The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 718/Notes and Queries

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

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 5, issue 718, p. 153–160

NOTES AND QUERIES.


MAMMALIA.

Observations on the Noctule (Pipistrellus noctula).—In the interesting observations of my friend Mr. C. Oldham upon this species (ante, p. 51), he says that "it may be that the period of activity is not limited to a short vespertinal flight of from one to two hours, and the Bats leave their den again before daylight; but I do not think so," giving such conclusions from the actions of a Noctule when in captivity. Personally it had not occurred to me but that a matinal as well as a vespertinal flight was at least not uncommon, but, owing to the early hours in summer when such observations have to be made, it requires more than an ordinary enthusiast for the purpose; hence it is probable that two instances only recur to my memory. Of these two specimens were observed some years ago flying through the glades of one of the woods in Warwickshire during the early hours of the morning; and in the other instance I can refer to a note taken at the time— "Tempsford, Bedfordshire, 25th May, 1893, about 4 a.m., several Noctules observed on the wing." These, I well remember, were taking one direct line of flight, evidently returning to their sleeping quarters.—J. Steele-Elliott (Clent, Worcestershire).

Bank-Vole in Sussex.—I send you a small animal which was killed in my garden to-day (March 16th). It appears to me to be a Bank-Vole (Microtus glareolus); if such is the case, perhaps the record thereof in 'The Zoologist' may be of interest, as I do not see many occurrences noted in Sussex.—H. Marmaduke Langdale (The Vicarage, Compton, Petersfield).

[The specimen has been duly received, and is undoubtedly Microtus glareolus.Ed.]

Black Rat in Great Yarmouth.—During the past winter the Black Rat (Mus rattus) has made itself exceedingly obnoxious to several provision dealers in the town. Many have been killed by traps, dogs, and cats, but the survivors profit by the lesson, and occasionally shift their quarters, or refuse to be captured. After receiving several last February, with two or three of the subspecies Mus alexandrinus, the supply suddenly ceased at a certain grocer's stores, and the Brown Rat (M. decumanus) made its appearance. The Black Rats had apparently fled, and were swarming in a neighbouring dwelling. At two or three stores I have lately been shown rows of empty jam-jars, as clean-licked as if legitimately emptied and washed, the thin covering being no protection.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).

AVES.

Robin in Shetland.—I find that the Robin I recorded (ante, p. 106) was not picked up dead, but flew into a fish-curing establishment during a north-west gale, with snow, and died after being kept in a cage for two days. My informant adds that a pair of Redbreasts nested in a garden at Scalloway four years ago, and that he saw the birds and eggs; the latter appeared to be a little larger and whiter in ground colour than Twite's eggs.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

I note that a specimen of the Redbreast (Erithacus rubecula) was picked up on Mainland, Shetland (ante, p. 106). Though by no means common, this little favourite may be seen here every winter, perhaps tempted by the plantation close to the house to remain, in spite of our inhospitable climate.—T. Edmondston Saxby (Halligarth, Unst, Shetland).

Variety of Pied Wagtail (Motacilla lugubris).—At the end of last August a peculiar variety of this pretty species was obtained not far from Ringwood, on the Dorset border. At a casual glance it appears to be of a uniform dirty creamy white, but on closer inspection it is seen that the upper parts are darkest, especially the crown of the head; belly dirty white, with an indistinct yellowish patch on breast. All the larger feathers both of wings and tail have white shafts, rendered more conspicuous by the adjoining filaments being darker, shading almost to white on the edges. Outer tail-feathers pure white as usual. Legs and beak pale brown, eyes normal.—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Nesting of the Jackdaw.—Mr. Steele-Elliott (ante, p. 70) calls attention to an instance of Corvus monedula building open nests in spruce-firs. In this district, strange to say, the exception just quoted is not by any means uncommon, and a large number of the local birds repair yearly to the spruce-plantations for the purpose of breeding. Many of these "rookeries" are of considerable size, and contain, some of them, from forty to eighty pairs of birds. The nests—for the most part compact and strongly built—are placed about three-quarter-way up the tree, and, as a pair will use the same nest for many consecutive seasons, the accumulation of sticks and rubbish is often enormous—sufficient, in many instances, to fill a large wheelbarrow. In the case of these larger nests, the hollow in which the eggs are laid is of great depth, but is comparatively shallow if the nest happens to be of recent construction. In the early spring the Long-eared Owl will often make use of one of these nests, and rear its young in the midst of the chattering colony. A still more remarkable divergence from the usual nesting habits of Corvus monedula can be seen in a heronry not far from St. Andrews. In this case the Jackdaws, by fair means or foul, have taken possession of many of the Herons' nests, which are built near the top of some very tall larches. When I last visited the place the Herons had, most of them, disappeared—partly owing to many of the nesting trees having been blown down, and partly, I suppose, to the unwarrantable invasion of their quarters by the Jackdaws. I am aware that Jackdaws do occasionally use the lower part of a large Rook's (or even Heron's) nest as a breeding-site, but I have never heard of another instance of actual appropriation such as I have just given.—A.H. Meiklejohn (Kinloch House, St. Andrews, N.B.).

The Early Life of the Young Cuckoo.—The early stages in the lifehistory of the young Cuckoo are, as is well known, very interesting, and I hope the following authentic particulars may be found of interest and service:—The egg was found in a Hedge-Sparrow's nest at Potton End, Hemel Hempstead, Herts, on May 17th, 1900. The nest was placed at the bottom of a large disused gravel-pit, overgrown with furze, broom, and brambles, and was about eighteen inches from the ground. It contained three eggs of the Hedge-Sparrow and one of the Cuckoo. On May 29th the Cuckoo and two of the foster-parent's eggs were found to be hatched, and the young Cuckoo was observed to be asserting himself conspicuously even at such an early age. Only two days had elapsed (May 31st) before the young Cuckoo started, and finished, the shovelling-out process. One egg and one young Hedge-Sparrow had just been toppled out of the nest by the Cuckoo with the aid of its hollow back, which is so well suited for this purpose. The remaining young one could not be found high or low, and one wonders whether the voracious young culprit devoured it, or whether the foster-parents carried it away from the nest? The nest was next visited on June 11th, when the Cuckoo was about fourteen days old. It had made great progress since the last day of May, and the small nest of the bird under whose care it had been placed was quite insufficient to hold it comfortably. Three days after our last visit (June 14th) we found the Cuckoo out of the nest and screeching, when it was about seventeen days old. We thus arrive at the following interesting information:—

May 17th.—Nest found containing Cuckoo's egg and three Hedge-Sparrow's eggs.

May 29th.—Cuckoo's and two of the Hedge-Sparrow's eggs hatched.

May 31st.—Cuckoo ejected the other occupants of nest. One young Hedge-Sparrow missing altogether.

June 11th.—Cuckoo the sole occupant of nest, and fully fledged.

June 14th.—Cuckoo out of the nest and screeching.

It may be interesting to state that I have a series of excellent photographs illustrating the various stages described above, which will be subsequently published.—W. Percival Westell (St. Albans, Herts).

Varieties of the Dunlin (Tringa alpina).—Referring to the communication upon this subject by Mr. J. Backhouse (ante, p. 91), as far as I have been able to ascertain, no Dunlins of the larger variety stay in our part (North Yorkshire district) to breed. In 1899 I found a clutch of four eggs of Tringa alpina on the south bank of the River Tees, this being the only occurrence recorded of the Dunlin breeding there. The parent birds belonging to this nest were, I found, those of the smaller variety. For years I have sought to procure in this district an example of the large variety in good summer plumage, but have hitherto failed to do so. In early August I have shot, on the Humber, the Tees, and the Northumberland coast, several Dunlins, but invariably found them all of the small form, which is known to breed with us. Towards the latter end of August I have obtained the large form of Dunlin, which had by that time lost most of its summer plumage. A good specimen of the small variety in summer plumage can be readily procured on the coast in spring, but the large forms seem to leave us before they attain their full nuptial dress. I am, of course, aware that a very considerable range exists in the quality of the summer plumage of shore-birds, and also of the exceptions which occasionally take place. For instance, I have in my collection a Golden Plover in perfect summer dress, which was shot Feb. 22nd, 1900; and also a Grey Plover in full breeding plumage, shot Sept. 2nd, 1899. Both these birds were procured near the River Tees. The disappearance of the larger variety of the Dunlin during the months of June and July seems to lead many people to suppose that with us in Yorkshire they are only migratory. I have found several nests of the Dunlin on the uplands of the North of England, and from close observations always observed them to belong to the smaller race. Out of the individual Dunlins found on the Yorkshire coast during June and July, I have never been able to observe a single representative of the large form.—Stanley Duncan (Redcar, Yorks).

Wildfowl on the Hampshire Avon during the Winter of 1900-1.—That the number as well as variety of Wildfowl frequenting this neighbourhood have decreased, when compared with many years ago, is an undoubted fact. The comparative mildness of some winters is perhaps one of the causes for this decrease, but other agencies must considerably help in the diminution. It matters not what the temperature of the season may be, the immense flocks of Wigeon and Teal are never seen as they were formerly, and some species, as the Goosander and Pochard, are usually absent altogether; the former beautiful species was never abundant, but the latter was once killed in some numbers. It is true the Teal, years ago, often nested in the Forest or in the valley of the Avon, but not in such numbers as to produce the enormous flocks which used to "swish" over one's head in the winter twilight; and I recollect an old sportsman once killing six Pintails at a single shot. No doubt the population has grown in the immediate neighbourhood, and we are well aware that bricks and mortar are not conducive to the presence of Wildfowl; and it may be that the lights at eventide from the various habitations which have sprung up along the seaboard from Bournemouth to Lymington often scare away the sea-loving species, and prevent them from ascending the river as they formerly did. It must not, however, be inferred from the foregoing remarks that Wildfowl generally have become scarce—only in a comparative sense—except with one or two particular species; and even if the mildness or severity of the weather be taken into account, no hard and fast line can be drawn, as some species are very uncertain in their occurrences, under what may be thought favourable circumstances—the Bittern is a case in point. Although such species as the Shoveler and Pochard are irregular in their visits, yet both are said to occasionally nest in the locality—in fact, last summer a pair of Shovelers were observed in two different places throughout the season, and yet, strange to say, I knew of but one (a female) having been killed during the whole winter upon the part of the river of which I am writing; whereas in the corresponding season of 1899-1900 I heard of at least a dozen having been shot. As far as I am aware, not a single Bittern was seen in this immediate neighbourhood, where in the previous winter, I am sorry to say, several were slaughtered.

The season just ended has been rather exceptional, as the following list will show; but it must be borne in mind that a considerable number of the Wild Duck (Anas boscas) and its allied varieties were reared by hand, and set free when able to take care of themselves, which no doubt helped to swell the numbers of that particular species, although many of them wandered to other parts of the river and were killed. The portion of the river about which I more particularly write would, in its windings, include some four miles of water, and the following species were shot, viz.:—Wild Duck, 700; Wigeon, 102; Teal, 94; Tufted Duck, 8; Golden-eye, 1 male (immature); Pintail, 1 male; Gadwall, 1 female; Goosander, 1 male (immature); Coot, 143; Moor-hen, 74; Snipe, 45. On another shooting a little farther down the river representatives of most, if not all, of the above species were met with, besides a few flocks of Pochards, from which several birds were killed, and at least two female Smews, and one female Shoveler, which I saw; and I am informed of some kind of Diver, possibly a Red-throated, having been shot, and four or five "Wild Geese" being seen, but I know not of what species; and I have been unable to obtain statistics of the other species killed on this shooting. Of the more uncommon species, most of those killed were, as is usual, in immature dress; but a few of the Pochards were especially fine, both in flesh and feather. Consequent upon the presence of the Wildfowl several Peregrine Falcons were in attendance, and I was told that on one of the day's shooting three of these noble birds were visible at the same time, and, I need not say, that death was meted out to two or three during the season. As a proof how tenaciously this bird will cling to a spot where food is abundant, the following fact will illustrate:—In the early part of the season a Peregrine Falcon was observed on various occasions taking toll of the Teal, &c., and eventually it was caught in a trap placed near a partly devoured quarry; the Falcon, however, managed to escape, leaving one of its legs in the trap, broken high up into the feathered portion. But with all its mutilation it still haunted the same locality, and some six weeks or two months later, when the "stump"-leg was completely healed, it was shot almost on the same spot as it had been trapped. It does seem a sin to kill these grand birds, for who that has seen one dash like "a bolt from the blue" amongst a flock of Teal in mid-air, when the word "scatter" is weak to describe the commotion; or watched the manner in which the Falcon tries to prevent its quarry, be it Duck or Teal, from descending into the stream below—who, I say, can forget the occurrence, although the drama was performed in less time than it takes to describe it?—G.B. Corbin (Ringwood, Hants).

Rare Birds in Nottinghamshire.—Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor): When driving over the forest to Edwinstowe, on March 13th, I saw a Shrike on a thorn-bush in the heather, and, as it was under one hundred yards, Mr. Aplin and myself had a good view of it through our glasses. On leaving the carriage and walking towards it, it flew to another bush, and again to another; it had a low dipping flight.

Snow-Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis): Within two hundred yards from seeing the Shrike, we almost drove over a very beautiful specimen of this bird; the horse was within a few yards before it rose, when its beautifully marked plumage attracted our notice. We watched it for some time feeding on the road; it moved by short runs, then a shuffling sort of run-hop, it was very tame, and at last flew round the carriage and settled on the road behind. This is the first Snow-Bunting I have seen alive in this county.

Goosanders (Mergus merganser): The same afternoon we saw, amongst other Ducks on Thoresby Lake, seven of these fine Ducks, three of which were old males in grand plumage. I might add that there were many hundreds of Ducks, &c., on this fine sheet of water, which comprises ninety acres in the middle of a two-thousand-acre Deer-park.—J. Whitaker (Rainworth Lodge, Notts).

Weights of Birds.—Mr. Bradshaw's notes upon the weights of birds (ante, pp. 111, 112) are very interesting. I have from time to time made note of birds more than usually heavy; some of these are as follows: —

September, 1880.—Great Snipe, 7 oz., 7¼ oz., and 7½ oz. (Lubbock, 'Fauna of Norfolk,' mentions one of 10 oz.) Very poor example in Sept. 1900, 5 oz.

November, 1881.—Grey Plover, 10 oz. Lapwing, 10 oz. Common Snipe, 5 oz. (I weighed another, Nov. 1891, 6¼ oz.). Woodcock, 11 oz. (I weighed another, Jan. 1890, 15 oz.).

December, 1899.— Curlew, 2 lb. 4 oz. (ante, p. 104).

December, 1900.—Golden Plover, 9½ oz.

December, 1899.— Stock-Dove, 15½ oz. (cf. Zool. 1900, p. 534).—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).

REPTILIA.

Notes on the Leopard Snake in Confinement.—For the last twelve months I have had in my possession a specimen of the Leopard Snake (Coluber leopardinus). Although declared by most people who are interested in Snakes to be a shy feeder, and also a delicate species, my specimen has up to the present proved quite the reverse. I thought during the present winter I would allow it to hibernate; so about the end of October, during a spell of rather severe weather, I packed it away, together with a number of English Ringed Snakes (Tropidonotus natrix) and an Æsculapian Snake (Coluber æsculapii), and placed them in a rather cool situation. In a month's time I unpacked them to see if hibernation had taken place, and found it had done so in the case of the Ringed Snakes and the Æsculapian, but the Leopard Snake still seemed quite lively. As the weather was now milder, I placed it in a vivarium, and supplied it with water, of which it drank freely. All through the winter it has been in a room, in which there is no fire or any kind of artificial heat of any sort; but, although we have had spells of very severe weather, it has not hibernated, and most of the time has remained in a lively condition. During the last five months it has not eaten anything, though I have seen it drinking several times. Its food during last summer consisted of tame Mice, of which it has eaten sixteen or eighteen, the largest meal consisting of four half-grown Mice. Its last meal, which consisted of two Mice, it disgorged about five days afterwards. In most cases the Mice were held in the coils till dead, but on several occasions they were eaten alive. The first time I saw it feed it constricted one Mouse, and held it in its coils whilst it caught and devoured a second one, which was swallowed alive. During the time it has been in my possession it has changed its skin twice at intervals of seven or eight weeks; in each case the cuticle was cast entire. My specimen is very gentle and tame, never attempting to bite; and, as far as my own experience goes, this species seems to be a very suitable inmate of a vivarium.—B.J. Horton (Sparkbrook, Birmingham).

PISCES.

Notes from Great Yarmouth.—Since the practical failure of the local trawling industry our fish-wharf has offered few attractions for the ichthyologist. Very few smacks now land fish here—indeed much of the fish on sale in the local shops is brought to Yarmouth viâ Lowestoft, some of our fishmongers finding it answers their purpose better to proceed thither. On May 5th, 1900, I caught on Breydon a "double" Flounder (Pleuronectes flesus), corresponding exactly with the figure given by Couch (vol. iii. p. 197). The fins, curiously enough, were spotted with red, after the fashion of a Plaice. Both sides were dark brown in colour. A beautiful green variety of the Ballan Wrasse (Labrus maculatus) was landed on the fish-wharf, June 11th, 1900. During the Herring fishery but few strangers were observed, two Porbeagles (Lamna cornubica), of moderate size, being the most conspicuous. A 22-lb. Salmon, out of season, but in fine condition, rolled itself up in the Herring-nets, and was brought to port on Oct. 13th. A Lump Sucker (Cyclopterus lumpus) was taken on a hook—an unusual circumstance—in the harbour on Oct. 14th. Some of the Herrings imported from Norway run very large, but are unpleasantly bony and indifferent eating. I saw one on Dec. 5th measuring 15½ in.; three others of similar length on Dec. 11th. One, 15 in. long, was 7½ in. in girth, and weighed 14½ oz. A 16-in. "double" Brill (Rhombus lævis) was brought in early in January, 1901, the eye-notch being well formed; and a normally shapen but double-coloured Smeared Dab (Pleuronectes microcephalus). A 12-in. example of the Streaked Gurnard (Trigla lineata) was procured on Feb. 18th. It is astonishing how large a prey the Whiting dares attempt to commandeer. Noticing the tail of a Whiting protruding from the mouth of another, I pulled the victim out, and laid them side by side, measuring them individually at 9½ in. and 7¾ in. This was on March 5th. On March 21st I was asked to settle a dispute relative to the identity of a "sea-monster" brought in by a fishing-smack. It was the ugliest example of a Conger-Eel (Conger vulgaris) I ever saw; its "dead-green" eyes contrasting against its dark-skinned carcase gave it a most repulsive appearance. I found it to measure about 7 ft. 6 in., with a weight of 92 lb. The thickest part of the body was as big round as an ordinary bucket. This is the largest example brought into Yarmouth of which I have any record. Some 9-in. "spring" Herrings brought in about the middle of March contained well-developed roes.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).