Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1880

Bob Haycock came across this report when researching historical information about chough in the county. We’ve reproduced it in its entirety here, breaking it into sections and paragraphs to make it easier to read. In the original, each section was a single paragraph. The scientific names are as given in the original – many somewhat different to those used today.

The Rev. Clennell Wilkinson, Rector of Castlemartin, and for some time President of the Pembrokeshire Field Naturalists’ Club, provided much information in respect of the birds of the Castlemartin district for Mathew’s 1894 Birds of Pembrokeshire

You could scroll straight down to the bird section, and ignore the rest.

South Pembrokeshire Naturalists’ Field Club

Evening meeting, January 29, 1880

Vice-President’s address, and, Paper on the Flora of South Pembrokeshire, by the Hon Secretary

The first evening meeting of this Society was held in Pembroke, in St. Michael’s Schoolroom, on Thursday, January 29th. There was a fair attendance of members, and a small but interesting exhibition of microscopes and objects of natural history. Among the latter a portion of Mr. Barrett’s splendid collection of moths, was much and deservedly admired. Mr. Wilkinson exhibited some cases of eggs, and Mr. Wratislaw a small case of beetles, containing types of the different families. Mr. Cherrill showed specimens of some of the rarer plants of the district, and microscopes were exhibited by Dr. Clunn of Tenby, Dr. Saer of Pembroke, and the Honorary Secretary.

Weather

In the course of the evening the Vice-President (the Rev. C. Wilkinson) said—It is an old saying that English people meet, the first thing they talk about is the weather, and the next is about their neighbours. You will not, therefore, be surprised if, in addressing you for the first time:, I also begin with the former topic, though I do not mean to proceed to the latter, more doubtful subject. 

In speaking to you as members of a “Field Club.” I apprehend that the weather must be a subject worthy of our consideration, especially when it has been such as we have experienced during the past summer, the very period when the chief operations of our Club were taking place. And when we remember that the past season has been as unpropitious to naturalists as to farmers, it may well be supposed that the very existence of the infant club has been imperiled. It has, however, survived, and I hope will survive, increase, and flourish for many years to come.

In a climate like this, when a fine day can never be predicted, the uncertainty of the weather must always be a great drawback to-any operations out of doors ; yet when people are in earnest the very uncertainty of their work may add zest to its pursuit. I hope that such may be the case with us under these and similar trials that we may meet with.

The past summer we have been given to understand, has been perhaps the coldest and wettest on record, and therefore we may consider ourselves rather fortunate than otherwise, that only two out of four days of meeting have been spoilt by rain; and damp, so that many of our members, anticipating rain, did not put in an appearance. One day, however—that on which the meeting was held, by the kind permission of the Earl of Cawdor, at Stack-pole Court—was all that could be wished. We will hope for the time to come that we enjoy a fuller share of sunshine than we have during the past season. 

I mention these circumstances as sufficient to account for any deficiency of work done, and for a rather meagre list of captures and discoveries made by members of the Club during the year. Yet we have results to record and some of them valuable. I shall endeavour to sum up some of the most interesting facts and captures made and observed by members of the S. P. N. F. C.

Birds

There have been no attempts made to collect birds, though their visits and habits have not escaped notice.  I will make a few remarks upon some rare, or at any rate not common, birds which have been observed in this part of Pembrokeshire, though not all within the past year.

There was a very fine specimen of the Gyr Falcon shot in the neighbourhood of the Haven not many years ago, and now in the possession of Dr. Morison.  I mention this in consequence of the rarity of the bird in this country, and therefore worthy of a place in our records. The common Buzzard Falco Buteo, which is now becoming very uncommon in most places, still continues to haunt our burrows near the sea. It is one of the largest of our hawks, and I have observed it near Freshwater West within the last few weeks. The Peregrine Falcon Falco Peregrinus, the chief of our falcons, still, I am glad to say,  flourishes and rears its young both at Stackpole and Stack Rocks every year.

The Raven also builds there, and the beautiful little Red-legged Chough Corvus craculus is to be found all along the South Cliffs. After severe frosts which have prevailed during these two last winters, I regret to say that I have found many of these interesting and rare birds lying dead upon the Burrows, killed, as I believe, by the Severity of the weather. And, indeed, there do not appear to be so many about our shores now as there were three or four years ago. I trust, however, that they may soon again become numerous. They still are to be seen at Stackpole, Stack Rocks, Linney, Freshwater West, and Angle.

The Rev. C. M. Phelps, of Tenby, has twice seen what he believes to-be the Rose-coloured Pastor Turdus roseus between Pembroke and Tenby.  It is a very rare bird in this country, and is about the size of a starling. I myself also observed at Freshwater West, about this time last year, a bird flying low across the Burrows, which, far as I could judge, must have been this same species. The day was very dull, and it was towards night, so that I had not a very good view of it, and it seemed useless trying to follow up the bird. I would not, therefore, say for certain that it was the Rose-coloured Pastor, but I do not know any other bird that it could have been. With these three recent instances of the occurrence, or supposed occurrence, of so rare a bird in this part of the country, I think it worthy of the attention of the members of our Club, that they may investigate the matter further, and try to place it beyond dispute, that we have such visitors within our district.

The Cirl Bunting Emberiza Cirlus has been occasionally shot, and I have seen two skins of this bird, obtained on the Ridgeway, between Pembroke and Tenby. The Black Redstart Phoenicura Tithys I observed a few years ago, on the 29th of March, in my own garden. It frequently came close under the windows, and remained about the house the whole day. It was a male bird.

Lepidoptera

I will now pass on to Lepidoptera. In this branch of natural history we have some experienced collectors in the Club. One would have supposed that of all branches of natural history, the one which would have suffered most from a season like the past would have been that which embraces the lepidopterous insects. This has no doubt been in part the case, yet there have been some remarkable exceptions. The chief of these has been the unusual abundance of the Painted Lady Butterfly Pyrameis Cardui. As the year 1877 was remarkable for the abundance of Colias Edusa, not only here but in most other places, so the year 1879 has been for an extraordinary abundance of Pyrameis Cardui.

That this should have happened in so cold and wet a season is strange, though not unprecedented; for I have met with a passage from an old record, called the “Journal of a Naturalist,” which mentions a parallel case. Speaking of the uncertainty of the appearance of this butterfly, the author says that its abundance appears to require a succession and variety of seasons and then it springs into life we know not how. This was particularly obvious in the summer of 1815, and the two following, which were almost unceasingly cold and rainy : scarcely a moth or butterfly appeared. And in the early part of 1818 the season was not less ungenial:  a few half animated creatures alone struggled into being; yet this painted lady was fostered into life and became the commonest butterfly of the year; it has, however, but very partially visited us since that period. The keenest entomologist, perhaps, would not much lament the absence of the beauty,’ if such cheerless seasons were always requisite to bring it to perfection.”

This a very remarkable parallel to the phenomenon which has been witnessed, during the same sort of weather, in the past year, when Cardui appeared in countless thousands and with it a great abundance of the Gamma Moth Plusia Gamma. In this neighbourhood the numbers of P. Cardui were very great. On the 14th of August, in the course of a drive from Castlemartin into Pembroke, the morning being warm and sunny, and this insect at that time emerging from the pupa state in greatest quantities, I must have seen at least three hundred of them; whereas in an ordinary season not half a dozen would have been visible.

But in other countries they were abundant in a still more extraordinary degree. In Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Upper Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium, they were the subject of general remark among naturalists.

Some suppose that they passed over from the continent into this country, but this I am inclined to doubt. I do not think that the numbers of hybernated specimens seen in the spring were in excess of most other years. Yet the quantities of the larvæ observed on the thistles in July were ,much greater than usual, from these came the multitude observed in the following month. It would therefore appear that the season was propitious chiefly in the hatching of the eggs and the rearing of the larvæ. I believe that in the past year, this species was double brooded, though the theory is not generally accepted.

The larvæ which were collected in July seem for the most part to have been feeding near the, flower of the thistle, or at any rate well up the stalk, and these went through their changes and became perfect Imagines in August. But later in the season, about the second week in October, small larvæ were observed feeding on the seedling thistles, under the leaves, close upon the ground; and from these I succeeded in obtaining perfect specimens of P. Cardui as late as the 20th of November.

But to return to what has been ,said about the abundance of this insect during the past year in other countries. The flights seem to have been in a northerly direction. At Angers the number seen passing along one street was computed at 50,000 in one hour. At Geneva a cloud of them is said to have darkened the sun for several minutes. These were observed in some places as early as May, but the beginning of June seems to have been the time of the special migration in France and Germany. In Austria a swarm was so dense that it was computed to amount to at least 1,000,000.

There were, besides this species, which has attracted so much attention, in this neighbourhood, about the usual number of Argynnis Aglaia, Lycæna Ægon, and some others of our local kinds. The larvæ of many moths, also, seemed to be in unusual abundance—such as Bombyx Rubi, Hadena Pisa, Dicranura Vinula, and Smerinthus Populi.

The most important discoveries which have been made in this branch of natural history are due, however, to our most accomplished lepidopterist, Mr. Barrett. He, having heard of the discovery in Devonshire of new Clearwing, which is bred in the thrift, and that the same had also been discovered in the Isle of Man, and in each case in such situations as exactly corresponded with our rocky sea-coasts, searched diligently and found it not unfrequent in this locality. And during the past year many of the larvæ of this new and rare insect have been obtained. The name of it is Sesia Philanthiformis, or the Thrift Clearwing.

There is, moreover, another still more important discovery which he has made, and that is of a new Pyralite, which had not previously been recorded as found in this country. This was Ebulea Stachydalis, and has been found at Stackpole and at several places in Castlemartin, although it does not at present appear to have been found elsewhere.

Conchology

I will now turn to the subject of conchology. There are many places where some of our rarer shells are found,. and yet the localities are little known. Scaphander Lignarius and Trochus Granulatus, as well as Aporrhais Pes-peleicani, are found finer in the Haven than in any other locality that I have heard of. Cerithium Adversum, Cerithopsis Tuberculare, and Mangelia Teres, are rare shells, and are to be found at Freshwater West. Lyonsiå Norvegica and Scalaria Communis are obtained from the Haven of unusual size. . Janthina Communis is washed up also at certain seasons, especially about the autumn equinox, if the wind has been blowing for some days from the S. W.

Natica Sordida is to be obtained from St. Bride’s bay by dredging, where it is unusually fine. This is a very rare shell.

Besides these I would wish to mention the following list of shells, all, more or less abundant in certain localities in South Pembrokeshire: Pholas Dactylus (Amroth), Venerupus Irus, Tellina Incarnata, Lutraria Elliptica (very fine at Tenby), Tapes Decussatä, and T. Virginea, Venus Casina and V. Fasciata, Artemis Exoleta and A. Lincta, Circe Minima, Lucina Borealis, Diplodonta Rotundata, Arca Tetragona, Pinna Pectinata (fine from Haven), Pecten Maximus, Chiton Fascicularis, Emarginula Reticulata, Trochus Zizyphinus, v. Lyonsii, T. Lineatus, Scalaria Turtoni, S. Clathratula, Trophon Muricatus, T. Clathratts, Mangelia Gracilis, M. Purpurea, M. Striolata, M. Septangularis, Ovula Patula, and Marginella Lævis.

Botany

The list of plants observed has been carefully registered by our Secretary, and he has prepared a paper on the subject.

Note – this was presented as a separate paper, not included in the main report.

The Future

There are still several subjects which it was proposed that this Club should take up, and in which, as yet, little or nothing has been done.

We want some of our members to take an interest in coleopterous insects; and I believe that there is some good ground for the pursuit of this branch of natural history in our immediate neighbourhood.

Another subject we should like to hear more about is Geology, and considering that Pembrokeshire, with its great extent of sea coast, where the various strata are exposed to view, is so well adapted to the pursuit of this science, it is a great pity that none of our members have taken up this subject. I do hope that in the course of the present year something may be done to advance this portion of the work of the Club.

Archaeology was also mentioned in our rules, and with the number of interesting ruins by which we are surrounded, it is strange that we have not yet found anyone who will undertake to qualify himself to speak with authority respecting them.

I am glad to be able to announce that prizes are now offered for the best collections made within the year in several branches of natural history. A circular has been sent to each member specifying the collections for which prizes will be given. I hope that this will stimulate many of our number to be more diligent in observing the .natural history of our district.

Let me in conclusion request you all to join in wishing success to our Club, and I hope that it is now in a fair way of answering the purposes for which it was called into being.