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TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, Aug. 17, 1768 DEAR SIR, I have now, past dispute, made out three distinct species of the willow-wrens (motacillae trochili), which constantly and invariably use distinct notes.* But, at the same time, I am obliged to confess that I know nothing of your willow-lark. In
my letter of April the 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 two other, 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 stridulâ locusta.”I Yet this great ornithologist never suspected that there were three species.
* These birds are accurately described and beautifully figured in Mr. Selby's and Mr. Yarrell's works on British birds, to which the reader is referred.-ED.
+ Pennant's Brit. Zool., edit. 1776, octavo, p. 381.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, Oct. 8, 1763, It 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 of 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 that water. Besides, the owner has told me since, that on recollection he has seen some of the same birds round his ponds in former summers.
The next bird that I procured (on the 21st of 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 outeries 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.
* This species, the totanus hypoleucus of modern ornithologists, is most abundaut on all the rocky brooks in the north of England and Scotland, arriving to breed early in spring, and in autumn again retiring to our coasts, in small flocks, with its young.
About October they are again dispersed, migrating to warmer shores. I have received specimens from Africa, the Delft Islands, and various parts of India and China.--- W. J.
There is nothing very remarkable in the occurrence of these birds in southern counties. The sandpiper is disposed to breed in any part of Englanıl, where it can be free from disturbance. The red-backed butcher-bird belongs rather to the south, and is scarcely ever met in the north. The ring-ousel is in Hampshire a bird of passage, crossing that county iu the spring and autumn, in its way to and from its breeding-places, in the rocky districts of the nortla and west.-E. T. B.
The next rare birds (which were procured for me last week) were some ring-ousels (turdi torquati).*
This week twelvemonths 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 the 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 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
* Before migrating to their winter quarters, and often ere the duties of incubation are over, they leave their inountainous haunts, and descend to the ncarest gardens, where they commit severe depredations among the cherries, gooseherries, &c. They also frequent holly hedges and the mountain ash, whenever the fruit of these trees is so early as to be of service during their nassage. They are known to the country people under the title of “ Mountain Blackbirds." W. J.