Hobby – 1894

Falco subbuteo

A summer visitor; rare; also seen in autumn when on passage.

There are but few records of the Hobby, but it has probably sometimes occurred undetected. Sir Hugh Owen saw one at Goodwick in 1871, and writes to us: “Can’t mistake a Hobby with his black-brown back, cream-coloured breast, and great length of wing, like a gigantic Swift.” One shot at Dale, October 3rd, 1888, was brought to Jeffreys, the bird-stuffer, in Haverfordwest; another, at about the same date, was obtained at the Rhysgwyllt, Letterston.

The Hobby, being quite a bird of the woods, would not often be expected in such a bare and generally treeless county as Pembrokeshire.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Merlin – 1894

Falco aesalon – Resident; also a winter visitor.

A few merlins are resident, and the nest has been taken at various places in the county. We have heard of young birds having been taken from a nest near St. David’s, and one of them was kept for some time there, at Bryn-y-garn. In the summer of 1886 Sir Hugh Owen saw a brood of young Merlins at Goodwick, in a patch of heather on the top of the cliff, at a spot where he has known the nest to have been placed for several years.

We have also heard of a nest near Maenchlogog, on the Precelly Mountains. And the Rev. C. M. Phelps evidently met with a nest on the coast in the south of the county. He found a nest on the top of one of the high sand-hills, not far from Tenby, which contained four eggs, and surmised that they might be those of the Merlin.

In the winter the Merlin is far from uncommon, and we have seen it at Stone Hall on numerous occasions. One day, when we were waiting quietly in a small larch plantation for a shot at a Woodcock, we suddenly detected a male Merlin sitting on a branch level with our head, and only a few feet from us. The bird remained motionless on its perch so long as we stood still, and only flew off when we moved on.

Mr. Tracy reports that during a period of fifteen or eighteen years he received as many as eight or nine Merlins to set up for different gentlemen in the county. In his district Mr. Dix considered the Merlin not uncommon as an autumn and winter visitor, and that immature birds were the most numerous. Sir Hugh Owen once caught a Merlin near Goodwick in a rat trap. The bird was little injured, and the second day after its capture was tame enough to feed from his hand.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Bar-tailed Godwit – 1894

Limosa laponica

An autumn visitor; to be seen occasionally on its passage northwards in the spring, when it is in its bright chestnut breeding plumage.

This species is not uncommon on the sands and mud-flats around the coast in September, when all the birds are in their ash-grey winter plumage, some few of the adults still retaining a few of the rufous feathers upon the breast.

Mr. Tracy states that it was common in his time around Pembroke; Sir Hugh Owen has met with it in small flocks on Goodwick sands, and Mr. C. Jefferys, of Tenby, has informed us of one that was shot on the south sands there in September, 1889.

On their first arrival the Godwits are very tame, and the flocks will permit the gunner to walk up to them where they are feeding on the ooze in a straggling line ; the outer birds will run in towards the main body on his approach, and the compact mass of birds will afford the chance of a successful shot. We have, ourselves, had great sport on many occasions on the mud-flats of the North Devon rivers, and as these birds are excellent for the table we always found them to be greatly appreciated by the friends among whom we distributed our spoils. The Bar-tailed Godwit nests in the far north of Lapland, &c, and well authenticated eggs are scarce in collections.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and it’s Islands

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Red-footed Falcon – 1894

Tinnunculus vespertinus – A very rare accidental straggler from the south.

Writing to us from Cuffern, on May 5th, 1887, our friend, the late Mr. John Stokes, informed us: “Two days ago I saw at Ferny Glen two small Hawks, one nearly black, and the other a brownish black; very pointed wings, like a common Swift, and about eight to ten inches in length. I have never seen them before, and I put them down to be the Red-legged Falcon.” Mr. John Stokes was an excellent ornithologist, and we have little doubt that he was correct in the name he gave to these rare visitors. Ferny Glen is only distant about a mile from the coast of St. Bride’s Bay.

Sir Hugh Owen has informed us that an example of the Red-footed Falcon was obtained at Tregwynt, a well-wooded spot on the northern coast of the county, and a noted Woodcock cover, at the time when it was the residence of Mr. Llewellin, now many years ago, but could give us no particulars as to the season, sex, &c, of this rarity.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Kestrel – 1894

Tinnunculus alaudarius – A common resident.

The most numerous of all our Hawks, to be met with all over the county, nesting in woods, in old ruins, and in many places on the cliffs all round the coast. The Kestrel was common in our plantations at Stone Hall, and an old Crow’s nest was generally occupied by it, and we have taken some very pretty varieties of its handsome eggs. One summer we witnessed a conflict that was maintained for several days between a pair of Crows and a pair of Kestrels for the possession of an old nest in a hedge-row elm: it ended in favour of the Kestrels, and a brood was successfully brought off.

One bitter day we started a Kestrel off the snow-covered ground, and seeing it drop something as it flew off, went up to the spot and found a partly devoured Starling. We do not believe that Kestrels attack small birds unless they are unable to procure mice or insects, or are driven hard to find food for their young, when we have known them to carry off young Pheasants. One very foggy day, we shot a Kestrel by mistake, as it was fluttering low through the bushes, when we took it for a Woodcock. On picking it up, we found it had a diseased mandible, and was little more than a skeleton, having evidently been unable to feed.

We have found a pair of Kestrels at every station of cliff birds we have visited, whether on the mainland or on the islands.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Cormorant – 1894

Phalacrocorax carbo – A common resident.

There are nesting stations at various places on the coast, on Ramsey and Skomer Islands, &c. There are some twenty to thirty pair of Cormorants about Lydstep Head, near Tenby, as Mr. C. Jefferys informs us; a colony nests on trees at Slebech ; and some Herons that nested at Poyntz Castle on St. Bride’s Bay, were driven from their nests upon the cliffs by Cormorants, who took possession of them for themselves. The nesting places of the Cormorants emit an abominable stench from putrid fish remains, and are not delightful to linger near.

In the summer-time, when the streams are low and clear, numerous Cormorants come inland, and work great havoc among the trout; and we always regarded it as an evil omen when we saw one or two of them heading up our valley. It is almost impossible to approach these poachers, as there is generally a sentinel perched on some tree by the river-side, while one or two others are working the adjoining pools. When fishing we would occasionally come upon a Cormorant so gorged with trout as to be unable to fly. One day we ran back for a gun to do execution on the caitiff, but just as we were approaching within range he uttered an unearthly cry, and vomiting his spoils, made off heavily on wing.

Cormorants are often entangled and caught in fishing nets, and the birds of the year, with their white breasts, are considered by the fishermen to belong to another species, and have been sent to us as great rarities. A Cormorant, a short time since, was picked up dead, near Tenby, with an oyster clinging to and closing its mandibles. The bird was stuffed with the oyster, and is now at Bath. We have received the following particulars of this strange occurrence from Mr. C. Jefferys, of Tenby : — 

CORMORANT CAUGHT BY AN OYSTER.  “On August 22nd, 1892, the sea being somewhat rough for that time of year, the man in charge of the bathing-machines on the North Sands, Tenby, saw some 300 to 400 yards from shore, something dark which kept appearing and disappearing between the waves. Being unable to make out what it really was, and at first thinking it might be one of the bathers in danger, he took a boat and went out. Before reaching the object he saw it was a large bird, that appeared to be using every effort to rise from the water, and yet was unable to do so, its head being held down by some unseen weight. With a little trouble he secured the bird, and brought it to shore alive. It proved to be an adult Cormorant, weighing between 7 1/2 and 7 3/4 lbs., and attached to its lower mandible was a large oyster; which was afterwards found to weigh between 9 and 10 oz.

When the bird was brought me it was dead, but the oyster was still attached. It held to about an inch of the lower mandible, which in the bird’s fearful struggles to get free had broken off short, the only attachment between it and the bird being the skin of the throat, which had twisted up like a piece of catgut. The Cormorant, when diving for food, must have seized the open oyster, which closed on the bill. The bird was buoyant enough to bring the oyster to the surface, but was unable to rise from the water, and must eventually have been drowned, as it could with difficulty keep its head above the surface. Mr. A. K. Cunninghame, of Bath, who was on the shore at the time, purchased the bird from the man who obtained it, and brought it to me to set up.”

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Yellowhammer – 1894

YELLOW-HAMMER Emberiza citrinella – Resident.

One of our most abundant small birds. They are believed by the Welsh people to encourage snakes to enter their nests to devour the young birds, and are on this account held by them in great aversion. In other parts of the world this species has evil things reported of it in the folk-lore, and is much persecuted.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Teal – 1894

Querquedula crecca

A common winter visitor; perhaps, also a resident in limited numbers.

Although we have no evidence that it does so, we consider it extremely likely that a few pairs of Teal may nest annually in suitable places in the county. Every winter little flocks of Teal made their appearance on the Cleddy beneath Stone Hall, where it was comparatively easy to get shots at them by following the river in its windings, as the birds generally dropped into corners of the stream where willows and rushes afforded shelter. Very frequently, too, we used to come across single Teal when after Snipe, flushing them from drains, warm ditches, and small rush-bordered pools, thus adding variety to our bag. A buff-coloured Teal in the National Collection at South Kensington was presented by Lord Cawdor, and came from Stackpole.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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Cirl Bunting – 1894

Emberiza cirlus – A rare occasional visitor.

No record of its having nested in the county. There are specimens in the Stackpole Court collection. Is stated to have been seen near Tenby, and is included in Mr. Mathias’ list. One shot, according to Rev. C. M. Phelps, near Solva. Mr. Howard Saunders, who spent the summer of 1893 at Dinas, in the north of the county, has informed us that while he was there he one day “had a perfect view ” of a male Cirl Bunting. We never ourselves detected one, nor could Mr. Dix include this species among the birds noted by him in his district. In their long experience, as keen oologists, Dr. Propert and his sons never met with the Cirl Bunting in the neighbourhood of St. David’s.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and it’s Islands

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Shoveler – 1894

SHOVELLER, Spatula clypeata – A winter visitor, not very common.

Occasionally the Shoveller deserts the sea wrack on the coast, and comes inland to feed on the fresh water ponds, and one day when Woodcock-shooting at Trecwn, we disturbed three Mallard Shovellers from the small lake at the head of the cover. In their full adult plumage the Mallard Shovellers are among the handsomest of our British Wild Ducks. We have always found this species most excellent for the table.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

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