The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 728/Notes on birds made during three short visits to the beach at Dungeness, Hepburn
NOTES ON BIRDS MADE DURING THREE SHORT
VISITS TO THE BEACH AT DUNGENESS.
By Thomas Hepburn.
These observations were made on May 10th–14th, June 3rd–4th, and July 16th–21st (1900).
Mistle-Thrush (Turdus viscivorus).—May 10th. Found a nest in one of the clumps of elder and holly bushes, which are a feature of this stretch of beach. The nest was in the fork of an elder-bush not more than three feet above the ground. The outside of the nest was made almost entirely of sheep's wool, with a few sticks entangled in it, and was neatly lined with fine grass. It contained four young birds about a week old. July 16th-21st. Noticed considerable numbers of these birds on the grass-lands and meadows which join the beach. They seemed to be mostly young birds.
Song-Thrush (T. musicus), Blackbird (T. merula).—These birds were also nesting in the patches of bush on the beach.
Wheatear (Saxicola œnanthe).—May 10th–14th. Nesting everywhere. Found two nests in crevices of the military earthworks, one in an empty shell-case, and another in an empty tin can. The eggs in one of the nests were fresh, in the others hard sat. June 3rd-4th. Found a nest with three fresh eggs in a crack in a bank of earth. July 16th-21st. Old and young birds all over the beach and adjacent meadows.
Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus streperus).—July 16th–21st. Found three nests in the reeds fringing a pool of water on the marsh-land; one containing three perfectly fresh eggs, another with three young birds and an addled egg, and a third from which the birds had evidently just flown. The birds were singing all round in the reed-bed.
Sedge-Warbler (A. phragmitis).—Common everywhere amongst the growth on the edges of pools and dykes.
Pied Wagtail (Motacilla lugubris).—Common near the fishermen's or coastguards' cottages and farm-buildings. Rather a favourite nesting-place for them was amongst the stacks of fish-boxes near the coast.
Yellow Wagtail (M. raii).—A common bird on the marsh-land. May 10th. Found a nest in an empty iron shell-case with a full clutch of fresh eggs in it. July 16th–21st. Plenty of these birds still about.
Meadow-Pipit (Anthus pratensis).—About the commonest bird on the beach and surrounding land, laying wherever there is a "tot" of grass big enough for it to make its nest in. May 10th-14th. Found nests with eggs in all stages of incubation, and with young birds already fairly well-fledged.
Swallow (Hirundo rustica).—May 10th–14th. A good many of these birds building in the recesses of the sham forts on the artillery range. July 20th. Found a nest under the eaves of a shed on the marsh-land with five fresh eggs in it.
Greenfinch (Ligurinus chloris).—May 10th–14th. Nesting in numbers in the holly and furze bushes on the beach.
House-Sparrow (Passer domesticus).—May 10th–14th. Numbers of nests in the tops of the holly and elder bushes on the beach, at quite a considerable distance from any farm or building.
Linnet (Linota cannabina).—May 10th–14th. Nesting in the holly bushes on the beach. I also found a good many nests in the tussocks of coarse grass growing on some sand dunes in the direction of Rye; some of these latter nests were made right on the level of the ground.
Corn-Bunting (Emberiza miliaria).—A clutch of addled eggs of this species were sent on to me (Aug. 14th). I was told that they were common on the arable land of the marsh, but I did not see any myself.
Yellow Bunting (E. citrinella).—May 10th–14th. Common and nesting in the furze bushes.
Reed-Bunting (E schœniclus).—May 10th–14th. Nesting in some numbers in any places near water. Some of the nests I found at this date contained hard-sat eggs, and all of them showed signs of incubation. The nests were, as a rule, within twelve inches of the ground, in rank grass or rushes; two of them were right on the ground. The nests are rather loosely constructed of grass, with a slight lining of hair.
Starling (Sturnus vulgaris).—May 10th–14th. Considerable numbers feeding in the meadows; also nesting in holes in the thatch of all farm-buildings.
Rook (Corvus frugilegus).—May 10th–14th. There is a rookery in Lydd, and there are always numbers of these birds feeding on the marsh-land and meadows.
Sky-Lark (Alauda arvensis).—May 10th–14th. Nesting everywhere in great numbers, even right out on the open beach. July 20th. Found a nest with two eggs in it, and was told of one being found the previous week containing eight eggs.
Nightjar (Caprimulgus europæus).—May 14th. Disturbed one from under the shelter of a stack of brushwood close under the sea-wall. It flew a short distance, and then settled in the grass. When I flushed it a second time it flew away out of sight.
Common Heron (Ardea cinerea).—There are nearly always some of these birds feeding along the sands at low tide.
Wild Duck (Anas boscas).—Breeds in numbers along the dykes and sewers, and also out on the beach among the stunted sloe and broom bushes. July 16th–21st. Considerable numbers of young birds on some of the inland patches of water.
Ring-Dove (Columba palumbus).—Often a few Wood-Pigeons feeding out on the patches of grass-land scattered about the beach.
Stock-Dove (C. œnas).—Always a few of these birds about the beach feeding on the green places. May 14th. I noticed one of these birds fly up from a rabbit's burrow. Upon investigating I found its rough nest and two young birds down the burrow.
Partridge (Perdix cinerea).—A good many about on the beach.
Red-legged Partridge (Caccabis rufa).—May 13th. Found a nest of this species built on the bank of one of the big sewers which drain the marsh-land. Also saw several of the birds out on the beach.
Moor-hen (Gallinula chloropus).—Moor-hens' nests are very numerous in the dykes and pools of water on the marsh-land. In no cases were the eggs in any of the nests that I found covered over with leaves.
Coot (Fulica atra).—May 13th. Found two nests in the reeds surrounding a pool of water on the marsh; two eggs in one, and eight eggs in the other. In both instances the eggs were quite fresh.
Stone Curlew (Œdicnemus scolopax).—Local name, "Night-Hawk." Several pairs of these birds still breed on the beach, but they are by no means common, and all the coastguards' and fishermen's sons know that the two eggs have a marketable value. May 14th. I saw one of the birds fly up from the beach, and, on looking along the ridge from about which it flew, I found its two eggs lying on the shingle. The apology of a nest in which they lay was simply a hollow scratched out in the shingle, measuring about 7 in. in diameter and ¾ in. deep. The two eggs were laid fully two inches apart, and end to end. I was told by a fisherman that they are never laid close together. Surrounding the hollow were several pieces of broom, which had the appearance of having been put there by the bird. One egg was rather larger than the other, and the same fisherman as I have mentioned above said that they always call the larger egg a cock's egg, meaning that a male bird would be hatched out of it. The same day another pair of these eggs was offered to me for sale, and I was informed of a further pair having been found two days previously. This shows that there are several pairs breeding on the beach, and also that they must find it a difficult matter to bring their business to a satisfactory conclusion.
Dotterel (Eudromias morinellus).—Local name, "Land Dotterel." May 10th–14th. Saw several pairs of these birds on this visit, but saw none in June or July.
Ringed Plover (Ægialitis hiaticula).—Local name, "Stone Runner." May 10th–14th. This is a common bird on the beach, and nests there in considerable numbers. Owing to the close similarity in the colouring of the eggs and the shingle, and to the artful behaviour of the old birds, its eggs are far from easy to find. I was shown a nest on May 12th with four eggs in it. The nest was a neat hollow made in a patch of rather small shingle, and measured 3½ in. diameter and 1 in. deep. It was just big enough to take the four eggs, with the small ends all accurately pointed to the centre, and slightly depressed. July 16th-21st. Was told of a nest with three eggs in it having been found a week previously. The birds were just as numerous on the beach as during May. One could not walk far without one's attention being called to it by its plaintive whistle, as it flew round in wide circles. Large numbers were to be often seen feeding on the grassland, especially towards evening.
Kentish Plover (Æ. cantiana).—May 10th–14th. I was introduced to this small and somewhat rare little Plover by one of my fishermen friends, who showed a very considerable knowledge of its breeding habits. He informed me that he knew of at least four pairs breeding on different parts of the beach, and that each of these pairs would, if it had the chance, lay two clutches of eggs. After watching one pair of the birds through our glasses, he said, from their behaviour, he should judge that they had not started laying yet; and he took me off to another part of the beach, where he very soon showed me a nest with three eggs in it. I found the eggs most difficult to distinguish, even when close to the nest. The hollow in the shingle in which they were laid was 3 in. in diameter and ¾ in. deep. The pebbles on the inside of the nest had a rather worn and stained appearance from the bird sitting on the eggs.
Lapwing (Vanellus vulgaris).—May 10th–14th. There were great numbers of these birds on the beach and adjoining marsh-land. Many of them breed right out on the shingle: in fact, they lay their eggs anywhere, either on the grass-land or the shingle. There is a considerable traffic in their eggs during the early months of the spring. In all of the nests that I found there were clutches of only three eggs, and, as they were also all hard-sat, this was the full clutch laid in these particular cases. When the nest is made on the shingle there is generally some attempt at lining it with grass, although in one case the eggs were laid right on the stones. July 16th–21st. At this date there was not a single Lapwing to be seen on the beach proper. There were, however, large numbers of them, old and young birds, on the marsh and meadow lands; but they seemed to have quite deserted the shingle.
Common Snipe (Gallinago cœlestis).—May 13th. I disturbed a single bird of this species by the side of a ditch. My companion told me, however, that he had never heard of a nest being found in the district.
Dunlin (Tringa alpina).—May 10th–14th. Small flocks of this bird are numerous in suitable places on the beach. I caught one that had at some time or other lost one of its wings. I was told that there are often maimed birds like this feeding with flocks of sound ones. This specimen was in perfect plumage and fat condition. It was feeding with a small mob of its fellows, and my attention was called to it by its not taking flight when its companions rose at my approach. July 16th–21st. I did not notice any Dunlin on this occasion.
Redshank (Totanus calidris).—Local name, "Red-legs." May 10th–14th. A most conspicuous bird everywhere, on account of its loud whistle and bold behaviour when anyone is near its nest. It is common both on the beach and on the marsh-land. Nests were to be found at this date with both fresh and hard-sat eggs in them. One nest I found was made right on the shingle, with only the scantiest lining of grass and lichen. June 3rd. I found a nest in a patch of grass on the beach with one fresh egg in it. The nest, however, had the appearance of being deserted. July 16th–21st. The Redshanks, like the Lapwings, had quite deserted the beach proper, nor were they numerous anywhere else. I only saw five birds on this occasion, and they were some distance inland, near a piece of water on the marsh.
Common Curlew (Numenius arquata).—May 10th–14th. Saw single birds, and also several flocks of this species flying inland from the seacoast. During my two later visits I saw none of these birds.
Whimbrel (N. phæopus).—May 13th. Picked up a recently shot specimen of this bird by the side of a ditch inland.
Common Tern (Sterna fluviatilis).—Local name, "Kip."—May 10th–14th. There were plenty of these birds about the beach and sea-coast at this date, but they had not yet begun to lay. June 3rd–4th. Now nesting in considerable numbers on various parts of the beach. As a rule the birds were congregated into colonies, but I found two separate nests in quite isolated positions. In the colonies the nests were on an average fifteen or twenty yards apart. The variation in colour and in size of the eggs, even in the same nest, was very great. Their nests—merely a shallow scrape out in the shingle—were in most cases lightly lined with dry grass. In several instances I found eggs indented and cracked, due no doubt to the unevenness of the bottom of the nest causing undue weight on one portion of the egg when the bird is sitting on the nest. At this date I found eggs with the young birds beginning to form, and others quite fresh. July 16th–21st. I did not notice so many of these birds on this visit, but, as I was chiefly on the western edge of the beach, from which the birds had been driven by the artillery practice, that was probably the only reason for my not noticing so many. I was told that the majority of them were to be found to the east of Dungeness Point.
Lesser Tern (Sterna minuta).—Local name, "Skerrek." May 10th–14th. Common about the beach, but not yet started laying. June 3rd–4th. Found them nesting in small companies in a good many places on the beach. They seem to choose places where the shingle is small and comparatively fine, and often do not even trouble to make the usual slight scratch out, laying their eggs in a chance depression, such as a footstep. The nests in these colonies were generally rather closer together than in the case of the Common Tern—say, about eight to ten yards apart. There was no real attempt at lining any of the nests I saw, although they occasionally had an odd blade of grass in them. Several of the eggs I found were showing signs of incubation. There was not quite so much variation in the colour and size as in the eggs of the Common Tern. The complement of eggs in both species seems to be either two or three.
Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus).—Local name, "Crock." May 10th–14th. There is a fair-sized colony of these birds on some pools of water in the middle of the beach. Round the edges of these pools there is a thick growth of reeds and sedges, extending some way from the banks. Most of the nests were resting on the flattened tops of these reeds, which formed a fairly substantial support. The nests themselves were careless structures, the outer part made of dead reeds, with an occasional lining of dry grass, but quite as often without any fine lining at all. All these nests were built on the side of the rushes farthest from the land, and were on this account difficult to get at, as the water at the edge is covered by a treacherous layer of dead vegetation. This is not safe to trust one's weight on, for if breaking through one is immediately in very deep water. Masses of this dead vegetation had broken away from the edges, and were floating about the surfaces of the water, and on nearly all of them one could, with the glasses, distinguish eggs lying right on the surface of the débris, without any attempt at nests. I only saw two clutches with three eggs, the rest of the nests I could see having only one egg in them. July 16th–21st. I only saw old birds on the part of the beach that I visited.
Herring-Gull (L. argentatus), Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. fuscus), Great Black-backed Gull (L. marinas).—There were numbers of these three species on the beach in both mature and immature plumage. They seemed to make a special haunt of the pools where the Black-headed Gulls breed.
Guillemot (Uria troile).—I picked up a dried specimen of this bird amongst the debris on the beach.
Little Grebe (Podicipes fluviatilis).—May 10th-14th. Breeding in considerable numbers in the ditches and pieces of water on the marsh-land. I found nests with fresh eggs and eggs just hatching out on May 13th.