The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 728/Notes and Queries

Notes and Queries (February, 1902)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 6, issue 728, p. 66–73

3912329Notes and QueriesFebruary, 1902various authors, editor W.L. Distant



The Food of the Water-Vole.—There has been, I believe, much discussion as to whether the Water-Vole (Arvicola amphibius) will eat animal food or not. Most writers on natural history agree to their being entirely vegetable feeders. The Rev. J.G. Wood, among others, says:—"I never yet saw the true snub-nosed, short-eared, yellow-toothed Vole engaged in eating animal food, although the Brown Rat may often be detected in such an act." I myself have twice caught the Water-Vole in the ordinary steel rat-trap baited with meat, which I think proves that the Water-Vole will at times partake of animal food if it can get it.—Gordon Dalgliesh (Inglefield, Milford, near Godalming, Surrey).


Breeding of the Lesser Redpoll (Linota rufescens) in Somerset.—It is only during recent years that the Lesser Redpoll has been recorded as a species which breeds in Somerset. Of late, however, several nests of this bird have been found, and it is probable that at the present time the species breeds regularly in many parts of the county. I am not aware that any nest has been recorded as found in the county before the year 1888, but in that year the Rev. T.W. Allen informs me that he found a nest on the Blackdown Hills, near Wellington, and that he knew that two more nests had been found more recently in the same district. This species has also bred in the neighbourhood of Frome, for the Rev. M.A. Mathew has recorded (Zool. 1897, p. 423) that nests and eggs have been taken, and a brood of young birds seen, near Buckland Dinham Vicarage, between the years 1888 and 1897. Mr. C.F. Henderson, of Flax Bourton, near Bristol, has informed me in writing that the Lesser Redpoll has nested frequently in his neighbourhood since the year 1892. In one season he knew of four nests within a small area. In the pages of 'The Zoologist' for 1894 are several notices of the breeding of the Lesser Redpoll in Somerset (vide pp. 228, 265, 304, 305). From these records it appears that observers noticed that the species nested in several localities near Bath in 1893, and near Clifton and Bridgwater in 1894. During the last four years I have occasionally seen Lesser Redpolls at the end of April in the woods on Worlebury Camp, Weston-super-Mare, some of the birds displaying the rosy breeding plumage on their breasts. I cannot be sure that the birds have ever nested in these woods, though I think it very probable that they may occasionally have done so. This species also nests in the interesting country near Ashcott and Shapwick, known as the turf or peat moors. In this district the birds find just what is suited to their requirements, as the beds of alder and sallow afford them both food in the winter and nesting accommodation in the summer. Little flocks are seen in this district during the winter months, feeding on the seeds of the alder, and I am told by competent authorities that a good many nests have been discovered in the summer. A working man of the district, with whom I was conversing on the subject, seemed to know the species well, and described to me the little nests which he had often found, beautifully lined with vegetable down. On June 12th of last year I visited the turf-moors, and saw several Redpolls flying about among the alder plantations near Ashcott Station, and uttering their harsh and wheezing notes. Several pairs appeared to be breeding, but I could only discover one nest, which was placed near the top of a sallow-bush, and contained a single egg. It is, I think, fair to conclude from these notes that the Lesser Redpoll is at the present time a fairly regular resident in Somerset, and possibly far more so than is generally supposed. The above records prove that the species has bred in the northern parts of the county, and also on the central levels, and near the south-western boundary. It would be interesting if other observers could still increase our knowledge of the breeding range of the bird in the county. As the records of its breeding in the county do not appear to extend back more than about fourteen years, it seems probable that it has only lately established itself as a nesting species, though how far this supposition is due to increased observation it is impossible to say.—F.L. Blathwayt (Lincoln).

Green Woodpecker boring in Winter.—In 'The Zoologist' for 1897 (p. 573), I recorded an instance of the Green Woodpecker (Gecinus viridis) boring in November. A similar instance has just occurred here, a beech tree having been recently bored by the same species, possibly the same bird. The enclosed fresh chips, which I picked up under the tree to-day (Jan. 14th) show plainly that the Woodpecker is at work on an ordinary nesting-hole.—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk).

[Fresh chips duly received.—Ed.]

Curious Accident to a Kingfisher.—The following ornithological incident may be worthy of record in these pages:—In a letter from Mr. Ernest White, of Wear House, in this city, he states:—"I was walking yesterday (Jan. 5th) by the river near Bow Corner, when I observed a Kingfisher (Alcedo ispida) fastened to a tree about twelve feet from the ground. By carefully bending the branch downwards I was able to release it. It was held by the gummy secretion of a chestnut-bud, which adhered very tightly to the breast-feathers. It had sustained no injury whatever. Having satisfied myself on this point, I placed the bird on the back of my hand, where it sat for three or four minutes before flying away." I have never before heard of such an instance of nature using birdlime to entrap a Kingfisher. I may add that there had been several bright sunny days, and that I found the chesnut-buds exuding their gum freely.—H.B. Tristram (Durham).

Tengmalm's Owl in Northamptonshire.—A good example of Tengmalm's Owl (Nyctala tengmalmi) was shot on Jan. 8th at Apthorpe, in Northamptonshire, and, being sent by Sir J. Crossley to Norwich for preservation, I had an opportunity of examining it in the flesh at Mr. Roberts's shop, where we endeavoured to see the asymmetry of the ears, which, though strongly marked in this species, is very difficult to detect in the exterior "conch." Tengmalm's Owl is a species not included in Lord Lilford's 'Birds of Northamptonshire,' to which county, I presume, it is an addition.—J.H. Gurney (Keswick, Norwich).

Shoveler in Herts.—Your correspondent, in stating that Spatula clypeata had not previously been recorded from Herts (ante, p. 27), has overlooked some earlier chronicles. The late Mr. J.E. Littleboy, in his 'Notes on Birds observed in Hertfordshire,' records one killed at Wheathampstead in August, 1882; and the report for 1887 states that there were from three to five Shovelers' nests every year at Tring Reservoirs. Since Mr. Littleboy's death in 1888, I have not received the Hertfordshire ornithological reports.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Red Grouse in Surrey.—In reply to Mr. le Marchant's enquiry upon the subject of attempted naturalization of this species in Surrey (ante, p. 27), I may perhaps inform him that, although the actual date of the Duke of Gloucester's essay was 1829, I do not know the year in which Colonel Challoner's introduction took place; nor have I been able to find out any particulars beyond those appearing in the 'Field' in 1871. The discussion which took place at that date was started by a gentleman signing himself "33," who asked whether Bagshot Heath ever held naturally occurring or imported Red Grouse ('Field,' Jan. 14th, 1871, p. 27). The query was answered by two letters, the first from a contributor signing himself "C.W.D." He says:—"I can tell your correspondent '33' that the attempt has been more than once unsuccessfully made to naturalize the red grouse both on the Surrey Hills and on Dartmoor. I cannot recollect many of the particulars, but within my memory a gentleman (I think, Col. Challoner) obtained a number of grouse, and turned them out on Chobham Common. They bred, and many strayed, and were killed on neighbouring heaths, but they disappeared after two or three years." ... The rest of this gentleman's letter is immaterial. This note appeared in the 'Field,' Jan. 21st, 1871, p. 38. Another correspondent on the same date, signing himself "Effessea," says:—"An old tenant of mine, the late Thos. Marter, of Durnford, Chertsey, told me that either the Duke of York, when at Oatlands, or the Duke of Gloucester at Bagshot Park, many years ago turned out the red grouse on Bagshot, Chobham, and Frimley Heaths, but they did no good." ... The rest of the letter is immaterial. Both these accounts are somewhat vague, though I have always thought that in mentioning Chobbam as a place where a trial was made the second writer was intending to refer to what was (unknown to him) Col. Challoner's attempt. The Red Grouse was also probably introduced in Surrey prior even to the Duke of Gloucester's attempt in 1829, as Graves, in his 'British Ornithology' (1811-1821) mentions that it "has been turned out in several parts of Surrey, Sussex, and Hants." I have never, however, been able to discover any particulars of such earlier trials, if there really were any. The classic authors refer only to the Duke's essay. A writer in the 'Field,' July 28th, 1860, p. 84, signing himself "Argus," states, in the course of a note on the Game Preservation Acts:—"I have proof of the Bustard and Quail, formerly plentiful on the Surrey and Sussex hills, but none there now; nor would there be a partridge but for the Game Act. Of the grouse turned out by Mr. Bray, of Shere, many were shot by others as raræ aves in terrâ; and so supposed without the Game Act." Although I tried, I could never find any evidence that Mr. Bray turned out the Red Grouse, nor for that matter a single definite instance of the occurrence of the Bustard in Surrey; and the context of the letter being vague, and partly, at any rate, quite inaccurate, I did not consider it advisable to make any reference to this letter in my remarks on this species in my 'Birds of Surrey.' Beyond these letters, and the remarks concerning "Red game" made by Nathaniel Salmon in his 'Antiquities of Surrey,' which I have always regarded as being meant to indicate the Black Grouse, I am not aware of any further notes published upon the importation of this species into Surrey. It may well be that if the actual date of this Col. Challoner's attempt could be ascertained, it may be found that it was considerably later that 1829, and, if so, Mr. le Marchant's informant may be quite correct within a few years. I have heard from another source that it is believed that Mr. Bray did introduce the species near Shere; but, as I have said before, nothing definite.—John A. Bucknill (Epsom, Surrey).

Little Bustard in Sussex.—On Dec. 16th, 1901, a specimen of Otis tetrax was shot near Burpham, Sussex, and was sent to Mr. W.B. Ellis, taxidermist, Arundel. It was a female, and weighed 26 oz. W. Percival Westell (St. Albans).

[The above is a light weight. The weight of one shot on Drayton Moor, Somersetshire, in 1894, was 2 lb. 2 oz. (cf. Harting's 'Handbook of British Birds,' p. 165).— Ed.]

On the Feigning of Injury by the Lapwing (Vanellus vulgaris) to attract attention from its Young.—Allow me to demur to the interpretation placed on some words of mine, culled from 'The Zoologist' (1897, p. 473), by Mr. Bernard B. Riviere (ante, p. 29). If he will turn to pages 27 and 28 of 'The Zoologist' for 1898, the reason for my repudiation of the views ascribed to me will be at once apparent. Meanwhile, I may repeat, for the benefit of those not possessing the back volume in question, that I should never dream of allying myself with such dogmatic reasoning as would deny the possibility and exceptions to almost any rule. Mr. Riviere not only wrongly infers that by the word "devices" I must mean the simulation of injury, but concludes that "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." Nothing of the kind, so far as I personally am concerned; Mr. Selous can answer for himself. Moreover, I would invite attention to two words in the sentence I have quoted; I refer to the words "ever" and "offspring." With regard to the first, who would be so rash, after a prolonged and profound study of Nature, and her frequently inconsistent and contradictory ways, as to deal in uncompromising negatives where she is concerned. I should not. As for the second, I make a vast distinction between eggs in the nest and young birds out of it when dealing with the behaviour of the parent birds. I used the word "nests," implying that eggs in process of incubation were in my mind; your correspondent, as may be seen, writes of the "offspring" —quite a different story. I have no wish to juggle with words, but when originally employing the term "devices," the aerial evolutions and weird, fantastic wheelings of the cock bird—then popularly supposed to be the hen—alone were in my mind. The facts, broadly stated, according to my experience, are these:—While the female is sitting the male keeps guard, and on the approach of an intruder tries to mislead and confuse him—three or four other cocks will occasionally assist—by aerial devices, his mate, meantime, running quickly and silently away from the nest for a considerable distance. When the eggs are hatched, however, very different tactics prevail; both parents are then assiduous in their clamorous endeavours to draw intruders away from where their young are concealed. I may add that some years ago I took the trouble to look up and tabulate what upwards of thirty authors of books on birds had to say on the point at issue, and I found that Selby alone of the entire number had got the the true facts correctly. It is unquestionably the rule for the female to run from the nest when danger threatens, but I have known a sitting bird, come upon very suddenly from over a hill and taken quite unawares, to fly direct from her nest; and I have studied the point sufficiently to learn that the female will also fly from the nest at times if she has already been somewhat disturbed, and I have always regarded such action as meaning—Oh! the whereabouts of my nest is known; why should I any longer have recourse to a useless artifice to conceal it?—H.S. Davenport (Melton Mowbray).

Pairing Manœuvres of Birds.—With reference to Mr. Selous' recent remarks on the similarity of the pairing manoeuvres of both sexes in certain birds, I should like to draw attention to the Satin Bower-bird (Ptilorhynchus violaceus) as a good example of this. I often observed these birds, during my stay in England last summer, at the London Zoological Gardens, and repeatedly noticed that the female uttered the same absurd fizzling song as the male, and used the same gestures. I especially noticed that both sexes frequently jerked up the closed wings, thus, in the case of the hen, showing their yellow lining. Now, if the male of this bird were conspicuously coloured on the under side of the wings, and used this gesture as he does at present, it would be put down as designed for a sexual attraction; and as the female birds are supposed, with much reason, to frequently exhibit a former stage in the colouration of the male, it may be suggested that in this case the colouration of the wings and the trick of lifting them was originally masculine; and that the male, having acquired his purple plumage, has still retained it, just as the dull-coloured grey forms of the tame fowl still show off in a manner better suited to the richly-hued Junglefowl. That colouration and habits may be transferred from the male to the female we know; many hen birds assume male plumage while still far from being senile and barren; and in the English game-fowl and Indian Aseel the intense pugnacity of the male has been transferred to hens and chicks as well, although undesired. On the other hand, there is very good reason for supposing that the display-poses of birds are simply the method by which the particular species or natural group exhibits any excitement, sexual or otherwise, as the case may be. Take, for instance, that very excitable bird, the Turkey. The cock's showing-off position is that assumed by both sexes when fighting, the wings being dropped, and the tail raised and spread. So with the Common Fowl; two cocks or hens meditating a fight assume the sideway-slanting attitude which is so characteristic of the courting chanticleer, and so well adapted to display the rich hues of back and wing found in the original black-breasted red—the Jungle-fowl colour. As showing the thoroughly instinctive character of the performance, I may mention that the Grey and Green Jungle-fowls (Gallus sonnerati and G. varius) show off in practically the same position as the tame fowl. So also do the ruffed Pheasants of the genus Chrysolophus—the Golden and Amherst—this genus being undoubtedly very near the Junglefowl. The hens of these Pheasants assume the slanting position when angry. In the Peacock many people must have observed that the young male will show off in due form before he has any train. I have heard that the hen assumes the show position when excited, and I recently saw a mere chick only about the size of a fowl take up this posture when alarmed by a cat. Among waterfowl the similarity of the gestures, under any excitement, of both sexes of the Muscovy Duck is very noticeable. The Swan also, whether male or female, exhibits either anger or sexual passion in the same way, in the latter case the wings being laid flat, and the plumage of the upper part of the neck puffed out. The lying out on the water as an invitation to pairing is a very marked gesture in the female Mandarin Duck (Aex galericulata); I have seen a mated female thus solicit her own male on several occasions, and unmated birds have done the same with an alien drake. In London last year I saw, in St. James's Park, a pair of the allied Summer Duck (Aex sponsa) swimming along, while a common Park Mallard was swimming so as to cut across their course a little way ahead. Although he obviously had no intention against her, the female A. sponsa laid herself out on the water in the pairing posture of the female Mandarin Duck, pointing with her head to the Mallard. Immediately her mate rushed and drove the Mallard away, which was what, I presume, she had wanted him to do; and had made use of a stereotyped gesture of supplication for the purpose.—F. Finn (Indian Museum, Calcutta).

Correction.—In my note on the Yellow-billed Cuckoo (ante, p. 26), I regret to find I made a mistake in stating that a specimen was obtained on the shores of the Menai Straits in October, 1900. The date should have been Nov. 10th, 1899.— Robert H. Read (Bedford Park, London, W.).


Notes from Great Yarmouth.—Some most interesting examples of piscine aberrancies have lately passed through my hands, which are probably worth recording. The first—a freshly-caught hybrid Turbot-Brill—was purchased on the fish-wharf for me, on Jan. 13th, by Mr. B. Beazor, a local fish salesman, to whom I am indebted for securing me several good things. The fish weighed about five pounds. Its peculiarities may be described as follows:—The head and general shape resembled the Turbot; the upper skin decidedly the Brill in markings, touch, and colour, and without the spiny protuberances so noticeable in the Turbot. The tail was that of the Brill, and the under surface was, to my mind, more scaly than the Turbot. I sent it to Mr. Southwell, from whom it passed to Mr. Lydekker, who, I believe, has placed it in the National Museum.

On Jan. 29th I inspected a strange thing in the shape of a combined roe and milt, taken from a Herring opened on Mr. Blanchflower's potting premises. The "combine" was fully adult; two-thirds of it, from the fore-end, was well-defined roe, the posterior end being distinctly milt, spliced in after the fashion of a finger inserted into a linen-peg. A continuous skin-like membrane along the upper part connected the whole.

I had recently brought to me, by a sea-angler fishing from the jetty, the backbone of a Whiting, which was most peculiarly misshapen, reminding one somewhat of a flattened corkscrew. The angler had noticed the odd undulations in the fish before cooking it, and saved me the strange vertebræ.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).