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Francis Wharton.

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** April 23rd. — While on the sand-ridge overlooking the
laguna de Santolalla, watching a pair of Marbled Ducks,
some Crested Grebes, etc., heard subterranean scufliing
and rumblings. Presently two rabbits bolted, and from
a hole close by emerged the writhing tail of a great
green lizard, backing out, and dragging, by an engulfed
hind leg, a half-grown rabbit, too terrified to squeal. In
some rushes we lost sight of the reptile, but two minutes
later, put him out and shot him. The hapless rabbit
was then gorged — head downwards."

" May ISth. — Dug out a Bee-eater's colony — some of the
tunnels quite eight or ten feet deep. In two of the nests
found snakes, coiled up. One big black fellow entombed
the remains of four or five Bee-eaters, swallowed entire,
besides many eggs. The smaller snake contained eggs
and a brace of Field-mice.*'

" May 23rd. — Heard two Partridges in a great state of
excitement ; coining up, saw a snake in the act of devouring
a half-feathered chick. The brute, which only measured
three feet, nine inches, already contained four young
Partridges ! "

** June 9th. — Shot a huge Coluber, six feet two inches,
greatly distended in centre. On opening him found two
nearly full-grown rabbits, swallowed whole."

Under such conditions, the presence of the hawk-tribe
is an actual advantage to the game-preserver — they are
his under-keepers and vermin-trappers. No doubt, were
it possible, Jiraty to put down effectually the rapacious
reptiles, and then to thin the ranks of the rapacious birds,
the result would be a prodigious increase in the numbers
of the game and other defenceless creatures on which they



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262 WILD SPAIN.

prey. This — mutatis mutandis — is practically what game-
preservation has accomplished in England ; but in Spain
the physical conditions are different, and it is more than
questionable if any similar measure of success could there
be attained. Not Don Quixote himself ever conceived
an enterprise more chimerical than the extermination of
the snakes in La Mancha or Andalucia.

With the first of the daylight the eagles and most of the
larger raptores turn out for their morning hunt, and
during the heat of the day retire to enjoy a siesta on the



THE EAGLE'S SWOOP.

peak of some lofty oak or pine, where they remain con-
spicuously perched for hours together. Towards evening
predatory operations are generally resumed. It is curious
to observe their different methods of going to work ; the
Kites sweep about with buoyant, desultory- flight, not
unlike large gulls; the Circdetus wheels in wide circles
over the cistus-scrub ; Montagu's Harrier hunts with
impetuous flight, in long, straight bee-lines close over the
viancha, always appearing about to alight but not doing so.
But for systematic searching-out of a breadth of land, none
compare with the Imperial Eagle ; usually in pairs, these



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BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 268

noble tyrants choose a line of country, and with wide
sweeps to right and left, crossing and recrossing each
other at the central point like well-trained setters, they
beat miles of scrub in a few hours, while a Buzzard or
Marsh-Harrier will hover and circle round a single spot
and spend half a day over a few acres of rushes. Nothing
can well escape the eagles ; shortly one of the pair detects
the hidden game — for an instant his flight is checked to
assure a deadly aim, then with collapsed wings, and a
rushing sound which is distinctly audible a quarter of a
mile away, he dashes headlong to earth. A second or two
later, he rises with loud vociferations, and a hapless
rabbit suspended from his yellow claws. Their short,
sharp bark is repeatedly uttered by the eagles while
hunting. Eabbits seem to constitute nine-tenths of their
prey, to judge from the golgotha of these little animals'
skulls below their nests.

The Stone-Curlew (OEdicnemm crepitans) is another fine
species characteristic of the scrub, where it is resident or
at least is found throughout the year, and their rectiUneal
footprints are everywhere visible on the sandy deserts.
On these flat plains they are most difficult of access, and if
winged, run Hke a hare; towards evening they become
very noisy, piping something hke a Curlew in spring — on
the night of April 16th, while skinning a lynx by the light
of our fire, the air around seemed full of them, their
vociferations resounding from every side. We found the
first nest, or rather a single egg lying on bare sand, on
April 18th. We have come across these birds in widely
different situations ; high out on the barren stony moun-
tains of the Minho, in Northern Portugal, packs of them
frequented the few damp spots along the courses of the old
Koman aqueducts — ^how few such weak spots were, testifies
to the solidity of these ancient works. This was in
November. Their local name there was " Mountain
Curlew " (Masarico de montes). Apropos of these hills, the
following rather curious incidents are perhaps worth
recording. Far out among the boulder-strewn ridges, while
Red-leg shooting, we used to find numbers of Green Wood-



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264 WILD SPAIN.

peckers miles away from trees — they were attracted thither
by the swarms of ants. Nightjars (Caprimidgus europasm)
and Little Owls also abode there ; the latter flattered out
from imder one's feet, and after a most on-owlish, up-and-
down flight, would dive back under some big boulder, more
like a fish than a bird. Small flights of Teal also resorted
to these heights during the day, sitting among the heather,
and returning to the marshes at night.



Food op Spanish Baptorial Birds — Analyses of ex-
aminations of their crops — as follows : —

{See p. 259.)
Kites examined, 21.

Suakes, Lizards, Blindworms, Slq, . .9 cases.

Locusts, elytra of coleoptera, Ac. . . . 9 „

Bones and remains of small birds . 5 „

Rabbits and young Bedlegs (1 each) . 2 „

Egg-shells „

Note. — We have shot Black Kites fairly crammed with
Locusts.

Habbibrs examined, 17.

Progs, Snakes and other reptiles . . .8 cases.

Egg-sheUs 7 „

Scorpions, coleoptera and other insects . . 3 „
Ghune (1 Quail, 1 yoimg and 1 putrid rabbit) • 3 „

The Marsh-Harrier in spring seeks frogs, eggs, and young
birds ; in winter, frogs, wounded birds, and chance reptiles.

Montagu's Harrier takes chiefly the lesser reptiles and ^^
— occasionally rabbits — and departs entirely in winter.

Labge Eaolbs examined, 8.

Babbits, Partridge, &c. . . . . .8 cases.

Beptiles, eggs, or insects „

Small Eaglbs examined, 10.
Babbits and other game . . . .4 cases.

Beptiles (no eggs or insects) . . 4 „

Small birds 3 „

Sundries (1 young eagle ! See p. 215) . . 1 „



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BIRD-LIFE OF THB SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 265

The large eagles prey on game all the year round ; the
smaller species chiefly on reptiles and small birds, secondarily
on game. In winter the latter depart to Africa.

Falcons. — The smaller species are chiefly insectivorous — the
Lesser Kestrel and Eleanora Falcon exclusively so. The Com-
mon Kestrel and Hobby also take small lizards and snakes.
From the crop of one of the large and powerful Falcons (Falco
punicue) which, when shot, was in the act of pursuing a Hare,
we have taken nearly a score of Blindworms.

It is corroborative of the predominance of reptiles and
insects in their diet, that so many of the raptores leave Spain
almost entirely in winter. Both the Booted and Serpent-
Eagles, Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Lesser Kestrel, and
others, migrate at that season to Africa.



A



BLACK STORK.



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266 ^^^LD spain.



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

III. — By Lake and Lagoon.

Spain is not a land of lakes ; the so-called lagoons are
often mere accumulations of flood- water, the result of the
winter's rains which occupy shallow basins, or swamp the
low-lying lands. Many of these hybemal lagoons dry up
entirely as the hot weather sets in ; others remain in
greatly reduced proportions, hidden, as a rule, amidst
reeds and dense aquatic herbage.

Few Spanish lakes cover any considerable area, though
the Lagunas de Janda, near Trafalgar, those of Fuente-
piedra near Malaga, and the Albufera of Valencia, are
exceptions.

The Laguna de Janda, an inland sea of yellow muddy
water, surrounded by belts of sedge and cane-brake stretch-
ing away for miles, is a well-known wildfowl resort, abound-
ing in winter with Grey Geese, ducks, and divers of many
kinds, besides Snipe, Rails, Bitterns, and aquatic birds in
all their varieties. The dry plateaux on the north are a
notable resort of Little Bustard ; and large bags of Quail
and Golden Plover are there, at times, secured. But this
is well-known ground, and having been described by others,
we will only add that in spring Janda is noteworthy as
one of the breeding-stations of the Crane {Grus com-
7mini8)y which still nests in some numbers amidst the
vast area of reed-beds and thick swamp that lie towards
Casa Vieja.

The nests of the Crane are huge accumulations of flags
and aquatic plants built up in the shallow marsh, and
hidden amidst the growing reeds, which in spring com-



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BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 267

pletely conceal the water* The Crane lays two handsome
6ggs> greenish in hue, but suffused with brown splashes
and obsolete shades, about the end of April. Formerly the
Crane used also to breed in the marismas of the Guadal-
quivir, but we have not met with it there of recent years,
and fear it is already banished for ever from that resort.
It may sincerely be hoped that these majestic waterfowl,
whose stately appearance and resonant trumpet-note lend
so peculiar a charm to the wild solitudes they frequent,
may meet with more considerate treatment in their last
stronghold at Janda.

Of the Mar Menor of Cartagena, the Albufera of Valencia,
and other noteworthy wildfowl resorts lying outside our
limits, we can speak with less certainty, not having had
such opportunities of exploration as in the districts to the
S. and W. The Albufera appears to be the western limit
of the range of the handsome Bed-crested Pochard
{Fuluftila nifina), a duck we have sought in vain in
Andalucia; but with this exception, and that of a few
stragglers, such as Hydrochelidon lencoptera and other
species of more Eastern distribution, the spring avifaima
of these localities does not materially differ from that of
the more western marismas and lagoons described either
in the present chapter or in those entitled " The Baetican
Wilderness."

The lakes of Dofiana are of no great extent, the largest
being the Lagunas de Santolalla, and the broad, reed-
choked Bocina de la Madre extending towards Bocio, all of
which we have explored at different seasons.

Biding towards the small lagoon of Zopiton on April
16th, its surface was seen to be dotted all over with
waterfowl — ducks and divers, coots and grebes. Zopiton
is a deep, reed-fringed pool where we have often looked in
vain for Fuligula nijina. On our approach, several
Mallards and Gadwall flew up: I shot a Gadwall drake
from horseback, whereupon there was commotion among
the denizens of that sequestered lagoon — ducks rose
splashing and quacking on all sides, coots "skittered"
across the surface, grebes vanished amidst sedges, whence



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268 WILD SPAIN.

a Marsh-Harrier soared from her nest. Among the ducks
which whistled around and overhead were many of a
small dark species unknown to us. These appeared loth
to leave, and after the others had disappeared, continued
circUng round, high in the air, with rapid rustling flight
like that of a Golden-eye. By creeping out to a rush-
clad point we lay concealed between sedges and a thicket
of briar, and here soon shot several of these ducks, as
well as Mallard, Garganey, and another Gadwall or two.
The unknown birds proved to be the White-eyed Pochard,
or Ferruginous Duck (Ftdigula nyroca) which evidently
intended to breed here, though a search for their nests
proved futile. A month later, however (in May), we
obtained nests both of this Pochard and of the Gadwall,
both built among rushes on dry ground. The Gadwall
— inappropriately termed in Spanish " Silhon real " (i.e.
king-wigeon, or whistler) — is a very silent duck, and
always seen in pairs. In May we found them singly,
those shot then being all drakes rising firom small sedgy
pools.

The Garganey are fairly numerous on these lagoons in
spring; yet though — especially in wet seasons — they
certainly breed there, we have never discovered a nest.
The marshmen (who know the different kinds of duck as
well as most people) assert positively that in very wet
springs a few pairs of the Common Teal also remain to
breed.

Among the tall juncales, or reed-beds, in mid-water,
abode numerous aquatic warblers — notably the Great
Sedge- Warbler, Cetti's, and the Keed- Warbler, the loud
grating song of the former is incessant : but owing to
the depth of water and mud, and the maze of rank
weeds, such spots are difficult to explore. The Melodious
Warbler {Hypolais polyglotta) nests on bushes and sallows
on the drier ground : while the little Fantails (Cisticola)
build their pretty purse-shaped nests on the shorter
rushes along the, margin. A peculiarity of this tiny
bird is that it lays eggs of wholly different colours —
though not in the same nest — some clutches being pale



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BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 269

green, some blue, others of a soft rose-colour, a few pure
white. The elaborate way in which the nest itself is
compacted of intertwined grasses and laced on to a tuft of
rush is no less remarkable. Its Spanish name is
Bolsicon — a little purse, and the species remains all the
winter. Among the tall caricesy floating in about three
feet of water, was the nest of the Marsh-Harrier : it re-
sembled that of a Coot, and had, perhaps, been built
originally by that bird, many of which bred there.

While driving the ducks, five birds of peculiar appearance
flew over — they were Glossy Ibis, and passed within shot
of Felipe, who, however, failed to stop them. This was the
only instance of our meeting with the Ibis — a singular
circumstance, as in wet seasons they nest in numbers
in the upper marisma. Their deep blue eggs have
several times been brought to us while bustard-shooting on
the Isla Menor, &c., the boys who brought them saying the
nests were in the thick cauasy and not on low trees, where
the small herons breed. Very curiously, in all the time
we spent in the marisma, we never again saw this bird
in spring, or found a single nest ourselves.

A ride of a few miles from Zopiton across the sandy
heath-land brings us to the larger lagunas de Santo-
lalla, where numerous wildfowl assemble in spring.
Besides Mallards, Gadwalls, and Ferruginous Ducks,
already described, were many Pintails, Garganeys, Teal, and
the pretty Marbled Duck — (Qnerqiiedula marmorata). The
latter nests at Santolalla at the end of May: but more
numerously in the open marisma, laying ten or twelve
eggs, well hidden among the clumps of samphire. Some
of the Pintails (which are the most abundant of the winter
wildfowl) linger late in spring: for on May 8th we
observed a " bunch " of a dozen or so at Santolalla, all
drakes, their snow-white throats glistening in the sunshine.
Near them a pair of Shoveller drakes were swimming,
and presently the binocular rested on six of the most
extraordinary wildfowl we ever met with — gambolling and
splashing about on the water, chasing each other, now
above now beneath its surface like a school of porpoises,



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270 WILD SPAIN.

they appeared half birds, half water-tortoises, with which
the lagoon abounds. We were well sheltered by a fringe of
sedges, and presently the strangers entered a small reed-
margined bight, swimming very deep, only their turtle-
shaped backs and heavy heads in sight. Here we crept
down on them, and as they sat, splashing and preening in
the shallow water, stopped three — two dead, the third
escaping, winged. They proved to be a duck and drake of
the White-fronted Duck — Erismatnra mersa — heavily built
diving-ducks, round in the back, broad and flat in the
chest, with small wings like a Grebe, and long, stiff tails
like a Cormorant — the latter, being carried underwater as
a rudder, is not visible when the bird is swimming. The
enormously swollen bill of the drake — pale waxen blue in
colour-— completed as singular a picture of a feathered
fowl as the writer ever came across : they were in fact no less
remarkable in form and colour, now we had them in hand,
than they had at first appeared in the water. The head
and neck of the drake were jet black, with white face and
cheeks : otherwise their whole plumage was dark ferrugi-
nous (not white below, as represented in " Bree ") and
with a silky, grebe-like sheen.

These singular ducks, we found, were well known to the
guardoB as ". patos porrones " (porron — a knob), and
subsequently found several pairs at the Laguna de
Medina, a lake near Jerez, where, on the 23rd May,
they were evidently breeding. The lake was also occu-
pied* by numbers of the Great Crested Grehe {Podicipes
€n8tatm)y quaint-looking birds in their full summer-dress.
The nests of the Little Grebe may be found floating in
every rushy pool.

The width of the lagoon would barely exceed half-a-mile ;
its shores all furrowed by wild boar in their search torgrillos,
or mole-crickets, and dotted with the skeletons of water-
tortoises, and beyond its glancing waters rolled stretches
of grey- scrub and heath, backed in the distance by sand-
dunes and corrales, the outliers of the desolate arenales
that extend to the sea-coast. Beneath a straggling belt
of pines there were sheltering from the mid-day heat a



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BIRD-LIFB OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 271

group of wild-bred cattle ; and a little apart stood three or
four big bulls of the fighting breed : — formidable beasts
that demand a wide berth. More shaggy cattle, knee-
deep in water, were dreamily ruminating, each form sur-
mounted by a white bird, the Bufif-backed Heron— in
Spanish Agarrapatosa or tick-eater — some apparently
asleep, others busily searching for prey. Nearer still,
among the islanded patches of sedge and carices, stalked a
pair of Little Egrets, their long, thin necks arched with
infinite grace, and heads poised to strike with deadly pre-
cision any darting larvae or water-beetle they detect among
the floating weeds.

The heron-tribe is strongly represented in Andalucia;
in spring and summer almost every European form
adorns these remote and marshy regions. During May
the Buflf-backed Herons were flying all over the plains in '

packs of a score to fifty or more, apparently in quest of a I

settlement; the pretty little Squacco Herons had then
shifted their quarters from the marisma to the rushy
lagoons, and many nests were ready for eggs in the
juncales ; but all this group breed late, none laying much
before June.

Since we first visited these regions, now nearly twenty
years ago, a sad diminution has taken place in the
numbers of these beautiful Herons and Egrets, due in
great measure to the cruel and thoughtless fashion of
wearing their plumes in ladies' hats. Let ladies humanely
remember that these plumes are only attained in the nesting
season, when to kill the male means the sacrifice of a
whole family. Fortunately there remain sequestered nooks,
sacred as yet to wild nature. Both in the neighbourhood
of Almonte and in certain marshy regions of vast cane-
brake and wooded swamp on the Estremenian border, there
survive unknown and unmolested colonies of these graceful
creatures, where for many a year to come the Egrets, Buflf-
backed and Squacco Herons, the Night-Heron and Little
Bittern, Spoonbill, Olossy Ibis and other ** rare birds "
may yet find a sanctuary protected by natural fastnesses,
and by legions of leeches and mosquitoes that render ^



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272 WILD SPAIN.

human life well nigh intolerable. The very toads are there
as big as small footstools ; the natives yellow and sunken-
eyed, with hollow cheeks and parchment skin.

Here, when summer-heats provoke miasma and fetid
airs, languor-laden, from the morass, the herons con-



BUFF-BACKED HERON.



gregate. In June their slight nests crowd the sallow-
brakes and clumps of gnarled alders and aspens islanded
in marsh, and barricaded with bramble and vicious thorny
zarzas. Amidst umbrageous gloom the Night-Heron
and Bittern dream away the hours of dayUght, the.
former among the branches, the latter in thickest sedge.



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BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 273

The Bittern lays its pheasant-like eggs in April, often in
March ; the Little Bittern not till June. It is difficult to
fix a date for the rest — so uncertain are they, and so
dependent on the seasons and the quantity of water in
the marismas. We have eggs of the Night-Heron taken
as early as May 20th — another year none were laid till
June 8th. From this latter date onwards is perhaps the
average time for eggs of that species, as well as those of
the Egret, Buflf-back, and Squacco Herons, and the Little
Bittern.

So retiring are the nocturnal species that it is difficult to
flush them without a dog; yet they cannot compare, in
this respect, with their neighbours, the Crakes and Bails,
which also abound in the Spanish morass — the Water-Bail
and Spotted Crake most numerous, Baillon's Crake rather
less so, and the Little Crake the scarcest. All these are
pointed and *roded' keenly by native dogs, but their
skulking powers are a match for the staunchest. Mata-
perros — ** kill-dogs '' — is their Spanish nickname, their
thin, curiously compressed bodies resembling in section
that of one's hand held vertically, enabling them to glide
like rats through the thickest growth of flags and aquatic
herbage.

The nests of all the Bails are hard to find ; but to identify
the precise owner of each is a thousand-fold harder.
Nests and eggs of all being closely alike, an unidentified
clutch is worthless ; but the man who can work this out
knee-deep amidst mud and stagnant water, under a broil-
ing sun, has patience that nothing can withstand, nor
any obstacle resist.

During May a clamorous element is added to the bird-
life of these lagoons by the nesting-colonies of Terns,
which hover round the intruder, filling the air with their
harsh vociferations. Santolalla is a stronghold of the
Whiskered and Black Terns (II. hyhrida and H. fissipes)
whose nests are built on the water-Ulies and floating water-
weeds. There are other large colonies in the open marisma,
where the Gull-billed and the Lesser Terns also nest, the
former in some numbers.



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274 WILD SPAIN.

June in Spain is a month of intense heat — heat of that
fiery high-dried sort that scorches as an open furnace. In
June, as a Spanish proverb says — '* Nothing but a dog or
an Englishman " ventures out of doors ; nor from an orni-



MARSH HARRIER— VERY OLD MALE.



thological point of view is there much inducement to do so.
The teeming variety of bird-life which characterizes April
and May is now conspicuously absent. Migration is sus-



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BIRD-LIFE OF THE SPANISH SPRING-TIME. 275

pended, and there is no movement of passage-birds.
There is no longer the accustomed number of large hawks
hunting the campina, and even those birds which remain
seem to keep out of sight, sheltering from the blazing
heat.

Perhaps the most interesting birds at this season are the
newly-fledged young of the Eaptores. The young Imperial
Eagles are of a beautiful tawny colour, and during the
mid-day heat frequent the trees where they were hatched.
We also obtained young Kites in the same way — very
handsome birds, much ruddier than the old ones in April.
The young of M. migransy on the other hand, are less
pleasing than their parents, being, in fact, a pale, rather
** washed-out" reproduction of them. Towards the end of



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 21 of 36)