The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 691/Notes and Queries

 

NOTES AND QUERIES.

 

 

MAMMALIA.

RODENTIA.

Climbing Powers of the Long-tailed Field Mouse.— During autumn and early winter Long-tailed Field Mice (Mus sylvaticus) eat the kernels of wild rose seeds in large numbers. To obtain the hips, the Mice climb among the briers, often travelling to the extremities of slender twigs in order to reach the fruit. The hips are nipped off with about a quarter of an inch of stalk attached, and if there be a bird's nest within easy reach are invariably taken to it. A search in the leafless hedgerows will result in the finding of many nests which the Mice have used. A Thrush's or Blackbird's is perhaps the favourite, but, failing this, a Hedge-Sparrow's or Greenfinch's, or even the fragile structure of a Whitethroat will serve. The Mice do not eat the fruit itself, but extract the seeds through a hole nibbled in the side, and, gnawing these with their chisel-like teeth, obtain the kernels. The empty seeds are left with the red pulp of the fruit, and I have seen piled up in a Thrush's nest as much of this débris as would fill a quart measure. In the neighbourhood of Alderley Edge I trapped several Longtailed Field Mice in birds' nests last November—one of them in a Greenfinch's nest more than seven feet from the ground. The stomachs of those I examined were filled with a whitish mass of finely comminuted kernels, one containing in addition a small fragment of red fruit. It would appear that birds' nests are resorted to not merely on account of their convenient proximity to the growing fruit, for husks of acorns which must have been carried from the ground are sometimes present among the hips. A further reason may be that the Mice, when feeding in the nests, are comparatively secure from the attacks of their many enemies. —Charles Oldham (Alderley Edge).

 

AVES.

Flock of Crossbills at Yeovil, Somerset.—I received on Dec. 17th, from Mr. E. Little, gun manufacturer, of Yeovil, six Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), shot from a large flock on Dec. 15th by a local farmer. Three of them were too much damaged to allow of preservation. —Stanley Lewis (Wells, Somerset).

 

Crossbill in North Wales.—Under date Dec. 7th, Mr. Arthur C. Parker forwarded an adult male of this species (Loxia curvirostra) from Bettws-y-coed for identification. He says "there are more cocks than hens, and the birds have now been hereabout three weeks." Subsequently Mr. Parker informed me the flock is only a small one, and that unfortunately many of its members have been wantonly destroyed. To the best of my knowledge, the last incursion of these birds in North Wales occurred in December, 1887; but a flock of them was seen in Delamere Forest, Cheshire, at the end of 1889.—Robert Newstead (Grosvenor Museum, Chester).

 

Nesting of the Goshawk in Yorkshire.—A beautiful fully adult female Goshawk (Astur palumbarius) has recently[1] been presented to the Norwich Castle Museum, which was shot at its nest a few days before the 13th of May, 1893, by Mr. W.M. Frank, a keeper on an estate at Westerdale, Grosmont, Yorkshire. Mr. Frank states that the nest, which contained four fresh eggs, was placed on the branch of a slender spruce-fir near the trunk, and about twenty feet from the ground. It was very large and flat, and the bird was very wild and difficult to get a shot at; he had to build a shelter of boughs to hide in, and enticed her by imitating her cry. Whether she had a mate, Mr. Frank is unable to state with certainty; he is under the impression that she had, but he did not see two birds together. Two of the eggs were sent to the Norwich Museum with the bird, but the other two are lost or broken. The Goshawk is in the present day one of the rarest of its family in eastern England, and in mature plumage so seldom met with that I only know of a single individual which has been procured in Norfolk, perhaps the county most favoured by its visits; and since the instance reported by Colonel Thornton, who received a nestling from the forest of Rothiemurchus "prior to 1804," I believe there is no authentic instance of its having bred in Great Britain, although it has been suspected of having done so. That this bird is not a more frequent visitor to this country is perhaps a matter of surprise, seeing that it is a common species in Central Europe, Germany, and Scandinavia, and there are still many apparently suitable localities for its nesting should it show an inclination to do so; but whether it would escape the attentions of the ubiquitous gamekeeper in such an event is very doubtful. Mr. Headley Noble, who was instrumental in bringing this interesting occurrence to light, suggests that the bird may have been an escaped trained Falcon, arguing from the facts that one bird only was seen, that the eggs were quite fresh, and that the bird was mutilated by the loss of a toe. As to the first suggestion, it has been stated by Mr. Frank that he was by no means certain that there was not a male bird—in fact, he remained till dark, after shooting the female, expecting its arrival, and spent the two following days in the wood with the same object, and suggests that the fact of there being several people working round the wood (a very small one) might have scared it away. As to the eggs being quite fresh, he says he did not allow the bird time to sit before shooting her. Mr. Noble's third reason—should the bird be an escape—may be of importance as a means of identification. The claw of one of the toes of the left foot is broken, which may have been done by shot, and the inner toe of the right foot is missing, evidently an old injury, as the stump is quite healed. Should such a bird have been missed about the time named, I hope this feature may recall it to the memory of its former owner. The question arises, would a trained Falcon, on obtaining its liberty, construct a nest and lay its complement of eggs unaccompanied by a mate? A female Goshawk has produced eggs in Mr. Gurney's aviary, but of course under circumstances which were not favourable to the construction of a nest. Prof. Newton, however, has called attention to a very interesting passage in Gairdner's edition of the 'Paston Letters' (see Lubbock's 'Fauna of Norfolk,' edition 1879, p. 225), which shows that these trained Falcons were so far sedentary in their habits that, provided the locality were suitable, a liberated bird might be expected to remain and nest. John Paston, writing to his brother in November, 1472, laments that a Goshawk sent him was so injured in transit that "she shall never serve but to lay egges." He therefore proposes to "cast hyr in Thorpe wood and a tarsell with hyr," that she might "eyer." This seems to indicate not only that the breeding of the Goshawk in the extensive woods which at that date surrounded the city of Norwich was not an unlooked-for event, but also, as Prof. Newton remarks, that the writer had some experience of a similar case; it will be noticed, however, that he proposed to supply her with a "tarsell."—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).

 

Flamingo in Merionethshire.— Early in October last my brother, Mr. M.H.E. Haigh, wrote to me stating that, after a heavy gale from the south on the 26th and 27th of September, he had seen, on the 28th, a large bird on the estuary known as the "Traeth-bach," which, from his description, I had no doubt was a Flamingo (Phœnicopterus roseus). I was, however, unable to come down until the 20th of October, and on the following day succeeded in shooting the bird. It was excessively wild, rising, as a rule, nearly a quarter of a mile off, and flying round the estuary in large circles for quite twenty minutes each time it was put up. We finally got a shot at about ninenty yards with a heavy shoulder gun by allowing the boat to drift with the tide. It was in good condition, and showed no sign of having been in captivity. The beak was flesh-coloured at the base and black at the point; eyes brownish yellow, legs and feet bright pink. After being skinned the carcase was examined by Mr. Cordeaux, who tells me that it was excessively fat. The stomach contained nothing but fine gravel; the bird was, however, shot very early in the morning.—C.H. Caton Haigh (Aber-iâ, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, North Wales).

 

Scoters in South Hants(?).—Every Hampshire naturalist must have read with astonishment the statement made by Mr. Percival-Westell ('Zoologist,' 1898, p. 505) as regards Scoters (Œdemia nigra) being common in Hayling Island and the Isle of Wight "all the year round, so doubtless breed there." Indeed a "record" for Hampshire. But, alas! the writer gave away his case when he said they were called "Isle of Wight Parsons," for, as it is well known, that is the local name for the Common Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Moreover, the Scoter is a very rapid flying bird, and never "lazily wings" its way. We have the best authority for saying that the Scoter is very rarely—if ever—in the south of Hants in the summer, and we are doubtful whether there is any record of its breeding here.—Alec Goldney Headley (Portchester, Hants).

 

Nesting Habits of the Moorhen.— In the last number of 'The Zoologist' (1898, p. 506) there appears a note asking for the results of observations by other ornithologists of the nesting habits of Gallinula chloropus. In my own experience as a collector I never found the eggs of this species covered during the absence of the parent birds—in fact, in every case the eggs could be seen as soon as the nest was discovered. I remember a nest which I found in a small pit near here on April 29th, 1898, containing a full clutch of eggs. Although the eggs were boldly marked, and both nest and eggs perfectly visible from the bank, there was not the slightest attempt at concealment by covering them up. A few weeks later I came suddenly upon a pair of Moorhens in a small pit at Ashley, Cheshire. The birds, one of which I saw quite distinctly before it saw me, flew away, and I at once searched for the nest, which I found quite exposed on the opposite side of the pit to which I had seen the parent birds. As there were only two eggs in it, and not a full clutch, perhaps this latter instance does not furnish sufficient data on which to found an opinion; but I think other ornithologists will agree with me that at any rate in many cases the eggs of the Moorhen are left uncovered.—Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Manchester).

I notice in the last issue of 'The Zoologist,' 1898, p. 506, a note by Mr. Hewitt on the nidification of the Moorhen, and an invitation to field naturalists to confirm or otherwise whether the sitting bird covers the eggs on leaving the nest. At a small lake in a thickly wooded district near Bath, by invitation, I spent a delightful May day in 1897 with this species. Having procured the assistance of the gamekeeper, I was rowed to where the rushes grew, and examined a dozen or more nests, nearly all containing eggs; one with four eggs in it, I remember distinctly, would have been difficult to find by anyone but an experienced ornithologist, on account of the eggs being almost hidden from view by the decayed portions of the rushes. They had without doubt been carefully concealed by the parent birds, and probably by the female after depositing her egg. This nest, or rather more than receptacle for the eggs, was situated on one of the fallen and collected masses of reeds, &c., in the centre of the lake, and had I asked my companion I do not think he could have pointed the exact spot where the eggs were. At the several nests around the never-failing springs in the neatly arranged gardens of the Bishop's Palace, Wells, I have never found the eggs concealed. As a brief summary, I conclude that until the full clutch of eggs is laid they may or may not be hidden, according to the abundance of Jays or Magpies in the neighbourhood; but after incubation has commenced it would be an exceptional case to find the eggs concealed, by reason that the sitting bird would not absent herself long enough from the nest to allow of the visitation of an egg-sucker, although I have, in company with the above-mentioned keeper, watched a Magpie for hours, perched immediately over a sitting Pheasant, waiting patiently until the time arrived for her to feed.—Stanley Lewis (Wells, Somerset).

Mr. Hewitt asks for the experience of others with regard to the Moorhen's nest. May I state that I have never seen any covering over the eggs of this bird, though I have found numbers of nests in my own and other counties? I see no suggestion of such a habit in 'Yarrell' or Howard Saunders's 'Manual.' But in Seebohm's 'History of British Birds' (vol. ii. p. 561) there is this statement:—"The Waterhen generally covers her eggs, when she leaves the nest, with pieces of surrounding vegetation."—W. Storrs Fox (St. Anselm's, Bakewell).

 

Little Bustard and Great Shearwater at Lowestoft.—Early in May, 1898, a male Little Bustard (Otis tetrax), in full summer plumage—a condition in which it is very rarely met with in this country, and the first instance known to me in the eastern counties—was killed at Kessingland, near Lowestoft, Suffolk. For obvious reasons the event was not made public till after the close-time had expired, when a photograph of the bird was sent to me. On the 14th November, 1898, the fresh skin of a Great Shearwater (Puffinus major), which had been brought in by one of the Lowestoft fishing boats, was sent for my inspection by Mr. Bunn of that town, who also had three live Storm Petrels about that time. Both the above-mentioned birds are now in a local collection.—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).

 

Avocet in Dorset.—On Nov. 12th, 1898, I received from one of my collectors a fine female Avocet (Recurvirostra avocetta). The bird had been seen in the district for several days, but was exceedingly wild; it was, however, eventually secured during a foggy day.—E. Baylis (Birmingham).

 

Terns in the Isle of Man.—Referring to former notes (Zool. 1896, p. 471), I may mention that a dead bird found this season at the Tern colony there described, and which is still occupied, proved, on examination of the beak and wing, to be Sterna arctica. But an even more interesting discovery was that of the nesting of Sterna minuta, a species, I believe, never before recorded in Man. On 22nd June last I found a small colony of this bird on a sandy barren close to the coast; I saw two clutches of two eggs each, and again a single egg. All these were laid on the bare sand, with no lining whatever, and scarcely any perceptible nest hollow. Many stones were scattered over the ground; there was little vegetation, and that very small and scattered.—P. Ralfe (Castletown, Isle of Man).

 

Food of Grebes.—Two Sclavonian Grebes (Podicipes auritus, Linn.) have been sent to me this winter, and when mounting the last one, on Dec. 19th, I found in its stomach, in addition to the feathers and elytra of water-beetles that I discovered in the first specimen, numbers of caterpillars, which I sent on to a well-known entomologist, who kindly tells me that they are the larvæ of one of the Crane-flies, which are well known as the destructive grubs of the Daddy Longlegs, or Tommy Taylor, as it is called in parts of the county (Tipula oleracea). These Grebes have been by no means uncommon this winter, and were on a large expanse of inland flood-water, where I have had some good shooting with the lessee in single-handed punts with big guns, when the water has been out and Ducks abundant. I take it that, the meadows being flooded, the grubs which generally feed at the roots of grasses, &c., climbed up into the fences, bushes, or anywhere they could, and so were secured by the Grebes; for, good divers as they undoubtedly are, I scarcely think they would pull up the grass by the roots in twelve or fourteen feet of water to hunt for grubs.—Oxley Grabham (Chestnut House, Heworth, York).

 

  1. Note received Dec. 6th, 1898.— Ed.