Alfred Charles Smith.

The birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county online

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Online LibraryAlfred Charles SmithThe birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county → online text (page 37 of 53)
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in the very middle of the park. I do not know how long this
Heronry has existed, but when the Rev. A. P. Morres visited it
twelve years ago there were at least ten or a dozen nests. Since
that time the keeper says there were always five, or four at
the very least, but oftentimes, and of late years, seven or eight
nests. But here, too, as we have seen in other Wiltshire
colonies, the old birds, wandering off in search of food, are ruth-
lessly shot, and their numbers are everywhere decreasing.

I have now enumerated all the Heronries which exist in Wilt-
shire at this present date. But I have several instances to record
of their having bred in small parties, ' offshoots,' as I may
call them, from the established breeding-places, or 'outlying
nurseries,' colonized by a few birds only ; and also of their fre-
quenting certain districts more determinedly than as passing

a. Easton Piers, or Percy. I have the authority of Aubrey
('Natural History of Wilts/ p. 65) for saying that ' Herons bred
heretofore (sc., about 1580) at Easton Piers, before the great

Common Heron. 399

oaks were felled down near the Mannour House, and they do
still (about 1690) breed in Farleighe Park.' I have made
diligent inquiry in both these localities, but in neither can I
trace a vestige of a Heron's nest within the memory of living

b. Heytesbury. A small outlying colony, in all probability an
offshoot from the Heronry at Longleat, established itself four or
five years ago at Heytesbury. This little colony consisted of
only two nests, which were carefully protected by the tenant,
who also did all in his power to keep their existence a secret, for
fear they should be disturbed. The two nests were not close
together, but one was on some trees in the water-meadows, and
the other in a plantation near the house, believed to have been
built in a fir tree. These particulars were most kindly collected
for me by Lord Heytesbury.

c. Amesbury. Two nests were established last year (1886)
near the water on the property of Sir Edmund Antrobus, and
both hatched out their broods in safety. This year, however,
from some unaccountable reason, they are not breeding there,
though the keeper has seen the old birds flying out of the wood.
One of these nests was on an ash, the other on a beech-tree.
For the above interesting information I am indebted to the Rev.
A. W. Phelps, Vicar of Amesbury.

d. Herons' Corner, Mildenhall. The Rev. C. Soames tells me
that there is a spot in his parish called ' Herons' Corner/ within
the borders of Savernake Forest, but he never heard of any
Herons nesting there. It is almost certain, however, that they
must have done so at one time, when they gave their name to
the locality.

e. Noke Wood, Savernake Forest. Mr. C. Tanner, jun., informs
me that there was a very small offshoot of a Heronry established
for four consecutive years in an outlying part of Savernake
Forest called ' Noke Wood.' It consisted of two nests only, and
it has been deserted some three or four years.

/. The Lawn, Swindon. I am indebted to Mrs. Ambrose
Goddard for the information that Herons very often visit the

400 Ardeidce.

ponds on the estate here ; and that on one occasion a pair tried
to build on some high trees near the water, but they disappeared
before the nests were completed, and in all probability one or
both of them were shot.

g. Badminton? To the kindness of Mr. Lowndes, of Castle
Combe, and to the courtesy of the Duke of Beaufort, I am in-
debted for the knowledge of a Heronry which formerly existed at
Badminton, in a wood called ' Allengrove,' which, though it
adjoins the park, is itself in Wiltshire, for the park fence which
divides the park from Allengrove is the boundary between the
two counties. Here, in the extreme north-western corner of the
county, the Herons used to breed year after year, but the Duke
has not known a Heron's nest there now for some years.

h. Erkstoke. I learn from Mr. G. Watson Taylor that, though
Herons have never been known to breed there, some remain all
the year round, and roost in Hemming's Wood, in the park, and
in the pleasure-grounds, close to the wellhead or pond ; and in
the summer nine or ten Herons may often be seen circling above
Hemming's Wood. This looks extremely like the produce of
two nests which have escaped the notice of the keepers, and I
should not be surprised to hear that such a colony was
established ; more especially as Erlestoke is too far from Bowood
and Longleat to be so constantly visited by birds belonging to
either of these distant Heronries.

i. Estcourt. A few Herons may generally be seen in this park
and the adjoining meadows ; and on one occasion, as I am told
by Mr. G. Sotheron Estcourt, seven Herons were observed to be
staying about the lake for some months. This has a strangely
suspicious appearance of a pair of old birds and their five young.
Mr. Estcourt also says that Herons are to be found all down the
banks of the Avon, in the neighbourhood of Malmsbury and
Christian Malford.

k. Christian Malford. Sir Henry Meux informs me that he
often sees Herons at Dauntsey, and that they sometimes roost in
the winter in Christian Malford Wood, but that he has never
heard of their building there. This is corroborated by the Rev.

Common Heron. 401

A. Law and by the keeper, who says that two Herons only
roosted in the wood during the winter before last, and that he
has not seen any since, and that they certainly never bred

1. Grittleton. Mr. Algernon Neeld says, '-Herons are often
seen about here and on the stream at Castle Combe, and the
upper Avon above Malmesbury, and sometimes they roost in the
woods all the winter, but they never breed here.'

m. Charlton. Lord Suffolk informs me that the Herons
infest his trout- water, and that it is only within the last dozen
years, since he succeeded in getting up a good stock of trout,
that they have taken to visiting him with any regularity. He
does not know where they come from, nor where they breed;
certainly not at Charlton.

n. Corsham. Lord Methuen writes me word that, though
Herons are often seen at Corsham Court, they all come from
Bo wood, the distance being not much more than five miles as
the crow flies. He has never heard of any Herons' nests nearer
Corsham than Bowood.

o. Burderop. I learn from Mr. Calley that though Burderop
is frequently visited by stray Herons, and he is not sure whence
they come, there are no nests in the immediate neighbourhood.
He has no doubt, however, that if unmolested they would nest at
Coate Reservoir, at the end of Burderop Wood.

p. Rodbourne. Sir R. H. Pollen is sure there is no colony of
Herons at or near Rodbourne, though one or two may be occa-
sionally seen near the river there.

q. Ramsbury. Sir F. Burdett says his Kennet water is occa-
sionally visited by Herons, but not many are seen there. He
does not know where they come from, and has never heard of
any colony near Ramsbury.

r. Ninety. The Rev. W. Butt writes me word that it is the
rarest thing with him to see a Heron in that district, though ho
is frequently wandering along the banks of the Swill. They are,
however, common three or four miles off, visiting the so-called


402 Ardeidce.

s. Holt. I am told by Mr. Medlicott that Herons are in the
habit of congregating near Holt, and that a farmer of that
neighbourhood informed him that sometimes fifty might be seen
there together. This is very remarkable, for Holt is at a distance
from any Heronry. Mr. A. Mackay, of Holt Manor, observes that
they may constantly be seen in the valley between Bradford and

t. Baynton. Mr. W. Stancomb, junr., reports that though
Herons frequently come to the pond in front of the house at
Baynton, he thinks they come from Bowood, as their flight is
always in that direction. At all events, he knows of no colony
nearer than Bowood.

u. Bulkington. I am informed by Colonel Wellington that
Herons occasionally come to the mill in this place, and are often
shot by the miller, who almost every year sends one to a friend
who appreciates the old-fashioned dish.

v. Wilcot. The Rev. C. Soames remarks on the fact that
Herons appear in great force between Townsend, at Wilcot, and
the canal ; and wonders whence they come and where they roost
and nest !

w. Breamore. Mr. E. H. Hulse tells me that occasionally he
sees a Heron in the water-meadows at Breamore : but these are
Dorsetshire and Hampshire birds, which come over the border
into Wilts from the Heronries at Mottisfort, the seat of Lady
Barker-Mill ; and Somerley, the seat of Lord Normanton.

I conclude my account of the Herons of Wiltshire with an
anecdote communicated to me by the Rev. A. P. Morres. ' Dr.
Humphrey Blackmore, some time since, found a Heron with its
beak firmly fixed through a large eel : the eel had twined itself
round the Heron's neck so firmly as to strangle it, and the Heron
had been unable to extricate its bill. They were both quite dead,
and frozen hard.' This is an exact counterpart of a similar case
mentioned by Yarrell, to which I refer my readers for a clever
vignette illustrating the catastrophe.

Squacco Heron. 403

144. SQUACCO HERON (Ardea comata).

I have the unexceptionable authority of Yarrell for the fact
that this beautiful species has been taken in Wiltshire, but no
particulars of the capture, the locality, or the date are recorded
by him : I presume, however, that he derived his information
from Colonel Montagu, who relates that a bird of this species
was shot at Boyton, in Wiltshire, by Mr. Lambert, in 1775, and
that mention is made in the Minutes of the Linnsean Transac-
tions, vol. iii., that Mr. Lambert presented a drawing of the bird,
April 4th, 1797.* It is an Asiatic and African bird : the delicate
buff-colour streaked with dark lines of the upper plumage ; the
pure white of the under parts ; the hair-like feathers of the back,
whence the specific name comata ; and the general shape and
bearing of the bird, combine to give it an elegance unrivalled
even in this graceful family : but it is a very rare bird in the
British isles, and its appearance is annually becoming more and
more infrequent.

The only locality in which I have met with it in its own
haunts was on the causeway which crosses the upper end of the
Lake Bourget, at Aix-les-Bains, in the South of France, when
driving in company with Mr. H. M. Upcher, a brother member of
the ELO.U., an able ornithologist, and notorious for the laudable
efforts he made to retain the Great Bustard which visited his
estate at Feltwell, in Norfolk, in 1876. We were both equally
delighted to watch this rare species, as it sat unconcernedly
perched on a pole in the lake, within a short distance of the
carriage as we drove by ; and when it did take wing it flapped
gracefully away with slow easy movements, a true Heron in all
its ways and appearance. Canon Tristram found it breeding in
large colonies in a dense bed of reeds at Lake Halloula, in North
Africa, each nest piled up to a height of three or four feet above
the mud, supported on tufts of reeds, and composed of great
heaps of weeds and rushes. -f- Mr. Seebohm, too, fell in with a

Montagu's Supplement to ' Ornith Diet.' in loco.
t Ibis for I860, p. 163.


404 Ardeidce.

colony breeding on pollard trees and bushes in the immediate
neighbourhood of a swamp on the Lower Danube. By Continen-
tal naturalists it is generally known as A. ralloides, ' like a rail '
from rallus, ' a rail/ and o25o?, appearance (B.O.U.). So in Ger-
many it is Eallen Reiher, ' Rail Heron ;' but in France Heron
Crabier, ' Crab-eating Heron ;' and in Italy Scarza ciufetto,
' Tufted Heron/

145. LITTLE BITTERN (Botaurus minutus).

This is a very rare bird in England, though common enough
in France and Germany, and I have met with it on the Simplon
Pass in Switzerland: it is a diminutive member of the great
Heron family, and a very prettily marked species. I have a
record of one mentioned by Montagu as killed in the neighbour-
hood of Bath in 1789, but whether in Wilts or Somerset there
is no evidence to show ; but I have information of several un-
doubted specimens being taken in this county : one killed about
1850 in the parish of Seend, and in the possession of Mr. Taylor,
of Baldham Mill, as I was informed by the late Mr. Withers :
another shot by Mr. Jervoise's keeper at Britford, near Salisbury,
about 1851, in the month of June ; for the knowledge of which I
am again indebted to my good friend, the Rev. George Powell,
rector of Sutton Yeny. One, an adult male, killed at Stourton,
in 1820, by Jacob Riddick, gamekeeper to Sir R. C. Hoare, as I
am informed by Mr. Baker; and one procured at Wilton, by
Mr. C. Parham, on September 8th, 1869, as I learn from the
Rev. A. P. Morres.

The chief characteristic of the Bitterns, wherein they differ
from the true Herons, consists in the plumage of the neck,
which, in the hinder part is bare, or scantily clothed with down,
but the front and side feathers being long and extending back-
wards completely cover the naked space ; these feathers can also be
expanded laterally at will, when the bird assumes a strange appear-
ance, reminding one of the voluminous folds of cravat in fashion
in the palmy days of Beau Brummel ; the neck is also considerably
shorter, and the beak stouter than in the preceding species. The

Bittern. 405

Little Bittern is common in the south-east of Europe, as well as
in Asia and North Africa ; is a migratory bird, of solitary habits,
and its usual position when at rest amidst the reeds or aquatic
herbage of a marsh is that of sitting upon the whole length of
the tarsus, with the neck bent and contracted, the head thrown
back, and the beak pointing almost perpendicularly upwards.*

In Sweden it is called Dverg Hdger, or ' Dwarf Heron.' Its
note is remarkable, unlike that of any other bird, and both
loud and harsh, resembling the barking of a large dog, when
heard at a distance, says M. Vieillot ; or like the grunt a pavior
gives when dropping his, rammer, says the Kev. T. Frere.f In
France it is Heron Blongios and Blongios de Suisse ; in Ger-
many, Kleiner Reiher ; and in Portugal Garg a pequena, ' Little
Heron ;' but in Italy, Sgarza guacco.

146. BITTERN (Botaurus stellaris).

Fifty years ago this species was not uncommon in this country,
wherever marsh or swamp or fen invited its approach. My
father killed it in Gloucestershire in his sporting days, and
my father-in law, the Rev. T. T. Upwood, shot several in Norfolk,
of which one is in my collection. Even then, about 1820, it
was beginning to be regarded as a rare bird ; now, however, it is
gradually disappearing before the march of agricultural improve-
ments and the reclaiming of waste lands, and bids fair to be very
soon exterminated from amongst us. I have notes of its oc-
currence in many parts of the county, north and south ; and the
late Rev. John Ward, Rector of Great Bedwyn, informed me that
a specimen taken in that parish exceeded in beauty of plumage
any he had ever beheld. One of the finest specimens which
I have ever seen was killed at Enford, and was in the hands
of Mr. Withers, at Devizes, who was preserving it for Mr.
Stratton. On January 23rd, 1875, a notice appeared in the Field
newspaper that Mr. J. J. Estridge, of Bradford-on-Avon, had
killed a fine specimen half a mile from that town, and one
hundred yards only from the railway. On January 12th, 1883,
Selby in loco. Zoologist for 1849, p. 2498.

406 Ardeidce.

the Rev. E. Peacock informed me that three weeks previously one
was caught while hiding in some brambles by a small stream
in one of his fields at Rockfield House, near Frome. This will
have been on the extreme borders of the county. And again this
year a fine specimen, in good plumage, was sent me for identifica-
tion by Mr. William Mackay, of Trowbridge, who described it
as shot on January loth, 1887, at Hilperton Marsh, within a mile
and a half of Trowbridge. The Rev. A. P. Morres says that in the
winter of 1875-76, three were killed on the river Avon in his
immediate neighbourhood; and in the same season five more
were procured from the neighbouring river, the Test. This is in
accordance with Yarrell's statement, that in one year it may be
tolerably common, and then for several successive seasons scarcely
to be found at all. I have also notices from Lord Nelson of two
killed at Trafalgar, the first about 1836, and the last about 1876 ;
of two killed on Fonthill, recorded by Mr. Morrison's keeper ; of
one, if not two, killed at Longleat, as I am informed by Lord
Bath ; of one shot in a wood called West Park, near Corston, last
winter (1886), by Mr. Chubb, while pheasant - shooting, as I
am informed by Mr. Algernon Neeld, and Sir R. H. Pollen ;
of one shot at Lyneham in 1850, and now in the collection
of Major Heneage, at Compton Basset t ; and of one shot and pre-
served at Corsham Court, as I learn from Lord Methuen. It is a
very handsome bird, and the mixture of various shades of buff
and brown, spotted, speckled and barred in every direction is par-
ticularly pleasing. The cry of the Bittern, which is a hoarse,
booming sound or bellowing, when heard on a dark night in the
lonely retreats which the bird loves, has a startling effect on the
hearer, and is strangely weird and unearthly. The Welsh
for Bittern is like most other Welsh names wonderfully de-
scriptive, viz., Aderyn-yJywn, 'the Bird with the Hollow Sound ;'
from bwmp, ' a hollow sound ;' hence probably the English word
' boom/ so generally applied to the noise made by this bird. Our
word ' Bittern,' and the French butor, are evidently taken from
the generic botaurua, and thus has been generally thought to be
derived (as Professor Skeat observes) from bos taurus, from the

Night Heron. 407

note of the bird, which bellows like an ox. The B.O.U. Committee,
however, denies that it is so derived. The specific, steUaria,
' marked with stars (stellce),' not inaptly describes its plumage ; so
in Italy it is Sgarza stellare. In some countries it takes its name
from the reed beds it frequents, as in Germany Grosse Eohrdrom-
mel, and in Sweden tidrdrum ; but in Spain it is Garza
mochuelo, literally 'Red Owl Heron/ and in Portugal Gallinhola
real, literally ' Royal ' or ' Great Woodcock.' Like many other
members of this family, it is a solitary bird, and lies concealed in
the rank herbage of a swamp during the day, emerging at twilight
to hunt for food in the marshes. Its flesh was very highly
esteemed when the bird was better known than it is now.

147. NIGHT HERON (Nycticorax griseus).

I am indebted to the Rev. E. Duke, of Lake, for information of
the occurrence of a single specimen of this bird, which was killed
on his property many years ago, and added to the small collection
illustrative of the Fauna of the district formed by Mr. Duke's
father, and still preserved at Lake House. The Night Heron
is but a rare straggler to the British Isles, its home being in the
Southern and Eastern parts of Europe ; but its range is very ex-
tensive, for it has been found in all the quarters of the globe. It
is, as its name imparts, a night-feeding species, remaining quietly
at rest in the reeds on the margins of streams, or on the tops
of high trees, during the day, and as evening comes on seeks its
food in the marsh, the meadow, and the river. In Egypt I
frequently found it in the palm groves, and have shot it as it
flew from some lofty palm when disturbed in its day-dreams
on the banks of the Nile. This is a bird which has been and is
the subject of much superstitious reverence and fear. In Ancient
Egypt it was considered the emblem of Osiris, and as such was
venerated, if not worshipped with divine honours. We may see
its portrait now, depicted on the walls of the tombs at Thebes,
with two long plumes depending from its head. In China it is 4o
this day looked upon with superstitious dread, and is thought to
have some connection with evil spirits ; and under the name of

408 Ardeidce.

Am kong cheow, or ' Bird of Darkness,' is both propitiated and
protected. Our great authority on Chinese ornithology, Mr.
Swinhoe, has given an admirable account of the breeding of this
sacred bird in the fine old banyan trees in the courtyard in front
of the great Honam temple at Canton, where it is encouraged
and protected, and to his graphic description I would refer my
readers.* Nycticorax is strictly 'the night raven/ from w'f-f
Kopa% ; and griseus, 'gray' or 'grizzled.' Some of our older orni-
thologists used to call it the ' Night Raven/ and Bechstein
describes it under the name of Nacht Reiher ; not that it was
ever supposed to have any affinity with Corvus corax, but
simply by way of literal translation of the scientific name. The
young bird was for a long time considered a distinct species, and
was called A. Gardeni, and 'Gardenian Heron/ and 'Spotted
Heron/ the plumage of the immature bird being brown, covered
with light coloured spots, and resembling in no slight degree the
plumage of the immature Spotted Eagle, and of the immature
Gannet. In France it is Bihoreau d manteau noir ; in Italy,
Sgarza nitticora ; in Spain, Martinete.

148. WHITE STORK (Ciconia alba).

It is very sad that this bird, so ready to be familiar with
man, and which may be seen in Holland and Germany building
its nest on the roofs of houses, and meeting that encouragement
and protection which its confidence deserves, should be scared
away from England by the persecution it has met with here.
And yet the White Stork is not only harmless, but positively
useful, and acts the scavenger to perfection. In Scandinuvia,
we are informed by Mr. Lloydf that it is looked upon with
a kind of veneration similar to that entertained towards the
Swallow and Turtle-dove, because (so the legend runs) it flew
over the Redeemer at the Crucifixion, crying in a sympathising
tone, ' StyrJc, Styrk, Styrk Honom,' ' Strengthen, strengthen,
strengthen Him. 1 Hence it derived the name of Stork, and

Ibis for 1861, pp. 53-56, and for 1863, pp. 423-425.
t ' Scandinavian Adventures/ vol. ii., p. 390.

White Stork. 409

it was in remembrance of the affectionate solicitude it evinced
on this occasion that the gift was bestowed upon it of bringing
peace and happiness to the roof where it was allowed undis-
turbed to rear its young.

This attribute is also equally assigned to it by the inhabitants
of Germany, but whether resulting from a similar legend to that
accepted in Sweden, or from some other conceit, I am unable to

It has also been fortunate enough to secure the good- will of
the Crescent as well as of the Cross, for in the East it is protected
by the Mahommedans ; in the first place probably from a recog-
nition of its value in consuming the refuse and garbage of the
streets, and since then as a bird of good omen, which it would be
not only impious but dangerous to molest ; and so its nest may
be seen on the mosque towers and other buildings, and its
selection of them hailed by the owners with delight, just as in
Europe. In some German villages, especially in Bavaria, I have
seen an old cart-wheel firmly fixed on the top of a house, and a
very tempting site it appeared to be in the eye of the Storks, to
uphold the mass of sticks which forms the foundation of the nest.

It is so frequently seen on the Continent by every tourist, and
its fearlessness permits such close observation, that it will be
needless to describe its appearance. It is migratory, arriving in
Europe in the spring, and retiring to Africa, where I have met
with it in large flocks, in winter, fishing on the shallows and
sand-banks of the Nile. When at rest, it stands upon one leg,
with the neck bent backwards, the head resting on the back, and
the beak resting on the breast : and when alarmed, it is apt to
snap the mandibles of its beak together with a loud clattering
noise. I have the authority of Yarrell for stating that an indi-
vidual of this species has been killed near Salisbury. I have
also a newspaper notice of an immature bird, supposed to have
flown over from Holland, shot in August, ] 789, by Mr. Selfe, as
it was seen feeding in a meadow, near Downton; so that a
hundred years ago it was considered of sufficient rarity to deserve
special notice in print. But the Rev. A. P. Morres is able to

410 Ardeidce.

record quite a recent occurrence, as one was shot at Codford by
Mr. Cole, of that parish, on a chimney-stack on his premises, on
September 5th, 1882, and is now in that gentleman's possession.
Our English word ' Stork/ and the German Storch and Swedish

Online LibraryAlfred Charles SmithThe birds of Wiltshire. Comprising all the periodical and occasional visitants, as well as those which are indigenous to the county → online text (page 37 of 53)