The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1899)/Issue 703/Notes on the Ornithology of Oxfordshire, Aplin
NOTES on the ORNITHOLOGY of OXFORDSHIRE,
By O.V. Aplin, F.L.S.
(Concluded from vol. iii. p. 442.)
Where no other locality is mentioned, the notes refer to the parish of Bloxham.
January 12th.—Fieldfares and Redwings only just beginning the large crop of haws, which, almost untouched, simply redden the hedges.
15th.—Flock of from two to three hundred Ring and Stock Doves.
20th.—Some snow; sharp frosts lately.
21st.— Two Redpolls.
22nd.—Snow on ground. Large flock of Fieldfares and many Redwings. Large flock of Larks.
23rd.—Very hard frost, and snow on ground. A Great Crested Grebe shot on the Thames at Cassington ('Oxford Times').
29th.—Thaw. Three hundred and fifty brace of Partridges killed this season on a beat of about 4000 acres of rough ground, in the parishes of South Newington, Swerford, and Rollright. This season and last have been very good ones here; hot and dry summers.
February 1st.—A vast flock of Skylarks on a stubble. News from Mr. Darbey of eight or ten Sheldrakes seen on floods at Charleton-on-Otmoor. They were very wild, but one was shot and sent for preservation.
20th.—Blackbird singing well.
23rd.—Large flock of Fieldfares.
A Great Crested Grebe, recently shot on Port Meadow, reported in the 'Oxford Times,' 5th March.
Writing to me on February 6th, Mr. R.W. Calvert, of Ascott-under-Wychwood, says:—"At the present time I am acquainted with about half a dozen nesting sites of both the Barn and Long-eared Owl, all within a radius of about seven miles of this place.... On March 21st  I went to one, a spruce plantation about two miles away from here, and saw a Long-eared Owl fly off her six hard-sat eggs on the top of a Squirrel's nest. On April 3rd I discovered another Longeared Owl's nest with four eggs in a plantation close here." These eggs and the next two clutches were taken by Rooks; from the fourth clutch four young were reared. Writing again on May 29th, the same observer mentions having seen, up to that date of the present season, three pairs of Long-eared Owls nesting. And on June 15th he wrote that he had recently seen four lots of young.
March 6th.—News from Mr. Fowler that he saw a Buzzard at Kingham on this day. It flew in a south-easterly direction towards Bruern Wood, after coming nearly over his head. Although very high up, its flight and shape were unmistakable.
13th.—Rooks built one nest.
20th.—Song-Thrush's nest with two eggs in shrubbery. Eighteen Rooks' nests in the far rookery.
26th.—Chiffchaff in song.
One day this spring (exact date not preserved) I saw in my brother-in-law's garden here a Missel-Thrush's nest with eggs, placed, not more than seven feet from the ground, on and near the end of a slender, nearly horizontal bough of a yew tree which stretched to the edge of the tennis lawn. The way the Missel Thrush has of putting away some of its shyness in the breeding season and approaching our dwelling-houses to breed is well known. Possibly in this case the slender bough was chosen as being difficult of access by cats, which are the greatest curse that the birds of Bloxham gardens suffer from. It is absolutely useless to pass (and even to enforce) laws for the protection of small birds while no restraint is imposed upon the keeping of cats. Curiously enough, when I was at Rainworth the same year in July, Mr. Whitaker showed me a Missel-Thrush's nest from which young had flown, also placed at the end of a yew bough extending to the edge of the croquet-ground, and only about four feet from the ground. Nests at these low elevations are, I should think, not common.
April 11th.—Blackcap in song in shrubbery. Several Redstarts by the brook.
13th.—A Swallow seen at Bloxham Grove.
15th.—A good many Willow Wrens.
18th.—Swallows pretty common about the village. Cuckoo noisy. Mr. H.G. Thomson watched, through glasses, two immature Golden Eyes in the middle of a large field on Otmoor, and within a hundred yards of him. Stormy weather had then recently prevailed (in litt.).
20th.—The same observer saw two Spotted Woodpeckers at Woodperry; he has also seen this bird in the garden there (in litt.).
24th.—Otter hunting in the Cherwell Valley (when we killed a bitch of 17 lb.), and saw Lesser and Common Whitethroats, Sand Martin, and Tree Pipit.
25th.—Ray's Wagtail and House Martin.
May 2nd.—Garden Warbler.
7th.—Swift and Spotted Flycatcher.
17th.—Carrion Crow's nest with four young with feathers just showing.
June 4th.—Heard Corncrake; getting scarce in recent years.
8th.—Pair of Red-backed Shrikes established at Wickham.
18th.—A young Cuckoo in Redstart's nest in a hole under the thatch coping of garden wall. Being now too large for the hole, its tail sticking out attracts attention.
15th.—News from Mr. Calvert that he had up to May 10th seen twenty-seven new nests of the Hawfinch in Wychwood Forest, but all empty—the work of the Cuckoo, aided by Rooks and Jackdaws.
16th.—The above Cuckoo flown.
26th.—The Red-backed Shrikes at Wickham have a nest in a hazel bush in the roadside hedge, and young flown.
28th.—Cuckoo in the fields at the back of the house still sings the full song.
July 3rd.—Blackcap, which became quiet about the end of May, sings again now. Garden Warbler sings.
6th.—Flycatchers with brancher young, and very noisy.
10th.—A young Cuckoo in Robin's nest in hole under the thatch coping of kitchen garden wall; feathers only just sprouting. The shells of some of the Robin's eggs lie at the foot of the wall.
17th.—A young Cuckoo (the third this year) about the garden; my man says it appeared on the 15th.
23rd.—Saw a Barred Woodpecker. The last young Cuckoo has emerged and frequents the garden.
August 3rd.—A young Cuckoo still with us.
22nd.—Many Swifts; very noisy.
September 4th.—A big flock of Peewits.
7th.—Many Missel Thrushes about the fields, in small flocks. I shot a very heavy Red-legged Partridge at Milcomb; it was an old male, one of three very wild birds. Although in moult, and the spaniel in retrieving it (it was a runner) pulled out nearly all its tail, it weighed only a shade under 20 oz. I find that 17½ oz. or 18 oz. is a good weight for a full-plumaged November bird.
Partridges showing a pure white horseshoe have been much more common of late than was the case ten years ago. These birds are usually (? always) females. The following examples came under my own notice this year and in the previous autumn.
Moulted young one, sex not noted down, pure white horseshoe, Sept. 15th, 1896. Three females killed at Milcomb and Barford, January 4th, 15th, and 25th, 1897, two with pure white horseshoes, and the third white just marked with a few brown spots. Female with pure white shoe, October 15th. Female with large pure white shoe, November 6th. Female with small patch of brown on white shoe, November 9th. Another the same day, sex not noted, pure white shoe. Birds with the horseshoe chestnut and white mixed are often met with.
12th.—A Grey Wagtail by the Sorbrook at Bodicote.
18th.—About 8 a.m. (the sun just coming through the mist) a cloud of Swallows flew up above the roof in a mass, and went up high in the air; distinctly fewer to be seen about the village afterwards.
21st.—Many Meadow Pipits (migrants) in the roots to-day and yesterday.
30th.—A Turtle Dove at South Newington.
October 13th.—A good many House Martins and only one Swallow.
14th.—A party of Martins high over the garden.
November 12th.—A Woodcock, a rare bird here, seen at Milcomb.
16th.—Great flocks of Starlings. A farmer here recently caught a light greyish (nearly white) variety.
19th.—Examined a Peregrine Falcon—a male of this year—shot near Chipping Norton early in this month.
21st.—Missel Thrush singing lately. Grey Wagtail flew over the garden a few days ago.
24th.—A good many Redwings here, but hardly any Fieldfares.
December 23rd.—About 12.30 a.m., calm and starlight with a little haze, Grey Wild Geese very noisy, and apparently wheeling over the village, rather low down.
24th.—A few Redwings; no Fieldfares to be seen. About a dozen Siskins in some alders by the brook at South Newington. Their note on the wing at this season sounds like tweee or tweeze, thin and wheezy. When settled they utter a poor thin twiteree or twitzeree.
Marsh Warbler.—Mr. Fowler did not find a nest at Kingham this year; but he felt sure there was one (if not two), for he saw and heard the birds' as late as July 22nd—his latest date.
Jays.—A copy of a publication called 'The Gamekeeper' (December 1897) came into my hands. It contains an article by Mr. Charles Stonebridge, head gamekeeper to the Earl of Jersey, upon shooting Jays at Middleton Park. The writer states that, in one of the coverts, there is a plantation of what are locally called "Spanish Oaks," the botanical name of which he believes is Quercus cerris. The variety grows nowhere else on the estate, and seldom fails to bear a crop of acorns. In those years when the ordinary oak bears no fruit, Middleton is visited by a "plague of Jays." As a rule there are, he says, very few Jays about the place, but the season of 1897 being marked by the conditions stated above, a swarm of Jays then appeared to feed on the acorns. The writer continues: "The strange part about it is, that at this time the Jays appear to drop the artful, suspicious ways which are characteristic of the family, and one is able to shoot at them all day without frightening the birds away. On heavy mornings, when the mist and smoke hang in the trees, they come just the same, and at times severely try the quickness of the breechloader. If one should happen to be winged, and falls screaming down the tree, the Jays fly in so quickly that the gun-barrels soon become hot in the hand. From about nine to ten in the morning is the time when the Jays appear to be feeding most freely, and it is then when myself and one of the under-keepers wait for them, as, having other duties to attend to, we are unable to spare more than an hour or so each day. However, in that short time we generally manage to kill a dozen or more. During one season a few years ago we bagged two hundred and fifty Jays, up till the end of October, feeding on these acorns.... The only injury they do now, is the manner in which their screaming annoys the Pheasants." This last is a most "gamekeeperish" remark, and it would be curious to find out what, if any, grounds Mr. Stonebridge has for making such a remarkable statement.
The tameness of the birds probably points to their connection with one of those immigrations of Jays to the east coast of England which occasionally take place, and affect Oxfordshire in some degree.
January 5th.—Many primroses and one flower of Pyrus japonica in bloom.
6th.—Examined at Mr. Bartlett's a Manx Shearwater captured at North End, Warwickshire, in September last. Although this bird occurred three or four miles outside our boundaries, it may not be out of place to mention it here.
10th.—While waiting for Wood Pigeons, I watched a Barred Woodpecker for nearly half an hour. It once uttered its loud qui-qui-qui-qui-qui, more commonly heard in spring, and also, but less so, in autumn. It is also heard in summer. The notes of this cry are so run together as to sound like quick rather than qui. This bird also once uttered the alarm cry gik or gek.
13th.—Snowdrops well out.
14th.—The "dark still dry warm weather" of Gilbert White.
15th.—Two Blackbirds, old and young, had a prolonged running fight, with occasional halts. When they faced each other, one of them (at least) sang a few high-pitched shrill notes.
19th.—A small flock of Siskins in alders at South Newington.
20th.—Had news of many Crossbills seen in a plantation of spruce and larch at Wardington.
21st.—Blackbird sang well; very early.
22nd.—Received two Crossbills which had been shot a few days ago at Wardington. They had been killed too long for preservation, or for the sex to be ascertained. Dusky birds with dark feather-centres, and the feathers of the crown and (but less so) mantle with yellow edges. Rump of one bird yellow; of the other, shot away.
23rd.—One crocus bloom out.
24th.—A pair of Starlings investigating a former nesting-hole in the roof of a thatched cottage.
30th.—Pied Wagtail singing well.
31st.—Wood Pigeons numerous. I saw two or three large flocks; one flying to the Tew Woods late in the afternoon numbered three hundred at least. Jays have been rather numerous since the end of October. With few exceptions the Jay (on account of the absence of woods, and scarcity of even small plantations) in this immediate district, is an autumn visitor for the winter.
February 19th.—Bullfinches made a heavy onslaught on the plum buds; they chose the best-flavoured plums.
2lst.—Hard frost and snow.
22nd.—Thermometer down to 25° (at four feet from the ground) last night. Wind N.E. lately.
24th.—Apricot blossom expanded.
25th.—White frost, 25°.
March 2nd.—Cold and stormy for some days; daffodil in flower.
3rd.—News from Mr. Darbey, of Oxford, that he received "the other week" a particularly fine Peregrine Falcon, shot near Woodstock; also that he had been told that another frequented the same neighbourhood.
4th.—Frost and snow.
9th.—Wintry weather, and N.E. winds lately.
18th.—Milder the last few days. 55° in the day, in shade.
24th.—Strong N. wind and snow.
26th.—It has blown hard from N. and N.N.E. for three days; some snow. Starlings building in hole over the granary door.
27th.—Wind moderated, with rain. Much peach and apricot blossom strewn on the ground. [Yet from one apricot tree I afterwards thinned out over one hundred green fruit, and gathered one hundred and twenty ripe fruit.]
April 1st.—The first Chiffchaff appeared; in song, in the garden. I searched carefully in the most likely spots without finding one earlier.
7th.—Some (unknown) bird has in the last few days attacked my black currant bushes, biting off the fruit buds and eating them, although the leaves (many of which are strewn on the ground) are as large as a shilling. I have never known this happen before. We prevented further destruction by stretching black cotton about the trees. And I may now add, that this done early in the next season (1899) probably prevented a repetition of the damage to the bushes.
8th.—Good Friday. Saw a Swallow about the buildings at Bloxham Grove.
12th.—Several Willow Wrens in the garden. Redstart.
18th.—Swallows about the garden (the first on the 15th).
20th.—Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat.
23rd.—Tree Pipit. Otter hunting in the Cherwell below Kings Sutton. Killed a dog and bitch of 18 lb. and 16 lb.
26th.—Sedge Warbler. As I passed in the train I saw a Coot on its nest on a piece of water on the east side of the G.W.R. near Wolvercot. Examined (and afterwards bought) a nice red Crossbill, one of four received from Buckland in December, 1897. Buckland is just inside Berkshire. Heard a Nightingale at Wolvercot.
May 1st.—Whinchat, Whitethroats, Wryneck, and Grasshopper Warbler.
2nd.—Garden Warbler in shrubbery. Two or three Swifts. A Song Thrush sang from my barn roof ridge this afternoon. Rather a wet day.
4th.—The Lesser Whitethroat sings nearly every day in a bird-cherry tree (Prunus padus), the branches of which come close to some of the windows. I can thus listen to the song at very close quarters. The bird sings at pretty regular intervals. His warbling notes, which precede the outburst, are sometimes really very good and rich, but low in tone and not very numerous—often hurried, so that at a distance they are often not heard. They vary a good deal, and occasionally, in style, remind one of the notes of the Orphean Warbler. In these cases they might be set down as therut therut therut; but this kind of prelude is rarely heard, and the notes are usually of a warbling nature.
7th.—On April 15th I set up in the shrubbery a nesting-box made out of a piece of an old pump—the fondness of Tits for a pump as a nesting site being well known. A pair of Greater Titmice had completed a nest in it by the 30th. On the morning (about 10.30 a.m.) of May 1st Mr. A.H. Macpherson and I looked into it and found it empty. On the 4th I saw the bird on the nest, and to-day the nest contained eight eggs. Even supposing an egg was laid on the 1st, after we looked into the nest, the bird must have laid two eggs in one day.
14th.—Found a Jay's nest with live eggs in a thorn bush in a small ash-pole spinney at South Newington. The Jay rarely breeds here. Turtle Dove.
15th.—Heard the resonant notes of the Wryneck, now a rare bird here, from this house. Several Spotted Flycatchers appeared in the garden for the first time this year. They were fighting and pairing. A pair of Wrens whose nest was torn by a Cat from an ivy-grown stem, are building again in the same spot. I imagine it is the same pair.
18th.—Starling feeding young.
27th.—Flycatchers have one egg in a nest built in half a cocoanut-shell fixed under the eaves of a wall. A Nightingale established at Bloxham Grove.
June 1st to 15th—In Belgium.
20th.—Mr. H.G. Thompson saw a white variety among a flock of Starlings near Headington.
23rd.—Cuckoo still sings. Examined at Mr. Bartlett's a Shag, just beginning to moult old worn feathers, which was picked up in a very thin condition in a meadow near Banbury about the 1st of the month.
25th.— Went to Kingham to see the three Marsh Warbler's nests found by Mr. Fowler. A photograph of one of these nests (the one in which the Cuckoo's egg was afterwards found, vide 'Zoologist,' 1898, p. 356) is here reproduced.
This example exhibits very well the peculiar characteristic (always more or less developed, so far as I know) of the Marsh Warbler's nest. The nest has the appearance of being hung on its supporting stems by basket-like handles, somewhat similar to those of a common garden scuttle-basket. This nest is supported by three stems of meadow-sweet, two of them close together. The walls of the nest are formed of dry grass, with a very little moss and some wool. The lining consists of a fair amount of horsehair, and a very little wool is to be seen, as well as a patch of the latter as big as a threepenny-bit in the bottom of the nest (vide 1898, p 357). The second nest was supported by two stems of meadow-sweet (a third stem was only attached to the nest slightly). It had very well developed "handles" coming up high above the general level of the walls. The walls were entirely of dead grass, and the lining of horsehair. The third nest was supported by two stems of meadow-sweet and one of osier. The "handles" were well defined, but slight and small. Walls of dead grass; lining of horsehair. The three sets of eggs were each of a different type, though the individual eggs in the clutches resembled one another. Mr. Fowler has presented the first nest, with the Cuckoo's egg, to the Oxford Museum.
29th.—Mr. Fowler and I saw a male Red-backed Shrike and an impaled Bumble Bee near Lower Tadmarton.
July 2nd.—Cuckoo singing full and well this morning; heard from the garden.
4th.—Two Cuckoos still in full song, one at the back of the garden, the other near South Newington.
5th.—Cuckoo still in full song. Starlings very destructive to my neighbour's ripe cherries. Weather dry.
6th.—The Lesser Whitethroat may be heard not uncommonly singing in this and other gardens in the village throughout its period of song. It is much more of a garden bird than the Greater Whitethroat, which only appears in the village and about gardens on its first arrival (and that very rarely), and again (commonly) in the bush-fruit season. Lesser Whitethroat is indeed an unfortunate and, in some respects, a misleading name. The habit of this species of frequenting gardens, rather than open spots like the Whitethroat, was remarked upon by Edward Blyth sixty years ago, as well as by Herbert at a rather earlier date.
9th.—A Cuckoo in full song all the morning in the fields at the back of this garden. The old idea locally is that the Cuckoo's voice becomes broken when it can no longer get little birds' eggs to wet its throat with; hence it changes its tune in June. An ingenious man once suggested, to account for a Cuckoo singing in July, that each bird has a certain number of cuckoos, to get through, and if he had not finished them by the usual time he had to go on after the other birds had finished!
15th,—Very dry weather. Starlings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, and Robins punishing the raspberries and red currants.
18th. —A young Robin caught to-day was half through its moult, and had a good patch of red on its breast. I saw another showing this a few days earlier. The heaviest hay crop for twenty-nine years; and "got well."
20th.—Saw a female Red-backed Shrike on the Lessor Farm, Milcomb.
22nd.—Chiffchaff still sings.
30th.—A good many Willow Wrens about the trees, plants, and pea rows in the garden, taking small flies, &c, during the last few days.
31st.—Several Robins singing. All those that I can see well are young birds over the moult. Spotted young are still to be seen. Great numbers have been reared this year, and I have liberated as many as three from the Sparrow-trap in a morning. Most of them will leave us in autumn. Pied Wagtail on the roof of an outbuilding with food in its mouth, and probably feeding a second brood, as there were big young on the lawn some time ago.
August 3rd.—A young Cuckoo about the garden lately. Was this the progeny of the old Cuckoo which sang so late in the season close to the garden? And was the old bird hanging about until the young one was safely launched? I did not find a Cuckoo's egg in the garden this year, but I have no doubt this young one (which had evidently only just left the nest) was hatched with us.
13th.—Many Swifts, high up and noisy, in evening. Two Red-backed Shrikes on the telegraph wires on the Lessor Farm.
14th.—No Swifts to be seen.
15th.—The drought is very severe; apples and plums falling unripe from the trees.
September 1st.—Chiffchaff singing again. The hottest September I ever knew. A bad season for Partridges here, taking into consideration the large stock left at the end of last season. Barren birds numerous, but what coveys there are being good on the average. A dry season is usually good for the birds, but apparently it can be too dry, and I believe that this year many young birds died from want of water. It is on the dry hilly land this year that birds are scarcest; while the contrary is usually the case with us.
2nd.—Chiffchaff in song. Saw a Wheatear in two places near South Newington.
5th.—The cracks in the ground are larger than any I have seen since the dry summer of 1867 (or 8), which I remember being pointed out to me as the probable grave of many young Partridges. Straggling flocks of Missel Thrushes seen every day almost this month, so far. It is a curious thing that during the late autumn and winter the Missel Thrush can hardly be called a gregarious bird in England, and that we do not see flocks after early autumn. In winter the Missel Thrush is seen singly, or, at the most, three or four together, until early spring when it pairs. I think this bird was more common here when I was a boy, judging from recollections of nests found in apple orchards and the fork of forest trees—an ash for choice; judging also from the birds shot with Fieldfares in hard weather in the thorn and other berried trees. Those who were accustomed to shoot Fieldfares as they came to feed in the thorn bushes, hated the "Norman," as it is called here; for if one arrived in a bush where the Felts were gathering, it straightway began to swear with its harsh screaming voice, and to fight, and so drove the other birds away, causing the hoped-for family shot to fade away. A Landrail bagged. Only a few seen this season; but I did not expect any, as I do not think I heard one in the summer. Mr. H.G. Thomson wrote me word that in the neighbourhood of Woodperry they had been conspicious by their absence. In 1897 also they were rare with us. A Wheatear seen.
7th.—For the first time the oppressive heat quite overcame us this afternoon. The thermometer stood at 70° after 7 p.m.
8th.—Temperature in the shade 84° at 1 p.m.
9th.—Have shot this month Partridges with the horseshoe pure white (two females); white with a few chestnut feathers; mixed; and pure chestnut. I made this note in consequence of a suggestion in the 'Field' newspaper that this white shoe was a "stage" in the change of plumage. This is of course a wrong idea. But it seems likely that the pure white horseshoe is almost confined to the female Partridge, if, indeed, it is not entirely so.
11th.—Chiffchaff sings well.
13th.—Flock of Peewits on swedes.
16th.—Drought still continues. News that Mr. G. Colegrave has seen one Quail this year, and that Mr. E. Colegrave heard one in the spring at Milcomb.
17th.—My garden is nearly deserted by birds (on account of the dry weather). Caterpillars (Pieris brassicæ) swarm on the cabbage tribe, but the birds do not touch them. As for the Sparrows, not one is seen about my garden and the outbuildings; they are all away in the cornfields.
21st.—Very dry; about 75°. Still many Missel Thrushes in loose flocks.
22nd.—The bulk of the village Swallows gone.
23rd.—The caterpillars of Pieris brassicæ having eaten all the green from a considerable quantity of the cabbage tribe in a large garden near here (leaving an array of skeletons), went over the wall in swarms, and across the village street, the people on the other side having to shut windows and doors to keep them out of their houses. The side walk was covered with caterpillars, crushed under foot by the passers-by. I may here add that during the winter of 1898-9, green vegetables were scarcer in the village than they had been for very many years. Drought and blight partly accounted for this. My own plants were only saved from caterpillars by hand-picking. Whether it is that there are now so many more insects which are "nasty" to birds, or whether the birds have changed their habits and got into bad ways in the matter of their food, I cannot say. But it is certain that, although ordinary small birds (except Swallows and Martins) are commoner than ever, they seem year by year less able, or less willing, to cope with the insect pests of the garden. Began apple gathering in the orchard; an early date.
26th.—Thermometer down to 35° last night. Hot sun but cold air from the E. and a slight whirlwind about midday.
27th.—Showers. Song Thrush sang in a low and subdued tone; the notes very poor.
28th.—Country and grass fields perhaps never before in my experience so brown, dried up, and dusty.
29th.—The drought broke up and a good rain fell. We have met with only three or four Landrails this year, and I have heard of some half dozen others.
October 3rd.—A young well-grown female Partridge nearly over the moult, with white horseshoe.
5th.—A good many Jays about.
9th.—A Grey Wagtail in the brook here. Alarm note in flight is a highly-pitched sharp and very hard itch-it or itch-it-tit, uttered quickly.
10th.—Many Meadow Pipits in loose flocks and singly in swede fields. Lark sang poorly.
12th.—Redwings about hedges. Many Meadow Pipits again. Lark sang.
15th.—Some Swallows hawking flies round a big oak at Wickham. A Woodcock seen on Bloxham Grove.
29th.—The 'Field' to-day contained an announcement by Mr. W.W. Fowler that Mr. W.C. Carnegie saw a Swift at Churchill in company with a large number of House Martins on the 15th inst. This is a record late date for Oxon. Swifts were recorded as seen this month at Edinburgh, Bath, and in the Isle of Wight.
31st.—Song Thrush singing well. We have now only our (comparatively) few winter Robins. Mr. H.G. Thomson saw three Grey Crows flying over from north to south at Woodperry on the 23rd.
November 1st.—Fieldfares passed over my garden "chacking."
4th.—When pike-fishing at Byfield Reservoir, Northamptonshire, not far over the Oxfordshire boundaries, I saw no fewer than three Cormorants, which I was told had been there for about ten days. One bird was fully adult, and another quite immature. They passed most of their time sitting on the mud edge (the water being very low), occasionally hanging their wings out to dry, but I saw one busily fishing. The shots of a Snipe-shooter alarmed them considerably in the forenoon, and they took wing, circling round at a great height, and I thought they had gone for good. But they soon returned, and I afterwards learned that they were in the habit of visiting Clattercote Reservoir, in Oxon, occasionally remaining there for the night, and roosting in some tall elms on the bank. I think they remained about six weeks in the neighbourhood.
As my man was walking up the shrubbery to-day, a hawk dashed at a small bird. The latter dropped through some lilacs, and the Hawk following hit against a bough and lay stunned on the ground for several seconds.
6th.—Weather still very mild. Twenty-eight different plants in bloom in the garden.
19th.—Heard Redwings' notes overhead, at intervals, about 9 p.m.; rather foggy, calm, with wind N.E. to E.
21st.—Many Redwings and Fieldfares; these remained in good numbers all the winter.
22nd.—A female Partridge—a bird of the year, I believe—with pure white horseshoe. Very cold. N.N.W. wind.
23rd.—A Woodcock shot out of gorse on a hillside at Milcomb. News from Mr. Fowler that he saw half a dozen Crossbills in the parks at Oxford, on the 22nd. These birds have been numerous this year in various parts of England. Deep snow on the ground this morning, and more fell in the forenoon, about five inches on the ground; but thawing.
28th.—Cold winds lately. Obtained an immature Barred Warbler (Sylvia nisoria) here. (Vide 'Ibis,' 1899, p. 160.)
December 11th.— Missel Thrush's joyous rollicking song.
19th.—Very mild again. Violets, pansies, and primroses blooming; also wallflower and alpine wallflower, to a small extent. Our tortoise has foolishly emerged from a covering of leaves and earth at the foot of a bending wall just where it faces south-west—the spot it selected to lay up in.
20th.—Frosty for a few days.
28th.—Winter aconite in full bloom.
Mr. H.G. Thomson reports Wild Ducks, Wigeon, and Teal, plentiful this winter on Otmoor, owing to large floods. But wildfowl are not so plentiful there as in former years. Mr. Surman received a Cormorant from the neighbourhood of Witney this month; and he tells me he had one from Headington Quarry in the winter of 1896–7.
The following fragments of the history of two birds once found commonly in Oxfordshire may be worth preserving.
When I was at Kingham, in 1892, I interviewed Mr. Tom Phipps, aged sixty-three, who had been postboy and postman for fifty years. He had an excellent and accurate memory, was fond of recalling the former condition of Kingham parish (then much more wooded than it is now), and of birds and beasts. About thirty years before 1892, Tom Barnes (nephew of John Barnes, the old keeper, who would have been then over ninety if living), who afterwards went to New Zealand, saw a Kite feeding on a Crow in Bruern Wood, but failed to shoot it for Phipps. I wish now that he had succeeded, for Phipps would without doubt have preserved it to this day. This was the last that either of them heard of the Kite. But Phipps's father took a Kite's nest in Bledington Heath Wood, probably eighty years earlier, for it was when he was a boy or young man, and he would have been over a hundred years old if living then.
Mr. R.W. Calvertt was told, in 1897, by one Curtiss, of Charlbury, former gardener to the late Dowager Lady Churchill, at the Ranger's Lodge, Wychwood Forest, that Kites were quite common down to about the year 1850. Although he never took any interest in birds, yet he knew the Kite and its forked tail.
It was about fifty years since Tom Phipps saw a Raven. He was, as a little boy (of ten or twelve), "leasing" in a field on the Churchill side of Kingham, when a bird, looking like a great Crow, flew over, calling, in a deep hoarse low voice, "cork cork corrk," and the women in the field looked up and said: "Look at the Raven; there will be sure to be someone die at Kingham, for he is calling 'corpse corpse corpse.'"
Mr. George Wise told me, in 1891, that about fifty years earlier, he went with his father up to Tusmore Park in a donkey cart. While they were inspecting some sheep in a pen, a pair of "great old Ravens" came out of Tusmore Wood, and flew over the pen. They were the last he ever saw. They were, he said, bigger than Gor Crows. Mr. Wise is noted for a wonderfully good memory. He does not know the Kite, which, owing to the lack of woods, probably became extinct in this district long before it died out in the wooded parts of Oxon. But years ago I have heard ploughboys speak of the "Kite-Hawk," bestowing the name on the Sparrow-Hawk. And in the same way Mr. Wise speaks of the "Buzzard Hawk" and Sparrow Hawk, when he means the Sparrow-Hawk and Kestrel. The names, in fact, survive long after any recollection or tradition of the birds they really belong to. I once heard a man call a large female Sparrow Hawk a "Hare Harrier." The 'Hawk and Partridge' inn, at Bloxham, has a very old signboard, painted many years ago (sixty or seventy, at least, as far as I can ascertain). It represents a very large Hawk striking at a fat Partridge standing placidly in the middle of a field. A very old keeper once described Harriers to me most accurately, and he called them "Partridge Hawks" (vide 'Birds of Oxon,' p. 34).