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rivers, the alluvial accumulations of ages, deposited, layer
upon layer, on the sea-bottom till the myriad particles
thrust back the sea, and form level plains of dry land.
The struggle between rival elements does not terminate,
but the attacks of the Uquid combatant only seem to result
in still further assuring the victory of teirajimia, by bank-



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THE B^TICAN WILDERNESS APRIL. 71

ing up between the opposing forces an impregnable rampart
of sand. The latter, overlying the margin of the rich
alluvial mud, is thus capable, in its hollows and deeper
dells, of sustaining a luxuriant plant-Ufe, which in turn
serves to fortify and consolidate its otherwise unstable con-
sistency.*

The largest of the Spanish marismas, and those best
known to the authors, are those of the Guadalquivir. If
the reader will look at a map of Spain, there will be
noticed on the Lower Guadalquivir a large tract totally
devoid of the names of villages, &c. From Lebrija on the
east to Almonte on the west, and from the Atlantic almost
up to Seville itself, the map is vacant. This huge area is,
in fact, a wilderness, and in winter the greater part a
dismal waste of waters. For league after league as one
advances into that forbidding desolation, the eye rests on
nothing but water — tawny waters meeting the sky all round
the horizon. The Guadalquivir intersects the marisma,
its triple channel divided from the adjacent shallows and
savannahs by low mud-banks. The water of th^ marisma
is fresh, or nearly so — quite drinkable — and has a uniform
depth over vast areas of one or two feet, according to the
season. Here and there slight elevations of its muddy
bed form low islands, varying from a few yards to thou-
sands of acres in extent, covered with coarse herbage,
thistles and bog-plants, the home of countless wild-fowl and
aquatic birds. In spring the water recedes; as the hot
weather sets in it rapidly evaporates, leaving the marisma
a dead level of dry mud, scorched and cracked by the
fierce summer sim. A rank herbage springs up, and
around the remaining water-holes wave beds of tall reeds
and cane-brakes.

In winter the marshy plains abound with wild-fowl,
ducks, geese, and water-birds of varied kinds ; but of the
winter season in the marisma, its fowl and fowlers, we treat
fully hereafter.

The spring-months abound in interest to the naturalist.

* The mancha of Salavar in the Goto Donana is an example of one
of these green oases amidst barren, hfeless sand-wastes.



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72 WILD SPAIN.

Imagination can hardly picture, nor Nature provide, a
region more congenial to the tastes of wild aquatic birds
than these huge marismas, with their silent stretches of
marsh-land and savannahs, cane-brake and stagnant
waters, and their profusion of plant and insect life. Here,
in spring, in an ornithological Eden, one sees almost daily
new bird-forms. During the vernal migration the still air
resounds with unknown notes, and many of those species
which at home are the rarest — hardly known save in books
or museums — are here the most conspicuous, filling the
desolate landscape with life and animation. The months
of February and March witness the withdrawal of most of
the winter wild-fowl. Day after day the clouds of Pintails
and Wigeon, of Shovellers, Pochards, and Teal, and fresh
files of grey geese wing their way northwards ; while their
places are simultaneously being filled by arrivals from the
south. April brings an influx of graceful forms and many
sub-tropical species,' for which Andalucia forms, roughly
speaking, the northern limit ; while in May is superadded
a ** through transit," which renders the bird-life of that
period at times almost bewildering.

But before attempting to fill in the details, it is necessary
to explain the mode of travel and the methods by which
these wildernesses can be investigated. Uninhabited and
abandoned to wild-fowl and flamingoes, and lying remote
from any "base of operations," the exploration of the
marismas is an undertaking of some difficulty. They
cannot, owing to their extent, be worked from any single
base ; hence, thoroughly to explore them and penetrate
their lonely expanses, necessitates a well-equipped expedi-
tion, independent of external aid, and prepared to encamp
night after night among the tamarisks or samphire on
bleak islet or barren arenal. Some of our earlier efiforts,
twenty years ago, resulted in total failure. Setting out
by way of the river, the light launches suitable for
the shallow marisma proved unequal to the voyage up
the broad Guadalquivir; while, on the other hand, the
larger craft in which that exposed estuary could be safely
navigated were useless in the shallows. One attempt was



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THE B^TICAN WILDERNESS — APRIL. 73

frustrated by sunstroke ; on another our Spanish crew
** struck " through stress of weather, leaving us at a
lonely spot some thirty miles beyond Bonanza with no
alternative but to submit, or go on alone. We had, how-
ever, some reward for this enforced tramp in discovering
the Dunlin (Tringa aljnna) nesting at a point over a thou-
sand miles south of any previous record of its breeding-
range. Finally, we chartered at San Lucar a large
fishing-yawl, bound up-river, and after a long day in that



FISHING BOAT ON THE GUADALQUIVIR.

malodorous craft, beating up against wind and stream, and
with our three punts in tow, we at length succeeded in
launching them on the waters of the middle marismas.

The geese and wigeon had entirely disappeared —
this was early in April — but passage-ducks still skimmed
in large flights over the open waters. These were chiefly
Mallards, with Pintails and Pochards (both species), a
few Teal, Garganey, and probably other species. We also
shot Shovellers out of small " bunches," and among the
deep sluices of some abandoned salt-pans (saliyias), where



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I'



74 WILD SPAIN.

we spent the first night, three or four Tufted Ducks, and a
pair of Pochards. I killed a single Scoter drake as late
as April 13th, and was shown as a curiosity a Cormorant
which had been killed by some fishermen on the river a
day or two before.

One cannot go far into the marisma without seeing that
extraordinary fowl, the Flamingo, certainly the most
characteristic denizen of the wilderness. In herds of
300 to 500, several of which are often in sight at once,
they stand like regiments, feeding in the open water, all



heads under, greedily tearing up the grasses and water-
plants that grow beneath the surface. On approaching
them, which can only be done by extreme caution, their
silence is first broken by the sentries, which commence
walking away with low croaks : then the whole five hundred
necks rise at once to full stretch, every bird gaggling his
loudest as they walk obliquely away, looking back over
their shoulders as though to take stock of the extent of the
danger. Shoving the punt a few yards forward, up they
all rise, and a more beautiful sight cannot be imagined
than the simultaneous spreading of their thousand crimson



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THE B^TICAN WILDERNESS — APRIL. 75

wings, flashing against the sky like a gleam of rosy light.
Then one descends to the practical, and a volley of slugs
cuts a lane through their phalanx.

In many respects these birds bear a strong resemblance
to geese. Like the latter. Flamingoes feed by day : and
quantities of grass, etc., are always floating about the
muddy water at the spot where a herd has been feeding.
Their cry is almost indistinguishable from the gaggling of
geese, and they fly in the same chain-like formations.
The irides of the oldest individuals are very pale lemon-
yellow : the bare skin between the bill and the eye is also
yellow, and the whole plumage beautifully suffused with
warm pink. In the young birds of one year (which do not
breed) this pink shade is entirely absent, and even their
wings bear but slight traces of it. The secondaries and
tertiaries of these immature birds are barred irregularly
with black spots, and their legs, bills and eyes are of a
dull lead colour. In size flamingoes vary greatly : the
largest we have measured was fully six feet five inches —
there are some quite seven feet — while others (old red
birds) barely reached five feet.

The further we advanced into the marisma the more
abundant became the bird-life. Besides ducks and
flamingoes, troops of long-legged Stilts in places whitened
the waters, and chattering bands of Avocets swept over the
marshy islets : around these also gyrated clouds of Dunlins
in full breeding-plumage: smaller flights, composed of
Kentish plovers and Lesser Eing-dotterel mixed, with Red-
shanks and Peewits : the two latter paired. One morning
at daybreak, a pack of two hundred Black-tailed Godwits
pitched on an islet hard by our camp, probably tired with
a long migratory journey, for these wary birds allowed two
punts to run almost ** aboard them," and received a raking
broadside at thirty yards.* On April 11th we obtained a

* These Godwits (Limosa belgica) are more common on passage
earlier in the spring. We have seen flights of many hundreds in
February and March. The Common Bar- tailed Godwit (Limosa ru/a)
we have never chanced to meet with here, either in winter or sprmg
— only on its southern passage, in September.



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76 WILD SPAIN.

single Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) , swimming
like a little duck on an open arroyo, and the Sanderling,
Green and Common Sandpipers, were all abimdant, together
with Ruflfs and Reeves, though in mid- April the former still
lacked the full nuptial dress. Greenshanks and Knots we
did not meet with then ; though a month later (in May)
swarms of both these species, together with Whimbrels,
Grey Plovers, and Curlew- Sandpipers, all in perfect summer
plumage, poured into the marisma, to rest and recruit on
their direct transit from Africa to the Arctic.

On April 8th the Pratincoles arrived, and thenceforward
their zigzag flight and harsh croak were constantly in
evidence all over the dry mud and sand, where they feed
on beetles. In 1891 we observed a " rush " of these birds,
some arriving, and others passing over high, almost out of
sight, on the 11th of April. Sometimes a score of these
curious birds would cast themselves down on the bare
ground all around one, some with expanded wings, and all
lying head to wind, much as a nightjar squats on the sand.
Pratincoles resemble terns when standing, but run like
plovers, and on summer evenings, with the terns, they hawk
after insects like swallows. Their beaks have a very wide
gape which is bordered with vermilion.

Another conspicuous bird-group in the marisma are the
herons, of which seven or eight species are here, more or
less numerous. Besides the Common and Purple Herons,
the Buflf-backed, Squacco, and Night Herons, Egrets, Spoon-
bills, and Glossy Ibis are also found, and several of one
kind or the other can generally be descried on the open
marsh — the first-named often perched on the backs of the
cattle or wild-bred ponies of the marisma, ridding them of
the ticks and " warbles," or embryo gadflies which burrow
in the poor brutes' hides. The rush-girt arroyos, or
stagnant channels, were dotted with these most elegant
birds, some actively feeding, plunging their heads under
to catch the darting water-beetles as they dive, others
resting quiescent in every graceful pose. Here is a descrip-
tion of such a spot : — April 29th. Lying this morning in
the punt, well hidden among thick tamarisks, in the



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THE B^TICAN WILDERNESS — APRIL. 77

arroyo del Junco Beal, we had no less than twelve mteresting
species within 200 yards : ducks of four kinds dipped and
splashed on the open water, viz. : — Mallards, Garganey,
Marbled Duck, and one pair of handsome, heavy-headed
" Porrones '* {Erismatiira Ipncocephala). Sundry Stilts,
Egrets, and four Squacco Herons stalked sedately in the
shallows — one of the latter presently perching on a broken



bulrush within ten yards of the boat. A group of Avocets
slept standing, each on one leg, on a dry point ; and further
away, two Spoonbills were busy sifting the soft mud with
curious revolving gait. Coots and Grebes {Podiciprs nifjri-
collis) kept dodging in and out among the flags and aquatic
plants, and a Marsh-Harrier, whose mate was sitting in an
adjoining cane-brake, soared in the background. This is
not counting the commoner kinds, nor several others which



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r



78 WILD SPAIN.

we afterwards observed close by : the above were all in
sights mostly in shot, at one spot.

The Coots and Mallards have eggs in March, the Purple
Heron early in April : on the 9th we found the first nest,
merely an armful of the long green reeds bent down, and
containing one blue egg. The other herons nest very late
— in June.

One other bird-group remains to be briefly mentioned —
the Larince. In so congenial a resort they are, of course,
in force : but in early April few gulls, beyond the British
species, are noticeable* — of others, anon. The Whiskered
Tern (Hydrochelidon hyhrida) came in swarms during
the first days of April, followed on the 13th by the Lesser
Tern, and at the end of the month by H. nigra, the Black
Tern, all of which abound, gracefully hovering over every
pool or reed-choked marsh. The larger Gull-billed Tern
(Sterna anglica) is also common in summer in the
marisma, where we have taken the eggs of all four species.

The utter loneliness and desolation of the middle
marisQias are a sensation to be remembered. Hour after
hour one pushes forward across the flooded plain, only to
bring within view more and yet more vistas of watery
waste and endless horizons of tawny water. On a low
islet in the far distance stand a herd of cattle — mere points
in space: but they, too, partake of the general wild-
ness, and splash oflf at a galop while yet a mile away.
Even the horses or ponies of the marisma seem to have
reverted to their original man-fearing state, and are as
shy and timid as any of the ferte naturte. After long days
on the monotonous marisma, one's wearied eyes at length
rejoice at a vision of trees — a dark green pine-grove casting
grateful shade on the scorching sands beneath. To that

'^ Eittiwakes and Black -headed Gulls in swarms during March and
early April, whitening acres of water. The latter remained till perfect
smnmer-plumage is attained (by March 21st). Little Gulls frequent :
on two occasions (in February and Mnpeh) observed in scores. Larus
fuscua and L. argentatu^ were common in March, and on April 5th
we obtained an adult of L, marinus in the marisma. Of British
Terns, S, cantiaca and 8,fluviatilis, were noticed in early spring.



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THE BiETICAN WILDERNESS — APRIL. 79

oasis we direct our course : but it is a fraud, one of
Nature's cruel mockeries — a mirage. Not a tree grows on
that spot, or within leagues of it, nor has done for ages —
perhaps since time began.

Upon a dreary islet we land to form a camp for the
night : that is, to arrange our upturned punts around such
scanty fire as can be raised from a few armfuls of tama-
risks and dead thistles — all that our little domain pro-
duces — assisted by a few pine-cones, brought for the
purpose in the boats. Dinner is cooked in the little block-
tin camp-stove, or saHen prusiano, as the Spaniards call it,
which only demands a modicum of lard and a sharp fire to
reduce a rabbit or a duck to eatable state within a few
minutes. The fare which can be obtained by the gun at
this season is meagre enough : ducks or plovers are sorry
food for hungry men, though a hare, shot on a grassy
savanna, is acceptable enough ; nor are the eggs of coot or
peewit to be despised. Later, we experimented on many
oological varieties, especially Stilt's and Avocet's eggs. The
latter are excellent, boiling pale yellow and half opaque,
like those of plover : but the Stilt's eggs are too red in the
yolk to be tempting. Our men were not so squeamish :
but then they did not even stick at the eggs of Kites or
Vultures. After all, it is safer to rely in the main on
Australian mutton, tinned ox-tongues from the Plate, or
indigenous *' jamon dulce ;" but the difficulties of trans-
port in tiny lanchas forbid one's being entirely independent
of local fare.

The memories of our earliest experiences in the Spanish
marismas, in April, 1872, do not fade. The glorious wild-
life fascinated and exhilarated, while youthful enthusiasm
ignored all drawbacks. But in later years it is perhaps
excusable if a slight doubt of the bliss of campaigning in
winter may temporarily arise when one is awakened in the
middle watches of the night by sheer penetrating cold,
finds the fire burnt out, the trusted Espafioles all asleep,
and the tail of a big black snake sticking out from under
one's bed, or the poke of straw which is serving the purpose.

The night of April 10th we spent at Hocio, a «qualid



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80 WILD SPAIN.

hamlet clustered around the chapel of Nuestra Sefiora del
Eocio, an ancient shrine visited yearly at the vernal
festival by faithful pilgrims. We were tired of the cold
and comfortless nights sub Jove in the marisma, where
upturned punts afforded scant shelter from the piercing
winds of the small hours, and where the chill exhalations
of night kept one awake listening to the chorus of frogs
and flamingoes and the melancholy boom of the bittern.
It was hardly a change for the better, for a more wretched
ague-stricken spot we have seldom beheld, and in the dirty
little posada man and beast were reckoned exactly equal in
relation to the ** accommodation " they require. The bed
provided was a dirty mat of esparto grass, six feet by two,
unrolled and laid on the bare ground : but the mosquitoes
and other insect plagues made sleep impossible, and the
night was spent in skinning the day's captures. The four-
league tramp, however, through sandy, scrub-covered
plains, was a relief from the monotonous marisma, and
there were fresh birds for a change. The low, soft, double
note of the Hoopoe was ubiquitous ; brilliant Bee-eaters,
Boilers, and Golden Orioles flashed Uke jewels in the sun-
shine, amidst the groves of wild olive and alcomoque :
Southern Grey Shrikes (Lanius mendionalis) mumbled their
harsh ** wee hate *' from some tree-top or tall shoot of cistus,
and Turtle-doves actually swarmed — all these birds (except
the shrikes) newly returned from African scenes. We also
observed a pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, and a
single Azure- winged Magpie — the only occurrence of the
latter we had then met with in this district, though further
inland it is common near Coria del Bio, and towards
Cordova it becomes plentiful. Near Bocio, also, we ob-
tained the Bed-backed Shrike, a species not previously
recorded from Southern Spain.

Another interesting bird seen and shot this day for the
first time was the Great Spotted Cuckoo {Coccystes glan-
dariu8)y and shortly afterwards, while sitting at lunch
during the mid-day heat, a female Hen-Harrier, which
slowly passed within very long shot, and caused me to
upset my last bottle of Bass. This was the latest date on



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Plate XIV. BOOTED EAGLE— Female, shot 11th April, 1872. Page 81.



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THE BiETICAN WILDERNESS — APRIL. 81

which we saw this strictly winter-visitant to Andakicia,
none remaining to breed, though it is plentiful enough in
winter, and frequently observed while snipe-shooting.

Early next morning (April 11th) we started to explore the
wooded swamps called La Rocina de la Madre — a nasty
place to work : consisting of thousands of grassy tussocks,
each surrounded by bog, in some places moderately firm
and safe, in others, apparently similar, deep and dangerous,
and everywhere swarming with leeches. In the centre of
the open marsh, surrounded by. quaking-bog and a dense
growth of aquatic vegetation, rose a thick clump of low
trees, whose snake-like roots were growing out of the black
and stagnant water. These trees were occupied, some
laden, with hundreds of stick-built nests, the abodes
of the southern herons some of which we have already
mentioned — Egrets, Squaccos, Buflf-backs, Night-Herons,
and the like : but nearly all this group nest very late (in
June), and the colony was at this season tenantless. In
subsequent years we have obtained in these wooded swamps
the eggs of all the European herons : though it is not every
summer that they repair thither to breed. In very dry
seasons none are to be seen, but after a rainy spring, these
heron-colonies of the marisma are indeed a wondrous sight
— an almost sufficing reward for enduring the heat, the
languor-laden miasmas, and the fury of the myriad
mosquitos and leeches which in summer infest these
remote marshy regions.

Climbing across the gnarled tree-roots to the other end
of the thicket, we found a larger nest, and just as we
emerged on the open, its owner, a female Booted Eagle,
passed within reach as she slowly quartered the marsh,
and fell to a charge of No. 2. This small, but compact and
handsome species, has been confounded with the Rough-
legged Buzzard ; but no one who has seen Aquila pennata
on the wing could mistake it for anything but an eagle.
The nest proved empty, after a difficult climb up a briar-
entwined trunk : but on the following day we found another,
in the first fork of a big cork-tree, containing one white
egg. Three is the full number laid by the Booted Eagle.



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82



WILD SPAIN.



In another part of the wood was a nesting colony of the
Black Kite (Milvm migrans) y several of which soared high
overhead. These birds hardly commence domestic duties
in earnest before May, but after some trouble I succeeded
in shooting a fine adult : also a pair of Purple Herons, of
which we found three nests, and a single Roller {Corcunas
garrulus) from her nest in a broken stump, which contained
one egg. After this we were obliged to beat a retreat, for
the swarming hordes of leeches had developed so strong a
taste for the bare legs of our two men that a return to
terra ^fir ma became necessary.

The whole region for many a league around Rocio is one
dead-flat plain — dry scrubby brushwood or stagnant marsh
and marisma. To the northward, in the farthest distance
are discernible the dim blue outspurs of the Sierra de
Aracena ; but beyond its charms to naturalist or sports-
man, the district has few other attractions. After spend-
ing ten days in the wilderness, we set our faces homewards,
and were not sorry on the third evening, after re-traversmg
the waste, to sight once more the white towers and lustred
domes of Ban Lucar de Barameda.




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83



CHAPTER VII.

THE BiETICAN WILDERNESS.

SPRING NOTES OF BIRD-LIFE AND NATURAL HISTORY IN THE

lA.

-May.

On a bright May morning

we set out for a fortnight's

I sojourn in the western ma-

I rismas. For the last few

miles the route lies through
broken woodlands, all wrapt
in the glory of the southern
spring-time. There is no
lack of verdure here at
mid-winter — not even the
deciduous trees are ever
really bare: but in May the
whole plant-world is fresh-
clad in brightest garb and
-__ beauty — ^it is worth stay-
ing a moment to examine such prodigal luxuriance.
Before us, for example, is a grove of stone-pines, embedded
to their centres amidst dark green thicket ; through the
massed foliage of lentiscus and briar shoots up a forest of
waving bamboos, tall almost and straight as the pines
themselves ; the foreground filled with the delicate mauve
of rosemary, with giant heather and heaths of a dozen
hues, all wrestling for space, with clumps of pampas-grass
and palmetto, genista, butcher's-broom, and wild fennel.

G 2



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84 WILD SPAIN.

Here a mass of abohU/a, or Spanish gorse, ablaze with
golden bloom ; an arbutus blanched with waxen blossoms,
or the glossy foliage of mimosa ; there the sombre tones of
the ilex are relieved by the pale emerald of a wild vine
entwined upon the trunk. Even the stretches of grey
gum-cistus have become almost gaudy with their pink,
white, and pale yellow flowers. The air breathes of vernal
perfumes, and the infinite chorus of spring bird-notes — the
soft refrain of Goldfinch and Serin, Nightingale, Hypolais



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 7 of 36)