The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 694/Notes and Queries
NOTES AND QUERIES.
Habitat of the Thick-tailed Mungoose (Cynictis penicillata).—According to the 'Royal Natural History' the Thick-tailed Mungoose inhabits the Cape Colony. Nothing is said about other parts of South Africa. As far as my own personal experience goes, C. penicillata also inhabits both the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. I have often seen and shot the animals on the Free State flats some miles north of Bloemfontein. Some time back I shot two examples of the same species about twenty miles north of Johannesburg, in the Transvaal. They are somewhat difficult to shoot, but, being spurred into a great desire of obtaining one for identification by the statement in the 'Royal Natural History,' I finally managed to shoot the two individuals above mentioned. I have their skins before me now. The one is of a brilliant orange drab on the back, fading into light yellowish grey on the flanks and under parts. The fur is finely speckled owing to the hairs being ringed with alternate black and amber-brown. The tips of the hairs are amber, and the roots white. The other example is of a greyish yellow colour, much lighter than the former. The fore feet of both have five toes, and the hinder ones only four. The tail is bushy, and has a white tip. There can be no doubt as to their identity. The question is, How far north do they extend? That I cannot say as yet.—Alwin C. Haagner (Dynamite Factory, P.O. Modderfontein, Transvaal, South Africa).
[I procured a specimen of the Meer-Kat (Cynictis penicillata) near Pretoria in 1890, and recorded the same in my 'Naturalist in the Transvaal,' p. 159 (1892). This specimen I placed in the British Museum, which, Mr. W.E. de Winton informs me, is "still the only specimen we have with locality north of the Colony."—Ed.]
White Stoat.—In the last issue of 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 131), I observe the record of a white Stoat (Mustela erminea) from the North of England. About the 21st of November last I received a similar specimen from West Somersetshire (near Watchet), and, considering the mildness of the weather at that time, I was surprised at its appearance. It was pure white, except some regular light brown markings over each eye, looking much like eyebrows, and, of course, the usual black tail-tuft.—H.W. Marsden (40, Triangle, Clifton).
Zebra-Horse Hybrids.—I have just read, in the 'Bulletin de la Société Nationale d'Acclimatation de France' (October, 1898), the translation of the article published in 'The Zoologist' (1898, p. 49) on the hybrids of the Burchell Zebra and mare by Prof. J. Cossar Ewart. I have perused this memoir with much interest, because you will see by the publications I forward that I also have crossed the Zebra and mare. Until now I believed that I was the only one who had obtained this production, but by the article in question I see that I am not; and besides, my first production was born three and a half months after that of Prof. Ewart's—my first, Sordello, being born Dec. 5th, 1896, and Prof. Ewart's Romulus Aug. 12th, 1896. It is very curious to note that neither of us has known of the other's writings and ideas, yet have both carried into execution these experiments within a few months of each other. At this moment Prof. Ewart is the first in Europe, and myself the first in America, who have obtained these hybrids by crossing the Zebra with the mare, or, rather, other writings on the subject are unknown to me. I send you some photographs of my first two hybrids, but have not yet any of the others; but when I have will forward them to you. I am writing also to Prof. Ewart, and sending the same documents and photographs.
La Société Nationale d'Acclimatation de France has published, in its Bulletin of October, 1897, my account of "Le Croisement du Zèbre avec la Jument."
Dr. Fr. Steinriede published, in the 'Landwirtschaftliche Presse' of Berlin (Oct. 15th, 1898), an article with illustrations made from photographs of Zebra-Horse hybrids which I sent him.
The 'Journal l'Eleveur de Paris,' No. 726 (Nov. 27th, 1898), published a translation of a communication on the subject which I contributed to the 'Societé Nationale d'Agriculture Brésilienne.'—Baron de Parana (Porto Novo do Cunha, Rio de Janeiro).
Nesting of the Mistle-Thrush.—This bird (Turdus viscivorus) is much more common here than it used to be thirty years ago. On April 26th, 1888, I found a nest with four eggs, and the bird sitting on it, in a hole in the stone pier of a field-gate near Clogher Head, Co. Louth. The gate was often used, and the bird was sitting within six inches of it as it swung. There were plenty of high hedges and trees quite close. I consider this the most extraordinary and abnormal place I ever found a nest in. The year before (1887) I found a nest in the fork of a tall oak, and climbed up to it, as I wanted the eggs. It was ready for laying, but empty. I did not see the birds, but evidently they saw me, for two days afterwards they had moved the nest bodily to the next tree, where the hen was sitting on it. I was so touched by their intelligence that I left them in peace. On July 24th, 1892, I saw a curious Mistle-Thrush. It was pale dove-colour (a very pale grey) all over, and shone like silver in the sun. It was with about thirty others, and they stayed about the house for several days. I often got within forty yards of it, and watched it through a powerful glass. Its eyes seemed to be red. I have often seen Mistle-Thrushes, and heard them sing, in Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, a somewhat curious habitat for such a wild bird.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).
Male Blackbird storing Seeds at Nest.—On March 21st I found, in a hedgerow, the nest of a Blackbird (Turdus merula), containing three eggs. On March 25th I again visited the nest, when I found the female incubating, and the side of the nest piled with a quantity of seeds, some of which I enclose for identification. On the 28th of the month I watched the nest from behind an apple tree, and saw the male bird come and go repeatedly, each time depositing these seeds, which are about the size of the half of a very small pea. His intentions were exceedingly charitable, and I should very much like to know if it is a common occurrence for the male bird of this species to feed the female during incubation, as I have never before observed him in this act.—Stanley Lewis (Wells, Somerset).
[The seeds are those of the common ivy (Hedera Helix).—Ed.]
Blackbird's mimicking Notes.—I can corroborate Mr. Davenport's instance of the Blackbird (Turdus merula) imitating the Curlew. I find in my notes that on April 14th, 1892, I heard a Blackbird imitating a Curlews whistle so perfectly that it at first completely deceived me.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).
Green Woodpecker in Ireland (Correction).—In Swann's 'Handbook of British Birds,' 1896, it is stated that this species (Gecinus viridis) had only twice been obtained in Ireland previously to October, 1889, "when an extensive immigration occurred." Again, Aflalo's 'Sketch of the Natural History of the British Islands,' 1898, speaks of a "recent immigration into Ireland, where, previous to the appearance of the last edition of Mr. Saunders's admirable 'Manual,' but two examples had been recorded." The above immigration never occurred, and neither edition of Mr. Saunders's 'Manual' is responsible for such a statement, as regards the Green Woodpecker. There were, however, ten Great Spotted Woodpeckers shot in Ireland in October, 1889, to January, 1890, inclusive: six in Ulster, two in Leinster, and two in Munster. This is referred to by Mr. Saunders.—R.J. Ussher (Cappagh, Co. Waterford).
Crossbill in North Wales.—Mr. Newstead (cf. ante, p. 28) will be interested to hear that two or three pairs of Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) nested at Penmaenmawr, North Wales, in 1890 or 1891. I have lost my notes of the occurrence, but it was subsequent to 1889. I did not see them nesting myself, but my sister used to go and watch them, and I afterwards examined their nests. They were in some larch trees at a cottage in the lane which leads up to the Green Gorge, a well-known walk in Penmaenmawr. They were rather far out on the branches, and twelve or fourteen feet from the ground. My sister is a very good observer of birds, and she described them to me so minutely that there could be no doubt in the case. They were very tame, and she used to watch them from a distance of twenty or thirty feet, and could see their twisted beaks quite plainly.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).
The Eggs and Nest of the Moorhen.—I should like to add my mite of evidence to that of those who have already given theirs in favour of the view that the Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) does not, as a rule, cover her eggs when leaving the nest. I have seen very many nests of the species under consideration, and I have never yet seen one in which the eggs had been intentionally covered over, and indeed I will go farther, and say that I have never met any collector or ornithologist who had. That the bird may occasionally resort to this means of protection is of course possible, but it is not its regular habit to do so, a fact about which the vast majority of observers seem quite agreed.—K. Hurlstone Jones, H.M.S. 'Repulse,' Channel Squadron.
Little Tern (Sterna minuta) in Ireland.—So far as I know there are only two regular breeding places of this bird on the east coast of Ireland, but in 1897 seven or eight pairs bred at the north side of the mouth of the Boyne, within eighty yards of the second hole of our golf-links. The caddies unfortunately found them out, and took, I fear, most of their eggs, for last year they did not reappear. I wonder if they went on to the Isle of Man, and formed Mr. Ralfe's colony (cf. ante, p. 32)? In the same year a Ringed Plover chose to lay her eggs near the twelfth hole of our links, and right in the course. Every ball from the twelfth tee whizzed over her head, and every player and caddy used to have a look at her four pretty eggs, but everyone spared them, and she hatched them out all right. There is a little islet in Carlingford Lough, called Green Island, where a few Arctic Terns breed. In 1886 I saw a couple of Lesser Terns (Sterna minuta) there, but could not find their eggs. In 1887 there were none to be seen.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).
Songs of Birds affected by Weather.—I was much interested in one of the Rev. W. Warde Fowler's observations in the March issue of 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 135), for the somewhat quaint reason that it is irreconcilable with my own experience. I am such an admirer of Mr. Fowler's books that I feel a diffidence in taking exception to any of his statements, especially as he is known to be such a close and diligent observer of birds; but I am far from concurring with him in the opinion that "our resident species are not affected in any degree by the temperature in regard to singing." Speaking generally, for about a month previously to March 20th, Blackbirds, Song-Thrushes, Mistle-Thrushes, Starlings, Redbreasts, Hedge-Accentors, House-Sparrows, and Wrens had combined every single morning to enchant my ears with a most delightful vernal concert. Not only was their minstrelsy resonant and prolonged from daybreak until the morning was well advanced, but again, as the gloaming drew on, sundry of the eight species mentioned above would musically assert their claims to notice. On the morning of March 20th sixteen degrees of frost were registered here, and on the three following mornings upwards of twenty degrees were registered, snow falling on the Thursday (March 23rd), the day on which I am penning these lines. During these four days, neither in the morning nor in the evening has there been any singing whatsoever on the part of any one of the species, and the contrast, after the flow of song that was so strenuously maintained day after day during the balmy weather associated with the preceding weeks, is naturally brought out into the very boldest relief. Nor, I must admit, is this my most recent experience at variance with what has gone before. I still see all the species I have enumerated round about the house, but they appear in no mood to sing, nor do they. Whereof the cause? Surely, surely, the great fall in the temperature.—H.S. Davenport (Melton Mowbray).
The Covering of Eggs by Nesting Birds.— In connection with the discussion that has been carried on in these "Notes and Queries" as to the covering up of eggs by nesting birds, I may mention that I have noticed this done by Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo). In the end of May, 1895, I visited a colony of these birds on an islet off the coast of Sutherland. I took a photograph of a group of three nests which were placed side by side on the cliff. When we first approached the spot the birds flew off from the nests, leaving the eggs exposed to view; but, on returning to the same spot half an hour afterwards, after exploring the rest of the island, we found that in two cases the eggs had been covered up with reeds and grass, evidently with the intention of shielding them from observation.—H.C. Monro (Stratfield Saye, Hants).
Destruction of Norfolk Birds: a Rejoinder.—In 'The Zoologist' for March (ante, p. 114), I notice the following paragraph in connection with the increased scarcity of certain species of birds in the "Broads" district:—"To say nothing of what has been done to compass their destruction by a well-known dealer in birds' eggs in the West of England." As Mr. Gurney has since stated that this refers to me, I cannot allow a statement calculated to bring me into contempt with the better class of naturalists to remain uncontradicted. Of the six or seven species tabulated as having decreased so much, I have never asked for or received a single egg from East Anglia, except of the Bearded Tit. Of this species I did obtain a large number in one year (about 1885), but far more were sent me than I asked for or desired. I wrote to a correspondent in Norfolk for "a few sets," to which he replied by sending a large consignment, and though I wrote him at once to stop collecting, the birds must have been so common that even in the time occupied by exchanging letters he got a lot more. During the last ten years I have had almost no eggs from this district—possibly thirty or forty a year—comprising usually one, two, or three (three only one year) sets of Bearded Tits, and the rest Water Rails or a few common things. I was once offered a clutch of Garganeys, which I did not buy. These are the facts; I think any remark of mine is needless.—H.W. Marsden (40, Triangle, Clifton).
[No name was mentioned in the disputed statement of Mr. Gurney, who, however, has since frankly owned that he referred to Mr. Marsden. Under these circumstances, and at the request of both Messrs. Gurney and Marsden, the above note appears, though it is of a more personal than zoological character. This discussion is now considered as closed in these pages.—Ed.]
Great Wood-boring Wasp (Sirex gigas) in Ireland.—I should be glad to learn if these insects are on the increase throughout the country. They first appeared here in 1893 or 1894, and now every fallen fir tree in my woods and nearly every paling and gate-post is riddled by them. I watched a female boring into a larch-post last summer for fully ten minutes, a most curious sight. She stood up on the tips of her toes, and stuck out her ovipositor at right angles to her body and into the bark of the post. Then she wriggled and worked very hard, but did not revolve as I expected she would, as the ovipositor has a regular screw like an auger at the end. I was foolish enough to grow impatient and catch her before she finished the operation.—G.H. Pentland (Black Hall, Drogheda).