Sterling silver bags
The old local names for birds are fast dying out, but they enhanced the perception of some of our less reputable waterfowl species, says Sea-pie
We do not hear much about silver snipe and silver plover, silver larks and silver shanks nowadays. That is because nearly everybody knows the proper names of birds, and many good oldfashioned local names are fast dying out. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.
My grandfather’s coachman, William Crossthwaite, taught more than one generation of boys to shoot snipe by the simple expedient of making his pupils count to five before firing at the quarry when it rose on wing. In this way, a fairly easy shot is frequently obtained. If the youngster “snap-shotted” in his eagerness, without calling the numbers distinctly, then whether the result was a hit or miss, old William would take the gun and have the next shot.
I remember when undergoing this instruction on a saltmarsh near Chichester, a small snipe-like bird rose from the edge of a brackish pool. After sustaining the count of five, the diminutive fowl was neatly dropped on the far side of the water.
“That’s all right as far as it goes,” grumbled the stern mentor, “but we ain’t shooting silver snipe.”
That was the first time I ever heard a dunlin, or any other shore bird in its pale winter plumage, spoken of as a “silver” snipe. A few years later I encountered the breed again, when my duties as a London bank clerk took me daily into the City, and I walked through the avenues of Leadenhall market, the famous poultry, game and wildfowl emporium.
In winter such rambles were particularly interesting, for it was a custom to suspend from the gas brackets outside the shops what were termed “fancy birds”, such as the odd bittern, diver, grebe, and often an owl, or hawk, sent up to the market among the masses of waterfowl.
“A grey plover is quite as good a table bird as its more popular green and golden cousins”
On the marble slabs in front of each stall were laid out in rows of fowl, mostly diving duck, scaup, pochard, tufted, and occasionally a scoter or merganser; while the wigeon, teal and mallard were duly priced and hung up in the windows.
Among the “hard fowl”, as the less valuable ducks were called, were various wading birds whose plumage was of a nondescript silvery-grey colour. These waders mostly consisted of knot, with a sprinkling of grey