Sunday 20 June 1915, New Romney
The weather being glorious I decided to take a little food with me and lunch on the beach.
On my way I visited the reed warbler’s nest and made a sketch of the young birds’ tongue spots. As I stretched my hand out to extract these from the nest one of the parents, probably the mother, became frantically excited and made very plucky attacks in defence of her progeny. With angry snaps of the beak she repeatedly darted at the offending hand and often came so close that I could feel the draught of her wings. At the same time she puffed out her feathers and uttered a jarring, scolding note. The young are devoid of down, the skin being rather dark, like that of a young marsh warbler.
The nesting season will soon have passed. The ringed plovers’ eggs have all hatched, while the last thick-knee came out eight or nine days ago and these birds seem to have now almost deserted their former breeding grounds. The black-headed gulls are more clamorous than ever now they have young to tend, while the same is true of the terns.
The common tern seemed unusually noisy today and a great screaming flock poised and sailed and circled over our heads when Tart and I trespassed on this particular part of the beach. Some of their young are already about a fortnight old and are uncommonly agile on their feet. This ability to run with speed is very striking and no doubt dates back to the days when the terns were much more nearly related to the plovers. The adult nowadays makes little use of its feet, either for walking purposes or for swimming, and consequently their limbs have become much reduced in size and are proportionally very small for the dimensions of the bird.
The colour pattern of the nestlings’ downy covering struck me as being of considerable interest. This appears to vary a little in individuals, but the rough description of a three day old bird given below will serve for the whole. Upper surface sandy, spotted with blackish on the hind portion of the crown, nape and auricular regions. On the back the marks are longer and more or less confluent, forming irregular and indistinct streaks. The chin and sides of the throat are dusky – rest of undersides white. Bill pinky-flesh coloured, blackish at tip. Legs flesh-coloured.
The lesser terns also had young, but they were hardly as advanced as those of the common terns. The young of the smaller species are usually lighter in colouration, being coloured above with a down of a very pale sandy-buff hue, lightly spotted with small, blackish marks on the upper surfaces, these running in more or less parallel lines on the back. The throat is not dusky as in the common tern, but is white like the rest of the under surface. Although they can run with freedom, young lesser terns are not so active as their larger brethren. At first these youngsters try to escape detection by squatting in some footprint, or behind debris, but should they be touched or in any other way disturbed, they scuttle away over the shingle with astonishing ease.
The nightjar had hatched only one of the two eggs she was incubating. And what an ugly little brute it is to be sure! At this age (about four days) the comparatively small size of its head and eyes, which are very large in the adult, are the first things to attract one’s attention. The shock of the gigantic gape, when the mouth is opened, one is prepared for. The body is long and has a rather flat, squat appearance. The youngster is closely covered in loose down, its colours being an indistinct confusion of sooty-grey and drab. The nostrils, at this early age, form rather remarkable cup-shaped protuberances from the base of the bill, suggesting some ancestral functional use that is now lost to the adult. I had no time to make a careful sketch of the head, but jotted down a rough note of the bill.
Trusting to her protective coloration, this female allows a very close scrutiny when sitting on her ‘nest’. By a very gradual and stealthy approach I managed to photograph and sketch her from a distance of five or six feet and as an experiment I crawled up to within four feet. At all times her eyes were kept closed.
There is a dead velvet scoter lying on the beach. Tart says that a number of these birds, together with other purely maritime species – guillemots for instance – got their plumage covered with an oily substance in some unknown way and not a few have succumbed.
Ingram added at the foot of the page, ‘I handled a young skylark the other day. It had only just left the nest and could hardly fly yet the tongue spots, always so well-marked in the nestlings of this species, had almost disappeared.’
He also added, regarding the little (lesser) terns, ‘Belated pairs – perhaps those that have lost their first lot – still have eggs. This is also the case with the common terns.’
An early report of oil pollution.
For Collingwood Ingram