Page images
PDF
EPUB

PECULIARITIES IN SITE AND STRUC.

TURE OF BIRDS' NESTS. A GOOD many years ago I contributed a short

paper to SCIENCE-Gossip,* bearing the above title, the few instances therein cited being culled from my natural history diaries; and now, since peculiarities in the form, size, and coloration of birds' eggs are being freely adduced and discussed, perhaps a few additional instances of those of site and structure of their nests may not be out of place.

Great titmouse, or oxeye (Parus major).-On June Ioth, 1884, I discovered in St. John's Cemetery, Elswick, a nest of this handsome bird, containing callow young, which had been built within one of the numerous fire-clay pipes used for marking out sections of the burial ground. This pipe is pentagonal in form, is open at the bottom, and has a sloping top or roof upon which is impressed a capital letter; it has a depth of 16 inches at the back, and 12 inches at the front, the roof sloping from back to front; and in the centre line of each side, that joins the front at right angles, is a circular hole 1975 inch in diameter whose centre is 5 inches distant from the open bottom, and in the front or face is a similar hole whose centre is 8 inches irom the bottom : the front is 5 inches wide, and these two sides are each 3 inches wide, whilst the remaining two sides, which meet in an acute angle at the back of the pipe, are 3-5 inches wide ; the width, or diameter, from front to back being 6 inches. The pipe had been sunk into the grass-andherbage-covered ground until the lower edge of the front and higher hole was level with the surface, whilst the two lower lateral holes were of course buried beneath it. The bulky nest, which consisted of moss, cow and horse hair, sheep's wool and rabbit down, was beneath the level of the lateral holes, and was reached by the front hole which was the sole point of ingress and egress. On several occasions I sat near by and watched the parent birds bringing abundant food for their young. They

Common, or “Kitty" wren (Troglodytes parvulus).—Who of us, as nest-hunting schoolboys even, have not become acquainted with the more or lessunfinished, so-called “cock-nests ” of this familiar and favourite little bird, more than one of which might sometimes be found built in the same hedgebank not far distant from the true, or breeding nest, and at that time devoutly believed to have been built by the cock bird for the purpose of roosting in. at night. The “cock-sit” (cock’s-seat), too, which we generally managed to make out in the bankside, near by the nest of the “yowley,” or yellow-hammer (Emberiza citrinella), was also considered to be the roosting place of the male or cock bird, it being taken for granted, I assume, that the hen bird alone occupied the nest, and that the cock would not be or ought not to be very far distant from his mate. Possibly, however, it may be news to many readers of SCIENCE-GossIP to learn that these cock-nests, as well as the true nests, of the wren may occasionally be obtained at the expense of another familiar and favourite bird—the swallow; three instances of which have fallen under my observation, all in one season, and at no great distance apart. The first instance was on June 9th, 1885, when I had my attention drawn to the circumstance of a wren. carrying up materials to a swallow's nest built in the roof of a high wooden hayshed or stack-cover ; and, on watching a while, I observed the wren carry up a billful of dry grass, enter the nest, deposit its cargo, and then depart, softly singing part of the time : hence, I concluded that it was the male bird who was thus spending a part of his superfluous energy on the construction of a cock-nest, whilst his partner was engaged in the arduous task of incubation somewhere near; for the wren had here been for some time past in full and vigorous song, occasionally, too, singing on the wing as he passed from one elevated perch to another. On a cursory examination of the nest of the swallow, it was found to be quite new-of the present season—to be complete in. the materials; and that the birds had not yet forsaken it, but flew into and around the shed, notwithstanding that the wren was engaged in building a top or dome of dry grass and moss to it. Not until July 18th,. however, when the hay was being stacked under this shed, and the usurped nest could be reached from the top of the stack, was it disturbed; though for some time past it had obviously been forsaken by the rightful owners, the swallows, and was as obviously not being used as a breeding-nest by the usurping

On being taken down from its site, it was found to be a large fine and evidently completed shell, ready for its lining of dry grass or hay and . feathers, etc. ; and that the superimposed nest of the wren was of the usual domed character, and composed of fine dry grass outwardly, and moss with a little sheep's wool and a few feathers inwardly,

young elm-tree which overhung the home of their progeny, flew thence to the top of the sunk pipe, and thence to the hole of entrance, though not infrequently the female flew direct to the hole without alighting elsewhere ; the moment the parent bird had alighted on the roof of their home, the young ones gave utterance to their expectant cries. The food, which was assiduously catered for by both the male and the female, consisted chiefly, if not entirely, of caterpillars; and on one occasion on which I timed their visits, within ten minutes each bird had brought food three times, notwithstanding that they were aware of and startled by my proximity, and thereby prevented from their normal procedure.

wren.

* Vol. ix., p. 203.

"whilst that portion of the nest below its side entrance descended into the mud nest of the swallow.

The second nest of a swallow uşurped by the wren I found built against one of the beams supporting the ceiling of one of a group of deserted thatched cottages which were being allowed to fall into decay, the sashes having been removed from the windows and thus allowing a free ingress to the birds, which privilege the swallows had freely availed themselves of, as many of their nests were to be found within. This, too, was a nest of the season, complete in the shell, the top of which was within a couple of inches of the ceiling ; and it had evidently been having its lining of hay and feathers put in by its rightful owners when it had been unsurped by the wren, whose domed nest (consisting of moss chiefly) had been, as in the former case, built within the open nest of the swallow, the dome being carried up to the ceiling. As the date on which this compound nest was found was so late as July 7th, it is not improbable that this, too, was a cock-nest of the wren, and had been completed for some time before its discovery. In the third instance, the wrens reared a brood in the nest of the swallow which they had usurped, or at least utilised, in the roof of an outbuilding not a quarter of a mile distant from the second nest recorded, and certainly not more than a half mile from the site of the first, the site of the second being intermediate : this third nest, however, of which I had intimation, I failed to get to see ; but I have no doubt whatever of the accuracy of the account given me of it, though it is not impossible that it may have been an old and deserted nest of the swallow which the wrens had simply utilised as a foundation upon which to erect their own edifice.

With respect to the spare or cock nests of the wren, the question arises, For what purpose are they built? Are they really built by the male bird . alone, as a shelter for himself during the nesting season and possibly later on in the year? Or, are they built by him simply because he is so full of life and vigour that he must be busy, at a season when there is a superabundance of food and the numerous young have not yet been hatched to give both himself and partner labour sufficient in catering for their appetites ? Or, is it possible that they are built by him prospectively for the accommodation of a second brood after the first have been got off, and subject to the approval of mater? This, perhaps, would account for their being discarded as unsuitable in site or structure, and another nest more in accordance with her tastes or requirements constructed. That this extra nest is, sometimes at least, used by the wren as a place of shelter at night towards the close of the year, I have had proof of; since I have visited one such nest with a lantern almost every night in the latter half of October .. between the hours of nine and ten, and almost invariably found a wren snugly ensconced within, and

obviously much taken aback at having a bright light shone full in upon it from the small rounded entrance in the front of its very comfortable chamber.

Pied wagtail (Motacilla lugubris).--I have seen a nest of this bird which had been built in an old nest of the swallow, up in the roof of a “hemmel” (as the open-fronted outbuildings for the retreat of the grazing sheep and cattle are termed in the pastorai districts of Northumberland); and it was composed of an abundance of sheep's wool and hair, with a little dry grass and a few fibrous roots, the whole forming a dense lining to the utilised swallow's nest.

In this nest the wagtails had successfully reared a brood of young ; and in the last week in July, when I examined the nest, it still contained some portions of the egg-shells. Again, built in the straw laid up in the skeleton loft of this same hemmel-a loft formed by a few poles laid across the beams-I found, on August 12th, another nest of the pied wagtail, which contained well.grown young, and which were probably a second nest and brood of the same pair of birds as had already built and bred in the nest of the swallow situate in the roof near by.

Though speaking of the above nest of the swallow as an old one, and probably simply utilised by the wagtail, it may still be considered as possibly usurped ; for the swallow frequently uses its nest. for more than one season, raising the mud walls when necessary and thus deepening it; and the resident wagtail, which breeds early, had probably taken possession before the return of the swallows from their winter retreat in the far south, and thus might have prevented these birds from reoccupying their nest of a former season.

The swallow (Hirundo rustica).—The nest of the swallow, as I have noted it in our rural districts, is usually built at a considerable elevation within farm outhouses, sheds, and hemmels; being built against and adherent to the beams, couples and rasters, as also other portions of the woodwork and stonework of the roof; though, of course, when a building is low, the altitude at which hangs the nest is lessened ; and in one instance which has come under my observation, the distance was not more than three feet from the ground. This lowly-hung nest was attached to the side of a beam in the roof of an occupied pigstye, and contained four eggs much in. cubated ; the upper storey of this tiny outbuilding was a hen-house ; hence the short beam or two in the roof of the gloomy stye. A second swallow's nest, built in the roof of an unused privy, was barely six feet distant from the ground. A third nest, taken on June 18th, 1881, was peculiar in the fact of its having a lauter of four unincubated eggs lying on their bed of hay and abundant soft fowl feathers; whilst beneath this thick warm lining was a second consisting also of fine hay and a few feathers, upon which lay two other eggs obviously of the present season's laying, and which, on being blown, provedto be quite fresh, the yolk of one of them only being a

little stiffened, as might reasonably enough be expected from the heat imparted to them from the bodies of the birds during the process of the second lining of the nest and the egg-laying, combined with the dryness of their situation. This double lauter of eggs was probably due to the death, by accident or natural causes, of the first female owner of the nest, and her partner's taking a second mate who had commenced housekeeping on her own account by having a second lining added to the nest upon which to deposit her own incipient offspring.

Sand martin (Cotile riparia).-On June 5th, 1885, I took from its deep burrow in the bank of the stream Blythe, a nest of the sand martin which contained four eggs unincubated, and which was composed of dry grass and grass-stems, and lined with soft fowl feathers and a little dry grass. This nest, like that of the swallow described above, was a double one; for beneath this upper lining upon which rested the four eggs, was a second (a former) lining of fowl feathers, upon which lay two other eggs quite fresh though very dirty. Here, too, in all probability, some fatality had overtaken the original female owner of the nest after she had deposited two of her eggs; and her partner had then found a second mate, whose nearly completed lauter the upper four eggs would be. The sand martin lays from five to six purely white eggs, which, however, are generally more or less soiled and abundantly speckled with the dark-green excreta of the large fleas (Pulex) with which their nests almost invariably swarm.

CHARLES ROBSON.

menced working this district in a systematic manner, and during this period the course of the Thames has been followed from Woolwich to below Gravesend, and many excursions have been made to the other. side at North Woolwich, Beckton, Coldharbour. Point to Purfleet, and over the marshes al Grays, Thurrock, and Tilbury. During these excursions we have indulged our prying propensities to the best of our ability, using our dredges freely over many miles of ditches of fresh and brackish water, at the same time keeping a sharp look-out for terrestrial forms either possessed of shells or destitute of them ; carefully recording each day's experience gained, and taking notes of fresh captures.

We have also received much valuable assistance, and have occasionally been accompanied in our expeditions by the Rev. J. W. Horsley, the indefatigable President and Founder of the now flourishing Woolwich District Natural History Society, which under the guidance of Mr. Horsley has organised a series of Saturday half-holiday field-excursions for the study of the fauna and flora of the district.

The marshes bordering the Thames are very extensive, and a considerable portion is devoted to market-gardening and grazing purposes, a large area still remaining almost in its original pristine condition. The great national workshop, Woolwich Arsenal, is built upon the Plumstead Marshes, and a range, fifteen hundred yards in length, is devoted to gunpractice near the Arsenal. Many chemical and manure works are also built upon them. At Purfleet there is a rather extensive salt-marsh.

Lying, as they do, considerably below high-water mark, the marshes were many years ago protected by a river-wall or earthwork. The origin of this gigantic earthwork, which confines the Thames to its present channel, is lost in obscurity, but probably various portions have been constructed at different periods. Intersecting the niarshes in various directions are numerous dykes or ditches, which abound in the various forms of life which delight the eye and mind of the biologist, conchologist, and microscopist.

In places near the river the ditches are connected with the Thames by drains and sluices, and such ditches being liable to the overflow of the river occasionally, at high tides, causes the water contained therein to be more or less brackish. These ditches form the habitat of our Hydrobia and their allies. A long walk across the marshes in fine weather is very exhilarating and enjoyable ; after fogs and heavy rain it is not so pleasant, the roads and paths are then almost impassable owing to mud; the tall coarse grass when wet is very tiring to walk through, and the mist or vapour covering the marshes all around renders the journey very monotonous, which is occasionally varied by the necessity of juniping a tolerably wide and deep dyke, or clambering over very high sences to avoid making a détour of several miles. Sometimes, too, mishap befalls the unwary

NOTES CONCERNING THE DISTRIBU.

TION OF MOLLUSCA IN THE THAMES
ESTUARY.

By A. J. JENKINS AND L. O. GROCOCK. INCE the publication of the article upon “The

biæ,” SCIENCE-GOSSIP, 1890, page 103, it has been our endeavour to try our best to work up the distribution of the various other species of mollusca inhabiting the marshes of the Thames Estuary, with a view to studying the habits and localisation of the brackish-water species in particular, as well as the discovery of the distribution and true limits of the Hydrobiæ and allied forms to be found in close proximity to the river.

All the British Hydrobiæ have been taken from the Thames marshes, and the two species, Hydrobia similis, Drap., and H. Jenkinsi, Smith, have not up to the present been found elsewhere in Britain.

The district which we decided to investigate is included between the commencement of the Plum. stead Marshes, near Woolwich Arsenal, and North Woolwich, upon the Essex bank of the Thames, down to a point three miles below the forts at Tilbury and Gravesend.

Nearly twelve months have elapsed since we com

an

now

naturalist, the plank which serves him for a bridge number of H. ventrosa, a few Limnæa truncatula, refuses to support him when half across, or he fails to and dead shells only, of A. Grayana. leap properly and gracefully an extra-wide ditch, Occasionally a few shells of H. similis have been which ends in his immersion in clear fluid or mud.

collected, which are of a clear, pellucid texture. Mr. The marshes between East Greenwich and Plum. Marshall has proposed to call this variety V. candida, stead were frequently investigated between the years see " Journal of Conchology,” vol vi. p. 141. It 1883-9, rendering it unnecessary to go over the same has been deemed necessary to strictly preserve the ground again.

habitat of this rare species, so as not to be instruProbably many years have elapsed since the mental in its extermination as a British species. Thames Estuary was thoroughly worked by concho- H. ventrosa inhabits in great abundance brackishlogists, and this is confirmed by the recent publication water ditches between Erith and Gravesend, and of localities in which species have long ceased to exist, may be collected on the north bank of the Thames and by the discovery of the new species of Hydrobia. at Purfleet, Grays, and Tilbury. The shells from

A few details respecting the limits of various the different localities vary somewhat, but hardly species may be of interest to the readers of Science

sufficient to be considered as distinct varieties. A GOSSIP. The marsh brackish-water shells consist of short and rather tumid form occurs in a ditch near six species, if we include Mr. Smith's new Hydro- the river and training-ships at Grays, bia, which is now generally considered by eminent H. Jenkinsi is now, and for some years is likely to conchologists, both at home and abroad, to be be, the most abundant Hydrobia of the Thames worthy of specific rank. They are as follows:

marshes. When collected in 1883 in ditches at East Hydrobia ulva, Penn, H. similis, Drap., H. ventrosa, Greenwich, it was fairly plentiful there; two years Mont., H. Jenkinsi, Smith, Assiminia Grayana, later, a few shells were taken at Plumstead, but they Leach, and Melampus myosotis, Mont. A peculiar were by no means common at that time. They are dwarfed variety of Littornia rudis also occurs with extinct between Greenwich and Woolwich, H. ventrosa in brackish water at Tilbury.

owing to the same cause which forced H. similis Of these species, A. Grayana, M. myosotis and and A. Grayana to retreat lower down the river. At H. ulve are most marine in habit; H. ventrosa certain periods the new species fairly swarm in the inhabits ditches which are decidedly more brackish ditches at Plumstead marshes, upon duck-weed, than those which H. similis and H. Jenkinsi frequent. chara, and the bright green ribbon-like weed Entero.

H. ulve may be taken alive upon mud, and in morpha intestinalis, Linn., which is so common in partially dry ditches at Grays, Tilbury, and Gravesend, brackish water. As mentioned in the above article, by the riverside, and sparingly in brackish-water

they are a very active and hardy species, capable of ditches near Greenhithe village, 'in company with existing for prolonged periods in quite fresh, and H. ventrosa and A. Grayana. It has not yet been even in hard tap-water. taken higher up the river.

They have been taken in winter from beneath the Many years ago H. similis inhabited ditches between

ice, and hibernating in the banks of their habitat. Greenwich and Woolwich, which were occasionally Like the other species, the shells from different flooded by the tide, and this locality has been given localities are extremely variable, and several forms by Mr. J. W. Williams in a recent work published in differ sufficiently from the type to be considered as 1889. This locality was no doubt correct in Jeffreys' distinct varieties. One form in particular which time, but they have (in company with other species) occurs with the type at Beckton is peculiar in having long since been forced to migrate lower and lower a much shorter spire, and very tumid body whorl. down the river, owing to the pollution of the ditches They are strongly carinated and tufted, and the by various factories, chemical and gas-works, and suture is somewhat deeper than the type. Upon ta Thames sewage.

As far back as 1883 not even a dorsal side there is a considerable bulging out of the dead shell could be obtained from this locality. penultimate whorl upon the left side, giving the

Industrious searching for this pretty little mollusc shell a distorted appearance. In this condition they. has led us to the conclusion that this species is somewhat resemble enlarged H. similis. It has doomed to speedy extinction in this district. It been suggested that these examples are shells that seems always to have been peculiar in Britain to the have been stopped in growth by the drying up of the Thames marshes, and, like H. Jenkinsi, in all pro- ditch, or some other cause. Provisionally it is bability was originally introduced from abroad. It proposed to call this variety or monstrosity H. appears to be limited to a single narrow ditch a few Jenkinsi, V. tumida, Jenkins. This species now hundred yards in length, and with two exceptions we exists in considerable abundance in ditches at Beckton, have not succeeded in finding them elsewhere. Once and extends from the Arsenal wall at Plumstead to a dead shell was taken with H. Jenkinsi from a ditch a point midway between Darenth Creek and at Beckton, and once a single live specimen with the Greenhithe. In all probability a few years will find same species between Erith and Darenth Creek. In them extending down the river as far as Gravesend. the same ditch with H. similis may be found a H. Jenkinsi was at one time mistaken for H. similis,

attempted to give anything like a connected or exhaustive account of the subject from the standpoint of the genealogist or historian. I even flatter myself that those persons who have paid special attention to the place which my ancestors have filled in the economy of medicine are unable to present so clear an account of me as I am now about to lay

before you.

owing to the latter species not being generally known to conchologists, and it was largely distributed to collectors as that species. Limnæa peregra, Planorbis spirorbis, and P. complanalus exist in the same habitat as this Hydrobia.

Assiminia Grayana and Melampus myosotis are more or less abundant between Coldharbour Point and Purfleet, and from Grays to three miles below Tilbury Fort, and we have traced them from Greenhithe to below Gravesend. A. Grayana exists in abundance in the canal at Gravesend, as well as in ditches between Northfleet and Greenhithe.

Both species are wanderers, and they may frequently be picked up many yards from the water's edge.

About twenty species of common fresh-water mollusca have been collected upon the marshes, the forms which generally prevail upon either side of the river are Bythinia tentaculata, B. Leachi, Planorbis spirorbis, P. vortex, P. complanatus, Limnæa peregra, L. palustris, Physa fontinalis. The most local are Planorbis nautileus, P. contortus, Limnæa stagnalis, L. truncatula, and Physa hypnorum.

For terrestrial shells we can only testify to species upon our side of the river, and no doubt with more leisure many more species will be discovered. Helix nemoralis and its varieties bimarginata, libellula, and rubella are the prevailing marsh forms, together with Arion ater, Succinea putris, S. elegans, Helix cantiano, H. rufescens, H. virgata, H. hispida, H. caperata and H. concinna. Helix hortensis and Cyclostoma elegans are found in the neighbourhood of the chalk.

So far our list comprises upwards of sixty species and varieties of land and freshwater shells inhabiting the marshes of the Thames Estuary. Another twelve months' work may add largely to this list of District Mollusca, as many forms, like the slugs and Zonites, have not been yet properly worked up.

name.

Our family name was Deker, or Degar, which by a curious coincidence means in the languages of the East very much what “dagger” means in English. It is, indeed, curious to observe how frequently this name, slightly modified in various ways, is used in a great number of languages to convey the idea of something sharp or piercing. At the risk of being regarded as boastful, I will at once inform my readers that I have traced our family name back to very ancient times, for I find in the oldest historical work now in existence that one of my remote ancestors, Ben-deker by name, was appointed by Solomon, the King of Israel, to be one of the twelve officers whose duty it was to provide victuals for the king and his household. This mention of Ben-deker in Jewish history is sufficient to show that already in Solomon's day Deker had become an established

Learned writers are agreed that this name is derived from a word which means to pierce, or stab; this word we find in the Hebrew language under the form of Dakar. Hence Deker means the stabber, or he who pierces; and as Ben is the word for son, Ben-deker means the son of the stabber, then the little stabber. I have reason to believe that the name was given to the earliest representative of our family on account of his skill in the use of the spear or sword in times of war ; for I find that when Jehu went forth to war he was accompanied by a member of our family who bore the name of Bidekar, and had been promoted to the post of captain on account of his chivalry. The reader may consult i Kings iv. 9, and 2 Kings ix. 25.

Now every one is aware that, by the association of ideas, names are continually being transferred from one thing to another which bears some resemblance, in one way or another, to the original. Thus the word needle is applied to a little pointed instrument used by industrious girls and housewives, as well as to an ancient monument of a similar shape which once stood on Egyptian soil, but now adorns the Thames Embankment. The musical pipe of the Hebrew and the tobacco pipe of the smoker bear the same name, though their uses are so widely different, because they are each hollow ; and hence we have many other things called pipes for the same reason. In exactly the same way the people who first used the word Dakar in the sense of stabbing, called not only a clever soldier Deker, a stabber, but applied the same term to such plants or other things as pricked or pierced the skin of the unwary, just as the Scotch thistle is reputed to have stabbed or pierced

THE ROMAUNT OF BEDEGAR.

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

By the Rev. H. FRIEND, F.L.S. I

WAS born at Rosebower, on Solway Moss, in

the summer of 1880. Having inherited a precocious tendency to look about me, and made inquiry respecting things in general, and my own history in particular, it dawned upon me while I was yet very youthful that I might find profit in looking up my family pedigree. I had not the saintest idea when I set to work how arduous a task I had undertaken, nor could I have conceived that our history would show so many changes and vicissitudes, or lead me back to so hoary an age, as I eventually found to be the case ; and as I feel sure there are very few, even among the students of genealogies and family history who are fully acquainted with these details, I have ventured to write my autobiography. In so doing, I have the impression that I am the first who has

« EelmineJätka »