The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 727/Notes and Queries
NOTES AND QUERIES.
Materials of Dormouse's Nest.—Examination of a large number of nests has proved that in this neighbourhood the nests are constructed of honeysuckle-bark—long coarse strips outside, fine threads inside. Occasionally dead leaves are added, but no grass. The nests are never far from where there are clumps of honeysuckle growing. As the dead bark would hardly be obtainable in quantity till the fall of the year, does not this fact lend colour to the suggestion made by Mr. T. Vaughan Roberts, that Muscardinus avellanarius usually litters in autumn, not in spring, as so generally supposed? That such a question should arise shows once more how little we know as to the "family affairs" of our familiar native mammals.—H.E. Forrest (Shrewsbury).
Wood-Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix) in the Isle of Man.—On May 29th last, when visiting Rhenass Glen, I listened for some time to the familiar song of this bird. The plantation, which is a comparatively new one (probably formed about sixty years ago), seems very suitable to the habits of this species, and I have no doubt that at least one pair was nesting there. I think this bird has not been noticed in the Isle of Man before.—Frank S. Graves (Ballamoar, Alderley Edge).
Marsh-Warbler in Somerset.—I was pleased to see from Mr. Horsbrugh's note (Zool. 1901, p. 472) that the Marsh-Warbler (Acrocephalus palustris) is in evidence as a breeding species in the neighbourhood (presumably) of Martock. During the years 1888 to 1892 I came across several nests about seven or eight miles from Martock (cf. Zool. 1889, p. 450), and previous to that it was known to breed near Bath and Taunton. I have not visited in the nesting season the precise locality where I met with it since 1892, but doubtless it is still to be found there, and possibly in increasing numbers. At all events, it is satisfactory to learn from another observer that it is to be found breeding only a few miles off.—Robert H. Read (Bedford Park, London, W.).
Differences between immature Blue-headed and ordinary Yellow Wagtails.—Can any reader give some definite characteristics to distinguish immature birds of the Blue-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava) from those of the ordinary Yellow Wagtail (M. campestris)? Mr. Howard Saunders, in his 'Manual,' apparently regards the white eyestripe as the distinguishing feature of M. flava. Dr. Bowdler Sharpe describes this eye-stripe as "tawny buff," and winds up with the statement that "young birds of M. flava are scarcely distinguishable from those of M. campestris." During the last three autumnal migrations I have paid considerable attention to the point, and it would be interesting to see if the experience of others in any way coincides with my own. In September, 1899, I was looking out for M. flava amongst some flocks of M. campestris on the Norfolk coast. I scrutinized these flocks daily through strong glasses, and at last encountered a bird which struck me at once as being different to the ordinary run. Seen at a distance, it appeared darker above, especially about the head. I shot it and set it up, and may mention that a good judge, who saw it, momentarily took it for a Grey Wagtail. I showed it afterwards to Mr. J.H. Gurney and Mr. Southwell at Norwich, both of whom agreed that it was a specimen of M. flava. The eye-stripe was light tawny buff, and the throat white; the upper parts of the head and back dark greenish grey, not brownish. Against this darker ground the light margins of the wing-coverts and tertiaries showed up more than in M. campestris. In September, 1900, I was at Aldeburgh, and Yellow Wagtails were abundant on Thorpe Mere. I shot one or two to compare with my Norfolk bird, but once only saw anything to remind me of it; and this bird I failed to secure. Last year I was again in Norfolk, and came across a Wagtail which, as it ran, reminded me of the 1899 bird. I shot it, and have since compared the two. The later one agrees exactly in the hue of its upper parts and dark head; the eye-stripe is ill-defined but light, while the throat, though light, is certainly not so white as in the former bird, but has a yellowish tinge, especially at the sides. Still, comparing them with my Yellow Wagtail, I believe that they are both specimens of M. flava, and would suggest that the real difference between the two species at this age lies in the different hue of the upper parts, especially the head. The natural fading of a stuffed bird will doubtless soon reduce both eyestripe and throat to white, and I cannot help thinking that these distinctive marks have in consequence been overrated, and that M. flava is a commoner bird in autumn than has been supposed; but that, as in the case of the Marsh-Warbler, an eye to variation in the shade of colour is the main requisite for its detection. In the Pied Wagtail many of the parts that are white in the adult are suffused with yellow in the immature bird. May not the same be the case with the eyestripe and throat of M. flava?—E.C. Arnold (The Close, Winchester).
Red-throated Pipit in Sussex.—I happened to be in the shop of Mr. G. Bristow, taxidermist, of St. Leonards, on the morning of Nov. 30th last, when a Pipit was brought in (in the flesh), which we believed to be Anthus cervinus. After the bird was mounted I sent it to Dr. Bowdler Sharpe at the British Museum, who kindly confirmed our identification. The bird was shot in a garden at Ninfield, Sussex, on Nov. 26th, 1901. It proved on dissection to be a female. It was exhibited at the meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club on Dec. 18th, 1901, by Mr. Howard Saunders.—L.A. Curtis Edwards (31, Magdalen Eoad, St. Leonards-on-Sea).
Waxwings at Great Yarmouth.—During the latter part of November, 1901, Waxwings (Ampelis garrulus) were unusually numerous in the neighbourhood of Yarmouth. Mr. Lowne, taxidermist, had over a dozen for preservation. The majority seemed to be immature birds. A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).
The Tree-Sparrow in Cardiganshire.—While nothing is definitely known of this species (Passer montanus) in Western Wales beyond the certainty of its being uncommon, there is a strong probability that it has often been overlooked. I met with it for the first time in this district on Dec. 20th last, when I clearly identified four individuals, which were feeding with Chaffinches, Greenfinches, and a Bramblefinch in a stackyard at Clarach, about a mile north of this town. — J.H. Salter (Aberystwyth).
Nutcracker in Herefordshire.—A specimen of the Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) was obtained in September not many miles from Hereford, and is now to be seen in the Cardiff Museum. There are reasons for not giving the exact place. So far as I can learn, the species has not been recorded from any of the neighbouring counties. H.E. Forrest (Shrewsbury).
Great Black Woodpecker.—At the beginning of December I noticed a letter in the natural history column of a local weekly paper, written by a gentleman from Kington, Herefordshire, and entitled "A Strange Bird." From reading the contents I conclude that the writer has had the good fortune to see a specimen of Picus martius, whose claim to a place in the list of British Birds is much disputed. The following is a copy of the letter:—"On Sunday morning, Nov. 24th, my wife and a lady visitor called my attention to the peculiar movements of a bird on the trunk of a large sycamore in our grounds at the front of the house. In size and colour it looked like a Crow, but its beak was longer, and I could not reconcile the Woodpecker habits to such a large and wellknown bird. We watched it for some time going round and round the trunk, picking, no doubt, its food from the crevices in the bark. At last it flew down upon the grass, and was lost to view among the shrubs. Being Sunday, I would not use my gun; otherwise I certainly would have endeavoured to secure a bird which I had never seen before. We have kept a sharp look-out since, but our new visitor has not appeared again. We have a large variety of birds in this county well known to us, but, as this is a decided stranger, I would be glad if any of your readers could give me its name. I may say that there was a keen frost at the time, and an adjoining meadow was nearly covered with ice." Strange to say, several of the previous reported occurrences of Picus martius have come from Herefordshire; and in the 'Birds of Breconshire,' by Mr. E. Cambridge Phillips, its appearance in that neighbouring county is recorded (Zool 1885, p. 305).—G. Townsend (Polefield, Prestwich, near Manchester).
Yellow-billed Cuckoo in Somerset.—On Oct. 6th, 1901, a bird of this species (Coccyzus americanus) was shot at Pylle, in Somerset, and forwarded to me for identification. It was in perfect new plumage, bearing no traces of confinement, and proved on dissection to be a female. Heavy westerly gales had been blowing on that and the previous day, which doubtless brought this American visitor in from the Bristol Channel. I exhibited this specimen at the November meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club, and note since then that Mr. G.B. Corbin records another specimen from Hampshire, also in October. A specimen was found in 1900 on the shores of the Menai Straits, also in October, and of the six or seven previously recorded British specimens, all of them of which the dates of captures have been preserved have occurred in the month of October, beginning with October, 1825. The species is migratory in the United States, like our own Cuckoo is in Europe, and from the fact of all the British-taken specimens occurring in the month of October, it is fairly evident they are not escapes from confinement. They are doubtless wanderers which have lost their way, or been blown out to sea during their autumnal migration, and, by the help of westerly gales and possibly assisted passages on the rigging of vessels, have been enabled to reach these shores. They should, I think, therefore fairly claim a place on the British list as "accidental visitors."—Robert H. Read (Bedford Park, London, W.).
Kingfisher near Aberdeen.—The most interesting ornithological event here is the recent acquisition of a Kingfisher (Alcedo ispida) on the Don, a few miles inland from Aberdeen. A second specimen was picked up in a starving condition about twenty-five miles inland, at the watercourse of Moutgarrie grain-mills, Alford, Aberdeenshire.—W. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).
Shoveler in Herts.—A female specimen of the Shoveler (Spatula clypeata) was shot on a pond near here, in company with some ordinary ducks, on Dec. 2nd last; it was in splendid condition. As far as I can gather, this is the first time the species has been recorded from Herts. The bird was given to me, and sent to Messrs. Watkins and Doneaster for preservation.—Henry Jennings (42, Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead, Herts).
King-Eider in Fifeshire.—A male King-Eider (Somateria spectabilis) was shot on a moor in Fifeshire on June 15th, 1899. It was in company with Common Eiders, which breed on the moor in considerable numbers. I saw the bird the day after it was shot.—Bernard B. Riviere (82, Finchley Road, N.W.).
Red Grouse in Surrey.—Can any reader tell me whether Red Grouse have ever been turned down in Surrey besides those mentioned in Bucknill's 'Birds of Surrey,' viz. by the Duke of Gloucester in 1829, and by Colonel Chaloner at the beginning of last century? The reason I ask, is that an old inhabitant of Chobham, in Surrey, told me, with many particulars, that he had once seen some on Chobham Common some thirty years ago. If none have been turned down since 1829, he must surely have made a mistake, as otherwise they would have been noticed by other people between 1829 and 1870. He knows the difference between Red Grouse and Black Grouse, which he has also seen on Chobham Common, but which, I think, are now extinct.—S.H. le Marchant (44, Pont Street, S.W.).
Nesting of the Moor-hen (Gallinula chloropus).—In 'The Zoologist' (1901, p. 17) there appeared a very interesting article on the nesting of the Moor-hen by Mr. Oliver G. Pike, in which the writer points out a curious fact concerning the extra nests built by these birds. In a pond near here a pair of Moor-hens build every year, and on one occasion I noticed two other nests built in the reeds at the side of the pond, one at about fifty yards and the other about one hundred yards from where they had constructed their proper nest, which is usually on a small island in an overhanging rhododendron-bush, about six inches from the water. This nest was neatly built of small twigs, and lined with grass and leaves in the usual way; the other two nests were quite different, being made in the reeds, and were constructed by twining them in and out until a small platform was made about eight or ten inches in width, and about five or six inches high. These nests were never lined, and must have been, as Mr. Pike says, used as a roosting-place for the young birds. I think the strangest circumstance is that they were built so differently from the real nest, and Mr. Pike does not say whether he noticed this point or not. It is a well-known fact that Wrens build a number of false nests, very much after the fashion of the Moor-hen; but I have never heard of these being used for any purpose. The Rev. J.C. Atkinson, writing in 'The Zoologist' (1844), p. 767, on the second nests of these birds, says, occasionally constructed "to accommodate a moiety of its young when they have attained a size too large to permit the original one to contain them all. And when the colony is sent to the second nest, one of the old birds accompanies it. An instance of this habit occurred in the vicinity of my father's residence when I was last at home. The female Moorhen was the architect, and the subsidiary nest she busied herself in constructing was built on a bough overhanging the water." Mr. Atkinson, in his little book on Birds, Nests, and Eggs, also records this fact. W.H. Workman (Lismore, Windsor, Belfast).
Unusual Nest of the Ringed Plover (Ægialitis hiaticula).—Scores of Ringed Plovers nest on the gravel sea-banks which nearly surround a four hundred-acre farm in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, sometimes in the fields as well; and, as is their wont, when laid in the latter situation, the eggs are surrounded with small pebbles or pieces of shells; but the following nesting arrangement I venture to think very rare, and should much like to know if any of your correspondents have met with a similar nest. On May 26th, 1900, I found, in a ploughed field, a rude nest, constructed of bents, resembling that of the Lapwing, only smaller; this contained three eggs of the Ringed Plover. The ground on which it lay was about to be harrowed, so I removed the eggs. On June 14th I found a similar nest (evidently the work of the same pair of birds) a short distance from where the first had been constructed, but this one was placed in a patch of coarse grass, and contained four Ringed Plover's eggs. I am aware that Col. Feilden describes a nest of the Einged Plover lined with the leaves and stems of Atriplex littoralis, but this was found abroad, and referred to the small variety of Ringed Plover.—J.E.H. Kelso (67, Elm Grove, Southsea, Hants).
On the feigning of Injury by the Lapwing (Vanellus vulgaris) to attract attention from its Young.—Whilst looking through some back volumes of 'The Zoologist,' I noticed (1897, p. 473) the statement, "that sitting Lapwings (that is, females) decoy intruders from their nests by their devices," described as an ornithological fallacy. I conclude that by the word "devices" the writer refers to the feigning of injury usually attributed to that bird. Mr. E. Selous appears to be equally sceptical upon this subject, for in his book 'Bird-Watching' (p. 66) he writes:—"Perhaps it may be wondered why I have not included the Peewit in the list of birds which employ, or appear to employ, a ruse in favour of their young ones, since this bird is always given as the stock instance of it. The reason is that whilst the birds I mention [Nightjar, Mallard, &c.—B.B.R.] have always, in my experience, gone off, so to speak, like clockwork, when the occasion for it arrived, I have never known the Peewit to do so, though I have probably disturbed as many scores—perhaps hundreds—of them, under the requisite conditions, as I have units of the others. I have also inquired of keepers and warreners, and found their experience to tally with mine. They have spoken of the cock-bird 'leading you astray' aerially, whilst the hen sits on the nest, and of both of them flying with screams close about your head when the young are out, which statements I have often verified. But they have never professed to have seen a Peewit flapping over the ground as with a broken wing in the way it is so constantly said to do. I cannot therefore but think that by some chance or other an action, common to many birds, has been particularly, and yet wrongly, ascribed to the Peewit." As we have here two experienced observers expressing their disbelief in the fact that the Lapwing ever employs the ruse of "shamming wounded" on behalf of its offspring, I thought the following incident worth reporting, as evidence in the opposite direction:—On May 30th of this year (1901) I was walking along the bank of an old disused canal, bounded on either side by a considerable stretch of flat marshy ground, upon which a number of Lapwings breed. As I approached a certain spot I noticed a pair of these birds becoming tremendously excited, flying backwards and forwards past me in a manner so characteristic of them when their young are hatched, and crying incessantly. When I thought I had reached the place about which they seemed most anxious, and near where the young were probably lying hidden in the grass, I stopped, and immediately both birds alighted on the ground close to me, with wings spread and hanging down brushing the ground, and each began running along, constantly toppling over on to one shoulder, with wings flapping feebly upon the ground, exactly as if injured. When I approached them they immediately flew up, and began flying backwards and forwards again close to my head; but when I stopped they again settled, and went through the same performance. There was no doubt about the simulation of injury, and I think this conclusively proves that the Lapwing does—at all events, upon occasions—employ this well-known deception to protect its young, though in the case of these birds the instinct did not seem to be a highly perfected one, as when approached they gave up the deception, and did not attempt to decoy me further. I have never before seen a Lapwing act in this manner, and had always myself been sceptical upon the point. Mr. E. Selous, in 'Bird Watching,' discussing the possible origin of this interesting piece of acting in birds, suggests that the performance might have been originally due to a sort of hysteria and loss of mental balance caused by the shock of being suddenly disturbed from the nest, after sitting still for a long time, and that this has been acted upon by Natural Selection, "aided by the intelligence of the bird in perceiving the advantage of such a performance," until it has become an "instinct" or habit. But I have often thought it might have arisen from birds being seized with actual cramp from long sitting, this having been acted upon by Natural Selection in the same manner; and it seems to me quite possible that even some of the cases one meets with to-day of birds fluttering along the ground as if wounded, when put off their nests, may be attributable to temporary cramp from long sitting in the same position.—Bernard B. Riviere (82, Finchley Road, N.W.).
Notes from Wilsden, Yorkshire.—From observations extending over many years, I think that there cannot be any reasonable doubt, so far as this district is concerned, that a separation of sexes of many species of birds occurs on the approach of winter. A very large proportion of Sparrows which come to be fed in our garden are male birds—at least, not more than one female to three or four males—and the proportion of male Blackbirds is even greater; and this remark applies not only to those which frequent our garden, but to the whole district. It is hardly needless to refer to the Chaffinch, as this habit is so well known. We very seldom see a female here from early December to early February. Of the many other species which frequent the garden, the differences in the sexes being less striking than those already mentioned, make it a much more difficult matter to determine with any degree of certainty the relative proportion of the sexes in winter. It is, however, hardly likely that migration of females will be confined to the above-named species. Even amongst the class of birds which are so called "residents," it is, and has long been, a belief with me that there is much more migratory movement than has been generally acknowledged by ornithologists. I was called to look at a bird the other day which had been shot in the immediate neighbourhood, which proved to be a Hawfinch, a species whose status in our local avifauna has changed of late years, perhaps more than any other British bird. Speaking of this species, Mr. Jenyns, in his Manual published in 1835, says:—"Only an occasional visitant in this country during the winter months. Principally observed in the southern countries. In a few instances has been known to remain and breed. Feeds on haws and other stone fruits." Here, I think, it is commoner in summer than winter. We found last summer two nests in Wharfedale, almost in the identical places we found two in the year 1900. On dissection the above bird was found to have been feeding on wheat, which is somewhat curious, when what one would have thought its more natural food was abundant in the locality where it was shot. Another friend recently called here—a caretaker of one of the Bradford Corporation reservoirs—and gave a description of a bird he and another man had seen flying about the vicinity of his residence about the month of last September or October, which could be no other British bird than the Golden Oriole. We are quite aware how unreliable such descriptions usually are when given by casual observers, but this species is so very striking that, even allowing for a liberal dash of inaccuracy, it would be difficult to confound with any other bird. A race, if not a species, of Wren, differing from the Wren which nests here, is met with occasionally in early autumn on our high moors, and are evidently immigrants. They are much larger, and may be the St. Kilda Wren; anyhow, they keep more to the high ground, and are not nearly so arboreal in their habits as the common species. It is, however, more probable that they may have been bred on some other of the isles of North Britain.—E.P. Butterfield (Wilsden, near Bradford).
Rare Birds in Surrey.—The following birds have lately passed through the hands of Mr. Bradden, the Guildford taxidermist:—A Golden-eye (Clangula glaucion), female, shot at Shamley Green, near Guildford, Nov. 17th, 1901; a Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), female, procured at Claudon Park, Nov. 26th, 1901; and a Storm-Petrel (Procellaria pelagica), male, caught alive at St. Catherine's, Guildford, by police-constable Turner, flying at lighted lamp, Dec. 28th.—Gordon Dalgliesh (Inglefield, Milford, near Godalming, Surrey).
Birds of the Isle of Man.—Being engaged in the collection of material for a work on Manx birds, I will gratefully receive and acknowledge information bearing on the subject; or references to books, periodicals, &c, in which such occur, and which may not have come under my notice.—P. Ralfe (Castletown, Isle of Man).