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A rushy spot about a hundred yards in length is the only one where the birds are seen. For a time Dr. Saxby was unsuccessful in a kind of desultory search in this "rushy spot"; but, convinced that eggs were to be found, he put on his considering cap, and standing up to his knees in mud and water, determined not to leave a single stone unturned,—that is, a single square yard unexplored,—until the prize he so ardently coveted was safe in his possession.
"Now at the other end of the swamp, where there seemed to be no birds, was a quantity of drier ground covered with moderately long withered grass, and intersected in every direction by numerous irregular natural drains, some not more than three feet wide, others as many yards, but all forming a net-work so close and intricate as to leave no piece of dry land larger than ten or twelve feet across. Again I set to work, not it is true with any great hope of success, because I had fully resolved to examine the whole of the swamp, so that in case of failure there might at least be no after reproaches. Very soon I discovered what my error had been. First, I found a rough sort of nest, composed of dry grass, too small and too deep for a dunlin's, therefore in all probability that of a phalarcpe; then within a few minutes I discovered two more nests newly commenced, but no eggs. Shortly afterwards I picked up the broken shell of a newly-hatched egg, then fragments of three others, and close beside them a perfect nest. I carefully packed the fragments in a chip-box, in order to convince sceptics, and then noted down the description of the nest. It consisted of nothing more than a cavity low down among the tall grass, deep iu form, and rather neatly lined with blades of the same, most of which were broad and flat; at the bottom they formed a bed almost half an inch in thickness; from the upper surface of this bed to the rim of the nest the height was nearly three inches, the width across the inner rim a little less than two inches. Very shortly afterwards a male phalarope rose unexpectedly and alighted iu the water about ten yards off. Marking the spot as closely as possible, I floundered through the muddy water, scrambled upon the little island, and soon afterwards, to my intense delight, discovered a nest and four beautiful eggs, all lying with their small ends meeting in the centre. They were hard-set, but for all that they were a most valuable prize. The nest only differed from the last in having a few feathers, apparently from the breast of one of the birds, lying loosely inside. After this I quartered about for a considerable time, and in the best of good tempers. I found some more half-finished nests and a few more deserted ones, and finally I discovered yet another nest containing four eggs, and another with a single one, all quite fresh. Oddly enough, in this part of the swamp I saw but the one bird already mentioned, while in the further part, among the rushes, they were, as I have stated, abundant. I can only account for
this by supposing that they had young ones which they had led away for concealment, and that the few birds which had eggs must have escaped my notice.
"The fresh eggs found in the second nest are of a pale yellowish olivegreen, spotted all over, but rather more so at the broad end, where the marks are also larger, with shades of brownish and purplish gray and deep umber-brown. All are of a lengthened pyriform shape; three measure one inch two lines in length by ten lines in breadth, but the fourth is one line longer and one line narrower. Those of the first set are not quite so sharply pointed; the ground colour is warmer, and the markings are of a redder tinge. They all measure one inch three lines by ten lines. The single egg is of the exact size of the three last described, but the ground colour is darker and greener, aud some of the blotches at the broad end are very large. These apparently over-minute particulars are worth recording, because a single difference in colouring or a variation in measurement, more or less, is often supposed to be quite sufficient to decide a dispute as to species. The peculiar appearance of phalarope's eggs is owing to the roundness and distinctness of the markings, which for the most part are scattered all over the surface, instead of being confined chiefly to one end; the distinctness of the markings is owing to the comparative scarcity of under tints.
'' While wading in the swamp the first indication I had of the presence of the birds was the peculiar note heard, singly at first from one individual, but afterwards it was echoed from all sides by numerous voices. I scarcely know to what the note can be likened, except to the word 'gulp' uttered rapidly several times in succession, and then after a pause again repeated. This seems to be common to both sexes, but as they take wing the male utters a sharper cry. Often when closely pursued in the water they utter a loud chattering noise, at the same time swimming almost as fast as one can wade. The note of the young birds is nearly similar to that of the old ones, and in fine weather it can be heard distinctly when the birds are flying so high as to be almost out of sight. Sometimes they fly very rapidly, but when anxious to return to the rushes they proceed by means of a number of short jerks with the wings, and then drop suddenly. As they fly overhead the wing appears to form a sharper angle at the carpal joint than I have observed in the sandpipers. Rednecked phalaropes seem to entertain but little fear of man, aud even the hateful gun itself often fails to terrify them. It sometimes happens that when large shot is fired from a distance at one sitting in the water it escapes untouched, although in the very centre of the charge. On such occasions I have seen it, so far from being alarmed, rise for the height of two or three feet, and after hovering over the disturbed water for a few seconds alight again in the very same spot. Their behaviour is sometimes quite unaccountable, at least to myself. One day early in June, following up the winding course of the broad quiet burn which flows through the marshes, I suddenly observed a pair of phalaropes close together near the bank, partly concealed by the marsh marigolds, and never for a moment at rest, now swimming rapidly out with a pretty nodding motion of the head, and next moment threading their way among the tall stems of Equisetum, occasionally darting forward to pick some floating particle of food from the surface. Thinking to obtain them both, I fired. One, the female, fell over dead, the other fluttered to the land, as I thought, mortally wounded. So heavy was its flight that my companion immediately gave chase, making sure that he should catch it with ease. He pursued it for a considerable distance over the grass, more than once nearly getting his hands upon it, when suddenly, to his dismay as well as my own, it rose and flew vigorously towards the loch, where it went quietly down among the thick herbage and was lost to us."—P. 216.
(To be continued.)
Notes from Castle Eden. By Mr. John Sclater.
A hen pheasant was seen carrying a bird in her mouth, sometimes laying it down and pecking it; she had left off before I could witness it, but on going to the place as directed I found it was a hen sparrow newly killed.
Blackbirds and thrushes are suffering severely from the drought; they are so weak that the high wind of the 11th instant killed a great many full-fledged young by blowing them about: they all have the same puffed-out, starved appearance as in hard winter weather. In the woods, where the oaks are being felled and barked, the thrushes that have young to feed may be seen hopping and running amongst the work-people's feet, on the look-out for worms, &c.; they can hardly be made to take wing. Both species are particularly numerous this season, principally owing to the ambiguity of the Wild Birds Protection Act to the boys in this dark region.
There are perhaps few readers of the ' Zoologist' who have not seen the awkward, clumsy chase of the sparrow after the cabbagebutterfly, showing how ill adapted that bird is for such pursuits. The other day I saw the most laughable instance of this kind 1 ever met with—a pair of sparrows trying to capture a rather
SECOND SERIES—VOL. IX. 3 H
small moth: they once ascended nearly perpendicularly not less than eighty feet, when the moth quickly took to a tree for shelter, the sparrows still following, and after some beating about amongst the blanches the moth was again driven into the open, and the male bird, who was first in the chase, commenced screaming openmouthed (from vexation, I thought). The moth finally escaped by slipping into a narrow crevice in a wall; the bird clung to the wall, and struck his bill into the crevice several times, screaming harshly, but was obliged to give in, fairly beaten. I was not aware that the house sparrow ever made an attempt to sing. I was sitting at an open window when I heard a low twitter, very like what young canaries just leaving the nest may be heard making when half asleep. I had seen the bird just a minute or two before, enjoying a bath and hop upon a branch to preen his feathers. I could not have believed it had I not seen the motion of his throat at the same time.
It is not often anything good can be said of the wood pigeon. 1 was told that they were making sad havoc with the turnips in a certain field; consequently I went to shoot them. By waiting behind a fence I soon shot eight, and then sat down to open their crops. I did not find a trace of turnip in any of them; they were all crammed full of the unexpanded flowers of charlock, or " runch," as it is called in this part of the country. In this case, then, the pigeons were conferring a great benefit on the farmer instead of the great damage he accused them of, simply because he saw them in the field. It must not be understood, however, that they will not destroy young turnips, as I have known plenty of instances of their doing so. Walking on, I met others coming from the direction of a pea-field, and was curious to examine some of them also. I succeeded iu bringing down three, and on opening them found they had all fed on pea-pods: the pods were perfectly flat and empty, and had been broken into four or five irregular pieces. I took the trouble to fit the pieces together from one crop, and found it contained nine pods and some odd pieces. What a mixture of good and evil between these two batches of birds of the same species, living in the same wood. I could not help reasoning that as some of us prefer to drink coffee, some tea, to breakfast, why should not these birds have their tastes as well as well as we. They are perhaps more destructive to peas than to anything else, as they attack them in all periods of their growth. I have found the undeveloped tops of the flowers of the lime and plane trees in the crops of their young when taken from the nest.
In the spring I was puzzled to account for the great destruction of the primroses all round this place and in the Dene: they appeared to have been simply pulled off the stem and left lying on the ground. At first I blamed the children, as I have often seen them stringing the flowers together for necklaces; the gardener declared it was the rabbits; then I thought of mice; and so on. It was, however, soon settled, for the same thing was seen in a garden, where at least neither children nor rabbits were admitted. Watch was kept, and it turned out that the greenfinches and sparrows were the guilty parties, chiefly the greenfinches, which are far more destructive than the sparrows, particularly amongst the sprouting crops. I have watched the greenfinch pull up fully a yard of drilled turnips at a meal, eating only the small leaflets [cotyledonous leaves] and seeds, leaving the stems scattered along the line like clippings of silver wire. I have often wondered how birds can draw these seeds out of the ground, especially when it is dry and hard, without breaking the stems. I find they invariably break when an attempt is made to pull tiiem with the finger and thumb. It is curious, too, how seldom one can succeed in drawing a worm without breaking it, and how easy it seems to a thrush or blackbird; although, by the bye, I remember once seeing a thrush fail in trying to draw a large worm, when a blackbird made a dart at it, causing the thrush to leave off, and drew it at once, possibly from his superior strength, or because the work was already half done. I ought to have mentioned that only the green part of the primroses at the top of the stem were eaten—I suppose, from its containing the nectar.
I was walking leisurely down the Dene when I felt a smart slap on the cheek. I observed the object fall to the ground, and looking down I saw something spinning round, which on closer examination proved to be a large bluebottle fly and a wasp stuck to it, busily engaged in cutting off the fly's wings, which it soon succeeded in doing, and then commenced to eat it.
Castle Eden, Durham.