The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 696/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (1899) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant



Leisler's Bat in Cheshire.— When waiting for Bats in Dunham Park, near Bowdon, on May 8th, I noticed a large one with a flight that was different to that of the Noctule. I watched it until too late to get a safe shot, and missed. A few minutes later I saw a second Bat, which I succeeded in shooting, and was surprised to find that it was Leisler's Bat, Vesperugo leisleri (Kuhl). I killed it at 7.45 p.m., a short time after I had observed the first Noctules on the wing. The flight was slower and more erratic than that of the Noctule, whose movements early in the evening are usually dashing and rapid. On one or two evenings since I have noticed Bats with similar flight to the Leisler's Bat I shot, and believe that they were also of that species. It is not safe, however, to dogmatise on the difference, for on the 29th I saw a Bat flying slowly, which, when I shot it, turned out to be a female Noctule. Upon picking up the Leisler's Bat which I had shot, I was at once struck by the small size, the dark brown fur, and the absence of the peculiar smell of V. noctula; and, upon carefully measuring the animal and examining the teeth, I felt sure that it was V. leisleri. Dr. N.H. Alcock and Mr. W. de Winton have kindly confirmed my identification of the species. All the Bats I noticed with this slow erratic flight were flying in one direction along an avenue of beeches. When they had passed I never saw them return, although undoubted Noctules which flew down the same avenue came back again several times. Both the Leisler's Bats and Noctules appeared to come from the same clump of old beeches, though I have not been able to discover from which tree they actually emerged. Noctules are exceedingly plentiful in Dunham Park, passing the day in holes high up in the beeches, and in the evening repairing to one of the glades or open spaces, where they course backwards and forwards high overhead. As a rule, on emerging, they fly higher than the tops of the trees; the Leisler's Bat I shot was a little below the level of the tree-tops. This species has not been previously recorded from Cheshire.—T. A. Coward (Bowdon, Cheshire).

The Serotine (Vespertilio serotinus) near Hastings.—Upon showing the note with this heading (Zool. 1897, p. 141) to my friend the Rev. E.N. Bloomfield some months ago he informed me that a number of these Bats have established themselves under the eaves of his residence (Guestling Rectory, near Hastings). Since then I have had two opportunities of satisfying myself that the species is rightly identified. I am happy to add that Mr. Bloomfield and his sisters take great interest in the little animals, and will not have them disturbed.—W. Ruskin-Butterfield.


Albino of the Beaver.—With reference to the communication of Mr. Service in 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 220) concerning a white Beaver (Castor canadensis), I should like to record a specimen of a skin exhibiting this abnormality which came under my own notice. In 1893 or 1894 a taxidermist and dealer in Manchester showed me a beautiful albinic skin of this animal. This taxidermist, who was a Canadian, had been a trapper, and himself obtained the animal the pelt of which he showed me.—K. Hurlstone Jones (H.M.S. 'Repulse,' Channel Squadron).


Blackbird and Ivy-seeds.—With regard to the note on a male Blackbird (Turdus merula) storing seeds at the nest (ante, p. 181), I do not think it is at all likely that a male Blackbird would try to feed his mate on the seeds of the ivy. The berries of the ivy are eaten by Blackbirds and Thrushes in considerable quantities at the end of winter and in early spring. But the seeds are not digested by the birds; they are voided whole, and may be seen at that season piled up in small heaps all about my shrubbery and elsewhere. May I suggest the possibility of the seeds seen by Mr. Lewis piled on the side of the nest having been deposited in this manner?—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Is the Whinchat a Mimic?—To this question, propounded by Mr. H.S. Davenport in 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 208) as to whether Pratincola rubetra is a mimic, I unhesitatingly answer, Yes. On May 20th, 1897, I was attracted by two Whinchats singing very diverse songs in a thin wood on the Pentlands; one of them was perched on the very summit of a Scotch fir, and began its song with the alarm-cry of the Redshank twice repeated, whilst the other had no such note in its song. I have also noted the Whinchat imitating the Sand Martin, the Sandpiper, and the Yellowhammer; and I believe that the great variations noticeable in the songs of individual birds of this species are the direct result of imitation.—Robert Godfrey (46, Cumberland Street, Edinburgh).

Blue-headed Wagtail in Cumberland.—After waiting upwards of seventeen years, I have at last detected Motacilla flava in Lakeland. On the 1st of May I found a single specimen of this Wagtail running over the sea-bank in front of our house, in company with a flock of Meadow Pipits, with which the rarer visitor was probably migrating. The Wild Birds Act prevented my shooting it for the Carlisle Museum, but I watched it closely with my glasses for two hours in pouring rain, and had the pleasure of pointing out its white eye-stripe and other distinguishing characters to a young but promising ornithologist. On the 10th of May I found a single Ray's Wagtail on the same ground, also with some Meadow Pipits. The common Yellow Wagtail was much wilder than the Blue-headed species. I have seen plenty of Blue-headed Wagtails on the Continent, of course, but I never met with Motacilla flava in Britain before.—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, Maryport, Cumberland).

Abnormal Occurrence of the Pied Wagtail (Motacilla lugubris) through the Winter in Aberdeenshire.—I was surprised to see one of the above (a male bird) flying in search of food about my houses on the 29th November, 1898. In fact, it appeared to be so strange to me to see one of these beautiful birds pouncing readily into byres among cattle, or into a stable among horses, in search of food, that I could scarcely realize its identity, the plumage being somewhat rough, there being a pretty sharp snowstorm at the time; but there was no want of vivacity, and the bird contrived to get a good meal before disappearing for the day. It made an appearance again on Dec. 1st, being then engaged searching for suitable sustenance in the mill-dam when the latter was emptied of water by being used for threshing fodder. With a return of fine weather it was not noticed near the houses, but with a recurrence of snow it appeared on the 19th and again on the 25th of December. During January and February it was a very common visitor to the turnip-fields, especially where the turnips were being lifted. There is no doubt that this bird remained here the whole winter. I have seen the bird in this county, but nearer the sea-coast, or at lower levels in mild weather, in January and February, but never so far inland, and withstanding the whole winter. —W. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).

The Delinquencies of Starlings.—When first I came to live in Derbyshire—ten years ago—I placed boxes on my house to encourage Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). After two or three years' experience I came to the conclusion that these birds were rather too plentiful, and year by year, in May and June, I wish that their numbers were greatly diminished. In the Peak district we often have late frosts and cold easterly winds during spring, and the plants in our gardens are late in flowering. But as soon as a bright blossom appears on our borders the Starlings mark it as suitable building material for their nests; and later, when young plants are bedded out, they are often very destructive. I have seen them pull up young broad-bean plants; I have known them take, in a few hours, three dozen seedling French marigolds which had just been bedded out. Apparently all this mischief is very useless, as numbers of flowers and plants are scattered on the verandah, or may be found in the gutters between the gables of my house. But this is not their worst fault. At this time of the year it is a great pleasure to see the Swifts racing through the air, and to hear their shrill cries as they chase one another. Several pairs of Swifts nest every year in my house; but before they arrive the Starlings have taken possession of their nesting-holes. This leads to a fierce war being waged between the two species. It is true that now and again a Swift succeeds in throwing one or two unfledged Starlings out of the nest, but more often a battle takes place between the adult birds, and the Swift is very roughly treated. Sometimes he manages to escape, and flies far away hotly pursued by the Starling. But often they both fall to the ground together, and the Swift is left in a state too feeble to rise, and becomes an easy prey to any prowling cat. Several times the Swift's piteous squealing has brought me to the window, and I have seen the Starling hammering him with its beak. Last year I ran out and picked up a Starling and Swift clinging to one another so tightly that at first I could not disentangle them. The Swift was very weak indeed. However, I kept him indoors through the night, and next morning he was able to fly. This year Swifts did not come to us till the 7th of May, and already there were fights on the 15th, 16th, and 17th. Starlings are delightful birds, their varied songs and mimicry are so amusing, and in the winter they are among the few species which come to enliven us; consequently I do not like to shoot them, especially as shooting is apt to frighten the birds in my aviary. And yet they are a terrible nuisance, injuring plants, harrying the Swifts, and filling up ventilators and gutters. I should like to know whether others have observed the same feud existing between Swifts and Starlings. I have known Starlings to oust Sand-Martins, and have read of their taking possession of the holes made by Woodpeckers; but I do not remember ever seeing any note on their interference with Swifts.—W. Storrs Fox (St. Anselm's, Bakewell).

[In 1836 the Rev. T. Salway recorded a discovery of the skeletons of Swifts and Starlings in the tower of the church at Oswestry, Shropshire. As many as fifty-seven were discovered together in a small chamber rather more in size than "half a square foot" (Mag. Nat. Hist. vol. ix. p. 350). Swifts are seemingly pugnacious birds. Bree, writing in 1832, says:—"Swifts, I am told (though I never witnessed the fact), will sometimes fight with each other, and in such cases the contending parties are occasionally brought to the ground, and have been found so circumstanced, and with the claws of each mutually clasped into those of the other."—Ed.]

Spoonbills near Great Yarmouth.— On May 10th I saw six Spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia) on Breydon. They were standing in line by the edge of a "drain" on one of the "flats." They were evidently "taking a nap," but on the near approach of my boat they all assumed a very picturesque attitude, as if listening and watching my progress, Each one's head was thrown at half a right angle, the neck craned into an S-shaped posture, one leg being drawn up out of the water,—whether the left or right I could not distinguish, as the evening was closing in. Presently they took to flight in a long line, and in single file, with bills out forward and legs nearly straight behind. They looked very much like Swans as they sailed silently away towards another "flat." They made no sound whatever, nor are they capable, I think, of doing so. I have seen several of these birds, and kept a tame one many months, but never heard them utter the slightest cry. The six Spoonbills kept about the neighbourhood several days. They are very sociable birds, and an odd one is sure to associate with Gulls, as do any small flocks that visit us; while they appear to trust greatly to the vigilance of the Gulls (mostly the "grey" or immature of the Greater Black-backed species, which are virtually resident on Breydon all spring and summer) for intimation of any intrusion. The Gulls noisily take to flight, the Spoonbills taking the hint after a preliminary look round, and making off to a distance on their own account.—A. Patterson (Great Yarmouth).

Black-breasted Partridges.—The Partridges with black horseshoes on their breasts, seen in a local game-dealer's shop by Mr. R.H. Ramsbotham (ante, p. 224), were doubtless examples of the Bearded Partridge (Perdix daurica), which has now been offered for sale (sometimes as the Manchurian Partridge) in the London markets for several years. The range of this bird is described in Mr. Ogilvie-Grant's 'Handbook to the Game Birds' (vol. i. p. 150), as "North-eastern and Central Asia, extending north to Dauria; east to Amoorland, Manchuria, and the mountains near Pekin; west to Dzungaria and the Tian-shan Mountains: and south to the sources of the Yangtze-kiang." Further particulars about this bird may be gathered from a correspondence in the 'Field' newspaper for March and April, 1898. The Russian Partridges sold in the shops after the close season have the horseshoe usually of a darker brown than it is in English birds, and the plumage of the upper parts is perhaps of a colder, greyer tint. But the unfortunate liberty to sell "Russian" Partridges in spring, at present enjoyed by game-dealers, undoubtedly would enable an unscrupulous person to sell English birds under that name long after the close season begins.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

[Quite recently in these pages (1898, p. 215), Mr. Dresser, under the heading "Rare Partridges in Leadenhall Market," also gave a full account of Perdix daurica and its range. —Ed.]

Ornithological Notes from Aberdeen.Appearance of Migrants during 1899.—The Lapwings (Vanellus vulgaris) appeared here in flocks on Feb. 9th; the Curlew (Numenius arquata) on Feb. 26th, but only solitary birds. It was a week later before they were generally seen about this part, and they continued to arrive even considerably later. A green-billed Gull (Larus canus) appeared inland here on March 3rd: a pair of Pied Wagtails (Motacila lugubris) on March 8th. On March 23rd two Grey and Yellow Wagtails (M. melanope) reached us during the severest snowstorm of the season. A Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus) I observed on April 20th. A Dunlin Sandpiper (Tringa alpina) was noticed on April 30th. The Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) was first heard on May 1st. A flock of Wild Geese crossed over on May 11th, and on the 12th a few House Swallows (Hirundo rustica) were flying about; and a few Sand Martins (Cotile riparia) on the 15th. About the last two dates some of the migratory small birds, as Warblers, were noticed. But at the date of writing (May 20th) neither Wheatears nor Whinchats, both fairly common here under ordinary circumstances, have been noticed by me. The unparalleled cold spring evidently kept them away at the dates when they usually appear.

Some Peculiarities of the Season in Bird-life.—With such very mild weather in mid-winter, and severe when we usually expect genial weather, it is only reasonable to suppose that something unusual could be observed in ornithological circles. I noticed pairing going on among Red Grouse (Lagopus scoticus), and energetic pairing among Partridges (Perdix cinerea). I found an egg of the latter in an occasionally utilized watercourse on March 17th; it had been recently laid, and the upper part of the shell was quite complete, though brittle with the severe frost prevailing at the time, the part immersed having been much affected by the action of the water, leaving nothing but the skin to cover the contents. I have referred to the Lapwings in a previous communication; they, of course, appeared in flocks early, being beguiled by the warm weather to suffer severely by late snowstorms, and a stray bird or two appeared through the season. We heard the Sky-Lark (Alauda arvensis) singing on Feb. 9th, and remaining mute at the usual date at which it sings most. It was noticeable that the wary Curlew did not fall under the spell which misled the Lapwings. It was well into March before they had generally arrived, instead of appearing about the same time as the Lapwings do in normal seasons. Probably also the increase in numbers of the latter, owing to recent legislation, may induce them to extend their haunts with the mild weather. The Curlews are little affected by the Protection Acts, as they are adepts in their breeding grounds at keeping out of harm's way. The Robins (Erithacus rubecula) were the tamest on record here about March 22nd. Pied Wagtails have been about in their usual numbers, while the Grey and Yellow species appeared earlier than usual, and during the height of the snowstorm. The Ring Ouzel seems to vary, over a series of seasons, in its date of appearance, being evidently guided by the nature of each year. These birds certainly came earlier during recent years than formerly; but they were certainly not welcomed, owing to their habit of plundering gardens, but they have probably increased since protection has been resorted to. Sandpipers seem to appear fairly near one date, viz. about the end of April. The Cuckoo was evidently early, especially when there was so little genial weather. Local circumstances govern their appearance in our immediate locality, where young wood, with abundance of insects, attracts them earlier than before. But it must be remembered that on moors here Cuckoos choose Mountain Linnets (Linota flavirostris) for foster-parents, and the offspring may be hardier and calculated to appear earlier, and remain longer than those brought up by less hardy birds. There were twos and threes flying together a few days after their first appearance, and apparently more notice was taken of them by the Twites than by other birds. It is an open question whether any recognition would occur either between the last season's young or adult Cuckoos, and those Linnets which had been foster-birds. The Wild Geese were evidently later than usual by one month to even six weeks, while the Swallows were pretty early considering the cold season. —W. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen).


The Cape Monitor.—In Mr. C. Haagner's remarks upon Varanus albigularis (ante, p. 226), I think he must be confusing that reptile with V. niloticus, as I have killed several of each species in the north-east of the Transvaal, and never found V. albigularis near water, but always far away from it, and invariably taking refuge in clefts of adjacent rocks. Moreover, I have never met with one four feet in length. V. niloticus I have found existing in quite large colonies on sunny banks near rivers, into which they invariably plunge on being disturbed; and I have never seen them, when near water, take refuge in rocks. I have noticed them dive headlong from banks quite twenty feet above the level of the water. I have by me several skins of both species, some of V. niloticus measuring five feet in length; but those of V. albigularis, although when killed apparently covering bodies of full-grown specimens, none of more than three feet in length. I may say that I have carefully compared my skins with the Zoological Society's living specimens of these two species.—Chas. H.J. Tanner (2, Cardigan Mansions, Richmond, Surrey).


Notes from Great Yarmouth.—On Jan. 5th I saw a stunted Codling (Gadus morrhua). Length, 14 in.; of this the head measured 5 in. Depth of fish, 4½ in. An equally remarkable Herring (Clupea harengus) was sent me on Feb. 28th. It was 2 in. deep up to the dorsal and anal fins, but was nearly normal in shape, and then singularly shortened behind. Length, 6¾ in.; it should, if perfect for its size, have been 10 in. long. I had a Codling sent me on Jan. 20th, in which the mouth was strangely placed under the head, the snout protruding considerably, the lower lip being singularly like that of a Shark. The tongue formed a kind of ball or stopper which effectually closed the mouth when necessary. Length, 13½ in. On Jan. 16th I met with a Lemon Sole (Solea lascaris), which was brought to the fish-wharf. I saw a Brill (Rhombus lævis), on March 2nd, which was pure white on the upper surface, with the exception of the extreme margin of the fins; the latter half of the tail was coloured, as was a small ring encircling each eye normally. I was shown a large Turbot (R. maximus), on May 29th, which was also white all over the upper surface, save here and there a small spot of grey. Both fish, as in all cases of albino Turbots, were minus the spiny processes which dot the back or upper surface. A small example of the Greenland Bullhead (Cottus scorpius var. grœnlandicus) reached me on April 29th. On May 21st a local shrimper brought me a fish which was quite new to him. It measured 4 in. in length. On comparing it with Day's plate, I found it to be an example of Blennius gattorugine. It was not at all highly coloured, as depicted by Couch, but was of a dull tawny or yellow-brown, the edges of the fins being of a ruddy hue. Day speaks of it being subject to variation according to locality, and no doubt on our sandy coast such a stray fish would assume more sober tints than in its native rocky habitat. Mr. T. Southwell, to whom I sent it for confirmation of my finding, noticed it was not so deep as in Day's figure, and the "slight notch" mentioned between the spinous and soft portions of the dorsal fins did not seem to him to exist in my specimen. This is the first record of B. gattorugine occurring in East Anglian waters. The specimen has been spirited, and will be presented to Yarmouth Museum at the Old Tolhouse Hall.—A. Patterson (Great Yarmouth).

[The Gattorugine, known to fishermen of the West of England by the homely appellation of Tompot (Couch), has been recorded from the northeast coast. "Included in Sir Cuthbert Sharp's List of Hartlepool Fishes," cf. R. Howse, 'Cat. Fishes of the Rivers and Coast of Northumberland and Durham,' p. 25. It is reported as lying concealed in pools among long seaweeds, where it is probably often overlooked.—Ed.]


Aviculture and its Scientific Status.—Although for many years the increase in the number of zoological gardens has shown that scientists have desired to become familiar with the living representatives of their cabinet specimens, there has been, and still is, a tendency amongst the more conservative even of trustworthy cabinet naturalists to look with pity upon records of the lives of animals as observed in captivity. Every scientific man should bear in mind that the records of new facts in the life-history of an animal, whether observed in captivity or freedom, are a positive gain to science, and of more importance (when not easily discoverable) than the description of a skin, inasmuch as anyone with average ability can describe that upon which he can always lay his hand; but many difficulties may obtrude themselves when an observation has to be made from living subjects.

Aviculture, or the study of birds in captivity, ought to be as scientific as the study of dead birds, and when pursued in a proper spirit it undoubtedly is so. The true aviculturist always has his faculties awake; he must never overlook any detail in the nidification of a species, any change in its plumage, or the colouring of its soft parts; he must observe when and how the change takes place—whether by moult, gradual growth of colour in the feathers, or abrasion of the brittle fringes of overlapping feathers revealing the underlying colour; every courting posture and note must be carefully recorded, and the meaning of the notes studied. Although but little use has been made, by scientific workers, of the valuable facts got together in Dr. Russ's 'Handbuch fur Vogelliebhaber,' there is not the least doubt that they are of considerable importance. A bird can never be said to have been perfectly described until the true colouring of the soft parts is included in the description. Very many species have been fully described by Russ, the colouring of the soft parts being carefully noted in nearly every instance; yet how seldom do we see any use made of these records by cabinet workers! Surely this is a mistake.

It has been asserted that birds cannot be properly studied, even in large aviaries, because they are under unnatural conditions. This is not only untrue, but in many instances it is practically impossible to study their habits under any other conditions. Probably the only reason why the nidification of many of the commonest small birds has never been noted by collectors is because they have only come across them on the edges of morasses, or the outskirts of dense jungle and thicket, into which the birds could penetrate with ease, but the observer could not follow. When impenetrable scrub is represented by half a dozen bushes, the conditions (if not the same as when the bird is wild) can hardly be called unnatural, and observation of the nesting habits becomes easy. The fact that unnatural birds (i.e. what are known as fanciers' birds), when turned out into a large aviary, frequently construct the typical nests of their remote ancestors, is an argument (I think) against the assumption that aviary life is unnatural, and therefore untrustworthy. The young plumages of many common foreign birds are still unknown to recognized ornithologists, and unrepresented in our museums. The aviculturist who describes these young plumages, or supplies the gaps in collections, is undoubtedly doing good ornithological work, and has as much claim to the title of scientist as any other man who adds to the sum of general knowledge.

For the reasons adduced above, I think it would be an excellent thing if the Editor of 'The Zoologist' would open a column in its pages for new scientific facts observed by aviculturists. I feel sure that, from time to time, Messrs. Meade Waldo, St. Quintin, the Rev. H.A. Macpherson, and other well-known reliable students of birds in captivity, would be able to add to the general store of ornithological knowledge.—A.G. Butler.

[We have great pleasure in opening a column for the communications of aviculturists. The aviary, like the aquarium, should afford some much desired zoological information, where observations may be made on the habits of animals which are practically unattainable elsewhere. Zoological gardens in all civilized countries sufficiently attest the scientific importance of the study of animals in captivity. Those who keep birds purely for pastime are equivalent to those who shoot them only for sport, and do not affect the argument.—Ed.]

Longevity of Red-headed Cardinal.—It may interest some of your readers to know that I have just lost by death a Red-headed Cardinal (Paroaria cucullata), which I bought in February, 1874, and which had therefore lived for twenty-five years and four months in captivity, always in a cage.—Walter Chamberlain (Bromesberrow Place, Ledbury).