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Honey Buzzard.—On the 8th a honey buzzard was shot by the keeper at Cotheleston. He first saw it on the borders of a large wood on the side of the Quantock Hills; after chasing it from place to place and from tree to tree, he eventually succeeded in stalking up to it and shooting it. It was a young bird, probably in its second year, as the gray feathers of the head of the adult were gradually supplanting the darker brown ones of the young bird. I did not see this bird, and was not told of it till more than a month afterwards, as both the keeper and the birdstuffer at Taunton, to whom it was taken, believed it to be a common buzzard; so I can give no further particulars as to contents of stomach, &c. The bird is now in the possession of Mr. Esdaile, on whose ground it was shot.
Sparrowhawk and Partridge.—On the 15th I was out shooting with a friend at a place called Pitsford Hill, near Wiveliscombe, and as the keeper and myself were marking a covey of partridges we saw a large female sparrowhawk strike at the last bird of the covey, which was lagging considerably behind the others. The moment the partridge became aware of the hawk it dropped like a stone into a thick hedge over which it was passing; the hawk retired into a tree close by, and there remained, probably waiting for the partridge to move. We went on shooting, and on returning to the place in about an hour we found the hawk still in the tree, and, after some difficulty, rose the partridge from the exact spot in the hedge into which we had marked it drop. Neither of the birds were shot at, so they may have renewed their acquaintance on another occasion.
Buff oris Skua and Pigmy Curlew.—On the 18th of this month Mr. Haddon, of Taunton, shot a Buffon's skua near Stolford, on the coast, near Quantox Head. I afterwards saw it at Mr. Bidgood's, who had it to stuff: it was a bird of the year, in the dark sooty plumage. Buffon's skua is a rare bird in this county, though it does occur both inland and on the coast, and occasionally in nearly adult plumage; one such was recorded by the Rev. M. A. Mathew in the 'Zoologist' for 1863 (Zool. 8448). The curlew sandpiper was also shot by Mr. Haddon at the same place and on the same day: he told me he thought there were one or two others in company with it, but he was unable to obtain another. This bird seems only to occur occasionally on our coast; it is, however, Second Series—VOL. IX. K
much more common and regular in its appearance on the north coast of Devon.
Wigeon — In the 'Zoologist' for 1872 (S. S. 3243) I mentioned that a pair of wigeons had bred in my pond that summer, and had eight young ones, only two of which arrived at years of maturity. As I never pinioned these two, but left them to their own devices, they left me in the following spring—that of 1873: early in this October, however, they reappeared in my pond—at least I presume they must be the same two birds, as they are perfectly tame, and come and feed with the rest of the ducks, and did so directly on their return. This return is interesting, as it shows not only a disposition to take up their winter quarters in the same place from year to year, but it also shows nearly the time at which the drakes assume their distinctive plumage. When they departed in the spring they were both alike, and I do not think it was possible to say whether they were ducks or drakes. When they returned in October the drake had quite assumed his distinctive plumage; the duck, however, as might have been expected, remained much as she was, there being but little difference between the young ducks and drakes.
Peregrine Falcon.—On the 9th I saw at the Taunton Museum a peregrine falcon, a fine young female, which had been killed at or near St. Audries, and had been sent to Mr. Bidgood to preserve for the Museum.
November, 1873. Redlegged Gull.—On the 10th I saw, in a newly-sown field of wheat near Willett Hill, a flock of about fifty gulls, consisting, as far as I could see, entirely of redlegged gulls (Larus ridibundus). It is not very usual to see so many of these gulls collected in a field so far inland; but I suppose the freshly-moved ground attracted a few stragglers, and the rest collected in that marvellous manner in which a crowd of gulls is soon formed when a few lucky individuals find a good feeding-place: in this case I have no doubt the whole flock had a good feed of grubs. This gull is common enough on our coast from autumn to spring, and I have frequently seen them collect in the same way in ploughed fields near the sea, but not often so far inland: there was nothing particular in the weather to account for it.
Peregrine Falcon.—On the 24th another peregrine, also a young female, was shot near Milverton by a boy who was out with a gun: the boy's father brought this bird to me a few days afterwards: it was fat and in very good condition, though there was nothing in the stomach but a little fur, which might have been that of a hare or rabbit.
December, 1873. Common Buzzard and Brown Owl.—On the 1st two common buzzards were brought to me by the keeper at Cotheleston, with the following note giving an account of the capture. I had been shooting there the day before. "Sir,—You will remember a pigeon being shot at the corner of Badger Coppice, and falling into the field? I went for it when we had finished shooting, and found the buzzard eating it. I had a trap set, and caught it the same evening. The one with its leg broken was caught at a pigeon the same evening by Grub Bottom." The two places mentioned are on the south-east side of the Quantocks, and not far from where the honey buzzard was killed. Another common buzzard was shot or trapped by this same keeper about a fortnight before. I think a note of the capture was sent you by Mr. Mathew. I much fear that this system of trapping, so vigorously carried on by keepers, will soon quite exterminate not only the common buzzard, but all our hawks and owls. My friend the keeper is quite as ruthless a destroyer of brown owls as he is of buzzards; for he says that they (the brown owls) carry off his young pheasants in great numbers at night from the coops. If he is to be believed, the way in which the owls effect this robbery is curious and daring. He says they fly by the coop so close as to disturb the hen while she is hovering her young; she jumps up in a rage, the young ones run out, and some are of course carried off by the owl. I am not generally a great believer in a gamekeeper's Ornithology, or his evidence against what he calls "feathered vermin;" but this story about the brown owls was told with much confidence, the keeper declaring he had often watched and seen them do it. But to return to the buzzards sent me on the 1st: one of these I gave to the Museum at Taunton; the other I skinned myself, and afterwards examined the contents of the stomach, which rather surprised me; for in it I found a considerable portion of the gizzard of some other bird; a good many grains of barley and a few of wheat; a considerable mass of what looked like chopped-up bents of grass; a very few feathers, the claw and part of the skin of the foot of some bird; several earwigs, some quite digested, nothing but a little of the hard skin being left, and the others had only just been swallowed and were quite perfect; some little bits of bones of some small bird; there were also a great many small white stones. How much of this miscellaneous mass is to be set down as the buzzard's own food, and how much was taken out of the stomach of some other bird, I am rather at a loss to say. The gizzard was a strong grinding one, much more powerful than the stomach of the buzzard, and I have no doubt was that of a wood pigeon; the wheat, the barley, the bents of grass, and the small stones (which are always present in the stomach of the wood pigeon), were no doubt eaten with that bird; the earwigs were probably eaten by the buzzard itself, but I do not know that they form part of its usual food, or how that bird manages to catch them.
In concluding these notes, I must express my regret that so many of our finest hawks have been slaughtered during the past six months,—namely, two peregrine falcons, three common buzzards, and one honey buzzard. If this continued persecution is carried on, all our larger Falconidae will soon become extinct. I am quite sure that this destruction has already been of serious injury to the farmer, and 1 believe has not been of much use to the gamekeepers, some of. whom are already complaining of the difficulty of guarding their young birds from the attacks of rats, which are increasing to a most mischievous extent.
Fish distinguished by their Action.
As the trained eye of a constant resident in the country enables him to recognize the various species of birds that cross his path by their flight, irrespective of their form and colour, so the observer of fish as they wander at will in the tanks of a large aquarium soon learns to invest them with au additional marked individuality imparted by their mode of action. In some instances these distinctive characters are instructive, as illustrating the varied mechanical
* I am indebted to Mr. Kent for sending me a copy of this paper, which appeared in the columns of 'Nature' in July last: it exhibits careful observation, and I am particularly desirous it should be seen by the readers of the ' Zoologist.'—E. N.
principles on which locomotion is effected, while in others they are highly valuable as affording accessory means of discriminating the zoological affinities of the different races and species.
Commencing with the Plagiostomous order, we find in the two primary sub-groups, including respectively the sharks and rays, that progression is effected on very distinct principles. With the Selachoidea, or shark tribe, the fish move by the even, powerful swaying from side to side of the largely-developed and unsymmetrical caudal fin and whole posterior part of the body, the other fins remaining quiescent and being merely subservient as balancers. Descending to the species, we find again that each form exhibits a peculiarity of action distinct from its congeners, and one which readily enables us to discriminate between them. Thus in the smooth hound (Mustelus) the pectoral fins are so largely developed that their balancing powers are highly augmented; comparatively slow motion of the caudal extremity suffices to propel the fish through the water, and the whole body being flexible, it progresses with a measured grace of action surpassed by no other species of its tribe. In the picked dogfish (Acanthias) the general contour of the body is very similar to that of the last species, but the pectorals being much smaller, more rapid action of the caudal extremity is requisite for supporting it in the water, and to this has to be added a great rigidity of the anterior half of the vertebral column, causing the fish to swerve from side to side with each stroke of the tail, the same cause preventing it also from turning corners with ease and rapidity, and altogether imparting to it a want of grace of action compared with that of other members of its tribe. For the foregoing reason, this species requires a tank of larger size for its preservation in good health than other dogfish, as if confined within the boundaries of a small one, it beats its head against the sides and rockwork to such an extent that the cartilage of the skull is frequently exposed to view. In the spotted dogfish (Scyllium) the whole body is more elastic even than in Mustelus, a character admirably fitting it for its ground-loving habits, and enabling it to explore and adapt itself to every sinuosity of the ground while hunting for its prey. When swimming in open water it is distinguished by a more rapid action and swifter progress than Mustelus, though at the same time the greater amount of force expended in its movements deprives it of the peculiar grace associated with that species.