« AnteriorContinuar »
be an indication of affection towards their wires, but whatever it was, these old fellows, at a distance, sitting amongst the dark green foliage, looked as bright as peonies. Others had black heads with white cheeks and throats, and the rest of their plumage rusty ironblack. Some, and I do not feel quite certain what they were,— perhaps very old females,—had snow-white heads, throats and necks, and were ornamented with a conspicuous white transverse bar across the upper wing-coverts.
On the arrival of the males the females uttered a low sibillating cry, accompanied by a soft snapping together of their mandibles. The males, however, were most awkward in their manners, and often flew quite abruptly into their nests, alighting sometimes on the backs of their mates and almost dislodging them, and it was quite marvellous to me, considering the scuflle which then ensued, that the eggs were not pushed out of the nest.
While we were investigating the breeding-grounds of these birds, the greater part of the community wheeled in circles over our heads, every now and again descending and expressing their anger at our intrusion by a violent snapping of their beaks. They were so numerous at times that the sky was quite black with them, and from the ship I was told it appeared as if a dark moving cloud hung over that portion of the island during our visit. We expected we should be covered with vermin after our stay among these birds, but strange to say we were in no way annoyed, and 1 only saw a solitary specimen of a very minute species of bird-louse. Frigate-birds when placed on the ground, like albatrosses and large petrels, are perfectly helpless.
Besides the birds above noticed there were, in certain localities, colonies of herons, apparently consisting of two species. Both appeared to have recently bred, for I observed young birds strong on the wing. One of the species, and that the most numerous of the two, was of a bluish gray, with black head, yellow cheeks and legs; the other was of an uniform dirty buff; both about the size of the common night heron. The former species uttered a peculiar cry, which, until we had seen the bird, we took for the yelping of a cur.
Gervase F. Mathew.
H.M.S. ' Repulse,' Taboga, Bay of Panama,
Fossils from Recent Deposits in the Valley of the Thames. — During some recent extensive draining operations, under the Health of Towns Act, at Reading, a trench was carried for nearly a quarter of a mile through some low meadows between the rivers Kennet and Thames, near their confluence. The soil for the first ten or twelve feet was peaty, diversified with beds of blue and yellow clay. Part of the trench followed the course of a small brook or drain, and this portion was cut through peat and shell-marl. All the superficial strata rested on the Thames gravel, and this on the chalk. An immense number of bones were turned up during this excavation, but few of these have unfortunately been preserved; but from the accounts of eyewitnesses, I believe at least one perfect human skeleton and several skulls were exhumed; and at one point below the level of the bed of the Kennet, lying in the gravel beneath the shell-marl, a curious implement was found by Mr. Mitchener, of Staines, consisting of the burr and brow-antler of a small deer, with about an inch of the beam attached, neatly cut off and apparently hollowed out for the insertion of a handle. It is suggested that this was used as a salmon-gaff. A similar implement, but larger, has since been obtained from the gravel at Egham associated with an elephant's molar and the remains of a large ox: I am told that the point of the antler in the second specimen has evidently been sharpened. The beam of an antler of the red deer in my possession is covered with tool-marks and the tines have been carefully cut off and their stumps rounded; I think this must have served as the handle to some tool or weapon, for the parts where the hands would naturally grasp it are smooth and bright. I do not know from what depth this was obtained, it having been rescued from the stores of a bone merchant, to whom most of the fossils found their way, I fear. The bones of a fore leg were found, which Mr. Jones, Geological Professor at Oxford, attributes to Bos primigenius, and a jaw, with teeth, of the same. The "navvies" spoke of these being parts of an entire skeleton, most of which was undisturbed. Mr. W. Palmer, of Pleading, intends attempting to recover the rest of these bones. No perfect skeleton of Bos primigenius is to be found in any British museum. Remains of the smaller Bos longifrons were abundant; I have seen three horn-cores turned up at one stroke of the spade: some tolerably perfect crania were found, but not preserved. According to the report of the navvies a skeleton of this or of some small ox was found not far from that of the larger species before referred to. Bones which Mr. Waterhouse, of the British Museum, attributes to the following animals, were brought to light:—wolf, dog, horse, goat; and the fragment of the jaws of an immense deer, which he doubtfully identifies with Megacerus hibernicus. I found remains of the fox, boar and red deer: horns of the latter of a large size were not uncommon; a fragment in my possession measures eleven inches round the burr. The skull of a horse (male),—and apparently that of an animal four years old, for the " mark" is still present and of a fair depth,—shows its original possessor to have been about the size of a Shetland pony. Some smaller bones, perhaps referable to the roe and hare, were found in the shell-marl associated with most of our fresh-water shells. The absence in these deposits of any bones that can with certainty be attributed to the sheep, the large size of the remains of the deer, and the small size of those of the horse, besides the presence of bones of the extinct ox, seem to imply that the age when these beds were laid down, though, geologically speaking, only yesterday, was before the dawn of History in these islands.—Henry M. Wallis; Reading.
Piebald and llalformed Rat.—About a fortnight since I saw a curious variety of the common rat, the head, neck and shoulders of which were of the usual brown colour, but from thence to the tail it was pure white. It was also malformed, having but three legs which it could use, the fourth (one of its fore legs) being completely concealed under the skin, and lying backwards from the shoulder, and adhering to the side of the body. On dissection this limb appeared somewhat emaciated, but perfectly formed, with the exception of the toes, which were not quite perfect. It was a fine animal, quite fat, and appeared to have enjoyed perfect health. It was caught in Plymouth.—John Gatcombe; 8, Lower Durnford Street, Storehouse, Plymouth.
Common Buzzard in the Isle of Wight.—A female buzzard, in perfect plumage, was trapped at Wooton on the the 23rd of December, 1873.— Henry Hadfield.
An Osprey carrying off Yonng Chickens.—In the spring of 1871 a railway porter, near Tunbridge, had no less than eleven young chickens carried off by an osprey. His wife happened one day to hear a great commotion among tho poultry in the garden, and, rushing out of the house, was just in time to see a large hawk flying off with one of her chickens in its claws. On her husband's return she informed him of the circumstance. The same thing happened several times, the bird returning twice and even thrice a-day for his unwonted meal. At last the man determined to try and kill the aggressor; so, accordingly, he borrowed a gun, and as evening drew on he awaited his unwelcome visitor. Nor had he long to wait, for the old hen soon made him aware of the enemy's approach by her loud and continuous cackling, as she gathered her remaining young ones under her wings. So intent was the osprey on his prey that he never noticed the porter, who, as the bird made his final stoop, let drive, and stretched it dead beside its intended supper. The next day he took the bird to a gunsmith in Tunbridge Wells, who sold it to a lady staying there, at the same time informing her of the circumstances connected with its capture. Being rather incredulous, she drove over to see the porter himself, who corroborated the gunsmith's statements. I saw this bird a short time ago, and there is no doubt as to its being a genuine Pandion Haliaoetus, and a very fine adult specimen too. It has been successfully set up in a most life-like attitude by Mr. B. Bates, naturalist, of Eastbourne.—Arthur John Clark-Kennedy; Hyde Gardens, Eastbourne.
Hobby at Godalming.—Two beautiful specimens of the hobby were shot at Compton about the 15th or 10th of February, which I have by me in good preservation.—W. Stafford; Godalming.
Eagle Owl at Bridgnorth.—Last autumn a fine specimen of this bird (Bubo maximus) was shot by Mr. Reynolds, of Hermitage Farm, Bridgnorth, and stuffed by Mr. Edwards, taxidermist, of Wolverhampton. A friend of mine informed me of the occurrence and offered to procure the bird for me, but received no reply to a letter he wrote about it. He, however, went there to spend his Easter holidays, and brought the bird back with him. I think it is a male; its length is twenty-four inches. It is of a rich dark colour, and is now in the possession of Messrs. B. Cooke, jun., and Co., naturalists, of 21, Renshaw-street, Liverpool.—Nicholas Cooke; Gorsey Hey, Liscard, near Birkenhead, April 14, 1874.
Black Redstart near Godalming.—A fine specimen of the black redstart was seen on Christmas-day between Godalming and Guildford; another was observed near the new railway-station about a fortnight afterwards, and a third at Milford about the same time.—W. Stafford.
Spring Migrants. — The blackcap -was in full song on April 6th in Trereife Valley, about a mile from Penzance. This is the earliest date I ever recorded the first song of the blackcap, but it happened to be a genial spring morning with plenty of sun. At the same time I heard the song of the chiffchaff for the first time in this neighbourhood, which is unusually late. I heard it on the 28th ultimo in the eastern part of the county. It may be well to remark that both the chiffchaff and blackcap remain with us all through the winter in limited numbers, and I expect that the bird I heard this morning was no migrant, and simply commenced his spring song. I heard no more of the blackcap's song till Monday, the 20th, when they were generally distributed. I observed swallows on the Marazion Pond on the 11th. On the 21st I heard the first song of the sedge warbler, and on the same day the first hoopoe was obtained from the grounds of Clowance, in an eastern district. As these birds always appear in larger or smaller numbers every spring with us, it may be well to note the earliest arrival. Cuckoos, willow wrens and whitethroats have not reported themselves. Garden warblers, lesser whitethroats, wood wrens, reed wrens, nightingales and redstarts do not visit our western shores.—Edward Hearle Rodd; Penzance, April 22, 1874.
Tree Sparrow.—In Capt. Hadfield's remarks on the birds seen in a three weeks' tour in Brittany (S. S. 3945), he says:—" Tree Sparrow.—Numerous nests of this species, I believe, were observed in some tall aud leafless trees
SECOND SERIES—VOL. IX. 2 C
by the roadside." These nests were probably those of the house sparrow, which frequently builds its nest in the branches of trees; but this is never the case with the tree sparrow, which invariably builds in holes in old trees, as pointed out by the late Colonel Montagu. Some years ago I saw several pairs which had their nests in the holes of some old pollard-willows near Aldwinkle, in Northamptonshire.—H. Doubleday; Epping, April 16,1874.
Peculiar Position in Feet of Ccrthia familiaris.—A short while ago, when attentively observing the movements of a creeper as it ascended several trees, I was struck with the position of the feet. Instead of the tarsi being parallel to each other or nearly so, and concealed with the toes beneath the body of the bird (of course I do not mean concealed from a person viewing the bird sideways), as I had always supposed, the legs were extended laterally and a little forward, so as to have the toes on a level, so to speak, with the neck, and both toes and tarsi were visible. I have little doubt but that every creeper puts its legs in a similar position, and I attribute the fact of my never having noticed them before to the great similarity which exists between the colour of the legs and the bark. You must get quite close; if you are content with watching from a distance the legs are apparently concealed. If the three points of support be joined, namely, the toes and the extremities of the shafts of the tail-feather, an isosceles triangle will be formed, the vertical angle of which is very much larger than I had supposed it to be. I am not sufficient mathematician, nor have I the data to determine the size of the angle which in the case of the creeper gives the maximum amount of stability. In all probability the bird chooses the best position itself. Perhaps there may be nothing new in the fact above mentioned, but no mention is made in any book I have examined.—Richard M. Barrington; Fassaroe, Bray, April 20, 1874.
Wood Pigeons laying in January,—Two young wood pigeons were taken from a nest by Mr. Marshall's man servant on the 15th of January, 1874. On the 15th of February Mr. G. Barrett informed me that he knew of three wood pigeons' nests, two containing young, the other eggs only.—William Stafford.
Curious IHalformation in the Mandibles of a Shortfaccd Tumbler.—As
soon as this bird left the nest it was evident that the mandibles did not meet in a natural manner, the points slightly crossing by reason of the upper mandible bending to the right; the extremities, particularly of the upper mandible, were slightly dilated and slightly spathulate, a formation which that eminent pigeon-breeder, Mr. Tegetmeier, considers a necessity of the well-known mode in which young pigeons take their food: throughout the winter the form of the mandibles was continually changing, and always in one direction, until in April they have attained the form represented in the figure, the upper mandible being much the longer and more curved, and terminating in a point as sharp as a needle: between the mandibles is