Page images

had an account of a Loch Fine herring-fisher's life, from Angus, a frank athletic young man, the skipper and part owner of a boat. The fleet of skows, which are always hauled up, high and dry, to refit after the season is over, were all launching at present, and Angus meant to set sail in ten days. When shooting their nets, they had their choice of the best herrings to eat, for when they sold them " by the dizen *, the warst made up the coont, and fetched the same price as the best." In the creeks and lochs where they anchored, they could always get milk from the shepherds' sheelings and boothies scattered along the banks, which milk from the little Highland cattle, grazed in the sheltered straths and glens, was rich as cream every drap o 't." Some of the fishermen, he said, "indulged in dirt," which luxury, however, he strictly prohibited in his boat.



It was now time to take to my rod again and go over all the open places with the fly. Another trout actually rose and hooked at the same spot as the former one, but in straining to prevent his entanglement in the weeds his hold broke. The " weedy loch" is a novelty to most anglers, and well worth a visit on that account.


* Various sizes of herring frequent different lochs. They are called

"skulls," and the Loch Fine skull is so much larger than the others, that five hundred go to a cran, while seven hundred from Loch Long are required to make it.



ALTHOUGH the rock ousel, as his name imports, is fond of rocks and precipices, and commonly builds among them, yet a pair may often be met with haunting ferny brakes with only a few scattered stones, upon which they delight to perch. When disturbed, they fly from stone to stone, uttering a very grating chirp, which seems to be a note of defiance. This summer (1842) a good number of them came down from the hills to the garden at Lennie, and did much damage to the fruit, especially the currants. The gardener shot several, which he brought to me. The ring of the males was very dusky, and in some there were brown feathers interspersed. The females had no white ring at all. They were shy birds, much more so than the thrushes and blackbirds, their fellow-depredators, and it required some caution to get a shot at them.

A nest was found in the spring, near the foot of a thick bush, on the bank of a rocky brook. They reared their young ones undisturbed. I think it not unlikely that the greater number of those that frequented the garden in summer, were birds of that year, although the crescent of one shot by the gardener, evidently an old male, was far less pure than in spring, and certainly not so fully pronounced. A pair had their nest on the crags of Arthur's Seat, the summer before last, and I often watched them

with interest. The crescent in both, particularly the male, was silvery as the moon's, and the birds were not wild. Their song is pleasing, though melancholy. This bird has always been a great favourite with me, most likely from association, for it loves" the unplanted places."

The little Dipper, or river ousel is no less attractive. There is a look of loneliness about this little inhabitant of the flood like the solitudes it frequents. Often, in the deepest and most tangled recess of the mountain burn, or perched upon some gaunt stone by the side of the muirland loch, the water ousel, when disturbed by some chance explorer of nature, will fly cheerily forward, and, settling again upon the clear water, seems, by the buoyancy of its little movements, to try to impart its happiness to the thoughtful visitant.

The food of this little bird consists of water insects, the roe of fish, &c., but its bill does not seem formed for seizing the small fry, as the kingfisher does. It is also incapable of feeding at any great depth, from the want of web feet, on which account it generally chooses the shallows where the salmon and trout roe is deposited. I have twice seen it feed upon some very minute substance about a foot from the surface, but whether animalculæ or not, it was impossible to ascertain. The first time, when after wild ducks on the river Tay, I saw a motion in a clear, still creek, and when I cautiously peeped over the bank, I discovered the little bird under water, rowing itself both with wings and legs, at the same time pecking at something, apparently with as much ease as a barn-door fowl would devour a handful of grain. It was so intent on its repast, that I was not perceived for a few seconds, but on peeping up to see if the coast was clear, it saw

me at once through the water, rose to the surface, and flew away as with one and the same motion. Another winter, my notice was attracted by just such a ripple in a quiet stream, and again I detected the ousel at his secret meal. The water in both cases was very bright, but without a microscope it could not be discovered whether the delicacies on which it regaled were vegetable substances or some minute water insects.

In spring and summer these birds generally are found singly or in pairs, but in winter they often congregate in some favoured river, and may then be seen in great numbers. They do not always select the places where fish are most abundant, as we should imagine from their living so much on the roe. I stumbled upon a newly-flown nest of these birds, when fishing the brook that separates Loch Katrine from Achray, and could easily have caught some of them, but I rather amused myself by watching their unformed bows and curtseys, copied, no doubt, from the parents, who were flitting up and down in great alarm.

The water ousel is a hardy bird, especially for one that does not migrate in summer; and it is a novelty when land and water are bound by an iron frost, and

"seized from shore to shore,

The whole imprisoned river growls below,"

to hear this little bird, perched upon the frozen mass, strike up its cheerful song. be heard, which gives it the more imposing effect,-like the nightingale at midnight, making dreariness more dreary by contrast. The pipe of this river minstrel is not unlike the first attempts of the thrush in early spring, when a cold wind a little checks its power.

Not another note is then to

A friend of mine had the good hap to shoot a white ousel on the banks of the Clyde. I narrowly inspected it, and could not detect a single dark feather. Legs, beak, and all had exactly the same cream-coloured shade. In all creatures that put on their white winter dress, there is a dark spot, left as hostage for their again appearing in summer hue. But Albinos have always the same unvarying sickly white.

I have several times been fairly cheated by the water ousel, and had a fruitless stalk for ducks through its means. Seated at a distance, upon a small stone, it is often difficult, even with one's glass, not to mistake it for the head, and the stone for the body of a duck. If the ousel does not fly, his motions appear exactly like the duck raising its head. His restless disposition, however, seldom allows him to remain long enough on the stone to keep up the deception, and, generally, before commencing operations, you see the duck's head fly off. I have noticed this bird with a large worm in its beak, which it had picked out of the banks of a mossy brook, high among the hills, its summer residence. During the severity of winter, it always prefers larger streams, its favourite food being the spawn of fish, and minute water insects.

« PreviousContinue »