Scolopax rusticola, Linne,
Vernacular Names —[Sim-titar, Tutatar? (Jerdon); Sham-titar, Sham-kukra, Kumaun; Chinjarol, Chamba; Kangtruk, Manipur; Wilati-chaha, Chittagong; Murgh-i-zerak, Persia;]
A RESIDENT during the summer of the higher wooded ranges of the Himalayas at elevations of ten thousand feet and upwards, from Gilgit to the western borders of Bhutan (and probably much further east), the Woodcock retreats in autumn to the lower valleys ; and while some spend the winter there, and in the Duns, Terais, Bhaburs, and similar submontane tracts that skirt the bases of these considerable numbers migrate during the colder months to hilly, well-wooded and watered regions all over the Empire, as far south as Ceylon on the one hand, and Tavoy (at least and probably much further) on the other. brought in for sale to Simla, one man sometimes bringing in three or four."— A. O. Hume.
" The Woodcock is rather common in the Upper Sutlej valley in the forests of the lesser ranges between four thousand and ten thousand feet; it breeds at and above Chini, and I think I have also seen it in Western Thibet."—F. Stoliczka.
" I have killed many in the lower valleys below Mussooree during the cold season, and a few in the Dun, in the Siwaliks^ and I once bagged five in a single morning along the Lat-ka-pani below Almorah."—A. O.Hume.
" They are to be seen in summer in considerable numbers in all the higher hills north of Mussooree, where they breed near the snows. I have repeatedly seen their nests and eggs in former times. Later in the year they descend into the lower valleys, and may occasionally be shot anywhere in suitable places, right down to the plains."—Frederick Wilson.
" I took the nest, as mentioned in my paper, on the 2nd of July, - in Kumaon near Kemo, elevation 10,000 to n9ooo feet, which is opposite the. Namick Salt Springs."—A. Anderson.
" Common in Kumaun, resorting to the lower hills and valleys in the cold season. In May I have seen a Woodcock and a Moonal on the wing at the same time."
" In June 1855 I got a Woodcock, with nest and eggs, in Nepal at about 11.000 feet elevation. It is usual to find the breeding birds further up and more out of the influence of the tropical rains in scrub rhododendron. I never before got one so near rain or the central region."—B. Hodgson.
-"I myself saw them regularly every evening at Rinchingpoon, in Sikhim, in November i860."—R. C. Beavan.
" Woodcock are pretty common in the Assamboo Hills, but only at the highest elevations from November to March."—Frank W. Bourdillon.
I flushed a Woodcock in the Kodaikanal in 1867. Afterwards one was obtained there by Mr. Levinge; but they are certainly rare on the Palnis."— s., B. Fairbank.
"The Woodcock arrives later and leaves earlier than the Snipe on the Nilgiris, coming in late in October or early in November, and departing again at the latest by the end of February. They are never very abundant, but with the aid of a couple or more of bustling spaniels and a few beaters, a few can almost always be had, when they are in season.
" They frequent marshy ground and the banks of streamlets in forest. Though occasionally one is met with in the depths of the larger extents of forest, yet, as a rule, I think that they confine themselves to the outskirts and to the narrow strips of jungle running down the ravines between the hills, and which (the jungles and not hills) are always more or less marshy towards their bases.
It does not appear to be common in Ceylon, but has been shot there on the higher hills ; in the Assamboo Hills it is fairly common ; on the Palnis rare. It is pretty abundant on the Nilgiris]: and on the higher hills of Coorg, and occurs, though perhaps in smaller numbers, in the Sheveroy and Javadi Hills in the Salem District, in the Anamalis, and in the Burghur and Hosenur Hills in the Coimbatore District. To the Western Ghats, as near Kanara," and again to the Eastern Ghats,! a few only seem to resort; but it is more numerous in the Garo, Khasi, and Naga Hills, in Manipur § and Sylhet, || and in the Tipperah and Chittagong Hills.
"When driven they break cover either as soon as flushed, or else keep taking short flights in front of the men and dogs till they reach the foot of the shola, when they fly rapidly off to the next, or back towards the head of the jungle When they have been much disturbed, they become very cunning, and will not show themselves out side of the cover, but keep flying back over the heads of the beaters, and on one occasion I saw one bird that had been flushed by a dog, rise a few feet in the air, where it hovered till the dog had passed on, and then drop into the same place again."—W. Davison.
" I have shot them on the Sheveroy and Javadi Hills in the Salem district, also on the Anamali, Nilgiri, Burghoor, and Husinoor Hills in the Coimbatoie district. I have also heard of their being shot in the Wynad.
" It is a cold weather visitant, arriving about the middle of November and leaving again in February or March. As a rule they are rare, a few only being found in suitable localities."—Albert G. Theobald.
f " Colonel Peyton informed me that he had only seen four during a long residence in Kanara (10—12 years), but I don't think any one in these parts ever thinks of regularly searching for the birds."—H. S. Laird.
The Woodcock, I am informed by Captain Blaxland. has several times been seen, and on one occasion shot, on the higher plateaux of Jaipur."—V. Ball.
" I have shot the Woodcock in Manipur, the Khasi Hills, near Shillong, and the Naga Hills near Kohima, and I have seen it in the Garo Hills. In all these districts it appears to be a migrant, appearing about the end of October, and leaving at the end of March. In Manipur I once shot two in the same day from the howdah in heavy grass jungle while beating for deer ; in other places I have generally seen them on the banks of running streams in heavy tree jungle. The localities they affect may easily be discovered by noticing the borings which they make in searching for worms. In the Naga Hills it is common. The Angami Nagas snare them by marking the spots, generally an open glade in a wood, where they come out to feed ; they surround the place with bushes leaving two or three runs, in each of which they place two sticks arranged like an inverted V, and from the apex suspend a fine noose. The bird is caught by the neck."—G. Damant.
During the cold weather a few brace of this species are procurable in suitable localities in the Sylhet district. They frequent the small rivulets that run amongst the densely-wooded teelahs, which cover a good part of the northern portion of that district. The sportsman walks up the bed of a rivulet with a few beaters on each side, and gets a snap shot occasionally. I have known of four brace being got in a forenoon, but a brace now and again is the general outturn of cock-shooting in those parts. They arrive in November and leave in February."—J .R. Cripps.
The late Mr. Valentine Irwin sent me a Woodcock killed in the Tippera Hills, where he told me that it was not very uncommon in winter.
" It is a rather noticable fact that the Woodcock is found, though rarely, along the hill margins of the eastern side of this District (Chittagong). We put up one at Puttia one day in March 1878. Mr. Lowis shot two near the Mahamani in January 1878, and two others in 1877 at Fenna. In the same year a Woodcock killed itself here in the station by flying against the telegraph wires. Mr. Martin put up a brace of Woodcock from a teelah near Kutubcherra in December 1876, and flushed others in the same locality on three subsequent occasions, namely in December 1877, and in March and June 1878. Again Mr, Lowis shot another last month, and saw a second"—H. Fasson.
But while these, and possibly other localities, in regard to which I have no information, such as the Vindya, Satpura, Aracan and higher Tenasserim ranges, constitute its regularwinter quarters outside the Himalayas, there is not, I believe, a single district, intervening between these letter and the former, where single birds have not now and then occurred on migration.
I may extract a few notices of localities- whence Woodcock have been procured.
In a cocoanut garden on the Mysore Plateau, 65 miles-east of Bangalore.—(G. Mclnroy). Seventeen miles south-west of Belgaum, when Snipe-shooting in some rice fields about X'mas time The fields were surrounded by jungle.—(J.S. Laird). Masulipatam. —(Jerdon).Guddam, in the GolcondaZemindaii—(McMaster).
A Woodcock was shot last Christmas day, about two miles from Tanna, by R. D. Cairns, of the Oriental Bank, here. It was flushed in some bushes at the foot of some low hills near some marshy ground.—(J. D. Inverarity.)
To my knowledge three veritable Woodcocks have been killed in Cachar.— (J Inglis).
Colonel Graham, Deputy Commissioner, Dibrugarh, writes that a few are always to be seen during the cold season, in suitable localities towards the head of the Assam Valley.— Calcutta Market.—(Blyth, Hume, Parker), Thyetmyo, Bassein, Karenee Hills north-east of hwaygeen.—(McMaster). Thatone—(J. C Davis). Kyekagaw, twenty-two miles from Rangoon, February 1865.—(II. B. Davidson). Moulmein.- (David Brown, Colonel). Just under the cone of Mooleyit.—(W. Davison).
On the 28th April 1879, I flushed an undoubted Woodcock, among some willows on the bank of the Gyne River —(C. Bingham.) Mamogan, about 10 miles from Tavoy.—(H. B. Davidson).
Dr. Armstrong caught one in the Bay of Bengal in Latitude 18° 40' North, and Longitude 920 28' East, on the 18th November 1875,
Outside our limits Swinhoe tells us that it occurs throughout China during the winter, but Pere David says that in the Northern Provinces at least it is almost unknown, though he found it breeding in Ourato in Mongolia, at Sichan near Pekin, and in Moupin. It does not seem uncommon in Japan. Prjevalski met with it in April on the Murni-ul Mounts in Mongolia, and tells us that they breed in the Ussuri country, and are very numerous there during migration. In Southern and South-eastern Siberia it appears in summer, and breeds in many places. In Yarkand it must be scarce, as neither Henderson nor Scully saw or heard of it, but Stoliczka procured one near Yarkand itself on the nth of November. In Western Turkestan it is also somewhat rare, and seems only to have been noticed there on passage. Hutton told us more than thirty years ago that the Woodcock was very common at Quetta and Kandahar, arriving In November and departing in May ; but, though a few have been noticed, and a very few killed both in Northern and Southern Afghanistan and Northern Beluchistan during the late war, no one seems to have found them common anywhere. In many parts of Persia they do seem very common during the cold season, and Colonel St. John has shot numbers there, five one morning, out of a single small rose garden at Firuzabad.
Captain Bishop informs me that in January 1873, whilst shooting near Baghdad in Turkish Mesopotamia, his party bagged five Woodcocks in the date groves skirting the town, so that here also they are probably pretty common, as they are likewise in Armenia, Asia Minor, and Palestine.
To Lower Egypt it is a rather rare straggler, but further west in Algeria and Morocco it appears to be more or less common during the winter. Curiously enough it is a permanent resident in the Canaries, Madeira, and the Azores. Excluding Iceland, it is met with at one season or another throughout Europe and the islands of the Mediterranean, mostly breeding in the north (though probably not within the Arctic Circle), but some few breeding in most countries north of the 45th degree of North Latitude. A straggler or two have undoubtedly occurred in the eastern portions of North America, and Coues thinks that such chance visitations are commoner than is usually supposed, but the Neartic region is clearly outside its normal range.
IN THE Himalayas they begin to descend, earlier or later, in October, according to the season, and I have shot one at only about 7,000 feet elevation in the valley of the Sutlej as early as the 8th of October. Outside the Himalayas, (as at the Nflgiris,) they appear earlier or later in November, and leave earlier or later in March, according to locality or season.
But all do not migrate at the same time; on the Nflgiris fresh birds are continually dropping in at any rate throughout November and December, and this continued migration is also proved by the occurrence of specimens in the plains as late as the end of December. It is curious that in all the cases in which I have been able to ascertain the exact dates, birds killed in the plains of Upper India have been obtained prior to the 3rd of January, thus apparently proving that it is only on their southward journey, and not on the return trip, that they linger by the way.
Whether all the birds visiting the Empire south of the Himalayas are natives of those mountains, or whether a portion are migrants from more northern regions, is a problem that has yet perhaps to be solved; although, for reasons to be explained further on, I do not believe in many foreign birds reaching us.
Cover and running water are what in India the Woodcock most affects ; you may find them alike in the middle of deep forest or thick ringal jungle near the banks of some rushing hill streamlet, foaming and sparkling in its rocky bed, where, save a few tiny velvety corners, there seems no single spot in the neighbourhood where they can possibly feed ; and again in clumps of low scrub in a treeless opening, where some stream debouching on a clayey basin converts this into a mossy swamp, through which its movement is only to be detected at the further end where, as if ashamed of its late sluggishness, it gushes out to resume its brawling descent. But swamp or stream, the water must be moving to please the Woodcock ; and, though there are exceptions to the rule, you will generally hunt in vain, mountain swamps and tarns, where there is no outlet and the water is stagnant, though all the surroundings and adjuncts be everything, apparently, that the heart of Woodcock can desire. In England we find them beside little stagnant ditches and pools in covers; but in India I have seldom so seen them, having almost always flushed them in the neighbourhood of running water.
They are almost invariably solitary. I have flushed three or four out of one and the same clump of holly bushes not thirty yards in diameter; but it is far more common to pick them up one by one along the course of some cover embowered stream at some distance from each other. At the same time, though thus living alone, they travel in parties. To-day there will not be a Woodcock anywhere in the valley; next morning there are a dozen scattered about all over the place, at distances of two to four hundred yards from each other; unless indeed there be some enclosed garden or tempting patch of low thick prickly cover, where they think themselves safe from hostile birds and beasts, in which, though still keeping each other as much as may be at arm's length, several will gather. A few days later and not a bird is to be found. They have disappeared, as they arrived, en masse. They certainly always move by night, and for the most part feed chiefly during the hours of darkness ; and, though they may sometimes be seen feeding in the afternoon, I have never myself witnessed this.
Colonel Tickell says :—" The Woodcock, it is well known, returns year after year, like the Chimney Swallow, to the same spot. One or two of them had thus for several winters attracted attention at the Residency, (Kathmandu, Nepal), and one afternoon, in October 1840, whilst seated lounging near an open window or glass door in that building, I descried a fine specimen, looking very smooth and fat, with his rich chestnut plumage and pretty black bars strongly contrasted against the green turf, run along from under a species of lignum vitae bush, and begin pecking and boring about in the grass. But pecking is not quite an applicable term to the movements of the bird, which appeared at every two or three steps to plunge his bill into the herbage and hold it there for a second or so, giving his head a quick shaking to right and left, as if endeavouring to pierce the ground, and now and then looking up and allowing me to see his large black eye. Occasionally it appeared to nibble up and swallow some small object; but its powers of deglutition are considerable, and the Woodcock will bolt a whole lobworm as one of the Lazzaroni at Naples takes in a yard or so of maccaroni, or a Madras juggler, a sword. It appeared to me rather a clumsy bird, not nimble and sprightly like the Sandpipers, but somewhat lumpy in its gait, and the large, round, head and perpendicular forehead of the bird gave it an air more of the dove than of the serpent. If alarmed it would run under cover, and squat, its long bill resting on the ground ; but on finding all quiet, would soon rise and glide out On none of these occasions did it take wing, nor fairly proceed into the open, never straying further than seven or eight yards from a bush."
They are with us very tame and confiding birds; it is not merely that they, as a rule, only rise when you are quite close to them, and then, if not fired at, only flap a dozen yards or so away behind some bush before they drop again. This might be due to the fact that, being chiefly nocturnal in their habits, they do not see over well in daylight; are confused by the glare, and conceive concealment more likely to conduce to their safety than flight; but they really affect rather than shun the neighbourhood of mankind. In a huge valley, containing thousands of charming haunts, if there be a single village in it near a stream, you are more likely to meet with Woodcock in any little garden plots or enclosures on its outskirts than, anywhere else. And they are not afraid of men, and if you do not fire at them, you may put them up two or three times in a day, day after day, from the same place ; and after a few days they will scarcely take the trouble to flap ten yards away when you do rouse them up, and will even, squatting by the trunk of some low tree, sit and blink at you with their large eyes only half open in a sort of reproachful half-disgusted way. " That fellow bothering here again; it is too bad that one can't get a single good day's rest!" And. then when a dog bustles in, he is in no hurry, but just flutters noiselessly up a few feet as Dash approaches, and as soon as convinced the bird has flown, the dog rushes off, scouring round and round in large circles hoping to pick up the scent again, down pops the Woodcock placidly in its old place, not apparently at all frightened, only very much dissatisfied. Day after day in the Sewaliks of the Eastern Dun for nearly a fortnight, when after a Sambhar with fabulously large antlers, never alas ! destined to become trophies of mine, I used to see, and my dogs used to put up the same three Woodcock in the same spots, until we all knew each other perfectly, so well that when having to return to work, I was compelled to give up the Phantom Deer, I parted with those Woodcocks in peace, and believe that for that season, at any rate, they escaped molestation.
No European writer notices, their tameness and confiding-ness, which has so much struck me here; but that may be because they are such delicious eating to my mind the king of all birds,—that every one shoots them on the first opportunity, and gives no scope for the development of their amiable qualities. But from what I have myself seen, I cannot help thinking that with a little trouble it would not be difficult to domesticate them. Their mode of feeding has been already described above; and, though I have never seen them at work, I have hundreds of times seen the little, rather funnel-shaped holes that they bore in the mud and turf alongside the streams where they reside ; and, as you work up or down these latter, these holes furnish certain indications as to whether there are or are not Woodcock about, and where to look for them if there are. If they have not been disturbed they will be found squatting within a stone's throw of their feeding place.
I have found worms of all sizes and shapes, grubs, larvae, fragments of black coleoptera, tiny scraps of grass, and a sticky glutinous animal substance which I could not identify in those I have examined. Besides which their gizzards always contain a quantity of gravel.
When migrating they are said to fly strongly and well, but when flushed, the flight is at first slow, uncertain and Owl-like, and ceases suddenly, the bird dropping instantaneously behind some bush. I have never had any sport with Woodcock in Northern India. I have often shot them, rarely more than three in a day; but they gave no sort of sport. They fluttered up flushed by the dogs or some beater within twenty yards, and were knocked over by a snap shot as they hung wavering on first rising. One shot them because they were so good to eat; in every other respect they were not worth shooting. They don't seem to fly a bit as Woodcock do in covers at home, where even a good shot is at times baulked ; but, like Snipe, and almost every living thing domiciled in this " clime of the sun," they seem to have become listless and sluggish. And certainly, though markedly smaller and lighter birds, they are very much fatter balls of fat in many of them, which, unless special measures are adopted, it is impossible to turn into good specimens.
Tickell gives a very good description of Woodcock-shooting in Nepal, which is somewhat different to what we in the North-west are accustomed to. He says :—" Woodcock-shooting in Nepal is laborious work from the steepness of the hills and the spongy nature of the ground which the bird frequents. We found them on light rich mould, thickly matted with grasses, ferns, and other weeds, and everywhere furrowed by little rills of water trickling through the tangle, or here and there stagnating in little pools or ' bog-holes' concealed under a layer of vegetation, which formed tolerable pitfalls to the unwary intruder, receiving him sometimes up to the hip. The jungle on these hills is pretty thick, but not lofty, consisting mostly of briars and thicket; and it would have been impossible to get a fair shot within it, were it not that some of the largest rills (perhaps a yard broad) bordered with mossy turf, formed narrow vistas through the tangle, up and down which the birds when flushed would fly, giving some chance to a snap shot. We had no dogs a luxury known to very few Indian sportsmen, but employed beaters to find the game. I had never even seen cock-shooting in England, and my first day's experience of it in Nepal surprised me not a little. I was a good Snipe shot in those days, and, imagining from the general resemblance of the two birds that a Woodcock must fly like a Snipe, I was much taken aback, when hailed to (look out,' at perceiving what appeared like a large bat coming with a wavering, flagging flight along the little lane-like opening in the wood where I was posted ; but in an instant, ere I had made up my mind to fire, the apparition made a dart to one side, topped the bordering thicket, and seemed to fall like a stone into the covert beyond. These sudden jerks and zigzags, in the midst of its otherwise dilatory flight, are terribly puzzling to a novice. The bird alights also in the same fashion, dropping at once down as if it had flown against a wall. They were not numerous in Nepal, and two couple bagged to one gun during the afternoon was considered very fair sport. We found them only on the low spurs bordering the open valley of Kathmandu, on its northern side on such slopes as were of the description above given, looking more like the copses and hazel woods of England than the forests of India."
On the Nflgiris Woodcock do afford some sport; there you have nearly bare comparatively softly undulating hills, covered with fine close turf; their sides and flanks furrowed by narrow ravines traversed by a streamlet, and filled with ilex and wild cinnamon trees, at whose bases grows a dense undergrowth of Strobilanthes, brambles, or a grass like bamboo, &c. These narrow strips of jungle, locally termed sholas, are on these hills the favourite haunts (you will find them in many other places) of the Woodcock. Broad sholas, over a hundred yards in breadth, are rarely beaten for cock, as these only fly about inside such and will not come out, and it is vile work struggling through the interior of these jungle patches; but into those which are from twenty to one hundred yards in width, a number of beaters and a pack of dogs, mostly nondescript curs, are turned at the top, and they are then beaten straight down, a shooter walking on each side. Then the Woodcock get well on the wing before you see them, and dart out from the trees flying pretty sharp, affording very pretty, if not difficult, shots. Sometimes, if there is any other shola running down not far from the one that is being beaten, they make straight for that; more often they fly a short distance down the outside, and again turn in suddenly. Sometimes, if much pressed, they will work quite down to the far end before you see them ; and there rising higher than usual, turn back over the trees and again drop in them higher up. Ten or twelve birds to two guns in a morning is quite an unusually fine bag, so it must not be supposed that they lie thick as a rule, and yet in particular parts of the hills five or six are at times shot out of one tiny " shola," not perhaps above thirty yards wide, and not a quarter of a mile in length. In thus beating, numbers of hares (the large Lepus nigricollis,) Wood-Pigeon (Palumbus elphinstonii) and Quail are also flushed, and not unfrequently Grey Jungle- Fowl and a few Wood-Snipe, the latter specially towards the bottom, where almost all these sholas end in more or less of a swamp in which both Common and Pintail Snipe are very often also found, so that a beat for Woodcock of this kind does afford very pretty sport.
During the cold season the Woodcock is, I think, mute. At no time have I ever heard it utter any cry that I can remember ; but Mr. Frederic Wilson, writing of them in their summer haunts, in the higher ranges near the snow, where they breed, remarks:—
" At this season they are seen towards dusk about the open glades and borders of the forest on the higher ridges, flying rather high in the air in various directions, and uttering a loud wailing cry."
According to European authors, the Woodcock in the summer, during its morning and evening flights, utters a very peculiar call-note, first one or two snorts, " a hollow, coarse, somewhat lengthened nasal sound, followed by a short, fine sharp sort of whistle, which, when one is accustomed to it, may be heard to a considerable distance."
In winter one sees and hears little of these flights at dusk, and just before daylight which characterise the species in the summer. As a rule they lie hid all day within fifty yards of their feeding ground, to which towards dusk they toddle down, as far as I have been able to see, never flying a yard for weeks together unless disturbed ; but though I have never myself seen it, I have been told, by reliable persons, of Woodcock at Simla flying up in certain years, regularly every evening in November or December from the valleys below, towards the top of the highest hill (Jakko), though what they wanted in the absolutely dry scrub there no one can guess. Still quite at the top I have known of ten or eleven (possibly a flight that had just alighted) being found, and five killed.
Of the nidification of this species in the Himalayas, though Hodgson, Wilson, Duff and many others have found the nests, the only account on record is that by my friend the late Mr. A. Anderson. He says, writing of a trip in Kumaun :—
" On the 30th of June I turned my face towards the snows in another direction, determined to consider my expedition a failure so long as the discovery of the breeding haunts of the Woodcock, which was one of its chief objects, still remained unachieved. After two days' stiff marching I pitched camp at a place called Kemo, at an elevation of some 10,000 feet over and against Namick, which is celebrated for its salt springs.
" We were following up a huge wounded Presbytis schistaceus through a dense undergrowth of ringals, when a Woodcock rose close to us, dropping again almost immediately, and disappearing in the cover. A diligent search revealed the long looked- for prize—four eggs, which were deposited in a slight depression in the damp soil, and embedded amongst a lot of wet leaves, the thin ends pointing inwards and downwards into the ground.
"The eggs found (I could see they were hard-set), I told Triphook I had no intention of leaving the place without bagging the bird. It was raining heavily and bitterly cold with the thermometer down to 400; but, fortunately for us, before we had had time to make ourselves comfortable under an adjoining tree, the bird flew back in a sort of semicircle, alighted, and ran on to her nest. No sooner down than she was off again, frightened, as I subsequently learnt, at one of our dogs, but which at first thought alarmed me not a little as I imagined she was removing her eggs. After having satisfied myself that my suspicions were unfounded, it was decided that, as I had done my duty in finding the nest, shooting the bird should devolve on Triphook, and right well he did it, considering all the disadvantages which militate against having a snap shot in dense cover and in a thick mist. I never do anything but miss on such critical occasions; at any rate I would rather some one else made a mull of it than myself.
" The eggs were a most beautiful set; in consequence of the advanced state of incubation it was a full month before they were made into good specimens ; a week later and the chicks would have been hatched. They are far darker and redder than the usual run of Woodcocks' eggs, all four resembling the second figure in Hewitson's work, and in the character of their markings they are not unlike richly coloured specimens of some Terns' eggs. They are remarkable for the roundness of their form, and in having none of the pyriform or pear-shaped character which distinguished the eggs of all the allied species."
Whether the Woodcock ever does remove its eggs, as has been asserted, or not, it certainly does carry its young about, one at a time, grasped between the two thighs and pressed against the lower part of the breast.
English writers have all a good deal to say about the nidification of this species, which breeds occasionally almost throughout the British Isles.
Hewitson says:—"The Woodcock lays its eggs amongst the dry grass or dead leaves which form the surface of the woods and plantations which it frequents. It is an early breeder, frequently having young ones in the middle of April. The eggs do not vary much, except in contour. They have none of the pear-shaped character which distinguishes those of all the allied species ; ,on the contrary, they are sometimes more remarkable for the roundness of their form, They are four in number.
Yarrell again remarks :—"They (the nests) were all in dry warm situations, amongst dead grass and leaves, without any attempt at concealment. The nest sent was wholly composed of dead leaves, chiefly of the common fern, loosely laid together, and without any lining.
" It would, however, be more proper to say beds than nests ; for, like those of the Plover, they are merely slight hollows formed by the nestling of the birds in dry soft spots, or on the fallen leaves."
Mr. C. St. John obtained a nest of the Woodcock in Scotland as early as the 9th of March, and he says that there they breed again in July and August. Anderson got his nest, eggs hard set, on the 2nd of July, and was of opinion that this was a first laying and that the hen would soon have laid again. " The ovarium of my specimen contained three impregnated eggs, the largest being about the size of an ordinary pill, so that the present brood would hardly have been able to shift for themselves before the mother would be incubating again ; it is evident, therefore, that in India, as in Europe, the Woodcock has a double brood."
The eggs vary a great deal in size and shape, some being much more round than others indeed, almost spherical, the major axis only exceeding the minor by one-eighth, and others comparatively elongated, the major axis exceeding the minor by nearly one fourth.
A large series, chiefly Northern European, vary from 1.5 to 1.8 in length, and from 1.3 to 1.5 in breadth. I have no Himalayan eggs, but I suspect that, like the birds,, they would average smaller than European specimens.
According TO European writers, age for age, the females are larger than the males, and the youngest birds have the shortest bills ; the latter is undoubted. As to the former, my measurements do not establish any constant difference between the sexes. I have the exact measurements recorded in the flesh of over fifty Indian-killed specimens, carefully noted by Hodgson, Scully, C. H. T. Marshall, Butler and myself; and these, I think, show our birds to be smaller than European ones, and they show absolutely no constant difference in the size of the sexes. The following is an abstract of all these measurements :—
Length, 13 to 15.0; expanse, 23.0 to 25.5 ; wing, 7.2 to 8'd; tail from vent, 3.0 to 3.85 ; tarsus, 1.35 to 1.57 ; bill from gape, 2.8 to 3.3; weight, 7 ozs. to 12.5 ozs.
In not one out of 53 birds has the wing exceeded 8 inches. In my only Yarkand specimen it is 8.5, and it exceeds 8 inches in every one of five English specimens.
In only five out of 53 birds has the weight exceeded 10 ozs., and these five the weights were—10.5, 11.5, 12.0, 12.0, and 12.5 ozs. Out of 53 1/2 couple shot during three days, at the late Mr. O'Leary's place, at Cool Mountain, near the Inchigeela Lakes, between Macroom and Bantry (South- West Ireland), 27 weighed betwe&a 12 and 14 ozs., six weighed between 14 and 15 ozs., and one between 15 and 16 ozs. Dresser again says that, in alarge series shot between i860 and 1870 at Gartincaber in Perthshire, most of the birds varied in weight between 11 and 12 ozs. Our 53 birds weighed between 7 and 8 ozs., fourteen between 8 and 9 ozs., eighteen 9 and 10 ozs., sixteen above 10 ozs., five. There is an undoubted instance on record of a Woodcock in England weighing 27 ozs.
People rave about the cock-shooting on the coast opposite to Corfu, and thirty to forty years ago it used to be, and, for all I know still is, very fine; but every bit as good cock-shooting was to be had, as late at any rate as 1861, at Eve Leary in county "Kaik" !
Our only Yarkand bird has the wing 8.5, and it seems to me therefore, probable, that if India was visited by many Central or Northern Asiatic migrants of this species, we should get some large and heavy birds, and all our Indian-killed birds would not be .so persistently small and light. Certainly, our Himalayan birds do run much smaller and lighter than British ones; but I am far from asserting that this could justify their separation, as a distinct species, as suggested by Hodgson. The Afghan birds are perhaps larger again. Hutton gives the length of one as 16 inches, and the weight 13 ozs.
The legs and feet are pale bluish, brown or drab, or fleshy plumbeous or grey, or livid grey, or bluish fleshy grey, generally more or less shaded dusky on the joints, and the claws are fleshy brown, pale brown, blackish brown, or dusky.
The irides are always dark brown, but in one cream coloured albino they were pale brownish red.
The bill is dusky to blackish brown at tip; the rest pale drab brown, fleshy brown, fleshy brown with a bluish tinge, or almost plumbeous, often nearly white, or pale fleshy at the base of the lower mandible. the Plate is fairly good, but I do not think the legs are ever quite so pink as are represented ; there is always a bluish or plumbeous or grey shade over them. The species is an extremely variable one—some are much darker, some are almost white below,—some have a conspicuous blackish brown patch on the upper throat, some have no trace of this; some are much redder, some much greyer above; some have the chin and upper throat quite white, in others it is a warm buff. In some the rump and upper tail-coverts are quite red, as shown in the plate, in others these parts are quite grey.
Mr. Yarrell says :—" Males have the forehead more inclined to grey, with the chin white ; and the space above and below the decided dark brown mark from the beak to the eye much lighter in colour, almost white, with the small dark triangular specks, at the end of these light coloured feathers better defined ; the back has more of the pale brown and grey, and the rump less red than the female."
Not one of these supposed sexual distinctions hold good in our Indian birds, nor do I even believe that they hold good in English ones. Anyhow, they certainly do not hold good in India.
The absence or presence of triangular marks on the outer web "of the first quill feather has also been supposed to have a sexual significance. But of this Yarrell says : —" These marks are indications of youth rather than of sex, and are obliterated by degrees, and in succession from the base to the end of the feather."
It is a curious thing that out of 27 Indian-killed specimens now before me, these triangular marks are present in every specimen. Only in two or three they have disappeared from the basal half of the feather. Our museum does not contain a single Indian-killed specimen with the whole of the outer web of the first quill entirely plain.
In the Woodcock the tail, which is well rounded, consists of only twelve rather soft feathers.
In the Dun, I shot one abnormal bird, which had the entire ground colour creamy yellow, and the markings a sort of sepia grey ; white, yellow, and even blackish varieties have been noticed in Europe.
BESIDES THE present species only two other Woodcocks appear to be known. One, the smaller, proportionally longer billed and plainer plumaged, 5. saturata from Java, and the other (separated by many writers under the generic name Philohela on account of its narrow scythe-shaped, three first primaries,) 5. minor, of the Eastern United States, (extending as far west as Kansas and Nebraska,) and adjoining portions of Canada and Nova-Scotia.
I select a few out of the mass of notes I have accumulated in regard to the occurrence of this species in the Himalayas.
Amongst the birds found by him in Kashmir west of the Indus which Major J. Biddulph enumerates in a letter to me, is included the Woodcock.
" Generally distributed over the Kashmir Mountains in woods and forests where it breeds."—Leith Adams.
li Woodcock come down to Chamba, which is in the valley of the Ravi, about8,ooo feet high, whenever there is severe weather in the higher hills. They do not remain here for the winter, but keep coming and going After snow and rain they are to be found in good numbers in the gardens and low lands by the river, but if it clears up they disappear again. This winter, for instance, they came down at Christmas time and disappeared early in January, not coming back till the middle of February, when there was a great deal of snow. They are very tame and not easy to flush. They allow the natives to come very near them, without rising. I have shot them in my own garden in the middle of the town. They breed of course in the higher wooded hills, but I have not yet tracked them to any of their breeding haunts."— C. H. T. Marshall
" Pretty common throughout the year, at one elevation or another in Kullu, and the valley of the Beas.
" They breed in the Tos Forests near the limits of vegetation ; in the summer they come flitting round the camp fires at night, like great bats. They descend into the upper valley about November, and the first general snowfall sends them down into the lower valley. The end of January is about the best time for them. The largest bag that I know of was 33 to two guns between Nuggur and Ryson; a good many others were missed. If the season be at all favourable, one is pretty sure of flushing a dozen or so in the course of a day in their especial haunts. I have often come across them squatted beside the streams like frogs, and flushed them within a dozen yards or so, more particularly in a hard frost.
" A portion of those seen in the Kullu Valley during the winter may be migrants from further north, but great numbers breed with us."-—A. Grahame Young.
" About the end of November I have shot them in several of the valleys below Simla, and in the Sutlej below Kotgarh, During the winter, they are constantly.