Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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xvin                          THE SHEPHERDS' TRAPS                             181
As a matter of fact, the winter home of the wheatear is Africa.
The capture of wheatears—mostly illegally by nets—still continues in a very small way to meet a languid demand, but the Sussex ortolan, as the little bird was sometimes called, has passed from the bill of fare. Wheatears (which, despite Fuller, have no connection with ears of wheat, the word signifying white tail) still abound, skimming over the turf in little groups ; but they no longer fly towards the dinner table. The best and most interesting description that I know of the old manner of taking them, is to be found in Mr. W. H. Hudson's Nature in Dotvnland. The season began in July, when the little fat birds rest on the Downs on their way from Scotland and northern England to their winter home, and lasted through September. In July, says Mr. Hudson, the " Shepherds made their 'coops,' as their traps were called—a T-shaped trench about fourteen inches long, over which the two long narrow sods cut neatly out of the turf were adjusted, grass downwards. A small opening was left at the end for ingress, and there was room in the passage for the bird to pass through towards the chinks of light coming from the two ends of the cross passage. At the inner end of the passage a horse-hair springe was set, by which the bird was caught by the neck as it passed in, but the noose did not as a rule strangle the bird. On some of the high downs near the coast, notably at Beachy Head, at Birling Gap, at Seaford, and in the neighbourhood of Rottingdean, the shepherds made so many coops, placed at small distances apart, that the Downs in some places looked as if they had been ploughed. In September, when the season was over, the sods were carefully put back, roots down, in the places, and the smooth green surface was restored to the hills."
On bright clear days few birds would be caught, but in showery weather the traps would all be full; this is because when the sun is obscured wheatears are afraid and take refuge under stones or in whatever hole may offer. The price of each
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