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I am obliged to confess that I know nothing of your willow-lark. In my letter of April 18th, I had told you peremptorily that I knew your willow-lark, but had not seen it then; but when I came to procure it, it proved in all respects a very Motacilla trochilus, only that it is a size larger than the other two, and the yellow-green of the whole upper part of the body is more vivid, and the belly of a clearer white. I have specimens of the three sorts now lying before me, and can discern that there are three gradations of sizes, and that the least has black legs, and the other two flesh-coloured ones. The yellowest bird is considerably the largest, and has its quill-feathers and secondary feathers tipped with white, which the others have not. This last haunts only the tops of trees in high beechen woods, and makes a sibilous grasshopper-like noise, now and then, at short intervals, shivering a little with its wings when it sings; and is, I make no doubt now, the Regulus non cristatus of Ray, which he says
" cantat voce stridula locusta." Yet this great ornithologist never suspected that there were three species.
SELBORNE, October 8th, 1768.
In is, I find, in zoology as it is in botany : all nature is so full that that district produces the greatest variety which is the most examined. Several birds, which are said to belong to the north only, are, it seems, often in the south. I have discovered this summer three species
of birds with us, which writers mention as only to be seen in the northern counties. The first that was brought me (on the 14th May) was the sandpiper, Tringa hypoleucus : it was a cock bird, and haunted the banks of some ponds near the village ; and, as it had a companion, doubtless intended to have bred near th at water. Besides, the owner has told me since, that, on recollection, he has
some of the same birds round his ponds in former
The next bird that I procured (on the 21st May) was a male red-backed butcher bird, Lanius collurio. My neighbour, who shot it, says that it might easily have escaped his notice, had not the outcries and chattering of the whitethroats and other small birds drawn his attention to the bush where it was; its craw was filled with the legs and wings of beetles.
The next rare birds (which were procured for me last week) were some ring-ousels, Tordus torquatus.
This week twelve months a gentleman from London being with us, was amusing himself with a gun, and found, he told us, on an old yew hedge where there were berries, some birds like blackbirds, with rings of white round their necks : a neighbouring farmer also at the same time observed the same ; but, as no specimens were procured, little notice was taken. I mentioned this circumstance to you in my letter of November 4th, 1767 (you, however, paid but small regard to what I said, as I had not seen these birds myself); but last week the aforesaid farmer, seeing a large flock, twenty or thirty, of these birds, shot two cocks and two hens, and says, on recollection, that he remembers to have observed these birds again last spring, about Lady-day, as it were, on their return to the north. Now perhaps these ousels are not the ousels of the north of England, but belong to the more northern parts of Europe; and may retire before the excessive rigour of the frosts in those parts, and return to breed in the spring, when the cold abates. If this be the case, here is discovered a new bird of winter passage, concerning whose migrations the writers are silent; but if these birds should prove the ousels of the north of England, then here is a migration disclosed within our own kingdom never before remarked. It does not yet appear whether they retire beyond the bounds of our island to the south ; but it is most probable that they usually do, or else one cannot suppose
that they would have continued so long unnoticed in the southern counties. The ousel is larger than a blackbird, and feeds on haws; but last autumn (when there were no haws) it fed on yew-berries: in the spring it feeds on ivy-berries, which ripen only at that season, in March and April.
I must not omit to tell you (as you have been so lately on the study of reptiles) that my people, every now and then of late, draw up with a bucket of water from my well, which is sixty-three feet deep, a large black warty lizard with a fin-tail and yellow belly. How they first came down at that depth, and how they were ever to have got out thence without help, is more than I am
able to say
My thanks are due to you for your trouble and care in the examination of a buck's head. As far as your discoveries reach at present, they seem much to corroborate my suspicions; and I hope Mr. may find reason to give his decision in my favour; and then, I think, we may advance this extraordinary provision of nature as a new instance of the wisdom of God in the creation.
As yet I have not quite done with my history of the oedicnemus, or stone-curlew ; for I shall desire a gentleman in Sussex (near whose house these birds congregate in vast flocks in the autumn) to observe nicely when they leave him (if they do leave him), and when they return again in the spring: I was with this gentleman lately, and saw several single birds.
SELBORNE, Nov. 28th, 1768. With regard to the oedicnemus, or stone-curlew, I intend to write very soon to my friend near Chichester, in whose neighbourhood these birds seem most to abound; and shall urge him to take particular notice when they begin to congregate, and afterwards to watch them most narrowly, whether they do not withdraw themselves during the dead of the winter. When I have obtained information with respect to this circumstance, I shall have finished my history of the stone-curlew, which I hope will prove to your satisfaction, as it will be, I trust, very near the truth. This gentleman, as he occupies a large farm of his own, and is abroad early and late, will be a very proper spy upon the motions of these birds; and besides, as I have prevailed on him to buy the Naturalist's Journal (with which he is much delighted), I shall expect that he will be very exact in his dates. It is very extraordinary, as you observe, that a bird so common with us should never struggle to you.
And here will be the properest place to mention, while I think of it, an anecdote which the above-mentioned gentleman told me when I was last at his house; which was that, in a warren joining to his outlet, many daws (Corvi monedulo) build every year in the rabbit-burrows under ground. The way he and his brothers used to take their nests, while they were boys, was by listening at the mouths of the holes ; and, if they heard the young ones cry, they twisted the nest out with a forked stick. Some water-fowls (viz., the puffins) breed, I know, in that manner; but I should never have suspected the daws of building in holes on the flat ground.
Another very unlikely spot is made use of by daws as a place to breed in, and that is Stonehenge. These birds deposit their nests in the interstices between the upright and the impost stones of that amazing work of antiquity : which circumstance alone speaks the prodigious height of the upright stones, that they should be tall enough to secure those nests from the annoyance of shepherd-boys, who are always idling round that place.
One of my neighbours last Saturday, November 26th, saw a martin in a sheltered bottom : the sun shone warm, and the bird was hawking briskly after flies. I am now perfectly satisfied that they do not all leave this island in the winter.
You judge very right, I think, in speaking with reserve and caution concerning the cures done by toads : for, let people advance what they will on such subjects, yet there is such a propensity in mankind towards deceiving and being deceived, that one cannot safely relate anything from common report, especially in print, without expressing some degree of doubt and suspicion.
Your approbation, with regard to my new discovery of the migration of the ring-ousel, gives me satisfaction; and I find you concur with me in suspecting that they are