The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 675/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (September, 1897)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant
4042624Notes and QueriesSeptember, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant



Mammals of Trinidad.—Dr. Percy Kendall's notes on this subject in last month's 'Zoologist,' pp. 341–345, are evidently largely based on experiences in a locality where it was my privilege to collect during March and April, 1893, and I have therefore read them with unusual interest. His capture of Dasyprocta cristata, Desm., struck me as one of especial importance, for I had previously supposed this animal to be restricted to the Lesser Antilles, where its presence has been considered to have a significant bearing on the relation of the fauna of these islands to that of the mainland. I find, however, that the Agouti has been previously recorded from Trinidad by Dr. Sclater,[1] on the basis of two animals presented to the Zoological Society's Gardens in 1885 by T.J. Guy, and one presented in 1891 by R.J.L. Guppy. Both of these presentations were unknown to Dr. Allen and myself when writing our list of the mammals of Trinidad,[2] and I take this opportunity to acknowledge and correct an oversight. In stating that there are but "three marsupials found in Trinidad," Dr. Kendall has evidently overlooked Thylamys carri, described by Dr. Allen and myself from three specimens taken at Caparo in March, 1894.[3] Here also, as in other parts of the island, I found Heteromys anomalus abundant, and not of "local" distribution. Sixty-nine specimens were taken, and the animal was apparently as common in the mountains at Caura as in the lowlands of Savanna Grande.—Frank M. Chapman (American Museum of Natural History, New York).


"The Seasonal Changes in the Common Squirrel."—Those who read Mr. Thomas's remarkable paper with this title, published in 'The Zoologist' for 1896, at pages 401–407, will be interested to learn that sixty years earlier the late Edward Blyth appended a striking note on the same subject to his edition of White's 'Selborne' (London, 1836, pp. 280, 281, note). It may be here transcribed:—"The changes of appearance which the Common Squirrel undergoes have not been noticed in any work that I have met with. They shed their covering twice in the year, and in summer the ornamental ear-tufts are entirely wanting; the whole fur also is then much coarser, more shiny, and redder; and it is a curious fact that those young ones born in early spring are first clad in the winter livery (which, I believe, they do not the first summer exchange), while the second litters, which are produced about midsummer, are decked in the summer coat, and have no ear-pencils." On comparison it will at once be remarked that some of the conclusions arrived at by Mr. Thomas are not quite so novel as their accomplished author at the time supposed. It would be of interest to have further light cast upon the "curious fad" with which Blyth concludes his note, and it is to be hoped some reader will be able to do this.—W. Ruskin-Butterfield (St. Leonards).


Honey Buzzard in Suffolk.—A remarkably fine specimen of the Honey Buzzard, Pernis apivorus, was shot in Bull's Cross Wood, on the Edwardstone Hall Estate, about four and a half miles south-east of Lavenham, in Suffolk, on or about July 1st, by a gamekeeper, who mistook it, in thick covert, for a Wood Pigeon. It is in perfect adult plumage, having the lower parts almost entirely white, and has been preserved by Mr. Travis, taxidermist, Bury St. Edmunds, in whose shop Mr. J.H. Gurney and I had the pleasure of examining it shortly after it was mounted.—E.A. Butler (Brettenham Park, Ipswich).

Golden Eagle in Ross-shire.—A fine specimen of the Golden Eagle, two years old, and measuring 36 in. in length, and over 7 ft. in expanse of wings, and weighing 11 lb., was caught a few days ago in Ross-shire, and has been sent to me to be preserved.—John Morley (King Street, Scarborough).

Nesting of the Great Northern and Black-throated Divers in Shetland.—The August number of 'The Zoologist' contains two very important statements by Mr. Bernard A.E. Buttress. The first occurs in his "List of Birds observed in Shetland, May and June, 1897" (p. 362), and is in these words: "Colymbus glacialis. One pair near Clonstel. Eggs found." As the Great Northern Diver has not, up to the present time, been satisfactorily proved to breed in any part of the British Islands (although strongly suspected of doing so), I hope Mr. Buttress will not withhold further particulars of this interesting and important occurrence. The second statement (p. 364) is to the effect that eggs of the Black-throated Diver have been taken several times in Shetland by a resident, and that an undoubted egg taken by him in 1896 is in Mr. Buttress's possession. This species does not figure in the list of birds observed by Mr. Buttress in 1897, a fact that may possibly be accounted for by the fact that the discoverer of the eggs has more than once shot the birds off the nest. Saxby, during his long residence in the Shetlands, never saw the Black-throated Diver there; and, according to Mr. Howard Saunders, "this species has not . . . been identified in the Shetlands at any season" ('Manual,' p. 698). Seebohm stated that large examples of the eggs of the Black-throated Diver cannot be distinguished from small eggs of the Great Northern Diver, nor small examples from large eggs of the Red-throated Diver ('History of British Birds,' vol. iii.). The hitherto unsuspected presence of C. arcticus as a breeding species in the Shetlands, therefore, if fully proved, makes the paternity of some supposed Northern Divers' eggs taken in those islands more doubtful than ever.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Black-throated Diver in Derbyshire.—In January or February of this year a Black-throated Diver was shot on Combs[4] Reservoir, near Chapel-en-le-Frith, by a man named Peter Muir. The bird is in immature plumage, the feathers of the upper parts being edged with pale slate-grey, and the white plumage of the chin, throat, and sides of the head is slightly suffused with brown. The following measurements will be sufficient to distinguish the bird from the Great Northern Diver, a species more frequently met with inland:—Wing, 11·9 in.; length of bill, 1·8 in.; depth of bill at nostril, ·65 in.—Chas. Oldham (Sale).

Spotted Flycatcher's Nest constructed in Nest of Hawfinch.—I am forwarding you a this year's Hawfinch's nest with a Spotted Flycatcher's nest built inside, as I was not aware that Spotted Flycatchers built in other birds' nests. I found the Hawfinch's nest in the fork of a whitethorn bush in Wychwood Forest on May 26th, with the egg-shells lying on the ground under the nest. They had been sucked either by Cuckoos or Jackdaws. These birds appeared to be sucking every egg that was laid, for nearly every nest of eggs had shared the same fate, both Cuckoos and Jackdaws being very numerous. When passing the same spot on June 28th, I noticed a Spotted Flycatcher sitting on the same nest, which looked somewhat different. On climbing up to the nest I discovered that it contained two eggs. Feeling certain that these eggs would share the same fate as the last, I took one (which I now send you) of the two eggs, with the result that when I passed the place the following week the remaining egg was sucked.—R.U. Calvert (Ascott-sub-Wychwood, Oxford).

Proximity of Magpie's and Wood Pigeon's Nests.—On June 18th I noticed a rather unusual coincidence in Fyfield Wood, Oxon. There was a Magpie's nest situated in a slender birch tree, containing four young ones nearly ready to fly, and close by was a sapling oak, in the upper part of which was placed a Wood Pigeon's nest containing two hard-sat eggs, off which the old bird flew. The two nests could not have been three yards apart at the most.—R.U. Calvert (Ascott-sub-Wychwood, Oxford).

Hedgesparrow appropriating a Thrush's Nest.—A short while ago a little girl showed me a Hedgesparrow's nest with eggs which she found this season in rather an unusual situation. The locality was Monkton Combe, about five miles from Bath. Both nests were about the usual size, and completely finished. I have come across a Wren's nest in a similar situation, but was surprised to find a Hedgesparrow having utilised another bird's nest in the above manner. In 'The Zoologist,' 1895, p. 275, there is a note concerning a pair of Greenfinches having appropriated a Thrush's nest, and rearing a brood successfully.—C.B. Horsbrugh (4, Richmond Hill, Bath).

White Eggs of Hedgesparrow.—Early in the season a boy, much interested in birds and their eggs, brought me an egg taken from a nest built in a hedge of thorn and holly. The egg was perfectly white and shining, reminding one forcibly of eggs of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and not of that chalky whiteness we find in eggs such as the Swift's. The boy told me the nest contained three other eggs, and a few days after he informed me another had been laid, exactly similar, and that the bird—a Hedgesparrow—was sitting upon them. Strange to say, the bird was unmolested, and hatched three of the eggs, the other being addled; and when the young were flown the boy brought me the nest as a proof of his observation and veracity.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor) in Kent.—I am pleased to be able to record another occurrence of this very rare visitor to this country, which I observed on May 15th last on the range of hills in mid-Kent, while in company with my friend Mr. John Wood. As we passed under an ash-tree I heard a strange note overhead, and, looking up, I saw a bird fly out with a rather jerky flight, and uttering short notes, resembling, as well as I can remember, the sounds "chur-tic, chur-tic, tic." These notes were new to me, and from the appearance of the bird, as seen against the background of brilliant blue sky, I was quite at a loss to make out the species; but it soon dipped down, and its striking colours became visible against the hill under which we were standing. The bird then alighted on the ground for a few seconds, when I brought my friend's field-glasses to bear on it, which at once revealed the pattern and richness of its plumage. I then instantly knew what a rarity I was watching; the silvery grey, deep black and white of the upper parts, and the delicate pink breast and flanks, looked particularly rich in the sunlight, and in strong contrast with the turf on which it stood. It then flew up and perched on a small hawthorn, from that again to the ground, and then on to a furze-bush. After two or three such movements it disappeared over the brow of the hill. After waiting a short time I saw it again further along the hill-side, chasing a smaller bird, I think a Linnet; but the distance was too great to make sure of the species, though the colouring of the Shrike was plainly visible. From the intensity of the black markings it was clearly a male. I think it very probable that it had taken up its abode on the hill for nesting purposes, for which the character of the place was admirably adapted; and if opportunities had been afforded, I intended paying another visit to the ground later on, with the hopes of seeing more of the bird and perhaps its nest.—F.W. Frohawk (34, Widmore Road, Bromley, Kent).

"Kentish Crow."—Your correspondent, Mr. L.C. Farman (ante, p. 356), mentions "Kentish Crows" visiting the Norfolk fens. I should be very glad to know the scientific name of these birds, as the term is new to me.—C.B. Horsbrugh (4, Richmond Hill, Bath).

[The Crows to which I referred were Hooded or Grey Crows, Corvus cornix. These are known all over Norfolk as Kentish Crows, and remain with us in quantity throughout the winter.—Last C. Farman.]

Crossbills near Bournemouth.—Scarcely a winter passes without this varied plumaged and interesting species occurring in greater or less numbers—sometimes not uncommonly—in the neighbourhood of Ringwood and the New Forest, and on one occasion I saw a small flock of eight or ten busily engaged in discussing the cones which grew on a few Scotch firs not far from Salisbury; but I was somewhat surprised and unprepared to detect its presence near Bournemouth at the end of July. Enforced idleness, caused by indisposition, compelled me to seek change in the beautiful health-giving pine-woods of Branksome and its neighbourhood, where on the sandy heather-clad slopes the Lizards panted, or glided silently along in the hot sunshine, and over them flitted the "grayling" (Satyrus semele) in some abundance, accompanied by a few common blues (Lycæna bellargus), and small coppers (Chrysophanas phlœas), or the tiny fry of Crambus pinetellus, Endotricha flammealis, and other moths of a still lesser bulk. One morning, whilst seated underneath a tree, my attention was taken from the book I was perusing to the notes of some bird which were unfamiliar to my ear, although a number of Sparrows, Tits, and Warblers were chirping and singing in the branches above me. Looking up in the direction from whence the sound proceeded, I could see two or three birds in the tree-tops, but the thickness of the foliage and the bright light shining between the open spaces prevented my detecting even what colour they were, much less what species they belonged to, although the thought crossed my mind, Can they be Crossbills, and are the notes I am listening to the same as Longfellow calls "Songs, like legends, strange to hear"? I, however, was not long in doubt, for one of the birds descended from the tree in pursuit of a fallen cone, and there on the white sandy soil, only a few paces from me, was a beautiful specimen of the bird, in the orange-red plumage, with "marks of blood and holy rood," as the translated legend informs us. I was much interested in the occurrence, and in almost breathless silence watched it tear the cone to pieces—in a very parrot-like fashion—with its beak, holding the cone in position with one of its feet. I think I have read somewhere that the beak of this bird has been considered a deformity of nature, but the ease and dexterity with which the instrument was used on this occasion proved, I thought, its adaptability as a "means to an end." I watched the bird closely until it flew away to its companions in the branches above, and then I went and picked up the small cone upon which it had been working so intently, and found that the scale-like processes of the cone had merely been torn asunder (not severed from the central "core," as a Squirrel does its work), so that the immature seeds could be extracted by the scissors-like beak. I saw a number of male cones scattered beneath the trees similarly treated, but I am not at all prepared to state that Crossbills were the cause of their mutilation, for, strange to say, although I daily visited the spot both before and after the occurrence, I only once heard the birds, and did not see them again. I think I have heard that the species has been detected nesting in this particular neighbourhood, and although perhaps my present observation proves nothing either for or against that fact, yet it is interesting to know that a species we usually connect with more northern localities should occur so far south in the middle of summer; and yet it seems to me its occurrence here at such a time is not frequent, or else some of our ornithological peers (many no doubt visiting this well-known locality every season) would not have been silent on the point, and left it to my poor pen to describe. Of course it goes without saying that the majority of the cones were in a very unripe state, and consequently with seeds quite undeveloped, and perhaps that was partly the cause why the birds stayed so short a period in one particular spot. While wandering about in the woods one thing was very apparent, viz. the comparative abundance of the House Sparrow and the scarcity of the Squirrel (for one naturally expects to find this little rodent amongst its much-loved fir trees, especially as it is so common only a few miles away); but this seeming anomaly may be met in the fact of so many houses having sprung up in unlooked-for situations amongst the trees. As we are well aware, the bird delights in the proximity of human habitations, whilst the quadruped shuns them; or it may be that the scarcity of the latter is partly attributable to the presence of the numerous children—naturally full of young life and fun—who, with bags and nondescript hand-carts, gather the fallen cones for fuel.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Unusual Sites chosen by Birds for their Nests.—The following instances have come under my notice this season:—1. A Chaffinch built her nest early in the summer, and reared her young in an old Swallow's nest which was fixed on a beam in a field shed. 2. A Great Tit laid four eggs in the cup of a Blackbird's nest, apparently of this season, and brought off her young. She lined the larger nest with the usual mass of hair-felt. The Blackbird's nest was in the fork of a yew-bough, some four or five feet from the stem, and about four feet from the ground. The young appeared newly hatched when I saw them on June 16th. Probably the Tits had lost their first nest, and could not find a suitable cavity unoccupied when they went to nest again. But this reason can hardly account for the curious freak of the Chaffinches, who could have had no difficulty in finding plenty of convenient positions.—W.H. St. Quintin (Scampston Hall, York).

Birdsnesting in August.—Last year I contributed a note (Zool. p. 303) recording some thirty nests found in the course of a few hours on Aug. 3rd in Cambridgeshire. This year, on Aug. 2nd (Bank Holiday), I was in the same locality, and in about three hours found the following:—Twelve nests of Turtle Dove, ten nests with eggs, two with young; two nests of Ring Dove, both with young; three nests of Yellowhammer, all with eggs; one nest of House Sparrow in a hawthorn-bush only five feet from the ground, with four fresh eggs; one nest of Red-legged Partridge, with three eggs in hatched-out nest; one nest of Meadow Pipit, with four eggs; one nest of Reed Bunting, with three young and one infertile egg; two nests of Linnet, with eggs, one set fresh, the other hard-sat; two nests of Greenfinch, with eggs, both sets fresh. Two years ago I found a Blackbird's nest, with five fresh eggs, in the same neighbourhood, and heard of two Partridges' nests, on which the old birds were still sitting, the first week in August. The Yellowhammer, I should say, sometimes rears three broods in the year, for I have found, even in Scotland, newly-hatched young as early as April 19th. The earliest date I have for the Reed Bunting is a full set of five eggs on April 20th.— R.H. Read (Bedford Park, W.).

Birds seen in the Yukon District of Canada.—The following is extracted from a report of Mr. W. Ogilvie (Dominion Land Surveyor):—"Birds are scarce. A few Ravens were seen along the river [Yukon], and three or four remained in the vicinity of the boundary all the winter. They were generally more active and noisy on stormy days than at other times, and their hoarse croak had a dismal sound amid the roar of the elements. A few Magpies were seen near the Nordenskiold river" [a tributary of the Lewes river], "and a few White-headed Eagles were noticed. During the winter, near the boundary, numbers of small birds, somewhat resembling the 'Chick-adee,' were seen, but they were much larger, and had not the same note. Of Owls, not a specimen was met with anywhere. Partridges were very scarce, only half a dozen or so of the ordinary kind being noticed; but at the head of the Tat-on-duc and Porcupine rivers Ptarmigan were abundant. Wild Geese and Ducks are plentiful, and of Ducks there are many more species than I have seen in any other part of the territory. A very beautiful species of Loon or Diver was met with on the Porcupine. It is smaller than the Great Northern Diver, but marked much the same on the body, the difference being principally in the head and neck; the bill is sharper and finer, and the head smaller, but its chief distinguishing feature is the neck, which is covered with long beautiful dun-coloured down for more than half its length from the head downwards." [This bird was probably (?) the Red-throated Loon, Urinator lumme.]— Basil W. Martin (39, Victoria Street, Westminster).


Smooth Snake (Coronella lævis) in the New Forest.—The late Canon Kingsley centred a peculiar interest on the probable occurrence of this reptile within the forest boundary, and often asked questions on that particular point, as he knew I had seen and taken it on the heaths on the other side of the river, near the spot where it was first discovered as an inhabitant of Britain; but it was only a short time before his lamented death that I could positively say I had seen it in the forest; then I was fortunate enough to catch one in the neighbourhood of Minstead, not far from the well-known Rufus stone. Since that time I have seen or known of a number of specimens from the district, especially during the great and continued heat of the summer of 1896. Two were seen—but not taken—near Sway; three specimens, an old female and two immature individuals, were taken very late in the season on the heaths between Beaulieu and Brockenhurst; and in August a nephew of mine whilst entomologizing caught one near Boldre Wood, and brought it to me thinking it was an Adder (Pelias berus). Strange to say, the same lad caught another, almost on the same spot, this season, at the end of July, but so mutilated it that it was worthless to preserve. It seems a pity to destroy the poor little harmless creature whose movements amongst the heather are so graceful and interesting, and whose body, especially the under parts, shine with an iridescent gloss in the hot sun, and when taken in the hand the keelless scales which envelope its body make it feel cold and smooth to the touch, like an eel. My comparatively limited experience of this particular species has led me to suppose that it lacks the disagreeable smell which is sometimes so apparent in presence of the Common Snake (C. natrix), but I know on this particular point opinions differ.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).


Enemies of the Toad.—An instance of a Weasel having been seen carrying a Toad in its mouth was recorded in the 'Field' a short time since by Mr. E. Stanford, Honiton, Devonshire. I cannot unfortunately recollect the exact date of its appearance, but believe it to have been about a year ago, more or less. I have myself seen a tame Hedgehog devour a Toad which was more than half grown. Doubtless there are very few mammals, and not many birds, which ever make a meal of a full-grown Toad. The Common Buzzard, however, is known to do so, and in the spring Rats make great havoc among Frogs and Toads alike in the marsh ditches. The vast armies of young Toads which, after completing their change from the tadpole state, leave the water and spread abroad over the face of the country, are beset by many dangers. Numbers are no doubt crushed by wheels and the hoofs of horses and cattle, while others fall a prey to rats, fowls, ducks, &c. I once saw a cock calling his hens together to partake of some choice morsel he held in his beak. This he afterwards dropped, and on picking it up it turned out to be a small Toad. A Corncrake caught by a dog near Orford, Suffolk, in August, 1887, when taken in the hand, disgorged a very young Toad, and immediately afterwards a Frog of much larger size.—G.T. Rope (Blaxhall, Suffolk).

[Mr. J.H. Gurney (Zool. 1883, p. 303) states that Common Snakes prey chiefly on Toads, which he had found to form the most frequent contents of their stomachs.—Ed.]


Stridulation of Cicadidæ and Orthoptera.—In the Editor's excellent and interesting "Zoological Rambles" (p. 159) the following passage occurs:—"Protective resemblance can scarcely be a factor in the insect's existence when by its piercing notes it proclaims the place of its concealment. In collecting I was usually apprised of their whereabouts by their stridulating music." I should like to ask if this is the experience of observers generally. I have many times listened to the highly-pitched sounds emitted by Cicadas, Grasshoppers, Crickets, &c, in Africa and South America, and have often searched for a considerable time without being able to discover the whereabouts of the insects. In my experience a highly-pitched shrill sound, even when very loud, is most difficult to localize exactly, and I say this with the sounds uttered or made by both birds and insects in my mind. I remember one evening, when I was in Uruguay, an intensely loud and highly pitched or shrill Grasshopper's trill suddenly began in the room. It was so loud and ear-piercing as to leave an unpleasant and irritating void in the ear when it momentarily ceased. Although the room was scantily furnished, in a manner suitable to a hot climate, several minutes elapsed before we could discover the large bright green grasshopper (about two inches long) which was producing the sound while perched in a conspicuous position. The sound gave us no idea of the direction from which it proceeded. Cicadas, crickets, &c, become silent (p. 160) if you approach them closely (not, however, when they are in a tree twenty feet or so overhead), but begin to trill again if you keep quite still.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).


Dermestes lardarius eating Specimens of Moths.—Some weeks ago I set eight specimens of Sphinx ligustri, and in a few days I noticed that the bodies of the insects had been disturbed and the paper which covered the setting-boards had been eaten. I removed the insects, and from one of them there came out two Dermestes lardarius beetles; I examined every one of the ligustri, but found no more Dermestes. The ligustri were put into a store-box, and on looking at them a few days ago I found their bodies completely eaten away; so much so that with the slightest touch the wings came off and out rolled a number of the larvæ of the Dermestes, a disgusting creature, and the greatest enemy of the zoological collector; but I have never before heard of their attacking entomological specimens. I have many thousands of butterflies and moths here, from all parts of the world, but this is the first time a Dermestes has given me any trouble in this direction.

Non-poisonous Preservatives.—Three years ago I made a trip to India for sporting and collecting purposes, and had the great misfortune to consult one of the leading firms of taxidermists in London, and following their advice I applied no poison to any of the skins and heads I got, with the result that when I reached home the specimens were swarming with Dermestes, and many quite spoilt. Now on former expeditions, of which I have made several, I have always poisoned my skins, &c, liberally, and not a single Dermestes has ever bothered me before. I should like to know what the experience of other sporting collectors is in this matter—to be able to dispense with poisons is very attractive, and has no doubt tempted many to do without them—but I wonder how they have got on. Every room in my house is filled with heads, skins, and preserved specimens of all sorts, most of which are poisoned, and none of which, I am thankful to say, have been touched. There is, however, clear proof that Dermestes is on hand, and how to guard against the ravages of his hairy larva with the appetite of a hog, and who is the incarnation of everything pestiferous, is a matter of considerable anxiety just now. Any hints or suggestions would be thankfully received.—C. Dallas (Wootton, Lymington, Hants).

  1. 'List of the Vertebrated Animals now or lately living in the Gardens of the Zoological Society of London.' Ninth edition, 1896, p. 132.
  2. 'On a Collection of Mammals from Trinidad, with Descriptions of New Species.' Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. v. 1893, pp. 203–234.
  3. 'On a Second Collection of Mammals from the Island of Trinidad, with Descriptions of New Species, and a Note on some Mammals from the Island of Dominica.' Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. ix. 1897, pp. 13–30.
  4. I desire to substitute the word "Combs" for "Coombs" at p. 329, line 7 from bottom.