Copyright
Francis Wharton.

Wharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. online

. (page 20 of 36)
Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 20 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


journey. Swallows especially are conspicuous : to-day the
air is alive with them, sweeping along the open glades:
to-night they roost in chattering hosts in the trees around
our camp — to-morrow they are gone, not a swallow
remains : and this occurs a dozen times during April and
May.

On April 13th and two following days there occurred a
conspicuous " through transit '* of Pied Flycatchers, and two
days later (in another year) the brushwood was alive with
Bedstarts, all on passage. On the 25th we were visited for
a couple of hours by hundreds of Alpine Swifts : and the
same evening the large Bed-necked Nightjars (C rujicolUs)
arrived, to add their churring note to the crepuscular
chorus of frogs and night-birds for the rest of the spring
and summer. One evening in May, while watching a pair
of Golden Orioles to their nest, I witnessed a rather curious
eviction. A Spanish Green Woodpecker {Gecinm shatyii),
her gullet crammed with ants, flew to a hole in a wild-
olive, but was met at the entrance by a furious Little Owl
(Athene noctua), which soon drove the clumsier bird
(which had no idea of self-defence) screaming to the
shelter of some brushwood. Soon after, her mate returned,
but met with a similar reception, the savage little owl
perching meanwhile on an adjacent branch, where he sat
bolt upright, all fluffed out, and snapping with rage. On
examining the place, I found the woodpeckers had a
niunerous family, nearly ready to fly : while the owl had



Digitized by



Google



248 WILD SPAIN.

deposited a single egg in an adjoining hole. The execution
of the aggressor seemed, at first, the only means of saving
this thriving family, but, on second thoughts, I decided
that the justice of the case would be met by removing the
defendant's egg, and filling up his hole with sticks.

The Orioles' nest I shortly afterwards discovered, built
in a white-elm, at the extreme end of a long pendant



H00P0E8.



branch, the whole of which it was necessary to cut down.
This nest, however, was empty. The Golden Orioles do
not lay till nearly the middle of May, and from the shyness
of the old birds, and the aerial situation of the nest, their
eggs are among the most difficult to obtain.
During the early part of May we found many nests of



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 249

Hoopoes, some in hollow trees, one in a ruined outhouse,
which we were using as a stable, and which, in a previous
year, had been similarly occupied by a Boiler, and always
affords a home to two or three pairs of the Spotless or
Sardinian Starling {StHrnm unicolor), a species which, in
spring, replaces the common kind. On the outskirts of
the woods were many nests of Goldfinch and Serinfinch,
Common and Green Linnets, Blue and Great Tit, Willow-
Wren, Woodchat, &c. ; and in the open rushy gladep, those
of Black-headed Warbler, Blackcap and Garden Warbler,
Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey-headed Wagtail
{MotaciUa cinereocapilla), and others. I looked in vain
in these pine- woods for the Crested Tit, which occurs near
Gibraltar, and which mv brother found numerous in
Navarre. . On the 10th May I found a couple of Nightin-
gales' nests in the tiny garden-patch adjoining a forester's
cot, and a week later obtained several nests of the Melodi-
ous Willow-Warbler (Hypolais polyglotta) with their beauti-
ful vinous-pink eggs ; later still (May 28th), those of the
Eufous Warbler (.Edon gcdactodes) among the cactus-
bushes : — but this is getting suspiciously like a catalogue.

One circumstance deserves passing remark — the rela-
tively smaller number of eggs laid in the south than is
the case with many of the same species further north. In
Spain, several of the warblers, &c. above mentioned, lay
only four eggs; the Blackbird, as a rule, but three, and
these much brighter coloured than at home.

Delightful days were those spent riding through these
pathless forests, redolent of the exhalations of pine and
rosemary, and a hundred aromatic shrubs, and resplendent
with the- glory of the southern spring-time. What words
can convey the contrast of dark pinal and dazzling sand-
waste, or catch the play of sunlight glancing through
massed foliage on russet trunks and the soft pale verdure
of the brushwood ? For long leagues these forests stretch
unbroken save by rushy glades and park-like opens, where
at dusk the Bed Deer come to seek rich pasturage, and
the Wild Boar ploughs deep trenches in his search for suc-
culent roots, varied by a honne-houche of mole-crickets.



Digitized by



Google



250 WILD SPAIN.



CHAPTEE XXI.
BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME.

II. — The Cistus-Plains and Prairies.

Leaving the pinal, or pine region, let us spend a fort-
night in the open bush-land beyond. Passing succes-
sively the famous manchas of the Alameda Honda, the
Eincon de los Carrizos, and Majada Eeal — each coverts of
repute, though all unknown to geographers and marked
upon no map — we traverse next the forest-glades of the
Angosturas, and enter upon a different region, where fresh
landscapes and new beauties await appreciative eyes.
Here the swelling sand-dunes trend away southwards —
towards the sea. The dark bushy pine gives place to
open heath and brushwood, stretching away to the horizon,
here and there diversified with scattered clumps of cork-
oak, aspen, wild-olive, and poplar.

The country around our quarters is a level plain of ever-
green scrub — ^lentiscus, broom, heaths of varied kinds, and
mile upon mile of sombre grey-green cistus, generally about
shoulder-high, but deepening in places into impassable
jungle. Here and there are stagnant pools, around whose
banks grow immense cork-oaks, embedded amidst tree-
heath (Erica arhorea), giant heather and arbutus, all
interlaced with the twining, thorny fronds of briar. It is
in these dank, dark depths that the old boars select their
lairs, and they are the home of Lynx and Wild-Cat,
Badger, Genet, and Mongoose, and of many interesting
birds, from the Eagle to the Turtledove. The following
record of some of our spring rambles will give an outline
of the fauna of this region : —

April 15th. — We were astir early, a few stars shining



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 251

dimly, and the last of the frogs still croaking in the acequias,
as we^sipped our matutinal chocolate upon the verandah ;

ffp€K€K€K€( KOa( KOa(,

repeat the frogs, as in the Stygian chorus of old. Far
away over the half-lit expanse of cistus a pair of large



A SERENADE.



eagles were already hunting for their breakfast, and an
owl slipped close overhead and disappeared into a crevice
of the roof above, where we could hear the snoring and
snapping of the strigine community as the night's booty



Digitized by



Google



252 WILD SPAIN.

was being discussed. We were away by sunrise, at which
hour the singular, resonant song of the Partridge-cocks
(Eed-legs) was ubiquitous : from almost every ilex-grove
came the half-choking chukarj chukar, while the love-sick
bird bowed and gesticulated, standing nearly bolt upright
with half-expanded wings on some dead branch or shat-
tered trunk, sometimes on the crest of a sand-ridge.*

Within a quarter-mile of the lodge we found a Kite's nest,
shot the old bird, replaced her two eggs with two hen's
eggs and a steel-trap : and had hardly ridden two hundred
yards ere the male swept down and was caught. Seldom
are so fine a pair of birds secured so easily! During
this day we found no fewer than six nests, for the Kite, as
before stated, prefers the open country to the forest, and
almost each clump of cork-trees was tenanted by a pair.
These cork-groves are also occupied by many other species
— by birds of plumage whose resplendent hues appear
almost tropical — such as Golden Oriole, Boiler, Bee-eater,
Hoopoes, Woodpeckers, Azure-winged Magpie, and others
hardly less brilUant. Amid the ilex-groves the Golden
Oriole hangs suspended, hovering like a Kestrel in mid-
air, his rich orange lustre justifying the Spanish name
— oropendola : the Boiler, clad in chestnut and azure,
and rich parti-coloured Hoopoes and Pied Woodpeckers
flit among the foliage. Presently a harsh " chack, chack"
announces the arrival of a wandering party of Bee-eaters,
most brilliant of European birds ; and a score of these
sweep round, alternately rising and poising, or soaring
on clean-cut, hawk-like wing, then darting downwards
amidst the masses of flowering heaths in pursuit of indus-
trious aphidce. The Bee-eaters pass on : but there is no
truce for the insect-world, for other deadly enemies, the
Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrike, sit by on every bush,
intent on impaling heavy-flying bee or beetle. From the

* Partridges commence this love -song as early as February. In
March it id continuous at sunrise and towards dusk. Here is an
attempt to syllable it : —

" Chtick, chuck . . . churroiik, churroiik,
Chukar, chukkr, chouk ! *'



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 253

alcornoques there resounds the shrieking maniacal laughter
of the flame-coloured Spanish Woodpecker (Gecinus shai-pii)
as he flies heavily from tree to tree with rustling, undulated
flight : then there is an occasional Azure- winged Magpie
(Cyanopica cookii), there are Wood-Pigeons and Turtle-
Doves, Spotted Cuckoos, and Magpies in swarms. The
cavernous trunks are occupied by colonies of Jackdaws^
less hoary-naped than ours, the lesser crevices by Hoopoes,
Scop's and Little Owls.

Nearly all the brilliantly-plumaged birds which at this
season lend a semi-tropical character to the Spanish avi-
fauna, are spring-migrants — pouring across the straits
during the months of March and April, and retiring to
African latitudes in autumn. Here is a brief record, show-
ing dates of arrival, ifcc, chiefly from the observations of
one year (1891), but supplemented where necessary by
those of previous springs, with a few incidental notes.

Feh'uary 21sf . — Many Swallows arrived : in thousands
on 23rd — a complete nuisance while snipe-shooting. On
February 28th some were already beginning to nest.

February 26fA. — A single Hoopoe arrived : numerous by
3rd March. Also observed a Goshawk.

February 28th. — A pair of Egyptian Vultures, and many
Lesser Kestrels were seen to-day.

March Ist. — Great Spotted Cuckoo, and a single Wheat-
ear appeared. Many of the Wigeon and other ducks, and
all Golden Plovers are now gone. Shot four Garganey.

March 8fA.— First Serpent-Eagle (two more on 10th), and
many Black Kites, in pijudes. The White Wagtails entirely
disappeared about this date. Landrail shot.

March 10th. — Hundreds of Wood-Pigeons — all gone next
day. Shot a pair of Black Storks (1869).

March IQth. — Last Woodcock. Not one-fifth of the
ducks now remain in marisma.

March 19th. — Shot Scop's Owl in garden at Jerez.

March 20th. — Observed Kentish and Lesser Ring Plovers,
and shot Purple Heron. Flights of Cranes passing north,

March 2ith. — Observed Short-toed Larks, and Spotless



Digitized by



Google



254



WILD SPAIN.



Starling ; Black-headed Gulls still here, in fall breeding-
plumage. Buff and Black-tailed Godwits shot to-day.

March 26th. — Eing-Ouzel (Sierra Bermeja), and in same
district, Booted Eagle on 29th, Woodchat 30th, and Rock-
Thrush on April 8rd.

March SOth (1883).— Woodchats : and first Cuckoo heard
in garden. Starlings, Thrushes and Sky-larks have all gone.

March dlst (1872). — Swarms of Bee-eaters, Eared and
Busset Wheatears, and two or three Boilers.

March SUt (1891). —While away in sierra, the follow-
ing birds have appeared : Savi's, Spectacled, and Subalpine
Warblers (all obtained), Cirl-Buntings, Swifts.

April Qrd. — Nightingales in garden. They do not sing
for the first few days. First eggs laid May 7th.

April 6th. — Montagu's Harrier arrived (the last Hen-
Harrier shot on 10th). Demoiselle Crane shot.

April Sth. — Turtle-Doves in small flights, and many Bee-
eaters and Boilers arrived. Last Snipe shot to-day.

April 9th. — Pratincoles, Whiskered and Lesser Terns.

April 10th. — Pair Marbled Ducks, one Nyroca Pochard,
and an Egret shot. Observed White-faced Ducks.

April 16th. — Glossy Ibis — Zopiton.

April 2(kh. — The following have arrived within the last
week or ten days. Great Sedge Warbler, Orphcean and
Garden Warblers, Whitethroat, Ortolan, and Golden
Orioles — the latter seen first to-day.

April 23rd. — Pair Hobbies observed — pinoles.

April 25th. — ^Alpine Swifts passing over.

April 27th. — Shot Buff-backed Heron, Isla Menor : and
found Bittern's nest with three eggs ; also two of the Great
Bustard, each with two eggs.

April 28th. — Night-Herons observed — marisma Gallega.

April 29th. — Bufous Warblers {.Edon galactodes) arrived
in hundreds. On same date Honey-Buzzards passing
northwards, flying quite low against a north-easterly gale,
in large bands. A friend, shooting Turtle-Doves in the
pinales of San Fernando, killed six. These Buzzards pass
yearly in hundreds (both adults and immature), on one or
two days at this period, but usually fly very high.



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 255

April SOth, — Shot the first Russet-necked Nightjar and
observed Melodious Willow- Warblers {Ilypolais lyolyglotta) .
Enormous passage of Swallows to-day. This is also the
date when the Little Bittern and Squacco Heron are due.

May 8rd. — Black Terns appeared. The only other
nesting species yet to arrive are the Spotted Flycatcher,
Pallid Warbler (Hypolais opaca), and the remainder of the
Nightjars, Bufous Warblers, &c.

May 4th. — Camp in mid-marisma. All this night,
commencing about 10 p.m., a stream of migrating birds
kept passing overhead. From the dark sky resounded for
hours the cries of gulls and terns, sundry small land-
birds, whimbrels, plovers and sandpipers of various
species : besides harsher shrieks and notes that resembled
those of hawks and herons of some kind.

Amidst such wealth of bird-life lies work for many
spring-visits. The nesting-season, moreover (the most
interesting period to the ornithologist), extends over a
greater period of time than is the case at home. In Spain,
with its early spring and warm equable climate, it might
be supposed that most birds would nest both early and
more or less simultaneously. But this is not the case.
The period of reproduction, with birds, appears to be pro-
longed proportionately as one approaches- the- equator. In
the far north, where summer is short and sharply defined,
this period is the same. Thus in the arctic lands of Spits-
bergen and Novaya Zemlya, it is limited to six weeks, and
in Lapland and Siberia to two months or so, extending in
Central Europe, roughly speaking, to three. In Andalucia
domestic duties last, with one species or another, over half
the year. There are cases in which nidification commences
before Christmas— as with the Lammergeyer, Bonelli's
Eagle, and the Eagle-Owl : the Grififon Vultures and some
others are only a little later. Whereas, on the other
hand, some of the herons do not nest till June : .f]don
galactodea and the Little Bustard are still incubating
in July, and the Flamingoes breed so late that their
young can hardly be on the wing before the latter
month.



Digitized by



Google



256 WILD SPAIN.

Among the earlier breeders is the Spanish Green Wood-
]E>ecker, which drills deep holes in the hard wood of cork-
oak or olive, and lays six shining white eggs in March,
Now (April) they had young, but rear a second brood in
May. Though they are so abundant, yet the '* tapping "
sound characteristic of the Woodpeckers is not heard in
the Spanish forests, for their food consists of ants and of
the small, red and black beetles that cluster in every
crevice of the rough cork-bark.

The Boilers were also laying in mid-April — here in
hollow trees, elsewhere in crevices of rocks or ruins : but
wherever their treasure may be, the silly birds are sure to
disclose its position by their incessant '* caterwauling,"
and anxious, tumbling flight. On the 17th April we
found the first nest of the Southern Grey Shrike {Lanius
meridionalis) in a high mastic-bush. The nest resembled
that of the Missel-Thrush, the five eggs larger and more
darkly marbled than those of the northern L. excubitor.
Nests of the Woodchat (L. rufm) may be found in almost
every bush from May 10th onward, and the Bee-eaters
have then formed swarming colonies in the river-banks
like Sand-Martins.

As remarkable a freak as any in nature is the system
of reproduction by proxy adopted by the Great Spotted
Cuckoo {Coccystes glandanus). This smart and handsome
bird, though more abundant in Estremadura and the
Castiles, is fairly numerous on the wooded prairies of
Andalucia, where its curious nesting habits may be
observed with ease. The parasitic habits of the European
CuculicUe are well known — none of these birds building
a nest or rearing their own young. Our British Cuckoo
deposits its eggs singly in the nests of hedge-sparrow,
warbler, wagtail, or other small bird — it is not particular
which. The Spotted Cuckoo, however, does not impose this
duty of rearing her young upon her neighbours generally,
but almost exclusively upon the common Magpie : though
exceptionally upon the Azure-winged species (Cyanopiea
cookii) and the Eaven as well. At the Encinar del Visco,
during the past year (1891), the writer found two of the



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-UFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 257

Cuckoo's eggs in a nest of that bird, along ^ith three eggs
(one broken) of the owner.*

The Spotted Cuckoo, moreover, lays eggs so exactly
resembling those of the selected foster-mother (the Magpie)
as to be hardly distinguishable. On close examination, it
is true, they do differ in their more ellipitic form and
granular surface : but, unless previously aware and
specially on the look-out, no one, probably, would suspect
they were not Magpie's eggs — apparently not even that
'cute bird itself does so. Even so experienced an ornithol-
ogist as Canon Tristram failed to discriminate the differ-
ence — this was in Algeria — till the zygo-dactylic foot of
the embryos betrayed the secret (IbiSy 1859).

The Spotted Cuckoo deposits two, three, and even four
eggs in the same Magpie's nest — sometimes leaving the
original owner's eggs undisturbed, in other cases removing
all or part of them : we have noticed spilt yolk and the
shells of broken eggs at the entrance to the nest and on
the branches below. Hatched thus, in the domed and
enclosed nests of the Magpie, it seems difficult for the
young Spotted Cuckoos to eject their pseudo-brothers and
sisters ; but we cannot speak definitely as to this detail in
the early life-history of these curious usurpers of hearth
and home.

The only egg of the Common Cuckoo we have ever found
in Spain was in a nest of the Stonechat. This was on
April 28rd, and there were four eggs of the Stonechat.
The Cuckoo is common in Spain on passage, arriving
early in April ; a few remain to breed, and we have heard
their note up to the end of May, hvij^ the majority pass
on northwards at once.

The Azure-winged Magpie, above referred io, is very
local in the south. It nests not far from Jerez, and in
some numbers near Coria del Bio, but is much more
abundant in the wooded vegas of Cordova, and still more
so in Estremadura and Castile, actually swarming near
Talavera de la Beyna, at Aranjuez, etc. Their nests,

• In Egypt the Grey-backed Crow {Corvua comix) is almost ex-
clusively the Cuckoo's dupe ; in Algeria, Pica mauritanica,

S



Digitized by



Google



258 WILD SPAIN,

placed on bushes rather than trees, resemble a Jay's,
slightly built of sticks exteriorly, and completed with green
moss, dry grass, etc., and contain five or six eggs. Half-
a-dozen nests may often be found within a hundred yards.
An active, sprightly bird, exclusively confined to the
Spanish Peninsula.

The Jay, though common in the mountain-forests, and
in Portugal, is not seen on the South- Spanish plains;
but the Magpie absolutely swarms. During lunch one



AZURK-WINGED MAGPIES.



day I counted upwards of seventy in sight at a time,
and from one spot. A rushy glade before us was dotted
all over with them ; their pied breasts surmounted nearly
every bush. Further away, I also counted during the
half-hour's halt (without including such small fry as
Kestrels, etc.) no less than twenty-one large birds of prey
— several Kites of both kinds, a soaring Buzzard or two.
Marsh- and Montagu's Harriers, and at least a pair of
eagles.



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OP THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 259

Such a spectacle would probably break the heart of an
orthodox British gamekeeper; to preserve any fair head
of game in presence of such an array of ** vermin ''^both
powerful raptores and cunning egg-thieves — he would
certainly assert to be impossible. So, in England, it
probably would be ; yet here our game-books record bags
varying from 150 to 300 partridge, besides other game, in
a day, and totals of from 1,000 to 1,200 head and upwards
in a fortnight's shooting. Yet those who advocate the
status quo in nature and condemn dogmatically any inter-
ference therewith by the hand of man, would be wrong
in jumping to the conclusion that the co-existence in
Spain of a considerable head of game with a host of their
most powerful enemies, is any soUd substantiation of their
theories, in a general sense.

To this question of nature's balance of life we may
devote a little space ; it is seldom so simple as at first sight
may appear. Here in Spain its solution depends on factors
some of which do not exist and would have, consequently,
no bearing at home ; but the general features of the par-
ticular case in point may be summed up in three lines :
(1) Spain is a land teeming with reptile-life; (2) The
reptiles in the aggregate are the most deadly enemies
to game; and (8) it is upon reptiles that the raptorial
birds habitually prey.

The large eagles, it is true, prefer rabbits and partridges
to anything else; but the "catch" of their smaller
relatives, the Booted and Serpent-Eagles, the Kites,
Buzzards and Hawks, is composed chiefly of reptiles —
lizards, snakes, blindworms, salamanders, and the like
— as well as the larger insects, such as locusts, cicadas,
scorpions, grasshoppers, the huge horned scarabsei and
other coleoptera of which so great a variety abound in
Southern Spain. At the end of this chapter we annex a
brief analysis, the result of a number of post-mortem
examinations of the crops and stomachs of various raptorial
birds, which shows pretty conclusively that while game,
etc., is included in their vienu, by far the greater portion
of their attack is directed against the reptile race — itself

s 2



Digitized by



Google



260 WILD SPAIN.

the most pernicious to game and all the defenceless
creation. It is, in fact, a warfare of raptor versm rap-
torem, of feathered freebooter against scaled marauder,
and the hannless and peaceful balance of creation benefit
by that internecine state of war.

The destruction that is wrought by the larger reptiles is
difficult to exaggerate; both snakes and lizards are
inveterate egg-stealers, and also devour large quantities
of young game, whether furred or feathered, besides other
creatures. Gliding noiselessly, rapidly, and with an infinite





EY ED-LIZARD AND SERPEKT-EAGLE

stealth, their approach is imperceptible, whether through
brushwood or scrub, through shallow water or yielding
sand, whether above ground or below — ^they penetrate
the deep burrows of rabbit or Bee-eater, and scale the
loftiest fortresses of tree-nesting species. Equally at
home on the ground or amongst the topmost branches,
nothing can well escape the larger serpents and saurians.
Were they not held in check by nature's counterpoise,
hardly a young rabbit could survive, or a Partridge,
Quail, or Wild Duck succeed in rearing their broods.
Neither ground nor tree-nesting birds are safe : we have



Digitized by



Google



BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 261

seen a Cushat's nest which in the morning had con-
tained its two eggs, occupied towards evening by the
sleeping coils of a green Eyed Lizard (Laeerta ocellata)^
measuring nearly a yard in length, and thousands of
promising families are yearly called into existence only to
provide sustenance for cold-blooded, scaly saurians.



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 20 of 36)