Francis Wharton.

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success. This was a wide crevice in the face of a precipice,
which from the copious whitewash below, was evidently
occupied. Some broken crags on the left seemed to afford
a chance of climbing within shot of the eyrie ; and having
reached the spot. Bias fired a shot below, when there fol-
lowed a scrambling noise within the cave, and out swept —
not the coveted Gypaetus, but a huge bare-necked griffon.
I appeased my disappointment with both barrels, and the
B.B. taking effect on the head, the vulture collapsed and
fell down — down — with a mighty thud to the slopes below.

We could find nothing but vultures here : every crag was
possessed by them, and we examined several of their
abodes. They were already beginning to build : the rem-
nants of last year's structures being now (January 22nd)
supplemented by fresh live branches of oak and olive, and
big claws-full of grass torn up by the roots.

'Twere a long tale to tell of fruitless efforts : we never so
much as saw our coveted prize hereabouts, and at length
we left the kindly farmer's house. The pretty Anita who
had waited on us, and who, though she never sat down in
her master's presence, joined freely in the conversation,
had, we observed, donned quite an extra stratum of povdre
d'amour, or some such compound, upon her fair brown
cheeks to bid adios to the mad Ingles ; but neither she nor
hearty Francisco would hear of accepting any return for
all the trouble of our visit. We had an idea, in the former
case, that coquetry might have had something to do with

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Anita's refusal, but time forbade the solution of the

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pig, but we did not care to risk the uncertainty of a batida
all alone. Partridge are very scarce on all these hills, and
no wonder, since every farmer keeps his pair of call-birds
(redamog). We had gently hinted to Francisco the unwisdom
of shooting partridges to decoys in spring ; but he insisted
it did no harm, since he only shot the cocks / A pair or two
of partridges at long intervals were all we saw (two or
three brac^a day was the utmost we could bag as a rule),
and these, with a few hares and a chance rabbit, are all the
small game of the sierra. In the marshy valleys were
flights of peewits (January), and the woods swarmed with
thrushes, blackbirds, chaffinches, green and brown linnets,
robins, a few redwings, and other common species. A
striking bird among the dense scrub on the hillsides was
the little Dartford warbler, a creature of such intensely
tame and skulking habits, that it was impossible to get a
shot beyond a few yards — which involved annihilation of
so tiny an atom.

After another week's exploration, sleeping at the chozas
of goatherds, or in bat-haunted caves, and enduring much
discomfort, we decided to give it up.* On the homeward
journey we gave a day to the exploration of the Boca de la
Foz, where on a former occasion we had had a shot at a
Lammergeyer — a grey-brown immature bird ; but here again
we met with nothing but the ubiquitous vultures, and in the
afternoon we had paid off our guides and were starting
on the homeward ride, when Benitez pointed out a pajaraco
in the distance. At first the bird appeared an ordinary
griffon, some of which were close by ; but as it came over-
head, there was no mistaking the outlines of the Lammer-
geyer. Slowly the magnificent bird wheeled and sailed over-
head, and our eyes feasted on the object we would have given
two little fingers to possess. For some minutes he treated

* We do not encumber ourselves on these bird-hunting expeditions
with tents, tressle-beds, indiarubber baths, and the other luxuries of the
regular shooting campaigns. Sometimes, after sleeping in the cerronesy
if no water was near, one's toilet was confined to a general " shake
up/' like a fox-terrier turning out from his mat, and we rode on till a
hill-bum afforded a chance of a bath and breakfast.

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US to a fine view at moderately short distance. The general
contour and flight was far more vulturine and less falcon**
like than we had expected. The wings seemed fully as heavy,
broad, and square at the points as those of a griffon, but
there was rather more curve at the elbow. A lightish
spot near the tips of the quills, the rich tawny breast
and white head, keenly turning from side to side, were
very conspicuous from below ; but the distinguishing
characteristic of the bird is its tail. This is very long,
and continues broadening out for half its length, thence
narrowing down acutely to the sharp wedge-shaped tip.

Presently the bird appeared to enter some great crags —
already hidden from view by an intervening bluff — and
the hopes of a shot revived. Benitez was protesting
against the idea of spending another night here, with no
food for man or beast, when the Lammergeyer solved the
question by re-appearing, and after a few fine aerial evolu-
tions, winged his way direct towards the distant sierras
beyond Grazalema.

That night we reached the little venta of the Parada del
Valle : the landlord could hardly get over the curiosity of
our wishing to wash before dinner, and for some minutes
revolved like a swivel-mitrailleuse, expectorating all over
the floor while pondering this thing in his mind. " Ahora ?"
at last he inquired. "Si! ahora mismo!" we replied,
when he went and brought a thing that looked like a tin
plate, containing about a breakfast-cupful of water.

El Yalle is a straggling little village situate in the mouth
of one of the defiles leading into the mountains, and con-
sists of a few low cottages and a single country-house — a
rare thing in Spain — embowered amidst orange and olive-
groves. The orange harvest was in full swing, and the
villagers one and all busy gathering the golden fruit into
heaps, and packing it upon mules for market; some
also in the long wooden cases one sees about Covent
Garden. The only sign-board in the little one-sided
street displayed the words "Dentista ySangrador" — the
Spaniards, by the way, are strong believers in bleeding :
it seems the one known remedy, efficacious for all the ills

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of the flesh, as the writer once learned by experience, when
having had a slight sunstroke, he awoke to find a rural
medico in the act of applying the lancet to his arm.

Before dawn we started for Jerez, and in a detached
crag of the sierra we obtained a fine adult male golden
eagle which had breakfasted early on a rabbit. Like most
Spanish examples, this eagle was much splashed with white
below, especially on the thighs. Shortly after, on a bare
stretch of maize stubble, we rode fairly into a pack of little
bustard, and though the gun was in the slings a quick shot
secured three— ^ne to the first barrel, and a brace, winged,
to the second. A long skein of cranes came gaggling over
as we breakfasted on the banks of Guadalete, and, passing
the Agredera, by evening the long ride was over, and we
were once more amidst the grateful comforts of Jerez de
la Frontera, Only for a brief period, however, did these
delay us, for on the following evening we set out on a
night expedition to the marisma.

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Since the time of those earlier eiforts to scrape an
acquaintance with the Lammergeyer (some of which
form the subject of the last chapter), we have at length
enjoyed opportunities of observing this grand bird in its
true home, and here add a short summary of these later

Broadly speaking, this bird may be said to exist in
all the higher mountain regions of Spain; but, as
a rule, in small and decreasing numbers. In the north,
there are eyries in Guipuzcoa and Navarre, one or two
within sight of the French frontier; others in the Cor-
dilleras of Leon and the Asturias — the magnificent gorge
known as the Desfiladero de la Deva, being an imme-
morial haunt. We have observed them in the great
central sierras of Castile, and they are known (but prob-
ably do not breed) in the Guadarrama range, within
sight of Madrid. Nowhere common, there are yet more
sporadic pairs to be seen sweeping low on the steep brown
mountain-sides of certain Andalucian and Estremenian
sierras than anywhere else in Spain. Here, however, as
elsewhere, their numbers are being yearly reduced by the
deadly poison laid by hill-farmers for wolves, and, in some
cases, expressly for the Lammergeyer itself ; for, rightly or
wrongly, the great bird bears an ill-repute, and being,
moreover, during the breeding-season, of confiding dis-
position — more so than eagle or vulture — is easily killed
at the nest.

The Gypaetus, like the noble eagles, is essentially a
solitary bird, each pair (they remain paired for Ufe) re-

x 2

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quiring a mountain region exclusively their own, and
shunning the near propinquity of vultures and other large
raptores. It is no doubt this trait of its character that
explains its comparative absence from our " home " moun-
tains round Konda, and the failure of our search for it in
that district ; for the ramification of mountain-ranges
which occupies that southernmost apex of Europe swarms
with vultures, which crowd every crag and precipice in
numbers quite unknown elsewhere. Such conditions are
distasteful to the solitude-loving Lammergeyer.

Yet, while shunned as near neighbours, it appears certain
that the vultures perform services of value to their nobler
congener. Their office consists in stripping the skeleton
of flesh, and leaving prepared for the " quebranta-huesos "
(bone-smasher) his much preferred ftown^-ftotur/ie of marrow-
bones. Thus, while the respective haunts of the two
species remain distinct, their hunting-areas must coincide.

The Lammergeyer disdains carrion ; is never seen at
those seething vulture-banquets which form so character-
istic a spectacle in rural Spain ; but he loves the bonesy and
his habit of carrying huge tibia and femora into the upper
air, thence dropping them upon rocks, has been known
since the days of -Sschylus. Hence the fouler feeders are
useful to him ; he requires their assistance, but demands
that they keep a respectful distance. His attitude towards
the vultures may be compared with that of certain high-
souled anthropoids of human affinity, who utilize their
humbler neighbours and cut them dead next day !

Thus it happens that while in a range of sierra inhabited
by Oriflfons, the Lammergeyer will not be found, yet a
pair of the latter usually have their eyrie at no great
distance from the vulture-colony.*

During our ibex-shooting campaigns among the Mediter-
ranean sierras, we frequently fell in with this species.

• Our own experience on this point would not enable us to assert
this fact so positively — ^indeed we have observed instances in which
the reverse case appeared to obtain ; but the circumstance has been
stated to us by an ornithologist whose authority stands beyond question
or doubtb

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It was almost the first bird seen in the Sierra Bermeja,
where a superb adult passed slowly along our line, carry-
ing what appeared to be a live snake in his claws, some
four feet of writhing reptile dangling beneath. The
Lammergeyer, by the way, like the eagle, carri6fe 'Every-
thing in its claws, not in the beak. We were rather sur-
prised at seeing this bird here, the local hunters having
specially assured us that only ^'aguilas reales" bred in
that sierra. This name, howeyer, proved to be that here
applied to the Lammergeyer; its proper recipient, the
Golden Eagle (a pair of which were nesting in a crag not
far oflQ being known as " aguila negra."

Vultures, it may be mentioned, were chiefly remarkable
by their absence in these mountains — one only saw a
solitary Griffon at long intervals, and in that barren
rocky-mountain region (afterwards mentioned), in which
we found the Lammergeyer most numerous, vultures were
seldom seen. Yet Buiteras, " Griffonries," so to speak,
existed at certain intervals, say, six or eight leagues apart,
throughout the whole of those sierras.

This pair of Lammergeyers, which we enjoyed watching
during some days, soon disclosed to us both the position
of their present abode and also that of a former year,
entering the latter crag almost as often as the then
tenanted nursery.

Perched, as we were, a thousand feet above^ it was a
glorious ornithological spectacle to watch these grand birds
sailing to and ho unsuspicious and unconscious of our
presence, their lavender backs and outstretched pinions
gleaming like silver in the sunshine. Slowly they would
glide down the gorge till lost to sight around an angle ;
returning half an hour later, and passing beneath our
post, would circle for a minute or two round the rock-
stack. Not a motion of those rigid pinions till close to
the mouth of the eyrie, then the great wings closed, and
the bird disappeared within its cave.

Both eyries were situate in similar positions — in abrupt
stacks of rock which protruded from the rugged mountain
slope, but both quite low down, almost at the bottom of

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the 3,000-foot gorge across which the two nests faced each
other. The Lammergeyer, we have now ascertained, does
not breed, as we had expected, in those more stupendous
precipices beloved of Aquila bonelli, and whose height
dwarfs even an eagle to the similitude of the homely
kestrel ; but rather, either in rock-stacks such as those
(often not 100 feet high) which flank the lower gargantas,
or corries of the sierra, or in those generally loftier crags
which often belt the base of each individual mountain.

The actual site of the nest is a small cave — rather than
a crevice — and a huge mass of material, the accumula-
tion of years, usually covers the whole floor. In one
case, not less than a cart-load of sticks, branches, and
twigs of cistus and heath had been collected, covering a
circular space some six feet in diameter by two in depth.
The present nest was hardly so large, and was completed
with dead vine-branches, the prunings of the previous
autumn; — and contained, besides an old alparagcUa, or
hempen sandal, several cows' hoofs, and the dried leg and
foot of a wild-goat. There was, however, no carrion about,
nor any very offensive smell, such as would have charac-
terized the home of a vulture.

To an outsider, the feat of scaling even a 100-foot crag,
when fairly sheer, seems no easy undertaking ; but our
two mountain-bred lads made light work of it, one esca-
lading the Lammergeyer's fortress from below, the other
from above (which proved the easier way), and actually
meeting in the eyrie. Some goatherds, hearing of our
wish to secure a ** quebranta-huesos," had removed the
single young bird an hour or two previously. This
grotesque and most uncouth fledgeling was then (at
end of March) about the size of a turkey, covered with
grey-white down, and with beak and crop so dispro-
portionately heavy that a recumbent position appeared
almost a necessity. The youngster kept up a constant
querulous whistle when visited, and consumed, we were
told, four pounds of meat daily. A month later the
feathers were beginning to show through the down, and
the daily consumption of meat had doubled.

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In a remote region of the Sierra Nevada, during the
spring of 1891, the writer visited several eyries of the
Lammergeyer — each nest, in construction and situation,
resembling those already described, but the season (April)
was too late to secure eggs, this species breeding very
early — in January. The young — usually only one, though
two eggs are often laid— at this season were about one-
third feathered. These nests were in the midst of a
peculiarly barren and rocky district of the great Eastern
Sierras, the precise locality of which it may be as well to
leave unwritten. Two of the eyries were in low belts of
protruding rock which broke the steep slope of the sierra,
a third in a detached crag about 150 feet in height. The
latter, however, was easily accessible (by rope) from above.
The Lammergeyer, when breeding, is less cautious than
eagle or vulture, sitting close, even while preparations for
an assault on its stronghold are being made close at hand.

The adults measure from 8 feet 6 inches to 9 feet in
expanse of wing, and the wedge-shaped white head with its
bristly beard and scarlet eyelids, its cat-like irides, and the
black bands that pass through the eye, give the bird a
peculiarly ferocious aspect. When on the wing, as Prince
Budolph remarks, these features, together with the long
rigid wings, cuneate tail, and the mixture of hoary grey,
black, and bright yellow in its plumage, distinguish the
Gypaetus at a glance from any other living creature, and
lend it a strange, almost a dragon-like appearance.

Its claws, though less acutely hooked than those of the
eagle, are sharp and powerful weapons — quite different
to the worn and blunted claws of vultures, though the
central toe in both is much longer than the two outside

The industry of the peasantry of these wild regions of
Nevada deserves a passing remark. As high as rye or
other crops will grow, almost every foot of available
ground is brought under cultivation. Precipitous, stony
slopes are terraced with a perseverance that rivals, though
on a smaller scale, the vineyards of Alto Douro, elsewhere
described. Scanning the heights with a field-glass, one

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descries a man working on some jutting point or tiny
patch of tillage so steep that a stone would hardly
lie. All these folk, towards nightfall, betake themselves
to the quaint but unsavoury hamlets that hang on some
ridge of the sierra — and not the human folk only, but
the pigs, the goats, and the donkeys forbye— each beast
making straight for its own abode. Along each rock-
paved street at dusk they come at a run, looking neither
to right nor left till each beast bolts, without ceremony,
into its own abode. Some five-and-twenty of the larger


'^ domestic '* animals (I take no count of dogs, hens, or
the like) shared with me and sundry natives our scanty
lodgment, whence at earliest dawn the braying of asses,
cock-crowing, and porcine squalls, drove us betimes of a

In one hill- village, there being no posaday we put up in
the outhouse of a mill : but, amidst sacks of grain and
malodorous mules, we passed a lively evening, for one by one
the serranos dropped in to chat with the " Ingleses " ; the

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wine-skin was replenished, and Manuel struck up some
snatches of " Don Eodrigo de Bivar " and songs of the
ancient chivalry. Maiden figures soon flitted in the dark-
ness outside, and coyly accepting an invitation to enter,
our bam resounded with the music of castanet and
guitar, while lissom forms and light fandango graced its
erewhiles unlovely floor.

Next morning our guide, Manolo Osorio Garcia, was
drunk — a most unusual thing in Spain ! We left him to
sleep off his boracheray and were glad to get rid of him,
for — again, most unusual — he was constantly pestering
not only for wine, but for boots, gimpowder, and other
things — requests that, when luggage is reduced to a
minimum, cannot be conveniently complied with.

Despite their industry there is, nevertheless, woful
poverty amid the peasants of Nevada. Whole tribes live
in caves and excavations in the mountain-sides — filthy
holes, shared, of course, by the beasts, and devoid of the
remotest approach to comfort or decency. Even in the
larger villages the ordinary sanitary precautions are
utterly neglected, disease is frequent, and death sweeps
in broad swathes. Early one morning Manuel came
in to tell us that in the hamlet, at which we had arrived
the previous night, " the people were dying by dozens each
day of small-pox, that ten children had already succumbed
that morning, and that he was very ill himself." We
accordingly left at once, meeting in the pass above the
village a drove of several hundred black pigs. Our horses
planted their feet firmly on the rocks, and for some
minutes we stood encompassed in a torrent of swine,
which raced and jostled beneath us.

In Spain the Gypaetus is yearly decreasing in numbers.
A decade ago they were fairly numerous in the vast area
of rock mountains which stretches between Granada and
Jaen. To-day a week may be spent in that district with-
out so much as even a distant view of this grand bird.
The reason is unquestionably the use of poison {veneno)^
which is laid out broadcast by the goatherds for the
special benefit of wolves, but which is equally fatal to the

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Wolves, by the way, during the severe winter of 1890-1,
were particularly numerous and destructive in the Sierra
Nevada, descending to lower levels than usual, demolishing
whole flocks, and even attacking human beings when found
alone. In one instance all that could be found of a poor goat-
herd, who had been missing for some weeks, was his boots !

This brings us again to the question of the habits of the
Gypaetus, and especially of its food. Some naturalists
seem inclined to hold that the bird is only a vtdturey subsist-
ing on carrion, and fearing to attack any Uving prey. The
goatherds of Nevada, however (rightly or wrongly), do not
share this view. One kindly old hill-farmer, at whose lonely
cottage we spent a couple of nights, assured us that the
" quebrantones," as he called them, were as destructive to his
new-born kids in spring-time as the wolves themselves, and
added that he laid out the veneno in special spots for each of
his enemies. Only three days before, he asserted with vehe-
ment emphasis, he had witnessed a Lammergeyer strike
down a week-old kid, its mate meanwhile driving oflf the
dam. So intent was the bird on demolishing its victim
that the farmer approached within a few yards and
threw his stick at it as it rose. The kid, however, was
dead. He insisted that the robber was no Golden Eagle
(which he knew well), but ** de los Barhudos malditosf*'
— one of those accursed bearded fellows !

Again, on a single majada, or goat-breeding establishment,
in Estremadura, we were told that forty odd kids had been
killed that spring by one pair of Lammergeyers before the
enraged tenant was able to shoot them. We saw one of the
birds — a superb adult Gypaetus.

Here also is the evidence of the veteran cazador, Manuel
de la Torre, a man of keen observation and intelligence,
and the best field-naturalist we have met in Spain:
"The Lammergeyer seeks far and wide for prey, pre-
ferring bones to anything else, but also eating carrion
on necessity ; and in spring, when it has young, kills many
young sheep and goats, both wild and tame. I have seen
it take snakes and other reptiles, and the largest and
finest I ever shot (now in Madrid Museum) was in the act

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of eating a rabbit I had just seen it kill. This was in the
Pardo. A dead hare or rabbit is the best bait to attract
the Gypaetus to the gun ; it regularly hunts both. The
Neophron I have never seen take any living thing ; it only
eats carrion, garbage, and ofifal, but I have found dead
snakes in its nests. The Gypaetus, like the vultures
and some eagles, feed their young for some months on
half-digested food, disgorged from their own crops." This
is the evidence of one who has seen more of the Lam-
mergeyer than any other living naturalist, and it is for
this reason that, contrary to our practice, we have accepted
what may be called hearsay evidence.

It is for these reasons that we have retained the dis-
tinctive title of Lammergeyer, now generally discarded
in favour — on mistaken grounds, we think — of the
name of "Bearded Vulture." Independently of the
fact that our subject is no more a vulture than it is an
eagle, surely a distinctive name is preferable to further
iteration of the wearisome monotony — ay, poverty — of
ornithological nomenclature. Have we not run to death
those compound epithets, ** long-legged," " black-tailed,"

Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 24 of 36)