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C. J. Cornish

Of the thousands who boat on the Thames during the summer few know or notice the beauty of the river shells. They are among the most delicate objects of natural ornament and design in this country. Exquisite pattern, graceful shapes, and in some cases lovely tints of colour adorn them. Nature has for once relaxed in their favour her rigid rules, by which she turns out things of this kind not only alike in shape, but with identical colour and ornament. Among humming-birds, for instance, each bird is like the other, literally to a feather.

Among the happiest results of the modern feeling about birds is the conversion of the whole of the Thames above the tideway into a "protected area." This was not done by an order of the Secretary of State, who, by existing law, would have had to make orders for each bit of the river in different counties, and often, where it divides counties, would have been obliged to deal separately with each bank. The Thames Conservancy used their powers, and summarily put a stop to shooting on the river throughout their whole jurisdiction.

Those familiar with the valley of the Thames and with the wild population both of the riverside and of the adjacent hills, will set down the carrion crow as the typical resident bird of the whole district. On the London Thames as high as Teddington it keeps mainly to the line of the river itself, on the banks of which and on the market gardens and meadows it finds abundant food, while the elms of large suburban residences give it both shelter and a safe nesting place. The bird is also commonly mistaken for a rook, and so shares the privileges of those popular birds.

In the still gossamer weather of late October, when the webs lie sheeted on the flat green meadows and spools of the air-spiders' silk float over the waters, the birds and fish and insects and flowers of the best of England's rivers show themselves for the last time in that golden autumn sun, and make their bow to the audience before retiring for the year. All the living things become for a few brief hours happy and careless, drinking to the full the last drops of the mere joy of life before the advent of winter and rough weather.

Osiers, the shoots of which are cut yearly for making baskets, crates, lobster-pots, and eel-traps are a form of crop of which not nearly as much is made in the Thames Valley as their profitable return warrants. Properly managed they nearly always pay well, and, in addition, they are very ornamental, and for the whole of the summer, autumn, and winter are one of the very best forms of covert for game. They are commonly seen near rivers, especially in parts where the ground is flooded in winter.

The cycle of dry seasons seems to be indefinitely prolonged. During the period, now lasting since 1893, in which we have had practically no wet summers, and many very hot ones, a very curious phenomenon has been remarked upon the high and dry chalk downs. The dew ponds, so called because they are believed to be fed by dew and vapours, and not by rain, have kept their water, while the deeper ponds in the valleys have often failed.

The amount of river gravel left in the part of the Thames Valley on which West London is built is extraordinary. It is all round, and mostly red, and as there are no rocks like the stone which makes up most of this gravel anywhere in the modern valley, it is puzzling to know where it came from. I went to see the digging of the foundations of the new South Kensington Museum, and the great excavation, which was like the ditch of a fortress, and the stuff thrown out, which was like the rampart, was all dug in, or made of, river gravel.

Except among the select few, generally either enthusiastic boys or London mechanics of an inquiring mind, who keep fresh-water aquariums and replenish them from ponds and brooks at "weekends," few persons outside the fancy either see or know much of the water insects,[1] or are aware, when floating on a summer day under the willows in a Thames backwater, of the near presence of thousands of aquatic creatures, swift, carnivorous, and pursuing, or feeding greedily on the plants in the water garden that floats below the boat, or weaving nests, tending eggs, or undergoing the most astonishing t

A friend informs me that he has found a quantity of woad growing on the Chilterns above the Thame, enough to stain blue a whole tribe of ancient Britons, and also that on a wall by the roadside between Reading and Pangbourne he discovered several plants of the deadly nightshade, or "dwale." This word is said to be derived from Old French deuil, mourning; but its present form looks very English.

A few pairs of black swans have been placed upon the river. Some of these rear broods of young ones, and appear to be quite acclimatised. The black swan was known to the traders of our own East India Company nearly a century before Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks discovered Botany Bay. The first notice of it appears in a letter, written about the year 1698, by a Mr. Watson to Dr. M. Lister, in which he says, "Here is returned a ship which by our East India Company was sent to the South Land, called Hollandia Nova," and adds that black swans, parrots, and many sea-cows were found there.

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