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foreign birds which visit us. You will be sure, I hope, not to omit to make inquiry whether your ring-ousels leave your rocks in the autumn. What puzzles me most, is the very short stay they make with us; for in about three weeks they are all gone. I shall be very curious to remark whether they will call on us at their return in the spring, as they did last year.
I want to be better informed with regard to ichthyology. If fortune had settled me near the seaside, or near some great river, my natural propensity would soon have urged me to have made myself acquainted with their productions; but as I have lived mostly in inland parts, and in an upland district, my knowledge of fishes extends little farther than to those common sorts which our brooks and lakes produce.
SELBORNE, Jan. 2nd, 1769. As to the peculiarity of jackdaws building with us under the ground in rabbit-burrows, you have, in part, hit upon the reason; for, in reality, there are hardly any towers or steeples in all this county. And perhaps, Norfolk excepted, Hampshire and Sussex are as meanly furnished with churches as almost any counties in the kingdom. We have many livings of two or three hundred pounds a-year, whose houses of worship make little better appearance than dovecots. When I first saw Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, and the fens of Lincolnshire, I was amazed at the number of spires which presented themselves in every point of view. As an admirer of prospects, I have reason to lament this want in my own county ; for such objects are very necessary ingredients in an elegant landscape.
What you mention with respect to reclaimed toads raises my curiosity. An ancient author, though no naturalist, has well remarked that "every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed, of mankind.”
It is a satisfaction to me to find that a green lizard has actually been procured for you in Devonshire ; because it corroborates my discovery, which I made many years ago, of the same sort, on a sunny sandbank near Farnham in Surrey. I am well acquainted with the South Hams of Devonshire; and can suppose that district, from its southerly situation, to be a proper habitation for such animals in their best colours.
Since the ring-ousels of your vast mountains do certainly not forsake them against winter, our suspicions that those which visit this neighbourhood about Michaelmas are not English birds, but driven from the more northern parts of Europe by the frosts, are still more reasonable ; and it will be worth your pains to endeavour to trace from whence they come, and to inquire why they make so very short a stay.
In your account of your error with regard to the two species of herons, you incidentally gave me great entertainment in your description of the heronry at Cressi Hall; which is a curiosity I never could manage to see. Fourscore nests of such a bird on one tree is a rarity which I would ride half as many miles to have a sight of. Pray be sure to tell me in your next whose seat Cressi Hall is, and near what town it lies. I have often thought that those vast extents of fens have never been sufficiently explored. If half-a-dozen gentlemen, furnished with a good strength of water-spaniels, were to beat them over for a week, they would certainly find more species.
There is no bird, I believe, whose manners I have studied more than that of the caprimulgus (the goat-sucker), as it is a wonderful and curious creature; but I have always found that though sometimes it may chatter as it flies, as I know it does, yet in general it utters its jarring note sitting on a bough; and I have for many a half-hour watched it as it sat with its under mandible quivering, and particularly this summer.
It perches usually on a bare twig, with its head lower than its tail, in an attitude well expressed by your draughtsman in the folio “British Zoology." This bird is most punctual in beginning its song exactly at the close of day; so exactly that I have known it strike up than once
or twice just at the report of the Portsmouth evening gun, which we can hear when the weather is still. It appears to me past all doubt that its notes are formed by organic impulse, by the powers of the parts of its windpipe formed for sound, just as cats pur. You will credit me, I hope, when I assure you that, as my neighbours were assembled in an hermitage on the side of a steep hill where we drink tea, one of these churn-owls came and settled on the cross of that little straw edifice and began to chatter, and continued his note for many minutes; and we were all struck with wonder to find that the organs of that little animal, when put in motion, gave a sensible vibration to the whole building ! This bird also sometimes makes a small squeak, repeated four or five times; and I have observed that to happen when the cock has been pursuing the hen in a toying way through the boughs of a tree.
It would not be at all strange if your bat, which you have procured, should prove a new one, since five species have been found in a neighbouring kingdom. The great sort that I mentioned is certainly a nondescript; I saw but one this summer, and that I had no opportunity of taking.
Your account of the Indian grass was entertaining. I am no angler myself ; but inquiring of those that are what they supposed that part of their tackle to be made of, they replied, “Of the intestines of a silkworm."
Though I must not pretend to great skill in entomology, yet I cannot say that I am ignorant of that kind of knowledge; I may now and then perhaps be able to furnish you with a little information.
The vast rains ceased with us much about the same time as with you, and since we have had delicate weather. Mr. Barker, who has measured the rain for more than thirty years, says, in a late letter, that more has fallen this year
than in any he ever attended to; though from July 1763 to January 1764 more fell than in any seven months
of this year.
SELBORNE, Feb. 28th, 1769.
It is not improbable that the Guernsey lizard and our green lizards may be specifically the same; all that I know is, that, when some years ago many Guernsey lizards were turned loose in Pembroke College garden, in the University of Oxford, they lived a great while, and seemed to enjoy themselves very well, but never bred. Whether this circumstance will prove anything either way I shall not pretend to say.
I return you thanks for your account of Cressi Hall; but recollect, not without regret, that in June 1746 I was visiting for a week together at Spalding, without ever being told that such a curiosity was just at hand. Pray send me word in your next what sort of tree it is that contains such a quantity of herons' nests; and whether the heronry consists of a whole grove of wood, or only of a few trees.
It gave me satisfaction to find we accorded so well about the caprimulgus ; all I contended for was to prove that it often chatters sitting as well as flying; and therefore the noise was voluntary, and from organic impulse, and not from the resistance of the air against the hollow of its mouth and throat.
If ever I saw anything like actual migration, it was last Michaelmas Day. I was travelling, and out early in the morning: at first there was a vast fog; but, by the time that I was got seven or eight miles from home towards the coast, the sun broke out into a delicate warm day. We were then on a large heath or common, and I could discern, as the mist began to break away, great numbers of swallows (Hirundines rustica) clustering on the stunted shrubs and bushes, as if they had roosted there all night. As soon as the air became clear and pleasant they were all on the wing at once; and, by a placid and easy flight, proceeded on southward towards the sea : after this I did not see any more flocks, only now and then a straggler.
I cannot agree with those persons that assert that the swallow kind disappear some and some gradually, as they come, for the bulk of them seem to withdraw at once ;