The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 681/Notes and Queries

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

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 681, p. 122–131




Stoats turning White in Winter.—I should be very much obliged if any readers of 'The Zoologist' could kindly give me any information as to whether the Stoats (Mustela erminea) in their respective districts have or have not turned white, either wholly or partially, during the present mild winter. Specimens of Stoats in the process of turning white wouid be gratefully received by me at the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, S.W.—G.E.H. Barrett-Hamilton.

Polecats in Suffolk.—Since I received the Polecat (Mustela putorius), lately recorded (ante, p. 22), I have had the opportunity of examining two more Suffolk specimens in the flesh, by the courtesy of Mr. Travis, the taxidermist, at Bury St. Edmunds; the first obtained at Cavenham on Feb. 2nd, the second at Mildenhall on Feb. 16th. Both were splendid specimens.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds).


Black Water Vole in Suffolk.—On Feb. 16th I received in the flesh a good specimen of the black variety of the Water Vole (Microtus amphibius), killed a few days previously in the stables of Hopton Rectory, which is about a mile from the Little Ouse, the Norfolk and Suffolk boundary. The correspondent who sent it to me for identification writes, "No one about here seems to know anything about it."—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds).


Tree Pipit in January.—On the 23rd of last January, a very mild and sunny day, my attention was attracted by a Pipit perched on a low tree on Headington Hill, near Oxford. I had a good look at it with a binocular at the distance of a few yards, and another still better one when it flew across the road and perched on another taller tree. I have no hesitation in saying that it was a Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis). Both this species and the Meadow Pipit are of course very familiar to me. The latter is common in winter on our low-lying alluvial meadows, but rarely occurs on the higher ground, and is certainly not at home in trees, as was the bird I saw on Headington Hill. I think it not impossible that the Tree Pipit may occasionally winter with us; it has been observed in November and also in February ('Yarrell,' ed. iii. vol. i.p. 570), and the extreme mildness of the past winter may well have helped to keep alive a stray individual who was hindered by some accident from joining his fellows in migration.—W. Warde Fowler (Lincoln College, Oxford).

Early nesting of the House Sparrow in the present mild Season.— In proof of the mildness of the season, I send you (Feb. 24th) a young Passer domesticus.[1] It was sent to me by a friend near here. His boy saw four together in the garden, and he made a snow-ball and threw it at them, knocking this one over. It must, I think, have been hatched in January.—H.S.B. Goldsmith (Huntworth House, near Bridgwater).

The Brambling in Hants.—Very large flocks of this handsome Finch (Fringilla montifringilla) have visited the neighbourhood of the New Forest, and in smaller quantities the woods on the other side of the Avon. Some idea of the numbers frequenting certain spots in the forest may be gathered from the fact of a man killing twenty-nine, and wounding others, at a single shot. This reads very like "murder," and to a true lover of birds it is a sad record, yet the fact remains; and I find that the numbers above quoted have in some instances been exceeded in other localities where the species has previously appeared, as in the case cited in 'Yarrell' from the observations of the late Mr. Stevenson, who records that forty-five birds were killed at a single shot near Slough, indicating how vast must be the flocks which sometimes visit us. In previous winters I have noticed the occurrence of this particular species only in very severe weather, when the birds frequented rick-yards and like situations in company with Sparrows, Yellow Buntings, &c.; but I am told that this season there is an unusually large crop of beech-mast in the forest, and this, notwithstanding the hitherto mild winter, may be the great attraction, for it appears to be a food of which the birds are very fond. Those I saw were literally "crammed" with portions of the beech-nuts; some of them had the whole seed in their beaks, and the birds were very plump and fat. The man who shot them told me there was a conspicuously dark bird amongst the multitude he saw feeding on the ground beneath the trees, but it seemed to have fortunately escaped the fate of its fellows. Very little variation was observable in those I inspected, except that the tawny markings upon the breast and wing-coverts were redder, and the black bars in the wings more intense in some than in others, but not more than would be expected in birds of a different age. In some previous records of this winter visitor I notice that a preponderance of males has been seen, thus resembling the winter flocks of its relation the Chaffinch; but in the present instance the sexes seem to have been pretty evenly balanced, although perhaps the males were slightly in excess—of the twenty-nine birds I saw twelve were females. About the same time as the large flocks were in the forest, a flock of some fifty or sixty birds was seen in the fir-woods on the western side of the river, but so far as I know these escaped molestation, and, strange to say, at the present time (Feb. 2nd) they seem to have entirely disappeared from both localities, whether gone further south or west to seek " new pastures " and less persecution, or (deceived by the spring-like weather) back to their home in the far north, I cannot say. One thing is certain, they did not stay long enough to consume all the beech-mast.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Abundance of Crossbills in the Severn Valley.—I have noticed more Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) in the Severn Valley this winter than usual. I have several times counted as many as a dozen feeding at the same time on my lawn. It would be interesting to know whether observers in other parts of the country have noticed an abnormal increase.—R.H. Ramsbotham (Monkmoor, Shrewsbury).

Rooks and Buttercup Bulbs.—While walking in a large meadow near Kingham last January, Mr. H. C. Playne and myself noticed that the Rooks had been turning up the bulbs of Ranunculus bulbosus, which lay scattered in every direction over the field. The same process had also been pursued in other fields in the neighbourhood. Tn every case the bulb had been partially eaten by a grub, and it was this of course that the birds were after. I have not been able to find the grub in the act so as to identify it. This performance of the Rooks is new to me, and also to Mr. O.V. Aplin, who has studied the habits of Corvus frugilegus in relation to agriculture. Were the birds in this case doing good or harm to the field? The grubs would seem to have been benefiting it by keeping down the growth of buttercups, which are acrid and unpalatable to cattle. On the other hand, the Rooks were finishing the work of the grubs by pulling the damaged bulb clean out of the ground.—W. Warde Fowler (Lincoln College, Oxford).

Rough-legged Buzzard near Ringwood.—In January, 1897, a specimen of Buteo lagopus was killed not far from the Avon in this neighbourhood, and its occurrence in this locality being, so far as I know, "few and far between," I thought it worth noting—although rather a stale record — but illness prevented my doing so previously. The bird was a noble specimen, although badly shot, and to a person not familiar with the species its soft Owl-like plumage appeared peculiar, so unlike the comparatively stiff and close-set feathers of a Peregrine Falcon, or even the softer plumage of a Harrier. The specimen in question had been feeding upon a rat, portions of which were in the "crop," whilst the tip of the long hairless tail of the rodent protruded from the beak of the bird. I had seen the species but twice before—first in 1884, again in 1894; but, if I recollect rightly, the present specimen had much more white about it than either of the former, and was, I imagine, an older bird.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Nesting of the Hobby in Hants.—From a note on the above subject (ante, p. 24), it is gratifying to observe that this handsome little Falcon (Falco subbuteo) still holds its position as a breeding species in the county, certainly not the first occurrence of its kind. There was a time when the species regularly visited the New Forest, and nested in the woods, coming about the same date as the Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus), in May, and on one occasion (as mentioned by Wise, I believe) appropriating an old nest of the Buzzard in which to rear its brood. Only a few years ago I knew of a pair nesting within two or three miles of Ringwood, but the senseless persecution to which all this class of birds is exposed points directly to its growing scarcity and eventual annihilation as a breeding species. It was formerly so well known in the forest as to have the local name of " Van-winged Hawk " applied to it, and though I have never been fortunate enough to find a nest with eggs, yet in former years I have seen both old and young birds, and more than once watched their graceful evolutions as they chased the dragonflies over the forest pond in the daytime, or dashed after the dor-beetle (Geotrupes vernalis) as it disappeared in the increasing dusk.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Little Bustard in Norfolk.—A Little Bustard (Otis tetrax) was shot by Mr. Goodwin at Feltwell, near Downham Market, Norfolk, on Jan. 25th last, and sent for preservation to Mr. Travis, Bury St. Edmunds, in whose shop I saw it in the flesh shortly after it arrived. It was in good condition and perfect plumage.—E.A. Butler (Brettenham Park, Ipswich).

Varieties of the Red Grouse.—Although I have examined a great number of European birds in abnormal plumage at home aud abroad, I have never yet come across an albino of the Red Grouse (Lagopus scoticus). Numbers of this species come under my notice, and reports of so-called white Grouse reach me from time to time, but they always prove to be pale varieties, wearing, it is true, a bleached look, but far from possessing a really white garb. Such birds are usually females. Lord Lonsdale has one, shot on his estate near Haweswater by Major Parkin, of Ravencragg, in September, 1893. I examined two similar birds in 1894, procured near Girvan and in Avondale. A farmer named Forrester, of Saughtrees, near Bewcastle, shot another—an old hen—at the beginning of October, 1895. But a handsomer bird than any of the foregoing was shot last season on Ellerside Moss, Lancashire, by Mr. R. Cavendish, M.P. The point about this bird—a male, which I examined in a fresh state—is, that while most of the upper aud lower parts are either pure white or white faintly barred with pale cinnamon, the lores, sides of the head, and neck are rich chestnutred, finely mottled with white. I forbear to supply a detailed description of this specimen because its owner, Mr. R. Cavendish, M.P., has generously consented to present his bird to the Carlisle Museum, in which it can be seen. The case in which it is mounted contains also two of the hybrid Red aud Black Grouse mentioned in my paper on the interbreeding of those two species (Ann. Scot. Nat. Hist. 1897, pp. 15-17).—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, Carlisle).

Ornithological Notes from Mid-Hants: Autumn and Winter, 1897.—I forgot to mention in my last notes (Zool. 1897, p. 460) that two Hobbies came into Mr. Chalkley's hands, one from Basingstoke on July 20th, and another from the immediate neighbourhood of Winchester on July 30th. A gentleman living in south-east Hants informs me of the breeding of the Garganey in his neighbourhood this year (I may not give the more precise locality). He first saw the birds—two ducks and two drakes—in some marshy meadows on April 15th. After this he could only see one pair until May 11th, and after this only one male, which made a "jarring" noise when flushed. On July 7th he saw a hen bird with three young ones nearly as big as herself, and able to fly. They were not seen after Aug. 1st.

September was a very warm and rather rainy month toward the end. By the 23rd the water-meads some way down the river were swarming with Pied Wagtails, mature and immature, the latter preponderating. I saw the first Grey Wagtail on the 24th. Pied and Grey Wagtails came into the near water-meads on the 30th; and throughout the winter Grey Wagtails have been in great abundance. I saw the first inland flock of Larus canus on the 28th, some way down the river; and from this date the ploughed fields on the east of the valley have never been free from these birds. It was not until Oct. 14th, however, that the first flock paid a visit to the near water-meads; but from that date they have been more or less permanent there. On the 28th I saw a small flock of Peewits flying down the valley, as usual, in extended order; but I was surprised at the scarcity of these migratory flocks during this month. This autumn has been remarkable for the amount of Kingfishers in the neighbourhood. I myself have seen several in the water-meads, and Mr. Chalkley's death-roll of this bird is larger than ever.[2] I may also mention here that Mr. Chalkley has received a great many Goldfinches during September and October; I have not noticed the same abundance in the immediate neighbourhood. On Sept. 24th I saw several on some tall thistles in the water-meads. Mr. S. Davies sends me the following notes from Langston Harbour:—"Sept. 1st, several Turnstones and two Greenshanks seen. 16th, a good many Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits, and Knots about. Shot five Grey Plovers and two Knots. I saw four Little Stints near the harbour." On the 7th a Wryneck was shot at Basingstoke. Mr. Kelsall reports an Osprey at Barton Cliff, on the coast, on the 10th of this month. Mr. Stares, from Porchester, reports a flock of Pochard in a marsh on the coast on the 20th, and that he flushed a Quail on the 21st, while out Partridge-shooting. He also tells me that Mr. Carders (the Portsmouth taxidermist) received a Black-tailed God wit from Langston Harbour, and a pair of Ring Ouzels from Portsea Island.

October was another warm month, with preponderating south wind. The beginning of this month was notable for the large flocks of mingled Gulls, Rooks, Peewits, and Starlings, in the ploughed fields on the east side of the Itchen valley. I have watched these flocks a great deal, and it has struck me that the Starlings are not good friends of the other birds, and usually end in being driven away. The similarity of the other three birds' cries when together has also struck me. By the end of the month these flocks were quite broken up. The Gulls (Larus canus) that came inland at the beginning of the month had the brown on the wings reduced to a minimum, but those that arrived at the beginning of November had the brown well developed. This species, though very shy of human beings, follows the plough with the greatest confidence. On the 14th I traced the Itchen north of the town, There were a great many Dabchicks on the river, but I did not see a single Pied or Grey Wagtail, or any Gulls, except a few passing over. I saw six Snipe (Gallinago cœlestis) started from a bed of tall reeds on the river by some dogs, and two parties of Geese (sp.?) flying high along the valley; also more flights of Peewits, going in an extended line. On the 15th I noticed the first influx of Chaffinches (male) into the watermeads. On the 18th I saw the last Swallows at Winchester, and on this date I saw a Sedge Warbler, on the river about seven miles south of Winchester. This is a late date, and Mr. Chalkley says that when fishing on the Itchen during the first week of this month, he saw a great many of these birds about. Mr. Kelsall reports the last Swallow at Milton, near the coast, on the 23rd; and Mr. S. Davies sends me the following notes from Langston Harbour:—"Oct. 2nd, shot two Knots. A flock of twenty Wigeon came in. One Grey Plover and a large bunch of Knots. Oct. 12th, last Swallow seen." Mr. Chalkley received the following interesting birds during the month:—Kite, adult female from Shoeburyness; on the 2nd, a fine female Peregrine from Micheldever; 4th, two Curlews from Longwood, two miles from the town; 13th, a Golden Plover from a flock passing over Bishops Sutton; 14th, a Hawfinch from Basingstoke. With regard to the Kite, a species which Mr. Chalkley has not seen for twenty years, I certainly incline to his view that it is a bonâ fide wild bird. Although part of the tail-feathers are shot away, the remaining tail- and wing-feathers are not at all rubbed. Mr. Stares tells me he saw about ten Hooded Crows along the coast at Browndown, the first he has seen this autumn (Oct. 10th).

November was a very unsettled month, with a preponderating northeast wind. On the 3rd a good many Meadow Pipits came into the near water-meads, and I noticed a Carrion Crow among a great many Rooks, Jackaws, and Starlings. It moved off immediately. The Jackdaws are fond of perching on the Cows' backs. On the 4th Mr. Lane Claypon reported a Herring Gull among the others in the water-meads. On the 8th a party of Dabchicks paid a visit to the near water-meads, but left the same day. On the 10th Peewits were still on the move, a party of four Hying south down the valley; I saw another party on the 15th. I watched a Kestrel on this date playing in the most systematic manner. It pretended to be hunting for food, hovering for several minutes over nothing at all, and then swooping away to repeat the same operation at a distance. I watched this going on for quite half an hour; then I went away, after having satisfied myself that there was no animal against which these manoeuvres were directed. I left it still hovering. On the 22nd I noticed an increase in the number of Larks and Chaffinches in the near water-meads. On the 23rd I paid a visit to Fisher's Pond, and noticed that the Coots were still there. I also saw, in the wood bordering the pond, a great many Long-tailed and Blue Tits, and also a few Magpies. Mr. Stares sends me the following notes from Porchester:—"Nov. 3rd, saw a flock of Grey Plovers in Langston Harbour. 6th, shot a Quail on Portsdown Hill; it was a hen bird, and its crop contained plantain seeds. Whilst out waiting for Ducks at night on the mud-flats, I heard birds migrating over head, the calls of Fieldfares and Thrushes being especially distinct. ]6th to 20th, good number of Wigeon about Portsmouth and Langston Harbours at night. 27th, very large flocks of Pigeons about the woods, mainly composed of Stock Doves and a few Ringed Doves among them." Mr. Stares was also informed of a Fire-crested Wren caught on board a steamer at Spithead, and a Spotted Crake killed by flying against telegraph wires in Portsmouth Dockyard.

December. The weather was cold and still for the first part of the month, but subsequently very wet. Mr. Lane Claypon tells me that Pied and Grey Wagtails remained numerous in the water-meads, while the Gulls were fairly constant, with occasional very large flocks (6th, 7th, 13th, 19th). On the 5th he reports an enormous flock of Starlings, on a ploughed field a mile south of the town; on the 9th a flock of Peewits going south, and a Kingfisher and some Long-tailed Tits at St. Cross. On the 13th he writes:—"At about 5.15 p.m. a Pied Wagtail flew into a room where I was, no doubt attracted by the light. After flying about in a startled manner, it finally went out." On the 15th Mr. L. Claypon saw the first Reed Buntings in the near water-meads, and on the 16th a large flock of Peewits, fully a hundred, heading south. On the 19th he reports a flock of 500 Common Gulls near the town. Mr. Stares reports the following birds:—Dec. 2nd, saw a Great-crested, Red-necked, and several Little Grebes, on the Hants side of Chichester Harbour; also a pair of Tufted Ducks. 27th, a small flock of Siskins, feeding on the seeds of alder near the Hamble river. 31st, a male Blackcap, feeding on some rotten apples that had been thrown out for the Blackbirds; it has been here (Porchester) for quite a fortnight, and comes and feeds daily within two yards of the windows. It is still here (Jan. 4th). I may mention that I saw two Blackcaps near Winchester, on Oct. 18th.

During the last two months Mr. Chalkley has received the following birds:—Nov. 13tb, Great Spotted Woodpecker, from the near neighbourhood; 15th, Pin-tailed Duck, from Avington; 18th, Hen Harrier, male, from Andover; 23rd, Long-eared Owl, from Avington, and one on the 27th, from the neighbourhood; 24th, Saddle-back Crow, from Avington. Dec. 16th, Golden Oriole, from Avington.

The following are some of Mr, Stare's notes for the earlier part of the year, which I was not able to insert in my own notes then:—"April 1st, a Tawny Owl, with eggs, sitting; 6th, a punt-gunner told me he had seen to-day, in Langston Harbour, a flock of about two dozen Red-breasted Mergansers (he called them "Spear-wigeon"); 19th, large flocks of Swallows pitching in the reed beds, and numbers of Nightingales and Warblers about the hedges and fields; 24th, Redshank with egg, sitting. Saw several Swifts. Small flocks of Whimbrel (Numenius phæopus) about Langston and Portsmouth Harbours, and several Bar-tailed God wits just beginning to get the red plumage. Flocks of Yellow Wagtails about the marshes. April 26th, Ringed Plover with young. 27th, on a piece of water not far from here (Porchester) I saw three White-winged Black Terns (Hydrochelidon leucoptera), one of the Marsh Terns. They only remained there one day. They are very elegant birds, flying about over the reed-beds and open water hawking after insects. Sometimes they would come and settle on some old posts that were standing in the water. May 19th, saw a Hoopoe (Upapa epops). I am told it had been about the spot where I saw it for more than a fortnight. 25th, Wood Wren with eggs. July 2nd, large flocks of Gulls in Langston Harbour, composed of Herring, Lesser Blackbacked, and Kittiwake Gulls, one Great Black-backed Gull amongst them. 10th, saw a Hobby in the woods near Titchfield. 19th, pair of Pigmy Curlew in Langston Harbour, among a flock of Dunlins. Aug. 2nd, saw a few Greenshanks in Portsmouth Harbour."— G.W. Smith (College, Winchester).


Malformed Codfish.—In the course of ray observations on the fishes of this district, variations in the forms, or deviations from the normal shape in certain species, have come from time to time under my notice. The tendency to abnormality appears to be greater in the Cod (Gadus morrhua) than in any other species. Cods Occasionally a Haddock or a Gurnard has presented itself as an example of the grotesque, but it is the Cod, whose numbers are certainly not in excess of any other common "round" fish, which leads the way. The specimens in the illustration are amongst the number that have come under my notice, and are as follows:—

A.—The normal shape.

B.—A 15½-inch Codling netted off Gorleston beach, Jan. 11th, 1898. The tip-end of the pectoral fins was exactly midway between the extreme ends of the tail and snout. The fish was only three-fourths the length it should have been for the size of the " head and shoulders."

C.—A deformed example, seen on a fish-stall of this town, Jan. 20th 1890. It looked a veritable Æsop. Length guessed as about 20 in.

D.—An example of the "Bull-dog" variety, taken May 1st, 1894. Length, 16 in.

E.—On Jan. 17th this strange-looking specimen was hooked by a seaangler fishing from the jetty. Length, 16 in. It is a curious fact that most of the Gadus varieties I have examined measured this length. E a shows the mouth closed.— A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).


The Struggle for Existence among Hermit Crabs.—It is well known that the Hermit Crabs (Paguridæ) have occasionally royal battles for the possession of some old empty shell which serves them for a temporary lodging, and the following account is of a proceeding which I one day witnessed on the Hastings beach. I had been hunting for Hydroids at low-tide, and just as I was leaving I noticed a mob of Hermit Crabs. In warm weather these are usually plentiful enough, but it struck me that on this occasion they were collected together for some purpose. In fact, so preoccupied were they, that they did not pay any attention to me, though T was stooping over them. The Crabs were of different sizes and in various shells—Purpura, Natica, Whelk, &c. One which occupied a Purpura was rather a little fellow, and ensconced behind the thickened mouth of the shell he looked very snug and secure. He was evidently the central figure of the group, and was endeavouring to edge away from those around him. At length up stalked a big burly fellow, and seized him by the front leg at the joint. Then commenced a series of smart tugs, perhaps half a dozen, and then a slight pause, after which the tugging commenced again. This kind of thing continued I suppose for ten minutes, and if only fair means had been used no doubt the assailant would have had to desist, but it seemed to strike the intelligence of one of the bystanders that in rendering assistance he might also serve his own ends; so, coming forward and going behind the Purpura shell, he seized hold of it. Then began again the tugging by the original offender. This continued for some time, but even with this assistance no impression seemed to have been made upon the little fellow in the deadly grip of his antagonist, for he remained almost out of sight, and firm as a rock. Then another volunteer stepped out of his own accord and seized hold of the shell of No. 1 assistant. There were thus two Hermit Crabs resisting the pull of the original assailant. No sooner had the second assailant lent a hand than the victim was instantly "whipped out" of his shell like a cork from a bottle! and directly the little fellow had been extracted from his shell No. 1 assistant slipped quickly out of his domicile and scrambled into the empty Purpura, thus ousting entirely the original aggressor, and made off with his ill-gotten property.

It would appear, on considering the above, that the Hermit Crabs must have very decided preference for certain shells; for, considering that all the other parties concerned were properly domiciled, why should they have so coveted this particular shell? In this case, if I remember rightly, the shells of the aggressors were Naticas, that is to say, shells with wide open mouths, and not likely to afford anything like the protection that a Purpura would offer with its greatly thickened and dentated lip, and a stout shell into the bargain.—P. Rufford (The Croft, Hastings).

  1. Duly received by the Editor.
  2. A circumstance much to be deplored.—Ed.