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polyglotta, Orphean and other warblers, the dual note of
Hoopoe, and flute-like carol of Golden Orioles, mingled
with the harsher cries of Woodchat and Bee-eater, and on
all sides the * voice of the Turtle was heard in the land.*

The sun was high in the heavens ere we cleared the
fragrant pinales ; yet in the last rushy glade we rode
suddenly into a herd of wild pig ; females with their half-
grown young — probably the exigencies of the season
explained their being astir at so unusual an hour. Shortly
afterwards the writer almost trod on two boars, deeply
slumbering in an isolated thicket — one an old tusker,
grizzly with age, and looking almost white as he trotted
away across the dunes.

Presently, through a vista of the forest, we sighted
the marisma, its muddy expanse to-day blue as the
Mediterranean. An animated scene lay before us ; the
walstes were thronged with bird-life. The horizon glistened
with the sheen of Flamingoes in thousands, and the inter-
vening space lay streaked and dotted with flights and
flotillas of aquatic fowl. The nearer foreshores, fringed
with rush and sedge and dark stretches of tamarisk, were
peopled with Storks and Herons, Egrets, Spoonbills, Stilts,
Avocets, and other waders. While breakfasting under a
spreading pine, we observed commotion among our
feathered neighbours — the whole multitude had risen on
wing as a single Booted Eagle swept over the scene.

Rambling along the shore, we obtained many beautiful
specimens by stalking, including most of those above
named, as well as a pair of Marbled Ducks, a wild-cat, and
other ** sundries." Presently we observed with the glass



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THE BiKTICAN WILDERNESS — MAY. 85

a score or so of Knots, in full red summer-plumage, busily
feeding rather far out. While creeping to them, a Marsh-
Harrier rose from some rushes close at hand ; I knocked
him down and found he was lunching on a Knot. The
latter we could not see again — though later in the month
they were in thousands — but made out a ** bunch " of
Greenshanks feeding a little further on, one of which fell to
a long shot — an immature bird. Curiously, we found no
adults here, though in March they were numerous in some
disused salinas beyond Tangier, but no young ones. The
adults are distinguishable by their whiter appearance at a
distance.

Our course lay across a wide bight of the marisma,
which projects into the land. Crossing this, nearly knee-
deep in mud and water in many parts, we fell in with three
packs of Sand-Grouse {Pterocles alehata). They were exces-
sively wild, flying fast and high, something like teal, anon
like plover, and uttering a chorus of harsh croaks. On the
open marsh we almost despaired of outmanoeuvring them.
We stuck to them, however, and, after many failures,
obtained some beautiful specimens of both sexes, and well
worth the trouble they were ; for no bird we have ever seen
rivals the Pin-tailed Sand-Grouse for delicacy of pencilling
and the harmonious contrasts of infinite colours in its
plumage. In the females especially, the spring-plumage
is so variegated as to defy description, the patterns, so to
speak, being as elaborate as the tints. Briefly, her back
is finely reticulated with yellows and browns, blacks and
maroons of various shades, all reUeved by clean-cut bars of
pale blue. Her head is speckled above the black line
which passes through the eye ; below that, the cheeks and
throat are plain buff, and the chest clear bright chestnut,
doubly margined with black and with a pale blue band
above. In the male the features of the spring-plumage
are a black throat, and a line of that colour through the
eye. The pale sage-green back is covered with large lemon
spots, some of which extend to the scapulars and tertiaries.
The eye-circlets and eyelids are bright blue in both sexes,
and at all seasons : of their winter-dress and habits we



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86 WILD SPAIN.

write elsewhere ; but no description or sketch of ours
can do adequate justice to this gem among birds.

The name of sand-grouse is not appropriate, for they
are in no sense grouse, and are never found on sand —
always on mud, and when shot their feet and bills are
generally covered therewith. There is another and larger
species, the Black-bellied Sand-Grouse (Pterocles arenarim)^
which is not found herey but is very abundant in parts of
the upper marisma, towards Seville, and especially in the
so-called Isla Menor, where we have shot several when
bustard-driving, and found a nest with three long elliptic
eggs on May 28 th, besides seeing several others found by




STILTS-HOVBRING QVBRHEAD.

our men. These birds — in Spanish Corteza — nest on the
bare pasturages of the upper marisma, and also on the
high central plateaux of Spain, in Castile, La Mancha, &c.,
a very different region. The Pin-tailed species is known
as Gangay signifying a bargain, in reference to its edible
qualities.

After heavy rains in April, the mud and water in the
marisma were unpleasantly deep for either riding or walk-
ing — we had now abandoned the punts ; and on the low
islands many thousands of eggs had been destroyed by the
rising of the water. A great variety of birds were now
nesting. Stilts and Avocets being, perhaps, the most con-



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THE BJETICAN WILDERNESS — MAY. 87

spicuous. We found a few eggs of both on the mud-flats
to-day (May 5th), but a few days later they were in
thousands. The Stilts make a fairly soUd nest of dead
black stalks of tamarisk, &c., and lay four richly-marked
eggs, all arranged points inwards ; the Avocet^s eggs are
larger and lighter in colour, and these birds seldom have
any nest at all, the three eggs merely laid at random on
the bare cracked mud, often an inch or two apart. Three
is the usual complement.

A most curious picture do these singular birds present,
either while flying past or hovering* overhead on quick-



AVOCETS.

beating pinions, with their absurdly long legs extending
far behind like dead straws. The Avocet is much the
more sprightly and game-like of the two, with his shrill
pipe and elegant flight, now rapid and "jerky," now
skimming low on the water. But we never tire of watch-
ing the quaint actions and postures of the Stilts, troops of
which stalk sedately in the shallows close at hand. So
extremely long are the legs of this bird that, with their
short necks, they cannot reach down to the ground, nor
pick anything up therefrom. They are consequently only
to be seen feeding in water about knee-deep, for which



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88 WILD SPAIN.

purpose their peculiar build specially adapts them, picking
up seeds, insects and aquatic plants from the surface.*

We found many nests of Peewit and Redshank, those of
the latter by far the best concealed, always in some thick
clump of grass or samphire. Such familiar notes sound
strangely incongruous amid the exotic bird-medley around,
and the fact of their remaining to nest so far south is an
ornithological curiosity. Birds which are at once inhabi-
tants of the extreme north of Europe, and yet capable of
enduring the summer-heats of the Andalucian plains, set at
nought one's ideas of geographical distribution. As already
mentioned, we also found in April the Dunlin nesting on
the lower Guadalquivir, and our friend Mr. W. C. Tait has
detected the Common Sandpiper remaining to breed on the
Lima and Minho in Portugal.

There also lay scattered on the dry mud many clutches
of smaller eggs belonging to two other species, the Kentish
Plover and Lesser Eing-dotterel. The latter, less common,
were only beginning to lay, choosing the drier, gravelly
ridges of the islets. The eggs of the Kentish plover we
had found as early as April 14th, and in May many were
already much incubated. Neither of these make any nest
— nothing but a few broken shells — and some eggs were
deposited in a hollow scratched in dried cattle-droppings.
On these islands were also many nests of the Spanish
Short-toed lark {Calandrella hcefica^ Dresser — a species
peculiar to this region), artlessly built of dry grass, and
placed in small hollows like a dunlin's, sometimes among
thistles, as often on bare ground without covert. We
found the first eggs on May 9th. On the larger grassy
islands there also breed the Galandra, Crested and Short-
toed Larks, with Ortolan, Common and Beed-buntings.

* When first hatched, the legs of the young Stilts are quite short ;
but by mid- June are of medium length, pale clay-colour, and curiously
swollen about the knee-joint. The upper plumage of the young at
that date is mottled brown, irides brown. By the following January,
these young Stilts have acquired a black and white plumage ; but the
irides remain dark, and the legs a pale pink. The adults vary in the
disposition of black and white in their plumage, especially on head
and neck, and some few have the breast prettily tinged with roseate.



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THE B.«TICAN WILDERNESS— MAY. 89

May 8th, 1872. — A remarkable passage of waders occurred
to-day: the banks of the Guadalete swarmed w4th bu-d-
life, some of the oozes crowded with plovers, &c., as thick
as they could stand. A mixed bag included whimbrels,
grey plovers, ring-dotterel, curlew-sandpiper, sand-grouse,
&c. Many of the Grey Plovers w^ere superb specimens in
perfect black-and-white plumage, and the Curlew-Sand-
pipers in richest rufous summer-dress. Unfortunately, the
attractions of the Great Bustard, several of w^hich were also



GREY PLOVERS— SUMMER-PLU31AGE.

in sight, proved irresistible : but I had the satisfaction of
riding home that evening with my first bustard slung to
the alforjas. The next day, as is often the case, hardly a
passage-bird was to be seen, and my bag only contained a
pair of Grey Phalaropes, and a female Montagu's Harrier.
May 9th, 1883.— The effects of dawn over the vast
desolations of the marisma were specially beautiful this
morning. Before sunrise the distant peaks of the Ser-
rania de Eonda (seventy miles away) lay flooded in a
blood-red light, and looking quite twice their usual height.
Half an hour later the mountains sank back in a golden
glow, and long before mid-day were invisible through the



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90 WILD SPAIN.

quivering heat-haze and the atmospheric fantasies of in-
finite space. Amid a chaotic confusion of mirage-eflfects,
we rode out across the level plain — at first across dry mud-
flats, partly carpeted with a dwarf scrub of marsh-plants,
in places bare and naked, the sun-scorched surface cracked
into rhomboids and parallelograms, and honeycombed with
deep cattle-tracks made long ago when the mud was
moist and plastic. Then through shallow marsh and
stagnant waters, gradually deepening. Here from a rushy
patch sprang three yeld hinds from almost underfoot, and
splashed off through the shallows, their russet coats gleam-
ing in the morning sunUght. Gradually the water deep-
ened: mueha agtia, nmcho fango / groaned Felipe; but this
morning we intended to reach the very heart of the
marisma : and before ten o'clock were cooking our break-
fast on a far-away islet whereon never British foot had trod
before, and which was literally covered with Avocets' eggs,
and many more.

Here, while I was busy selecting, numbering, and
preparing some of the most typical clutches, Felipe, whom
I had sent to explore another islet close by, came up with
five eggs, which he said he thought must be gull's. I saw
at a glance he was right, and jumping up, espied among
the clamorous crowd of marsh-terns, avocets, stilts,
pratincoles, and other birds overhead, a single pair of
strangers — small, very long-necked gulls. These I
promptly knocked down, and at once recognized as Larus
gelasteSy one of the rarest of the South European gulls,
and of whose breeding-places and habits comparatively
little was known. Only a few days before I had
received a letter from Mr. Howard Saunders especially
enjoining me to keep a strict look-out for " the beautiful
pink-breasted. Slender-billed Gull " ; we therefore at once
commenced a careful investigation of all the islands in sight,
never dreaming but that our two gulls and the five
eggs were duly related to each other. It was therefore
with no small surprise that shortly afterwards I found
another gull's nest containing two very different eggs
(white ground, spotted with black and brown like those



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THE B-S:TICAN wilderness — MAY. 91

of Sterna canticwa), from which I also shot a female
L. gelastes,* This time, however, there was no room for
doubt : for the bird while in its death-throes actually
laid a third egg in the water — a perfectly coloured and
developed specimen, the exact counterpart of the two in
the nest. Then, to make assurance doubly sure, I found
on skinning the first pair of gulls that the female contained
a fourth perfectly developed specimen of this very distinct
egg. This of course placed the identity of the eggs of
L. gelastes beyond doubt : it was, however, equally certain
that the first five eggs (which were dull greenish or stone-
colour, faintly spotted with brown) belonged to some other
species. Accordingly I returned to the first-named
islands, and at once perceived two or three pairs of small
black-hooded gulls : these had doubtless been overlooked
in the morning, mixed up as they were among numbers
of gull-billed terns and other birds. They would not
allow approach within shot, so I was obliged to risk a long
chance with wire-cartridge. The bird was " feathered," but
escaped at the moment. Two days afterwards, however, on
a second visit, I found it lying dead, and recognized it by
the jet-black hood and strong bill as Lanis melano-
cephaluSy another of the rarer gulls, and presumably
the owner of one of the first two nests. Those of the
slender-billed gull, it should be added, were composed of
yellow flags, the nests of L. melanocephalus of black
tamarisk-stalks and other dark materials. To obtain in a
single morning the nests of two of the rarest of European
breeding birds was a measure of luck that rarely falls to
the lot of an ornithologist : though the discovery, made
a few hours later, of the breeding quarters of the
flamingoes, appears to carry more ornithological kudos —
quantum valeat.

May lltL — The Pratincoles are now beginning to lay — one
or two eggs in each nest : but subsequently we got them in
baskets-full. Some of these eggs when freshly-laid have a

* A pair of the L, gelastes shot this day (together with some other
of our Spanish specimens) are now set up in the Hancock Museum at
Newcastle-on-Tyne.



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92 WILD SPAIN.

beautiful purplish gloss. Three is their complement, and
they make hardly any nest, merely a few broken chips
of shells. We also found to-day, on the marismas of
Guadalete, two nests of the Montagu's Harrier, each with
five or six eggs, mere outlines of broken twigs arranged on
the bare soil, one among low scrub, the other in the corn-
The Marsh-Harrier breeds much earlier. We found this
year three nests at the end of March — much more solid
structures, built of dead flags, Sec, : one was in standing
corn, another on the ground in a cane-brake, the third on
the top of a dense bramble-thicket, fifteen feet high — a



IX THB MARISM A— STILTS.

very awkward place to get at. Occasionally, where there
was much water, we have found the Montagu's Harrier also
nesting in brushwood, three or four feet above the ground.
In the water beneath are strewn skulls of rabbits, ver-
tebrae of lizards, &c.

Later, again, are the Terns : the Whiskered and Black
species (Hydrochelidon hyhrida and H, ni(jra) breed in
colonies both in the open marisma and on the lagoons of
the Goto DoRana, building their nests far out on the lilies
and floating water-weeds. All these lay three eggs, those
of the Whiskered Tern mostly greenish with black spots, a
few olive-brown. The eggs of the Black Tern are much



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THE BiETICAN WILDERNESS — MAY. 93

smaller, and of a rich liver-brown, heavily blotched with
black. The larger Gull-billed Tern (Sterna amflica) breeds
only on the islets of the marisma. I obtained their eggs,
and those of the Lesser Tern (»S\ minuta) on my first visit
on the 28rd of May.

These islands which we have just described lay some
six or eight miles from the low shores of the marisma, and
at that distance no land whatever was in sight. The
coup cToeil therefrom presented an extraordinary scene of
desolation. The only relief from the monotony of endless
wastes of water were the birds. A shrieking, clamouring
crowd hung overhead, while only a few yards away the
surface was dotted with troops of stilts sedately stalking
about, knee-deep — in no other situation do their long legs
permit them to feed. Further away large flights of
smaller waders flashed — now white, now dark, — in the sun-
light. Most of these were ring-dotterels, dunlins, and
curlew-sandpiper, the two latter in full summer-plumage
A marsh-harrier, oologically inclined, was being bullied
and chased by a score of peewits : and now and then a
little string of ducks high overhead would still remind one
of winter. Beyond all these, the strange forms of
hundreds of flamingoes met one's eye in every direction —
some in groups or in dense masses, others with rigidly out-
stretched necks and legs flying in short strings, or larger
flights " glinting" in the sunshine Hke a pink cloud. Many
pairs of old red birds were observed to be accompanied by
a single white (immature) one. But the most extraordinary
effect was produced by the more distant herds, the
immense numbers of which formed an almost unbroken
white horizon — a thin white line separating sea and sky
round a great part of the circle.

But this chapter is long enough, and we must reserve
for another the rest of our experiences among the
flamingoes.



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94 WILD 8PAIN.



CHAPTER VIII.

WILD CAMELS IN EUROPE.

An incident occurred during our exploration of the
marismas in the spring of 1888 which illustrates the deso-
late and unknown character of these wildernesses, and also
brought to light a curious fact in natural history. Far
away on the level plain I noticed two large animals evi-
dently watching me. They were certainly not deer, which
in spring often wander out into the marisma, but never so
far as to where I then was. They stood too high on their
legs for deer, and had a much greater lateral width as they
stood facing me — their contour, in fact, somewhat re-
sembled a couple of the long-stemmed, conical-topped,
stone-pines, which are so characteristic of the adjoining
woodlands. But there was something in their appearance
even at the distance that prompted an attempt to reach
closer quarters — there was a distinct game-look about
them. I changed my cartridge for ball, and attempted an
approach with all available caution, lying flat in the saddle
and advancing obliquely by long "tacks," besides using
the patero's, or native duck-shooter's, device of stopping at
intervals to give the horse an appearance of grazing. But
it was no use : while still a quarter of a mile away, the
strangers simultaneously wheeled about and made off with
shambling gait. Then for the first time, when their broad-
sides were exposed to view, I saw that they were two
camels, one much larger than the other.* Probably no
one who reads this will be more surprised than was the

* From the dates subsequently given, it would appear that the
young camels are produced about the month of Febniar^-, or perhaps
earlier.



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WILD CAMELS IN EUROPE. 95

writer at the apparition of the long-legged, long-necked,
hump-backed pair; but there was no room for mistake,
for a camel is like nothing else in creation.

The camels appeared to have no great pace, and for
some distance I pursued them, but it was hopeless. Be-
tween us lay an arroyoy one of those wide stagnant
channels that in spring intersect the dry parts of the
marisma in all directions ; and before getting cl^ar of this,
splashing through some hundred yards of mud and water,
the bactrians were far away, scudding across a dead-
level plain that extended to the horizon.

I had heard on my first visit to this wilderness (in
1872) of the existence of camels therein^ and that they
had lived there wild for forty years ot more, but was as
incredulous as perhaps some of our present readers may
be, and as some certainly were when I first mentioned the
fact in the lUsy in January, 1884, though then corroborated
by Mr. Howard Saunders, one of the joint-editors, in thef
following foot-note : — " I saw a small herd of these feril
camels in the Goto de Doftana, on the 3rd of May, 1866 ;
but, finding that my statement as to the breeding of ihe
crane in that neighbourhood was received with much
incredulity, I kept the apparition of the camels to myself.
I possessed the eggs of the crane to convince the scet)tics,
but I could not have produced a camel." Shortly after-
wards the statement was somewhat contemptuously criti-
cized by an anonymous writer in The Field, who claimed
to be himself acquainted with the marismas, and ridiculed
the idea of camels existing there in a wild state. ** The
startling statement," wrote Inhhcati, " as to the existence
of wild camels in the neighbourhood of Seville or Lebrija
has taken me and my friends who know that country well
by utter surprise ; and that camels should have been roam-
ing about there and breeding, so to speak, as perfectly wild
animals in a state of nature, seems to us utterly in-
credible.

" The marismas in the summer time are covered with
cattle^ and of course they are accompanied everywhere by
their herdsmen ; and, so to speak, every foot of open ground



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96 WILD SPAIN.

is more or less under daily inspection. And, as the camel
is a grazing animal, it would naturally be found in the more
open parts of these marismas or marshes, where they
could hardly have avoided detection and, as a certain con-
sequence, capture or death for so long a period as you
mention.

** So valuable an animal would be such a prize to the
poor Spanish peasants, that they would turn out to a man
to obtain it; and there are, besides, too many English
sportsmen at Seville and Jerez to allow the chance of so
novel a chase to slip through their hands unnoticed.

" I may mention that a company is in existence for the
drainage and better utilization of these marismas of Lebrija,
and I can hardly imagine that such animals as camels
could have escaped the notice of their surveyors and staff
during their detailed surveys of the district.

"I may add, that my friend, the Belgian Consul at
Seville, happens to be with me now, and quite agrees with
what I have said. It would be very interesting if you could
obtain any further news about these strange wanderers."

To this the following foot-note was appended by the
Editor of The Field : — " It is somewhat strange that our
correspondent should ask for further information respect-
ing animals whose existence he regards as ' utterly in-
credible.' But the statement has not been made that
there are wild camels anywhere near Seville. The districts
explored by Mr. Abel Chapman are far removed from
human habitation, and are not those in which herds of
domestic cattle are ever seen. The fact that Mr. Chapman
described for the first time the singular nests of the
flamingo, which exists there in colonies, that h^ve never
before been figured [see next chapter] , proves that neither
Inhlwati nor his friend can know the country well, and
that * every foot of ground ' cannot possibly, as he states,
* be open to daily inspection.' The fact that the camels
have been observed on different occasions by two well-
known naturalists — men trained to the close and accurate
observation of animals, who both give their names —
should have entitled their remarks to a different reception."



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WILD CAMELS IN EUROPE. 97

We have inserted the above extracts in full partly
because they are a good example of the reckless way some
people are prone to rush into print, and who, because they
may have some acquaintance with a subject, think they



Online LibraryFrancis WhartonWharton and Stillé's medical jurisprudence .. → online text (page 8 of 36)