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THE RED-THROATED DIVER.
Colymbus septentrionalis, Linn.
from five to six months.
Its earliest appearance for the season in Belfast Bay, that I have noted, is the 16th of October (1843), when two with red throats were seen. On October the 26th, 1831, an adult bird was killed there. About the middle of October 1849, a flock of five or six of these birds appeared on wing high in the air above Larne Lough, and, by their well-known and peculiar wild cry, attracted the attention of my informant, who was fishing. As their flight was southward when first perceived, they were imagined to be on migration, but they turned and flew back in the opposite direction. From that period until the end of the month when the opportunity for ob. servation ceased, other little flocks, like the one described, were frequently seen there on wing.* Mr. R. Chute, when writing to me on the 23rd of October, 1848, remarked "there are now several red-throated divers in Tralee Bay.” They, however, doubtless arrive occasionally in the north at an earlier period, as in the southern harbour of Wexford a bird in full adult summer plumage, shot on the 18th of September, 1846, was kindly sent to me by Major Walker,t and in Cork harbour, two individuals (of which one was adult) were seen on the same day of that month in 1849.* On the 21st of April, 1847, several (immature), and on the 3rd of May in the preceding year, three birds were observed in Belfast Bay. At Glengariff, Bantry Bay, they remain until April, at the end of which month, three or four with red throats were shot in 1849.7
* Mr. Darragh.
+ It is preserved in the Belfast Museum ;--this is mentioned on account of the scason of the year at which the fine red throat was displayed. See Yarrell, “ British Birds,' vol. iji. p. 448, 2nd edit.
Mr. R. Ball, writing on the 29th of October, 1844, remarked that he had received, about a week previously, a living red-throated diver in pen feathers. “Although so young that the quills were just budding, it had a little red on the neck." This bird was placed on a pond in the Zoological Garden, Phænix Park, Dublin, where it was at once attacked by a cormorant, and, as was supposed, eventually killed by him.
On April 16th, 1832, a living bird, which had been wounded on that or the preceding day, at Garmoyle, was brought to me, and a few others were at the same time procured there. Three of these were in different states of plumage, as it were in that of the first, second, and third year, the last almost perfect, but the red throat-mark not quite 'made out;'--the adult plumage is much the rarest state in which the species is obtained. I have often remarked that one of these birds is seldom seen without a second being near, and although each individual requires a certain range of sea to itself, several may sometimes be observed at one view. On November the 11th, 1839, about twelve thus came under my notice in the last-named locality. They are very interesting birds. An imaginative writer like Buffon might fancy them exhibiting a guilty aspect, and, through a consciousness of their evil ways, concealing under water the whole body, except the mere line of back, their eye being at the same time bent wildly on the spectator, while, as if to escape his observation, they keep repeatedly diving.
I am unwilling to abbreviate the following observations of Mr. Poole, though they in part repeat what has just been stated.
“The loons [Colymbus septentrionalis]} which frequent Wexford harbour chiefly fish in pairs, though often more than two may be seen near together, but I have never observed one bird without a second being in sight. They swim at an amazing rate when aware of being objects of pursuit, though when first approached they show but few symptoms of timidity. When diving to escape, they merely come to the surface every two or three hundred yards to breathe. I never but once knew them to resort to flight, in preference to diving, when closely pursued. In this instance I fully calculated on getting a shot at one, which I followed up a very long and narrow channel from which he could not apparently escape, but he took wing before I came within five shots of him. Considering the habits of the species, I looked upon this as the result of a train of reasoning, as in the open sea or a wider channel he would certainly have admitted a much nearer approach, and have let me get all but within shot before diving to escape. They possess considerable powers of flight, but appear rather awkward in the air, with their necks stretched straight out before their bodies like long sticks.”
* Mr. R. Warren, jun.
† Mr. R. Chute. The name of loon, or loom, is applied both to the great northern and the redthroated diver in Cork harbour.-Mr. R. Warren, jun.
During days of bright sunshine in spring, when the sea was perfectly calm, red-throated divers have frequently been observed, through a telescope, in Belfast Bay, enjoying themselves after their own peculiar fashion, by turning the body slowly round, screw-like, in one direction, occasionally lolling for a time with their backs on the surface of the water, again lying upon their sides, and assuming innumerable attitudes. The first bird perceived in this state was supposed to have been severely wounded and in the agonies of death, but it was soon afterwards ascertained to be a habit of the species during the warm and genial weather of spring.*
This diver comes far up Belfast Bay, and occasionally, during the period of its stay, near to the town; I have known one to be killed some distance up the river Lagan, but within flow of the tide.
The red-throated diver varies so much in size and in its different states of plumage, that, until of late years, it was considered as constituting more than one species. Notes are before me of several specimens varying from 3 lbs. 9 oz., to 61 lbs., though in total length they ranged only from 2 feet 4, to 2 feet 7 inches. A young bird of the year, killed in Belfast Bay, was once brought to me (February 1, 1838), after having been lightened of six young herrings from four to six inches in length. The shooter, on reaching home, hung it up by the legs near the ceiling of his room, and after it had been there for some time, was much startled, amid the silence of the place, by one herring after another gradually dropping from the throat of the bird upon the floor. Two birds killed in Larne Lough, in February, some years previously, were said to contain "sprats;" one of them three small fish, and the other six large ones, of which three lay close together in its esophagus.
* Mr. Darragh.
On the 13th of April (1847), a number of these birds were seen in Dublin Bay, three of which were in adult summer plumage.* So late as the 26th of May (1838), I had once the op. portunity of examining a fresh specimen of this diver, purchased by Mr. R. Ball in Dublin : the notes made upon it are
The throat is only a little tinged with chestnut; bill greyish, varied with a dusky hue; irides liver-coloured—those of the living specimen already mentioned were set down as approximating the “arterial blood-red” more nearly than any other shade in Syme's 'Nomenclature of Colours,' but as being rather of a morone (brownish-crimson) hue.
This species is obtained all round the coast. Mr. J. V. Stewart, in his Birds, &c., of Donegal,' remarks :-" The speckled diver is very common, but the red-throated diver occurs rarely." This is of general application. The species is noticed by my cor-· respondents as being “common” in its immature state, on the coasts of Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, and Galway. Mr. R. Davis, jun., of Clonmel, possesses a young bird procured inland, near Cahir, by a countryman, who knocked it down with a walking-stick as it flew low over a field.
* Mr. Darragh.
Audubon gives a very full account of this diver, remarking that it is “at all times an extremely shy and vigilant bird, ever on the alert to elude its enemies. The sight of man seems invariably to alarm it, even in the wildest countries in which it breeds. I have often observed that while yet several hundred yards from them they marked my approach with great watchfulness” (Orn. Biog. vol. iii. p. 21). They are not by any means so difficult of approach on the Irish coast, though their extreme quickness of sight is very apparent.
The red-throated diver is about equally common in Ireland, England, and Scotland.
THE COMMON GUILLEMOT.
Uria troile, Linn. (sp.)
Colymbus troile, Linn. (sp.)
Young and old in
island : some remain throughout the year. At the Gobbins, a range of lofty basaltic cliffs outside the northern entrance to Belfast Bay, a considerable number of guillemots annually breed. They arrive generally in April, but do not lay before the end of May, when their large single eggs, and those of the razorbills, are deposited on the bare rock. In the late season of 1849, they had not commenced laying here on the 2nd of June, when the cliffs were searched for eggs.* About Carrick-a-rede, near the Giant's Causeway, I observed a number of guillemots in June 1842. At the island of Rathlin, off this coast, Dr. J. D. Marshall informs us that they “were congregated in very consi
* Mr. Poole remarks, in reference to the Wexford coast, that he has seen their eggs on the 15th of May and 24th of June.