The Zoologist/4th series, vol 4 (1900)/Issue 706/The Birds of Great Yarmouth and the Neighbourhood, Patterson

The Birds of Great Yarmouth and the Neighbourhood  (1900) 
by Arthur Henry Patterson

part 1 of a series of five articles 'The Birds of Great Yarmouth and the Neighbourhood'. This part published in: The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 4, issues 706 (April, 1900), 153–172


No. 706.—April, 1900.


By Arthur Patterson.

The aspects of bird-life in the Great Yarmouth district are exceedingly interesting, and must have been peculiarly so in the earlier part of the century, prior to the improved drainage of the marsh-lands, the encroachments of the sportsman, the agriculturist, and the builder, the advent of railways, and many other untoward circumstances. The Rev. Richard Lubbock, in the introduction to his 'Fauna of Norfolk,' truly remarks: "We everywhere find the spirit of civilization and improvement warring with the feræ naturæ." In a note written by him in 1847[1] he says:—"Since I first began to sport, about 1816, a marvellous alteration has taken place in Norfolk, particularly in the marshy parts. When first I remember the fens they were full of Terns, Ruffs, and Redlegs; and yet the old fenmen declared there was not a tenth part of what they remembered when boys. Now these very parts which were the best... are totally drained... dry as a bowling-green, and oats are grown where seven or eight years back one hundred and twenty-three Snipes were killed in one day by the same gun." Mr. Southwell goes on to speak of a dry pasture pointed out to him by the late Mr. Rising, at Horsey, which, in his father's time, "was a swamp whereon many thousands of Black-headed Gulls nested every summer; the marshes at that time swarming with Bitterns, Grebes, Ruffs, and Avocets."

No true naturalist can look upon these gradual but inevitable alterations and changes without experiencing feelings of profound regret; but, as the needs and gratifications of the many are ever superior to the sentiments and delights of the few, the naturalist must be content to accept the inevitable.

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As, roughly speaking, a ten-mile radius has been kept to in covering the area of the Yarmouth district, Horsey comes within the northern boundary. But what may be said of the changes apparent there may well apply all round: the marsh-lands support herds of cattle where once the waterfowl dotted the swamp, dwelling-houses have supplanted furze-bushes, and visitors, other than avine, monopolize the sands. There is, however, no branch of natural history which can still be pursued to such advantage around Yarmouth as ornithology. It formerly was, and still is, without a doubt, one of the richest districts in England for birds of the wading and swimming classes; its easterly position, the open, exposed, and varied nature of the locality, with its wealth of marsh-land, its spread of waterways, and extensive warrens, offer unusual attractions to those species which may be collectively termed wildfowl. The list which follows will amply support this statement.

Northwards for many miles stretches an array of sadly diminishing sand-hills, or undulating knolls and ridges of blown sand, held together by the roots of the marrum grass (Ammophila arundinacea), the sand-sedge (Carex arenaria), Ononis spinosa, and various other deep-rooting dune-plants interesting to the botanist, and in whose seeds, laid bare by the winds of autumn, migratory Buntings and Finches find an abundant supply of food. In turn these sand-dunes have attractions for the Sand-Grouse, the Dotterel, the Great Snipe, and others.

Nearer the town the sand-hills have been levelled in recent years, and are fronted by a sea-wall and macadamized road, which extends parallel for some distance to the once celebrated North Denes, at one time an extensive area of rounded and broken sand-heaps, covered with acres of furze, now extirpated, and given over to the golfer. A railway runs through the centre of them, and the town keeps slowly creeping northwards beside it. Up to the end of the seventies the Whinchat, Stonechat, Linnet, Wheatear, and even Partridges nested in the whins; the Wood-Pigeon, Turtle-Dove, Stock-Dove, and Mistle-Thrush came in flocks in summer to feed here. At Caister and beyond, the sand-hills become higher, and the vegetation more varied, the brake, broom, and sea-buckthorn being conspicuous; and Rabbits abound. The beach below presents a long monotonous level of clear firm sand, sparsely "shingled" or pebbled, with few tide-pools; spring tides cover the sands almost to the sand cliffs. Until within the past year or two a few Ringed Plovers have persevered in nesting among the higher patches of shingle, the site chosen being a depression probably caused by a horse's hoof, the bottom of which is usually lined with small pieces of shell or thin white chalky stones. Constant traffic has banished this bird, the only species known to have nested there within the memory of man. One nest was found on the south beach in 1899.

The absence of rocks and seaweeds forbids the abundance of certain fishes and Mollusca, so that the ornithologist may in some measure infer as to what particular species of birds would from choice be usually scarce or abundant. Surface-feeders are well represented, but those which dive or prey upon Mollusca, and those that delight in rocky and precipitous habitats, are generally uncommon, or merely storm-driven stragglers. An exception exists in the Scoter, numbers of which frequent the Broads all the winter, feeding upon the smaller bivalves which are apparently in spots plentiful at the bottom (vide note on Scoter).

The northern sand-hills mostly slope gradually into marshy levels or cultivated fields, reaching their level in the Broad-lands and the valley of the Bure.

Southwards of the town, after passing the mouth of the Yare, stretching away towards Lowestoft, is a range of crumbling sand-cliffs, the fields above which are cultivated to the very edge. A straggling colony of Sand-Martins nests here. All westward of the cliffs is cultivated, and merges off into a fairly well-wooded district, notably at Fritton and Belton, excepting which scarcely anything worthy of that name exists within the limits comprised in the district to which these remarks refer. Small thickets occur at the margins of some of the Broads, and a few carrs of alder and willow, interspersed with birch, are irregularly scattered over the swampy parts of the marshes, but seldom covering more than an acre or two of ground.

To the west of the town is the great alluvial flat, once the bed of the great estuary known to the Romans as Garienis ostium, and up which their galleys passed to their camp at Caistor, beyond Norwich. Remains of this estuary and the branches now exist in the famous Norfolk Broads, most noticeable of which is Breydon Water, into which the Yare, the Waveney, and the Bure empty their sluggish streams.

Before Breydon was walled[2] and the rivers banked, and the vast stretches of marshes ditched and drained, the extensive level of swamp must have been at most hours of the tide a very paradise for the wildfowl, and those who sought them. "It would be difficult to imagine," wrote the Messrs. Paget in 1834, "a spot more suitable to their (the wildfowls') habits than Breydon affords, consisting as it does of a sheet of water some miles in extent, with shallow borders, or flats (as they are called), and surrounded, almost as far as the eye can reach, by marshes. The water leaving its banks quite bare for a considerable extent at every ebbing of the tide, exposes an abundance of the small crustaceous animals and other food most congenial to the Duck tribe. Even in the severest winters it is seldom so completely frozen over as not still to afford, in the small fish with which it abounds, and the crabs and insects about its banks, a sufficiency of provision for the fowl; and it is in such seasons that the greatest numbers are secured. Almost benumbed with cold, they flock together, and while they sit crowded up in a compact mass, to prevent the warmth of their bodies escaping, the gunner may, in his flat-bottomed boat, approach within a comparatively short distance of them by means of channels made in the flats, and with a single discharge of his gun, which moves on a swivel in the midships of his boat, effect a most extraordinary slaughter."

To-day these attractions remain much the same, but the birds are fewer. In severe spells of frost astonishing numbers of wildfowl are occasionally seen there, when a constant fusillade is heard, the frequent sharp crack of shoulder-guns being punctuated by the louder boom of the punt-guns. During a snap of frost in December, 1899, hundreds of Wigeon, Tufted Ducks, Mallard, and other fowl, besides thousands of Dunlins, swarmed on Breydon; and Durrant's game-stall presented a remarkable appearance, covered as it was with hundreds of wild birds of various species.

Reverting again to the Pagets' 'Sketch,' an instance is related of a punt-gunner, named Thomas, "who one morning, on awaking in his boat on the flats, saw not far from him a number of wildfowl sitting in a crowd close together on the ice. From the boat being nearly covered with snow he had escaped their observation while they were collecting in the night. He immediately fired (his gun carrying about a pound of shot), and with those killed outright and the wounded, which he and his dog caught before they could make their escape, he secured no fewer than thirty couple of wildfowl, consisting principally of Wigeon and Teal." This same old gunner on one occasion, after considerable manœuvring to get within range, killed six Swans out of a flock of eight at one shot.

Mention is also made of a bird-preserver named Harvey (vide note on Pratincole), who "previous to the alteration in the game-laws" sent up to the London markets an average of about fifty fowl per week through the season—viz. October to April—the number varying with the severity of the weather; thus, in the winter of 1829, on one market-day, he had brought to him four hundred wildfowl of various species, five hundred Snipes, and one hundred and fifty Golden Plovers, "all of which he immediately carried up to London and disposed of."

Notwithstanding the changes which have of late years taken place in Breydon—such as the great silting up of the flats (over some acres of which now flourish field-like patches of Salicornia herbacea, the jointed glass-wort), and the lessening of certain species of fish, the Grey Mullet (Mugil capito), for instance, which now no longer ascends in shoals, while the Osprey and Cormorant are more seldom seen—most interesting glimpses into bird-life may be enjoyed. In spring large flocks of Wigeon may be observed pulling at the succulent stems of the Potamogeton pectinatus (local, "Wigeon-grass"), the Curlew boring deep to find the Nereid worms, and smaller species of Waders busily hunting Gammaridæ, Mysis vulgaris, and other crustaceans. Herons are seldom absent, for the Shore-Crabs (Carcinus mænas) and the Eels and Flounders have attractions for them. In autumn various migrants, the juniors coming first, are often abundant, and various Ducks and Geese and Swans may be expected in wintry weather. And what adds much to the pleasure of a jaunt on Breydon is the possibility that you may meet with raræ aves at any moment, and your delight will certainly not be lessened if your binoculars are handy. I have thus fallen in with the Siberian Pectoral Sandpiper, several Spoonbills, the Iceland Gull, and many another.

During the close season Breydon is comparatively quiet, the local gunners having, as a rule, respect for the enforcement of the Protection Acts by the Breydon Protection Committee, who employ a watcher, and with gratifying results. The following figures, culled from the rough log-book of "Ducker" Chambers, the watcher, which has been kept by him in a most spasmodic sort of way for eleven years, will give a fairly good idea of the frequency and numbers of spring migrants visiting Breydon on their northward journey. Small migrants have been seldom noted; of course over such a vast area many birds escape identification. A careful and enthusiastic observer might compile a vastly superior list both in numbers and species.

March-June, 1890.
March 2nd, 1890. 200 to 300 Wigeon and Mallard.
5th, 65 Shovelers.
6th, 11 Geese.
9th, 300 Wigeon, Golden-eyes; many small birds.
May 14th, 60 Godwits, Whimbrel, Plovers.
24th, Several Greenshanks and Redshanks.
25th, 6 Cormorants; several Black Terns.
June 4th, 4 Shelducks.
13th, 3 Bernacle-Geese.
March-August, 1898.
March 3rd, 1898. 2 Swans.
4th, 3 Golden-eyes.
9th, 300 Wigeon, Pintails, Shovelers.
10th, 1000 Wigeon (about).
April 8th, 1 Spoonbill.
16th, 1 Swan.
May 16th, 700 Godwits; plenty Whimbrel, Plovers, &c.
24th, 2 Goosanders.
27th, 2 Spoonbills.
June 14th, 2 Spoonbills,
Aug. 12th, 400 Curlews.

The Broads, although slowly growing up, are still extensive. They have a beauty quite their own in their leafy setting of reeds and rushes. Of late years the rage for "doing" the Broads has banished the privacy and security which at one time characterized them. Some nesting species have disappeared, as the Bittern, the Godwit, the Black Tern, and the Ruff; whilst among some remaining a perceptible decrease is apparent, as in the case of the Bearded Tit. Many non-residents have become scarcer, although in sharp winters numbers of wildfowl drop in. The Crested Grebe fortunately appears to be on the increase.

There were at one time several decoys[3] in use on the various Broads, but these have of late years fallen into disuse, and are now not worked, with the exception of Sir Savile Crossley's on Fritton Lake. Mr. J.H. Gurney has kindly furnished me with the following extract from the many years' returns for this decoy in his possession:—

Take of Wildfowl at Fritton Decoy.
  Duck. Teal. Wigeon. Shoveler.
October,1887 41 17 0 0
November,,, 198 14 0 0
December,,, 176 2 0 1
January, 1888 121 2 2 0
February,,, 133 0 0 0
March,,, 6 1 5 0
———— ———— ———— ————
675 66 7 1

I have an entry from the 'Yarmouth Independent,' of a contemporary date, stating that on Dec. 13th, 1879, the decoymen at Fritton secured no fewer than 190 wildfowl at one pull of the net!

The following agreement for the hiring of a decoy, the very site of which appears now to have become lost, will serve to show how remunerative at one time these engines of destruction must have been: —

"Memorandum of an Agreement made this 17th day of March, 1810, between Mrs. Hannah Forder, of Kollesby, Norfolk, and her son Thomas Forder, have agreed with his mother for the use of a decoy now in her possession, from Lady-day next following it, at the Annual Rent £44 per year, and the said Thomas Forder shall at his own expense keep the same in tenantable repair; the rent to be paid half-yearly.

"And a further agreement between Thomas and his mother Hannah Forder for all fowles and fish he can catch. The said Thomas Forder do agree to deliver the same fowl at eighteen pence per couple, and half-fowl at half-price, and from August to Michaelmas at two shillings per couple, and half-fowl at half-price, and from Michaelmas to Lady-day at three shillings per couple, and half-fowl at half-price.

"Also all Pike under three Qurters [quarters?] sixpence each, and Eels at three shillings per stone.

"Hannah Forder, her mark ×.
"Thomas Forder. his mark ×."

"Witness John Stagg,
John Sandcroft, Jnr.

The taking of eggs was at one time carried on to a great extent, and tended undoubtedly to the diminution of certain species. "All the marshes," wrote the Messrs. Paget in 1834, "but more especially about Oby, Thurne, and Acle, are found considerably profitable, by the numbers of Plovers' eggs which may be collected in them, and of which there is carried on a most extensive sale during the months of March, April, and May. The same person (Isaac Harvey) before mentioned sends an average of between six and seven hundred eggs to the London and other markets every week during the season." The "eggs" covered a variety of species, e.g. Snipe, Lapwings', Redshanks', Water-Rails', Moor-hens', and Coots'. At the present time a few small chip trays of Plovers' eggs appear in Yarmouth market every spring, but, as with the wildfowl, there is but a limited local sale.

There are many features connected with the bird-life of the neighbourhood which are worthy of note, among them the extreme uncertainty of migratory movements in large bodies. In some years certain rare species have appeared in unusual numbers, as in the case of the Shore Lark, Lapland Bunting, Little Auk, Buzzards, Skuas, and others; on the other hand, years may elapse without such records. These fluctuations undoubtedly depend upon, or are affected by, atmospheric conditions; a sharp winter, with continuous occurrences of heavy gales from the north, north-east, or south-east, will drive in many species, more particularly during the periods of migration. In October the local ornithologist hails with pleasure a south-easterly breeze, with "dirty weather" in its wake. The day previous certain species will be perhaps altogether absent; at night, as the wind freshens or the drizzling rain makes the darkness dismal, he may hear their clamorous call-notes resounding overhead; the bewildered birds, unaccustomed to the glare of our gas-lamps, keep wheeling around, as if attracted by them, incessantly calling in order to keep together their respective flocks, until the day dawns, when they drop upon the Breydon mud-flats to feed and rest, or pursue their journey. Thus the Golden Plover, the Knot, and many others are often to be met with a few hours after a shift of wind. The following "entry" from my note-book is a case in point:—

Sept. 30th, 1899.—Wind veered yesterday from south-west to south-east. Rough wet night. To-day Breydon was noisy with birds; saw some Turnstones and Whimbrel; number of Grey Plovers, some Greenshanks, and many small birds. Many scores of Grey Plovers were subsequently shot.

A similar occurrence is noted for September, 1897, as follows:—

Sept. 5th.—A "rush" of migratorial birds; wind suddenly veering to east after continuous west and south-west winds. Next day, Sept. 6th, on a game-stall, the following birds were exposed for sale:—Ten Godwits, one Shelduck, one Scaup, nine Curlew Sandpipers, one Reeve, one Greenshank, twenty Knots, two Kingfishers.

That the movements of certain birds are a fairly reliable indication that some atmospheric disturbance is approaching seems to my mind beyond dispute. Note the following entries:—

Nov. 23rd, 1897.—Extraordinary thick fog.

Nov. 24th.—Night noisy with cries of Plovers; this, with certain other birds being "uneasy," portending bad weather. (The weather changed almost immediately after.)

Nov. 28th.—Blew hard to-day (and next), the gale causing havoc all round the neighbourhood. Tide rose to an alarming height. The sea broke through the sand-hills at Horsey.

South-east winds are more favourable to the migratorial birds passing along our shores, whilst that from an opposite quarter, or from a westerly direction, will favour the Dutch coast-line, to the detriment of our own. With light north-west winds and moonlight nights, during October and November, the Woodcock is anxiously looked for. Westerly winds have been responsible for the visits of a few American wanderers—for instance, the Great Spotted Cuckoo. Severe winters, with much snow, drive numerous wanderers south, and there can be little doubt that many birds which rush ahead of hard weather have put off their exit until absolutely driven to it. In the cruel January of 1881, the day before the fearfully disastrous gale on our coast, I witnessed an extraordinary immigration of small birds, amongst them many Turdidæ, besides Redpolls and other Finches, many of which fell exhausted on landing, some taking shelter in wheel-ruts in the sand. The chirp of a Sparrow particularly caught my attention, and Passer domesticus was distinguished as he flew by. Redbreasts were also noted. On Feb. 2nd, 1897, Fieldfares and Redwings were arriving in continuous flocks, as if it were an ordinary October migration. On the 3rd Larks were trooping in. Coarse winterly weather followed them. On Dec. 22nd, 1894, hundreds of Lapwings were coming over against a strong north-west gale. Many were drowned.

As to birds which fall exhausted in the sea and are drowned, there can be little doubt that numbers, especially of the smaller species—e.g. Chaffinches, Redpolls, and many others—perish in this way when overtaken by stress of weather; but few are seen washed up on the beach. Their disappearance may be accounted for by the presence at this time of numerous Gulls on the coast, which are eager to glean up any such flotsam that is almost sure to attract their notice as they ceaselessly patrol the restless sea. A sudden change of wind to an easterly point will sometimes drive a few of these unfortunate birds ashore. On Sept. 24th, 1881, during a walk along the north beach, I observed lying among the refuse three Common Buzzards, three Sparrowhawks, and a Harrier, which, with a few common species, had been overtaken by a storm and had perished. There had been that month an unusual immigration of raptorial birds, several others having met with an untimely end in the neighbourhood. I have also found in the wash and at the tide-mark at various times Guillemots, Razorbills, Crows, Merlins, and many others that have succumbed to fatigue or the violence of the storm. On one occasion I found the remains of quite a number of Kittiwakes (vide note on Kittiwake). When stranded these carcases are very soon stripped by Hooded Crows, which do not scruple to dine even off defunct members of their own genus.

In some years it is extremely interesting to watch the steady influx of migrants of various species, often indicative, to my mind, of a long and severe winter ensuing. At other times migration goes on scantily or spasmodically. It was my custom for several years, when living at the north part of the town, to watch these movements, more especially in October, keeping much to the beach and vicinity of the North Denes.[4] Amongst many observations made, the following few may be of interest:—I noticed that Larks were our commonest immigrants. Before daybreak their call-note might be heard as they "struck" shore. As light dawned they might be seen skimming shorewards just above the waves; as the day wore on they gradually flew higher, till sometimes a great altitude was obtained by succeeding flocks. Larks usually fly in from direct east. Fieldfares and Redwings generally arrived from north-east. Rooks and Hooded Crows at ordinary times leisurely trooped in, flying east to west. Occasionally "rushes" of these Corvidæ, more particularly Rooks, strike the coast farther north, and lead along, in quick succeeding flocks, the line of trees bordering Caister road. Small birds usually do the same, Linnets, Twites, and such like keeping more to the cliffs and sand-hills, in which line of flight the bird-catchers fix their nets. Jackdaws often mix with other corvine immigrants, and invariably are noisy, except when with the "rushes" referred to. My experience leads me to believe that by the first week in November the majority of immigrants have arrived, and not till the first spell of severe weather sets in does another movement take place, and that November generally is our dullest local bird-month. Lightship men, who formerly captured many tired migrants on board, complain of a falling off in late years. The autumn arrivals of 1899 were scanty, beyond the fairly regular incoming of Rooks, Hooded Crows, and Larks. But early in December the weather set in cold, with wind at southeast. On the night of the 6th it was squally; the air was "alive" with cries of Golden Plover, which were plentiful on the marshes on the 8th. Snow fell on the 10th, with sharp frost ensuing. Snipe, which had hitherto been scarce, "inrushed" to the brackish ditches on the marsh-lands, Common and Jacks being shot in unusual numbers. I believe this abundance was, in Norfolk at least, universal. On a local game-stall I saw the following numbers of Snipe:—

Dec. 11th.—47 Common Snipe, 17 Jack-Snipe.

Dec. 12th.—(Almost identical numbers.)

Dec. 13th.—120 Common Snipe, 20 Jack-Snipe, 8 Woodcocks.

Dec. 14th.—Total Snipe on this date, 43.

Dec. 15th.—Did not obtain numbers on this date.

Dec. 16th.— Total Snipe, 310.

Thus, allowing an average of fifty Snipe on each of the dates missing, the week's record was something like 650 birds.

After the 16th numbers fell off almost to nil. Many other birds accompanied this inrush; Breydon and the Broads became alive with them. Hundreds of Dunlins and many scores of various Ducks were shot, only a portion of those killed locally being exposed for sale at this gamedealer's stall. Mr. Durrant, the proprietor, kindly furnished me with a complete list of birds brought up on the 16th, which is appended:—

Wildfowl on Game-stall, Dec. 16th, 1899.
336 Dunlins. 1 Goosander.
20 Coots. 80 Blackbirds.
6 Dabchicks. 1 Curlew.
12 Water-Rails. 32 Duck and Mallard.
3 Golden Plovers. 90 Half-fowl (being about

equally divided between

Tufted Ducks, Wigeon,

and Pochards).

1 Heron.
30 Larks.
310 Snipe.
10 Moor-hens. 3 Teal.
26 Lapwings. 3 Golden-eyes.

Besides these there were hundreds of Blackbirds and Thrushes, and many wildfowl scattered all over the Saturday's market. From a wildfowler's point of view the above one day's figures compare favourably with a week's list given in Stevenson's 'Birds of Norfolk' (vol. iii. p. 175), which it will be interesting to subjoin:—

Wildfowl, Waders, &c, received from Dec. 14th to 21st, 1878.
447 Full Snipe. 2 Curlews.
21 Jack-Snipe. 4 Herons.
206 Green and Golden Plover 3 Kingfishers.
3 Grey Plover. 35 Teal.
14 Woodcocks. 147 Golden-eyes and other fowl.
41 Waterhens. 421 Duck and Mallard (220 from decoy).
2 Rails.
17 Water-Rails. 1 Great Plover.
43 Coots. 1 Eared Grebe.
133 Stints. 2 Rough-legged Buzzards.
13 Owls. 2 Smew (male and female).
4 Hawks (various). 29 Sundries.
9 Grebes. Total, 1600.

Another week's fowl is also enumerated with a total of birds, a note of explanation stating that the "Golden-eyes" (which is a common Norfolk gunner's name for them) were mostly Tufted Ducks. Of a total of twenty-two Grebes for the fortnight three were Dabchicks, one "Eared" (probably Slavonian), the remaining eighteen being Crested Grebes.

There is at the present time at Yarmouth but one dealer in wildfowl, Mr. Durrant, whose stall is in the market-place; and many thousands of birds, rare and common, have passed through his hands. His birds are received from the immediate locality, and from the country districts around, the smaller common species hanging in bunches, the larger ones singly from hooks. Rarer examples are promoted to a more conspicuous position upon a fruit-tray. This stall is a fairly accurate gauge as to what species are at any given time abundant, or are arriving. Durrant himself is full of anecdote. On one occasion he assured me that during some sharp weather he had brought to him in one day over 1100 Common or "full" Snipe, for which he paid during the greater part of the day sixpence apiece. Of these he forwarded two five-hundred lots to London dealers, receiving in the course of a day or two in return a remittance to the value of one penny each, accompanied by a polite note to the effect that "small cargoes were coming over from Holland" with other wildfowl. In the severe winter of 1890–91 Durrant had a large supply of birds. I was fortunate enough to peep into his market-book on Nov. 29th, 1890, on which date were recorded the following as received:—

Nov. 29th, 1890.
1 Bittern. 110 Common Snipe.
240 Dunlins. 2 Bewick's Swans.
9 Knots. 1 Pintail.
11 Woodcocks. 3 Curlews.
47 Duck and Mallard. 14 Jack-Snipe.
52 Blackbirds and Thrushes.   Golden-eyes (several).
1 Godwit. 39 Larks.
14 Plovers (various).

As this was an exceptionally busy year with him, I kept a record, usually counting the birds myself, publishing the same in the 'Eastern Daily Press.' The following two examples will suffice:—

Dec. 6th, 1890.
Tufted Ducks (several). 5 Golden-eyes.
Duck and Mallard (several). Pochard and Wigeon (several).
1 White-fronted Goose. Moor-hens and Coots (several).
Snipe (several). 1 Red-throated Diver.
1 Goosander. 2 Curlews.
Snipe (number). 12 Water-Rails.
3 Bewick's Swans. 3 Dabchicks.
  (making 5 for week). 2 Short-eared Owls.
3 Barn Owls. 1 Kestrel.
Small birds (many).
Dec. 20th, 1890.
1 Bewick's Swan. 1 Red-throated Diver.
23 Scaups. 1 Redshank.
9 Wigeon. 16 Pochards.
2 Goosanders. 1 Shoveler.
17 Woodcocks. 2 Teal.
2 White-fronted Geese. 36 Knots.
20 Tufted Ducks. Many small birds.
1 Shelduck.

It goes without saying that rare species soon change hands, the bulk of the commoner kinds going in hampers at night to Leadenhall Market.

Up to within recent years local gunners, except in the case of isolated intelligent sportsmen-naturalists, were so eager to shoot birds en gros, and were so ready to turn their victims into pence, that many rarities without doubt escaped notice, and were consigned to the cuisine. Many a scarce Sandpiper has been strung together with a parcel of Dunlins, and so spoiled for a specimen. On Sept. 8th, 1881, a gunner killed six Little Stints (Tringa minuta), and, taking them home, cooked them, ascertaining their identity almost immediately afterwards. It is on record that Lilly Wigg, an old-time Yarmouth naturalist, cooked and ate a Red-breasted Goose (Bernicla ruficollis), and did not even guess as to its species until the feathers afterwards attracted his attention.

During the first invasion of Pallas's Sand Grouse, a local gunner shot an example on the North Denes, taking it to a dealer named Watson (who in his day received many a rara avis), who gave him half-a-crown for it; one long tail-feather had been shot away. Watson offered him another half-crown if he would find the missing one, which he did. Another rural sportsman emptied a bag of common birds on a dealer's stall some years ago, "throwing in" a specimen he did not know, and so did not value it. It proved to be a Buff-backed Heron.

But to-day all the gunners are on the alert, as are the birdcatchers,[5] who, on securing a bird that in any degree differs from any they have before possessed, are careful to have an identification before disposing of it. In this way some rare Finches and other small birds have been detected, as the Serin Finch, Tawny Pipit, Scarlet Bullfinch, and others. The Warblers and other small Passeres were for long deemed scarcely significant enough for the attention of local observers. Unfortunately for themselves, their small size, agility of movement, and similarity of characteristics make their identification on the wing almost a matter of impossibility. Hence the growing inclination to shoot every unusually attired little stranger.

Of late years bird-value has been greatly enhanced by the eagerness for collecting specimens. Prices paid for local rarities have at times been very high. At the sale of the late Mr. Rising's collection of authenticated birds at Horsey, the following prices were realized:—

White-winged Black Tern 12 guineas.
Brown Snipe 13 ,,
Red-breasted Pochard 21½ ,,
Buffel-headed Duck 25 ,,
Spoonbills, ♂ and ♀ 10 ,,
Hoopoes, ♂ and ♀ 3 ,,

Before closing this introductory chapter, it remains to enumerate the names of several local men who have been conspicuous as ornithologists, sportsmen, and collectors.

In the earlier part of the century lived Charles Stuart Girdlestone, "whose union," say the Messrs. Paget, "of first-rate sporting accomplishments with the greatest ardour in the pursuit, gave him advantages which none here have since equalled." His birds passed into the hands of Mrs. Charles Baker, and have since been scattered. A Jack-Snipe was believed to be the only existing specimen, but Mr. B. Dye has a Stilt Plover, undoubtedly the same referred to by the Pagets as having been shot on the North River, which he purchased at the sale of the late Town Clerk, T.M. Baker's, effects. A Fork-tailed Petrel from the same collection is in the Yarmouth Tolhouse Museum. Lilly Wigg, who immortalized the Red-breasted Goose by eating it, is stated by the Pagets to have bought a Harlequin Duck[6] in the market, but recent naturalists do not think the occurrence sufficiently well established to entitle the species to a place in the list of Norfolk birds; and the same applies to the King-Eider[7] said to have been obtained by the same person. This species has been, however, identified from another part of the coast.

Mr. John Youell was "a great bird man"; his collection contained some choice specimens. He is mentioned by the Messrs. Pagets as having afforded considerable assistance in the compilation of their lists.

The Rev. C. Steward, Rector of Caister, whose name will remain associated with the first and for many years the only British-killed example of Steller's Duck (Somateria stelleri), presented to the Norwich Museum his collection of over a hundred specimens, including this Duck, a Purple Heron, and a Caspian Tern.

Mr. C.A. Preston obtained one of the earliest recorded Ferruginous Ducks (Fuligula nyroca), which was shot close by Giber's mill on the South Breydon wall, and which he submitted, when identified, to Paget, after whom the hybrid between this species and the Pochard has been designated—the Pagets' Pochard.

A Yarmouth grocer named Lucia[8] is mentioned as having been a familiar figure on Yarmouth beach, "where, gun in hand, he used to be a terror to the Gulls," of which he appears to have had a fine representative collection of species in their various stages of plumage.

John Smith,[9] Librarian at Yarmouth, also collected and kept records, but "has left but faint traces of his favourite pursuit."

Stephen Miller's collection contained many choice birds, which were sold in 1853. There were seventy-four lots, and amongst them were the Buffel-headed and Red-crested Ducks.[10] They produced what we should now consider very low prices— the rage for collecting had not then set in; but some of these birds, sold thirty years after at Mr. Rising's sale, produced the very high prices already mentioned.

Amongst other names associated with those "halcyon days" may be mentioned Frederick Frere, Henry Teasdel, John Dawson Turner, Joseph Tomlinson, J.G. Overend, and Robert Rising of Horsey. Mr. Overend's very representative collection was dispersed in June, 1876. There were ninety-six uncased lots, numbering one hundred and eighty specimens, which fetched ridiculously low prices. Mr. Rising's birds were sold at Horsey, September, 1885. There were one hundred and forty-two lots of well-authenticated birds, which realized about £340, several of the best of them ultimately going to the Norwich Museum and to the Connop collection.

Among local collections at the present time stands prominently that of Mr. E.M. Connop, of Rollesby Hall, which at the time of cataloguing by Mr. T. Southwell a few months since consisted of 434 cases, containing 336 species of birds; and among them may be mentioned Overend's White Stork, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black Stork, Greater Shearwater, Yellow-legged Gull, Little Bustard, and many others.

Mr. Fielding Harmer has choice birds, comprising a fine series of Breydon-killed Spoonbills, and several of the rarer Waders in nuptial attire, all obtained by him prior to the advent of the Bird Protection Acts. Mr. Bellin, Sen., has a locally killed Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, and other rare Terns. Mr. B. Dye, a blind baker ornithologist, still collects, and is the proud possessor of a fine female Spoonbill with a grand crest, the Pectoral Sandpiper, White-winged Tern, Fork-tailed Petrel, and a number of others; several of them were preserved by himself before his eyesight failed him. Nothing more delights him now than being left to identify any bird placed in his hands by feeling it. Mr. E.C. Saunders, who collects as well as preserves his own specimens, has had, among others killed in this neighbourhood, Norfolk Plovers, Black-throated Diver, Montagu's Harrier, Solitary Snipes, and others. Mr. G. Smith's name is associated with the first recorded examples of the Tawny Pipit, the White Wagtail, the Mediterranean Black-headed and Iceland Gulls and the Greater Shearwater, mention of which, with other rare occurrences, have been made at various times in the 'The Zoologist.' Mr. G.F.D. Preston has a grand Red-necked Phalarope in full summer plumage, and was the first to call attention to the increasing numbers of the Shore Lark visiting this locality, himself shooting several in 1876. He is the last of a family of local ornithologists of that name. The late Mr. E.T. Booth shot many of the choicest of his specimens, contained in the celebrated Brighton Museum, on Breydon, and on the sea off Yarmouth. Mr. W. Lowne, of Fuller's Hill, Yarmouth, taxidermist, should also be mentioned, as many of the rare birds noted in the subjoined list have passed through his hands, as have many in the county collections, noteworthy amongst them being Sabine's Gull (1881), White-tailed Eagle (1882), Manx Shearwater (1883), Roller (1883), Pallas's Sand Grouse (1888), Little Bustard (1889), Iceland Gull (1899), &c. Mr. H.C. Clark, of George Street, is the only other professional local birdstuffer.

The writer of these notes neither shoots nor collects, but has used eyes and field-glasses, and kept records of rare and interesting occurrences in local natural history for more than twenty years; and has helped in a small degree to found the Tolhouse Museum, which contains a number of cases of interesting birds.

The principal works relating to Yarmouth birds are as follow:

'An Account of the Birds found in Norfolk.' By Sir Thomas Browne, but not published till after his death in 1682. [Wilkin's Edition of his Works, vol. iv, pp. 313-324 (1835).][11]

"A Catalogue of Norfolk and Suffolk Birds, with Remarks." By the Rev. R. Sheppard and the Rev. W. Whitear. ['Transactions' of the Linnean Society, vol. xv. pp. 1-62, 1826.]

'Sketch of the Natural History of Yarmouth.' By C.J. and James (the late Sir James) Paget. [1834.]

'Observations on the Fauna of Norfolk.' By the Rev. R. Lubbock. [1845.] (A new edition, with additions from unpublished manuscripts of the author, and notes by T. Southwell, was published in 1879.)

"An Account of the Birds found in Norfolk," &c. By Messrs. J.H. Gurney and W.R. Fisher. [Published in 'The Zoologist' (1846, pp. 1300, 1373).]

'The Birds of Norfolk. With Remarks on their Habits, Migration, and Local Distribution.' 3 vols. By Henry Stevenson, F.L.S. [Vol. i. ii. published 1866 and 1870; vol. iii. being continued and completed by Mr. T. Southwell in 1890.]

"A List of all the Birds shot on Breydon Water up to 1890." By Mr. F. Harmer in P.H. Emerson's 'Wild Life on a Tidal Water.'

'Catalogue of the Birds of Suffolk,' &c. By the Rev. Churchill Babington. [Published 1884-86; contains much valuable matter relating to Yarmouth and Lowestoft.]

'Transactions' of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society, published yearly [1869-1899], contain many local references.

The pages of 'The Zoologist' founded and first edited by Edward Newman in 1843, are a perfect epitome of Norfolk zoology, having been the recognized medium for such records since its commencement to the present time. Annual "Ornithological Notes" in this Journal by Mr. J.H. Gurney include many local items forwarded to him by local observers during the last twenty years.

In conclusion, my best thanks are tendered to Messrs. J.H. Gurney and T. Southwell for assistance kindly rendered; and to Messrs. Durrant, Dye, Lowne, Preston, and Saunders for several dates of interesting occurrences with which they have supplied me.

(To be continued.)

  1. Vide Lubbock's 'Observations on the Fauna of Norfolk,' new ed. 1879, p. iii, Introduction, by T. Southwell, F.Z.S.
  2. Breydon, five miles long and one in width, is surrounded by a winding mound or dyke, faced with jagged flints and backed with grass, forming a triangular barrier. The rivers are similarly confined. The ditches formed by the soil removed drain the marshes, and are connected with a network of others. Steam drainage mills pour the surplus water over into the rivers. Hence, although the marshes grow drier year by year, they are always below the level of high water.
  3. For most interesting and graphic accounts of decoys and the methods of working them, see Stevenson's 'Birds of Norfolk,' and Lubbock's 'Observations on the Fauna of Norfolk,' new edit.
  4. My spare time and many nights are now spent on Breydon, to and from, and in my houseboat.
  5. The only net used by the few local bird-catchers is the clap-net.
  6. Vide Stevenson's 'Birds of Norfolk,' footnote in vol. iii. p. 219.
  7. Ibid. pp. 192, 384.
  8. Vide Trans. Norf. and Nor. Nat. Soc. vol. vi. p. 82.
  9. Ibid p. 81.
  10. Catalogue of Birds in the Collection of Mr. Connop.
  11. Thomas Browne on Norfolk Birds, in Wilkin ed. 1835, vol. 4, p. 313f.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1935, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.