The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (October, 1897)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant
4054975Notes and QueriesOctober, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant




Lesser Shrew in Devon.—Early in September my friend Mr. Frank Brownsword sent me an adult Lesser Shrew, Sorex minutus, which had been brought into his house at Shebbear, North Devon, by a cat.—Chas. Oldham (Sale).


Montagu's Harrier breeding in Ireland.—On August 24th last I received a letter from my cousin in Co. Kerry enclosing in the flesh what I identified as a young female Montagu's Harrier. He had shot it on Aug. 20th, and writes:—"I have seen six birds of this kind (four young and two old) constantly about in a rocky ravine near here, and the one I enclose is a young bird.... The old hawks make a strange clucking noise, and the young a kind of whistling scream." I have skinned the bird, and Dr. Bowdler Sharpe, on inspection, kindly confirmed my identification. The exact spot where the specimen was killed has been given me, but I refrain from disclosing it, in case any of the birds should nest there again next year. According to Mr. Howard Saunders's 'Manual of British Birds,' Circus cineraceus has only occurred three times in Ireland, and has never before been reported as having nested; so that the above facts seem well worth recording.—John H. Teesdale (St. Margaret's, West Dulwich, S.E.).

The Eggs of the Roseate Tern.—With reference to my remarks on the nesting of the Roseate Tern, Sterna dougalli, in the British Isles, which appeared in the April number of 'The Zoologist' (p. 165), it will be remembered that I therein emphatically stated that their eggs were easily distinguishable from those of allied species, notwithstanding the late Mr. Henry Seebohm's statement to the contrary in his recent work on Eggs of British Birds, and I will now endeavour to describe their general character. I was under the impression, until quite recently, that these notes would be original, but I find that the late (?) Rev. J.C. Atkinson, in his book on 'British Birds, their Eggs and Nests,' published in 1861, says: "Closer observation only has distinguished between their eggs and those of their more numerous associates." This is the fact, and an experienced eye can readily distinguish the difference, I should say much more easily than between Carrion Crows' and Rooks' eggs, or eggs of other closely allied species. Like most others, they vary among themselves. The Roseates', for instance, in the density of the creamy yellow ground colour, some being very pale, others of a buff stone-colour. The markings generally consist of small speckles of reddish brown with small smoky grey underlying spots, distributed more or less all over the shell; others are marked with larger spots and occasionally blotches of a deep reddish brown, and sometimes there is a trace of the markings forming a zone round the thick end. Never, as in the case of Arctic and Common Terns' eggs, does the ground colour consist of a dark stone-colour, brown, bluish, green, dull green, or ashy grey, and they have a common characteristic different to those of the other species mentioned; while the eggs of the Roseate Tern are generally more elongated than those of the Common and Arctic species. As a rule the clutch consists of two eggs only, very rarely are there three.—E.G. Potter (14, Bootham Crescent, York).

Little Gull and Red-necked Phalarope in Sussex.—On Aug. 11th last I saw shot, at the mouth of Rye Harbour, Sussex, a very fine immature male specimen of the Little Gull, Larus minutus. It was on the sands in company with a Common Tern; the weight was 4½ oz. On referring to 'The Zoologist' for the last seven or eight years, I was unable to find any recorded so early in the autumn. The bird is now in my possession. On Sept. 13th last a friend and myself obtained, in the Channel at Rye Harbour, two immature Red-necked Phalaropes, Phalaropus hyperboreus, both females, one weighing 1 oz., the other just over that weight. The birds have been jointly identified with Mr. Bristow, of St. Leonards.—E.P. Overton (166, Mount Pleasant Road, Hastings).

Common Swift roosting in Tree.—Last evening (Sept. 2nd), at seven o'clock, I was near the top of Stepney Hill, Scarborough, and saw two Swifts, Cypselus apus, flying near some isolated ash trees by the roadside. Presently one of the birds flew into a tree, amongst the smaller lateral branches, and as I thought to take flies from the leaves. After repeating this action the bird, to my great surprise, clung to a pendant branchlet, amongst its leaves, and there hung suspended vertically, its long wings drooping below the tail, at first in horseshoe form, and then afterwards brought together. The bird hung suspended at about twenty feet from the ground whilst I watched below for a quarter of an hour, till darkness and rain, which was falling freely, sent me away. I left the bird there hanging motionless, quite indifferent to the rain and breeze, which caused it continuously to sway backwards and forwards like a suspended scarecrow. The companion bird approached, and had a look at the other two or three times, and seemed to endeavour to settle on the same twig, but it did not do so, and had disappeared when T left. The incident was a great surprise to me, as I had never heard that the Swift was in the habit of perching, even occasionally, much less settling down for the night in such a place and position—not really perched, but vertically suspended like a great hawk-moth. The Swifts have not all left here. I saw about a dozen flying over the main street this morning.—W. Gyngell (Scarborough).

Common Roller in Sussex.—I have received in the flesh, obtained on Sept. 24th at Catslield, near Battle, Sussex, an adult female Roller, Coracias garrulus; weight, 5 oz.; contents of gizzard, fragments of Geotrupes. It had been seen for several days by the keeper who shot it, and who considered it a kind of " Galley-bird," which is the local name for the Green Woodpecker. Markwich, who lived at Catsfield, recorded, in the ' Transactions ' of the Linnean Society, one shot near Crowhurst Church on Sept. 22nd, 1790, almost the same date. Borrer, in his 'Birds of Sussex,' records it last in 1870.—G.W. Bradshaw (Hastings).

Survival of the Kingfisher.—I was interested in reading Mr. Farman's account of the rarity of the Kingfisher in the Norfolk Fens ('Zoologist' for August, p. 354). Few matters ornithological have pleased me more in recent years than the abundance of the species, according to my experience. In this neighbourhood, within seventeen miles of London, the bird is common. Wherever I fish my experience is the same. Near Dulverton, where one constantly sees them on the Exe and Barle, there is a fish-hatching establishment, and, commenting one day on the traps set for the unfortunate birds, the keeper told me he had caught as many as thirty in a season. Near Malvern there is another similar establishment, and there I was told as many as sixty had been killed in a year. As the locality is far from suited to the habits of the species, I asked the keeper whether he supposed they had been attracted from a distance. His reply was that in his opinion they all came from the immediate neighbourhood—that the bird was really very common, but seldom seen on account of its retiring habits. In different parts of Herefordshire I generally see one or two when out fishing. My experience has been the same in other localities. There have been recent references also in the newspapers to the supposed scarcity of the Kingfisher. My own hope and belief is that, although such scarcity may exist here and there, the species as a species is widespread and abundant.

I do not know whether Canon Ingram would consider that what happened in the "fifties" came under the description of "modern history," as used by him in his note about the Wood Pigeons;[1] but numbers must remember, as I do, the Rooks that in 1854 and 1855—how much later I know not—built in the tree that stands at the corner of Wood Street, Cheapside.—T. Vaughan Roberts (Verulam House, Watford).

Habits of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.—Subsequently to a brief sojourn on Lundy Island during May of the present year, I had the pleasure of spending a few days at Clovelly, where I was favoured with excellent opportunities for watching some of the habits of Dendrocopus minor, a little bird whose life-history, by reason of its rarity and exceeding shyness, does not readily lend itself to close examination. On three or four consecutive mornings I found the male bird—the female, doubtless, was busy with the cares of incubation—haunting the topmost branches of a patriarchal elm immediately in front of The Court, and even if it was not in my mind on first coming out of doors, my attention was sure to be speedily arrested by its curious and far-reaching "krark-rk-rk-rk-rk-rk," which sound I had little difficulty in establishing to my own personal satisfaction was caused by the astonishingly rapid vibration of the bird's beak against the limbs of the tree. I believe this is the generally accepted explanation of one of the most peculiar sounds in nature. Nevertheless, the motion of the bill was so rapid as to be virtually indiscernible to the eye, even with the aid of field-glasses. The noise produced, syllabled as above, somewhat long drawn out, and with just the suspicion of a tremolo when heard at a distance, has been likened to various sounds; but it struck me—ambushed as I was close by—that it resembled more than anything else that caused by cumbrous branch, partially detached from the main stem, gradually swaying to and fro with each extra heavy gust of wind. What, however, provided me with matter for still more earnest reflection was the way in which the little bird frequently gathered its food. Never stationary for long together, time after time it would take insects from under the leaves after the manner of the Phylloscopi. Occasionally it would vary this procedure by darting out and capturing an insect on the wing, in this respect reminding me forcibly of the Spotted Flycatcher. With its pretty dipping kind of flight and nesting economy I was already familiar, having come across the species on more than one occasion during the spring months in Herefordshire; also with its note, "pseep, seep, seep, seep, seep, seep "—resembling on a modified scale the cry, suggestive of mockery, of the Kestrel, and not unlike that of the Wryneck; as a rule, on uttering this note, the example I watched so long and attentively in its favourite haunts raised and threw its head well back. But the method of capturing its food, as recorded above, came to me as a revelation, and, so far as I am justified in my assumption—I can find no allusion to it anywhere— it is a detail which, for obvious reasons, we can hardly affect surprise at having been passed over in silence by writers on ornithology. Of the natural beauties of Clovelly and its surroundings most people know by repute; that is, of course, another matter. It is enough for me that Ravens, Choughs, Peregrines, and Common Buzzards still flourish in the district, and that they gladdened my eye by occasionally ranging within view. And, again, not everywhere in England are the Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wryneck, Nuthatch, and Tree Creeper all to be met with in the course of an hour's ramble! No wonder Clovelly can add rare birds to its other multitudinous attractions; little welcome there, be it known, for collectors and exterminators.—H.S. Davenport (Ormandyne, Melton Mowbray).

Aquatic Warbler in Hampshire.—My neighbour, Mr. Richards, of Farlington, sent me the other day a small bird that had been killed accidentally by his fox-terrier in Farlington Marsh. Neither of us could identify the species, so I sent it to Mr. Pratt, of Brighton, who pronounced it a male specimen of the Aquatic Warbler, Acrocephalus aquaticus. It agrees with the coloured plate in Borrer's 'Birds of Sussex.' Possibly some of your readers have recently heard of other specimens.—S.G. Scott (Havant Rectory).

I should like to add, with regard to the above interesting note, that although this appears to be the first Hampshire Aquatic Warbler mentioned in your pages, there is also a specimen in Mr. Hart's well-known collection at Christchurch, killed, like this one, by accident, and also on the coast, but at the south-western extremity of the county.—J.E. Kelsall (East Boldre, Southampton).

The Alleged Summer Appearance of the Shore Lark in Devonshire.—I notice a paragraph in 'The Zoologist' (p. 365) respecting the presumed occurrence of the Shore Lark in Devonshire during summer. From Mr. H.M. Evans's exact description of the locality and the birds, I have no hesitation in identifying both. I think there can be no reasonable doubt whatever that Mr. Evans has confused Otocoris alpestris with a pair of Red-backed Shrikes that have frequented the spot in question all the summer, and have reared a brood there. I have had this pair of birds under close observation the whole season, and have several times pointed them out to my wife, their haunt forming part of a favourite walk of ours. O. alpestris is an irregular visitor on migration (early spring and late autumn) to the shores of Tor Bay, occurring sometimes in small parties. Lanius colluris is fairly common here in summer, from May up to the middle or end of August.—Charles Dixon (Paignton, South Devon).

The Autumn Song of Birds.—I am sincerely sorry to find that Mr. Aplin thinks I misrepresented his meaning when criticising his notes on the autumn song of birds (Zool. 1894, p. 410, and August and September last); but, although having received from him a very kind letter on the subject, and having most carefully re-read the whole of the articles in question, I still fail to see that I misrepresented him. I cannot understand how Mr. Aplin distinguishes the Robin and Starling from the other autumn singers (Zool. 1894, p. 410); nor do I know how these two species can "strike up in October or November" unless they have previously been silent. What I contend for is that they begin to sing in July and early August, and never cease till stopped by cold in winter. I am still firmly of that opinion. Like Mr. Aplin, I have found the Willow Wren silent in the last two weeks of June (Zool. 1894, p. 411, and August last); but I emphatically aver that the bird sings in numbers early in July (not in the hottest midday hours), and ends rather than commences in mid-August. I live opposite a thicket where Willow Wrens swarm. Early in July I could hear a dozen or more in full song at the same time, making a sweet chime with their repeated cadences. Will some other correspondents say which of us is the more correct? Let me state in conclusion that I fully appreciate the conspicuous excellence of Mr. Aplin's notes on birds generally, but I thought him wrong for once; hence this correspondence.—Charles A. Witchell (Eltham, Kent).

Hours at which some Birds commence to Sing.—Last April, while staying in Gloucestershire, my cousin and I arose early one morning to hear the birds begin to sing, and to see which bird began singing first. We got up at about a quarter past one a.m., went out at 1.45 a.m., and posted ourselves in a small field between the garden and a little wood, so as to hear as many birds as possible. The following are my rough notes taken down at the time, which I thought might interest readers of 'The Zoologist':—1.45 a.m. Went out. Very cold. Not a sound. Pitch dark.2 a.m. One Nightingale singing.2.25 a.m. Cocks crowing all round (the cocks crowed spasmodically about every quarter of an hour).2.30 a.m. Dawn just beginning to break. A Sparrow chirped once in the ivy against an outhouse.2.40 a.m. Nightingales singing beautifully. Not light enough to read by.3 a.m. No sound but Nightingales.3.20 a.m. Robin calling and Cuckoo crying.3.25 a.m. Redstarts singing and calling in garden.3.27 a.m. Larks began to soar and sing all round. Scarcely light enough to read by.3.30 a.m. Dead silence for about five minutes. One Nightingale singing far away in a larch wood.3.35 a.m. Blackbirds began to sing in the garden. Sky Larks still singing and Cuckoo crying.3.40 a.m. Thrushes singing.3.47 a.m. Robin singing.3.55 a.m. Quite light. No stars. Thrushes singing on all sides, making quite a deafening noise.4 a.m. Great Tit singing up and down note. Wren singing. 4.10 a.m. Chiffchaff singing.4.20 a.m. Starlings whistling. We did not hear a Willow Wren at all, although they abound in the wood; but their song was probably drowned by the Thrushes.—Bernard B. Riviere (82, Finchley Road, N.W.).

Popular Ornithological Fallacies.—May I ask on what grounds Mr. R.V. Calvert, in the September issue of 'The Zoologist,' pitched upon Cuckoos, in default of Jackdaws, as the culprits in the matter of the destruction (by sucking the contents) of some eggs belonging to a Hawfinch, whose nest had been built in the fork of a whitethorn bush in Wychwood Forest in the spring of the present year? My experience leads me to believe that Cuckoos are caluminated when they are alleged to be addicted to this propensity. It is, of course, quite possible that Mr. Calvert may be in possession of that exceedingly desirable—if the charge is to be deemed absolutely proven—and affirmative evidence on the point, for which scientific ornithologists have long been waiting; if so, I trust it will be recorded in detail in the pages of 'The Zoologist' without delay. But, failing testimony of this kind, let me warn the rising generation of naturalists not to give a moment's heed to the oft-quoted fallacy, founded purely on suggestive evidence, that Cuckoos suck the eggs of little birds. That Cuckoos have been intercepted with eggs, either their own or those of other species, in their bills is no proof of the charge so frequently—as I have found in my walks abroad—preferred against them. Of the Cuckoo's economy so little is known that a large field is naturally presented for speculation; but it appears to me far more likely that the abstraction of an egg from the nest of an alien species may be prompted by an instinctive desire to mask, as it were, the presence of the Cuckoo's egg left behind in its place. Considering the enormous strides ornithology has made during the nineteenth century, the widespread interest that is taken in its study, and the amount of cheap literature that has appeared in connection therewith, it seems to me little short of incredible that, in addition to the one already referred to, there should still linger in the minds of many such preposterous notions as that Green Woodpeckers carefully remove the chips, hewn from their nesting cavity, to a distance; that small birds will not build in the immediate vicinity of other nests; that young Robins kill the old ones in the autumn; that Nightjars suck the milk of goats; that Swallows do not migrate, but hybernate; that only Nightingales sing at night; that Rooks and Crows are identical; that Cuckoos turn into Sparrowhawks in the winter; that Robins retire to the wilds to breed; that Barn Owls suck the eggs of dovecot Pigeons; that sitting Lapwings (that is, females) decoy intruders from their nests by their devices; that Nightingales yearly revisit the same spot for breeding purposes; that Landrails possess the gift of ventriloquism; that Wrens forsake if you insert a finger in their nest; that Mistle Thrushes never sing after the end of April; that Green Woodpeckers are particularly clamorous on the approach of wet weather; that Gulls never perch on trees; that the reeling note of the Grasshopper Warbler is not that of a bird at all; that Long-tailed Tits' nests have two holes, through one of which the sitting bird's tail protrudes; that Swifts cannot rise from the ground; that a hooting Owl bodes evil to the listener; that there are two kinds of Magpie, one that builds in hedges, the other in trees; that the Wren is the female of the Robin; that Herons dangle their legs through a hole in the bottom of their nest; and that Kingfishers breed in the holes of water-rats. I am far from supposing that I have in the foregoing series exhausted the list of vulgar beliefs, but of one thing I am certain, and that is, that a love of the mysterious and marvellous where birds are concerned is the invariable concomitant of ignorance.—H.S. Davenport (Ormandyne, Melton Mowbray).

PS.—In making use of, in an aberrant moment, the somewhat loose and frequently misapplied expression "hybernate" in connection with Swallows, as above, it has occurred to me that purists will not unreasonably infer what I by no means wish to imply. That Swallows on occasions will attempt hybernation, that is, attempt to pass the winter in an animate state in this country, is an accepted fact; but that they become torpid is quite another matter, and it is in this sense that I have not seldom detected people using the term "hybernate" in connection with Swallows wintering in England.— H.S.D.

Garden Lists of Birds.—By way of comparison with Mr. Mathew's interesting lists of birds in last month's 'Zoologist,' I add a list of birds seen by myself from the study window of this house during the ten years we have lived here. My list numbers fifty-five species, the total number observed in the parish (under 1000 acres) being about 101:—

Mistle Thrush.
Song Thrush.
Willow Wren.
Hedge Sparrow.
Long-tailed Tit.
Great Tit.
Coal Tit.
Marsh Tit.
Blue Tit.
Tree Creeper.
Pied Wagtail.
White Wagtail.
Tree Pipit.
Spotted Flycatcher.
Sand Martin.
House Sparrow.
Sky Lark.
Green Woodpecker.
Great Spotted Wood-
Lesser Spotted Wood-
Barn Owl.
Wood Pigeon.
Stock Dove.
Turtle Dove.
Grey Partridge.
Red-legged Partridge.

In addition to these I frequently hear the Nightingale and Tawny Owl, and this year the Tree Sparrow nested in an old stump in full view of the window, but the nest with three eggs was taken before the birds were identified. I unfortunately spoiled the nest, thinking it belonged to Passer domesticus.Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, West Suffolk).

[Having opened our pages to the subject of "Garden Lists of Birds," and drawn attention to the interest attached to same, our space will not allow the insertion of further lists.—Ed.]


Smooth Snake in the New Forest.—I can confirm the experience of my friend Mr. Corbin regarding this interesting reptile. My house stands on the edge of Beaulieu Heath, in the Forest, and on July 6th, 1894, a beautiful specimen was caught crawling up a laurel bush in our garden. I intended to take it to the Zoological Gardens, but it escaped. It was freely handled, and made to exhibit itself on the dining-room table, but did not defend itself by stinking. Hampshire now claims all the British Reptiles and Batrachians excepting the Turtles and the Edible Frog, but the latter has been introduced into the marshes of the Itchen by Mr. T. A. Cotton, of The Mount, Bishopstoke.—J.E. Kelsall (East Boldre, Southampton).


Thresher Shark and Angel-fish at Lowestoft.—During a recent stay at Lowestoft, on the morning of Sept. 11th, I saw a freshly-killed Thresher, Alopecias vulpes, which was landed from the smack 'Florence and May.' There had been an unusually large take of Mackerel during the previous night, and the fishermen told me that the shoals were met with about twenty miles from Lowestoft. The Shark measured 42 in. in the body, and the upper lobe of the caudal fin exactly another 42 in. There was quite an unusual number of Angel-fishes, Rhina squatina, also landed during the three weeks of my stay; I must have seen at least four or five. The fish-wharves at Lowestoft always repay a visit, and I have no doubt many rare and interesting marine forms could be found in the refuse of the trawlnets, as well as in the maws of the deep-sea fishes. On Sept. 29th the 'Hastings Girl' took a second specimen of the Thresher in her Mackerel nets, which was also landed at Lowestoft, and I believe sent to London; it was much larger than that previously taken, measuring 6 ft. in the body and the same in the whip-like tail, or 12 ft. in all.—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).


Wasp, Tipula, and Spider.—My attention was recently drawn to the struggles of a Wasp and a Tipula (Daddy Longlegs) in a Spider's web. I at first thought that they were fellow-captives, and that the Wasp had attacked the Tipula under the impression that he was the author of his misfortunes; but it soon became apparent that this was not the case, as the Wasp quickly stripped the legs and wings off his prey, shook himself free of the web, and carried off the carcase in his mouth. The owner of the web was an interested spectator, but did not take any part in the contest.—R.H. Ramsbotham (Meale Brace Hall, Shrewsbury).

[This communication prompts an interesting question as to the combative power of Spider versus Wasp. The recorded verdict is somewhat ambiguous, as the few—probably not nearly exhaustive—notes here appended clearly show. For the Spider: The Rev. W.F. Kirby, quoting from Walck ('Araneid de France,' p. 202), relates that one species, Segestria perfida, "has been seen even to seize a very active Wasp." The late Prof. Westwood ('Mod. Class. Ins.' vol. ii. p. 247) states that he once observed "a Spider, belonging to the genus Thomisus, sucking a Wasp which it had killed. For the Wasp: In 'The Zoologist' (1859, p. 6732) is to be found the account of an experiment made by putting a Wasp into a Spider's web. In this case the Spider, who made a rush at the Wasp, was stung in its abdomen, and fell from its web dead upon the ground. In 'Nature,' vol. xvii. p. 381, is an account from the Piraeus, describing the chasing and killing of a large hunting Spider by a species of Wasp, probably a Pompilus. There is a record in 'The Zoologist' for 1887, p. 310, of an observation made in Ceylon of a Mason Wasp—a large common species—seen dragging a large Tarantula, which it had paralysed, across a path. Belt ('Naturalist in Nicaragua,' p. 313) refers to Wasps storing their nests with Spiders, after benumbing them with their stings.

It will thus be seen that in this, as in most other branches of zoology, actual observations on the life-histories of animals are still greatly desiderated. It is probable that a conflict between Wasp and Spider depends in issue very largely on the species, and more particularly the genus, to which each belongs. Both Wasps and Spiders, as well as other animals, vary greatly in their habits and pugnacity; and hence—when possible—the observing naturalist should fortify himself with the additional knowledge imparted by the taxonomist, and thus add to the details of the occurrence the correct names of those which took part in it.—Ed.]