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In the temperate regions : or, nature and natural history in the temperate zones.. online

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EAGLE AND FISH-HAWK.



Page 64.



IN THE



TEMPERATE EEGIONS;



NATURE AND NATURAL HISTORY IN THE
TEMPERATE ZONES.



SMitli ^ncciiotcs aitb ^Stories of ^bbcntuw iinb ^raticl.




T. NELSON AND SONS, PATERNOSTER ROW.

EDINBURGH; AND NEW YORK.



1882.



®rontcnt6.



I. GENERAL SURVEY, ... ... ... ... ••. 9

II. THE PRAIRIES AND FORESTS OF NORTH AMERICA, ... 11

III. THE PAMPAS OF SOUTH AMERICA; AND THE ANDES, ... 80

IV. THE PLAINS OF EUROPE, ... ... ... ... 103

V. THE ASIATIC PLAINS, ... ... ... ... ... lOS

VI. THE ARABIAN PENINSULA; PALESTINE; AND SYRIA, ... 132

VIL ANIMAL LIFE IN Wf:STERN EUROPE, ... ... ... 154

VIII. ANIlfAL LIFE IN TEJIPERATE SEAS, ... ... ... 227



Mihi of 2Ellu5tmti0tts.



EAGLE AND FISH HAWK, .. .. .. •• •• Frontispiece

• 13



PRAIRIE ON FIRE,

GRIZZLY AND BLACK BEARS,

BISONS,

INDIAN STRATAGEM IN HUNTING BISONS,

PRAIRIE DOGS, . .

PECCARIES,

A MOOSE FAMILY,

A WAPITI FAMILY,

THE OPOSSUM,

A WOLF TRAP, • .

BEAVERS AND THEIR DWELLINGS, ..

THE RACOON,

THE SNOWY OWL,

BALD EAGLE AND FISH HAWK,

WOODPECKERS, ..

WOODPECKERS AT HOME, . .

BALTIMORE ORIOLE AND NESTS,

PASSENGER PIGEONS,

PAMPAS OF SOUTH AMERICA,

THE GUANACO, THE LLAMA, AND THE VICUNA,

PUMAS,

THE CAPYBARA AND THE AGOUTI, ..

THE CONDOR,

THE KING VULTURE,

THE NANDU OR RHEA,

WILD HORSES IN A SNOW-STORM, . .

THE WILD ASS, ..

THE CAMEL OF THE STEPPES,

THE ARGALI,

TARTAR MODE OF CATCHING WOLVES,

PELICANS FISHING,

CONIES,

WILD GOATS,

THE HOOPOE,

THE CHAMELEON,



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13G
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145



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.



CHAMOIS-HUNTINO,

THE CHAMOIS,

THE GOLDEN EAGLE,

THE LAMMEROEYER AXD ITS PREY

HAWKING,

THE LITTLE HORNED

THE NUTHATCH,

GROUP OF FINCHES,

THE SKY'LARK, ..

THE NIGHTINGALE,

WAGTAILS,

THE MAVIS,

BLACKBIRDS,

GOLDEN ORIOLE^S AND NEST,

THE ORTOLAN, ..

GOLDFINCHES AND NEST, ..

THE BULLFINCH,

THE LINNET,

WOOD-PIGEONS, . .

TURTLE-DOVES, . .

PHEASANTS,

PARTRIDGE AND BROOD, ..

THE STORK,

THE CRANE AND ITS NEST,

THE BITTERN,

HERONS,

THE COMMON VIPER,

COD-FISHING OFF NEWFOUNDLAND

THE DEVIL-FISH, OR ANGLER,

STICKLFBACKS AND NESTS,

THE REMORA, OR SUCKING-FISH,

THE CUTTLE-FISH,

THE HERMIT CRAB,

SPONGE-FISHING OFF THE COAST OF

THE SPONGE,

SHELLS OF FORAMINIFERA,



THE GREAT HORNED OWL,



THE BARN OWL,



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IN THE



TBMPEEATE EEGIONS.



CHAPTER T.



GENERAL SURVEY.




Y the Temperate Regions we mean all those
portions of the globe which are included in
the northern hemisphere between the Arctic
Circle and the Tropic of Cancer ; in the south-
ern, between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic
Circle. These are characterized by a climate which,
though subject to considerable variations, is, on the whole,
free from the excessive cold of the Frigid and the exces-
sive heat of the Torrid Zones. The soil is more uniformly
fertile, but the vegetation less exuberant, than in the
Tropics. In the Temperate Regions man seems to attain
his highest development, and the world's civilization has
found in them its cradle and the sphere of its greatest
activity. The nations and races which stand foremost in
the world's history all live "and rule within the Temperate



10 THE TEMPERATE WORLD,

Zone ; and art and science have here accomplished their
greatest triumphs.

The breadth of each of the Temperate Zones is 645
miles ; or, altogether, the Temperate Regions of the earth
occupy a breadth of 1290 miles.

They present, therefore, some startling contrasts. Be-
tween the richly-cultivated lands of Europe and those of
Asia lies a vast extent of dreary plain — the steppes of
Russia and Tartary. The forest-country of North America
opens out on the rolling prairies, which sweep westward
for leagues and leagues, unrelieved by a single tree ; the
great mountain-masses of South America slope downwards
into the grassy levels of the pampas and the llanos. It is
impossible to offer any concise description of the Tempe-
rate World, for its various sections differ so widely from
one another. We shall, therefore, proceed to consider
them in detail, commenting briefly on their scenery and
vegetation as introductory to our notices of their chief
forms of animal life.




CHAPTER II.

THE PRAIRIES AND FORESTS OF NORTH AMERICA.
THE PRAIRIES.

|ORTH AMERICA, between the Rocky and
Alleghany Mountains, and from the shores of
the Arctic Ocean on the north to those of the
Mexican Sea on the south, may be described
as consisting of one immense plain, broken up by the
valleys or basins of the Mississippi and Missouri, the Red
River, the Columbia, the St. Lawrence, and the Mackenzie
rivers. Its total area is nearly 8,300,000 square miles ; its
length, fully 3000 miles.

The most characteristic feature of this region is its
Prairies.

Miles upon miles of rolling meadow-land ; sometimes as
level as the fenny pastures of Lincolnshire; always as
boundless, apparently, as the sea, richly clothed with long
thick grass of a tender green, and lighted up by flowers of
the liliaceous kind, which scent the air with perfume, —
such are the prairies. Here and there, in the north, the
monotony is relieved by clumps of oak and black walnut ;
or, in the south, by groups of tulip, cotton, and magnolia



12 THE AMERICAN PRAIRIES.

trees. Occasionally, the traveller comes upon a shady
hollow, watered by pool or stream, where the slopes bloom
with shining masses of azaleas, kalmias, rhododendrons,
and andromedas. The silence would be oppressive but for
the soughing of the wind, or the low howl of the cayeute,
or the whirr of passing birds ; and the solitude would be
unbroken but for the appearance of herds of deer, bison,
and wild horses. At times, in the remote distance, the
prairie wolves prowl to and fro in quest of prey ; but the
general impression which the scene produces is that of a
lonely and abandoned world. Nor will that impression
be swept aside for many generations yet to come, though
civilization is gradually encroaching on the wilderness, and
the locomotive strikes across the tremendous plain on its
way from Omaha to San Francisco.

Prairies, resembling these in their general features, lie
to the east and west in Arizona, Texas, California, and
some of the Mexican provinces. The vegetation differs,
however, according to the peculiar conditions of each
region, and the alternations of rainy deluges and periodical
droughts become more marked as we journey southward.
The herbage, in the long warm summer, often grows so
dry that the slightest accident — such as a lighted match
flung carelessly away, or the smouldering ashes dropped
from a hunter's pipe — will kindle the most terrible con-
flagrations ; and the unchecked flames, spreading devour-
ingly over wide spaces of open ground, consume trees and
shrubs, and burn to death the cattle or wild animals unable
to effect their escape. With the crackling, liissing, seeth-



THE FORESTS. 1 f>

ing noises of the fire mingle the groans of the perishing
beasts ; while vast columns of smoke roll before the wind,
like the billows of a storm-tossed sea, and the prevailing
gloom of the scene is fitfully illuminated by live tongues
of flame. These " prairie fires " are sometimes kindled in
revenge by the Indians ; and sometimes the settlers adopt
this summary but dangerous mode of clearing the encum-
bered ground. At all times the spectacle is one of dreadful
magnificence, reminding the traveller of some of the lurid
pictures in Dante's " Inferno."

THE FORESTS.

To the east of the Mississippi spreads a " magnificent
undulating country," about 300 miles in breadth, and ex-
tending 1000 miles from north to south between the
" Father of Waters " and the Alleghany Mountains. This
immense tract is still, to a great extent, profusely wooded.
When America was first colonized, it formed one uninter-
rupted forest, spreading from the Gulf of St. Lawrence
and the Canadian Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from
the Atlantic Ocean across the Alleghanies to the valley of
the Mississippi on the north, and still farther to the west-
ward in the south. This ocean of vegetation occupied an
area of 1,000,000 square miles, and the agriculturist as yet
has done but little to limit it.

The cultivator has done much to open up the forests of
Tennessee and Kentucky; but the noble Ohio still rolls
its waters for hundreds of miles in the green gloom of
stately trees, while its banks bloom with a rich growth of
azaleas, rhododendrons, and other shrubs, intertangled by



16 IN UPPER CANADA.

beautiful creeping plants. It is in tlie Ohio valley tliat
we see the full splendour of the American forests ; so
absolutely diflferent from those of the Amazons, or the
Tropical wildernesses of Borneo and Java; yet in their
own way by no means inferior, and perhaps excelling them
in variety and freshness. There may be seen the gigantic
deciduous cypress ; the tall tulip-tree with its wealth of
flowers ; several species of noble oaks ; the black walnut,
the American plane, the sugar - maple, magnolia, and
hickory.

The Dominion of Canada contains millions of acres of
fertile soil, covered with mighty forests. " Upper Canada,"
says a writer, " is the most fertile, and in many respects is
one of the most valuable, of the British colonies in the
west : every European grain, and every plant that requires
a hot summer and can endure a cold winter, thrive there.
The forest consists chiefly of black and white spruce, the
Weymouth and other pines — trees which do not admit of
undergrowth ; they grow to a gi^eat height, like bare spars,
with a tufted crown casting a deep gloom below. The
fall of large trees from age is a common occurrence, and
not without danger, as it often causes the destruction of
those adjacent ; and an ice-storm is awful."

When a heavy fall of snow has taken place, succeeded
by rain and a partial thaw, the trees and all their branches
are quickly crusted with glittering ice ; oak and pine bend
beneath the burden, and the icicles pendent from every
bough drop in radiant showers at the lightest breath of
wind. The hemlock-spruce, with its long drooping branches,



A WINTER SCENE. 17

assumes the appearance of a solid icy pyramid. In tlie
freshening breeze the tall trees swing heavily to and fro,
while the feebler ones are bowed and bent, like corn
beneath the fury of the tempest. At length the forest
can no longer support its load, and tree after tree gives
way, crashing to the ground with dreadful violence, and
with a roar that sounds in the distance like a peal of
artillery.

But on a calm day, when the sun shines in a cloudless
heaven, nothing is more beautiful or brilliant than the
aspect of the forest, which seems loaded with the most
dazzling gems, and reflects the sunbeams in a myriad of
prismatic colours.

As we have said, the character of the North American
forest is wholly unlike that of the Tropical wilderness of
trees and parasites, arborescent ferns, and epiphytous plants.
They are less luxuriant, but more majestic. In the virgin
forest we see the prodigality of Nature ; in the American
woods its dignity :—

" The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in tlie twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,—
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

We cannot do better than quote the graphic description of
the ancient American forest which occurs in Viscount
Milton and Dr. Cheadle's " North- West Passage by Land."
As they justly observe, no one who has not seen a primeval
forest, where trees of gigantic size have gi'own and fallen
undisturbed for ages, can form any idea of the collection
of timber, or the impenetrable character of such a region.

(710) 2



18 THE PRIMEVAL FOREST.

There were pines and thujas of every size ; the patriarchs
of 300 feet in height standing alone, or thickly-clustering
gTOups of young ones struggling for the vacant place of
some prostrate giant. The fallen trees lay heaped around,
so as often to rise on every side in barriers six or seven
feet high. Trunks of huge cedars, moss-grown and de-
cayed, lay half-buried in the ground on which others as
mighty had but recently fallen; trees still green and
vigorous, and only just blown doAvn, blocking the view
w4th the masses of earth still held in their matted roots ;
trunks dead, trunks rotten, trunks living ; trunks dry and
barkless, and trunks still moist and green with moss ; bare
trunks, and trunks throwing out innumerable boughs and
branches; trunks prostrate, reclining, horizontal, and
propped up at different angles ; timber of every size, in
every stage of growth and decay, in every possible posi-
tion, entangled in every possible combination. The swampy
ground was densely covered with American dog- wood ; and
elsewhere with thickets of the araba, a tough-stemmed
trailer, with leaves as large as those of the rhubarb plant,
and growing in many places as high as a man's shoulders.
Both stem and leaves are covered with sharp spines, which
pierce your clothes as you force your way through the
tangled growth, and make the legs and hands of the
pioneers scarlet from the inflammation of myriads of
punctures.

ANIMAL LIFE IN THE FORESTS AND PRAIRIES.

The preceding sketch, brief as it is, will have prepared
the reader to learn that North America is rich only in



THE GRIZZLY BEAR. 19

certain forms of animal life. He will expect, and will be
right in his expectation, to find that the carnivores arc
comparatively few, and that the herbivorous and insec-
tivorous tribes abound. Throughout the -vast region we
have described beasts of prey are almost unknown ; there
are neither lions nor tigers, panthers, hyenas, nor leopards.
The most formidable — indeed the only formidable — quad-
ruped, is the Grizzly Bear ; the significantly named Ursics
ferox.

The " Grizzly," as the American hunters familiarly call
him, is found throughout the solitudes which comprise
the Rocky Mountains and the plains eastward of them to
latitude 61°. In size he is gigantic, frequently weighing
eight hundred pounds, and measuring eight feet and a half
to nine and even ten feet in length. He is armed with long
and strong claws, which cut like a chisel when he strikes
a blow with them. His tail is almost rudimentary. His
strength may be estimated from the fact that the animal
has been known to drag easily, for a considerable distance,
the carcass of a bison weighing one thousand pounds. It
is recorded that a veteran hunter, having slain a very large
bison, and marked the spot, left the body for the purpose
of obtaining assistance to skin and cut it up. On his
return no bison was visible ! He was at a loss to account
for its disappearance, but after a long search discovered it
in a deep pit, which had been dug for it by a felonious
"grizzly." The bear had carried it off, and "interred" it
during the hunter's absence.

Grizzly's audacity is equal to his strength, as the fol-
lowing incident, related by Sir John Richardson, will show.



20 A BOLD ATTACK.

A party of voyageurs, who had been employed all day in
working a canoe up the rapids of the Saskatchewan, had
seated themselves in the twilight by a fire, and were busily
preparmg their supper, when a large grizzly bear sprang
over their canoe, which they had tilted behind them as a




GRIZZLY AND BLACK BEARS.



protection against the wind, and seizing one of the party
by the shoulder, carried him off. The rest fled in terror,
with the exception of a half-blood, named Bourasse, who
grasped his gun, and pursued the bear as it retreated
leisurely with its prey. He called to his unfortunate
comrade that he was afraid of hitting him if he fired at
the bear ; but the man besought him to fire immediately,
as he was being squeezed to death. Whereupon Bourasse



grizzly's peculiar habits. 21

took a steady aim and discharged his rifle into the body of
the bear, which instantly dropped its prey to follow this
new antagonist. The latter, however, escaped, though
with some difficulty ; and the bear retreated into the dense
coppice, where it is supposed to have died.

Sir John Richardson also speaks of a bear springing
out of a thicket, and with one blow of his paw completely
scalping a man ; laying bare the skull, and bringing the
skin down over the eyes. As help was at hand, the bear
made off without doing the poor fellow further injury ;
but the scalp not being replaced, he lost his sight, though
the eyes, it is said, were uninjured.

The grizzly, it should be observed, does not hug ; he kills
his prey with a blow from his formidable paw. When he
first catches sight of an unusual object, he rears himself on
his hind legs, and gazes at it intently for some minutes.
Then he rushes straight at it, whether it be man or beast ;
and being absolutely indifferent to numbers, will seize it
"in the midst of a regiment of soldiers." The only thing
that appears to daunt him is the smell of man ; and if in
his hot charge he crosses the human scent, he will at once
turn and flee.

It is stated, on the authority of an experienced hunter,
that this bear possesses the power of moving his claws
independently. For instance, he will take up a clod of
earth which has excited his curiosity, and crumble it into
dust by moving his claws one on the other.

Wolves, however hungry, will not touch a carcass which
has been buried by a grizzly bear, though they will greedily
devour all other dead bodies. It is asserted that the



22 A FATAL AWAKENING.

instinct of burying bodies is so strong with these bears,
that they will cover hunters who fall into their power and
feign death, with grass, and bark, and leaves. If the men
attempt to move, they will put them down again and cover
them as before, finally leaving them comparatively uninjured.
When winter approaches, the grizzly retires to his cave,
where he lies during the cold season in a torpid condition.
A bold and experienced hunter will sometimes take advan-
tage of this circumstance. Having scrutinized the ap-
proach to the cave, he prepares a candle made of wax from
the comb of wild bees, softened with bear-grease. The
wick is large, and it burns with a strong flame. Carrying
this before him, with his rifle slung to his side, he pene-
trates into the recess of the cave, when he fixes the candle
on the ground, and ignites it. The cavern is soon vividly
illuminated. Then the hunter lies down on his face, with
the candle between the bear and himself; and in this
position, with the muzzle of his rifle full in front of him,
he bides his time. Grizzly is soon roused by the light ; he
yawns ; he stretches himself, like a person wakened from
a profound slumber. The hunter cocks his rifle, and
watches the bear turn his head, and with slow and wad-
dling steps approach the candle. This, says our authority,
is a trying moment ; for the grizzly is so tenacious of life
that a sure aim is essential. He reaches the candle, and
as he raises his paw to strike it, the hunter fires ; and with
a hea\^ thud the bear falls to the ground, pierced through
the eye or the heart.

The Black Bear is found farther north than the grizzly,



THE BLACK BEAR, 23

and is a less formidable opponent, though by no means to
be treated with contempt. He is characteristically curious,
and the traveller frequently finds himself inconvenienced
by the instinct which induces the creature to pry into
everything strange or novel. Numerous anecdotes of this
bear, of his curiosity, his boldness, and his shrewdness,
are scattered through the writings of American explorers.
Captain M'Clintock writes : — " Shortly after pitching our
tents, a bear was seen approaching. The guns were pre-
pared, men called in, and perfect silence maintained in our
little camp. The animal approached rapidly from to lee-
ward, taking advantage of every hummock to cover his
advance, until within seventy yards ; then, putting himself
in a sitting posture, he pushed forward with his hinder
legs, steadying his body with his fore legs outstretched.
In this mamier he advanced for about ten yards further ;
stopped a minute or two, intently eying our encampment,
and sniffing the air in evident doubt. Then he commenced
a retrograde movement by pushing himself backward
with his fore legs, as he had previously advanced with the
hinder ones. As soon as he presented his shoulder to us
Mr. Bradford and I fired, breaking a leg and otherwise
wounding him severely ; but it was not until he had got
three hundred yards off, and received six bullets, that we
succeeded in killing him."

The black bear almost invariably hybernates. Selecting
a retired spot, under a fallen tree, he scratches away a
portion of the soil, and having ensconced his body in the
hollow thus made, is soon provided by the snow with a
close warm covering. He is hunted on account of his



24 THE BISON.

skin, which at one time fetched a high price in the market.
His chief food is of a vegetable nature — grain, fruits, and
roots; but he does not object to an occasional meal of pork.
He commits extensive depredations on the maize-fields, and
is exceedingly partial to honey. Such being his usual diet,
we need not wonder that his flesh is exceedingly succulent,
and much relished by the Canadian settlers.

We cannot speak of the prairies without calling to mind
the Bison, which reigns over them as undisputed lord. He
traverses their entire extent from north to south. Ac-
cording to some naturalists, he is but a variety of the
aurochs, the fierce wild bull which formerly inhabited the
forests of Gaul, Germany, and Sarmatia, and is still found,
though in vastly diminished numbers, in the densely-
wooded solitudes of Lithuania. Herds of aurochs, under
the special protection of the Czar, who reserves them as
game for imperial and royal hunters, still roam in the
remotest recesses of the great Lithuanian forest of Bielo-
wicza. They are believed to muster about eight hundred
strong.

The American Bison, or BufiTalo, ranges as far as the
Great Martin Lake, in lat. 63°, while it congregates in
countless thousands on the rolling prairies between the
Bocky Mountains and the Mississippi. Their flesh sup-
plies the chief provision of several Indian tribes, who hunt
them on horseback, and kill them with bow and arrow,
spear, and rifle. The chase is full of excitement, and ofiers
a singular attraction to the bold and restless spirits of the
New World. It is exciting because dangerous ; for, when




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AX INDIAN STRATAGEM. 27

hotly pressed, the buffalo will turn on its pursuer, and its
great strength renders it a formidable antagonist.

The bison meets with an active and relentless enemy in
the white wolf. Hunting in packs of one to two hun-
dred, these gaunt and bloodthirsty animals fling themselves
upon two or three wandering bisons, w^hich have separated
by accident or intention from the herd, and surrounding
them, worry the huge beasts to death. They have never
the daring, however", to attack a herd ; though the latter,
if they catch sight of the wolfish pack, however distant,
immediately exhibit a panic-terror, and form into a kind
of battle-array. The wily Indian hunter knows how to
profit by this instinctive dread. He assumes the skin of a
wolf, and with bow and arrows in his hand courageously
confronts the herd, crawling slowly on his hands and
knees. The terrified buffaloes huddle together in a con-
fused mass to encounter their traditional enemy, when, on
arriving within a convenient range, the Indian suddenly
starts to his feet, and utters a wild and "eldritch scream."
In the frenzy of fear which this occasions, he is enabled to
select and bring down several victims, while the remainder
of the herd gallop away madly, as if pursued by the Furies.

The Indians also capture considerable numbers by setting
fire to the prairie gi'ass ; the flames drive the buffaloes to
a central point, where they are easily surrounded and


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Online LibraryHenry LeeIn the temperate regions : or, nature and natural history in the temperate zones.. → online text (page 1 of 14)