As I have questioned men that frequent coppices respecting Fern-owls, which they have not seen or heard of late; there is reason to suspect that they have withdrawn themselves, as well as the fly-catchers, & black-caps, about the beginning of this month. Where timber lies felled among the bushes, & coverts, wood-men tell me, the fern-owls love to sit upon the logs of an evening: but what their motive is does not appear.
A fern-owl this evening showed-off in a very unusual, & entertaining manner, by hawking round, & round the circumference of my great spreading oak for twenty times following, keeping mostly close to the grass but occasionally glancing up amidst the boughs of the tree. This amusing bird was then in pursuit of a brood of some particular phalaena belonging to the oak, of which there are several sorts; & exhibited on the occasion a command of wing superior, I think, to that of the swallow itself. Fern-owls have attachment to oaks, no doubt on account of food: for the next evening we saw one again several times among the boughs of the same tree; but it did not skim round it’s stem over the grass, as on the evening before. In May these birds find the Scarabaeus melolontha on the oak; & the Scarabaeus solstitialis at Midsummer. These peculiar birds can only be watched & observed for two hours in the twenty-four, & then in dubious twilight, an hour after sun-set & an hour before sun-rise.
Preserved some cherries. My meadow-hay was carried, in decent order. As we were coming from Newton this evening, on this side of the Money-dells, a cock Fern-owl came round us, & showed himself in a very amusing manner, whistling, or piping as he flew. Whenever he settled on the turf, as was often the case, Mr Churton went, & sprung him, & brought him round again. He did not clash his wings over his back, so as to make them snap. At the top of the Bostal we found a bat hawking for moths. Fern-owls & bats are rivals in their food, commanding each great powers of wing, & contending who shall catch the phalaenae of the evening.
Farmer Corps brought me two eggs of a fern-owl, which he found under a bush in shrub-wood. The dam was sitting on the nest; & the eggs, by their weight, seemed to be just near hatching. These eggs were darker, & more mottled than what I have procured before.
One Fly-catcher builds in the Virginia Creeper, over the garden-door: & one in the vine over the parlor-window. Between Newton & us we heard three Fern-owls chattering on the hill; one at the side of the High-wood, one at the top of the Bostal, & one near the Hermitage. That at the top of the Bostal is heard distinctly in my orchard. Fern-owls haunt year by year nearly the same spots.
Saint foin blows, & the Stfoin fly Sphinx filipendula, appears. Rain at Emsworth. Fyfield sprung a fern-owl on the zig-zag which seemed confounded by the glare of the sun, & dropped again immediately. Mr. Bridger sends me a fine present of trouts caught in the stream down at Oakhanger. The distant hills look very blue in the evenings.