The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 676/Notes from Mid-Hants: Spring and Summer, 1897

Notes from Mid-Hants: Spring and Summer, 1897 (1897)
by Geoffrey Watkins Smith
4065565Notes from Mid-Hants: Spring and Summer, 18971897Geoffrey Watkins Smith


Spring and Summer, 1897.

By G.W. Smith.

Since sending my notes for the winter of 1896 I have learnt from Mr. Chalkley that a Gannet was shot at East Tisted on December 12th, and a Peregrine Falcon at Whitchurch on the 5th of that month.


In water-meads (Winchester) this month shows very little change in bird-life from the last. The Common Gulls still remain with us, but L. argentatus has not paid a visit during the whole month. Mr. Kelsall, writing to me of sea-birds in the New Forest, says:—"There is a large pond in my parish about four miles from the sea which the Gulls visit every day in summer—Herring Gulls, I think. The forest people say that the Cormorants fly daily to Salisbury! They often pass over us. Our Gulls are not seen here in winter; perhaps they go further afield when they have no eggs or young. I find notes in my diary as follows:—March 13th, 1895; Gulls begin to pass over about this date; and March 15th, 1896, Gulls passing over."

On the 6th a Bittern, B. stellaris, was shot at Avington, and sent to Mr. Chalkley to be preserved. By the 29th Pied Wagtails were as numerous as ever in water-meads, but the Grey Wagtails were reduced to a few pairs. Reed Buntings were still common quite close to the town. On the 30th I saw two Dabchicks, P. fluviatilis, on the Itchen close to the town, for the first time during the winter. They were extremely wary, and dived down, to appear several yards off in an inconspicuous position by the bank, at the slightest disturbance.

The frost gave way on this date.


On the 4th the Common Gulls left suddenly and for good, save for one short visit, which lasted only a few hours, on the morning of the 25th, when five or six were wheeling at a great height above water-meads. The Pied Wagtails are diminished in numbers; the Grey Wagtails are only occasionally seen during the middle of the month. On the 9th there were seven or eight Dabchicks on the Itchen near the College and another party further down by Shawford. On the 20th the first inward migration of Peewits began, a company of fifty or so flying west in a long line on that date, and another on the 25th. On the 2nd a Brent Goose was shot at Medstead, and on the 15th I saw three Geese, which I suspected to be Brent, flying at a considerable height over water-meads. On the 18th a Great Spotted Woodpecker was shot at Sparsholt and sent to Mr. Chalkley to be set up. On the 23rd the Rooks first began to collect twigs for repairing their nests; they were very quarrelsome, and one bird was killed in a scuffle and fell down dying into meads. On the 24th I saw a company of about two hundred Wood Pigeons in a ploughed field bordering a wood at Whitchurch. Both species of Wagtail decreased steadily in numbers as the month progressed; during the whole winter neither species has been so numerous as as in former years. Mr. Kelsall writes from the New Forest, "A pair of Wheatears, Feb. 27th." This is the earliest record I know.


On the 1st a few Common Gulls came with a strong south wind to stay for a few hours in the morning, on the 4th and 6th; one Gull stayed through the greater part of the morning. On the 22nd Peewits were in abundance on Twyford Downs, probably with nests; in fact, on the 21st, several clutches were found in a ploughed field to the north of this spot. It is very curious how persistently this bird is persecuted and with what persistence it propagates its kind so successfully. On the 22nd I saw the Wheatear, male, for the first time this year, in water-meads. On the 24th a solitary Herring Gull was battling with a strong south wind above St. Catherine's Hill. The Dabchicks leave us about now, and are never seen so high up the river during the rest of the year. This fact applies to all our winter visitants in the upper water-meads; they seem to come nearer the town during winter, and to distribute themselves more widely for the breeding season. The Reed Buntings, for instance, at the end of this month, have moved away to their breeding haunts a few miles down the river. Thus we have such birds as the Wagtails, Buntings, Dabchicks, &c, performing regular migrations on a small scale.

On the 25th a Thrush's nest was found with three eggs, and three Blackbirds' nests had eggs in two cases and young birds in the third. All the nests were in evergreens. The first Swallow arrived in water-meads on the afternoon of the 27th. On the 29th Mr. Chalkley received a Ring Ouzel from Avington, and on the 30th a specimen of the same bird from Highbridge, four or five miles on the opposite side of the town.


By the 2nd Swallows were numerous in water-meads, and on that date the first Sand Martin arrived. On the 3rd a stormy wind was blowing from the east, and two Herring Galls payed a visit in the morning. The Jackdaws began their nests on this date in the College chapel tower. On the 4th a young Thrush of the year, fully developed except in the tail-feathers was seen, and the first Whitethroat was reported past St. Cross.

In Kent (Beckenham) the Swallows and Sand Martins arrived on the 19th; and on the 23rd I was fortunate in seeing the first birds of the season arrive in North Staffordshire.

Mr. Kelsall, from the New Forest, reports, "Chiffchaff, 1st; Cuckoo, 14th (heard in Kent first on 20th); Nightingale, 18th (in Kent 19th); Willow Wren, 20th." He says, however, that it is uncertain whether these were first arrivals, as he was away for "the first rush."

On the 30th eggs of the Great Tit were taken at Crabbe Wood. Pied Wagtails with their congeners have deserted the water-meads near the town by now, save for a few pairs of the first species, preparatory to spending the breeding season further down the river. They usually return about the middle of November (see Zool. 1897, p. 34).


On the 1st I saw the first Swift at Winton, and Mr. Nutt reported Meadow Pipits in water-meads. On the 3rd Swifts positively swarmed near St. Catherine's Hill, flying low, and uttering their cries. Up to the middle of this month, which has been bitterly cold, Swallows, Swifts, and Martins must have been suffering from want of food. I have never seen such numbers of them before flying, vainly for the most part, over the Itchen near the town.

On the 4th I found a clutch of six Wheatear's eggs, hard-set, on a warren (Longwood) four miles east of the town. This is an early date. I saw two Stone Curlews also there on this date, and Mr. Nutt reported these birds at Farley Mount, nort-east of Winton. On the 5th I saw Willow Wrens at Compton Gorse, and heard what was very likely a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. This little copse abounds in Nightingales, which were keeping up a lovely chorus when I visited it on the 8th. On the 10th Mr. Kelsall reports, "Wood Wren and Tree Pipit; Nightjar and Shrike reported." On this date Reed Buntings had eggs in water-meads (hatched on 12th), and I found a clutch of five Moorhen's eggs at Fishers Pond. I picked up a young Coot of the year on the bank, which seemed quite helpless, and had evidently been neglected by its parents. This bird breeds in fair numbers every year there, and I have March 15th, 1890, as the earliest record of its laying. It migrates partially to the coast in winter.

In the middle of the month a pair of Nuthatches, which have built in the same tree in the college meads for three years, had eggs. On the 12th a Stone Curlew's egg was brought me from a boy who had picked it up in "a hollow" near Chilcombe, three miles from the town. He said it was the only one, but how far he may be trusted is uncertain. It was quite hard-set. This egg is rarely found, though the birds breed here every year in small numbers. Two eggs were taken last year on May 6th, after a most persevering hunt, by Mr. Ensor. On this date (12th) a Carrion Crow's nest was found at Oliver's Battery, a mile from the town, with young birds in it. On the 15th a Willow Wren's nest was found with six eggs in it, and on this date five Hawfinch's eggs were taken in a wood two miles from the town. At present the records for this bird in the neighbourhood are—"Nested at Alresford, 1891; seen near College, February, 1892; shot at Otterbourne, 1892, and at Hursley, 1893." On the 17th Red-legged Partridge's eggs were taken, and on this date Mr. Chalkley received two Tufted Ducks from Alresford, and a Hobby from Northwood. The Ducks have only been known to breed recently at Alresford, a pair first nesting there in 1890. A Wryneck was shot during this month near here, not a very common bird with us. On the 13th Chiffchaff's eggs were found at St. Cross.

I have been on the look-out during the past few months for L. ridibundus, which often pays a visit in fair-sized flocks to water-meads, but I have not been successful. It has been suspected that it occurs in fair numbers in company with L. canus during the winter, but I am inclined to disbelieve this. I may here mention that although L. canus was very numerous during the winter months, the date of its departure was extremely early as compared with other years. Mr. Sutton Davies gives the beginning of May as the average date for its departure to the coast. On the 31st a Whinchat's nest with three eggs in it was brought to me from a boy who had found it "near water" past St. Cross. At the beginning of this month an interesting variety of the Blackbird's egg was found; ground colour pale blue, with a light brown continuous patch at the thick end, as if the egg had been "singed" there. Out of five eggs three were normal, and two presented the variety described.


On the 1st Lesser Whitethroat's eggs were found, and on the 4th Reed Warbler's. On the 14th Turtle Dove's eggs were fresh; May 13th is the earliest date I know for the eggs of this species near here (1893). There were young birds in a Garden Warbler's nest in the town on the 14th. Very little ornithological work has been done this month owing to general business.


On the 11th I saw a mature Peewit in water-meads with the wings a dark brown colour all over. Otherwise the bird was typical, and I had no difficulty in recognizing it, as it flew for some time over my head, and settled only a few yards off. I am inclined to think that it was in ill-health. On the 13th I saw about a dozen Peewits in water-meads; this is very early for these birds to be assembling, but no doubt it is not universal. On the 16th a large flock of Peewits, numbering sixty or seventy, were reported flying east across the valley, and there are several birds collected in water-meads. In the middle of the month a Common Buzzard was shot near here. This is the only bird of interest Mr. Chalkley has received during close season.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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