Page images

at it but seldom, and at a distance; but we soon found that we might be bolder, and, in fact, came to look at the bird as she was sitting, as near and as often as we pleased, without any symptom of annoying her. Quite at the beginning of June the young birds were hatched, and all went on well till the 9th, when L. M. R. hearing a loud and unusual noise from the old birds, went to look how things were going on at the nest. It seemed prodigiously full; and, upon looking close, she perceived that it was filled with an enormous rat, then in the act of devouring what remained of a young one, while both the old birds were flying and chattering over it in the most violent agitation. We soon found, however, that they had contrived to carry off four of the little ones into a place of safety, where they watched over them with most extraordinary care. For some days we could not any of us stir out of the house without the old birds instantly appearing close at our side, and following us wherever we went about the garden in the most fearless manner; and we had a little Skye terrier very like a rat at the time who had a terrible life of it, and was scolded and almost pecked wherever he went. All this went on for nearly a month without any apparent diminution of anxiety on the part of the birds, till at last the young birds grew bold, and used to come daily for crumbs at the kitchen door. One of them, indeed, in the evening came into the house, and was shut up all night; but when the windows were opened in the morning, flew against them and killed itself. This was almost the last we saw of them that year.

"Last summer (1840) a redstart built its nest in a magnolia by the side of the garden wall at Sir Henry Bun

bury's, Barton, Suffolk. The bird laid four eggs, and then without any known cause forsook the nest. Very soon afterwards a flycatcher came, and having spread a little covering over the redstart's eggs laid one of her own. Upon this one egg she began immediately to sit; and while she was sitting a Jenny wren came and also laid one egg in the same nest. She too thereupon began to sit, and both birds sat together upon the same nest for many days, and were seen and looked at together by many persons daily. Both also hatched their young; but as the flycatcher came first, it was fledged first and flew away. Almost immediately afterwards there came at night a violent thunder storm, which, as the nest of course had not the wren's usual covering, filled it with rain, and the poor little one was drowned. In this state I saw it next morning, August 17, lying dead and soaked upon the redstart's eggs; and the whole of this story, just as I have related it, I heard two several times from Sir Henry and Lady Bunbury."

I have been told by old people who "wonned" on the banks of Loch Lomond, when adders were plentiful, that they frequently noticed these reptiles in the warm summer nights creep from the tangled brushwood, take the water, and swim in the direction of the islands. They were easily seen on their voyage, as they always kept their heads above water. There is less opportunity now of observing these "fish without fins," since the banks have been cleared and cultivated; but to this day Inch Tavannach and Inch Connachan are much infested by them, and indeed all the islands which grow copse and

heather. I had a narrow escape near the top of Inch Tavannach rock, when after blackcocks one burning day in September. I heard the creature's malignant hiss close to me, and struck it on the head with the butt of my gun. It appeared stupified, and I was in the act of tying a string round its neck, when I espied another coiled up within a yard of my hand, but quite still. I stepped back for a stick, and gave him a smart rap, which appeared to have put him also beyond further mischief, tied the other end of the string round his neck, and lifted both into my game bag. I had no success with the old cocks, so soon rowed home. My brother was standing on the quay, and bantered me about coming back with an empty bag. I denied the charge, and, in proving my point, out jumped the two adders quite alive among our fingers. We were close together at the bag-opening, but when my scaly game made its appearance, there was a clear space of ten yards at two bounds. The adders were between two and three feet long.

We chanced on another very large fellow, one hot July day, basking on Inch Moan, just where the shore and heather join. I cut him in two with a blow of my stick, and he had a frog in his stomach, which he must have sucked down head foremost like a boa-constrictor. I have little doubt they destroy quantities of young game in the same way, as they are very numerous on our moors, where I have sometimes shot them to my dog's point. Many keepers declare that they destroy the eggs of game; but I rather think an adder would be puzzled either to break them or bolt them whole. Hedgehogs both suck the eggs, and even devour the very young birds. It is therefore probable that their depredations

are often laid to the charge of the adder. My brother's gamekeeper had a pheasant's nest full of eggs consumed by one hedgehog. Expecting to find the bird sitting, he was surprised to count only six out of fourteen eggs. Next day there were only two. He therefore set a trap and caught the robber, a large hedgehog. In the highlands, however, hedgehogs are rather scarce. Not so in the lowlands. I seldom went out partridge shooting, either in Selkirkshire or East Lothian, without my dogs coming to a dead point at one of those bristly balls. And in the former county I took six out of the same hibernaculum of turnip leaves. Such numbers must do serious injury to the preserves.

The Norway rat is another formidable enemy to game, but does not so much frequent the fields till the grain is ripe. The little patches of corn which skirt Kilmun Moor are chosen resorts of these destructive creatures. The indefatigable terrier may then be seen digging at a burrow for half a day; while stealthy puss, in the twilight, more sure of carrying her point by guile, sits patiently watching another colony of Norsemen, until one of them creeps from the hole. But the rat is still more afraid of the stoat; there is no escape from him, for he can follow them to the inmost recesses of their earth. Early one morning, when looking after blackcocks on the stubble, I detected a stoat entering a rat's hole. As he had not seen me, I stood ready to shoot him, expecting his reappearance. I noticed something move on the ground, a little way off, which proved to be one of the largest male

rats I had ever seen, giving its last kick, and weltering in a pool of blood. It had been seized by the crown of the head, and no other wound was perceptible. Wishing to ascertain whether hunger or enmity was the cause of this attack, I returned after breakfast, and found the rat dragged to some distance, and its neck and shoulders devoured.

At another time, in East Lothian, I witnessed a most curious chase after a rabbit by a stoat. Close to the House of Hopes, where I was spending the summer, there are two knolls, one a low sandy one, covered with furze and broom, and all catacombed by rabbit-burrows. Standing upon the higher knoll, I perceived on the one beneath, a rabbit dotting along, with a young one, as I thought, following. It was soon plain that the little creature in the rear was a stoat. From my high position, I easily commanded a full view of the hunt. Twice did the tiny pursuer track its prey the whole round of the knoll, a distance of some hundred yards, the rabbit refusing to enter any of the numerous burrows, although it was sometimes so nearly seized as to be obliged to vault into the air to escape. At last it got a little way ahead, and took refuge in some thick brushwood. Expecting that its fate was now sealed, I ran down, and in so doing alarmed the stoat, which made off into a drain. To give the rabbit a chance for its life, I started it also, and it cantered away in an opposite direction. On telling the story to a farmer there, he said that these hunts were not unusual on that bank, but they were far more comical when the stoat was in his white winter dress. The rabbits were almost always run down, and he had trained his

« PreviousContinue »