The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 683/Notes and Queries

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Notes and Queries (May, 1898)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 2, issue 683, p. 213–220

4079750Notes and QueriesMay, 1898various authors, editor W.L. Distant




Stoats turning White in Winter.—In January last I received a Stoat (Mustela erminea) in almost white fur; it was shot at Newport, Salop, many years back (I did not book the date), but I distinctly remember that it was a very mild winter. I got one from the Isle of Wight which was quite white. I have so repeatedly had these animals in the partially white dress during mild winters that I do not now associate them with severe weather.—F. Coburn (7, Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Badgers near Scarborough.—A pair of Meles taxus, male and female, were captured alive at Thornton Dale, near Pickering, during the first week in March. These animals are not so uncommon in the district surrounding Scarborough and Pickering as is generally supposed, and they may be found in almost all the larger woods, but are rarely seen.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).


Existing Specimens of Equus quagga.—The material for the study of this interesting and now extinct ungulate is so limited that I may mention a few specimens observed by me when preparing an illustrated lecture on the Equidæ, since given on several occasions. There is a stuffed Quagga in the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, one in the Tring Museum, another in the museum at Berne, and a smaller specimen in the museum of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. When in Paris, I also had the pleasure of seeing the living representatives of the now rare Equus zebra, then exhibited to the public, one at the Jardin des Plantes, the other at the Jardin d'Acclimatation. I understand that there is a fifth Quagga preserved at Edinburgh, and I have seen an equine skeleton said to belong to this species in the Medical Museum of the Owens College, Manchester, A full census of the remains of the Quagga, such as has been compiled for the Great Auk, would be of much value to zoologists.— Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Manchester).

[A specimen (young) of Equus quagga is contained in the South African Museum, Cape Town, which I had the pleasure of seeing when visiting that establishment.—Ed.]


Breeding Sites of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.—Twice within recent years, in columns devoted to matters ornithological, has an animated discussion raged round the question of what are the normal respective nesting sites of the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus rufus) and Willow Warbler (P. trochilus). Ornithology is essentially a progressive science, hence what is latest "up to date"—assuming, that is to say, the excellence of what is treated of—is of chiefest value. In this connection it is pleasant to find such a past master as Mr. Howard Saunders publishing, in monthly parts now issuing, a second edition of his charming ' Manual.' However, what I wished to say was this: I much hope that those who heretofore took up what seemed to me a wholly untenable position with regard to the two points at issue have noted that the most recent authority in the field, who is admittedly "at the top of the tree," has not only placed it on record that the nest of the Chiffchaff is usually "a little above the ground," and that of the Wallow Warbler generally "on the ground," but that he has thought well to emphasize his views by the employment, as shown, of italics. I trust now we shall hear no more about Chiffchaffs' nests in meadow-banks, away from all sylvan tracts, which of course are the popular haunts of the species in this country in the summer.—H.S. Davenport (Melton Mowbray).

Meadow Pipits perching on Trees.—In Mr. W. Warde Fowler's interesting note on the Tree Pipit (ante, p. 122), it is said that the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) "is certainly not at home on trees." This seems to be a fairly general belief among ornithologists, but so far as my experience goes it is not correct. During the winter months I have Meadow Pipits under almost daily observation, and it is an absolutely common occurrence for me to frighten them from a low-lying meadow, when they will take to the branches of the tall trees around. They will freely settle on some of the thinner branches, as well as on the thick ones. I have also repeatedly heard their notes proceeding from among the branches of the trees, where they had settled from choice, without having been disturbed by me. The meadow I refer to is at the bottom of the road in which I reside, and I have to cross it on all my walks. While I was on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, a curious bird, which Mr. Oliver V. Aplin determines to be Anthus pratensis, settled on the top of a low bush, and looked so curious, as it faced me with its dark broadly striped breast and rufous throat (a far clearer rufous tinge in the living bird than is now to be seen in the mounted specimen), that I was constrained to bring it down, thinking I had something unusual. This was on the mountain side, a considerable distance from their usual breeding haunts on the moorland and marshy meadows below. From the worn appearance of the feathers I concluded that the bird was probably breeding, and searched diligently for a nest, but without success.—F. Coburn (7, Holloway Head, Birmingham).

Food of the Barn Owl.—So much has been written in connection with the food of this species and its admitted usefulness to the farmer, that little remains to be added. During the recent gales in March a great elm near my house was blown down. This tree had to my knowledge, for forty-five years, been the residence of a pair of Barn Owls (Strix flammea), who regularly nested there. Since the loss of their home I have had a small barrel, duly prepared, fixed amongst the boughs of an ancient yew, hoping thus to persuade my old neighbours to remain with us. On sawing the rotten stem of the elm into sections we found bushels of Owls' castings; these were composed of a vast number of the Common Mouse, also Some Long-tailed and Short-tailed Mice, the skull of a Starling, and hundreds of the skulls and upper mandible of the House Sparrow. The Mice and Sparrows were no doubt seized from the stack-sides, for I have often seen the Owls thus employed, or sitting on the watch hard by on some post of vantage. The tenant could never understand how it was I was so anxious that the Owls should be left unmolested, and this exhibition of the disjecta membra of hundreds of Mice and Sparrows has come like a revelation to him. Farmers here have an absurd idea that Owls enter their Pigeoncotes and carry off the young Pigeons, and it appears impossible to persuade them to the contrary.—John Cordeaux (Great Cotes House, R.S.O., Lincoln).

Rare Partridges in Leadenhall Market.—I observed in the 'Field' of the 19th March a notice from the pen of my friend Mr. Tegetmeier of the presence of a large number of Daurian Partridges in Leadenhall Market, and may remark that this is the second time that a consignment of these birds has been offered for sale in that market. I saw the first lot unpacked, and they were rolled in paper and hard frozen, and then packed in a large sugar-barrel, and arrived here in very good condition. The Daurian Partridge (Perdix daurica and P. sibirica of Pallas, Perdix barbata, Verr.) inhabits Eastern Siberia, the Amoor country, Dauria, &c, ranging south through Mantchuria and Mongolia to North China, and west to the TianShan Mountains in Turkestan; so that the birds sold here must have traversed a great distance in a frozen state before reaching this country. This Partridge is not a rare bird in museums, or indeed in private collections, and can be had of most continental dealers, and is quite distinct from our European Partridge. Simultaneously a considerable number of Redlegged Partridges from Central Asia (Caccabis magna, Prjev.) were on sale in Leadenhall Market. The range of this species is given by Mr. Ogilvy-Grant as the "South Koko-nor Mountains, Northern Tibet, and the Tsaidam plains."— H.E. Dresser (Topclyffe Grange, Farnborough, Kent).

Canada Goose near Dungeness.—I had sent to me in the flesh two specimens of the Canada Goose (Bernicla canadensis) on April 26th, which were shot out of a flock of five on the sands near Dungeness, Kent, about a week before. They show no signs of having been pinioned, and flew in from the sea. The heaviest one was a male, and weighed, a week after its death, 10 lb. 8 oz. I see Mr. Howard Saunders, in his 'Manual,' does not acknowledge the occurrence of any genuine wild examples in this country. I should be happy to forward the skins to any competent authority.—George W. Bradshaw (54, London Street, Reading, late of Hastings, Sussex).

Little Gull in Kent.—On March 3rd, near Horsmonden, a fine adult male of Larus minutus was obtained, and sent to Springett, the taxidermist in Cranbrook. Horsmonden is about twelve miles as the crow flies from the river Bother.—Boyd Alexander (Swifts Place, Cranbrook, Kent).

Birds which nest in London.—In your last number (ante, p. 189) Mr. C. Meade King asks for notes on this subject. Two birds might be added to the list, both having nested in Regent's Park within the last two years, viz. Magpie (Pica rustica) and Pied Wagtail (Motacilla lugubris). I do not know if the former has actually reared young, but the latter species was perfectly successful in the gardens of Regent's Park in 1896. As to the number of Rooks breeding in Gray's Inn, there are ten or twelve nests occupied at the present time.—William E. de Winton (7, Southampton Row, W.C.).

Some Notes on the Nestor notabilis, or Kea Parrot, of New Zealand.—Some live specimens of this interesting bird of New Zealand have lately been received by the Director of the Zoological Gardens in Melbourne. The peculiar birds have acquired the habit of attacking Sheep, and making holes by means of their sharp and powerful beaks in the backs of these animals for the purpose of abstracting the kidney fat, which appears to be esteemed as a luxurious diet. A large number of Sheep are annually destroyed by these birds, which has compelled Sheep-owners to set a value upon their heads, and endeavour to accomplish their extinction. It was for a long time supposed that this peculiar habit or instinct was developed by the bird getting the fat from the skins of Sheep that had been slaughtered, but this solution was never satisfactory to my mind, as there appeared nothing to connect the fat on the skins of Sheep with the live animals. I desire to offer the following solution of the mystery, which seems to me to be simple and satisfactory, and more rational than the Sheep-skin theory. In the hilly districts of the Middle Island of New Zealand there is a great abundance of a white moss or lichen, which exactly resembles a lump of white wool, so much so that a friend of mine who was travelling through the country asked the driver of the coach why there were so many solitary Sheep scattered all over the hills, and was informed that these were bunches of lichen or white moss, at the roots of which were found small white fatty substances, supposed by some to be the seeds of the plant, and by others to be a grub or maggot which infested it, and which is the favourite food of the Kea. I saw a specimen of this woolly lichen which so closely resembled a bit of wool as to be easily mistaken for it. No doubt the bird, misled by this resemblance, commenced an exploration in Sheep, and this proving satisfactory originated the new habit.—F.R. Godfrey (Melbourne).

[The above note has been kindly forwarded to me by Dr. P.L. Sclater. In 'The Zoologist' (1895, p. 293) will be found a paper "On the Habits of the Kea, or Mountain Parrot of New Zealand," by Taylor White, reproduced from the 'Transactions' of the New Zealand Institute, vol. xxvii. pp. 273-280 (1895), in which the author agrees with Mr. Huddlestone that the bird settles on the Sheep above the kidneys, because it is the broadest part, and it can there obtain the best grip of the wool, and that blood rather than flesh is what the bird desires. Mr. Godfrey is also in agreement with Mr. F.R. Chapman ('New Zealand Journal of Science,' 1891), who, describing a valley of the Upper Waimakariri, Canterbury, says:—"A very interesting Raoulia, or vegetable sheep, was very plentiful on steep rocky places; but I believe a finer species is found on Mount Torlesse.... It is said that the Keas tear them up with their powerful beaks, and that these birds learnt to eat mutton through mistaking dead Sheep for masses of Raoulia.—Ed.]

Sagacity among Birds.—Some few years ago, when staying at the Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta, I witnessed an interesting scene between three birds. It was early in the morning, and when sitting in my room I noticed a Hawk alight on the ledge about a foot wide that ran round the building. .The Hawk rested just opposite my window, but did not apparently see me; it had a bone in its talons, and was soon hard at work endeavouring to tear off what little meat there was on it. But in about a minute's time two Crows arrived on the scene; one flew behind the Hawk, and the other in front. The bird behind kept, coming up and giving a smart tug at the tail of the Hawk, which made him turn half-round to drive the bold intruder off, but still holding its bone. After this had been done several times the Crow gave an extra hard pull at the Hawk's tail; that bird then disengaged its foot from the bone, and, turning half-round, made a lunge towards the Crow to drive it away; but immediately the Hawk had let go the bone agd turned round, the other Crow in front, which had all the time been keeping just out of reach, immediately seized the bone, and at once flew off with it to the street below, where it was quickly joined by the other Crow, and the two birds enjoyed what they could get off the ill-gotten bone together. There being a fair number of people passing along the road, the Hawk dare not follow them, but was left outwitted on the ledge. I have no doubt similar instances have been observed by others, showing the sagacity of many birds, and T only record this note as I think that any interesting fact in bird-life should be published, and by so doing ornithologists help one another in the study of this interesting branch of natural history.—D. Le Souëf, Assist. Direct. Zoological Gardens, Melbourne.

Ornithological Notes at Alum Bay, Isle of Wight.—The precipitous chalk cliffs stretching from Freshwater Bay to Alum Bay, in the Isle of Wight, are the favourite breeding resort of many of our sea-birds. While staying at Alum Bay, at the beginning of last month (April), I had a good opportunity of seeing them at the commencement of their breeding season, as their favourite place is the Alum Bay end. Looking over the edge of the cliff from the Alum Bay downs, at one particular spot, one sees countless Herring Gulls flying about in all directions; rows of Razorbills and Guillemots sitting on the ledges in the cliff, or dotted about in the blue sea far below; Cormorants flying to and fro; and an occasional Rock Pigeon darting out of some crevice, and whirling away out of sight with its rapid flight. Jackdaws too breed in great numbers in the crevices in the chalk, and a pair of Ravens have a nest every year somewhere in the cliff. I saw them several times wheeling about and tumbling over in the air in their peculiar manner, evidently on the look-out for Gulls' eggs wherewith to feed their young ones. My brother saw two pitched battles between one of the Ravens and a Herring Gull, in which the two birds clung on to each other, and rolled down the cliff like a black-and-white ball. But the way to see the birds to advantage is to get a boat, and row from Alum Bay round "the Needles," and a little way down the coast towards Freshwater. With view to doing this, I interviewed a fisherman of the name of Isaacs, who seems to be the great local authority on the birds. He told me that a pair of Peregrine Falcons bred on the cliffs every year, and that many years ago he had taken both eggs and young birds, but that they had not now been disturbed for a long time. He also said that the Shag and Great Black-backed Gulls bred there in small numbers. On April 16th a friend and I were rowed round by him. It was a perfect morning, and the sea was calm as a lake. Herring Gulls and Cormorants were flying about and sitting on "the Needles" rocks as we approached, but when we had rounded "the Needles" and gone a little way down the coast, the sight was wonderful. Herring Gulls swarmed in the air and on the rocks. Rows upon rows of Guillemots and Razorbills covered the ledges all over the face of the cliff, and as we passed flew off in thousands over the boat and settled in the water beyond. Large colonies of Cormorants were scattered about on the cliff, flocks of Jackdaws wheeled about with clamorous cries, and here and there a family of Puffins would fly out of some crevice and settle in the water round the boat. They do not seem so strong on the wing as the Guillemots, and when getting up from the sea splash a long way through the water before rising into the air. As we rowed by, a splendid Peregrine Falcon came out of a large crevice high up on the cliff, and flew rapidly down the coast out of sight. A few minutes afterwards we saw its mate. On the broken rocks and boulders of chalk which line the base of the cliffs several Rock Pipits were hopping about. I landed among these rocks, and found about a dozen Herring Gulls' nests, all empty. The Herring Gulls are the only birds which build so low down on the cliff, and the eggs of the other birds can only be got by means of a rope. It was a most interesting sight, and I only wished it had been later in the season, so that I could have got some eggs. In conclusion, I may add that Isaacs said the birds had greatly increased in numbers during the last ten years.—Bernard Riviere (Finchley Road).

Ornithological Notes from Scarborough.—On Jan. 15th I had brought for preservation a fine adult Shoveler Drake (Spatula clypeata) which had been shot on the river at Pickering. On Feb. 23rd a pair of beautiful adult Waxwings (Ampelis garrulus) were brought in, which had been shot on the roadside between Scarborough and Burniston. They were male and female, and were in company with a third, which escaped. On dissection I found they had been feeding upon the fruit of the wild rose, which they had swallowed whole. These make ten occurrences of this species, of which I have notes, since October last. More Crossbills than usual have frequented the fir woods throughout the district near Scarborough, and were still here up to within a month ago.—W.J. Clarke (44, Huntriss Row, Scarborough).


Notes from Great Yarmouth.—Sole. I received a Sole (Solea vulgaris) from the fish-wharf on Jan. 22nd. It was peculiarly stunted in length, measuring 11½ in.; it was 6 in. broad, being at least 4 in. short of its normal length.

Streaked Gurnard. An example of Trigla lineata came to hand on the same date.

Pole or Craig-fluke. No fewer than six pairs of fine Poles (Pleuronectes cynoglossus) were displayed on one fishmonger's slab on Feb. 3rd. This must be an exceedingly abundant species in the Wash. Several others subsequently, undoubtedly taken from the same locality.

Long Rough Dab. An example, 16½ in., of Hippoglossoides limandoides came to hand on Feb. 21st.

Cuckoo Ray. A very beautiful Cuckoo Ray (Raia miraletus) was taken on a line just off Yarmouth on the night of April 3rd.

Curious Plaice. I received a Plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) on April 8th; it measured 11 in. Across the under side, quite in the centre of its length, ran a supplementary fin. There were three fin-rays towards either margin, and a connecting web joining each. Across the rayless centre the web still extended. The fin was quite free to work.

Greenland Bullhead. An example of Cottus groenlandicus was taken on a hook off Yarmouth by some long-line fishermen. Length, 7 in.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).


Meristic Variation in the Edible Crab.—A specimen of Cancer pagurus was given me on April 28th with one of the pincer-claws abnormally developed, a large double pointed fixed claw projecting from the lower claw. When the movable claw was opened the three made a perfect capital W.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).