Page images

were shot in 1837; one on the coast of Dublin, on the 6th of October, and the other on the 21st of December, in Dublin Bay. * In 1837, also (but no month named), one is stated to have been obtained at Portrush, near the Giant's Causeway, by the collectors for the Ordnance Survey. An immature bird, purchased in Dublin market, on the 10th of December, 1846 (after having been long kept), has come under my notice.† On the 16th of October, 1848, a stormy day, one was shot when flying inland from the sea, on the borders of Belfast Bay, whence it was driven, after being well beaten, by a black-backed gull. It was brought to me immediately after being shot, when the following description was drawn up :

in. lin. Length (total) . . . . . . . . . 18 0

, of wing from carpus . . . . . . 13 6
„ of bill from forehead to point, measured with com.

passes (not following curve) . . . . 1 4

of bill from rictus to point . . . .
„ of tarsus . . . . . . . . . 2 31

of middle toe, exclusive of nail -
of its nail, measured in a straight line with compasses
from base to point . . . . . .

45 Two longest tail-feathers exceed the others barely This is a young bird of the year according to Jenyns's description, p. 282, to which I have only to add that the three toes, their connecting membrane, and the nails, are wholly dusky black on the upper surface, except a very minute portion at the base of the middle and inner toes, which is blue like the tarsi. The under side of the toes and membrane is likewise dusky black, except a very small portion towards the base, which is bluish flesh-colour ; nail of hind toe flesh-coloured. Irides bluish black. It proved to be a male on dissection. Its stomach contained the vesicle of a Fucus, and other little fragments of vegetable matter. This bird is much darker in colour than that described by Jenyns, and, in comparison with a stuffed specimen in the Belfast Museum, the difference is such as to require being remarked upon.

The head, neck, and upper parts,” in the stuffed specimen, are of a cinereous

* They were in the possession of Dr. Parkinson and Mr. Warren.

A pomarine skua—young bird of the year—found dead this winter on the beach at Ballantrae, Ayrshire (as noted in ‘ Charlesworth’s Magazine of Natural History,' vol. iji, p. 585), came under my inspection. f In Mr. Watters' collection.

The stomach of one of Mr. Ball's specimens contained a large quantity of the bird's own feathers.

bruwn, while in the fresh one they are of a rich deep brown ; and “the feathers on the back, scapulars, and wing-coverts”•have an extremely narrow edge of reddish-yellow. The bird on the whole is considerably darker and richer in plumage than that described in the work referred to. The measurements of three others of the immature (and of the adult bird, which was nineteen ounces in weight) are before me, but it is unnecessary to repeat any of them, they differ so little from the one noticed ; two were eighteen, one eighteen and a half, and the other nineteen inches in total length, with corresponding differences in other measurements.

A young pomarine skua (agreeing with Mr. Selby's description), was shot in Tralee Bay on the 20th of November, 1850, and others of this or allied species seen there during the storm of that day and the next.*

One adult bird only has been obtained in Ireland, and it was the first in this plumage noticed within the British Islands. Mr. Yarrell remarked, in 1843, that “many more examples, most if not all of them young birds, have been obtained ” (vol. iii. p. 486, 1st edit.). He did not particularize any adult as procured in Great Britain, but mentioned having seen two, without stating where they were killed.

The pomarine skua does not breed within the British Islands. A number of them were seen by Capt. May along the coast of Norway, in the summer and autumn of 1849.

Lestris Richardsonii, Swainson, Yarrell.

Is occasionally procured on the coast. The following notice of it, which I contributed to the ‘Annals of Natural History’in 1840 (vol. v.), may perhaps be worth repeating here :

Lestris RICHARDSONII, Swains. Richardson's Skua.-An adult Lestris shot at Malahide, county of Dublin, on the 27th September, 1837, and in the collection of

* Mr. R. D. Fitzgerald, jun.

Dr. Farran of Feltrim, exhibits characters much in unison with what are considered to be two species, the Lestris Richardsonii, and the Stercorarius cepphus, Leach, ( Fauna Bor.-Amer., vol. ii. p. 432), agreeing with the latter in dimensions, and with the former in colouring. At the same time it in size approaches the L. Richardsonii as described by Jenyns (“Man. Brit. Vert. Anim.,' p. 282) as nearly as his does the original description in the 'Fauna Bor,-Amer.' (p. 433). The following table contains the comparative measurements :

L. Richardsonii, L. Richardsonii, Sterc.cepphus, Lestris, Irish
Swainson. Jenyns. Leach. specimen.
in. lin.
in. lin. in. lin.

in. lin. Length, total ... ... 22 8 .... 21 0 ... 19 0 .. .. 19 9

excluding central

tail feathers . 196 .... 18 0 ... 16 0 .... 16 9 , of wing ..... 13 6 .... 13 0 ... 130 .... 12 6

of bill above .. 1 1 .... 1 2 ... 1 2 .... 13*

of bill to rictus . 1 10 .... 1 9 ... 2 0 .... 1 10 » of tarsus .... 1 10 .... 19 ... 18 .... 19 „ of middle toe and

nail .....191.... 1 81... .... 17} Two longest tail-feathers very much acuminated, the others increasing gradually in length from sides to centre; those next in length to the two central ones exceeding the outer feathers by one inch ; breadth of bill at base six lines.

Top of head, back, upper surface of wings and tail blackish-brown, varying in some places to blackish ; entire under surface likewise dark-coloured, except the tail-feathers, which show a little white beneath ; patch from the eye downwards pale strawcolour. This colouring is in accordance with that of the L. Richardsonii of the

Fauna Bor.-Amer.' Mr. Jenyns remarks that the species is subject to considerable variation of colour in the adult state :-his description of its plumage accords tolerably well with that of S. cepphus.

I should have set down the Irish Lestris simply as a small individual of L. Richardsonii, had not its general accordance with S. cepphus at the same time suggested whether it might not as well be considered this bird, and consequently whether these terms apply to two really distinct species. An examination of specimens would at once decide the question.t

On the 14th of August, 1838, Mr. R. Davis, jun., of Clonmel, obtained a fine adult bird of this kind, which was found in a

* Following the curve; the others may have been measured in a straight line.

+ Since the above was written, the 4th part of Temminck's 'Manuel 'has been published, and here S. cepphus (J. Ross, and not Leach or Richardson, quoted for it) appears as a synonym of L. parasiticus (p. 502). The description of S. cepphus would indeed seem about equally applicable to a small L. Richardsonii, or a large L. parasiticus (1840).

In Degland's work, published in 1849, L. cepphus and L. Richardsonii are made identical.

perfectly fresh state floating in Dungarvan Bay, on the Waterford coast :-it was kindly sent to Dublin for my inspection. At the time it was met with, that gentleman observed some skuas in pursuit of gulls outside the Bay of Dungarvan, but the exact species could not be told. Mr. R. Chute informed me in February 1846, that he had “got a fine old Richardson's skua (light straw-coloured one described by Yarrell) shot in Tralee Bay in the winter of 1845 ; also a young bird (a black-toed gull) shot by a gentleman when grouse-shooting on the 20th of August last.”

On the 19th of September, 1846, a young bird of the year, slightly wounded near Bangor, Belfast Bay, came into the possession of Dr.J. D. Marshall, with whom it became at once familiar. It was a very attractive pet-bird, perching on his arm, and looking up to his face, in the most engaging manner, with its fine beaming hazel eye. It took great pleasure in the application of the hand to its plumage. It was fed wholly on fish, which were freely partaken of, and on their being let drop from a little height, would be seized before they reached the ground. The cause of its death was unknown : it appeared in the highest health the day before. A bird of this species, shot in Belfast Bay on the 20th of September, 1850, is in what I should consider the plumage of the second year. Its legs and toes with webs are wholly black. The two longest tail-feathers exceed the next in length by an inch, and suddenly taper to a point, being nearly an inch broad where they pass the others, though quite pointed at the extremity. Mr. R. J. Montgomery informs me that a very observant man in the Coast Guard Service has seen Richardson's skua in the bays of Dundalk and Drogheda, as well as on the west coast, and that he described the birds in a manner not to be mistaken. He once obtained their nest on a small rocky islet off Achil, where he was stationed for several years. This statement connected with L. Richardsonii is good, as it is the only one of the four species at all likely to breed there ;-it and L. catarrhactes are the only two known to nidify in the British Islands, and the latter, as already mentioned, is confined to the Shetlands. Richardson's skua breeds in a number of the more northern Scottish islands. Mr. Montgomery mentions that this bird has been shot at Dunany Point, county Louth, by Lieut. Wray, R.N.; and that he saw an immature specimen in a fresh state about the year 1846 (in Mr. Glennon's, Suffolk Street, Dublin). It was said to have been shot inland at Powerscourt, county Wicklow. In a subsequent communication my correspondent states that he had seen-but never within shot -several of these birds, both adult and young, in the Bay of Drogheda, within the first three weeks of September 1850.

Sir Wm. Jardine considers that this “is certainly the most common of the British skuas,” * and that late in autumn it is not unfrequent in the Frith of Forth, where he has procured many specimens in various states of plumage, from having shot both the adult and young: Mr. Yarrell, too, considers it the most common. It would be difficult to say what Lestris is the most frequent on the Irish shores, as the skuas, though daily seen in the autumn on some parts of the coast, are not often shot; but it is singular that of the species considered the rarest in England and Scotland

-L. longicaudatus—most specimens have come under my inspection; and of the next rarest-L. pomarinus--as indeed of the L. catarrhactes also, I have seen more individuals than of the L. Richardsonii noticed as the most common species in Great Britain.

The editor of the · Edinburgh Philosophical Journal' adds (vol. i. p. 104, 1819) the following note to an interesting paper of Dr. Fleming's, “On the Arctic and Skua Gulls :”—“During our six days' confinement by a storm, on the dreary and remote rock of Foulah, we had frequent opportunities of observing the arctic skua. This bird we found fully as troublesome as the common skua, for the moment we approached near to its nest it beat us upon the head and in the face with its wings, and continued to pursue us until we quitted its domain."

Mr. James Wilson, in his 'Voyage round the Coast of Scotland and the Isles,' thus describes what was to him a new feature in this bird's habits :-“ Saw around us for the first

* Brit. Birds,' vol. iv. p. 267.

« PreviousContinue »