The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 679/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (January, 1898) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 679, p. 22–31




Polecat in Suffolk.—On Dec. 21st I received as a present a fine specimen of Mustela putorius, killed a day or two previously in or near Mildenhall Fen, which is in the north-western corner of this county. The fur was in beautiful order, and when skinning and setting up the animal I was surprised at the almost entire absence of any unpleasant smell. In our neighbourhood these animals are now very rare, but they still exist in some numbers in the fen country, where the voles, frogs, and eels provide them with an abundance of prey. 'The Zoologist' for 1888 (pp. 183, 221) contains some interesting information on the subject of Suffolk Polecats.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk).


The Indian Hispid Hare (Lepus hispidus).—This somewhat rare and but little known rodent is fairly plentiful in the Dooars, along the base of the Bhootan Hills, and I have seen them near the banks of the Brahmapootra river below Dhoobri. Its general colour is dark or iron grey, with an unbrowned ruddy tinge. Limbs and body shaded externally with black, the tail rubescent both above and below; the inner fur short, soft, downy, of an ashy hue; the outer longer, hispid, harsh, and bristly, some of the hairs annulated, black and yellow-brown, others pure black and longer, the wholly black hairs more abundant than the lighter ones. The ears are very short and broad. Length: head and body, 19½ in.; tail, 2⅛ in.; ear, 2¾ in. This curious Hare is of a very dark hue, of a heavy make, and Rabbit-like appearance, with small eyes, short and stout limbs, and short whiskers. It is often called the Black Rabbit at Dacca, and the shikaries declare that at times it burrows like the ordinary "bunny." It frequents jungly places, long grass, bamboos, &c, shunning observation, and, from its retired habits is very difficult to observe and obtain. The flesh is white. I generally shot one or two each trip that I made into the Dooars, and occasionally they were for sale in the bazaar in Dacca, having been trapped by native shikaries. The natives assert that it brings forth as many as six at birth. Like the Rabbit, when this Hare is shot its bladder should be emptied at once, or the flesh is apt to get tainted.—F.T. Pollok (Eversal, Luton Road, Harpenden).


Pale-coloured Dipper.—On Dec. 12th, 1897, I saw a Dipper (Cinclus aquaticus) with the white coloration extending from the breast right up over the eyes and down the back of the neck as far as the shoulders. I was within twelve feet of the bird for upwards of three minutes, so that I had every opportunity of making quite sure of the extent of the pale coloration. Is not this a very rare variety?—Wm. Boulsover (Ferndale, Bakewell).

[It may have been a young bird, which has more white than the adult.—Ed.]

Experiments on the Colours of the Nonpareil Finch.— My Nonpareil Finch (Cyanospiza ciris), mentioned in 'The Zoologist' (1897, p. 273), continuing in good health, I endeavoured last autumn, by special diet, to restore the scarlet colour of the breast, which had only been lost a few months before. Stage of moult on commencing experiment, Sept. 6th: feathers of head partly moulted, a few new feathers still in their sheaths over eyes, on the cheeks, and nape of neck; upper tail-coverts all shed, except a single feather; rectrices all gone: moult of breast and under tail-coverts commencing. The chief point of the new diet was the increase of animal food. On reference to my diary I find that in addition to seed the bird had fresh food, comprising cockroaches, bluebottles, house-flies, spiders, and "harvestmen"; also plenty of dried ants' eggs. Perhaps the food was too abundant, as the bird, which often fed from the hand, on one occasion refused some flies offered to it. When the experiment had been carried on for about three weeks new feathers began to appear on the breast, but unfortunately these were yellow. The yellow feathers rapidly increased in number, but I noted that, though the colours of my bird were again partly abnormal, there was no fading in the brightness of those colours, as is often said to occur in captive Nonpareils. When visiting the Liverpool Museum, on students' day, I carefully examined a wild specimen preserved there. I have also examined a normal live Nonpareil in the aviary of the Manchester Zoological Gardens. As compared with these, my bird differs in having the under parts yellow, with a distinct green tinge; circumorbital feathers pale yellow; upper part of breast yellow with orange tinge. Research on the original scarlet feathers of this bird, carefully put aside last year for the purpose, has thrown little light on the nature of the pigment; I do not think, however, it is the coloured fatty oil zoonerythrin, as it is insoluble on boiling with absolute alcohol. In conclusion, I must express my thanks to Dr. Butler for his kind suggestions regarding food, &c, and regret that I was unable to keep the bird in an open-air aviary during the experiment.—Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Manchester).

Brood of Young Starlings in mid-November.—We have had many instances recorded of the unusual mildness of the last autumn. It will perhaps be interesting to state that during a walk on Nov. 14th I saw a family party of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), the young in the slate-coloured plumage of the nestling stage, in a meadow at King's Heath.—F. Coburn (Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Common Roller in Sussex.—A second specimen of Coracias garrulus was shot at Catsfield, near Battle, on Oct. 12th. It is a male, and a much brighter bird than the one I recorded in the last volume of 'The Zoologist' (p. 469). The man who secured the hen bird says that he believes that there is still another one in the neighbourhood. Mr. Bristow, taxidermist, of St. Leonards, has had the two birds through his hands for preservation.—George W. Bradshaw (Hastings).

Montagu's Harrier breeding in Ireland. Correction.—I am sorry to have to correct the statement I made in 'The Zoologist' (1897, p. 467). The specimen of the supposed Circus cinerascens shot in Co. Kerry has again been examined by Dr. Sharpe, and he has after all pronounced it to be only a young cock Hen Harrier.—John H. Teesdale (St. Margaret's, West Dulwich).

Nesting of the Hobby in Hants.—I have much pleasure in recording the fact of Falco subbuteo having nested last year in Hampshire, although I do not suppose that this is the first instance of its having bred in that particular county. A farmer's lad took three young birds from a Crow's nest near Basingstoke, sometime during the nesting season, and sold them to my friend Mr. Blaine. Only one of the birds was a male. My friend purchased the Hawks with the object of training them for falconry. They arrived at his home in Bath safely enough, but after he had kept them for a short time one of the females escaped. I believe it had the "jesses" on when it got away. The other two birds he kept in a large room with a female Merlin, which is trained to fly at Larks. One sad day the Merlin and the remaining female Hobby set upon and devoured the little male Hobby, which was by far the tamest of the lot. I saw two of these Hobbies soon after my friend received them, and was much struck with the beauty of their plumage and graceful pose.—C.B. Horsbrugh (Richmond Hill, Bath).

Brent Goose in Warwickshire.—On Nov. 6th, 1897, an adult male example of Bernicla brenta was shot at Earlswood, Warwickshire, and forwarded to me. This is the first record I have of this bird for Warwickshire, although each of the neighbouring counties has recorded it.—F. Coburn (Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Ferruginous Duck in Ireland.—On Nov. 27th, 1897, I purchased, in our Market Hall, a young male example of Fuligula nyroca, which I was assured—and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the statement—was received with Mallard and other produce from the South of Ireland. But the dealer could not say which county it came from, as consignments were constantly received both from Limerick and Dublin, and these being indiscriminately mixed, it was impossible to distinguish this bird from the other small Ducks they had. It was fortunate I detected it, among a bundle of other Ducks, when I did, as it would certainly have been plucked the same night.—F. Coburn (7, Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Corncrake in December.—It may be worth mentioning that I have received a specimen of Crex pratensis, shot last Dec. 2nd in Scotland.—F. Coburn (7, Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Pectoral Sandpiper in Norfolk.—While punting on Breydon, Norfolk, on Aug. 18th, 1897, with my brother, we procured a female Pectoral Sandpiper (Tringa maculata). It was near the mouth of the large dyke known as the "Ship Run," and was in company with some Ring Plovers and Dunlins. The whole flock rose, and we killed several. The Sandpiper remained on the flats alone, and on being flushed flew very fast and low, making no noise whatever, and was secured by my brother. It is an adult female, and shows the arrow pencillings on the breast. In measurement it is slightly less than the Caister specimen in the Norwich Museum. Through the kindness of Prof. Newton I have been able to compare it with a set of skins, both of T. maculata and T. acuminata, and am convinced that my bird belongs to the American race.—J.L. Newman (62, Jesus Lane, Cambridge).

Variety of the Common Guillemot.—A beautiful variety of Uria troile was caught on Dec. 4th in Scarborough Harbour. Its entire under parts and head are white, whilst its back and wings are of a whity-brown colour, and its bill, feet, and legs yellowish white. A bird of this description is extremely rare. A similar one was obtained a few years ago at Filey. The writer has visited Speeton Cliffs for many years during the breeding season, and amongst the vast numbers of birds which annually resort there for breeding purposes has never seen but one creamy-coloured Guillemot. The bird in question was placed in my hands for preservation.—J. Morley (King Street, Scarborough).

On the reported Summer Appearance of two Species of Birds in Lapland.—In 'The Zoologist' (1897, p. 498) is a narrative of a walk across Finmarken by Messrs. Playne and Wollaston. The authors state that on a small lake not far from Alten they saw a specimen of Bernicla brenta with five young birds; and on a small pool of shallow water at Kautokeino found three Phalaropus fulicarius. Are they sure that the identification should not be Anser erythropus and Phalaropus hyperboreus, as neither of the first-named species are known to occur on the European continent as summer breeders? The question is one of considerable interest both to me and to ornithologists generally. If no mistake has been made these observations are of great value. All the other species which they saw are known as Finmark birds. It may be that the three Phalaropes were really fulicarius, either young (not breeding) or already on migration.—R. Collett (Zoologisk Museum, Christiania).

Winter Notes from Haddiscoe.—A Swallow, and we suppose it to be the last, was busy hawking for flies in the village on November 28th. Rather more Snipe than usual have appeared with us this season on the marshes, besides some thousands of Lapwings, but Golden Plovers have been scarce. Snow Buntings are numerous, and can be seen in very large flocks. The loud whistle of a few straggling Curlews have indicated their presence. Two Whooper Swans crossed the marshes on November 29th, and a specimen of the Eider Duck was shot on Breydon mud-flats. Whilst out on the bicycle on December 5th, I noticed the fir-trees at Herringfleet literally swarming with Gold-crested Wrens; I also heard the note of the Little Spotted Woodpecker, and observed Jays to be fairly common in woods; several Tree Creepers likewise attracted my attention. At Ashby I rode up close to a fine specimen of a White House Sparrow. I have seen three White Sparrows during the last six months, and have also an account of two residing at the railway-station at Great Yarmouth. This variety seems to be locally on the increase at the east end of Fritton Lake, near the decoyman's house. I found a large number of Mallards, Wigeons, Teal, Coots, and Moorhens, resting on the water, seemingly enjoying themselves within a few paces of the deadly decoy-pipes. Whilst crossing St. Olave's Bridge I heard the scream of a Kingfisher; the bird crossed the river and perched upon a yacht. I have seen three Kingfishers lately on the marshes. Fieldfares are scarce, and Redwings less in evidence. Owing to the open weather, Herons, Moorhens, Rails, &c, are having a good time, and few wildfowl have been shot in the district. The game stalls in the marketplace of Great Yarmouth exhibit some Mallards, Golden Eyes, and Tufted Ducks. Woodcocks are conspicuous by their absence. We have had a considerable number of Partridges and Pheasants, whilst Hares have also been found in plenty. The company of Pied Wagtails have been noticed daily, and a Common Redshank came quite close to me on December 15th. The Snipe have now gone further afield, as have also the majority of Lapwings. On December 22nd eight Bean Geese appeared at rather a long range, but with small shot from my small-bore gun I succeeded in securing one which weighed 7 lb.—Last C. Farman (Haddiscoe, Norfolk).

Popular Ornithological Fallacies.—Mr. W. Storrs Fox ('The Zoologist,' 1897, p. 514), writes like an honest lover of truth and an enemy to hasty deductions. But has he not tumbled headlong into the identical trap against which he warns others? Methinks so. It is a grievous blunder to generalise from a single instance. Mr. Fox says he would be "glad to know whether experienced field-naturalists consider it a 'preposterous notion' to suppose that a Lapwing may attempt to draw the attention of man or dog from her nest." It matters nothing to me, nor should I be in the slightest degree influenced by, what opinion experienced field-naturalists in general may hold on the subject; it is sufficient that I never said what is so specifically attributed to me—was a preposterous notion. Mr. Fox continues:—"Ten years ago last May I came suddenly upon a sitting Lapwing. She rose hurriedly from her nest, and tumbled along the ground, as if she could neither fly nor run." Then follows a little literary plaisanterie, in which Mr. Fox invokes a very remote and far-fetched contingency, but which is obviously clearly intended to embody his own incredulity. It would be affectation on my part to take this seriously.

Now I, too, have had similar experiences as the one recorded by Mr. Fox, but they are unquestionably the exception. What I wrote in the October issue of 'The Zoologist' was, that it was a preposterous notion to suppose, that "sitting Lapwings (that is, females)"—note the use of the plural number, please—"decoy intruders from their nests by their devices." And so I say again. I had in my mind the usual habits of the species when disturbed from their nests under ordinary circumstances; not the unusual mode of procedure induced by the fact of a sitting bird having been come upon "suddenly" and unawares. My ipsissima verba, "sitting Lapwings," surely imply that eggs were in my thoughts, not young birds. When the eggs are hatched, vastly different tactics prevail; both parents are then assiduous in their clamorous endeavours to draw intruders away from where the young are ambushed.

It is notorious that in olden days the great majority of writers on Ornithology were wholly at fault in the conclusions they had formed on the point at issue. Even Seebohm, whose loss we all so deeply deplore, was prompted to write that the old bird, having glided stealthily off the nest, rose in the air, "to flutter recklessly above the intruder's head." Only a few years ago, through my initiation, the nesting habits of the Lapwing were made the subject of an interesting correspondence in the 'Field.' Mr. F. Boyes, of Beverley, amongst others, entirely agreed with me that Selby alone, of the various authorities then referred to, had hit the true nail on the head. Let us hear Selby:—"The female birds invariably, upon being disturbed, run from the eggs, and then fly near to the ground for a short distance, without uttering any alarm-cry. The males, on the contrary are very clamorous, and fly round the intruder, endeavouring by various instinctive arts to divert his attention." Quite true. The solitary flaw, to my thinking, in the paragraph I have reproduced, is the introduction of he word "invariably." There is no rule without an exception, it is said. Still, it is manifest to me that Selby took his description from the birds themselves in their nesting haunts. The question of Ducks quitting their young and flapping along the water in front of an intruder has no bearing whatsoever on the points involved. Eggs are one thing; young birds another. In the case of the latter, the maternal affection is infinitely stronger. I have stroked a Partridge sitting on her nest; she seemed not at all disconcerted. I have also walked suddenly on to the top of a brood of "cheepers," and been furiously attacked, after a fashion, by the old bird—the female. It is frequently only when cunning is at a discount that birds and animals have recourse to strategy of another kind.

I, too, have picked up Swifts and tossed them into the air—so long ago, alas! as the summer of 1865; but this in nowise affects or discredits my original contention—that tens of thousands of people are under the impression that Swifts can not rise from the ground,—any more than does the fact of Mr. Fox having ten years ago found an individual Lapwing doing only what I should have expected it to do under somewhat novel circumstances, invalidate what I said on the subject of that species being the medium of a popular fallacy.—H.S. Davenport (Ormandyne, Melton Mowbray).


Notes from Scarborough.—Whilst Codling fishing off Filey Brig on October 10th, 1897, I found in the stomach of one of my captures a Pogge, or Armed Bullhead (Agonus cataphractus). This is, I believe, a common fish in many places, but is only the second time it has come under my notice in the Scarborough district.[1] During the heavy sea which prevailed during November 6th and 7th, a Garfish (Belone vulgaris) was picked up on the North Sands, and a living example of the Lesser Forkbeard or Tadpole-fish (Raniceps trifurcus) was also stranded. It was unfortunately mutilated by some lads before I obtained possession of it.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).


Spider versus Wasp.—In 'The Zoologist' (1897, p. 476), just to hand, I find an interesting note by the Editor on the above subject, and it may therefore be useful to submit a little further evidence. So far as my experience in South Africa goes the balance is undoubtedly in favour of the Wasp. On three occasions I have been fortunate enough to observe a very large black Pompilid stocking its burrow with the body of a huge Mygaloid Spider. In two instances the Spider had already been vanquished by its powerful and active foe, and was being dragged off in a comatose condition for interment. Its weight must have been at least three times that of the Wasp, which was unable to lift it more than half an inch from the ground, progressing thus in short flying leaps, though more frequently the Spider was dragged along, the Wasp running backwards, and buzzing loudly and triumphantly all the while. An interesting feature of the performance was the manner in which the Pompilid managed to find its burrow. In one of the instances I measured the distance traversed, which amounted to no less than thirty yards. When first observed the Wasp was in a narrow footpath, but it shortly left this and entered the grass, which was then some six or eight inches high—a veritable forest in proportion to the insect; through all the denser parts it travelled backwards, dragging its prey over or around innumerable obstacles without any hesitation right to its hole, for which it did not have to search in any way. When the method of progression, the distance travelled, and the impediments encountered be taken into consideration, the directness of the course it took after leaving the path seemed little short of marvellous. The third case referred to was perhaps more interesting in that the contest had not concluded when I came upon the scene. The arena was an open roadway, and my attention was attracted at some distance by the movements and angry buzzing of the Wasp. On reaching the spot I found a monster Spider at bay in the middle of the road, with cephalo-thorax erect and the two anterior pairs of thick hairy legs uplifted, ready to strike at a moment's notice; he looked the very embodiment of envenomed rage. Round him circled his implacable enemy, stooping now and then hawk-like in its endeavours to sting his unprotected abdomen, but swerving off again as, quick as thought, the "Mygale" faced round in self-protection. This feinting and parrying would continue for a few moments, when the Wasp would settle on the ground a little way off, running backwards and forwards with its quick jerky gait, and rapidly flirting its black glossy wings, after the manner of its kind—all typical marauders. During these intervals the Spider sat crouched, up, apparently in terror, awaiting the next onslaught, though once he made an attempt to gain the shelter of a neighbouring plant; the insect, however, drove him back towards the open by feigned attacks from that direction. The general attitude of the "Mygale" was clearly one of defence, for only twice did he attempt any determined attack on his sable foe, and then in vain, for quick though he was the Wasp was quicker. At last the latter, in one of its circling flights, made the fatal swoop. Then for the space of a second all I could see was a whirling jumble of Spider and Wasp, which ended by the latter shooting several feet up into the air, and then flying off to a little distance, where it sat cleaning its legs and antennae and smoothing its ruffled wings. A glance at the Spider was sufficient to show who had come off best in the tussle, for it stood there dejected and quivering; the powerful sting had evidently had its effect. A few minutes later the Wasp made a second attack, and was resisted much more feebly by the Spider, which soon afterwards became sufficiently lethargic to enable the Wasp to seize him with impunity and insert the requisite amount of poison. Here I intervened, and, under protest from the Wasp, took possession of the Spider, which is now in the British Museum Collection.

That the conflicts between these two creatures always end in this manner I strongly doubt, but that they do so in the majority of cases seems evident, for otherwise these giant Pompilidæ would cease to use such powerful Spiders as food for their young through the all-compelling agency of Natural Selection. There are several species of Mason-Wasps in South-East Africa which stock their cells with Spiders, but one in particular is thoroughly familiar to all residents from its predilection for building its mud-cells in human dwellings. It is an elegant insect, with its black thorax and abdomen and very long thin yellow waist, but it is an unmitigated nuisance at times, as, for instance, in the case of a friend of mine, who was continually having his American organ deranged by the persistent efforts of one of these insects to use its interior as a nursery. It is perhaps worth noting that this species does not always build external mud-cells, but sometimes bores holes in mud-walls, &c, instead, as I have observed on several occasions, and particularly when living in an "adobe" house in Natal, the walls of which were riddled by these Wasps; and it was an unpleasantly frequent occurrence to have a stupified Spider dropped into one's plate or cup whilst at meals by a startled insect. The Mason-Wasps content themselves with much smaller fry than their relatives mentioned above, and I have frequently noticed that the species which they specially patronize are all dully or else protectively coloured, and for the most part retiring creatures, which hide themselves away in nooks and crannies of foliage, &c. The complete absence of any of the brightly coloured Spiders which sit conspicuously in their webs during the day, such as Nephile, Argiope, Gasteracantha, &c, leads me to believe that these latter are protected by the possession of some distasteful or unwholesome qualities. Particular Wasps seem to prefer particular Spiders, and in nearly all the nests I have examined there has been a marked preponderance of one species. The favourite species varies of course in different districts, but there seems further to be a certain amount of individual preference.

With regard to the other side of the picture, I have seen much fewer cases. The most daring Spiders that have come under my notice are the protectively coloured crab-like species which frequent flower-heads, and I have not unfrequently seen them engaged in sucking various small species of stinging Hymenoptera, which they seem almost always to seize by the neck between the head and thorax; but these Spiders themselves frequently fall a prey to the larger Mason-Wasps. Among the web-Spiders, I have seen Hymenoptera most often eaten by the curious little Sociable Spider, which lives in societies, forming a thickly felted nest varying in size from that of a cricket-ball to a man's head, and traversed throughout by intersecting galleries, being surrounded on all sides by an irregular and sometimes far-reaching snare. In this case, however, the Wasp is caught in the highly glutinous web during the day, and struggles on till sundown, when at last the Spiders emerge; three or four of them set on him, and with a quick bite here and a bite there soon despatch him in his tired state, and the body is then dragged off to the nest to be discussed; for these Spiders do not enshroud their victims. The Sociable Spiders feed principally on crepuscular beetles (Melelonthidæ for the most part), but I have found many different and unlooked-for insects in their webs, such as large Mylabridæ, migratory locusts, &c, all of which had been eaten.

In experiments I have made in putting Wasps into the webs of a species of Nephile, the Spider has either beat a hasty retreat to its lair or else promptly cut the intruder loose. Indeed, so far as my small experience goes, it certainly seems the exception for a web-Spider to attempt to make a meal off anything in the shape of a Wasp—Guy A.K. Marshall (Salisbury, Mashunaland).

  1. Abundant off Great Yarmouth ('Zoologist,' 1897, p. 546).