Page images
PDF
EPUB

band attended at the Garden, and from two to three hundred people were assembled. So soon as they broke up into groups, after the cessation of each piece of music, the goose took the part of clown on such occasions at a theatre, and was “the observed of all observers," as it paid its respects to party after party by running towards them with its neck outstretched almost on a level with the ground. On one of these occasions, in particular, it caused much amusement by following like an humble servitor at the heels of the lady of highest rank present (a marchioness) for, perhaps, a couple of hours, and bestowing no attention or boldness on any other party. In justice to the goose, we must, perhaps, rather attribute this partiality to something attractive in the dress of the lady, than to any unworthy tuft-hunting propensity. After being about a year in the Garden, the goose disappeared, and not much to the curator's regret, as it showed little regard to the “Arrangement of British Herbaceous Plants” in the vicinity of its pond being preserved intact, having often levied considerable contributions from the soft and more tender kinds; among the saxifrages, sometimes not a leaf was left to tell of their former whereabouts.

To the wilds of Connaught this species resorts every winter, and associates commonly with the bean goose.* It is brought during that season of every year to the market of Dublin, where more individuals of the white-fronted than of the species just mentioned have been seen by Mr. R. Ball. An extensive hawker of wild fowl also states that it has come more frequently under his notice there than the bean goose. It has not been seen by Mr. Ball at Youghal, on the southern coast, and, indeed, in the south generally, the species is considered very rare. The ‘Fauna of Cork' announces it merely as having been met with in that county. “In Kerry, two individuals have been obtained, one of which was rescued from the claws of a raven, and lived some time afterwards in confinement, becoming quite familiar.” + In severe weather, a very few have occasionally been killed in the counties of Wexford I and Waterford.* January and February are the months (according to my notes) in which the white-fronted goose has chiefly been procured.

* Mr. G. Jackson.

† Mr. R. Chute.

Major T. Walker.

Audubon gives, from personal observation, a pleasing account of this species, vol. iii. p. 568.

M. Duval-Jouve, in an interesting paper on the 'Migratory Birds of Provence,' published in the “Zoologist' for October 1845, remarks that the “Grey.legged goose, Anas anser, passes in March and April, and re-passes from the first cold of autumn until the beginning of winter : it only rests here when the weather is very cold. Bean goose, Anas segetum, passes at the same periods as the preceding species, but is more rare. Whitefronted goose, Anas albifrons, passes with the two preceding, but is more rare than either” (p. 1130).

Grey Lag Goose.—Since the matter on this species was printed off, the following note was obtained, which it is considered better to bring in here than reserve for the appendix.

March 1850.-Some of these birds were introduced to a lake at Castle Coole, the seat of the Earl of Belmore, in the county of Fermanagh, by Colonel Corry, about one hundred and twenty years ago, and by their breeding there annually since, the stock has been kept up. They build—with straw which is supplied to them-on an island in the lake, where there are usually from sixteen to twenty nests, but not more than ten pair usually hatch ;-three birds have sometimes laid eggs in one nest. These geese have always kept entirely by themselves, and never bred with the tame goose or any other species. The flock has sometimes numbered from ninety to one hundred individuals, but has been decreasing of late years, and at present contains only twentyfour. The diminution has arisen from their being shot outside the demesne, particularly during the late year of the famine, and from less care being bestowed on them, as to feeding, &c., than forinerly. Some of the young are annually devoured by pike, which abound in the lake; and an old swan which frequents it also kills them, in addition to disturbing and beating the old birds. These geese are as free as in a state of nature, but generally admit of a pretty near approach on the banks of the lake, their chief resort, and then take flight either across the water, which is about an English furlong and a half in circuit, or alight in the middle of it, where they are free from intrusion. In severe weather they not only permit a close approach, but come to be fed.

* Dr. R. J. Burkitt.

For the whole of this interesting information I am indebted to the kindness of Lord Enniskillen, who told me of this singular flock, and had all my queries respecting it replied to, the chief informant being an old man resident at Castle Coole for sixty years. One of the birds was shot and sent to me on the 14th of this month, that I might satisfy myself respecting the species. This was a very old male, 11 lbs. imperial weight, and much the handsomest in plumage that I had ever seen, but rendered imperfect as a specimen, by a vile practice in this country, with respect to wild geese, of pulling out the quills, which renders the birds unfit to be " set up.” The tarsi, toes, and webs of the feet were of a flesh-colour similar to that of the human hand; bill flesh-red with pale orange towards the base of both mandibles. Nail of bill, white; that of middle toe, dark grey; of outer toes, white: irides hazel. The blackish markings on the breast and belly appeared as in the other Irish specimens noticed at pp. 28 and 29. The gizzard contained the remains of vegetable matter and a quantity of small pebbles. Though the skin of this bird was preserved, the body was cooked, and was partaken of by several persons, all of whom considered the flesh of a delicate flavour, though it was hard and tough, probably from want of being long enough kept; it was very dark in colour.

[ocr errors][merged small]

'White-faced Bernacle.
Anser bernicla, Flem.

» leucopsis, Bechst.
Is a regular winter visitant to the coast.

The food of this bird being different from that of the brent goose, the haunts of the two species are wholly distinct. The extensive sandy coast exposed by the receding tide, bordered by short pasture, or having islets of this nature rising here and there above its level surface, is the favourite abode of the bernacle. The brent goose, on the contrary, revels in the soft oozy bays where the Zostera marina, or grass-wrack, grows profusely, and on it alone is content to feed.

The greatest haunt of the bernacle known to me is an immense shallow sandy bay, on the coast of Louth, bordered by an extensive tract of pasture and marshy ground, called Lurgan Green. From this locality the bird takes its name, and is called the Lurgan Green bernacle over a considerable part of the island, to distinguish it from the brent goose, which bears the simple appellation of the bernacle. The latter bird is generally highly esteemed in Ireland for the table, while the former is not at all relished. Yet, in other places, it is so. Mr. Selby, writing from Northumberland, says, “its flesh is sweet and tender and highly esteemed” (p. 269).

The author of "Wild Sports of the West' bears his testimony to what he terms “land bernacle” being “very delicious when kept a sufficient time after being shot, before the cook transfers them to the spit” (p. 292). To quote further from this work, it is said of “the barnacle," meaning most probably, from the great numbers seen, the brent goose,—“I saw a considerable extent of sand literally black with this migratory tribe: they come here in immense multitudes, but, from their coarse and fishy flavour, afford little occupation to the water shooter. The land barnacles are less numerous, although they are found in tolerable abundance. During the day I saw two flocks, of one or two hundred pairs, upon the bogs. They are, when sufficiently rested from their journey, sought for with great avidity by the few gunners in this district, and are very delicious,” &c., as already mentioned. This was written as “winter was coming on.” Owing to wild geese being commonly called bernacle in Connaught, I cannot feel certain that they are not meant. Harris, in his History of the County of Down,' published in 1744, after enumerating the “barnacle” as one of the birds met with on the coast, remarks:

-"There is also the land barnacle in this county, particularly in a red bog in the Ardes, near Kirkistown, but the flesh of it is rank, unsavoury, and unfit for, at all events, the table.” Here, again, the wild goose may possibly be alluded to, as it frequented the locality. Land bernacle is, however, a common name for the species now specially under consideration, and a distinctive one, as the bird spends much of its time on land, whereas the other bernacle, properly called brent goose, lives wholly on the water and the sea-banks.

At Lurgan Green immense numbers of bernacle spend all the year, except the period appropriated to the reproduction of their species; they are about five months absent, from the middle of April * to that of September. This locality is known to me personally only from my passing it on the way from Belfast to Dublin, which I have rarely done without seeing large flocks of these birds (numbering sometimes between 300 and 400) either on the sands or greensward little raised above it. My notes on them here, chiefly with regard to season, are ;—March 31, 1833; saw a very large flock on the sands near the road :- April 21, 1835; none seen; on inquiry of the guard of the coach, it was stated that he had remarked them here daily until the last eight days, when they had disappeared, at least from view of the road : they had probably migrated northward at the time he ceased to observe them :November 15, 1839; a large flock was stationed at the grassy plain, a considerable way from the border of the sea, as I had

* Mr. Selby, in allusion it may be presumed to the north-east of England, observes that, " by the middle of March the whole have retired” northward (p. 269).

« PreviousContinue »