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Bannagher and the Upper Shannon ;* they have been frequently shot near Cashel, and have appeared in severe winters on the Bog of Allen and in Bantry Bay.t
Mr. G. Jackson, gamekeeper to the Earl of Bantry, at Glengariff, Bantry Bay, wrote to me thence, in 1849, in reference to Cygnus ferus and C. Bewickii. His description of size, markings of the bill, &c., shows that both species were obtained by him. He often saw grey immature birds. His statement is as follows :
“I never saw any Wild Swans in this part of the country; but in all the counties of Connaught they are plentiful in the winter season, generally arriving about the beginning of December and leaving at the latter end of February. They appear in flocks of from two to a dozen in number.—I do not recollect ever having seen more than twelve together. On January the 28th, 1836, I shot five out of a flock of seven with a rifle and ball at five consecutive shots, on a large sheet of water, the overflowing of the river, at a place called Bridgogue, between Frenchpark and Boyle. I was concealed behind a rick of turf on the first being shot; the others did not rise, but swam round him with outstretched necks, as if in amazement, which the survivors, gradually diminishing in number, continued to do, although shot after shot was fired at them and one killed at each discharge. They never attempted to take flight until a dog belonging to a countryman ran and took the water, when the two remaining birds rose on wing and fled. I never killed more than one at a shot, but have on different occasions, when waiting for duck, &c., at flight-time, procured two out of a flock with the double gun, right and left. When flying with the wind their velocity is astonishing. I used to pay as much attention to getting them as my time would allow, as their down was beautiful, and the females of my family made pelerines, boas, &c., of it, and the black or darker feathers of the wild goose interspersed fancifully in rings, spots, &c., alternately. These sold at a very high price, and were well worth their attention. The dressmakers, even of Dublin, were completely at a loss to know where the black down and such beautiful white down could be obtained.”
* Rev. T. Knox.
† Mr. R. Davis, jun.
A flock of twenty-seven wild swans was seen some years ago on Lough Conn, county Mayo, by Mr. B. Ball, who could not prevail on any of the fowlers of the district to shoot one, on account of a local superstition. A story is told there, and currently believed among the peasantry, of something direful that happened to a man who had shot a wild swan.
We might expect these birds to be plentiful amid the wilds of Connaught ; but on some of the small inland lakes of the northeast of the island also-particularly in Down—they are frequently observed, and they remain on them for some time during the winter of several successive years. They frequent Lough Oran in that county, distant about four miles from Newry, where, in 1844, they made their first appearance on the 26th of January.* One which was wounded remained during two or three summers on the lake, but eventually recovered so as to join its companions on their northern flight. The words of ‘Alastor' might have been applied to this poor bird, which,
“With strong wings
Bright in the lustre of their own fond joy!'”-SHELLEY. Lough Achery in Down-a narrow river-like lake about a mile in length-is often visited by these swans. Four of a grey colour frequented it for a considerable part of the winter of 1844-45, and until spring. They were several times fired at from the shore, but none were killed. When shot at, they merely swam farther out, and did not leave the lake. They were not pursued in boats. In the winter of 1847–48 again, wild swans were there. On Lough Clay, near Killileagh; Down, a flock of six alighted in the first week of February 1848, and one of them was killed.
* Rev. Geo. Robinson.
On the 30th of January, 1848, during which much snow fell, a flock of twelve wild swans appeared on Brackenhill mill-pond, near Dromedaragh, county Antrim, and remained there for a few days, regardless of the presence of men occupied in cutting drains around the pond. They were described as keeping “a strange hooping or whirring noise.” Six of these birds were seen here again on the 16th of February. Early in this month a flock of fourteen or fifteen appeared on Lough Neagh, opposite Mr. Fforde’s, at Rockland. Two small flocks, perhaps the former one divided, remained there for several days. On a large pond at Dromedaragh, a flock of about thirty alighted and remained during a day in November 1848 ;--their call was compared to that. of “a young child crying.” Remarks on the call are noticed, as, if well described, they should indicate whether the bird were C. ferus or C. Bewickii.
In the neighbouring marine loughs of Larne, Belfast, and Strangford, the following observations were made during the last three winters. In 1847, five wild swans were seen about Conswater, Belfast Bay, during a few days in the last week of January, where they associated with a pair of tame swans. On the 20th of February, a flock of twenty appeared flying above the bay in a southerly direction. Their call, on being first heard, was believed to be distant music;—as they approached it was remarked to consist of two different notes. In 1848, five wild swans appeared, on the 3rd of February,* coming from the south over Strangford Lough, on which they alighted beside some Brent geese ; on taking flight again they flew northward. On the 8th of that month four were seen flying at the same place in company with five wild geese, with which they kept on wing for several miles from the time they were first perceived until they disappeared from view. They were observed for that distance owing to their flying somewhat circuitously. Wild swans, in flocks of from ten to fifty (not less than a hundred are said to have been once seen), visit Strangford Lough almost every year at the end of January or
* Numbers of wild swans were reported to have been seen about this time ou the sca at Belmullct, county of Mayo.
beginning of February. On their arrival, persecution awaits them, so that it is not known how long they would remain if unmolested. About three weeks is the longest time that a flock has been observed. On the 13th or 14th of February, 1848, twenty-two birds were seen near Kirkcubbin, by my informant, some of which were grey or young birds; ten which had come under his notice there in a preceding year were all white : both of these flocks were driven away on the day of their arrival. They always alight near the shore, but have not been observed on the sea-banks either at high or low water. Odd birds have frequently been shot when separated from the flock.* In 1849, four wild swans (two white and two grey) were seen, on the 28th and 29th of January, far up Larne Lough, above Magheramorne. The weather had been mild before their appearance, and was so at the time, and afterwards.
In reference to the last-named winter (1848-49) it may be mentioned, that a gentleman staying in the county of Dublin, near Bray, at the end of November, heard, on a frosty clear moonlight night, the loud hooping cry of swans, and saw two flocks consisting altogether of seventeen birds flying very rapidly, the one closely after the other. They called so long as within hearing. Another gentleman, while waiting, on the 11th of January, 1849, at a point near Coolmore, on the borders of Cork harbour, to get a shot at some wigeon, had his attention drawn to a flock of nine wild swans by their loud calls. These were like a repetition of the sounds hoo, hoo, and were continued incessantly as in the former instance. This cry resembles “hoop” so nearly, that we feel inclined to consider the birds as hoopers ; but the note of Cygnus Bewickii is not very dissimilar, and may be compared to the sounds hong-aw-aw, with occasionally one or both of the last syllables omitted.
The Cygnus ferus, as I learned at Islay, Scotland, in January 1849, comes every winter to that island. Not more than seven have been observed in a flock by the gamekeeper at Ardimersy ; out
* Mr. Francis Rankin, Kirkcubbin.
+ Mr. Robert Taylor (Belfast).
of which number he killed five in November 1848. He has seen them but of one size, similar to a living hooper, which he pointed out to me on a pond at Islay House. On Loch-in-daal, a flock of fifteen wild swans appeared early in the winter of 1848-49.
Very interesting descriptions of the habits of wild swans, as observed in Scotland, are given in St. John's · Wild Sports of the Highlands' (chap. xxiv.), and his · Tour in Sutherlandshire.' A most eloquent passage on these birds will be found in the * Recreations of Christopher North' (vol. i. p. 73).
The distinctive characters of the wild (C. ferus) and tame swan (C. olor) are correctly pointed out by Harris, in connection with the extracts given from his work at p. 7. Among the fifty-four islands of Strangford Lough named by him, there are Big Swan Island of twenty, and Little Swan Island of five, acres; a second one bearing the latter name; and a fourth called simply Swan Island, each of which is one acre in extent. The map attached to the work is on so small a scale that these islands are not laid down in it; and within the present century they seem to have been almost forgotten, or to have been called by other names. In Williamson's large map of Down, published in 1810, there are no Swan islands, nor do any appear in the Ordnance index map of the county; but a Swan island is inserted in one of the Ordnance baronial maps, on a very large scale, as situated near the town of Strangford. There can be little doubt that the islands originally received their names from being frequented by these birds, which, in all probability, also bred there at one period. Long subsequent to the date of Harris's volume-towards the end of the last century-Low, in his 'Fauna Orcadensis,' informs us that “a few pairs build in the holms of the loch of Stennes,” in Orkney.* The data, which will be found in the present volume under C. ferus and C. Bewickii, will probably tend to the conclusion that in the middle of the 19th century, as well as in 1589 (according to the extract given at p. 7), wild swans are “much more plentiful than
* Noticed in preface to vol. i. p. xvii.