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NATURAL IIISTOIIY NOTES. DECEMBER. The naked trees swing their creaking brandies in the wintry wind above tiie rotung litter of their own i,-k-L leaves; the autumn grandeur of the forest is no more: even the withered bracken has lost its warm amber and the grase is so mixed with fadc-d blades that it look.-? no longer green. Wimer is with us, though the sun shines brightly at times: the season of rest has come, though the hyacinths have pushed their tiny heads above tiie black leaf-strewn ground and the buds of next spring shew where they have pushed the old useless leaf-stalk from the twig. There are no straggling belated summer migrants now, no Cowers to notice in the untrimmed hedge-bank. A few weeks ago we saw at intervais of several days the- last departing birds of summer, slipping quietly south as tlie chattering fieldfares and other northern fowl came in 10 fill the gaps, and along the coast even later movements might be observed. Following thoee caniL- tiie birds we class as spring and autumn mig ram.&dJOtiC which only use England as a wayside station, stopping to feed and rest, as tiiey perform their long journey. Meet of these iiave gone and the flocks of waders which haunt our shores will only move if forced by weather to vacate IT favourite feeding grounds upon the rich tidal mud. A few weeks ago too scattered buttercups and other common fiowrb showed their faces by the lanee, the dull-leaved wayside gorse was full of golden autumn flowers, and brambie blossoms crowned prickly twigs which would never bear fruit. The buttercups, splashed by the rain and nipped by the frost, have given up the struggle, and though a few yellow blossoms still stand on the autumn gorse. most of the bushes are as bare as their relatives liard by which only flower in spring. The fruitful earth is resting after its harvest home. By the way, how strange it sounds to us here in Cheshire when we are told that in some places tlie harvest is not gathered in an Irish friend wrote to me a few days ago that he hoped it would be in before Christmas, but lie did not feel sure. SEALS IN THE DEE. Two yearn ago, on November 19th. a common seal was foolish enough to visit tlie neighbour- hood of Handbridge; it had some differences of opinion with the fishermen on that Sunday and finally was conveyed to the Grosvenor Museum. According to the report- it was ten years sinoo one had been seen in the Dee. Another ten years is not going to pass, however, before one visits ue, for about the middle of last month one was playing in the water and resting on tlie banks off Gayton. Probably weals come more frequently than is supposed, but. they keep far down the river and are not observed. About the same time there was one in Llandudno Bay. rather to the astonishment of the fishermen, for seals are not frequent there. In other parts of the North Wales coast they may be seen occa- sionally I have watched the big grey seal off the coast of Llevn, and indeed it is not unlikely that it breeds in some of the more remote rocky caves of that forbidding coast. Another rather unusual visitor got into trouble on the Dee sands, for on the beaoh near Flint there lay the body of THE DELUSIVE ANGLER FISH. which a friend of mine estimated as weighing thirty or forty pounds. What a strange, un- natural creature—from our point of view—is this angler fish. It is all head and mouth: there is really very little fish back of this groat head, yet it can accommodate in its apparently small interior huge dinners of other fish, fiesii, or even such indigestible articles as fishermen'c floats. The angler buries itself in the sand—at least it buries its body and as much head as it con- veniently can so long as it leaves the working parts exposed. And these working parts are perhaps the strangest parts of the whole, for the fish is provided with a light and serviceable fishing rod, really a modification of the first spine of the dorsal fin, which arises from above its Tounded snout and bending neatly over suspends a tempting fleshy-looking bait, all of which is part of the fish, over its cavernous jawsl There are other weed-like prooesses and tentacles which wave gently in the current and attract, the atten- tion of curious and greedy little fishes. There the angler lies buried in the mud, waving its bait above ita head and welcomes little fishes in. With gently smiling jaws." What jaws they are, too! Rows of ferocious teeth are ready for all comers, and when the great mouth is dosed upon some creature too big for a single swallow it is a grim fight. In this way the luckless diving bird has pushed its head into the trap and died. Once a great northern diver was seized by a large angler, and while they were struggling a fisherman captured both on another occasion it was a cormorant which had its head and long nock within the angler's jaws when both were secured. A wigeon, razorbills and guillemots have been taken from the stomach of this fish and another one was choked by trying to swallow a herring gull. Birds, however, are only accidental food of the angler, but the fish it will sometimes cram into its inside are almost equal in weight to itself, and a granite anchor stone has been swallowed. AnglerB;" too. have been allowed to swallow the end of a whip and ship's mop and then dragged ignominiously ashore by the other end of these inedible articles. Mr. Siddali. of Chester, records that in 1901 he found one—in Rhcs Weir, I think—which, though only two feet across its head, had a round brass tray of 12 inches diameter fixed in the back of its mouth, and fitted so tightly that it could not be re- moved." Fishing-frog was the name given to this curious fish it was Aristotle who originated this name, for he called the animal a kind of frog, but with us devil-fifth is perhaps more common. There are, however, many devil- fishes in the fisherman's vocabulary, for any- thing which is quaint or to him objectionable is uncanny. I have only seen very small anglers myeelf on our shores, but at times huge fellows four or five, or even six feet in length, get stranded. What nt creatures they would be to tread upon when bathing! GEESE AND DIVERS. Last month I gave a rough census of the Dee geese—three or four hundred; there are probably double this number in the river now. The numbers of the geese do not actually fluctuate; they steadily increase as the season and then decrease again as the year has turned. Red-throated divers have also been seen in fair numbers off the Welsh coast and in the river. In the local papers a great northern diver's obituary appeared, shot. by a wiidfowler. Thi6 may be correct, and if it is, there is nothing very remarkable about it, for this biggest of the divers is not really unusual in winter. It is, however, rather a coincidence that a red-throated diver was frequenting the estuary for oome, days prior to the date on which the reported great northern was shot, and as no evidence of iden- tification was given, we can draw our own con- clusions. It is a pity to kill these birds, even if they do some damage to fish, for they are interesting and beautiful; the true sporteman only shoots geese, ducks and other edible fowl; there is no glory in shooting a useless bird merely as a specimen unless it is sent to some public museum where it will be of value, or unless the shooter requires it for scientific pur- poses Private ockliections--meze ooilectionw-are worse than useless; they are the cause of serious damage to our fauna. THE SHORT-EARED OWL. The angry alarm note of the rook and the shriller expostulations of a jackdaw caused me to look up into the eky to see what was upsetting them. High against the blue I could see three birds, and recognised the small daw and the larger rook, but the third bird I could not at first make out. The two crows were again and again attacking this third bird, though they never actually struck it; indeed, the jackdaw, so far as I could see, took good care not to approach too near the stranger the rook on the other band made some very determined assaults, and may perhaps have struck the other bird with its wings, for it several times swerved. When they came nearer, graualiy descending. I saw that the visitor was a round-headed, round-winged and long round-tailed short-eared owl; it came steadily on, save when the rush of the rook drove it a little from its path, flying with siow but powerful wing-beats, until it passed right, above me. Then it drifted away to the south and dropped rapidly down into a neighbouring hall garden or a covert beyond. I hurried to find it, but when it went earthward the rook and daw left it, and I failed to find any other birds mobbing it. I wonder where it came from or what it was doing flying so high in broad daylight. SQie flbort-eared owl ia far move diurnal than it* relatives; it will hunt in the daytime, and when fiuahed flies off without shewing the uncertainty of tawny or barn owie when turned out in the light; but as a rule the flushed short-eared (whicn its often put up by partridge shooters) d, not fly far but soon drops into cover onos more. Perhaps this bird had been disturbed by some big shoot, and in wrror took a longer flight than usual; it is hardiy like;y that I just caught oigtit of a migratory bird which had recently arrived and was moving to eome likely feeding1 ground. At any rate, it was a very interesting s'gnt to see it and the crows paaj above my, head. -UramMings are now well distributed througl.. oui the county; these little northern finches, commonly met with in winter with chaffinches were rather late in reaching Cheshire; they hay. een noticed in the south of England and evtat m Lancashire Jong before they were observe? here. Tnere is, however, often irregularity i< the arrival of winter birds; this year we hav< had fewer diving ducks than usual, though the winter thrushes came in great force fairly early. When a little harder weather comes we 6hal probably see more of them a frosty spell and a northerly wind usually brings them in. T. A. C.






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