The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 703/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (January, 1900) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

NOTES AND QUERIES.


AVES.

Black Redstart at Brighton.—On Dec. 11th I noticed a Black Redstart (Ruticilla titys) clinging to the wall behind our hospital. It remained about Kemp Town the next few days, as I saw it several times before being shot and preserved to establish the fact of its occurrence. It is a nice bird, with good feathers, very little worn.—Charles H. Bryant (Sussex County Hospital, Brighton).

P.S.—I have seen this morning (Dec. 18th) another Black Redstart, probably a companion of the one I secured.—C.H.B.

"Chiffchaff building on the top of small Yew and Box Trees." Correction.—In my note on the nesting of the Chiffchaff and Willow-Wren in 'The Zoologist,' December, 1899, p. 556, please read "the Chiffchaff with us always breeds off the ground" instead of "on the ground."—H. Noble (Temple Combe, Henley-on-Thames).

Rose-coloured Starling in Co. Mayo.—On the 5th of last November a fine specimen of this rare visitor (Pastor roseus) to Ireland was shot by Mr. James A. Knox, at Belgariff House, near Foxford, as it was feeding by itself on the lawn. It was not in very good plumage, for some feathers on the back of its neck were not fully grown, nor had the long tail-feathers attained their full length. This is the third specimen obtained in Ireland this year. Mr. D.C. Campbell, of Londonderry, noticing, in the August number of the 'Irish Naturalist,' 1898, a specimen having been procured on June 9th by Mr. John Hunter near Inch in that county, and Mr. Williams, of Dublin, in the 'Irish Naturalist' for October, 1898, records the capture of a specimen on July 20th by Mr. A. Brooke in his garden near Killybegs, Co. Donegal.—Robert Warren (Moyview, Ballina).

The Rook (Corvus frugilegus) in Scotland.—It is well known that this species has been prominently under notice for some time, and it is believed that the birds have increased greatly within the last few years, and as a consequence that much mischief was being done to crops by them. By some at least the fact of their great economic value in eating up many pests seemed to be practically lost sight of. An article appeared in the 'Transactions' of the Highland Agricultural Society, by which it was demonstrated that the Rooks which were examined were practically living by marauding grain instead of eating up noxious grubs, insects, &c. All this led to various movements for destroying a portion of these birds in various parts of the kingdom. Shooting parties went to the rookeries for many hours, keeping up one continuous fusillade both by night and day, not only to kill the greatest number, but also to keep the birds as much as possible off their nests, so as to addle the eggs or destroy the young as the case might be. The result of this is that very many were destroyed, and a sensible reduction in number has taken place. But a certain change in the habits of these birds has been observed. They have during last spring attacked the nests of Grouse and other game, and pilfered the eggs for food, this being due, it has been supposed, to the annoyance which they have endured about their rookeries. This system of destroying them therefore requires to be considered, if we do not wish to make the bird a more mischievous one than previously. Another point of general interest to ornithologists has been brought out here by Mr. Turnbull, B.Sc, who has examined dead Rooks where a rookery was being "cleared out," and found grubs and wireworms in the birds when dissected shortly after they were killed, but grain only in those examined a day or two after being destroyed, his contention being that digestion went on after death, and that this accounted for little but grain being found in those the subject of the Highland Agricultural Society's article. Thus digestion after death is worthy of attention, and tends to bring out the views most commonly held on the food of the Rook. Those forwarded to the Highland Agricultural Society were driven by rail to Edinburgh from Montrane, and time must have elapsed before they were examined.—Wm. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen).

Serrated Claws of the Common Heron.—On reading the description of the Common Heron (Ardea cinerea) given by Mr. Howard Saunders in his 'Manual of British Birds,' I was rather disappointed to find that he does not make mention of the serrated claws of this species, as I had hoped to gather some knowledge as to their probable use. On examining a specimen shot here a few weeks ago I find the serration is extremely similar to that of the Nightjar, situated upon the claws of the same toes, and pointing inwardly. I do not think they could be of the least use to the owner for holding or securing food, nor would they retard the bird's flight from branches of trees, &c, as the serration is not on the under part of the claw. I am of opinion that the Nightjar has a decided use for its serrated claws, and I should be pleased if ornithologists would enlighten me by giving their observations or opinions as to the use of these claws in the Common Heron.—Stanley Lewis (Wells, Somerset).

[Serrated claws are described in most of the handbooks where structure is dealt with. Prof. Newton, in his 'Dictionary,' writes:—"The inner side of the nail of the third toe is often serrated like a fine comb, as in Cormorants, Herons (including Scopus), Ibis, Dromas, Cursorius, Glareola, also in many Nightjars." Dr. Bowdler Sharpe ('Handb. Birds Great Britain') has also referred to the combed or pectinated claw of the Heron, like the claw of the Barn-Owl or of the Nightjar. This ornithologist (ibid. vol. ii. p. 49) has discussed the use of this serration. He writes:—"Another puzzling character found in the Nightjar is the pectinated claw on the middle toe, and it is extremely difficult to imagine the use of this comb-like appendage. It has been suggested that it is of use to the bird in retaining a firm hold on the bark of the trees, when it sits along a bough. Another use for the comb has been suggested in the cleaning of the long rictal bristles from the débris of the moths and beetles on which the bird feeds. Dr. Günther, who had some young Nightjars for some time in confinement, tells me that the only use which he found the birds to make of this pectinated claw was to scratch the surface of a chair or sofa on which they were sitting. Thus it may be a useful appendage in scratching or distributing the earth for the purpose of seeking its food." Seebohm ('Brit. Birds') refers to the same or similar theories.—Ed.]

Bewick's Swan in the Moy Estuary.—On Dec 12th, 1899, a herd of twenty Bewick's Swans (Cygnus bewicki) visited the estuary, and rested for some hours on the Bartragh sands, opposite Moyne Abbey. One fine bird was secured; it measured 3 ft. 9 in. in length from tip of bill to end of tail-feathers, and weighed 14 lbs. All the birds appeared to be adult, for there were no grey-plurnaged individuals amongst them.—Robert Warren (Moyview, Ballina).

Black-game in Suffolk.—Referring to my note under this heading in 'The Zoologist' (1899, p. 557), I have just received a letter from J.D. Cobbold, Esq., Holy Wells, Ipswich, stating that he had lately turned down about twenty of these birds (Tetrao tetrix) on the heath to the east of Ipswich as an experiment. There is no doubt therefore that the young Blackcock shot on the Cliff Farm was one of them, and it is to be hoped now that the facts of the case are known that the remainder of these grand birds will be left unmolested until they have become thoroughly established in the district.—E.A. Butler (Plumton House, Bury St. Edmunds).

For many years Mr. Mackenzie has turned down large numbers of Black-game on his estate near Thetford. They have been known to breed, but do not increase. Possibly the bird mentioned by Col. Butler came from this estate. It may interest your readers to know that the same gentleman has turned Capercaillie on his property near Inverness, and that they are doing well.—Heatley Noble (Temple Combe, Henley-on-Thames).

Golden Plover and Lapwings in the Moy Estuary.—The Golden Plover (Charadrius pluvialis) did not visit the sands of the estuary in any numbers until the middle and towards the end of October, after which time they began to increase up to the 24th, when I saw fully two thousand birds in one large stand resting on the Scurmore sands: and since then they have continued to haunt the banks in probably large numbers, for they now have separated into two large flocks, one haunting the Moyne, and the other the Scurmore sands. The Lapwings (Vanellus vulgaris) appeared about the banks in their average numbers up to Nov. 20th, when they visited the sands in immense flocks, more numerous than in any year since 1878 (the "great Lapwing year"). On the morning of the 20th Mr. A.C. Kirkwood, of Bartragh, at daybreak, saw an immense flock at a great height coming from a northerly direction over the bay. On reaching the island they did not alight, but kept flying about for nearly an hour, when they lowered their flight, and pitched on the Bartragh sands opposite Moyne Abbey. To give some idea of the immense numbers of the birds about, I may mention that at the time they settled down near Moyne, equally large flocks were farther up the estuary, on the Scurmore and Castleconnor sands, and a fourth large flock was resting on the banks outside the island next the bay. Most of the birds were evidently strangers, distrusting their new quarters, and so restless and easily alarmed that it was impossible to get within shot of any of the large stands. Mr. Kirkwood was out all day with his punt and gun, and was unable to come within range of any, except a few scattered birds. I was out all day on the 21st, and was equally unsuccessful. I never met Lapwings so wild, so utterly unlike their usual unsuspicious habits on the approach of a punt. I was out again on the 22nd, and, although the birds actually swarmed on the Moyne, Bartragh, Scurmore, and Castleconnor sands, yet I was unable to get near the large flocks, only a few scattered birds allowing my punt within range. It is impossible to account for this extreme wildness of the Lapwings; the fine weather could not be the cause, for some of my best days' Plover shooting on the estuary were on mild calm days, when, owing to the mildness of the weather, the birds used to assemble on the sands at the edge of the channels to wash and bathe, and remain until driven off by the rising tide. It will be interesting to know whether a similar large influx of the birds has taken place in other parts of the country, and I trust that some of your correspondents will mention if such has come under their notice.—Robert Warren (Moyview, Ballina).

PISCES.

Blue Sharks in Killala Bay, Co. Mayo.—One day towards the end of last October, as Capt. Kirkwood, of Bartragh, was walking along the sands at the western end of the island, he found a large Blue Shark (Charcarias glaucus) thrown up by the surf at high-water mark. The fish was dead, but quite fresh, and was one of the largest I have ever heard of on the Irish coast, measuring between nine and ten feet in length. Another specimen of this Shark was taken in the estuary about Nov. 22nd by two persons who were out wildfowl shooting amongst the islands of the estuary. Hearing a splashing in the water some distance astern of their boat they turned, and, rowing up to where the noise proceeded from, found the fish aground, floundering in the shallow water, unable to swim away. Killing it with a couple of shots, they with great difficulty got it on board the boat, as it measured about eight feet in length, and was very heavy.—Robert Warren (Moyview, Ballina).