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chance of listening to them if we take the walk
towards Parsons' Pleasure, and here in the thorn-
hedge on the right hand of the path, we shall find
both the Whitethroats.^ As we walk along, a
rough grating sound, something like the noise
of a diminutive corn-crake, is heard on the other
side of the hedge — stopping when ^ we stop, and

^ The spring of 1886 saw this hedge deserted by both
species ; the result of an outbreak of lawn-tennis in the adjoin-
ing field. They were lucky enough to find new quarters not
far off.



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The Wkitethroats. 55

sounding ahead of us as we walk on. This is the
teasing way of the greater Whitethroat, and it
means that he is either building a nest in the
hedge, or thinking of doing so. If you give him
time, however, he will show himself, flirting up
to the top of the hedge, crooning, craking, and
popping into it again ; then flying out a little way,
cheerily singing a soft and truly warbling song,
with fluttering wings and roughened feathers, and
then perhaps perching on a twig to repeat it.
Now you see the white of his throat ; it is real
white, and it does not go below the throat. In
one book I have seen the Garden-warbler called
a Whitethroat ; but in his case the white is not
so pure, and it is continued down the breast.
The throat of both Whitethroats is real white,
and they have a pleasant way of puffing it out, as
if to assure one that there is no mistake about it.
But how to distinguish the two ? for in size
they differ hardly enough to guide an inexpe-
rienced eye. There are three points of marked
difference. The larger bird has a rufous or rusty-
coloured back,^ and his wing-coverts are of much

^ The scientific name is appropriate, viz. Sylvia rufa.



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^6 Oxford: Spring and Early Summer,

the same colour ; while the back of the lesser
bird is darkish or grayish brown. Secondly, the
head of the lesser Whitethroat is of a much
darker bluish-gray tint. But much the best point
of distinction in the breeding season is in the
song. As I have said, the larger bird warbles ;
but the lesser one, after a little preliminary so-
liloquy in an under-tone, bursts out into a suc-
cession of high notes, all of exactly the same
pitch. It took me some time to find out who
was the performer of this music which I heard so
constantly in the hedges, for the bird is very
restless and very modest. When I caught sight
of him he would not stop to be examined closely.
One day however he was kind enough to alight
for a moment in a poplar close by me, and as I
watched him in the loosely-leaved branches, he
poured out the song, and duly got the credit
for it.

We are now close to our old winter-station on
the bridge over the mill-stream, and leaning over
it once more on the upper side, we shall hear,
if not see, both the remaining species of the
warblers that Oxford has to show us. They are



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River- Warblers. 5 7

the only species of River-warblers that are known
to visit England regularly every year ; these two,
the Sedge-warbler and the Reed-warbler, never
fail, and the Sedge-warbler comes in very large
numbers, but only a few specimens of other
River-warblers have been found out in their
venturesomeness. Still, every young bird-hunter
should acquaint himself with the characteristics of
the rarer visitors, in order to qualify himself for
helping to throw light on what is still rather a
dark corner of English ornithology. These same
species which we so seldom see are swarming in
the flat lands of Holland, close by us, and why
should they not come over to the island which
birds seem to love so dearly ?

But there is no doubt that birds have ways, and
reasons for them, which man is very unlikely ever
to be able to understand. Why, as Mr. Harting
asks,^ should the Reed-warbler be so much less
''generally distributed*' than the Sedge-warbler?
That it is so, we can show well enough even from
Oxford alone. You will find Sedge-warblers all
along the Cherwell and the I sis, wherever there
^ Our Summer Migrants^ p. 82.



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58 Oxford: Spring and Early Summer,

is a bit of cover, and very often they will turn
up where least expected.; in a corn-field, for ex-
ample, where I have seen them running up and
down the corn-stalks as if they were their native
reeds. But you must either know where to find
the Reed-warbler, or learn by slow degrees.
Parsons* Pleasure is almost the only place known
to me where

** The Reed-warbler swung in a nest with her young,
Deep-sheltered and warm from the wind." ^

There is, however, in this case, at least a plau-
sible answer to Mr, Harting s question. Owing to
the prime necessity of reeds for the building of
this deep-sheltered nest, which is swung between
several of them, kept firm by their centrifugal
tendency, yielding lovingly yet proudly to every
blast of wind of current of water — owing to this
necessity, the Reed-warbler declines to take up
his abode in any place where the reeds are not
thick enough and tall enough to give a real

^ Mr. Courthope*s Paradise of Birds. No one who loves
birds or poetry should fail to read Mr. Ruskin's commentary
on the chorus from which these lines are taken, in Love's
Meiniey p. 139 and folL



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River-Warblers, 59



protection to himself and his brood Now in the
whole length of Isis between Kennington^ and
Godstow, and of Cherwell between its mouth and
Parsons' Pleasure, there is no reed-bed which
answers all the requirements of this little bird.
Now and then, it is true, they will leave the reeds
for some other nesting-place ; one of them sang
away all the Summer Term of 1884 in the bushes
behind the Museum, nearly half a mile from the
river, and probably built a nest among the lilac-
bushes which there abound. But that year they
seemed to be more abundant than usual ; and
this, perhaps, was one for whom there was no
room in the limited space of the reeds at Parsons'
Pleasure. Thick bushes, where many lithe sap-
lings spring from a common root, would suit him
better than a scanty reed-bed.^

^ Unless it be in the westernmost branch, which runs at the
foot of the Berkshire hills. Near Godstow the nest is to be
found, as Mr. W. T. Arnold, of University Col., has kindly
informed me : for obvious reasons I will not describe the spot.

^ In the summer of 1886 this interesting bird was quite
abundant in and round Oxford. If I am not mistaken a nest
was built in the reeds of the fountain at the south end of the
Botanic Garden, a perfectly secure spot. I heard the song
there as late as the end of July.



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6o Oxford: Spring and Early Summer.

There is no great difficulty in distinguishing
Sedge- and Reed-warblers, if you have an eye for
the character of birds. The two are very dif-
ferent in temperament, though both are of the
same quiet brown, with whitish breast. The
Sedge-bird is a restless, noisy, impudent little
creature, not at all modest or retiring, and much
given to mocking the voices of other birds. This
is done as. a rule in the middle of one of his long
and continuous outpourings of chatter ; but I one
day heard a much more ridiculous display of im-
pertinence. I was standing at the bottom of the
Parks, looking at a pair or two of Sedge-warblers
on a bush, and wondering whether they were going
to build a nest there, when a Blackbird emerged
from the thicket behind me, and seeing a human
being, set up that absurd cackle that we all know
so well. Instantly, out of the bush I was looking
at, there came an echo of this cackle, uttered by
a small voice in such ludicrous tones of mockery,
as fairly to upset my gravity. It seemed to say,
**You awkward idiot of a bird, I can make that
noise as well as you : only listen ! " —

The Reed-warbler, on the other hand, is quieter



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River- Warblers. 6 1

and gentler, and utters, by way of song, a long
crooning soliloquy, in accents not sweet, but much
less harsh and declamatory than those of his
cousin. I have listened to him for half-an-hour
together among the bushes that border the reed-
bed, and have fancied that his warble suits well
with the gentle flow of the water, and the low
hum of the insects around me. He will sit for a
long time singing on the same twig, while his
partner is on her nest in the reeds below ; but the
Sedge-warbler, in this and other respects like a
fidgety and ill-trained child, is never in one place,
or in the same vein of song, for more than a
minute at a time.

It is amusing to stand and listen to the two
voices going on at the same time ; the Sedge-bird
rattling along in a state of the intensest excite-
ment, pitching up his voice into a series of loud
squeaks, and then dropping it into a long-drawn
grating noise, like the winding-up of an old-
fashioned watch, while the Reed-warbler, unaf-
fected by all this volubility, takes his own line in
a continued prattle of gentle content and self-
sufficiency.



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62 Oxford : Spring and Early Summer,

These eight birds, then, are the warblers which
at present visit Oxford. Longer walks and care-
ful observation may no doubt bring us across at
least two others, the Wood-warbler and the Grass-
hopper-warbler : the nest of the Wood- warbler
has been found within three miles. Another bird,
too, which is often called a warbler, has of late
become very common both in and about Oxford —
the Redstart. Four or five years ago they were
getting quite rare ; but this year (1885) the flicker
of the red tail is to be seen all along the Cherwell,
in the Broad Walk, where they build in holes of
the elms, in Port Meadow, where I have heard
the gentle warbling song from the telegraph wires,
and doubtless in most gardens. The Redstart is
so extremely beautiful in summer, his song so
tender and sweet, and all his ways so gentle and
trustful, that if he were as common, and stayed
with us all the year, he would certainly put our
Robin's popularity to the proof. Nesting in our
garden, or even on the very wall of our house,
and making his presence there obvious by his
brilliant colouring and his fearless domesticity,
he might become, like his plainer cousin of the



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Redstarts, 63



continent, the favourite of the peasant, who looks
to his arrival in spring as the sign of a better time
approaching. ** I hardly hoped," writes my old
Oberland guide to me, after an illness in the
winter, **to see the flowers again, or hear the
little Rothel (Black Redstart) under my eaves."
The Oxford Redstarts find convenient holes
for their nests in the pollard willows which line
the banks of the Cherwell and the many arms of
the I sis. The same unvaried and unnatural form
of tree, which looks so dreary and ghastly in the
waste of winter flood, is full of comfort and
adaptability for the bird in summer. The works
of man^ though not always beautiful, are almost
always turned to account by the birds, and by
many kinds preferred to the solitude of wilder
haunts. Whether he builds houses, or constructs
railways, or digs ditches, or forces trees into an
unnatural shape, they are ready to take advantage
of every chance he gives them. Only when the
air is poisoned by smoke and drainage, and vege-
tation retreats before the approach of slums, do
they leave their natural friends to live without
the charm of their voices — all but that strange



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64 Oxford: Spring and Early Summer,

parasite of mankind, the Sparrow. He, growing
sootier every year, and doing his useful dirty
work with untiring diligence and appetite, lives
on his noisy and quarrelsome life even in the
very heart of London.

Whether the surroundings of the Oxford
Sparrows have given them a sense of higher
things, I cannot say ; but they have ways which
have suggested to me that the Sparrow must at
some period of his existence have fallen from a
higher state, of which some individuals have a
Platonic avajavTjo"/^ which prompts them to purer
walks of life. No sooner does the summer begin
to bring out the flies among our pollard willows,
than they become alive with Sparrows. There
you may see them, as you repose on one of the
comfortable seats on the brink of the Cherwell
in the Parks, catching flies in the air with a
vigour and address which in the course of a few
hundred years might almost develop into ele-
gance. Again and again I have had to turn
my glass upon a bird to see if it could really be
a Sparrow that was fluttering in the air over the
water with an activity apparently meant to rival



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Common objects by the CherwelL 65

that of the little Fly-catcher, who sits on a bough
at hand, and occasionally performs the same feat
with native lightness and deftness. But these
are for the most part young Sparrows of the year,
who have been brought here perhaps by their
parents to be out of the way of cats, and for the
benefit of country air and an easily-digested
insect diet. How long they stay here I do not
know ; but before our Autumn Term begins they
must have migrated back to the city, for I seldom
or never see them in the willows except in the
Summer Term.

These seats by the Cherwell are excellent
stations for observation. Swallows, Martins, and
Sand-martins flit over the water ; Swifts scream
overhead towards evening ; Greenfinches trill
gently in the trees, or utter that curious lengthened
sound which is something between the bleat of a
lamb and the snore of a light sleeper ; the Yellow
Wagtail, lately arrived, walks before you on the
path, looking for materials for a nest near the
water's edge ; the Fly-catcher, latest arrival of all,
is perched in silence on the railing, darting now and
then into the air for flies ; the Corn-crake sounds

F



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66 Oxford: Spring- and Early Summer,

from his security beyond the Cherwell, and a
solitary Nightingale, soon to be driven away by
dogs and boats and bathers, may startle you with
a burst of song from the neighbouring thicket.

Of the birds just mentioned, the Swifts, Swal-
lows, and Martins build, I need hardly say, in
human habitations, the Sand-martins in some
sand- or gravel-pit, occasionally far away from the
river. The largest colony of these little brown
birds, so characteristic of our Oxford summer, is
in a large sand-pit on Foxcombe Hill : there,
last July, I chanced to see the fledgelings peep-
ing out of their holes into the wide world, like
children gazing from a nursery window. The
destruction all these species cause among the flies
which swarm round Oxford must be enormous.
One day a Martin dropped a cargo of flies out
of its mouth on to my hat, just as it was about
to be distributed to the nestlings ; a magnifying
glass revealed a countless mass of tiny insects,
some still alive and struggling. One little wasp-
like creature disengaged himself from the rest,
and crawled down my hand, escaping literally
from the very jaws of death.



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A noisy Situation. 6y

Before I leave these birds of summer, let me
record the fact that last June (1886) a pair of
swallows built their nest on the circular spring of
a bell just over a doorway behind the University
Museum ; the bell was constantly being rung,
and the nest was not unfrequently examined, but
they brought up their young successfully. This
should be reassuring to those who believe that
the Museum and its authorities are a terror to
living animals.



Nest on College Bell.

F 2

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CHAPTER III.

THE ALPS IN JUNE.



for a few weeks ; and it is sometimes possible to
leave the lowlands of England and their familiar
birds without delay, and to seek new hunting-



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Attractions of the Alps, 69

grounds on the Continent before the freshness
of early summer has faded, and before the
world of tourists has begun to swarm into
every picturesque hole and corner of Europe.
An old-standing love for the Alpine region usually
draws me there, sooner or later, wherever I may
chance to turn my steps immediately after leaving
England. He who has once seen the mountain
pastures in June will find their spell too strong
to be resisted.

At that early time the herdsmen have not yet
reached the higher pastures, and cows and goats
have not cropped away the flowers which scent
the pure cool breeze. The birds are undisturbed
and trustful, and still busy with their young. The
excellent mountain-inns are comparatively empty,
the Marmots whistle near at hand, and the snow
lies often so deep upon footpaths where a few
weeks later even the feeblest mountaineer would
be at home, that a fox, a badger, or even a little
troop of chamois, may occasionally be seen with-
out much climbing. If bad weather assails us on
the heights, which are liable even in June to
sudden snow-storms and bitter cold, we can



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yo The Alps in June.

descend rapidly into the valleys, to find warmth
and a new stratum of bird-life awaiting us. And
if persistent wet or cold drives us for a day or
two to one of the larger towns, Bern, or Zurich,
or Geneva, we can spend many pleasant hours
in the museums with which they are provided,
studying specimens at leisure, and verifying or
correcting the notes we have made in the
mountains.

It is a singular fact that I do not remember to
have ever seen an Englishman in these museums,
nor have I met with one in my mountain walks
who had a special interest in the birds of the
Alps. Something is done in the way of butterfly-
hunting ; botanists, or at least botanical tins, are
not uncommon. The guide-books have some-
thing to say of the geology and the botany of the
mountains, but little or nothing of their fauna.
I have searched in vain through all the volumes
of the Jahrbuch of the Swiss Alpine Club for a
single article or paragraph on the birds, and the
oracles of the English Alpine Club are no less
dumb.

Not that ornithologists are entirely wanting for



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Ornithologists and the Alps. 71



this tempting region ; Switzerland has many, both
amateur and scientific. A journal of Swiss ornith-
ology is published periodically. Professor Fatio, of
Geneva, one of the most distinguished of European
naturalists, has given much time and pains to the
birds of the Alpine world, and published many
valuable • papers on the subject, the results of
which have been embodied in Mr. Dresser s Birds
of Europe, But what with the all-engrossing
passion for climbing, and the natural indisposition
of the young Englishman to loiter in that ex-
hilarating air, it has come to pass that the Anglo-
Saxon race has for long past invaded and occupied
these mountains for three months in each year, with-
out discovering how remarkable the region is in
the movements and characteristics of its animal life.
I myself have been fortunate in having as a
companion an old friend, a native of the Oberland,
who has all his life been attentive to the plants
and animals of his beloved mountains, Johann
Anderegg will be frequently mentioned in this
chapter, and I will at once explain who he is. A
peasant of the lower Hasli-thal, in the canton of
Bern, born before the present excellent system of



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72 The Alps in June.

education had penetrated into the mountains, was
not likely to have much chance- of developing his
native intelligence ; but I have never yet found
his equal among the younger generation of guides,
either in variety of knowledge, or in brightness of
mental faculty. He taught himself to read and
write, and picked up knowledge wherever he
found a chance. When his term of military
service was over, he took to the congenial life of
a guide and ** jager,'* in close fellowship with his
first cousin and namesake, the famous Melchior,
the prince of guides. But a long illness, which
sent him for many months to the waters of Leu-
kerbad, incapacitated him for severe climbing,
and at the same time gave him leisure for think-
ing and observing : Melchior outstripped him as
a guide, and their companionship, always con-
genial to both as men possessed of lively minds
as well as muscular bodies, has long been limited
to an occasional chat over a pipe in winter-time.

But he remained an ardent hunter, and has
always been an excellent shot : and it was in this
capacity, I believe, that he first became useful to
the Professor Fatio whom I mentioned just now.



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A Peasant Naturalist, 73

He did much collecting for him, and in the course
of their expeditions together, contrived to learn a
great deal about plants, insects, and birds, most
of which he retains in his old age. There is
nothing scientific in his knowledge, unless it be a
smattering of Latin names, which he brings out
with great relish if with some inaccuracy ; but it
is of a very useful kind, and is aided by a power
of eyesight which is even now astonishing in its
keenness. I first made his acquaintance in 1868,
and for several years he accompanied my brother
and myself in glacier-expeditions in all parts of
the Alps ; but it has been of late years, since we
have been less inclined for strenuous exertion,
that I have found his knowledge of natural history
more especially useful to me. He is now between
sixty and seventy, but on a bracing alp, with a
gun on his shoulder, his step is as firm and his
enjoyment as intense, as on the day when he took
us for our first walk on a glacier, eighteen years
ago..

The mention of his gun reminds me, that
though my old friend's eyes and my own field-
glasses were of the greatest help to me, I could



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74 The Alps in June,



not always satisfy myself as to the identity of a
species ; and two years ago I was forced to
sacrifice the lives of some six or seven individuals.
This, it is worth knowing, is illegal in all parts of
Switzerland, and illeg^ at all times of the year ;
and I had to obtain a license from the Cantonal
Government at Bern, kindly procured for me by
another old acquaintance, Herr Immer of Meirin-
gen and the Engstlen-alp, to shoot birds * in the
cause of science/ This delighted Anderegg ; but
at my earnest request he suppressed his sporting
instincts, or only gave them rein in fruitless
scrambles over rock and snow in search of
Ptarmigan and Marmots.

I propose to occupy the latter part of this
chapter in taking my readers a short expedition,
in company with Anderegg, in search of Alpine
birds ; but let me first say something of the
general conditions and characteristics of bird-life
in Switzerland.

And first of the number of species, and abun-
dance of individuals. People sometimes tell me
that they never see any birds in the Alps. An
elderly German, whose bodily exertions were



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Scarcity of Birds on the Co7ithtent. 75

limited, and whose faculties seemed to turn in-
wards on himself instead of radiating outwards,
could not understand why I should go to Switzer-
land to study birds — ^for he could see none. And
it is indeed true that they do not swarm there, as
with us ; in this respect Switzerland is like the rest
of the Continent. It is a curious fact, that though
we have oilly lately begun to preserve our small
birds by law in the breeding-season, they are far
more abundant here than they are in any part of
the Continent known to me : and this is the case
even with the little delicate migrants, many of
which seem to have a preference for England in
spite of the risk of the sea-crossing. I remember
taking up a position one afternoon by the side of
a rushing stream, dividing beautiful hay-meadows,
and edged with dwarf willows ; and during the
half-hour I sat there, I neither saw nor heard a
single bird. In such a spot in England there
would have been plenty. But this is an exception :
the rule is, that you may read wherever you
run, if you will keep your eyes and ears open,
and learn by experience where chiefly to be on
the look-out. Variety is more interesting than



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7^ The Alps in June.

numbers ; the birds are more obvious from their
comparative rarity ; and their voices are not lost,
as is sometimes the case with us, in a general
and unceasing chorus. As regards the number of
species in the country, I have never seen an
accurate computation of it. But looking over
Mr. Dresser^s very useful catalogue of the Birds
of Europe, I calculate roughly that it would


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