Page images
PDF
EPUB

measured three inches in girth. Had it been as extensive as it was violent, and of any continuance (for it was very short), it must have ravaged all the neighbourhood. In the parish of Hartley, it did some damage to one farm; but Norton, which lay in the centre of the storm, was greatly injured; as was Grange, which lay next to it. It did but just reach to the middle of the village, where the hail broke my north windows, and all my garden lights, and handglasses, and many of my neighbours' windows. The extent of the storm was about two miles in length, and one in breadth. We were just sitting down to dinner; but were soon diverted from our repast by the clattering of tiles and the jingling of glass. There fell at the same time prodigious torrents of rain on the farms above mentioned, which occasioned a flood as violent as it was sudden; doing great damage to the meadows and fallows, by deluging the one, and washing away the soil of the other. The hollow lane towards Alton was torn and disordered as not to be passable till mended, rocks being removed that weighed two hundred weight. Those that saw the effect which the great hail had on the ponds and pools, say that the dashing of the water made an extraordinary appearance, the froth and spray standing up in the air three feet above the surface. The rushing and roaring of the hail, as it approached, was truly tremendous.

Though the clouds at South Lambeth, near London, were at that juncture thin and light, and no storm was in sight, nor within hearing, yet the air was strongly electric; for the bells of an electric machine at that place rang repeatedly, and fierce sparks were discharged.

When I first took the present work in hand, I proposed to have added an Annus-Historico-Naturalis, or the Natural History of the Twelve Months of the Year; which would have comprised many incidents and occurrences that have not fallen into my way to be mentioned in my series of letters;—but as Mr. Aiken of Warrington has lately published somewhat of this sort, and as the length of my correspondence has sufficiently put your patience to the test, I shall here take a respectful leave of you and Natural History together. And am, with all due deference and regard, Your most obliged, and most humble servant, GIL. WHITE.

SELBORNE, June 25, 1787.

OBSERVATIONS

ON

VARIOUS PARTS OF NATURE,

FROM MR. WHITE'S MSS.

WITH REMARKS BY MR. MARKWICK.

OBSERVATIONS ON BIRDS.

BIRDS IN GENERAL.

IN severe weather, fieldfares, redwings, sky-larks, and titlarks, resort to watered meadows for food; the latter wades up to its belly in pursuit of the pupa of insects, and runs along upon the floating grass and weeds. Many gnats are on the snow near the water; these support the birds in part. Birds are much influenced in their choice of food by colour; * for though white currants are much sweeter fruit than red, yet they seldom touch the former till they have devoured every branch of the latter.

Redstarts, fly-catchers, and black-caps, arrive early in April. If these little delicate beings are birds of passage (as we have reason to suppose they are, because they are never seen in winter), how could they, feeble as they seem, bear up against such storms of snow and rain, and make their way, through such meteorous turbulence, as one should suppose would embarrass and retard the most hardy and resolute of the winged nation? Yet they keep their appointed times and seasons; and, in spite of frosts and winds, return to their stations periodically, as if they had met with nothing to obstruct them. The withdrawing and appearance

* Mr. White has remarked, page 51, "that food has great influence on the colour of animals." The dark colour in wild birds is a great safeguard to them against their enemies; and this is the reason, that, among birds of bright plumage, the young do not assume their gay colours till the second or third year, as the cygnet, the gold and silver pheasants, &c. The remarkable change of plumage among the gull tribe, is a curious and intricate subject. Is the circumstance mentioned by Mr. Pegge true, "that butterflies partake the colour of the flowers they feed on?" I think not. See Anonymiani, p. 469.-M1TFORD.

X

of the short-winged summer birds is a very puzzling circumstance in natural history!

When the boys bring me wasps' nests, my bantam fowls fare deliciously, and, when the combs are pulled to pieces, devour the young wasps in their maggot state with the highest glee and delight. Any insect-eating bird would do the same; and therefore I have often wondered that the accurate Mr. Ray should call one species of buzzard buteo apivorus sive vespivorus, or the honey-buzzard, because some combs of wasps happened to be found in one of their nests. The combs were conveyed thither doubtless for the sake of the maggots or nymphs, and not for their honey, since none is to be found in the combs of wasps.* Birds of prey occasionally feed on insects; thus have I seen a tame kite picking up the female ants full of eggs, with much satisfaction. WHITE.

That redstarts, fly-catchers, black-caps, and other slenderbilled insectivorous small birds, particularly the swallow tribe, make their first appearance very early in the spring, is a well-known fact; though the fly-catcher is the latest of them all in its visit (as this accurate naturalist observes in another place), for it is never seen before the month of May. If these delicate creatures come to us from a distant country, they will probably be exposed in their passages, as Mr. White justly remarks, to much greater difficulties from storms and tempests than their feeble powers appear to be able to surmount:† on the other hand, if we suppose them

* Those who have read that pleasing and instructive work, "The Ornithological Rambles in Sussex," will find an interesting mention of the kestrel flying along the surface of fields and feeding on grasshoppers, and probably other insects.-ED.

There certainly does exist a difficulty in conceiving how some of the birds of passage, such feeble and bad fliers, should be able to migrate to such a vast distance; but some of our wonder will perhaps diminish when we read the account of the manner in which the quail crosses the Mediterranean, for the coast of Africa. "Towards the end of September the quails avail themselves of a northerly wind to take their departure from Europe, and flapping one wing, while they present the other to the gale, half sail, half oar, they graze the billows of the Mediterranean with their fattened rumps, and bury themselves in the sands of Africa, that they may serve as food to the famished inhabitants of Zara."-ST. PIERRE's Studies of Nature, vol. i. p. 91.— MITFORD.

« PreviousContinue »