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of loyalty to the Stuarts; and one Lieutenant Hopkins, with a troop of dragoons, swooped down on Eastbourne to search the squire's house, and, if needful, arrest him as a Malignant. The squire was laid up with the gout; but Mistress Wilson, his true wife, with the rarely-failing shrewdness of her sex, placed before Lieutenant Hopkins and his troopers a prodigious pie filled with Wheatears, "which rare repast," the chronicle goes on to say, "the soldiers did taste with so much amazement, delight, and jollity," that the squire upstairs had ample time to burn all the papers which would compromise him, and when Lieutenant Hopkins, full of Wheatear pie, came to search the house, there was not so much treasonable matter found as could have brought a mouse within peril of a prcemunire. At the Restoration the Lord of the Manor became Sir William Wilson of Eastbourne, a dignity well earned by his devotion to the Royal cause; but the chronicle goes on to hint that Charles II. was passionately fond of Wheatears. and that possibly the liberality of the squire, in supplying his Majesty's table with these delicacies, may have had something to do with the creation of the baronetcy.
The abundance of Wheatears at certain seasons on the Hampshire downs was noticed by Gilbert White in a letter to the Hon. Daines Barrington in Dec. 1773. Since this excellent naturalist penned his observations, however, many changes in the haunts and habits of birds have been remarked. For example, the Hawfinch, which he referred to as "rarely seen in England, and only in winter," is now found to be resident throughout the year, and nesting even in the proximity of London and other large cities. The Landrail, which he noted as "a bird so rare in this district that we seldom see more than one or two in a season, and those only in autumn," is now so plentiful in the same neighbourhood that I have shot as many as half a dozen in one day in September, within a few miles of Selborne. The Common Bunting, which in 1768 was considered to be a "rare bird" in the district referred to, may now be heard there in full song—if song it can be called—throughout the month of May. Whilst walking from Liss to Selborne, I have on two occasions met with a bird which Gilbert White had not observed—the Cirl Bunting; and, to return to the Wheatears, these birds, which were formerly so plentiful in autumn that the shepherds trapped them by dozens, are now far less numerous at the same season, and the practice of snaring them has perceptibly declined.1 It was remarkable that, although in the height of the season—*. e., at wheat harvest —so many hundreds of dozens were taken, yet they were never seen to flock, and it was a rare thing to see more than three or four at a time; so that there must have been a perpetual flitting and constant progressive succession.
The Wheatear is partial to commons and
1 As to other changes in the fauna and flora which have taken place since Gilbert White's day in the district of which he wrote, the reader may be referred to the Preface to my edition of the "Natural History of Selborne" recently published.
waste lands, old quarries, sand hills, and downs by the sea, and it is in these situations that we may now look for him without much fear of disappointment. Like all the chats, the Wheatear is very terrestrial in its habits, seldom perching on trees, although often to be seen on gateposts and rails, where a broader footing is afforded it. Its song is rather sprightly, and is occasionally uttered on the wing. The contrast between the spring and autumn plumage of this bird is very remarkable. If an old bird be examined in September, it will be found that the white superciliary streak has almost disappeared; the colour of the upper parts has become reddish brown; the throat and breast pale ferruginous, lighter on the flanks and belly; while the primaries and tail at its extremity are much browner. On raising the feathers of the back, it will be found that the base of each feather is grey; and in spring this colour supersedes the brown of winter, which is worn off, and the upper parts assume a beautiful bluish grey, while the under parts become pure white. In this species, therefore, it is evident that the seasonal change of plumage is effected by a change of colour in the same feather, and not by a moult.
The nest of the Wheatear is generally well concealed in the crevice of a cliff or sandbank, or in an old rabbit burrow. Where these conveniences are not accessible, the nest may be found at the foot of a bush, screened from view by grass or foliage. The eggs, five or six in number, are of a delicate pale blue, occasionally spotted at the larger end with pale rust colour.
The geographical range of the Wheatear is very extensive for so small and short-winged a bird. It is found in the Faroe Isles, Iceland, and Greenland; in Lapland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark; throughout Europe to the Mediterranean; in Egypt, Arabia, Asia Minor, and Armenia.