The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 678/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (December, 1897)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant
4054977Notes and QueriesDecember, 1897various authors, editor W.L. Distant



Trapping Shrews and Voles.—I can fully endorse Mr. Pocock's remarks on the abundance of Microtus glareolus as regards my own county. I have trapped numbers of them, had many brought to me during haytime and harvest, and the cats often bring them into the house; but still, in districts that I have worked, M. agrestis is the preponderating species. Sorex minutus I have only succeeded in trapping once, though I am anxious to obtain specimens. S. araneus swarms, and Crossopus fodiens is common in suitable localities. Mus messorius I have never yet seen in the county. M. sylvaticus is ubiquitous, but though my friend Mr. James Backhouse and myself have examined a great number, we have not yet come upon the variety, as we consider it, M. flavicollis, though we are anxious to obtain a few specimens. Muscardinus avellanarius is very local.—Oxley Grabham, M.A. (Chestnut House, Heworth, York).


Common Seal in the River Arun, Sussex.—In September last a Seal made its appearance off the mouth of the Arun at Littlehampton, and finally ascended the river above Arundel, at a distance of about seven miles from the sea. It was eventually shot, and whilst in the flesh I was afforded an opportunity of noting the following particulars. It was a male specimen of the Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, about three parts grown, measuring 3 feet 7 inches in length, girth 27 inches, front flapper 7 inches long, weight 40 lb., with the molar teeth placed obliquely, one of the characteristics of this species. With an acquaintance of the neighbourhood for over fifty years, this is, I believe, the first instance of such an occurrence; the animal, in this case, being no doubt attracted by the shoals of Bass which in the early autumn are taken here in considerable numbers. Within the last two seasons I have seen two brought on shore, both of them exceeding 12 lb. in weight—one caught on light roach tackle, after nearly an hour's tussle of a most exciting kind.—Percy E. Coombe (Surrey House, Arundel).


Local Name of the Sheldrake.Mr. C.B. Horsbrugh does not remember (ante, p. 508) seeing the name St. George's Duck in any book; but, in addition to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe's 'Handbook,' mentioned in your editorial note, this name is to be found in Forster's 'Catalogus Avium in Insulis Britannicis Habitantium' (1817); Macgillivray's 'Manual of British Birds' (1846), and Swainson's 'Folk Lore and Provincial Names of British Birds' (1886). It seems to me to be co-related with St. George's Channel. In Clyde this bird is called Stocknet or Stockannet; and it also bears the following names in different localities:—Skelder, Skelgoose, Skeldrake or Duck, Scale Drake or Duck, Skell, Skeeling, Skeel Duck or Goose, Skeeling Goose, Shelder, Sheld Fowl, Sly Goose, Sky (?) Goose, Ruddy Goose, Bar-, Ber-, and Bur-gander, Bar Drake, Bay Duck, Burrow Duck, Links Duck, Pirennet or Perenet; Gaelic: Cra-ghiadh or Cradh-gheadh; and Welsh Hwyad-yr-eithin or Hywad-fruith.—Hugh Boyd Watt (3, Victoria Drive, Mount Florida, Glasgow).

Heron Choked by a Frog.—In the month of August, on the western borders of the Bay of Allan, in Kildare, Ireland, I came across an instance of a Heron being choked in the act of swallowing a frog.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (Thorneycroft, Compton, Peterfield).

An unrecorded Norfolk Great Bustard.—Professor Newton, with his usual kindness, was good enough to inform me early in the present year that he had heard, through Mr. Osbert Salvin, of a Norfolk killed Great Bustard, which would shortly be sold by auction at Bournemouth, expressing a hope that if genuine it might be restored to its native county. After much negotiation and lengthened correspondence as to its history, I was enabled to purchase what has proved to be the finest male Bustard I have ever seen, and it is now in the collection of Mr. Connop, of Rollesby Hall, Norfolk, with many other local rarities. The history of the bird is briefly as follows. It was shot on Swaffham Heath about the year 1830 by a Mr. Glasse, Q.C., who then resided at Vere Lodge, Raynham, near Fakenham, Norfolk, and had remained in the possession of himself and Miss Glasse (his daughter), until it was sold with the effects of the latter shortly after her death at Bournemouth. I was able to obtain this information from a lady who knew Miss Glasse well, and had heard the history of the bird from her lips; it was also corroborated by Mr. Bear, the late Mr. Glasse's coachman, who assured me that his master had more than once mentioned the circumstance of his having shot the bird on Swaffham Heath to him; its history is therefore perfectly established. This superb old bird, if the estimated date of its death be correct, would not unlikely be the last male of the Swaffham drove—the last female having been killed in 1838.—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).

Occurrence of the Mediterranean Herring Gull, Larus cachinnans, in Norfolk.—Whilst engaged in making a catalogue of the fine collection of British Birds in the possession of Mr. E.M. Connop of Rollesby Hall, near Great Yarmouth, Mr. Cole, the Norwich bird preserver, pointed out to me a Herring Gull, which he said the late Mr. Stevenson had examined in the flesh, and believed to be Larus cachinnans. At his request Mr. Cole had noted the colour of the soft parts on the back of the case, and a careful examination led me to endorse the opinion expressed by Mr. Stevenson. Mr. Howard Saunders has also been good enough to examine the bird, and expresses himself quite satisfied with the correctness of the determination. The bird was shot by the veteran gunner, John Thomas, on Breydon Water, near Great Yarmouth, and sent by him in the flesh to Mr. Cole, on the 4th of November, 1886: it proved to be a male by dissection, and differed from the Common Herring Gull in the darkness of the mantle; the legs were a beautiful lemon yellow, and the bare ring round the eye deep orange-red. The mantle and orbital ring still retain their normal colour, but the legs have unfortunately been painted pale yellow, which Mr. Cole assures me he imitated from nature. The late season at which this southern species was killed seems remarkable; but still later in the same year (on December 26th), and in the same locality, a beautiful adult example of the Mediterranean Black-headed Gull was killed. I am not aware of any previous occurrence of L. cachinnans in Britain having been recorded.—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).

Note on Flight of Green Sandpiper.—On the 4th September last I flushed in some marshes near here a bird that I thought, from its note and flight, to be a Wood Sandpiper (Totanus glareola). It rose with a very feeble sibilous note, and skimmed along close to the water till it settled again. I had some years ago killed the species close to the same spot, and that circumstance strengthened my conjecture as to the species. I flushed this bird several times without getting a shot, but its flight and note were always the same. Wishing to identify the bird, I went to the same locality again on the 7th September (three days later), when I again found the bird, which rose with the same note and flight. At its last rise I got a shot and killed it, and was surprised to find that it was the Green Sandpiper (T. ochropus). I have frequently met with this last species through many past years, and without exception it has risen wild, with a loud and shrill cry, invariably mounting high into the air, and never skimming the water. It seems, therefore, that the Green Sandpiper at certain times or seasons rises with the note and habit as to flight of the Wood Sandpiper. It would be interesting to know whether others have observed this variation of flight and note in T. ochropus.—W. Oxenden Hammond (St. Albans Court, near Wingham, Kent).

Green Woodpecker boring in November.—While out after Wood-pigeons on November 16th, I was much surprised to see in a decayed beech-tree a new boring made by a Green Woodpecker, which had been worked out to a depth of eight or ten inches. I put some green fir-boughs under the hole, and find to-day (November 25th) that the work is still going on.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds).

Supposed occurrence of a Great Spotted Cuckoo in Co. Kerry.—On April 30th of this year Mr. Thomas King, lightkeeper at Skelligs Rock Lighthouse, reported "a Great Spotted Cuckoo on Rock at 8 a.m., very tired-looking, fresh south-west breeze, blue sky, cloudy." Writing more fully to me, Mr. King says: "This bird was about the size of a Sparrowhawk, but more bulky in body; its feathers were ruffled and loose, and it appeared very much fatigued. Back of bird a dark slate colour; wing same colour as back, but feathers white at the points; throat orange or yellow; breast a light slate colour or grey; under tail white; all tail feathers white at the points; crest of a lighter colour than back and slightly erected; bill of a bluish black; tail about seven or eight inches long and inclined downwards. When first observed was coming from a southwesterly direction and lit on rock, and when approached within twenty yards would fly about the same distance away to another rock, and continued so for about half an hour, flying at short intervals when approached, and seemed very much frightened at the large number of Puffins that were flying about at that time. I had a good opportunity of seeing it as I followed it about from one place to another with the telescope, and lost sight of it at the north-east point of rock amongst the Puffins. I trust this description will give you an opportunity of judging its species; as far as I can see by the books at station, it resembles no other bird but the Great Spotted Cuckoo." Coccystes glandarius (Linn.) has only once been obtained in Ireland. Its occurrence is noted by Thompson ('Natural History of Ireland,' vol. i. p. 364) as follows:—"The Cuckoo pursued by Hawks was taken by two persons on the Island of Omagh" (should be Omey, which is near Clifden, co. Galway). The bird when chased by the Hawks appeared fatigued, weak, and emaciated, as though it had taken a long flight, as Woodcocks and other birds of passage do on first arrival. The 1st of March, 1842, is said to have been the time of its capture." This specimen, which was in the Museum of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1890, was examined by Saunders, who found it to be in immature plumage ('Manual,' p. 279). It is probable that both specimens reached the west coast of Ireland from the north of Spain, and from the description of the plumage the Skelligs bird was most likely an immature male.—Richard M. Barrington (Fassaroe, Bray, Co. Wicklow).

Presumed Summer Appearance of Shore Lark in Devon.—With reference to Mr. C. Dixon's letter on this subject (p. 471), I am anxious to state that I described exactly what I saw; and that to whatever species the bird belonged, surely white under parts, with a conspicuous black band across the breast, cannot be referable to the Red-backed Shrike. I suggested the Shore Lark, though I knew its summer appearance would be opposed to experience, only because I could not identify the plumage I saw with that of any other bird.— H.W. Evans (Athenaeum, Plymouth).

Egg-producing Powers of the Common Redshank.—In connection with Mr. H. Alderson's note on the egg-producing powers of the Wryneck, the following may be interesting as illustrating those of the Common Redshank. The first clutch was completed about April 25th; these were taken about May 10th, and on May 16th there were two eggs in a new nest close by; these were destroyed by cattle or rooks, and by May 22nd another full clutch was laid a few yards away. These were taken on May 22nd or 23rd, and by June 1st four more eggs were laid eight or ten yards away; these were again taken, and the bird laid another full clutch, of which two were hatched on July 1st, the other two eggs being broken. Of course in this case it is much more difficult to be sure that all these eighteen eggs were the produce of one pair of birds; but the following are my reasons for thinking so: this is the first time that Redshanks have nested in this spot, at least for the six years I have known it; that never more than one pair of birds were seen there; and that all the nests were close together, but no two nests contained eggs at the same time. From these facts it would seem that gestation in this species lasts about five days.—A. Bankes (Otterwood, Beaulieu, Southampton).

Egg-producing Powers of the Dipper.—A somewhat similar case to that described of the Wryneck (p. 511) came under my own observation with regard to a Dipper. Twenty-eight eggs were taken from the same nest. After the twenty-eighth had been removed I was told of it, and with a little persuasion, and the help of a little current coin of the realm, I procured for the unfortunate bird immunity from further depredations. She laid four more eggs, and brought up three youngsters in peace.—Oxley Grabham (Chestnut House, Heworth, York).

Egg-producing Powers of Birds.—I was much interested in Mr. H. Alderson's note in last month's 'Zoologist,' about the Wryneck, and I should like to ask him if he is absolutely certain that there were no intervals during the laying of the sixty-two eggs. I have often read that, by robbing a nest repeatedly, a bird may be made to lay an egg daily for about a month, but I have always considered that these reports were due to a want of careful observation in noticing the intervals between the batches of eggs laid. It seems to me impossible that a bird should be able to produce eggs at will, and I have always thought that the number of eggs to be laid was determined before the first was produced. If a female be examined just before laying, the eggs to be laid are easily distinguished, as there is a sudden break off in size from the rest, not a gradual decrease. I have tried a good many experiments myself, and have never known a bird continue laying an egg a day beyond the normal number; but have always found that the bird continued laying up to its normal number, and that there was then an interval of a few days (during which, I suppose, the birds paired again) before the next lot was begun. For instance, in the case of a Starling which I experimented upon, there was an interval of five days between the two sets of eggs which it laid. I may mention that a good number of the birds experimented on deserted the nests. It would have been interesting if Mr. Alderson had noticed whether the eggs were fertilized, but I suppose they could not have been so.—Bernard Riviere (Finchley Road, London).

Hours at which some Birds Sing.—In 'The Zoologist' (p. 472), Mr. Riviere touches on a very large subject, which occasionally attracts attention from observers, but which is yet far from having had an exhaustive treatment accorded to it. The hours at which birds begin to sing differ according to the season of the year and according to locality; they are also influenced in some other way, perhaps by weather conditions, as the same species occasionally show a marked difference of time in the hours at which they begin to sing on corresponding dates of different years. Mr. Riviere neglects to give the particular date in April, and thus deprives his note of the value it would otherwise have. In Shetland, during midsummer, no real darkness covers the land, and in consequence great activity prevails by night as well as by day. Larks and Wheatears sing at the hour of midnight, and the former has a long spell of uninterrupted song. Gulls of several species, Snipe, Arctic Terns, and other species of birds, make little difference between night and day, and are ever watchful for and ready to meet any night intruder on their haunts long before he comes near their home. Further south, in the Forth area, for instance, we cannot boast an absence of darkness in summer, and we find that bird-life in the main enjoys a temporary halt every night. Yet even here many species of birds, such as Coot, Little Grebe, Heron, Peeweep, Curlew, Redshank, &c, pay little regard to the succession of day and night. At dawn of day the songsters break forth one by one in song, till the whole grove or moorland rings with their melody. The Lark is the species in this neighbourhood that hails the day, but in the woodlands, where Larks are absent, Blackbird and Thrush generally rival each other in breaking the silence of night. Few things are more interesting to the field-naturalist, or more delightful to him, than the music of the grove, when it succeeds the dismal period of waiting on in the stillness and darkness of night. For several hours he has had little to attract his attention save the hooting and shrieking of Owls, the plaint of the Peeweep, or it may be the terrific yell of a Heron, when suddenly the sky above him bursts into life, or the woodlands around him are transformed into an orchestra; and whereas in the darkness he had abundance of time to note the spasmodic bird-calls that disturbed the silence, he now finds himself totally unable to cope with the superabundance of life that has so suddenly emerged from the gloom. In the following notes I have recorded the hours, with dates and localities, at which I have heard various common birds begin their song; notes which may be of interest when compared with similar ones made in other parts of the country.

Thrush, Turdus musicus.—Earliest, June 15th, 1893, Fife, 2.28 a.m. On the previous night, June 14th, the last Thrush was noted in song at 8.7 p.m.

Blackbird, T. merula.—Earliest, 2.17 a.m., July 6th, 1894, Fife. Latest, 8.52 p.m., June 14th, 1893, Fife.

Ring Ouzel, T. torquatus.—3.46 a.m., April 16th, 1895, Dumfries.

Wheatear, Saxicola œnanthe.—Calling 9.35 p.m., June 2nd, 1893, East Lothian.

Redbreast, Erithacus rubecula.—Earliest, 2.6 a.m. (calling, not singing), July 6th, 1894, Fife. Latest, 9.30 p.m., June 21st, 1894, East Lothian.

Whitethroat, Sylvia rufa.—Earliest, 2.35 a.m., May 24th, 1898, Edinburgh. Latest, 8.14 p.m., May 5th, 1893, East Lothian.

Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita.—Earliest, 3.15 a.m., June 8th, 1893, Edinburgh.

Willow Wren, P. trochilus.—Earliest, 3.3 a.m., June 8th, 1893, Edinburgh. Latest, 8.38 p.m., June 13th, 1893, Fife.

Sedge Warbler, Acrocephalus schœnobænus.—Earliest, 1.32 a.m., June 8th, 1893, Edinburgh.

Field Sparrow, Accentor modularis.—Earliest on June 15th, 1893. I heard one give a snatch of its song at 1.25 a.m., but did not again hear the song till 4.5. On the previous night the Field Sparrow had ceased singing at 8.36 p.m., Fife.

Greenfinch, Ligurinus chloris.—Latest, 8.22 p.m. (the prolonged drawling note, given by Witchell as "zshweeoo"), June 14th, 1893, Fife.

Chaffinch, Fringilla cœlebs.—Earliest, 2.58 a.m., June 15th, 1893, Fife.

Bunting, Emberiza miliaria.—Latest, 8 p.m., May 5th, 1893, East Lothian.

Yellowhammer, E. citrinella.—Earliest, 2.37 a.m., May 23rd, 1894, Coldingham, Berwickshire. Latest, 8.22 p.m., June 14th, 1893, Fife.

Skylark, Alauda arvensis.—In connection with this species it may be interesting to give a series of dates, showing how the bird appears a little earlier as the season advances:—3.11 a.m., April 28th, 1893, Edinburgh; 2.39 a.m., May 11th, 1893, Edinburgh; 2.16 a.m., May 24th, 1893, Edinburgh, 1.59 a.m., June 3rd, 1893, East Lothian; 1.45 a.m., June 2nd, 1894, East Lothian.

This last entry records the time at which the birds begin their uninterrupted singing. From ten to twelve o'clock I had put up Larks frequently, but always in silence. At 12.16 midnight I heard the first Lark singing, not continuously from one spot, but giving snatches of his song as he flew; this method of song, resembling, however, the calling of the flocks in winter flight rather than real singing, continued for some time, and silence again ensued. The first bird to call, disturbed from my feet, rose at 12.38, and gave several notes as it mounted, but the real continued music of the Larks, as a whole, did not begin till 1.45 a.m.

Crow, Corvus corone.—2.48 a.m., June 15th, 1893, Fife. This refers to a bird calling without being disturbed by my presence. Such an explanation is necessary, as the Crow, like a number of other species, will sometimes call when disturbed by a midnight wanderer in its haunts.

Cuckoo, Cuculus canorus.—Earliest, 2.5 a.m., May 23rd, 1895, Lomond Hills, Fife.—Robert Godfrey (46, Cumberland Street, Edinburgh).

Notes from Scarborough.—The season so far, owing probably to the unusually mild weather, has been very unproductive in ornithological occurrences of sufficient interest to be worthy of note. A few Curlew Sandpipers were obtained on the coast during August; all that I saw were young birds. Early in September a Green Sandpiper was shot at Folkton, near Scarborough, and brought to me. It was one of a pair, the other escaping. On Nov. 2nd I had brought in a beautiful adult Spotted Crake, alive and uninjured. It had flown into some buildings, and was there captured by the workmen. On the same date the first Little Auk I have a note of for this season was taken at Filey. On Nov. 3rd a nice Albino Sparrow, with pink eyes and flesh-coloured legs and beak, was brought in from Yedmundale, near Scarborough. During the early part of the month a good many Waxwings have been about, and I know of seven which have been obtained mostly within a few miles of the town. A Peregrine Falcon has also been procured, and on the 15th I had an adult female Longtailed Duck brought in. This bird is seldom obtained in our district, and is only the second record I have of its occurrence.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).

The Dictionary of British Bird-Song.—With reference to Mr. Hett's announcement of his Dictionary of Call-notes of British Birds, it may be of interest to readers of 'The Zoologist' to know that there will apparently be two "dictionaries," covering practically the same ground, published at about the same time. Ever since the publication of 'The Evolution of Bird-Song' I have been preparing my 'Dictionary,' which is now ready for the press. I may say I mentioned this to Mr. Warde Fowler last spring. I have, of course, obtained help from others, and gleaned from the literature of the subject.—Charles A. Witchell (Elthara, Kent).


The Porbeagle in Manx Waters.—The capture of this Shark, Lamna cornubica, is worth recording, as it is the first time it has been taken (or, at all events, recorded) off the Manx coast. It was found on November 3rd, by William Gawne, floundering in rather shallow water, in Derby Haven, at the south of the Isle of Man. He struck it with a bit of drift wood, "when it flew into the air"; he then killed it with a stone. When it reached me it was too far gone for preservation; but a photograph of it had been taken by Mr. Capam, by which it could be identified. I found it to be a good specimen, answering exactly to Day's description. I could not find the "spiracles" to which he refers as sometimes seen between the eye and first gill-opening. The colour was a dull grey, with peculiar sheen above and white beneath. It measured in a straight line from the tip of the snout to the centre of the tail, 37½ inches, and five inches more to the tip of the longest lobe. The viscera had been removed when sent to me; Gawne had noticed nothing in its stomach except "dirt." For some time previously he had noticed large fish in his nets cut clean in half, no doubt by this individual. Day says this species is not rare in the Orkneys and Shetland, has been met with all round the east coast,[1] and is common in Cornwall. It appears to be infrequent on the west coast, but has been taken in Dublin Bay and Belfast Lough.

Last summer I obtained a specimen of an allied species, the Thresher, Alopecias vulpes, from the Point of Ayre. It was even more decayed than this one. It also had not previously been recorded as Manx.

A movement is now on foot to have a good Museum in the Isle of Man, and I trust it will not be very long before we are able to provide for the due preservation not only of rare and unusual specimens, but of all the fish in our waters—a collection, in fact, which will afford a perfect illustration of the natural history as well as of the archæology of the Isle of Man.—P.M.C. Kermode (Ramsey, Isle of Man).

Large Tunny on the Essex Coast.—A large specimen of the Common Tunny, Orcynus thynnus, the pectoral fin being only about a foot in length, was found ashore on Foulness on October 24th. It was quite nine feet long, and as much in circumference. Mr. H.L. Matthams writes me that "a full-sized man sitting on the top could not touch the ground with his feet." It was estimated to weigh 5 to 6 cwt. The fish was quite fresh and was well fed, but its stomach was empty. Much of the flesh was eaten; this was red in colour and very firm when raw; fried, it resembled Eel, and fried well in its own fat, like that fish; boiled, it somewhat resembled Skate, the flesh being stringy.—Edward A. Fitch (Maldon, Essex).

The Germon in British Waters.—The Germon, or Long-finned Tunny, Orcynus germo, Day, has long been known as a visitor to British seas; but so infrequent are its occurrences on our coasts that the late Dr. Day could only enumerate four distinct occasions upon which this fine species had been obtained within our limits, the whole of these relating to the south-west of England. No specimens were taken between 1865 and 1889, in which latter year I obtained an example from a creek upon Burgh Marsh—i.e. upon the upper shores of the Solway Firth. I have now the pleasure of recording the capture of a second specimen of this handsome Tunny in the Solway Firth. On October 25th, 1897, a living Germon was found stranded upon the sands near Silloth. It was secured by a labouring man, who saw that he had obtained a prize. He had the sense to ride off to me on his bicycle; but unfortunately I was away from home. He then wrote to my taxidermist, and offered it to him as representing me; but he, being very busy, and supposing the fish to be a common Tunny, declined it, and wrote to me to report it. On my return home I found that the owner of the fish had kept it (in the hope of a high price) until it became decomposed, and he had to bury it in his garden. I dug it up myself, and found the fish but little altered in appearance. It was a Germon, with a pectoral fin sixteen inches long. It measured 27£ inches in girth, and 38 inches in length from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail. I compared it with the figures given by Couch and Day. Couch's figure represents the Germon as tapering more sharply to the tail than was the case in this specimen; but perhaps this may be accounted for by the excellent condition of the recent wanderer. The left pectoral fin was damaged when disinterred; but I cut out the right pectoral fin as a proof of its identity. My identification of the 1889 specimen was confirmed at the Natural History Museum by Mr. Boulenger; since then I have procured other species of Tunny from the Solway Firth, as has my neighbour across the water, Mr. R. Service.—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, Cumberland).

  1. Not uncommon at Great Yarmouth (ante, pp. 564–5).—Ed.