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him, in point of size, that starlings do to rooks, when seen together. The raven's nest was placed on a fork, in the very summit of one of the highest of these trees, while their hollow trunks were tenanted by a numerous colony of jackdaws. Some of the holes through which these entered were so near the ground, that I had no difficulty in reaching them when on horseback, while others were situated at a much greater height. These conducted to the chambers in which the nests were placed, and which were generally far removed from the external aperture, by which the birds entered their tower-like habitation. On thrusting my whip upwards into many of these passages, I found it impossible to touch the further extremity, while a few cavities of smaller dimensions were within reach of my hand, and contained nests, constructed of short, dry sticks, some of which were incomplete, while in others one or two eggs had been deposited. The next day I returned to the place on foot, provided with a spyglass, for the purpose of observation. On my arrival, I found that the ravens were absent, and that the jackdaws, availing themselves of this, had congregated in considerable numbers, and were as busily employed about their habitations as a swarm of bees; some carrying materials for the completion of their frail and yet unfinished nests, others conveying food to their mates, and all apparently making the most of their time, during the absence of their tormentors. There being no cover or brushwood at hand, and the branches being yet leafless, I was unable to conceal myself effectually,; but having sat down at the foot of the tree containing their nest, I awaited the return of the ravens. Nearly an hour elapsed before the return of the male bird, and I was first made aware of his approach by the consternation it appeared to spread among the jackdaws. Like most animals under similar circumstances, when conscious of the approach of danger, they rapidly collected their forces on a single tree, keeping up all the time an incessant chattering, each bird shifting his position rapidly from bough to bough, while the raven, who held some food in his beak, satisfied himself on this occasion with two or three swoops into the terrified crowd, and having routed the mob, he approached the tree in which his nest was placed. Before arriving there, however, he
evidently became aware of my presence, and dropping his prey, which proved to be a rat, he ascended into the air to a great height in circular gyrations, after the manner of a falcon, where he was soon joined by his consort; and the two birds continued to soar over my head while I remained there, uttering not only their usual hoarse croak, but also an extraordinary sound, resembling the exclamation, Oh!' loudly and clearly ejaculated. At first I could hardly persuade myself that it proceeded from the throat of either of the ravens, but my doubt was soon dispelled, for there was no human being within sight; and after carefully examining one of the birds for some time with my glass, I observed that each note was preceded by an opening
of the beak, the distance, of course, preventing sight and sound from being exactly simultaneous.”
We cannot follow Mr. Knox verbatim through the whole of his interesting narrative, but must give the remainder of it in a more condensed form. The following year, it appears, the pair of birds changed their retreat from the beech-grove to a clump of Scotch firs in the same part, where their nest was invaded by a truant school-boy, who bore away in his satchel the four “squabs” which it contained. The watchful naturalist discovered the loss of the parent birds, and after awhile traced out the depredator, and got possession of the fledgelings in a half-starved state; these it was determined to bring up by hand; and the operation of clipping was already performed upon three of them, when the idea occurred that the restoration of the remaining perfect bird to the nest might have the effect of attracting the old ones back to their now deserted, because empty home. The experiment was tried and proved successful, and, in the words of the pleased narrator, “the young bird was safely reared; the ravens have since brought up several families in the same nest.” Gilbert White has noticed a peculiarity in the habits of which he
"must draw the attention of even the most incurious," although we do not recollect to have seen it alluded to elsewhere. “They spend their leisure time in striking and cuffing each other on the wing in a kind of playful skirmish ; and when they move from one place to another, frequently turn on their backs with a loud
croak, and seem to be falling to the ground. When this odd gesture betides them they are scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose the centre of gravity.” Much more might be written about this grave, and, in the eyes of many, even of the present day, preternaturally cunning bird, the feathered soothsayer of the Greeks and Romans, the oracular voice of the future to the Scandinavian nations, the harbinger of evil and of death, the bird of night and of witchcraft, the grim watcher by the gibbet, where swing the bones of the murderer, that amid the pauses of the night wind, as it howls and whistles over the lonely moor, croaks ominous, and, as Malone says in “ The Jew of Malta,”.
Doth shake contagion from his sable wings.
As the raven may be regarded as the harbinger of spring among birds, so may the lesser celandine be called spring's harbinger among flowers. See how Wordsworth welcomes her.
Pansies, lilies, kingcups, daisies, Let them live upon their praises ; Long as there's a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory; Long as there are violets
They will have a place in story: There's a flower that shall be mine, 'Tis the little celandine.
Eyes of some men travel far
Men that keep a mighty rout;
Since the day I found thee out, Little flower! I'll make a stir, Like a great astronomer.
Modest, yet withal an elf
I have seen thee, high and low, Thirty years or more, and yet
'Twas a face I did not know; Thou hast, now, go where I may, Fifty greetings in a day.
Ere a leaf is on a bush,
Thou wilt come with half a call,
Like a careless Prodigal :
Poets, vain men in their mood,
That they all are wanton wooers;
Who stirs little out of doors,
Thou dost show thy pleasant face
In the lane-there's not a place,
Whether we will see or no;
They have done as worldlings do,
Prophet of delight and mirth,
Of a joyous train ensuing,
In the lanes my thoughts pursuing, -
We have given the first flower and bird harbingers of spring, let us now glance at the insect world, and we shall find the gnat among the earliest heralds of the season ; nor on our little search after him can we follow a better guide than our favourite author of the “ Episodes of Insect Life," as he takes a stroll through an oak wood on a quiet sunshiny morning of this month.
“This wood,” says he, "till lately, was an assemblage of the most ancient standing; but is now composed almost wholly of comparative upstarts exulting in their vigorous life over the truncated stumps below them .
A sprinkle of snow, crisp and glittering, slightly veiled the wood-tracks; and as we trod them, we heard not a sound but the brittle gems breaking on the spangled pathway. Our spirits were so light, our blood danced so briskly, our heart glowed, like our feet, so warmly, and rose so thankfully to the Great Source of all things, calm and bright and beautiful, that we longed for something animate to join us in our homage of enjoyment. The wish was hardly conceived ere it was accomplished; for on passing beneath a canopy of low, interlacing branches, we suddenly found ourselves making one with a company of gnats, dancing, though more mutely, quite as merrily as they could possibly have footed it on the balmy air of a summer's eve. Their appearance was welcome to our eyes, not as flowers in May, but as flowers in February; and we sate down on one of the oaken stumps hard by, to watch their evolutions. Mazy and intricate enough, in sooth, they seemed; yet these light-winged figurantes, little as one might think it, would seem to have measure in their mirth,' ay, and mathematics too; for it is stated as a fact,* that no three of these dancers can so place themselves that lines joining their point of position shall form either more or less than two right angles. The set upon which we had intruded was an assemblage of those Tipulidan or long-legged gnats, which have been named tell-tales ; we suppose, because by their presence in winter they seem to tell a tale of early spring, belied by the bitter east, which often tells us another story when we turn from their sheltered saloon of assembly.
In this single instance, however, these are not the only tell-tales of their kind; for quite as common, at the same season, are some other parties of aërial dancers, one of which we fell in with soon after we had taken leave of the
* In Darley's “Geometrical Companion.”