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of that notus odor, discriminating each individual personally; which also is confounded by the strong scent of the pitch and tar wherewith they are newly marked; for the brute creation recognize each other more from the smell than the sight; and in matters of identity and diversity appeal much more to their noses than their eyes. After sheep have been washed there is the same confusion, from the reason given above.]-OBSERVATIONS ON NATURE.
As I had hardly ever before travelled these downs at so late a season of the year, I was determined to keep as sharp a look-out as possible so near the southern coast, with respect to the summer shortwinged birds of passage. We make great inquiries concerning the withdrawing of the swallow kind, without examining enough into the causes why this tribe is never to be seen in winter; for, entre nous, the disappearing of the latter is more marvellous than that of the former, and much more unaccountable. The hirundines, if they please, are certainly capable of migration; and yet no doubt are often found in a torpid state :* but redstarts, nightingales, white-throats, black-caps, which are very ill provided for long flights, have never been once found, as I ever heard of, in a torpid state, and yet can never be supposed in such troops from year to year to dodge and elude the eyes of the curious and inquisitive, which from day to day discern the other small birds that are known to abide our winters. But, notwithstanding all my care, I saw nothing like a summer bird of passage: and, what is more strange, not one wheat-ear, though they abound so in the autumn as to be a considerable perquisite to the shepherds that take them; and though many are to be seen to my knowledge all the winter through in many parts of the south of England. The most intelligent shepherds tell me that some few of these birds appear on the downs in March, and then withdraw to breed probably in warrens and stone-quarries : now and then a nest is ploughed up in a fallow on the downs under a furrow, but it is thought a rarity. At the time of wheat-harvest they begin to be taken in great numbers; are sent for sale in vast quantities to Brighton and Tunbridge; and appear at the tables of all the gentry that entertain with any degree of elegance.* About Michaelmas they retire and are seen no more till March. Though these birds are, when in season, in great plenty on the south-downs round Lewes, yet at East-Bourn, which is the eastern extremity of those downs, they abound much more. One thing is very remarkable—that though in the height of the season so many hundreds of dozens are taken, yet they never are seen to flock; and it is a rare thing to see more than three or four at a time: so that there must be a perpetual fitting and constant progressive succession. It does not appear that any wheat-ears are taken to the westward of Houghton-bridge, which stands on the river Arun.f
* The author seems to have argued himself into this belief, for they never have been so found.-Ed.
I did not fail to look particularly after my new migration of ring-ousels ; and to take notice whether they continued on the downs to this season of the
* The South-down shepherds complain that this source of profit to their predecessors has disappeared under improved agriculture.-ÊD.
+ This is an error which Mitford corrected in a note to the second edition.-ED.
year; as I had formerly remarked them in the month of October all the way from Chichester to Lewes wherever there were any shrubs and coverts : but not one bird of this sort came within
my observation. I only saw a few larks and whin-chats, some rooks, and several kites and buzzards.
About summer a flight of cross-bills comes to the pine-groves about this house, but never makes any long stay.
The old tortoise, that I have mentioned in a former letter, still continues in this garden; and retired under ground about the twentieth of November, and came out again for one day on the thirtieth : it lies now buried in a wet swampy border under a wall facing to the south, and is enveloped at present in mud and mire!
Here is a large rookery round this house, the inhabitants of which seem to get their livelihood very easily; for they spend the greatest part of the day on their nest-trees when the weather is mild. These rooks retire every evening all the winter from this rookery, where they only call by the way, as they are going to roost in deep woods : at the dawn of day they always revisit their nest-trees, and are preceded a few minutes by a flight of daws, that act, as it were, as their harbingers.
RINGMER, near LEWES, Dec. 9, 1773.
HE house-swallow,* or chimney-swallow, is undoubtedly the first comer of all the British hirundines; and appears in gene
ral on or about the thirteenth of April, as I have remarked from many years observation. Not but now and then a straggler is seen much earlier: and, in particular, when I was a boy I observed a swallow for a whole day together on a sunny warm Shrove Tuesday; which day could not fall out later than the middle of March, and often happened early in February
It is worth remarking that these birds are seen first about lakes and mill-ponds; and it is also very particular, that if these early visitors happen to find frost and snow, as was the case of the two dreadful springs of 1770 and 1771, they immediately withdraw for a time. A circumstance this, much more in favour of hiding than migration; since it is much more probable that a bird should retire to its hybernaculum just at hand, than return for a week or two only to warmer latitudes.f
• Chimney swallow, Hirundo rustica, Linnæus. † The probability is that such stragglers, when overtaken
The swallow, though called the chimney-swallow, by no means builds altogether in chimnies, but often within barns and out-houses against the rafters; and so she did in Virgil's time:-“ Garrula quàm tignis nidus suspendat hirundo.” “The twittering swallow hangs its nest from the beams."
In Sweden she builds in barns, and is called ladu swala, the barn-swallow. Besides, in the warmer parts of Europe there are no chimnies to houses, except they are English built: in these countries she constructs her nest in porches, and gate-ways, and galleries, and open halls.
Here and there a bird may affect some odd, peculiar place; as we have known a swallow build down the shaft of an old well, through which chalk had been formerly drawn up for the purpose of manure: but in general with us this hirundo breeds in chimnies; and loves to haunt those stacks where there is a constant fire, no doubt for the sake of warmth. Not that it can subsist in the immediate shaft where there is a fire; but prefers one adjoining to that of the kitchen, and disregards the perpetual smoke of that funnel, as I have often observed with some degree of wonder.
Five or six or more feet down the chimney does this little bird begin to form her nest about the middle of May, which consists, like that of the house-martin, of a crust or shell composed of dirt or mud, mixed with short pieces of straw to render it tough and permanent; with this difference, that whereas the shell of the martin is nearly hemispheric, that of the swallow is open at the top, and like half by severe spring frosts, enter on “ the sleep that knows no waking."-ED.