The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 729/Ornithological Notes for 1901 from Norfolk and the North of Suffolk

Ornithological Notes for 1901 from Norfolk and the North of Suffolk  (1902) 
by John Henry Gurney Jr.

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 6, issue 729 (March, 1902), p. 81–100

THE ZOOLOGIST


No. 729.—March, 1902.


ORNITHOLOGICAL NOTES FOR 1901 FROM NOR-
FOLK AND THE NORTH OF SUFFOLK.

By J.H. Gurney, F.Z.S.

The year's budget comprises several matters of interest to East Anglian ornithologists. To begin with the migrations—the chief of which were the Little Auks in February, the Blue-throats and Siskins in September, the Waxwings in November, and the Wood-Pigeons in December. The movement of the Wood-Pigeons was to the N.W., but this may have been only a local movement. I have never seen anything like their legions since the great flight in Surrey in December, 1877, but it is to be remembered that December is about the time when we in Norfolk always expect an increase. The fact is, the preservation of game has been immensely beneficial to the Wood-Pigeons, which are far too destructive to deserve any extraneous protection. We also had a good supply of Fieldfares, but Redwings and Bramblings were fewer. Mr. Patterson noticed Fieldfares searching for drowned worms at Breydon.

The chief rarities for the year 1901 are—a Lesser White-fronted Goose in January; a Golden Oriole, eight White-winged Terns, a Goshawk, and an Orange-legged Hobby in April; a White-winged Tern in May; a Woodchat in June; a Caspian Tern and two Avocets in July; some Bluethroats and a Roller in September; a Sabine's Gull and Tengmalm's Owl in October; and Allen's Gallinule in December.

The first Spoonbill was seen on Breydon mud-flats on April 12th, having come in with a strong north wind, and is believed to have frequented Breydon until the 21st, when it took its departure in fine weather; wind from S.E. (Jary). On April 26th, the wind being N.E. and fine, twelve more came, but remained only two days (Jary). They were no doubt from Hickling Broad, where the Rev. M.C. Bird, to whom I am indebted for much information, reports them as seen a few days before. On May 3rd Mr. Patterson observed another, seven more on the 7th, and two on the 16th and 17th feeding on young flounders about as big as a penny, or smaller. On the 26th he saw two, and three on the 30th; also two on June 2nd, four on June 7th, five on the 15th, and four on the 7th; and noticed that the large Gulls occasionally robbed them of their flounders. Mr. Patterson made a clever drawing, showing eight different attitudes assumed by Spoonbills, as an illustration to his 'Yarmouth Birds.'

From early April to the end of July the uncovered mud-flats of Breydon tidal broad were apparently never without from two to four Spoonbills, which were seen almost daily either by Jary the watcher, or by Mr. Patterson (cf. Zool. 1901, p. 269). These birds were observed with envious eyes by the fraternity of lawbreaking gunners, who, however, were not allowed to destroy them. On July 23rd I had the opportunity of watching two fine birds,† but without crests, which were feeding with numerous Gulls, and only flew from one mud to another when put up. Their white colour against the sky whilst on the wing was very striking, and as with regular beats they flew round, they were recognizable at a great distance. In descending it was interesting to see the circles diminishing, until with one long sail, curving down, they resumed their position on the mud, keeping within ten or twelve feet of one another, their long necks extended sometimes for feeding, or bent back in repose, with bill inserted between the dorsal and scapular plumage. When flying the legs are fully extended, and so is the neck, which is slightly inclined upwards, as shown in Mr. Patterson's drawing.

The Spoonbills seemed to prefer the town-end of Breydon Broad, in spite of the noise of a railway-station and the hammering on a new bridge. It may be owing to the silting up of the broad. The mud-flats on this part of Breydon water remain longest uncovered. On July 30th I found them at their old quarters, with many Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls, a Whimbrel or two, and a pair of handsome Sheld-Ducks. The Spoonbills were probably feeding on mud shrimps and worms; but a Heron which was near them caught a flounder. There was also an Avocet at the farther end of the Broad, where I did not go, the scene reminding me of days on the Nile, where a hundred Spoonbills may be seen in a flock, and Avocets also.

In the middle of July, as I learned from Mr. Pashley, there were a couple at Cley for a week or two, and another at the beginning of August, very likely the same which had been at Breydon; and it is satisfactory to know that the law was observed, and they were unmolested. There is really no more remarkable instance of what can be done by protection than the annual return of the Spoonbills in such considerable numbers to their ancient Norfolk haunts; but unless the Breydon Wild Birds' Protection Society receives more pecuniary support than it has had in the past, it will be unable to continue carrying on its good work. There is still a place in Holland fortunately strictly protected, where about six hundred Spoonbills nest in security (Sclater, Bull. B.O.C. viii. p. 10), from whence some think our stock come; but Mr. Patterson is informed that a new railway runs near their "spoonery," which is ominous.

The annexed copy (p. 84) of a photograph by Mr. G.C. Davies, represents a heronry at Reedham, supposed to be on the same site as the wood in which the Spoonbills nested in Sir Thomas Browne's time. It is just on the rising ground above where the marshes commence, and I learn from the owner that there were nearly ninety nests this summer. No doubt, when Spoonbills nested there, their food supply was drawn from Breydon flats.

The fifteen Great Bustards which were imported from Spain, and turned down, feather-pinioned, near Thetford (see last year's Notes), as I learn from Mr. Hill, who has obliged me with reports from time to time, remained on the same estate until the middle of June, when, their wing-feathers being grown, all but four or five took their departure, and two were almost immediately shot at Finningham, in Suffolk. Both the slayer and his master were prosecuted, but this could not bring the Bustards to life again. In October last the head keeper was still able to say that there were two males and two females left. These four were well guarded, but on Dec. 13th they had strayed as far as Mildenhall, near Newmarket (Howlett). However, on the 17th, they were safely back at their proper quarters, three of them flying strongly; but the fourth, a female, has an injured wing.

It has been the worst Woodcock and Snipe season I remember for a long time. The "Red Partridge" (Perdix montana) did not turn up again, and its grey brethren were not particularly abundant. To the domestic Pheasant all seasons are more or less alike.

As usual, the Notes are arranged in the form of a diary. Occurrences marked with a dagger indicate that such specimens were examined by the recorder.


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Heronry at Reedham.


January.

1st.—A Tawny Owl, quietly sitting on my retriever's kennel, was found early in the morning by the keeper going his rounds. It was caught without much difficulty, and on examination proved to have a disease, or rather a growth of flesh in the mouth, which was no doubt the reason of its seeming tameness, and from which it soon died. Diseases among Wood-Pigeons are rather common, but I never heard before of such a case in a wild Owl.

4th.—A gathering of Long-eared Owls at Calthorpe, near the sea; also a Harrier and twelve Bearded Tits (R. Gurney). Twenty-five Whooper Swans at Hickling (A. Nudd).

5th.— Bittern booming (M.C. Bird).

7th.—A Dunlin† at Keswick.

8th.—Two Bewick's Swans at Yarmouth (B. Dye), and six at Hickling (Bird).

19th.—Bean-Goose at Yarmouth (Dye).

24th.—A Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus, L.),† female, obtained in the Wash, and sent from King's Lynn, with some Coots and Knots, to a poulterer at Birmingham, was there detected by Mr. Coburn (Zool. 1900, p. 317), who secured it. Although a large specimen (measuring—culmen 1·5 in., tarsus 2·4 in., length 22 in.), there seems no doubt that Mr. Coburn has correctly identified it. He remarks that its legs were not yellow, but they would naturally change after death to a reddish orange, which is what Mr. Coburn describes them to have been. In this example, which, through the kindness of Mr. Coburn, was exhibited at a meeting of the Norwich Naturalists' Society, the white forehead extends nearly up to a point between the eyes, which is generally considered a distinctive mark of A. erythropus. Some ornithologists would unite A. erythropus and A. albifrons, but in that case the American A. gambeli cannot be kept apart, and there is an immense difference in size between the two extremes; and, as the habitats of A. erythropus and A. albifrons are to some extent different, although both inhabit Central Europe and some part of Asia, it seems undesirable to unite them. Seebohm has done so, but they are kept apart by Count Salvadori, our latest authority. It is possible that a White-fronted Goose shot on Breydon in January, 1880, and described by Mr. Stevenson as somewhat small, may have been A. erythropus, a bird, as Mr. Coburn's specimen shows, easy to pass over.

February.

7th.—An unfortunate Bittern shot in the suburbs of Norwich, close to the City Road Station, where there is a small expanse of water (T. E. Gunn).

13th.—Mr. Gunn showed me a Slavonian Grebe,† and a few days afterwards I saw another, which had, in addition to a bright red eye, a beautiful inner rim of yellow next the pupil.

15th.—A Bewick's Swan† shot at Holt.

19th.—Disturbed a Wood-Pigeon from her nest in a fir-tree, in which were two eggs, in spite of snow being on the ground. This is a most erratic species as to nesting, and I certainly think Wood-Pigeons sometimes have four or five nests in a year. These are often such flimsy fabrics that it is a wonder how they hold together, and sometimes the glossy-white eggs can be seen through them. A propos of this subject, Miss Buxton saw a Wood-Pigeon flying with an egg-shell in its beak, which it afterwards dropped. From this no doubt a young one had been recently extruded, instinct probably prompting the parent to remove the shells.

22nd.—Mr. A. Napier, who resides at Holkam, informs Mr. Southwell that there have been more wildfowl on the Earl of Leicester's lake than he ever saw before, and he believes at one time there were 20,000 Ducks of sorts on the water, but only one Smew. Several Whooper Swans have also visited the lake.

25th.—At least three thousand Coots, or "Cutes," as they are locally called, on Hickling Broad; and afforded an extraordinary sight when, on being fired at by a flotilla of boats, perhaps nearly one thousand would rise in the air at one time, dispersing in every direction, but seldom leaving their beloved Broad. The same system of shooting is adopted as at Slapton Ley and the mouth of the Rhone, the object being to keep a good line and hem the Coots in, which, if properly done, the birds return over the boats. The tenacity with which they cling to the Broad is owing to their being day-feeders, for at night Coots often fly long distances of their own accord. How long these organized Coot-shoots have been in existence Mr. Bird is unable to ascertain, but certainly as long as any of the present marshmen can remember.

28th.—The month of February was again notable by a very considerable incursion of Little Auks, mingled with many young Puffins (a somewhat new feature), but I only heard of one adult Puffin from Mr. Patterson. It is probable that the adult birds, being stronger than young ones, are less at the mercy of the waves, and keep further out to sea; but the Little Auks which visit our coast always seem to be adult, or nearly so, and the sea does not spare them. Among many scores I have never yet handled one young enough to have a beak smaller than the normal size, which seems singular, as young Razorbills are not uncommon. The first reported Little Auks were met with by Mr. Ernest Gunn when walking along the shore at Caistor on the 14th. These were followed on the 20th by one at Northrepps, one at Overstrand, and others at different places, amounting altogether to over fifty, chiefly by the coast; but one was carried as far as Weasenham. There was some variation in plumage, and Mr. Dye was the first to notice that sometimes the white neck was continued round the occiput. This I imagine to be perfect winter plumage; and, on the other hand, Mr. Gunn had a specimen which had acquired a good deal of the black neck of summer. Both Mr. Gunn and Mr. Lowne, who were good enough to sex their specimens, found a considerable preponderance of females.

March.

23rd.—At Scratby Gap, near Yarmouth, Mr. Patterson, searching along the shore, found several Little Auks, Guillemots, and Puffins, or their remains—the sea's rejectamenta after a gale from the east. He also discovered some dead Starlings, and at one spot eight Rooks, which had lost their lives in crossing.

25th.—More than fifty Blue Tits† in one small beech plantation. Wind from N.N.E., with sleet.

30th.—Gale from the south.

31st.—Many Grey Crows leaving Norfolk, and the following week (April 7th) hundreds were seen following the coast-line at Horsey (Bird). They always congregate on our coast about this time (cf. Zool. 1886, p. 390).

April.

2nd.—About April 2nd a Shag,† not adult but well advanced in plumage, was caught alive, but in a helpless condition, close to Felmingham Hall, nine miles from the sea, and subsequently sent to me in a somewhat advanced condition by Mr. Plumbly.

16th.—About this date Mr. Pashley had brought in for preservation a female Goshawk—always a rare bird with us—which had been taken at Weybourne in a rabbit-trap. Last occurrence, March, 1893.

21st.—A Golden Oriole, a Pied Flycatcher, and a Norfolk Plover—signs of summer—all recently seen or captured near Yarmouth (W. Lowne). This Norfolk Plover, or another one, was taken on a boat (Dutt).

22nd.—S.E.Terns on Breydon, including a flock of eight White-winged Terns, which were identified by Mr. Jary. Wood-Sandpiper at Hickling.

25th.—Several Wood-Sandpipers, some Little Stints, and a Jack-Snipe seen at Hickling by a competent observer (Bird).

28th.— Male Smew at Barton Broad (Bird).

30th.—Mr. Lowne received an adult male Orange-legged Hobby from Acle, and at about the same time a Common Hobby† in change, and an Eared Grebe from Stalham. It is some time since a Red-legged Hobby has been recorded from Norfolk; it was supposed to have been seen flying over Breydon a few days before it was killed.

May.

1st.—Wood-Warbler seen at Cranmer by Mr. C.A. Hamond, a local bird, and decidedly rare; the Chiffchaff is also scarce.

3rd.—N.E.Fourteen Egyptian Geese on Breydon Broad (Jary). As many other African birds migrate to England and France, I cannot understand why this species in England should always be supposed to represent escaped birds. Its occurrence with us is no more remarkable than the occasional presence of such birds as the Greater Spotted Cuckoo, the Desert Wheatear, the Buff-backed Heron, and the Cream-coloured Courser, all likewise natives of North Africa.

13th.—A Woodcock's nest at Stratton Strawless, where the sitting hen was so tame as to allow people to stroke her, and even touch the eggs, which, not to be wondered at, were ultimately forsaken, but not until she had been several times photographed upon them. As she was known to have sat for twenty-five days, the eggs must have been infertile (Buxton).

15th.—A White-winged Tern on Breydon Broad, also some Lesser and Black Terns (Jary); wind N.E. the previous evening, and high.

16th.—N.N.E.Two Green Sandpipers and a pair of Common Sandpipers at Hickling, the male of the latter mounting up into the air, and "singing" like a Redshank (Bird).

June.

1st.—Twenty-four Sheld-Ducks at Cley (F.H. Barclay).

2nd.—Mr. S. Bligh observed a Woodchat at Framingham Earl fly down from a high fence and take a large insect, the size of a May-chaffer, which it was carrying in its bill when it passed him; the under parts were dull white, the back black and white, the scapular feathers looking perfectly white, as in a male, which it probably was. It is many years since a Woodchat has been identified in this county.

14th.—A Grey Crow shot at Cromer by Mr. Barclay, who discovered some game-eggs which it had evidently sucked close by. Another seen by him near the same place on Aug. 9th.

18th.—Mr. Southwell found the Terns at Wells quite as numerous a colony as usual—the result of protection—but the nests more scattered than last year. The dead bodies of a few young ones, however, were lying about, and some eggs had been drawn into a hole by rats. Two nests each contained the unusual number of four eggs, and in a third nest was a white egg with two normal ones, of which Mr. Corder obtained a good photograph.

29th.—Disturbed a Hawfinch† at my pea-rows, and was astonished at the harm it had done; but I believe that the Jays are also answerable.

30th.—A young Hawfinch† caught in a strawberry-net at Cranmer (Davey). This bird was reared, but, being put into the same cage as an old male, was so pecked that it died.

Cuckoo Notes.—On June 17th a young Cuckoo, perhaps four days old, and quite unable to see, and with the back cavity still visible, was found in a Hedge- Sparrow's nest at Keswick. One Hedge-Sparrow's egg still in the nest, and two naked nestlings dead on the edge of it. A few days afterwards another young Cuckoo was found about fifty yards from the first one, and that was also in a Hedge-Sparrow's nest, and between the two Cuckoos there might be a week's difference in age. Cuckoo No. 1, being put in a cage, had of course to be reared by hand, which was a laborious business, it being nearly six weeks old before it knew how to feed itself. From the first it seemed incapable of seeing any food presented to it; even a wriggling mealworm was not noticed, and it was evident that it fed by a sense of touch only, a habit which afterwards led to its death; for, being neglected, it refused to eat, although plenty of food was before it. Even when full-grown it seemed unable to find its food. Another peculiarity was that it always rose to eat, and without getting on its legs would neither accept nor eat anything. It then struck out at the hand which held the food, in the aimless way of young Cuckoos, at the same time generally uttering a low trill, which I particularly remarked, as some writers describe a young Cuckoo as quite silent. A correspondent describes a young Cuckoo as crushing caterpillars before eating them (Zool. 1896, p. 384), but mine did not treat mealworms in this manner, but swallowed them at once. At first the sunken eyes of this young Cuckoo were very noticeable, but by the time it was half-grown they were as prominent as in most other birds. The yellow mouth—at first so bright—also soon changed to a dull pink, and the beak became nearly black. When in the nest the position of the head is more bent back than in other nestling birds, and the eye, as I have said, more sunken. Good authorities have denied that the parent Cuckoo takes any subsequent interest in its offspring, but at the age of about thirty days my captive was visited by an adult Cuckoo, which was seen to flutter about the cage without actually alighting upon it. I did not myself see it, but the keeper's boy could not be mistaken.

On July 28th a third young Cuckoo was found, also in a Hedge-Sparrow's nest, all three being discovered by the noise made by the old foster-bird in feeding them. It was about four days old, and was within twenty yards of the second nest, all of them being placed in hedges in one garden. These youngsters were of a black tone of plumage, and must have been the offspring of the same female, judging from this and the remarkable proximity of the nests.

I may here mention that two Cuckoos did good service in the early part of May by repeatedly feeding (in the presence of my gardener) at Northrepps on a small caterpillar (Cidaria prunata) which infested the gooseberries. On the other hand, some gooseberry-bushes at Keswick, which did not receive their attentions in this way, were spoilt possibly by the same larvæ. Very few birds except the Cuckoo will eat the "woolly bear."

July.

4th.—A considerable number of Great Crested Grebes seen on Ormesby Broad by the members of the Yarmouth Naturalists' Society, who are anxious to have them protected. Ormesby and Filby Broads were always a favourite haunt for Grebes, and I have seen a great many sometimes on Fritton lake.

21st.—A Caspian Tern, watched by Messrs. Patterson, Eldred, and Jary, fishing and plunging vigorously into the shallow water on a part of Breydon called "Rotten-Eye." The next day it was watched again, and was seen to capture an eel, after which, thanks to protection, it passed on. The wind at the time was W.N.W., light, with some fog, and the day before E.N.E., and the evening before that E. It is on this great tidal Broad that most of the British captures of Sterna caspia have taken place, but we have not had one to record since 1862.

29th.—E., fine. Two Green Sandpipers at Intwood stream (cf. Zool. 1899, p. 122); at Hanworth also from two to five have been repeatedly seen during the summer, but as yet no Norfolk naturalist has succeeded in finding a nest.

30th.—S.E., fine. An Avocet on Breydon Broad (Jary).

August.

4th.—My keeper lifted a Partridge off her nest, and, after testing the five eggs to see if they were fertile, put the bird gently back, without her resenting being handled, and the eggs afterwards hatched. Perhaps the Partridge was a hand-reared one, which would in part account for its tameness. I also had a nest in a stack, but, fearing accidents, hatched the eggs under a hen. Partridges are apt to be tiresome on a newly-sown bean-field, for not only do they attack the seed in May, but also eat the young plant when it is about an inch above the ground.

9th.—W. The Avocet still on Breydon muds, with Curlew, Whimbrel, Redshanks, Knot, Dunlin, and Ring-Dotterel (Jary).

12th.—About this date two Garganey Teal were shot near St. Bennet's Abbey, as well as a Shoveler and a Common Teal; while a Purple Heron was reported as having been seen at Yarmouth; doubtful!

18th.—S. The Avocet still on Breydon.

September.

The first fortnight of September was marked by a considerable passage of Blue-throated Warblers, extending from Wells to Horsey, where Mr. Bird notes one on the 12th. This was immediately followed by a movement of Siskins and Redstarts, Mr. Bird remarking that he never remembered seeing so many of the latter: and I see from 'The Zoologist' (1901, pp. 425, 426) that the excess of Siskins was not confined to Norfolk. In Scotland the late Rev. H.A. Macpherson saw an immense flock of them ('Scottish Nat. Hist.' p. 53), and the migration reached Orkney Islands. It would be interesting to know if Heligoland shared in this migration, as it did in October, 1881. Mr. B. Dye writes that many Siskins were caught at Yarmouth, and the following is from Mr. Patterson:—"During the influx of Siskins, Mr. Odder, a local birdcatcher, observed an old lettuce-bed smothered with them. Borrowing a call-bird, he took his nets there next morning, and by breakfast-time had netted 90, and by noon had 140."

On the 2nd Mr. Roberts received a Roller† to preserve, but the carrier who brought it to Norwich declined to say where it was shot; and later on the same secrecy was maintained about a Fork-tailed Petrel.† Happily the blood of only a single Hoopoe has stained the ground this year; this bird has become nearly as rare in Norfolk as the Rose Pastor, which thirty years ago was not a very exceptional visitor.

12th.—A Solitary Snipe shot on Blakeney sand-hills by Mr. T.E. Gunn. I do not know if there is any significance in the fact that I saw some in Copenhagen on the same day at a poulterer's.

25th.—A grey Cuckoo seen at Potter Heigham by Mr. Bird, who was within twenty yards of it; very late for an adult.

30th.—About this date a Honey Buzzard† was shot at Southrepps (Gunn), and another,† attempting to alight on the lee-rigging of a smack, fell back into the sea, and was captured alive. On being brought into Yarmouth, it was immediately announced in the local paper as an Imperial Eagle! Neither in this nor last year has there been more than a single Rough-legged Buzzard to report, which is curious, as they are sometimes common.

The last three weeks of September were much too fine for bird-migration, and quite hot for the time of year. October 1st gave 75·5° at a shaded thermometer of Mr. Preston's, a nearly unprecedented reading; but on the 2nd the weather changed, but only to be fine again on the 3rd. In consequence, ploughing for the autumn wheat-sowing, very backward (owing to want of rain); and in such weather no rarities were to be expected in the bird line. On Oct. 13th Mr. Bird gathered twenty-four species of wild flowers in bloom.

October.

5th.—Eleven Norfolk Plovers† at Hevingham, where I learned from the owner of the land that a pair had bred this summer; he caught a young one. This considerable tract of heath is now the only resort of Œdicnemus scolopax in East Norfolk since Kelling Heath was deserted.

10th.—An adult Buffon's Skua,† shot at Beeston Regis by Mr. Hoare while flying over a turnip-field just after a gale there from the N.W., in which a ship was wrecked.

14th.—Grey Crows and Jackdaws streaming over (Bird). Little or no wind at Keswick.

19th.—Mr. Cole gave me an opportunity of examining an immature Sabine's Gull,† shot at Lowestoft yesterday, which makes the ninth local occurrence in this same month. It was in good condition, and weighed 7¼ oz., and was in the usual plumage. Wind on the 18th S., force 5; misty at Yarmouth.

27th.—About this time a considerable influx of migratory Larks, Finches, Martins, &c, noticed by correspondents.

30th.—Two Tengmalm's Owls picked up alive at Southwold, in Suffolk ('Field,' Feb. 1st, 1902), and another at Thornham (Archdale).

31st.—A Grey Shrike,† of the variety called Pallas's Shrike, brought into Yarmouth by a fishing-smack. Mr. Dutt writes that other trawlers have been visited by migrants; a Starling alighted on one, followed by a Sparrow-Hawk, which was killed by the fisherman with his boot. Mr. Dutt found a Partridge washed up, but this may have been one frightened out to sea. High wind from the E.N.E. on the 30th, and gale on the 31st.

November.

1st.—Greater Spotted Woodpecker at Yarmouth (E. Saunders), after a gale from E. There is no European Woodpecker so migratory as Picus major. Others afterwards in the same neighbourhood, and two sent to Mr. Cole, of Norwich, and one to Mr. Gunn.

2nd.—Quail shot at Palling, by the coast, and another on the 15th, had their crops full of seed, chiefly of wild goosefoot (Chenopodium album), (Bird).

11th.—Woodpecker Notes.—A Great Spotted Woodpecker† (Picus major) has lately, day after day, and generally in the morning, been seen upon the withered brauch of a large stone-pine (Pinus pinea)—always the same branch—hammering at it with might and main. This hard labour has now been going on regularly for a fortnight. Sometimes it hammers at the dead bough, and sometimes at fir-cones placed on the bough, which it may be seen to gather from a couple of adjacent Scotch firs (P. sylvestris); but it is always on this particular bough, which has some mysterious attraction. Having placed the cone in position, it begins near the apex, where the scales have not expanded, and picks as much of it to pieces as is needful in its search for the seeds, which lie between the scales, leaving the hard base untouched. It probably jams the cones into a crack, or it may be into a hole which it has made in the dead branch. Such holes are about the size of a shilling, and are not uncommon; but it never struck me before that they were intentionally made as receptacles. Occasionally this amusing bird will take a cone in its beak, look round to see that the coast is clear, and then, if the observer remains quite motionless, resume its hammering. It never sits crossways, and each hammering only lasts a few seconds, but is very resonant. Probably it extracts the seeds, which are very small, by means of its long tongue—1·5 in. in length—which is furnished with a horny and no doubt glutinous tip; but I suppose it can only get them by this means when the cone is ripe, and the scales expanded. The tongue of a Woodpecker is indeed a singular organ, curiously adapted for its purpose, and is beset at the end with little barbs. When at work on its favourite branch its whole body swings with every blow, with such vigour are they given. The stiff rectrices, which are graduated to a point, and have hard webs, are certainly a support in this sledge-hammering process, and equally are they of use in climbing. Often it may be seen hammering when it has dropped its cone, but this is either pure ebullition of spirits, or in order to keep its beak down. Woodpeckers are occasionally seen with malformed beaks, but a dead bough is a tempting sounding-board. This bird is a female, which disposes of the supposition (Zool. 1901, p. 97) that it is only the male which hammers.


Zoologistmont46190260lond 129.jpg
Fir-cone chipped by Picus major.

When first observed by my neighbour, Mr. Knight, it was in a large nutbush in his garden, attending to a cob-nut, and it was not until this bush and the next one were pretty well cleared that it betook itself to the fir-cones. Here, under its favourite branch, the ground is now (Nov. 19th) strewn with dropped cones. Now and then, when it is not at work hammering, a "quat quat" can be heard, and this is the only vocal sound which has proceeded from our handsome visitor, and might easily pass unnoticed. Prof. Newton says they also sometimes utter a low "tra tra tra" ('British Birds,' ii. p. 471).

22nd.—Sometimes the distant tapping of another Woodpecker could be heard, but it was not until to-day that we located her; for it was again a female. She was in a large oak-tree, and here she remained several days feeding entirely on the grubs contained in oak-galls. Once or twice she was seen flying with one in her beak, and in one instance holding a twig several inches long, which she had just picked with the oak-gall attached to it, and which she afterwards dropped at my feet. Most of the galls on the ground had been halved very neatly, and, as some which I obtained for examination contained as many as six little white grubs, they were worth the trouble of opening.

23rd.—Wood-Pigeons arriving in swarms at Taverham, where there are extensive coverts (E.F. Penn), and a large increase noted at Keswick and other places; but of this more subsequently. Between the 17th and 27th Waxwings were reported from Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Filby, Burgh Castle, Hickling, Sidestrand, Cromer, and Sheringham; but the flight must have rapidly passed on, and does not seem to have been followed by others. By the end of the month they had got to Newmarket (W. Howlett).

December.

4th.—Only one Spotted Woodpecker at Keswick now, but that remains constant to the same two fir-trees, which it is gradually stripping. There are at the present time three or four hundred Scotch fir-cones on the ground, all dropped by the Woodpecker, and nearly all from the same dead bough. Besides this, about twenty are jammed into the trunk of the tree, which, being a stone-pine, has interstices in the bark large enough to receive them. Although the Nuthatch does the same with nuts and seeds, I never detected it in Picus major before. In my last year's "Norfolk Notes " a description was given of a knob as big as a pea on the lower mandible of the nestling Green Woodpecker. I have since ascertained that the Greater Spotted Woodpecker also has this peculiar growth, but less developed, and it has also been detected by Mr. H. Noble in Gecinus sharpii; but what its object can be is difficult to divine. P. major is not an uncommon bird in Norfolk, and anyone may hear its rapid hammering, which is loudest in the spring, taking the place of the vocal love-song in other birds. It is much more seldom to be seen upon the ground than the Green Woodpecker, and is more of a fruit-eater, but does not feed on ants. I once had a nest in a plum-tree in my kitchen-garden, well within reach of the hand; another nest was in an alder, and a third one in a birch, the bark of which had many scratches on it made by the Woodpecker's claws. The eggs are glossy white; as many as seven were on one occasion taken at Hempstead, but I cannot remember now what sort of tree the hole was in. I believe this species to be very omnivorous, and have even once known an instance of its eating young birds, as well as the larva of the Leopard Moth.

8th.—Great Flight of Pigeons.—For several days past large arrivals of Wood-Pigeons have been noticed, probably from Scotland, where I am told there have been great numbers. They are destructive birds, and have this summer completely cleared a garden at Northrepps of peas. Generally they prefer turnips and acorns, and have no objection to acorns which have begun to sprout. Their crops are very dilatable, and they can easily stow away thirty or forty large acorns, or five hundred black ivy berries without inconvenience, or two or three wineglasses of oats or elder berries. In fact, there is nothing they will not eat—roots, green crops, cereals, from the time they are sown to the time they are harvested, are at their mercy. With such qualities, this increasing species should be kept in check wherever practicable.

11th.—From about 7.30 a.m., or earlier, to 8.45 a.m., Wood-Pigeons at the rate of forty per minute were passing my house, most of them in flocks of from twenty to forty, flying at an average height of about two hundred feet, and all going N.W., against the wind, which was light. I never saw so many here before, and think the whole country-side must have furnished contingents. It had been fine, but at 11 a.m. it began to rain, and poured all day without ceasing, and by 9 o'clock next morning there was 1·55 in the rain-gauge. This was the biggest downpour of the year, and to it no doubt the movement of Pigeons was due.

12th.—Again, at the same time in the morning, flocks of Pigeons were to be seen going N.W., but the total was very much less than yesterday. Shooters were not slow in availing themselves of so many "Cushat doos," and at Weston, Witchingham, and Morston bags of nearly one hundred were made in a few hours. It was to this line of country that they seemed to be confined, correspondents at Cromer, where there are large woods, reporting only a few, while Mr. Penn, who was shooting near Lowestoft on the 10th, 11th, and 12th, was struck by their scarceness.

19th.—My nephew saw a Peregrine Falcon at Cley.

29th.—Another great arrival of Wood-Pigeons having taken place at Taverham, Mr. E.F. Penn went to the coverts by the river at 11.45 the following morning, and in about three hours bagged one hundred and twenty-nine to his own gun; but going again with his father the day after, expecting great things, they hardly saw any. He says at one time in some coverts at Attlebridge near there, where there are a lot of big dark fir trees, it was quite a wonderful sight when the Wood-Pigeons went in to roost, "just like Starlings in a reed-bed," and they seemed to be packed as tight as was possible. Bags of twenty-seven, thirty-eight, forty, and fifty-four were made up on ordinary days covert shooting, when no special pains were taken to circumvent them. I believe there were very few Stock-Doves; I did not see any. For lying-up for Wood-Pigeons a few "decoys" are a great help, but they must be head to wind, and there is a good deal of judgment required in placing them. Above all, it is essential that the shooter be himself well concealed.

31st.—On the last day of December,[1] a Gallinule† of a cinnamon colour, and about the size of a Moor-hen, alighted on a fishing-boat off Hopton, a village near Yarmouth, and being caught was taken to Mr. Walter Lowne. With the assistance of books and skins, kindly lent by Prof. Newton, it was decided that the stranger was an immature Allen's Gallinule (Porphyriola alleni (Thompson)), resembling the hind figure in the plate in Dresser's 'Birds of Europe,' a native of Africa which has occasionally occurred in the south of Europe, and has also been taken at sea. Two days afterwards it was still alive at Mr. Lowne's house, showing no signs of confinement, except in being tame, which Porphyrios generally are; and as there was a high wind from S.W. at the time of its capture, I think we may look upon it as a wanderer strayed from the south. I know that the time of the year is somewhat against this theory, but Prof. Giglioli, of Florence, writes that P. alleni has been taken both in Italy and Sicily in December; see also Giglioli, 'Avifauna Italica,' pp. 353, 354. It is also true, as Prof. Newton remarks, that few species escape from a cage more readily than those of this genus, because they look bulky, while in reality they can squeeze through a very small opening. Enquiries ascertained that it was not a fugitive from Woburn Park, where a number of P. smaragdonotus were turned out in 1896 and 1897. All Crakes and Gallinules are wanderers, because they fly high and are probably easily carried away by storms, and it is easier to explain the appearance of Porzana maruetta in Berkshire and the Hebrides, of Porphyriola martinica in Ireland, of Aramides cayennensis in Wiltshire, and of P. alleni at Yarmouth by the theory of their being storm-driven migrants assisted by ships, than by the alternative theory of escape. There are scores of authentic records of Water-Rails, Corn-Crakes, Gallinules, and Porphyrios being caught on ships. On the same day a large Diver†, thought at first to be Adam's Diver, was picked up on the shore at Caister, and taken to Mr. E.C. Saunders; but although nearly the whole of the lower mandible and about two-thirds of the upper were white, the bill was not sufficiently upturned for that species, judging from Prof. Collett's plate and article and from my father's Pakefield specimen. Neither can I at all think that the specimen figured in Babington's 'Birds of Suffolk' is really Colymbus adamsi, though he thought it was. Our museum contains a good example from the north of Norway, obtained at Tromsoe by Col. Feilden, which shows clearly the difference in the bill.

Avicultural Notes.

Eagle Owl.—On February 1st one of my late father's Eagle Owls died; it was believed to be between thirty and forty years of age, and a few weeks after its companion, thirty years old, also died. My father had many of these fine Owls, but he never equalled the success of Mr. Meade Waldo, who has two in Kent, one of which—the male bird—is undoubtedly seventy-one, and the other—the female—is believed to be fifty-six, and is the parent of ninety young ones. Compared to such Nestors our birds were juvenile. There is no easier bird to keep than this hardy Owl, but if two males are together they will fight, and probably claw out an eye. It is evident that the Eagle Owl can see but very imperfectly in the daytime. The iris is very yellow in the young bird, but gets much lighter after eighteen months. In few birds do the pupils dilate more, and in the sitting bird, when exhausted with the labours of incubation, they become almost white. The eyes get weak if they sit long in the sun; and if one eye is exposed to the light, and one is in the shade, one pupil is then much larger than the other. The ear-tufts are depressed in repose, but if a dog or a stranger appears they are immediately erected, and the whole bird swells itself out in a very formidable way, snapping its mandibles with a loud noise, which is done in the act of opening, not in closing them.

Pintail hybrids.—Mr. Knight had three broods of Pintail × Wild Duck hybrids from the same birds which did so well on his pond last year, some of which by June 16th were three weeks old, but unfortunately several of the young died from the drought, and some which I took charge of were killed by rats; but it proves the facility with which the Pintail and Wild Duck interbreed. Two pair of Mr. Knight's hybrids placed on separate ponds have, however, shown no signs of breeding again.

Black Lark.—On Oct. 30th a Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis) died after eating a piece of yew, though it had only bitten off a few tips. Subtle as is the poison of the yew, I do not remember to have heard of a cage-bird succumbing to it before, but I have known Partridges killed by it, and Pheasants have been poisoned (see 'Field,' Nov. 25th, Dec. 2nd, 1876). M. yeltoniensis has been taken in Belgium about a dozen times, so the appearance of this handsome bird may be expected some day in East Anglia.


  1. I learn from Mr. J.B. Nichols that the Allen's Gallinule was not captured on Dec. 31st, but on the morning of Jan. 1st, when the wind was again W.S.W., but had moderated a little, and the weather was rather misty at Yarmouth.

This work was published before January 1, 1927, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.