« AnteriorContinuar »
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.
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.