Page images
PDF
EPUB

snow, when the “lords of the creation” do not anticipate it. This is indicated by their exceeding restlessness, and by flapping with their wings along the surface of the water. Their doing so in one instance particularly noted (in January, 1837), together with the tameness of the robins, led me, from having before observed such indications, to predict the approaching change; and next morning the ground was covered deeply with snow.

THE GREY LAG GOOSE.
Anser ferus, Gessner.

cinereus, Meyer and Wolf.

Anas anser, Linn. Is of occasional, but rare occurrence in winter. To the fifth volume of the ‘Annals of Natural History’I contributed the following notice of the species :—“ In the collection of R. Ball, Esq. there is a specimen of this goose purchased by him in Dublin market early in the winter of 1837, and stated to have been shot in this country with two others exposed for sale at the same time. Judging from its small size, the specimen is a female: it displays the blackish markings disposed irregularly over the lower part of the breast and the belly, considered by Temminck indicative of very old individuals of both sexes (Man. d’Orn. l’Eur. t. 2. p. 819) and which have generally been unnoticed in the descriptions of the species. This is the first Irish specimen of the true Wild Goose or Grey Lag that I have seen, the Bean Goose being in this country, as in England and Scotland, the common species, and, with the White-fronted, on sale in our markets every winter."

I have subsequently seen a few other Grey Lag Geese which were brought from the interior of the country to Dublin market. One was obtained in the winter of 1847, and three were there in December, 1848.* On the 23rd of October, 1849, a fresh bird offered for sale to the University Museum by a dealer in wild fowl, who knows the species as distinct from the bean and whitefronted geese, was bought for the collection. Happening to be there myself on the 20th of November and 5th of December, others were brought, which I purchased. My two birds were said to have been killed in Westmeath, and the other in the west of King's County. The three specimens exhibited black transverse markings from the breast to the vent; an appearance caused by single blackish feathers appearing irregularly, and exhibiting their dark tips among the others. One only of them has the nail on the bill all white; a second has the upper third, and the other the lower third, of that hue; the remainder, in both birds, being pale reddish horn-colour. In the plumage at the middle of each side and at the top of the upper mandible in one bird, a speck of white appears, and is faintly indicated in the other two specimens. The stomach of the last obtained was filled, according to the preserver, with tender grass or blades of young wheat. We ate this bird and found it good in quality; the flesh was very darkcoloured. A few more of these geese were brought on sale to Dublin about the middle of February, 1850.*

* Mr. R. J. Montgomery.

Mr. G. Jackson (game-keeper) has met with the grey lag goose—which he distinguishes accurately from the bean and white-fronted—in various parts of Connaught. He remarks, “ They never mingle with the others, nor do I recollect ever seeing more than seven or eight in a flock, and oftener three or four. They frequent the upland pastures and cultivated lands more than the other species. They were rather scarce, but a few, at least, were to be found every winter. From their being larger and considered a better goose, there was more attention paid to them by the fowlers. I have shot many of them. In the winter of 1834 I killed a grey lag goose with a piece of linen cloth sewed round one leg; it did not appear to be the manufacture of this country.”

The grey lag goose is unknown to my correspondents in the south, and has never come under the notice of ornithologists in the north of Ireland. The central parts of the island as to latitude would therefore seem to be those visited by it.

* Mr. R. Ball.

a “Mr. Donovan had, about the year 1811, near the Cove of Cork, a large flock of wild geese (A. ferus?) which he allowed to fly about his place, where they bred. They came to his whistle regularly. The young birds were sometimes killed for the table, and were considered by him much better than tame geese.” *

The only positive notice of wild geese breeding in this island that I have met with, is that of Rutty, whose words are—“There are two sorts [of “wild goose, Anser ferus ”], the one a bird of passage, that comes about Michaelmas, and goes off about March ; but there is a larger kind, which stays and breeds here, particularly in the Bog of Allen.” Harris, in his History of the County of Down' (1744), remarks :-"In a red bog in the Ardes, near Kirkiston * * * is also [i. e., in addition to the “land barnacle”] found the great harrow goose.” Smith, in his ‘History of Waterford' (completed in 1745), simply enumerates the “wild goose, Anser sylvestris,” among the birds of the county; and, in his ‘History of Cork' (completed in 1749), says :-"The wild goose (Anser ferus) is common in winter, and frequents the more uncultivated parts of this county.” The “larger kind," named by Rutty as breeding, implies at least that the white-fronted, from its being considerably smaller than the bean and grey lag species, is not meant. At that period, the latter is stated to have bred plentifully in the fens of England, though of late years they, as well as the bogs of Ireland, have been deserted by it. Although Harris says nothing of what he calls the “great harrow goose” breeding at the locality he names, an octogenarian friend informs me that a relative often told him of his having robbed the nests of wild geese at Kirkiston flow-"red bog" of Harris,near Kirkcubbin : the period at which he did so was previous to the year 1775.

Mr. Yarrell observes that “now whole winters pass away without a single example [of the grey lag goose] appearing in the London market ” (vol. iii. p. 56). Sir Wm. Jardine and Mr. Macgillivray are silent on the subject of its occurrence at any period of time or season of the year in Scotland, consequently it was not met with during the breeding season in Sutherland,

* Mr. R. Ball.

when the former gentleman and Mr. Selby visited that county and ascertained that the bean goose breeds at several of the lakes. But Mr. St. John, in his Tour in the same county, at a subsequent period, assures us that the grey lag goose breeds at Lochs Maddie, Laighal, Urigil, &c., and arrives a month earlier for that purpose than the bean goose. He states that, to make sure of the species, he shot some of the old birds (vol. i. pp. 35, 139, &c.).

The grey lag has generally, until of late years, been considered the original of the domestic goose, but this is now doubted by some authors. On comparing wild and domestic birds, I have been unable to perceive any difference worthy of note, except the superior size of the latter, and this may, I conceive, be fairly attributable to domestication. The form of their bills is similar, and differs from that of the bean and white-fronted species. There is considerable variety, however, in domestic geese, not only as to size, but colour of the bill, legs, &c.*

Although numerous instances of the affection of the tame goose have been recorded—in Daniel's 'Rural Sports,' Stanley's ‘Familiar History of Birds, &c.-one or two more may be added. In November 1841, a lady of my acquaintance mentioned the following circumstance which had just been witnessed by herself. In the summer of 1840, a goose was brought up at the same time with a couple of ducks at a house situated very near the sea, in the vicinity of Port Ballantrae. The goose and ducks associated together, and, on the latter being killed for the table, the goose made known its affliction by going about screeching most violently for some days, and visiting every spot that it had been in the habit of frequenting with them ;-it wholly refused food the first day after their death.

Mr. G. C. Hyndman has often heard his father mention a gander which he saw at Belmont, county of Tyrone, that formed an attachment to an old blind mare, a favourite charger, retired like her master from the wars. Every morning the mare was let out of the stable to take a drink, and the gander preceded her * See note on the Grey Lag, at the conclusion of the White-fronted Goose, p. 44. to the water, turning round from time to time, and cackling so as to guide her aright. After this the two proceeded to the halldoor, where a feed of oats was given to them, the mare and gander eating together out of the same vessel. The mare was commonly ridden into the neighbouring post-town for letters, and the first indication of her return was announced by the gander, who knew the sound of her feet long before she came in sight. The gander's feet were severely injured by the mare having accidentally trodden on them.

Towards a wounded comrade that has been lamed by being cruelly struck with a stone, or otherwise, the reverse of affection is, however, generally shown by the tame goose. Even after the sufferer is driven from the flock and severely worried for presuming to join its stronger brethren, I have remarked one after another of the main body pursue the unfortunate individual for the purpose of driving it still further from their vicinity.

On the acute hearing of geese much has been written since the time they saved the Roman Capitol ! but, in another sense, that of vision, they are perhaps as acute. I have been often struck with their keenness of sight, as evinced by sudden and loud cacklings the moment any objects they were unaccustomed to would come in view, as, for instance, one day at Wolf-hill, when a small flock of curlews flying very high and quite silently over the pond on which were four geese, these birds, from the first moment of the curlews' appearance, became most vociferous, so as to attract my attention to the cause.

This note appears in the journal of the late John Templeton, Esq.—“December 13, 1806. I was greatly entertained with observing a gander searching for and raising carrots. With considerable exertion he removed the earth around the root with his bill, which, on becoming clotted with earth, he shook until cleared ; and when he had bared the root sufficiently to get a firm hold with his bill, he then, sometimes with considerable exertions, pulled it entirely out.”

The value of the tame goose, as estimated by Montagu in the Supplement to his Ornithological Dictionary, is extraordinary.

« PreviousContinue »