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When I used to rise in a morning last autumn, and see the swallows and martins clustering on the chimneys and thatch of the neighbouring cottages, I could not help being touched with a secret delight, mixed with some degree of mortification: with delight, to observe with how much ardour and punctuality those poor little birds obeyed the strong impulse towards migration, or hiding, imprinted on their minds by their great Creator; and with some degree of mortification, when I reflected that, after all our pains and inquiries, we are not yet quite certain to what regions they do migrate; and are still farther embarrassed to find that some actually do not migrate at all.
These reflections made so strong an impression on my imagination, that they became productive of a composition that may perhaps amuse you for a quarter of an hour when next I have the honour of writing to you.
TO THE SAME.
SELBORNE, May 29, 1769. DEAR SIR,—The scarabæus fullo* I know very well, having seen it in collections ; but have never been able to discover one wild in its natural state. Mr. Banks told me he thought it might be found on the sea-coast.
On the 13th of April, I went to the sheep-down, where the ring-ousels have been observed to make their appearance at spring and fall, in their way, perhaps, to the north or south; and was much pleased to see three birds about the usual spot. We shot a cock and a hen; they were plump and in high condition. The hen had but very small rudiments of eggs within her, which proves they are late breeders ; whereas those species of the thrush kind that
* It is properly the melolontha fullo. Mr. Bennett says that all the specimens of this noble chafer that have yet been captured in England, have occurred on the coast of Kent, Dover appearing the middle point of their range.—ED.
remain with us the whole year, have fledged young before that time. In their crops was nothing very distinguishable, but somewhat that seemed like blades of vegetables nearly digested. In autumn they feed on haws and yew-berries, and in the spring on ivy-berries. I dressed one of these birds, and found it juicy and well-flavoured. It is remarkable that they make but a few days' stay in their spring visit, but rest near a fortnight at Michaelmas. These birds, from the observations of three springs and two autumns, are most punctual in their return; and exhibit a new migration unnoticed by the writers, who supposed they never were to
of the southern counties. One of my neighbours lately brought me a new salicaria, which, at first, I suspected might have proved your willowlark ;* but on a nicer examination, it answered much better to the description of that species which you shot at Revesby, in Lincolnshire. My bird I describe thus :—“It is a size less than the grasshopper-lark; the head, back, and coverts of the wings of a dusky brown, without the dark spots of the grasshopper-lark: over each eye is a milk-white stroke; the chin and throat are white, and the under parts of a yellowish white; the rump is tawny, and the feathers of the tail sharp pointed; the bill is dusky and sharp, and the legs are dusky, the hinder claw long and crooked.”+ The person that shot it says, that it sung so like a reed sparrow, that he took it for one ;£ and that it sings all night: but this
of its song.
* For this salicaria, see Letter xxvi. p. 98. + Sylvia phragmites. Bechst. Sedge warbler.-Selby's Ornith.-W.J.
This is an error which runs through most of our books of ornithology. The reed bunting, commonly called the reed sparrow, has no song. Like its congeners, in this country, it has only a monotonous cry. The bird above mentioned, salicaria phragmitis, or sedge-warbler, is perpetually singing by night if disturbed, as well as by day, and the reed-bunting has often got the credit
The sedge-warbler is very abundant at Spofforth, but I have never discovered the reed-warbler, its near congener, bere. Bewick has confounded these two species, and has given a plate and description of the sedgewai bler, under the name of the reed-warbler, which last has not been ob: erved north of the Trent. The reed-warbler is of a uniform reddish brown with a little olive cast on the upper parts, and whitish on the belly; the sedgewarbler has a light stripe over the eye, and the middle of each feather, on the up er parts, dashed with very dark brown. I have found its nest on the ground in a tuft of rushes, in long grasses and herbs, being made fast to the stalks in a dead hedge, but most frequently in thorn fences, and low bushes,
account merits farther inquiry. For my part, I suspect it is a second sort of locustella, hinted at by Dr. Derham in Ray's Letters : see p. 74. He also procured me a grasshopper-lark.
The question that you put with regard to those genera of animals that are peculiar to America, viz. how they came there, and whence ? is too puzzling for me to answer; and yet so obvious as often to have struck me with wonder. If one looks into the writers on that subject, little satisfaction is to be found. Ingenious men will readily advance plausible arguments to support whatever theory they shall choose to maintain; but then the misfortune is, everyone's hypothesis is each as good as another's, since they are all founded on conjecture. The late writers of this sort, in whom may be seen all the arguments of those that have gone before, as I remember, stock America from the western coast of Africa, and the south of Europe ; and then break down the isthmus that bridged over the Atlantic. But this is making use of a violent piece of machinery : it is a difficulty worthy of the interposition of a god! “ Incredulus odi," “ Disbelieving I detest.”
and willows, often in the currant bushes in gardens near a wet ditch or stream. The reed-wren builds in general higher, sometimes in a poplar tree, often in the tall lilacs in the Regent's Park: our books mostly state willows, and that it builds in the reeds, but it often prefers a tall bush or a small tree if there be one in the neighbourhood. Its bill is stronger than that of the sedgewarbler, and it seems to be less patient of cold. Its nest is deeper. The song of individuals of the two species is very similar, and cannot easily be distinguished. Mr. White calls the sedge-warbler a delicate polyglott; and speaks of its song as very superior to that of the whitethroat, in which I can by no means agree with him. Its notes are very hurried, some parts of its song are good, but others singularly harsh and disagreeable. They are greedy birds, and in confinement are apt to die from excessive fat; becoming so unwieldy as to hurt and bruise themselves by tumbling down — W. H.
TO THOMAS PENNANT, ESQUIRE.
THE NATURALIST'S SUMMER EVENING WALK.
equidem credo, quia sit divinitus illis
WHEN day declining sheds a milder gleam,
While deepening shades obscure the face of day,
* The angler's May-fly, the ephemera vulgata, Linn., comes forth from its aurelia state, and emerges out of the water about six in the evening, and dies about eleven at night, determining the date of its fly state in about five or six hours. They usually begin to appear about the 4th of June, and continue in succession for near a fortnight.—See Swammerdam, Derham, Scopoli, &c.
† Vagrant cuckoo ; so called, because, being tied down by no incubation or attendance about the nutrition of its young, it wanders without control.
I Charadrius ædicnemus.
Till blended objects fail the swimming sight,
Each rural sight, each sound, each smell combine ;
The chilling night-dews fall :-away, retire ;
TO THE HON. DAINES BARRINGTON.
SELBORNE, June 30, 1769. DEAR SIR,—When I was in town last month, I partly engaged that I would some time do myself the honour to write to you on the subject of natural history; and I am the
* Gryllus campestris. + In hot summer nights, woodlarks soar to a prodigious height, and hang singing in the air.
The light of the female glow-worm (as she often crawls up the stalk of a grass to make herself more conspicuous) is a signal to the male, which is a slender dusky scarabaeus.
§ See the story of Hero and Leander.