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Lycoperdon tuber, truffles, in the Hanger and Highwood.
Sambucus ebulus, dwarf elder, walwort, or danewortamong
the rubbish and ruined foundations of the Priory. Of all the propensities of plants, none seen more strange than their different periods of blossoming Some produce their flowers in the winter, or very first dawnings of spring; many when the spring is established; some at midsummer, and some not tiil autumn. When we see the Helleborus fætidus and Helleborus niger blowing at Christmas, the Helleborus hyemalis in January, and the Helleborus viridis as soon as ever it emerges out of the ground, we do not wonder, because they are kindred plants that we expect should keep pace the one with the other ; but other congenerous vegetables differ so widely in their time of flowering, that we cannot but admire. I shall only instance at present in the Crocus sativus, the vernal and the autumnal crocus, which have such an affinity, that the best botanists only make them varieties of the same genus, of which there is only one species, not being able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often in very rigorous weather; and cannot be retarded but by some violence offered ; while the autumnal (the saffron) defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed. This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation, little noticed because a common occurrence; yet ought not to be overlooked on account of its being familiar, since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most stupendous phenomenon in nature.
“Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow
Congeal'd, the crocus, flamy bud to glow ?
Say, what retards, amidst the summer's blaze,
“Omnibus animalibus reliquis certus et uniusmodi, et in suo cuique
genere incessus est: aves solæ vario meatu feruntur, et in terrâ, et in äere."
SELBORNE, Aug. 7th, 1778.
A GOOD ornithologist should be able to distinguish birds by their air as well as by their colours and shape ; on the ground as well as on the wing: and in the bush as well as in the hand. For, though it must not be said that every species of birds has a manner peculiar to itself, yet there is somewhat in most genera at least, that at first sight discriminates them, and enables a judicious observer to pronounce upon them with some certainty. But a bird in motion
Et verâ incessu patuitThus kites and buzzards sail round in circles with wings expanded and motionless; and it is from their gliding manner that the former are still called in the north of England gleads, from the Saxon verb glidan, to glide. The kestrel, or wind-hover, has a peculiar mode of hanging in the air in one place, his wings all the while being briskly agitated. Hen-harriers fly low over heaths or fields of corn, and beat the ground regularly like a pointer or setting-dog. Owls move in a buoyant manner, as if lighter than the air; they seem to want ballast. There is a peculiarity belonging to ravens that must draw the attention even of the most incurious—they spend all their leisure time in striking and cuffing each other on the wing in a kind of playful skirmish; and, when they move from one place to another, frequently turn on their backs with a loud croak, and seem to be falling to the ground. When this odd gesture betides them, they are scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose the centre of gravity. Rooks sometimes dive and tumble in a frolicsome manner ; crows and daws swagger in their walk; wood-peckers fly volatu undoso, opening and closing their wings at every stroke, and so are always rising or falling in curves. All of this genus use their tails, which incline downward, as a support while they run up trees. Parrots, like all other hooked-clawed birds, walk awkwardly, and make use of their bill as a third foot, climbing and descending with ridiculous caution. All the galline parade and walk gracefully, and run nimbly; but fly with difficulty, with an impetuous whirring, and in a straight line. Magpies and jays flutter with powerless wings, and make no dispatch; herons seem encumbered with too much sail for their light bodies, but these vast hollow wings are necessary in carrying burdens, such as large fishes and the like ; pigeons, and particularly the sort called smiters, have a way of clashing their wings the one against the other over their backs with a loud snap; another variety, called tumblers, turn themselves over in the air. Some birds have movements peculiar to the season of love ; thus ringdoves, though strong and rapid at other times, yet in the spring hang about on the wing in a toying and playful manner; thus the cock-snipe, while breeding, forgetting his former flight, fans the air like the wind-hover; and the green-finch, in particular, exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures as to appear like a wounded and dying bird ; the king-fisher darts along like an arrow ; fern-owls, or goatsuckers, glance in the dusk over the tops of trees like a meteor ; starlings as it were swim along, while misselthrushes use a wild and desultory flight; swallows sweep over the surface of the ground and water, and distinguish themselves by rapid turns and quick evolutions; swifts dash round in circles; and the bank-martin moves with frequent vacillations like a butterfly. Most of the small birds fly by jerks, rising and falling as they advance. Most small birds hop; but wagtails and larks walk, moving their legs alternately. Skylarks rise and fall perpendicularly as they sing; woodlarks hang poised in the air; and titlarks rise and fall in large curves, singing in their descent. The white-throat uses odd jerks and gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes. All the duck-kind waddle; divers and auks walk as if fettered, and stand erect on their tails : these are the compedes of Linnæus. Geese and cranes, and most wild fowls, move in figured flights, often changing their position. The secondary remiges of Tringæ, wildducks, and some others, are very long, and give their wings, when in motion, a hooked appearance. Dabchicks, moorhens, and coots fly erect, with their legs hanging down, and hardly make any dispatch; the reason is plain, their wings are placed too forward out of the true centre of gravity ; as the legs of auks and divers are situated too backward.
SELBORNE, Sept. 9th, 1778. From the motion of birds, the transition is natural enough to their notes and language, of which I shall say something. Not that I would pretend to understand their language like the vizier; who, by the recital of a conversation which passed between two owls, reclaimed a sultan,* before delighting in conquest and devastation ; but I would be thought only to mean that many of the winged tribes have various sounds and voices adapted to express their various passions, wants, and feelings—such as anger, fear, love, hatred, hunger, and the like. All species are not equally eloquent; some are copious and fluent, as it were, in their utterance, while others are confined to a few important sounds. No bird, like the fish kind, is quite mute, though some are rather silent. The language of birds is very ancient, and, like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical ; little is said, but much is meant and understood.
The notes of the eagle-kind are shrill and piercing, and about the season of nidification much diversified, as I have been often assured by a curious observer of Nature, who long resided at Gibraltar, where eagles abound. The notes of our hawks much resemble those of the king of birds. Owls have very expressive notes; they hoot in a fine vocal sound, much resembling the vox humana, and reducible by a pitch-pipe to a musical key. This note seems to express complacency and rivalry among the males; they use also a quick call and a horrible scream, and can snore and hiss when the
mean to menace. Ravens, besides their loud
* See Spectator, Vol. vii., No. 512.