Rime on the hanger. Mr Marsham, who lives near Norwich, writes me word, that a servant of his shot a bird last autumn near his house that was quite new to him. Upon examination it appeared to him, & to me to answer the description of the Certhia muraria, the Wall-creeper, a bird little know, but some times seen in England. Ray, & Willoughby never met with it, nor did I ever find it wild, or among the vast collections exhibited in London; but Scopoli had a specimen in his Museum, & says it is to be found in Carniola. It haunts towers, & castles, & ruins, some times frequents towns, running up the walls of tall houses, & searching the crannies, & chinks for spiders, & other insects. Some of the internal wing-feathers are beautifully marked on the inner web with two white, or pale yellow spots; & the middle of the outer web edged with red. Two of these quills, drawn in water-colours, by a young Lady, & charmingly executed, were sent me by Mr Marsham in a frank: the pencilling of these specimens is truly delicate, soft, & feathery. It is much to be regretted that she did not draw the whole bird. The claws of this bird are strong & large, says Linnaeus, & Mr Marsham; & especially the hind claw.
“On the last day of this month my Fathr Mr Ben Wh. shot in his own garden at S. Lambeth, a Loxia curvisrostra, or Cross bill, as it was feeding on the cones of his Scotch firs. There were six, four cocks, & two hens: what he shot was a cock, which was beautifull variegated with brown, & green, & a great deal of red: it answered very accurately to Willughby’s description; & weighed rather more than 1 ounce & an half. In the evening the five remaining birds were seen to fly over the garden, making a chearful note.” Thus far Mrs Ben White. To which we add that flights of Cross bills used to frequent Mrs Snooke’s scotch firs in the month of July only. Mr Ray says, “per autumnum interdum sed rarius in Angliam venit, non autem apud nos perennat aut ndificat.” Synopsis.
On this day Lord Stawell sent me a rare & curious water-fowl, taken alive a few days before by a boy at Basing, near Basingstoke, & sent to the Duke of Bolton at Hackwood park, where it was put into the bason before the house, in which it soon dyed. This bird proved to be the Procellaria Puffinus of Linnaeus, the Manks puffin, or Shear-water of Ray. Shear-waters breed in the Calf of Man, & as Ray supposes, in the Scilly Isles, & also in the Orkines: but quit our rocks & shores about the latter end of August; & from accounts lately given by navigators, are dispersed over the whole Atlantic. By what chance or accident this bird was impelled to visit Hants is a question that can not easily be answered.
A man brought me a land-rail or daker-hen, a bird so rare in this district, that we seldom see more than one or two in a season, & those only in autumn. This is deemed a bird of passage by all the writers; yet from it’s formation seems to be poorly qualifyed for migration; for its wings are short, & placed so forward, & out of the center of gravity, that it flies in a very heavy & embarrassed manner, with it’s legs hanging down; & can hardly be sprung a second time, as it runs very fast, & seems to depend more on the swiftness of it’s feet than on it’s flying. When we came to draw it, we found the entrails so soft & tender, that inappearance they might have been dressed like the ropes of an woodcock. The craw or crop was small & lank, containing a mucus; the gizzard thick & strong, & filled with many shell-snails, some whole, & many ground to pieces thro’ the attrition which is occasioned by the muscular force & motion of that intestine. We saw no gravels among the food: perhaps the shell-snails might perform the functions of gravels or pebbles, & might grind one another. Land-rails used to abound formerly, I remember, in the low, wet bean-fields of Xtian Malford in North Wilts; & in the meadows near Paradise-Gardens at Oxford, where I have often heard them cry Crex, Crex. The bird mentioned above weighed seven ounces & an half, was fat & tender, & in flavour like thesh of a woodcock. The liver was very large & delicate.
Began the new hay-rick. Snow on the ground; but the quantity little in comparison with what has fallen in most parts. As one of my neighbours was traversing Wolmer-forest from Bramshot across the moors, he found a large uncommon bird fluttering in the heath, but not wounded, which he brought home alive. On examination it proved to be Colymbus glacialis, Linn. the great speckled diver, or Loon, which is most excellently described in Willughby’s Ornithology. Every part & proportion of this bird is so incomparably adapted to it’s mode of life, that in no instance do we see the wisdom of God in the Creation to more advantage. The head is sharp, & smaller than the part of the neck adjoining, in order that it may pierce the water; the wings are placed forward & out of the center of gravity, for a purpose which shall be noticed hereafter; the thighs quite at the podex, in order to facilitate diving; & the legs are flat, & as sharp backwards almost as the edge of a knife, that in striking they may easily cut the water; while the feet are palmated, & broad for swimming, yet so folded up when advanced forward to take a fresh stroke, as to be full as narrow as the shank. The two exterior toes of the feet are longest; the nails flat & broad, resembling the human, which give strength & increase the power of swimming. The foot, when expanded is not at right angles to the leg or body of the bird; but the exterior part, inclining towards the head, forms an acute angle with the body. Most people know, that have observed at all, that the swimming of birds is nothing is nothing more than a walking in the water, where one foot succeeds the other as on the land; yet no one, as far as I am aware, has remarked that diving fowls, while under water, impell & row themselves forward by a motion of their wings, as well as by the impulse of their feet: but such is really the case, as any person may easily be convinced who will observe ducks when hunted by dogs in a clear pond. Nor do I know that any one has given a reason why the wings of diving fowls are placed so far forward. Doubtless not for the purpose of promoting their speed in flying, since that position certainly impedes it but probably for the encrease of their motion under water by the use of four oars instead of two; yet were the wings & feet nearer together, as in land birds, they would, when in action, rather hinder than assist one another. The Colymbus was of considerable bulk, weighting only three drachms short of three pounds averdupoise. It measured in length from the bill to the tail (which was very short) two feet; & to the extremities of the toes, four inches more; & the breadth of the wings expanded was 42 inches. A person attempted to eat the body, but found it very strong & rancid, as is the flesh of all birds living on fish. Divers or loons, though bred in the most northerly parts of Europe, yet are seen with us in very severe winters; & on the Thames are called Sprat loons, because they prey much on that sort of fish. The legs of the Colymbi & mergi are placed so very backward, & so out of all center of gravity, that these birds cannot walk at all. They are called by Linnaeus Compedes, because they move on the ground as if shackled or fettered.
A vast flock of hen chaffinches are to be seen in the fields along by the sides of Newton-lane, interspersed, I think, with a few bramblings, which being rare birds in these parts, probably attended the finches on their emigration. They feed in the stubbles on the seeds of knot-grass, the great support of small, hard-billed birds in the winter.
The stream at Fyfield encreases very fast. Spent three hours of this day, viz. from one o’ the clock till four, in the midst of the downs between Andover & Winton, where we should have suffered greatly from cold & hunger, had not the day proved very fine, & had not we been opposite to the house of Mr Treadgold’s down farm, where we were hospitably entertained by the labourer’s wife with cold sparerib, & good bread, & cheese, & ale, while the driver went back to Andover to fetch a better horse. The case was, the saddle-horse being new to his business, became jaded and restiff, & would not stir an inch; but was soon kept in countenance by the shaft-horse, who followed his example: so we were quite set-up ’till four o’ the clock, when an other driver arrived with an other lean jaded horse, & with much difficulty assisted in dragging us to Winton, which we did not reach toll six in the evening. We set out from Fyfield at eleven; so were were seven hours in getting 19 miles. During our long conversation with the dame, we found that this lone farm-house & it’s buildings, tho’ so sequestered from all neighbourhood, & so far removed from all streams & water, are much annoyed with Norway rats: the carter also told us that about 12 years ago he had seen a flock of 18 bustards at one time on that farm, & once since only two. This is the only habitation to be met with on theses downs between Whorwel & Winchester.
One bunting in the northfield: a rare bird at Selborne. * There is this year a remarkable failure of mushrooms: & the more to be wondered at, since the autumn has been both moist & warm. There is a great failure also of trufles in my Brother’s outlet at Fyfield, notwithstanding in simular weather they abounded last year. So that some secret cause influences alike these analogous productions of nature.