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The Water-Ouzel or Dipper.
migrate to the lakes and lower streams, but they are most abundant in the breeding season among the upland tributaries. We have never seen them perch on trees, although Mr. Thompson says they do so.
“ About the ponds at Wolf-hill, an elevated situation near Belfast, where these birds have chiefly come under my observation, the willows that fringe the bank are, owing to the absence of stones, their constant perch. Contiguous to these ponds are rocky mountain streams, by which they are supplied. The water-ouzel is described by Montagu and Selby merely as a very early songster. In the north of Ireland its song is occasionally heard at all seasons; and more especially when other birds are silent, as in the autumnal, and still more frequently the winter months. The bright mornings and forenoons that occur during the most severe frost and snow, have always seemed to me its favourite time for song, which it pours forth when quickly flying at a great height, as well as when perched just above the water."— Vol. i.
116. Although associated in our own mind with the most lonely places,—secluded upland vales, encompassed by the “pastoral melancholy" of the green mountains, the dipper is often seen along the umbrageous banks of larger rivers, where, with a darker back-ground, its pure white breast shines like a little ball of snow. Neither is it shy of human neighbourhood, as well observed by Sir William Jardine.
“ If civilisation has encroached on its retreats, and machinery or mills have been in consequence erected, it accommodates itself to the change, loses its secluded habits, and seems even to enjoy the bustle. It may often be seen perched on the inner spokes of the mill-wheel, singing its lowly song; and we have known it breed within the passage of the torrent which drove it. In such places they live in pairs, each having, as it were, a locality or limit within which they range, and where they select an appropriate situation for the nest
. When about to alight, they usually drop or splash into the pools or streams, and seldom settle at once upon the stones or rocks. They are among our most pleasing songsters, although, from the lowness of their notes, not often heard; but to the angler who plies his rod at all hours, and in the most sequestered places, it is a well-known and welcome strain. It may be heard during the whole year, but spring and the breeding season are the periods when it may be most frequently enjoyed. Being early breeders, this sign of the coming year is often heard in February, while the streams are still bound up in ice; and a clear and shining morning at this early time, will be sure to display some of those cleanly songsters perched on a prominent stone or stick, or on the edge of a frozen pool, warbling their notes just audible above the murmurs of the stream. Their breeding-places are chosen close to the brook or river, and often in curious situations. The nest is generally constructed under some brow or overhanging rock, or among the matted roots of a tree; at other times under some fall, which is projected over a space, hollow and comparatively dry within, or beneath the dam or weir which serves to turn off the water to supply the mill; and we have once or twice observed it under the very sluice of the wheel. In the latter situation the parent bird dashes through the face of the rushing waters when about to enter the nest, and seems to enjoy the act, entering and retreating two or three tiines before commencing her seat."*
Sir William Jardine adds, that the practice of perching on the neighbouring willows, as mentioned by Mr. Thompson, is unusual, even in valleys fringed with wood. A stem, or fallen branch arrested in the stream, may be sought for, but he has never seen them inclined to perch upon the overhanging or adjoining branches, and refers their doing so to something special in the place. The food of the dipper is aquatic larvæ, and occasionally sticklebacks, and other small fishes. We know of no proof that the ova of salmon form its favourite food. It is greatly persecuted in the north of Scotland, on account of its supposed depredations among the spawning beds, and we formerly received an authenticated report from a factor of the Duke of Sutherland's, that 548 dippers had been purposely destroyed in a single Highland district during a period of three years. Whatever may have caused the decrease of salmon, we hold the water-ouzel less blamable than the water-bailiff, although even he may be sometimes more sinned against than sinning.
A peculiar habit of the dipper, and one from which it no doubt' has obtained both its name and opprobrious character as a poacher, consists in its sinking or walking into the water, and then proceeding to search for insect food among the submerged stones and gravel. “The assertion,” says Mr. Yarrell, “ of its walking below the water, which some persons have ventured, is not made good by observation, nor countenanced by reason." We infer that this bird is rare in the south of England, else so observant an ornithologist would, in the course of his inquiries, have had the ocular proof. It is curious that a bird so abun
a dant in the north of Scotland should not have made its way into the Orkney and Shetland Islands. We are not sure that it is even a Hebridean native. We know not why Acerbi should allege that it is not an Italian species, although he gives no better authority than his own for a statement which is not a fact.
* Naturalist's Library. Ornithology. Vol. xi. p. 67. + “ I torrenti de' monti alti,” says Professor Savi,“ che han sempre acque lim
We shall conclude our notice of this species, which is par excellence the angler's bird, being often for many an hour the only one he either sees or hears, with a brief record of our last encounter with it. While angling from a boat on Loch Tummel, at a considerable distance from the shore, an unexpected water-ouzel flew suddenly beneath our outstretched rod, and then precipitately tumbled into the water, and disappeared from view. Almost simultaneously a momentary rushing sound was heard through the still air, so close at hand as almost to be felt, and a large peregrine falcon swooped across the bow of the boat, and then curving gracefully upwards, darted away in rapid flight. In a few seconds uprose the dipper to the surface, and casting back the waters from its feathery mantle, with a peculiar motion of the wings, different from that of duck or diver, flew off in safety to its usual shore. It had evidently, when pursued, and about to be overtaken and slain upon the open waters, instinctively sought the protecting presence of the angler and his boat.
All the British thrushes, including the blackbird and rockouzel, occur in Ireland, and, in addition, the gold-vented thrush (T. aurigaster) has been once shot near Waterford. It is an African bird, described by Le Vaillant under the name of Cudor, as dwelling on the banks of the Grootvis, in the Caffre country. It is remarkable that the missel thrush' (T. viscivorus) should have been scarcely known in Ireland till of late years, although now a resident species, “pretty generally distributed over wooded districts.” It is a bold, pugnacious bird, drives off magpies, and even the smaller hawks, from its own vicinity, and will sometimes strike at the head or hat of human beings who venture too near its nest.
We must here pass over the red-breast, and many other sweet singers of Irish melodies. The absence of that great nocturnal chorister, the nightingale, has already been deplored. Neither does the beautiful blue-throated redstart (Phænicura suecica) ever venture so far west as Ireland. It is one of those numerous summer residents which migrate from Africa into Europe in spring, and spread far northwards into Scandinavia, a few stragglers sometimes shewing themselves upon the eastern coasts of England. All the titmice found in Britain occur also in the sister isle, except a rare Scottish species called the crested tit, pide e fresche, sono la dimora de' Merli acquajoli. Là ne' siti più cupi e più adombrati, e ne' forroni profondi, van sempre visitando il margine delle acque, e spesso ancora si tuffano sotto di queste per cercare gli insetti loro ordinario cibo. Sono uccelli sedentarj, e solo quando ne' giorno i più freddi tutte le acque de torrenti montani son gelate, allora calano ne' fiumi e ne' fossi de' colli più bassi, ma giammai vengono in pianura.” Ornitologia Toscana, tom. i. p. 201,
“ Abita nell'Italia, ed in molte altri parti d'Europa.” Kanzani, in Elementi de Zoologia, tom. iii. part v. p. 213. VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIV.
(Parus cristatus). The same may be said of the wag-tails, with a like exception of the blue-headed kind (Motacilla neglecta of Gould). The sky-lark rejoices over all Ireland,—the wood-lark (which we have never found in Scotland) is there a residing, but very local species.
Passing over numerous finches, linnets, buntings, &c., found in both islands, we come to the Corvidæ, or crow tribe, of which Ireland possesses as many as can be reasonably expected, that is all that are British, except the nutcracker, (Corvus caryocatactes,) which, besides being merely an accidental bird in England, is scarcely a crow at all. The raven, (Corvus corax,) which is the king of crows, is distributed over all Ireland. It has been much disputed among naturalists, whether birds which feed on carrion or other garbage distinguish their prey by the sense of sight or smell. As so many species feed on living prey which emit no strong or even perceptible odour, we should a priori incline to the belief that the eyes are fully more essential than the nose.
“On one occasion,” says Mr. Thompson, “I had interesting evi. dence of the power of sight in the raven. A nest of young rats, not more than three or four days old, had been dug up in a stubble field, and, after being killed, were left there. Very soon afterwards, two or three ravens passed over the place at a great height, and, on coming above the spot, dropped almost directly down upon them. The young rats had not been ten minutes dead at the time, and consequently could hardly have emitted any effluvium. Besides, they were so small, that, even had they given out any to the air, it seems hardly possible that the odour could have ascended to the great elevation at which the birds had been. Sight alone, I conceive, must in this instance have been the guiding sense.”—Vol. i. p. 305.
We think so too. The carrion crow (Corvus corone) is rather a rare bird in Ireland, and does not seem to have existed there at all in earlier times. In an old tract, printed for the Irish Archæological Society, titled “A Brife description of Ireland, made in this yeare 1589, by Robert Payne," it is recorded that “ There is not that place in Ireland where anye venomous things will liue. There is neither mol, pye, nor carron crow.” The editor, who rejoices in the somewhat ornithological name of Dr. Aquilla Smith, adds, in a note, that there is no authority as to the introduction of the carrion crow into the island; and that Moryson (who wrote in 1617) confirms Payne, by stating,“We have not the blacke crow, but onely crowes of mingled colour, such as wee call Royston crows." The magpie (Pica caudata) is said to be an imported rather than an original species in Ireland. Although a bird of singular beauty, and, in confinement apt to learn, it is a mischievous creature, and why it should have been imported no one knows. Derricke, who wrote his “Image of Ireland" in Queen Elizabeth's time, has recorded that, Magpies not original in Ireland.
“No pies to pluck the thatch from house
Are breed in Irishe grounde,
A thousande may be founde." Smith, in his “ History of the County of Cork," published in 1749, observes that the magpie, “was not known in Ireland seventy years ago, but is now very common;" and Rutty, in his “Natural History of Dublin,” states that “it is a foreigner, naturalized here since the latter end of King James the Second's reign, and is said to have been driven hither by a strong wind.” In the “ Journal to Stella,” Dean Swift makes allusion to the same bird : “ Pray observe the inhabitants about Wexford ; they are old English; see what they have particular in their manners, name, and language. Magpies have been always there, and no where else in Ireland, till of late years.” Mr. Ogilby's commentary (as given by Mr. Yarrell) on this last quotation is as follows:
“ It must be confessed that the testimony afforded by this passage is not so explicit as could be wished. That the magpie existed always, or, in other words, was indigenous to the vicinity of Wexford, and to no other part of the country, is scarcely credible, even if it were not directly contradicted by Derricke. That it might have continued to be a local denizen for a considerable time after its introduction is more probable, and more in accordance with the habits of the bird : and this circumstance of its locality probably gave origin to the popular idea expressed by Swift of its being indigenous to the county of Wexford. We may, however, conclude with greater certainty-for on this point our authority is express—that it was only in the reign of Queen Anne that the bird began to spread generally over the kingdom; that is, at the same period as the introduction of frogs; and indeed I have sometimes heard these two events spoken of traditionally as having been simultaneous. The town of Wexford is remarkable as having been the first place of strength in the island which was reduced and colonized by the English. Even to the present day, the majority of the inhabitants of that part of the country are of English extraction ; and it is not improbable that their forefathers brought the magpie with them from England, perhaps as a pet, to put them in mind of their native land; for it is scarcely possible that any one would voluntarily introduce so mischievous a creature. At all events, St. Patrick's curse, which is said to rest so heavily on the whole tribe of serpents, does not appear to have extended to frogs and magpies, for I know no part of the world where both breeds thrive better or faster than in Ireland.”-British Birds, vol. i. p. 112.