The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 689/Notes and Queries

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

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 689, p. 477–486




Large Bank Vole in Kent.—On Oct. 5th, Mr. Oxenden Hammond, of St. Alban's Court, Wingham, very kindly sent me the largest specimen of Microtus glareolus that I have ever seen. It was a female, and without any undue stretching measured 6½ in. from tip of nose to tip of tail; length of head and body, 4£ in.; length of tail, 2 in. Bell gives the length of the head and body of the female as 3·40 in., and of the tail 1·50 in. Unfortunately when it reached me it was much too far gone for preservation; it was evidently suckling young, and this would hasten on decomposition.—Oxley Grabham (Heworth, York).


Economy of the Cuckoo.—There are one or two points in Mr. H.S. Davenport's interesting notes on the economy of the Cuckoo on which I should like to make a few remarks. During the last eight seasons I have myself taken from the nests in which they were deposited thirty eggs of the Cuckoo, but in no case was there any material difference in the period of incubation of the Cuckoo's egg and those of the foster-parent. I never found more than one Cuckoo's egg in a nest; three were with five eggs of the owner, ten with four, six with three, five with two, and four with one. One was in a nest with two flourishing young Hedge-sparrows, the young Cuckoo being dead and partly decomposed in the shell, and one was found with no other egg under somewhat exceptional circumstances. About the middle of June, 1895, I saw a Cuckoo very near an ivy wall in our garden, from which an egg had been taken with a clutch of Pied Wagtail about a fortnight before, and, happening to have a Greenfinch's nest with fresh egg's by me, I carefully placed this nest with three eggs in it in the ivy. About two days after I found two of the eggs were gone, one of which lay broken on the ground below; and on the following day the last egg had been removed, a Cuckoo's egg being left in its stead. I have tried the same experiment since, but without success. Of the thirty eggs referred to above, nine were from nests of the Sedge Warbler, seven from Pied Wagtail, six from Hedge-sparrow, one each from Thrush, Robin, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Reed Bunting, and Greenfinch, the thirtieth being the one from the nest put up. We have no Meadow Pipits here, and though I have seen in situ more than twenty nests of its congener, the Tree Pipit, not one has contained a Cuckoo's egg or young. Last year, on July 8th, a farm-lad brought me a Cuckoo's egg, and, on asking him where the other eggs in the nest were, he told me there were two lately-hatched young Hedge-sparrows in the nest, which he had not disturbed. If his story were true (and I have no reason to doubt it), this Cuckoo's egg was deposited after the incubation of the other eggs had begun. It was within two or three days of hatching. An inspection of our series of Cuckoo's eggs here would, I think, go some way to prove that the same hen Cuckoo does not always lay iu the nests of the same species, as we have eggs apparently of the same bird from the nests of the Hedge-sparrow and the Thrush; of another from the Hedge-sparrow and the Sedge Warbler; of another from the Hedge-sparrow and the Whitethroat, taken from the same ditch on the same day; and of another from the Sedge Warbler and the Reed Bunting. In each instance the resemblance of the eggs is very close, the date approximate, and the locality the same. I have recently met with an undoubted case of removal of one or more eggs while watching a Sedge Warbler's nest in a locality where Cuckoos abound. When I found the nest it was empty; on June 22nd it contained two eggs of the owner, and on June 25th only one egg of the owner and one of the Cuckoo. In conclusion, I may add that it seems to me impossible to ascertain the number of eggs laid by one of these erratic birds in the course of a season; but this year I have had five saved for me, all from nests of the Hedge-sparrow, and all undoubtedly laid by the same bird within an area of two square miles. The first was taken quite fresh on May 11th or 12th, and the last (also fresh) on June 5th.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Suffolk).

Economy of the Cuckoo.—Mr. H.S. Davenport may be interested to hear, in connection with the above, that I had brought to me a Meadow Pipit's nest taken on June 30th on one of our Yorkshire moors, where Cuckoos and Meadow Pipits swarm, and that the nest contained a perfectly fresh egg of the Cuckoo; but the Pipit's eggs were so much incubated that I only succeeded in blowing one of them.—Oxley Grabham.

The Cirl Bunting in Breconshire.—At the present time the Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) is a firmly established resident in this county, and is to be found in at least five or six localities. Mr. Howard Saunders, in his 'Manual of British Birds,' states that this species, he believes, was unknown in Wales until Mr. E.C. Phillips obtained one on March 15th, 1888, near Brecon; and, as most of our bird books describe it as being rare except in the South of England, perhaps a few notes as to its status in this county may be of interest. I first observed it on a hill-side named Sunnybank, which rises from the back of mypiouse, on June 4th, 1890, when I found a nest containing four eggs, at the same time identifying the sitting bird as a Cirl Bunting. A few days afterwards I heard two male birds of the same species in song near the site of the nest. One of these I shot, and it is now in my collection. Since that date it has become resident on the abovenamed bank, where it nests yearly, and where I hear its song almost daily during the summer. Since that year it has also been gradually spreading over the county, and nearly every summer its song is to be heard in some fresh locality. It seems partial to hill-sides furnished with gorse and isolated elm and oak trees. The following are some of the places where it occurs, and probably nests: High Grove, Tallylyn, Sennybridge, and Glanusk. I have obtained several specimens for myself and friends; a pair in my collection are in full adult plumage, and a bird which T obtained for the Hereford Museum is an immature male with breast colour bands not well marked. Of four Cirl Buntings' nests I have found here two were in gorse bushes, one on a bank among coarse herbage, and one in a bramble. The eggs in my collection, which I took here from three nests, are all of the same type, and have a greenish white ground, boldly marked with blackish streaks and spots. They are distinct, and could not well be mistaken for eggs of any other of our birds. The Cirl Bunting is one of our most persisteut songsters; its monotonous metallic trill is to be heard from about the first week in April to the middle of August. When I first heard it the trill seemed to me rather like that of the Lesser Whitethroat; I am of the opinion now, however, that the song of the latter is more musical and softer. Singing as it does generally near the top of a tree and often out of sight, it is inuch more easily recognized by the ear than the eye.—E.A. Swainson (Woodlands, Brecon).

Spotted Crake in Furness.—The Spotted Crake (Porzana maruetta) is perhaps sufficiently rare in that portion of Lakeland known as Furness to make the occurrence of a couple in the Rusland Valley worthy of record in 'The Zoologist.' I have searched for this species for a dozen years or more here, where Water Rails may frequently be seen, in the confident expectation of finding the rarer bird sooner or later. On Sept. 8th I saw two, which were shot. They proved on dissection to be male and female, and from the orange-red on the bills are no doubt old birds (cf. Stevenson, 'Birds of Norfolk,' vol. ii. p. 395). Both birds, flushed separately from aquatic herbage, took short flights, and were shot as they were just dropping into thick cover. The food consisted of several small seeds and finely divided vegetable matter. On the wing they do not resemble Water Bails, but are much more like tiny Moorhens, and they fly rather fast. Since writing the above, another Spotted Crake has been shot, on Oct, 10th, in exactly the same place. It is a young bird, readily distinguished from the adults by the absence of bright orange-red on the beak. It is thus not beyond the bounds of possibility that a brood was reared in the immediate viciuity.—Charles F. Archibald (Rusland Hall, Ulverston).

Pectoral Sandpiper in Kent.—I had the pleasure of exhibiting, at the last meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club, the first Kentish specimen of the Pectoral Sandpiper (Tringa maculata). The bird was shot, from a flock of Dunlin, on Aug. 2nd last, along the seashore between Lydd and Rye Harbour; it is an adult male, and its dimensions agree almost exactly with those of Mr. Gurney's Norfolk specimen given in Stevenson's 'Birds of Norfolk,' vol. ii. p. 370. The bird is the property of Mr. Whiteman, of Rye, to whom I am indebted for allowing me to examine and exhibit it.—N.F. Ticehurst (Winstowe, St. Leonards-on-Sea).

Notes on the Nesting of the Nuthatch.—In this district at all seasons of the year the Nuthatch (Sitta cæsia) is tolerably abundant, and for years past I have annually, and in some instances accidentally, discovered the nests of from twelve (minimum) to twenty or more of this species; the past breeding season I paid more attention to the loud "twit twit" of this bird as it darted rapidly from branch to branch, resting occasionally to peep at the bold intruder who ventured so near the favoured breeding place. By remaining perfectly still for a short time, the nest was in most cases easily discovered, and I can safely and unmistakably assert that the Nuthatch (Sitta cæsia) does not in every instance, as is generally supposed, fill up the selected natural cavity, whether in tree or wall, with clay and stones; out of nineteen nests found by me this year, situated from three to twenty feet from the ground, only two possessed the clay; one of these had, in addition to the clay, a quautity of small particles of stone plastered against the bole surrounding the nesting hole. All the others had not the slightest sign of mud, clay, or stones. The eggs, removed by the aid of a specially constructed spoon, were again replaced upon the loose nesting material, and occasionally resembled boldly blotched specimens of Parus major. At every nest I identified one or the other of the parent birds. Sometimes by gently tapping near a suspicious-looking hole, the sitting bird would quickly leave its nest and call its mate, hitherto unheard, with that unmistakable and quickly repeated "twit twit" of the species. At one nest visited late in the evening, and containing young, both parent birds entered the nesting hole, and, after remaining quietly until long after the Nightjar had commenced his evening "churr," I retired from the spot, concluding that in this instance at least the Nuthatch had not gone to roost back downwards.— Stanley Lewis (Mount Pleasant, Wells).

Irregular Nesting Sites.—In corroboration of Mr. Stanley Lewis's note in the October issue of 'The Zoologist,' there is at times an undoubted tendency on the part of sundry birds to appropriate for breeding purposes nests to which they have no rightful claim, though I do not say that such tendency is possessed by very many species, nor that it is illustrated with undue frequency. At p. 74 of 'The Vertebrate Animals of Leicestershire and Rutland' will be found a note having reference to a Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa grisola) which reared two successive broods in a Chaffinch's (Fringilla cœlebs) nest at Ashlands, in this county, in the spring of 1883; while in the same work, at p. 65, I have given a brief account of a Blue Tit's (Parus cæruleus) nest, found in June of the same year, which contained nine eggs, and was placed inside the ancient habitation of a Song Thrush (Turdus musicus). In the former instance the Spotted Flycatcher had merely usurped a forsaken nest, utilising it just as it came to hand. It was otherwise, however, in the case of the Blue Titmouse.

Perhaps the most unusual incident of the kind that ever came under my notice was in connection with a brand-new nest built by a pair of Magpies (Pica rustica), and on which, just when it was ready for eggs, a pair of Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) set envious eyes. By sheer good fortune I chanced to arrive on the scene one morning just as it was light, and was an eye-witness of a regular pitched battle between the opposing species. The Magpies were eventually worsted, and some ten days later I scaled the tree, a tall larch in a secluded spinney near to Skeffington, and possessed myself of a truly lovely clutch of eggs belonging to the victors. The incident is chiefly interesting from the fact that Kestrels are popularly supposed to appropriate—when they have need so to do—old nests only.

May I be allowed to take this opportunity—of pen in hand—of informing many bird-loving correspondents who have written to me privately, as well as others who may be interested, that circumstances have necessitated my abandoning—at any rate for the present—all hope of publishing my 'Original Sketches of British Birds'? The work, dealing with the experiences of half a life-time spent, I may say, uninterruptedly amidst birds in their native and varying haunts, and completed so long ago as 1895, has been found altogether too costly to produce at the author's private expense. I am emboldened to seek the privilege of giving the foregoing statement publicity through the medium of 'The Zoologist' in the hope that any possible misunderstanding in the future will thereby be averted, seeing that extracts from the manuscript have already appeared, to wit, in the late Mr. F. Poynting's beautiful work entitled 'Eggs of British Birds'; while the author, in publicly acknowledging his indebtedness, alluded to the 'Sketches' as on the eve of publication—a statement which I had reason at the time to believe was eminently justifiable.—H.S. Davenport (Melton Mowbray).

The So-called St. Kilda Wren.—After reading Mr. H.S. Davenport's note (ante, p. 413), I turned to Mr. C. Dixon's book, 'Lost and Vanishing Birds,' where I find the following statement:— "Perhaps we [i.e. Mr. C. Dixon] may be forgiven for taking exceptional interest in the fate of this bird; for we had the pleasure of ascertaining that it differed in certain lvspects from the Wren found in other parts of the British Islands. In 1884, when we brought the first known specimen from St. Kilda, the bird was common enough on all the islands of the group, and its cheery song could be heard everywhere." In the face of this distinct assertion the writer in the 'Spectator' may be excused for speaking of Mr. C. Dixon as the discoverer of the St. Kilda Wren. I will not enter upon the question whether Troglodytes hirtensis is entitled to specific or subspecific rank, though nearly all the authorities, I think, incline to the latter opinion. Mr. Davenport is doubtless right in saying that in 1698 Martin and many other writers since have recorded the existence of a Wren on St. Kilda. But the question is whether Seebohm (Zool. 1884, p. 333) and Mr. Dixon ('Ibis,' 1885, p. 80) were the first to point out that the Wren obtained by Mr. C. Dixon on St. Kilda differed from the Common Wren of the United Kingdom (Troglodytes parvulus). If Mr. C. Dixon was the first to discover this fact, would he not deserve the title of "the discoverer of the St. Kilda Wren," to which Mr. Davenport appears to take exception?—H. Russell (Shere, Guildford).

Varieties of Green Plover, &c.—We have about here a white-green Plover, a cream Starling, and a grey Sparrow (House). Varieties are much scarcer, at any rate in Notts, than they used to be, and I only hear and see one now and again.— J. Whitaker (Rain worth Lodge, Mansfield, Notts).

Scoters in Notts.—Five Scoters (Common) were seen on Lamb Close on Aug. 22nd last. There was one on one of the ponds here about same date.—J. Whitaker (Rainworth Lodge, Mansfield, Notts).

Crossbills in South-western Hampshire in 1898.—Last year I recorded (Zool. 1897, p. 428) the occurrence of this peculiar species in July in the neighbourhood of Bournemouth. During August last I again visited the same locality, and, strange to say, I saw several of the birds not a hundred yards from the trees where I had detected them the previous season. Amongst the ornamental shrubs and trees planted in the grounds of many of the recently erected "villa" residences, the mountain ash was rather conspicuous from its pretty foliage and the fast ripening bunches of scarlet berries. One morning soon after daybreak I heard quite a "chattering" and apparent commotion with some birds not far from my bedroom, and, having got to the window, I saw that a number of Missel Thrushes, taking advantage of the quiet time and absence of man, were disputing in a most vigorous manner the possession of the ripest berries with some smaller species of bird, which latter seemed quite capable and willing to offer battle to its more bulky antagonist. At first it was scarcely light enough to see what the smaller birds were, and the object of the Thrushes seemed to be to drive them from the neighbourhood, as they chased them from one tree to another, and by so doing they flew almost close to the window, when I saw they were Crossbills. I sat and watched them for some time, and eventually both Thrushes and Crossbills got their breakfast. This continued for several mornings, until the trees were stripped of their berries, and as long as the feast lasted both Thrushes and Crossbills were in evidence during the early hours of the day; but a curious fact connected with it is that, although a few Thrushes occasionally made a stealthy visit to the trees during the bright sunshine, I did not see a Crossbill anywhere in the neighbourhood at noontide, except one day when the cat belonging to the house brought in one, an immature bird in the yellow and red plumage; but it had been dead for some time. An elder tree, the fruit of which was also ripening, was a great attraction to a number of Starlings, but the right of appropriation of the berries was often a disputed point between them and the Thrushes. I did not see the Crossbills attempt to touch the berries, but I suppose it was only a natural sequence, as they prefer the seed-like kernels to the pulp, and is said sometimes to be destructive in orchards by splitting open the apples for the sake of the kernels. This, however, I have never been able to verify from personal observation. Referring to the occurrence of Crossbills in the neighbourhood of Ringwood, I may say that I am not prepared to establish the fact of the species nesting, but I can positively assert that the species put in an appearance from various places, and all points of the compass, from January to the present time (Nov. 8th); and now I understand there are numbers of them in the locality; but it must be borne in mind that their much-loved coniferous trees are comparatively common both east and west of the Avon valley. In the early part of the year I saw several, and heard of many others in and about the neighbourhood of the New Forest; I think they often frequent that locality in the winter, but in April they were still to be found there. During March numbers of them were observed at Parley, near Christchurch, and other places at no great distance, and in June one was sent me from Fordingbridge: it was in a pntrid condition, having been picked up; at the same time I heard of others in East Dorset. In connection with the occurrence of the species, I may relate an incident that occurred, I believe, in May or beginning of June, but I foolishly did not note the date. A labouring man asked me if the cock Greenfinch ever had any red about it, as he had seen a hen feeding two or three young ones on the branch of a fir tree not far from his house, and sometimes they were accompanied by another bird which he was sure had red about its plumage* This occurred within two miles of Ringwood, on the west side of the Avon, and near some young fir woods. I paid very little attention to the man's story at the time, as I often have some extraordinary tales brought about birds; but, as the Crossbills have put in an appearance both before and since, there is a possibility it was that species the man had observed. I give the story for what it is worth; and I may further mention that, especially in September, the birds were comparatively common in the same locality, and the man brought me a very brightly coloured male, and said he believed it was the same sort of bird he had seen in the summer. As the female Crossbill is of a greenish yellow colour, there is a possibility—perhaps very vague, some would say—of the man being correct about the species nesting in the trees near his house. I regret I did not investigate the matter at the time. Several of the birds I have seen were very brightly plumaged—one in particular was almost uniformly of a very handsome orange-red from head to tail; others were in various stages of dull greenish yellow and pink, and a few were darkly streaked upon the breast. Many people who saw the birds noted the well-known characteristic of the species, in that they were so "tame" and comparatively unsuspicious of danger; in some instances they were caught and caged, and amused their captors by the odd antics and dexterous manner in which they secured the seeds of the fir-cones; within a very short time of their capture fearlessly feeding in sight of any person, and curiously twisting their incurved beaks in and out the wires of their prison. Some specimens fell to the catapults of the roving schoolboys, who took advantage of the docility of the species and their Tit-like habits as they hung and swayed upon the branches where food was to be obtained. With regard to the curvature of the beak, in the largest half of the birds I saw the upper mandible was curved to the right; but this only proves how indiscriminately this "crossing" occurs, for on a former occasion, on examination of a number of specimens, I observed just the reverse; but any person examining the head and neck cannot fail to note the apparent bulk of these parts, and on dissection of same must be struck with the strength of muscles which enables the mandibles to be worked with such extraordinary lateral power. The fleshy protuberances on the sides of the skull remind one of the head of the Hawfinch.—G.C. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Heron Nest of Wire.—Sir Harry Bromley has given me that wonderful Heron nest made the greater part of wire. There must be yards and yards of it. How the bird got it and where I do not know, and how it ever got it through the trees and twisted it into shape. Many naturalists have seen it, and all think it the most wonderful nest they ever saw.—J. Whitaker (Rainworth Lodge, Mansfield, Notts).

Great Skua in Notts.—A Great Skua was flying over lake at Lamb Close for some time on Aug. 22nd. It made several dashes at Green Plovers, and also at a Heron. After a time it flew away north.—J. Whitaker (Rainworth Lodge, Mansfield, Notts).

Late Nesting of the Corn Bunting.—This bird is notably a late breeder. Personally I never found eggs till the middle of June; but this year, when shooting down in Holderness, I was shown two nests that had been mown over in the corn-fields— one on Sept. 2nd, containing eggs which were slightly incubated, and the other on Sept. 5th, containing perfectly fresh eggs.—Oxley Grabham.

Late Stay of Swift.—A Swift (Cypselus apus) was observed by me this alternoon (Oct. 12th) flying round this house for some time. I see by the 'Field' that Swifts are staying late this season, but perhaps you may consider my observation of sufficient interest to chronicle.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (Royal Cliff, Sandown, Isle of Wight).


Adder Swallowing its Young.—I have had the pleasure of meeting here to-day (Aug. 3 5th, 1898) Mr. J.W. Kimber, of Tracey, Torquay, and formerly of Tracey Farm, Great Tew, Oxfordshire. He tells me that just about the date of the Crimean War, he, with his woodman, Richard Ecles, were walking down a woodland path in Minoten Woods, near Witney, on a warm morning about the end of May, when an Adder struck at the woodman's gaiter. The woodman called out to stop Mr. Kimber, saying, "She would not have done that unless she had got young ones." After waiting a short time, he called out again, "Now, sir, come on, and you will see something worth your notice." Mr. Kimber and the woodman then watched, and saw the young ones (four in number) crawl into the old Adder's mouth, she lying at full length with her mouth open to receive them. The woodman then struck the Adder with his stick, and killed her. In a few minutes the young ones crawled out through the wounded mouth of the mother, and of course met the same fate. At the time Mr. Kimber was not aware that the fact he and the woodman had together witnessed was a disputed one, or steps would at the time have been taken to inform naturalists of so well-authenticated an instance. Mrs. Kimber, who is here also with her husband, well remembers his relating the fact to her on his return home on the day on which it occurred. Mr. Kimber, being seventy-five years of age, is desirous that the above statement should be recorded, in the interests of natural history, while opportunity remains. The writer and Mr. and Mrs. Kimber append below their signatures to this statement.—Adam J. Corrie, J.W. Kimber, M.A. Kimber (Lansdown Grove Hotel, Bath).

[We publish the foregoing as received. We are informed by Mr. Tegetmeier that the proprietors of the 'Field' have for very many years offered a reward of £1, and for the last three years of £5, for a Viper seen to swallow its young and received dead with the young inside; but the reward has not yet been claimed. The young Vipers burst from the egg with all their powers perfect, and escape rapidly into the grass directly they are disturbed, so rapidly that the bystander concludes they must have disappeared down the mother's throat. No case of Vipers swallowing young has ever been observed at the Zoological Gardens at Regent's Park.—Ed.]


Abnormal Eyes of Hyla arborea and Bombinator igneus.—I recently purchased a small Tree Frog (Hyla arborea), and sent it to a friend who was interested in batrachians. A few days later he informed me that the Frog was blind in one eye. A strong light having been thrown into the eye, I carefully examined the interior of the diseased organ with a powerful lens. The iris was widely dilated, normal in colour. The whole of the interior of the eye was transparent like glass, and behind this was a greyish surface, showing no trace of blood-vessels. The affected eye was twice the size of the normal one, and the animal was continually closing the eyelid over it. The increase in size of the eye was most marked in the portion nearer the ear. I have similarly examined a normal Tree Frog, but merely obtained an image of the light reflected from the anterior surface of the cornea, the interior of the eye appearing black with no transparency. The nature of the disease in the Frog's eye is a puzzle to me. From a careful dissection of a Toad's eye it would seem that the greyish appearance seen in the diseased eye was the normal retina, so that the anterior portion of the eye seems to be at fault. The Frog is lively, and takes flies readily. As a contrast to the above, I may mention a specimen of Bombinator igneus which I kept for some time, in which one eye was curiously small, much smaller than the other. I attributed this to arrest in the normal development of the eye.—Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Manchester).