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The Naturalist's Diary
For JANUARY 1821.
The fields resign their cheerful bloom;
No more the breezes waft perfume;
Deserts of snow fatigue the eye,
Black storms involve the low'ring sky,
AKENSIDE. DELIGHTFUL as is the aspect of nature, under the warmth, and splendour, and genial influence of a summer sun, most persons look forward with pleasure to those seasons, when the falling leaf or drifting snow draws closer the family circle, and 'ushers in that social and intellectual intercourse which constitutes the dearest charm, and, next to religion, the highest privilege of human existence. When all without is wrapped in darkness, and the freezing blast howls eager for entrance round your dwelling, with what enjoyment do its inmates crowd to the cheerful hearth, and, as the flame grows brighter on their cheeks, listen, with a sensation of self-gratulating security, to the storm that shakes their solid roof. It is here that the power of contrast is experienced in all its force; not only in reference to the exposure, fatigues, and hazards, which may have been actually incurred ere the daylight closed; but imagination is at work to paint the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves, and who, still exposed to all the horrors of the storm, feel the bitterness of their destiny augmented by intrusive recollections of domestic ease and fire-side enjoyments.
Ill fares the traveller now, and he that stalks
The toiling steeds expand the nostril wide,
COWPER. The pleasures and gratifications which flow from the FIRE-SIDE, may be considered as almost peculiar to these islands. In warmer climates the aid of fire is demanded for little else than culinary purposes; whilst in the northern regions of continental Europe, the gloomy and unsocial stove forms, in general, the only medium through which the rigours of their intense winter are mitigated. To the enlivening blaze, and the clean swept hearth, and to all the numerous comforts, which, in this country, so usually wait upon their junction, they are perfect strangers.
WINTER, thou daughter of the storm,
I love thee when the day is o'er,
" See an excellent paper on the moral and domestic happiness of an English Fire-side, in Dr. Drake's very pleasing Winter Nights,' vol, i, R: 1, et seq.
The winter of 1819-20 was very early in its commencement, rigorous in its season, and severe in its termination, such as for several years has not visited our region of the earth : deep snows, and of long continuation, destroyed a portion of the smaller birds. The little wren seems to have suffered greatly; the goldfinch was also as severe a sufferer. This bird (we believe) lives almost exclusively upon seeds of plants of the syngenesious order; in the wintry months it frequents our gardens and cultivated fields, feeding on the groundsel (senecio vulg.) which generally abounds in these places, where it commonly vegetates through every season; but this supply of food was hidden from him by the snow, and the sharp winds of February and March, which succeeded the dissolution of it, cut it down, and many of these poor birds perished from want. The young sportsmen made unusual havock among the race of turdi, that scarcely a field-fare or red-wing was seen in the spring, and the song of the black-bird was only partially heard.
The accumulation of snow, however, tended to the destruction of a considerable portion of the smaller beasts of prey, by betraying their haunts. Of all our animals called vermin, none seem more admirably fitted for their predatory life than the martin cat (mustela martes); it is sufficiently strong in body, remarkably quick and active in all its motions, with an eye so clear and perceptive, and so moveable in its orbit, that nothing can stir without detection; and is apparently endowed with a sense of smelling as acute as its other faculties. Its feet are beautifully formed, not treading upright on the ball, like the domestic cat, or fox, but sloping to the ground, having the balls deeply embedded in the softest and most elastic hair, that the tread of the animal, even upon decayed leaves, is hardly audible; and it steals upon its prey without any noise betraying its approach. The fur is remarkably fine, apparently filled
with a medullary matter; the skin unusually thin and flexile, impeding none of its agile movements, and all combining to render the martin a most destructive creature. In winter it lives in hollow trees, warmly imbedded in dry foliage: in the more genial seasons he often sleeps by day in the old nest of a kite or buzzard, where his dormitory is occasionally betrayed by the chattering of magpies and crows. Their numbers are but small, our woods in England being too easily penetrated to afford the martin any thing like permanent shelter; and the race is only continued, with probably an annual diminution. We have heard that the sum of three shillings has been offered for his pads only! probably to be used by the gilders. ;
The scenery of this month in the past year (1820) has been faithfully described by the poet:
Chill is the air ; the spirit of the frost
Gleam in the sunshine with a sparry light. Of the uses of snow, we have spoken at large in our former volumes'; of its beautiful appearance, and of its attendants, frost and ice, we will now add the description in the language of an elegant writer. · The very frost itself is a world of pleasure and fairy beauty. The snow dances down to earth, filling all the airy vacancy with a giddy whiteness; and minutely inspected, every particle is a crystal star. The ice (hereafter destined to temper dulcet creams for us in the heat of summer) affords a new and rare pastime for the skaiter, almost next to flying; or suddenly succeeding to rain, strikes the trees and the
* See also an account of the phenomenon of crimson snow, and rosecoloured rain, in our last volume, pp. 36-39.
grasses into silver. But what can be more delicately beautiful than the spectacle which sometimes salutes the eye at the breakfast-room window, occasioned by the hoar frost or frozen dew? If a jeweller had come to dress 'every plant over night to surprise an Eastern sultan, he could not produce any thing like the pearly drops, or the silvery plumage. An ordinary bed of greens will sometimes look like crisp and corrugated emerald, powdered with diamonds
In January, the numerous tribes of birds quit their retreats in search of food. Tlie red-breast (sylvia rubecula) begins to sing; larks (alauda arvensis) congregate, and fly to the warm stubble for shelter ; and the nut-hatch (sittà europæd) is heard. The shell-less snail or slug (limax) makes its appearance, and commences its depredations on garden plants and green wheat. The missel thrush (turdus viscivorus) begins its song. This bird sings between the flying showers, and continues its note till the beginning of August.
The hedge-sparrow (sylvia modularis) and the thrush (turdus musicus) now begin to sing The wren, also, 'pipes her perennial lay,' even among the flakes of snow. The titmouse (parus) pulls straw out of the thatch, in search of insects; liñnets (fringilla linota) congregate; and rooks (corvus frugilegus) resort to their nest trees. Pullets begin to lay; young lambs are dropped now.
The house sparrow (fringilla domestica) chirps; the bat (vespertilio) appears; spiders shoot out their webs; and the blackbird (turdus merula) whistles. The fieldfares, red-wings, skylarks, and titlarks, resort to watered meadows for food, and are, in part, supported by the gnats which are on the snow, near the water. The tops of tender turnips and ivy-ber
* Literary Pocket Book for 1819, p. 10; see also an entertaining article in the Indicator (No. xv, p. 117) entitled . Getting ap on cold Mornings.