The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 727/Ornithological Notes from Mid-Wales, Salter
No. 727.—January, 1902.
ORNITHOLOGICAL NOTES FROM MID-WALES.
By Prof. J.H. Salter, University College, Aberystwyth.
The following notes, referring to the past two years, are in continuation of similar ones relating to this neighbourhood which have appeared in 'The Zoologist' from time to time (Zool. 1900, pp. 76-79).
On January 10th, 1900, Mr. F.T. Feilden, of Borth, described to me a specimen of the "hairy" variety of the Waterhen which he had obtained some time previously. He reported a pair of Red-necked Grebes upon the Dovey during the previous October. One of them was shot, but not retrieved. On November 9th the survivor was seen in company with Dabchicks and a Merganser. Further up the Bay, off the Merionethshire coast, Mr. G.H. Caton-Haigh finds the Eared Grebe by no means uncommon when on the spring passage, but he has never met with the Red-necked Grebe. Col. Feilden obtained a Bittern, an old male bird, upon January 8th. In February "a large brown Harrier," either a Marsh-Harrier or Ring-tail, was seen quartering over the Bog upon several occasions.
On March 3rd Oystercatchers and Curlew were extremely noisy after dark.
Capt. Cosens, of Llanbadarn, obligingly informed me of a specimen of the Norfolk Plover, which he remembered to have seen about 1882–83 when in the hands of Mr. Hutchings for preservation. It was obtained in the neighbourhood of Aberaeron, and makes an addition to the list of Cardiganshire birds, of which I have previously recorded 212 species. Mr. E.E.M. Edwards obligingly informed me of an instance of the Woodcock breeding in the neighbourhood of Dolgelly, viz., in Dolg-y-Feiliau Wood, near Tyn-y-Groes. For some unknown reason, the nesting of the Woodcock in this part of the country is an event of extremely rare occurrence. Mr. Arthur Parry wrote me that a pair of Buzzards breed annually on Trychrug, near Cilcennin, in this county. On March 18th, in frost and snow, Mr. D.B. Grubb visited a Ravens' nest, which contained three eggs, in the wild hill-district of Cardiganshire. The cock Raven tilted at a Peregrine Falcon which came up the valley until both were lost to sight in the snow. Mr. Grubb had an excellent view of a Kite, and saw six Buzzards upon the wing at once. One of them was carrying a large stick to its unfinished nest.
On April 5th I visited a nesting locality of the Raven in the Nant Berwyn, near Tregaron. The cock Raven appeared upon the wing, barked a little, and seemed unwilling to leave the vicinity, but I could see nothing of the hen bird, and last year's nest had not been repaired. A young Mistle-Thrush of an early brood had already flown from the nest by April 10th. I saw two or three Choughs in the neighbourhood of the Monk's Cave, and was pleased to hear from Mr. Feilden that he has met with these birds more frequently of late. The same observer reported five Gannets off Borth. The rippling note of the Whimbrel announced its arrival upon April 23rd.
On May 9th I saw a Ray's Wagtail in fine plumage by the Rheidol. This species is very local with us, and does not breed within six or eight miles of Aberystwyth. On May 11th a pair of Ravens passed over my house, shortly followed by a third, the latter annoyed by Jackdaws. Ring Plover and Oystercatchers were breeding as usual upon the shingle beaches at the mouth of the Dovey. Mr. D.B. Grubb kindly gave me an account of the birds seen by him while trout-fishing for three weeks from May 19th in a remote part of the county. Only one Kite was observed, and the immemorial breeding haunt at Ystrad Ffin appeared to be deserted. At least eleven pairs of Buzzards were found to be nesting within a radius of some six miles from his headquarters, and instances in which the first-hatched and strongest nestling bullied the younger ones to death were again noted. In fact, this may be said to be a usual habit of Welsh Buzzards. Kestrels were tenanting a nest from which young Ravens had flown. Another Kestrel, having taken possession of a deserted Buzzard's nest, was sitting upon two Buzzard's eggs in addition to her own. A pair of Ravens in the Yrfon Valley had two young upon the wing. Pied Flycatchers were breeding freely, often in disused holes of the Green or Greater Spotted Woodpecker.
On August 30th, when ascending Cader Idris, I heard a Raven above Llyn-y-Cau. The Chiffchaff sang upon Sept. 16th and again upon Oct. 2nd, rather a late date. Redwings put in an appearance on Oct. 20th, and four days later a Thrush was coming into song again. An unusually large party of Longtailed Tits numbered twenty-five. On Nov. 22nd a Chough passed over my house at a good height. A Mistle-Thrush was singing at the close of the year.
The year 1901 opened with mild, bright weather. On Jan. 1st Wood-Pigeons were cooing. On the 3rd a Raven passed high overhead croaking angrily. A month later, snow inland brought a few Golden Plover to the neighbourhood of the coast. On March 9th I watched numerous Curlew, a party of thirty Shieldrakes, and three Wigeon upon the sand-banks of the Dovey. Visiting the Bird Rock near Towyn upon Easter Monday, I found that as yet only half-a-dozen Cormorants were to be seen upon the breeding ledges. Five or six pairs of Herons were nesting in tall larches at Peniarth, further down the valley. A Wood-Lark was singing in the Nant Berwyn on April 17th. On the 26th I heard the note of the Turtle-Dove at Wallog, a decidedly early date for the arrival of this migrant, which is a scarce and local visitant to Western Wales. A Tree-Creeper nested for the fourth year in succession in precisely the same spot, between an ivy-stem and the tree-trunk.
Visiting the Teifi Bog, near Tregaron, on May 25th, I found the Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding in about their usual numbers at this inland haunt, twelve miles from the sea. Dunlin were also nesting upon the bog, and a pair of Redshanks passed overhead. On Whit Monday I visited a Buzzard's nest in the neighbourhood of Strata Florida. It was situated in a thin Scotch fir at a height of about thirty feet from the ground, and contained two young birds, differing in age, and an unhatched egg, together with a mole brought by the old birds as provision for the former. On June 15th I found a small colony of Lesser Terns breeding at the mouth of the Dovey, where, as Mr. Feilden informs me, they established themselves in 1896 or 1897.
The Redbreast began to sing again on July 27th. On Aug. 1st Chaffinches were singing their broken summer song, and two days later a Willow-Wren was warbling softly to itself. A late Yellowhammer's nest contained young nearly fledged upon Aug. 16th. On the 17th a Swift went to its nest-hole under the eaves for the last time.
A large number of Ray's Wagtails in fields beside the Rheidol on Aug. 20th were evidently on migration. A Chiffchaff was singing quietly its late summer song, which I heard again on Sept. 3rd. The Spotted Flycatcher was last noted on the 14th. On Sept. 15th a Stonechat "chacked" and sang a strain or two. At the end of the month the Whimbrel's note announced its presence upon the return migration.
A Thrush was coming into song again on October 23rd. The last member of a late brood of young Swallows lingered till Nov. 1st. On Nov. 2nd the Cirl Bunting sang; here the most constant of songsters, its monotonous trill is heard throughout the year.
Mr. D.B. Grubb, who again visited the district referred to above, informed me that eggs had been taken from two Kites' nests, those of the only two pairs which continue to frequent that neighbourhood. An unsuccessful attempt was made to protect one nest by coiling barbed wire round the trunk of the tree. This fine species is nearing extinction in Wales, its nests being ruthlessly harried by egg-dealers whose names are perfectly well known. There is no possibility of these Kites breeding successfully except under such protection as would be afforded by a resolute and reliable watcher, never out of sight of the nest night or day. A clean sweep had also been made of the Buzzards' eggs, and it is probable that a dozen pairs did not succeed collectively in bringing off more than three or four young.
Egg-collecting, and not the persecution of the gamekeeper, will be eventually responsible for the extinction of both the Kite and Buzzard in Central Wales.
Mr. Grubb tells me that he found the Pied Flycatcher extremely scarce, in marked contrast to its abundance the previous year.
The following notes contain a summary of the information obtained in response to a printed circular asking for details as to the occurrence or otherwise of certain species whose distribution in Wales appears to be imperfectly known.
With regard to the Lesser Whitethroat, Capt. Swainson amplifies the account which he has given of this species in Breconshire in 'The Zoologist' for 1891, p. 356. He writes of it as being not uncommon at Brecon, and sparingly distributed over all the lowlands of the county. It occurs westward up to the point where the Mynydd Epynt hills begin to rise. "The most westerly point at which I have ever heard it is Llanwrtyd."
As far as my own experience goes, the Lesser Whitethroat is entirely wanting in Cardiganshire. In Montgomeryshire I heard it at Welshpool on May 26th, 1900. Mr. G.H. Caton-Haigh has only one doubtful record of it in Merionethshire. Mr. O.V. Aplin failed to identify it in the Lleyn peninsula of Carnarvonshire, but states that Mr. Coward observed a pair breeding at Abersoch in May, 1893 (Zool. Nov. 1900, p. 492).
It may be said then that the Lesser Whitethroat ranges, upon the eastern side, up to the foot of the chain of elevated moors and sheep-walks which forms the backbone of the Principality, but seldom or never crosses these treeless uplands, and is consequently absent from Western Wales. To this statement Mr. Coward's observation appears to furnish the sole exception.
None of my correspondents have any knowledge of the Tree Sparrow in Wales. Capt. Swainson says, "I have never been able to find it, although I have always been on the look-out."
Another species to whose distribution a special interest attaches is the Twite. As regards Breconshire, Capt. Swainson writes: "I have been a great deal on the hills at all seasons without seeing or hearing the Twite. Moreover, I have often looked for it upon the mountains of North Wales, but without success." Personally I have failed to meet with the Twite in Cardiganshire, even in localities which appeared extremely well suited to it. Mr. G.H. Caton-Haigh has not come across it in Merionethshire. As regards Carnarvonshire, Mr. O.V. Aplin, when on the mountain called Yr Eifi, or The Rivals, north of Pwllheli, noticed one or two birds which he judged to be Twites from their note. He states that Mr. Coward saw flocks on The Rivals and Cam Madryn (Zool. 1900, p. 493). I have no information from the Berwyn mountains, where the heather-grown grouse-moors furnish much likely ground. The evidence thus favours the view that the Twite ranges into North Wales, but does not reach the central or southern hill-districts of the Principality.
The Hawfinch Capt. Swainson characterizes as a rare resident in Breconshire. He writes: "I know of two instances of its nesting here (at Brecon). About three years ago small flocks attacked the peas in July, and on two occasions several were shot."
The Wryneck is described as "very rare" in Breconshire. Capt. Swainson says, "I am acquainted with its cry, which I have heard here only once, eleven years ago." Mr. F.T. Feilden has heard the note of the Wryneck at Three Cocks Junction.
With reference to the Kite in Breconshire, Capt. Swainson writes as follows:—
"Still a resident, but very rare. It is difficult to estimate the number of pairs, as they change their nesting places from year to year, but I should be inclined to think that there are about two pairs left. I myself have not seen bird or nest for seven years. Formerly the Kite used to breed yearly near Aberbran, about five miles west from Brecon (Zool. 1889, p. 226). In 1894 a pair of Buzzards took possession of the wood and nested, and the Kites were not to be found, but in 1895 they returned. There is in a Brecon collection a clutch of three eggs taken from this wood. There are five or six places in the county where the Kite occasionally nests or tries to. I have heard on pretty good authority that a pair brought off a brood safely in 1899 at Upper Chapel (the place alluded to in Mr. Phillips's List of the Birds of Breconshire, Zool. 1882). I have been unable to get any information for the present year (1900).
"I am afraid that, like yourself, I must come to the conclusion that the species is doomed. What is the use of a fine of £1 when the eggs and bird are worth two or three times as much? A gamekeeper once said to me, 'A dead Kite is worth £2 or £3: how can you expect a poor man to spare one?'"