailed Kite in Suffolk.—This British example of Elanoides furcatus, recorded by Mr. Butterfield (ante, p. 270), was restored by Mr. Bristow, of St. Leonards, some years ago, and the Mr. Travers who shot it told him it was eating a partridge at the time.—G.W. Bradshaw (Hastings).

Alleged Nesting of Montagu's Harrier in Kent.—About the last week in June a young lady, a near neighbour, called to tell me that she had found a nest that she was anxious to identify, bringing with her a feather which had fallen from the bird as it left the nest. I at once recognized the feather as one of the outer tail-feathers of a Harrier, but of which particular species I did not feel sure at first. It certainly was not a Marsh Harrier's, and therefore was either from the Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, or Montagu's, C. cinerasceus. The locality, a marsh, did not accord with the usual breeding places of the Hen Harrier, and on my showing a specimen of a female of each of these species, an objection was raised that the Hen Harrier was too large. A further comparison of the tail-feathers of each left no doubt on my mind that the nest was one of C. cinerasceus. The nest was in a dry part of the marsh, and placed in a thick clump of rush and Carex. Some of the material, which was also brought for my inspection, consisted of broken pieces of dry reed. The nest was described as very slight in construction. There was one pale bluish-white egg, aud this was left in hopes that more would be laid. On a second visit the egg was gone, probably abstracted by a Rook, as no footmark or trodden herbage was visible; nor was the bird seen again. I think there is no doubt whatever that this Harrier (Montagu's) had bred here.—W. Oxenden Hammond (St. Alban's Court, near Wingham, Kent).

Summer Appearance of Wild Geese in Fifeshire.—On July 1st a small flock—about twenty in number—of Wild Geese flew over the links here, going in an easterly direction. Species undetermined, though probably "Pink-footed," which are common here in winter.— A.H. Meiklejohn (St. Andrews, N.B.).

Strange Occurrence of an Albatross in Cambridgeshire.—Mr. Travis, the birdstuffer at Bury St. Edmunds, has lately received in the flesh a bird which is probably new to the European fauna—one of the Albatross family, of which I am unable to give the specific name. It was caught near Linton, Cambridgeshire, on or about July 1st, and sent to Mr. Travis, with the written order (which I saw) to "stuff this gull." The bird in colour much resembles a Great Black-backed Gull, and measured in the flesh perhaps thirty-four or thirty-six inches, with an expanse of wing Mr. Travis estimated at seven feet. The back and wings are somewhat paler in colour than in Larus marinus, but the tail is blackish instead of white; the head, neck, breast, and belly pure white. It arrived in a perfectly fresh condition, and the colour of the feet and legs at once attracted the operator's attention; he described them as "fleshy blue," and this was quite perceptible when I saw the bird, though it had been set up for some ten days. So far as I am aware, only one Albatross of any species has ever reached England alive, and this lived for a short time in the Zoological Gardens some twelve or fourteen years ago; but the beautifully clean plumage of the Cambridgeshire bird quite precludes the possibility of its ever having been in confinement.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, West Suffolk).

[This specimen has since been submitted to Mr. Howard Saunders, who has again consulted Mr. O. Salvin, our great authority on the Petrels. Both these experts pronounce the bird to be Diomedea melanophrys, the species "which haunted the Færoes for thirty years, and which has also been taken high in the N. Atlantic."—Ed.]

Black-throated Diver breeding in Shetland.— During a recent stay in the Shetland Islands, I was assured by a resident that he had several times taken the eggs of Colymbus arcticus. I found that he had an extremely good knowledge of ornithology, and was perfectly certain of the birds, having more than once shot them off the nest. He also gave me an undoubted egg taken by himself last year, but had been unsuccessful in observing any this season.—Bernard A.E. Buttress (Hendon, Middlesex).

Curlew laying Five Eggs.—On June 5th last I discovered a nest of Numenius arquatus which contained five eggs. They were all identical in shape, size, and colour, with the exception of one, which was of a slightly greyer tinge and rougher texture. I have not before noticed any mention of more than the usual complement of four eggs being found.—Bernard A.E. Buttress (Hendon, Middlesex).

Cuckoo's Egg in Nest of Song Thrush.—On June 24th I found an egg of the Cuckoo in a Song Thrush's nest in my garden with three eggs of the owner, the nest being apparently deserted. The Song Thrush's nest is, I believe, very rarely chosen by the Cuckoo for the reception of her egg. On July 8th I had an egg of the Cuckoo from a Hedgesparrow's nest, which was certainly laid by the same Cuckoo, the two eggs being exactly alike, but quite different from any of the others (eighteen or twenty in all) which I have obtained this season.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, West Suffolk).

Young Cuckoo in Nest of Twite.—This year I have been led to a moor where one of our provincial birds is abundant—the Mountain Linnet or Twite, Fringilla flavirostris—and there I found one busily nursing a young Cuckoo. I believe the incident worthy of notice because the foster-parent in this case is the only species of small birds which remain constantly in the locality, one too exclusively moorland and closely clad with heather for such birds as Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, Larks, &c. It is evident that the nature of the food here provided must differ materially from that which the young ones would receive in more inland or sylvan situations, and it appears to be a question of considerable scientific interest how far the differences of food and natural surroundings may affect these remarkable birds at their different places of nativity, combined with the peculiarities of the various species of birds which are called upon to be their foster-parents. How the young Cuckoo may act as soon as able to provide for itself is also an interesting matter, for in the case under notice the surroundings are those typical for Red Grouse. The young Cuckoo in this case soon ejected all the other occupants of the nest, and became very fierce, making a dart with its bill at one's fingers with all the combativeness of an infuriated male Turkey. The foster-parents displayed their usual vigilance when any one approached the nest, being as much interested in the intruder as they could have been in their own offspring.—William Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).

Hawfinches in West Sussex.—These birds have been a great nuisance here this season with their attacks on the garden peas. They seem to be far more numerous of late years; in fact, till ten years ago they might be termed locally rare, but since then scarcely a season passes without some stray individuals turning up.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (Thorneycroft, Compton, Petersfield).

Apparent Summer Appearance of the Shore Lark in Devonshire.—On the 14th inst., at about 4 p.m., I saw near Paignton, Devon, a bird which I think could be no other than Otocoris alpestris, the Shore Lark, an adult male in full summer dress. It was perched on a lower bough of a small tree in a meadow not twenty yards from the seashore, the sun full on it, and I had a clear view at ten or twelve yards distance for perhaps nearly a minute. The back was light brown with darker markings, the head with apparently bluish grey on crown, and conspicuous black and white at side; but, excepting a black streak above the eye, I cannot define the exact marking from memory. The bill was short and thick, the throat, breast, and all under parts nearly white, excepting a conspicuous black band horizontally across the breast, with, it seemed to me, nearly square ends. I should think the band was 1½ in. by ½ in. The bird was shortly joined by another, presumably the female, the general colour of which was light brown upper, and very light grey or dusky white under parts, but, so far as I could see, with no dark pectoral band. In endeavouring to approach the birds from the other side by going round a deserted building, I lost sight of them. The meadow on the land side sloped into marshy ground, which, covered with high reeds, &c, extended some distance up a narrow valley. Several people were walking on the sands, and though I was so near the bird it betrayed no shyness. My view of the female was imperfect and brief. Considering that the Shore Lark has hitherto been only known as a winter visitor to the British Isles, this occurrence, if referable to no other species, will, I think, be of great interest.—H.M. Evans, Hon. Curator of Birds (Athenæum, Plymouth).[1]

Alpine Pipit in Carnarvonshire.—The early part of April was marked by cold unsettled weather, with much snow on the mountains and easterly winds approaching a gale on the 3rd and the morning of the 4th. On the afternoon of that day the wind dropped considerably, and I observed a strong immigration of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits on the marshes along the Carnarvonshire side of the river Glaslyn. Among a party of the latter, which were feeding on the side of a muddy pool, I observed one conspicuously larger and lighter coloured than the rest. This bird I watched for some time through a glass at a distance of about thirty yards. On the following morning most of the Wagtails had departed, and the Pipits were less abundant, but the stranger still remained in the same place. It was, however, very wild, and I had some difficulty in shooting it. It proved to be a male of the Alpine Pipit, Anthus spinoletta, in nearly complete summer plumage, and is the first occurrence of this species on the west coast. The specimen was exhibited by Mr. Howard Saunders on April 21st at a meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club.—G.H. Caton Haigh (Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, North Wales).

Quails in Sussex.—A pair of Quails have again taken up their quarters in our valley. Their visit has become almost an annual occurrence, and it is interesting to note that they are generally first detected within an area limited to three small fields.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (Thorneycroft, Compton, Petersfield).

Appearance of Migrants in Aberdeenshire during 1896 and 1897.—The first was an early and the second a late season. Jan. 1st, 1890, about a dozen Tree Sparrows feeding on the fields here along with the common birds, but not seen again; Jan. 2nd, a Magpie, which now seldom appears here. 1896, Lark singing, Feb. 6th; in 1897, Feb. 15th. 1896, Lapwings appeared, Feb. 6th; in 1897, Feb. 16th. 1896, Curlew appeared, Feb. 10th; in 1897, Feb. 20th. 1896, Grey and White Wagtails, March 12th; in 1897, March 8th. 1897, Yellow Wagtail, March 28th; Ring Ouzel, April 5th; Cuckoo heard, April 26th. These three birds were earlier than usual. Dunlin Sandpiper, about April 20th. Swallows, more numerous than usual and earlier, appeared May 4th. We may also notice that the Corncrake nested here in 1896, and has not been known to do so for many years. Lapwings, Ring Ouzels, and Swallows are more numerous than formerly, and recent protective legislation may be making itself felt in that direction. The Lapwings' eggs were in much request, and the Ring Ouzel was much persecuted on account of its predaceous habits upon fruit, though I believe that it does more good than harm by eating slugs, caterpillars, and other insect-pests in gardens. We have seen two avian combats—one between Grouse and Hooded Crows—when the latter attempted to interfere with the nesting operations of the former. Grouse show marked powers of organization in such cases, rallying to assist each other, and raising a peculiar noise on such occasions. The second fight, of a less serious nature, was between Lapwings and Partridges. A number of the latter were introduced here in 1896, their eggs being hatched and young reared under barn-door hens. These birds have spread, and their requirements necessitating more ground than formerly have brought about the strife with Lapwings. The Partridges are bold, and resist successfully the onslaughts of the Lapwings, which are made on wing, and on the Partridges while moving on the ground. Redbreasts were earlier about farm-buildings in 1896, those seen previously being in August. In 1896 a flock of Geese passed northwards about March 20th, and in 1897 about a month later. On Sept. 30th, 1896, about thirty passed southwards. It is rarer to notice them here in the autumn than in spring.—William Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).

Inherited Habit in Birds.—I have recently had an additional and very striking proof of the fact that birds build their nests in obedience to inherited law and not by imitation. I considered the instances already mentioned respecting my Canaries quite good enough, but the case which I now have to record is, if possible, even more conclusive. To most scientific ornithologists the little bird familiar to aviculturists as the Bengalee will be almost unknown; it is, however, abundantly bred and regularly exported by the Japanese, and has been produced by them probably for many centuries. The origin of Bengalees is not known for certain, some breeders believing that they were originally derived from the Sharp-tailed Finch, Uroloncha acuticauda, others from the Striated Finch, U. striata; whilst Mr. Abrahams holds that they are the result of a cross between the latter and the Indian Silver-bill, Aidemosyne malabarica, a belief which, from a study of their variable markings and a consideration of their feeble reproductive powers, I am strongly inclined to support. How long ago Bengalees were first produced it is impossible to say, for the Japs certainly kept and reared birds long before aviculture was thought of in Europe; but it is certain that, from the first development of this pseudo-species, small cages only were used in which to breed them. A year or two ago, finding that a large consignment of these birds had arrived in London, I purchased some of each of the three varieties, and kept them in three separate flight-cages, supplying them with Hartz Canary cages hung high up, in which to build. From the "pure-bred" Bengalees I reared only two or three young in as many years, but from Bengalee and Striated Finch I reared five in one season, all of which are still living. This year, finding that none of my Bengalees were doing any good, I turned out the whole of them into one of my largest aviaries. Here they at first took possession of Hartz Canary cages as before, and began to build in the usual slovenly fashion; they were, however, constantly disturbed by other small finches desirous of occupying the same receptacles. One day in July I collected a large handful of flowering grasses—a very favourite food with all small finches—and flung it into the aviary, where it was immediately covered by a crowd of little birds. The Bengalees, however, as if recognizing this as the natural building material of their ancestors, flew off with it stem by stem to a small bush, where they constructed a neatly domed typical Mannikin's nest, with the usual circular opening in front. In this nest one egg was deposited, and then some other birds began to pull the domed portion to pieces for their own use; nevertheless these little Mannikins persevered, repairing the nest whenever fresh grasses were supplied to them. Now I think all candid readers must admit that when birds which were reared in a small cage within a cage, and whose ancestors were so reared for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years, can at any given moment exactly reproduce the typical nest of their remote wild ancestors without any model whatever to guide them, it is absolutely certain that the laws regulating their method of building are inherent in their natures, and not acquired. The aviculturist has proofs before him almost every day that birds do not build by imitation, for wild-caught birds, unless turned out into enormous garden aviaries, generally depart at once from their usual habits, building in boxes and cages in preference to bushes and twigs. On the other hand, Canaries and Bengalees, having for centuries been bred in cages, are stimulated by the comparative freedom of a large aviary, and the rebound causes them to reproduce the homes of their wild ancestors. At any rate, I see no other reason why they should ever return to their natural method.—A.G. Butler (124, Beckenham Road, Beckenham, Kent).


Frog attacked by Weasel, and Toad by Hedgehog.—I was much interested in Mr. Meiklejohn's account of the above, never having had the good fortune to observe the same; but I have twice come across a Weasel devouring a Frog, the last occasion being two or three years ago, in the month of September. I was out Partridge shooting, and on walking down a field to join the other guns, I heard a commotion in a high hawthorn fence. On creeping quietly up, I saw a Weasel almost at the top of the fence, which was about twelve feet high, tearing a Frog to pieces. I watched it unobserved for about half a minute; then it caught sight of me, let drop the Frog, and bolted down into the ditch. This was a large Weasel, and therefore presumably a male. My late father-in-law, some years ago, when going down a hay-field of his in Lincolnshire, heard a curious noise going on, for which he could not account, on the other side of the fence; he quietly got over, and found a Frog held by the hind leg by a Mouse, but, not being a naturalist, he was unable to tell me what species of Mouse it was. In addition to those animals mentioned in the editorial note which attack the Toad, I can add another, viz. the Hedgehog. At my old home in my father's lifetime we had a large walled-in orchard adjoining the garden, where we kept various reptiles, amphibia, birds, and mammals, and amongst the latter were a score of Hedgehogs. We had a lot of common Toads, common Frogs, and about a score each of Natterjack Toads and Edible Frogs, the latter of which I had brought from the Continent. We were considerably annoyed to find dead specimens of all four species lying about, all of them having merely the thighs torn and eaten. A strict look-out was kept for the culprit, and one day, a message being brought that the gardener wished to see me at once, I hurried down, and found that he had caught Erinaceus europæus in flagrante delicto, just finishing off one of my Natterjack Toads.—Oxley Grabham (Flaxton, York).

[The editorial note to which Mr. Oxley Grabham refers relates principally to the carnivorous mammals which have been known to attack the Frog, and to these may be added the domestic Cat, as recorded in 'The Zoologist' for 1865, p. 9814. A writer in 'Loudon's Mag. Nat. Hist.' vol. iv. (1831), p. 557, states that he had "seen the mouths of Dogs swelled fearfully from worrying Toads."—Ed.]


Strange Occurrence at Durban.—It is reported from Natal that in the early part of June last, at the port of Durban, hundreds of big heavy Salmon were driven ashore on the back beach, it was supposed by Sharks, and subsequently the fish were conveyed to town by the trolly-load. There are, as is well known, no Salmon in the Indian Ocean, and it seemed scarcely probable that our old friend the so-called "Cape Salmon," Otolithus æquidens, could be the fish referred to. I therefore sought, and not in vain, the opinion of Mr. G.A. Boulenger, of the British Museum, on the subject, who has informed me that the fish was probably a Herring, Chanos salmoneus. Dr. Günther describes this species as "extremely common; it enters fresh waters, and exceeds a length of four feet; its flesh is highly esteemed."


The Common Cockroach.—A few days ago my daughter brought me a full-grown Cockroach, Periplaneta orientalis, of a pure white colour, excepting the eyes; it was even whiter than the white satin moth, but before I had time to kill it the colour had changed to a light brown. It was found among some papers in a closet.—James Sutton (33, Western Hill, Durham).

[Immediately after the moulting of the Cockroach its colour is of a creamy white; but after a few hours, and the influence of air and light, it acquires the depth of coloration characteristic of its age. Before reaching the adult form it changes the skin an uncertain number of times—not less than five, probably as many as seven. A good account of the Common Cockroach may be found in E.A. Butler's 'Our Household Insects.'—Ed.]

  1. See also remark on p. 471 (Wikisource-ed.)