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which they disgorge from their own crops — hence there is
no carrion or putrefying matter lying about, as is the case
at the nests of the Neophron and Lammergeyer. It is
the male vulture only that, at this season, undertakes
lengthened journeys into the plains and low-lands, remain-
ing absent for days together in search of supplies, and
returning crop-full of unsavoury store. The vultures
seen on the distant plains in spring are all males, the
females remaining at or near their nests. The sketch on
page 209 represents a curious scene. On the treeless plains
of the Isla Mayor many vultures roost (in April) on a
solitary clump of dead encinas, the lower branches and
forks of which are also occupied by the nests of five or six
pairs of White Storks.

Three of these eyries were situate on abrupt, detached
stacks of rock, so easily accessible that we almost
** walked" into them. Some years afterwards, passing
through this sierra on March 1st, we found the three stacks
occupied as before, each nest containing a single egg.

During this scramble we came suddenly upon a pair of
Eagle-Owls, solemnly dreaming away the hours in a deep
cavern ; but, being in an awkward position on the crag-
face, could not spare a hand to secure them. These
caverns were also occupied by Choughs and Bock-Martins
{Cotyle rupestris), the latter sharing a cave with hundreds
of bats.*



* The Rock-Martins* nests were fixed under the roof and upper
ledges of the caves, not unlike Swallows*. Their eggs are white,
slightly flecked with grey. At the same date (May 18th) we also
obtained a nest of the Blue Rock-Thrush, with five beautiful greenish-
blue eggs. The male, during the breeding-season, has a pretty habit
of towering up in the air, singing merrily, then falling back among
the rocks like a stone.



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EXPERIENCES WITH EAGLES AND VULTURES. 211

Eventually, after dragging the lame beasts some twenty
miles, we got clear of the sierra, but found that our
absence had caused much anxiety at Jerez. On the out-
ward ride, it had so chanced, we were present at a sad
accident by which two men and their nine mules lost their
lives, while attempting to cross the swollen Guadalete at
the Barca Florida. Consequently we did not attempt the
ford, and only reached the sierra after a long detour : but
news of the accident having reached Jerez, and our dis-
appearance being unluckily attributed thereto, the curious
result was that the first person we met on the vcga of
Guadalete was honest old Bias, all solemn and dejected, as
he endeavoured, by watching the flight of the vultures, to
discover our remains !

The beautiful crags of Zurita and the Agredera impend-
ing our historic Guadalete, and lying about a dozen miles
from Jerez, are a favourite spring ride. In April their
lower slopes are resplendent with acres of rhododendrons
just bursting into bloom, crimson peonies peep from arid
nooks, and the riverside is fringed with laurestinus and
myrtle, oleanders, sallows and palmetto, all resonant with
the melody of nightingales. To these crags the Neophron,
or Egyptian Vulture, yearly resorts, and six or eight nests
may be found in a day's ramble, all placed in holes or
fissures of the cliff, which, from its rottenness and over-
hung form, is far from easy to scale. Nor is a Neophron's
eyry a very delectable spot when reached ; for, hand-
some as he looks on wing, this vulture is one of the
foulest of feeders. The stench at his abode is over-
powering ; all around lies carrion in every stage of cor-
ruption, while swarms of loathsome flies rise and buzz
heavily around the intruder. The nest itself is made of
rags and wool — no sticks — and the two eggs, often as
richly coloured as a Peregrine's, are laid early in April.
Though the food of the Neophron is mostly bones, ordure^
and garbage, yet it will, exceptionally, take living creatures ;
a male, shot on April 19th, when returning to his nest,
carried in his beak the yet writhing remains of a small
snake. In a rather low part of this range of crags (its

p 2



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212 WILD SPAIN.

highest point, the Agredera peak, is 1,000 feet plumb)
a pair of Golden Eagles had their nest, or rather two
nests, which they used alternately. The birds did not
appear, but we saw the nests, immense masses of
sticks conspicuously protruding from crevices in the crag,
about forty yards apart. These cliflfs are also tenanted by
a colony of Genets.

In Andalucia, as in Eastern Europe, the Neophron
occasionally nests upon trees. In the lovely, park-like
country half a day's ride eastward of Jerez, several pairs
breed yearly on high encinas, or ilex. Here, in spring, we
have seen the old vultures on the nest, and in July
have observed big young — dark brown fellows — perched on
adjoining branches. For instance : —

Ajml 10th, 1891. — Examined to-day three Neophrons'
nests on ilex-trees at the Encinar del Visco — broad, solid
structures, twice as large as those of the Kites, and warmly
Uned with cows'-hair, wool, &c. Owing to the backward
season, there were no eggs, though in 1883 we took two
clutches (each two eggs) on same date.*

One afternoon in the early part of July, 1872 — a period
when Andalucia was seething with revolution and com-
munistic ideas — a youijg Golden Eagle was brought in by
Jose Larrios, a man we often employed in sport and
country campaigns — the same Jose whose dare-devil esca-
pade with a bull we have already related (see p. 10),
This eaglet he had brought from the Sierra de Alcala de
los 'Gazules, nearly forty miles distant, where his brothers
held a small mountain-farm ; and there remained, he said,
another fledgeling in the eyrie. The writer, in those early
days, had not succeeded in shooting the Eoyal Eagle, and
the ambition to do so was intense, despite the difficulty of

* Observed at this place and date a greater variety of butterflies
than ever before in Spain — brilliant Painted Ladies and Fritillaries
(? sp.) ; but most conspicuous were " yellows " of various kinds :
Thais polyxena and Coliaa edusa, large pale " sulphurs," some whole-
coloured, others with bright orange-tips ; in others, again, the orange
adjoined the body. There were also many Heaths and Browns,
Speckled Wood, Bath Whites, and many (to us) unknown species.



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Plate XXV. •' WHERE THE CARCVSE IS.' Page 213.



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EXPERIENCES WITH EAGLES AND VULTURES. 213

the communists. Two days before we had returned from
a fortnight's expedition to the westward, and when riding
towards Jerez were stopped by a military cordon who
invested the town and demanded our credentials. These
being satisfactory, the officer in command informed us that
street-fighting was taking place, and detained us till evening,
when he kindly furnished us with an escort. We found
that two days previously the city had been seized by an
armed mob, thousands strong, who by a sudden coup had
gained possession of the pubUc buildings and barricaded
the streets. On the arrival of a troop of cavalry from
Seville the mutineers incontinently fled, save a mere
handful of the bolder spirits, who Stood to their impro-
vised defences to the last, and were finally shot down within
the church of San Juan, wherein they had sought refuge.
This revolution thus crumbled to nothing, though at one
time it threatened to exceed in violence that of three years
before (1869), when the barricades were taken at the point
of the bayonet, and hundreds of insurgents were shot down
in the streets of Jerez.

For the moment danger was past, and the city, within the
armed cordon, restored to normal condition, though outside
the state of the adjacent country was not certain. Keen-
ness to kill the Boyal Eagle of the sierras was paramount,
and at midnight Jose and I set out from La Compafiia, the
old Jesuit convent which was then our home, and tra-
versing the dark streets and narrow, sandy lanes beyond,
we were soon clear of the town, and by daylight had
reached the ford of the Alamillo, where we crossed the
Guadalete, and were breakfasting at 6.30 in the hill-village
of Paterna — five leagues. Early in the afternoon we com-
pleted the twelve leagues and reached the little cortijo of
Jautor, the abode of Jose's two brothers, who agreed to take
us to the eagle's nest that evening. Jautor is surrounded
by towering sierras, and we proceeded on foot up a rough
goat-track, choked with strong brushwood, and leading up
tiie steep southern acclivity. After climbing and walking
about two hours, we reached the nest, a huge pile of sticks
surmounting an oak-tree which hung over a deep garganta



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214 WILD SPAIN.

or mountain-ravine. What was my vexation to find, after
eighteen hours' labour, that it was empty ! On one side
lay part of the leg of a kid, and about half a hare, both
quite fresh, but the eaglet was gone ; and though we
waited till dusk on the chance of the old bird returning, we
saw nothing, and had to retrace our weary steps, sticking
and stumbling in the dark, to the shepherds' hut, dead-
beat and disappointed.

The choza was a mere^, hut built of long caiias or reeds,
in the form of an extinguisher, the interior being circular,
some 15ft. in diameter, occupied by many goats, poultry,
and cats — ^not to mention minor inhabitants, and with a
wood fire smouldering in the centre. I had hardly coiled
myself in my rug and laid down to sleep on the low mud
settee which ran round the back of the den, when a furious
outburst of barking took place among the numerous dogs
which lay sleeping round the fire. The goatherd opened
the door, and there entered an old man, bronze-visaged
and wiry, leading behind him a donkey. He was a
smuggler, and his packs, crammed with contraband of
infinite variety, were soon deposited on the floor, and the
donkey hobbled and turned out to find bed and breakfast
where it might. Then the cerrones were unpacked, and
their multifarious contents displayed on the mud floor —
pins, needles and scissors, buttons, and bobbins of thread,
tobacco, tape, and sundry kinds of coloured cloth and bright
ribbons. The latter at once " fetched " the feminine portion
of the community — alas ! for the chances of sleep for the
weary — female nature is everywhere the same, even in the
choza of a goatherd buried amidst these lonely sierras, and
bargaining and chatter continued well-nigh throughout the
livelong night.

The simple peasants, though unable to comprehend
my object, were sincerely distressed at our failure ; and
next morning, while we were busy cooking our break-
fast under the shade of a spreading laurestinus, came to
say there was another eagle's nest on the opposite side of
the valley. They had kindly sent a lad at daybreak to
make inquiries at a neighbouring farm, four miles distant.



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EXPERIENCES WITH EAGLES AND VULTURES. 215

Thither accordingly we set out, riding for several miles
till the ascent became so abrupt, and intercepted with
brushwood, that it was necessary to picket the horses,
leaving them in charge of a lad, and to proceed on foot.
We crossed the ridge of the sierra and entered an upland
valley beyond, where, in a tall poplar, standing slightly
apart, was a rather small nest containing a single eaglet.
I must have fallen asleep at my post, for presently Jose,
who had left me in ambush, aroused me to say that the
eagle had returned, fed her young, and departed !
While we were talking the female flew overhead, and
instantly catching sight of us, with a scream dropped a
rabbit she was carrying, and soared heavenwards. My
shot dropped her stone-dead, and she fell within a few
yards of her victim — a female of the Serpent-Eagle, a
species well known on the wooded plains, but which we
had hardly expected to find in the mountains. We have
related this incident because there followed one of the most
singular occurrences that have happened within our
ornithological experiences. On being skinned, this eagle
was found to contain the almost entire remains of a young
eagle, which, from its feathered tarsi and general appear-
ance, was certainly a nestling Golden Eagle — the counter-
part, perhaps the brother, of the one Jose had already
brought alive to Jerez ! We can only state the bare fact, as
above, and surmise that the youngster was yesterday the
occupant of the eyrie we had travelled so far to despoil, and
that the actual and would-be destroyers had thus acci-
dentally come in collision.

About a league further the valley terminated in a
fine amphitheatre of crags, showing remarkably bold and
abrupt escarpments. The highest part was occupied by a
colony of Griffons, and while resting for an hour or so in a
niche of this mountain rampart, I shot four of the great
birds. Collectively they measured across the expanded
wings some thirty-eight feet, and though we had no means
of weighing them, estimated them at about forty pounds
apiece. One of the vultures shot here, a fine bird with
bushy white frill, the peasants asserted to be between



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216 WILD SPAIN*

800 and 400 years old, though how they could tell is a
mystery. This bird was killed with ball on the wing. The
smell of Griflfon Vultures when shot is strong and most
offensive : their claws and long feathers are always much
abraded by attrition on the rocks, and their whole plumage
has a worn and faded appearance, in harmony with the
decay and death in which they rejoice.

The young vultures were at last (July 8th) on the wing,
having spent some three months in the nests :* they are
now of a clear, bright cinnamon colour, much handsomer
than the adults, each feather being shaded ; and one shot
to-day measured between eight and nine feet in expanse of
wing..

Our lofty perch commanded a grand mountain landscape
— sierras extending range beyond range in swelling stony
masses or jagged sky-lines. Alpine Swifts dashed over-
head ; Blackchats and Blue Bock-Thrushes flitted among
the crags, and, with the great vultures soaring above and
below, afforded some interesting scenes* The mid-day heat
was intense, and we had a rough tramp down to the horses
through broken ground and thick young wood, where we
disturbed a Boe and saw many traces of others. It was
after dark when we reached a miserable wayside te/ito,
where, alongside half a dozen snoring peasants and tor-
mented by a million fleas, we passed the night on the
ground.

Beturning homewards next morning, while we were
passing through the outlying spurs or foothills of the
sierra, a pair of large dark eagles were observed hunting
a scrub-covered ridge. The larger of the two presently
swept down upon an unlucky rabbit and forthwith com-
menced to devour it, the male perching on a stump hard
by* They were favourably situate for a stalk, and by
riding round in a wide circuit I gained the reverse of the
ridge. On creeping forward to my marks, however, I
could at first see nothing — only a few palmetto bushes some

* One nest still contained an unfledged youngster. On my appear-
ance at his abode the unsightly little brute at once disgorged a mass of
carrion that necessitated an immediate retreat.



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EXPERIENCES WITH EAOLES AND VULTURES. 217

distance down the slope. Having crawled to these, I per-
ceived the eagle busily tearing up her prey in a slight hollow
of the ground. She was only forty yards away, yet the sit-
ting shot (broadside on) produced no effect. A '* green wire-



BONELLI'S EAGLE. (Adult Female, shot July 10th, 1872.)

cartridge, No. 1 " from the left,, broke a wing as she rose,
and, after some little trouble, she was secured. She proved
to be a Bonelli's Eagle {Aquila bonellii), a perfect adult
specimen, dark brown above, with white breast boldly



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218 WILD SPAIN.

streaked and splashed with black : the bushy " stockings "
and warm reddish-brown tarsi contrasting with the long
white ** apron " which overlapped them. (See photo.)

Thus occurred — over twenty years ago— our first intro-
duction to Bonelli's Eagle : since then we have met with
them frequently in the southern sierras, in the Castiles,
and once in the Biscayan Provinces. It is, in fact, the
commonest mountain-breeding eagle in Spain, and is
easily recognizable by its short, dappled wings, and by the
peculiar feature that the middle of the back is white — thus,
if seen from above, the bird appears to have a large white
spot between the wings.

In former days, the hill-peasants assert that it bred in
quite low rocks, and several such abandoned eyries have
been pointed out to us : but we have only seen its nest in
the most stupendous rock-walls — ^places that make one's
flesh creep to survey. The two eggs, usually white, but
occasionally splashed or spotted, are laid in the early days
of February — we have watched these eagles repairing
their nest at Christmas. The young in first plumage,
like those of the Imperial Eagle, are of a chestnut-tawny
hue. The claws of Bonelli's Eagle are remarkably long
and powerful, and its chief prey consists of hares, rabbits,
. and other game. Hares it appears unable to carry up
ichole to its eyry on the heights, tearing them into
halves, and birds found in its nest are usually headless.

The Golden Eagle also breeds in all the mountain-
regions of Spain, both in high rocks and occasionally (as
above mentioned) on trees. Its nest is often an enormous
structure — quite a cartload of sticks.

The Golden and Bonelli's Eagles are strictly denizens pf
the mountains : but in autumn both species descend to the
plains and marismas in search of prey. On more than
one occasion, while shooting on the lowlands in winter, we
have secured a Golden Eagle as he flew to roost in the
pine- woods: and on Nov. 29th, some years ago, while
flight-shooting, a Bonelli's Eagle was so intent on the
capture of a winged Buddy Sheldrake (Tadoma rutila)
which had fallen to a neighbouring gun, as almost to fly



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EXPERIENCES WITH EAGLES AND VULTURES. 219

into the writer's puesto. This eagle was in the act of
lifting the heavy duck off the water when a charge of big
shot cut him down.

Our old cazador, Felipe, who has since become keeper on



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220 WILD SPAIN.



CHAPTER XVm.

ON SPANISH AGRICULTURE.

I. — Cereals, Green Crops, etc.

Around Spanish agriculture, as around other Iberian
industries, hangs a cloud of almost Oriental apathy. A
land which might be one of the granaries of Europe is
so neglected that, even with an import duty on corn, it
is barely self-supporting — indeed, during 1889, Spain
had to pay upwards of one million sterling for imported
wheat. .

Since the fall of Moorish dominion, the population of
Andaluciahas fallen to less than half; large areas which
in Moorish days were smiling corn-lands, to-day lie
barren and tmproductive, choked with brushwood — the
great southern despoblados, or deserts*

Nearly one-half the entire land of Spain (to be exact, 45*8
per cent.) is without cultivation of any kind ; and of the rest,
the productive powers are but half utilized* The yield of
the best land in a favourable season rarely reaches forty
bushels per acre, and the average, taking one year with
another, may be placed at twenty ; while in Northumber-
land thirty bushels is an average, and fifty a not infrequent
yield.

The three chief agricultural products of Spain are corn,
oil, and wine — of the latter, we treat more particularly in
another chapter. The corn-farms — each usually including
a certain proportion of olive-wood — extend from four or
five hundred acres up to large holdings of as many



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ON SPANISH AGRICULTURE. 221

thousand; and, as a rule, are cultivated by their non-
resident owners, through a steward.*

Even in the case of rented land, the farmer seldom him-
self lives on his holding, but entrusts the management to
an agent, while he resides in his town house. Neither
landowner nor farmer live in the country.

This deep-rooted antipathy to a country-life is one of
the many causes of the decrepitude of Spanish agriculture,
among which may be specified the following : —

1. — The custom of absenteeism.

2, — The antiquated system of tillage.

3. — The absence of woods and plantations, the beneficial
effects of which on climate and atmosphere are specially
necessary in this hot, dry country. The comparatively
small forest-areas are, in many parts, as previously stated,
being rapidly reduced by the hatchet of the charcoal-
burner.

4. — The neglect of irrigation. In wet winters, the
low-lying lands are flooded, and the whole country is
water-logged ; in summer the reverse is the case — ^mois-
ture is non-existent, every green thing is burnt up,
yet no attempt is made to direct and conserve the rain-
suppUes, albeit the remains of the aqueducts and irri-
gation-works of Eoman and Moor are ever present to
suggest the silent Jesson of former foresight and pros-
perity.

Of a total area of some forty-four and a half million
acres under cultivation, less than tivo millions are irrigated
(regadio), leaving forty- two and a half million acres of
" dry lands " {secano).

The following table forms an interesting commentary —
to those who can endure statistics — on the state of agricul-
ture in Spain. It shows the exact proportion of irrigated
and non-irrigated land under each crop, &c. The figures



* Of the 8,529,600 separate rural properties which exist on the
Spanish land-register, 2,729,600 are administered and cultivated for
the account of their proprietors ; and 800,000 are let at a rental, either
in cash or " kind."



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222 WILD SPAIN.

represent ^^fanegc^s^'' which are, roughly, equivalent to
acres.

Crop or Condition. Irrigated. Dry Lands.

{Rtgvuiio.) (Secano.)

Garden produce, vegetables, &c 245,798 —

Fruit-trees 58,095 884,642

Corn and seeds 1,189,964 18,988,410

Vines 66,859 2,121,070

Olive-woods 76,688 1,181,886

Meadow 291,240 842,819

Salt-pans 29,174 —

Pasturage — 8,968,588

Groves and marshy dells (aZaw€<fa« y »oto«) ... — 180,670

Brushwood (monte, aZto y 6a;o) — 7,279,846

Winter grazings {erialea conpastos) — 6,198,881

Threshing-grounds, &c. {eras y canter as) ... — 48,277

Non-productive — 2,462,289



Total 1,907,168 42,680,148

Oriental customs survive in the hiring of labour, both
for field and vineyard. Men are not employed permanently
— only *' taken on " as occasion requires. A hiring-place
is the feature of Spanish rural towns — ^the Plaza, or public
square, usually serving the purpose. Here, at all hours,
but notably at early morn and sunset, stand groups of
swarthy labourers, waiting for hire, and contentedly smok-
ing their cigarettes till some eapataz, or foreman, comes
to terms with them.

Com and wine are cultivated by distinct classes of
labourers — ^those for the vineyard, superior workmen, gain-
ing thrice the pay of the others. In the vineyards the
men receive the equivalent of three francs a day, with oil
and vinegar — ^important items in a hot country — ^while the
corn-farmer only pays one franc, with bread and oil.

The only permanent hands at a vineyard are the eapataz
and his assistant, the duties of the latter being to
bring bread from the town on his pannier-mule, and
water from the best or nearest well in those cool earthen
pitchers called cdntaros. Water is almost as important as
food. Among the poor it is the national drink — the
quaUty produced by each well is known and often dis-



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ON SPANISH AGRICULTURE. 223

cussed. Andalucians are critical judges of water, classing
it as mala, bad, unwholesome ; gordu, turbid or flavoured ;
regtddr, pretty good, and agua rica, the best of bright
sparkling water. In praising his native hamlet, the first
point with a Spanish peasant will be " the water there is
good.'' Water, however, be it gorda or rica, they must
have ; and wherever on glowing plain or calcined hill-side
one sees a gang of labourers gently scratching the earth
with tiny hoe, there also are sure to be lying those porous,
amphora-shaped c/tntaros full of water, ice-cold, albeit a
tropical sun has for hours impinged vertically on their
porous sides. Oh, bow delicious a draught can be enjoyed



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 17 of 36)