The Zoologist/4th series, vol 3 (1899)/Issue 697/Notes and Queries

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Notes and Queries (July, 1899)
various authors, editor W.L. Distant
3307036Notes and QueriesJuly, 1899various authors, editor W.L. Distant




The Grey Seal on the Coast of Sussex.—Hearing, on June 5th, that a Seal had been shot at Littlehampton, I proceeded to make enquiries, and; if possible, identify the species. I was informed that it had been skinned, that it was between five and six feet in length, and weighed ninety-five pounds. The large size pointed to the conclusion that it might be the Grey Seal (Halichærus gryphus), a very rare visitor to the south coast, and, so far as I am aware, the first instance of its occurrence in these parts. Being, therefore, desirous of obtaining the skull as a means of identification, I asked what had become of it, and was informed that it had been "thrown into the river." Offering a reward, I left word that in the event of its being recovered, as I suggested it possibly might be at low tide, it should be brought to me. This was done, and I find that it corresponds in all essential particulars, as regards dentition, flattened head, &c, with the illustrations of the skull of the Grey Seal in the second edition of Prof. Bell's 'British Quadrupeds'; also teeth in the upper jaw, plain, smooth, and slightly curved, and not serrated, or placed obliquely and close together, as is the case in the Common Seal. I would also observe that in the specimen I have imperfectly endeavoured to describe, the two oblique orifices in the palate are placed near the canine teeth (see Bell, p. 268); whereas in the Common Seal (Phoca vitulina) they occur much farther back, and are longer in form (see Bell, p. 246). In 'The Zoologist' for 1897, I reported the appearance of the Common Seal in the Arun for the first time; I have now the pleasure of recording the capture in this district of the much rarer animal.—Percy E. Coombe (Surrey House, Arundel).


Thrush's Nest piled up with Ivy-berries.—By some accident the April number of 'The Zoologist' never reached me, and I have only lately seen Mr. Stanley Lewis's note in that issue (ante, p. 181). In May I received from Pembrokeshire a nest of the Song-Thrush, the sides of which were thickly piled up with berries which had originally (i.e. at the end of February) been of a beautiful ruddy colour; some of them still show faint traces of pink. The nest is described by the lady who sent it to me as having been a very beautiful object, and it was difficult to believe that the berries had not been stuffed into the structure of the nest for purposes of ornamentation. They turned out to be ivy-berries which had been passed through the body of the bird, the seeds, as Mr. Aplin has pointed out, being voided with the membrane containing them, while the soft parts of the berries were absorbed. It seems to be the membrane which takes the pink hue after extrusion. Mr. Aplin, who has seen the nest, thinks that the seeds were dropped upon it without definite purpose; Mr. Lewis, who does not mention the red colour, seems to be clear that the male bird brought them as food for the female. I should like to ask him whether the female consumed the berries, and whether he noticed any seeds of a red or pink hue. I have given up the idea of ornamentation, which was tempting at first sight; if the incubating female was fed by the male, and then extruded the seeds in a gelatinous state, they would easily have got fixed into the structure of the nest in such a way as to hold there firmly even after they had dried up.—W. Warde Fowler (Kingham, Chipping Norton).

[Many of the seeds forwarded by Mr. Stanley Lewis were of a red or pink hue.—Ed.]

Large Clutch of Wheatear's Eggs.—Mr. Davenport states (ante, p. 203) that he has never known of a clutch of eggs of the Wheatear (Saxicola œnanthe) to number eight. It may interest him to learn that a nest containing that number was found in a hole in the walls of an old ruined castle in North Lancashire on May 11th, 1888. I saw the eggs immediately after they were discovered, and seven of them are now in my collection; the eighth was unfortunately broken by the finder to ascertain "if it was fresh." Excepting in this instance, six is the largest number I have taken; but I believe a seven or eight clutch is in the possession of my friend Mr. R.W. Calvertt.—T.H. Nelson (The Cliffe, Redcar).

Hawfinches near Bradford.—On the 20th May last, whilst watching from behind a tree a Goldcrest feeding in a larch in Bingley Wood, a Hawfinch (Coccothraustes vulgaris) flew just past, alighting at some distance on an oak tree, but flew off again, immediately on my attempt to approach, along with another bird which I took to be of the same species. Formerly the Hawfinch was quite unknown in this district, but scarcely a year now passes but it is to be seen, or its nest found, and is undoubtedly extending its range in a northward direction. Recently a friend of mine, who had had his pea-crop attacked, was for some time quite ignorant of the cause of destruction; but early one morning he accidentally discovered that this species was the culprit.—E.P. Butterfield (Wilsden, near Bradford).

Cirl Bunting in Carnarvonshire.—As an interesting fact bearing upon the apparent extension of the range of the Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) in North Wales (if, indeed, it really is extending its range, and has not merely escaped notice until recently in some localities it is now known to inhabit), I should like to record that on the 29th June I watched, and listened for some time to the song of, a male of this species at Llanbedrog, about four miles west of Pwllheli. I could hear another bird singing at a little distance. The particular spot was the beautiful sheltered garden of Glyn-y-Weddw, which is heavily planted with conifers and other trees, and partly surrounded with plantations. Here, in the soft air, myrtles, escallonias, bays, fuchsias, and even camellias and other tender plants flourish in the open. The fact of the Cirl Bunting singing on and off from noon to two o'clock on that particular day, when the leaden sky, growling thunder, and warm heavy air were enough to depress all living creatures, shows that this species, like the Corn and Yellow Buntings, is a persistent singer after the early freshness of the day and the summer is past.—O.V. Aplin (Bloxham, Oxon).

Appearance of the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) in Yorkshire.—While I was sitting in a small wood some three miles from Beverley, my attention was attracted by the violent actions of two birds which seemed to be mobbing something. In a short time they came closer, and I saw that the object of their ire was a Great Spotted Woodpecker. The smaller birds were Greenfinches, and they were making furious dashes at the Woodpecker as he hung on to the trunk of a tree. The reason for their attack was obvious, as, when the Woodpecker had gone, I found a Greenfinch's nest, with the bird sitting on it, quite close to the spot. This was on May 27th.—A.H. Meiklejohn (104, Gilda Brook Road, Eccles, Lancashire).

Economy of the Cuckoo.—Referring to the notes of Mr. Tuck (Zool. 1898, p. 477) on the economy of the Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), it is not an exceptionally rare occurrence to find two eggs deposited in one nest in this district; but the Cuckoo scarcely or ever selects the nest of the Hedge-Sparrow. Roughly speaking, 80 per cent, are laid in the nest of the Titlark, 5 per cent, in that of the Whinchat, and the rest in nests of various species. My sons once brought me an egg which had been laid in the nest of a Ring-Ouzel. Whilst at Marley some time ago, with Mr. Carter, of Bradford, we found a Titlark's nest containing two Cuckoo's eggs, which were remarkable on account of the fact that both the Titlark's and Cuckoo's eggs deviated in a marked degree from the normal type, the former being scarcely distinguishable from the Pied Wagtail, with which, in colour and markings, the eggs of the Cuckoo very closely assimilated. In the course of a recent conversation with a friend, he informed me that some time ago he shot at a Cuckoo, flying over a disused quarry, in the very act of singing, wounding it in its wing, thus rendering it unable to continue its flight, though otherwise apparently uninjured. To his astonishment, whilst killing it, an egg was deposited in his hand. If this statement be true—and I have no reason to dispute it, as I have in the past ever found his statements unimpeachable—then the position of those who assert that it is the male bird only that sings is untenable. I pointed out to him that perhaps after all the song might have proceeded from a male bird in the immediate neighbourhood. He, however, denied that he could possibly be mistaken under the circumstances.—E.P. Butterfield (Wilsden, near Bradford).

Cuckoo's Egg in Nest of Red-backed Shrike.—As I called attention to the extreme rarity of the Cuckoo's egg in the Shrike's nest (ante, p. 223), I ought to mention that on June 15th I had one brought to me in East Suffolk with three eggs of the Red-backed Shrike. A few days previously I saw a Nightingale's nest in situ, with three eggs of the foster-parent and one Cuckoo's egg, which, by the kindness of the owner of the property, I was allowed to acquire. A neighbour was recently watching a Hedge-Sparrow's nest which he thought might produce an egg of the Cuckoo, and visited it one day, when it contained four eggs of the owner; next day one of the eggs was gone, and a Cuckoo's egg was left in its place. This Cuckoo's egg, to my friend's utter astonishment, was well advanced in incubation, while the eggs of the foster-parent were almost fresh. Where and how had the incubation of the Cuckoo's egg taken place?—Julian G. Tuck (Tostock Rectory, Bury St. Edmunds).

Arrival of Spring Migrants in Yorkshire.—I herewith send a list of spring migrants, as observed by myself and son, with dates of first appearance for the current year:—

Wheatear, April 2nd Wilsden.
Chiffchaff, April 3rd Bingley.
Ring-Ouzel, April 6th Wilsden.
Willow-Warbler, April 16th Bingley.
Tree-Pipit, April 18th Bingley.
Swallow, April 19th Bingley.
House-Martin, April 19th (one), early Bingley.
Cuckoo, April 20th Shipley.
Redstart, April 21st Bingley.
Sand-Martin, April 21st (late) Bingley.
Ray's Wagtail, April 23rd Bingley.
Blackcap and Garden Warbler,
April 30th
Cartmel, near Grange-over-Sands.
Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, and
*Corncrake, May 1st
Walney Island.
Whinchat, May 2nd Morecambe Bay.
Wood-Wren, May 4th Bingley.
*Reed-Warbler, May 8th Keighley.
*Spotted and *Pied Flycatcher,
May 8th
Bolton Wood.
Swift, May 10th Barden Tower, Wharfedale.
Fieldfare, May 10th (last seen) Bingley.
Nightjar, May 18th Goit Stock Valley, Bingley.

As to those species against which an asterisk is placed it cannot be taken as absolutely certain whether the dates of first appearance as observed by us were coincident with their arrival; but as to the remainder, the dates as specified we have every reason to believe indicate their actual arrival. Neither the Chiffchaff nor Stonechat breeds in this neighbourhood, or, if so, but rarely (although both occur occasionally on migration), which is a curious feature in their economy, especially when taken in connection with their habits as stated in most manuals on ornithology. We should be extremely obliged to any of your readers who would forward notes to supply material for the better working out of the distribution of these two species, stating particulars under the following heads, viz.:—Altitudinal range, whether well wooded, and, if so, what species of tree predominates, and whether of young or old growth; relative abundance or otherwise of allied species, such as Wheatear, Whinchat, Wood-Wren, and Willow-Warbler; or do they occur on migration only, as in this district, or breed? It may be said in passing that this district is well wooded, the trees chiefly oak, birch, and beech, the former predominating; it has an extensive altitudinal range (400-1300 ft.), most of which, over 1000 ft., consists of moorland.—E.P. Butterfield (Wilsden, near Bradford).

Songs of Birds affected by Temperature.—In the April number, Mr. H.S. Davenport takes me to task for my conclusions on this point. No doubt the sentence he quotes is too strongly expressed; in fact, a modifying word had slipped out of my type-written copy in that particular sentence. But the experience of years makes me feel sure that temperature as such does not seriously affect the singing of most birds. This morning, for example, in a very cold wind from W.N.W., there was far more singing going on in the osier-bed, where I watch the Marsh-Warbler, than there was in the warm weather of a fortnight ago. So, too, birds will sing in severe cold, if the air is clear, as it usually is in the hardest frosts. But they will cease singing in cold rain, in snow, or in depressing chilly fogs; this at least is my experience. A low temperature often invigorates the human frame, if not continued too long; and so long as the birds can find food and get some amount of sun, they seem brisk and lively, and will sing up to noon in great cold. In the later hours of a winter day I hardly ever hear any but the Robin and Wren. The following is one of many entries in my diary on which I based my conclusion:—"Feb. 7th, 1895 (Oxford). Observatory thermometer went down to 9° last night; on ground, 0·3°. Birds singing: Chaffinch, Dunnock, Robin, Wren, Great Tit, Blue Tit; Starlings very lively. Snow Buntings near Cumnor Hurst."—W. Warde Fowler (Kingham, Chipping Norton).


On Sexual Differences in the Superb Tanager (Calliste fastuosa).—In scientific descriptions of this bird we read, "Female similar to the male, but rather less brilliant in colour." Dr. Russ, in the second volume of his 'Fremdländischen Stubenvögel' (p. 444), says, "Das Weibchen soil übereinstimmend und nur matter gefärbt sein," which is the same statement over again; but then he proceeds to stultify his own remark by continuing, "Ich glaube jedoch, dass es nicht den gelben Unterrücken hat, den ich besass einst solchen Vogel, der bei kaum bemerkbar matteren Farben das lebhafte Gelb gar nicht und anstatt dessen einen fahlbräunlichschwarzen Unterrücken zeigte." His duller bird with brownish rump was probably an immature plumage, and he evidently guessed its sex from the fact that its colouring throughout was not perfected. In the spring of 1897 I purchased my first Superb Tanager, which in the late summer moulted into the most brilliantly coloured and most perfect example of the species that I have even seen. The damp cold weather of December, 1898, brought on a sort of weakness which I could only regard as a form of influenza, and this bird was one of the first of sixty victims which succumbed to the disease during December and January. When opened it proved, to my great surprise, to be a hen. In March, 1899, I purchased four examples of the species, and in April two more (all freshly imported); one of these died soon afterwards, being ragged and in poor condition; one died in good condition from apoplexy at the beginning of June, and a third a week later from inflammation of the vent. These last two were examined, and proved to be both cocks. The differences in the sexes are as follows:—The male, as with many Finches, has the crown broader, the base of the beak much broader, distinctly more triangular, when viewed from above, than the hen. In the latter sex, the beak being much narrowed, is more gradually tapered; viewed from the side, the culmen of the male beak is a little more arched. In colouring the sexes show distinctly different shades of colour; the male has the head and mantle of a distinctly more golden green than the female (this sex, though equally brilliant, is bluer than the male). The lower back and rump in the male are of a fiery orange colour; in the female the same parts are golden orange, distinctly yellower at the junction of the orange with the blue-black of the back. In selecting a pair for breeding in an open-air aviary, I believe that if birds showing deep orange and golden orange were purchased they would prove to be sexes; and I am certain that examples having the two distinctive forms of beak would prove to be so.—A.G. Butler (Beckenham Road, Beckenham, Kent).


Gattoruginous Blenny in Essex.—With reference to Mr. Patterson's note (ante, p. 273) that his Great Yarmouth specimen of this little fish "is the first record of B. gattorugine occurring in East Anglian waters," I should like to record that I have one caught in the Essex Blackwater, off Stansgate, on Aug. 19th, 1898, by Sampson Wright. It is typical with Day's figure and description, and measures 5⅛ in. long. I have it preserved in 4 per cent, formalin, and it looks as fresh as when I had it alive.—Edward A. Fitch (Maldon, Essex).