The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Students of the College
[These Bird Walks (by students of the College), which were shown at the Nature Study Exhibition in August last, illustrate what we aim at in The House of Education in Nature Study. We learn to distinguish plant, tree, moss, bird, or what not. As soon as we distinguish we naturally name, and when we know a thing by look, gesture, name, we watch continually and get more and more knowledge of habits and habitat. All this we do for the pure and immeasurable joy of the acquaintances, without any ulterior aim in the way of scientific or of useful knowledge. We see no object in collections, believing that nature can only be observed in situ. Mr. John Burroughs expressed (in a private letter) our feeling on the subject:--"Let those dissect nature who have some special object in view, but let the great mass of young people be inspired with love for living nature in all her forms."--ED.]
A "BIRD WALK" IN FEBRUARY (NORFOLK).
V. and I went out one day to hunt for birds. It was quite warm and sunny and the pines smelt deliciously. We went up the road to a spot appropriately named Pretty Corner. Here there is a heath bordering on a pine-wood, and dotted all about with stunted hawthorns and blackthorns. In an opening surrounded on three sides by the pines it was gloriously warm and one could almost fancy it was summer if it were not for the patches of snow. We came quietly into this place and V. touched my arm, whispering, "What are those birds?" Creeping along under the dead bracken were about a dozen beautiful spotted creatures, like thrushes, peeping out at us with large wide-opened eyes. We went nearer and some of them rose into the air a little way; when they opened their wings in flight they seemed to have a large patch of blood under each wing, as though they had been shot and like Banquo had come back to reproach their slaughterers with their presence. Presently they all entered the wood and we breathed freely again. Just as the redwings flew off we heard a sound as of scraping glass in the trees close to us. We crept nearer and saw a pert little gold-crest hanging head downwards on a swaying twig, pecking, pecking. Presently he fussed off to another tree and hung there with the sunlight full of his little glengarry-like crest. Away among the trees we heard the harsh warning note of a jay. After watching Master Gold-crest for a while we went out on to the heather and watched there. Before very long we heard what sounded like the laugh of a very stout person. We knew this must be the "Norway-tresh," as the fieldfare is called here. A very fine bird in full plumage blundered across the Pretty Corner quite close to us. As we were leaving the Corner to go towards the sea we almost stepped on a little dingy-looking bird hanging on to the heather and fussing in the same manner as the little wren in the wood. It seemed quite tame, and only flew a very little way from us. Just beyond in another clump of heather was another little bird somewhat similar but not so dull and with a streak of dirty-white running up the nape of the neck to the head. This was the first time we had seen the cole-tits this year. Going round by a pretty little lane known as "The Butts," we saw a number of "dinches" as they call the hooded crow here. The people say that these birds wait until the pheasants have laid their eggs and then go away. The fields were sprinkled with flocks of sea-gulls, and on the golf links we saw many small birds, among them the "muffle chucker" (the caddies' name for wheatear).
BIRD WALK (AMBLESIDE).
The other day I went for the most interesting bird walk I have ever been. We went through the fields and over the bridge crossing the Rothay. As we crossed we saw a golden-crested wren fluttering round the branches of a sycamore at the water's edge. We watched it as it flitted from twig to twig and chirped. As we got nearer we heard various little chirps, as though there were young ones somewhere near. Soon we discovered a wee fluffy round ball of a bird nestling among the leaves half-way up the tree. Then another of the baby-wrens arrived and perched as close as he could to his brother. Another and another fluttered up, until there was the whole family of eight; seven in a row on one branch. tightly packed together, head to tail like sardines in a box, and one above sitting on a twig all alone. By the time they had settled themselves, the mother bird arrived with food for them in her beak, and all the family chirped excitedly as she went from the one to the other with a welcome morsel. Gradually the chirps became the whole fewer: the birdies put their heads under their wings, or rather, buried them in their fluff and slept peacefully. Still we stayed trying to find their nest in a fir tree near, but we were unsuccessful. Then we tore ourselves away from these fluffy darlings and went further down the Rothay. There we saw a yellow wagtail. We watched it for some moments as it skimmed gracefully along the water, resting now and then on a stone. Then we listened to the chaffinch singing, and the willow warbler's sweet answer, like a drawn-out echo of the chaffinch's song. We had not gone many steps further before we heard a new song, the greenfinch's, for the first time this year. We saw him high up on a tree some distance from us, singing away so merrily and looking as green as the leaves around him. After this piece of good fortune we turned our steps homewards. On our way we saw a spotted flycatcher, with something in his beak, perched on the wall by the river. We had an excellent view of him; the marks on his breast were very clear. We went back to the sycamore for another glimpse of the golden-crested wrens, but not a trace of them could we find. Had they gone back to their nest home, or flown away during mother's absence? We never found out.
BIRD WALK (AMBLESIDE).
It was in the last of May that we cycled to the Marsh near Hawkshead, on purpose to see the birds. On the way we saw a jay (Garrulus Glandarius L.) just hiding himself in the bushes at the side of the road. We had just time enough to see his reddish-brown back, his white body and black tail. We pass the picturesque old village, turn to the left and the marsh is before us. The air resounds with the sharp shrieks of the lapwings (Vanellus vulgaris). They fly round and round, their round, blunt, long wings are distinctly discerned against the blue sky. Then they come down with a sweep in the grass, run very busily along, raising their heads every now and then to look round.
At one moment standing quite alone in the field, I hear a terrible noise above my head. A lapwing approaches me in swift flight, swooping along my face he describes a circle and attacks me again under loud frightful cries. I have to defend myself with my arms to prevent the bird from giving me a blow with his wings. The bird arrives at his very apparent aim, then, though I get sure that a nest must be near, the bird leaves me no rest to look for it. I went a few steps to the side and the bird flew away. I tried a long time but could not find the nest between the long grass. Afterwards we found a nest with three still warm eggs posed on some hay on the ground. The place was well chosen. Though all around was the marsh with its swampy places the nest was quite dry. All around were several beginnings of nests to mislead the enemies.
The yellow wagtail (Motacilla Raii) feels himself here quite at home. Hanging on a strong grass he moves up and down, up and down, or sits on an old fence wagging his little tail. He flies through the air in half circles, seeming to be quite motionless at the highest point. In the willows near by, the willow warbler (Acrocephalus) sings his little song, springing from branch to branch without ceasing. Though we could come up to him quite close and looked through our field glasses, it was quite difficult to get a good glance at him as he was always hidden between the leaves. A snipe (Gallinaco coelestis) flew up as we came near, and the curlew (Numenia Arquata) was to be heard in the distance.
On our way back we watched a pair of redstarts (Ruticilla Phoeniciorus) that were very busy in the bushes at the side of the road. The male has a beautiful scarlet breast, a dark black head with white spot and a greyish bluish back. One of his peculiar characteristics is the wagging of his tail as he sits on a branch. This movement is not continuous but is underbroken by a rest. After a moment the male and the female came on the same branch. Her colours are duller, she has no black head with white spot, but the wagging little tail betrays her instantly to be a redstart too. Their nest was certainly not far off, because the birds were constantly changing notes in a very frightened tone. The male came nearer and nearer the wall, looked at it searchingly, did as if he wanted to fly to a place in the wall, then returned with a cry.
It was now beginning to be late. The sun was setting behind the mountains in a glow of gold. Most birds were silent, only the soft, melancholy cooing of the wood-pigeons was to be heard.
NOTES ON SURREY BRIDS.
In a choice and sequestered spot near a Surrey village our feathered friends enjoy several hundred acres of unmolested ground, and very good use they make of it, for there is hardly a bush, tree or thicket which has not been appropriated by some bird as a home for its little ones.
There are all sorts of birds to be seen here, from herons, wild duck, pheasants and moor hens, down to the busy little wrens and the quaint little tree creepers.
In yonder tangled thicket, close on the ground, we may find a snug nest built of grass and dead leaves, and lined profusely with wool, feathers and hair, there is an opening at the side, and out flies a little brown bird, the chiff-chaff, one of the first of our summer visitors; if we venture to investigate we shall find five or six small eggs, whitish, dotted with brownish spots. This bird much resembles the willow wren, but is rather smaller in size, and somewhat duller in colouring.
The tree creeper and nuthatch are birds of like habits, and I used to stand and watch them running round the trunks of the trees, more like mice than winged creatures. In front of the house a nuthatch build her nest in a drain pipe sticking out of a wall, and though it was so open to observation it was safe from intruders, as the entrance to the nest was securely stopped up with clay and other substances, there being only just enough room for the parent birds to pass in and out.
Walking one evening down a grassy sward in search of nests, I came upon the old stump of a hazel tree, on examination of which I discovered the nest of a nightingale, whose whereabouts I had long wanted to find. There were five olive-brown eggs in a nest made of fine grasses and lined with fibrous roots, the whole very carefully concealed and almost on the ground. Many were the searches I had made for these nests with nightingales singing all around, but all in vain, they were too wise to lead me to their dwellings.
In a low bush I found the home of a blackcap, whose song (in my estimation) ranks only second to that of the nightingale. The eggs were bluish white, covered with dark brown spots, more thickly at the larger end; the nest was rather untidy, composed of roots and stems of plants.
The wood pigeons sing and coo overhead; they build their nests in the tall hazel bushes, and are rather too high up to get a glimpse inside. Round a large natural lake there are plenty of moor-hens' nests, built usually on reeds amongst the water and containing at least eight or ten eggs of a pale sienna colour, spotted with darker brown. The moor-hen, when leaving her nest, usually covers the eggs with reeds of which the nest is made. Another water bird which frequents this lake is the grebe, resembling the moor-hens, but with a longer neck. I could always distinguish between the two at quite a long distance, as the long beck of the grebe was always visible. This bird has a habit of diving down into the water for food and coming up again in quite a different place some distance away. Now and then I saw a heron flying over the water, but these birds are thought to be only visitors, and have not been known to breed in this particular spot.
Leaving our lake, we will wander off into some neighbouring fields, where, in a thorn bush, I discovered the nest of a red-backed shrike or butcher bird. This visitor arrives in the South of England about the beginning of May, and its whereabouts may be detected by the discovery of what is called its "larder," which is a host of poor little victims, mice, young birds, beetles, flies, etc., impaled on the nearest spikes. This bird is very careful to guard its young, for a certain male of its kind had the habit every time I went on the railway line (which, by the way, was my happiest hunting ground for flowers) of sitting on the telegraph wires and calling out as loudly as he could, assuming the most menacing attitudes, swooping down suddenly in my face, and otherwise tormenting me, as he thought, until I was well out of sight. He need not have troubled himself, however; I had more important business to transact than that of robbing his nest. He is a handsome bird as he perches on the telegraph wires, about as large as a nightingale; the female lays five or six eggs of a buff colour, spotted with reddish and purple.
Bulfinches are very common, flying on in front of you as you walk down the lanes. I generally saw several together, and they are unmistakeable at a distance by the white patch on the rump, which you may see as they fly.
Once or twice I saw a pair of goldfinches, near a little fir copse, but failed to find their nest. These beautiful little songsters are becoming only too uncommon, through the profit their capture affords.
Now and then I had a glimpse of a kingfisher as he flashed up the stream, and the green woodpecker or yaffle (as it is commonly called in Surrey) is often to be both heard and seen. The hen bird makes her nest in the trunk of a tree, scoops out a hole, and deposits her eggs inside; I have tried in vain to get to the nest, the hole was too narrow and too long to admit of access of the eggs.
One day while searching for flowers round a ploughed field, I was attracted by a sharp chack, chacking sound not far off, and on looking up observed a stonechat perched on a slender and prominent twig of a low bush, evidently much perturbed at my presence. A moment or two later, a second bird, presumable the female, made its appearance on another bush, and both exhibited much alarm, briskly moving up their tails and uttering their note of chack chack. I have never yet succeeded in finding the stonechat's nest, and presume it must be carefully hidden, the bird itself being also very clever in luring you away from the real site of its home.
These little birds may be easily recognised by their strange note, as it almost always resembles to my mind, the tap tap which a stone breaker makes when he hammers the stones by the roadside.
I have not time during these few hasty remarks to mention numerous other birds seen in this neighbourhood. The warblers were many during the summer, sedge warblers, reed warblers, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats; large flights or families of little long-tailed tits were noticed in the hedgerows; a spotted fly-catcher took up her abode amongst some creepers on the house, and I was told had built her nest there several years in succession; larks' nests were found in the long grass of a meadow, and once, to my great delight, I discovered the tiny little nest of a pair of golden crested wrens, built on a branch of a fir tree; these little birds succeeded in hatching out their young, but one sad day a storm of wind came, and, displacing the nest, deposited its contents on to the ground, where of course they perished. However, soon after, another nest was discovered in a different fir; whether it belonged to our little friends or not I cannot tell.
On March 5th we went down to the head of Windermere, hoping to see the black-headed bunting. We did not see him, but our disappointment was amply made up for by what we did see. Close to the shore a number of coots, which were evidently congregating previous to departure, were swimming and diving. We watched them for some time, and noticed their white foreheads, and also the curious way in which they dive. They seem to leap out of the water, and then go under, head first, reappearing a few seconds afterwards, sometimes some little way from where they disappear. Amongst them were two pochards, which we made out with the aid of the field glasses.
A flight of birds, which we thought to be all plovers, came up the lake and settled on the marsh. To our joy we found that four of them were curlews. They separated themselves from the plovers, and went to the edge of the river. We got an excellent view of their very long beaks as they stood there. As they rose we heard the curlews' beautiful whistle. They probably came up from the coast where they spend the winter. They flew away towards Shap, where many rest.
A swan flew in large circles over our heads, sometimes quite low and then very high. It finally disappeared towards Wray. The noise made by its wings was most extraordinary. We heard a yellow hammer calling, but could not see him. A pied wagtail flew over the wall near us and stayed sometime in the field in front of us, pluming himself as though for our special benefit. Passing the rocks, on the way back, a pair of partridges flew up from the grass, and a little further on we heard a hedge-sparrow singing.
A BIRD EXPEDITION.
On the 20th of May we cycled to Hawkshead to look for birds on Esthwaite Marsh, where we expected the plovers would be nesting. On the way we heard the willow warbler singing very sweetly, a modest-looking little brown bird with a light breast. We tumbled off our cycles to try and see the cuckoo which we heard first at one side of the road then at the other, but he escaped us. At first there seemed no birds on the marsh, but soon we put up a sky-lark (seldom seen in these parts) which soared away out of sight. Presently several plovers rose, with piteous cries of pee-wit, pee-wit, not however before they had run some distance from their nests to avoid detection. We got a very good view of them through the field-glasses, they are splendid birds with crested heads. They lay their eggs, yellowish-brown with black blotches, on the open ground. Next a snipe got up and we distinctly saw its long back and legs, and marked its zig-zag flight, In the distance we heard the long low note of the curlew, but did not manage to see the birds. At a very boggy corner of the marsh a small bird with a black head flew across; we watched it for some time and found out afterwards that it was a reed-bunting. For some time we had heard a little chattering note among the sedges by the lake, and after some searching found it belonged to a little russet bird, the sedge-warbler. The swans must have been nesting, as one of them got very much agitated when we came near the edge of the lake. A black-looking duck flew out, but we did not know what kind it was. Coming back we watched a splendid pair of yellow wagtails paying mutual attentions. Across the road flew a redstart, the red on the tail can be best seen whilst the bird is flying. We counted up all the birds we had seen and heard that afternoon, thirty-eight.
BIRD WALK TO BRATHAY--June 9th.
At the beginning of our walk we hardly heard or saw a bird, except the martins in the field below the church. Martins can be recognised when on the wing by their short tails and the white patch on their backs. While on the Rothay Bridge, however, we heard a greenfinch, which presently flew across the river, settled on a convenient hawthorn bush and sang in full view of us. At Clappersgate we listened for wood-warblers. From Brathay Bridge we watched a pair of spotted fly-catchers hard at work. These birds have a fluttering hesitating flight when catching insects, with their tails tucked under until they seem almost upright. We spied out their nest under the eaves of a barn, and with the aid of glasses we could see the young ones in it. Further along the road a tree-pipit sang for us and showed us his quaint flight, sailing down like a parachute. From opposite sides of the road a chaffinch and willow wren called to and answered one another. The chaffinch begins his song well but seems to have forgotten how to finish it, for after a few bars he always has to break off and begin again. The willow wren's song is softer and sweeter than that of the chaffinch. A tree-creeper and a wren attracted our attention next. This tree-creeper was quite easy to watch--usually they run up a tree quietly and quickly as a mouse, but he, bolder than his fellows, ran along a branch repeating his little thin cry. A garden warbler was singing from a tree-stump by the river and we tried to stalk it but were unsuccessful. Its note is much deeper and purer than those of the majority of smaller birds. Lower down the river we twice heard the curlew's cry.
Typed by happi, Feb. 2021; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021
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