W. While I was looking at him, a heron came flying over my head, with his large flagging wings. He lit at the next turn of the river, and I crept softly behind the bank to watch his motions. He had waded into the water as far as his long legs would carry him, and was standing with his neck drawn in, looking intently on the stream. Presently he darted his long bill as quick as lightning into the water, and drew out a fish, which he swallowed. I saw him catch another in the same manner. He then took alarm at some noise I made, and flew away slowly to a wood at some distance, where he settled.
Mr. A. Probably his nest was there, for herons build upon the loftiest trees they can find, and sometimes in society together like rooks. Formerly, when these birds were valued for the amusement of hawking, many gentlemen had their heronries, and a few are still remaining.
W. I think they are the largest wild birds we have.
Mr. A. They are of a great length and spread of wing, but their bodies are comparatively small.
W. I then turned homeward across the meadows, where I stopped awhile to look at a large flock of starlings which kept flying about at no great distance. I could not tell at first what to make of them; for they rose all together from the ground as thick as a swarm of bees, and formed themselves into a kind of black cloud, hovering over the field. After taking a short round, they settled again, and presently rose again in the same manner, I dare say there were hundreds of them.
Mr. A. Perhaps so; for in the fenny countries their flocks are so numerous as to break down whole acres of reeds by settling on them. This disposition of starlings to fly in close swarms was remarked even by Homer, who compares the foe flying from one of his heroes to a cloud of starlings retiring dismayed at the approach of the hawk.
W. After I had left the meadows, I crossed the cornfields and got to the high field next our house just as the sun was setting, and I stood looking at it till it was quite lost. What a glorious sight! The clouds were tinged with purple and crimson and yellow of all shades and hues, and the clear sky varied from blue to a fine green at the horizon. But how large the sun appears just as it sets! I think it seems twice as big as when it is overhead.
Mr. A. It does so; and you may probably have observed the same apparent enlargement of the moon at its rising.
W. I have; but pray what is the reason of this?
Mr. A. It is an optical deception, depending upon principles which I cannot well explain to you till you know more of that branch of science. But what a number of new ideas this afternoon’s walk has afforded you! I do not wonder that you found it amusing; It has been very instructive, too. Did you see nothing of all these sights, Robert?