The Zoologist/4th series, vol 2 (1898)/Issue 686/Notes and Queries
NOTES AND QUERIES.
The Whinchat in Co. Dublin.—I have long been anxious to make the acquaintance of the Whinchat (Pratincola rubetra) in Ireland; yet, although I frequently visited what I thought were suitable localities, I was never fortunate enough to do so until June 9th last. I will not, for obvious reasons, specify the locality in which I met my long-sought friend; sufficient to say that it was about twelve miles distant from the Irish metropolis, and that there, on the day I have mentioned, I was delighted to hear the familiar "u-tick" which I heard last in the Rhone Valley. With my glass I perceived that there were four Whinchats in the field; the male was flitting from bush to bush singing gaily, whilst the female seemed to be employed in feeding one of two young ones by her side. On the 11th I returned with my son Ambrose, when we got quite near the birds, which were far from being shy. My friend Mr. Edward Williams, naturalist, tells me that a few years ago he observed Whinchats in the very same locality.—Charles W. Benson (Rathmines School, Dublin).
The Marsh Warbler in Oxfordshire.—Last year I published no account of the Marsh Warblers (Acrocephalus palustris) which have now for seven successive summers occupied an old osier-bed in this neighbourhood; my last communication to 'The Zoologist' was in August, 1896 (p. 286). In 1897 they had arrived by June 4th, sang vociferously for about ten days, and then quieted down as usual when the nest was being built. There were beyond doubt two pairs. I was away till well into July, and when I returned they were still in the osiers with their young; there they remained till the 22nd, when I lost sight of them. This year my observations have been, I think, sufficiently interesting for publication. The day on which I first heard them was again June 4th; I had already heard the bird near Abbeville in France on May 28th, but have never yet heard it in England till the first week in June. On the 10th the osiers were alive with the brilliant singing of at least two or three males, in a space about half an acre in extent. The Sedge Warblers seemed entirely outdone, and the listener could regale himself with the strains of the rarer species undisturbed by any other songs. On the 20th, after some careful watching, I found a nest with five eggs almost in the exact spot where I first found one in 1893, which is now in the Oxford Museum; and on the 21st I found another, containing one egg, in the identical spot almost to a square yard where I found one in 1895 (June 26th). This close adherence to the same site year after year has also been noticed by my friend Mr. Playne near Bristol. The same day a young friend from Oxford, whom I had invited to study the bird, discovered a third nest with four eggs in a new site. This was a little further from the edge of the osier-bed than has so far been the case; but my experience entirely confirms Mr. Seebohm's statement (or rather that of his German informant) that it is almost useless to look for the nest in the centre of any dense thicket. All the eggs were very characteristic, of a clear greenish or bluish white ground colour; but the spots and blotches were somewhat larger and more numerous in one clutch than in the others. On the 25th Mr. O.V. Aplin came to look at these three nests, and we had the pleasure of a leisurely inspection of the sitting bird in two cases out of the three. Looked at from a yard or so away, the colour of the back is a light uniform neutral brown, with a shade of olive, and the eye-stripe is only discernible when looked for closely; it passes not over the eye, as described in Mr. Howard Saunders's 'Manual,' but through it. By this time the nest which, when I originally observed it, had one egg only, contained three, but the previous day there had been four. This nest differed from the others in having more or less wool in its composition, and a large loose lump of wool in the lining. This attracted my attention, for I had never seen wool in a Marsh Warbler's nest before; there is sometimes a little moss, and this was the case also "with the nest of which I am speaking We saw a Cuckoo this day at the osier-bed, and I had seen one there once or twice before; but it did not occur to me as yet to associate the disappearance of an egg or the peculiar make of the nest with the presence of this mischief-maker. But on the 27th, when I next looked at the nest, there were only two eggs, and my suspicions began to be aroused, for there was no sign that any human being had been to the spot. On the morning of the 28th the bird was no longer sitting, and the eggs were all gone. There was no trace of them underneath the nest, among the roots of the meadow-sweet, in which this nest, like all the others this year, had been built. On examining the nest more closely I thought I saw something at the very bottom, underneath the lining, which as usual was of dry grass and horsehair, with the addition, as I have said, of some wool and a few minute fragments of moss, and, putting in my finger, I felt an egg. I then cut away the meadow-sweet, with the nest in it, and, getting it into a good light, could see a Cuckoo's egg, of the greenish-brown type often found in the nest of the Reed Warbler and other birds, almost hidden, and quite firmly fixed below the lining. The nest could be held upside down without displacing the egg, which occupied a small hole or chamber in the floor of the nest. As I was going that day on a visit to Mr. Aplin, I took the nest with me; we extracted the egg from its hole, blew it and replaced it, and had the nest photographed. This is, I believe, the first instance on record in this country of a Cuckoo's egg being laid in a Marsh Warbler's nest. Whether this can throw any light on the peculiar position of the egg in the nest may indeed be doubtful; but I am inclined to guess that this Cuckoo is in the habit of depositing her eggs in the nests of Sedge Warblers or Whitethroats, and that, finding herself too late for these (for a Whitethroat that had a nest hard by had been sitting a long time, and the Sedge Warblers in the osiers had young already), she put the egg into the Marsh Warbler's nest when only one or perhaps two eggs had been laid in it. And it is just possible that the striking contrast between the Cuckoo's egg and those of the intended foster-parent enabled the latter to discover the intruder, which she buried in the bottom of the nest out of sight, adding some new materials, e.g. the wool I have mentioned, with this end in view. However this may be, the facts are as I have described them, and the nest will be placed in the Oxford Museum, with the Cuckoo's egg thus buried, so that anyone who may be studying the ways of the Cuckoo and its victims will be able to form an opinion for himself. On July 1st I was glad to find that the birds were evidently at work on a new nest; the cock was singing vigorously in heavy rain at six in the afternoon, a sure sign of renewed activity. After a short absence I returned on the 6th, to find that another of the three nests had been discovered and destroyed; but in the third the young were just ready to fly. They are now (July 9th) about in the osiers with their parents, whose warning notes, more musical and agreeable than the harsh grating of the Sedge Warblers, are to be heard on every side. The plumage of the young birds is, as I observed two years ago, much darker and more rufous than that of the parents, and the throat and breast are of a warm buff. I may add that the vigorous singing still going on shows clearly that one new nest at least has been built within the last few days.—W. Warde Fowler (Kingham, Chipping Norton).
On the Nesting of the Spotted Flycatcher.—A pair of Common Flycatchers (Muscicapa grisola) nesting in my garden built their first nest on the spouting against the house, which unfortunately was pulled away during building repairs. The second nest, which they started to build a few days after, on May 31 st, was placed in a rose tree nailed to the house within a few feet of the old site. On June 6th the nest was finished, and on the 7th the first egg was laid. To notify at what hour the eggs were laid, I visited the nest at 5 a.m. the next morning without finding a further addition; the hen bird was on the nest, however, at 7 o'clock, and at 8 a.m., to my surprise, three eggs were deposited, which caused me to make a more careful examination as to the possibility of any egg that might be laid on the edge of the nest and roll in subsequently. On the 9th, however, two more eggs were laid, and the bird commenced to sit, another egg (making a clutch of six) being added afterwards. On June 23rd three eggs were hatched, one of the remaining three being infertile. On the following morning there were four young, and in the evening the last egg was hatched. On July 6th the three young ones reared out of the five left the nest, and, as frequently happens, also left the immediate locality, neither the old nor young having been seen since in the garden. To what extent the double laying exists I am unable to say, but with close watching in future it may be possible to throw further light upon this subject. Construction of nest, 7 days; depositing clutch of six eggs, 4 days; incubation, 14-15 days; young in nest, 12-13 days; total nesting, 37 days.—J. Steele-Elliott (Clent, Worcestershire).
Spotless Eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher.—An answer to a correspondent, signing himself "Isham," in the 'Field' of July 23rd, to the effect that "spotless eggs of the Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa grisola) are very unusual," and further embodying a doubt as to the correct identification of the species, has just caught my eye. May I, as one almost as familiar with birds' eggs as the letters of the alphabet, and in the interests of a future generation, put it on record with all humility in the pages of 'The Zoologist' that upwards of a quarter of a century's unremitting birdsnesting has left me with the fixed conviction that of all the varieties of eggs, such as drab unspotted Chaffinches', white Robins', pink Jays', blue unspotted Blackbirds', &c, one is liable to come across, there is no freak so fashionable as a Spotted Flycatcher's nest containing a clutch of eggs with the ground colour, generally a pale blue, unruffled by spot or speck. At p. 77 of that pleasant little work, 'Our Summer Migrants,' the author, referring to the Redstart, writes as follows;—"It is not unusual to find the nest, containing five or six pale blue eggs, upon a peach or plum tree against a wall; upon a crossbeam of a summer-house." Personally, I have never known a Redstart nidificate except in a hole, or at all events in a covered site; and 1 make no doubt that much confusion has been generated in the past by eggs resembling and wrongly identified as Redstarts' being discovered in nests which in reality belonged to Spotted Flycatchers.—H.S. Davenport (Melton Mowbray).
Cuckoos recently observed in Aberdeen.—Two young Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) were successfully hatched this year on natural pasture on my farm. In both cases the foster-parents were the same species as in the former year— Mountain Linnets (Linota flavirostris). On May 30th a Cuckoo's egg was detected in a nest, and in a day or two a young one was hatched. The egg was nearly like those of the foster-parents; just a little longer or perhaps a little larger, with the general colouring of the other eggs. The nest altogether contained four eggs. The first day after hatching the young Cuckoo (a weak creature) was in the nest, while two young and an addled egg of the foster-parents were lying near, but had all disappeared by the following day. The young Cuckoo, which had less down than the other two, could not have evicted them; but who evicted and who carried away it is impossible to tell. The same care and attention was given this one as the other described in 1897, and on June 22nd it flew away from the nest, and was seen three days later still attended by the foster-parents. This went on to the 7th July, that being the last occasion on which it was seen. This bird was remarkable for the uniform darkness of its plumage. On June 22nd the second one was found in a nest nearly one hundred yards from the other. It was about half-grown, and the four eggs of the foster-birds were found lying in a small hollow such as might be made by a bullock's foot. They were about three feet from the nest and chipped, either through the young birds having been about to emerge from the shell, or, as is just possible, had been removed by the bill of a bird, and received the marks that way. It is difficult to understand how they could have all been ejected by the young Cuckoo and rolled so regularly together by themselves. On July 7th this bird was seen moving about at a short distance from the nest, and returning to it again. On July 9th it had deserted it, but the foster-parents were still moving about near the nest, while the three were seen for some days later flying about in the vicinity. It seems probable that the Cuckoo would place her egg in nests of birds whose eggs are at different stages of incubation. Would it be too much to suppose that the eggs in this case had been set apart to feed the young one? They were destroyed because they might have attracted Hooded Crows or similar depredators, otherwise it would have been interesting to note whether the young Cuckoo would have used them for food. The colour of this Cuckoo was extremely rufous, the plumage being in strong contrast to the other one; whilst the bird of 1897 was between the two in this respect. It is fairly reasonable to suppose that the eggs had both belonged to one bird, more especially as it is well known that some days elapse between the production of each egg of the Cuckoo. We had no means of ascertaining the sex of either of these birds, as colour does not denote it; so we must find other reasons for so great a variation in colour which these two presented. As observations of these birds were practically of daily occurrence, it was remarked that there were no appearances of the old Cuckoo being about; still the latter might put in an appearance at night or in the morning when there was no one to see her. Thus we are without sufficient evidence to say that she had no interest in them. This is the first time which I have known of two young ones being reared near each other. Regarding the numbers of eggs which one Cuckoo will produce in a single year, and which various naturalists have estimated at from twenty to five, we should favour the latter number, or perhaps even less; but we believe that it would differ very much with varying conditions. When we consider that in two years in this neighbourhood three pairs of Mountain Linnets have been hatching Cuckoos, another two pairs having done so in former years, while no case was observed in that time of other birds doing so, we are bound to place this bird as the favourite foster-parent of the locality; and if Cuckoos were laying many eggs the effect would be such as to curtail the foster-bird seriously in numbers. I cannot find a reason why this should be so, for there are plenty of other birds, such as Larks, Brown Linnets, Hedgesparrows, Robins, Wagtails, Chaffinches, Yellowhammers, &c, which might serve this purpose. It is also noticeable that the favourite is quite a local bird, as it does not extend into the* low part of the country, and hence it is not generally noticed in natural history works as one of the usual fosterparents of the Cuckoo. Another point to be observed is that this bird has little connection with woods, moors being its favourite haunt; while Cuckoos are very fond of frequenting plantations. We have seen in the one case that the egg resembled those of the foster-birds, while that each of the young birds differed in the colour of plumage. Then the date of leaving here—July 7th is the last date which the Cuckoo was heard. I believe that they do not stay long after we cease to hear them; for instance, one which frequented my garden or its vicinity since their arrival has disappeared, and while some may remain for a while, everything leads me to think that they flit about the end of July. Then of course the foster-birds here will not follow far; so that the young Cuckoos must shift for themselves, or obtain some guidance from parent Cuckoos or other promiscuous birds of their own species.—W. Wilson (Alford, Aberdeen).
Mallard and Pintail interbreeding in Captivity.—Last year I induced my friend Mr. R. Mann to pair a drake Pintail (Dafila acuta) with a female Wild Duck (Anas boscas), but a Mallard found access to his neighbour's mate, and her eggs hatched into pure-bred Mallards. This year the Pintail succeeded in pairing with a Wild Duck for a second time, and five eggs hatched. One duckling was killed by a Herring Gull, but the other four have feathered, and promise to be handsome specimens of this well-known cross. They most resemble the Pintail in immature plumage.—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, Cumberland).
Breeding Range of the Scaup-Duck.—I do not agree with your correspondent, Mr. Crossman (Zool. ante, p. 319), when he presumes that any stray Scaup-Duck (Fuligula marila) must have come from an ornamental water. It is just possible that, as in the case of the Teal, the breeding range of this species may be creeping further southward. I am not aware that the Scaup has been known to breed even so far south as the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright; yet on May 25th, 1892, I saw a pair of these birds frequenting Jordieland Loch, a sheet of water on the moors about five miles from the town of Kirkcudbright. I need hardly repeat from my notes that:
"The male had a black neck and breast, the upper parts of the body also being dark, the under parts white. The female was similarly marked, but dusky. Their cry was hoarse compared with that of the Mallard."
Looking to the season at which I saw these birds—at the time a female Mallard had her young, little puffs of down, in the water in another part of the loch—I think that the Scaup may have bred either there or in the vicinity, although unfortunately I could not certify this. The Teal breeds in fair numbers iu that part of the country; the numbers to be seen in winter do not all remain to breed, but I think these are on the increase. It is not improbable that the same climatic tendency that keeps the Teal may ultimately keep the Scaup.—J.W. Payne (Edinburgh).
Occurrence of the Fork-tailed Petrel on the Yorkshire Coast.—I have a fine example of this Petrel (Cymochorea leucorrhoa Vieill.), taken on the beach at Filey on March 26th of this year, after some heavy westerly gales. This bird has been set up with the wings expanded, and the light smoky grey of the upper wing-coverts is very conspicuous. Both this and the closely allied Ridgway's Petrel (Oceanodroma cryptoleucura) of the Canary Seas are figured in Lord Lilford's 'Illustrations.' In the latter the tail is not deeply forked, but nearly square. The upper tail-coverts are described ('Ibis,' 1897, p. 54) as white tipped with black; this feature, however, is probably common to both, as my Filey bird has the tips of the white upper tail-coverts and the shafts of the same very dark.—John Cordeaux (Great Cotes House, R.S.O., Lincoln).
Bird Notes from the Northern Cairngorms. —The following account of some of the birds which are to be found near Aviemore, Inverness-shire, is the result of a few rough notes made by myself this summer (June 24thJuly 7th) during a holiday spent in the district with three fellow-tourists. We made Coylum Bridge our headquarters, from whence we explored the forests of Rothiemurchus and Glenmore, and the northern slopes of the Cairngorm Mountains. Our first expedition was to Lochan Eileau, where we hoped to see the Ospreys (Pandion haliaëtus), a pair of which are said to have nested on a ruined castle in the loch, with varying intervals, for the last century. We were much disappointed to find the eyrie deserted, but on enquiry were told that a pair had arrived as usual in May. Soon after their arrival, however, a third bird, presumably a male, appeared on the loch, and a fierce fight ensued between two of the birds, the result of which was that the eyrie was shortly afterwards deserted. Although no young appear to have been reared on the castle this year, a pair of Ospreys seem to have remained in the neighbourhood, as a bird was seen on the castle about the middle of June, and I myself saw a pair flying in circles high above the loch on July 6th. We saw an Osprey's nest which had been built in a large fir tree overhanging Loch Morlich, but were told by the keeper that it had not been used for the last five or six years. Another interesting bird we noticed was the Greenshank (Totanus canescens), of which species we saw three or four pairs, all of which, from their manners, appeared to have young. Their alarm-cry is exceedingly resonant, and they also utter a chattering note, like that of the Kestrel. We only saw one young bird, which I flushed from some marshy ground, while the parent birds were flying over my head, calling loudly. It was fairly strong on the wing, so the Greenshank must be rather an early breeder. This species often perches on trees; in fact, we saw them more often on the tops of small firs than on the ground. They seem, however, to have considerable difficulty in keeping their balance on trees, and probably only resort to them when they suspect danger. We met with several parties of Crested Tits (Parus cristatus), both in Rothiemurchus and Glenmore forests. They do not appear to be at all uncommon in the district, and when once we had learnt their call-note, we came across them nearly every day. The note to my ear sounds like a spluttering "ptur-r-r-r-re," rather low, and sometimes preceded by a shrill "zi-zi-zi." Some of the young had apparently just left the nest, and were being fed by the parents. We also saw several parties of Crossbills (Loxia curvirostra), consisting of both young and old birds, in Glenmore Forest, where they had probably been reared. The Common Sandpiper (Totanus hypoleucus) was particularly numerous on the shores of all the lochs which we visited, especially on Loch Morlich, on the banks of which we found two nests, each containing four eggs. This bird follows the streams well up into the mountains, and we saw them up to about 2000 feet above sea-level. We saw plenty of Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), either fishing on the lochs or following the plough like Rooks, and we found a colony of about two hundred pairs which were nesting on a marshy loch near Aviemore, where the nests were built among the reeds, and usually almost floating on the water. A great number of Oystercatchers (Hæmatopus ostralegus) breed on the banks of the river Spey, above Aviemore. The birds were exceedingly numerous and very noisy, and we found one nest with three eggs, and many others which only contained shells. The young birds on being handled feign death, drooping their necks and relaxing all their muscles, so that they appear quite limp and helpless. This species is also to be found on most of the lochs, and we saw one on Loch Eunach, at an elevation of about 1700 feet. On the west of this loch is a precipice of about 2000 feet, where in former years a pair of Golden Eagles are said to have had their eyrie. Coots, Teal, and Wild Duck (Anas boscas) might also be seen on most of the lochs, usually followed by a brood of young. We noticed a Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator) on the Spey, accompanied by two young birds, and on another occasion I saw four birds flying over Loch Morlich, which from their size and general black and white appearance must, I think, have been male Goosanders (M. merganser). Near this loch we found a nest of the Ringed Plover (Ægialitis hiaticula), containing two eggs. Ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) were fairly numerous on the mountains above the altitude of 3000 feet, but we seldom saw them at a lower elevation. We noticed many of their egg-shells scattered about among the rocks, the contents of which had evidently been sucked by Grey Crows, and also came across young birds in various stages of growth. The hen birds were remarkably bold when they thought that their young were in danger.—F.L. Blathwayt (Weston-super-Mare).
Centrolophus pomphilus on the Norfolk Coast.—A specimen of the "Black Fish," a species not hitherto recorded as met with on the Norfolk coast, was found, still living, cast up by the sea on Sea Palling beach about the 27th of March last, after the severe weather, accompanied by northeast gales, which had prevailed for the few previous days. It had been stuffed when I saw it, but in a fresh state measured 12 in. in length and 3£ in. in depth.—Thomas Southwell (Norwich).
Notes from Great Yarmouth.—As is generally known, the Mackerel (Scomber scomber) is very eccentric and capricious in its habits, sometimes suddenly leaving a noted locality, and, after being away for an uncertain time, as suddenly turning up again. Our old Mackerel fishery of May and June died out in the seventies, owing to the fish forsaking the coast. Strangely enough, they came in afterwards with the Herrings, numbers being taken, even up to November. This year something like the old order of things obtained, and great quantities of Mackerel have been landed on the fish-wharf. On May 9th I have a record of heavy catches. A 13½ lb. Salmon (Salmo salar) was taken in a draw-net off Gorleston, May 17th. An example of the Scribbled Mackerel (Scomber scriptus) came to hand May 18th, another June 19th. Two Sting Rays (Raia pastinaca) observed on the fish-wharf; one weighed over 15 lb. This fish has been taken off our coast in rather more than usual numbers this spring. A "double Turbot" (Rhombus maximus), with only a white under side to the head, and with one eye in the usual " notch," May 24th; dark on both sides, and also spined. A nine-inch Sea Angler (Lophius piscatorius), the smallest I have seen locally taken, was caught in a shrimp-net on June 3rd. An exceptionally fine Surmullet (Mullus surmuletus) was brought in on June 14th; weight, 2 lb. 10 oz.—A. Patterson (Ibis House, Great Yarmouth).
Sea Lamprey in Cumberland.—On the 20th of July I had the pleasure of weighing a fine example of the Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus). It was one of a pair which had ascended the river Eden, probably for the purposes of reproduction, and was taken near Carlisle. It scaled about 2¼ lb. I only mention it because, though a common fish in many English rivers, it is a comparatively rare fish in the north-west of England. The last local example that I had handled previously was taken in Morecambe Bay, near Ulverston.—H.A. Macpherson (Allonby Vicarage, Cumberland).
Notes on Batrachians: Frog attacking Toad.—The interesting paragraph in 'The Zoologist' (ante, p. 323; on Frogs attacking Toads, reminds me of a curious iucident which I witnessed some time ago. I used to keep a number of Frogs and similar creatures out of doors in a cool airy situation close to a cellar window, where they lived in harmony for a long time. One day, when feeding them, I remember noticing a Common Frog (Rana temporaria) and a Common Toad (Bufo vulgaris) both eyeing a tempting morsel—a worm, I believe. Suddenly the Toad seized and speedily swallowed the worm. The Frog remained staring at the spot where the worm had been, and then, as if realizing his loss, deliberately turned and bit the Toad over the jaw. I was much astonished at this exhibition of revenge on such an animal, as the worm had completely disappeared, and it certainly was not a belated attempt to obtain it. I have never known another instance, and I have had considerable experience in keeping these and similar creatures, having studied the following species:—Testudo græca, Emys europæa, Lacerta agilis, Zootoca vivipara, Anguis fragilis, Tropidonotus natrix, Rana temporaria, Bombinator igneus, Hyla arborea (one has lived four years here), Bufo vulgaris, B. calamita, Triton cristatus, Lissotriton punctatus, and Salamandra maculosa.—Graham Renshaw (Sale Bridge House, Sale, Manchester).
Mode of Progression among Millipedes.—During a stay at Waterval-onder (East Transvaal) in November last, I was much surprised at the number of Millipedes moving about among the fallen leaves, and more so at their peculiar method of hurrying off when disturbed. This they did by turning on their backs, and retreating with an undulating and wavy motion without at all using their feet. This so attracted my attention that I repeated the observation with these Millipedes on more than a dozen occasions, and in every instance their action was the same.—A. Duncan (Johannesburg).
PRESERVATION OF ZOOLOGICAL SPECIMENS.
It was with great pleasure that I read in 'The Zoologist' you are about to open the pages of that magazine to notes on taxidermy, and I also perused Mr. Oxley Grabham's remarks with the greatest interest. I hope the new venture will meet with the support which it thoroughly deserves, and I am looking forward very much to the contributions of other taxidermists.
All large works on this subject are expensive, and as far as I know there is no periodical which devotes any attention to this most fascinating art. I know well how disappointing it is to a beginner to have his attempts at stuffing severely criticised by some professional who sees faults which the tyro perhaps fondly imagined did not exist. I can fully endorse Mr. Grabham's statement to the effect that one must have any amount of patience, and be devoted to the study of whatever branch or branches of taxidermy he desires to pursue. I am devoted to stuffing, and attempt everything which falls into my hands, from caterpillars to fish. This last is the most difficult of any subject in which to attain even moderate proficiency. I now imagine (in error, perhaps) that I have mastered the faults and peculiarities of the beginner as far as the birds are concerned, though there are still some birds which are extremely difficult to skin, let alone stuff, in a workmanlike manner. For instance, the novice may perhaps endeavour to skin a Cuckoo or Woodcock, and fail miserably in the attempt. Even a good professional will admit that these two birds, as well as a few other species, require extra care in the skinning; they are generally very fat, and their skins are as delicate to handle as wet blotting-paper.
Decidedly the bird for the beginner is the Starling, being not too large, and having a fairly tough skin. It is indeed too true, as Mr. Grabham remarks, how often one sees birds placed in impossible positions, legs and beaks painted the wrong colour; and this is done not only by amateurs, but, alas, by a few professionals, who certainly ought to know everything about the creatures they set up. After a bird has been skinned, the question naturally arises as to the kind of preservative which must be used. There are so many different sorts, their name is almost legion. Most, I think, are equally efficacious, but I would strongly warn everyone against the use of alum for bird-skins, as it tends to make them brittle, and I fancy is not of much effect against the attacks of Dermestes. For the skins of large animals it may be useful. I always anoint my specimens with carbolic acid and a special kind of powder containing such, and make a mixture of the two, which I paint on the skin of the creature I am preserving. Arsenical soap should also be avoided, as it is undoubtedly dangerous to have much to do with this poison. That an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory is an axiom which no one would think of disputing, and the beginner who can start away under the supervision of a professional is to be envied. I had to wait several years before such a chance was available. Most professional taxidermists I have met have been very kind in giving me many hints, which have been of the greatest use, and they themselves are always glad to hear of any new "discoveries," even if they do not adopt them. Presuming, therefore, that the following suggestion may be of some use to those readers who study taxidermy, and also in meeting a well-recognized difficulty, I should be pleased to hear if my idea meets with any approval. Everyone has noticed, even in the cases of the South Kensington Museum, where a sheet of glass is made to represent water, the utter absence of ripples, and this is all the more noticeable where a bird is stuffed swimming or at rest in the water. My plan is to paint, in very dilute glue, those ripples which would naturally occur from the motion, however slight, of the bird in the pool of water. I have found it the most realistic of any plan which I have as yet come across, and I sincerely hope it may be of some use to others until a better one is substituted. The glue does not crack or chip off (according to my experience) as one might expect. I very much want to know of some cheap way of making a large hole in a sheet of glass, as is done in the National Museums, in order to receive the body of a bird or the stump of a tree. I should be delighted to hear of any feasible plan which would answer my purpose. Another thing I should like to know is the address of some firm which supplies really good artificial flowers, leaves, &c, at moderate prices. Good accessories are of great advantage to the life-like effect of a carefully-finished case.
A few words more as regards the accessories, more especially the rockwork: anyone who has a taste for painting and an eye for colour will find it of no great difficulty to successfully imitate the colour of any stone, and a well-painted scene at back of a case is a great pièce de résistance of undoubted value to the general tout ensemble. Witness some of Rowland Ward's cases; the beauty and perfection of detail are charming. It is most satisfactory to look at cases made years ago and compare them with those which have recently been finished. The amount of improvement which is acquired by constant practice will be noticed at once. I think a case arranged and set up by oneself is usually more valued than if it had been done by a professional, at least that is how I feel. I am sure no one who has any aptitude for taxidermy will ever regret having taken up such a delightful subject, and beginners need never give up in despair if they have to throw away their first twenty attempts at stuffing, as they cannot possibly hope to attain great proficiency at a bound. It only needs practice and a good knowledge of the habits of the creature which it is proposed to set up. This last point is important, for by neglecting it mistakes will assuredly occur which would otherwise have been avoided. It is not of much use to chance getting a good attitude for a bird or animal, but before attempting to set it up it is advisable to think of every conceivable pose which could be assumed strictly in accordance with nature. Good books ought to be consulted for correct positions, or the natural attitude may be obtained by observing live specimens.
In conclusion, I would impress on everyone, whether amateur or otherwise, to make it a rule to label every specimen most carefully with particulars as to date, locality, and sex; any other remarks might be added if desirable. A collection, no matter in what branch of natural history, is practically valueless without any data. The value of any collection is so much more enhanced by careful and truthful notes, and the amount of extra trouble is well repaid should the collection ever be offered for sale.—C.B. Horsbrugh (4, Richmond Hill, Bath).
- It may be as well to state that the Cuckoo's egg was quite fresh when blown; it was small even for a Cuckoo's, but had the usual hard shell.
- Oldham, Chas. (1898). "Daubenton's Bat in the Conway Valley". The Zoologist. 4th series, vol 2 (issue 685, July—section 'Notes and Queries'): 317. (Wikisource-Ed.)