The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 717/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries  (March, 1901) 
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 5, issue 717, p. 106–112



Robin in Shetland.—A specimen of Erithacus rubecula, which had been picked up dead on Mainland, Shetland, about a fortnight previously, was sent to me for identification on Feb. 13th, 1901. According to Saxby, the Robin is very rarely seen in the Shetlands; and the fact that it was unknown to my correspondent, who is well acquainted with the ordinary birds of the islands, bears this out. The specimen sent to me is probably a bird of the previous spring. The red of the throat and breast is bright, but rather pale, and of a yellowish shade.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Blackcap Singing in February.—On Feb. 15th, at 8.35 a.m., as I was passing a small clump of bushes in a Clifton garden, my attention was attracted by an unexpected song; and in the bush I saw a Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) singing softly, as though to himself. He flew across the road when he saw me standing close to him, but at nine o'clock I found him singing again in the same place. It was a cold frosty morning, but the sun was coming out brightly. Possibly Blackcaps not infrequently winter in this neighbourhood; I was able to report one last year, on March 12th (vol. iv. p. 187).—Herbert C. Playne (Clifton College).

Marsh-Warbler at Bath.—I do not know if attention has been called previously to the probability that the Marsh-Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) was in the habit of breeding at Bath (where several nests have been discovered more recently) nearly fifty years ago. Hewitson, in the third edition of his book ('Coloured Illustrations of the Eggs of British Birds'), which was issued in the years 1853-1856, in the article on the Reed-Warbler, writes:—".... until the last summer, during which Mr. Brown, a birdstuffer in Bath, procured for me several nests from gardens in that city, lying near the river. These were placed indiscriminately in any shrub most conveniently situated for the purpose; one was in a lilac, another in a laurustinus; and since in such a position the precaution was unnecessary [this is a mistaken idea, if the nests were Marsh-Warblers'], they were not of the usual depth which commonly characterizes the nests of this species. They were not deeper than the nests of the Sedge-Warbler, and were composed almost entirely of grass, with bits of moss bound together with wool and spiders' webs, finer towards the inside; in one only there were a few hairs." The second figure on plate xxxii., which Hewitson put forth at the time as representing an egg of the Reed-Warbler, is a fairly good representation of a Marsh-Warbler's egg. Hewitson was of course unaware of this at the time, and merely remarks that it is a good deal like some of the eggs of Sylvia orphea. But at the end of his introduction he adds the following paragraph:—"The egg which is drawn at fig. ii. plate xxxii. is not that of the Reed-Warbler, but of Salicaria palustris, a continental species. It was sent me by mistake, but will not inaptly represent some varieties which I have seen of eggs of our own British species." These italics are mine. It seems to me very likely that the eggs referred to in the italicized passage came out of the nests procured at Bath, which Hewitson regarded as aberrant Reed-Warblers' nests, but which, from the description given of them, more nearly resembled nests of the Marsh-Warbler.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Nutcracker in Sussex.—On Dec. 21st, 1900, a Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) was shot at Chilgrove, nearly seven miles to the north of Chichester, by J. Woods, Esq. The last recorded specimen in Sussex was obtained on Nov. 3rd, 1893, in Stockbridge fields, near Chichester (Zool. 1895, p. 310), where it is also stated that Mr. Borrer, in his 'Birds of Sussex,' mentions but a single example of this bird obtained in Sussex, namely, one shot at Littlington in September, 1844.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (Compton, Petersfield).

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus minor).—At 9 a.m. on Feb. 1st, 1901, I heard this bird repeatedly tapping in a chestnut-tree at some little distance from where I stood. The bird afterwards flew into a tree close to me, and uttered its curious Wryneck-like cry several times. Is it usual for this tapping sound to be heard during the winter? I see that the text-books state it is heard in the spring.—Oliver H. New (Evesham).

British-killed Egrets (Ardea garzetta).—In Loudon's 'Magazine of Natural History' for 1836, p. 599, Mr. J.C. Dale, of Glanvilles Wootton, in Dorsetshire, mentions that "at a sale of birds, &c., I attended in March, 1826, at Southampton, was an Egret (a fine specimen), lot 38, sold for £5 5s., probably shot near that place." Possibly this is the same specimen alluded to by Mr. Newstead (ante, p. 70), as the date is exactly the same, and the locality in Yorkshire may have been subsequently added to the label under the impression that it had been killed in that county. In the same year also a Great White Heron (Ardea alba) is said to have been shot at Hornsea, in Yorkshire ('Magazine of Natural History,' 1839, p. 31). J.H. Gurney (Keswick Hall, Norwich).

Hairy-plumaged Moor-hens.—During the last three years I have seen and examined five specimens of a singular variety of the Moor-hen (Gallinula chloropus). Two were caught on night-lines in the Severn, close to Shrewsbury; one shot at Wem, ten miles north of Shrewsbury; a fourth at Onslow, six miles west; the fifth in February last, at Plowden, twelve miles south. These localities are so far apart that the birds could hardly belong to one family; their exact similarity is therefore all the more remarkable. The back and all the upper parts are of a light yellowish brown, the under parts of a very light grey; the beak and legs of the normal colours, but slightly paler than usual. They are ugly birds—not nearly so pretty as ordinary Moor-hens. The most curious feature of the plumage is, however, the texture of the feathers. These, instead of having the pinnæ united into a compact web, have them all separate, especially on the exposed portion of each feather. The effect of this is that the bird looks as though it were clothed with hair rather than with feathers, just as in such flightless birds as the Emu and Apteryx. This defect—for it is a defect—extends even to the flight-feathers, so that the birds could not fly; the air would pass through the feathers as through a sieve. On examining the feathers by the microscope, I found that the barbs and booklets which in ordinary feathers cause the pinnæ to cling together into a compact web are almost entirely absent on the body feathers; whilst in the quill-feathers many of the pinnæ have barbs on one side, but no booklets to hold them together. The light colour of the birds is probably owing to the absence of the dark parts of the webs of the feathers—only the light-coloured shafts are present. The entire phenomenon strikes me as morbid and retrograde, yet all the specimens seemed healthy and in good condition. I had no opportunity of examining the viscera.—H.E. Forrest (Shrewsbury).

Early Jack-Snipe (Gallinago gallinula).—In support of Mr. H.S. Davenport's statement (ante, p. 31) that the Jack-Snipe, on first arriving, may be found in unlikely places, I write to say that towards the end of September or beginning of October, 1896 (I think), I flushed two birds of this species on the links here, and about that time I saw another which a local gunner had shot near the same place. I regret the present inaccessibility of my notes prevents me from giving the exact dates, but on my return to Kent these will be forthcoming if necessary.—A.H. Meiklejohn (Kinloch House, St. Andrews).

Notes on Bird-Life from Redcar and District.—On Jan. 10th, 1901, a fine adult female example of the Stone Curlew (Œdicnemus crepitans) was shot on the beach here. On the 12th of the same month I procured an adult female Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) in winter dress on the river Tees. In January I had an adult male Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) sent to me for examination. Its remains have been mounted for Mr. T.J. Wallace, of Richmond, who shot the bird near Northallerton, Yorkshire. During the last two months we have been visited by large flocks of Common Scoters, and small companies of Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks; I have handled four immature specimens of the last named species. Many Little Auks and Puffins have been picked up dead or in an exhausted condition during the past few weeks.—Stanley Duncan (Redcar, Yorks).

The Origin and Meaning of the Names of British Birds.—Referring to Mr. Meiklejohn's communication on this subject (ante, p. 72), it does not seem to be by any means certain that there is any real connection between poke (=to thrust) and poke or poche (=a bag), whence we probably get poacher. Mr. H.T. Wharton stated that "Pochard is the bird that 'poaches,' that is, treads into the mire, as cattle do" (Zool. 1882, p. 446). We use the word "poach" in this sense in Oxon; and I have heard a word potch used to denote a falling into anything with a splash. Thus you may go potch into a puddle or a boggy place. I do not know if this is anything more than a slang word, but it is expressive. It is just possible (if this is an old word) that the Pochard may have been thought to potch into the water more than some other kinds of ducks. A bunch of Pochards certainly do make a great splash sometimes when they alight. But I do not wish to press this idea. It does not run in with "Poker." I am curious to know the ground for the suggestion that the name Pochard at first referred to the Wigeon (Zool. 1900, p. 514). By none of the early authors to whose works I have been able to refer is the Wigeon called Pochard, although the Pochard has been called Red-headed Wigeon. Unless Mr. Meiklejohn can show that the Welsh Gwilym (=a Guillemot) is the same word as the Welsh Gwylan (=a Gull; Breton gwelan, goulen, or goelann; Cornish guilan or gullan)—which is not likely—he will find it difficult to sustain his contention that the guille in Guillemot is the same word as gull. Ray (1674) has Guilliam for Guillemot; and Martin (1698) says that this bird is called "by the Welch a Guillem." Prof. Newton calls attention to the resemblance between the French Guillemot and Guillaume, and between the English "Willock" (a local name for the Guillemot) and William. Whether Guillemot is a French manufactured word or not, the first part of it at all events is undoubtedly cognate with, if not derived from, the Welsh Gwilym. It does not seem reasonable to suppose that the French called the Guillemot a "gull-gull," which would be the meaning of a Celtic-Teutonic compound of gwelan+mouette or goeland+mouette. I think that Nuthatch really does mean Nut-cracker (in the sense of Nut breaker). Hack (hak) means to cut, chop, or mangle. You cannot properly be said to hack a thing unless you cut into it, indent it, break it, or break a part off it. To "hack at" (p. 73) may be quite another thing. A bird may "hack at a nut, which may or may not be cracked by the blow." This is true; but if the nut is broken by the bird, then it has been hacked. The Nuthatch habitually breaks nuts.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Note on the Weight and Specific Gravity of some Common Eggs.—It is with diffidence and some hesitation that I record the following details of some few eggs that I have weighed, and of which I have also taken the specific gravity, during the past egg season. It is very probable that the average weights of the eggs of the commoner species have been already recorded, and it is difficult for the dweller in the country, with few opportunities of consulting the literature of a subject, to be aware of what has been done. He is therefore restricted to the recording of facts of observation honestly, and with the greatest care and accuracy of which he is capable; and he must leave to those with larger material and better opportunities for reference at their command the deductions which may be drawn from the facts which he has put on record. This is perhaps the less to be regretted when one recognises the danger, so difficult to avoid, of being more or less unconsciously influenced by the exigencies of an imperfectly formed theory while recording the facts which may or may not support it.

The weighings given below were made on a chemical balance turning with ·001 gramme, and may be taken as accurate. The specific gravities must not be taken as absolute, but are accurate when compared inter se, the source of error being the weight and specific gravity of the fine india-rubber ring and thread used to support the egg while being weighed in water. It would doubtless have been desirable to have weighed a clutch of each species, but this was impossible in the time at my disposal; in two instances, however—Turdus merula and Vanellus vanellus—three eggs from the same nest were dealt with, and it will be seen that the variation in weight and specific gravity is very noticeable. Again, if the weights of eggs of the same species are to be compared, they should perhaps be weighed at the same age, though whether any appreciable change takes place until after the bird has begun to sit regularly is doubtful. In all the cases given, except three—Alauda arvensis, A. phragmitis, and Sylvia sylvia—the eggs were taken before the whole clutch was laid, and in none except the last named had the process of incubation apparently commenced. With these exceptions, however, the specific gravities may be taken as comparable. It was, of course, to be expected that the weights of eggs even from the same nest would vary, but the considerable variation in the specific gravities was unexpected, and may perhaps be partly due to a varying amount of salts in the shell and contents of the egg, caused by a greater or lesser amount of lime in the diet of the parent during the time the eggs are being matured; or it may possibly be partly due to difference of sex, which is probably determined before the egg is laid, as it is difficult to suppose that the process of incubation can determine sex.

Zoologist4th series, vol 5 135.jpg

Herbert Fortescue Fryer (The Priory, Chatteris).

Weights of Birds.—The following birds were shot in Sussex, Kent, or Berkshire, and weighed by me in the flesh; so that I can answer for the weights being correctly enumerated. Nearly all the rarer species belong to me, and are now being exhibited at the Reading Museum:—

1894.—May 5th. Dunlins, 1 oz. 1 drachm; 1 oz. 2 drachms; 1 oz. 6 drachms.

July 1st. Avocet, 9½ oz. 3rd. 10½ oz.

Aug. 20th. Crossbill, 1¼ oz.

Sept. 13th. Oystercatcher, 1 lb,; Knot, 4 oz. 17th. Merlin, 7 oz. 1 drachm.

Oct. 22nd. Sheldrake (young), 2 lb. 6 oz. 28th. Peregrine (immature female), 2¾ lb.

Nov. 10th. Shoveller (male), 1 lb. 3 oz. 16th. Avocet, 9 oz.

Dec. 27th. Merganser (female), 1 lb. 10 oz. 31st. Great Northern Diver (starved, immature), 6 lb.

1895.— Jan. 7th. Norfolk Plover, 1 lb. 5½ oz. 23rd. Wild Duck, 2 lb.; ditto (female), 2 lb. 2 oz. 16th. Little Auk, 4 oz.

Feb. 1st. Little Auk, 3 oz. 7 drachms. 11th. Velvet Scoter (male), 3½ lb.; (female), 2¾ lb. 18th. Whooper, 16 lb. 19th. Ditto, 28 lb.; Red-throated Diver, 5 lb. 5 oz. 24th. Guillemots, 2 lb. 12 oz. 2 lb. 7 oz.

April 19th. Hoopoe, 3 oz.

May 4th. Bar-tailed Godwit (male), 8½ oz.; VVhimbrel (heaviest of five 1 lb. 2 oz., lightest of five 12 oz.); Bar-tailed Godwit (male), 8 oz. 6th. Black-tailed Godwit (female), 10 oz.; male ditto, not quite 9 oz.

June 14th. Kentish Plover (male and female), 2 oz. each. 30th. Little Crake, barely 2 oz.

Oct. 18th. Red-necked Phalarope, 1 oz. 19th. Spotted Crake, 3½ oz.

Nov. 2nd. Mute Swan (immature), 14 lb.

1896.—Feb. 1st. Guillemot (full summer plumage), 4 lb. 3 oz. 3rd. Red-throated Diver, 4 lb. 14 oz. 4th. Buzzard (male), 3 lb. 25th. Goosander (male), 4¼ lb.; Hen-Harrier (female), 1 lb.

March 3rd. Marsh-Harrier (female), 1 lb. 5 oz.

Sept. 5th. Osprey (male), 2 lb. 9 oz.

Oct. 5th. Grey Phalarope, 1 oz. 1 drachm.

Nov. 12th. Little Grebe, 6 oz. 24th. Eared Grebe, 9 oz.

Dec. 5th. Gadwall (hen), 2 lb. ½ oz. 6th. Smew (female), 15 oz. 8th. Cormorant (young male), 6 lb.

1897.—Jan. 3rd. Black Scoter, 1 lb. 15 oz. 7th. Puffin, 7½ oz. 13th. Great Black-backed Gulls, 2 lb. 13 oz., 3 lb. 9 oz.

Feb. 8th. Sclavonian Grebes, 12 oz., 11 oz., 13 oz. 14th. Great Crested Grebe, 2 lb. 2 oz. 26th. Peregrine, 1¾ lb.

March 29th. Great Crested Grebe, 1 lb. 14 oz.

Aug. 11th. Little Gull, 4½ oz.

Sept. 24th. Roller (female), 5 oz.

1898.—March 1st. Great Crested Grebe, 1 lb.

April 25th. Common Geese, 10 lb. 7 oz, 8 lb. 8 oz.

Nov. 19th. French Partridge, 1 lb. 2 oz.

Dec. 16th. Garganey (young male), 11 oz.

1899.—Jan. 18th. Bittern, 2 lb. 7 oz.

1900.—Jan. 15th. Common Gull (immature), 1 lb. 7½ oz. 17th. Smew (young male?), 13 oz. 31st. Kittiwake, 10 oz.

Feb. 16th. Great Crested Grebe (female), 1 lb. 14 oz. 21st. Ditto (male), 2 lb. 7 oz. 22nd. Wigeon (male), 1 lb. 9½ oz.; Pochard (male), 2 lb. 6¼ oz.; Golden-eye (male), 2 lb. ¼ oz.

May 1st. Cuckoo, 4½ oz.—George W. Bradshaw (54 London Street, Reading).