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SELDOM appearing before the end of the first week in April, the Whinchat arrives much later than the Wheatear, and is much less diffused than that species. By the end of September it has again left the country, and I have never met with an instance of its remaining in England during the winter months. On several occasions correspondents have forwarded to me in winter a bird which they believed to be the Whinchat, but which invariably proved to be a female, or male in winter plumage, of the Stonechat—a species which is known to reside with us throughout the year, yet receiving a large accession to its numbers in spring, and undergoing corresponding decrease in autumn.
In the southern counties of England the Whinchat is sometimes very numerous, and may be found in every meadow perched upon the tall grass stems or dockweed. The abundance or scarcity of this species, however, varies considerably according to season. In some years I have noticed extraordinary numbers of this little bird, and in others have scarcely been able to count two or three pairs in a parish. I have generally found that a cold or wet spring has so affected their migration as to cause them apparently to alter their plans, and induce them to spend the summer but a short distance to the north or north-west of their winter quarters.
It is a little remarkable that in Ireland the Whinchat is far less common than the Stonechat, the reverse being the case in England. Mr. Thompson says, in the work already quoted (p. 175), " In no part of Ireland have I seen the Whinchat numerous, and compared with the Stonechat it is very scarce." In the south of Scotland, according to Macgillivray, it seldom makes its appearance before the end of April, that is, more than a fortnight after its arrival'in England. It extends to Sutherland, Caithness, and the outer Hebrides (cf. More, "Ibis," 1865, p. 22), and has occasionally been met with in Orkney, but not in Shetland. In winter it migrates to the south-east, and at that season is not uncommon in Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia, travelling also through Asia Minor, Arabia and Persia, as far eastward as the northwest provinces of India. In a south-westerly direction this species, passing through Spain and Portugal, proceeds down the west coast of Africa to Senegal, Gambia, and Fantee.
The Whinchat differs a good deal in its habits from the Wheatear, and on this account, as well as on account of certain differences of structure, it has been placed with the Stonechat and other allied species in a separate genus (Pratincola). It is doubtful, however, whether these differences are sufficient to entitle them to anything more than a specific separation.
The Whinchat perches much more than does the Wheatear, and may be seen darting into the air for insects, after the manner of a Flycatcher. It derives its name, of course, from the fact of its being found upon the whin, or furze, a favourite perch also for its congener the Stonechat. The derivation of the word whin I have never been able to ascertain.
Although the two species are frequently confounded, the Whinchat may be always distinguished from the Stonechat by its superciliary white streak, by the lighter-coloured throat and vent, and by the white bases of the three outer tail feathers on each side. Both species make a very similar nest, which is placed on the ground and well concealed, and lay very similar eggs, of a bright blue faintly speckled at the large end with rust colour.
A S has been already stated, the Stonechat .*- ^ may be found in a few scattered pairs throughout the country all the year round. At the beginning of April, however, a considerable accession to its numbers is observed to take place, owing to a migration from the south and south-east. It takes up its residence on moors and heaths, and many a lonely walk over such ground is enlivened by the sprightly actions and sharp "chook-chook" of this little bird.