23 FEBRUARY 1850, Page 18


Thompson's contribution of originally observed facts to the natural history of Irish birds, or rather of birds in general, comprises an account of two orders,—the Rasores, or scratchers, who generally obtain their food by scratching up the soil ; the Grallatores, or stilt birds, who receive their name from their being raised on their Long legs as on stilts. Under the rasores are included the families of the doves or pigeons, and of the grouse ; for the great bustard has long been extinct in Ireland, and the little bustard has only been once proved to have visited the island. The grallatores have a more extensive range ; embra- cing plovers, herons, curlews, sandpipers, snipes, woodcocks, &c. The haunts of each order are as different as their habits ; the scratchers carrying their observer into woodland, mountain, moor, and cultivated land; while he who would examine the waders in a state of nature must follow their example and care little f6r wet feet

when frequenting the marsh, or the shore of 'the sea, the es y, the lake, or the river.

The character of this second volume does not greatly differ from that of the first. It is still a collection of particular though original observations OR the habits, appearance, and localities of • The Natural History of Ireland. Volume I/. Birds, comprising the orders Bosoms and Grallatores. By Wm. Thompson, Esq., President of the Natural His- tory and Philosophical Society of Belfast, &c. &c. Published by Reeve, Benham, and Reeve. birds, either continually or occasionally found in Ireland. Hence there is wanting that largeness which arises from the broad de- ductions of the artistical naturalist, who generalizes the smaller facts, and only introduces particular facts when they happen to be of a striking kind. In this point of view, the book wants what landscape-painters mean by composition ; the reader finds a vast number of sketches from nature, instead of a selection brought together and reproduced as I. whole. On the other hand, this accumulation of single facts has great value for the student of ornithology ; and the facts, being derived from actual observation, have great freshness, and as it were the atmosphere of nature. The reader feels in some curious way as if he were accompanying the observers, and partakes of the various character of the scenery

through which they lead him. Iii this respect Mr. Thompson 's . book is one of the raciest we have met wit and generalization would most likely have deprived it of its freshness.

A rather interesting feature, arising from the particular enu- meration, is the singularity of rare visitants, whose presence in Ireland one wonders at. The American bittern is slow upon the wing, aria of short flight; yet one was shot in the neighbOurhood of Armagh. The white stork has once been shot, in the spring of 1846, in the neighbotrhood of Fermoy, county Cork ; which, though not so extraordinary a visit as that of the American bittern, was a great deviation from the bird's usual track. Spoonbills have been observed eleven times during the present century ; and the glossy ibis is an occasional visitant, " chiefly late in autumn or early in winter, when (it may be presumed) on its migration Southwards." In addition to the pictorial attractions of Irish scenery, the tourist with a turn for natural history will find a much richer field for observation in Ireland than in -England ; owing to the wilder character of its shores, the number of its lochs, and the backwardness of its cultivation. The bittern is not now so numerous as when Goldsmith made those observations upon it in boyhood which he used with such characteristic truth in his Animated Nature ; but it is not so rare a bird as it- is in this country. The heron, scarce enough in many English districts to deserve the " monstrari digito," is rife even in the Bay of Belfast, together with many other birds. This is a late autumnal view, as transcribed by Mr. Thompson from his note. "November Ilth 1840. A sun-bright lovely day. When walking for three miles along the Antrim shore of the bay from Belfast, after the tide had a little receded, the birds, which were very numerous near the road, proved extremely interesting. Dunlins and ringed dotterel were flying little troops, uttering their pleasing cries, and moving towards the, great body of not less than a thousand of their species. Redshanks, attracting immediate attention by their loud and lively whistle, appeared most graceful as they alighted; and the handsomely-formed wing, flung up so as to exhibit the under surface at the moment they touched the ground, flashed in silvery whiteness upon the sight. The sea-gulls, in their snowy garb, were as usual highly attractive ; but the herons bore off the palm from all the others. After having been driven from the banks by a high tide, they were returning, now that it had ebbed ; and the whole expanse of sky before me was enlivened by their presence. At one view, spread singly over the atmosphere, I reckoned fifty. The many-coloured sky, chiefly blue, with white and rich yellow clouds, against which they were seen, much enhanced their appearance. I have occasionally, though not today, remarked the white portion of the heron's plumage to look beautifully roseate, with the rich tints of the setting sun upon it.'

The following anecdotes of herons in confinement are curious ; for the appearance of the bird would not promise much sense of attachment. They are taken from a variety of other accounts by different correspondents, whose contributions are frequently not the least valuable part.

"The following notes, by Robert Warren jun., Esq., refer to a heron taken from a nest in 1847, and kept at Castle Warren, county Cork—' The favour- ite food of this bird is eels ; but any other fish will do as well It frequently swallows four or five large herrings at a meal. Flesh meat, the entrails of fowls, &e. suffice as food. After feeding, it is very fond of basting in the heat of the sun, and will stand for hours with its wings expanded enjoying the genial warmth. The bird is much attached to me, as I always teed runs towards me shaking its wings, and keeping,-up a cry evidently of plea- sure. It evinces much gentleness of disposition, and frequently stands, ca- ressing me with its bill. But to strangers its manners are very different, as it attacks them with the greatest fury, and although repeatedly driven back will continue to return to the charge. It shows great antipathy to dogs, and if one comes too near he is received with a stroke of its bill, which sends him yelping away. I have often seen it fighting, although only on the de- fensive, with a domestic, cock. It was never wounded by that bird's spurs; for when attacked the heron stands quite steady in the attitude in which it waits for prey, always facing, and closely watching every movement of ifs adversary, and striking him with its bill whenever he comes within reach of its long neck. When the cock flew upwards he was always driven back by a stroke of the heron's bill. The cock, in general, retreated on finding that he could make no impression on his watchful foe....The heron beats the cock by wearing out his patience, as it will remain for any length of time in an attitude of defence. The patience of a score of cocks would be worn out by this bird. During two months that I was absent from home, about the end of 1848, the heron would not become familiar with any one, not even with the person who fed it; in fact, it never was friendly with any one but my- self. On my return after the absence alluded to it recognised me instantly, and testified its joy by screaming and flapping its wings. It never, indeed, uttered a sound at the presence of any other person.' "