1931. Observations of wildlife mainly in and around London.
Bookplate: Ex Libris Avinium: R. A. W. Reynolds|
BIRD LIFE IN
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BIRDS IN THE GARDEN
Rooks are very wary and cunning birds, and usually difficult to photograph. If they see anything to arouse their suspicions, such as the lens of a well-hidden camera, they walk up very cautiously, cram their beaks to capacity with food, and then fly away to some quiet corner of the garden where they half empty their bills and then polish off their plunder in safety. I find that the majority of people have great difficulty in distinguishing the Rook. Every black bird of any size is called a crow and left at that. The adult Rook may always be easily identified by the feather-denuded white patch round the base of the bill. In the young birds, however, until a year old, the nostrils are clothed with bristles. The feathers of the flanks hang down, giving the bird a somewhat ragged appearance as it walks with a slightly rolling gait in search of its widely varied diet.
BIRDS IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF LONDON
Not far away from the place where the Peewits were nesting, there is a large field in which several very ancient beech and Spanish chestnut trees grow. Owing to their age, they contain many holes, nooks, and crannies, which are taken full advantage of by Owls and Jackdaws. The latter birds not only nest in the holes, as is their usual custom, but those unable to find inside accommodation construct open-topped nests among the branches. One day I clambered up into a beech and took a peep into a hole formed by a branch which had broken off at a height of about twelve feet from the ground. To my surprise, I saw that Mrs. Jackdaw had so delayed her departure, that in spite of the warning provided by my clumsy clambering, I had actually trapped her on the nest. As can be imagined, she showed every appearance of alarm in her bluish-grey eyes, and edged to the far end of her retreat. Just as I was about to insert my hand, she disappeared into the side of the tunnel which connected with another hole in a different part of the trunk, and presently, to my great surprise, flew away from the other side of the tree. I found that the nest, which was made of a collection of sticks, lined with wool, grass, and hair, contained five eggs. By way of decorations, there were several torn-up pieces of old newspapers and a number of fluted papers such as are used to contain small cakes, which had evidently been dropped by picnickers.
A friend of mine, who is interested in birds was hunting for Magpies' nests where they are as a rule fairly common. During his search he managed to cover a large area of country, and succeeded in finding dozens of nests, but in nearly every case discovered they contained dead young ones. The owners had no doubt been either shot or poisoned by the gamekeepers and farmers in the district, with the result that their young ones starved. At last, my friend came upon a nest containing chicks nearly ready to fledge, took two of the family home, and later on gave one of them to me. I christened him Grip, and turned him loose in the orchard, where he spent most of his time teasing the fowls. His favourite trick was to poke his head through the wire fence dividing the kitchen garden from the fowl run and seize an old hen by the tail. By the time the startled bird had turned to retaliate, Grip had withdrawn his head to safety, and was no doubt chuckling heartily over the incident. Whenever a big cock chicken towered over him in a threatening attitude, Grip would open his great red gape, spread his wings, and Chanticleer would be so disconcerted at the appearance of such an unusual aspirant to farmyard honours that he would walk away without assaulting the small and impudent rival. Occasionally, however, the hens would make a concerted rush at him, and Grip would then very prudently take refuge in a near-by fruit tree, and chatter defiance at his baffled pursuers. The appearance of mock gravity he would assume whilst sitting on the edge of a feeding-trough pretending to be a chicken was most amusing. During his short stay among the poultry, Grip was in very truth the Charlie Chaplin of the farmyard. He had all the fondness of his species for obtaining and hiding bright objects, and if a sixpence were given him it would be stowed away with a great display of covetousness and caution. He would also endeavour to remove one's watch with the effrontery of a pickpocket, lacking, however, that mortal's unobtrusive lightness of touch.
The nest of the Yellow Bunting is usually a very untidy structure of coarse dead grass roots, and moss, with a lining of horsehair, generally placed close to, or actually on the ground. Because of the peculiar streak-like markings on the eggs, the bird is often known in many parts of the country as the Writing or Scribbling Lark. There is an old superstition that Satan supplies the bird with some of his blood in order to mark the eggs in this way.