Black-necked Grebe – 1894

EARED GREBE, Podiceps nigricollis

A winter visitor; rare.

In Mr Mathias’ list. Mr Tracy informed Mr Dix that he had several times obtained the Eared Grebe on the Pembroke River. As they come upon our list the Grebes diminish in size one after the other, and the Eared Grebe is smaller than the Sclavonian Grebe, and the immature and winter plumaged birds may be separated from one another by a glance at their bills. In the Eared Grebe the bill curves slightly upwards, but in the Sclavonian Grebe it is straight. Although all the Grebes in the nesting season frequent freshwater ponds and lakes, yet in the winter they occur in saltwater, where we have met numbers of every species on the British list at different times diving and fishing among the rocks and seaweed, or in the shallow water close to the shore.

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

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Black-throated Diver – 1894

Colymbus arcticus. A winter visitor.

The Black-Throated Diver, a very beautiful bird in its full breeding plumage, nests on some of the lochs in Scotland, and comes south in the autumn and winter. It is by no means a common bird on the south west coasts, and our only authority for giving it a place among the Birds of Pembrokeshire is its being included by Mr. Mathias in his list. It is considerably smaller than the Great Northern Diver, and although immature birds of both species are alike in plumage, the Black-Throated Diver may be always recognised by its smaller size. As we have frequently shot the Black-Throated Diver in the winter months on the North Devon tidal rivers, the Taw and Torridge, we have no doubt that it visits Milford Haven, where it may have been obtained and confounded with the commoner species (Red-throated Diver) of which we have next to write.

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

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Little Grebe – 1894

Tachybaptes fluviatilis – Resident.

The Little Grebe, or Dabchick, as it is most commonly called, is the smallest of the Grebe family, and is the only one that nests in Pembrokeshire, and commonly throughout the British Isles. It is more frequently seen in the winter months, because then there is less cover of aquatic vegetation in which to conceal itself.

We have seen it on the Cleddy, beneath Stone Hall, and in hard weather noticing two or three on the water in company have occasionally stalked them, as from a distance we have taken them for Teal; but as we approached their diving at once revealed to us what they were. The Little Grebe frequents pools, lakes and the still waters of rivers and streams wherever there is sufficient cover to hide, and here it can easily escape detection, as it will dive, and when it comes up again to breathe will do so among the leaves and rushes by the bank, where it only thrusts its head above the surface and cannot be seen. We have amused ourselves by watching them diving in this way in our fish ponds, and although quick sighted and familiar with their habits, they very frequently managed to come up somewhere where we could not see them.

Like all the other Grebes this small species visits the tide-way in the winter, where we have seen and shot it in salt water.

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

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Razorbill – 1894

Alca torda – Resident.

The great multitude of cliff birds to be seen in the summer months on the various islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, is one of the unique features in the Ornis of the county. No one who has once visited in May or June the beautiful islands of Skomer or Ramsey, will ever forget the spectacle that has been presented to his eyes, whether he be an ornithologist or not. The celebrated Stack Rocks, being within an easy reach both from Tenby and Pembroke, are among the curiosities of the county which all tourists feel compelled to inspect. And the scene is one that well repays the trouble of journeying to the spot.

Caldy, St. Margaret’s Island, Skokholm, Skomer, Grasholm, and Ramsey, besides various cliffs of the mainland, are all of them, to a greater or less degree, visited by Razorbills, Puffins, and Common Guillemots at the nesting season; and while the Puffins lay their eggs in rabbit earths or in holes they excavate for themselves, the Razorbills and Guillemots deposit their eggs, without the least semblance of any nest, on the ledges of the rocks, tier above tier. From our own experience, we are confident that if a census were to be taken of the three birds we have mentioned, the Puffins, in their innumerable myriads, would exceed the other two put together, and then, perhaps, in the proportion of ten to one ; the Guillemots are very numerous, and would rank next, and last of all would come the Razorbills that, although when regarded by themselves might justly be considered abundant, are yet not to be compared with the extraordinary hordes of Puffins and Guillemots.

As they fly off the ledges of the cliff beneath one’s feet, as they pass one in the air, or as they alight on their eggs on their return from the water, or when viewed on its surface, swimming and diving in small parties, the Razorbills, with their brown-black heads and backs, and pure white underparts, present the appearance of great neatness in their brightly contrasted plumage. The white lines, too, across the mandibles, above the eyes, and across the wings, are also plainly visible to the spectator, when the birds approach him, as they will fearlessly, if he only remains quiet.  

And all the while the air will be fall of their crooning cry, and the noises to be heard at any great breeding station of cliff birds, Kittiwakes, &c, are also part and parcel of an experience new and strange.

After heavy and continued gales in the summer and early autumn, countless cliff birds perish from starvation, as they are then feeble from their moult, and unable to capture the fish that desert the shallows around the shores, and seek refuge from the tempest in deeper water; and, at such times, we have seen the sands (on the North Devon coast) strewn for miles with Razorbills, Guillemots, and Kittiwakes, and every wave has cast others, dead or dying, to our feet.

Varieties of the Razorbill are very rare. Indeed, the only one we have ever heard of is one sooty-black all over, with the exception of a dozen or two small white feathers scattered about the breast, that Mr. C. Jefferys, of Tenby, has mentioned to us, that is now in the museum of the Hon. Walter Rothschild, at Tring, and was obtained at Tenby about the year 1886.

As soon as the young birds are strong enough to fish and to maintain themselves, and this is about the beginning of August, the cliff birds leave their nesting stations, and scatter over the open sea, many of them working towards the south, but numbers ascend the Bristol Channel, where they may be seen in little flocks throughout the winter, and we have ourselves encountered them in December and January as far up as the Severn Tunnel in the old days when we used to make the passage across in the paddle-box steamer to Port Skewet.

The eggs of the Razorbill are very handsome, and beautiful varieties are met with. The collection of cliff birds’ eggs formed by Dr. Propert from Ramsey Island, is hardly to be surpassed, except, perhaps, by that belonging to the national collection of British birds’ eggs at South Kensington, and any ornithologist who finds himself at St. David’s ought to inspect it, and will be sure to meet with a courteous reception.

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

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White-tailed Eagle – 1894

Haliaetus albicilla – A rare occasional winter visitor.

Although one of the highest points of the Precelly Mountains is known by the name of Foel-Eryr ” the Eagle’s Peak,” we cannot ascertain that any species of Eagle has nested within recent years in Pembrokeshire, or has been observed as a frequent visitor to the county.

Sir Hugh Owen has informed us that in the winter of 1851 an Eagle was seen almost daily in the neighbourhood of Haverfordwest, more particularly frequenting the covers of Picton Castle and Slebech, and that it escaped being shot. This bird was supposed to have been a Golden Eagle, but with more probability may be considered to have been an immature White-tailed Eagle, a species not unseldom observed as a straggler along the western coasts of the kingdom.

Then, another Eagle, of whose occurrence we do not possess the date, that was seen on Skomer, and was thought to have been a Spotted Eagle, and was not obtained, was more likely a young White-tailed Eagle on passage. In Lord Cawdor’s collection, at Stackpole Court, we have seen a young White-tailed Eagle that had been shot near Carmarthen, and with this bird we exhaust our meagre record of the Eagles seen or obtained in the south-west corner of the Principality.

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

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Sparrowhawk – 1894

SPARROW-HAWK, Acripiter nisus

A common resident; numerous in the wilder unpreserved parts of the county.

This dangerous and recklessly courageous bird was very plentiful at Stone Hall, where we suffered much from his attacks upon the game. Scores of times we used to see a male Sparrow-hawk fluttering against our windows endeavouring to reach our cage birds inside, or watching them from the porch; and in the summer, when some of the cages would be brought out of doors, we repeatedly had to mourn over the death of some of our pets that had been killed by the marauder striking them through the wires.

The Snipe that dropped into the marshy meadow below our house were regularly worked by Sparrow-hawks, and a stile in one of the covers was the favourite place to which they were carried and eaten, so that the ground beneath was littered with Snipe feathers. For some time we attributed this destruction to Merlins, until one day we came upon a male Sparrow-hawk with a freshly-killed Snipe in his feet, which we picked up as the bird flew off. Any bunch of Teal that appeared upon the river used to be persecuted by Sparrow-hawks, until we have known them all to be killed one after the other.

The Ring-doves in the plantations were also frequent victims, being knocked off their perches on the trees, then eaten on the ground below. The appearance of two or three Sparrow-hawks about the places where the young Pheasants were fed was also regarded as ominous of mischief, but they succeeded in carrying off very few, as there was plenty of cover for the Pheasants to hide themselves in from the destroyer. Needless to say that we waged war against the Sparrow-hawks, taking their nests and shooting all we could, but we never seemed to make any impression upon their numbers. The young Hawks, while they are still in the nest, keep up a wailing cry, which generally betrays its position, although it might otherwise have remained undetected in the thick upper branches of some old spruce.

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

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Red Kite – 1894

KITE, Milvus ictinus – Once a common resident, now only a rare occasional visitor.

The Rev. C. M. Phelps states that when he was a boy he often heard of, and saw the Kite glide over the farm yards, and threaten the unhappy hens with the loss of their chickens. This was on the mountains, ” some seven miles from Fishguard.” But it is now long since there were any resident Pembrokeshire Kites. Indeed, sixty years ago, the Kite had become a scarce bird in South Wales.

Mr. T. C. Heysham, the well-known naturalist, of Carlisle, was anxious to obtain a specimen from Monmouthshire, but had to wait for three years before his correspondent in that county was able to secure one. At last he had a male Kite forwarded to him in April, 1837, that had been caught in a trap, and was informed that the game- keepers had by that time rendered the Kite a very rare bird. For this interesting note we are indebted to the courtesy of the Rev. H. A. Macpherson, of Carlisle.

We have ourselves heard from old people that they can remember the Kite as quite a common bird when they were young. We have been informed by Mr. Mathias that a Kite was killed about 1835, upon the Moat Estate, by a keeper of the late W. H. Scourfield Esq.,  and passed into the collection of Mr. Ackland, of Boulston.

In February, 1854, Mr. Mathias himself saw a Kite on two occasions, and believes it to be the same bird that was shot shortly after in Carmarthenshire. There is a Kite in Lord Cawdor’s collection at Stackpole. As recently as the summer of 1893 Mr. Howard Saunders had a fine view of a Kite at Dinas. This bird may have belonged to a little colony of Kites that still exists in Central Wales. Mr. C. Jefferys, of Tenby, informs us that he has seen a Kite passing over at Pendine, and that at the present time Kites still nest in Carmarthenshire, at a locality that had better not be disclosed, where there was a nest in the summer of 1893.

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

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Honey Buzzard – 1894

HONEY BUZZARD, Pernis apivoris

A rare occasional visitor, both in spring and autumn.

This is a tree-frequenting species, particularly fond of the beech, not likely to be often met with in Pembrokeshire, where we have only one record of its occurrence. We have been informed by Sir Hugh Owen that he saw a Honey-Buzzard at Creselly, in the year 1851.

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

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Gyr Falcon – 1894

GREENLAND FALCON, Hierofalco candicans

A rare accidental visitor from the far north.

A fine specimen of this beautiful Falcon shot many years ago on Lord Cawdor’s estate may still be seen in the Gallery of British Birds, at the South Kensington Natural History Museum. In the Zoologist, for 1850, Mr. James Tracy, of Pembroke, gives the following particulars of its capture: “The specimen from which Mr. Yarrell made the drawing in his excellent work on British Birds was killed on a warren on the estate of the Earl of Cawdor, was set up by me, and afterwards given by the Earl to the Zoological Society. It had been observed by my father, his lordship’s keeper, for eight or ten days, and had, almost on each day, killed and partly devoured a cock Pheasant. It was very shy, always perched on the highest rocky eminences, and, therefore, difficult to get at; but was accidentally come on and shot in the act of rising from a cock Pheasant it had recently killed.”

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

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Gyr Falcon – 1994

Falco rusticolus – Hebog y Gogledd – Vagrant One was shot at Stackpole prior to 1894 and preserved in the British Museum (Mathew 1894). The Museum have it recorded as a white-phase male owned by Earl Cawdor and later purchased from the Zoological Society (P. Colston pers. comm.). An immature captured alive at Boncath in March […]

Peregrine – 1894

Falco peregrinus

Resident.

The cliffs along the Pembrokeshire coast were once famous for their Falcons. In his description of Milford Haven, old Drayton says, in his “Polyolbion” : — 

By Nature, with proud cliffs environed about,
To crown the goodly road ; where builds the falcon stout,
Which use the gentil call ; whose fleet and active wings
It seems that Nature made when most she thought of Kings;
Which manag'd to the lure her high and gallant flight,
The vacant, sportful man so greatly doth delight.
That with her nimble quills his soul doth seem to hover,
And by the very pitch that lusty bird doth cover,
That those proud eyries bred whereas the scorching sky
Doth singe the sandy wilds of spiceful Barbary;
Or underneath our pole, where Norway's forest wide,
Their high cloud-touching heads in winter snow do hide,
Out-brave not this our kind in mettal, nor exceed
The falcon which sometimes the British cliffs so breed

An old map of the county, published many years ago by T. Kitchen, and dedicated to Sir William Owen, Bart., has printed on its margins sundry information respecting the local antiquities and natural history. In those days the Peregrine Falcon was probably far more numerous than it is now, and the map quaintly states that “in the rocks about the promontory called St. David’s Head, excellent Falcons have their aires and breed.”

About the year 1850 Mr. Tracy considered that from Caldy Island round to St. David’s as many as twelve pairs of Peregrine Falcons might be counted during the months of May and June. There would be many more pairs on the rocky coast between St. David’s and Dinas Head. Writing to us in the summer of 1893, Mr. Howard Saunders states: “There are a pair of Peregrines on Dinas Island on the N.W. side, and of Buzzards, which have had their nest on the N. side, I think. The Peregrines are certainly on the S.W. aspect.”

The Rev. C. M. Phelps was himself acquainted with some half dozen breeding stations of the Peregrine. He says: “One of the Falcon strongholds is on a grand range of cliffs in St. Bride’s Bay, some 250 feet in perpendicular height. In August these cliffs are quite purple and golden with heather and gorse; at their base the lace-like waves of blue St. Bride’s roll in one after the other, and there, soaring round and round with shrill cries and screams are the two Peregrines. At another breeding place, some miles farther on, I assisted at the taking of a nest in 1876. It was curiously placed under two large stones on a grassy platform half way down the cliff. There were four handsome eggs, rather under-sized and hard set.”

We have never been to any spot upon the coast without seeing a Peregrine, or a pair of Peregrines, and were often visited by them at Stone Hall, which is only six miles from the sea-coast. We almost trod upon a Peregrine one day in one of the covers, that rose at our feet off a freshly-killed rabbit. We consider it rare for a Peregrine to attack ground game. On another occasion a party of four Herons was noticed flying most uneasily down the valley of the Cleddy, uttering harsh cries of alarm, with a fine Falcon (i.e., the female Peregrine) following in pursuit. The Falcon did not strike at the Herons, and seemed to be only amusing herself with the fear she had inspired. One fine summer’s day we watched an attempt by a pair of Peregrines to secure a tame Pigeon at Druidston, on the coast of St. Bride’s Bay. The birds made alternate sweeps at the Pigeon without success, and the quarry at last saved itself by taking to ground in some crevice in the cliff, when the disappointed Falcons flew out to sea, after one or two angry barks.

Mr. Tracy gives the following interesting notes on the nests of the Peregrine, which he says are placed in the most inaccessible parts of the cliff. The birds lay four eggs, sometimes five, and, in one instance, he observed six young. “They make no nest, but lay their eggs in a cavity of the rock, where a little loose clayey earth has been deposited; sometimes in the old nest of the Raven, or Carrion Crow, but I never saw a nest without a little earth in it. They fix upon the situation early in March, and lay about the first week in April. Both male and female sit in turn on the eggs. I have known an instance where the male hatched and reared the young ones, when the female had been killed; and also, when the male had been shot, the female has continued the work of incubation.

When they have young ones they are not to be deterred from their nests, nor will they — even if fired upon — desert their offspring. On one occasion, I remember my father and myself firing at a pair of these birds, and the female returned to the nest almost immediately. We repeated this three times before we succeeded in getting her.

In almost every instance where I observed a nest of this fine bird the following birds have had nests in the immediate vicinity, that is within 100 or 150 yards: — The Guillemot and Razorbill, in immense numbers, within a few feet, Puffins, the Kestrel, Raven, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Red-legged Crow, Great Black- backed Gull, one nest; Lesser Black-backed Gull, several nests; Herring-Gull, common; Kittiwakes, in thousands; Common and Green Cormorants, Swifts and Sand-Martins. And yet none of them showed any signs of alarm at the approach of so formidable a foe. I do not recollect a nest where the Herring-Gulls, Guillemots, Razorbills, and Puffins were not abundant.

The old birds “give you plenty of notice, by their harsh cry, when you are in the immediate vicinity of their nest, and it is not difficult to find the spot selected, the same old arched cavity being occupied every year. In one instance eleven pairs of Herons were breeding on the ledges of the rocks, within 150 yards of the nest of the Peregrine Falcon.”

Mr. Charles Jefferys, of Tenby, informs us that the Peregrine still nests yearly below Lydstep, and also in the neighbourhood of the Stacks.

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

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