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Life of a Scotch Naturalist, Thomas Edward
Chapter VII. Night Wanderers


Although it is comparatively easy to observe the habits of animals by day, it is much more difficult to do so at night. Edward, as we have already said, was compelled by circumstances to work at shoe-making by day, and to work at natural history by night. .

“It would have been much easier work for me,” said Edward, in answer to an inquiry made as to his nocturnal observations, “ had it been my good fortune to possess but a single trustworthy book on the subject, or even a single friend who could have told me any thing about such matters. But I had neither book nor friend. I was in a far worse predicament than the young and intending communicants at the parish church of Boyndie were, who, when asked a question by the good and pious minister, and returning no answer, were told that they were shockingly in the dark —all in the dark together. Now, they had a light beside them, for they had their teacher in their midst; but I had no light whatever, and no instructor. It was doubly dark with me. It was decidedly the very blackness of darkness in my case. The only spark or glimmer I had was from within. It proceeded from the never-ceasing craving I had for more knowledge of the works of nature. This was the only faintest twinkle I ‘had to lighten up my path, even in the darkest night. And that little twinkle, together with my own never-flagging perseverance, like a good and earnest pilot, steered me steadily and unflinchingly onward.”

Although Edward was frequently out in winter-time, especially in moonlight, his principal night-work occurred between spring and autumn. The stillest, and quietest, and usually the darkest, part of the night — unless when the moon was up—was from about an hour after sunset until about an hour before sunrise. Yet, during that sombre time, when not asleep, he seldom failed to hear the sounds or voices, near or at a distance, of midnight wanderers prowling about. In the course of a few years he learned to know all the beasts and birds of the district frequented by him. He knew the former by their noises and gruntings, and the latter by the sound of their wings when flying. When a feathered wanderer flew by, he could tell its call-note at once, and often the family as well as the species to which it belonged. But although he contrived to make himself acquainted with the objects of many of these midnight cries and noises, others cost him a great deal of time and labor, as well as some dexterous manoeuvring.

The sounds of the midnight roamers, as well as the appearance of the birds and animals, were invariably more numerous during the earlier part of the year. In the spring and early part of summer they were always the most lively. Toward the end of summer the sounds became fewer and less animated; and the animals themselves did not appear so frequently. Woods were the principal lodging-places of birds and animals. There were fewer in the fields; still fewer among the rocks or shingle by the seashore, except in winter; and in the hills, the fewest of all.

"When he made his first night expeditions to the inland country, the hoarse-like bark of the roe-deer, and the timid-like bleak-bleak of the hare puzzled him very much. He attributed these noises to other animals, before he was able, by careful observation, to attribute them to their true sources. Although the deer wanders about at all hours of the night, occasionally grunting or barking, it does not usually feed at that time. The hare, on the other hand, feeds even during the darkest nights, and in spring and the early part of summer it utters its low cry of bleak-bleak. This cry is very different from that which it utters when snared or half shot. Its cry for help is then most soul-pitying: it is like the tremulous voice of an infant, even to the quivering of its little innocent lips.

While Edward found that the deer and the hare were among the animals that wandered about a good deal in the dark, he did not find that the rabbit was a night-roamer, although he occasionally saw it moving about by moonlight. He often watched the rabbits going into their burrows at sunset; and he also observed them emerging from them a little before sunrise. But there was one thing about the rabbit that perplexed and puzzled him. It did not emit any cry, such as the hare does; but he often heard the rabbit tap-tap in a particular manner. How was this noise caused % He endeavored to ascertain the cause by close observation.

Early one morning when he was lying under a wliin-bush, about twenty yards from the foot of a sandy knoll, where there were plenty of rabbits’ holes, he was startled by hearing a loud tap-tapping almost close to where he lay. The streaks of day were just beginning to appear. Parting the bush gently aside and looking through it, he observed a rabbit thud-thudding its hind feet upon the ground close to the mouth of another rabbit’s hole.

Edward continued to watch the rabbit. After he had finished his tapping at the first hole, he went along the hillock and began tap-tapping at another. He went on again. He would smell the ground about the hole first, and would sometimes pass without tapping. At last he got to a hole where his progress was stopped. After he had given only two or three thuds, out rushed a full-grown rabbit, and flew at the disturber of the peace. He rushed at him with such fury that they both rolled headlong down hill, until they reached the bottom.

There they had a rare set-to — a regular rabbit-fight. Rabbits are fools at fighting. Their object seems to be to leap over each other, and to kicl> the back of their enemy’s head as they fly over; each trying to jump the highest and to kick the hardest. It is a matter of jumping and kicking. Yet rabbits have an immense power in their hinder feet. They often knock each other down by this method of fighting. They also occasionally fight like rams—knocking their heads hard together. Then they reel and tumble, until they recover, and are at it again, until one or the other succumbs.

Edward is of opinion that the method pursued by the male rabbits, of tapping in front of their neighbors’ holes, is to attract the attention of the females. When the male comes out instead of the female, a fight occurs, such as that above described. At other times, the rabbit that taps is joined by other rabbits from the holes, and a friendly conference takes place. But, besides this loud beating with their heels, the rabbits possess another method of communicating with their fellows. They produce a sound like tap-pat! which is the sign of danger. Edward often saw numbers of them frisking and gamboling merrily about the mouths of their burrows ; but when the sound of tap-pat was heard, the whole of the rabbits, young and old, rushed immediately to their holes.

Among the true night-roamers are the fox, the otter, the badger, the polecat, the stoat, the weasel, the hedgehog, the rat, and almost the whole family of mice. These are, for the most part, nocturnal in their habits. No matter how dark or tempestuous the night, they are constantly prowling about. Even at the sea-shore, the otter, the weasel, and the mice often paid Edward a visit. When on the hills or moors, he often saw the weasel, and sometimes the fox; but the fields and the sides of woods were the places where they were most frequently met with. All these animals, like the deer and hare, have their peculiar and individual calls, which they utter at night.

Thus the fox may be known by his bark, which resembles that of a poodle-dog, with a little of the yelp in it; and he repeats this at intervals varying from about six to eighteen minutes between- each. When suddenly surprised, the fox gives vent to a sharp, harsh-like growl, and shows and snaps his teeth. “I once,” says Edward, “put my walking-staff into the mouth of a fox just roused from his lair—for foxes do not always live in holes—to see how the fellow would act. He worried the stick, and took it away with him. I have, on three different occasions, come upon two foxes occupying the same lair at the same time—twice on the cliffs by the sea, and once among the bushes in an old and disused quarry. In one instance, I came upon them in midwinter, and in the other two eases during summer.”

The badger utters a kind of snarling grunt. This is done in quick succession. Then he is silent for a short time, and again he begins in the same strain. The otter, and most of the other night-roamers, have a sort of squeak, which they utter occasionally. But though there is a difference between them, which Edward could distinguish, it is very difficult to describe it in words. Their screams, however, differ widely from their ordinary call. The scream is the result of alarm or pain, perhaps of a sudden wound; the call is their nightly greeting when they hold friendly converse with each other; but the difference in the screams can only be learned by the ear, and can scarcely be described by words.

The field-mice—the “wee timorous beasties” of Burns— besides their squeaking, lilt a low and not unmusical ditty for hours together. Edward often heard them about him, sometimes quite near him, sometimes beneath his head. He occasionally tried to clutch them, but on opening his hand he found it filled with grass, moss, or leaves. The result of his observations was, that several, if not the whole, of the mouse race are possessed, more or less, of the gift of singing.

The otter, polecat, stoat, and weasel have a knack of blowing or hizzing when suddenly come upon, or when placed at bay. The three latter stand up on their hind feet in a menacing attitude. Sometimes they suddenly dart forward and give battle when they see no other way of escape. This is especially the case with the females when they have their young about them. Edward once saw a weasel, after hiding her family among a cairn of stones, ascend to the top, and, muttering something all the while, by her threatening attitude and fierce showing of her teeth dared any one to approach her under penalty of immediate attack.

A bite of a weasel, or polecat, or badger, or otter is any thing but agreeable. The bites of the weasel and the polecat are the worst. There seems to be some poison in their bites, for the part bitten soon becomes inflamed, and the bite is long in healing. The whole of this group of animals are of the same bold, fearless, and impetuous disposition. They are also remarkably impertinent and aggressive, not hesitating to attack man himself, especially when they see him showing the slightest symptoms of cowardice. Take the following illustrations, communicated by Edward himself :

“Returning one morning from an excursion in the Buchan district, when between Fraserburgh and Pennan, I felt so completely exhausted by fatigue, want of sleep, and want of food (for my haversack had become exhausted), that I went into a field near the road, lay down by a dike-side, and fell fast asleep. I had not slept long, however, when I was awakened by something cold pressing in betwixt my forehead and the edge of my hat. There were some small birds in my hat which I had shot, and they were wrapped in wadding. .On putting up my hand to ascertain the meaning, I got hold of a weasel, which had been trying to force its way in to the birds. I threw him away to some distance among the grass, and went to sleep again. The fellow came back in a few minutes, and began the same trick. I gripped him hard this time, and tossed him across the dike into another field, hut not before he had bitten my hands. I began to close my eyes once more, when again the prowler approached. At last, despairing of peace, I left the spot where I had been seated, and went into a small plantation about a hundred yards off, and now I thought I would surely get a nap in comfort. But the weasel would not be refused. He had followed in my track. I had scarcely closed my eyes before he was at me again. He was trying to get into my hat. I awoke and shoved him off. Again he tried it, and again he escaped. By this time I was thoroughly awake. I was a good deal nettled at the pertinacity of the brute, and yet could not help admiring his perseverance. But thinking it was now high time to put an end to the game, instead of falling asleep, I kept watch. Back he came, nothing daunted by his previous repulses. I suffered him to go on with his operations until I found m}r hat about to roll off. I then throttled, and eventually strangled, the audacious little creature, though my hand was again bitten severely. After getting a few winks of sleep, I was again able to resume my journey.”

Edward was once attacked by two pertinacious rats in a similar manner. He was making an excursion between Banff and Aberdeen, and had got to a place near Slains Castle, beyond Peterhead. It had been raining all day. It was now growing dark, and he looked about for a place to sleep in. He observed a dilapidated building, which looked like the ruins of a threshing-mill, as it stood near a farm-steading. He entered the place, and found only a small part of the roof still standing. It was, however, sufficient to protect him from the rain, which was still falling. There was a pile of stones and rubbish immediately under the roof, and having gathered together as much dry grass as he could find, and spread it on the stones, he lay down in a reclining position. In this position he soon fell fast asleep.

How long he had slept he did not know, but he was awakened by a quivering sort of motion about his head. He at first thought it was caused by the sinking of the stones, and that his head was going down with them. He sat bolt-upright, clutched his gun and wallet to save them, and felt the stones with his hands to ascertain whether- they had sunk or not. They were quite undisturbed. He again lay down, thinking that he had only been dreaming. But before he could fall asleep, the movement under his head again commenced. Thinking it might be a weasel, and not wishing for his company, he moved to one side, adjusted his bedding, moved the grass, and prepared to lie down again.

His sleep this time was of very short duration, for the tug-tugging again commenced. He now raised his hand, at the same time that he opened his eyes, and seized hold, not of a weasel, but of a rat. He threw him away, thinking that that would be enough. Being assured that there were no weasels there—for rats and weasels never associate—he now thought he should be able to get a little sleep. He had no idea that the rat would return.

But in this he was disappointed. He was just beginning to sleep, when he heard the rat again. He looked up, and found that two rats were approaching him. So long, as there were only two, he knew he could manage them. He allowed them to climb up the stones and smell all about him. One of them’ mounted his face and sat upon it. They next proceeded to his wallet, and endeavored to pull it from under his head. They had almost succeeded in doing so, when he laid hold of his wallet and drove them off.

Being now in a sort of fossilized state, from wet and. cold, Edward did not attempt to sleep again, but rose-up from- his bed of stones, secured all his things, and marched away to recover his animal heat and resume his explorations.

Speaking of the otter as a night-roamer, Edward observes : “I am not aware who first burlesqued the otter as an amphibious animal. He must have known very little of the animal’s true habits, and nothing at all of its anatomical structure. The error thus promulgated seems to have taken deep root. That the otter is aquatic in habits, is well known. He goes into the water to fish, but he is forced to come up again to breathe. In fact, a very small portion of the otter’s life is spent in the water. There are many birds that are far more aquatic than the otter. There are some, indeed, that never leave the water night nor day; yet no one calls them amphibious birds. I have seen the otter, in his free, unfettered, and unmolested condition, both in the sea and the river, go into the water, and disappear many a time, and I have often watched for his re-appearance. The longest time that he remained under water was from three to four minutes; the usual time was from two to three minutes. I have also watched numbers of water birds, who have also to descend for their food, and I must say that the greater number of them exceed the otter in the time that they remain below water. Some of them remain double the time. I once saw a great northern diver remain below water more than nine minutes. A porpoise that I once watched remained down about ten minutes; and so on with other sea-birds and animals.”

Many of these night-roaming animals—such as the weasel, rat, badger, otter, and polecat—are seen during the day; but these may only be regarded as stray individuals, their principal feeding-time being at night. The rat may forage in the day-time, and the weasel is sometimes to be seen hunting when the sun is high. But there was one circumstance in connection with the manners and habits of these creatures which surprised Edward not a little, which was, that although he very seldom saw any of them in the evening, or until after it was dark, he never missed seeing them in the morning, and sometimes after it had become daylight. The same remark is, in a measure, applicable to many of the night insects, to land crustaceans, beetles, many of the larger moths, sand-hoppers, and slaters.

One of the most severe encounters that Edward ever had with a nocturnal roamer was with a polecat or fumart2 in the ruined castle of the Boyne. The polecat is of the same family as the weasel, but it is longer, bigger, and stronger. It is called fumart because of the fetid odor which it emits when irritated or attacked. It is an extremely destructive brute, especially in the poultry-yard, where it kills far more than it eats. Its principal luxury seems to be to drink the blood and suck the brains of the animals it kills. It destroys every thing that the gamekeeper wishes to preserve. Hence the destructive war that is so constantly waged against the polecat.

The ruined castle of the Boyne, about five miles west of Banff, was one of Edward’s favorite night haunts. The ruins occupy the level summit of a precipitous bank forming the eastern side of a ravine, through which the little river Boyne flows. One of the vaults, level with the ground, is used as a sheltering place for cattle. Here Edward often took refuge during rain, or while the night was too dark to observe. The cattle soon got used to him. When the weather was dry, and the animals fed or slept outside, Edward had the vault to himself. On such occasions he was visited by rats, rabbits, owls, weasels, polecats, and other animals.

One night, as he was lying upon a stone, dozing or sleeping, he was awakened by something pat-patting against his legs. He thought it must be a rabbit or a rat, as he knew that they were about the place. He only moved his legs a little, so as to drive the creature away. But the animal would not go. Then he raised himself up, and away it went; but the night was so dark that he did not see what the animal was. Down he went again to try and get a sleep; but before a few minutes had elapsed, he felt the same pat-patting: on this occasion it was higher up his body. He now swept his hand across his breast and thrust the intruder off. The animal shrieked as it fell to the ground. Edward knew the shriek at once. It was a polecat.

He shifted his position a little, so as to be opposite the door-way, where he could see his antagonist betwixt him and the sky. He also turned upon his side in order to have more freedom to act. He had in one of his breast-pockets a water-hen which he had shot that evening; and he had no doubt that this was the bait which attracted the polecat. He buttoned up his coat to his chin, so as to prevent the bird from being carried away by force. He was now ready for whatever might happen. Edward must tell the rest of the story in his own words:

“Well, just as I hoped and expected, in about twenty minutes I observed the fellow entering the vault, looking straight in my direction. He was very cautious at first. He halted, and looked behind him. He turned a little, and looked out. I could easily have shot him now, but that would have spoiled the sport; besides, I never wasted my powder and shot upon any thing that I could take with my hands. Having stood for a few seconds, he slowly advanced, keeping his nose on the ground. On he came. He put his fore-feet on my legs, and stared me full in the face for about a minute. I wondered what he would do next— whether he would come nearer or go away. When satisfied with his look at my face, he dropped his feet and ran out of the vault. I was a good deal disappointed, and I feared that my look had frightened him. By no means. I was soon re-assured by hearing the well-known and ominous squeak-squeak of the tribe. It occurred to me that I was about to be assaulted by a legion of polecats, and that it might be best to beat a retreat.

“I was just in the act of rising, when I saw my adversary once more make bis appearance at he entrance. He seemed to be alone. I slipped quietly down again to my former position, and waited his attack. After a -rather slow and protracted march, in the course of which be several times turned his bead toward the door—a manoeuvre which I did not at all like—be at last approached me. He at once leaped upon me, and looked back toward he entrance. I lifted my bead, and be looked full in my face. Then be leaped down, and ran to the entrance once more, and gave a squeak. No answer. He returned, and leaped upon me again. He was now in a better position than before, but not sufficiently far up for my purpose. Down went his nose, and up, up be crawled over my body toward the bird in my breast-pocket. His bead was low down, so that I couldn’t seize him.

“I lay as still as death; but, being forced to breathe, the movement of my chest made the brute raise his bead, and at that moment I gripped him by the throat. I sprung instantly to my feet, and held on. But I actually thought that be would have torn my bands to pieces with his claws. I endeavored to get him turned round, so as to get my band to the back of his neck. Even then, I bad enough to do to bold him fast. How be screamed and yelled ! What an unearthly noise in the dead of night! The vault rung with his bowlings. And, then, what an awful stench be emitted during his struggles! The very jackdaws in the upper stories of the castle began to caw. Still I kept my bold. But I could not prevent his yelling at the top of his voice. Although I gripped and squeezed with all my might and main, I could not choke him.

“Then I bethought me of another way of dealing with the brute. I bad in my pocket about an ounce of chloroform, which I used for capturing insects. I took the bottie out, undid the cork, and thrust the ounce of chloroform down the fumart’s throat. It acted as a sleeping draught: he gradually lessened his struggles. Then I laid him down upon a stone, and, pressing the iron heel of my boot upon his neck, I dislocated his spine, and he struggled no more. I was quite exhausted when the struggle was over. The fight must have lasted nearly two hours. It was the most terrible encounter that I ever had with an animal of his class. My hands were very much bitten and scratched, and they long continued inflamed and sore. But the prey I had captured was well worth the struggle. He was a large and powerful animal—a male; and I desired to have him as a match for a female which I had captured some time before. He was all the more valuable, as I succeeded in taking him without the slightest injury to his skin.” The birds that roam at night are more easily described. Although the bat comes out pretty early in the evenings, it is not on night insects that he chiefly feeds : it is rather on the day insects which have not yet gone home to their rest. The bat flies mostly at twilight, and inhabits ruins and buildings as well as hollow trees in the woods.

The owl is a nocturnal bird of prey. It flits by, as the twilight deepens into night, and hoots or howls in hollow and lugubrious tones. Though Edward was by no means given to fear, he was once scared at midnight by the screech of a long-eared owl (Strix otus). It was only about the third or fourth night that he had gone out in search of specimens. When he began his night-work he was sometimes a little squeamish; but as he became accustomed to it, he slept quite as soundly out-of-doors as in bed. He was as fearless by night as by day. No thought of ghosts, hobgoblins, water-kelpies, brownies, fairies, or the other supposed spirits of darkness, ever daunted him. But on this particular night he had one of the most alarming and fearful awakenings that he had ever experienced.

There had been a fearful thunder-storm, during which he had taken shelter in a hole in the woods of Mountcofler. He had fallen asleep with his head upon the lock of his gun. Before he entered the burrow, he had caught a field-mouse, which he wished to take home alive. He therefore tied a string round its tail, attaching the other end of the string (which was about six feet long) to his waistcoat. The little fellow had thus the liberty of the length of his tether.

While Edward was sleeping soundly, he was awakened by something tug-tugging at his waistcoat; and then by hearing a terrific series of yells, mingled with screeches, close at his head. He was confused and bewildered at first, and did not know where he was, or what the dreadful noises meant. Recovering his recollection, and opening his eyes, he looked about him. He remembered the mouse, and pulled back the string to which it had been attached. The mouse was gone: nothing but the skin of its tail remained. He looked up, and saw an owl sitting on a tree a few yards off. He had doubtless begun to scream when he found that his capture of the mouse was resisted by the string attached to its tail. Edward emerged a little from liis burrow, and drew out his gun for the purpose of shooting the owl; but before he could do this, the owl had taken to his wings and fled away with his booty.

Besides the long-eared owl, Edward-also met with the brown owl—the only two species that he met with in his district, or of which he can speak from personal observation. Both of these owls uttered a too-hoo when sinking down upon their prey ; and after they had secured it, they would fly away without any further noise; but if obstructed, they would both set up a loud screech. Edward had many opportunities of witnessing this trait in their characters. The best instance occurred in the wood of Backlaw.

“Near the centre of this wood,” he observes, “and not far from the farm of the same name, there is a small piece of stagnant water. I was reclining against a tree one night, listening to a reptilian choir—a concert of frogs. It was delicious to hear the musicians endeavoring to excel each other in their strains, and to exhibit their wonderful vocal powers. The defect of the concert was the want of time. Each individual performer endeavored to get as much above the concert - pitch as possible. It was a most beautiful night—for there are beautiful nights as well as days in the North—and I am certain that these creatures were enjoying its beauty as much as myself. -Presently, when the whole of the vocalists had reached their highest notes, they became hushed in an instant. I was amazed at this, and be-ofan to wonder at the sudden termination of the concert. But, looking about, I observed a brown owl drop down, with the silence of death, on to the top of a low dike close by the orchestra.

“He sat there for nearly half an hour, during which there was perfect silence. The owl himself remained quite motionless, for I watched him all the time. Then I saw the owl give a hitch, and move his head a little to one side. He instantly darted down among the grass and rushes, after which he rose with something dangling from his claws. It was a frog: I saw it quite distinctly. He flew up to a tree behind the one against which I was leaning. I turned round a little, and looked up to see how the owl would proceed with his quarry — whether he would tear him in pieces, or gobble him up whole. In this, however, I was disappointed. Although I moved very quietly, the quick eye or ear of the owl detected me, and I was at once greeted with his hoolie-gool-oo-oo as loud as he could scream. I might have shot him; but my stock of powder and lead was very low, and I refrained. Besides, he soon put it out of my power by taking wing and flying off with his prey.”

There were two other birds which Edward often observed prowling about in the twilight in search of food—namely, the kestrel and merlin. On one occasion he shot a specimen of the latter, when it was so dark that he could scarcely see it. He did not know that it was a hawk. He thought it was a goat-sucker by its flight. Many of the birds of prey roamed about by night as well as by day. The harsh scream of the heron, the quack of the wild duck, the 'piping of the kittyneedv (common sandpiper), the birnbeck of the moor-fowl, the wail of the plover, the curlee of the curlew, and the boom of the snipe, were often heard at night, in the regions frequented by these birds. Then again, by the sea-side, he would hear by night the shrill piping of the redshank and ring-dotterel, and the pleck-pleck of the oyster-catcher, as they came down from their breeding-grounds to the shore, to feed or to hold their conclaves.

The coot and water-hen sometimes get very noisy after sunset. The land-rail craiks the whole night through, until some time after the sun rises. The partridge, too, either moves about or is on the alert during spring and summer, as may be known by its often-repeated twirr-twirr. “The only bird we have here,” says Edward, “that attempts to give music at the dead hours of night is the sedge-warbler. It appears to be possessed of the gift of song during the night as well as the day, and it is by no means niggardly in exercising its vocal powers.

“Well do I remember,” he continues, “how the little mill-worker, of scarcely ten years of age, was struck with admiration and almost bewildered with delight at the first of this species he had ever heard exhibiting its mimicking powers; whereas now I considered this to be neither more nor less than the bird’s own natural melody. And if there be any change in the delight with which I hear the sedge-warbler, although I have now turned the corner of ten times six, and have become an old cobbler instead of a juvenile factory operative, yet when I hear the little songster, I drink in the pleasure with even greater delight than I did in those long-past years.”

The rook, too, is in a measure nocturnal in his habits during a certain term of the year, especially when building his nest or when bringing up his progeny. From the time when the foundation of the nest has been laid to the end of the matrimonial proceedings for the year, and until the last chick has left the nest, the rookery is in a state of continual caw-cawing from morning till night. As the young brood of rooks grow up, their appetites increase, and hence the incessant labor of their parents in scouring the country for worms and grubs to furnish them with their late supper or their early morning breakfast.

“I once,” says Edward, “during one of my country excursions, slept beside a very large rookery in the woods of Froglen. Slept? no, I could not sleep ! I never was in the midst of such a hideous bedlam of cawings. I positively do not believe that a single member of that black fraternity slept during the whole of that night. At least I didn’t. If the hubbub slackened for a moment, it was only renewed with redoubled vehemence and energy. I found the rookery in the evening in the wildest uproar, and I left it in the morning in the same uproarious condition. I took good care never to make my bed so near a rookery again. Still, in all justice, I must give the rook the very first and highest character for attention to its young. It is first out in the morning to search for food, and the last to provide for its family at night. The starling is very dutiful in that way; but the rook heats him hollow.”

“As a rule,” says Edward, “so far as I have been able to observe, the sky-lark is the first songster in the morning, and the corn-bunting the last at night. It was no uncommon thing to hear the lark caroling his early hymn of praise high up in the heavens before there was any appearance of light, or before I thought of rising to recommence my labors. Nor was it unusual to hear the bunting stringing together his few and humble notes into an evening song long after sunset, and after I had been compelled to succumb from want of light to pursue my researches. So far as I can remember, I do not think that I have heard the sky-lark sing after sundown.

“Among the sylvan choristers, the blackbird is the foremost in wakening the grove to melody, and he is also among the latest to retire at night. As soon as the first streaks of gray begin to tinge the sky, and break in through the branches amidst which he nestles, the blackbird is up, and from the topmost bough of the tree he salutes the new-born day. And when all the rest of the birds have ended their daily service of song and retired to rest, he still continues to tune his mellow throat, until darkness has fairly settled down upon the earth.

“After the sky-lark and blackbird have heralded the coming day, the thrush rises from her couch, and pours out her melodious notes. The chaffinch, the willow-wren, and all the lesser songsters then join the choir, and swell the chorus of universal praise.”


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