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BIRDS OF PASSAGE.
in picking up the grubs of various insects, which, if allowed to grow to maturity, would occasion much greater damage. For this purpose they are seen frequently following the plough, and darkening with their numbers the newly turned up land; in which occupation, near the sea-coast, they are frequently joined by multitudes of gulls; and as these birds at other times confine themselves almost wholly to the shore, it would probably be worth the farmer's while, where he has an opportunity, to encourage them in preference to the former.
Some birds that took refuge in our temperate climate from the rigour of the arctic winters, now begin to leave us, and return to the countries where they were bred; the redwing-thrush, fieldfare, and woodcock, are of this kind, and they retire to spend their summer in Norway, Sweden, and other northern regions. The reason why these birds quit the north of Europe in winter is evidently to escape the severity of the frost; but why at the approach of spring they should return to their former haunts, is not so easily accounted for. It cannot be want of food, for if during the winter in this country they are able to subsist, they may fare plentifully through the rest of the year; neither can their migration be caused by an impatience of warmth, for the season when they quit this country is by no means so hot as the Lapland summers ; and 'in fact, from a few stragglers or wounded birds annually breeding here, it is evident that there is nothing in our climate or soil which should hinder them from making this country their permanent residence, as the thrush, blackbird, and others of their congeners, actually do. The crane, the stork, and other birds, which used formerly to be natives of our island, have quitted it as cultivation and population have extended; it is probable also, that the same reason forbids the fieldfare and redwing-thrush, which are of a timorous, retired disposition, to make choice of England as a place of sufficient security to breed in.
The gannets, or Solan geese, resort, during this month, to those Scotch isles, where they breed in such numbers as to cover almost the whole surface of the ground with their eggs and young. The Bass, an insulated rock in the Firth of Forth, is one of their most favourite haunts; of which place Dr. Harvey, in his “ Exercitations on the Generation of Animals," has given a very animated picture. The following is a literal translation of the original Latin :“There is a small island, called by the Scotch the Bass, not more than a mile in circumference; its surface is almost entirely covered during the months of May and June with nests, eggs, and young birds, so that it is difficult to set a foot without treading on them; while the flocks of birds flying round are so prodigious that they darken the air like a cloud, and their voice and clamour is so great, that persons can scarcely hear one another speak. If from the summit of the precipice you look down on the subjacent ocean, you see it on every side covered with infinite numbers of birds of different kinds swimming and hunting their prey. If you sail round the island, and survey the impending cliffs, you behold in every fissure and recess of the craggy
raggy rocks innumerable ranks of birds of various kinds and sizes, surpassing in multitude the stars in a serene sky. If
you view from a distance the flocks flying to and from the island, you may imagine them a vast swarm of bees.”
Infinite wings ! till all the plume-dark air,
Thomson. Frogs, which during winter lay in a torpid state at the bottom of ponds or ditches, are enlivened by the warmth of spring, and early in this month rise to the surface of the water in vast numbers. They are at first very timorous, and dive to the bottom with great quickness as any one approaches; but in the coupling season they become bolder, and make themselves heard to a great distance by their cronking. A short time after their first appearance they begin to spawn, each female deposits a mass of transparent jelly-like globes with a black speck in the middle; in this last are contained the rudiments of the future tadpole, while the transparent covering serves both for the defence and food of the embryo. In a few days the round speck becomes somewhat elongated, at the same time increasing in size, till, at the end of about three weeks or a month, the little animal breaks through its covering, and trusts itself to the shallowest and warmest part of the pond or ditch
FROGS, BATS, AND VIPERS.
where it happens to be deposited: as the summer advances it increases in size, the fore-legs begin to shoot out, and shortly after the hind ones, the body becomes more lengthened, the tail falls off, the length of the intestines is considerably shortened, and from an aquatic graminivorous animal it is changed into a minute frog, amphibious and feeding upon insects and other animal food. When this last transformation is perfected, the necessity of emigration seizes upon the whole brood, the water is deserted, and they make their appearance on the land so suddenly, and in such amazing numbers, that they have been supposed to descend from the clouds. So prone have men in all ages been to have recourse to wonders, by way of saving themselves the trouble of minute investigation and the use of their senses !
The bat now makes its appearance ; and about this time also the viper uncoils itself from its winter sleep. This is the only venomous reptile that our country affords, and happily it is by no means common. They are found principally in rocky warm thickets and in unfrequented heaths in search of their favourite food, the various species of field-mice; very seldom intruding, as the common snake, into the gardens and hedge-banks. In some of the small uninhabited islands of the Hebrides they swarm to a great degree. The poison of these animals is secreted in a small gland under each eye, from which passes a duct, terminating in a sharp perforated canine tooth, capable of being erected or depressed at pleasure. When the viper wishes to inflict a wound, it erects its canine teeth, and darting forwards, strikes them into the skin, at the same time squeezing a drop of poison through the aperture in the tooth; the wound soon after grows very hot and painful, swells extremely, and occasionally proves fatal, or at least takes away the use of the injured part, unless a proper remedy is speedily applied. That which is in common use, and which has scarcely ever been known to fail, is olive or salad oil; a quantity of which rubbed upon the wound, and also taken internally, is a certain remedy: on which account the vipercatchers have always a bottle of oil with them in case of need.
Those most elegant fish, smelts or sparlings, begin to run up the rivers in this month in order to spawn. They are of so tender a nature, that the least mixture of snow-water in the river drives them back again into the sea.
But nothing in the animal creation is a more pleasing spectacle than the sporting of the young lambs, most of which are yeaned this month, and are trusted abroad when the weather is tolerably mild. Dyer, in his poem of the Fleece, gives a very natural and beautiful description of this circumstance
Spread around thy tenderest diligence
Another agreeable token of the arrival of the spring is, that the bees begin to venture out of their hives about the middle of this month: as their food is the honey-like juice found in the tubes of flowers, their coming abroad is a certain sign that flowers are now to be met with. No creature seems possessed of a greater power of foreseeing the weather, so that their appearance in a morning may be reckoned a sure token of a fair day.
Several species of bees are natives of Great Britain, some of which lay up honey, while others do not; some of which are gregarious, or live in large societies, and others are solitary. But that species which is commonly meant by the generic term bee, is the one that is at present domesti. cated, lays up honey, and dwells in numerous communities. These little animals, in a wild state, form their nests in the hollow of some tree, or the cleft of a rock; in which situation they were frequently seen and described by the old Greek and Latin poets.' Homer particularly, in the very first simile of the Iliad, gives the following animated picture of them :
As from some rocky cleft the shepherd sees,
Pope's HOMER. The poet Virgil, who has appropriated a whole book in his Georgics to the subject of bees, has there repeated in most beautiful language as much of the polity and natural history of this insect as was known to the ancients. Since the time, however, in which he wrote, many errors have been detected, and many new circumstances have been added, by the zeal and attention of modern observers.
Early in the spring, each hive contains one queen or female, from 200 to 1000 drones or males, and from 15,000 to 18,000 labourers or mules; the first and last kind alone have stings, the males being entirely unarmed. As soon as the plants begin to flower, the inhabitants of the hive put themselves in motion; the greater part of the labourers take wing, and disperse themselves through the neighbourhood in search of honey and wax; the former of which is a sweet limpid juice found in the nectaries of flowers, and the latter is made by the bees from the dust contained within the anthers of blossoms. These different materials are brought to the hive, and the labourers in waiting take the wax, and form of it those little hexagonal cells which serve as storehouses for the honey, or nests for their young; the honey is partly distributed for present food to the