Tag Archives: Thames

21 August: Gilbert White VIII, Migration or hibernation?

Starlings in early Autumn before they gather in huge murmurations.

Hibernation of birds was one area where Gilbert White’s instincts were wrong: unlike snakes and harvest mice, neither swallows nor any other birds hibernate; they migrate. I have seen a house martin or two, flying over Dumpton Park in Thanet, just a few metres from the coast, on 20th October one year. Is it likely that they fly south to Senegal? Conversely, is it likely that they hide in river mud, completely without trace?

About ten years ago I used to spend some weeks yearly at Sunbury, which is one of those pleasant villages lying on the Thames, near Hampton Court.  In the autumn, I could not help being much amused with those myriads of the swallow kind which assemble in those parts.  But what struck me most was, that, from the time they began to congregate, forsaking the chimneys and houses, they roosted every night in the osier-beds of the aits of that river.  Now, this resorting towards that element, at that season of the year, seems to give some countenance to the northern opinion (strange as it is) of their retiring under water.  A Swedish naturalist is so much persuaded of that fact, that he talks, in his calendar of Flora, as familiarly of the swallows going under water in the beginning of September, as he would of his poultry going to roost a little before sunset.

An observing gentleman in London writes me word that he saw a house-martin, on the twenty-third of last October, flying in and out of its nest in the Borough.  And I myself, on the twenty-ninth of last October (as I was travelling through Oxford), saw four or five swallows hovering round and settling on the roof of the county hospital.

Now is it likely that these poor little birds (which perhaps had not been hatched but a few weeks) should, at that late season of the year, and from so midland a county, attempt a voyage to Goree or Senegal, almost as far as the equator?

Leave a comment

Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

19 August: Gilbert White VI, trouble in the forest.

It seems that Gilbert White had some sympathy with the poor of his district, who had free spirits among them who were prepared to stand up to the nobility.

At present the deer of the Holt are much thinned and reduced by the night hunters, who perpetually harass them in spite of the efforts of numerous keepers, and the severe penalties that have been put in force against them as often as they have been detected, and rendered liable to the lash of the law.  Neither fines nor imprisonments can deter them, so impossible is it to extinguish the spirit of sporting which seems to be inherent in human nature.

General Howe turned out some German wild boars and sows in his forests, to the great terror of the neighbourhood, and, at one time, a wild bull or buffalo; but the country rose upon them and destroyed them.

A very large fall of timber, consisting of about one thousand oaks, has been cut this spring (viz., 1784) in the Holt forest: one fifth of which, it is said, belongs to the grantee, Lord Stawell.  He lays claim also to the lop and top; but the poor of the parishes of Binsted and Frinsham, Bentley and Kingsley, assert that it belongs to them, and assembling in a riotous manner, have actually taken it all away.  One man, who keeps a team, has carried home for his share forty stacks of wood.  Forty-five of these people his lordship has served with actions.  These trees, which were very sound and in high perfection, were winter-cut, viz., in February and March, before the bark would run.  In old times the Holt was estimated to be eighteen miles, computed measure from water-carriage, viz., from the town of Chertsey, on the Thames; but now it is not half that distance, since the Wey is made navigable up to the town of Godalming, in the county of Surrey.

The Wey joins the Thames, so timber could be sent there, and on to dockyards along the Estuary and into Kent. Winter-cut trees were easier to transport, as the sap was not running beneath the bark, and the wood was appreciably lighter in weight.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', winter