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“The change of colour in fish is very remarkable, and takes place with great rapidity. Put a living black burn trout into a white basin of water, and it becomes, withiu half an hour, of a light colour. Keep the fish living in a white jar for some days, and it becomes absolutely white; but put it into a dark-coloured or black vessel, and although, on first being placed there, the white-coloured fish shows most conspicuously on the black ground, in a quarter of an hour, it becomes as dark coloured as the bottom of the jar, and consequently difficult to be seen."1
We were not aware before that a bird, like human housekeepers, enlarged her dwelling to suit an increasing family:
“I observed a very curious thing with regard to a wren in the spring of 1852. A wren had built and hatched her eggs in a nest placed in a narrow hole in a wall. It seemed to me that as her young ones became full grown the nest would be rather small for them. The old birds became aware of this, and built a large nest in a tree opposite the first nest, and as soon as the young ones were able to fly at all, they betook themselves to the newly-built abode, which was larger than usual, and not lined. For some little time afterwards, whenever there was a heavy shower, and these happened to be rather frequent, the whole brood, eight in number, took refuge in the new nest. They also roosted in it every night for a short time.”
Some habits of birds are interesting from our interest in the birds themselves, and more so from their being subjects of controversy We believe the observation of the water-ousel walking at the bottom of the water is still questioned. The manner in which the woodcock carries its young is no longer disputed:
“A water-ousel (Hydrobata cinclus) in the burn has two eggs. The nest is built in a broken bank. .. One of my boys took the water-ousel's nest, an immense building for the size of the bird, the whole being fully as large as a pail, made of moss outwardly, and lined with dried grass, etc. This little bird of very singular habits changes its ground with the season. In spring and summer it frequents the highland burns and solitary streams, where it breeds; on the approach of winter it descends lower down the streams and rivers, where it feeds on trout spawn, small water-beetles, etc. It has a peculiar habit, while flying along a stream, of suddenly dropping into the water, where it either swims, or rather floats, on the surface, or dives down at once to the bottom, where it searches actively for its food-the beetles, which form great part of its food, being found on the stones and gravel at the bottom of the water. I never saw the water-ousel feed on any insect which it caught out of the water or even on the surface; its whole food seems to be found at the bottom. Though the fact has often been doubted, it certainly runs and scratches up the stones while at the bottom in search of food. It has a sweet song (though not loud), Woodcock carrying her young. .
| The author of Life in Normandy has also noted the same fact, vol. i. p. 45.
which it utters frequently in the depth of winter, and on the coldest and severest days. It breeds earlier than most other birds. I have found eggs on the 8th of April. The nest is placed in a broken wall, under an overhanging bank, amongst the roots of a tree, or other similar situation, but always on the water's edge, and covered over the top, built of moss, leaves, etc. It is frequently of very great size, as the bird fixes on a broken bank sometimes, and has to build a very large foundation to make her nest steady. The eggs are a pure
white. Sitting on a stone often in the midst of a rapid stream or waterfall, the white breast of the water-ousel is conspicuous amongst all surrounding objects, and day after day it enlivens and adds an interest to the same part of a stream for many weeks, till the tine comes for its partial migration. In the following spring the same stone or point of rock is again tenanted. The bird frequently runs into and under the water in the midst of a tolerably strong rapid, keeping out of sight for some moments, but emerging again at no great distance. I have before mentioned its habit of suddenly, in the midst of its flight, plunging down into the water, where, though it floats with tolerable ease, its motious, when on the surface, rather resemble those of a land bird accidentally falling into the water than those of a swimmer.”
In the North of Scotland-say from Dee-side northwards— woodcocks often stay all the year, and nest and breed. Mr. St. John tells us :
“The nest is placed at the foot of a tree in a patch of long heather, or indeed in any sheltered place; most frequently in the driest and densest parts of the woods. It is formed of dry grass, leaves, etc., and is shallow, and made without much apparent care. The eggs are four in number, of a pale yellowish brown, blotched and spotted with reddish brown. They, however, vary much. As soon as the young are hatched, the old birds are obliged to carry them to the feeding ground, which is often at some distance. The young, though able to run immediately, are tender helpless little things, and could by no means scramble through the tangled heather and herbage which often surrounds their nest, perhaps for many hundred yards. It long puzzled me how this portage was effected. That the old birds carried their young I had long since ascertained, having often seen them in the months of April and May in the act of doing so, as they flew towards nightfall from the woods down to the swamps in the low grounds. From close observation, however, I found out that the old woodcock carries her young, even when larger than a snipe, not in her claws, which seem quite incapable of holding up any weight, but by clasping the little bird tightly between her thighs, and so holding it tight towards her own body. In the summer and spring evenings the woodcocks may be seen so employed passing to and fro, and uttering a gentle cry, on their way from the woods to the marshes. They not only carry their young to feed, but also if the brood is suddenly come upon in the daytime, the old bird lifts up one of her young, flies with it fifty or sixty yards, drops it quietly, and flies silently on. The little bird immedi
ately runs a few yards, and then squats flat on the ground amongst the dead leaves, or whatever the ground is covered with. The parent soon returns to the rest of her brood, and if the danger still threatens her, she lifts up and carries away another young bird in the same
I saw this take place on the 18th May; the young were then larger than, or fully as large as, a snipe.”
We are happy to say our author is on the side of the small birds in the controversy with the farmer and gardener. He defends the rook too, and even makes a plea for the wood-pigeon now increasing so alarmingly. The hooded crow he gives up as a mischievous and voracious robber. Speaking of the system of vermin-trapping, St. John remarks :
“One advantage certainly results from birds of prey being killed off: blackbirds, thrushes, and numerous other beautiful little birds, increase in proportion as their enemies are destroyed. In several districts where, a few years ago, these birds were very rare, they are now abundant. The ring-ousel, too, is one of the birds who has benefited by this destruction of its enemies. There are some other birds, such as the wheat-ear and tit-lark, who are seldom killed by a hawk, but whose nests and young are the constant prey of weasels and other ground-vermin. These have also good reason to thank the trapper. Wood-pigeons, whose eggs were formerly taken by the crows and magpies in great numbers, and whose young served to feed many kinds of hawks, now increase yearly, and begin to be a subject of great complaint amongst farmers; and yet the wood-pigeon during a great part of the year feeds on the seeds of many weeds and plants useless or mischievous."
No country affords better common wild-fowl shooting than that where St. John took his sport; and it gives some game of a nobler and rarer sort. He thus describes making a bag in a winter's evening; the scene is Loch-lee, between Nairn and Brodie :
“Just before sunset I take up my position in the midst of two or three furze bushes, within easy shot of where a small stream runs into one of the lakes, keeping the water constantly open. Having given my retriever the biscuit which I always carry for him on these cold days, I light my pipe (the great comfort of the patient wild-fowl shooter) and look out towards the bay for the mallards. The bay is nearly half a mile off; but I can see the ducks between me and the sky almost as soon as they leave it. At first a solitary pair or two come, quietly and swiftly, probably making their way to some favourite spring farther inland. With the help of a cartridge, I bring down a brace from a great height, as they pass over; sometimes, tumbling on the ice of the loch behind me, they are nearly split in two; sometimes, when winged, they fall in the rushy stream, and give the retriever no small trouble and cold before he gets them; however, he always suc
ceeds, and having brought the bird and received his reward of shipbiscuit, he lies down again, but with eyes and ears all intent on what is going on. The sea-gull or heron may pass, and he takes no notice of them; but the moment that a wild-duck's quack, or the whistle of his wings is heard, the dog's ears erect themselves, and he watches my face with a look of most inquiring eagerness. I hear the wild-swans trumpeting on the sea, but know that they are not very likely to come where I am placed. Presently, a brace of teal pitch suddenly and unexpectedly within a few yards of me, having flitted in from behind. I kill the drake, but cannot get a shot at the duck, as she flies low, and the smoke, hanging heavily in the calm evening, prevents my seeing her. But all at once the mallards begin to fly from the sea, aud, for half an hour or less, I have to load and fire as fast as I can, as they fly over. I prefer shooting them on the wing, for if I let them pitch in the water, my dog has a swim every time I kill one, and gets half dead with ice and frozen snow.
“The mallards generally fly in from the sea rapidly, and at no great height; but it requires some practice to kill them, as their flight is much quicker than it appears, and they require a hard blow to kill them dead. If wounded only they fly off, and, dropping at some distance, I can seldom get them that night, owing to the approaching darkness. Sometimes my retriever marks the direction of a wounded duck and gets it, but generally they are lost, and serve only to feed the foxes, who seem to hunt regularly for maimed birds round the lakes. Having killed ten mallards and a teal, it becomes too dark to shoot any more, although I still hear their wings as they fly over my head. Besides which, I have nearly three miles to walk; and my keeper, who has also killed two or three, had, before we commenced duck-shooting, sundry animals to carry, the produce of my day's wanderings. We have to walk home too, there being no road near these lakes. So, after I have refilled my pipe, and the old fellow has recharged his nose with a spoonful of snuff, we shoulder our game and set off. Eight or ten fat mallards are no slight load over a rough track in the dark, so we keep the sands as far as possible, listening to the different cries of the sandpipers, curlews, and numerous kinds of wild-fowl who feed on the shallows and sandbanks during the night time. Occasionally, in the moonlight, we catch a glimpse of the mallards as they rise from some little stream or ditch which runs into the bay, or we see a rabbit hurrying up at our approach from the seaweed which he had been nibbling. In this way, with very little trouble, and often much nearer home, I can generally reckon on getting some few brace of wild-ducks in the winter; shifting my place of ambush according to the weather, the wind, etc., changes in which cause the birds to take to different feeding-places." It requires more trouble to approach the wary wild-goose :
To stalk a flock of wild-geese when feeding is as difficult as to stalk a stag, if not more so. From the nature of the ground which they feed on, and their unwearied vigilance, unless you have concealed yourself beforehand within reach of their feeding-place, it is nearly
impossible to approach them. ... One of my boys was out for a walk with a gentleman who was staying with me, to whom he was acting as cicerone or guide to the lochs, as I was unable for some reason to go out with him myself. The little boy took the telescope, which their attendant carried, and having looked along the shores of the lakes and through all the likely parts of the ground, which he knew as well as I did, from having frequently ridden that way to join me, he shut up the glass with the exclamation, characteristic of a deerstalker - There they are !' My friend's question of course was, “Who are there ?' And on being told it was a flock of geese, he at once understood why he had been led on from point to point under different excuses; for he had good-naturedly followed passively wherever he was told to go. Having been shown the geese, he sat down with the glass and allowed the child to attempt the task of stalking them, but without having the slightest expectation of his success. He watched the boy for some time till he became invisible, having apparently sunk into the ground amongst the rushes and long grass. His attention was next attracted by seeing the geese suddenly rise, and almost immediately perceiving that one fell to the ground. The next instant he heard the double report of the boy's gun. Another goose left the flock and fell at some distance, but it was unnoticed by him and the servant, as their attention was taken up by the young sportsman, who went dashing through water and swamp to seize the first bird that fell. It was nearly as big as himself, and he brought it up to them in triumph, a successful right and left at wild geese being rather an era in the sporting adventures of a boy ten years old.”
Ascending in the scale, we have our author stalking the wild
“March 6.-I have tried two or three days to get at the largest wild swan on Lochlee, but without success; my fruitless attempts I do not mark down – horas non numero nisi serenas. However, to-day--a fine sunny day-as I passed at some distance from the lake where the swans were feeding, they rose and alighted on the largest of the pieces of water; seeing this, and that they were not inclined to take to the sea immediately, I sent the boy who was with me round the lake where they were, while I made my preparations for receiving them at their feeding lake, supposing that they would return to it if allowed to rest for an hour or so, and then quietly moved; even if they did not alight, I knew that I was pretty sure of their line of flight to the sea, and they seldom flew very high. I waded across part of the loch to an island, where I determined to await them, and set to work to make up a hiding-place of long heather, etc. This done, I loaded my gun with large shot and cartridges, and established myself behind my barricade. With my glass I saw the boy and retriever go round towards them; the appearance of the swans floating quietly on the water was most picturesque, their white forms being
clearly defined on the dark blue water, and their shadows almost as distinct as themselves. They all held their heads erect, watching the boy, who, as he had been instructed,