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THE CHRISTMAS SHOW. I

- - - - - - THE HANDS IN COLD…

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AMATEUR THEATRICALS AT CHESTER.

| JAPAN TO-DAY.

NATURAL HISTORY NOTES.I

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NATURAL HISTORY NOTES. I THE SISKIN. In my last notes I spoke about that interesting little finoh, the siskin, which this vww has burned up in some numbers. Not only has it been noticed in Cheshire, but two large flocks have been seen in Anglesey, and a few days ago we watched a party of considerable size in the alders which hang over the beautiful Elwy. There were many of the little green-yellow birds swing- ing on the slender twigs, pecking at the catkins, and whenever they flew to a fresh tree twittering in cheerful chorus; some of them were so near to us, as wo stood looking down upon them from the bridge, that. we could see every marking, every shade of colour. How they swung beneath the branches—tit-like in their actions, how they devoured those seeds, and slipped from twig to twig! It was a charming picture; the pretty northern birds in the graceful trees above the swift-flowing stream. The siskin is not like the fieldfare and redwing only a winter visitor to Britain, although the bulk of the birds we see are migrants from the north. A few pairs have from time to time nested in our southern counties, and north of Perth it may be found neating almost every year. Perhaps it nests in some of the fir woods of the Clwyd Valley, and perhaps in Anglesey and other parts of North Wales; we have seen one bird in full breeding plumage in spring in Anglesey. That, however, is no sure proof that the bird does breed th ere. BATS ON THE WING IN DECEMBER. I The winter sleep of most of our bats began wine time ago, but we know very little about ths winter sleep—hibernation, as it is called— and when food is still plentiful on warm days bats will come and feed. We very seldom see the big nootule abroad in December, though it has been reported in the south of England. Noctules feed on large beetles and high-flying moths, which are not on the wing at present. But there have been this month, owing to the warm, open weather, a fair number of the smaller bats about. On some of the milder days gnats and small flies were un- usually plentiful, and in the afternoon, for the light fails very early, I have seen several pipis- trelles hawking for food. The pipistrelle is a near relation of the noctule, and is the "common bat" of most folk. In the limestone of North Wales there are many curious oaves and smaller holes and cracks which afford shelter for bats in winter; in summer the little creatures do not seem to taxe about the c&vea, but find diurnal retreats elsewhere. In one of these caves we found nujnbers of lesser horseshoe bats sleeping, but I dare not aay hibernating. Certainly if their sleep was the winter trance it was uncommonly light, for when handled they very soon woke up, their temperatures rose, and in a few minutes they were as lively as on a summer evening. Probably these bats had been feeding in the caves, for food of their kind-flies of sorits--is plentiful; crowds of flies rest on the walls of the tunnels, and with them we find two moths and one or two different spiders. One of these spiders is a particularly fine animal; I do not think it. P ossesses an English name, but it has had several long scientific names given to it. It is only to be found in such dark spots as oaves and old ruins, but it appears to flourish there. Near these caves, but not actually in them, we saw, in full day- light, another bat flying backwards and forwards beneath the shadow of a natural arch of rock. It was the kind known as Natterer's bat, one which is by no means c-ommon; it has long ears, though not so long as the long-eared bat, a very common animal; it may also be distinguished when seon in such a good light as we saw it :n I by the reddish colour of its back and by its size, for it -is much larger than the pipistrelle or I whiskered bats. WANDERERS FROM THE SEA. I From time to time, generally after heavy gales or strong winds, birds of the ocean are drifted or blown to our shores, and at times a.ro carried far inland before they fall exhausted. So, since I last wrote, have two lost and storm-driven petrels reached Lancashire and Cheshire. One of these birds was driven so far inland that it fell in the streets of Fallowfield, a part of Manchester; the other dropped on the Now Ferry boat. Both birds were fork-tailed and not storm petrels. It is worthy of notice that though most of these storm driven petrels are described as storm petrels, that being a species which is well known to us in fablo and tale, vAiLn the examples are examined it is proved as often as not that they are Leachs's fork-tailed petrel and not the true storm petrel. Ine first-mentioned bird is now preserved in the Manchester Museum, but the other may perhaps still be alive. It was picked up by a kind-hearted seaman on the boat and taken home that night. I do not know if he tried to feed it. or if he did, what food he offered it. Some years ago a poor gannet was blown in- land in the same way and fell in a farmyard near Ringway. The farmer, finding a strange fowl lying in his yard, after dodging its powerful bill, managed to capture it and then attempted to feed it on "goose food"! Did he know, perhaps that one name of the bird is Solan goose? At any rate, it did not take to goose food, naturally enough, and speedily got over its troubles by departing this life; it is now preserved in a case in the farm house, an object of wonder for the natives. The little fork-tailed petrel, however, came off better, and next morning the sailor car- ried it down to the Mersey shore and put it back into the water. It swam, but was not strong enough to battle even against the small waves which were washing on the beach: it was thrown back to land again. Then the sailor took it up and stood it on a stone, from which it spread its wings and flew, departing seaward down the river. These petrels, very small birds compared with most of our gulls and other merint- fowl, spend the greater part of their lives on the open sea, feeding and sleeping without coming to land. It is small wonder that now and again-, when wea- ther continues to be rough and fierce, they are wearied and overcome and roach our shores either just alive or as washed-up corpses, to lie and rot among the corks and seaweed and aIr the flotsam and jetsam of high-water mark. DECEMBER. I Mid-winter is seldom the coldest time of the year, but it is a dead time in most forms of life. Yet there is never a time that we cannot see something stirring in the animal and the vege- table world, some birds or insects about, some buds, upon some trees. Insect fife is least in evidence, though dancing round t'no, street-lamps, even on eold and ohilly nights, W may see the ash-brown male of the winter math, and when a gleam of sunshine pierces the sullen leaden clouds or finds its way through the- thick fog some gnats are wakened from their slumbers and dance in the quickening rays. When the ground is not frost bound there are inisecta of other small forms of animal life in among thie grass or the newly-turned earth, for the lapwings and golden plovers would not trouble to frequent the fields if they J found nothing, nor would the winter thrushes— I field-fare and redwing-hop with such agility and sprightliness if there was nothing to hurilt for. In these winter mornings when the muggy air is not too much chilled by frost the song thrush sings daily with increasing art of music, and this year, very early, the wild notes of the mistle thrush have been hurled far and wide by the bigger, bolder bitrd. It is seldom that the mistle thrush sings much before Christmas or even the closing days of the old year, but by the 12th of the month he was singing gaily this season. And now the robin is not our only songster, for tho lyric wren chimes out, and the weak but sweet- voiced dunnock trills in the hedge. The lively tits break forth into utterances not unlike spring music, and on the warmest day a skylark here and there goes skywards as if he thought there was something to live for beside the loaves and fishes. And daily, even when tba rime clings thickly to the pear tree branohes, the starling is at his chosen post, clattering and whistling to the cold winter sure his idea of music. It may not be beautiful at times, this starling song, but it is lively and joyous; now with a tuneful p p?, now with a meaningless clatter of bill, the star- ling does his best to add to that winter chorus which is but the forerunner of the great spring orchestra that shall tell us all that Nature has renewed her youth once more. Long ere the ,last weed has withered or all the grass turned brown we may see signs on every hand of the promise of the future. Nature never dies. T. A. C.

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