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Title: In a Cheshire Garden - Natural History Notes
Author: Egerton-Warburton, Geoffrey
Language: English
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Internet Archive)



In a Cheshire Garden


[Illustration: The Flower Garden.]



In a Cheshire Garden

Natural History Notes

BY

GEOFFREY EGERTON-WARBURTON,

_Rector of Warburton_.


LONDON

SHERRATT AND HUGHES

Manchester: 34 Cross Street

1912


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.



PREFACE.


These Notes appeared from April to June this year in _The Warrington
Guardian_ and afterwards came out in a de-localised form in _The
Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel_.

I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. P. Ramsdale, of Heatley, for the
photographs of The Old Church, The Yew-tree, and The Flower Garden (as
it was some years ago).

My thanks are due also to Mr. Garrett for kindly allowing me to use his
very interesting photograph of The Two Nests referred to on page 94.



CONTENTS.


CHAP.                                                             PAGE

   I. Introductory                                                   1

  II. Weeds and Alien Plants                                         5

 III. Birds--Thrushes                                               11

  IV. Chats, Robins, and Warblers                                   26

   V. Tits and Wrens                                                37

  VI. Wagtails, Flycatchers, Swallows, and other Insect-eaters      46

 VII. Sparrows and other Finches                                    57

VIII. Finches, Starlings, and Crows                                 67

  IX. Other Birds                                                   77

   X. British Mammals                                               95

  XI. Dogs and Cats                                                103

      Index                                                        113



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


Flower Garden                              _Frontispiece_

                                                    FACE
                                                    PAGE
Old Church                                             6

The Old Yew                                           23

The Sundial                                           38

A Corner in the Garden with Allium Dioscorides        55

Two Nests                                             70

The Food-stand                                        87



I.

INTRODUCTORY.


Although much of the neighbourhood has become semi-urban and any idea
of rural seclusion is destroyed, at least in summer, by the crowds that
find their way to it from Manchester and other large towns, yet the
Cheshire village of Warburton in which this garden is situated is a
real country place still. How long it will remain so is another thing.
One salt works has been set up at Heatley about a mile away and we are
now (1912) promised another, while there is every prospect of land
being let for works in Warburton itself. Who knows, in a few years
perhaps the whole place may be reduced to the desolation of another
Widnes. Then, when it has become a rare thing to find even a blade of
grass on the dreary black waste or to see any bird but a grimy sparrow,
a record of what was once here may be strange reading.

The garden itself about which I write is quite on the northern boundary
of Cheshire, in old days divided from Lancashire by the Mersey only.
The soil is light and sandy, not far from the rock in places and in
places with water at a very little depth below the surface. It is well
suited to hollies and rhododendrons, both of which grow abundantly and
luxuriantly, as also do yews. There are a good number of ordinary
deciduous trees, chiefly on the old bank of the river, such as oak,
sycamore, chestnut, birch, beech, and alder, but no conifers of any age
except one or two Scotch firs. There is one flourishing deadara which I
planted myself and a few young Austrian pines that seem to be doing
well.

A spruce fir that I once planted behaved in an extraordinary way;
instead of growing straight, it shot up in a zigzag fashion, the
leading shoot one year going off at an angle of 60 degrees or so, and
the next year harking back and starting in the opposite direction at
about the same angle.

Few of the trees can be more than 80 years old. I think most of them
would have been planted by my father, who was rector from 1833 to 1849.
There is however a remarkable old yew in the adjoining churchyard. The
half of it, just below where the branches spring, measures nearly nine
feet round. The other half has entirely gone, so has practically the
whole of the substance, the wood of the trunk, and what is left of the
still standing side is little more than a shell with a coating of bark.
Notwithstanding this there is quite a fair-sized head of leafy young
branches (which by the way has greatly increased since I first remember
the tree 40 years ago) growing up amidst the ruins of the old
far-reaching boughs. These yet remain to tell something of the wide
and grateful shade they once afforded to our "rude forefathers" as on
summer Sundays they waited for service to begin, just as I remember the
last generation gathered and gossipped under younger yews when this was
the Parish Church. This yew is the "thousand-year-old tree" of the
clerk's tale to visitors, and if one thinks how many years of slow
growth it must have taken to form a trunk of that thickness, say 18
feet in circumference, and how many more for it to have decayed away to
its present condition, it does indeed carry us back to an early date in
English history when the little green shoot that sprang from the
crimson-coated seed first saw the light.

One great drawback from a gardener's point of view is the prevalence of
strong, cold, N.-W. winds in spring. The winters are not so severe as
they often are further south, but the late spring frosts are sometimes
disastrous. We have had potatoes cut down by frost as late as June
21st, but the worst spring frost I have known was in May, 1894, just
about the time that Queen Victoria came to Manchester to open the Ship
Canal. On three consecutive nights, May 19, 20 and 21, there was frost,
and its intensity seemed to increase each night. Not only were potatoes
cut, but garden peas and many hardy herbaceous plants and even common
weeds. (I noticed that those with a northern aspect suffered least.)
The shoots and buds of roses were scorched, and the young leaves of
most trees and shrubs. Hollies suffered especially, but even yew and
rhododendron, oak, sycamore, and chestnut did not escape. The only tree
that weathered the cold with impunity was the hawthorn, the tenderest
leaves and tips of which were not injured. (This was not the case
though in the severe frost of Easter 1903.) Royal, male, and lady ferns
were shrivelled up to a greater or less degree, but parsley and oak
fern were unharmed.

We miss one gardener's friend here, but we escape the attentions of one
enemy. Though frogs are common enough, toads are very rare. I remember
to have seen only one during all the many years I have known the
garden. On the other hand, whilst I have a dim recollection of having
once found an old snail-shell, I cannot say for certain that I have
ever seen a snail, though of shell-less slugs in all sizes there is no
scarcity.



II.

WEEDS AND ALIEN PLANTS.


A slight knowledge of botany adds greatly to the interest of a garden,
and is besides often of practical value. With such knowledge, one forms
a habit of looking even at weeds with some interest, and this has led
to my finding several strange plants among them. I have for example
come across the following in the kitchen garden:

"Saponaria vaccaria," with its curious angled calyx and pretty pink
flower.

"Galium tricorne," very much like common goose-grass or cleavers, but
rare in England, and quite unknown in this neighbourhood.

Annual mercury (closely allied to the common perennial Dog's mercury),
green and dull-looking, only of interest because it is rare.

"Holosteum umbellatum," which again is rare and not much more
attractive to the casual observer.

"Draba muralis," allied to "Shepherd's purse," and not unlike it, but
as rare as that is common.

"Melilotus officinalis," a graceful yellow pea-flower. When this first
appeared it was quite a stranger in these parts, but afterwards for
several years it was continually turning up in different corners of
the garden, indeed even in 1911, twenty-six years since its first
visit, I found a stray specimen.

"Ranunculus arvensis," a weak-looking buttercup with curious rough seed
vessels.

"Scandix Pecten-Veneris," an ordinary unattractive umbelliferous plant,
but with extraordinary long beaks to the fruit, which are supposed to
be like the teeth of a comb. Both of these are I believe common in
other parts of the country, but they are unusual here.

"Poa nemoralis," a stranger grass of elegant growth, came one year in
the rougher part of a rock-border. It was made welcome and kindly
treated, but though allowed to follow its own devices and though
several seedlings sprang up round it, they were all gone in a year or
two. A rarer grass still, "Setaria glauca," once turned up in a
cucumber frame.

In 1907, a seedling fig came up close to the wall of the house. It has
now (1912) several shoots about eight feet long. The same year another
seedling fig appeared in the kitchen garden, and that too I have
transplanted to a warm corner of the house-wall, where it has made a
nice bush.

For several years we have found seedling tomatoes growing in the
kitchen garden, and in 1911 we gathered seven pounds of green tomatoes
from two plants to make into jam.

[Illustration: Old Church.]

When first I came here, and for a long time afterwards, "Erysimum
cheiranthoides" was always among the kitchen garden weeds, and one year
I found growing in a bed of onions its near relative "Erysimum
orientale," which is quite a rare British plant.

Greater celandine, a rather handsome perennial with somewhat glaucous
leaves and bright yellow flowers, used to be an abundant weed on the
banks and among the bushes, and is still (1911) to be found in the
garden, though in diminished quantity.

In 1889, a strange plant appeared which puzzled me a good deal at
first. It was tall and straggling, but had no flowers. Next spring
there were several of the same plants, very much branched with
something of the habit of a mugwort, and long spikes of flowers at the
end of every branch. I discovered it to be a species of "Ambrosia," a
native of North America, but I soon discovered also that it increased
by underground runners in every direction, and was only too thankful to
get rid of it.

Two years before, I had found another visitor, this time from South
America, with bright yellow flowers, evidently allied to forget-me-not,
which proved to be an "Amsinckia" (intermedia ?). There were about 20
plants of this annual in one border and several others in other parts
of the garden. With some consideration, but with no particular care on
my part, it has maintained itself in more or less quantity in the same
herbaceous border ever since.

In 1897, a single plant of an "Allium" appeared and grew to a height of
more than five feet, straight up with very stout stems, one and a half
inches in circumference, and handsome heads of reddish-green
bell-shaped flowers on drooping stalks, which afterwards, in fruit,
became quite straight and upright. I found it to be "Allium
Dioscorides," a native of Sicily and Sardinia. There were many tubers
at the root when I took it up, but none of them ever grew so tall and
fine as the original.

One or two plants that I have introduced myself have proved very
tiresome weeds. In 1875 or thereabouts, I brought back from the wild
part of a large garden in the neighbourhood a balsam with rather a
conspicuous yellow flower ("Impatiens noli-me-tangere," I think). It
made itself at home at once, but as it would keep within no bounds, I
have done all I could "to get without it," as they would say here, but
it defies me to my face and in spite of relentless persecution, again
and again every spring it comes up smiling in an abundant crop.

So indeed does a tall polygonum ("P. cuspidatum" I believe it is) that
I brought back from the same garden about the same time. It absolutely
refuses to budge from the place where I first allowed it to grow. It
does not perpetuate itself by seed like the balsam, but from little
odds and ends of rootlets and suckers that hide themselves in the soil.

What I take to be a variety of "Oxalis corniculata," a very pretty
little thing with dark reddish-brown leaves and deep yellow flowers, is
another uncontrollable subject. It is perennial and yet increases by
seed as fast as a balsam.

A plant which on the top of a stone wall is very pretty, "Linaria
vulgaris," has proved a veritable plague to me in the garden. I had it
sent to me originally by a nurseryman for the "Peloria" variety, and as
if the disappointment of that were not enough, it added insult to
injury, or rather injury to insult, by running below the surface in a
provoking and persevering manner and showing itself in most unexpected
places. Although the normal "vulgaris" is so irrepressible, I have
found "Peloria" quite the reverse, and have never been able to keep it
above a year or two.

The double-flowered varieties of most plants are, as a rule, more
difficult than the ordinary single, but a little potentilla ("reptans"
?) with a yellow ball of double flower has proved an exception here. No
single-flowered plant could get over and under the ground faster than
this has done.

In 1886, in an out-of-the-way path among trees, an orchid, "Epipactis
latifolia," came up in the very middle. I took care that it was not
disturbed, and found it again in exactly the same place four years
later, no sign of it having been seen in the interval. Never before, or
since, have I found a plant of that or any other orchis growing wild in
the garden.

One year (1887) in a border nearly full of rhododendrons, close to the
front door, a curious looking thing made its way above the ground,
which, at first sight might have been put down as something between a
hyacinth and a lily-of-the-valley, but was said to be "Muscari
comosum." I had never planted it and during the fifteen years that I
had been here had never seen anything like it. I very carefully marked
the spot when it died down, but from that time to this (1911) during
all the 24 years that have passed it has never shown itself again.



III.

BIRDS--THRUSHES.


You can feel something like affection even for a plant, when you have
watched over it and attended to its likes and dislikes as to aspect,
soil, moisture, shade and so on, and when it has responded to your care
and rewarded you for the pains you have spent upon it, but birds become
personal friends, it is an interest and amusement to study their
characters and habits, and a delight to listen to their voices. And
this friendship is not for any one particular bird (though of course
there may be that sometimes), but for the particular species of bird,
any one of which that you happen to meet with anywhere seems like an
old friend. A lively impudent tom-tit for instance is the same amusing
companion and it is the same pleasure to hear his cheery note, whether
you find him in a suburban garden or in some shady corner of a wood.

Of course it is a day to be marked with a white stone when you come
across a new or a rare bird, but if you watch the commonest
sympathetically and intelligently you have an endless fund of interest
and amusement. The quarrels, the loves, the boldness and ingenuity even
of a sparrow may divert your mind pleasantly and help you to put away
worries. Then how eagerly in spring does one listen for the first note
of a willow-warbler, what an interest is the first sight of a swallow,
and how gladly one welcomes each of our summer visitors as in turn they
arrive from passing the winter in the Sahara oases or among our friends
in the Transvaal or Cape Colony.

In a country unexplored or newly settled it may not be the same, but in
England there is no need to spoil the charm of friendship by use of the
collector's gun. All British birds have been so well illustrated and
described that it ought to be possible to tell most of them by careful
observation without actually having them in one's hand. In the
interests of science, to make sure of the discovery of a new species or
the distribution of a known one, birds must sometimes be shot (and
after all to be shot is a less cruel end than to fall a prey to their
natural enemies), but to shoot a well-known bird simply for the sake of
its skin is another matter. A man who shoots every rare bird he sees,
that he may add it to his private collection, is sacrificing bird-life
for his own selfish pleasure and disregarding the sentiments and
interests of the great body of nature-lovers and students. The true
naturalist does not collect specimens as he would postage stamps; to
study the life of a wren in its natural surroundings is more to him
than anything he can do with the dried skin of a golden eagle.

They say that there is in Switzerland a law which forbids the shooting
of any bird without a licence. If some such law could be enforced here,
rare birds that seek hospitality among us would no longer be at the
mercy of every idle lout who happens to have a gun. And is it
impossible that children might be taught to find pleasure in watching,
and not, as seems generally the case now, in destroying life?

We often have a pair of missel-thrushes ("shercocks" in Cheshire)
nesting here. Generally they build in a tree at some distance away,
where they make their presence known by noisy attacks on other birds;
but once they had their nest in a Scotch fir close to the house, and
then they were so quiet as almost to escape notice altogether.

There were two nests in the old churchyard this year (1912). One in a
Spanish Chestnut was about thirty feet from the ground, in the middle
of a clump of little shoots that grew straight up on the top side of a
thick branch. This branch overhangs a patch of grass running close to
the boundary wall and on this green boys were playing football with
much shouting and noise every evening. The nest stood out plainly to be
seen, and for a week before they flew (which they did on April 20th)
you could easily count all four young ones. The other nest was in a
yew, under which there is a seat in summer, and was simply set on the
top of one of the lowest spreading boughs without any attempt at
concealment. It was at the end of the bough and not six feet from the
ground, within easy reach of anyone. It could, however, only be seen
when you were actually under the tree and probably would never have
been noticed at all but for the behaviour of the birds themselves.
After the eggs were hatched they attacked everybody who went under or
even near the tree, swooping down suddenly from you didn't know where
and almost dashing into your face, indeed they would often hit your
hat. I am glad to say this display of courage was not wasted, for the
young birds safely flew on May 17th.

Missel-thrush is said to be short for mistletoe-thrush, and to mark the
singular taste of the bird for mistletoe berries. Mistletoe is scarce
with us, but they do appear to depend more upon berries of every kind
than either throstles or blackbirds, and one year I remember when the
yews bore an extraordinary crop of berries, the trees were quite alive
with the missel-thrushes that came to eat them. I would say, by the
way, that a great part of the holly berries are sometimes left
untouched by birds, and I have seen trees in summer quite red with the
berries of the previous year.

One or two missel-thrushes generally come to the food-stand in winter
and show themselves expert in getting fat from the supposed
sparrow-proof receptacles.

Though missel-thrushes are common their song is not familiar. It has
been described as much better than a throstle's; I do not know if that
is the general opinion. It certainly is simpler without the same
repetition, and it has seemed to me more mellow, more like a
blackbird's when I have heard it, but that is not often. Throstles will
sometimes sing continuously all the winter through, and early in the
year I have listened most carefully to catch the notes of their bigger
brothers, but only very seldom with success. They have, however, an
autumn song which I first noticed at the end of September a good many
years ago. I became aware one day of a bird's song that seemed to be
sometimes the note of a blackbird, sometimes of a throstle. After
listening for several days I came to the conclusion that it must have
been one of the many starlings that were singing everywhere, one that
had learnt more or less successfully to imitate a throstle. However, I
never could make sure, for I never could catch sight of the singer, he
would hide himself in a holly or a yew, and would at once stop singing
if I went near. At last, one day I heard him at the top of a sycamore
which was nearly bare of leaves, and managed to bring a glass to bear
on him; even then his body was hidden by a bough and his head was all
that I could see, but the head was plainly that of a thrush. While I
watched I could distinctly see him turn his eye down on me, and he was
off in an instant; but though I only got a glimpse as he flew away,
there was no mistaking the flight of a missel-thrush. It seemed curious
to me at the time that he should be singing at all then, and that he
should be so shy about it.

Song-thrushes, or throstles as they are called in Cheshire, are always
plentiful, but not always to the same extent. They were, for instance,
very much thinned in numbers by the hard winter of 1895, but in a
couple of years they abounded again, and I heard people complain of
their night's rest being spoilt, there were so many and they sang so
early and so loud. From April to June they sing almost incessantly,
from earliest light until quite dark. They begin at three in the
morning, or even earlier, and sing their loudest for about an hour;
then there seems somewhat of a lull, but they soon start again in full
chorus, and go on singing more or less throughout the day, sometimes
until past nine at night. In 1905, on the longest day of the year, I
woke at 2-30 a.m. to hear a throstle in full song just outside my
window, and at 9-30 p.m. a throstle, almost certainly the same bird,
was singing in the same place. I have often wondered how, with so much
time devoted to musical exercises, they manage to find enough for the
more important business of feeding themselves and their hungry broods.

A blackbird's song is, I think, always a love song, but mere exuberance
of spirits will make a throstle sing. I have seen one sing snatches of
his song whilst hunting for worms on the grass, as though he were too
full of joyousness to contain himself, and a couple of them will sing
at one another during intervals of quarrelling on the ground. There
seems at all times more rivalry and contention between throstles
throughout the whole season, and less of the spirit of _camaraderie_
that one so often sees with blackbirds, at least when once they have
settled the momentous question of pairing.

Within the bounds of general similarity much variety can be heard in
the songs of throstles; no two seem to be exactly alike, and some birds
are far better singers, have a much clearer, more musical note than
others.

In 1907, and again in 1909, I noticed that throstles were in full song
everywhere on July 15th, just as though it had been the middle of May.

A particular throstle will choose his favourite spot to sing from, and
will keep to it more or less throughout the season. The point of a
gable of the house is one such place (it is a Cheshire belief that a
throstle brings you good luck when he chooses your house to sing
from), the top of the highest chimney has been another, and the
weathercock on the outbuildings has been chosen year after year by a
throstle as his own peculiar stand. This last is a favourite platform
for the musical performances of other birds as well; a robin constantly
uses it, and a swallow, and more than once I have seen a little wren
there singing away with all his might, a might altogether out of
proportion to his tiny body.

Whilst most throstles seem to like as high a perch as possible to sing
from, I remember one that habitually poured forth the flood of his
melody raised above the level of the ground by a clod of earth only.

One morning (in March, 1897) I heard a throstle uttering a peculiar
shrill kind of cry, not a long-drawn-out note such as I have twice
heard from a blackbird, but a succession rather of short notes. At
first I couldn't make out what or where the noise was, but traced it
after a time to the thrush, who continually uttered the cry as he was
hunting for worms on the grass.

A standing marvel is the way in which a thrush can tell that there is a
worm below the ground at a particular place. As he goes hopping about
in a promiscuous sort of way, he suddenly stops with his head on one
side looking and listening for a second, then he pounces on the exact
spot and forthwith pulls out a worm. Sometimes he makes a mistake, or,
at all events, fails to make a catch, but not often. How does he do it?
Does his quick sight detect some slight movement, or his quick ear some
slight sound? Or has he any other sense of smell or sensation that
helps him? Another marvel about the matter to anyone who has himself
tried to pull a worm out of the ground is the ease with which a thrush
manages so neatly and quickly to extract its victim entire.

I have found a throstle's nest in the side of a haystack, and was told
of one in a pigstye and of another inside the porch of a house. In 1901
a throstle built in the roof of the lychgate of the churchyard close to
this garden. Although the first nest was taken she made another in the
same place and had very nearly hatched her eggs when again the
thoughtless cruelty of boys made all her labour vain and abused the
confidence she had so bravely shown in men. She used to sit on quite
calmly, though only just above the heads of people as they went through
the gate.

Generally speaking, throstles are so tame here that they hardly move
out of your way, at most hopping a foot or two further off; and one
will go on with his song undisturbed as I pass through an archway of
pink thorn on which he is perched not two feet above. They are
naturally, I think, more friendly in their disposition towards human
beings than blackbirds, which go clattering off whenever they see you
near them.

In May, 1902, there must have been at least 20 throstles' nests in the
garden itself. There were five, all in holly bushes, within 30 yards,
by the side of one path, two in one tree, both of which had young ones
in them at the same time. One bird had a nest just over the entrance to
the house porch, through which we were in and out the whole day long,
and we saw nothing of it until the young were hatched. Another chose an
extraordinarily exposed situation, in a rhododendron just opposite the
front door, from which we could see her quite plainly as she sat. The
nest was actually not more than a foot or so from a little narrow path.
We were constantly up and down this path and could hardly avoid
brushing the leaves at the end of the very bough on which the nest was
built, yet I never once saw her fly off. She used to keep her eye on
us, but did not move even if we stood still only a few feet away and
looked at her. This nest was under continual observation from the
laying of the first egg to the flight of the last nestling, which
remained for the best part of a day after the rest had flown.

On the other hand, in strange contrast to this confidence, there were
three nests farther away from the house (one indeed absurdly close to a
gate in constant use), from which the birds flew off with a loud,
startled cry if one waited for a moment near them. In one of these
three nests the brood was reared, but of the other two one was deserted
and one taken.

In 1899 a friend in the village assured me that there had been a
throstle's nest with eight eggs in it close to her house. As only four
of them, she said, hatched, perhaps the first hen was killed after she
had laid her complement of eggs, and the cock brought home another mate
to his ready-made nest.

I find a note that once I saw throstles join with starlings in their
raid upon elder-berries, but I have seen nothing since to confirm this.

Until the winter of 1910-11 I very seldom found a throstle attempt to
get the fat put out for tits; they generally content themselves with
the crumbs that have fallen on the ground underneath. If the weather is
at all severe they will come with sparrows to the fowls' food, but in a
sharp, continuous frost they disappear almost entirely. (Blackbirds and
some missel-thrushes remain.) This was very marked in February, 1902.
Before the severe cold began throstles were plentiful; after it had
continued for a few days not a single one was to be seen; but when the
thaw set in, in less than a week they abounded again on every side.

Some redwings come here every winter, but they are less common than
fieldfares and they are not so noticeable. The points of difference
between a redwing and a throstle, the rather smaller size, the red on
the side, the slight variations in shades of colour and markings, may
easily be passed over.

I have from my window seen a single redwing quite close to the house,
in company with a single fieldfare, both busy with the holly berries,
and in February, 1909, I saw all five of the commoner British thrushes
collected together and between them quite covering a field which had
lately been broken up by a subsoil cultivator.

A farmer tells me that the local name for redwing is "Kit," but I see
in "The Birds of Cheshire" that "Kit" is given as one of the names for
fieldfare.

We see fieldfares chiefly when they first arrive in October, and again
in early spring, before they leave, but, of course, there are some with
us most of the winter. The people here call them "Bluebacks," and it
was remarked as a curious thing in the late cold spring of 1891 that on
April 24th bluebacks were heard on one side of a field and a cuckoo on
the other.

[Illustration: Old Yew Tree.]

Blackbirds are, I think, nearly as plentiful as throstles, in spite of
relentless persecution by strawberry-growing market gardeners.
Sometimes, indeed, one is oneself compelled to own that we have a few
more blackbirds than we really want. In hot, dry summers, when the
ground is hard, they do much damage to the apple crop. Not content with
making short work with the "windfalls," they peck holes in some of the
best fruit on the trees. I noticed this especially in 1899, and again
in 1901 and 1911. In 1899 I saw four cock blackbirds amicably devouring
a fallen apple together.

Though a blackbird's song is beautifully mellow, it is generally
disconnected and fragmentary, but I remember hearing one once that
seemed continuous, or at least much more so than usual.

One day at the end of March (in 1895) I saw perched on a twig of an oak
tree and sitting quite close up against the trunk, a cock blackbird,
which continually uttered a small, thin sharp note, almost like the
squeaking of a slate pencil. He sat still in the same position for a
considerable time, only opening his mouth at intervals of about a
minute, or half a minute, to make this doleful noise. The same year, on
June 15th, in exactly the same place, a cock blackbird went through
exactly the same performance.

Every winter blackbirds have been amongst the most regular pensioners
at the food-stand.

Several times during May in 1898, and again in 1899 and 1900 and since,
I noticed a meeting of three, always, I think, three, cock blackbirds
at one particular spot, always the same, near a holly tree on the
lawn, which happens to be just opposite my window, where I could watch
them easily and unobserved. They seemed to go through a regular set
performance, like a game or a dance. They did not fight, though they
sometimes sparred a little, but ran round and round and in and out,
following and passing one another. It reminded me of a friendly
gathering of husbands for amusement, while their wives were busy with
household cares at home!

I was much interested one day (March, 1902) in the proceedings of two
pair of blackbirds. One very elegant cock, slender and graceful, with
intensely black coat and very bright orange bill, was seeking to
impress the hen of his choice by a series of little runs on every side
of her, with his tail spread out and sweeping the grass, his body in
the shape of a bow, his beak almost touching the ground; meanwhile, the
object of all this attention seemed to consider it a mere matter of
course and to be calmly indifferent. Presently another cock, not nearly
so spruce, came on the scene accompanied by another mate. The gallant
dandy evidently had no stomach for fighting, and promptly disappeared
behind a holly bush when the newcomer threatened to assault him. His
partner, however, was made of sterner stuff, and without more ado
attacked and drove away both the intruders.

I have never heard that there is any real difference in size, but hen
blackbirds appear bigger than cocks, just as young gulls in immature
plumage seem larger than old ones. I suppose the different colour has
something to do with it, and perhaps the cock's feathers are more
closely set than the hen's.

My wife told me that she had seen one evening in September (1907) 16
blackbirds on the tennis ground together. This seems perhaps rather a
large order, as they say, but in the following September I counted nine
myself, to the best of my belief, all of them cocks.



IV.

CHATS, ROBINS AND WARBLERS.


In spring, and again in autumn, wheatears pass through, and may be seen
about for several days at a time. In April and May, 1908, a pair stayed
so long in some rough ground near the bank of the Ship Canal that I
thought they might be going to take up their quarters there for the
season, but by May 31st they had disappeared.

We always have a fair number of whinchats in the meadows, and hardly a
year passes without seeing them on the grass in the garden itself. One
very wet summer, when in the low-lying lands the haycocks were standing
for days surrounded by water, I remember being struck by the number of
whinchats to be seen perching and chatting first on one haycock and
then on another.

Though whinchats are so comparatively common, and their usual note,
exactly like the knocking of two pebbles together, is constantly heard,
their pretty little song, a cadence of a few notes repeated over and
over again, I do not remember to have noticed here.

Only once have I seen a stonechat in the neighbourhood of this garden.
This was in October, 1890. On the opposite side of the river the land
had been raised by material excavated in the making of the Ship Canal,
and was at that time wild and covered with a strong growth of all kinds
of weeds. It was on a wire fence that ran along this bank that I saw
the bright little bird. And there, with a curious pendulum-like
movement of its tail, it continued to sit for a considerable time,
giving me ample opportunity to study it leisurely through a
field-glass.

Though redstarts are not uncommon in Dunham Park a few miles away, only
once have I seen one in the garden, in August, 1894. It stayed for
several days, and was never far away from the place where I first saw
it. I noticed that other birds who are at home here, wagtails
especially, seemed to look upon it as an interloper and resented its
intrusion.

One of the first things that I remember about the natural history of
Warburton is a brood of four white--or more strictly speaking,
cream-coloured--robins that were hatched in a neighbouring garden in
1872. They were jealously watched over by the owner of the garden, and
I often saw two of them until the autumn. Then they must either have
been taken (and many people were after them) or have moulted to the
ordinary robin colours, for we saw them no more.

Robins are plentiful in the garden and in the neighbourhood generally.
They show much courage and skill in getting at the fat on the
food-stand, no matter how greatly the difficulties of doing so may have
been multiplied.

It has been said that robins have more power than most birds to see
through the window into a room, and I certainly have observed that
though as a rule neither robins nor tits take much notice if I am
standing close by the window, yet sometimes a robin appears that will
spy me out as I sit by the fire quite far away and be off in an
instant. I have sometimes wondered if such wild robins might be
immigrants from the Continent, where by all accounts they are less tame
than in England.

Robins are pugnacious, and their duels are not unfrequently to the
death. I have seen a robin pursue a sparrow and even fly straight at a
great-tit and knock it off the food-stand, but I have noticed that
generally a robin makes way for a sparrow, and seldom stands up to a
tit of any kind, not even a marsh or a coal-tit, birds hardly half its
size. I remember one, however, in the winter of 1900-01 who
indiscriminately attacked all tits on the food-stand. He was very
friendly with me, and used to watch as I filled the receptacles, when
he would come close up and wait for a bit to be thrown to him, and
often as he saw me coming he would sit on a corner of the porch roof
and warble a little song of welcome. Another year (1901-02) two,
sometimes three, and occasionally four, robins would be there together
almost under my feet and ready to pick up anything I threw them. Very
unlike most robins, they seemed on perfectly good terms with one
another.

In November, 1905, a robin used to come into the house through the open
windows and make himself quite at home; he would sometimes sit and sing
on the bannisters in the hall.

I saw a very tame robin at Budworth in 1904. I was in the garden with
the lady to whom it belonged when the bird flew on to her hand, and he
used to come into the drawing-room without any hesitation and take his
place at afternoon tea.

In 1910 a pair of robins built in the pulpit desk of Oughtrington
Church near here, and hatched out four young ones. A friend who went to
service one Sunday evening in June saw a robin flying about and singing
until the sermon began, but then it took up a position on the back of a
seat near the pulpit and looked up at the preacher, quite silent and
apparently listening.

One of the prettiest little episodes of bird-life is the delicate
attention bestowed by a robin on the chosen partner of his joys and
cares that I have several times witnessed during April and May. Whilst
she remained watching and waiting on the ground below, he would fly up
to the food-stand and secure a morsel which, with a tender grace, he
presented to her. The gallant devotion so plainly expressed by the one
and the caressing, coquetting airs of the other were most amusing. I
have seen, too, about the same time of the year, one robin feeding
another with flies picked from the grass and the lower boughs of a
deadara tree. The robin that was being fed did not attempt to pick up
anything for itself, but sat there on the grass quivering its wings and
opening its mouth like a nestling.

Robins often catch flies in the air, flying up from the ground after
them, and I have seen one dart off from the branch of a tree, capture a
passing fly and return again to the same perch, for all the world like
a flycatcher.

One showery day in spring I saw a robin on the food-stand washing
itself in the rain, spreading out its wings, shaking its feathers,
bobbing and ducking about as though it had been in a bath, and I have
noticed one washing in wet leaves and drinking from the tips of leaves.

Greater whitethroats are as common in this garden and neighbourhood as
in most places. One that had its nest by the old river bank used to
come and scold whenever I went near, and never ceased until I left.
Such a proceeding looks like a case of instinct playing a bird false,
and serving only to draw attention to what it is wished to conceal.

Lesser whitethroats come to us every year, and may be said to be fairly
common in the village. They are always shy and restless and more
frequently heard than seen.

There was a lesser whitethroat's nest one year (1898) in a holly bush,
in which all five young ones used to be, whenever I looked at them,
apparently sleepy, with their heads shoved up over the side of the
nest. They never opened their mouths when we went near, and yet often
as I watched I never saw the parents feed them.

Blackcaps are not uncommon within easy reach of us, but only twice have
I seen one actually in the garden. The first time the unusual sound of
its wonderfully clear note attracted my attention was in July, 1899.
The bird stayed here then for several days, singing occasionally all
the while. The second time a blackcap came was in May, 1903. It was in
the garden for about ten days, and I hoped it might be going to nest
here, especially as one day I thought I saw a pair.

I noticed a difference in habits between the July bird and the one that
came in May. In July, when the joys and cares of family life were over,
there was more deliberation and less shyness. I was able to watch the
bird easily and for a long time together. In May he was restless and
very wary, and it was with difficulty I could get a glimpse of him. He
was always on the move, hunting about in the tops of the trees, and, I
thought, singing in competition with the willow-wrens.

The blackcap is often placed next to the nightingale as a songster, but
there is a very wide interval between them. The most inattentive
listener can hardly fail to notice a nightingale's song, but people who
are not accustomed to distinguish the different notes of birds are
often quite unaware of the presence of a singing blackcap, as the tone
of his song mingles with the general chorus.

Golden-crested wrens are not uncommon in winter, but I have never found
a nest here. I notice them most often in October and November, as they
are hunting in and out the yews and Scotch firs, sometimes a large
party, sometimes only a single pair.

One June day I was sitting in a cousin's garden in Wales, when out of
an arbor-vitæ close by appeared a dilapidated-looking gold-crest, which
set to work violently and persistently to abuse me. Herein, I think,
like the whitethroat mentioned before, it displayed either a perversion
of instinct or a want of sense. If it had only kept quiet I should not
have thought of a nest, but it told me so plainly that it had one in
that very tree that I looked as a matter of course and found it,
packed with fully-fledged young ones.

Chiffchaffs never stay with us, though they are to be found only a few
miles away, but I sometimes see them and hear their well-known note in
spring and autumn for a day or two.

Willow-warblers abound ("Peggy whitethroat" is the Cheshire name), and
it is a delight to catch for the first time each spring their lovely
little song, of which, unlike the wearisome iteration of the
chiffchaff, one never tires. The American naturalist, John Burroughs,
describes the willow-warbler's strain as the most melodious he heard in
England, and the only one exhibiting the best qualities of American
songsters. He adds: "It is too fine for the ordinary English ear!" As
if on a visit of a few weeks to a strange country he could possibly
know what most English people either thought or liked!

Willow-wrens as a rule keep pretty high up in the trees, but one
sometimes sees them on the grass picking up flies or flying up after
them in the air. Later on in summer they hunt for insects in the
kitchen garden, and are often to be seen running up and down the
pea-sticks.

Though silent in July, they sing again after the middle of August. I
have known a willow-wren's nest here in the middle of a roughish piece
of ground that was continually walked over, about as unprotected
position as you could wish, and yet the young were successfully reared.
I have seen a willow-wren attack and drive away a perfectly inoffensive
marsh-tit that happened to alight near it on the grass.

The wood-wren, with its "sibilous shivering note," I have heard at
Budworth, a few miles away, but never in this garden or immediate
neighbourhood.

The garden-warbler, too, is quite a stranger, and I have never
recognised it in these parts at all. In May, 1900, I saw and heard one
for several days in a garden in North Wales, where it is generally
supposed to be unknown.

Sedge-warblers sing incessantly when first they come, but after they
have been here for a little while are much less frequently heard. They
usually are hidden in the depths of a bush when singing, but I have
seen one pouring out its impetuous song mounted on a telephone wire in
the open, 20 feet from the ground, and another that sang as it was
flying. For several years a sedge-warbler has begun to sing again here
in July, not having been heard for some weeks previously. In 1907, for
example, from July 24th to August 2nd, he could, without much
exaggeration, be said to have sung all day and all night. I heard him
at seven in the morning when I got up and at twelve at night when I
went to bed, and I have a note of much the same thing in 1910, about
the same date. The bird that year chose as his special platform the
lower branches of a sycamore, and would every now and then fly off into
the air singing all the while at the very top of his voice, and then
return to the tree to sing again.

Hedgesparrows are common enough all the year round, and are great
favourites of mine. They are elegant birds in their modest way, they
are unobtrusive and useful, and their song, if not brilliant, is
pleasant, and like that of the wren and the robin, it helps to cheer
the dull winter months when the more famous warblers are away enjoying
the warmth of some sunny southern country.

There is no month in the year in which at one time or another I have
not heard the hedge-sparrow's song, but March is the time of all others
to hear it, then it seems impossible to get away from it at any hour of
the day.

Hedgesparrows creep about in a mouse-like fashion peculiar to
themselves, with a series of little running jumps, and the continual
shuffling or flipping movement of their wings is very noticeable.

They will take their share of the fowls' food with other birds, and
will come all round the food-stand and pick up the minutest morsels of
something on the ground, but (except in the case of a bird in the cold
weather of January, 1902), I have never seen one make an attempt to get
at the food on the stand itself.

Sometimes on first turning out on a dark winter's morning, between
seven and eight, hedgesparrows will be squatting on the path, and will
almost let you walk over them before they get out of your way.



V.

TITS AND WRENS.


Only once, in August, 1904, have I caught sight of a party of
long-tailed tits in the garden, but a friend who lived hardly a mile
away used to tell me that little parties of eight or nine might be seen
flying through his orchard nearly every winter. I think he said they
called them "churns," or something that sounded like that.

Great-tits are common the whole year round; and very handsome they look
when their suits of velvet-black and yellow are at their best. They are
constant visitors to the food-stand, and are not baffled by any
contrivance for excluding sparrows, but they are not so plucky or so
clever at it as tom-tits. They are hectoring, full of bustle and
importance, and make themselves generally disagreeable to other birds,
but I have seldom, if ever, seen one great-tit attack another.
Sometimes one sees a pair of the quietest possible character; on the
most affectionate terms with one another they will come to the stand
together and appear perfectly oblivious of the presence there of any
other birds.

It is not at all uncommon to see a great-tit with a crooked tail,
slightly sickle-shaped. It cannot always be the same bird, for it is 16
years since I first noticed a bird with such a tail, and nearly every
year still (1912) I see one.

One may often hear a tapping sound in trees and shrubs that is made by
a great-tit, and I have watched the bird after considerable tapping
draw out a grub of some sort from under the bark. I noticed on another
occasion that a tit in making this tapping noise was beating something
(through the glass it looked like a beetle) which it held in its beak
against a bough of the tree.

Like tom-tits, great-tits will fly off with grains of Indian corn, and,
like coal-tits, they are fond of sunflower seeds. (In spite of what
Gilbert White says, I have never seen tom-tits here touch sunflower
seeds.)

A great-tit has a note very much like the "pink, pink" of a chaffinch,
which he occasionally uses.

Though great-tits are, no doubt, handsome birds, they are not nearly so
interesting in my opinion as either of the other three common kinds of
tit. None of them, indeed, can really compare in interest with that
audacious little villain, the tom-tit, or blue-tit, or, as he is called
here, blue-cap. He is so full of spirits, so resolute and domineering,
I delight to hear his cheery little song, if it is to be called a
song.

[Illustration: Sundial in Old Church Yard.]

Tom-tits in abundance come to the food-stand, which in the first
instance was specially intended for their benefit. They will come more
or less the whole year through if the food is left there, but, of
course, many more in winter than in summer, and most of all in February
and the beginning of March, when I have counted twelve on the stand at
once, but the numbers fall off very quickly towards the middle of
March.

I have noticed every year that at certain times of the day, especially
from about 12.30 to 1.30, there is a marked increase in numbers. In
winter at least no five minutes passes without one or more birds
appearing, but at mid-day, and again to a lesser extent just before it
begins to get dark, they seem literally to swarm.

I have found that all tits, as well as sparrows and robins, prefer a
mixture of bread and fat to fat alone. During February and March, 1897,
I weighed all the bread and fat consumed on the food-stand and found
that it was as nearly as possible eleven pounds. Lately I have added
cocoanuts to the bill of fare; they are appreciated by the tits, but
blackbirds, robins and thrushes prefer the bread and fat mixture, or
rather they do not seem to care at all for the cocoanuts.

It is curious to see how quickly birds discover that food has been put
out on the stand. One year, after the receptacles had been empty for
weeks in the summer, I put in some fat, and in less than five minutes
a tom-tit was there. Another time I made a longish block of wood,
bored nearly through with holes, which were filled with fat smoothed
off level with the surface. This block was hung with the holes
downwards, so that from above it could look like a bit of wood only. It
was hung up at 10.30 a.m., and at 11.30 a tom-tit had found it out, and
was eating away at the fat as he clung to the block back downwards.

Tom-tits, unlike great-tits, bully one another most unmercifully. They
can recognize each other at a great distance. A tom-tit on the
food-stand seems to know at once whether another arriving on the
nearest tree, some ten yards or more away, is his superior or inferior
in prowess. Sometimes he will ruffle up his feathers as if in
resentment at threatened intrusion, at other times he is prepared to
make way at once. As is the case with a herd of cows on a farm, the
relative standing between them seems to be an acknowledged matter and
is seldom contested. To us a couple of tom-tits appear as like as two
peas if we have them actually in the hand, and though it is easy to
understand that they can themselves distinguish differences at close
quarters, and may have some other sense than we have to help them, yet
it is a marvellous thing that they can do so without doubt or
hesitation at a distance of yards.

The whole question as to how birds recognize one another is very
interesting. We know that a shepherd can tell one sheep of his flock
from another as easily as we can distinguish between two men, but in
the feathered face of a bird there seems to us so little room for
difference of expression, and, generally speaking, if we take feather
by feather the description of one bird will apply equally well to any
other of the same species.

Tom-tits as a rule make way for a great-tit, but I have seen them fight
occasionally, and the tom-tit does not always come off second-best.
They are complete masters of both marsh and coal-tits, neither of which
dream of resisting them. They pay scarcely any heed one way or another
to sparrows or robins.

Both tom-tits and great-tits in the flush of their spring-time ardour
pay to their chosen helpmates the same delicate attentions as do
robins. It is always a pretty picture to see them present their
offerings of food, but with tits it seems a rather more business-like
matter and to lack something of the tender sentiment so plainly shown
by the robins.

Though not nearly so plentiful as tom-tits, both marsh and coal-tits
are with us more or less all the year round. Of the two, perhaps the
marsh-tit is the more regular, sometimes a pair seem to make the garden
their headquarters and to be always about, but several years may pass
without our seeing one coal-tit; then they will become almost as common
as tom-tits for a year or so, when again the number will dwindle down
to, it may be, a single pair.

Some years ago all four kinds of tit used to come together to the
food-stand, but (with the exception of a pair of coal-tits in the
winter of 1910-11) since 1899 tom-tits and great-tits have had it all
to themselves, neither marsh nor coal-tits have been there, though both
are still frequent visitors to the garden at all times of the year.

In June broods of young tits appear flying from tree to tree in little
parties. The old birds tirelessly hunt for food, whilst the
greeny-yellowy little ones sit expecting and cheeping among the boughs.

In comparing the marsh and coal-tits together one might imagine that
they each originally had the same amount of black allowed them for the
head, but while the marsh-tit preferred to have all his in one patch at
the back, the coal-tit would have a bit cut out to make a bib for his
chin! Of the two the marsh-tit is my favourite. I like the delicate
tints of its more sober colouring better than the more contrasted yet
more commonplace colours of the coal-tit.

There seems something savouring of meanness about coal-tits; they are
cautious and artful and carry away their food presumably to store,
there is not time to have swallowed it before they are back again at
the stand.

A pair of coal-tits that were here one winter seemed quite demoralised
by the food-stand, and to have altogether given up hunting for their
natural food.

Both kinds are perfectly amicable together, but a marsh will make way
for a coal-tit. The marsh-tit seems to excite special animosity in
tom-tits, whilst the coal-tit watches his opportunity, and, nipping in
just at the right moment, escapes much persecution. Of the two the
coal-tit has a more musical voice and a greater variety of notes, but
once (in 1899) when watching a party of marsh-tits, I heard, besides
the usual harsh note, a kind of continuous warble every now and then,
which I could attribute to no other bird, though I could not actually
see a marsh-tit uttering it.

The delightful little wrens are always with us, and the loud, clear
ringing notes of their sweet song may be heard almost throughout the
year. In July, when most birds are silent, the wren does his best to
make up for it, he seems to take a pleasure in having the field to
himself, and his song may be heard, and often his alone every day until
the middle of August. By that time some of the robins, having recovered
from their moult, begin to tune up, and the wren leaves it to them to
keep the ball going whilst he retires from the scene to complete his
own change of feather. Apparently with such a tiny body to cover that
is not a long business, for his bright little voice may be heard again
early in September. I always myself feel inclined to say "thank you" at
the conclusion of a wren's musical effort, and have been surprised to
find that there are people, it may be many people, who do not hear his
song at all of themselves, and when their attention is specially drawn
think it "only a bird squeaking!"

Wrens never seem to be tame in the same way that robins are, nor do
they ever attempt to get at the food on the stand, or to share in the
fowls' meals, but they often come close to the windows, creeping up and
down the frames, in quest of spiders and other small game.

A sight was reported to me the other day that I would have given a good
deal to have seen with my own eyes. When for two days in January (1912)
the ground was thickly covered with snow, I put a plate of scraps for
the birds in the open porch. In the evening of the second day of snow,
when the maid went to light the porch lamp, she saw this plate, as she
described it, full of wrens (little birds with their tails turned up
over their backs, she called them); there must have been, she thought,
certainly not less than fifteen of them. When they saw her they flew
off in a flock to the creeper outside, just where for two or three
years there has been a wren's nest. Perhaps this little company was
made up of the family that owned that nest as their home. In was in
1909 that a wren first built there among the stems of the Virginian
creeper close to the front door. The body of the nest was quite hidden
between the creeper and the wall, the little entrance-hole alone being
visible. We constantly saw the bird going in and out, taking a turn to
stretch his wings or bringing home provisions for his household, and
often he would sit close by and give vent to his feelings in a joyous
burst of song. He appears to have been pleased with the success of his
first venture on this site, for he has used the very same nest for the
last two years.

A wren has the same directness of flight as a kingfisher or a dipper;
it has none of the up and down course of most small birds, but it
follows a bee-line to its destination, with rapidly-beating wings, but
making comparatively slow progress. I was much struck by this, as one
day I watched a wren fly from a low bush to a height of 40 or 50 feet
up a poplar, it seemed to take quite an age to get there.



VI.

WAGTAILS, FLYCATCHERS, SWALLOWS AND OTHER INSECT-EATERS.


Pied wagtails never entirely desert us, though, of course, there are
many more, and they are much more in evidence, in summer than in
winter. It is a continual pleasure to watch them, to see the speed with
which they run in pursuit of a fly, the deftness of the capture, and
the satisfaction so plainly displayed at the feat, by the eloquent
balancing of the long tail. One day in August (1899) I watched a
wagtail through a glass, and distinctly saw him capture and devour four
"daddy-long legs" in succession. Besides running after them on the
ground, they will often fly up at insects in the air.

Pied wagtails are no respecters of persons as far as other birds are
concerned; I have seen a single wagtail at one time pursuing a peewit,
at another a sandpiper, and their encounters with swallows on the grass
are most amusing to watch. When the swallows are flying low the
wagtails will deliberately fly at them and even for a little way after
them.

A family of pied wagtails usually take possession of the lawn opposite
one of our windows, and we can observe the process of education in the
art of catching flies, from the stage in which the young are content
to be fed entirely by their parents through that in which they
supplement the supply by their own efforts, until finally little
difference in skill is to be noticed between old birds and the young.
This family appear to resent the intrusion of other birds on their
domain (as shown in their behaviour towards swallows), and I have seen
them persistently drive away young yellow wagtails who presumed to
trespass on their hunting ground.

Yellow wagtails are not so often seen in the garden, though they are
plentiful enough in the neighbourhood. They are lively and attractive
and their bright colour contrasts strongly with the freshly ploughed
earth so that their arrival is always noticed by the farmers and seems
to interest them more than the coming of any other migrant except the
cuckoo.

Meadow pipits are common in the fields around, but I cannot remember
ever to have seen one actually in the garden. On a rough bit of ground
near the Ship Canal bridge they are always to be found, and I have
watched one there for twenty minutes or more at a time as he soared up
to a considerable height, singing all the time, and then came down
again to the ground with wings and tail spread out, after the manner of
a tree-pipit, with a little musical twitter just as he landed. It kept
repeating this performance over and over again all the time I was
there.

For some years a tree-pipit used to take up his abode with us every
summer and give us the benefit of his energetic song. I was very much
amused once to watch him on some iron hurdles at the end of the garden.
He was so much in earnest and so full of energy; he would sing a little
bit, then run along the top rail a little way, then sing again, and so
on until he had gone nearly the whole length of the railings. This
entertainment he went through day after day for a fortnight or more at
the end of June and the beginning of July.

Spotted flycatchers have not been as common with us lately as they were
at one time, when they always made their home here during their summer
visit to this country, and were constantly in evidence. We have not had
a nest for several years, and last year (1911) I did not see a single
flycatcher in the garden, but this year, I am glad to say, they have
come back again and there has been a nest in the ivy on the house wall.
It was placed so low down that we could easily look into it, but never
once did I surprise the old bird; she seemed to hear one's footsteps at
a distance, and long before one reached the nest she was off. The young
were hatched on June 29th, but their eyes did not open until July 6th.
Whilst they were blind and as they grew bigger the nest seemed much
too small for them, and often one fancied two of them must inevitably
have been smothered, as they were quite hidden under the other three.
Even after they could see there was some confusion during the heat of
the day; but it was one of the prettiest sights imaginable when they
were tucked in for the night; all five heads with their sharp little
beaks and bright black eyes were arranged in perfect order, all looking
together in the same direction out of the nest. People in the village
call these birds by the name of "old man," and it seems expressive,
somehow peculiarly appropriate to their greyish colouring and quiet
unobtrusive manners.

For five years running a pair of flycatchers built in a fork of a thick
ivy-stem on the old church tower. They chose a most exposed place by
the side of a walk trodden by dozens of visitors to the church nearly
every day of the summer. The first time we noticed it (in 1894) the
nest was so low and so exposed that nothing could save it. In 1895,
when it was placed higher up and better concealed, the young were
successfully reared. In 1896 they chose a position actually not more
than three feet from the ground, and yet, marvellous to relate, owing
to watchful care on the part of human friends, and the continual
replacing of a screen of ivy leaves, they scored another success. In
1897, though the site was higher up and apparently much safer, the
young birds were taken, but in 1898 they were again able to escape the
attentions of cats and boys and bring off their brood without mishap;
in 1899 they wisely abandoned the dangerous situation altogether.

I was once watching a flycatcher perched on the food-stand opposite and
close to my open window, when I noticed that besides a
constantly-repeated weak single note, it had every now and then a
cadence of two and again of three notes, and sometimes a very faint
kind of inward warble.

The iron boundary hurdles on the south side of the garden are a
favourite stand for flycatchers, and I have seen them busily occupied
there in catching flies, which they carried to their young ones in the
trees near by, whilst every now and then the prettily-marked youngsters
would themselves come down to the top rail and sit there to be fed.
Croquet hoops on the grass near these hurdles seem to have a great
attraction for them. Two, sometimes three, would be there at the same
time. After each pursuit of a passing fly they would return now to the
same hoop, now to another, and sometimes they seemed to go the round of
all the hoops in turn. Every day throughout the summer they would be
there, and in the white line under each hoop was left indisputable
evidence of their regular occupation.

Towards the end of July, 1902, we were much interested in a pair of
flycatchers with their little family of three. One of the old birds
would spend its time catching flies for the young ones, whilst the
other rested, sitting quite unconcerned by itself on the rails. When
the working parent brought a fly to one of the family the other two
would hurry up, and there was constantly a small crowd of four
gesticulating little birds in one part or other of the lawn. Between
the intervals of being fed the young birds learnt to forage for
themselves, not, I noticed, flying off the ground after insects, but
running after them on the grass. These five birds stayed with us until
September 9th. They often flew down from the trees to catch flies on
the grass, and would hover in front of shrubs and tall plants whilst
they picked off the flies near them.

When flycatchers have been on the croquet hoops and swallows were
flying low, they had not seldom to get pretty sharply out of the way to
avoid a collision, as the swallows appeared purposely to fly at them.

In 1908 we were fortunate enough to see a bird here that is very seldom
found in Cheshire, namely, a pied flycatcher. It was in the evening of
August 25th that we saw it. The strange little bird came quite close up
to the French window of the room in which we were sitting, and we
noticed plainly the white patch on his wing. It did not seem at all
shy, and I watched it about the house for an hour or so.

It is said in "The Fauna of Cheshire" that while birds are sometimes
seen during the spring migration, there is no other record of a pied
flycatcher in Cheshire on the return journey in autumn.

Of swallows there is no lack. Nearly every year there are one or two
nests in the outbuildings, and in 1900 a pair began to build against
the wall of the house porch just over the front door. The wall was
perfectly flat, and they began to fasten mud against it as a
house-martin would have done. To save possible untoward consequences to
the hats of visitors I rigged up a shelf over the door; this, perhaps,
frightened them, at any rate, they did not go on with their work.

In 1908 a pair set their minds on building in the old church, and build
they did in spite of all we could do in the way of keeping doors and
windows shut (they must have found their way through some broken quarry
of a window). However, when we saw that we were beaten we made the best
of it, and really there was very little mess, and it was pleasant to
hear them warbling in the roof. When the young birds were hatched in
July the old ones were more wary than ever. If they saw anyone in the
church, instead of going on to the nest, they would turn back and fly
away with their mouthful of dainties. However, by hiding, I managed to
see the nestlings fed, and noticed that though they were very
vociferous when they guessed there was an immediate prospect of their
hunger being satisfied, a warning note from the old bird seemed to
silence them at once.

For a good many years a pair of swallows have nested in the porch of
the new church, and in 1910 an old trimmed straw hat that hung on a
nail in an outbuilding at the church-house was chosen by another pair
as a suitable foundation for their nest, and in this rather
strangely-placed nursery they brought up a young family.

There is something very charming in the swallow's warbling song, beyond
its association with warm and beautiful weather; and when in autumn
they are congregating by thousands, to hear them all chanting together
as they fill the air, and, sailing round and round in widening and
interlacing circles, mount higher and higher until the highest are
almost out of sight, is to my mind wonderfully grand and impressive.

Sometimes the swallows melt away without any noticeable gatherings,
while in other years they assemble in such flocks about the end of
September that in certain favourite hunting grounds the sky is almost
darkened by them, and to watch the intricate maze of perpetual motion
is enough to make one giddy, while as at intervals they sit resting,
they seem to stretch away for miles in long lines on the telegraph
wires.

Swallows and wagtails apparently grudge one another (and flycatchers) a
share in their insect sporting rights, if their mutual spitefulness has
any meaning. This common taste for the same kind of food often brings
the three into close quarters, and it is curious to notice the
different methods they use to compass the same end; the swallow
ceaselessly rushing at full speed through the air, the wagtail trusting
to his nimbleness of foot, and the flycatcher making a series of little
excursions upwards after his prey. I have seen swallows walking about
on the grass and picking up flies, and when their young ones are
resting on the ground they will often bring them food there, alighting
by the side first of one and then of another.

Ten years ago it was only on two or three houses in the village that
house-martins built, and they were seldom seen except in the immediate
neighbourhood of these, but now (1911) they have become comparatively
abundant everywhere. The wooden hay-sheds recently put up at many of
the farms seem to have attracted them in the first instance, but when
once they were led to look more closely into the matter they evidently
found that there were many more eligible building sites in Warburton
than they had had any idea of before. They have never yet made their
real home with us, but during the latter part of the summer they come
in crowds to the garden, and there are among them many only just able
to fly, who spend most of their time on the roof of the house, waiting
to be fed.

[Illustration: A Corner in the Garden with Allium Dioscorides.]

Two house-martins fell down a bedroom chimney here, and when I opened
the window to let them out, whilst one took advantage of it at once the
other kept flying round and round quite close up to the ceiling and
resting on a bell-wire that ran across. It was a long time, more than
half an hour, before I could persuade him that he was looking in the
wrong place for a way of escape.

At one time after the Ship Canal had been begun and traffic had ceased
on the river, a large colony of sand-martins established themselves
under the disused towing-path almost opposite, and naturally they were
then plentiful enough. Now, as far as we are concerned, the river with
all its belongings is a thing of the past, and it is only occasionally
that we see the little brown birds hawking for flies in the garden.

I was surprised not long ago to find in a field-sandpit, a mile away
from any other sand-martins' nests that I knew of, a solitary nest in a
hole within easy reach of my hand. The young must have been hatched,
for I watched the birds go in with food.

Sand-martins have a peculiar interest as being perhaps the most
universally distributed of all small birds. One likes to think that
nearly everywhere one went, in Asia, Africa or America, the very same
little brown swallows might be seen ceaselessly flitting about,
bringing back to mind the green fields and cloudy skies of home in
England.

Only once have I seen that other cosmopolitan, the tree-creeper, in the
garden. One morning in May, 1895, I heard a strange, small, rather
shrill song and found that it came from a little brown tree-creeper on
an oak just opposite my window. I watched it for some time through
field glasses as it climbed about, prying into every crack of the bark
and singing as it worked.



VII.

SPARROWS AND OTHER FINCHES.


Although I have never myself seen a goldfinch in the garden, they have
been seen here, and on the rough ground near the Ship Canal they are
not uncommon, indeed, I have heard of several shillings a week being
made by birds that have been caught there in spite of County Council
orders. They are usually known here as "red linnets," but another
Cheshire name for them is "nickers."

Greenfinches (green linnets in Cheshire) abound; in early spring they
are more than usually conspicuous, as in their brightest feather they
pursue one another in and out among the hollies and dark yew hedges.
Though then less evident to the eye, throughout the summer they let us
know by their unmistakable and wearisome notes that they are with us
still.

As early as April 29th, in 1890, I watched a greenfinch on a thorn
opposite my window feeding what appeared to be a fully-fledged young
one. It was pumping up the food from its craw, in the same way that a
pigeon does. The end of April is so unusually early for a greenfinch
family to have flown, that perhaps it was only another instance of
delicate marital attention, such as I have noticed in the case of
robins and tits.

In February, 1893, a hen hawfinch was shown me. It had just been shot
in the village, and in 1894 I heard of a nest in the gardens at Lymm
Hall, rather more than two miles away.

My wife told me one morning in October, 1910, that she had seen on a
tree near her window a thick-set bird with a big head and short tail
and neck, whose colour she described as some shades of brown. Two or
three little birds appeared to be mobbing it, and it kept pecking at
them like a parrot. She only saw it for a minute or two, before it flew
away round the corner of the house. It altogether sounds as though it
might have been a hawfinch.

House-sparrows abound here, and are interesting and amusing to the
unprejudiced looker-on who doesn't suffer from their depredations.
There is no denying that sparrows are vulgar, and bold and pushing, or
that they are tiresomely persevering in the mischief that they do. They
are coarsely built and have no song, while their monotonous chirp is
distracting, but they have that which for the race of life stands them
in more stead than either beauty or musical talent; they have courage
and intelligence, a wonderful power of adapting themselves to
circumstances and a sound healthy constitution, with a digestion that
an ostrich might envy.

The food-stand has shown me what sparrows are and what they can do.
When I set it up I had no wish to feed sparrows, and could not bear to
see them devouring all before them in the greedy, systematic way that
they have. So I set my wits to work to see if I could not contrive
something by which they might be baffled without depriving the tits of
their food. It proved more than I could do to prevent any of the
sparrows getting any of the food, but I was able to make it more
difficult for them, so difficult that only a few could manage it. They
differ very much individually: some are far bolder and more
enterprising than others, but I have found that some sparrows can do
almost anything that a tit can do in the way of acrobatic performances,
though not, of course, with the same easy grace. I tried many devices.
I had seen somewhere that if food were suspended from a pliable twig
only tits would venture to attack it. It didn't take long to prove the
fallacy of this idea. The swinging of the net made not the slightest
difference to the sparrows; they alighted on it just as readily as if
it had been lying on the ground. Then I tried hanging the net at one
end of a stick and a movable weight at the other. The stick acted as a
balance, and the net went down directly a bird settled on it. This
instability frightened the sparrows for a long time, but in the end
they got quite used to it. It was the same with many other contrivances
that I tried, they answered their purpose for a time, it may be
altogether as far as most went, but in every case sooner or later some
sparrows learnt to overcome every difficulty, and it struck me that
each successive year they seemed to do so more easily, as though they
turned the experience of one year to good account in the next.

In 1899 I made an apparatus like a windmill, with four arms, and food
in a kind of little box at the end of each. The arms, of course, went
down directly a bird touched them. This for a long time was effectual,
and I had begun to flatter myself that I had solved the problem, but
during a hard frost some one or two sparrows overcame their fears and
managed to get the fat, and when once they saw it might be done with
safety many others learnt the trick. I then complicated the idea into a
wheel, with eight arms, and food only at the extreme point of each.
This answered so far that no sparrow seemed able to get at the fat from
the revolving arm itself as they hung on to it (an easy feat for the
tits), but they used to hover opposite the ends of the arms and pick
out the food. (Robins did this also.) Independently of its effect in
discouraging the sparrows, the wheel afforded much amusement by the
antics it imposed upon the tits as they went round and up and down on
the arms.

One plan I tried depended for its action on the difference of weight
between a sparrow and a tit. It was the opposite of the arrangement by
which sparrows are prevented from appropriating the food put out for
pheasants, where the pheasant opens the corn-box by his weight on the
perch outside. I tried so to arrange the balance that the heavier
sparrow was cut off from the hole which contained the food, whilst for
the tit it remained open. The practical drawback to this plan was the
nicety of adjustment required, for though a sparrow is more than twice
the weight of a tom-tit, the difference between the two weights is
little more than a quarter of an ounce.

One of the most successful contrivances, after all, is one of the
simplest. Take a tin canister (one that I used was three inches long by
2-1/2 in diameter), hang it open end downwards by a string brought
through a hole in the other end, to this string fasten inside the tin a
bit of wood about the thickness of a large pencil, and let it hang like
the clapper in a bell, projecting a quarter of an inch below the bottom
rim of the tin. Plaster all round the inside of the tin with fat,
leaving the wooden tongue in the middle free for the birds to cling to.
In this way both great-tits and tom-tits can feed themselves without
difficulty, but only one sparrow in twenty can manage with much ado to
hold on and to eat at the same time. (To see a sparrow with his
less-practised feet clinging to the edge of the tin, back downwards,
just like a tit and helping himself to its contents is a good example
of the energetic enterprise and the adaptability of his nature.) Robins
do sometimes hold on to the tin in the same way, but generally they get
quite as much as they want by flying up and pecking at the fat. They
seem able to aim very accurately, and when the tin is nearly empty can
make sure of the smallest fragments. Sparrows also attack the food in
the same way by flying up at it, but they seem to find it more awkward,
owing, perhaps, to the small space between the sides of the tin and the
wood in the middle, which barely gives room for their larger heads and
clumsier beaks.

Another successful plan was to suspend the fat within a roll of
inch-mesh wire netting. To begin with I put this on the food-stand, at
some little distance from my window, and though at first only tits and
robins would venture down within the roll of wire, after a time the
sparrows followed suit, and, of course, there was nothing to prevent
them getting as much as they liked but their own caution. I might have
stopped them by covering the top with netting, but then the great-tits
and robins would have been excluded as well as the sparrows, and even
tom-tits could only get through the meshes with difficulty. However, I
moved the roll quite close up to the glass of the window, leaving the
top still uncovered (and the bottom closed) as before. Tom-tits came to
it in its new position almost as readily as when on the food-stand.
Great-tits came but were always rather uneasy about it, but not one
sparrow ventured to clamber down inside the roll, although it was there
for more than a year and we had some very hard frosts. They would
continually try to get at the food from underneath and from the side,
but could not make up their minds to go inside the roll itself,
although it was quite open and they had learnt to go in without scruple
when it was on the food-stand, before it was put close to the window.
The most fearless of any birds with regard to this wire roll were two
robins in the beginning of 1902; they were perpetually scrambling up
and down inside the wire, and continued to do so until April, when the
supply of food came to end.

The extreme caution of sparrows enables one to scare them away for a
time by a fluttering ribbon or a bit of paper, but it is only for a
time; when they see that tits treat such things with contempt and
venture close to them with impunity they soon summon up courage to lay
aside their suspicions.

I once put a wire rat-trap under the food-stand, so arranged that it
went off when a string was pulled. At first, it was baited with corn,
but while robins and tits went in and out without the least concern,
not a sparrow would go near, and for a time the presence of the trap
kept them away from the food-stand altogether. However, they could not
resist the temptation of bread, and one or two were caught at last. But
what was the use of catching them? I hadn't the heart to kill them in
cold blood and used to let them go, and indeed I quite enjoyed myself
the sense of joyous relief they must have felt as they flew off
unharmed into the free air.

However much mischief sparrows may do, some good work must be placed to
their credit. Through a great part of the year, even in February, I
have seen them flying up after gnats, and it is a common thing in
summer to see a sparrow in pursuit of a moth. Its efforts always seem
ridiculously awkward and sometimes I fancy are ineffectual after all,
but they must commonly succeed or they would not try so often and so
persistently.

In the spring of 1900 the grass was covered for many days together with
some kind of little black fly, and sparrows a dozen or so at a time
with blackbirds, thrushes and chaffinches found a continual feast in
them. I noticed again and again quite a big round ball of them
collected and carried away by a thrush.

It has often been noticed that sparrows are more eager than most birds
in hunting for aphides, and I have seen a sparrow make short work of a
"daddy-long-legs." In July and August I have watched them catching
flies on the grass, running after them much as a wagtail does, indeed
once I remember seeing a sparrow and a wagtail on the lawn at the same
time, each followed by a young bird whose hunger they were trying to
satisfy with flies caught in similar fashion.

Impudence is a marked characteristic of a sparrow. I have seen a
starling at work in his busy, methodical way, closely followed all over
the lawn by a sparrow. There he was all the time, close at the
starling's elbow and ready to pounce upon whatever dainty morsel a
skill superior to his own might bring to light. The starling was
plainly bored by his company, but the sparrow would take no hint, and
maintained his position in spite even of pointed rebuffs from the
other's beak. (In the dry summer of 1911 I noticed at different times
both a throstle and a blackbird attended in the same way by a sparrow.)

At another time when a starling has arrived with food in its mouth, and
not daring on account of my being there to take it into its nest, has
begun, after the usual unwise custom of starlings, loudly to advertise
the situation, I have seen two sparrows, attracted by the noise he
made, take up positions one on either side and try to snatch the food
away from him. I saw this happen twice on two successive days in June,
1901.

The dusting habit of sparrows must be counted among their many
iniquities when they indulge in it, as they often do, in a bed of
newly-sown seeds, but it was strange to see one dusting during the hard
frost of 1895; one should have thought that they were so out of the way
of dusting in winter that no sparrow would have taken advantage of the
rare opportunity when a long dry frost made it possible.

One day in April, 1899, a sparrow that was sitting on the food-stand
close by my window made quite a song of his chirping. There was a kind
of modulation of notes, continuously uttered and accompanied by a
regular "beating time" movement of his tail. On another occasion I have
heard a sparrow sitting alone on the ridge of a roof, singing, one
could only call it, quite a little song in subdued tones.



VIII.

FINCHES, STARLINGS AND CROWS.


The spruce, handsome chaffinch (in Cheshire "pied finch") is with us
all the year round, and his song here, as I suppose everywhere, is one
of the most familiar of the pleasant voices of spring.

One or more chaffinches generally feed with the fowls (and sometimes
they are quite extraordinarily tame, hens more so, perhaps, than
cocks), but they do not often attempt to get food from the stand.
Though they sometimes do, for instance in the winter of 1910-11, there
was one that came regularly.

The gait of the chaffinch strikes one as peculiar, it is as a fact a
hopping movement, but it gives the impression of a run.

I have frequently noticed something like rivalry or competition in
singing between a chaffinch and another bird, such as a tree-pipit or a
lesser whitethroat, or a willow-wren.

One night as I was going the round of the house the last thing, about
12 o'clock, I heard a great fluttering and found that a light had been
left on a table close to an unshuttered window, and outside beating
against the glass was a handsome cock chaffinch.

In February, 1911, a brambling was brought to me for identification. It
had been shot at the other side of the village, one of a large flock.
I have never seen one in the garden itself, but not far away I think I
caught sight of a small flock in March, 1899.

Far more interesting than stuffed specimens in a museum (how seldom,
even at South Kensington, do you see small birds well set up, even
sufficiently well to recognize the bird when met with alive!); far more
interesting is such an outdoor aviary as one finds near the Town Hall
in Warrington, where the birds appear to want nothing to make their
lives ideally happy. In this aviary bramblings seem quite at home, and
may be seen in best condition of health and feather.

Lesser redpoles, which here they call "jitties," I have seen close to
the garden, and on the other side of the village they are common. I
have heard of one boy catching 50 in a season with birdlime; for these
he got a few pence apiece in Warrington.

A lesser redpole was given me in 1900, and a very engaging little bird
he was. Though supposed to be freshly caught he was tame when first I
had him, and in a very short time seemed hardly to know fear.

We used to let him out of his cage every day for an hour or so at a
time. He enjoyed this immensely, and we had great difficulty in
shutting him up again. He seemed fond of his cage, and would be
continually going into it, but directly we went near to shut the door
he was out. I tried a long string, which we pulled from a distance as
soon as he was in the cage. This answered for a time, but he got to be
so knowing that when he saw the string fastened to the door he wouldn't
go into the cage at all. We got the better of him in the end, however,
by hanging a bit of card inside the doorway; when he pushed against
this on the outside he could get by into the cage, but he couldn't open
it from the inside. We only turned the card in when we wanted him to go
back, leaving him free to go in and out as he liked till then. Oddly
enough, he used to go in almost directly the card was in its place, and
never attempted to get out again. He seemed to enjoy the exercise of
flying very much, and used to go round and round the room again and
again and again for the mere pleasure of it.

Though he would settle on the different things in the room and stay
there for some length of time, there was never any need to clean up
after him, but on the outside of his cage he was not so particular. It
was a great amusement to him to sit and make faces at himself in a
looking-glass.

He lived very happily with us for more than two years. In the end he
died of some kind of wasting disease, but was bright and apparently
happy to the last.

For some months before he died, if we let him out at meal-times, as we
often did, he had a curious habit of going to the salt-cellars and
helping himself to grains of salt; once he took as many as thirteen
pinches in succession! We often wondered afterwards whether he took the
salt because he was ill or whether it was the salt that made him ill.

I would gladly sacrifice many fruit buds for the sake of seeing
bullfinches in the garden, but never yet have I had that pleasure.
Other people in the village do not regard their visits in the same
light, and it is only because I hear of their being shot that I know
they come here.

A bullfinch that belonged to a cousin must I think have reached the
highest degree of tameness possible in a bird. Tommy, as he was called,
was taken from the nest before he could fly, and he not only lost all
sense of fear but showed an extraordinary personal devotion to his
mistress. He used to wake her in the morning with a kiss, and warble
his little greeting. He would come directly she called him, and would
fly after her from room to room. This devotion was at last the cause of
his death. In May, 1901, he was taken to London to a strange house, and
one day hearing his mistress's voice as she came in, he flew down the
stairs to meet her, and somehow struck against the hall lamp with such
force that he was taken up dead.

[Illustration: The Two Nests.]

I find the following entry in my diary for November 9th, 1895:--"A
small flight of birds passed along the trees in front of the window.
Caught a momentary glance of one as it rested on the tree, and noticed
shades of brown and pink and the peculiar bill. Could they have been
crossbills?"

Yellow-hammers, or "goldfinches" as they are called here, are often to
be seen in the fields near, but in the garden we are more familiar with
the black-headed reed-bunting. We generally have one or two about the
old bed of the river. I have watched the bird through a telescope on a
July day, as he sat on an osier twig that was swaying in the wind,
preening his feathers and uttering his short melody (?) betweenwhiles.
He would begin as though he had really something to sing, then would
come two halting notes, indicating doubt of his power to do much after
all, which would immediately become a certainty, and his brief attempt
would end in a fizzle. He would, however, be perfectly satisfied with
the performance himself, and would go through it again and again almost
as persistently as the yellow-hammer repeats his wearisome monotonous
phrase. In the spring he has a still simpler song, if it can be called
a song, consisting of two or three notes of one tone, something like
the cheep of a chicken, sometimes repeated _ad infinitum_, sometimes
followed by a short run of three or four notes more.

We have starlings with us all the year round, and I am glad of it. Here
at any rate they do nothing but good, and they are, besides, handsome,
and are interesting to watch, while their song, whether a chorus or a
solo, is always cheerful. Cold and bad weather doesn't seem to affect
their spirits. On Christmas morning, in 1897, although there was a hard
frost, starlings were singing away merrily, one of them imitating a
blackbird's note exactly.

At one time flocks of starlings used to come on autumn evenings to
roost in the garden. I have watched one detachment after another arrive
until the trees and evergreens were crowded with them. They did not
come so much later on when the leaves had fallen, and now that the
shrubbery has been thinned they do not come at all in any numbers. In
spring I have heard 30 or more all singing together in this same
shrubbery as late as April 2nd.

Starlings hunt for their food in a methodical, business-like way. They
do not seem to have the peculiar gift by which thrushes hit on the
exact spot where a worm is (I fancy they do not feed much on worms) but
they go diligently over every square inch of ground in their search,
probing the turf with their bills widely open, so widely that one can
hardly see how they can close them on a grub when they find one.

Starlings afford another example of a strange perversion of instinct or
want of common sense. If you happen to be standing anywhere near the
place that one has chosen for his nest, and he arrives with his food in
his mouth, instead of slipping quietly in whilst your eyes are turned
away, he waits outside making as much racket as he can, and you are
almost forced to notice him and cannot fail to see the whereabouts of
his nest, plainly marked as it is sure to be by plentiful splashes of
white.

It is quite a common thing in spring and summer to see starlings
catching flies in the air, and I remember in 1906, on September 29th,
the air was, one might say, full of starlings, floating about in every
direction with expanded wings, and then shooting up or down or to one
side when they came within reach of a fly. It was a warm, still day,
and I fancy the flies they were catching were winged aphides.

For many years now as soon as the elder-berries are ripe numbers of
starlings, chiefly young ones, arrive on the scene, and in a few days
clear them off completely.

Jays are not common here, but we have occasionally watched one in the
garden as he was looking for fallen acorns in the grass close to the
house.

One may pretty safely count on seeing a magpie near Arley at any time
of the year, and we do at long intervals see them in this garden and
in the fields near, but they are very far from common.

I have heard of a magpie at a farm in the next village to this, many
years ago indeed, who kept his eye on a turkey that was in the habit of
laying eggs at a little distance from the house, and often managed to
appropriate the newly-laid egg before the farm people could stop him.

Jackdaws are often about, generally in company with rooks, but I have
never specially noticed them settling in the garden, as the rooks often
do.

In Wales once I saw a jackdaw busily engaged exploring the back of a
pony with its beak. The pony continued quietly grazing all the while,
but I thought he seemed rather relieved when his visitor left.

In January, 1898, two crows appeared in the garden; I used to see them
nearly every evening. A month later we saw a single crow, injured in
one wing, go backwards and forwards over the whole length of the
opposite bank. Up and down he went, regularly quartering the ground in
his search for food. He did this for several days, and we felt quite
sorry for him, he was so diligent and persevering, and it must have
been so little that he could find within such comparatively narrow
limits. We put food for him, which he soon found and seemed to
appreciate. He drove away rooks who tried to share it with him, but as
he carried away each bit to eat in private the rooks took advantage of
his absence, and the supply did not last as long as it might have done.

The poor bird was uncommonly wary: he would spy one out hundreds of
yards away and disappear in a wonderful manner, seeing that he could
not fly. At last some Ship Canal workmen caught him. I got him from
them and kept him for three months, but though he ate pretty well it
did not seem to do him much good, and he never became in the least tame
to the day of his death.

We have often hoped that rooks would build in the garden; they come
sometimes to the higher trees as though they had thoughts of doing so,
but they have not gone beyond that as yet. In some years when acorns
are ripe many rooks come here to get them (in 1911, although acorns
were extraordinarily abundant, I hardly saw a single rook). I have
never seen them pick up the acorns on the ground, as the jays and
wood-pigeons do, but they gather them fresh for themselves from the
tree.

More than once I have seen a single rook pursuing a hawk, and, on the
other hand, I have seen a rook put to flight by a missel-thrush.

Rather a strange story was told me of a farmer's daughter at Heatley,
near here. She lived by herself not far from the railway station, and
every day, summer and winter alike, she fed a number of rooks that
habitually waited on her bounty. One winter's day, it appears, she
threw down food for a few rooks that were in a tree behind her house.
The next day they were there again, and again she fed them, and so it
grew into a regular thing, and they came expecting to be fed like so
many fowls every day of the year. My informant often watched the
proceeding, and said that the birds seemed to know their benefactress
quite well and not to be at all afraid of her, though they were as shy
of strangers as any other rooks.

Skylarks are abundant in the neighbourhood, and often in the garden we
hear one singing overhead. I have seen a lark singing his regular song
on the ground, and have seen one perched on iron railings by the side
of a road holding a largish brown moth in its bill, and at the same
time uttering repeatedly two or three notes of its song.

Larks are very fond of dusting in roads. I remember being struck one
hot day in June by the number of dusting larks I met with in a ten-mile
ride. Without any exaggeration there must have been one every twenty
yards on an average for the whole distance.



IX.

OTHER BIRDS.


The wild shriek of swifts, as they dash and wheel through the air at
their topmost speed, seems to express such intense delight in freedom
and motion and power, that it imparts something of the same sense of
exhilaration to the beholder, at least, I know it is so with me.

Swifts, or "long-wings," as they are equally well-named in Cheshire,
usually find their food at some height in the air, but one day in the
beginning of July (1899) I noticed a number of swifts, with a great
many swallows and sand-martins, skimming the surface of a patch of
clover which had been left standing in a field near the garden. I did
not discover what it was, but the attraction must have been something
unusual, for the number of birds passing and re-passing in the very
small space was so extraordinary that it was really difficult to
understand how they could avoid collision. All were concentrated in the
one spot, and never seemed to go beyond it for more than a couple of
yards.

In 1896 there were swifts about all August, and I saw a pair on October
19th. I was told by a friend who was at Brighton in June, 1899, that
whenever the band played on the sea front four swifts would appear and
fly round and round the bandstand. She never noticed them there, she
said, when the band was not playing, although it was her favourite seat
at all times of the day.

Nightjars are not uncommon on "mosses" in Lancashire, only a mile or so
away, and in Cheshire on the Carrington side of Warburton, but they are
less frequent just about here. One year, however (1902), a pair
evidently had made their nest in the rough tussocky ground which at
that time covered the bed of the old river. From the middle of June to
the beginning of July we were treated every evening to the full
programme of their entertainment, both vocal and acrobatic. Several
times one heard little snatches of the "song," even in the middle of
the day in fine, hot weather, but nine p.m., sometimes a little
earlier, was the usual time for beginning. The whirring would go on for
an hour at a time, with hardly any cessation, but often varying in tone
and volume, now swelling out louder and then sinking again. We often
saw the two birds playing about together in the air, one or other of
them making what is described as a "whipthong" noise and smiting its
wings together like a pigeon. Sometimes when they first settled again
after a flight, instead of the loud whirring there would be every now
and then a soft, liquid, bubbling sound.

A favourite resting-place was the bare bough of a Scotch fir, and here
as it lay lengthways and perfectly still the bird looked so like part
of the branch itself that I couldn't persuade a friend who was with me
that it was a bird until he actually saw it fly away. After July 4th we
heard no more of them, and for a day or two before that the whirring
was much more interrupted, in shorter spells, and varied more in
intensity and clearness than usual.

Before the next spring came round the Ship Canal had covered the
river-bed with another layer of mud dredgings, and we have neither seen
nor heard a nightjar in the garden since, but in June, 1910, I heard
from the keeper that he had watched one flying round an old
black-poplar just opposite the garden gate, flapping the ends of the
boughs with his wings and catching the moths that were driven out.

One of the most delightful of country sounds is, I think, the laugh of
the green woodpecker, and when I heard that a pair of woodpeckers were
constantly to be seen (January and February, 1901) about some old
poplars not far away, and that early one morning one was working at the
rotten posts of a fence in the very next field, my hopes were raised
that even yet that welcome sound might be heard from the garden. But
the birds turned out to be greater-spotted woodpeckers and not green,
and these do not express the joy of living so plainly. I have several
times since seen one of these spotted woodpeckers in the garden. One
day (in April, 1908) I watched the bird for a long time as he visited
in succession each of the posts in a wire fence by the old river-bed.

Green woodpeckers are rare in this part of the country, but
"lesser-spotted" are found in Dunham Park, and the keeper tells me he
has seen them in Warburton Fox-cover.

In the low-lying meadows by the Bollin, half a mile away, kingfishers
have always been found, haunting the little water-courses and ditches,
but at one time we were able to see them even from the garden itself.

In the making of the Ship Canal a part of the old river just beyond us
was left unfilled up, and formed a fair-sized pool. Kingfishers used to
come to this, and as long as there was any water at all in the old
river-bed I often stood outside this house and watched the blue streak
of light as the bird, with his peculiar shrill cry, flew straight as an
arrow past me. Even in August, 1899, when what remained of the river
was nothing but seething mud, in which I am sure there could have been
no living fish, I disturbed a kingfisher from an overhanging branch on
the bank.

A friend in the village, a keen observer of birds, has often seen, he
tells me, that when kingfishers fly from the meadows to the "pits" on
higher ground they first rise straight up into the air and then dart
off in a perfect bee-line to their destination. He also said that
kingfishers invariably desert a nest that has been touched. He was
repairing the embankment of the Bollin once when a kingfisher's nest
was accidentally laid open, and although the nest itself was not
injured, and the two young ones in it were nearly fledged and fought at
his hand like little owls, when two days later he was at the place
again he found them both dead, unable to find food for themselves and
forsaken by their parents.

The coming of the cuckoo seems to be of more interest to people here
than any event in natural history, and cuckoos are, I should say, more
plentiful with us than in many places, and are nearly as often seen as
heard.

I must have seen a dozen one day in May from the high road during a
short drive of a few miles, and, generally speaking, in May not a day
(I should not be far out if I said not an hour of the day) goes by
without our knowing by sight as well as sound that there are cuckoos in
the garden.

The widespread belief that cuckoos turn into hawks in winter is still
seriously held in Cheshire to-day, even by farmers.

For three days in the end of July, 1905, I was able from my study
window to watch a young cuckoo being fed by its foster-parent, a
meadow-pipit. The cuckoo was sitting on a wire fence on the opposite
bank. At first it sat in a floppy kind of way, with its wings hanging
down on either side, as if to keep its balance, but the next day it
seemed to have gained strength and sat up better. The little pipit (if
it was always the same, and I never saw more than one at once) was not
away for more than a minute or two, except on the third day, when it
was pouring wet and food seemed harder to find. As soon as the cuckoo
knew that its nurse was coming it began opening its mouth and quivering
its wings, while the poor little dupe that brought the food would
alight a short distance off and run along the wire to its side, then,
looking ridiculously small for the job, it would manage to pop
something into its mouth, not all in one go, but in two or three. It
was curious to notice that every time after being fed the ungrateful
cuckoo gave spiteful pecks at the poor deluded little slave who was
working so hard to supply its wants.

One day in May (1908) a cuckoo alighted on a tree close to the house,
attended by two small birds. He seemed rather uneasy in their company,
and kept looking suspiciously at them; they, I fancy, were trying to
make up their minds to attack him, but they let "I dare not" wait so
long upon "I would" that he went off unmolested.

Barn owls are comparatively common. Farmers are learning to understand
better their great usefulness, and at least to leave them alone. Some,
indeed, do more than this, and I know of two cases where the pigeon
cote in the hay-loft has been given up to them. Through the back door
of one of these cotes I have been able to see at my ease the funny
little round-faced hissing young ones, and I was quite surprised to
find how very long it is before the fully-fledged birds turn out of the
nest. My friend at Heatley was one of those who entertained the owls,
and he told me that if an old bird accidentally dropped a mouse as he
made his way into the loft, he never by any chance attempted to recover
it. He said he used on winter evenings to see the owls fly along the
eaves of the neighbouring houses and inside the roof of a hayshed close
by, beating with their wings to drive out the sparrows that were
roosting there, and he found the remains of a great many sparrows in
their casts.

A barn-owl appeared in the garden one day in May, 1899. It did all it
could to hide itself in the bushes and thick Scotch firs, but in spite
of its efforts the birds in the neighbourhood, led on apparently by the
blackbirds, found it out again and again, and kept up a ceaseless noise
and commotion as long as it was here. (I noticed that the fowls, both
cocks and hens, joined in the general clamour.) In December, however, I
have seen an owl fly into one of the out-houses in the middle of the
day, and even sit calmly in full view on a leafless tree without
attracting the least notice from any bird.

The keeper tells me that brown, long-eared, and short-eared owls are
all to be found in Warburton at times, brown owls nesting here
regularly.

Sparrow hawks come to us occasionally, but not so often as kestrels.
The difference in the behaviour of small birds with regard to these two
hawks is remarkable, and plainly shows that they have, as a rule,
little to fear from kestrels. One November day, for instance, a sparrow
hawk appeared in a tree just opposite my window, causing the greatest
commotion and consternation among sparrows and all other birds. A week
later a kestrel came to the same place at the same time of the day and
stayed about for a considerable time, but none of the small birds took
the least notice of him.

My friend at Heatley, who used to have the owls as his tenants, once
(in 1897) shot a sparrow hawk near his house that had a screaming
blackbird in his talons, and was tearing off from its back strips of
feathers and flesh together without apparently having tried to kill it
first. He told me that twice he had seen a lark escape from a sparrow
hawk. In both instances the lark's idea seemed to be to rise higher
than the hawk, and the two kept going up together. The hawk made
repeated stoops at his quarry, but each time he missed, the lark
striking now to the right and now to the left. The contest ended in
both cases by the lark dashing down to cover from a great height; one
time it found refuge among the shrubs in a garden, and on the second
occasion it came down faster than he could describe with its wings
closed against its sides, and just slanting over the tops of some fruit
trees opposite, dashed straight into the kitchen. To do this it had to
pass through the sliding door of the back-kitchen, which was not more
than two feet open, and then through the open door of the kitchen.
Strange to say, it was able to check its speed sufficiently to alight
uninjured on the floor, though utterly exhausted and helpless. My
friend picked it up, and having held it for some minutes in his hand,
let it fly away seeming none the worse for its perilous adventure. The
hawk, he said, sailed calmly once or twice round the house before he
took himself off.

The following is part of a letter I received in November, 1894:--"A
sparrow hawk took up his nightly abode on the transome of the top light
of a window in Arley Chapel in the autumn of 1890, and remained
constant to that roosting place until, at all events, May, 1892, when
we left Arley. How long it stayed there after we left I cannot say, but
I was told last winter that it had disappeared. The hawk was always
solitary; I never saw it with a companion. The roost was always exactly
on the same stone."

One has heard stories of other birds living the same kind of lonely
existence, but I never saw a very satisfactory explanation as to how it
is that they come to do so. The pairing instinct is strong in birds,
and it must be a powerful motive that makes them disregard it. We are
told that if a bird of prey loses its mate it does not take it long to
find another. May we suppose that solitary birds like this at Arley are
waiting in readiness for such an emergency? Or is such a bird simply
one that, being old and cantankerous, is bored by female society, or
feels himself unequal to the cares of a family?

All birds seem to give a sparrow hawk a wide berth, but one often sees
a kestrel pursued, most frequently perhaps by a rook, but sometimes by
a peewit or a gull. In October, 1908, I saw from the garden a kestrel
persecuted by two rooks. He kept dodging their attacks, but didn't seem
to mind them much and never turned on them. Again, at the end of
October, 1906, I was watching a kestrel as it hovered over a field
close by, when I saw it suddenly and violently assaulted by a
missel-thrush. It gave way for some space, but when in a minute or two
the thrush flew off, it returned to its first position and continued
hovering just as if never interrupted.

[Illustration: The Food Stand.]

I have heard from a man here, an old gamekeeper, a story like one that
I have read somewhere before. He had seen a kestrel pounce upon what he
supposed to be a mouse and fly off with it. Presently, to his surprise,
it fell like a stone to the ground and he picked it up quite dead;
close by it he found a dead stoat.

Wild duck breed in the Bollin meadows and may sometimes be seen in the
garden as they fly over; we see wild geese, too, sometimes, and
occasionally a heron. I was much struck one day by the flight of a pair
of swans over the garden. They were not flying high, but side by side,
with their long necks stretched out, with strong regular wing-beats;
without haste and without effort, they held on their straight and even
course at a good steady pace. It gave me rather a strange impression of
dignity and power.

One or two pairs of wood-pigeons build in the garden every year, but
they are not as common in Warburton as in more wooded country, though
sometimes large flocks visit us in autumn (_e.g._, in 1910). My friend
at Heatley told me that one year when a great many had come to feed on
acorns in a wood near his house, he had hoped from the shelter of a
wooden hut to make a good bag, but he found that in spite of their
numbers they were extremely wideawake, and though they covered the
ground in every other direction, they carefully eschewed a trail of
Indian corn, with which he had hoped to tempt them within reach of his
gun.

Turtledoves are fairly common in Cheshire, but there are many more in
some years than in others. I only remember their nesting in this garden
once (in 1899), when they were to be seen on the lawn every day.

Pheasants are constant visitors; we are very seldom without them at any
time of the year, and since parts of the old river-bed have been left
wild they have taken to breeding here. We have often watched from our
window the cock pheasant strutting about the hen, ruffling up his
feathers and displaying himself to advantage like a turkey-cock. The
tufts of ear-like feathers on each side of the head are a marked
feature in the cock at the courting season and give the bird a curious
Mephistophelian look.

We noticed once when we came upon them unawares as they were feeding on
corn we had put for them, that the hen, instead of scuttling off like
the cock, clapped close to the ground almost within arm's length,
evidently trusting for concealment to her sober colouring.

One cock who made himself very much at home here in the early part of
1901, and stayed with us for more than three months, unlike most that
have been here, was for ever crowing and clapping his wings. He always
roosted on the same tree, and every evening just before it got dark
took care to let us know that he was going to bed.

In October, 1910, there was a cock that used to amuse himself by
sitting for half an hour at a time on the broad top of a clipped yew
hedge. Several hens would sometimes sit there with him: once we saw
seven on the top of the hedge at once.

I have heard that in Japan at the time of an earthquake, extraordinary
commotion is noticed among pheasants. There was a slight shock of
earthquake here on December 17th, 1896, at 5-30 in the morning, and a
working man who happened then to be near the Fox-cover was especially
struck by the noise that pheasants were making in the wood.

Nearly every year we have partridge visitors, a family party; in 1895
there were thirteen young ones with the old pair, and last year, 1911,
again there were twelve. They always seem happy and light-hearted; they
dance and jump, they play games like "hide-and-seek" or
"kiss-in-the-ring," round about and in and out the drooping feathery
branches of a deadara, that just touch the ground, and in the intervals
they sun themselves on the walks.

I heard very few corncrakes in 1911, but they are common enough most
years. In 1908, one took up his abode in the old river-bed just outside
our window, and used to serenade us every night (May 8th to 26th). He
went on incessantly, exactly like a clock, quite regularly and evenly.
He was at it when we went to bed about 12 and never ceased or varied in
the least as long as we were awake to hear him.

What was once the bed of the Mersey has now (1912), thanks to the Ship
Canal engineers, become land comparatively speaking dry. But, of
course, the process of filling up was gradual, and for some years more
or less water was left in the river-bed. During one stage, which lasted
perhaps ten years, waterhens, which here are known as coots (true coots
are called "baldheaded"), became quite common in the garden. We used to
see them rather as waders than swimmers, but we did constantly see them
running about on the soft mud, washing in the little pools, and, as
pairing time came on, fighting desperately together. In the autumn a
dozen or more would be feeding on the lawn at once, and in the winter
some would often come to pick up food with the fowls, I have even seen
one make an attempt to get fat from a net hung out for the tits. We
often saw them perching quite high up in a tree. In 1907, I had a
photograph given me showing a waterhen's nest in a small wood near
Lymm. It was in a tree four feet six inches from the ground, and 200
yards from any water.

Golden plover come to the Bollin meadows every winter, but not so many
I think as when the land was more liable to floods, at least I do not
hear their clear whistle as often as formerly. It is not unusual to see
them flocking with peewits.

Peewits are called simply "plover" here. There are large flocks on
every side though not actually in the garden.

In August 1897, there was an extraordinary concourse of peewits on the
bank of the river just opposite. The noise they made was loud and
continuous, and birds were flying backwards and forwards all the while.
The whole of the bank for a hundred yards or more was covered with
them, others were at the water's edge, washing like ducks or playing
about and chasing one another, others were picking among the stones or
drinking. All the time the noise never ceased, and a friend said it
reminded her of the gulls on the coast of Ireland that she heard on her
way to America. The assembly on that particular day (August 13th) broke
up about one p.m., having lasted for more than an hour. Frequently
during the rest of the month, peewits gathered at the same place, but
not in the same numbers, and one day in December, 1898, I noticed that
there was something of the same kind on a small scale going on.

In June, 1901, when the river-bed had been further filled up and the
pools transformed into a muddy swamp, we were able from our windows to
watch a brood of peewit chicks from the time when they were first
hatched until they were old enough to go out into the world. They were
most interesting when as quite little things with backs the colour of
the eggs they had left, they busily hunted about for food, or all
crowded together under the wings of their mother for short spells of
rest and warmth.

Snipe breed in the Bollin meadows, and common sandpipers were always by
the river and the river-bed as long as there was any water at all in
it, always at least in August. They still seem to remember their old
haunts, and visit us occasionally. In the latter part of August, 1910,
there was one that had some feathers out of place in one of its wings
and appeared unable to fly. He seemed content enough and I wondered if
he would try to face the winter here, but whether by his own act and
deed, or by someone else's, he had gone when I looked for him in
September. In August, 1911, a sandpiper used to frequent a pit in
fields a good way from the river.

In April and May, 1910, a pair of redshanks were constantly to be seen
in the Bollin meadows towards Dunham, but no nest was found. In 1911
they were there again, and the keeper found a nest not far from the
Fox-cover, but I think he must have told too many of his friends about
it, for within a week of the eggs being hatched it was deserted.

I very well remember a good many years ago, though I can find no note
of the exact year, that I saw a black tern flying backwards and
forwards like a swallow over a wet spot in the corner of the garden,
and the next day I saw what was probably the same bird flying in the
same way over a large farmyard pit close by the road, about a mile from
here.

Since the Ship Canal has been opened gulls have been among the most
frequent and the most noticeable of all birds in these parts. Whenever
a field is ploughed up, however far it may be from the canal, there you
are sure to find gulls, and when the plough is at work in the fields
opposite, which are close to its banks, the gulls come in crowds and
form one long white line as the furrows are turned, the birds
continually rising before the plough and settling down again when it
has passed. I have identified black-headed and lesser black-backed
gulls among them, but have never attempted to decide to what species
the majority belong. Indeed, I do not feel very competent to do so,
having always found it sufficiently difficult to distinguish the
variations of gull plumage at different ages and at different times of
the year.

In 1908 the keeper (Mr. J. Porter) showed me a Bohemian waxwing, a
hooded crow and a hobby, all of which he had shot in Warburton within a
year or two previously.

He has told me since of stockdoves ("blue rocks" he calls them) nesting
here, and a curious story of a wren's nest on an ash-stump in the
Fox-cover in 1910, on the top of which a hedgesparrow built her nest.
Both broods, he said, hatched about the same time.

I have received from a friend in Northamptonshire (Mr. G. S. Garrett,
of Little Houghton) a photograph showing a similar instance of two
nests built one above the other. He says: "A piece of bark about 20
inches by 13, fell off an elm tree into a fence and dried up into a
tube-like shape. A spotted flycatcher built its nest in the top and
laid 5 eggs and a brown wren in the bottom laying 7 eggs.... The nests
are now in the Rochester Museum."



X.

BRITISH MAMMALS.


The whole extent of the garden, with its croft and orchard, is not
three acres, but a fair proportion of the British mammals are from time
to time to be found there.

The old church, largely built of timber, picturesque and quaint, stands
within a few yards of the house and its roof affords shelter to many
bats. We find the wings of moths, the remnants of their feasts,
scattered on the floor (I have noticed the wings of a tortoise-shell
butterfly among them), and I have found there more than one dead body
of a common bat; I cannot say whether that is the only kind we have,
but in 1908 a bat was seen near the house which, from the description
given of its size and manner of flight, may perhaps have been a
noctule.

On May 28th, 1899, there was an eclipse of the sun; it was only
partial, and made very little difference to the light, but just so long
as it lasted, from 3 to 4.30 p.m., I saw a bat flying busily round and
about the church.

The soil is light and worms seem to be abundant, but one hardly ever
sees a mole-hill in this part of Cheshire. One day, however, in
December, 1899, we noticed that a bed of parsley had withered in a
mysterious way, and when we came to look, the ground was quite
undermined with mole-runs. These were very shallow, and there was no
sign of a hillock above. Many of the roots of the parsley had been
entirely eaten off, and we saw that nearly all that remained in the bed
were full of grubs. These grubs it must have been, I suppose, that
attracted the mole, but it is curious that such an exceptional
condition of the roots should have been discovered, considering how
seldom there is any sign of a mole in the neighbourhood. We noticed
that the root of a strong raspberry cane on one side of the parsley bed
had been eaten off in the same way, but it is not very likely that this
would have had grubs in it.

Hedgehogs are not uncommon and we sometimes see them in broad daylight.
In July one year (1900) every evening for about a week we used to see a
large hedgehog running along a broad gravel walk close to the windows
of the house. It came always at the same time, "just at the edge of
dark," as they say here, and it always took the same route and
disappeared at the same place.

Later on in the month we found a young one, a most delightful little
animal, as friendly and tame as possible. We used to feed him with milk
every day as long as he stayed here, which was about a week, and once
when we expected some boys in the garden we brought him into the house
and put him in a box. He strongly objected to the imprisonment, loudly
protesting all the time in a voice like the squeaking of a rat, and it
was surprising to see how nearly he managed to get out, though the
sides of the box were almost two feet high.

Stoats, commonly called weasels with us, were fairly common when we had
more rats and rabbits, but we do not often see one now (1912). We had a
white terrier that killed several, though I had an idea that dogs
looked on stoats as a kind of ferret and did not hurt them.

We can count a fox among our occasional visitors. I have watched one
for some time that was smelling about among the shrubs just opposite to
the front door about eight o'clock on a Sunday morning.

We are out of the regular beat of the Cheshire Hounds here, and I fancy
the secret slaying of a fox is not accounted a very heinous crime,
certainly the foxes that are often reported soon disappear. In 1899 a
fox had its "earth" in the Abbey Croft, a field next to the garden, and
we used to like to hear him barking in the still summer evenings. In
the end, however, the keepers were too many for him, and he had to
shift his quarters or else it may have been his lease of life ran out.

We suffered very much at one time from the plague of rats. They
infested the out-buildings and the house itself, and for a long while
we were in despair about them. We tried poison, with the result that
dead rats made the kitchen uninhabitable and entailed the expense and
nuisance of taking up the floor, and still they came. We tried every
kind of trap, we had the whole of the outside walls examined, and every
possible entrance hole stopped, so at least we thought, but still they
came. At last we found that the simple expedient of doing away with the
ashpit deprived the premises of their chief attraction in a rat's eyes,
for then we had to burn on the kitchen fire all the vegetable and other
refuse that formerly found its way to the ashpit, and provided such
abundant and appetizing food. Certain it is that since we did this,
more than twelve years ago now (1912), we never have had a rat in the
house.

I have heard of large young fowls being killed by rats at farms not far
away, but I do not remember that they ever took one of our chickens;
indeed, at a time when we used to see many rats there, a hen sat in the
stable and safely hatched her chicks. I recollect an old rat that used
to come every day to feed with the fowls without any objection to his
presence on their part.

Rabbits were another great nuisance. They had burrows among the
tree-roots on the river bank and no one seemed able to get them out or
to shoot them, so between what they ate and what they dug up, we
hadn't much pleasure in the garden. At last we cut off so much of the
garden as we could surround with wire netting and left the rest to take
its chance. No sooner had we done this than, for what reason I cannot
tell, the rabbits disappeared completely, and for two or three years we
hardly ever saw one on our own ground, though they seemed to be as
plentiful as usual elsewhere.

We have sometimes caught long-tailed field-mice that were eating the
peas, and the cats seemed to find voles and shrews pretty often.

I must confess to rather a weakness for common mice; they are pretty to
look at and amusing in their ways. To give an instance of their
ingenuity and enterprise, I remember some time in the summer of 1899,
when we used to have a basin of sugar left in our room at night, a
certain mouse appeared to think that it was placed there for his own
special benefit, at any rate he was accustomed to help himself very
freely to it. We could hear him working away to get a lump over the
side of the basin, then rolling it along to the edge of the table and
letting it fall to the floor, along which he would again roll it to a
hole under the skirting-board. Sometimes he would take in this way as
many as three or four lumps of sugar in one night. Besides the sugar
there was often bread and butter left in the room between two plates,
and one morning when I took the top one off out jumped the mouse. I
cannot imagine how it got in. It certainly couldn't make its way out
again, which one should have thought a far easier thing to do. The
plates seemed to be exactly as I had left them the night before, and I
could not see that any of the bread and butter had been eaten.

I remember what seems to me an extraordinary instance of a mouse's
power of smelling out food. In the new parish church here (consecrated
in 1885) the vestry is in the tower, and its ceiling, which is the
floor of the bellringing-room, must be nearly 20 ft. from the ground.
Just under this ceiling were suspended at one time three very long
texts; they were drawn up by pulleys with a rope that was fastened off
about six feet from the floor. One of these texts was used at harvest
festivals, and a fringe of corn had been left round the border, but all
three were elaborately done up together in brown paper, so that none of
the corn could be seen. Happening to be at the church one day I found
the caretaker had brought out these texts into the churchyard, because
he had seen, he said, a mouse running up to them by the suspending
cord. Sure enough, when he undid the wrapping the poor little thing was
there, and I am sorry to say was promptly killed. I thought its
wonderful cleverness deserved a better fate. The church was newly
built with concrete floors, and there was no regular food supply to
attract mice, so this particular mouse must have come in casually on
the mere chance of picking up something, and it must from the floor,
nearly 20 ft. below, have found out that there was corn in one of the
bundles of texts behind the brown paper that covered them, and I think
more wonderful still, it must have discovered the only way of reaching
it, along the suspending cord.

There used to be an old piano in the Parish Room close to the new
church. This was not often used and one day when we lifted the cover
from the back part of the keyboard we found snugly placed in a corner
of the bass notes an empty mouse's nest, quite round like a bird's, and
beautifully made of dried bits of grass and coloured worsted. It seems
strange that a mouse should have found such a place for its nest, and
stranger still that in a new large bare room, with a solid wood-block
floor, it should have been able unobserved to go in and out continually
to fetch the materials for it. This it must have done, since none came
from the room itself.

The long broad garden walk by the side of the house seems to be a
favourite thoroughfare for hares; we constantly see them passing at all
times of the year. I wish myself there were not quite so many hares in
Warburton as there are. We could do very well with fewer in the gardens
and orchards, and there would then be less inducement to hold such
frequent public coursing meetings, which, in my opinion, we could do
very well without. Some years before 1900 a large number were imported
and turned down. These were at first a great annoyance to everybody,
and did much damage to fruit trees even in mild open weather; it was
almost unbelievable the height to which they could reach, gnawing off
every bit of bark all the way round. They were, besides, far too thick
upon the ground for their own comfort. I was told by a man who worked
on the estate that he often came across bucks fighting together; they
fought so savagely, he said, that they would hardly get out of his way,
and almost knocked up against him. They begin fighting, it appears from
his account, by giving slaps with their forefeet, but in the end they
go on to worry at one another like dogs.



XI.

DOGS AND CATS.


It is hard to say which is the most wonderful, to see how a dog's
intelligence can be developed by companionship with man or to look at a
Great Dane and a toy terrier together, and to remember that both breeds
have by man's agency been produced from the same original stock.

Cats, on the other hand, have never left their wild nature far behind,
and can easily return to it, as indeed they often do. Dogs are almost
entirely dependent on their human friends, but most cats do something
for their living, and some without going wild will find all their own
food. I remember one cat in particular that did this; she was an old
cat when first I came, and lived on with me for more than fourteen
years. As long as she was strong and able to hunt she never came into
the house and never asked for food (she was tame enough when she met us
out of doors) it was only when she got to be old and feeble that she
turned to us and learnt to value the warmth of a fireside. She must
have been 20, and may well have been nearer 25 when she died, and her
great age showed itself plainly by every outward sign. In her prime she
was a large, handsome animal, but she dwindled down to absolute skin
and bone literally; her face lost all its roundness and got to be quite
small and her voice died almost completely away. Towards the last she
spent her days on one particular stool by the fire, eating very little,
but apparently content and even happy, and responding as best as she
could to any attention. I do not remember her ever lying down at that
time, she was always sitting and always on the same spot, which was
worn quite shiny in consequence. At last one day she failed to appear,
and we never found her body.

The oddest cat we ever had was a black one that came to us of her own
accord in 1881. She had such a vile temper and was altogether so
uncanny that she might well have been possessed by an evil spirit.

When she had been with us only a few days, I found her hanging on to
the wire-netting of an outhouse door, evidently trying to get some
pigeons that she could see behind it. Very soon afterwards another cat
was drowned for persistently taking pigeons, and it really seemed as if
Blacky understood, for never after that did she look at a pigeon with
evil intent; she would walk through a number of them as they fed on the
ground, and so little did they fear her that they hardly moved out of
her way.

We had a canary once (and we must have had him for more than 10 years),
whose noisy song was so distracting that we used sometimes to put him
down on a table and cover his cage with a cloth. One day we went out
and left him there, and must have forgotten to shut the room door, for
when we came back we found the cover off the cage and the cat curled up
fast asleep by the side of it. The canary was unharmed and didn't
appear to be even frightened; he was hopping about in his cage quite
content and at ease. That the cat should have pulled off the cover and
then have left the bird alone seemed the more astonishing, because she
was a hardened and incurable thief.

Blacky knew the time for afternoon tea, and was always there to the
minute. However, when something that came to her brought off all her
hair and made her a pitiable object, she seemed to know of herself that
she was not presentable, and though we did nothing to prevent her she
never came into the drawing-room again until her hair had grown; then
she appeared regularly as before.

There may be some truth in the old saying, "Dogs care for people and
cats for places," but individuals differ very much; great love of home
is often seen in dogs, and strong personal affection in cats.

A cat was born here in 1897 and lived with us for two years like any
other cat. She was indeed rather more intelligent than many. She had
evidently observed the manner of opening a door, for when she wanted to
get into a room she used to rattle at the handle. One day she came and
rattled at the door-handle of the study where I was sitting, but
instead of coming in when the door was opened, she led me to the
drawing-room, and standing up put her paw on the handle of the door: as
plainly as possible she had fetched me to let her in.

Now although this cat was made a great deal of with us and seemed to
have a strong personal affection for me, spending most of her time with
me, one fine day she took herself off and disappeared altogether.

As weeks went by and we heard nothing of her we concluded she had met
with the fate to which pitiless game preservation has consigned many
another cat. But after about three months I saw her in the garden, when
though she followed me she refused to be touched. For weeks again we
never set eyes on her, and we almost came to believe that it was her
wraith I had seen. At last I happened to notice her sitting outside a
cottage not 200 yards from this house, by which I passed almost every
day of my life, but though she looked up when I called her by name she
would not come to me. After a year or two she very frequently came into
the garden and was willing enough to be stroked, but she never entered
this house again until (in 1909) the old man at the cottage died, and
the home she had chosen for herself was broken up. Then of her own
accord she returned to us as a matter of course, and up to the day of
her death (in November, 1911) was as friendly and affectionate as
possible.

It is odd that a cat should thus deliberately have chosen to leave a
home that was her birthplace, and where she had been more than kindly
treated. We thought at the time that it might have been through
jealousy of her own kitten, that she often found in the study, but if
of so jealous a disposition, why should she go to be one of a family of
cats in which as the last-comer she could hardly hope to take the first
place?

The man she went to sometimes worked here, and as he was fond of cats
might have taken a fancy to this one, and possibly did something to
entice her away. If this was so, it is clear that a cat's affection is
not always for places rather than people.

The strangest part of it all is to me not that she should have left us
for the cottage, but that at the same time her whole behaviour towards
us should have so entirely changed that she wouldn't let us touch her,
and couldn't be induced to set foot in the house.

The old man to whom this cat betook herself was quite a character in
his way. He could neither read nor write, having been put to work on a
farm when he was eight years old, but he took a very intelligent
interest in things. His house was an asylum for stray cats and you
would find him on a winter's evening sitting in front of a good fire
with a circle of half a dozen cats round him, all staring like himself
at the grate. He used to have a fancy for clocks; there must have been
five or six of all sizes perpetually ticking away in his kitchen, not
to speak of others that were there but refused to tick any longer. He
was not content, like other cottagers, with a candle or cheap light,
but had hanging from the low ceiling a large paraffin lamp, which had
cost him at least fifteen shillings.

He was never married, and since his mother died, some thirty years ago,
he never had a woman in the house, and yet few women could have kept it
cleaner than he did himself.

A white terrier that we had for ten years from 1888 used to associate
words with ideas even when spoken in ordinary conversation and not
directly to him. For instance, if he was lying apparently asleep before
the fire, and we happened in talking without reference to him to
mention any words that he knew, such as "dog," or "carriage," or
"walk," he would look up or perhaps just wag his tail.

The same dog had a wonderful gift of reckoning time. He knew Sunday
perfectly well, and he knew it the first thing in the morning, before
anything had been done to mark it as different from other days.
Generally he would lie on the rug at breakfast time and be quite alert
afterwards and on the watch to go out with us, but on Sundays he went
straight to his basket when we came down and did not move or look up
when breakfast was over. From very early days he used to go with my
wife to afternoon Sunday School. He knew exactly the time when she
ought to get ready to start, and if then she didn't move he would get
up and go to her, and he gave her no peace until she went to dress.
When he arrived at the school he would curl himself up on an old shawl
in a corner of the room, and until the Lord's Prayer before the final
grace of the dismissal prayers he would not stir. Directly he heard the
Lord's Prayer, he would get up in readiness, but he never left his
corner until the prayers were finished. On one Sunday in the month
there was catechising in the Church, instead of Sunday school, and Snap
was wont to be shut up by himself in the schoolroom until the service
was over. This he didn't much care for, and often when he had started
joyously as usual for his walk to the school, three-quarters of a mile
away, as soon as he came near enough to hear the church bell ringing,
he quietly turned round and went home. When he had been with us for
about eight years we took him to London for several weeks. He made the
best of it, and seemed to enjoy himself in a way, but it was almost
pathetic to see the change directly we got out of the train on our way
back. We had to drive three miles in a fly, and though Snap's place was
at the bottom under our feet, as soon as we got within a mile of home,
he seemed to know the smell of the country and was all excitement, and
when he found himself really at home he was quite beside himself with
joy and did not rest until he had visited in turn every familiar nook
and corner in the garden, then he threw himself down on his own rug in
his own house with a sigh of relief and satisfaction.

I remember the same love of home in the case of another dog, a mongrel
long-haired terrier that I had from a puppy. When he was more than ten
years old he was taken to live in Hertfordshire. His friends there were
devoted to him and did all they could to make him happy, but his nature
quite changed, he lost his former boisterous spirits and seemed rather
to endure than to enjoy life. After he had been away four years I
brought him back; he was then, of course, old as dogs go, nearly 15,
but it seemed as though the intervening years had been a dream, and he
was himself again at once, just as joyous, noisy and
determined-spirited as he had ever been, and fell into all his old ways
of life, as if he had been absent only a day.

This same dog, Stumpy we called him, had one little practical joke that
showed a sense of humour. At a farm about half-a-mile away there was a
pond, or as we say here a "pit," separated only by a hedge from the
road. On this pit there were nearly always ducks and it was a favourite
amusement of Stumpy's to steal quietly up to the road side of the hedge
just above them, and suddenly give several loud barks. He did this for
the simple pleasure of seeing the startled ducks rush quacking and
flapping to the other side of the pond; for he ran on again afterwards
perfectly unconcerned, content and pleased with himself, and I never
knew him take the slightest notice of ducks or fowls at any other time.

I remember a rather wonderful instance of intelligence shown by
Stumpy's father when I had him with me at Oxford. He arrived there for
the first time late one evening; the next day I took him for a walk
with friends towards Godstow, and when nearly there we stood to watch
some men shooting. Sandy hated the sound of a gun, and when we
remembered him and looked round, he had gone. As he was quite strange
to the place I scarcely expected to see him again, but I found him
waiting for me outside the door in Holywell Street when I got home.

       *       *       *       *       *

I may say in bringing these notes to a conclusion that they have in
substance been taken from a diary, and that I have not had to depend
upon my memory for what they contain, as I used to put down in this
diary at the moment any happenings connected with Natural History that
I noticed and wished to remember. When after several years I came to
look through the entries, the idea occurred to me that possibly some of
the matter might have an interest for others; I may very likely, of
course, be mistaken in this, all the more so, perhaps, because these
notes do represent what to me has been a source of very great interest.
I have had to live for many years an unexciting life, in an
out-of-the-way country place, with little society, and with few
opportunities of getting away for a holiday; and yet with the garden
itself, and the little world it embraces, in making the acquaintance of
its inhabitants and watching the doings of their daily life, I can
safely say I do not know what it is to be dull. Of course, I do not
pretend that Natural History has supplied all the interests I have had
outside my work, for I am thankful to say there is hardly anything in
the world that doesn't interest me, but it certainly is the case that
the tom-tits and the robins and the other birds have always been to me
as human friends, and have continually provided me with amusement and
pleasure.



INDEX.


Aviary, Outdoor--at Warrington, 68.


Barn Owls, 82.

Bats in Old Church, 95.

Birds as friends, 11, 112.
  Power of recognizing one another, 40, 41.

Blackbirds, 17, 22-25, 64, 65, 83, 84.

Blackcaps, 31.

Black Tern, 93.

"Blueback" Cheshire for Fieldfare, 22.

"Blue-cap" Cheshire for Tomtit, 38.

"Blue rock" local name for Stockdove, 94.

Bohemian Waxwing, 94.

Brambling, 67-68.

Bullfinch, 70.


Canary, 104.

Cat, changing its home, 106.
  Extreme old age, 103.
  Uncanny spirit, 104.

Chiffchaffs, 33.

Chaffinches, 64-67.

Coal-tits, 38, 41-43.

Contrivances for baffling sparrows on the Food-stand, 59-64.

"Coot" Cheshire for Waterhen, 90.

Corncrakes, 89.

Creeper, Tree-, 56.

Crossbills, 71.

Crows, Carrion-, 74.
  Hooded-, 94.

Cuckoos, 81.


Dogs, their intelligence, their love of home, 108-110.

Dogs and cats compared, 103.


Earthquake and Pheasants, 89.

Eclipse, a bat flying about while it lasted, 95.


Fieldfares, 22.

Figs self-sown, 6.

Flycatchers, Spotted-, 48-51.
  Pied-, 51.

Food for birds, 39.

Food receptacles, 40.

Food-stand, 59-64.

Fox, 97.

Frosts in spring, 3.


Garden-warbler, 34.

Golden-crested wrens, 32.

Golden plover, 91.

Goldfinches, 57.

"Goldfinch" Cheshire for Yellow-hammer, 71.

Greater Spotted woodpecker, 79.

Great Tits, 37, 38, 41.

Greenfinches, 57.

Gulls, 93.


Hares, 101.

Hawfinches, 58.

Hawks, Hobby, 94.
  Kestrel, 84.
  Sparrowhawk, 84.

Hedgehog, 96.

Hedgesparrows, 35.

Heron, 87.

Hobby, 94.

Holly berries sometimes left untouched, 14.

Hooded crow, 94.

House martins, 54.

House-sparrows, 58-66.


Jackdaws, 74.

Jays, 73.

"Jitty" Cheshire for Lesser Redpole, 68.


Kestrel, 84-87.

Kingfishers, 80.

"Kit" Cheshire for Redwing, 22.


Larks, 76.

Larks and Sparrow Hawk, 84.

Linnet, Green-, see Greenfinch.
  Red-, Goldfinch.

"Longwings" Cheshire for Swift, 77.


Magpies, 73.

Marsh-tits, 41-43.

Martins, House-, 54.
  Sand-, 55.

Meadow pipits, 47.

Missel Thrush, 13-16, 21, 86.

Mole, 95.

Mouse, Common-, 99-101.
  Long-tailed, 99.


Nightjars, 78.

"Nicker" Cheshire for Goldfinch, 57.


"Old man" local name for Spotted flycatcher, 49.

Old man, lover of cats, 108

Owls, Barn or White-, 82.
  Brown, Longeared, and Shorteared-, 84.


Partridges, 89.

Peewits, 91.

"Peggy Whitethroat" Cheshire for Willow-warbler, 33.

Pheasants, 88.

"Pied finch" Cheshire for Chaffinch, 67.

Pied flycatcher, 51.

Pied wagtails, 46, 65.

Pipits, Meadow-, 47.
  Tree-, 48.

Plants introduced becoming weeds, 8.

Plover, Golden-, 91.
  Peewits, 91.


Rabbits, 98.

Rats, 97.

"Red Linnet" Cheshire for Goldfinch, 57.

Redpoles, Lesser-, 68-70.

Redshanks, 92.

Redstart, 27.

Redwing, 21.

Reed-bunting, 71.

Robins, 18, 27-30, 60, 62, 63.

Rooks, 75.


Sand-martins, 55.

Sandpipers, 92.

Sedge-warblers, 34.

"Shercock" Cheshire for Missel Thrush, 13.

Shrews, 99.

Skylarks, 76.

Snails not found in the garden, 4.

Snipe, 92.

Song Thrush, 16-21, 64, 65.

Sparrow Hawks, 84-86.

Sparrow, House-, 58-66.

Sparrows and Owls, 83.

Spotted Flycatchers, 48.

Starlings, 72-73.

Starlings and sparrows, 65.

Stoats, 97.

Stock-doves, 94.

Stonechat, 26.

Swallows, 18, 52-54.

Swallows and Flycatchers, 51, 54.

Swans, 87.

Swifts, 77.


Tern, Black-, 93.

"Throstle" Cheshire for Song Thrush, 16.

Thrush, Missel-, 13-16.
  Song-, 16-21.
  Five kinds feeding together, 22.

Tits, Blue- or Tomtit, 38-41.
  Coal-, 38, 41-43.
  Great-, 37, 38, 41.
  Long-tailed-, 37.
  Marsh-, 41-43.

Toads not found in the garden, 4.

Tomatoes self-sown, 6.

Tom-tits, 38-41, 62, 63.

Tree-creeper, 56.

Trees in the garden, 2.

Tree-pipit, 48.

Turtledoves, 88.

Two nests, one above the other, 94.


Voles, 99.


Wagtails, Pied-, 46, 47.
  Yellow-, 47.

Wagtails and swallows, 54.

Warrington Town-hall outdoor aviary, 68.

Waterhens, 90.

"Weasel" local name for Stoat, 97.

Wheatears, 26.

Whinchats, 26.

Whitethroats, Greater-, 30.
  Lesser-, 31.

Wild duck, 87.

Wild geese, 87.

Willow-warblers, 12, 33.

Woodpecker, Greater spotted-, 79.
  Green-, 79.
  Lesser spotted-, 80.

Wood-pigeons, 87.

Wood-wren, 34.

Wren, 18, 43-45.


Yellow-hammer, 71.

Yew-tree, Old-, in churchyard, 2.

       *       *       *       *       *


Transcriber's Notes

Standardized bird name hyphenation, made minor punctuation changes, and
the following correction:

Page 84: Changed "neast" to "least."
  Orig: without attracting the neast notice from any bird.





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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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