The Zoologist/4th series, vol 6 (1902)/Issue 735/Notes and Queries

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

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 6, issue 735, p. 352–356



Birds in the Valley of the Namsen.—The Namdaleners—and, indeed, all Norwegians—take great care of their birds, except those that are inimical to their interests; so that one derives immense pleasure in roaming through the fir-woods and alder-bushes by the river side. The birds are so tame—Magpies and Hooded Crows especially—that one experiences quite a new joy in being able to observe their characters and habits so near at hand. Then again we experience once more the youthful thrill of delight on finding such nests as those of the Fieldfare and Redwing, winter visitants whose breeding haunts and habits have always hung dimly in the regions of mystery. The above-mentioned Crows abounded; I counted sixty Hoodies crossing the river together as they flapped away to roost; and, indeed, became an unmitigated nuisance in the early morning, when they held high parliament outside my bedroom window. Hazel-grouse (yerpe) flushed in desultory coveys like Partridges from the alders and fir trees; and once, while speeding through the lovely fern-clad, moss-carpeted pine woods to the daily Salmon fishing, I happed into the very midst of a splendid covey of Capercailie, quite tame, within ten yards, and they simply whirred heavily away into the nearest fir trees, not in the least alarmed. The monotony of broad still river was relieved by many pairs of Mergansers passing up and down, or in the evening shooting out across the stream, with their trip of downy-lings, to the shallows on the opposite shore, where they will eat Salmon-parr to their hearts' content. Black-throated Divers, too, were there in plenty, very busy fishing, and mewling over their ill-fortune, or flying away with weird croakings to their romantic breeding haunts far away in the hills. It seems a pity that government grants are offered for all these birds, though I am bound to confess that I took six Salmon-parr, two inches long, from the throat of one little "'Ganzer." Fortunately, however, the one croner offered, in the case of the Divers, takes a deal of earning. It cost me ten, and I failed to secure the government grant after all. A price is set, too, upon all birds of prey, the unhappy Buzzards, which do no harm to the farmers and an incalculable amount of good, suffering the most, since they are easiest to secure. One pair were accused of killing Capercailie and Ptarmigan, and their death-warrant signed; so I went off to the hills to secure pictures of the nest and specimens of the birds. The nest was full of débris of Mice—Bank- Voles chiefly; one lay uneaten on the sticks. But, though I rigged up a chicken in a most tantalizing manner to try and secure the male bird, neither the cock nor hen, who kept howling from the top of a fir tree, would look at it. The farmer became less convinced as to their destructive propensities, but still eight croners for the four birds form a strong inducement to them to send in the claws to the local landsman (policeman).

Of other birds, one noted the Brambling, Norfolk Plover, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Curlew, Grey Plover, Spotted Flycatcher, Heron, Marsh Tit, Swallow, House and Sand Martin, Redstart, Whinchat, Willow-Wren, and many others; while the note of the Great Black Woodpecker was frequent in the hill-forests, though I never had the luck to see one. The Cuckoo, too, was in full song in July. One could have wished that the pursuit of ornithology had been one's only pastime; but, since we had travelled for a whole week to catch Salmon, our backs had to be turned resolutely on the woodland glades. — Fredk. Pickard Cambridge (Wimbledon).

The Two-barred Crossbill in Nottinghamshire.—I was delighted to be able to add a new bird to the Nottinghamshire list, viz. the Two-barred Crossbill (Loxia bifasciata). When in Southwell (the smallest city in England, and which contains one of the most beautiful cathedrals), I called on Henry Schumach, the talented taxidermist. I found him going over an old box of birds preserved by his late father, and amongst them at once "spotted" this rare British visitor. I asked him about it, and he said: "I remember it being shot very well by Mr. Emery, butler to the late Mr. Wyld, of Southwell. He saw it in some big old Scotch firs in the grounds, and shot it, and brought it to my father, to whom he gave it." I then asked him why his father had never mentioned it to me or others. He said he thought it must have been an escaped cage-bird, so stuffed it to put in a case some time, but had never done so. He was at home when the bird was shot, and saw it in flesh when brought in. I had a good look at it; the claws were sharp, and plumage good; legs a bit shattered by shot. I have secured it for my collection, and shall value it as a rare British bird.—J. Whitaker (Rainworth, Notts).

Cirl Bunting in Ireland.—On Saturday, August 2nd, within half a mile of Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, I watched for some time an adult specimen of the Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus). The bird was on some gorse by the side of the road, and allowed me to remain about ten yards away, sufficiently long to point out to my wife—who was with me at the time-—the difference between it and citrinella. I may add that the Cirl Bunting is a bird with which I am very well acquainted, and in this case was first attracted by its note. This appears to be the first record for Ireland.—H.E. Howard (Clareland, near Stourport, Worcestershire).

Cirl Bunting in Carnarvonshire and Cardiganshire.— In reference to the occurrence of the Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) in Carnarvonshire, recorded by Mr. Aplin (Zool. 1899, p. 322), it may interest him and others to know that this bird is by no means uncommon in that part of the county near the Little Orme. During a short stay in the neighbourhood in July, I heard and saw five males within a radius of one mile. One afternoon two birds were singing together in a churchyard, within a few yards of each other; one was perched on the east gable of the church, the other in a yew tree. Close at hand I also found a nest, which by July 16th contained three eggs. This nest, chiefly composed of hay, grass, &c, was built in a hedge bordering a lane, amongst blackthorn, brambles, &c, and, as is usually the case—so far as my experience goes—placed on the field side of the hedge, and invisible from the lane. Another nest, out of which the young had just flown, was built in an isolated bit of gorse in a hedgerow, also bordering a lane. Curiously enough, immediately under this nest, but in the bank and next the lane, there was a Yellowhammer's nest with four eggs, showing that the two species do agree together at times. With regard to the song of the Cirl Bunting, it may not be generally known that the same bird will sometimes alter its usual loud trill to a much sharper and higher key. Its call is somewhat remarkable and unmistakable, being a very thin sibilant note repeated at intervals. There is another alarm-note, uttered occasionally by the male, which is identical with that of the Hedge-Sparrow; this note I heard when handling the young, with the old bird within a few yards of me. Again quoting Mr. Aplin: in his interesting and valuable paper on the distribution of this species, he mentions Aberystwith as the only locality in Cardiganshire where it has been observed. I may here say that on July 18th, 1901, I heard several singing at and near New Quay in Cardiganshire.—S.G. Cummings (King's Buildings, Chester).

Notes on the Cuckoo in Aberdeen.—The season here has been very bad for Cuculus canorus. It was first heard on May 4th, but only a solitary bird up to the 9th. I have a record of hearing the note of these birds up to about June 28th, and they were seen up to August 7th. I saw a solitary bird as late as August 25th; it was a slate-coloured example, and seemed to be an adult from its appearance. I observed the first young one on June 5th. There were a few young about, exhibiting the usual variety in the colour of the plumage. In fact, there might be as many young as usual, but certainly no permanent increase in numbers as was observed in former seasons. A favourable season next year might lead them on a little further, for the adults were not numerous, and, owing to the cold weather, many may have remained in a milder climate than here. The Twite (Linota flavirostris) was still the only foster-parent; while I failed to get any further particulars as regards the movements in connection with the young of the foster-parents.—W. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen, N.B.).

Sooty Tern in Lancashire.—I have recently had an opportunity of examining a Sooty Tern (Sterna fuliginosa) in adult plumage, which is said to have been found alive in Hulme, one of the most densely populated districts in Manchester, on the 9th of October, 1901. The bird is in the possession of a man named Nuttall, who told me that when passing along Denbigh Street soon after dawn, in pursuit of his calling as a "knocker-up," his attention was attracted by a black and white bird, which was lying on its back, and struggling feebly. Nuttall, who takes some interest in birds, has at different times picked up dead or exhausted migrants in the streets in the early hours, and has a small collection of birds which he has shot on the outskirts of the city. In the dim light he mistook the Tern for a Lapwing which had come to grief among the telegraph-wires, but a closer examination showed it to be "some sort of Sea-Swallow" with which he was unacquainted. The bird died in his hand, and the local taxidermist to whom he took it was unable to name it for him. When skinned it showed no sign of injury, but proved to be in very poor condition, and had apparently died from exhaustion after buffeting with the boisterous weather which had culminated in a gale from the south on the night before it was found. After it had been set up it was exhibited at a meeting of the British Ornithologists' Club on Nov. 20th, by Mr. Howard Saunders. It is a matter for regret that the Tern was not submitted in the flesh to some competent authority, but its history as related to me by Nuttall and the man who stuffed it appears to be quite satisfactory.—Chas. Oldham (Knutsford).

Erratum in last Issue.—Note on "Breeding of the Bittern in Herts" (ante, p. 316). For "John Wobley" read "John Wolley."—Francis C.R. Jourdain (Clifton Vicarage, Ashburne, Derbyshire).


The Habits of the Grass-Snake (Tropidonotus natrix) in Confinement.—This species, besides being very easily procured, is very hardy, and not nearly so subject to canker in captivity as are some of the continental species. Out of about twenty-five specimens I have had in my possession, only one has died of this disease, and that one through being put into an infected cage.

The Grass-Snake, or Binged Snake, when frequently handled, soon becomes tame, and hardly ever attempts to bite. There are certainly two or three instances recorded where it has done so; and I myself was once bitten by one, but it is certainly of very rare occurrence. The food of this snake undoubtedly consists of frogs and small fish, and very rarely toads, and some of my snakes will frequently take minnows out of my fingers, while I have often induced them to take a dead minnow by moving it about in their front. The Grass-Snake is said to eat the eggs of birds, but, although this may be the case, I have never been able to induce my snakes to eat them in captivity. The Grass-Snake will frequently breed in captivity, and in some cases incubate her eggs. One specimen I had two years ago laid sixteen eggs shortly after she came into my possession, but subsequent to their deposition she took no more notice of them. These eggs were all separated from one another, and this, I think, is rather unusual, as they are generally joined together in a string by a glutinous substance.

The Grass-Snake is very fond of water, and is an excellent swimmer. It should therefore, while in captivity, be provided with a large pan of water, in which it will frequently remain for a considerable time completely submerged, with the exception of the head; one of my specimens whilst casting its skin this summer remained in the water for more than ninety-six hours.

As regards the sloughing of this species, I have noticed that it is much less frequently done than in other European species. Many of the latter—such as the Dice, Æsculapian, and Leopard snakes, which I have kept—have cast two or three times between the months of April and September; whereas many of the Grass-Snakes have not cast at all during this period, not even after passing the winter in confinement in a state of semi-hibernation.—B.J. Horton (305, Stratford Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham).