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Title: Poachers and Poaching
Author: Watson, John R. (John Reay), 1872-
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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POACHERS AND POACHING


"Knowledge never learned in schools."


[Illustration: LURCHERS.]



POACHERS AND POACHING


By

JOHN WATSON, F.L.S.

AUTHOR OF
"NATURE AND WOODCRAFT," "SYLVAN FOLK," "BRITISH SPORTING FISHES,"
EDITOR OF "THE CONFESSIONS OF A POACHER."


With a Frontispiece


LONDON: CHAPMAN AND HALL
LIMITED
1891

[_All Rights reserved_]

WESTMINSTER:
PRINTED BY NICHOLS AND SONS,
25, PARLIAMENT STREET.



Transcriber's Note: Minor spelling and typographical errors have
been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and
inconsistencies have been retained as printed.



NOTE.


These chapters originally appeared as articles in _Macmillan's
Magazine_, the _Cornhill Magazine_, the _National Review_, the
_Gentleman's Magazine_, the _St. James's Gazette_ and the _Pall Mall
Gazette_; and I have to thank the Editors and Proprietors of these
periodicals for permission to reprint them. The chapter entitled
"Water Poachers" is reprinted by permission from the _Nineteenth
Century_.

As to the facts in the volume, they are mainly taken at first hand
from nature.

J. W.



CONTENTS.


                                                       PAGE

CHAPTER I.

POACHERS AND POACHING.--I                                 1

CHAPTER II.

POACHERS AND POACHING.--II                               17

CHAPTER III.

BADGERS AND OTTERS                                       33

CHAPTER IV.

COURIERS OF THE AIR                                      44

CHAPTER V.

THE SNOW-WALKERS                                         86

CHAPTER VI.

WHEN DARKNESS HAS FALLEN                                 94

CHAPTER VII.

BRITISH BIRDS, THEIR NESTS AND EGGS                     118

CHAPTER VIII.

MINOR BRITISH GAME BIRDS                                143

CHAPTER IX.

WATER POACHERS                                          162

CHAPTER X.

WILD DUCKS AND DUCK DECOYING                            195

CHAPTER XI.

FIELD AND COVERT POACHERS                               223

CHAPTER XII.

HOMELY TRAGEDY                                          245

CHAPTER XIII.

WORKERS IN WOODCRAFT                                    266

CHAPTER XIV.

SKETCHES FROM NATURE                                    287



POACHERS AND POACHING.



CHAPTER I.

POACHERS AND POACHING.--I.


The poacher is a product of sleepy village life, and usually "mouches"
on the outskirts of country towns. His cottage is roughly adorned in
fur and feather, and abuts on the fields. There is a fitness in this,
and an appropriateness in the two gaunt lurchers stretched before the
door. These turn day into night on the sunny roadside in summer, and
before the cottage fire in winter. Like the poacher, they are active
and silent when the village community is asleep.

Our Bohemian has poached time out of mind. His family have been
poachers for generations. The county justices, the magistrates' clerk,
the county constable, and the gaol books all testify to the same fact.

The poacher's lads have grown up under their father's tuition, and
follow in his footsteps. Even now they are inveterate poachers, and
have a special instinct for capturing field-mice and squirrels. They
take moles in their runs, and preserve their skins. When a number of
these are collected they are sold to the labourers' wives, who make
them into vests. In wheat-time the farmers employ the lads to keep down
sparrows and finches. Numbers of larks are taken in nooses, and in
spring lapwings' eggs yield quite a rich harvest from the uplands and
ploughed fields. A shilling so earned is to the young poacher riches
indeed; money so acquired is looked upon differently from that earned
by steady-going labour on the field or farm. In their season he gathers
cresses and blackberries, the embrowned nuts constituting an autumn in
themselves. Snipe and woodcock, which come to the marshy meadows in
severe weather, are taken in "gins" and "springes." Traps are laid for
wild ducks in the runners when the still mountain tarns are frozen
over. When our poacher's lads attain to sixteen they become in turn the
owner of an old flintlock, an heirloom, which has been in the family
for generations. Then larger game can be got at. Wood-pigeons are
waited for in the larches, and shot as they come to roost. Large
numbers of plover are bagged from time to time, both green and grey.
These feed in the water meadows through autumn and winter, and are
always plentiful. In spring the rare dotterels were sometimes shot as
they stayed on their way to the hills; or a gaunt heron was brought
down as it flew heavily from a ditch. To the now disused mill-dam ducks
came on wintry evening--teal, mallard, and pochards. The lad lay coiled
up behind a willow root, and waited during the night. Soon the
whistling of wings was heard, and dark forms appeared against the
skyline. The old duck-gun was out, a sharp report tore the darkness,
and a brace of teal floated down stream and washed on to the mill
island. In this way half-a-dozen ducks would be bagged, and dead or
dying were left where they fell, and retrieved next morning. Sometimes
big game was obtained in the shape of a brace of wild geese, the least
wary of a flock; but these only came in the severest weather.

At night the poacher's dogs embody all his senses. An old black bitch
is his favourite; for years she has served him faithfully--in the whole
of that time never having once given mouth. Like all good lurchers, she
is bred between the greyhound and sheepdog. The produce of this cross
have the speed of the one, and the "nose" and intelligence of the
other. Such dogs never bark, and, being rough coated, are able to stand
the exposure of cold nights. They take long to train, but when
perfected are invaluable to the poacher. Upon them almost wholly
depends success.

Poaching is one of the fine arts, and the most successful poacher is
always a specialist. He selects one kind of game, and his whole
knowledge of woodcraft is directed against it. In autumn and winter the
"Otter" knows the whereabouts of every hare in the parish; not only the
field in which it is but the very clump of rushes in which is its
"form." As puss goes away from the prickly gorse bush, or flies down
the turnip "rigg," he notes her every twist and double, and takes in
the minutest details. He is also careful to examine the "smoots" and
gates through which she passes, and these spots he always approaches
laterally. He leaves no scent of hand nor print of foot, and does not
disturb rough herbage. Late afternoon brings him home, and upon the
clean sanded floor his wires and nets are spread. There is a peg to
sharpen and a broken mesh to mend. Every now and then he looks out upon
the darkening night, always directing his glance upward. His dogs whine
impatiently to be gone. In an hour, with bulky pockets, he starts,
striking across the land and away from the high-road. The dogs prick
out their ears upon the track, but stick doggedly to his heels. After a
while the darkness blots out even the forms of surrounding objects, and
the poacher moves more cautiously. A couple of snares are set in holes
in an old thorn fence not more than a yard apart. These are delicately
manipulated, and from previous knowledge the poacher knows that the
hare will take one of them. The black dog is sent over, the younger
fawn bitch staying with her master. The former slinks slowly down the
field, sticking closely to the cover of a fence running at right angles
to the one in which the wires are set. The poacher has arranged that
the wind shall blow from the dog and across the hare's seat when the
former shall come opposite. The ruse acts, and puss is alarmed but not
terrified; she gets up and goes quietly away for the hedge. The dog is
crouched and anxiously watching her; she is making right for the snare,
though something must be added to her speed to make the wire effective.
As the dog closes in, the poacher, bowed, and with hands on knees,
waits, still as death, for her coming. He hears the trip, trip, trip,
as the herbage is brushed; there is a rustle among the leaves, a
momentary squeal--and the wire has tightened round her throat.

Again the three trudge silently along the lane. Suddenly the trio stop
and listen; then they disperse, but seem to have dissolved. The dry
ditch is capacious, and its dead herbage tall and tangled. A heavy
foot, with regular beat, approaches along the road, and dies slowly
away in the distance.

Hares love green corn stalks, and a field of young wheat is at hand. A
net, twelve feet by six, is spread at the gate, and at a given sign the
dogs depart different ways. Their paths would seem soon to have
converged, for the night is torn by a piteous cry, the road is
enveloped in dust, and in the midst of the confusion the dogs dash over
the fence. They must have found their game near the middle of the
field, and driven the hares--for there are two--so hard that they
carried the net right before them. Every struggle wraps another mesh
about them, and soon their screams are quieted. By a quick movement the
poacher wraps the long net about his arm, and, taking the noiseless
sward, gets hastily away from the spot. These are the common methods of
hare-poaching.

In March, when they are pairing, four or five may often be found
together in one field. Although wild, they seem to lose much of their
natural timidity, and now the poacher reaps a rich harvest. He is
careful to set his nets and snares on the side _opposite_ to that
from which the game will come, for this reason: That hares approach any
place through which they are about to pass in a zig-zag manner. They
come on, playing and frisking, stopping now and then to nibble the
sweet herbage. They run, making wide leaps at right angles to their
path, and sit listening upon their haunches. A freshly-impressed
foot-mark, the scent of dog or man at the gate, almost invariably turns
them back. Of course these traces are necessarily left if the snare be
set on the _near_ side of the gate or fence, and then they refuse
to take it even when hard pressed. Where poaching is prevalent and
hares abundant, the keepers net every one on the estate, for it is well
known to those versed in woodcraft that an escaped hare once netted can
never be taken a second time in the same manner. The human scent left
at gaps and gateways by ploughmen and shepherds the wary poacher will
obliterate by driving sheep over the spot before he begins operations.
On the sides of the fells and uplands hares are difficult to kill. This
can only be accomplished by swift dogs, which are taken _above_
the game; puss is made to run down hill, when, from her peculiar
formation, she goes at a disadvantage.

Our poacher is cooly audacious. Here is an actual incident. There was a
certain field of young wheat in which were some hares. The knowledge of
these came by observation during the day. The field was hard by the
Keeper's cottage, and surrounded by a high fence of loose stones. The
situation was therefore critical, but that night nets were set at the
gates through which the hares always made. To drive them the dog was to
range the field, entering it at a point furthest away from the gate.
Silence was essential to success. To aid the dog, the poacher bent his
back in the road at a yard from the wall. The dog retired, took a
mighty spring, and, barely touching his master's shoulders, bounded
over the fence without touching. From that field five hares were
killed.

It need hardly be remarked that the intelligent poacher is always a
naturalist. The signs of wind and weather he knows as it were by heart,
and this is essential to his silent trade. The rise and wane of the
moon, the rain-bringing tides, the local migration of birds--these and
a hundred other things are marked in his unwritten calendar. His
out-door life has made him quick and taught him of much ready animal
ingenuity. He has imbibed an immense amount of knowledge of the life of
the woods and fields, and he is that one man in a thousand who has
accuracy of eye and judgment sufficient to interpret nature aright.

It has been already remarked that the poacher is nothing if not a
specialist. As yet we have spoken only of the "moucher" who directs his
attention to fur. But if there is less scope for field ingenuity in the
taking of some of our game birds, there is always the possibility of
more wholesale destruction. This arises from the fact of the birds
being gregarious. Partridges roost close to the ground, and sleep with
their heads tucked together. A covey in this position represents little
more than a mass of feathers. They always spend their nights in the
open, for protective reasons. Birds which do not perch would soon be
extinct as a species were they to seek the protection of woods and
hedge-bottoms by night. Such ground generally affords cover to
vermin--weasels, polecats, and stoats. Although partridges roam far by
day, they always come together at night, being partial to the same
fields and fallows. They run much, and rarely fly except when passing
from one feeding ground to another. In coming together in the evening
their calls may be heard at some distance. These sounds the poacher
listens for and marks. He remembers the nest under the gorse bush, and
knows that the covey will not be far distant.

Partridges the poacher considers good game. He may watch half-a-dozen
coveys at once. Each evening at sun-down he goes his rounds and makes
mental notes. Three coveys are marked for a night's work--one in
turnips, another among stubble, and a third on grass. At dark he comes
and now requires an assistant. The net is dragged along the ground, and
as the birds get up it is simply dropped over them, when usually the
whole covey is taken. In view of this method of poaching and on land
where many partridges roost, low scrubby thorns are planted at regular
intervals. These so far interfere with the working of the net as to
allow the birds time to escape. If the poacher has not accurately
marked down his game beforehand, a much wider net is needed. Among
turnips, and where large numbers of birds are supposed to lie, several
rows or "riggs" are taken at a time, until the whole of the ground has
been traversed. This last method requires time and a knowledge of the
keeper's beat. On rough ground the catching of the net may be obviated
by having about eighteen inches of smooth glazed material bordering the
lower and trailing part of the net. Partridges are occasionally taken
by farmers in the following unorthodox fashion. A train of grain is
scattered from ground where game is known to lie. The birds follow
this, and each morning find it more nearly approach to the stackyards.
When the birds have become accustomed to this mode of feeding, the
grain train is continued inside the barn. The birds follow, and the
doors are closed upon them. A bright light is brought, and the game is
knocked down with sticks.

Partridges feed in the early morning--as soon as daybreak. They resort
to one spot, and are constant in their coming if encouraged. This the
poacher knows, and adapts himself accordingly. By the aid of a clear
moon he lays a train of grain straight as a hazel stick. He has brought
in a bag an old duck-gun, the barrels of which are short, having been
filed down. This short weapon can easily be carried in his capacious
pocket, and is only needed to fire at short distances. Into this he
crams a heavy charge of powder and waits for the dawn. The covey comes
with a loud whirring of wings, and the birds settle to feed
immediately. Firing along the line, a single shot strews the ground
with dead and dying. In ten minutes he is a mile from the spot, always
keeping clear of the roads. The poacher has yet another method. Grain
is soaked until it becomes swollen and is then steeped in the strongest
spirit. This, as before, is strewn in the morning paths of the
partridge, and, soon taking effect, the naturally pugnacious birds are
presently staggering and fighting desperately. The poacher bides his
time, and, as opportunity offers, knocks the incapacitated birds on the
head.

The wilder grouse poaching of the moorlands is now rarely followed. The
birds are taken in nets similar to those used for partridges. By
imitating the peculiar gurgling call-notes of the grouse, old poachers
can bring up all birds within hearing distance. As they fly over the
knolls and braes they are shot. Many of the birds sold in London on the
morning of the "Twelfth" are taken in this way. In the north, since the
inclosure of the Commons, numbers of grouse are killed by flying
against the wire fences. When the mists cling to the hills for days, or
when the weather is "thick," these casualties occur. At such times the
birds fly low, and strike before seeing the obstacle. The poacher notes
these mist caps hanging to the hill tops, and then, bag in hand, walks
parallel to miles and miles of fence. Sometimes a dozen brace of birds
are picked up in a morning. Not only grouse, but on the lowlands
pheasants and partridges are killed in this way, as are also snipe and
woodcock.

In summer, poachers make and repair their nets for winter use. Large
hare nets are made for gates, and smaller ones for rabbit burrows and
"smoots." Partridge nets are also necessarily large, having sometimes
to cover half a field. Although most of the summer the poacher is
practically idle, it is at this time that he closely studies the
life of the fields, and makes his observations for winter. He
gets occasional employment at hay or harvest, and for his darker
profession treasures up what he sees. He is not often introduced to
the heart of the land, and misses nothing of the opportunity. On in
autumn, he is engaged to cut down ash poles or fell young woods, and
this brings him to the covert. Nothing escapes his notice, and in the
end his employers have to pay dearly for his labour. At this time the
game birds--pheasants, partridge, and grouse--are breeding, and are
therefore worthless; so with rabbits and hares. But when game is
"out," fish are "in." Fish poaching has decreased of late years,
owing to stricter watching and greater preservation generally. In
summer, when the waters are low, fish resort to the deep dubs. In
such spots comes abundance of food, and the fish are safe, be the
drought never so long. The pools of the Fell becks abound at such
times with speckled brown trout, and are visited by another
poacher--the otter. When the short summer night is darkest, the man
poacher wades through the meadows by the river. He knows the deeps
where the fish most congregate, and there throws in chloride of lime.
Soon the trout of the pool float belly uppermost, and are lifted out,
dazed, in a landing net. In this way hundreds of fish are taken, and
find a ready sale. The lime in no wise poisons the edible parts; it
simply affects the eyes and gills, covering them with a fine white
film. Fish so taken, however, lose all their pinky freshness. The
most cowardly part of this not uncommon proceeding is that the lime
is sometimes put into the river immediately below a mill. This, of
course, is intended to mislead watchers and keepers, and to throw the
blame upon the non-guilty millowner. And, seeing that chloride of
lime is used in various manufactures, the ruse sometimes succeeds.
Many of the older poachers, however, discountenance this cowardly
method, for by it the destruction of fish is wholesale, irrespective
of size. The old hands use an old-fashioned net, to work which
requires at least two men. The net is dragged along the quiet river
reaches, a rope being attached to each end. The trout fly before it,
and are drawn out upon the first bed of pebbles. In this way great
hauls are often made. To prevent this species of poaching, stakes are
driven into trout stream beds; but they are not of much avail. When
it is known that a "reach" is staked, a third man wades behind the
net and lifts it over. A better method to prevent river poaching is
to throw loose thorn bushes into the bed of the stream. In trailing
along the bottom the net becomes entangled, and long before it can be
unloosed the fish have escaped. This wholesale instrument of fish
poaching is now rarely used. The net is necessarily large and
cumbersome. Wet, it is as much as two men can carry, and when caught
in the act, there is nothing for it but to abandon the net and run.
This is an effectual check for a time, as a new net takes long to
knit and is expensive, at least to the poacher. When salmon and trout
are spawning their senses seem somewhat dulled, and they are taken
out of the water at night by click-hooks. In this kind of river
poaching a lighted tar brand is used to show the whereabouts of the
fish. A light, too, attracts salmon. Of course, this can only be
attempted when the beats of the watchers and keepers are known. The
older generation of poachers, who have died or are fast dying out,
seem to have taken the receipt for preparing salmon roe with them.
For this once deadly bait is now rarely used. Here is a field
incident.

A silent river reach shaded by trees. It is the end of a short summer
night. We know that the poachers have lately been busy knitting their
nets, and have come to intercept them. The "Alder Dub" may be easily
netted, and contains a score nice trout. Poachers carefully study the
habits of fish as well as those of game, both winged and furred. To the
alder dub they know the trout make when the river is low. The poachers
have not noted signs of wind and weather and of local migrations for
twenty years past to be ignorant of this. And so here, in the
dew-beaded grass, we lie in wait. It is two o'clock and a critical
time. A strange breaking is in the east: grey--half-light, half-mist.
If they come they will come now. In an hour the darkness will not hide
them. We lie close to the bank thickly covered with bush and scrub. Two
sounds are and have been heard all night--the ceaseless call of the
crake and the not less ceaseless song of the sedge-bird. A lapwing gets
up in the darkness and screams--an ominous sound, and we are all ear.
Three forms descend the opposite bank, and on to the gravel bed. They
empty the contents of a bag and begin to unroll its slow length. The
breaking of a rotten twig in a preparatory movement for the rush
sufficiently alarms them, and they dash into the wood as we into the
water--content now to secure their cumbersome illegal net, and thus
effectually stop their operations for three weeks at least. The grey
becomes dawn and the dawn light as we wade wearily home through the
long wet grass. And still the sedge warbler sings.



CHAPTER II.

POACHERS AND POACHING.--II.


The confines of a large estate constitute a poacher's paradise; for
although partridge and grouse require land suited to their taste,
rabbits and pheasants are common to all preserved ground. Since the
reclamation of much wild land these latter afford his chief spoil. And
then rabbits may be taken at any time of the year and in so many
different ways. They are abundant, too, and always find a ready market.
The penalties attached to rabbit poaching are less than those of game,
and the vermin need not be followed into closely preserved coverts. The
extermination of the rabbit will be contemporaneous with that of the
lurcher and poacher--two institutions of English village life which
date back to the planting the New Forest. Of the many modes of taking
the "coney," ferreting and field-netting are the most common. Traps
with steel jaws are sometimes set in their runs, and are inserted in
the turf so as to bring them level with the sward. But destruction by
this method is not sufficiently wholesale, and the upturned white under
parts show too plainly against the green. The poacher's methods must be
quick, and he cannot afford to visit by day traps set in the dark. When
the unscrupulous keeper finds a snare he sometimes puts a leveret into
it, and secretes himself. He then waits, and captures the poacher "in
the act." As with some other methods already mentioned, the trap
poacher is only a casual. Ferreting is silent and usually successful.
In warrens, both inequalities of the ground and mounds and ditches
afford cover for the poacher. A tangled hedge bank with tunnellings and
coarse herbage is always a favourite spot. There are generally two and
often half-a-dozen holes in the same burrow. Small purse nets are
spread over these, and the poacher prefers them loose to being pegged
or fixed in any way. When the nets are set the ferrets are taken from
the moucher's capacious pockets and turned in. They do not proceed
immediately, but sniff the mouth of the hole; their decision is only
momentary for soon the tips of their tails disappear in the darkness.
Now, above all times, silence is essential. Rabbits refuse to bolt if
there is noise outside. A dull thud, a rush, and a rabbit goes rolling
over and over entangled in the net; one close after it gets clear away.
Reserve nets are quickly clapped to the holes as the rabbits bolt,
these invariably being taken, except where a couple come together.
Standing on the mound a shot would stop these as they go bounding
through the dead leaves; but this would bring up the keeper, and so the
poacher practices self-denial. Unlike hares, rabbits rarely squeal when
they become entangled; and this allows the poacher to ferret long and
silently. Rabbits that refuse to take the net are sometimes eaten into
by the ferret, but still refuse to bolt. If a rabbit makes along a
blind burrow followed by a ferret, the former is killed, and the latter
gluts itself upon the body. When this occurs it is awkward for the
poacher; the ferret in such case usually curls itself up and goes to
sleep; left to itself it might stay in the hole for days; and so it has
either to be dug or starved out. Both processes are long, the burrows
ramify far into the bank, and it is not certainly known in which the
ferret remains.

The poacher's wholesale method of night poaching for rabbits is by
means of two long nets. These are set parallel to each other along the
edge of a wood, and about thirty yards out into the field or pasture.
Only about four inches divides the nets. A clear star-lit night is best
for the work, and at the time the nets are set the ground game is far
out feeding. The nets are long--the first small in mesh, that
immediately behind it large. When a hare or rabbit strikes, the impetus
takes a part of the first net and its contents through the larger mesh
of the second, and there hanging, the creature struggles until it is
knocked on the head with a stick. Immediately the nets are set two men
and a couple of lurchers begin to range the ground in front--slowly and
patiently, gradually driving every feeding thing woodwards. A third man
quietly paces the sward behind the nets, killing whatever game strikes
them. And in this way hundreds of rabbits may be, and are, taken in a
single night. Some years ago half-a-dozen young rabbits appeared in our
meadow-lot which were of the ordinary grey with large white patches.
Whilst feeding these stood out conspicuously from the rest; they were
religiously preserved. Of these parti-coloured ones a normal number is
now kept up, and as poachers rarely discriminate, whenever they
disappear, it is _primâ facie_ evidence that night work is going
on.

Of all poaching that of pheasants is the most beset with difficulty;
and the pheasant poacher is usually a desperate character. Many methods
can be successfully employed, and the pheasant is rather a stupid bird.
Its one great characteristic is that of wandering, and this cannot be
prevented. Although fed daily, and with the daintiest food, the birds,
singly or in pairs, may frequently be seen far from the home covers. Of
course the poacher knows this, and is quick to use his knowledge. It by
no means follows that the man who rears the pheasants will have the
privilege of shooting them. In autumn, when beechmast and acorns begin
to fall, the pheasants make daily journeys in search of them; and of
these they consume great quantities. They feed principally in the
morning, dust themselves in the turnip-fields at noon, and ramble
through the woods in the afternoon; and when wandered birds find
themselves in outlying copses in the evening they are apt to roost
there.

It need hardly be said that pheasants are generally reared close to the
keeper's cottage; that their coverts immediately surround it. Most
commonly it is a gang of armed ruffians that enter these, and not the
country poacher. Then there are reasons for this. Opposition must
always be anticipated, for the covert should never be, and rarely is,
unwatched. And then there are the results of capture to be taken into
account. This effected, and with birds in his possession, the poacher
is liable to be indicted upon so many charges, each and all having
heavy penalties.

When wholesale pheasant poaching is prosecuted by gangs, it is in
winter, when the trees are bare. Guns, the barrels of which are filed
down so as to shorten them, are taken in sacks, and the birds are shot
where they roost. Their bulky forms stand sharply outlined against the
sky, and they are often on the lower branches. If the firing does not
immediately bring up the keepers, the game is quickly deposited in bags
and the gang makes off. It not unfrequently happens that a light cart
is waiting to receive the men at some grassy lane end. But the moucher
obtains his game in a quieter way. He eschews the preserves, and looks
up outlying birds. He always carries a pocketful of corn, and day by
day entices the birds further and further away. This accomplished he
may snare them; and take them in iron traps. He sometimes uses a gun,
but only when other methods have failed. A common and successful way he
has is to light brimstone beneath the trees in which the pheasants
roost. The powerful fumes soon overpower the birds, and they come
flapping down the trees one by one. This method has the advantage of
silence, and if the night is still need not be detected. Away from the
preserves time is no object, and so the moucher who works
systematically, and is content with a brace of birds at a time, usually
gets the most in the end, with least chance of capture. The pugnacity
of the pheasant is well known to him, and out of this trait he makes
capital. When the whereabouts of the keeper is known, he takes under
his arm a game cock fitted with artificial spurs. These are attached to
the natural ones, are sharp as needles, and the bird is trained how to
use them. Upon the latter's crowing one or more cock pheasants
immediately respond and advance to meet the adversary. A single blow
usually suffices to lay low the pride of the pheasant, and in this way
half-a-dozen birds may often be taken whilst the poacher's
representative remains unhurt.

The most cruelly ingenious plan adopted by poachers, however, is also
one of the most successful. If time and opportunity offer, there is
scarcely any limit to the depredations which it allows. A number of
dried peas are taken and steeped in boiling water; a hole is then made
through the centre with a needle or some sharp instrument, and through
this a stiff bristle is threaded. The ends are cut off short, leaving
only about a quarter of an inch of bristle projecting at each end. With
these the birds are fed, and are greedily eaten. In passing down the
gullet, however, a violent irritation is set up, and the pheasant is
finally choked.

The birds are picked up in a dying condition from beneath the hedges,
to which shelter they almost always run. The plan is a quiet one; may
be adopted in roads and lanes where the birds dust themselves, and does
not require trespass.

The methods here set forth both with regard to pheasants and rabbits
are those ordinarily in use. In connection with the former it might
have been remarked that the gamekeeper sometimes outwits the poacher by
a device which is now of old standing. Knowing well from what quarter
the depredators will enter the woods, wooden blocks representing
roosting birds are nailed to the branches of the open beeches. The
poacher rarely fires at these "dummies," and it is only with the casual
that the ruse works. He fires, brings the keepers out of their hiding
places and so is entrapped.

It need hardly be said that our poacher is a compound of many
individuals--the type of a numerous class. The tinge of rustic romance
to which we have already referred as exhibited in his character may
have been detected in his goings. And we may at once say that he in
nowise resembles the armed ruffian who, masked and with murderous
intent, enters the covert at night. Although his life is one long
protest against the game laws, he is not without a rude code of
morality. He complains bitterly of the decrease of game, and that the
profession is hardly now worth following. Endowed with marked
intelligence, it has never been directed aright. His knowledge of
woodcraft is superior to that of the gamekeeper, which personage he
holds in contempt. He quietly boasts of having outwitted the keepers a
hundred times. The "Otter" is chary as to those he takes into
confidence, and knows that silence is essential to success. He points
to the "Mole,"--the mouldy _sobriquet_ of a compatriot--as an
instance of one who tells poaching secrets to village gossips. The
"Mole" spends most of his time in the county gaol, and is now
undergoing incarceration for the fifty-seventh time. Our "Otter" has
certainly been caught, but the occasions of his capture form but a
small percentage of the times he has been "out." He is a healthy
example of pure animalism, and his rugged nature has much in common
with the animals and birds. As an accurately detailed reflection of
nature, his monograph of any one of our British game-birds would excel
even those of Mr. Jefferies himself; yet of culture he hasn't an idea.
He admires the pencilled plumage of a dead woodcock, and notes how
marvellously it conforms to the grey-brown herbage among which it lies.
So, too, with the eggs of birds. He remarks on the conformation to
environment--of partridge and pheasant, the olive colour to the dead
oak leaves; of snipe and plover to the mottled marsh; of duck and water
fowl to the pale green reeds.

As to his morality with regard to the game laws, it would be difficult
to detect exactly where he draws the line. He lives for these to be
repealed, but his native philosophy tells him that when this time comes
game will have become well nigh extinct. Upon the Ground Game Act he
looks with mingled feelings, for, after all, are not rabbits and hares
the chief product of his nights? The farmers now get these, and the
poacher's field is limited. They engage him, maybe, to stay the ravages
upon clover and young wheat, or to thin the rabbits from out the
pastures. He propitiates the farmer in many ways. Occasionally in the
morning the farm lad finds half-a-dozen rabbits or a hare dropped
behind the barn door. How these came there no one knows--nor asks. The
country attorney is sometimes submitted to a like indignity. In
crossing land the poacher is careful to close gates after him, and he
never breaks down fences. He assists cattle and sheep which he finds in
extremity, and leaves word of the mishap at the farm. Is it likely that
the farmer will dog the steps of the man who protects his property, and
pays tolls for doing it?

And it frequently happens that the poacher is not less popular with the
village community at large than with those whose interests he serves.
It is even asserted that more than one of the county Justices have, in
some sort, a sneaking affection for him. The same wild spirit and love
of sport take him to the fields and woods as his more fortunate
brethren to the moor and covert. It is untrue, as has been said, that
the poacher is always a mercenary wretch who invariably sells his game;
he as frequently sends in a brace of birds or a hare to a poor or sick
neighbour. He comes in contact with the law just sufficient to make him
know something of its bearings. When charged with being in possession
of "game," he reiterates the old argument that rabbits are vermin.
Being committed for four months "for night poaching," he respectfully
informs the presiding Justice that at the time of his capture the sun
had risen two hours, and that the law does not allow more than half the
sentence just passed upon him. The old clerk fumbles for his horn
spectacles, and, after turning over _Stone's Justices' Manual_
solemnly informs the Bench that defendant in his interpretation is
right. He remembers this little episode and chuckles over it. There is
another which is equally marked in his memory. The "Otter" poached long
and successfully ere he was caught, and then was driven into an
ambuscade by a combination of keepers. Exultant at his downfall, the
men of gaiters flocked from every estate in the country-side to witness
his conviction. Some, who had only seen a vanishing form in the
darkness, attended to see the man. This wild spirit of the night was
always followed by an old black bitch. She, too, was produced in court,
and was an object of much curiosity. The "Otter" had been taken in the
act, he told the Bench. "He deserved no quarter and asked none.
Poaching was right by the Bible, but wrong by the Law." One of the
Justices deigned to remark it was a question of "property," not
morality. "Oh!" rejoined the "Otter," "because blue blood doesn't run
in my veins, that's no reason why I shouldn't have my share." And after
a moment's pause: "But it's a queer kind o' property that's yours in
that field, mine in the turnpike, and a third man's over the next
fence."

The end of it was, however, a fine of £5, with an alternative. And so
the case ended. But that day the keepers and their assistants had
forgotten the first principles of watching. The best keeper is the one
that is least seen. Only let the poacher know his whereabouts, and the
latter's work is easy. It was afterwards remarked that during the trial
of the "Otter" not a poacher was in court. This fact in itself was
unusual--and significant. It became more so when he was released by
reason of his heavy fine being paid the same evening. More than one
woman had been seen labouring under loaded baskets near the local game
dealer's, and these were innocently covered with mantling cresses, and
so at the time escaped suspicion. Upon this memorable day the pheasants
had been fed by unseen hands and had vanished. The only traces left by
the covert side were fluffy feathers everywhere. Few hares remained on
the land; these had either been snared or netted at the gates. The
rabbits' burrows had been ferreted, an outhouse near the keeper's
cottage being entered to obtain possession of the ferrets. It need
hardly be said that had the "Otter" been aware he would not have
countenanced these lawless doings of his _confrères_. He claimed
to "poach square," and drew the line at home-reared pheasants, allowing
them "property." Those he found wild in the woods, however, were
_feræ naturæ_, and he directed his engines accordingly.

Every poacher knows that the difficulty lies not so much in obtaining
the game as in transporting it safely home. Their dogs are always
trained to run on a couple of hundred yards in advance, so as to give
warning of anyone's approach. If a police constable or keeper is met on
the highway the dog immediately leaps the fence, and, under its cover,
runs back to its master. Seeing this the game-bag is dropped into a
dry ditch, and dog and man make off in different directions. County
constables loiter about unfrequented lanes and by-paths at daybreak.
The poachers know this and are rarely met with game upon them. Ditches,
stacks, and ricks afford good hiding places until women can be sent to
fetch the spoil. These failing, country carriers and morning milk carts
are useful to the poacher.

In one sleepy village known to us both the rural postman and the parish
clerk were poachers. The latter carried his game in the black bag which
usually held the funeral pall. The smith at the shoeing forge was a
regular receiver, and there were few in the village who had not poached
at some time or other. The cottage women netted fish, and shut the
garden gates on hares and rabbits when they came down to feed in
winter. Upon one occasion a poacher, taking advantage of a country
funeral, had himself and a large haul taken to the nearest market town,
the hearse disgorging its questionable corpse behind the nearest game
shop. Another of the poachers, nicknamed the "gentleman," was wont to
attire himself in broad-brimmed hat and frock coat similar to those
worn a century ago by the people called Quakers. In the former he
carried his nets, and in the capacious pockets of the latter the game
he took. These outward guarantees of good faith away from his own
parish precluded him from ever once being searched.

Of late years egg poaching has been reduced to a science; and this is
one of the worst phases of the whole subject. In certain districts it
is carried on to a large extent, and comes of artificial rearing. The
squire's keeper will give six pence each for pheasants' eggs and four
pence for those of partridges. He often buys eggs (unknowingly, of
course) from his own preserves, as well as from those of his
neighbours. In the hedge bottom, along the covert side, or among gorse
and broom, the poacher notices a pair of partridges roaming morning
after morning. Soon he finds their oak-leaf nest and olive eggs. These
the keeper readily buys; winking at what he knows to be dishonest.
Plough-boys and farm-labourers have peculiar opportunities for
egg-poaching. As to pheasants' eggs, if the keeper is an honest man and
refuses to buy, there are always London dealers who will. Once in the
covert, pheasants' eggs are easily found. The birds get up heavily from
their nests, and go away with a loud whirring of wings. In this species
of poaching women and children are largely employed. At the time the
former are ostensibly gathering sticks, the latter wild flowers. A
receiver has been known to send to London in the course of a week a
thousand eggs--probably every one of them stolen.

When depredations are carried on nightly, or game disappears in large
quantities, warrants are obtained, and search made for nets. Except for
immediate use the poachers seldom keep their nets at home. They are
stowed away in church tower, barn, rick, or out-house. Upon one
occasion it got abroad that the constables would make a raid upon a
certain cottage where a large net was known to be. The dwelling was a
disused toll bar on the turnpike, and commanded a long stretch of road.
The good woman of the house saw the constables approaching, and made
the most of her time. Taking off her gown, she fastened one end of the
net, which was long and narrow, to a projecting crook in the wall; then
retiring to the further side of the kitchen, she attached the other end
of it to the whalebone of her stays, and by turning round and round,
wound the net about her capacious person. When the constables arrived
she accompanied them into every corner of the cottage, but no net could
be found.



CHAPTER III.

BADGERS AND OTTERS.


Hazelhurst was a long line of woodland, on one side skirted by the sea
and on the other by a crumbling limestone escarpment. It was woodland,
too, with the deep impress of time upon it--a forest primeval. The
branches and boles of the oaks were tortured out of all original
conception. Save for colour they might have been congealed water or
duramen muscles. Down in the hollows there was deep moss, elastic and
silent, over all. For centuries the pines had shed their needles
undisturbed. These and the pine trunks sent up a sweet savour from the
earth--an odour that acted as a tonic to the whole being. There were
sun-flashes in the glades, where the jays chattered and the cushats
cooed, and where ever and anon a rabbit rustled through. Often over
these the kestrel hung and vibrated its shadow on the spot beneath; or
the sparrow-hawk with its clean-cut figure stared with the down on his
beak on a dead pine bough. In the summer red creatures that were bits
of light gracefully glided among green tassels, and the chatter of
squirrels was heard. The older trees attracted woodpeckers, and the
nuthatch threw out fine fibres of rotten wood. Sometimes a pheasant or
a partridge would startle, getting up from its olive eggs by a log left
by the charcoal-burners. Thus rudely disturbed, it had no time to
scatter leaves over its nest, as is its wont. The shaggy and corrugated
bark of the old trees is larvæ-haunted, and consequently mouse-like
creepers abound. These little creatures on every trunk showed
conspicuously as they ran their marvellous adaptation to an end, and
fulfilled it perfectly. All the wood-birds were there--the
White-throat, the Wood and the Willow Wren, the Chiffchaff, and
Garden-warbler. These sang from the leafy boughs. But higher up,
towards the escarpment, the floor of the wood was rugged and
rock-strewn. Boulders had rolled from above, and among these dwelt
weasels and ermines. There were at least a pair of martins, and foxes
from the fells had their tracks through the woods. A primitive mansion
had once stood in the wood, but now was gone. It had been large, and
green mounds, now laid low, marked out its dimensions. Old
oak-panelling, with long-gone dates, were sometimes dug up, and these
were covered with carvings--"carvings quaint and curious, all made out
of the carver's brain." Lying around this had been an extensive
orchard, the rich, though old trees of which remained. And now, in this
glorious summer-time, the golden fruit fell unheeded to the ground. For
Hazelhurst was long distant from town or nearest village. Brambles held
their luscious fruit, and every species of ground berry grew there. No
wonder it was a paradise to mice and squirrels and birds. They revelled
in nature's ample provision, and were undisturbed.

Here, in the days of our immediate ancestors, Badgers were plentiful.
Now, where a ridge of rock ran through the wood, there was a hole, the
entrance to a somewhat spacious cavity. This could be seen for the
seeking, not otherwise. Brambles and ground-ivy protected it. Black
bryony and woodbine twisted up every available stem, and a knot of
blackthorn grew over all. The spot was protected and dense. One day we
invaded it, but after long crawling and sticking fast had to return. In
it lived the badgers--had done so time out of mind, and the few
poachers who knew it called it "Brock-holes." "Brock" is the old
north-country word for badger, and, as we have said, everything
testified to its presence. In this wild fruit paradise at least two
pairs of badgers bred. Each pair had more than one apartment--at least
the young were not produced in that which formed the general abode.
These were at the ends of the burrow, where were the beds, composed of
roots and dried grass. The young were brought forth in April, and after
about six weeks might have been seen sitting about the mouth of their
hole, or accompanying their dam to short distances when on her evening
rambles. We always found the badgers unoffending, harmless creatures
unless first attacked. They fed almost entirely on roots, wild fruit,
grain, and occasionally insects. They were, however, extremely shy and
wary. Beautiful it was to see these creatures on summer evenings
searching for food among the low bushes, occasionally giving a low
grunt when some favourite root was turned up. When insects came within
their reach they were snapped up somewhat after the manner of a dog
catching flies. The life of the badger is eminently that of a peaceful
creature, harmless in all its ways, unoffending, interesting in its
life-history, useful, and, above all, fitted with a quiet contentment
almost human. The body of the badger is long and heavy and its legs
short, which give it an awkward shambling appearance when running. Its
beautifully-shaped head has two long lines running from the snout to
the tips of the ears. The upper parts of its body are light grey,
becoming darker below, the lower parts being quite black.

The total length of a fully-grown male badger is about thirty-six
inches. The structure of the creature is especially adapted to its mode
of life, this being shown in the slender muzzle, with movable snout,
which is employed in digging. It is when thus occupied, too, that the
short, stout limbs are seen fulfilling their end; and when no natural
cavity exists it is these limbs and snout that provide one. Both are
brought into frequent requisition when digging for roots, of certain of
which the badger is particularly fond. Badgers are quite susceptible of
domestication, and a friend had a pair which he led about in collars.
They are possessed of great affection for their young, and rush blindly
into danger, or even suffer themselves to be killed, in attempting to
rescue them....

We have stretched our length along a slab of rock which margins the
bank and recedes far under it. The stream for the most part is rapid,
but here narrows to slow, black depth. Ever and ceaselessly does the
water chafe and lap among the shelving rocks, and this, with the
constant "drip," only seems to make the silence audible. Fungi and
golden mosses light up our dark retreat. Never was green more green nor
lichen tracery more ravishing. Close-clinging and rock-loving is all
life here. Water percolates through the bank, and spreads its silver
filament over all. Far out and beyond the deep wood it comes from the
scaurs, and the limestone sends its carbonate to dome our retreat.
Miniature stalactites hang from the roof, and bright bosses rise from
the floor. Frail fern fronds depend from the crevices, and as the light
rushes in, masses of golden saxifrage gild all the chamber. The beams
will not long stay, for the sun dips in the western woods. From the
mouth of our recess we take in a silent river reach. It is thickly
embowered and overhung. Long drooping racemes of green tree flowers
attract innumerable insects, especially those of the lime, and intent
upon these a flycatcher sits lengthwise upon a branch. How beautiful
are its short flights, the iridescence of its plumage, its white
eye-lines, and barred forehead! Numerous small waterfalls, the gauze
and film veils of which, when the wind blows, and dripping moss, have
attracted the dippers. Kingfishers, too, in their green flight, dash
over the still water. The remote pines have lost their light, and stand
black against the sky. Sundown has come, and it is the hour of vesper
hymns. The woods are loud swelling volumes of sound. Behind us is a
woodland enchanted, though with no sadder spirits than blackbirds and
thrushes that whistle to cheer it. This loud evening hymn lasts for an
hour, then subsides, and the woods hush. The stem of the silver birch
ceases to vibrate to the blackbird's whistle. The polyglot wood-thrush
is dreaming of gilded fly and dewy morn, and finally that last far-off
song has ceased. Silence--an intense holy calm--is over the woods.
Chill comes, the dew rises, and twilight;--and the night side of
nature. How rich and varied is that of the stream side! The fern-owls
with their soft plumage and noiseless flight come out, as do the great
moths and bustards.

This prevalence of life at the same time is as Nature would have
it--the one acting as food for the other. The beat of unseen pinions is
heard above, but no object visible--some night-haunting bird flying off
to its feeding ground. Through the short night summer snipe whistle and
wail. Newly-arrived crakes call from the meadows, and a disturbed
lapwing gets up crying from the green cornstalks. Maybe the disturber
was the hare whose almost human cry now comes from the thorn fence. For
it the corn sprouts have come for the last time, and soon it will be in
the poacher's wallet. A loud splash comes from the water, and a great
black trout has sucked down its prey. This is a large-winged night-fly.
That first splash is a token of more abundant night food, and soon the
reach boils. Every speckled trout is "on its feed." How we long for
the pliant, sympathetic rod! Then, ye lusty trout, how would the
undefinable thrill rush at intervals up our arm! But our mission
to-night is not this. The herons scream, the wood-owls hoot, and--what
is that other night sound? The crescent moon shows a bit of light at
intervals; soon masses of cloud intervene.

A faint whistle, unlike that of any bird, comes up stream, and although
imperceptible the dark, still water is moved. The trout cease to rise.
The whistle comes nearer, and then a rustle is heard. The osier beds
are stirred, and some long dark object makes its way between the parted
stems. A movement would dispel the dark shadow, and which in turn would
divide the dark water and take it silently away. The otters have
reconnoitered, and all is safe. They come paddling down stream, and,
arriving at the pool, stop, tumble and frolic, rolling over and over,
and round and round, and performing the most marvellous evolutions you
could possibly conceive. They swing on the willow spray, and dash with
lightning velocity at a piece of floating bark, tumble with it, wrestle
with it, and go through a hundred wonderful movements. They are
motionless, then begin to play, and so continue for nearly an hour,
when, as if suddenly alarmed, they rush down stream to their fishing
grounds, and leave us cold and benumbed. We plod through the meadow
beneath the moon and stars, chilled to the marrow by the falling dew.

Otters are still abundant on the banks of most northern streams, as
also among the rocks and boulders of the coast-line. Human invasion
drives them from their haunts, although, where waters remain
unpolluted, they not unfrequently pass up the rivers by towns and
villages during the still night. On the margins of the more secluded
tarns of the fells, otters, too, are yet found. Fitted for an aquatic
existence, the structure of the otter beautifully exhibits the
provisions suitable to its mode of life. On land it can travel swiftly,
though the water is its best element. Immersed in this, its coat
appears smooth and glossy. In pursuing its prey it performs the most
graceful movements, doubling and diving so rapidly that it is difficult
to follow its evolutions. When fishing, its object is to get beneath
the object pursued, as, from the construction of its eyes, which are
placed high in the head, it is better enabled to secure its prey. This
it seldom fails to do, its whole structure, as already remarked,
greatly facilitating its movements in the water. Its uniform dusky
brown coat has, like all aquatic creatures, a soft under-fur with long
hair above.

The otter generally takes possession of a natural cavity, a drain, or a
hole made by the inundation of the stream. The entrance is usually
under water, and inclines towards the bank. Situations where the latter
is overhung with bushes and with tall water plants in the vicinity are
generally chosen. From this the young, when three or four weeks old,
betake themselves to the water. If captured now they may easily be
domesticated. One of our friends has to-day a young otter, which he
leads about in a leash. At Bassenthwaite a man and his son trained a
pair of otters to fish in the lake. They would return when called upon,
or follow their master home when the fishing was over. The males in
spring fight desperately, and once, when hidden, we witnessed a fight
which lasted an hour, and so engrossed did the combatants become that
we approached and, taking the part of the lesser, shot its aggressor.

And now a word as to the food of the otter. That it destroys fish we
are not about to deny. But this liking for fish has become such a
stereotyped fact (?) in natural history that it is glibly repeated,
parrot-like, and so continues until most readers have come to accept
it. The otter destroys but few fish, using the word in its popular
acceptation. What it destroys are for food, and not out of love of
killing. The greater part of its diet consists of fresh-water crayfish,
thousands of which it destroys, and it is for these that long journeys
are so frequently made. This does not apply to the pairing season; the
wanderings have then another end. Many miles in a night are traversed
for these crustaceans, the beds of mountain and moorland streams being
tracked to their source, almost every stone on the way being examined.
At least upon two occasions have we found the remains of the moor-hen
after an otter's meal.



CHAPTER IV.

COURIERS OF THE AIR.


The power of flight being almost exclusively the characteristic
attribute of birds, it is somewhat strange that even the most eminent
naturalists should be silent upon it. And yet this is almost
universally so. Those who mention the speed of flight do so upon the
most insufficient evidence, as witness Michelet's statement that the
swallow flies at the rate of eighty leagues an hour. Roughly this gives
us a thousand miles in four hours; but assuredly, even in its dashes,
the swallow does not attain to anything like this speed. The Duke of
Argyll is rather under than over the mark when he computes the speed at
more than a hundred miles an hour. Here, however, the mechanism of
flight in the swallows is carried through an ascending scale, until in
the swift it reaches its highest degree of power both in endurance and
facility of evolution. Although there are birds which may, and probably
do, attain to a speed of one hundred and fifty miles an hour, this
remarkable rate is not to be looked for in any of the birds of the
swallow kind. There is something fascinating in the idea of eliminating
time and space, and with this attribute popular fancy has in some
measure clothed the swallows. At the greater rate of speed indicated
above the swallow might, as has been stated, breakfast round the
Barbican, and take its mid-day _siesta_ in Algiers. This, however,
is a popular myth. In their migrations swallows stick close to land,
and never leave it unless compelled; they cross straits at the
narrowest part, and are among the most fatiguable of birds. From this
it will be seen that although swallows may possess considerable speed,
they have no great powers of sustained flight or endurance. These
attributes belong, in the most marked degree, to several ocean birds.

Any one who has crossed the Atlantic must have noticed that gulls
accompany the ship over the whole distance; or, at least, are never
absent throughout the voyage. The snowy "sea swallows," as the terns
are called, seem quite tireless on the wing; though the petrels and
albatross alone deserve the name of oceanic birds. Sir Edwin Arnold, in
an account of his voyage to America, writes as follows of the
sea-swallows: "Every day we see playing round the ship and skimming up
and down the wave-hollows companies of lovely little terns and
sea-swallows, the latter no larger than thrushes. These fearless people
of the waste have not by any means followed us from land, living, as
gulls often will, on the waste thrown from the vessel. They are vague
and casual roamers of the ocean, who spying the great steamship from
afar, have sailed close up, to see if we are a rock or an island, and
will then skim away on their own free and boundless business. Yonder
tiny bird with purple and green plumage, his little breast and neck
laced with silver, is distant one thousand miles at this moment from a
drop of fresh water, and yet cares no more for the fact than did the
Irish squire who 'lived twelve miles from a lemon.' If his wings ever
grow weary it is but to settle quietly on the bosom of a great billow
and suffer it for a time to rock and roll him amid this hissing
spendrift, the milky flying foam, and the broken sea-lace which forms
and gleams and disappears again upon the dark slopes. When he pleases,
a stroke of the small red foot and a beat of the wonderful wing launch
him off from the jagged edge of his billow, and he flits past us at one
hundred knots an hour, laughing steam and canvas to scorn, and steering
for some nameless crag in Labrador or Fundy, or bound, it may be,
homeward for some island or marsh of the far-away Irish coast.
Marvellously expressive of power as is our untiring engine, which all
day and all night throbs and pants and pulses in noisy rhythm under the
deck, what a clumsy affair it is compared to the dainty plumes and
delicate muscles which carry that pretty, fearless sea-swallow back to
his roost."

No deserts seem to bound the range of the petrels, and they are found
at every distance from land. Different species inhabit every
ocean--from the fulmar in the far north to the giant petrel which
extends its flight to the icebanks of the south. Here the Antarctic and
snowy petrels appear, floating upon the drift ice, and never leaving
these dreary seas. Another bird of immense wing power is the tiny
stormy petrel, the smallest web-footed bird known. It belongs to every
sea, and although so seeming frail it breasts the utmost fury of the
storm, skimming with incredible velocity the trough of the waves, and
gliding rapidly over their snowy crests. Petrels have been observed two
thousand miles from nearest land, whilst at half that distance Sir
James Ross once saw a couple of penguins quietly paddling in the sea. A
pair of the rudimentary wings of this bird are lying before me as I
write. These are simply featherless paddles, but by their aid so
rapidly does the bird swim that it almost defies many of the fishes to
equal it. The enormous appetite of the giant penguin (which weighs
about eighty pounds) may have something to do with its restricted
powers of flight, and in the stomach of one of these Ross found ten
pounds of quartz, granite, and trap fragments, swallowed most likely to
promote digestion.

But surely the lord of the winged race is the bird which does not rest;
and this may almost be said of the man-of-war or frigate bird. He is a
navigator who never reaches his bourne, and from his almost ceaseless
flight it would seem as though earth and sea were equally prohibited to
him. To a bird with such an immense and superior wing apparatus, the
metaphor, "he sleeps upon the storm," becomes almost literal. This
black, solitary bird is nearly nothing more than wings, his prodigious
pinions measuring fifteen feet, even surpassing those of the condor of
the Andes. Although sometimes seen four hundred leagues from land, the
frigate bird is said to return every night to its solitary roost.

Of all birds, the albatross has, perhaps, the most extended powers of
flight. It has been known to follow a vessel for several successive
days without once touching the water except to pick up floating food;
and even then it does not rest. In describing the flight of this bird
from personal observation, Captain Hutton writes as follows: "The
flight of the albatross is truly majestic, as with outstretched
motionless wings he sails over the surface of the sea--now rising high
in the air, now with a bold sweep and wings inclined at an angle with
the horizon, descending until the tip of the lower one all but touches
the crests of the waves as he skims over them. I have sometimes watched
narrowly one of these birds sailing and wheeling about in all
directions for more than an hour without seeing the slightest movement
of the wings, and have never witnessed anything to equal the ease and
grace of this bird as he sweeps past, often within a few yards--every
part of his body perfectly motionless except the head and eye, which
turn slowly and seem to take notice of everything. 'Tranquil its spirit
seemed and floated slow; even in its very motion there was rest.'" But
these birds and the frigate bird are sea and ocean species, and, with
rare exceptions, are able to rest upon the waters. This, however,
cannot be said of many of the land birds, and here observation is
easier.

As an antithesis to the apparently lifeless wings of the albatross,
Pettigrew compares the ceaseless activity of those of the humming-bird.
In these delicate and exquisitely beautiful birds, the wings, according
to Gould, move so rapidly when the bird is poised before an object that
it is impossible for the eye to follow each stroke, and a hazy circle
of indistinctness on each side the bird is all that is perceptible.
When a humming-bird flies in a horizontal direction, it occasionally
proceeds with such velocity as altogether to elude observation. Mention
of the calm majestic flight of the albatross suggests the possibility
of birds resting on the wing. An American naturalist asserts that birds
of prey and some others have the power to lock securely together those
parts of the wing holding the extended feathers, and corresponding to
the fingers of the human hand. The action of the air on the wing in
this condition extends the elbow, which is prevented from opening too
far by a cartilage, and the wings may keep this position for an
indefinite length of time, with no muscular action whatever on the part
of the bird. While resting in this way, the bird cannot rise in a still
atmosphere; but if there be a horizontal current, it may allow itself
to be carried along by it, with a slight tendency downward, and so gain
a momentum by which, with a slight change of direction, it may rise to
some extent, still without muscular action of the wings. This same
naturalist also believes it quite possible for birds to sleep on the
wing. As bearing on this subject, Professor J. S. Newbury asserts that
he once shot a bird which came slowly to the ground as if still flying,
but reached it dead. He believed that it had died high in the air; but
had never been able to account for the manner of its descent till now,
when he found an explanation in the statement just given.

Thousands of gold-crests annually cross and recross the North Sea at
the wildest periods of the year, and unless the weather is rough
generally make their migrations in safety. And yet this is the
smallest and frailest British bird--a mere fluff of feathers,
weighing only seventy grains. Another of the tits, the oxeye, has
been met upon two occasions at six hundred and nine hundred miles
from land. With regard to those birds which cross the Atlantic, it
matters not for our purpose whether they are driven by stress of
weather or cross voluntarily--suffice it they come. Less likely birds
that have occurred in Britain are the belted kingfisher and American
yellow-billed cuckoo. The white-winged crossbill must be mentioned
with less certainty, for, although a North American bird, it is also
found in some northern European countries.

All birds of great and sustained powers of flight have one well-marked
characteristic--they have long wings, with sharply-pointed ends. The
general truth of this will be at once admitted if the rule be applied
to the various species mentioned above. Another point is worthy of
notice. The apparent speed of flight to an unpractised eye is most
deceptive. A heron, as it rises and flaps languidly along the course of
a brook, appears not only to progress slowly but to use its wings in
like manner. Yet the Duke of Argyll has pointed out, and any one may
verify the statement by his watch, that the heron seldom flaps his
wings at a rate of less than from one hundred and twenty to one hundred
and fifty times in a minute. This is counting only the downward
strokes, so that the bird really makes from two hundred and forty to
three hundred separate movements a minute. The rook and heron fly in
almost straight lines, have large rounded wings, and float with the
greatest ease upon the air. The rook in its measured flight makes about
five-and-twenty miles an hour; the heron thirty. Our short-winged game
birds fly with incredible velocity, and any attempt to observe or count
their wing movements leaves but a blurred impression on the eye, whilst
in some species so quick is the vibratory movement as to prevent its
being seen. Driven grouse flying "down wind" have been known to
seriously stun sportsmen by falling upon their heads. A grouse does not
move its wings so rapidly as a partridge, though the late C. S. was
once clean knocked out of a battery by a grouse he had shot falling
upon him; and in this way loaded guns have frequently been fired by
dead birds. The Duke of Beaufort upon one occasion picked up a brace of
grouse which had cannoned and killed each other in mid-air, and
colliding is not an unfrequent occurrence. As illustrating a remarkable
quality of flight, the case of the kestrel or windhover may be taken.
On a summer day one may frequently see this pretty little falcon
standing against the blue in what seems an absolutely stationary
position, as though suspended by an invisible silken thread. But let a
meadow-mouse so much as move and it drops to the sward in an instant.

As has been already stated, there is perhaps nothing more wonderful in
nature than the power of flight, and no subject which yields such
startling facts upon investigation. "The way of an eagle in the air" is
one of those things of which Solomon expressed himself ignorant; and
there is something truly marvellous in the mechanism which controls
the scythe-like sweep of wings peculiar to most birds of prey. The
noblest of these, the peregrine, has been seen flying over mid-Atlantic;
and Henry IV., King of France, had a falcon which escaped from
Fontainebleau, and in twenty-four hours after was found in Malta, a
space computed to be not less than 1,350 miles, a velocity equal to
fifty-six miles an hour, supposing the hawk to have been on the wing
the whole time. Indeed, in Montagu's opinion, the rapidity with which
hawks and other birds occasionally fly is probably not less than at the
rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour, when either pursued or
pursuing. The speed of flight of the peregrine cited above is about
that of our best trained pigeons; and it may here be remarked that the
flight of these two (otherwise dissimilar) birds very much resembles
each other. The beautiful swallow-tailed kite has accomplished the feat
of flying across the whole Atlantic Ocean, which is hardly to be
wondered at seeing its vast powers of flight. Lieuwenholk relates an
exciting chase which he saw in a menagerie about one hundred feet long
between a swallow and a dragon-fly (Mordella). The insect flew with
incredible speed, and wheeled with such address that the swallow,
notwithstanding its utmost efforts, completely failed to overtake and
capture it. The best speed of a railway train is only a little more
than half the velocity of the golden eagle, the flight of which often
attains to the rate of one hundred and forty miles an hour. Of all
birds, the condor mounts highest into the atmosphere. Humboldt
describes the flight of this bird in the Andes to be at least twenty
thousand feet above the level of the sea. Upon one occasion a falcon
was observed to cut a snipe right in two, with such strength and
speed did it cut down its prey. Sparrow-hawks and merlins have not
unfrequently been known to crash through thick plate-glass windows
when in pursuit of prey, or at caged birds.

Of all British birds, none is so beautiful or so secluded in its habits
as the kingfisher. Its presence is peculiarly in keeping with the rapid
rocky trout streams which it loves to haunt. Its low, arrow-like
flight, as it darts like a streak of azure, green, and gold, is
familiar to every angler. He hears it far down stream; it comes under
the old ivied bridge, passes like a flash, and is gone--how quickly the
following will show. Mr. George Rooper, the well-known Biographer of
the Salmon, was travelling on the Great Western Railway, which between
Pangbourne and Reading runs parallel with, and close to, the Thames. As
the train approached the river a kingfisher started from the bank and
flew along the river for nearly a mile. Mr. Rooper watched it the whole
distance, and its relative position with the window never varied a
yard; the bird flying at exactly the same pace as that at which the
train travelled, and which the observer had just previously ascertained
to be fifty-five miles an hour. This is about half the speed at which
the eider-duck flies, as, when fairly on the wing, it makes upwards of
one hundred and twenty miles an hour. The rapidity with which all birds
of the plover kind fly is well known, and a "trip" of golden plover
have been seen midway between Hawaii and the mainland. An officer in
Donald Currie's line recently brought home with him a specimen of the
St. Helena waxbill which he caught when on watch on the bridge of the
_Grantully Castle_. At the time the nearest land was distant a
thousand miles, and the little captive was so distressed that it
quietly allowed the officer to capture it.

It has been computed that a red-throated diver swims about four and a
half miles on the surface of the water, and between six and seven
beneath the surface per hour. Macgillivray states that upon one
occasion he watched a flock of red-breasted mergansers pursuing sand
eels, when the birds seemed to move under the water with almost as much
velocity as in the air, and often rose to breathe at a distance of two
hundred yards from the spot at which they had dived. To show to what
depth this bird flies beneath the water it may be mentioned that one
was caught in a net at thirty fathoms; while a shag, or green
cormorant, has been caught in a crab pot fixed at twenty fathoms below
the surface; and guillemots literally fly under water without even
using their feet. As bearing directly on the interesting subject of
flight under water the case of another of the divers may be mentioned.
It has been said that one of the strong and original strokes of nature
was when she made the "loon," a bird which represents the wildness and
solitariness of the wildest and most solitary spots. It dives with such
marvellous quickness that the shot of the gunner gets there just in
time to cut across a circle of descending tail feathers and a couple of
little jets of water flung upward by the web feet of the loon. Speaking
of this bird Burroughs says that in the water "its wings are more than
wings. It plunges into this denser air, and flies with incredible
speed. Its head and beak form a sharp point to its tapering neck. Its
wings are far in front, and its legs equally far in the rear, and its
course through the crystal depths is like the speed of an arrow. In the
northern lakes it has been taken forty feet under water upon hooks
baited for the great lake trout. I had never seen one till last fall,
when one appeared on the river in front of my house. I knew instantly
it was the loon. Who could not tell a loon a half-mile or more away,
though he had never seen one before? The river was like glass, and
every movement of the bird as it sported about broke the surface into
ripples, that revealed it far and wide. Presently a boat shot out from
shore, and went ripping up the surface toward the loon. The creature at
once seemed to divine the intentions of the boatman, and sidled off
obliquely, keeping a sharp look-out as if to make sure it was pursued.
A steamer came down and passed between them, and when the way was again
clear the loon was still swimming on the surface. Presently it
disappeared under the water, and the boatman pulled sharp and hard. In
a few moments the bird reappeared some rods further on, as if to make
an observation. Seeing it was being pursued, and no mistake, it dived
quickly, and when it came up again had gone many times as far as the
boat had in the same space of time. Then it dived again, and distanced
its pursuer so easily that he gave over the chase and rested upon his
oars. But the bird made a final plunge, and when it emerged upon the
surface again it was over a mile away. Its course must have been, and
doubtless was, an actual flight under water, and half as fast as the
crow flies in the air. The loon would have delighted the old poets. Its
wild, demoniac laughter awakens the echoes on the solitary lakes, and
its ferity and hardiness were kindred to those robust spirits." Another
specially interesting bird which does something nearly approaching to
flying under water is the dipper. The ouzel is essentially a bird of
the running brook, though as to what part this pretty white-breasted
thrush plays in the economy of nature naturalists are by no means
agreed. Its most frequent stand is upon some mossy stone in a river
reach, and here its crescented form may oftenest be seen. It haunts the
brightly-running streams in winter as in summer, and when these are
transformed into roaring torrents seems to love them best. Let us watch
it awhile. It dashes through the spray and into the white foam,
performing its morning ablutions. Then it emerges to perch on a stone,
always jerking its body about, and dipping, dipping, ever dipping.
Presently it melts into the water like a bubble, but immediately
emerges to regain its seat, then trills out a loud wren-like song, but,
breaking off short, again disappears. We are standing on an old stone
bridge, and are enabled to observe it closely. By a rapid, vibratory
motion of the wings, it drives itself down through the water, and by
the aid of its wide-spreading feet clings to and walks among the
pebbles. These it rapidly turns over with its bill, searching for the
larvæ of water flies and gauzy-winged _ephemeræ_. It searches the
brook carefully downwards, sometimes clean immersed, at other times
with its back out, then with the water barely covering its feet. It
does not always work with the stream, as we have frequently seen him
struggling against it, but retaining its position upon the bottom. Even
at the present day there are naturalists who, from the examination of
cabinet specimens, aver that it is not in the power of the bird to walk
on the bottom of the brook, but then they know nothing of him along his
native streams.

Taking advantage of two birds remarkable for their long and sustained
powers of flight, experiments have recently been conducted with a view
to utilising swallows and pigeons as war messengers. In this connection
the use of trained pigeons is one of the oldest institutions in the
world; though now that certain European Powers have trained falcons to
cut down pigeons, it is said that the pigeon-post is not sufficiently
reliable. In consequence a number of French _savants_ recently
approached the Minister of War, and induced him to found a military
swallow-cote whence the birds might be trained. The Governor of Lille
was charged to test the plan, and certain experiments made at Roubaix
last year are now commanded to be repeated under the supervision of
Captain Degouy of the Engineers. During the coming autumn this
gentleman is to be present at a grand flight of messenger swallows; and
if his report is favourable, a swallow-cote will be founded and placed
under the care of special trainers at Mont Valérian. The idea of
engaging swallows in war is a pretty one, as in future all European
wars will have to be conducted in "Swallow-time"--when the warm winds
blow from the sunny south. This arrangement will at least obviate
night-watches in frozen trenches; nor is it likely that pickets will
any longer be starved to death at their posts. The incident is also
quoted in proof of the fact that we are nearing the time when Europe
will be governed by the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.
But, after all, the idiosyncrasies of France have a way of not being
fulfilled; and the reign of the swallow will doubtless be as ephemeral
as that of the _brav' Général_ himself. In all their military
operations of late the French have made considerable use of pigeons in
conveying despatches; and in the Franco-German war the birds played a
conspicuous part. Upon several occasions, indeed, the inhabitants of
beleaguered cities looked upon the successful flights of these birds as
their only hope betwixt death and starvation.

At the time the French were making trials with messenger swallows, the
young German Emperor ordered extensive experiments to be carried out
with carrier pigeons, the same to be tested at the Imperial
manoeuvres. Upon this, six of the first Columbarian Societies of
Germany each offered to supply twenty-four birds, which are now in
training. So we have it that the French are endeavouring to train
swallows, the Germans pigeons, and the Russians falcons. Whether the
falcons are themselves to convey messages, or are to be used to cut
down the swallows and pigeons whilst so engaged, is not stated. The
pigeon is a tried messenger, and has, moreover, some interesting and
remarkable records. The claim of the swallow, on the other hand, lies
all in its possibilities. In this connection "swallow" must stand in a
generic sense, and include all birds of the swallow kind as well as the
swift. Although, as already stated, swallows are among the most
fatiguable of birds, yet one of the American species--the purple
martin--would seem to be an exception, and the fact of its having
crossed the Atlantic is well known. It is true that swallows attain to
an immense speed in their rushes, and there is a well-authenticated
instance of one having flown twenty miles in thirteen minutes. The
probable speed of the swallow, flying straight and swift, is about one
hundred and twenty miles an hour; its ordinary speed ninety miles. The
swift attains to two hundred miles, and seems quite tireless on the
wing. If swifts can be inspired with a sense of discipline; if French
wars can invariably be arranged for the summer months; and if some
arrangement can be made with the insect hosts to keep the upper
air--_then_ something may come of the Lille experiments. If these
things cannot be, the French sharpshooter will never be asked to try
flying shots at swifts rushing through the air at the rate of two
hundred miles an hour. If the Russians are training falcons to catch
pigeons, the Germans must train raptors to catch swallows. Here is a
fact which proves the possibility. The hobby falcon, a summer migrant
to Britain, hawks for dragon-flies--among the swiftest of
insects--which it seizes with its foot and devours in mid-air. It cuts
down swifts, larks, pigeons, and, where they are found, bee-birds--all
remarkable for their great powers of flight. By way of testing the
speed of flight in birds of the swallow kind, Spallanzani captured and
marked a sand-martin or bank-swallow--the feeblest of its genus--on her
nest at Pavia and set her free at Milan, fifteen miles away. She flew
back in thirteen minutes. In striking contrast with the rate at which
birds with long pointed wings fly is the fact that one of a pair of
starlings (which are short-winged birds) was captured and sent in a
basket a distance of upwards of thirty miles by train. It was then
freed, and was three hours before it found its way back to its
nestlings.

To turn from swallows to pigeons. The power of pigeons on the wing is
proverbial. All trained birds of this species have two qualifications
in a marked degree. The first is speed; the second long and sustained
powers of flight. This proposition can be amply demonstrated, and the
following are some of the most remarkable records. On the 6th of
October, 1850, Sir John Ross despatched a pair of young pigeons from
Assistance Bay, a little west of Wellington Sound; and on October 13th
a pigeon made its appearance at the dovecote in Ayrshire, Scotland,
whence Sir John had the pair he took out. The distance direct between
the two places is two thousand miles. An instance is on record of a
pigeon flying twenty-three miles in eleven minutes; and another flew
from Rouen to Ghent, one hundred and fifty miles, in an hour and a
half. An interesting incident of flight is the case of a pigeon which,
in 1845, fell wounded and exhausted at Vauxhall Station, then the
terminus of the South-Western Railway. It bore a message to the effect
that it was one of three despatched to the Duke of Wellington from
Ichaboe Island, two thousand miles away. The message was immediately
sent on to his Grace, and by him acknowledged. In a pigeon competition
some years ago, the winning bird flew from Ventnor to Manchester, two
hundred and eight miles, at the rate of fifty-five miles an hour. As an
experiment a trained pigeon was recently dispatched from a northern
newspaper office with a request that it might be liberated for its
return journey at 9.45 a.m. It reached home at 1.10 p.m. having covered
in the meantime one hundred and forty miles, flying at the rate of
forty miles an hour. In the north pigeons have long been used to convey
messages between country houses and market towns; and in Russia they
are now being employed to convey negatives of photographs taken in
balloons. The first experiment of the kind was made from the cupola of
the Cathedral of Isaac, and the subject photographed was the Winter
Palace. The plates were packed in envelopes impenetrable to light, and
then tied to the feet of the pigeons, which safely and quickly carried
them to the station at Volkovo. Here is another interesting instance of
speed and staying power. The pigeons in this case flew from Bordeaux to
Manchester, and not only beat all existing records, but flew more than
seventy miles further than anything previously attempted by English
flyers. The winning bird flew at the rate of eighteen hundred and
seventy-nine yards a minute, or over sixty-four miles an hour, and that
for a distance of one hundred and forty-two and a half miles. The same
club has flown birds distances of six hundred and thirteen, and six
hundred and twenty-five miles. These latter, however, were several days
in returning, and in their case the only wonder is that they could
accomplish the distance at all. The following is still more
interesting, as it entailed a race between birds and insects. A
pigeon-fancier of Hamme, in Westphalia, made a wager that a dozen bees
liberated three miles from their hive would reach it in better time
than a dozen pigeons would reach their cot from the same distance. The
competitors were given wing at Rhynhern, a village nearly a league from
Hamme, and the first bee finished a quarter of a minute in advance of
the first pigeon, three other bees reached the goal before the second
pigeon, the main body of both detachments finishing almost
simultaneously an instant or two later. The bees, too, may be said to
have been handicapped in the race, having been rolled in flour before
starting for purposes of identification.

The American passenger pigeon compasses the whole Atlantic ocean. The
speed of its flight is approximately known; it is able to cover one
thousand six hundred miles in twenty-four hours. This, however, is
marvellous, when it is seen that, flying at the rate of nearly seventy
miles an hour, it takes the bird two days and nights to cross. What
must be the nature of the mechanism that can stand such a strain as
this? This pigeon is now recognised as a British bird. Several examples
have occurred, and whilst some of these were probably "escapes," others
doubtless were wild birds. These had perfect plumage, were taken in an
exhausted condition, and their crops showed only the slightest traces
of food. As is well known, the passenger pigeon is a bird of immense
powers of flight, and in its overland journeys often flies at the rate
of a mile a minute. Wild birds, however, can only come from America;
and this opens up the interesting question as to the possibility of
birds crossing the Atlantic without once resting. Naturalists of the
present day say that this feat is not only probable, but that it is
accomplished by several birds. Mr. Darwin somewhere asserts that one or
two of them are annually blown across the ocean; and it is certain that
half-a-dozen species have occurred upon the west coasts of England and
Ireland, which are found nowhere but in North America. Mr. Howard
Saunders states that passenger pigeons are often captured in the State
of New York with their crops still filled with the undigested grains of
rice that must have been taken in the distant fields of Georgia and
South Carolina; apparently proving that they passed over the
intervening space within a few hours. It certainly seems remarkable
that a bird should have the power of winging its way over four thousand
miles of sea; but recently two persons have recorded the fact that they
have noticed pigeons settle upon the water to drink, then rise from it
with apparent ease. And Mr. Darwin says that, where the banks of the
Nile are perpendicular, whole flocks of pigeons have been seen to
settle on the water and drink while they floated down the stream. He
adds that, seen from a distance, they resemble flocks of gulls on the
surface of the sea. The passenger pigeon is one of the handsomest of
its kind. The accounts of its migrations in search of food are known to
all. It is said to move in such vast flocks as to darken the earth as
they pass over, and that one of these columns brings devastation
wherever it comes.

In the Anglo-Belgian pigeon races, some of the birds attain to nearly a
mile a minute, and this when the race is for five hundred miles. The
English, French, and Germans all rear pigeons in their fortresses; and
the birds are utilised by the Trinity House in conveying messages from
the lightships. They are also in use on the Indian stations. The
following are additional remarkable instances of quick and long
sustained powers of flight which show what the pigeon is capable of
doing. Thirty-three birds were recently brought from Termonde, in
Belgium, and were liberated at Sunderland at 5 a.m. A telegram received
at the latter place stated that sixteen of the birds reached home at
1.35 the same afternoon, having accomplished the distance of four
hundred and eighty miles in about eight and a half hours, or about
fifty-six miles an hour. A week previous the same birds had flown from
London to Brussels.

It has frequently been suggested that homing pigeons should be used
to carry telegraphic messages between country houses and post
offices. In many cases pigeons have been used as telegraphic
messengers with the most successful results. Sending into town, by
the people of the Hall is a frequent occurrence, and whenever a
messenger had occasion to go, some pigeons, bred at the Hall are sent
in a hamper by the dog-cart or what-not. These are taken possession
of by a local tradesman living near the post office, who also
receives the telegrams. The latter are rolled up and tied either
round the bird's leg, or so that it lies across the upper part of its
breast. The pigeon is then liberated, and in about ten minutes from
the time of despatch the telegram is delivered at the Hall, five
miles distant. The reverse process is repeated with the tradesman's
pigeons kept at the Hall if a reply to the telegram is required. The
platform leading into the pigeon-house is connected with an electric
bell that rings when the pigeon, reaching home, alights on the
platform, and thus notifies the servants the arrival of a telegram;
one of them then goes and unties it from the bird's neck. Much saving
in porterage is thus accomplished; the telegrams are delivered in a
few minutes, and rarely, if ever, lost. The ordinary homing pigeon is
best adapted for the purpose, being an inexpensive purchase. In proof
of this fitness the following most remarkable incident may be
recorded. A number of English homers were recently sent to Lassay, an
inland town of France, but for some reason the French police
authorities refused to start them, and the birds were relegated to
Cherbourg, where they were liberated at 7 a.m. One of them was seen
to alight on the roof of its loft at 11.30 the same forenoon. It had
accomplished the entire distance of about three hundred miles,
including one hundred miles of water, in a bee-line from Cherbourg to
Birkenhead at the rate of over a mile a minute. This particular bird
had never been any great distance from home, and although English
bred it was from a famous strain of Belgian "homers." The large
provincial towns in the north of England are the great centres of
pigeon-flying. Recently as many as two thousand five hundred birds
were liberated at a flight. Every one of these pigeons were out of
sight in one minute from the time they were thrown up, a fact which
shows how strong is the "homing" instinct within them. The homing
pigeon may not supersede the telegraph; but in disturbed times it is
the business of an enemy to cut the wires, to tap them, or even to
send misleading despatches along them. No such danger need be
apprehended from a carrier pigeon, for, if well trained, it will fly
straight from loft to loft, never parting with its tiny scroll unless
killed or taken--a mishap which is not likely to befall more than one
or two of a flight. As already stated, some remarkable results have
already been achieved, not only by Government birds--whose
performances and proceedings are, of course, kept secret--but by
those belonging to the numerous carrier-pigeon societies which have
been established on the Continent either for mere amusement or with
more patriotic objects in view. Thus, some years ago, a homing pigeon
covered the six hundred and fifteen miles--air-line--between Liége,
in Belgium, and San Sebastian, in Spain, in the course of a single
day; and in the United States as much as five hundred miles has been
traversed in from twenty-four to twenty-eight hours--that is, the
birds were absent from loft to loft for that period. But, as the
progress of the pigeon from one station to another cannot be
accurately followed, it may have halted on the way. The bird is
believed to travel the first day without stopping, and being stiff
and sore, to rest the second day, resuming its journey on the third,
since it is seldom that "a return" comes back travel-stained or weary.

When the rearing and training of carrier-pigeons for French military
service was seriously undertaken, the first thing to be done was to
find a breed of birds at once intelligent, hardy, strong, light on the
wing, and of a dull, uniform colour, likely to escape notice and
pursuit. All these attributes are possessed by the Belgian breed, which
is divided into two classes; the large, heavy Antwerp, and the smaller,
lighter Luttrich variety. The scientific training, which must be begun
early, is as follows: As soon as the young pigeons can fly they are
taken out of the pigeon-house, put into a basket, and carried (always
with the flying-hole of the basket kept carefully turned towards the
pigeon-house), to an unknown spot at a short distance, where they are
set free and let fly home. It is seldom that a pigeon fails, in the
first short trial, to find its way back to its paternal nest. At each
trial the distance is slightly lengthened. Pigeons six months old are
liberated at a distance of eighty kilometres from home, those of a year
old at one hundred and fifty kilometres, those of two years at three
hundred kilometres, and older tried birds at six hundred to eight
hundred kilometres. These, of course, are average measurements, and are
varied according to circumstance. The percentage of losses naturally
increases with increasing distance. In long flights the birds meet with
innumerable hindrances; rain, hail, fog, wind, and thunderstorms not
only impede their flight, but often affect their wonderful sense of
locality and direction. The birds are remarkably sensitive to
electricity, so that thunderstorms are peculiarly baffling to them, and
large forests, great extents of water, and ranges of mountains
influence and alter the upper air currents, by the direction of which
the pigeons, taught by some marvellous "instinct," are able to steer
their course. The average speed of a pigeon is reckoned at a kilometre
a minute, and on this basis, and taking into consideration the time of
year, length of daylight, weather, &c., calculations are made of the
distance a pigeon can be sent. In summer, when daylight begins at
half-past three in the morning and lasts till half-past eight at night,
a trained pigeon can fly about one thousand kilometres in a day, while
on a foggy November day, when the daylight begins late and darkness
comes on early, the same bird cannot accomplish more than four hundred
kilometres. One great drawback hitherto attendant on the use of pigeons
has been the supposed impossibility of making them fly backwards and
forwards between two points; they would only fly in one direction. Now,
however, Captain Malogoli, the head of the Italian military carrier
pigeon depôts, has, after immense and unwearying trouble, succeeded in
getting his pigeons to fly backwards and forwards between Rome and
Civita Vecchia (seventy-two kilometres). This practical success has
shattered the theories of various ornithologists, as Russ, who have
affirmed that pigeons cannot be made to fly in two directions. The
chief points to be observed in the rearing of pigeons are--roomy, warm
houses, facing toward the sun; scrupulous cleanliness, light food, and
abundance of clean, fresh water. The smaller the bird, and the quieter
its colour, the better chance it stands of safety from human and other
enemies; among the latter the falcon is the most dangerous. The
military pigeon-post is best organised in Germany, Italy, and France.
In the last French budget a sum of sixty-eight thousand francs was
devoted to this branch of the service, and there are at present in
France twenty-two sub-depôts, besides the chief pigeon station. In
Italy there are twelve sub-depôts, and five in the Italian possessions
in Africa.

The following are the regulations as to training and flying in
connection with the messenger war pigeons in Italy. The posts of
Digdegha, the wells of Tata, as well as the detachments sent out to
reconnoitre towards Ailet, Assur, &c., send their reports by means of
pigeons from the dovecote installed at Massowa, whence they are
forwarded to the headquarters at Saati. On rainy days, and when the
communications are confidential, the despatches are introduced into
goose-quills and sealed; but as this operation, above all when the
troops are on the march, entails a certain loss of time, they must
only, when possible, write a despatch on a leaf of a pocket-book with
which every officer and non-commissioned officer is provided; the
despatch is then tied to a tail-feather of the bird. Conventional signs
are also used in the case of a detachment being surprised by the enemy
and not having time to send a telegram. For instance, when one or more
pigeons arrive at the dovecote without despatches, and with the loss of
some tail feathers, it is a sign that the troops have been attacked.
Sometimes marks made with colour supply such-and-such information. Each
detachment carries three or four pigeons in a light basket of bamboo
and net. The distances being short, each despatch is sent by one
pigeon. A first despatch is sent at the hour fixed in advance by the
commander, the others successively as there is news to transmit. The
pigeon-basket is borne by soldiers, who relieve one another at stated
intervals. The grains of wheat and vessels of water are confided to a
corporal, who has the care of the pigeons. When the detachment has to
remain absent more than a day, they take with them four pigeons, with
wheat and water in a leathern case. If they have to return in a day,
they carry but three pigeons, with the food and drink necessary. The
frequent arrival of these birds from all quarters presents a curious
appearance. When they arrive they perch at the window of the dovecot,
where their mates and young await them. To enter they must pass through
a sort of cage-trap, which does not permit them to return, and at the
same time separates them from the other pigeons. The weight of the
newcomer sets an electric bell ringing; and this signal continues all
the time the bird remains in the trap; thus giving notice to the
sergeant of the guard, who takes the despatch and forwards it to
headquarters.

The liability of so defenceless a bird as the pigeon to attack has led
to experiments being undertaken from time to time with young ravens,
which make fairly quick and reliable messengers up to a distance of
about fifty miles. As the raven is very teachable (it can be made to
"retrieve" most creditably), and as it manifests a strong attachment to
its birth-place, there seems no reason why its training should not be
further extended in the new direction, for which its great spirit and
endurance appear eminently to fit it.

Here I have only touched upon the speed and power of flight, but the
whole subject is one of the most fascinating branches of natural
history. No reference has been made to the marvellous movements of
birds in the air, which constitute the very poetry of motion--the
stationary balancing, hovering, circling, and gliding, all of which may
be observed, especially among our own birds of prey.

Although much is known of the speed of birds and animals, there are but
few ascertained facts concerning that of insects and fishes. The
comparatively low intelligence of these two classes of animals makes it
difficult to direct them. They rarely fly or swim in anything
approaching to a straight line, and experiments give only approximate
results. Pike in pursuit of their prey seem to flash through the water;
and salmon and trout move almost as quickly. The Spanish mackerel, with
its smooth, cone-shaped body, is among the swiftest of fishes, and for
speed only finds a parallel in the dolphin. There is a great similarity
in shape between these two, and both cut the water like a yacht. The
first follows the fastest steamers with the greatest ease, in its
dashes swimming at five times their speed. The bonito is also a fast
swimmer; and all those fishes "trimmed" in like fashion with him.

There is one insect to which attention may be drawn, as affording a
most striking example of speed among lowly-winged creatures. That is
the dragon-fly. I have frequently had an opportunity of dropping into
company with the largest species (_Libellula grandis_), in its
aerial excursions in autumn by a particular roadside, along which
there was a rushy-margined pool. At such times the writer has been
occasionally on foot,--more frequently driving. On foot one has
scarcely any means of judging of its speed, for in a moment it is past
and gone out of sight. But what is the experience when you are driving,
say at ten or twelve miles an hour? This rapid voyager passes over,
proceeds beyond you almost out of sight, then turns, swerving widely
from right to left, repasses again in both directions, traversing
repeatedly the ground, while you are travelling, or rather dragging,
over the same space of about a mile only once. We are apt to exaggerate
in these matters, but with every allowance, having compared the flight
of a dragon-fly with that of a passing hawk, swallow, or cuckoo, I have
computed that this large species is capable of flying at a speed of
from eighty to one hundred miles an hour--an enormous draw upon the
creature's nerves and muscular powers, as manifested by occasional
rests of a few minutes upon a bush or a piece of sedge, its habits not
requiring uninterrupted flight at such a pace. Perhaps the need of
these occasional rests is an erroneous opinion founded upon too limited
an area of observation. For Cuvier has stated that M. Poey, who had
particularly studied the insects of Cuba, informed him that at certain
seasons of the year the northerly winds bring to the city of Havannah
and its neighbourhood an innumerable quantity of specimens of one
of the species of _Libellulæ_. Other instances of the periodical
flights or migrations of dragon-flies have been noted by observers.
And even butterflies have been seen to migrate to distant points of
land, making flights of fifty or sixty miles across water. These long
journeys may be relieved by occasional rests, as Mr. Newman and others
have ascertained that lepidopterous insects are able to alight upon the
water, rest awhile, and then rise with apparent ease--a fact readily
credited by fishermen, who so frequently see the green-and-grey drake
and other _ephemeræ_ float down stream, and, if not taken by the
trout, suddenly spring up again, and resume their aerial dances. But
this power of rapid movement in the dragonfly, be the rate more or
less, is in just keeping with its structure. The insect's body is
slender, the chest strongly developed, though firm; the wings, four
in number, are narrow, of great length, and consist of fine, thin,
dry membrane, stretched upon a series of lightly made _costæ_, or
rafters. No wonder, then, that with such a mechanism the creature
pursues its prey of smaller insects with such rapidity.

There are many insects which one would little suspect being furnished
with apparatus suited to swift and more or less continuous flight.
House flies frequent the insides of our windows, buzzing sluggishly in
and out of the room. But what different creatures are they when they
accompany your horse on a hot summer's day. A swarm of these little
pests keep pertinaciously on wing about the horse's ears; quicken the
pace up to ten or twelve miles an hour, still they are there; let a
gust of wind arise and carry them backwards and behind, the breeze
having dropped, their speed is redoubled, and they return to their post
of annoyance to the poor horse, even when urged to its fastest pace.
But this example gives only a partial proof of the fly's power of
flight, as the following will show. The writer was travelling one day
in autumn by rail at about twenty-five miles an hour, when a company of
flies put in an appearance at the carriage window. They never settled,
but easily kept pace with the train; so much so, indeed, that their
flight seemed to be almost mechanical, and a thought struck the writer
that they had probably been drawn into a kind of vortex, whereby they
were carried onward with little exertion on the part of themselves. But
this notion was quickly dispelled. They sallied forth at right-angles
from the carriage, flew to a distance of thirty or forty feet, still
keeping pace, and then returned with increased speed and buoyancy to
the window. To account for this look at the wings of a fly. Each
is composed of an upper and lower membrane, between which the
blood-vessels and respiratory organs ramify so as to form a delicate
network for the extended wings. These are used with great quickness,
and probably six hundred strokes are made per second. This would carry
the fly about twenty-five feet, but a seven-fold velocity can easily be
attained, making one hundred and seventy-five feet per second, so that
under certain circumstances it can outstrip the fleetest racehorse. If
a small insect like a fly can outstrip a racehorse, an insect as large
as a horse would travel very much faster than a cannon-ball.

Bees and wasps are even swifter than flies. Here is another actual
incident. The present writer has sprinkled individual wasps and bees
with rose-coloured powder, and has found that thus handicapped they
could with ease keep up with the fastest trains when speeding down
"Shap Summit," one of the steepest gradients in the country. Nor were
these carried along in the rush of air caused by the train. They would
come in and out of the window, sometimes disappearing for a minute or
more, but frequently returning again and again. At distances of from
five to ten miles they dropped behind, when others took their places.
All of us have seen the flagging, lazy butterfly, flitting from flower
to flower in our gardens--not quite so lazy, however, if goaded on by
some urgent motive. For when this little flutterer, touched by some
strange and mysterious feeling which we cannot read, mounts on sportive
wings, "through fields of air prepared to sail," she hurries onwards
and onwards to some new haven of real or fancied delight and happiness.
Such were the thoughts which occurred when one of these wanderers
accompanied the writer by the roadside for a couple of miles, never
flagging a yard behind, nay, sometimes being before a horse that was
travelling at the rate of nine or ten miles an hour. What could all
this speed and earnestness of the little creature mean? It is not easy
to explain how the butterfly, with its broad, soft, feathery wings,
should be able to accomplish the feat of speed just recorded.[1]

          [1] For several interesting facts concerning the flight of
          insects, especially the dragon-fly, I am indebted to the late
          Dr. Gough.

In the tropics countless swarms of locusts sometimes suddenly make
their appearance, and as suddenly vanish. They cover every leaf-bearing
thing, and occasionally completely denude whole districts of greenery.
So great are their powers of flight that they have been seen at sea
nearly four hundred miles from nearest land. In Natal the farmers,
rightly or wrongly, believe that the locusts introduce injurious seeds
upon their grass-lands, and the following would seem to show that their
belief is well founded. A Mr. Weale, who was of their way of thinking,
collected a packet of dried pellets and sent them to England. When
closely examined under the microscope they revealed a number of tiny
seeds, from which plants of seven kinds of grasses were ultimately
raised.

Among animals, those which have been longest under the care of man
have attained to the greatest degree of perfection in all those
qualities it has been deemed wise to develop. With his mind bent on
utility, man has striven to improve the staying and flying power of
pigeons; the strength and swiftness of horses; and has himself proved
to be a marvellous instance of speed and endurance. To observe the
differences of locomotion, both as regards structural contrivance and
speed among animals--the term "animal" being extended to every
member, high or low, within the province of the animal kingdom--is
one of the most fascinating of out-door studies. It is not an easy
matter, however, to compute the speed or mileage of quick-moving
animals. Among quadrupeds, the horse perhaps may be considered the
fleetest. "Hambletonian" covered a space of four miles in eight
minutes, which is but thirty miles an hour, if it could be continued.
"Firetail" ran a mile in one minute and four seconds; and the famous
"Eclipse" is said to have gone at the rate of a mile in a minute for
a short distance. But it is difficult to form any exact estimate of
his speed, as he never met with an opponent to put him to the test.
During one of his trials, an old woman, according to Youatt, was
asked if she had seen a race. Her reply was that "she could not tell
whether it was a race or not, but she had seen a horse with a white
leg running away at a monstrous rate, and another horse, a great way
behind, trying to run after him; but she was sure he would never
catch the white-legged horse, even if he ran to the world's end." The
above records refer of course to horses galloping; but trotting,
which is more or less an artificial mode of horse progression, has,
with regard to speed, almost been reduced to an art. For facts
concerning it we must look mainly to America, and perhaps no records
are more interesting than those of the famous trotting mare "Maud S."
On September 1st, 1884, Maud ran a mile over the Hartford track in
two minutes twenty-eight seconds; and every fourth day she trotted
over the same distance, the first being the slowest, and the fourth
the fastest--two minutes twenty seconds. At the end of eight days her
training consisted of trotting over two or three mile journeys, with
the result that the time was brought down to two minutes thirteen
seconds; and three days later to two minutes eleven and three-quarter
seconds. Resting some days, Maud was again tried, and among other
times succeeded in trotting the mile in a fraction of a second over
the above, but went marvellously in the last half-mile. Subsequently
to this she was shipped to Lexington, Kentucky, and when she had
covered the mile distance in two minutes sixteen and a half seconds,
it was decided that three days hence she should endeavour to beat her
own great record. This she succeeded in doing by trotting a mile in
two minutes nine and a half seconds; and a year later Maud made the
world's record--two minutes eight and three-quarter seconds. This is
what no other horse ever accomplished, and the interesting phase of
the situation is that the mare is even now in training to beat her
own splendid record given above.

As compared to the rate of speed in animals, those attained by man are
interesting. A hundred yards has been run in ten seconds; two hundred
yards in twenty and two-fifths; three hundred yards in thirty-one and a
half; and a quarter of a mile in forty-eight and four-fifths seconds,
by Messrs. A. Wharton, J. Shearman, C. G. Wood, and L. E. Myers
respectively. Mr. W. G. George holds the championship for one mile and
up to ten miles; his time for the former distance being four minutes
eighteen and two-fifths seconds, and for the latter fifty-one minutes
twenty seconds. For fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five miles Mr. G. A.
Dunning holds the record; the first distance being covered in one hour
twenty-four minutes and twenty-four seconds; the last in two hours
thirty-three minutes forty seconds. The same gentleman is champion at
forty miles. Mr. J. A. Squires has run thirty miles in three hours
seventeen minutes thirty-six and a-half seconds; and Mr. J. E. Dixon is
fifty-mile champion with six hours eighteen minutes and twenty-six and
one-fifth seconds--all truly marvellous performances.



CHAPTER V.

THE SNOW-WALKERS.


This morning--

    We looked upon a world unknown,
    On nothing we could call our own.
    Around the glistening wonder bent
    The blue walls of the firmament;
    No cloud above, no earth below,
    A universe of sky and snow.

The sun shines, and a rosy suffusion is over the landscape. All the
fences are buried deep, and the trees stand starkly outlined against
the sky. Millions of snow-crystals glint athwart the fields. Birds
swarm in the garden--the home birds more confiding and the wild birds
tame. Tits hang to the suet bags, and a general assembly flock to the
cornsheaf. A ring-ouzel flies wildly from the rowan-tree, and four or
five species of thrushes are among the berries of the shrubs.

So softly winnowed is the falling snow that it scarce bends the few
grasses and dead plants that now appear above its surface. The kindly
snow obliterates the torn and abraded scars of nature; but it not the
less effectually reproduces the prints of her children. To the light
the snow reveals the doings of the night. Does a mouse so much as
cross, she leaves her delicate tracery on the white coverlet. Away from
the homestead rabbits have crossed and recrossed the fields in a
perfect maze. That ill-defined "pad" tracks a hare to the turnips.
Pheasants and wood-pigeons have scratched for mast beneath the beeches,
and we find red blood-drops along the fence. These are tracked to a
colony of weasels in the old wall. Last night a piteous squeal might
have been heard from the half-buried fence, and the little tragedy
would be played out upon the snow. Five wild swans cleave the thin air
far up, and fly off with outstretched necks. The tiny brown wren bids
defiance to the weather; darting in and out of every hole and crevice,
usually reappearing with the cocoon of some insect in its bill. These
delicate footprints reproduce the long toes of the lark, and those are
the tracks of the meadow pipit. The hedge-berries are almost gone; and
here the redwing and fieldfare have run along the fence bottom in
search of fallen fruit. Those larger tracks by the sheep troughs show
that the hungry rooks have been scratching near, and the chatter of
magpies comes from the fir-tree tops. Scattered pine cones betoken a
flock of incessantly chattering crossbills; and once in the fir wood we
caught a glimpse of the scarlet appendages of the rare Bohemian
waxwing. The gaudily-coloured yellow-hammer shows well against the
snow, and bathes its orange plumage in the feathered rain. How our
British finches seem to enjoy the frost and snow! Certain it is that
now their stores of food become scant; but then they throw in their lot
with the sparrows of barn-door and rick-yard. The bright bachelor finch
stands out from his pure setting, and the daws look black against the
snow. "Tweet," "tweet," comes through the cold thin air, and is
startling in its stillness; and now we may hear as well as see the
flight of a flock of linnets and goldfinches. Here observe a tall,
nodding thistle-head, its once dark green leaves shrivelled up and
turned to grey, its purple flower-rays to russet brown. They contain
ripened seeds. A goldfinch hangs to the under surface, and a
rose-breasted linnet clings to the topmost spray. The two frail things
are not unlike in form, though the goldfinch is by far the handsomer
bird. His prettily-shaped beak is flesh-coloured, as are also his legs.
His head has patches of scarlet, white, and black, each well defined
and setting off the other. The breast and back are of varying tints of
warm russet brown, and the feathers of the wing are picked out with
orange. His tail is alternately elevated and depressed as he changes
his position; and the patches of golden yellow are well brought out as
he flutters from spray to spray. Thus do the linnet and the goldfinch
go through the winter, together ranging the fields, and feeding upon
the seeds they can pick up.

Along the meadow brook a stately heron has left its imprints; the
water-hen's track is marked through the reeds; and there upon the icy
margin are the blurred webs of wild ducks. A bright red squirrel runs
along the white wall. In its warm furs it shows sharply against the
fence. Naturalists say that the squirrel hibernates through the winter;
but this is hardly so. A bright day, even though cold and frosty,
brings him out to visit some summer store. The prints of the squirrel
are sharply cut, the tail at times just brushing the snow. The mountain
linnets have come down to the lowlands; and we flush a flock from an
ill-farmed field where weeds run rampant. When alarmed the birds wheel
aloft, uttering the while soft twitterings, then betake themselves to
the trees. The seeds of brook-lime, flax, and knapweed the twite seems
partial to, and this wild-weed field is to them a very paradise. Just
now, walking in the woods, the cry of the bullfinch is heard as perhaps
the most melancholy of all our birds, but its bright scarlet breast
compensates for its want of cheeriness. A flock of diminutive
gold-crests rush past us, and in the fir wood we hear but cannot see a
flock of siskins.

Higher up the valley, towards the hills, tracks of another kind begin
to appear. On the fells we come across a dead herdwick, trampled about
with innumerable feet. We examine these closely, and find that they are
only of two species--the raven and the buzzard. Further in the scrub we
track a pine-marten to its lair in the rocks. The dogs drive it from
its stronghold, and, being arboreal in its habits, it immediately makes
up the nearest pine trunk. Its rich brown fur and orange throat make it
one of the most lithely beautiful of British animals. A pair of stoats
or ermines, with their flecked coats just in the transition stage, have
their haunt in the same wood. From the snow we see that last night they
have threaded the aisles of the pines in search of food. This clear-cut
sharp track by the fence is that of a fox.

Another fascinating aspect of nature in winter are the woods. When
snow-covered there is a grandeur and majesty about them such as they
never wear at other times. The giant limbs of the trees stand starkly
outlined against the sky, and nought but sound silence possesses the
aisles of plumed pines. Except the faint trickle of the stream, it
would seem almost as though the pulse of nature had ceased to beat. Of
course, this only applies to the interior of the woods, and the
suggestion is emphasised by the thick soft carpetings of pine needles
where these have dropped for many tree-generations.

Once again we are enjoying the pleasure of wild shooting in winter, but
now in the open glades. Again there has been a slight fall of snow,
and, sure, morning was never more beautiful. The feathered rain is
crisp to the tread, and the warm sun converts the air to that of
summer. The sea is blue, the hills rose-tinted, and the snow-crystals
make the landscape gloriously, dazzlingly bright. A coating of snow
will always arrest the eye of the observant sportsman, more especially
if he have a _penchant_ for natural history. There are the tracks
and trails of birds and animals, and what zest is added to the search
in the possibility of finding a new one! Only those who follow the
tracks of the snow-walkers know really how rich is the land in all
animate nature. Be the stitching on the white coverlet never so faint
or so delicate, it is always rendered faithfully. In the snow we read
out the history of the wild creatures immediately about us, the
existence of which we never even suspected. In our home fields there
are two or three mice, as many shrews, and a couple of voles. These
latter leave their tracks in the hedge-bottoms, or along the stream
sides, and we see not only where they have burrowed, but what they have
eaten. The shrews and mice are on dryer ground, and their delicate feet
have pencilled the prettiest patterns upon the snow. The tracks of the
partridge are pretty, too, and from them we read what ceaseless runners
the birds are. A depression shows where they have roosted last night,
and then their tracks may be followed through the stubble and seed
fields. By the brook-side are the hair-like tracings of innumerable
small birds; and the water margins here record the fullest registering.
This may be owing to the soft brook banks and their aquatic life, when
the rest of the fields are icebound. Then many of the spawning fish are
still on the redds, and the prospect of these may be an additional
inducement to some of the fish-feeding creatures. Here, clutching a
tuft of couch-grass is a dead barn-owl, for which the intense cold has
proved too much--one enemy less to the shrews and field mice, whose
hasty tracks here and there show that more than once last night they
have had to beat a hasty retreat. Once during the day, as the ferrets
were turned into a burrow, some one pointed out a brace of ermines that
had doubtless been looking after the rabbits on their own account. They
were still in their brown summer fur, and made their way over the snow
and out of harm's way at a remarkably rapid rate. This little incident
reminds us of a brown owl which emerged from a rabbit-hole just as the
ermines did, and curiously enough these birds had a couple of eggs and
a young one even in December, with the ground snow-covered. The heavy
blurred tracks of grouse were at first difficult to determine, and the
key to them was only to be found in the birds themselves, as they rose
with a startling whirr. They had been driven from the higher to the
lower ground in search of food. One of the terriers disinterred a spiny
hedgehog from its warm, leafy retreat, and "Prickles" probably felt
much mystified to find himself in a world of dazzling whiteness.

There was one other track which it would be long and devious to
follow--one which had been abroad under the moon and stars, and from
its trail would seem to have known the ways and the haunts of both
furred and feathered game by heart--and that was the old poacher. The
snow is a great tell-tale, but it causes the poacher's eye to grow keen
and his step firm; and nothing but the gaol walls will prevent his
being a snow-walker. His life has been one long protest against the
game laws; and whatever he is, or is not, he believes them to be
unjust.



CHAPTER VI.

WHEN DARKNESS HAS FALLEN.


A time of absolute quiet can never be observed in the country. It
matters not as to time and season; there seems to be no general period
of repose. There is always something abroad, some creature of the
fields and woods, which by its voice or movements is betrayed. Just as
in an old rambling house there are always strange noises that cannot be
accounted for, so in the by-paths of nature there are innumerable
sounds which can never be localised. To those, however, who pursue
night avocations in the country--gamekeepers, poachers, and
others--there are always calls and cries which bespeak life as animate
under the night as that of the day. This is attributable to various
animals and birds, to night-flying insects, and even to fish. Let us
track some of these sounds to their source.

"When comes still evening on, and twilight grey hath in her sober
liv'ry all things clad," then it is that the white owl comes abroad.
Passing the remains of an old baronial hall, its piercing screech comes
from the dismantled tower. Here the owls have lived time out of mind,
and we have seen and heard them, asleep and awake, through every hour
of the day and night. It is unnatural history to assert, as Mr. Gray
does, that the barn-owls ever mope or mourn or are melancholy. Neither
are they grave monks nor anchorites nor pillared saints. A boding bird
or a dolorous! Nonsense, they are none of these. They issue forth as
very devils, and like another spirit of the night, sail about seeking
whom they may devour. The barn-owl is the "screech" owl of bird
literature; the brown owl the true hooting owl. This species is found
in heavily-timbered districts, and it particularly loves the dark and
sombre gloom of resinous pine woods. But the barn-owl is only the
precursor of new life--life as animate under the night, as that of the
birds and butterflies under the day. We follow the path by the river,
and on through the meadows. Among the nut-bush tops a bat is hawking
for night-flying insects. Great white moths get up from the grass and
go looming away through the darkness. A bend in the stream brings us to
a quiet river reach with brown pebbles and a shallow.

A sentinel heron that has been standing watchful on one leg rises, and
flaps languidly away down the river reach. The consumptive figure of
the gaunt bird stands by the stream through all weathers. He knows not
times nor seasons, and is a great poacher. In the wind, when taking his
lone stand, his loose fluttering feathers look like drift-stuff caught
in the bushes. He reminds one of the consumptive, but, unlike him, has
wonderful powers of digestion, and withal an immense capacity for fish.
Woe to the luckless mort or trout that comes within reach of his
formidable pike, or to the attacking peregrine that he attempts to
impale on his bill. The heron is essentially a wanderer, and, like
Wordsworth's immortal leech-gatherer, he roams from pond to pond, from
moor to moor. Herons come and go by the same routes; and night after
night have we flushed our fisher from the selfsame shallow.

The peculiarly wild whistle of the curlew comes from out the night sky,
and swifts screech for an hour after darkness has fallen. We are now by
the covert side, and a strange churring sound comes from out the
darkened glades. Waiting silently beneath the bushes, it approaches
nearer and nearer until a loud flapping is heard in the bushes. The
object approaches quite closely, and it is seen that the noise is
produced by a large bird striking its wings together as they meet
behind. Even in the darkness it may be detected that each wing is
crossed by a definite white bar. The bird is a goatsucker or nightjar.
Had we it in our hand, we should see that it was a connecting link
between the owls and the swallows, having the soft plumage and
noiseless flight of the one and the wide gape of the other. The object
of the noise it produces is probably to disturb from the bushes the
large nightflying moths upon which it feeds. The name goatsucker the
bird has from a superstitious notion that it sucks goats and cows--a
myth founded probably upon the fact of its wide gape. It is certain
that these birds may often be seen flitting about the bellies of cattle
as they stand knee-deep in the summer pastures. The reason of this is
obvious, as there insect food is always abundant. Unless disturbed, the
nightjar rarely comes abroad during the day, but obtains its food at
twilight and dusk. Upon the limestone-covered fells it conforms
marvellously to its environment, it being almost impossible to detect
its curiously mottled plumage as it basks upon the grey stones, not
more still than itself. Here it lays its two eggs, often without the
slightest semblance of a nest, frequently upon the bare rock. Quite a
peculiar interest attaches to the bird, inasmuch as it is furnished
with a remarkable claw, the use of which is guessed at rather than
known. This claw is serrated on its inner edge, and from actual
experiments made upon nightjars in captivity, we should surmise that
its use is to free the long whiskers from the soft, silvery dust which
usually covers the bodies of night-flying moths. Certain it is that
this substance gets upon the whiskers of the bird, and that the long
hairs referred to are combed through the serrated claw. About the mouth
the goatsucker is very swallow-like. It has a bullet-shaped head, large
eyes, and a wide gape. Like the swallows, too, it has a weak,
ineffective bill, and weak feet. This is explained by the fact that the
bird, except when nesting, is rarely seen on the ground, and that it
captures its insect prey on the wing. From twilight till grey does the
fern-owl "churr" and fly through the night.

As we proceed, a splash comes from the river, and some large-winged fly
has been sucked under. The night food comes on, and the reach boils.
Water-rats, voles, and shrews are busy among the stones searching for
insect larvæ, or gnawing the stalks of water-plants. The wafting of
wings overhead betokens a curlew flying through the darkness to its
feeding ground. The peculiarly lonely wail of the summer-snipe comes
down stream, and a teal stretches her neck low over the sand. The river
here resolves itself into a gorge, and runs deep betwixt shelving
rocks. The water ceaselessly moans and chafes down there in the
darkness. Badgers have their haunt deep in the brambles, their tortuous
burrows running far out among the boulders. From the tree-tops we may
watch them digging for roots and wasps' nests, and now and then
snapping at flies. Passing the deep dub by the "Force," we find old
Phil, the fisher, plying his silent trade even thus into the night.
Phil leads his own life, and is contemplative as becomes his craft.
Nature's every sight and sound he has, as it were, by heart, and he
makes friends even with the creeping things. As we watch, a salmon,
fresh from the sea, leaps from the silvery foam and flashes in the
moonlight.

One of the greatest night-helps to the gamekeeper in staying the
depredations of poachers is the lapwing. It is the lightest sleeper of
the fields, starting up from the fallows and screaming upon the
slightest alarm. Poachers dread the detection of this bird, and the
keeper closely follows its cry. A hare rushing wildly past will put the
plover away from its roost; and when hares act thus in the darkness,
there is generally some good cause for it. The skylark and woodlark are
both occasional night-singers, and it is common to hear cuckoos call in
the densest darkness. Still we follow on. Rabbits have made pitfalls in
the loose, yellow sand, and we see their white scuts as vanishing
points in the darkness. Mice rustle away, and a hedgehog comes to the
pool to drink. One of the latter we saw just now taken in the keeper's
trap, the latter baited with a pheasant's egg. The squeal of a foumart
comes from the loose stones. Later it will feed on the frogs now
croaking from the ditch; these it kills by piercing their skulls.

If the cuckoo tells her name to all the hills, so does the
sedge-warbler to the fluted reeds. And, like that wandering voice, our
little bird seems dispossessed of a corporeal existence, and on through
summer is "still longed for, never seen"--and this though common
enough, for you may wander long among the willows, with a bird in every
bush, without one showing outside its corral of boughs. Wherever
vegetation grows tall and luxuriant, there the "reed-wren" may be
found. It travels in the night: you go out some May morning, and the
rollicking intoxication of the garrulous little bird comes from out the
self-same bush from which you missed it in autumn. From the time it
first arrives it begins to sing louder and louder as the warm weather
advances, especially in the evenings. Then it is that it listens to the
loud-swelling bird-choir of the woods, selecting a note from this and
another from that; for the sedge-warbler is an imitator, a mocking
bird, and reproduces in fragments the songs of many species. The little
mimic runs up and down the gamut in the most riotous fashion, parodying
not only the loud, clear whistle of the blackbird, but the wholly
differing soft, sweet notes of the willow-wren. This is kept up through
the night, and the puzzle is when the little musician sleeps. If the
sedge-warbler ceases its song through any hour of the day or night, a
clod thrown into the bushes will immediately set it going again. Yet
what can be said of a song that a clod of earth will produce? Sometimes
for a moment it is sweet, but never long-sustained. In the North, where
there are few ditches, the species frequents river-banks and the sides
of tarns; in the South, it abounds everywhere in marshy places. Here
the rank grass swarms with them; the thicker the reed-patch or willow,
the more birds are there. With perfect silence, a distant view of the
bird is sometimes obtained at the top of the bushes, as it flits after
an insect. As it runs up and clings to the tall grass stalks, it is
pleasing both in form and colour. Among the grasses and water-plants it
has its game preserves. Water-beetles, ephemeræ, and the teeming
aquatic insects constitute its food. To watch through a glass the
obtaining of these is most interesting. Reed-sparrow and reed-wren are
pretty provincial names of the bird, each expressive enough.

A powerful perfume rises from the ground-weeds, and stooping low, we
detect dame's violet. The purple _Hesperis matronalis_ emits its
sweet smell only at night, and is fertilised by moths. This, too, holds
good of the evening campion (_Lychins vespertina_), only its scent
is fainter. For this, however, the colour of its white petals amply
compensates, as they are more easily seen in the darkness. Further on,
we detect _Orchis bifolia_, which is also particularly sweet, and
with the same object. All these emit fragrance at night, and are
fertilised _only_ by night-flying insects. A crash! the underwood
is rudely torn, and a form disappears in the darkness. The crackling of
boughs and dead sticks mark on the stillness of night the poacher's
sinuous path through the woods. Soon his old black bitch slinks by the
hedge, clears the fence at a bound, and doggedly follows her master's
footsteps. Crake answers crake from the meadows as they have done
through the night. Now they are at our feet, now far out yonder. The
night call of the partridge comes from the gorse, and the first
pheasant crows from the larch branches. On the hill we wade through a
herd of recumbent heifers, their sketchy forms sharply outlined in the
darkness. These are quietly chewing the cud, and turn upon us their
great soft eyes; some even press their dewy noses against us. The sweet
breath of kine is wafted on the night, and the drone of many insects.

It is wonderful how lightly the creatures of the fields and woods
sleep. The faintest rustle brings chirping from the bushes, and in the
densest darkness the wood pigeons coo. Jays screech in the glade, and
the wood-owls hoot. One of the essentially night-singers is the
grasshopper warbler. Shy and retiring in its habits, it is rarely found
far distant from aquatic vegetation. Moist situations are most
congenial, as among the plants that effect them it finds its winged
food. Although generally effecting such spots as indicated, it
sometimes seeks out considerable elevations. These are covered with
coarse grass, bent, furze, and heather; and here, far into the night,
it reels out its continuous cricket-like song. It returns to the same
spot year after year, and although from these the particular notes may
be often heard, the singer itself is nowhere to be seen. At the least
noise it drops from the support on which it may be depending into the
grass beneath, then is silent. The song is long continued, but the
sounds are constantly shifting, marking the restless track of the
singer on the night. It needs no stretch of imagination to detect in
the notes of this species the similarity to the grasshopper, and the
"monotonous whirr like the spinning of a fishing-reel," is fairly
expressible of the bird's song. Perfect master of intricate maze and
covert, it is never far from them. Even though it has ventured above
his accustomed limits, its vigilance sends it back at the least noise,
though its retreat is rarely observed, for instead of flying, it creeps
closely, never rising when alarmed. Again we pass into the darkness.
Moles have thrown up ridges of loose, light soil; and these cross us
again and again. The short, sharp bark of a fox comes from the scrub;
and soon dog and vixen answer each other across the dale.

And now we enter the park. The deer, disturbed in the darkness, get up
and walk quietly away. A white fawn is outlined against the dark herd.
Whenever an owner dies, say the menials at the Hall, a great bough is
riven from the giant oak; whenever a new heir comes to the estate, a
white fawn is born. Under the dark slabs by the river the otters breed;
but it is impossible to dislodge them. Iron-sinewed, shaggy
otter-hounds have tried, but never with success. The fishermen complain
of the quantity of fish which the otter destroys. Trout are found dead
on the rocks; salmon are there bitten in the shoulder, but only
partially eaten. The evolutions of the otter in its native element are
the poetry of motion minus only the metre.

When almost the whole of the insect-world has folded its wings in
sleep, there is a class of night-flyers whose hours of activity are
those of darkness. Among the more interesting of these is the male
glow-worm--the English lantern-fly--whose light may be plainly seen as
he flits past, pale and ghostly against the dark background of some
deeply-foliaged bank or shadowy wood. Then there is the great army of
night-flying moths, whose nocturnal wanderings present such a weird
appearance in the darkness, and whose life-history contrasts so sharply
with the sunny dalliance of their butterfly cousins. As moths have to
contend with the night winds their constitution is more robust than
that of the _rhopolocera_, or day-fliers. Their bodies are
thicker, their wings narrower and more strongly nerved. As they settle
themselves on corrugated bark or grey stones to their deep, diurnal
sleep, their sober and inconspicuous colouring invariably saves them
even from detection. In many species this daily trance is so profound
that a slumbering insect may be transfixed and never detect the
occurrence until twilight again comes round. But if the closely-folded
upper wings are quiet and sober in colouring this is only for
protective reasons; for brilliant toilets are presented when twilight
falls and affords its dewy veil. Under the closely-folded wings of
dusky grey are bright bodices of red, scarlet, crimson, and orange.
What an admirable chapter "The Loves of the Night-Flyers" would afford
by one who had fondly watched the fairy things through the dewy hours
of a short summer night.

The twilight-flyers afford a distinct class to the night-flyers,
and have several well-marked characteristics. These are termed
hawk-moths, and have long, sharp, scythe-like wings. The death's-head
moth, the largest and most interesting British species, belongs to
this group. It seldom comes abroad before darkness has fallen, and is
always conspicuous in its nocturnal flight. Linnæus, following his
habitual system of nomenclature, placed this insect in the "sphinx"
family on account of the form of its magnificent caterpillar, and
gave it the specific name of _Atropos_, in allusion to the popular
superstition. Atropos being, according to Hesiod, the one of the
fates whose office it was to cut the thread of human life, spun
by her sisters, Clotho and Lachesis. Modern entomologists have
preserved the idea of Linnæus, giving to the new genus the name of
_acherontia_--pertaining to Acheron, one of the streams which, in the
Greek mythology, have to be passed before entering the infernal
regions. A low, wailing sound which this insect emits has greatly
added to the terror which its appearance inspires among ignorant
rustics. The death's-head moth is a really splendid insect. Its
stretched wings cover four and a half inches, and it is the largest
of the British Lepidoptera. As is well known, it has its popular name
from a marvellously good representation of a skull and crossbones
upon the upper part of the thorax--a mark which has caused it to be
an object of dread in every country which it inhabits. Fluttering at
the window in the darkness, or entering the house by the open door,
just after the close of twilight, it is considered a certain omen of
death. Like the hoarse croak of the raven, and the "boding" hoot
of the owl, the appearance of this moth is said to be followed by
disease and death. The power possessed by the death's-head insect of
emitting a shrill, creaking sound, is thought to be unique among the
British Lepidoptera, and each time the strange sound is emitted, the
whole body gives a convulsive sort of start. The insect can be
induced to utter this strange note by being irritated.

Another especially interesting night-flyer is the ghost moth. Just as
the twilight of a summer evening is deepening into darkness, and a
soft, warm wind stirs the foliage of the woods, the ghost moth comes
abroad. The observer sees a fitful apparition which suddenly vanishes
into space. First a large insect with long wings is seen advancing, it
comes straight on, then flutters in the air--and is gone. Whilst
endeavouring to discover the mysterious retreat of the moth, it will
suddenly reappear, and even whilst the eye closely follows its flight,
will again vanish. This effect is produced by the different colour of
the wings on their upper and lower sides. Above they are snowy white,
and consequently visible even in the deep twilight; but on the under
side they, as well as the whole body, are of a deep dusky brown so that
when that side is suddenly turned towards the spectator it becomes
invisible. As the male flies in the night, the white shining upper
surface of the wings glitters curiously, almost appearing as if they
were giving out their own light.

Standing in one of the rides of a woodland glade just as day is
departing, one is pierced, thrilled by a perfect storm of song. This
loud swelling volume of sound softens as the darkness deepens, and then
only the polyglot wood-thrush is heard. The stem of the silver birch
has ceased to vibrate to the blackbird's whistle, and as darkness comes
a new set of sounds take possession of the night. But passing down
through the meadows we have other thoughts than listening to these.

Another night singer is the blackcap. The flute-like mellowness and
wild sweetness of its song give it a high place among British
warblers--next only to the nightingale. The blackcap has neither the
fulness nor the force, but it has all and more of the former's purity.
This little hideling, with its timid obtrusiveness, never strays far
from cultivation. One provision it requires, and this is seclusion. Its
shy and retiring habits teach it to search out dense retreats, and it
is rarely seen. If observed on the confines of its corral of boughs it
immediately begins to perform a series of evolutions until it has
placed a dense screen of brushwood between itself and the observer.

Many times have we heard the round, full, lute-like plaintiveness of
the nightingale, sounds that seem to seize and ingrain themselves in
the very soul, that "make the wild blood start in its mystic springs."
To us the delicious triumph of the bird's song lies in its utter
_abandon_. The lute-like sweetness, the silvery liquidness, the
bubbling and running over, and the wild, gurgling "jug, jug, jug!" To
say this, and more--that the nightingale is a mad, sweet polyglot, that
it is the sweetest of English warblers, the essence and quintessence of
song, that it is the whole wild bird achievement in one--these are
feeble, feeble! This "light-winged dryad of the trees" is still "in
some melodious spot of beechen green and shadows numberless, singing of
summer in full-throated ease," and here she will remain. Unlike the
songs of some of our warblers, hers can never be reproduced. Attempt to
translate it, and it eludes you, only its meagre skeleton remains.
Isaac Walton, in his quaint eloquence, tries to say what he felt: "The
nightingale, another of my airy creatures, breathes such sweet, loud
music out of her little instrumental throat, that it might make mankind
to think miracles are not ceased. He that at midnight ... should hear,
as I have very often, the clear airs, the sweet descants, the natural
rising and falling, the doubling and redoubling of her voice, might
well be lifted above earth, and say, 'Lord, what music hast Thou
provided for the saints in heaven, when Thou affordest bad men such
music on earth!'"

Although Britain can show no parallel either in number or brilliance to
the living lights of the tropics, we are not without several
interesting phosphorescent creatures of our own. Those whose business
leads them abroad in the fields and woods through the short summer
nights are often treated to quite remarkable luminous sights. Last
night the writer was lying on a towering limestone escarpment, waiting
to intercept a gang of poachers. The darkness was dead and unrelieved,
and a warm rain studded every grass blade with moisture. When the day
and sun broke, this would glow with a million brilliant prismatic
colours, then suddenly vanish. But the illumination came sooner, and in
a different way. The rain ceased, and hundreds of tiny living lights
lit up the sward. In the intense darkness these shone with an unusual
brilliancy, and lit up the almost impalpable moisture. Every foot of
ground was studded with its star-like gem, and these twinkled and shone
as the fireflies stirred in the grass. The sight was quite an
un-English one, and the soft green glow only paled at the coming of
day. One phase of this interesting phenomenon is that now we can have a
reproduction of it nightly. The fireflies were collected, turned down
on the lawn, and their hundred luminous lamps now shed a soft lustre
over all the green.

Why our British fireflies are designated "glow-worms" is difficult to
understand. _Lampyris noctiluca_ has nothing worm-like about it.
It is a true insect. The popular misconception has probably arisen in
this wise. The female glow-worm, the light-giver, is wingless; the male
is winged. The latter, however, has but little of the light emitting
power possessed by the female. Only the light-givers are collected, and
being destitute of the first attribute of an insect, wings, are set
down in popular parlance as worms. Old mossy banks, damp hedgerows, and
shaded woods are the loved haunts of the fireflies, and the warm nights
of the soft summer months most induce them to burn their soft lustre.
Some widowed worm or firefly flirt may shed her luminous self in the
darkness even on into dying summer or autumn. But this is unusual. It
is not definitely known what purpose is served by the emission of the
soft green light, but it has long been suspected that the lustre was to
attract the male. Gilbert White found that glow-worms were attracted by
the light of candles, and many of them came into his parlour. Another
naturalist by the same process captured as many as forty male
glow-worms in an evening. Still another suggestion is that the
phosphorescence serves for a protection or means of defence to the
creatures possessing it, and an incident which seems to support this
view has been actually witnessed. This was in the case of a carabeus
which was observed running round and round a phosphorescent centipede,
evidently wishing but not daring to attack it. A third explanation of
the phenomenon is that it serves to afford light for the creature to
see by. A somewhat curious confirmation of this is the fact that in the
insect genus to which our British fireflies belong, the
_Lampyridæ_, the degree of luminosity is exactly in inverse
proportion to the development of the vision.

Fireflies glow with greatest brilliancy at midnight. Their luminosity
is first seen soon after dark:

    "The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
    And 'gins to pale his ineffectual fire."

As the insects rest on the grass and moss, the difference in the amount
of light emitted is quite marked. While the luminous spot indicated by
a female is quite bright, the males show only as the palest fire. When
on the wing, the light of the latter is not seen at all. Heavy rain, so
long as it is warm, serves only to increase the brightness. The seat of
the light of the glow-worm is in the tail, and proceeds from three
luminous sacs in the last segment of the abdomen. The male has only two
of these, and the light proceeding from them is comparatively small.
During favourable weather the light glows steadily, but at other times
it is not constant. The fireflies of the tropics--those comprising the
genus _Lampyridæ_--vary to the extent that while certain species
control their light, others are without this power. The light of our
English glow-worm is undoubtedly under its control, as upon handling
the insect it is immediately put out. It would seem to take some little
muscular effort to produce the luminosity, as one was observed to move
continually the last segment of the body so long as it continued to
shine. The larvæ of the glow-worm is capable of emitting light, but not
to be compared to that of the developed insect. Both in its nature and
immature forms, _Lampyris noctiluca_ plays a useful part in the
economy of Nature. To the agriculturist and fruit-grower it is a
special friend. Its diet consists almost wholly of small shelled
snails, and it comes upon the scene just as these farm and garden pests
are most troublesome. British fireflies probably have never yet figured
as personal ornaments to female beauty. This is, and has always been,
one of their uses to the dusky daughters of the tropics. They are often
studded in the coiled and braided hair, and perform somewhat the same
office as diamonds for more civilised belles. Spanish ladies and those
of the West Indies enclose fireflies in bags of lace or gauze, and wear
them amid their hair or disposed about their persons. The luminosity of
our modest English insect is far outshone by several of its congeners.
Some of these are used in various ways for illumination, and it is said
that the brilliancy of the light is such that the smallest print can be
read by that proceeding from the thoracic spots alone, when a single
insect is moved along the lines. In the Spanish settlements, the
fireflies are frequently used in a curious way when travelling at
night. The natives tie an insect to each great toe; and on fishing and
hunting expeditions make torches of them by fastening several together.
The same people have a summer festival at which the garments of the
young people are covered with fireflies, and being mounted on fine
horses similarly ornamented, the latter gallop through the dusk, the
whole producing the effect of a large moving light.

Another phosphorescent little creature found commonly in Britain is a
centipede with the expressive name _Geophilus electricus_. This is
a tiny living light which shows its luminous qualities in a remarkable
and interesting fashion. It may not uncommonly be seen on field and
garden paths, and leaves a lovely train of phosphorescent fire as it
goes. This silvery train glows in the track of the insect, sometimes
extending to twenty inches in length. In addition to this, its
phosphorescence is exhibited by a row of luminous spots on each side
its body, and these points of pale fire present quite a pretty sight
when seen under favourable circumstances. It has been stated that the
light-giving quality of the fireflies might be designed to serve them
to see by; but this fails to apply to the little creature under notice,
as it is without eyes.

There are still other British insects which have the repute of being
phosphorescent, although the evidence is not yet quite satisfactory.
Among them are the male cricket and "daddy-longlegs," both of which are
reported to have been seen in a phosphorescent condition. But if there
is a dearth of phosphorescent land creatures which are native, this has
no application to the numerous luminous creatures living in our
Southern British seas. Among marine animals the phenomenon is more
general and much more splendid than anything which can be seen on land,
as witness the following picture by Professor Martin Duncan: Great
domes of pale gold, with long streamers, move slowly along in endless
procession; small silvery discs swim, now enlarging and now
contracting; and here and there a green or bluish gleam marks the
course of a tiny but rapidly rising and sinking globe. Hour after hour
the procession passes by, and the fishermen hauling in their nets, from
the midst drag out liquid light, and the soft sea jellies, crushed and
torn piecemeal, shine in every clinging particle. The night grows dark,
the wind rises and is cold, and the tide changes, so does the
luminosity of the sea. The pale spectres sink deeper and are lost to
sight, but the increasing waves are tinged here and there with green
and white, and often along a line, where the fresh water is mixing with
the salt in an estuary, there is brightness so intense that boats and
shores are visible. But if such sights are to be seen on the surface,
what must not be the phosphorescence of the depths! Every sea-pen is
glorious in its light; in fact, nearly every eight-armed alcyonarian is
thus resplendent, and the social pyrosoma, bulky and a free swimmer,
glows like a bar of hot metal with a white and green radiance.



CHAPTER VII.

BRITISH BIRDS, THEIR NESTS AND EGGS.


Oology may be said to be the latest of the sciences; and although
perhaps not a very profound one, it is certainly among the most
interesting. Those who are not ornithologists, or specially interested
in natural history, can have but little idea of the progress made of
late in all that pertains to the nidification of British birds.
Expensive and elaborately illustrated treatises have been written on
the subject; naturalists have spent thousands of pounds in tracking
birds to their breeding haunts; and some of the best scientific workers
of the day are devoting their lives to this and the kindred subject of
migration. Then again city "naturalists" have their continental
collectors, and are building up quite a commerce about the subject. The
money value of a complete set of clutches of eggs of British birds is
about £200, although more than double this sum would be given for eggs
taken within the British Islands. Of course a great number of birds do
not breed and never have bred here; for whilst the number of species
comprising the home list is three hundred and sixty-seven, only about
two hundred breed within our shores.

Not a few of the eggs of British birds are worth more than their weight
in gold, whilst those of certain species which are supposed to have
become extinct bring quite fabulous prices. A well-marked pair of
golden eagle's eggs have been known to fetch £25. The market value of
an egg of the swallow-tailed kite is three guineas, of Pallas's
sand-grouse thirty shillings, while ten times that amount was recently
offered for an egg of this Asiatic species taken in Britain. On the
other hand, the eggs of certain of the social breeding birds are so
common in their season as to be systematically collected for domestic
purposes. And this in face of the fact that many of them are remarkable
alike for size, shape, and beauty of colouring. This applies
particularly to the guillemot, whose eggs are often remarkably
handsome. As a rule the colour of these is bluish green, heavily
blotched, and streaked with brown or black; and the form that of an
elongated handsome pear. The guillemot is one of our commonest
cliff-birds, and is found in greatest abundance at Flamborough Head.
The eggs are systematically gathered by men who are let down the rocks
in ropes. They traverse the narrowest ledges, placing the eggs which
they gather daily in baskets fastened round their shoulders. The
guillemot makes no nest, lays but one egg, and incubation lasts about a
month. The birds sit upright, and when suddenly alarmed, as by the
firing of a gun, the eggs fall in showers into the sea. Most of those
collected at Flamborough are sent to Leeds, where the albumen is used
in the preparation of patent leather; whilst the eggs taken on Lundy
are used at Bristol in the manufacture of sugar. At the British
breeding-stations of the gannet, or Solan goose, thousands of birds
breed annually, though in numbers less than formerly. In this case the
young birds, not the eggs, are taken; and on North Barra from two
thousand to three thousand birds are captured in a season. The
collector kills the gannets as they are taken from the nests, and they
are then thrown into the sea beneath, where a boat is in waiting to
pick them up. In the Faroes the people keep January 25 as a festival in
consequence of the return of the birds.

The difference in size and colour which the eggs of different birds
exhibit is even more apparent than the great diversity of shape. The
giant eggs of wild swans and geese, or the extinct great auk, are
tremendous when compared with those of the warblers and titmice; while
the egg of the golden-crested wren is smaller still. This, the smallest
British bird, is a mere fluff of feathers, and weighs only eighty
grains. The relative sizes of the eggs named are as a garden-pea to a
cocoanut. Another interesting phase of the subject is the number of
eggs laid by different species. The Solan goose, guillemot, cormorant,
shag, puffin, and others lay but one egg; whilst some of the tiny tits
have been known to produce as many as twenty. In this respect the
game-birds and wild-fowl are also prolific, and a partridge's nest
containing from fifteen to twenty eggs is not at all an uncommon
occurrence. Where a greater number of eggs than this is found, it is
probable that two females have laid in the same nest. Certain species,
again, habitually bred once, twice, or thrice a season; whilst others
less prolific have but a single egg, and lay but once during the year.

Almost as interesting as the eggs they contain are the nests
themselves. Birds of the plover kind almost invariably deposit their
eggs in a mere depression in the ground; while many of the
shore-haunting birds lay theirs in sand and shingle--often upon the
bare stones. The present writer once found a ringed dotterell's nest on
a bank of _débris_, the eggs being stuck right on end, and
absolutely resembling the drift stuff. The lapwing's eggs invariably
have their smaller ends pointing inward. This bird is an early breeder,
and eggs may often be found by the middle of March. It is these first
clutches that fetch such fancy prices in the market, as much as fifteen
shillings having been paid for a single egg. So anxious are the
poulterers to obtain these that one of them expressed himself to the
effect that if he were assured of having the first ten eggs he would
not hesitate to give five pounds for them. Among birds the ground
builders are the most primitive architects; but their very
obtrusiveness certainly aids them to escape detection. Partridges and
pheasants almost invariably lay their olive eggs upon dead oak-leaves,
and, moreover, cover them when they leave the nest. The red speckled
eggs of the grouse are very much of the colour of the heather, as are
those of wild ducks to the green reeds and rushes. The nest of the
cushat, or woodpigeon, consists of a mere platform of sticks, and the
eggs may almost always be seen through the interstices of the crossed
twigs. The goatsucker makes no nest, but lays its eggs among burning
bits of limestone on the sides of the fells; and that of the golden
plover is equally non-existent. Among tree builders the jay is slovenly
and negligent, while the scarlet bull-finch is equally careless. Hawks,
falcons, and birds of the crow kind construct substantial platforms of
sticks; though the crafty magpie is an exception, and constructs a
domed nest. The reason for this is not easy to understand, but, being
an arrant thief itself, the pie is perhaps suspicious of birddom in
general. The pretty water-ouzel, or dipper, also builds a domed nest,
which as a rule resembles a great boss of bright green moss. The
domicile of the wren is simply a small edition of the last, and often
contains as many as seven or eight eggs. A curious habit may frequently
be observed in connection with the wren's nesting, that of beginning
several structures and then abandoning them. Nests, too, are not
unfrequently built and occupied in winter, quite a colony of wrens at
this time huddling together for the sake of warmth. Mr. Weir watched a
pair at work building, and found that although the nest was commenced
at seven o'clock in the morning it was completed the same night. There
can be no question as to the clever adaptation of the wren's nest to
its surroundings. When it is built in a mossy bank its exterior is of
moss, often with a dead leaf on the outside. A nest which was against a
hayrick was composed outwardly of hay; while another, in a raspberry
bush, was wholly composed of the leaves of that plant.

Probably the only hang-nests of British birds are those of the
gold-crest, reed-warbler, and long-tailed titmouse. The first is
usually hung among the long, trailing tassels of the pine, where it is
most difficult to detect. It is quite one of the prettiest examples of
bird architecture, and is thickly felted with wool, feathers, and
spiders' webs. The eggs are white, speckled with red. Montague kept a
brood of eight nestlings in his room, when he found that the female
bird fed them upon an average thirty-six times an hour, and that this
was continued sixteen hours a day. Besides being built in pines, the
nests are sometimes attached to yews and cedars. The cradle of the
reed-warbler is invariably hung upon the stalks of reeds, rushes, and
other aquatic plants; and the whole structure is often swayed about so
much by the wind as not unfrequently to touch the water. The
bottle-shaped nest of the long-tailed tit is almost as remarkable as
its builder. It is exquisite alike in form and material, and its
interior is a perfect mass of feathers. In one nest alone were found
two thousand three hundred and seventy-nine, chiefly those of the
pheasant, wood-pigeon, rook, and partridge. Sometimes a great many eggs
are found in the nest of the long-tailed titmouse--as many as twenty,
it is stated--and these are white, speckled, and streaked with red.

The colours of eggs in relation to birds and the site of their nests is
an exceedingly interesting phase of the philosophy of the subject. It
is found as an almost invariable rule that birds which lay white eggs
nest in holes as a means of protection. The high-flying,
loud-screeching swift is an instance of this. So is the burrowing
sand-martin, the kingfisher, the shell-duck, and the woodpecker; also
the puffin and the stock-dove, which breed in disused rabbit burrows.
All these lay white eggs.

The hole which the swift selects is usually in a high building; while
the delicate bank-swallows drill their holes in river banks or
sandholes. The eggs of the kingfisher are perhaps the most beautiful of
all. They are beautifully round, delicately white, glossy, and suffused
with an exquisite rosy flush. For breeding, the kingfisher either
drills a hole for itself or occupies that deserted by some small
rodent. The seven or eight eggs are placed at the end of the burrow,
upon a mass of dry fish bones ejected by the bird. The nest is so
friable that it is almost impossible to remove it, and at one time it
was said that the authorities at the British Museum were prepared to
pay one hundred pounds for an absolutely perfect nest of the
kingfisher.

The sheld is the largest and handsomest of British ducks. It invariably
breeds in a burrow on a plateau commanding the sea, and when
approaching its nest plumps right down at the mouth of the hole. Its
creamy eggs are large and round; and for a day or so after the young
are hatched they are kept underground. Emerging from their retreat,
they are immediately led or carried down to the tide. The young seem to
be able to smell salt water, and will cover miles to gain it. An
interesting fact anent another of our British ducks centres about the
golden-eye, an exquisite study in black and white, the back of the neck
and head being burnished with violet and green. A trait which the
golden-eye has is its almost invariable habit of nesting in holes in
trees--remarkable in the case of a duck--so that the Laps place
darkened boxes by the sides of rivers and lakes for the ducks to lay
in. Often as many as a dozen eggs are found, and the nests are lined
with the soft down of the birds. The golden-eye has been seen to
transport its young to the water from a considerable altitude. While
botanising by the side of a lake, where these beautiful birds breed in
great numbers, a Lap clergyman observed one of them drop into the
water, and at the same time an infant duck appeared. After watching
awhile and seeing the old bird fly to and from the nest several times,
he made out that the young bird was held under the bill, but supported
by the neck of the parent.

All the British woodpeckers bear out the theory already stated. They
lay glossy white eggs, and their nests, (if the touchwood upon which
their eggs are deposited can be so called,) are always built in holes
in growing wood or decayed timber. The stock-dove, one of our pretty
wild pigeons, nests in colonies in rabbit-burrows, as does the brown
owl. When ferreting for rabbits the writer has put both these birds out
of the holes instead of their rightful owners. The nuthatch is yet
another bird which upholds the same rule, and whose case is peculiarly
interesting. It not only lays purely white eggs in holes in trees, but
if the hole for ingress and egress is one whit too large it is
plastered up by the industrious bird until it barely admits the body of
the clever little architect.

The cuckoo is quite a Bohemian among birds, and it is doubtless owing
to its vagrant habits that there yet remain several points in its
life-history which have to be cleared up. The most interesting of these
questions are those which relate to its nesting and nidification. It
was once thought that the cuckoo paired, but it is now known that the
species is polygamous. The number of hens that constitute a harem is
not known, but from the number of bachelor birds the males must greatly
predominate over the females. Dissection conclusively proves that each
female lays a series of eggs, and that these occur in the ovary in
widely different stages of maturity. The older naturalists thought that
the cuckoo laid its eggs actually in the nests of other birds, but it
is now known that it conveys them thither in its bill. The egg of the
cuckoo has been found in the nests of sixty different species, several
of which are exceedingly small, and moreover domed. Among the sixty
nests patronised were the unlikely ones of the butcher-bird, jay, and
magpie--all either bird or egg destroyers. This may seem to reflect on
the cuckoo's stupidity; and the bird certainly exhibits deplorable
ignorance of the fitness of things when it deposits its egg in the nest
of the diminutive goldcrest or the cumbersome one of the cushat. A
goldcrest might conveniently be stowed away in the gape of a young
cuckoo without the latter detecting that the morsel was much more than
a normal supply. The nests in which the eggs of cuckoos are most
frequently found are those of the meadow-pipit, hedge-sparrow, and
reed-warbler. Now the eggs of these birds vary to a very considerable
degree; and the question arises whether the cuckoo has the power of
assimilating the colour of its egg to those among which it is to be
deposited. Certain eminent continental ornithologists claim that this
is so, but facts observed in England hardly bear out the conclusion.
Brown eggs have been found among the blue ones of the hedge-sparrow,
redstart, wheatear; among the green and grey ones of other birds; and
the purely white ones of the wood-pigeon and turtle-dove. The cuckoo's
egg is brown, and it must be admitted that the great majority of the
nests which it patronises contain eggs more or less nearly resembling
its own. There is a general family likeness about those laid by the
bird, not only in the same clutch, but from year to year. Admitting
that the eggs of the cuckoo as a species vary more than those of other
birds, it is yet probable that the same female invariably lays eggs of
one colour. This can only be surmised by analogy, though the one fact
bearing on the question is where two cuckoo's eggs were found in the
same nest, and which differed greatly. More might have been learnt from
the incident had it been known for certain whether the eggs were laid
by the same or different birds. There is a general tendency in the
habits of animals to become hereditary, and it seems not unreasonable
to suppose that a cuckoo which has once laid its egg in the nest of any
particular species should continue to do so, and that its offspring
also should continue the practice in after years. A possibility with
regard to the cuckoo is that it is not so destitute of maternal
instinct as is generally supposed, and that it occasionally hatches its
own eggs. It is certain that a female has been seen with her breast
destitute of feathers, and with young cuckoos following her and
clamouring to be fed. Some other species of the genus nearly akin to
our own bird are quite normal in their nesting habits, and I here
suggest that, under certain circumstances, our English cuckoo may be so
likewise.

The dotterel is one of the most interesting of British birds. It is a
summer visitant, and breeds upon the tops of the highest mountains. It
is every year decreasing as a species in consequence of the persistency
with which it is hunted down for its feathers; these are used for
dressing flies. I have found it breeding upon Skiddaw, Sea Fell, and
Helvellyn, though not since the year 1884. Part of the interest which
attaches to the bird arises from the fact of its extremely local
distribution, the mountains named being perhaps the only ones on which
it is known to breed in this country. Hewitson, the eminent
ornithologist, spent five consecutive seasons in looking for a
dotterel's nest; and it was upon Great Robinson and the Hindsgarth
range that he ultimately found its eggs. The large price offered for
these has acted as a prize for the dotterel's extermination by the
shepherds; and some years ago a quarryman had a dog which was trained
to find the nests. Owing to the great number of trout streams in the
Lake district, angling is general; and, as has been said, the
dotterel's decrease is due entirely to the great demand for skins. The
birds are mainly shot either on their spring or autumnal migration, and
at the former season the grandfather of the present writer upon one
occasion bagged seventeen birds in a morning.

Although eagles are now more than rare in Britain, there was a time
when they bred among the crags of Cumbria. Gray and Sir Humphrey Davy
watched the eagles in their eyries, and the former tells how he saw
them robbed of their young. To say nothing of the carnage made on
hares, grouse, and waterfowl, these birds during the breeding season
destroyed a lamb daily. It is no wonder that the farmers, shepherds,
and dalesfolk were careful to plunder the eyries, though this was not
done without very considerable risk. In one case a man was lowered down
the rocks a distance of fifty fathoms, and during the descent he had to
protect himself against the attacks of the parent birds. Year by year
the eggs or eaglets were taken, and as their presence was injurious to
the interests of the farmers, the latter were willing to pay for their
extermination. If the nest contained young birds, these were to be the
cliff-climber's remuneration; but if eggs, every neighbouring farmer
paid for each egg five shillings. The nests were formed of the branches
of trees, and lined with coarse grass and bents that grew on the
neighbouring rocks. On the eagles being so frequently robbed of their
young, they became unsettled and removed from crag to crag. On one
mighty escarpment more inaccessible than the rest they nested for
fourteen consecutive years. These eagles and their progenitors had
probably bred in the near vicinity for centuries; and the conservatism
of birds--especially birds of prey--is quite remarkable. Of this two
instances may be given. In _Cotheca Wolleyana_ it is recorded that
a peregrine falcon's nest on a hill called Arasaxa, in Finland, is
mentioned by the French astronomer Maupertius as having been observed
by him in 1736. In 1799 it was rediscovered by Skjöldebrand and Acerti.
Wolley himself found it tenanted in 1853, and by examining the remains
of a young bird lying near the nest, proved that it belonged to this
species. It is probable, therefore, that this particular eyrie had been
used by the same species of falcon for one hundred and seventeen years.

The following is another instance, hardly less remarkable, though
having reference to an altogether different kind of bird. The
particular incident is well known to naturalists, and perhaps the
latest rendering of it is that by the Nestor of British ornithology,
Professor Newton. He says: "When the blue titmouse has taken possession
of a hole, she is not easily induced to quit it, but defends her nest
and eggs with great courage and pertinacity, puffing out her feathers,
hissing like a snake, and trying to repel the fingers of the
intruder.... The branch containing the nest may even be sawn off and
conveyed to a distance (a cruel experiment) without the mother leaving
it, and cases have been known in which, when this has been done, she
has still continued to sit on her eggs, hatch them, and rear her brood.
With equal persistence will this species year after year use as a
nursery the same hole, and a remarkable instance of this kind is on
record. In 1779, according to one account, in 1785, according to
another, it is said that a pair of these birds built their nest in a
large earthenware bottle which had been left to drain in the branches
of a tree in a garden at Oxbridge, in the township of Hartburn, near
Stockton-on-Tees, and safely hatched their young. The bottle having
been allowed to remain in the same position by the occupiers of the
farm, then and still a family of the name of Callendar, was frequented
for the same purpose and with a like result, until 1822, when, the tree
becoming decayed, the bottle was placed in one near by, and the tenancy
continued until 1851. In that year the occupiers of the farm omitted
drawing out the old nest, as had been the constant practice before the
breeding season, and in consequence the birds chose another place; but
in 1852 they returned to the bottle, and have annually built in it, or
in a second bottle, which has lately been placed close by it, up to the
present year, 1873, with the exception of one season, when a pair of
great titmice took possession of their inheritance. The intruders were
shot, and the tenancy, it is hoped, will not be again disturbed."

Many birds show that they have the power of not only cleverly adapting
themselves to circumstances in matters concerning their nesting, but
that they are also equal to unforeseen accidents, which not
unfrequently occur. From the secluded haunts and hideling habits of
birds of the rail kind, it would hardly be imagined that they were
endowed with much intelligence. Here is a striking instance, however,
to the contrary. A pair of waterhens built their nest upon an
ornamental piece of water of considerable extent, which was ordinarily
fed from a spring, and into which another large pond was occasionally
emptied. This upon one occasion was done while the female was sitting,
and, as the nest had been built at low water, the sudden influx from
the second pond caused the water to rise so rapidly as to threaten the
destruction of the eggs. This the birds seemed aware of, and
immediately took precautions against it. The gardener on the estate,
knowing of the sudden rise of water, went to look after the nest,
though quite expecting to find the eggs ruined. Instead of this he saw
both birds busily engaged about the nest, and adding, with all possible
despatch, fresh materials to the fabric to bring it above the impending
flood. This they not only succeeded in doing, but it was observed that
upon the first rush of water they had removed the eggs to a distance of
some feet from the margin of the pool. In the meantime the nest rose
rapidly in height, and when the water began to retire the eggs were
brought back and placed in the nest. In a few days these were hatched,
and the young were swimming with their parents about the pool. The nest
plainly showed the formation of the old and new material, and testified
to the instinct or reason of the bird architects. In this connection
birds have been known to adapt their nests to changed forms of
architecture; and almost innumerable little devices may be seen in
individual nests tending to their special safety or protection. As an
instance of adaptation to haunt it may be mentioned that in the north,
buzzards and ravens invariably nest among the rocks of the crags,
whilst in the south their nests are just as invariably found in trees.

Both the eggs and plumage of game birds offer interesting instances of
this adaptation. The pencilled plumage of the snipe lying still in the
brown marshes it is impossible to detect, although the birds get up at
one's feet everywhere. The same may be said of the woodcock in the
leaf-strewn woods, and of the nests and eggs of both species. The eggs
of the wild-duck assimilate to the colour of the green reeds, and those
of the lapwing to the ploughed field or the upland. The colour of the
red grouse conforms very nearly to that of the purple heather among
which it lies, as do the richly-speckled eggs. The partridge has a
double protection. It is difficult to pick out her quiet brown plumage
from a hedge-bottom so long as she remains still. She adopts the duns
and browns and yellows of the dead leaves, among which she crouches.
When she leaves her eggs she is careful to cover them with dead
oak-leaves; but this seems almost superfluous, for there is no great
contrast between the tint of the eggs and that of the leaves among
which they lie. A hen pheasant lying in a bracken-bed is equally
difficult to detect; and this applies particularly to all the young of
the game birds just mentioned. The bright, dark eyes of birds and
animals frequently betray them, as these are almost invariably large
and prominent. A short-eared owl on a peat-moss I have mistaken for a
clod of turf, and a gaunt heron with wind-fluttered feathers for drift
stuff caught in the swaying branches of the stream. Another
characteristic case of protective imitation is furnished by the
nightjar or goatsucker. This night-flying bird, half owl, half swallow,
rests during the day on bare bits of limestone on the fells. Its
mottled plumage exactly corresponds with the grey of the stones, and
its eggs, in colour like its plumage, are laid upon the bare ground
without the slightest vestige of a nest--and again entirely resemble
the stone.

It will be remarked that all the birds mentioned live much upon the
ground, obtaining the principal part of their food therefrom, and that
therefore they have need of special protection. Incubation in every
case takes place on the ground; and just as the imitation of the
plumage of the female bird is perfect, so will the fact tell upon the
survival of the species. There is no such need of protection for tree
builders, as these, for the most part, are out of the way of predatory
animals. The chaffinch is by far the most abundant bird of our fields
and woods; and there is one good reason why it should be so. It
invariably covers its nest on the outside with dead lichens, like to
those of the trunk against which it is built. Against boys and other
predatory creatures the device succeeds admirably, and the chaffinch as
a species flourishes vigorously. The wren constructs her nest of moss,
placing it upon a mossy background so as to present no sharp contrasts.
Sometimes she interweaves one or two dead oak-leaves, so as to render
the deception more deceitful; and, from the number of wrens which
abound, she evidently succeeds. Starlings and sparrows and jackdaws,
which build in holes at a considerable elevation, and have therefore
less need of protection, hang out straws and sticks and bits of wool
and feather as impudent advertisements. Wheatears and such birds as
build in low walls cannot afford to do this, but instead build neat
nests leaving no trace without. Several of our leaf-warblers drag dead
leaves to the outside of their nests, and a hundred others employ like
ingenuities.

With regard to sexual colour, the dull summer plumage which
characterises so many ground-breeding birds is all the more remarkable
as they are the mates of males for the most part distinguished by
unusual brilliancy. The few exceptions to this rule are of the most
interesting character, and go eminently to prove it. In these
exceptions it happens that the female birds are more brightly plumaged
than the males. But in nearly the whole of the cases this remarkable
trait comes out--that the male actually sits upon the eggs. Now this
fact more than any other would seem to indicate that the protection
afforded by obscure colouring is directly intended to secure the bird's
safety during the most critical period of its life-history. And it has
been seen that the law of protective colouring most influences those
birds which breed on the ground. One remarkable instance of this may be
given, that of the dotterel, a bird already mentioned. This is a
species of our own avi-fauna, one which breeds on the summits of the
highest mountains. Mr. Gould has remarked that dotterel have not
unfrequently been shot during the breeding season with the breast bare
of feathers, caused by sitting on the eggs; and the writer knows of his
personal knowledge that the shepherds on the Cumbrian mountains
occasionally kill dotterel on the actual nest, and that these almost
invariably turn out to be males. In winter the colouring of the sexes
is almost identical; but when the breeding season comes round the
female dons a well-defined, conspicuous plumage, while it is found that
the dull-coloured male alone sits upon the eggs. Mr. Wallace has
pointed out that bee-eaters, motmots, and toucans--among the most
brilliant of tropical birds--all build in holes in trees. In each of
these cases there is but little difference in the plumage of the sexes,
and where this is so the above rule is almost invariable. Again, our
native kingfisher affords an illustration. The orange-plumaged orioles
have pensile nests, which is a characteristic of the order to which
they belong, most of the members of which are conspicuous. Bird enemies
come from above rather than below, and it will be seen that the
modifications referred to all have reference to the upper plumage.

In 1888 an egg of a great auk was sold for one hundred and sixty
guineas, whilst more recently an egg of the same species fetched two
hundred and twenty-five pounds; and although these may seem enormous
sums to give for a relic, the transactions are not without others to
keep them in countenance. Only a few years ago two eggs of the same
kind fetched one hundred and one hundred and two guineas respectively;
while the egg first named realised thirty-three pounds ten shillings a
little over twenty years ago. At that time it was discovered, together
with four others, packed away in a dust-covered box in the museum of
the Royal College of Surgeons, these being sold in 1865. From this it
would seem that in the ornithological market the complete shell of a
great auk's egg is worth nearly one hundred and seventy pounds, and a
broken one only seventy pounds less. It will be seen that the purchase
of one of these may be a good investment; and what a mine of wealth a
great auk that was a good layer might prove to its fortunate possessor
can only be conjectured. At the present time the number of eggs of this
species known to exist is sixty-six, twenty-five of which are in
museums and forty-one in private collections. Of the total number
forty-three are retained in Great Britain. When a bird becomes so rare
that the individual remains can be counted, the same may be taken to be
practically extinct as a species. The great auk has pursued a policy of
extinction for the past two or three centuries, until now, like the
mighty moa and the dodo, it has ceased to exist. The great auk, or
gare-fowl, was one of those birds which, from long disuse, had lost at
once the power of flight and preservation. It was a great shambling
bird, as large as a goose, and ill adapted to travel on land. How these
things told against it may be inferred from the story of one Captain
Richard Whitbourne, who writing of the discovery of Newfoundland in
1620, says that among the abundant water-fowl of these parts are
penguins (great auks) "as bigge as geese, and flye not, for they have
but a short wing, and they multiply so infinitely, upon a certain flat
island, that men drive them from thence upon a boord, into their boats
by hundreds at a time." This process of extinction went on in Iceland
and elsewhere until about the middle of the present century hardly any
birds remained. The Icelanders robbed the auks of their eggs for
domestic use, and upon one occasion the crew of a British privateer
remained upon one of the skerries all day killing many birds and
treading down their eggs and young. This went on until the last birds
were taken, and there is but the faintest hope that it may yet linger
on in the inaccessible North. Although awkward, and travelling with the
greatest difficulty on land, the great auk was perfectly at home in the
water, and travelled both upon and under the surface with the rapidity
of a fish. The time of haunting the land was during the breeding
season, in early summer. At this period the auk resorted to the rocks,
in the dark recesses of which the females deposited one large
egg--large even for the size of the bird. These had a whitish-green
ground, streaked with brown, and nearly five inches in length.



CHAPTER VIII.

MINOR BRITISH GAME BIRDS.


At the time of the heaviest bird migrations in autumn, vast flocks of
woodcocks pitch on the English coasts. They stay through the winter,
and in spring the majority again cross the wild North Sea _en
route_ to their northern breeding haunts. The woodcock is a
"shifting" species, and just as any bird is erratic in its wanderings,
so it is interesting to naturalists. The British Association is already
on the track of the "woodsnipe," as are several individual observers in
a more literal sense. There was a time when the nesting of the woodcock
in England was of such rare occurrence as to be recorded in the natural
history journals. We now know that it has bred in almost every English
county, and that the number of birds which remain in our woods to breed
is annually increasing. This fact proves that the woodcock's habits are
being modified, and ornithologists have now to discover the reasons of
its extended range.

In coming to this country, woodcocks generally travel in the night and
against a head-wind. Those which are exhausted pitch upon the east
coast, and here lie resting until nightfall, when they pass on. The
probability is that if these birds had not experienced a rough passage
they would not have touched the eastern seaboard, but would have kept
well in the upper currents of the air, and first dropped down in our
western woods or even those of Ireland. The migratory bodies are
usually preceded by flocks of tiny goldcrests; and so invariable is
this rule that the latter have come to be called "woodcock-pilots." The
males precede the females by a few days; the latter bringing with them
the young that have been bred that year. It is a point worthy of
notice, and one upon which much confusion exists, that the birds that
come to us are usually in the very best condition. Soon after their
arrival they disperse themselves over the leaf-strewn woods, the same
birds being known to resort to the same spots for many successive
years. They seek out the warmer parts of the wood, and in such secluded
situations sleep and rest during the day. At dusk they issue forth in
their peculiar owl-like flight, to seek their feeding grounds. Like
many birds they have well-defined routes, and daily at twilight may be
seen flying along the rides and paths of the woods or skirting along
certain portions of plantations. Coppice-belts they like best,
especially such as contain spring-runs. It is here that the bird most
easily finds food, the soft ground enabling it to probe quickly and to
a considerable depth in search of earthworms. These constitute its
principal diet, and the quantity that a single bird will devour is
enormous. The long mobile bill of the woodcock is a study in itself.
The rapidity with which the bird uses it in following a worm in the
ground is marvellous. It is extremely flexible--so much so as to be
bent and twisted into every shape without suffering harm--and it is as
sensitive as flexible.

Every sportsman knows that woodcocks are here to-day, gone to-morrow.
He often finds that where there were plenty yesterday not a single
'cock remains. Ireland, perhaps, affords the best shooting. It was here
that the Earl of Clermont shot fifty brace in one day. This feat was
the result of a wager; and the bag was made by two o'clock in the
afternoon, with a single-barrelled flint-lock. The birds were shot in a
moist wood; and it is in such spots on the mild west coast that the
woodcock finds its favourite haunt. In England the birds affect
coppice-woods, frequenting most those which are wet, and such as have
rich deposits of dead and decaying leaves. Most of these copses are of
oak and birch and hazel, and being only of a few years' growth are
thick in the top. Killing 'cock, as they dash through the twigs of
these and seldom rising above the bushes, is one great test of a
shooter's skill. Then the birds have a habit of dropping down at a
short distance, which almost invariably deludes the inexperienced
gunner. When they are put up from their resting places during the day
the flight is rapid; at evening it is slow. It is now that they are
easiest to shoot; though in some parts of the country they are still
taken in nets as they fly at dusk through the paths of the woods.
Netting woodcocks was at one time the common way of taking them; for
they have always been highly esteemed as food. Another method of
capture was by "gins" and "springs;" and it would seem that in times
past the "woodsnipe" was considered a stupid bird. None of the denizens
of the woods conforms better or more closely to its environment. The
browns and duns and yellows of its plumage all have their counterpart
in the leaves among which it lies; and it has been pointed out that the
one conspicuous ornament of the bird is covered by a special provision
from the gaze of those for whose admiration it is not intended. This is
the bright colouring of the tail feathers, which cannot be seen except
at the will of the bird or in flight. Its protection lacks in one
thing, however, and that is its large dark eye; this is full, bright,
and (so to speak) obtrusive. It is not often that a special provision
of this kind is injurious to its owner; but the lustre which beams from
the woodcock's eye is apt to betray its presence, and even to negative
the advantage of its protective colouring. This has long been known.
Hudibras has it that:

    "Fools are known by looking wise,
    As men find woodcocks by their eyes."

The woodcock is an early breeder, the eggs being found by the second
week in March. These are usually four in number; and the nest is placed
among dry grass, leaves, and fern. The young are able to run
immediately they are hatched, and are sometimes found with portions of
shell adhering to their down. In a few days they are led to the
vicinity of water, where they remain until they are able to fly. It is
said that a small bank of moss is sometimes constructed by the old
birds, upon which worms are placed. In its yielding substance they have
their first lesson in boring, and obtain the kind of food which
constitutes their chief diet in after life. One of the most interesting
traits about the woodcock is the fact of its occasionally conveying its
young through the air; which is done by only one or two other birds.
This is no recent discovery. The fact was known as early as the middle
of last century; though Gilbert White rightly surmised that those
observers were mistaken who fancied the young were conveyed either by
or in the bill. It is just as erroneous, however, to substitute the
claws, as some have done, for the bill. The truth is, that when the
parent bird wishes to convey her young one from a place of danger to
one of safety, the tiny thing is gently pressed between the feet and
against the breast, the aid of the bill being resorted to only when the
burden has been hastily taken up. In this way the whole of the brood is
sometimes removed from one part of a wood to another, if the birds have
been much disturbed. This trait may be confirmed by any one who will
look out the bird in its haunts, and is all the more interesting as it
seems to be quite an acquired one. The bird is in no way adapted to
transport its young through the air.

There are upwards of a dozen species of British plover; birds
interesting to the naturalist, dear to the heart of the shore-shooter
and to the sportsman of the marshes. Some of these are summer visitants
to our shores, others come in winter, while a few stay with us
throughout the year. The common green plover or peewit, with its crest,
its peculiarly rounded wings, its plaintive cry, is the best known; and
this species breeds with us, as the abundance of its eggs shows. In
autumn the old birds and their young descend from the uplands where the
latter are bred, and seek out the mud-banks and ooze-flats on which to
spend the winter. Plashy meadows and marshes are also favourite feeding
grounds; and here the lapwing makes "game" for an army of gunners. The
vast flocks of plovers that congregate in autumn are said to be growing
in numbers. Hundreds of thousands of eggs are collected annually;
bunches of green plover are displayed at the gameshops during the
autumn; and yet there are more of these birds in England than ever
there were. This may be accounted for by the closeness with which the
plover conforms to its environment through every season. The plover is
dainty eating, as are also its eggs. "To live like a plover"--meaning
to live on the wind--is a saying of no aptitude. All the species are
voracious feeders on substantials. Their chief food consists of insects
and worms from ploughed land; but immediately upon the setting in of
frost they betake themselves to the mosses and marshes, or even to the
coast and estuaries of rivers. Here they feed liberally and at large,
becoming plump and fat. On these grounds the birds often remain till
the return of spring. Although many are shot, most of the birds that
find their way to market are taken in nets by professional fowlers.
When the flocks are heaviest, and during hard weather, from fifty to
eighty plovers are sometimes secured at one raising of the net.

Flying with the lapwing may often be seen flocks or "trips" of golden
plover--one of the most beautiful birds of its family, and much less
common as a species than the last. Like the rare dotterel it breeds on
the highest mountains, and in the nesting season has the golden
markings of its back set off by the rich velvety black of its breast.
This is an adornment donned only for the summer season, and is changed
at the time of the autumnal migration from the elevated breeding
grounds to the lowlands. At all times it has a piping, plaintive
whistle, which conforms well to the wild solitudes where it is heard.
The flocks of golden plover are usually smaller than those of green,
and are more compact. When feeding together the two kinds are not
easily discriminated. The moment they take wing, however, a difference
is detected; the golden plover flying straight and quick, often in a
V-shaped bunch; the green going loosely and without apparent order. All
plover are restless and shifting before a change of weather, and when
this is for the worse the golden plover always fly south. They are
delicate birds, in fact, and little fitted to withstand the rigours of
our northern climate. As a table bird it is more dainty even than the
green plover, and fetches a higher price. The death-dealing punt-gun is
terribly destructive to this species, from the compact mode of flying
described above. As many as a hundred birds have been killed at a
single shot.

The beautiful little ringed plover, or sea-lark, is another of our
breeding species. It is permanently resident on our coasts, and is one
of the most interesting of British shore-birds. At no time infrequent,
there is a considerable accession in winter; and it is a pretty sight
to watch a flock of these feeding among sand or shingle, or even upon a
mud-flat. It is in such spots, too, that it lays its creamy-spotted
eggs (pointed like those of all plovers), often without the slightest
semblance of a nest. No shore bird is as nimble as the ringed plover.
It runs with the utmost grace and ease, picking up tiny crustaceans as
it goes. Although not uncommon, the ringed plover is somewhat locally
distributed, which may also be said of the Kentish plover. This is a
rare species, and is very seldom found in numbers far from the
south-eastern counties--from the saltings of Essex and Kent. In haunt
and habit it much resembles the "sea-lark."

Only one other shore bird is resident with us throughout the year; this
is the oyster-catcher. Sea-pie and olive it is also called on some
parts of our coasts. It is easily distinguished by its well-defined
black and white markings, and every shore-shooter knows its shrill
rattling whistle, its short uneasy flights, and its restless paddlings
up and down the ooze. Watch the sea-pie from behind some boulder and
see how admirably adapted is its bill to its wants. Flattened sideways
and as hard as stone, no bivalve can resist it. It breeds among the
weed and driftwood just above high-water mark, and lays three or four
eggs of a cream-coloured ground, blotched and spotted with varying
shades of rich dark brown.

The little ringed plover is an exceedingly rare British bird, and is
like our own ringed plover in miniature.

The grey plover and the turnstone are spring and autumn visitants,
having their breeding haunts in the far north, though it is probable
that the first has bred a few times within the British Islands.
Specimens have been seen in the London markets attired in summer
plumage, and the birds themselves have been observed about the Fame
Islands in June. The grey plover is fairly numerous after its advent in
September, keeping in small flocks and sticking closely to the coast
lines. It is larger than the green and golden plovers, is sometimes
seen in company with them, and like them assumes a black breast in the
breeding season. It occurs less frequently in the bags of the puntsman
than the birds just named; it is rarely obtained far inland. Like its
congeners it forms a delicate morsel to the _gourmet_. The
turnstone, also known as the Hebridal sandpiper, is a handsome bird in
black, white, and chestnut. In its haunts it feeds upon various sea and
sand haunting creatures, which it obtains by turning over the stones
with its bill. In this office the birds often assist each other. It
comes in September in limited numbers, going north to its breeding
haunts early in spring.

The dotterel and Norfolk plover are summer visitants. The former breeds
upon the tops of the highest mountains, and rarely stays more than a
few days during the times of the spring and autumn migrations. It is
every year decreasing in consequence of the persistency with which it
is hunted down for feathers for dressing flies. We have found it
breeding upon Skiddaw, Sca Fell, and Helvellyn. The Norfolk plover,
thick knee, or stone curlew, is a summer visitant, coming in small
numbers, and being only locally distributed. It breeds in a few of the
eastern counties.

December, with its frost and snow, its cold grey skies, and biting
northern weather, always brings with it skeins of swans, geese, and
wild-fowl. The heart of the fowler warms as he hears the clangour and
wild cries of the birds afar up, for although he cannot see their
forms, he easily determines the species. He hears the gaggle of geese,
the trumpetings of wild swans, and the cry of the curlew as it hovers
over the lights. Among the fowl that are driven down by stress of
weather are wisps of snipe, and, although comparatively small, no game
is dearer to the heart of the inland sportsman or shore-shooter. Four
species of snipe are found in Britain, though one of these, the
red-breasted or brown snipe, can only be looked upon as a rare
straggler. The remaining three species are the common snipe, the great
snipe, and the jack snipe. All snipe have a peculiar zig-zag flight,
and this peculiarity renders them most difficult to kill. Bagging the
first snipe constitutes an era in life of every sportsman, and is an
event always remembered. Another characteristic of birds of this genus
is the beauty and design of their plumage. The ground colour is
streaked and pencilled in a remarkable manner with straw-coloured
feathers, which enables the bird to conform in a marvellous manner to
the bleached stalks of the aquatic herbage which constitutes its haunt.
The arrangement is somewhat similar to that of the woodcock lying among
its dead oak-leaves.

The common snipe is one of our well-known marsh birds, although
drainage and better farming have not only restricted its breeding
haunts, but have caused it to be less numerous. Still it probably
breeds in every county in England, and our resident birds are augmented
in numbers by bands of immigrants which annually winter within our
shores. These mostly come from Scandinavia, and soon after their
arrival may be seen dispersing themselves over the marshes in search of
food. At this time they are exceedingly wary, and the alarm-note of a
single bird will put every one up from the marsh. The startled cry of
the snipe resembles the syllables "scape, scape," which is often a
literal translation of what takes place before the gunner. The bird
feeds on plashy meadows, wet moors, by tarns and stream sides, and on
mosses which margin the coast. And this being so it is one of the first
to be affected by severe weather. If on elevated ground when the frost
sets in it immediately betakes itself to the lowlands, and when
supplies fail here it soon starves, becoming thin and skeleton-like.
Under ordinary circumstances the bird is a ravenous feeder, lays on a
thick layer of fat, and is certainly a delicacy. Soon after the turn of
the year snipe show an inclination to pair, one of them circling high
in the air, and flying round and round over their future nesting site.
It is now that they produce a peculiar drumming noise, caused as some
say by the rapid action of the wings when making a downward swoop;
while others assert that the noise is produced by the stiff tail
feathers; others again that it is uttered by the bird itself. This
"bleating" much resembles the booming of a large bee, and has given to
the bird several expressive provincial names. To many northern
shepherds the noise indicates dry weather and frost. The snipe is an
early breeder, and in open seasons its beautiful eggs may be found by
March or early April. These are laid in a depression among rushes or
aquatic herbage, and have a ground colour of greenish olive, blotched
with varying shades of brown. Incubation lasts only a fortnight, and
the result of this are young which run as soon as they are hatched, and
clothed in an exquisite covering of dappled down. The birds strongly
object to any intrusion on their breeding haunts, though this presents
a capital opportunity of hearing the peculiar sound already referred
to. The male will be seen flying high in circles, and whenever he
indulges the remarkable action of his wings in his curving descent the
sound proceeds from him. Upon being hatched the young are immediately
led to water and the protection of thick and dank herbage. Here, too,
food is abundant, which for these tiny things consists of the lowest
forms of aquatic life. It is interesting to watch snipe boring for
food, and it is surprising what hard ground their admirably-adapted
long mobile bills can penetrate. This is an exceedingly sensitive organ
however, the outer membrane being underlaid by delicate nerve fibre,
which infallibly tells the bird when it touches food, although far
hidden from sight. The seeds which are sometimes found in birds of the
snipe kind have come there not by being eaten, but attached to some
glutinous food, and eaten accidentally.

The second species, the great snipe, long remained unknown as a British
bird, owing to its being considered only a large variety of the bird
above mentioned. Pennant was the first to elevate it to the rank of a
species, and, once pointed out, its claim was admitted. The great snipe
does not breed in Britain, and those killed here are mostly birds of
the year, these occurring from early to late autumn. During a single
season the writer shot three examples of this bird; one was flushed
from turnips, the other two from a high-lying tussocky pasture--an
ideal spot for hares, and for which we were on the look-out. In going
away the great snipe is much slower than its common cousin, and is not
given to zig-zaging to such an extent. It lies close, flies heavily,
and on the wing reminds one very much of the woodcock. Unlike its
congeners, it does not soon "plump," but flies straight away. "Solitary
snipe" is misleading, as a pair are often found in company; whilst
double snipe, woodcock snipe, and little woodcock are each expressive
and descriptive. With regard to food and habit, this species has much
in common with its congeners. It is usually found on high and dry
situations from October to the end of the year, and seems to prefer
loose soil to wet marshes, as the former give a greater variety of
food. This consists of worms, insects and their larvæ, beetles, tiny
land-shells and grit. When in season the birds are loaded with flesh
and fat. Only a slight nest is constructed at breeding time, when four
eggs are laid; these are olive-green with purplish-brown blotches. The
bird is not known to breed with us, though it does in Scandinavia, and
here it is sometimes known to tear up the surrounding moss with which
to cover its back. This it does for the purpose of concealment, a
proceeding which is sometimes practised by the woodcock. The following
interesting fact is recorded by two gentlemen who have observed the
bird in its breeding grounds. "The great snipe has a _lek_ or
playing ground, similar to that of some of the grouse tribe, the places
of meeting, or _spil-pads_, being frequented by several pairs of
birds from dusk to early morning. The male utters a low note resembling
_bip, bip, bipbip, bipbiperere, biperere_, varied by a sound like
the smacking of a tongue, produced by striking the mandibles smartly
and in rapid succession; he then jumps upon a tussock of grass,
swelling out his feathers, spreading his tail, drooping his wings in
front of the female, and uttering a tremulous _sbirr_.... The
males fight by slashing feebly with their wings, but the combat is not
of long duration." As the characteristics of the great snipe become
known, it will doubtless be recorded as occurring more frequently than
it has been in the past. As has been suggested, it is most probable
that in a big bag of snipe the rarer species may frequently have been
overlooked, especially as the common snipe varies in size, perhaps more
than any other bird.

The jack snipe is the smallest British species, and is only a winter
visitant to this country. It breeds upon the _tundras_ of the far
north, and arrives here late in September. Unlike its congeners, it is
usually seen singly, and it procures its food in the boggiest
situations. It feeds much at dusk both morning and evening, and when
satisfied retires a short distance upland, where among dry grass tufts
it rests during the day. Its food consists of worms and other
soft-bodied creatures; under favourable conditions it lays on much fat,
and is considered a delicacy at table. Upon its first coming it makes
for wet meadows, plashy uplands, and sea-coast tracts, although the
weather regulates the altitude at which the bird is found. If severe
frost sets in it leaves the hill-tarns for lower land, and seeks the
protection of grass and rushes by the margins of streams. Open weather,
however, soon drives it from the valleys. The jack snipe is very local
in its likes, and will return again and again to the same spot; in
ordinary seasons its numbers are about equal to those of the common
snipe. It lies well to the gun, often until almost trodden on, and
birds have been known to have been picked up from before the nose of a
dog. It is more easily killed than any of its congeners, for although
it flies in a zig-zag manner it invariably rises right from the feet of
the sportsman. About April the birds congregate for their journey
northwards, and there is no authentic record of the species having bred
in Britain. Mr. John Wolley, an English naturalist, discovered in
Lapland the first known eggs of the jack snipe. And this is how he
relates the interesting find: "We had not been many hours in the marsh
when I saw a bird get up, and I marked it down. The nest was found. A
sight of the eggs, as they lay untouched, raised my expectations to the
highest pitch. I went to the spot where I had marked the bird, and put
it up again, and again saw it, after a short low flight, drop suddenly
into cover. Once more it rose a few feet from where it had settled. I
fired, and in a minute had in my hand a true jack snipe, the undoubted
parent of the nest of eggs! In the course of the day and night I found
three more nests, and examined the birds of each. One allowed me to
touch it with my hand before it rose, and another only got up when my
foot was within six inches of it. The nest of the 17th of June, and the
two of the 18th of June, were all alike in structure, made loosely of
dried pieces of grass and equisetum not at all woven together, with a
few old leaves of the dwarf birch, placed in a dry sedgy or grassy spot
close to more open swamp."

At one time snipe were commonly taken in "pantles" made of twisted
horsehair. These were set about three inches from the ground, and snipe
and teal were mostly taken in them. In preparing the snares the fowler
trampled a strip of oozy ground, until, in the darkness, it had the
appearance of a narrow plash of water. The birds were taken as they
went to feed in ground presumably containing food of which they were
fond.



CHAPTER IX.

WATER POACHERS.


If trout streams and salmon rivers are ever more interesting than when
the "March-brown" and the May-fly are on, surely it must be when the
fish are heading up stream for the spawning grounds. Then the salmon
leave the teeming seas and the trout their rich river reaches for the
tributary streams. At this time the fish glide through the deep water
with as much eagerness as they rushed down the same river as silvery
samlets or tiny trout. Maybe they stay for a short time at some
well-remembered pool, but the first frosts remind them that they must
seek the upper waters. A brown spate rolling down is a potent reminder,
and they know that by its aid the rocks and weirs will be more easily
passed. If the accustomed waterways are of solid foam the fish get up
easily, but the soft spray gives them little hold. Let us watch them
try to surmount the first obstacle; and here, by the White Water rocks
it is a silvery sight to see the salmon "run." There is a deafening
roar from the waterfall, and the almost impalpable spray constitutes a
constant maze of translucent vapour. Ever and anon a big fish throws
its steel-blue form many feet above the water, endeavouring to clear
the obstacle. Many times it is beaten back, but at last it gains a
ledge, and by a concentrated effort manages to throw itself into the
still deep water beyond. Instead of leaping, the female fish try to run
through the foam and on from stone to stone until a last leap takes
them over. Where no passes exist many fish are picked up dead, the
majority of these prove to be males, and this preponderance is also
noticeable upon the breeding grounds. The spawning redds are selected
where the tributaries are clear and pure--where there is bright gravel
and an entire absence of sediment. Here the fish settle down to their
domestic duties, and their movements seem to be regulated by a dulling
stupor. This facilitates observation, but it also assists the poacher
in his silent trade. Once settled, the female fish scoops out a hollow
in the sheltering gravel, and is closely attended by her lord. Whilst
spawning is proceeding, observe with what care he attends her, and in
what evolutions he indulges. He rises and falls, now passing over, now
under her, and settling first upon this side, then upon that. Observe,
too, how he drives off the young unfertile fish which are ever lying in
wait to devour the spawn. The eggs are deposited at intervals in the
sand, and when the milt has been fertilised the whole is covered over,
there to remain until spring. The salmon deposits nearly a thousand
eggs for every pound of its live weight, and from the quantity of spawn
in some salmon rivers it would seem that nothing which man could
do--save pollution--would have any appreciable influence upon the
increase of the species. The fecundity of trout is even greater than
that of salmon, while a tiny smelt of only two ounces contains upwards
of thirty-five thousand eggs, and even these are as nothing compared
with the rate of increase of several marine and "coarse" fish. An
individual cod has yielded more than six million; a turbot fourteen
million; and a twenty-eight pound conger eel fifteen million eggs.

The eggs of salmon are nearly as large as the seed of a garden pea, and
those of good trout only slightly less. The ova is of a delicate salmon
colour and the cell-walls are semi-transparent--so much so that the
embryo shows plainly through. Although delicate in appearance they are
elastic and capable of sustaining great pressure, and an egg thrown
upon a flat surface will rebound like an india-rubber ball. The economy
of the extreme prolificness of the sporting fishes of Britain can best
be understood when we come to consider the host of enemies which beset
both salmon and trout in the very first stages of their existence.
Nature is prolific in her waste, and a whole army of nature's poachers
have to be satisfied. So true is this that the yearly yield of the
largest salmon-producing river in the kingdom is computed at about the
produce of _one female fish_ of from fifteen pounds to twenty
pounds in weight; the produce of all the rest being lost or wasted.
Sometimes a single ill-timed spate will destroy millions of eggs by
tearing them from the gravel and laying them bare to a whole host of
enemies.[2] These enemies are in the air, on the land, in the water,
and nothing short of an enumeration of them can convey any idea of
their numbers and wholesale methods of destruction. In addition to the
yearling salmon and trout which for ever haunt the skirts of the
spawning grounds, there are always a number of mature unfertile fish
which for a part of the year live entirely upon the spawn. An instance
of this is recorded by a river watcher on the Thames, who states that
while procuring trout ova in a stream at High Wycombe, he observed a
pair of trout spawning on a shallow ford, and another just below them
devouring the ova as fast as it was deposited by the spawner. The
keeper netted the thief, and in its stomach was found upwards of two
ounces of solid ova, or about three hundred eggs. Eels particularly
root up the gravel beds, and the small river lamprey has also been seen
busily engaged in the like pursuit. These have a method in going about
their depredations that is quite interesting. Small parties of them
work together, and by means of their suckers they remove the stones,
immediately boring down after the hidden spawn. If a stone be too large
for one to lift another will come to its aid, even four or five having
been seen to unite their forces. It is a good-sized stone which can
resist their efforts, and the mischief they do is considerable. Even
water beetles and their larvæ must, on account of their numbers and
voracity, come within the reckoning, and among the most destructive of
these are water-shrimps and the larvæ of the dragon-fly. Have we not
been told that while the loved May-fly is "on," all hours, meats,
decencies, and respectabilities must yield to his caprice, so that the
pink-spotted trout, rushing from every hover, may be lifted gently from
its native stream to gasp away its life among the lush summer grass?
But if the gauzy-winged fly is one of the loved likes of the trout, the
former has its day, for none of the larvæ of water beetles is so
destructive to spawn and fry as this. Pike and coarse fish are equally
partial to the same repast, and even salmon and trout devour the young
of their own kind. Waterfowl are among the trout-stream poachers, and
the swan is a perfect gourmand. My swan and her crew (five cygnets)
would dispose of two million five hundred thousand eggs in that time.
Some of the best trout streams in the country have been depopulated of
fish by these birds, and the Thames as a fishing river is now greatly
suffering from the number of swans allowed upon it.[3] Both wild and
domestic ducks are destructive to spawn and almost live on the "redds"
during the breeding season. We have more than once shot moorhens in
autumn with spawn dripping from their bills, and the birds themselves
gorged with it. The coot has been charged with the same crime, though
as yet guilt has only been brought home to it with regard to coarse
fish; and to the silvery bleak it is said to be particularly partial.
The grebe or dabchick must be looked upon as an arrant little poacher
not only of eggs and fry but of fish in every stage of growth. It is
said that a pair of dabchicks will do more harm on a river than a pair
of otters, which, however, is perhaps not so terrible as it sounds.
Fourteen little grebes fishing about a mile of trout stream, as we have
known, is overstepping the balance of nature, and would certainly
injure the river; and Mr. Bartlett has stated that a pair of these
birds which he kept in confinement cost the Zoological Society a
considerable sum in providing small fish for them. Frank Buckland had a
grebe sent to him which had been choked by a bullhead, and the same
fate has not unfrequently befallen kingfishers and other aquatic
feeders. The vegetarian water-voles may be written down innocent with
regard to spawn, or at the worst "not proven." Our British voles are
miniature beavers that haunt the water sides and lead a fairy-like
existence among the osier-beds and lily-pads. They know but little of
winter, and therefore of the spawning season, and their delectable
lives are lived on through ever-recurring summers. Until lately
naturalists knew but little of the life-history of the voles, and the
country folk called them "water-rats" and "field-mice," and knew little
beyond except that they tunnelled their meadow-banks. As the little
creatures pass from one bank to another they swim fearlessly towards
the observer, and when within a few yards of the side suddenly
disappear and enter their holes from beneath. Much abuse has been
heaped upon the vole for its alleged propensity for destroying ova, but
as yet nothing has been proved against it. We have watched scores of
these little creatures feeding on the succulent leaves of water-plants,
but have never detected them searching the "redds" or taking trout fry.
It has been asserted that voles feed upon flesh when opportunity
offers, but perhaps we cannot better vindicate their general character
in this respect than by relating an incident which has occurred
annually for some years past. In a quiet pool known to us, a couple of
moorhens have annually hatched and reared one or more broods under the
shadow of an old thorn-tree, the nest being interwoven with one of the
lower boughs which floats on the surface of the water. Under the roots
a pair of voles have annually brought forth several young families; and
yet perfect amity seems to exist between the birds and the rodents. We
have seen the eggs lying for hours uncovered and unprotected, and at
other times the young birds, not more than a few hours old, swimming
about in the water when the voles were constantly feeding, crossing and
recrossing from bank to bank. If voles were addicted to killing birds
the downy young of the moorhen would have afforded tender morsels, and
have been easily obtained in a small confined pool ere they were able
to take wing.

          [2] "Sometimes while stealing along in a quiet deep channel
          but a few yards wide, worn through the rock, or between it
          and the green bank opposite, the spectator would marvel at
          the broad expanse of shingle or barren sand. Little would he
          wonder if, after a week's rain, he sought the same spot, when
          Tweed was coming down in his might, and every tributary
          stream, transformed for the nonce into a river, swelled the
          mighty flood. Then timber trees, sawn wood, dead animals,
          farming implements, even haystacks would come floating down,
          and the very channel of the river would be diverted,
          sometimes never to return to its ancient course. Sad was the
          havoc occasioned among the embryo spawn; torn from its bed,
          it would be carried down stream, to be devoured by the trout
          or the eel, or to perish amid the waste of waters. We felt on
          these occasions pretty safe. Our principal enemies were
          dispersed: the gulls sought worms in the ploughed uplands;
          the kingfisher and the solitary heron flew away to the
          smaller streams, where the less turbid water permitted them
          to see their prey. The cold, slimy, cruel eel, alone of all
          our enemies, was then to be dreaded. Crawling along at the
          bottom of the water, his flat wicked head pressed against the
          gravel, so as to escape the force of the stream, the wily
          beast would insinuate himself into every crevice or corner,
          where a small fish might have taken shelter, or a drowned
          worm be lodged, and all was prey to him." _The
          Autobiography of a Salmon._

          [3] "One had better throw open his pond or river to all the
          poachers in the district than indulge in a taste for swans.
          If any one doubts this, let him row up the Thames from
          Weybridge to Chertsey, or on to Laleham, during the latter
          end of the month of April or early in May, and take
          particular and special notice of what the swans are doing. If
          he has still any doubt, and likes to kill one or two and cut
          them open, he will solve his doubts and do a service at the
          same time; he may be fined for it, but he will certainly
          suffer for a good action and in a good cause. A swan can and
          will devour a gallon of fish-spawn every day while the spawn
          remains unhatched, if he can get it; and it is easily found.
          I leave the reader to calculate what the few hundreds (I
          might almost say thousands) on the Thames devour in the
          course of two or three months. Their greediness and voracity
          for fish-spawn must be witnessed to be believed. If this were
          not so, the Thames ought to swarm to excess with fish,
          whereas it is but poorly supplied. Here is a little
          calculation. Suppose each swan only to take a quart of spawn
          per diem, which is a very low average indeed; suppose each
          quart to contain fifty-thousand eggs (not a tithe of what it
          does contain). I am not speaking of salmon and trout here,
          their ova being much larger; suppose only two hundred swans
          (about a fourth, perhaps, of the number really employed) are
          at work at the spawn, and give them only a fortnight for the
          period of their ravages. Now what is the result we get? Why,
          a little total of one hundred and forty million. One hundred
          and forty million of eggs! Suppose only half of those eggs to
          become fish, and we have a loss of seventy millions of fish
          every year to the River Thames--a heavy price to pay for the
          picturesque, particularly when the reality may perhaps be
          doubled, or trebled, or even quadrupled." Francis Francis.

When the eggs of salmon and trout have been submitted to the action of
clear running water for a few months they begin to hatch. Prior to this
the young fish may be seen inside packed away in a most beautiful
manner. The embryo increases in bulk until on some warm April day the
tiny fish bursts its shell and finds itself in a wide world of waters.
Individual eggs may be seen to hatch, and the process is most
interesting. First the shell splits at the part corresponding to the
back. Then a tiny head with golden eyes appears, and after two or three
convulsive waves of his little tail the now useless shells fall from
off him. He seems to enjoy the watery element in which he finds
himself, for away he swims as fast as his tiny fins and wriggling tail
will carry him, round and round in a circle, until presently he sinks
down again to the sheltering gravel, for the first time breathing
freely by his delicate gills. Every young salmon and trout has a tiny
umbilical sac attached, and upon the contents of which it must feed
until it has learnt to look out for itself, a period of from six to
eight weeks. Frank Buckland has stated that no other animal increases
so rapidly at so little cost, and becomes such a valuable article of
food as the salmon. At three days old it is nearly two grains in
weight; at sixteen months it has increased to two ounces, or four
hundred and eighty times its first weight; at twenty months old, after
the smolt has been a few months in the sea, it becomes a grilse of
eight and a half pounds, having increased sixty-eight times in three or
four months; at two and three-quarter years old it becomes a salmon of
twelve pounds to fifteen pounds; after which its increased rate of
growth has not been satisfactorily ascertained, but by the time it
becomes thirty pounds it has increased one hundred and fifteen thousand
two hundred times the weight it was at first.

The only parts of a young salmon or trout which is fully developed
immediately it leaves the egg are its eyes. These are golden with a
silver sheen, and beautifully bright--the great aids in steering clear
of an almost innumerable set of enemies which this new stage of
existence brings. And it is really difficult to say whether these game
fishes have more enemies when in the egg or after they are hatched. Of
some of the former we have already spoken, and now let us look to the
latter.

The heron is a great trout-stream poacher, and destroys quantities of
immature fish. This has long been known, but the fact received striking
confirmation from an incident which occurred at the rearing-ponds at
Stormontfield. Here a heron was shot as it left off fishing, when it
immediately disgorged _fifty fry_. In the trout stream the heron
stands looking more like a lump of drift-stuff caught in the bushes
than an animate object. Gaunt, consumptive, and sentinel-like, the bird
watches with crest depressed, standing upon one leg. At other times it
wades cautiously with lowered head and outstretched neck, each step
being taken by a foot drawn gently out of the water, and as quietly
replaced in advance. Occasionally the wader steps into a deep hole, but
this causes not the slightest flurry. The walk is changed into a sort
of swimming, and paddling deep in the water until the feet again touch
firm ground. Woe to the trout or samlet that comes within range of the
heron's terrible pike, for it is at once impaled and gulped down. This
impalement is given with great force, and a wounded heron has been
known to drive its strong bill right through a stout stick. If a fish
is missed a sharp look-out is kept for its line of escape, and a
stealthy step made towards it. Should the distance be beyond range of
the bird's vision, a few flaps of the wings are tried in the eagerness
of pursuit. Nothing from the size of fry to mature fish comes amiss to
the heron, and the young whilst still in the nest consume great
quantities. Their swallow is insatiable, though sometimes they gaff an
individual which is difficult to dispose of. Shooting late one evening
in summer we were standing by a stream the banks of which were riddled
with the holes of water-voles. It was almost dark, when a large bird
flapped slowly over the fields and alighted by the bank. It took its
stand, and as we lay low its sketchy form was sharply outlined against
the sky. It was a heron; and for an hour among the dank weeds and wet
grass we watched it feed. After a prolonged struggle with some object
in the water it rose. Just as it did so we fired, and running up to the
winged bird were in time to see a live vole which it had disgorged. As
an example of "the biter bit," it is related that a heron was seen one
evening going to a piece of water to feed; the spot was visited the
next morning, when it was discovered that the bird had stuck its beak
through the head of an eel, piercing both eyes; the eel thus held had
coiled itself so tightly round the neck of the heron as to stop the
bird's respiration, and both were dead. Upon another occasion a heron
is said to have swallowed a stoat, but in this case also the prey was
promptly disgorged. An authoritative statement has been made to the
effect that the heron's services in the destruction of pike, coarse
fish, rats, and water-beetles may fairly be set off against its
depredations in trout-streams. But to this we must dissent; and if a
trout stream and a heronry are to flourish in the same neighbourhood,
the former must be covered in with netting, especially during the
spawning season.

Another bird which is an enemy to both salmon and trout in their fry
stage is the black-headed gull. This bird with its laughing cry hovers
over the stream and never lets slip an opportunity of snapping up a
brown trout or silvery samlet that has left its place of refuge. The
late Francis Francis was fully aware of this fact, and he set down both
gulls and terns as most notorious offenders. A couple of hundred gulls
will devour at least a thousand smolts per day; and the birds may be
seen at Loch Lomond travelling to and from Gull Island and the burns
all day, each with a trout or parr in its beak. This must have a
considerable effect on the future supply of grilse in the Tweed.

As to what part the pretty white-breasted dipper plays in the economy
of salmon rivers and trout streams naturalists are by no means agreed.
Frank Buckland said that one might as well shoot a swallow skimming
over a turnip-field as a dipper over the spawning beds. And this view
of the dipper's economy we believe to be the right and just one. Last
autumn we had occasion to walk over many miles of trout streams. In
these, fish of every size were upon the gravel beds which constitute
the spawning "redds." Almost at every turn the white chemisette of the
brook bird glinted from some grey stone and went piping before us up
stream. As many of these were seen actually rummaging among the
pebbles, some few were shot for examination. Although the post-mortems
were carefully conducted, no trace in any single instance of the
presence of ova of either trout or salmon could be found, but only
larvæ of water-haunting insects, roughly representing the four great
families of trout-flies. In opposition to the above, however, it must
be admitted that individual dippers have been seen with tiny fish in
their bills, and even to feed their young ones upon them. Birds in
confinement have also been fed upon minnows, but this _penchant_
might be an acquired one. It may be asserted, then, that the ouzel has
been known to eat fish, but that fish forms no chief portion of his
food; and finally, that it would be quite incorrect to describe it as a
fish-eating bird, and therefore as an enemy to salmon and trout. The
birds will not long stay where the water is slow or logged; they must
have the white foam, the torrent, the pebbly reaches, and the shallows.
In fact, they could not obtain their food under conditions other than
these. The mountain burns abound with various aquatic insects and their
larvæ, and in limestone districts in innumerable fresh-water molluscs.
As already shown, not only is the ouzel innocent of destroying eggs of
salmon and trout, but it is indirectly beneficial to a fishery. It is
well known that among the chief enemies to spawn are the larvæ known as
caddisworms, that of the dragon-fly, May-fly and stone-fly, and also of
the various water-beetles. Now all these have been found in the stomach
of the dipper, and therefore it must confer a decided benefit on the
salmon and trout streams which it haunts.

Of all our British birds none is so beautiful or so secluded in its
habits as the kingfisher; and its presence is peculiarly in keeping
with the rapid, rocky trout streams which it loves to haunt. Although
glowing with metallic lustres, and beautiful in its adaptation and
every movement, the kingfisher builds but a careless nest, a loose
structure of dry fish bones--the hard indigestible parts of its food
which, in common with birds of prey, it has the power of ejecting in
pellets by the mouth. Again, let us look out the bird in its haunts. We
follow the course of the hazel-fringed stream over a mile of its pebbly
reaches; now a dipper flits from a green mossy stone, and a pair of
sandpipers start with tremulous wings and skirt the shingle-strewn
banks. Among the flags the water-voles gnaw the sweet saccharine
aquatic plants, and the water-hens run and hide under the friendly
roots of an overhanging thorn. The May-fly is upon the stream, the
silvery fresh run fish are all animation, and even the great black
trout in the "willow dub" condescends to take a fat blue-bottle that is
spinning round and round the pool. Dragon-flies dart hither and
thither, bronze fly and bee are upon the wing, and the carpet of grass
and flowers is alive with innumerable insects, all busily engaged in
fertilising their floral friends, or revelling in nectar, and gilded
with golden pollen. The lime-trees are "a murmurous haunt of summer
wings," and the breath of summer is on our cheek. Over there is an
overhanging, leafless bough and upon it has just alighted a kingfisher.
At first its form is motionless, then it assumes more animation, and
anon is all eye and ear. Then it falls, hangs for a moment in the air
like a kestrel, and returns to its perch. Again it darts with unerring
aim and secures something. This is tossed, beaten and broken with a
formidable beak, and swallowed head foremost. This process is again and
again repeated, and we find that the prey is small fish. From watching
an hour we are entranced with the beauty of the fluttering, quivering
thing as the sun glints from its green and gold vibrations in mid-air.
We gain some estimation, too, of the vast amount of immature fish which
a pair of kingfishers and their young must destroy in a single
season.[4] Later in summer the young brood may be seen with open
quivering wings, constantly calling as the parent birds fly up and down
stream. Their food consists almost entirely of fish throughout the
year, though during the rigour and frosts of winter they betake
themselves to the estuaries of tidal rivers, where their food of
molluscs and shore-haunting creatures are daily replenished by the
tides. Kingfishers are among the most persistent of trout-stream
poachers, and as many as eighty of these beautiful birds have been
killed in a season on a famous nursery in the midlands. As in the case
of the heron, nothing will save the fry from these marauders but
covering in the rearing ponds with the finest wire net. However one may
wish to protect the kingfisher, there is no denying the fact of its
_penchant_ for fish, especially the fry of salmon and trout; the
bad habit is bred in him.

          [4] "Then the kingfisher, with rufous breast and glorious
          mantle of blue, would dart like a plummet from his roost, and
          seize unerringly any little truant which passed within his
          ken. The appetite of this bird was miraculous; I never saw
          him satisfied. He would sit for hours on a projecting bough,
          his body almost perpendicular, his head thrown back between
          his shoulders; eyeing with an abstracted air the heavens
          above or the rocks around him, he seemed intent only upon
          exhibiting the glorious lustre of his plumage, and the
          brilliant colours with which his azure back was shaded; but
          let a careless samlet stray beneath him, and in a twinkling
          his nonchalant attitude was abandoned. With a turn so quick
          that the eye could scarce follow it, his tail took the place
          of his head, and, falling rather than flying, he would seize
          his victim, toss him once into the air, catch him as he fell,
          head foremost, and swallow him in a second. This manoeuvre
          he would repeat from morning till night; such a greedy,
          insatiable little wretch I never saw!"--_The Autobiography
          of a Salmon._

The fact of salmon and trout devouring the spawn of their own kind has
been already referred to, and unfortunately the practice is continued
after the eggs are hatched. The big fish sometimes so terrify the tiny
trout and samlets that the latter throw themselves clear out of the
water and lay gasping on the pebbles, while the would-be devourer beats
about the shallows disappointed at losing his prey. An old "kelt"
salmon has been seen to devour fifty of his own progeny for breakfast;
and the pike is a greater water-wolf still. This fish has been known to
increase at the enormous rate of from eight to ten pounds a year when
favourably placed for feeding. So voracious a creature is the pike, and
furnished with such digestion, that it will destroy a half-pound trout
a day for twelve months--a terrible drain upon any stream. Then it has
an all-capacious maw for silvery smolts as they are making their way
down to the sea, and of these at certain seasons it devours myriads. Of
course pike keep coarse fish under, which are indirectly injurious to
trout, and in this way confer a benefit upon the angler. There is
another way in which he is beneficial, and that is as a scavenger. A
diseased salmon or trout never lives more than a few minutes in his
presence, for he gulps down fish, fungus, and all. In this connection
there is one fact which ought not to be overlooked. Of late years
disease has played terrible havoc in some of the best rivers in the
country. In one of these, known to the writer, scarcely a fish is
caught which does not show scars left by the disease--want of tail,
partial loss of fins, and white patches where the fungus has previously
grown. That numbers of the fish attacked do survive there can be no
question; and that the disease may be prevented at the cost of a few
fish we have but little doubt. This may be considered a bold assertion;
but in these days of artificial rearing, re-stocking, and preservation,
anglers and angling associations are apt either to forget or to ignore
the balance of nature. Now, nature rarely overlooks an insult. Destroy
her appointed instruments and beware of her revenge. That the salmon
and trout may live a whole host of stream-haunting creatures are
condemned, and that often upon the most insufficient evidence.

The creature against which the angler "breathes hot roarings out" is
the otter. But how few fish does the otter really destroy! The evidence
to be gathered by those who live along its streams all goes to show
that eels and freshwater crayfish form the staple of its food. In
search of these, it wanders miles in a night and will not partake of
soft-bodied fish so long as they can be found. The economy of the otter
ought not to be overlooked in connection with sport and our fish
supply. Probably its increasing rarity has as much to do with the
disease alluded to as had the extermination of the nobler birds of prey
with the grouse disease. A falcon always takes the easiest chance at
its prey; and an otter captures the slowest fish. In each case they
kill off the weakest, the most diseased, and thereby secure the
survival of the fittest. Most of the newspaper paragraphs anent the
doings of otters are mere legendary stories without any foundation in
fact. The otter is not a "fish-slicer." Salmon found upon the rocks
with the flesh bitten from the shoulders are oftener than not there by
agents other than _Lutra_. A great deal of unnatural history has
been written concerning the "water-dog," mostly by those who have never
had opportunity of studying the otter in its haunts. That it
occasionally destroys fish we will not deny; but this liking has become
such a stereotyped fact (?) in natural history that it is glibly
repeated, parrot-like, and has continued so long, that most have come
to accept it. Ask the otter-hunter, the old angler of the rocky
northern streams, the field naturalist who has many a night stretched
his length along a slab of rock to observe the otter at home--and each
has the same answer. Abundance of otters and plenty of trout exist side
by side; and where the fastnesses of the former are impregnable, there
disease is foreign to the stream. Many otters, many trout; this is a
bit of nature's economy there is no gainsaying. Here is an actual
incident. There is a certain reach on a well-known trout stream which
is so overgrown with wood and coppice as to render it unfishable. This
reach swarms with handsome well-fed trout; and yet far back among the
rocky shelves of the river a brood of otters are brought forth
annually, have been in fact time out of mind. And yet another incident.
Of forty-five dead otters killed in hunting, in two only were there
remains of fish food, and this consisted of eels--deadly enemies either
to trout stream or salmon river. These forty-five otters, for the most
part, were killed before six in the morning, and consequently when
their stomachs were most likely to contain traces of what had been
taken in their night's fishing.

One of the most curious enemies of our freshwater fishes is a small
floating water-weed, the bladderwort. Along its branchlets are a number
of small green vesicles or bladders, which, being furnished with minute
jaws, seize upon tiny fish, which are assimilated into its substance.
This is a subtle poacher, the true character of which has only lately
been detected. The bladderwort is a fairly common plant, and no very
special interest attached to it ere its fish-eating propensities were
discovered. Its tiny vesicles were known to contain air, and the only
use of these so far as was known was to keep the plant afloat--a
belief, be it remarked, all the more reasonable because many aquatic
plants actually have such air receptacles for that very purpose. The
tiny bladders attached to the leaves and leaf-stalks are each furnished
with a door, the whole acting on the eel-trap principle, entrance being
easy but exit impossible. There is nothing very formidable about the
delicate green jaws of the vegetable trap, only that any tiny water
creature that ventures in to look round out of mere curiosity never by
any chance emerges alive. The first time that the bladder-wort was
actually caught at its fish-poaching proclivities, so to speak, was by
Professor Moseley, of Oxford. He and a friend had, in a large glass
bowl, a plant of this species and also a number of young roach just
hatched. The murderous plant held several of the tiny fish in its jaws;
and upon an experiment being tried in a separate vessel, it was found
that a single plant had captured no less than a dozen fish in the space
of six hours. One of these was caught by the head, another by the tail,
a third by the yolk-sac, and in another instance two bladders had
seized the same fish, one holding on at each extremity. In spite of all
this tiny ferocity it must be admitted that this little plant poacher
is more interesting than dangerous, and so long as it confines its
attention to coarse fish neither the salmon-fisher nor trout-angler
will concern himself much about its aquatic depredations.

There is one wholesale method of destruction which particularly affects
salmon, which cannot be passed over. This is done by almost innumerable
nets, and is usually practised at the mouths of rivers and generally
without the slightest regard to the economy of the fish supply. And it
has been found that as salmon and the means of transit increase, so
does the number of destructive nets. Theoretically, legislation is
levelled against this wanton destruction, but practically the law is a
dead letter. At every tide, in certain seasons, hundreds of thousands
of salmon-fry and smolts are sacrificed; and in a certain firth it is
recorded how a fisherman in his nets walked, in many places, knee deep
in dead smolts, and that the ground for a considerable distance was
silvered with their scales. Under these circumstances the samlets
sometimes accumulate to such an extent that they have to be carted on
to the nearest land and used as manure. This waste of valuable fish
food is so great that it can hardly be reckoned, and in future years
must tell greatly upon the British yield of salmon. Mill-wheels[5] and
hatches, too, are often great sources of destruction.

          [5] "In this neighbourhood I escaped, by pure good fortune, a
          danger that I afterwards learnt proved fatal to
          thousands--nay, tens of thousands--of my young companions.
          The stream had apparently divided, and whilst I followed the
          course of the right-hand one, the greater number passed down
          the wider but less rapid left-hand division. Here they
          speedily encountered a terrific mill-wheel, and, dashing on
          one side, they found their progress stopped by a small net,
          which being placed under them, they were landed literally by
          bushels. My informant, who escaped by passing under the
          mill-wheel at the imminent risk of being crushed to death,
          assured me that the bodies of our unlucky brethren were used
          as manure! And, degrading as the suggestion is, it seems not
          impossible, for the numbers taken could not be sold or used
          for food."--_The Autobiography of a Salmon._

Another enemy to salmon and trout is the great black cormorant--a
poacher that studies their migratory and local movements, and acts
accordingly. It is the habit of this bird to visit small rivers which
flow into the sea, especially during the late winter and early spring
months. At these seasons the smolts are preparing to come down, and the
kelts of salmon and sea trout are assembling in the large pools prior
to their return to salt water. A brace of cormorants which were shot at
their fishing were found to contain twenty-six and fourteen salmon
smolts respectively, and a trustworthy water bailiff asserts that he
once watched a couple of cormorants hunt and kill a kelt salmon, and
that after dragging it ashore they commenced tearing it up, when they
were driven off. It was once thought that both the cormorant and heron
only ate that which they could swallow whole, but this is now known not
to be strictly correct.

And now, finally, we come to the man poacher. Fish poaching is
practised none the less for the high preservation and stricter watching
which is so characteristic of the times. In outlying country towns with
salmon and trout streams in the vicinity it is carried on to an almost
incredible extent. There are many men who live by it, and women to whom
it constitutes a thriving trade. These know neither times nor seasons,
and, like the heron and the kingfisher, poach the whole year round.
They provide the chief business of the county police-court, and the
great source of profit to the local fish and game dealer. The wary
poacher never starts for his fishing grounds without having first
secured his customer; and it is surprising with what lax code of morals
the provincial public will deal when the silent night worker is one to
the bargain. Of course the public always gets cheap fish and fresh
fish--so fresh, indeed, that the life has not yet gone out of it. It is
a perfectly easy matter to poach fish, and the difficulty lies in
conveying them into the towns and villages. The poacher never knows but
that he may meet some county constable along the unfrequented country
roads, and consequently never carries his game upon him. This he
secretes in stacks and ricks and disused farm buildings until such
times as it may be safely sent for. Country carriers, early morning
milk carts, and women are all employed in getting fish into town. In
this the women are most successful. Sometimes they may be seen
labouring under a heavy load carried in a sack, with faggots and rotten
sticks protruding from the mouth; or again with a large basket
innocently covered with crisp green cresses which effectually hide the
bright silvery fish beneath.

The methods of the fish poacher are many. The chances of success, too,
are greatly in his favour, for he works silently and always in the
night. He walks abroad during the day and makes mental notes of men and
fish. He knows the beats of the watchers, and has the waterside, as it
were, by heart. He can work as well in the dark as in the light, and
this is essential to his silent trade. During summer and when the water
becomes low the fish congregate in deep "dubs." This they do for
protection, and if overhung with trees there is always here abundance
of food. If a poacher intends to net a "dub" he carefully examines
every inch of its bottom beforehand. If it has been thorned, he
carefully removes these small thorned bushes with stones attached, and
thrown in by the watchers to entangle the poachers' nets and so allow
the fish to escape. At night the poacher comes, unrolls his long net on
the pebbles, and then commences operations at the bottom of the river
reach. The net is dragged by a man at each side, a third wading after
to lift it over the stakes, and so preventing the fish from escaping.
When the end of the pool is reached the trout are simply drawn out upon
the pebbles. This is repeated through the night until half-a-dozen
pools are netted, and maybe depopulated of their fish. Netting of this
description is a wholesale method of destruction, always supposing that
the poachers are allowed their own time. It requires to be done slowly,
however, and if alarmed they can do nothing but abandon their net and
run. This is necessarily large, and when thoroughly wet is most
cumbersome and exceedingly heavy. The capturing of a net stops the
depredations of the poachers for a while, as these being large take
long to make. For narrow streams pretty much the same method as that
indicated above is used, only the net is smaller, and to it are
attached two poles. The method of working this is similar to that of
the last.

A species of poaching which the older hands rarely go in for is that of
poisoning. Chloride of lime is the agent most in use, as it does not
injure the edible parts. This is thrown into the river where fish are
known to be, and its deadly influence is soon seen. The fish become
poisoned and weakened, and soon float belly uppermost. This at once
renders them conspicuous, and as they are on the surface of the stream,
they are simply lifted out of the water in a landing-net. This is a
wholesale and cowardly method, as it frequently poisons the fish for
miles down stream; it not only kills the larger fish, but destroys
great quantities of immature ones which are wholly unfit for food.
Trout which come by their death in this way have the usually pink parts
of a dull white, with the eyes and gill-covers of the same colour and
covered with a thin white film. This substance, too, is much used in
mills on the banks of trout streams, and probably more fish are
destroyed by this kind of pollution in a month than the most inveterate
poacher will kill in a year.

Throughout summer fish are in season, but the really serious poaching
is practised during close time. When spawning, the senses of both
salmon and trout seem to become dulled, and they are not at all
difficult to approach in the water. The fish seek the higher reaches to
spawn, and stay for a considerable time on the pebble beds. The salmon
offer fair marks, and the poacher obtains them by spearing. A pronged
instrument is driven into the fleshy shoulders of the fish, and it is
hauled out on to the bank. In this way sometimes more fish are obtained
in a single night than can be carried away; and when the gang is chased
by the watchers the fish have generally to be left behind, as they are
difficult things to carry. The flesh of spawning fish is loose and
watery, and is most insipid and tasteless. It is, however, sold to the
poorest class of people at a few pence per pound. In one outlying
village during last close season poached salmon was so common that the
cottagers fed their poultry upon it through the whole winter. It is
said that several fish were taken each over twenty pounds in weight.
Another way of securing salmon and trout from the spawning "redds" is
by means of "click-hooks." These are simply large salmon-hooks bound
together shaft to shaft and attached to a long cord; a bit of lead
balances them and adds weight. These are used in deep rivers, where
spearing by wading is impracticable. When a fish is seen the hooks are
simply thrown beyond it, and then gently dragged until they come
immediately beneath; a sharp "click" usually sends them into the soft
under-parts of the fish, which is then drawn out. That natural poacher,
the pike, is frequently ridded from trout streams in this fashion. Of
course, poaching with click-hooks requires to be done in the light, or
by the aid of an artificial one. Lights attract salmon and trout just
as they attract birds, and tar brands are frequently used by poachers.
Shooting is sometimes resorted to, but for this class of poaching the
habits and beats of the water bailiffs require to be accurately known.
The method has the advantage of being quick, and a gun in skilful hands
and at a short distance may be used without injuring the fleshy parts
of the body. That deadly bait, salmon roe, is now rarely used, the
method of preparing it having evidently gone out with the old-fashioned
poachers, who used it with such deadly effect.

The capture of either poachers or their nets is often difficult to
accomplish. The former wind their sinuous way, snake-like, through the
wet meadows in approaching the rivers, and their nets are rarely kept
at home. These they secrete about farm buildings, in dry ditches, or
among the bushes in close proximity to their poaching grounds. Were
they kept at home the obtaining of a search warrant by the police or
local angling association would always render their custody a critical
one. They are sometimes kept in the poachers' houses, though only for a
short period when about to be used. At this time the police have found
them secreted in the chimney, between the bed and the mattress, or even
wound about the portly persons of the poachers' wives. The women are
not always simply aiders and abettors, but in poaching, sometimes play
a more important rôle. They have frequently been taken red-handed by
the watchers. The vocation of these latter is a hard one. They work at
night, and require to be most on the alert during rough and wet
weather--in the winter, when the fish are spawning. Sometimes they must
remain still for hours in freezing clothes; and even in summer they not
unfrequently lie all night in dank and wet herbage. They see the night
side of nature, and many of them are fairly good naturalists. If a
lapwing gets up and screams in the darkness they know how to interpret
the sound, as also a hare rushing wildly past. It must be confessed,
however, that at all points the fish poacher is cleverer and of readier
wit than the river watcher.



CHAPTER X.

WILD DUCKS AND DUCK DECOYING.


There is no European country, however fortunately situated, which has
so many species of wild-fowl as Britain. This is partly owing to its
insular position, and partly to the food-abounding seas which are on
every coast. In their primitive condition these islands must have
constituted a very paradise for wild-fowl, and we know that the marsh
and fen lands of the south-eastern counties were breeding haunts of
myriads of fowl not more than two centuries ago. Even now there are
nearly thirty species of wild duck which are either resident or annual
visitants to our marine and inland waters. Nearly half of these are now
known to have bred within the British Isles, the remaining ones coming
from the north only at the severity of winter.

Wild ducks divide themselves into two natural groups according to habit
and the manner in which they obtain their food. Sportsmen and fowlers
refer to those divisions as "surface" and "diving" ducks. Those which
comprise the first class feed exclusively upon the surface and inhabit
fresh water; the latter are mostly marine forms, and in procuring their
food the whole body is submerged. Among the surface-feeding ducks are
the shoveller, sheldrake, mallard, pintail, gadwall, garganey, widgeon,
and teal; whilst the latter include the tufted duck, scaup, scoter,
surf scoter, velvet scoter, pochard, and golden-eye. Other British
ducks which would come naturally into one or other of these groups, but
are more or less rare, are the eiders, American widgeon, red-crested
pochard, smew, the mergansers, and the buffel-headed, long-tailed,
ruddy sheld, Steller's western, ferruginous, and harlequin ducks.

From the fact of their resorting to inland waters the surface-feeding
ducks are perhaps the best known. All of them are shy, wary birds, and
as difficult of approach as to bring down. Nearly all the species which
inhabit fresh water feed during the night, and fly off to the hills to
rest and sleep during the day. All of them are birds of considerable
powers of flight, and an interesting fact in their economy is the power
of the males to change their summer plumage so as to resemble that of
the females. As this adaptation only takes place during the breeding
season it is probably done for protective reasons.

The common mallard or wild duck, and the teal, being resident breeding
birds, are the first to become noticeable in winter, and many thousands
are annually taken in the few remaining decoys of this country. The
mallard is an exceedingly handsome bird, and one of the largest of its
kind. It is an early breeder, and soon after the brown duck begins to
sit the male moults the whole of its flight feathers. So sudden and
simultaneous is this process that for six weeks in summer the usually
handsome drake is quite incapable of flight; and it is probably at this
period of its ground existence that the assumption of the duck's
plumage is such an aid to protection. The mallard is not strictly a
ground builder, as its nest is sometimes at a considerable altitude,
nests of a rook and a hawk having been taken advantage of. In such case
the young birds are probably brought to the ground in the bill of the
old one. To such an extent did the mallard at one time breed among the
fens in this country, that it was customary before the young could fly
for a number of persons to engage in what was termed a "driving of
ducks," when as many as one thousand eight hundred birds have been
taken. Although wild and wary under ordinary circumstances, the mallard
upon occasion has shown remarkable tameness. In severe weather two
hundred birds have assembled upon a pond and accepted oats at not more
than an arm's length from the feeder. Under ordinary circumstances the
common wild duck feeds upon floating grasses, grain, insects, and
worms; a well-grown mallard sometimes weighs three pounds.

The teal is the smallest of the wild ducks, and is an
exquisitely-formed and prettily-marked species. It is dear to the
fowler as the gourmet, for it is easily decoyed or stalked, and when
procured affords delicate eating. Many a time does the heart of the
shore-shooter warm as he hears the whistle of a bunch of teal, and sees
them drop down like a plummet. They love to haunt the margins of
fresh-water streams and lakes, and when put away from these rise
rapidly and as though they had been shot from the water. It is only
when their inland resorts are hard frozen that they are driven to the
sea, and once here every art of the fowler is used in coming up with
them. As many as eighty-five and upon another occasion one hundred and
six teal have been picked up after a well-directed shot from a
punt-gun--the former by Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey, the latter off the
Irish coast. Both shots were at flying birds. The teal is an early
breeder, and being resident is among the first of the ducks seen on the
decoys, and with the mallard is the species most abundantly taken. It
is liable to the same sexual change in the breeding season, and during
the time it has young is most affectionate in tending them. An anecdote
is related of how a country lad having fallen in with a brood of teal
drove them before him to a lodge. The mother teal followed after,
keeping close at hand. When the boy had driven them into a little shed
within the yard, the old bird, still following, ran in after them, and
in spite of there being dogs and men about did not betray the least
alarm.

The sheldrake is one of the largest and handsomest of its kind, and
although rare as a resident bird, I have frequently found its nest in
rabbit burrows on the shores of Morecambe Bay. It is at all times one
of the most distinctive of the ducks with its bright and well-defined
chestnut and white plumage. The head and neck are black, but this glows
with an iridescent green. Naturalists do not consider this a true duck,
but from structural modifications as a connecting link between the
ducks and geese. It usually breeds on a plateau commanding the sea, and
when approaching its nest it plumps right down to the mouth of the
hole. Its creamy white eggs are large and round, eight to twelve being
usually found in the burrow. For a day or so after the young are
hatched they are kept underground, and immediately upon emerging are
led down to the tide. I have not unfrequently taken the eggs from the
sand-hills and hatched them under hens--a quite successful experiment
up to a certain point. The young seem to be able to smell salt water,
and will cover miles of land to gain it. If, however, the distance
prove impracticable they will surely leave in autumn when the migratory
impulse is strong upon them. This instinct is particularly marked in
all sea-fowl, and wild swans, geese, and ducks call loudly to their
farm cousins as they pass over. There is a great wildness about the
clangour and cries of migratory fowl, coming as it does far up in the
wintry sky. Reverting to the breeding of the shelduck, the parents have
been observed conveying the newly-hatched young to the sea on their
backs when the nest has been far inland. In Holland recesses are cut in
the dunes and sand-hills so as to encourage the birds to breed, and
each morning the nests are visited and the eggs collected. Ordinarily
not more than a dozen eggs are laid, but under this system as many as
thirty are produced by a single duck. After the 18th of June the
persecution ceases and the birds are allowed to hatch in peace. Most of
the nests are lined with fine down little inferior in quality to that
of the eiders, this too becoming a commercial commodity.

Being driven from their bleak northern haunts by the ice, widgeon
appear in immense flocks in winter, and are by far the commonest of the
migratory ducks. They first begin to arrive about October, and continue
coming until the end of the year. Although found upon inland lochs and
rivers, they love to frequent weed or grass-grown ooze and mud-banks,
where they sleep and feed. The widgeon is an exception to most of the
wild ducks, as it feeds more by day than by night, and, like geese, it
is particularly fond of nibbling the short grass on the saltings. It
has a wild whistle which resembles the syllable "whew"--by which name
the bird is known on many parts of the coast. Sometimes during a lull
in a spell of rough weather vast flocks concentrate themselves on the
ooze, and it is at this time they are sought by the puntsman or fowler.
When good shots have been obtained at such masses of birds over a
hundred have been killed at a single shot, and this explains why
widgeon are sold so cheaply in the markets. When winter breaks up the
flocks retire northward, only a few remaining to breed on the northern
parts of Britain. The widgeon is not known to have nested in England.

The shoveller is another handsomely-plumaged duck, and has its name
from its shovel-shaped bill, by which characteristic it may be known at
a glance. It is a winter visitant to our shores, though not in any
great numbers, and breeds not unfrequently in several of the
south-eastern counties as well as more sparingly in the north. It
rarely frequents the sea, being fond of fresh water, and is remarkable
in the fact that it does not reach down like other ducks to procure its
food; it rather filters the water through its bill, retaining the solid
animal matter, and allowing the rest to filter through two peculiar
processes with which it is fitted. It is rather a foul feeder, swims
low in the water, and is admirably fitted for its special mode of life.

The gadwall, which has been described as a "thoroughbred" looking duck,
is the rarest yet mentioned. It may not unfrequently be passed over,
not only on account of its great shyness, but because it so much
resembles the common domestic ducks. It is rare, too, as a breeding
species, but an experiment tried in Norfolk shows how easily it may be
acclimatised. Here, on the South Acre Decoy, a pair of captured birds
were pinioned and turned down, until now, these having bred and
attracted others, it is computed that between fourteen and fifteen
hundred birds are on the water. The gadwall affords admirable eating.
The garganey or summer teal is the smallest of the wild ducks with one
exception. Unlike the rest, it is not a winter visitant, but only comes
to us in early spring on its way northward, and again in autumn on its
southward journey. It is an active species, swimming and flying
quickly. On land it feeds upon water-weeds, frogs, and grain, and at
sea upon crustaceans and molluscs. A few of the migratory birds are
known to remain and nest in the reed beds in Norfolk, though the great
majority seek their northern breeding grounds. Blue-winged teal is a
name given to this prettily-marked species, which to those who know its
congener is fairly descriptive. The last of the surface-feeding ducks
is the pintail, and if this is also described as handsome it is because
there are but few of the wild ducks which are not. It is one of the
most graceful, too, and owing to the long central tail feathers of the
male is sometimes called the sea-pheasant. Although often obtained by
fowlers along the coast, it is also found on inland decoys, and feeds
upon aquatic plants, insect larva, and molluscs. Its flesh is next in
delicacy to that of the teal, and is held in estimation at table. It is
much more rare in the northern than in the southern counties, and off
the coast of Cornwall thirty-seven birds have been bagged at one shot.
The pintail breeds but rarely in England.

We now come to the diving ducks. Speaking generally, the "surface"
ducks haunt fresh water; diving ducks the sea. The most prominent of
these are the scaup; common, velvet, and surf scoters; the pochard,
golden-eye, and tufted duck.

The inland sportsman or decoy-man knows little of the diving ducks.
Some of them keep close to land, but for the most part they are at
home far out at sea. It is interesting to watch parties of these
playing and chasing each other over the crests of the waves, and
seeming indifferent to the roughest weather. The three scoters may
be met with fifty miles from land in loosely floating flocks of
thousands. The common scoter is a winter visitant to our coasts,
sometimes coming in such numbers that the waters between the eastern
counties and Holland seem covered with them. This also holds good
with regard to the west coast, where the scoters arrive in July. They
stay for some days on fresh water; but, once launched on their winter
haunt, it is not unusual for a single fisherman to take half a
cartload in his "dowker" nets in a morning. The scoter is entirely
black; it dives remarkably well, and can remain a long time under
water. It feeds upon mussels and other soft bivalves, following the
advancing tides shoreward in search of them. These facts the
fisherman notes, and works accordingly. He marks where the birds
feed, sees their borings and stray feathers, and when the tide has
ebbed spreads his nets. These are attached by a peg at each corner,
and laid about fifteen inches above the ground. Returning to feed
with the tide, the ducks dive head foremost into the nets and become
hopelessly fast. Another of the sea-ducks, the scaup, is also taken
in large numbers in this way. But, owing to the oily nature of their
flesh and its fishy taste, these birds are rarely eaten. It is owing
to this fact that during Lent in Catholic countries the flesh of the
scoter is allowed to be eaten. Close cousin to the last and somewhat
rarer is the velvet scoter, a handsome duck, with velvety black
plumage relieved by a purely white patch on the wing and a
crescent-shaped spot of the same colour under the eye. This, too, is
a winter visitant, enjoying and obtaining its food in the roughest
wintry seas. A few velvet scoters may always be seen among the
immense flocks of the common kind. In haunt and habit, as well as
food, the common and velvet scoters are identical. The surf scoter is
the rarest of the three British species, and is intermediate in size
between the two last. With black plumage like its congeners, it is
characteristically marked by a white spot on the forehead and an
elongated white streak down the neck. The roughest seas have no
terror to the surf scoter, and it is such an expert diver as to be
able to fish at a depth of several fathoms. None of the scoters breed
in Britain, but nest in the great Northern marshes.

Another of the well-known marine ducks is the pochard, or dun-bird. To
fishermen and fowlers it is known as "poker" and "redhead," owing to
the bright chestnut colouring of its head and neck. This, with its
black breast and beautifully freckled grey back, make it a handsome
bird. It is somewhat heavily made, swims low in the water, and from its
legs being placed far behind for diving it is awkward on land. In
winter the pochard is abundant on the coast, but it is one of the
shyest of fowl and is always difficult of approach. If alarmed it
paddles rapidly away, turning its head and keeping its eye on the
intruder. As a consequence of its extreme wariness pochards are much
more frequently netted than shot. This kind of fowling was mainly
practised on flight ponds near the coast, especially in the
south-eastern counties. And this is how it was done: "The water was
surrounded with huge nets, fastened between poles laid flat on the
ground when ready for action, each net being perhaps sixty feet long
and twenty feet deep. When all was ready, the pochards were frightened
up out of the water. Like all diving ducks, they are obliged to fly low
for some distance, and also to head the wind before rising. Just as the
mass of birds reached the side of the pool, one of the immense nets,
previously regulated by weights and springs, rose upright as it was
freed from its fastenings by the fowler from a distance with a long
rope. If this were done at the right moment, the ducks were met full in
the face by a wall of net and thrown helpless into a deep ditch dug at
its foot for their reception."

Most of the marine ducks are unfit for the table, the pochard and
tufted ducks being exceptions--probably from the fact of their often
resorting to fresh water. Akin to the last is the red-crested pochard
or whistling duck--a rare British visitant, closely resembling its
congener, but having a long silky crest on the head, and rich black
neck, breast, and abdomen. The visits of this beautiful bird are very
rare.

The scaup is another sea-duck which makes its appearance in autumn in
large numbers, resorting to low oozy coasts, where it finds its food.
This consists principally of shell-fish, especially mussels; hence it
is sometimes called "mussel-duck." It is an expert diver, and a flock
of hundreds of scaup may sometimes be seen to immerse themselves at the
same moment. Like the division to which it belongs, the scaup is a
heavy thick-set duck, and among the least eatable of its kind; yet
hundreds are taken by the fishermen in their nets. Another of the
winter ducks is the golden-eye, the mature male of which is among the
handsomest and wariest of its kind. The golden-eye reaches our shores
about the end of October; the great majority being birds of the year,
with only a few matured males among them. Their extreme wariness makes
it almost impossible to approach a flock, and when on sheets of fresh
water they persistently keep near the middle. If the duck is difficult
to come at by the shore-shooter or on land, it is equally puzzling to
the puntsman. Instead of paddling away like other ducks when alarmed,
it immediately takes wing, and after having dived, it can shoot from
the water without waiting on the surface an instant. This species has
also several remarkable characteristics. The members of a flock
paddling in the sea are never all immersed at once, one or more always
remaining on the surface as sentinels. Another trait is the almost
invariable habit of nesting in holes, so that the Laps place darkened
boxes by the sides of rivers and lakes for the ducks to lay in. Often
as many as a dozen eggs are found, and the nests are lined with the
soft down of the ducks. On our coasts these ducks feed upon crustaceans
and molluscs, and many fishermen know it by the name of
"mussel-cracker." "Rattlewing" is another provincial name owing to the
musical whistle which the bird makes with its wings when flying. Its
short rounded wings are ever restless; the shy little duck is
ceaselessly swimming, diving, flying--never seeming to sleep and never
still. The pride of plumage of the golden-eye stands it in little stead
at table, where it is considered nearly worthless. An interesting
incident which lingers in the writer's memory had for its subject a
pair of male golden-eyes in all the glory of matured plumage. A friend
during a solitary ramble by a rush-grown mountain tarn had the good
fortune to see these birds well within shot. Being a keen sportsman and
fowler his fingers tingled to touch the trigger which should bring the
rare prize to his hand. He was quite unaware of any other presence when
a couple of shots awoke the echoes of the valley, and the ducks floated
lifeless upon the water. When the white smoke lifted from the brush and
reeds it showed the head and shoulders of a keen sporting friend of the
first observer, and a beautiful drake now adorns the collection of
each. The tufted duck is a prettily-marked species, and has the
feathers on the back of the head elongated into a drooping crest. The
upper plumage generally is black, flashing with green, bronze, and
purple lustres, and the under plumage white. Although numbers of tufted
ducks breed upon fresh water in this country, the great majority are
only winter visitants, coming in October and leaving again in March. It
rarely congregates in flocks, but is mostly found in scattered
squadrons about shores and channels. Norfolk and Nottingham are the
counties where the tufted ducks are known to breed, and here on decoys
or in parks they find favourite retreats. The nest is made under a
clump of grass or rushes, and from ten to thirteen eggs are laid.

Eider-ducks are among the most interesting of our sea-birds. Three
species are found in this country; these are the common eider, the king
eider, and Steller's eider.

The British eiders are essentially sea ducks--rarely even entering
rivers, and seldom roving far inland. Occasionally found in our
southern seas, they become more numerous as we ascend the east coast,
until upon the Farnes, off Northumberland, we reach their most southern
breeding haunts. On Holy Island and Lindisfarne a few pairs of St.
Cuthbert's ducks have bred time out of mind. Except during times of
nesting, the whole life of the bird seems spent upon the element whence
it derives its food--crustaceans, namely--and this it always obtains by
diving. In their northern breeding haunts the eiders begin to collect
about the first week in May, and by the end of the third week most of
the ducks have begun to lay. As soon as the colony has got well about
this business the drakes leave the land, and for weeks may be seen
between the islands, or spreading themselves down the coast-line in
search of favourite feeding grounds. They never go far from the ducks
however, nor do they at this time take long flights. In fact, the
eider, unlike most ducks, is not migratory at any season, and seldom
strays far from the spot where it was bred. During the nesting season,
as at all others, the plumage of the male and female birds is very
dissimilar. In the former, the upper part of the head is of a rich
velvety black, while the sharply-contrasting neck and back are of the
purest white; beneath, the plumage is black. At the same period the
female is of a subdued rufous brown, with more or less dark markings;
the tail feathers are now nearly black.

The colonies of breeding eiders often consist of an immense number of
birds, and the nests lie so thickly together that it is difficult to
avoid stepping into them. They are usually placed upon some slight
elevation; and here in any faint depression the duck collects a small
quantity of sea-weed and drift stuff, which she forms into a felty mass
by kneading it with her breast. Upon this four or five eggs are laid in
the course of a week; the eggs are pale green, rather like those of the
heron. Even before the last egg is laid it is seen that a few feathers
are scattered about the nest, and as incubation proceeds these increase
in quantity. For the sitting bird covers her treasures over with down
plucked from her breast; this she does day by day until a very
considerable quantity buries the eggs. It is this down which has become
such an important article of commerce. If the eiders are sitting under
natural conditions the eggs are hatched in about twenty-six days, and
the young birds are almost immediately taken down to the water. They
show no hesitation in entering the sea, and, once upon it, are quite at
home. It is here that they sun themselves, feed, and sleep. On a
rock-bound bit of coast it is interesting to watch the ducklings
paddling along by the stones and feeding upon the tiny bivalves that
are common along the bays and inlets.

These remarks refer to the breeding of wild eiders; but, unfortunately,
colonies of birds under natural conditions are becoming more and more
rare each year. The commercial collector has almost everywhere stepped
in, and is putting a terrible drain upon this interesting species.

    "Where the brown duck strips her breast,
      For her dear eggs and windy nest,
    Three times her bitter spoil is won
      For woman; and when all is done
    She calls her snow-white piteous drake,
      Who plucks his bosom for our sake."

There is truth in these lines every one. In our own country the birds
breed along the shores of the Firth of Forth, as well as in the Orkneys
and Shetlands; on Colonsay and Islay it also abounds, and less
frequently in many other northern breeding stations. It is in still
more northern haunts, however, that the vast breeding colonies are
found--in the Faroes, Iceland, and along the shores of the Scandinavian
peninsula. In Norway, as in some other places, this bird is protected
by law, though only to be persecuted the more persistently by private
individuals. On one island, that of Isafjardarjup, the eider ducks are
said to nest in thousands. Speaking of the breeding sites by the shore,
Mr. Shepherd, who visited the colony, tells us that the brown ducks sat
upon their nests in masses, and at every step started from beneath the
feet. On this island, of three-quarters of a mile in length, it was
difficult to walk without stepping into the nests. The island was one
that was farmed. A thick stone breakwater ran along its coasts just
above high-water mark. At the bottom and sides of the wall, alternate
stones had been left out so as to form a series of compartments for the
ducks to nest in. Every compartment was tenanted, and as the visitors
walked along the ducks flew out all along the line. These were welcomed
by the white drakes, which were tossing on the water, "with loud and
clamorous cooing." A farmhouse on the island was tenanted in like
manner. The house itself was "a great marvel." Ducks were hatching on
the turf walls which surrounded it, in the window embrasures, on the
ground, on the roof. "The house was fringed with ducks," and "a duck
sat in the scraper." Then a grassy bank close by was cut into squares,
every one of which was occupied. A windmill was packed; and so was
every available object on the island--mounds, rock, and crevices. This
was an eider-down farm. So tame were the ducks as to allow the farmer's
wife to stroke them as they sat on their nests. Of course there is
another side to this pleasant picture, as we see, when we learn how the
"good lady" of the island repays the confidence of the birds. But we
will allow Dr. Hartwig to tell it in his own way. He says:

"The eider-down is easily collected, as the birds are quite tame. The
female having laid five or six pale greenish-olive eggs, in a nest
thickly lined with her beautiful down, the collectors, after carefully
removing the bird, rob the nest of its contents, after which they
replace her. She then begins to lay afresh--though this time only three
or four eggs--and again has recourse to the down of her body. But the
greedy persecutors once more rifle her nest, and oblige her to line it
for the third time. Now, however, her own stock of down is exhausted,
and with a plaintive voice she calls her mate to her assistance, who
willingly plucks the soft feathers from his breast to supply the
deficiency. If the cruel robbery be again repeated, which in former
times was frequently the case, the poor eider-duck abandons the spot,
never to return, and seeks for a new home where she may indulge her
maternal instinct undisturbed by the avarice of man."

Nature is prolific even in her waste; but although eiders are
plentiful, their breeding places are local, and this drain on them
cannot long be continued without telling materially upon the species.
In the locality referred to, each nest yields about one-sixth of a
pound of down, worth from twelve to fifteen shillings a pound, and one
pound and a half is required to make a single coverlet. The eggs are
pickled for winter use, one or two only being left to hatch.

It need only be added that the eider is said to be the swiftest of all
ducks, flying at the rate of nearly a hundred miles an hour.

Of the remaining rarer ducks are the ruddy-sheld, the long-tailed, and
harlequin ducks. The ruddy-sheld is an exquisitely coloured duck with
rufous plumage; and the harlequin, with its numerous bright colours,
may be said to be the handsomest and rarest of all. The long-tailed
duck is sometimes called the sea-pheasant, and is not unfrequently
found on our coasts in rough weather.

Duck decoying is one of the oldest methods of taking winter wild-fowl.
It has been practised for centuries, and perhaps nowhere with greater
success than in our own country. Owing to its insular position Britain
has always been a great resort of fowl, and in times past it was
visited by myriad of swans, geese, and ducks, many of which annually
remained to breed. The marsh and fenlands of the south-eastern counties
constituted tracts alike favourable for food and nesting, and for the
most part the birds were undisturbed. But as the plough invaded their
haunts the marsh was converted into corn-land, and from that time the
breeding sea-fowl have steadily declined in numbers. The oldest decoys
were merely adapted sheets of water, but when these, by virtue of
having been drained, were no longer available, artificial ones were
constructed in likely situations and planted round with timber to
secure their privacy. Many of the decoys were farmed by fowlers, and
the more valuable afforded a considerable source of revenue to the
owners. Speaking of the dwellers in Croyland, Camden says that: "Their
greatest gain is from the fish and wild ducks that they catch, which
are so many, that in August they can drive at once into a single net
three thousand ducks." He further adds that they call the pools in
which the ducks are obtained their corn-fields, though there is no corn
grown for miles round. For the privilege of taking fish and fowl three
hundred pounds sterling were originally paid to the Abbots of Croyland,
and afterwards to the king. Although the "driving of ducks" was
allowed, a code of Fen laws decreed that neither nets nor engines
should be used against the fowl "commonly called moulted ducks" before
midsummer day yearly. In the early days of the decoys enormous
quantities of fowl were taken in them. As many as 31,200 duck, teal,
and widgeon were captured near Wainfleet in a single season, and 2,646
mallards in two days. In these early times it is said that a flock of
wild ducks has been observed passing over the Fens in a continuous
stream for eight hours together.

Lincolnshire is pre-eminently the land of wild-fowl, and at one of the
smallest decoys--that at Ashby--where the records have been carefully
kept, it is seen that from 1833 to 1868, 48,664 ducks were captured in
the pipes; 4,287 being the best take for any one year. Both now and in
times past the ducks have always been sent to the London markets, and
constitute an important food supply. The waters of the decoys are, of
course, always fresh, and, being mostly frequented by the
surface-feeding ducks, the great majority of the birds taken are held
in estimation at table. It is true that widgeon and other of the diving
ducks are sometimes driven to the decoys by rough sea weather, but
these are too wary to enter the pipes, nor do they stay after the
storms have abated. The ducks which constitute the commercial supply
are mostly mallard and teal, with a few widgeon and a sprinkling of the
rarer or marine forms according to season and the severity of the
weather. I have before me a complete record of the fowl taken at one
decoy for nearly a century, and this is interesting as showing not only
the number of divers taken, but also a record of the species. That the
migratory fowl return to the same waters year after year is confirmed
by the fact that at the Ashby Decoy, already referred to, a "grey" duck
with a conspicuous white neck spent eight winters there; and another
abnormally coloured one visited it regularly for four or five years.

The duck decoys, once common throughout the country, fell into general
disuse about the beginning of the present century; and their decline
has been contemporaneous with the improvements made in firearms and all
relating to shooting. Often as many marine ducks are bagged by one shot
from a punt gun as the fowler can take in a day, and whilst the former
can follow the birds, the latter must wait for their coming before he
can commence decoying.

Duck decoying is one of the most interesting phases of woodcraft, and
really skilled modern fowlers are as rare as trained falconers.
Moreover, decoying is one of the fine arts. The decoy-man surrounds his
craft with as much mystery as the old fish poacher his preparation of
salmon roe, and fowling secrets are often kept in families for
generations.

The best decoys are those about two or three acres in extent, and
surrounded with wood. On larger ones fowl are difficult to work, and
although there may be thousands on the water, none may be near enough
to a "pipe" to regard either the dog or the "call" ducks. Before
speaking of the actual working, it may be well to give a general
outline of a decoy. Imagine then a stretch of water about the size
indicated, and having five or six radiating arms or inlets--a figure
represented exactly by a starfish, or the body and legs of a spider.
The arms, called "pipes," curve away from the main pool so that it is
impossible to see more than a short distance up them. They are also
arranged that whichever way the wind blows, one or other of the pipes
may be approached without getting to windward of the quick-scented
fowl. The "pipes" are covered over with netting, and gradually diminish
in height and width till they terminate in a "tunnel-net." Wooden
palings bound these, built obliquely, over-lapping at regular
intervals, and connected by low barriers. By this arrangement any one
standing behind the palings is only visible to whatever is further up
the "pipe," and cannot be seen by the occupants of the pool. This then
is the general structure.

And now we must look to other matters essential to the general working
of a decoy. About midsummer the "call" ducks are put upon the water,
and their training is at once taken in hand. As this is an important
part of the process, the ducks should be young, made very tame, and
taught to come to any pipe from all parts of the pool when they are
whistled. Previously these have been pinioned to prevent their flying
away, and they cannot leave the lake. Still another requisite is a
well-trained dog. Custom has always established that this shall be red
and as "foxy"-looking as possible; and certainly dogs of this colour
prove especially attractive to wild-fowl.

About the beginning of September mallard and teal begin to congregate
in the decoys, and a month later, if easterly winds prevail, there will
probably be a flight of fowl from the north, consisting of mallards,
teal, widgeon, pochards, and shovellers. These are attracted to the
decoys by the resident birds, but more because it is their habit to fly
off at dusk, and return at daybreak to sleep and enjoy themselves in
the fancied security of the reedy pool.

Nothing requires more care and judgment than the successful decoying of
ducks. It is carried on most successfully between nine and ten in the
morning and three and four in the afternoon. In open weather the fowl
are captured almost entirely by means of the dog, but as soon as frost
sets in they are taken by feeding them in the pipe, and keeping a piece
of water constantly open near it. Now as to the actual working. If the
birds are sluggish the trained dog cleverly works them from the bank,
and either drives or attracts them by curiosity to the pipe to be
worked, being also aided by the decoy ducks and induced to stay by
finding corn scattered about. By skilful manipulation the fowl are
worked up the pipe, the dog trotting in and out of the reed-screens and
luring them further and further away. Soon they have made sufficient
progress to enable the man to show himself, and this he does at the
same time waving his hat. Retreat to the pool is cut off, and the
terrified birds rush up the pipe only to find themselves in the
narrowing tunnel-net which terminates it. This is at once detached, and
the final scene is the wringing of the ducks' necks by the decoy man.
As all the pipes curve to the right the decoying is unseen from the
pool, and one set of fowl can be "worked" whilst others are sleeping or
preening themselves on the lake. Further aids of concealment for the
working of the decoy other than those enumerated are banks of earth and
brushwood running parallel to the palings.

As sportsmen would rather shoot fowl than snare them, the decoy is
mostly interesting nowadays to naturalists and antiquarians. To show
their value, however, in times gone by, it may be mentioned that a
corporation has been known to invest trust funds in one, and that a
decoy in Suffolk, which sent a ton and a half of wild-fowl to London
four times a week, realised £1,000 a year. In this 16,800 ducks were
captured in a single season.



CHAPTER XI.

FIELD AND COVERT POACHERS.


As compared with the doings of human "mouchers," there is a class of
field poachers whose depredations are tenfold more destructive. These
are nature's poachers, and their vigils never cease. In season and out,
by night and by day, they harry the things of the field and wood.
Playing as some say a questionable part in the economy of nature, they
play a very certain part in the economy of our game, both winged and
furred. Strange anomaly it is, that whilst our game stock could not be
preserved a year without their agency, the hand of every one is against
them. So long as nature is founded on its present beneficent plan, so
long will the swallow be speared by the shrike, and every wood be the
scene of plunder and prey. Nature is one with rapine, and the close
observance of every woodland way only emphasises the fact. Every sylvan
thing is but a unit in a possible chain of destruction. The bee-bird
captures the butterfly, and is stricken down in the act by the hawk;
the keeper kills the raptor, and the keeper's hobnobbing with death is
delayed but a while.

The greatest and smallest murder but to live, and whilst the eagle
kills the lordly stag, the merlin is lark-hawking on the down. Only
those whose harvest is gleaned in the open, who have observed in all
weathers and through every hour of the day and night, can form any
adequate conception of how dependent is one form of life upon another.
The way of an eagle in the air is one of those things concerning which
Solomon professed himself unable to understand, and the scythe-like
sweep of wings of the majestic bird is one of the most glorious sights
which nature has to offer. Just as the eagle is the largest, so the
merlin is the smallest British bird of prey, and to see this miniature
falcon rush past on the breast of a mountain storm gives an idea of its
almost marvellous velocity of flight. Within the whole range of animate
nature, nowhere is the adaptation of means to an end more strikingly
exhibited than among the raptors--the plunderers. The furred poachers
are not less appropriately fitted with their weapons of destruction;
and so perfectly adapted is the otter to its environment that its
movements in the water are as the very poetry of motion.

Let us follow these poachers of the field and covert to their haunts,
and there observe them in their wild home. The sparrow-hawk is a roving
arab of the air and the most arrant of poachers. Ask the keeper to
detail to you the character of this daring marauder, and he will record
a black and bloody list of depredations against the bird. He knows
nothing, however, of the laws which govern the economy of nature, and
if he did, or would, what are they compared to the shilling per head
for those he can display on the vermin-rails.

The kestrel or windhover acts in quite a different fashion to the
sparrow-hawk. It is persecuted less, and confidently approaches human
habitations. And yet at certain seasons the kestrel is as destructive
in the covert as its congeners. When the pheasants represent little
more than balls of down he clutches them from out the grass as he
clutches a mouse or cockchafer. Coming from out the blue, one hears the
pleasant cry of kee, kee, keelie, and there he hangs rapidly vibrating
his wings, yet as stationary as though suspended by a silken thread.
Presently down he comes, plump as a stone, and without touching the
ground sweeps a "cheeper" from off it, and soars high above the covert.
The depredations are only committed, however, when the game is
exceedingly small, and the benefit which the kestrel confers on the
woods by its presence far outweighs any harm it may do. The artificial
methods of game-rearing now in vogue are most conducive to disease. In
extenuation of the thefts of our little marauders it may be pleaded
that they invariably pick off the weak and ailing birds, and therefore
tend to the survival of robust and healthy stock.

The presiding spirits of the moors are the beautiful little merlins.
They work together, and quarter the heather like a brace of well-broken
pointers. Not an object escapes them. However closely it may conform to
its environment, or however motionless remain, it is detected by the
sharp eye of the merlin and put away. The miniature falconry in which
the merlin indulges on the open moorlands, where nothing obstructs the
view, is one of the most fascinating sights in nature. The "red hawk"
is plucky beyond its size and strength, and will pull down a partridge,
as we have witnessed repeatedly. The young of moorfowl, larks, pipits,
and summer snipe constitute its food on the fells. It lays four bright
red eggs in a depression among the heather, and about this are strewn
the remains of the birds indicated. To be seen to advantage this
smallest of British falcons ought to be seen in its haunts. It is
little larger than a thrush, and in the days of falconry was flown by
ladies, its game being larks, pipits, pigeons, and occasionally
partridges. On the moorlands it may be seen suddenly to shoot from a
stone, encircle a tract of heather, and then return to its perch. A
lark passes over its head, and its wings are raised and its neck
outstretched; but it closes them as if unwilling to pursue the bird.
Then it flies, skimming low over the furze and heather, and alights on
a granite boulder similar to the one it has just left. As we approach,
the male and female flap unconcernedly off, and beneath the block are
remains of golden plover, ling birds, larks, and young grouse.

At night the waterside is productive of life, and here it is most
varied. Like most poachers, the heron is a night fisher, and there is
one equally destructive which carries on its nefarious trade under the
full light of day--the kingfisher. And the kingfisher is a poacher in
another respect. It never constructs the hole in which its young is
reared, but takes possession of that of some small burrowing rodent, or
even that of the little sand-martin.

The buzzard is another bird of the moorlands, but can hardly be
convicted of poaching. When it takes moor-game these are invariably
found to be diseased or late hatched birds, and it certainly has not
speed to pull down a full-grown grouse. Many times during whole summer
afternoons have we seen the buzzards wheeling about when the young
grouse have been following the brooding birds, but never have we seen
them swoop at one. And seeing that as many as sixty mice have been
taken from the crop of a single bird, surely the buzzard ought to be
protected. During times of severe frost the buzzard often performs
deeds of daring to obtain a meal. When a lad, Wordsworth was in the
habit of setting "gins" for woodcocks, and one morning on going to
examine his snares he discovered a buzzard near one which was struck.
The bird of prey attempted to escape, but being held fast could not. A
woodcock had been taken in one of the snares, which when fluttering had
been seen and attacked by the buzzard. Not content, however, with the
body of the woodcock, it had swallowed a leg also, round which the
noose was drawn, and the limb was so securely lodged in the latter's
stomach that no force that the bird could exert could withdraw it.

In the glades and woodlands the garrulous blue-jay is a sad pilferer,
to say nothing of its poaching propensities. In the spring it sucks
innumerable eggs, and makes free right and warren of the peas and beans
in the keeper's garden, and those sown in the glades for the pheasants;
and so the old man's whole knowledge of woodcraft is directed against
it. In addition to this, the jay does indirect harm, which multiplies
the cunning engines devised for its destruction. For by pilfering the
crops before mentioned, which are planted with the object of keeping
the wandering pheasants on the land, a poor show of birds may be the
result when October comes round, and the keeper's reputation suffers.
Even the audacious pies steal both pheasant and partridge chicks, and
consequently each find a place in the "larder." The brown-owl is mostly
a rabbit poacher, but its congener, the barn-owl, poaches to good
effect, as a subsequent statement will show. Almost all the birds of
the crow-kind are persistent poachers, and are generally shot down.

It is probable that the number of grouse on the higher hill ranges is
very much kept in check by the great number of carrion-crows which
everywhere exist among the fells. They impale the eggs of the red
grouse upon their bills, and carry them away to eat at leisure. Under
some wall or rock great numbers of egg-shells may often be found,
testifying to the havoc which these sable marauders commit. This bird
is one of the great features of the northern fell fauna, and is well
known to the dalesmen and shepherds, who give it a bad character. In
spite of much persecution, however, it is still a common resident,
keeping to the sheep-walks in search of food, and breeding among the
mountains. Although a great carrion-feeder, it will kill weak and
ailing lambs, picking out the eyes and tongues of these when they are
reduced to a helpless condition. They are resident birds in the north,
and only the snows of winter drive them to the lowlands in search of
food. As the hooded crow is only a seasonable visitant, it is but
little felt as a poacher. The keeper has the shrikes or butcher-birds
in his black list, but these do little harm, as their shambles in the
blackthorns abundantly prove.

Mention of the noble peregrine marks a poacher of the first water. As
the bird sits watching from the jag of a mountain crag, it is the very
emblem of passive speed and strength. Nowhere but in the birds' haunts
can these attributes be seen to perfection. A trained falcon is slow of
flight and uncertain of aim as compared with a wild bird. Its symmetry,
its stretch of wing, its keen eyes and cruel talons, all speak to the
same end. While some of the larger hawks are treated with indifference
by the bird-world, not so the peregrine. A pair of buzzards pass over,
but the cheep and chatter of field and hedgerow go on. A peregrine
sails, down dale and all is hushed! A strange experience this at noon
in the heyday of summer--but the shadow of the peregrine stills all
life. A terrified screech is heard, and bird life seeks the thickest
retreats. The depredations of the peregrine are greatest, of course,
during the breeding season; and at this time it even carries off the
newly-born lambs of the small, black-faced mountain sheep. Now hardly
anything comes amiss. Partridges, ducks, pheasants, hares, grouse,
plover--each is taken in turn, and the birds forage over a wide area. A
barndoor fowl sometimes supplies a meal, or a dead sheep (so long as
the flesh is sweet), thrushes, pigeons, gulls, and a number of water
and shore-haunting birds. Once scrambling among boulders in search of
Alpine plants, a large bird of prey was seen advancing on the wing. At
a distance the under-parts appeared white, but the bird, coming
directly over, enabled us to recognise distinctly the dark bars across
the feathers of the abdomen. Its flight under these circumstances was a
sort of flapping motion, not unlike that of a ringdove; and its head
turned rapidly in various directions, the eye peering into the rocks
and crannies of the ghylls in search of any skulking prey. Soon this
silent hunting was all changed. Above us was a ledge covered with
blood, bones, and feathers. We were close to the nest. Just as we were
discovered one of the falcons went "whizz" past our face, almost
touching it. Then it gives a wild yelp, as in one gyration it shoots
upwards, and screams round the crag. Again the bird dashes along the
cliff, and is joined by the female, who from her nest has been quietly
watching us. The peregrine's outstretched wings measure three feet, and
it makes a velocity of fifty-seven miles an hour. One at the above rate
flew one thousand three hundred and fifty miles. So great is its power
and speed of flight that a bird belonging to Colonel Thornton was seen
to cut a snipe in two in mid-air.

Falcons will occasionally search after their prey when it has been
driven to seek shelter from the closeness of pursuit. The goshawk,
which falconers use mostly for taking hares and rabbits, frequently
does this, and will watch for hours when its game has taken to cover.
As well as ground-game the goshawk poaches pheasants and partridges,
numbers of these being killed by the bird in its wild state. Through a
wooded country it pursues its quarry with great dexterity; and it
possesses great powers of abstinence. During the day it remains
solitary in dark fir-woods, coming out to feed at morning and
evening....

We advance over the heather; and there, skimming towards us, is a large
hawk--a harrier. As it flies near the ground, working as a pointer or
setter would do, the species cannot be doubted. Now it stoops, glides,
ascends, stoops again, and shoots off at right angles. Rounding a
shoulder of a hill, it drops in a dark patch of ling. A covey of young
grouse whirr heavily over the nearest brae--but the marsh harrier
remains. It has struck down a "cheeper," and is dragging its victim to
the shelter of a furze-bush. A male and female harrier invariably hunt
in consort, and afford a pleasant sight as they "harry" the game,
driving it from one to the other, and hawking in the most systematic
fashion. They thoroughly work the ground previously marked out,
generally with success. In hawking the quiet mountain tarns their
method is regulated according to circumstance. In such case they not
unfrequently sit and watch, capturing their prey by suddenly pouncing
upon it.

At one time the golden and white-tailed eagles bred not uncommonly in
the mountainous environment of the English Lake District. Most majestic
of the winged poachers, they held sway over a wide area, and suffered
no intrusion. The eyries were perched high upon the almost inaccessible
fastnesses of the mountains. It is asserted by the shepherds of the
district that the eagles during the breeding season destroyed a lamb
per day, to say nothing of the carnage made on hares, partridge,
pheasants, grouse, and the water-fowl that inhabit the lakes. The
farmers and dalesmen were always careful to plunder the eyries, but not
without considerable risk to life and limb. A man was lowered from the
summit of the precipitous rocks by a rope of fifty fathoms, and was
compelled to defend himself from attack during his descent. The poet
Gray in his _Journal_ graphically describes how the eyries were
annually plundered, upon one of which occasions he was present.
Wordsworth says that the eagles built in the precipices overlooking one
of the tarns in the recesses of Helvellyn, and that the bird used to
wheel and hover over his head as he fished in the silent tarn. Now the
spot is occupied by a pair of patriarchal ravens--the sole remaining
relics of the original "Red Tarn Club."

Among the mountains an instance is related of an eagle which having
pounced on a shepherd's dog, carried it to a considerable height; but
the weight and action of the animal effected a partial liberation, and
he left part of his flesh in the eagle's beak. The dog was not killed
by the fall; he recovered of his wound, but was so intimidated that he
would never go that way again. Subsequently the owner of the dog shot
at and wounded one of the eagles. The bird, nearly exhausted, was found
a week afterwards by a shepherd of Seatoller; its lower mandible was
split, and the tongue wedged between the interstices. The bird was
captured and kept in confinement, but it became so violent that
ultimately it had to be destroyed. On the eagles being frequently
robbed of their young in Greenup they removed to the opposite side of
the crag. At this place they built for two years, but left it for Raven
Crag, within the Coom, where, after staying one year only, they
returned to their ancient seat in Eagle Crag; here they built annually
during their stay in Borrowdale. On the loss of its mate the remaining
eagle left the district, but returned the following spring with
another. This pair built during fourteen years in Borrowdale, but
finally abandoned it for Eskdale. At the last-mentioned place they were
also disturbed, and the female eagle being afterwards shot the male
flew off and returned no more.

The white-tailed sea eagles bred upon the rocks of a towering limestone
escarpment overlooking a recess of the sea, and fed upon gulls and
terns. The vast peat mosses which stretched away for miles below them
abounded with hares and grouse, and among these the birds made
devastation. Year after year they carried off their young from the same
cliffs, and now return only at rare intervals when storm driven. The
peregrines have the eagles' eyrie, and are only eagles in miniature.
The sea-fowl form their food in summer, as do wild ducks in winter. At
this latter season the osprey or "fish-hawk" comes to the bay and the
still mountain tarns, adding wildness to the scenes which his congeners
have left never to return.

Those who have recently advocated a close time for owls have,
fortunately, been forestalled by legislation. The Act of 1881 affords
protection to all wild birds during the breeding season, and, although
exemption is allowed in favour of owners and occupiers of land, owls,
being included in the schedule, may not be destroyed even by them or
with their authority. It was a wise step that granted this double
protection, for of all birds, from the farmers' standpoint, owls are
the most useful. These birds hunt silently and in the night, and are
nothing short of lynx-eyed cats with wings. The benefit they confer
upon agriculturists is most incalculable, which is susceptible of
proof.

It is well known that owls hunt by night, but it may be less a matter
of common knowledge that, like other birds of prey, they return by the
mouth the hard indigestible parts of their food in the form of
elongated pellets. These are found in considerable quantities about the
birds' haunts, and an examination of them reveals the fact that owls
prey upon a number of predacious creatures the destruction of which is
directly beneficial to man. Of course, the evidence gained in this way
is infallible, and to show to what extent owls assist in preserving the
balance of nature, it may be mentioned that seven hundred pellets
examined yielded the remains of sixteen bats, three rats, two hundred
and thirty-seven mice, six hundred and ninety-three voles, one thousand
five hundred and ninety shrews, and twenty-two birds. These truly
remarkable results were obtained from the common barn-owl, and the
remains of the twenty-two birds consisted of nineteen sparrows, one
greenfinch, and two swifts. The tawny and long-eared owls of our
woodlands are also mighty hunters, and an examination of their pellets
showed equally interesting results. It must be remembered in this
connection that Britain is essentially an agricultural country, and
that if its fauna is a diminutive one it is not less formidable. We
have ten tiny field creatures constituting an army in themselves, which
if not kept under would quickly devastate our fields. These ten species
consist of four mice, three voles, and three shrews. Individually, so
tiny are these that any one species could comfortably curl itself up in
the divided shell of the horse-chestnut. But farmers well know that if
these things are small they are no means to be despised. Now that the
corn crops are cut and the hay housed, the field vole and meadow mouse
are deprived of their summer shelter. Of this the barn-owl is perfectly
aware, and at evening he may be seen sweeping low over the meadows
seeking whom he may devour. And with what results we already know.

Much unnatural history has been written of the owls, and unfortunately
most people have their ideas from the poets.

The barn-owl, when she has young, brings to her nest a mouse every
twelve minutes, and, as she is actively employed both at evening and
dawn, and both male and female hunt, forty mice a day is the lowest
computation we can make. How soft is the plumage of the owl, and how
noiseless her flight! Watch her as she floats past the ivy tod, down by
the ricks, and silently over the old wood. Then away over the meadows,
through the open door and out of the loop-hole in the barn, round the
lichened tower, along the course of the brook. Presently she returns to
her four downy young, with a mouse in one claw and a vole in the other,
soon to be ripped up, torn, and eaten by the greedy snapping imps. The
young are produced from April to December, and not unfrequently both
young and eggs are found in the same nest. If you would see the mid-day
_siesta_ of the owls, climb up into some hay-mow. There in an
angle of the beam you will see their owlships, snoring and blinking
wide their great round eyes. Their duet is the most unearthly,
ridiculous, grave, like-nothing-else noise you ever heard. Here they
will stay all day, digesting the mice with which they have largely
gorged themselves, until twilight, when they again issue forth on their
madcap revellings. This clever mouser, then, this winged cat, has a
strong claim to our protection. So let not idle superstition further
its destruction.

The keeper's indiscretions are fewer in fur than in feather. His larder
abounds in long-bodied creatures of the weasel kind. Here is the
richly-coloured dark-brown fur of the pine-martin; that of the polecat,
loose and light at the base but almost black at the extremity; and
there are many skins of weasels, reddish brown above with the sides and
under parts white. For each of these creatures he has quaint provincial
names of his own. The pine-martin he calls the "sweet-mart," in
contradistinction to the polecat, which is the "foumart," or
"foulmart"--a name bestowed on the creature because it emits a
secretion which has an abominable stench. Also, we have the stoat or
ermine, which even with us is white in winter, brown in summer; but the
tip of the tail is always black.

The beautiful martins take up their abode in the rockiest parts of the
wood where the pines grows thickly. They are strictly arboreal in their
habits; and, seen among the shaggy pine foliage, the rich yellow of
their throats is sharply set off by the deep brown of the thick glossy
fur. With us they do not make their nests and produce their young in
the pine-trees, but among the loose craggy rocks. Martins rarely show
themselves till evening. They prey upon rabbits, hares, partridges,
pheasants, and small birds; and when we say that, like the rest of the
mustelidæ, they kill for the love of killing, it is not hard to
understand why the keeper's hand is against them. Sometimes they do
great harm in the coverts; and the old man shoots them, traps them, and
does them to death with various subtle engines of his own machination.
To-day the martin is rare; soon it will be extinct altogether. Weasels
do much less harm. They are the smallest of our carnivorous animals,
and will probably long survive. They frequently abound where least
suspected, in the cultivated as well as the wildest parts of the
district. They take up their abode near farmhouses, in decayed
outbuildings, hay-ricks, and disused quarries; and may often be seen
near old walls or running along the top of them with a mouse or bird in
their mouths. These things form the staple of their food; but there is
no denying that a weasel will occasionally run down the strongest hare,
and that rabbits, from their habit of rushing into their burrows become
an easy prey. But this does not happen often, I believe. To rats the
weasel is a deadly enemy; no united number of them will attack it, and
the largest singly has no chance against it. Like the polecat the
weasel hunts by scent. It climbs trees easily and takes birds by
stealth. The keeper has seen a brooding partridge taken in this manner,
and on winter evenings the sparrows roosting in holes in a hay-rick.
Weasels also kill toads and frogs; and their mode of killing these, as
well as of despatching birds, is by piercing the skull.

The polecat, or fitchet, keeps much to the woods, and feeds mostly on
rabbits and game. But in the northern fell districts it often takes up
a temporary abode on the moors during the season that grouse are
hatching. Then it not only kills the sitting birds but sucks the eggs,
and thus whole broods are destroyed. Many "cheepers" of course fall
victims. Knowing well the ferocity of the polecat, I believe the damage
done to grouse moors where this blood-thirsty creature takes up its
abode can hardly be estimated. Like others of its tribe, the polecat
kills more prey than it needs. Sometimes it makes an epicurean repast
from the brain alone. Fowl-houses suffer considerably from its visits;
and it has been known to kill and afterwards leave untouched as many as
sixteen large turkeys. In the nest of a fitchet which was observed to
frequent the banks of a stream no fewer than eleven fine trout were
found. The gamekeeper persistently dogs this creature both summer and
winter. In the latter season every time it ventures abroad it registers
its progress through the snow. It is then that the old man is most
active in his destruction, and most successful. He tracks the vermin to
some stone fence or disused quarry or barn, cuts off the enemy's
retreat, and then unearths him. Trapped he is at all times.

The stoat or ermine is as destructive to covert game as the animals
just mentioned. Upon occasion it destroys great quantities of rats, and
this is its only redeeming quality. Partridge, grouse, and pheasants
all fall a prey to the stoat, and hares when pursued by it seem to
become thoroughly demoralised. Water is no obstacle to the ermine, and
it climbs trees in search of squirrels, birds, and eggs. A pair of
stoats took up their abode in a well-stocked rabbit warren. The
legitimate inmates were killed off by wholesale, and many were taken
from the burrows with the skull empty. The stoat progresses by a series
of short quick leaps, which enable it to cover the ground more quickly
than could possibly be imagined for so small an animal.

Enough has been said to sketch the characters of these creatures, and
to justify their presence in the larder. Interesting in themselves as
wild denizens of the woods, they would be fatal to game-preserving.

Vulpecide is no great crime in the north. Foxes abound in the
fastnesses of the fells, and the little wiry foxhounds that hunt the
mountains in winter account for but few in a season; and so it devolves
upon the shepherds and gamekeepers and farmers to deal with them. This
they do irrespective of season; if allowed to live, the foxes would
destroy abundance of lambs in spring. They are tracked through the snow
in winter, shot in summer, and destroyed wholesale when they bring
their young to the moors in autumn. It therefore happens that even the
bright red fur of the fox may be seen on the keeper's gibbet.

Hedgehogs are taken in steel traps baited with a pheasant's or a hen's
egg. At times squirrels are killed in hundreds, but they do not grace
the larder, neither do the spiny hedgehogs. Squirrels bark young trees,
especially ash-stoles and holly.

Occasionally a creature more rare than the rest adorns the larder. The
old keepers remember a white-tailed eagle and a great snowy owl.
Sometimes a peregrine is shot, and more rarely, in autumn, a hobby or a
goshawk. A miscellaneous row on the vermin rails comprises moles,
weasels, and cats. The mole is libelled by being placed there; he is a
destroyer of many creatures which are injurious to land. Domestic cats
soon revert to a semi-wild state when once they take to the woods, and
are terribly destructive in the coverts. They destroy pheasants,
partridges, leverets, and rabbits. The life of these wild tabbies is
wild indeed. Every dormant instinct is aroused; each movement becomes
characteristically feline; and when these creatures revert to life in
the woods it is impossible to reclaim them. Climatic influences work
remarkable changes upon the fur, causing it to grow longer and thicker;
and the cats take up their abode in stony crevasse or hollow tree. In
summer, when kittens are produced, the destruction of game is almost
incredible.

Under the dark slab by the river the otters breed; but it is impossible
to dislodge them. Iron-sinewed shaggy otterhounds have tried, but never
with success. The fishermen complain of the quantity of fish which the
otter destroys. Trout are found dead on the rocks; salmon are there
bitten in the shoulder but only partially eaten.



CHAPTER XII.

HOMELY TRAGEDY.


I.

In our summer fishings, one of the spots to which we used to resort was
a quaint cottage in the vale of Duddon--the Duddon that Wordsworth has
immortalised in his series of sonnets. The cottage stood hard by the
stream, and in it lived a widow woman, the daughter of a hill
"statesman." During trout-time the house was embowered in greenery.
Deliciously cool was its whitewashed porch and clean sanded floor, a
great tree standing over all. In the grate of her parlour in summer,
where Mr. Wordsworth often used to sit, she invariably had a thick sod
of purple heather in full bloom. To the stream many anglers came, and
drew from their holds the pink-spotted trout. The dipper and kingfisher
darted by the door, and those who drank in the quiet and pastoral peace
of Duddon never forgot it. The woman of the cottage, by great industry
and exertion, had reared and settled comfortably in life a large
family. She was respected by all about her. Out of her small means she
gave away almost as much food and home-brewed ale as was sold by any
inn of the country-side. For one in so limited a sphere in life hers
was almost an ideal one; and yet her end was terribly tragic. She left
home one wintry afternoon to visit a sick relation in Eskdale. At this
time "pedlars"--of whom the Wanderer of "_The Excursion_" is a
type--were common in remote country districts; and one of these offered
to convey her in his gig to her destination over the Birk-Moor road. At
the end of this he was to take her up at a stated time. It happened
that she was too late for the traveller, but walked onward, supposing
that he was behind and would overtake her. On the sixth day after this,
the clergyman's daughter from Eskdale casually called at the poor
woman's cottage. It then became known that she had not been seen at
Eskdale, and a band of dalesfolk at once set out to search the Fells.
The body of the poor creature was found only forty yards from the road,
her hands and knees terribly lacerated and her dress torn. These showed
that after losing the power of walking she had struggled on, no one
knows how far, upon her hands and knees. She had taken out her
spectacles, as was thought, to assist her in seeing her way through the
blinding mists. These had prevailed for a week, and to them must be
attributed the fact that her body lay so long undiscovered on the
mountain road. Some sweetmeats tied in a handkerchief, which she had
carried for her grandchildren, were found near the spot where she died.

None but those who have been caught in them can form any idea of how
terrible are mountain snowstorms. Blinding and bewildering, both men
and animals quickly succumb to them. Clouds and banks of snow rush
hither and thither in opaque masses; the bitter hail and sleet seem to
drive through you. A few moments after the storm breaks every wrap is
soaked through; the cold is intense, and a sense of numbness soon takes
possession of the entire body. Twice has the writer narrowly escaped
death on the northern mountains in winter, deliverance upon one
occasion being made barely in time by a search-party of shepherds.

Easdale is one of the most picturesque glens among the Cumbrian
mountains--"a spot made by nature for herself." With its tarn, its
ghyll-contained waterfall, and the fact of its being placed among the
splintery peaks of the Borrowdale series, it constitutes a wildly
charming spot at every season. Here upon the snow, many years ago, was
played a cruel tragedy indeed. A poor hard-working peasant and his
wife, named Green, were returning from Langdale late on a wintry
evening to their home in Easdale. A terrible storm overtook them on the
way, and, becoming exhausted, both died in it. Meanwhile six children
were snow-bound in their cottage, where, without help, they remained
several days. Fully appreciating their situation, but as yet ignorant
of the fate which had befallen their parents, a little lass of nine
assumed command and exhibited unusual forethought and care in meeting
the home wants of her brothers and sisters. After some days she made
her escape from the cottage, and told the hill shepherds how her father
and mother had failed to return. A search party was organised; and
after some time the bodies were discovered upon the hills at a short
distance from each other.


II.

The wheatears love to haunt the old wall, and in summer are never far
from it. In one of its niches they have their pale blue eggs. The wall
runs by the side of the fells. The grass on its side is green as the
water runs down them from the crags. The wall has a fauna and a flora
all its own. In the interstices of the stones spleenwort and the
parsley-fern grow; there are mosses and lichens too, and stone-crop. A
few grasses wave airily on the scant mound at the top. A foxglove with
its purple fingers grows solitary. Two species of shelled snail take
harbour in the wall--one of them the beautiful _Helix nemoralis_.
There are insects innumerable, bronze and gilded flies, and spiders
that hang out their golden webs to the dews of morning. These are
festooned from stone to stone, and are productions of the night.
Weasels love the old wall, mice hide beneath it, and from it in spring
the hedgehog rolls, its spines covered with dead oak leaves. Sometimes
the fox, as it leaves its green "benk" in the crags, runs along its
summit. Harebells nod at its foot, as do green-smelling brackens.
Mountain blackbirds perch upon it, and stonechats and pipits.

Half-way down the wall, on its near side, is a sad green spot. Beside
it we have thrown up a loose, lone cairn. It happened in winter when
the fells were white. The snows had fallen thickly for many days; all
the deep holes were filled up, and the mountain road was no longer to
be seen. The wall tops stood as white ridges on the otherwise smooth
surface. Only the crags hung in shaggy, snowy masses, black seams and
scars picking out the dread ravines. Nature was sombre and still. It
seemed as though her pulse had ceased to beat. The softly winnowed
snowflakes still fell, and not even the wing of a bird of prey wafted
the cold, thin air. It had gone hard with the sheep. Hundreds were
buried in the snow, and would have to be dug out. They sought the site
of the old wall, and fell into the deepest drifts. Only the hardy
goatlike herdwicks instinctively climbed to the bleak and exposed fell
tops. In this was their safety. To relieve the sheep that had as yet
escaped, hay was carried to the Fells. Each shepherd had a loose bundle
upon his back. It was thus, with the three dogs, that we toiled up the
gorge, by an undefined route, parallel to the buried fence. Soon it
commenced to snow heavily, and the sky suddenly darkened. The dogs that
were in front stopped before some object. They whined, ran towards us,
and gave out short, sharp barks. With a kind of instinctive dread we
followed them. They led us on to a granite boulder; on its lee side lay
something starkly outlined against the snow. _Dead!_ we whispered
to each other. There was no trace of pain--nothing but quiet peace. The
icy fingers grasped a pencil, and on the snow lay a scrap of paper. It
contained only two words--"_This day_"--nothing more.

It was Christmas. In silent benediction the snow-flakes fell upon him,
and as these formed a pure white shroud, his face seemed touched with
the light of ineffable love. We buried him next day in the little
mountain cemetery. Whence he came, or whither he went, none ever knew.
A few belongings--paltry enough--are thrust in a hole in the old barn
for _her_. How precious, too, God knows, if ever she should come
that way.

This cold, still, dead thing, is a sad association,--but it will
remain.


III.

A green mountain slope, with red outcroppings here and there, had
originally suggested untold treasure in the shape of rich iron ore.
This had produced, as the hill-side abundantly showed, the various
stages of mining enthusiasm. But the ordinary processes of nature
would, in this case, seem to have been reversed; and so it came about
that the wildest dreams of the prospectors were never to be realised.
The rich red rock which showed at the top degenerated in quality in
exact ratio as it gained in depth. And this fact it was that cost the
original holders so many thousands of pounds. Never had speculation
seemed less speculative. But, instead of being buried in the inmost
recesses of the mountain, the absolutely pure ironstone cropped up
among the brackens, picking out their tender green with its deep earthy
stains. Nuggets knocked from the "leads" were dense and heavy to the
hand, and mutely asked but to be worked to be transmuted into gold. It
needed but little persuasion for men to embark in this undertaking, and
that little was furnished by the mining engineers. Their reports were
as glowing as the red ironstone itself. Then active operations were
commenced. Every one concerned threw himself vigorously into the work,
and a valley previously unknown became as active as an invaded
ant-hill. Stalwart miners came there with "kit" and tools, men skilled
in their work, who had disembowelled the mountains of Cumberland and
Cornwall. These men occupied the wooden "shanties" that had been
hastily erected for them; and, as they took the sun among the birch and
hazel bushes on Sundays, dreamt over the dreams of the sanguine
proprietors.

It were well, however, to draw a veil over all subsequent proceedings.
Nature, for her part, has already done so. The torn and abraded
hill-sides have lost their harsh outlines, and a veil of kindly
mantling green has spread itself over all. True, as in other similar
enterprises, there are still traces of the useless essay--the dull
prosaic record of half-finished ditches, purposeless shafts, untenable
pits, abandoned engines, and meaningless disruptions of the soil upon
the mountain--and a railway.

This last was one of the details of the original enterprise, and cost
£100,000. It is still in operation, runs for no one in particular, and
but for few folk in general. Its way lies along a beautiful valley
hemmed in by the mountains where the line ends. There is no way out of
the vale except by walking over the hills, and only a few straggling
tourists ever invade it. We take the train at its junction with an
insignificant loop-line, and accompany it to its destination. We are
booked by an all-important official, who is a compound of many
individuals. He issues tickets, is guard, porter, station master, and
signalman in one. These offices apply not to one station alone, but to
four. In addition he is general superintendent, and directs the lad who
drives the engine. We have said that the route of the line is up a
narrow gorge-like valley; and this has a decided incline over the dozen
miles of its sinuous course. Here everything is primitive, and there is
no great necessity to conform to conventional rules. The carriages,
even the "first-class" ones, are hardly constructed with a view to
comfort; and, when you get tired of the jolting of these, the factotum
alluded to has no objection to stopping the train so that you may get
out and walk. Even if you stop to gather wild flowers--and the valley
here is a wild-flower paradise--you may soon, by a sharp trot, catch
the train again, even if it be going at its lightning express speed, so
to speak. Daily the goatlike herdwicks stray on to the line from the
neighbouring knolls; and occasionally you are asked to throw stones at
the little mountain sheep, so that the train may speed on its way. Mr.
General Superintendent will give you permission to shoot rabbits from
the moving train. It was while thus engaged that the whole thing came
to a sudden stop. Upon looking out to learn why, we saw a couple of
dalesfolk walking leisurely towards us, and wanting to know, "What
o'clock it might be--by the day." At another point along the line we
stopped to replenish the engine with water. This was done from a
disused grocery box, into which the tricklings from the hill-side were
directed by a bit of wood hollowed in the form of a spout. The
engine-boy sat upon the box, whistling through the process, which
occupied an unconscionable time. He was a lad with a pleasant face, who
amused himself when the train was in progress by pelting the birds and
sheep with bits of coal from the tender.

Before long, I take it, all trace of the White Quartz Valley Railway
will have vanished. Its plant is decaying, and soon will fall away.
Swallows have built beneath the rafters of the miners' sheds, at
evening bats fly in and out at the open doors, and a pair of
screech-owls that have taken up their abode declare the place as
desolate. There is only one person in the country-side who has yet any
lingering faith in the railway, the mine, or the mountain. This is an
old miner, himself like a nugget of iron ore. He has infinite faith in
a deep compensating future, and bides his time. When mellowed by ale
and the soothing fumes of a short black pipe, he assures you that he
will stand by the mountain through fair weather or foul. And if you
evince any interest in his oft-told tale and have gained his
confidence, he will take down an old gunpowder canister and reveal to
you the substance of his faith.

"Them there shares, as was give to me by Lord L---- hissel', is worth a
matter o' £2,000 o' solid gold if ever them mines should yield. That's
the valley on 'em, as is writ in black and white inside. Two hundred
shares at £10 apiece is £2,000. I've reckoned it times and again. Me
lord gev' em to me wi' 'is own 'ands, and he says, says he, 'Mould'
some day, maybe, ye'll become a rich man."

But Mould never did become rich; and this is how it came about.

For months we had been under the unbroken dominion of ice and snow.
Many of those who had attained to a garrulous old age lamented the
cessation of what they called "old-fashioned" winters for the last
time. The snow fell thickly, and as it came through a thin, biting air
it was frozen ere it reached the ground. Neither man nor beast nor bird
could break through the hard, glistening crust. As many of the stone
fences as were not completely buried, were scalloped and fluted in most
fantastic fashion. Everywhere was one wide, white expanse; and a
silence that might be felt covered the land. The hill districts were
terrible in their loneliness; and every frost seemed to deepen the
desolation. But at the end of six silent weeks there came a great
change. A soft, warm wind set in from the south, bringing heavy
rain-clouds. First the snow of the lower lands became honeycombed, then
was dissolved by the night rains. Black seams and scars picked out the
dread ravines of the hills; and the fell becks tore down the slopes
bearing tons of loose _débris_. The valleys became river-beds, and
masses of brown water rushed off to the sea. In thirty-six hours the
transformation was complete, and striking beyond description. The burst
of life and the babel of sounds were almost bewildering. The air was
filled with the flutter of wings and voices of birds. In short, by sea
or by land, never was there a more sudden change. A new element was in
the air, and the older farmers averred that there had been a "ground
thaw"--an event as rare, according to them, as a lunar rainbow.

One of the results of the transformation was that great masses of crag
had fallen, and a mightier mass than all hung trembling in a black
abyss. As soon as the sky had cleared Old Mould was abroad on the
mountain, his bleared eyes greedily fixed on the loosened crag. His
tottering mind saw in the wet, glowing ironstone the realisation of his
life-dream. The ruined speculators, the engineers, the miners--all were
wrong. _His_ faith in the mountain was fulfilled. As he looked, a
cold perspiration broke over his body. He steadied himself as he sank
on a boulder, and then in imagination took up two great handfuls of
glistening gold, and let the bright coins run through his bony fingers.
The parchment in the powder canister, ay, and more, more were his!

A shepherd and his dog passed close by, but Mould never saw them. He
thought a while longer, then went down to his hut. He would blast the
crag from the breast that held it, and if only the heart of the
mountain confirmed what he suspected, then he was rich, rich indeed!

As the short afternoon fell he started off to cry "_Open Sesame_."
A barrel of gunpowder lay on his bare shoulder; and wrapped in his
rough frieze coat was a delicate straw-stem fuse. _These_ would
solve the mystery!

They solved two mysteries,--a greater and a less.

The powder and fuse were placed in position. A flint and steel supplied
a spark, and Mould's shambling legs carried him off over the rugged
boulders. Then he watched,--watched for a red glare to tear the sky,
and a thundering sound to shake the mountain. But neither came. Save
for the hoarse croak of a raven and the bark of a fox, nothing broke
the stillness.

One hour, two, three.

The fuse must have failed, or the powder have become damp; and as the
moon and stars lit up the crags, Mould made as though to examine the
spot. He gained it.

Precisely what happened next is not known. Suddenly it seemed as though
the mountain had exploded. There was a terrible glare, something like
an earthquake shook the ground, and thousands of tons of rock and
_débris_ rushed down into the White Quartz Valley.

That was all. The great, green mountain had taken Mould to her broader
bosom, and the night wanderings of the old man had led him in the way
of the Delectable Mountains whence there is no return.


IV.

After an hour's hard climbing we gain one of the topmost outliers,
whence we command an extensive map-like view of the circumjacent
mountains. A final struggle for the last ridge, and then along its
crest. We are at an angle formed by the vales of Grasmere,
Legberthwaite, and Patterdale, when a magnificent effect is produced as
the sun suddenly pierces the clouds. A golden mass of molten sea
stretches eastward. Bright sunny patches light up the landscape below;
and a billowy sea of mountains rolls away, with every wave a name.
Purple pavilions of hills stretch far and beyond on every side. Now we
are among the clouds, and look down on all things mundane.

We "rush" the last slope, and at last stand three thousand feet above
sea level--upon the topmost jag of the mighty Helvellyn!

The grandeur of a mountain is always enhanced by a storm; and as by the
wave of a wizard's wand the sun is suddenly shut out by black, inky
clouds. A couple of ominous ravens rise slowly uttering a dismal croak,
croak, croak; and a merlin rushes past on the wings of the storm. Mists
gather, roll up the mountain-side, and far-off mutterings are heard in
the hills. As a cold plash strikes the face, we seek a cairn, drawing
closer our wraps. Suddenly the storm bursts. In a moment we are soaked
with blinding mist and chilled to the marrow. The storm lashes itself
to a fury, and for a moment the grandeur is terrible and fascinating.
It spends itself, passes as quickly as it came, and a glorious
transformation is at hand.

Quivering lines of light shoot from the heavens, the sun bursts in all
its strength, and Nature is a flood of dripping gold. The gauzy vapours
disperse, and every grass-blade is draped and glowing with resplendent
gems. A blue, foam-flushed sky displaces the sullen clouds, and the
storm miracle is complete. Then we emerge from the dripping cairn to
look abroad. That far, silvery streak, lying shimmering and blue, is
Windermere. Directly south Esthwaite Water, whilst Coniston, with its
pine-clad slopes, lies to the west. Ulleswater is at our feet, and Red
Tarn, black and silent, below. Striding Edge is the spot where young
Gough was killed. To its north-west is Swirrel Edge. That is
Catchedecam. Betwixt the last-named and Saddle-back a bit of the Solway
is seen; while the skyline beyond is formed by the Scotch mountains.
The ravines and precipices of the sides of Helvellyn exemplify in a
striking manner the possible power of those elements whose ordinary
effects are trivial and unnoticed.

A mountain storm in summer is terrible enough if long continued; but
the same phenomenon in winter is grander and more terrible still. The
crags of the English mountains claim a long list of victims; but for
tragic interest the following is perhaps the saddest of all. The
subject of it was a young man of great promise, who in early life had
been educated for the Church. Just as he was ripe for college, his
father, who was at the head of a great mercantile concern, died. This
event made it imperative that the young scholar should immediately
embark in trade--an undertaking as uncongenial as imperative. The
fortunes of his family were threatened, and the only hope of his mother
and sisters was that the son should successfully carry on what the
father had commenced. A student of books rather than of men, he was ill
fitted for the unequal fight, and after struggling for ten years was
only liberated by ruin. His brother it is said, made him a bankrupt.
"The din of populous cities had long stunned his brain, and his soul
had sickened in the presence of the money-hunting eyes of selfish men,
all madly pursuing their multifarious machinations in the great mart of
commerce. The very sheeted masts of ships, bearing the flags of foreign
countries, in all their pomp and beauty sailing homeward or outward
bound, had become hateful to his spirit--for what were they but the
floating enginery of Mammon? Truth, integrity, honour, were all
recklessly sacrificed to gain by the friends he loved and had respected
most--sacrificed without shame and without remorse--repentance being
with them a repentance only over ill-laid schemes of villainy--plans
for the ruination of widows and orphans--blasted in the bud of their
iniquity." Following upon the loss of worldly fortune Gough's mother
died, and had it not been for a legacy which came to him about this
time he would have been absolutely penniless. A relative had died
abroad--almost his only one, and the last of his name. Upon his small
means he determined to seek an asylum among the northern mountains,
where he might study nature and daily stand face to face with her most
majestic forms and moods. He left the city which had wrought his ruin
at midnight, the last definite object which his eyes rested upon being
his mother's grave. The graveyard which contained it lay hard by one of
the great arteries of life, and the roar of its myriad sounds was
absent neither night nor day. A myriad graves were matted and massed
together--a dank, unlovely sight, and one which invested death only
with its worst and darkest attributes.

As late winter passed into spring, Gough took up his abode with the
family of a northern yeoman in a Westmorland cottage. The majesty of
the mountains on this first spring day deeply impressed the city-bred
man, and his solitary life among the hills was begun with much
heartfelt meditation. The mighty Helvellyn stood out boldly, its crest
sharply etched against the sky. Even in this remote spot the wanderer
wished to withdraw himself for a time wholly from the eyes of men; and
as he gazed upon the passionless peak he thought that there he should
be alone--there find solitude. As the short afternoon fell he started
to make the rugged ascent. Every shoulder of the mountain gained put
him farther beyond human aid, and each look at the peaceful valley
below was nearer his last. Still he progressed. The keen air, the first
deep inspiration of a purer joy--these lured him on. The face of the
sky changed, but he saw it not. Its little lot of stars came out over
the mountain, and, oblivious of the fact that night was at hand, he
hurried on. The crescent moon rose and floated over its reflection in
Red Tarn; and now the wanderer has reached the topmost, silent peak.
Steeped in softest moonlight, he looked on the wondrous world below,
and saw an English sight such as man has rarely seen. In the delirium
of a new bliss the mountain "looked lovelier than dreamland in the
reflected glimmer of the snow; and thus had midnight found him, in a
place so utterly lonesome in its remoteness from all habitations, that
even in summer no stranger sought it without the guidance of some
shepherd."

Rising from the stone on which he sat, a flake of snow touched his
face, then another, and another. He ran rapidly down the first slope,
struck the path, and hurried on. The light was quickly fading. The moon
was hidden, and the tarn, which but a moment before lay at his feet,
had gone out. Neither road nor path was now visible, and the poor
pilgrim of nature, utterly bewildered, plunged blindly into the almost
inextricable passes of the mountains. The snow fell thicker and
thicker, and as the storm rose it was swept hither and thither in
blinding banks and opaque masses until every familiar object was
hidden. Although almost overcome with the lashing and fury of the storm
the traveller in wildest desperation staggered on, until an awful
precipice for ever put a cruel end to his wanderings....

Snow-lines are sketched along the fences of the fells, but this is all
that remains. Everything out of doors testifies to the coming of
spring, and green grass-shoots are everywhere. The foaming fell "becks"
sparkle in the sun, and the sheep are sprinkled over the crags. A
breadth of blue is overhead, and the feeding flock is steadily turned
towards the skyline. This is the first token of the short summer, and
all the sheep on all the hills rejoice. It is at this season that the
shepherds most keenly scan their flocks and note the ravages of winter.
By the torrent side, by the leas of the boulders, along the rock
ledges--everywhere is dotted a white fleece.

It was upon such an occasion, the snow having melted, that a shepherd
on his rounds came suddenly upon a dog which emerged from a bracken-
and boulder-strewn brae. The poor creature was reduced almost to a
skeleton, and upon the man following, it whined and ran forward. It
stopped over a weathered corpse--the body of young Gough, beside which
it had kept watch and ward for months. It would allow no one to come
near, though it was noticed that its collar bore a name--the name of
its master, and that which established his identity. In the absence of
the dog on its food forays the hill foxes, ravens, and buzzards had
done their carnage on the body. This was taken by a party of yeomen and
shepherds and interred in the burial ground of the Friends' Meeting
House at Tirrel.

Both Scott and Wordsworth have fittingly commemorated the incident,
though the lines are too well known to be quoted here.



CHAPTER XIII.

WORKERS IN WOODCRAFT.


I.

The gamekeeper's cottage stands at the end of the oak lane. An orchard
surrounds his dwelling, the brown boughs now drooping with ripened
fruit. Under an overhanging sycamore is a kennel of silky-coated
setters and a brace of spaniels. The former have beautifully-domed
heads and large soft eyes. The spaniels with their pendulous ears are a
black and a brown. Pheasant pens are scattered about the orchard, each
containing half-a-dozen birds. In a disused shed are traps for taking
game, and nets and snares found in rabbit runs or taken from poachers.
The keeper does not always take these engines when he finds them, but
waits quietly until they are visited by the "moucher;" then he makes a
double capture. Few of the poachers, however, leave their traps after
dark, and only the casual is caught in this way. At the other end of
the orchard divisional boxes are ranged round an old barn-like building
where pheasants' eggs are hatched. A shaggy terrier, with fresh mould
upon its nose, peeps from beneath the shed doorway. Drowsy bluebottles
buzz about the vermin larder, and under the apple-trees are
straw-thatched hives. Contented pigeons coo and bask on the hot slates
of the barn roof, and bird-sounds are everywhere. These blocks, upon
which sit their falcons, act as a reminder of an old English sport fast
passing away. These are merlins and peregrines, kept for a friend by
the keeper, who is fond of hawking. The merlins can pull down
partridges, while the peregrines are flown at larger game. No sport so
exhilarating as falconry, none so fascinating.

The interior of the keeper's cottage is as characteristic as its
surroundings. Here are guns of every description--from the
old-fashioned fowling piece and matchlock to the ponderous duck-gun.
Above the chimney-piece hangs a modern breechloader with Damascus
barrels. The keeper admires the delicate mechanism of this, but
deprecates the spirit of the age which produced it. Such
cunningly-devised engines will make old-fashioned sport, or what he
calls "wild shooting," extinct. By this he means the traversing of
rough ground in healthful anticipation of a miscellaneous and always
uncertain bag. It is this very uncertainty which gives the chief zest
to sport. Against the walls are cases of stuffed birds, with a red
squirrel or a white stoat to relieve the feathers. In one case a
knot-hole is imitated from which peer three young weasels; and an old
one is descending the hole with a dead bird in its mouth. All these are
portrayed to the life by the keeper's own hand. Looking at the contents
of the cases, he deplores his want of ornithological knowledge in
earlier years. Among the stuffed specimens are a Greenland falcon, a
pair of hobbies, several rare owls, swallow-tailed kite, hoopoe,
rose-coloured pastor, and others equally rare.

The gamekeeper's life is essentially an outdoor one. He is far from
populous towns, and needs but little assistance. Poachers rarely come
to his preserves in gangs, and a couple of village mouchers he can
easily manage. His powerful frame has once been the seat of great
strength, though now it needs but a glance to show that his eye is less
keen and his hand less firm. Still he is quick to detect, and with his
hard-hitting muzzle-loader he rarely misses. Given favourable
conditions he is almost infallible with the gun, though he gives his
game law. He cannot now cover his extended ground in a single day, and
perhaps does less night watching than formerly. His beat covers a
widely diversified district with almost every species of game. The
pheasants wander about the woods and copses; the partridge are among
the corn and stubble; and rabbits pop in and out everywhere. Hares
haunt the meadows and upland fields, and snipe go away from the
marshes. Woodcock come to the wet woods, and a host of sea-haunting
creatures feed along the bay. There is a heronry in the wood, and
pigeons build in the larches. Of the habits of these creatures the
keeper is full; and if he is garrulous he is always instructive. By
observing, he has found that animals and birds have stated times and
well-defined routes. Exactly at the same hour, according to the sun,
the partridges and pheasants resort to the same spots. Hares follow the
tracks day by day, and rooks fly morning and evening along the same
valleys. Nightly, herons stalk the pools and the otter traces the
mountain burns to their source. At noon a sparrow-hawk speeds by the
covert, and at evening a kestrel hangs over the rickyard. In the
afternoon, regularly, weasels run along the old wall; and as these
things the flowers in their times of opening and closing are not less
constant.

The keeper's domain encloses a park in which are red deer and fallow.
Sometimes he has to shoot a fawn for the "great house." This he
singles out, hitting it if possible just behind the shoulder. In
season he must provide a certain "head" of game. Twice weekly he
procures this, and takes it to the hall. For its proper hanging in
the larder he is responsible. When the keeper wants game he knows to
a yard where it may be found--where the birds will get up and in what
direction they will go away. If a hare, he knows the gate or smoot
through which it will pass, and out of this latter fact he makes
capital. It is well known to poachers that when once a hare has been
netted there is no chance of its being taken again in like manner.
Rather than go through a second time, even though a "lurcher" be but
a yard behind, it will either "buck" the gate or take the fence.
Consequently the keeper has netted every hare on his ground. This
greatly reduces the poacher's chances, and wire snares are now the
only engines that can be successfully used. Spring and summer are
taken up with breeding and rearing pheasants, and this is an anxious
time. The work is not difficult but arduous. And then so much of the
keeper's work is estimated by the head of game he can turn out. This
result is tangible, and one that can be seen by both his master and
visitors. There is nothing to show for long and often fruitless
night-watching but rheumatism; and so the keeper appreciates all the
more readily the praise accorded him for the number of well-grown
birds he can show at the covert side. After pheasant-shooting in
October the serious winter work of the keeper begins. Each week he
has to kill from three to five hundred rabbits, which are sent to the
markets of the large manufacturing towns. He can employ what engines
against them he pleases, but the number must be produced. Firing a
hundred shots a day is now more jarring than it was once; it has made
him slightly deaf, and he adopts other means of destruction. He works
the warrens in winter, but long waiting for a glutted ferret in frost
and snow is not pleasant. Under favourable conditions, however, a
great many rabbits may be taken in this way. Iron spring traps are
used in the rabbit tracks, but these are impracticable on a large
scale; and the pheasants and partridges, which run much, are apt to
be caught in them. Moreover it is now illegal to set these traps in
the open. The most certain and wholesale method of capture is by the
"well-trap." This is a pit, placed immediately opposite to a hole in
the fence through which the rabbits run from the woods to the field
or pasture. Through the "run" a wooden trough is inserted, and as the
rabbits pass through the floor opens beneath their weight and they
drop into the "well." Immediately the pressure is removed the floor
springs back to its original position; and thus a score or more
rabbits may often be taken in a single night. In the construction
of these traps rough and unbarked wood is used, and even then the
rabbits will not take them for weeks. Then they become familiar, the
weather washes away all scent, and the "well-trap" is a wholesale
engine of capture. The rabbits of course are taken alive. These the
keeper stretches across his knee, dislocating the spine. English
rabbits are degenerating in size, and the introduction of some of the
continental varieties would be beneficial. With the rabbits in autumn
great quantities of wood-pigeons are sent away, the birds at this
time becoming exceedingly plump and fat. An almost incredible number
of acorns may be found in the crop of a single bird when the former
have fallen.

These are a few of the keeper's duties. He himself has a russet,
weather-beaten face, bounded by silvery hair. He might stand for a
picture of a highly-idealised member of his class. So secluded is his
cottage that he locks the door but once a year, and that on Christmas
Eve. He can remember when there was larger game than now, when badgers
and wild cats were not uncommon. One of his ancestors was an inveterate
deer-stealer, as the parish books show. Then the red-deer roamed almost
wild on the fells. To-day he has but one regret--that he was not
contemporary with the wolf, the wild boar, and the bear. Of these in
Britain he has just read an account, together with the vast primitive
forests through which they roamed.


II.

THE CHARCOAL BURNERS.

The humid climate of the north-west of England is peculiarly favourable
to the growth of coppice-wood; and scattered along the slopes of the
valleys copses prevail, consisting for the most part of oak, ash,
birch, and hazel. This growth beautifully clothes the hill-slopes, and
in addition to taking away the bareness, brings to them much animal and
bird life; and besides this, the young timber is fairly remunerative.
The coppice woods are cut every fifteen years, and the ground set apart
to it pays about equal to that devoted to grazing. This is owing to the
fact that every part of the wood is well suited to some particular use,
and finds a ready market. What these uses are will be presently seen.

As to the beauty and well-woodedness which the copses give to the
north-west valleys there can be no question; and that life abounds in
them which was foreign to the bare Fells is made equally clear by
traversing them at almost any season of the year. Shelter they give,
too, which is always important in districts subject to mountain storms.
Metallic-lustred and brightly-coloured lichens light up the floor of
the wood, the rabbits rustle through; innumerable birds are there, and
dormice hang their ball-like nests among the hazel boughs. As the
coppice grows the squirrel comes to the nuts, wood pigeons coo, and
jays screech in the glades. Even a few pheasants have wandered here,
and an occasional woodcock breeds among the dead oak leaves.

Just as the kindly sheltering woods have brought birds which are
foreign to the district, so they have brought human settlers, and
standing above on the bare Common we see rising from the trees columns
of pale blue smoke. In the primitive cottages from whence these come
reside the charcoal burners. Men they are whose lives glide on almost
without influence from the outside world--quiet workers of many
virtues. They observe well times and seasons, are full of country
proverbs, wise as to signs of wind and weather, and draw deductions
from the nature around them. Their occupation is such as keeps them in
the woods for months at a spell, not even leaving them on Sundays. And
so it comes that the decay of the black bryony berries and the rustle
of the dead oak leaves have lessons for them; and as the winds of
autumn sough through the bare branches, they are conscious that a time
will come when they too must pass away. Piety in men so lived may seem
strange, but when a man stands face to face with nature, by far the
best elements of his nature are developed. He is brought, as it were,
back to his primitive life, and is more a man than the dweller in
towns.

During the summer we have tramped through the coppice woods. These will
be felled when autumn comes round, having grown their fifteen years.
And to one unaccustomed to such rapid growth the progress made would be
somewhat astonishing. The trees are spindle high. The ash-poles are
straight and smooth, the young oaks radiant in rich chestnut, the
hazels catkin-covered, and the frail birch--the lady of the
woods--towers her silvery stem afar up. Of course, when cut, each
species of tree has some special virtue--some quality in which it most
excels. The young oaks, for instance, are felled at the time of
ascending sap in early summer, as then the bark is easily "peeled."
This is extensively used in the process of tanning. The torn staves are
used in making baskets and hoops. The "afflictive birch, cursed by
unlettered idle youth," has other uses than that which the quotation
would seem likely to imply. The variously sized boughs are used in
making crates, and the wood is also extensively used by the cottagers
as fire "eldin," which may be detected when in proximity to the
cottages. The use, however, to which the majority of the wood is put is
bobbin-turning--quite an extensive and important industry in the
northern valleys.

The enemies of the trees, and the only ones which stop their growth,
are two. Insects with their borings, and rabbits. The latter, in severe
winters, eat the bark of the young trees to a surprising height from
the ground, and by so doing impede their growth.

The second industry to which the coppice woods give rise, and by far
the most interesting, is the charcoal burning, almost peculiar to this
part of the country. We shall detail it as practised in the extensive
Honeybee Woods. At the felling of the copse the wood is roughly divided
into two "sets." The thick upright poles, of whatever tree, are stacked
for "bobbin wood," and the thinner parts await the charcoal burners.
These are also the men that from autumn to spring are busily employed
in cutting, stacking, and arranging the wood.

The first months of spring are employed in peeling the oak for its
bark, and from early summer into autumn the actual charcoal burning is
done. The men who take part in the lonely trade live in rude huts in
the woods, thatched with heather and bracken. Heaps of dried ferns
serve them for beds, and their wants are few. Their huts are fixed
first as to shelter and the presence of water, then with regard to
proximity to their labours. From this ground they are never absent, the
burning wood heaps requiring constant attention and aid from a quick
eye as to change of wind and the coming of rain. The burning is
conducted as follows: The faggots (from one to four feet in length and
about one and a half inches thick) are built up round a vertical stake,
which forms the centre of the mass, until the heap has attained
considerable dimensions. It is round, and represents a low stack
terminating in an apex at the top. When sufficient faggots have been
piled up, the whole is covered with turf and wet sand, so as to exclude
the air. The heap, now about thirty feet in diameter, is flattened by
beating with spades, and made to present a smooth dome-like surface.
The vertical stake is withdrawn from the centre, and lights are dropped
down the passage left, to ignite the wood. The air has been carefully
excluded so as to regulate the burning of the heap. From the centre the
fire gradually spreads outwards until it reaches the edges. The burners
always have in readiness large screens to regulate the supply of air,
and these are planted on that side of the heap from which the wind
blows. The screens consist of wooden hurdles intertwined with dead
grass, dried fern, and bracken. Of course success depends upon the slow
and equal burning of the whole mass. A shifting wind sometimes ill
regulates the supply of air and fires the heap. When this occurs
nothing can stop it, and the charcoal is completely spoiled. This,
however, from the great watchfulness of the men, is generally avoided.
To return to the heap. The products of combustion escape by the channel
occasioned by the withdrawal of the vertical stake. The process is
continued from twenty to thirty hours, when smoke and fumes seem to
come off every part alike. This is a sign to put out the fire, which is
done by applying water. The faggots have now been converted into
charcoal. The critical part of the operation, and the one that wants
most experience, is to catch the heap when it is "enough"--that is when
it is neither overdone nor underdone. After allowing half a day for
cooling, the charcoal is taken out, put into sacks, and carted away.
Three or four men generally work together and have four heaps in hand
at one time. At night, especially when there is much wind, the burners
work by shifts. The charcoal when carted away is just half the weight
of the wood from which it has been prepared. Much of the charcoal
prepared hereabouts is used in smelting at the Backbarrow and other
neighbouring ironworks. Iron so smelted is of much higher commercial
value than that obtained by the ordinary processes. Charcoal burning,
consequently, is likely to continue a lucrative employment for many
years to come, especially as coppice woods--the raw material--thrive so
abundantly in the district.

To watch these men at their lonely employment in the woods is well
worth a visit. They and their work are alike interesting, and the woods
which provide their employment are fascinating at all seasons. A nearer
acquaintance with the workers will reveal the fact that they know the
"herbs and simples of the woods," and also much of the contents of an
old "herbal" lying in the hut. In the virtues of plants they have great
belief, and can tell of interesting traits in the life-history of wild
flowers. We believe, too, that they exercise "free right and warren" of
the woods where they reside, and of this no one seems to care to
deprive them. They are pleasant, primitive fellows wonderfully
intelligent as to out-door questions, and command the respect of every
one with whom they come in contact. We might have said that their
necessary victuals are supplied periodically from the outside world,
but in domestic matters they do all things for themselves.


III.

THE FORESTER.

Walking in the woods, we met the old man standing over the prostrate
form of a fallen monster that had been uprooted by the wind. He was
about to lop off the branches, and was trimming the bole with an axe.
The tree had brought several others with it of younger growth, and he
had just finished clearing to obtain a space wherein to work. Black
bryony berries were twined about the lower branches, as were the dead
leaves of honeysuckle. These are among the natural enemies of the old
man, as he considers them injurious to timber. His woods are wide, and
constitute his little world. There is little in or of them which he
does not know, even to the flowers and birds. For these he has quaint
provincial names of his own. Thus he speaks of the fallowchat, the
nettle-creeper, and the reed-wren--meaning the wheatear, white-throat,
and reed-warbler. The frail anemone he knows as the wind-flower,
coltsfoot is one of his rustic remedies for coughs, and the early
purple orchids are to him "crow's feet." His "little red mouse that
rustles among the dead leaves and is coloured like a hare" is our
wood-mouse; and sometimes he finds among the hazel branches the
ball-like nests of the dormice. He knows that wherever fungi grows
there is death, and the tree lighted up by the brightly-coloured bosses
he marks with a red cross, which is as signing the warrant of its doom.
He follows the yaffle, and wherever it pecks the trees he knows that
decay has begun within. This applies to all the woodpeckers, who are
infallible valuers of growing timber, and all trees which they attack
are marked out for the axe. Often on the outside the boles are
apparently sound, and it is hard to believe that the heart-wood is
decayed; but the winged wood-prophets never err.

It matters not what living thing crosses our path, the old man names
it, even to the insects. He tells how these are instrumental in
producing the oak-galls, and points out the insidious attacks and
borings of weevils. Of all trees the elm has most enemies. He tears off
a bit of bark from a still growing tree, and reveals a labyrinth of
channels radiating on two sides from a central line. The
_Scolytus_ he simply calls "elm-borer," though from his
conversation it is plain that he is a close observer, and knows the
whole life-history of the insect. And thus, in addition to his special
knowledge of woodcraft, he knows the time of the coming of the birds,
of the retiring of the insect hosts, and the habitats of the flowers.

The woodman lives in a stone hut, near the confines of what was once an
extensive forest, through which trooped vast herds of deer, both red
and fallow. His weather-beaten face, which in colour resembles a ripe
russet apple, tells of long exposure to summer's sun and winter's cold.
His hair is white, and his form as yet but slightly bowed. The only
other occupant of the hut is a girl grandchild, who has long lived with
him. Neither have ever been more than a dozen miles from the spot, nor
care to. Nominally the old man's work is to look after the woods of one
valley. This has been his life-work, and he has no longing for change.
He knows nothing of what goes on without a narrow circle, and his Bible
and an occasional country newspaper constitute his sole literature.

As becomes his craft he never tires of talking of trees. In his woods
the giant oak is common, with its gnarled and twisted bole, its wildly
reticulated branches, its lichens, and its host of insect visitors. He
has himself detected the two varieties of the oak, and points out the
difference. In one case the acorns are borne on stalks, in the other
they are sessile. Of these he speaks as the long and short-stalked
kinds. He has no confidence in the popular theory that the wood of the
one greatly excels that of the other. He has worked both, and has not
discovered any substantial difference. In late autumn he gathers from
beneath the oaks huge sacksful of acorns, of which he disposes to the
farmers. Next comes the majestic beech, with its smooth bole and
olive-grey bark. The old man recalls its wondrous flood of green in
spring, and its not less glorious gold in autumn.

Some modern Orlando even haunts the forest hereabouts, and abuses the
young trees with carving not Rosalind but "Emilie" on their barks. The
sentiment which stops the growth of the young beeches appeals to no
finer sense within the bosom of the old man. And so he roundly
denounces the wandering lover who has carved thereon the name he
adores, in no unmeasured terms.

In summer a few purple beeches light up the wood, and the old man is
surprised to learn that all trees of this variety sprang from a single
tree which was found growing wild in the midst of one of the immense
forests of Thuringia. But more than all the interest that attaches to
the trees are the uses to which their wood is put. The little church on
the Fellside opposite consists internally of oak from this very wood;
and so, too, do half the beams and rafters in the parish. The hard,
close-grained wood of the beech, too, is used for a great variety of
purposes as well as fuel. Interspersed throughout the wood are numbers
of ash-trees, soon to be arrayed in feathery lightness, but now more
reminding us of Tennyson's naturalistic simile, "Black as ashbuds in
March." The toughness and elasticity of the wood of the ash are well
known, and here is an opportunity for the display of the timber genius
of our old friend. There is, he tells us, little else than this about
the yard of the village wheelwright. Cart shafts are made from it, as
are the primitive agricultural implements used in the valley; of like
wood is his own axe handle and spade shaft. In the country infinite
almost are the uses of the ash.

In the middle of the wood, and coming down to the stream sides, are a
retinue of fringed elms, both Campestris and Montana. Some of these
have attained to an immense size, and are at one with the scenery. But
in the open spots of the wood--in the glades where life most
prevails--are the beautiful birches, with their striped, silvery bark.
Well does this tree merit its appellation of "lady of the woods." There
is none so frail, so graceful, nor so generally beautiful. Almost every
part of the birch is used and for a great variety of purposes. In
spring the delicate green of the larch hangs in trailing tassels, and
contrasts well with the dark green foliage of the indigenous pine. The
old forester has an "Unter den Linden" equal, at least in beauty, to
any in Europe, and in summer the trees are a veritable haunt of summer
wings. The field maple and the sycamore are here, and interspersed in
the open spaces a few white stemmed walnuts. These in autumn yield a
rich harvest to the forester. The horse-chestnut is common, and then
come a host of trees of minor growth. All the wild fruit trees are
here, and hang out glories of snowy and pink blossoms in spring--the
pear, the cherry, and the wild apple. Sombre yews that set off the pale
green of the woodlands are plentiful, and in them the cushats and the
jays build. In addition to these there are the wild service tree, white
beam, and mountain ash, the last called by the old man the rowan.

Planting and thinning and felling constitute the work of the woodman
throughout the year. But there are a thousand little offshoots of
woodcraft of which he has knowledge and which he indulges at times.
Like the charcoal burners, he holds free right and warren of the woods.
He can make many primitive lures for taking wild creatures, and is an
adept at "gins" and "springs" for destroying vermin. In winter he sets
snares for woodcock and snipe. He is a great favourite with the
resident boys at the neighbouring grammar school, and procures them
mice and squirrels and birds' eggs. He makes wooden pegs and teeth for
the farmers, and various little articles for the farm women. He sells
bundles of faggots and sticks for supporting peas, and a dozen other
perquisites, all products of the woodlands. The embrowned nuts of
autumn he turns to profitable account. In the forest are numerous hazel
copses, together forming many acres. In autumn the old man was
surprised to receive a visit from a burly man in a gig. He told the
woodman, in a dialect differing from his own, that he was a "badger;"
and then and there made an astounding bid for the nuts. The old man
closed with the handsome offer, and this sum now adds annually to his
otherwise slight income.



CHAPTER XIV.

SKETCHES FROM NATURE.


I.

NATURE'S WEATHER PROPHETS.

Nature's barometers are the only ones of which most country-folk have
any knowledge. These they may consult at all times, and they know them
by heart. Almost all field-workers are "weather wise," and their
conversation on this head has no town conventionalism about it. The
farmer has been so beaten about by wind and weather that he himself is
scarcely sensible to changing atmospheric conditions; but that does not
prevent his observing its influence on the things about him. Before
rain his dogs grow sleepy and dull, the cat constantly licks herself;
geese gaggle in the pond, fowls and pigeons go early to roost, and the
farm horses grow restless. Abroad, the ants are all hurry and scurry,
rushing hither and thither; spiders crowd on the wall; toads emerge
from their holes; and the garden paths are everywhere covered with
slugs and snails. When the chaffinch says "weet, weet," it is an
infallible sign of rain. As the rain draws nearer peacocks cry and
frogs croak clamorously from the ditches. These are signs which almost
every one has heard who lives in the country; though one of the surest
ways of predicting weather changes is by observing the habits of
snails. Snails never drink, but imbibe moisture during rain and exude
it afterwards. They are seldom seen abroad except before rain, when
they commence climbing trees and getting upon leaves. The tree snail is
so sensitive to weather that it will commence to climb two days before
the rain comes. If the downpour is to be prolonged, the snail seeks the
under part of a leaf; but if a short or light rain is coming on, it
stays on the outside. There is another species which is yellow before
and bluish after it. Others indicate change by dents and protuberances
resembling tubercles. These begin to show themselves ten days before
rain, and when it comes the pores of the tubercles open and draw in the
moisture. In others again deep indentations, beginning at the head
between the horns and ending with the jointure of the tail, appear a
few days before a storm.

One of the simplest of nature's barometers is a spider's web. When
there is a prospect of wind or rain, the spider shortens the
filaments by which its web is sustained and leaves it in this state
as long as the weather is variable. If it elongates its threads, it
is a sign of fine calm weather, the duration of which may be judged
by the length to which the threads are let out. If the spider remains
inactive, it is a sign of rain; if it keeps at work during rain, the
downpour will not last long, and will be followed by fine weather.
Observation has taught that the spider makes changes in its web every
twenty-four hours, and that if such changes are made in the evening,
just before sunset, the night will be clear and beautiful.

Sleeping is characteristic of certain plants; and though it was at
one time thought that this might have reference to the habits of
insects, it is now believed to be more dependent on the weather. The
tiny scarlet pimpernel, the "old man's weather-glass," opens at seven
and closes soon after two. The daisy unfolds its flower at sunrise
and sleeps at sunset. Dandelions close up at about five o'clock; at
which time the white water-lily has been asleep an hour and the
mouse-ear chickweed two hours. The yellow goat's-beard opens at
four and closes just before twelve, and has for its English name
"John-go-to-bed-at-noon." Local circumstance influences the flowers
in their opening and closing, though they are pretty constant from
day to day. Many flowers close their petals during rain--probably to
prevent the honey and pollen from being rendered useless or washed
away.

Birds are admirable weather prophets, and from their number and
obtrusiveness have furnished many examples. In his "Paradise of Birds,"
Mr. Courthope makes one of them say--

    "Besides, it is true
      To our wisdom is due
    The knowledge of Sciences all;
    And chiefly those rare
      Metaphysics of air
    Men 'Meteorology' call.

    And men, in their words,
      Acknowledge the Birds'
    Erudition in weather and star;
    For they say 'Twill be dry,
      The swallow is high,'
    Or 'Rain, for the chough is afar.'"

Mr. Ruskin says that he was not aware of this last weather-sign; nor,
he supposes, was the Duke of Hamilton's keeper, who shot the last pair
of choughs on Arran in 1863. He trusts that the climate has wept for
them, and is certain that the Coniston clouds grow heavier in these his
last years. All the birds of the swallow kind fly high at the advent of
or during fine weather, and low before a storm. These facts are
accounted for by another. When the weather is calm the ephemeræ upon
which swallows feed fly high in air, but just over the earth or water
if it be rough. The cry of the chaffinch has already been mentioned; in
Scotland the children say, "Weet-weet [the cry], Dreep-dreep" [the
consequence].

In Hampshire swans are believed to be hatched in thunderstorms; and it
is said that those on the Thames have an instinctive prescience of
floods. Before heavy rains they raise their nests. This is
characteristic of many birds, which add piles of material to their
nests to prevent swamping. When rooks fly high, and seem to imitate
birds of prey by soaring, swooping, and falling, it is an almost
certain sign of coming storms. Staying in the vicinity of the rookery,
returning at mid-day, or coming to roost in groups, are also said to be
omens to the like effect. Various proverbs would seem to indicate that
the cry of the owl, heard in bad weather, foretells a change. The
constant iteration of the green woodpecker's cry before a storm has
given it the name of rain-bird, rain-pie, and rain-fowl. Storm-cock is
a provincial name shared by this bird and the missel-thrush, the latter
often singing through gales of wind and rain. Storm-bird is also
applied to the fieldfare. The abhorrence in which the mariners hold the
swallow-like storm-petrel is well known; its appearance is believed to
denote wild weather. This little bird is the Mother Carey's chicken of
sailors, and is also called storm-finch and water-witch. Herons, says
an old author, flying up and down in the evening, as if doubtful where
to rest, "presage some evill approaching weather"--a legend as old as
Virgil, though probably devoid of foundation. Concerning gulls in
general, children who live by the sea say "Seagull, seagull, sit on the
sand; It's never good weather while you're on the land;" and fisherfolk
know that when the seamews fly out early and far to seaward fair
weather may be expected. To Scotch shepherds the drumming of snipe
indicates dry weather and frost at night; and Gilbert White remarks
that woodcocks have been observed to be remarkably listless against
snowy foul weather; while, according to another author, their early
arrival and continuance "foretells a liberal harvest." In Wiltshire the
coming of the dotterel betokens frost and snow, and there is a proverb
that the booming of the bittern will be followed by rain or worse. In
Morayshire, when the wild geese go out to sea they say the weather will
be fine; but if towards the hill, stormy. The saw-like note of the
great titmouse is said to foretell rain; that of the blue-tit, cold. In
the south of France so much store is set by the wisdom of the magpie,
that if it builds its nest on the summit of a tree the country-folk
expect a season of calm; but if lower down, winds and tempests are sure
to follow. When a jackdaw is seen to stand on one of the vanes of the
cathedral tower at Wells, it is said that rain is sure to follow within
twenty-four hours. Wells must be a wet place! In Germany, dwellers in
the country lack faith in the skylark's song as announcing fine
weather; but when the lark and the cuckoo sing together they know that
summer has come. The robin, buzzard, lapwing, starling, and a number of
other birds are said to foretell weather changes.

We have, however, noticed that in nearly all the species named the
various cries and calls are closely connected with the bird's food
supply.


II.

FERRETS AND FERRETING.

The ferret commonly used in this country is an animal of the weasel
kind, belonging to a large genus and having its true home in the
Tropics. Unlike its British congeners, it shows its southern nature in
being unable to stand any great degree of cold, even an English winter
being sufficient to kill it if not properly housed. This may also be
seen in rather a remarkable manner, as probably no one ever saw a
ferret enter a rabbit-hole without its peculiar "shiver." Like the cat,
it has a decided objection to wetting its fur, and especially does it
show this upon being transferred from a warm pocket or bag to the damp
soil of a burrow. Zoologically the ferret is one of the most
interesting animals of the group to which it belongs; and this from the
fact that it is a true breeding albino, having the white fur and pink
eyes peculiar to this variety. Under domestication it breeds more
frequently and is more prolific than in its wild state. It is somewhat
smaller than the polecat, but readily breeds with that animal, and
produces young intermediate in character between the parent species. It
is owing to this fact that we have now two well-defined varieties--one
of a brown colour, and known as the polecat ferret, the other the more
common white variety. The first is said to be the more hardy and
vicious; and it is to secure these qualities that keepers on large
warrens cross their ferrets with the wild polecat.

In this country ferrets are kept more for work than as pets, and are
used for making rabbits bolt from their burrows. To do this scarcely
any training is necessary, and three young ferrets which we used the
other day worked as well as their more experienced parents. There are
various reasons why white ferrets are to be preferred as opposed to the
brown polecat variety. They are usually more docile and pleasant to
handle. A brown ferret is apt to be nipped up by a sharp dog in mistake
for a rat or rabbit, while a white one is always apparent, even when
moving amongst the densest herbage. This specially applies to night
time, and hence poachers invariably use white ferrets. Gamekeepers who
know their business prefer ferrets taken from poachers to any other.
The poacher carefully selects his ferrets, and from the nature of his
trade he cannot afford to work bad ones. Some ferrets cause rabbits to
bolt rapidly, while others are slow. Sometimes a ferret will drive a
rabbit to the end of a blind burrow, and after killing it will not
return until it has gorged itself with blood; and more trouble is added
if the ferret curls itself up for an after-dinner sleep. Then of course
it has either to be left or dug out; if the former, it is well to bar
every exit and to return with a dead rabbit when hunger has succeeded
the gorged sleep. Ferreting is mostly practised in winter; and it is to
guard against such occasions as these that working ferrets are
generally muzzled. A cruel practice used to obtain of stitching
together the lips of ferrets to prevent their worrying rabbits and then
"laying up." But the most humane method of muzzling is with soft
string; a muzzle constructed of which may be quite effective and at the
same time not uncomfortable to wear. Care must be taken not to hurt the
ferret, as if the string annoys him he will do nothing but endeavour to
get it off. Occasionally ferrets are worked with a line attached; but
this is an objectionable practice. There may be a root or stick in
which the line may get entangled, when there will be digging, and no
end of trouble in getting it out.

From what has been already said, and from the uncertainty of ferreting,
it will be understood why the poacher can only afford to use the best
animals. Of the many modes of taking the "coney," ferreting is the most
common. Of course this is the poacher's method; but it varies little
from that of the gamekeeper or the legitimate "sportsman." When the
rabbits can be induced to bolt freely very good sport can be had; but
in this respect they are most capricious. They bolt best on a windy day
and before noon; after that they are sluggish, and often refuse to come
out at all. As the rabbit "darts across a narrow ride like a little
brown shadow, quick must be the eye and ready the hand that can get the
gun to the shoulder and discharge it in the brief second that elapses
between the appearance of a tiny brown nose on one side the path and
the vanishing of a little snow-white patch of down on the other." Those
that have ferreted much have probably seen strange revelations while
indulging in the sport. A mound or brae sometimes seems to explode with
rabbits, so wildly do they fly before their enemy. We have seen twenty
rabbits driven from one set of holes. When the ferrets are running the
burrows, stoats and weasels are occasionally driven out; and among
other creatures unearthed we remember a brown owl, a stock-dove, and a
shell-duck, all of which were breeding in the mounds.

To many persons ferrets are objectionable pets; but if properly kept
they are among the cleanest of animals. Playful as kittens, they are
harmless if properly handled, and much fondling tends to tame them.
Ferrets not only soon get used to handling, but like it. They ought
always to be seized boldly and without hesitation, for if the hold has
to be adjusted a bite may be the result. And a bite from a ferret,
especially to a person in bad health, is sometimes a serious matter. If
a ferret is inclined to be vicious attract its attention with a glove
in front, bringing the other hand down with a rapid sweep, grasping it
firmly by the neck and shoulders. Food has much to do with temper, and
confined under favourable conditions ferrets will be cleanly and sweet
as in their natural habitat. They require to lie dry and have a roomy
abode. Pine shavings are better than straw to bed them, and pine
sawdust ought to be sprinkled about. The resinous matter in these acts
as an antiseptic, and as a deterrent to vermin. Closely-confined
ferrets become weak and tender, and are susceptible to cold. Bread and
milk ought to be the prevailing food, with a good meal of flesh weekly.
These combined will keep them in good condition and perfect health. The
common diseases to which ferrets are liable are owing to unsuitable
food and damp or dirty housing.


III.

OUR HERONRY.

The herons have just returned to the heronry after an absence of many
months. At the end of September the old and young birds flew off
together, and dispersed themselves over the low-lying mosses which
margin the estuary of the river. Here they stayed during the winter,
feeding but little in the bay, but making long flights either to the
quiet tarns among the hills or to the neighbouring trout streams. Like
the poacher, the heron pursues its silent trade by night, and loves the
moonlit ones best. Now that the birds are breeding, their habit and
daily routine are ordered quite otherwise than during the winter
months. This year they returned to nest during the last week of March,
and immediately sought out the trees in the most elevated part of the
wood. By the middle of April but few nests remained unfinished, while
the majority contained eggs. The trees selected for the huge burdens of
sticks are oak, ash, elm, and silver firs; and the nests themselves are
flat platforms with just the slightest depression for the pale green
eggs. Close by the home of the herons is a rookery; and although it has
not always been so, the two species now dwell together in perfect
amity. Nests of the herons and of their sable companions are not
unfrequently found in the same tree. Any threatened invasion of the two
colonies of brooding birds produces a very different result on their
respective denizens. The rooks get off their nests and circle, crying
and cawing, until the disturber has vanished; the herons fly silently
and straight away. During a stormy spring like the present[6] many of
the eggs are blown from the nest and destroyed--a fate which often
befalls the young herons themselves in autumn. Now that the birds are
breeding it is easy to see by the aid of a binocular that they sit upon
their nests with their legs under them, and not (as was once supposed)
either pushed through the sticks or thrust behind them. In its domestic
relations the heron is both amicable and honest. If a nest is blown
down the birds go to work in the precincts of the rookery, but never
touch the rooks' sticks. The heron's nest is a rude, wide-spreading
platform constructed of beech-twigs, and not lined with wool as
generally stated, but with the fine shoots of the larch. The appearance
is that of a ringdove's nest on a large scale, and so open in texture
that the sitting bird or eggs may be seen through the foundation. The
heron breeds both early and late, and has often three or four broods in
a season. At this time they are rarely seen fishing in the bay, and
seem to prefer round fish upon which to feed their young, probably on
account of the narrowness of gape and swallow. To obtain the requisite
food the herons move off at evening to the quiet tarns and streams
which abound in trout and eels. As the young birds come to maturity
they are driven from the nest, and in a few days a new clutch of eggs
is laid. The incubation of these is performed by both parents, one
sitting during the day the other at night. As soon as young herons are
able to look about them they have a habit of standing erect in the
nest, and, not being very stable, are not unfrequently blown to the
ground. If no harm befalls them, they are here fed by the old birds,
though they never attempt to regain their lofty nests. Everywhere
beneath the heronry there is an ancient and fish-like smell; and this
by the warm days of summer becomes almost unbearable.

          [6] 1890.

When nesting operations are over, they leave their summer haunt among
the tall trees and make down to the bay and low-lying marshes. At this
season the birds are gregarious, and their daily movements afford
material for pleasant study. If the fishing ground in the channel is
fruitful, sport goes on harmoniously; but if otherwise, chase is given
to the successful fishers by the lesser black-backed gulls; these birds
invariably cause the herons to drop their game, catching it as it
falls. See, on a calm sunny day in September, the Stacy-Marks-like
group waiting patiently in the channel for the flow. Some are erect,
with heads settled gracefully over their backs; others are exposing
their breasts and outspread wings to the autumnal sun; while some few,
like geese, may be seen settled on their legs with necks elegantly
arched. It is not less interesting to watch an individual fisher than a
group when the retiring tide has left the channel. It wades cautiously
with lowered head and out-stretched neck, each step being taken by a
foot being drawn out of the water and as quietly replaced in advance.
By gentle movements the heron is often enabled to strike and secure a
flook at once. If a fish is missed, a sharp look-out is kept for its
line of escape, and then a stealthy step is made in that direction.
Should the distance be beyond reach of the bird's vision, a few flaps
of the wings are tried in the eagerness of the pursuit. Sometimes a
heron may be observed, when wading, to stand still suddenly, when no
doubt its pectinated toe prevents the escape of a flat-fish or other
victim.[7] A characteristic of flight may also be mentioned. When a
heron rises from the ground the legs hang down, but as soon as it has
acquired a settled flight they are extended backwards. These and the
retracted head and neck adjust the equipoise of the body. The slow
languid flaps of the wings would seem to indicate the heron as a
slow-flying bird; but this impression is quite erroneous. If timed by a
watch, it will be found that no fewer than two hundred and fifty
separate wing movements are made per minute, counting the upward and
downward strokes. The literary legacy as to the heron's varying
altitude of flight foreboding fair weather or foul would seem to have
no foundation in fact; at least, years of observation have yielded no
indication of this. The altitude of flight is regulated according to
the distance of the bird's fishing ground. If the place is near, the
flight is slow and sluggish at only a few yards above the surface; if
lower down the bay the flight is higher; while if to a distant spot,
more vigorous and rapid wing-movements indicate the intention.

          [7] Dr. T. Gough.

When fishing in a trout stream the heron stands looking more like a
lump of drift-stuff caught in the bushes than an animate object. Gaunt,
consumptive, and sentinel-like, the bird watches with breast depressed
and poised upon one leg. Woe to the tiny trout or samlet that comes
within reach of its formidable pike, for it is at once impaled and
gulped down. This impalement is given with great force, and a wounded
heron has been known to drive its bill right through a stout stick.
Nothing from fry to mature fish comes amiss to the heron, and the young
consume great quantities. Sometimes they gaff an individual which is
difficult to dispose of. It is related that a heron was seen one
evening going off to a piece of water to feed; the spot was visited
next morning, when it was discovered that the bird had struck its beak
through the head of an eel, and the eel thus held had coiled itself so
tightly round the neck of the heron as to stop the bird's respiration,
and both were found dead. An authoritative statement has been made to
the effect that the heron's services in destroying pike, coarse fish,
rats, and water-beetles may be set off against its depredations in
trout streams; but from this we must dissent.


IV.

PLOVERS AND PLOVERS' EGGS.

In April and May thousands of plovers' eggs are annually sent to the
London markets from all parts of the country. The _gourmets'_
appreciation of this delicacy causes an ever-increasing demand, which,
however rapid its growth, will always be met. For the green plover is
one of the commonest of British birds, and is greatly on the increase.
It flocks during the winter, and according to the severity or openness
of the weather indulges in short local migrations from the plashy
meadows and uplands to the sea-coast. Upon the approach of spring the
flocks break up and resort to their breeding-grounds. These are usually
at some elevation, and in the north the bird builds at an altitude of
one thousand five hundred feet. Probably one of the reasons of the
plover's great abundance is the readiness with which it adapts itself
to local circumstance, and the clever manner in which it conforms to
the environment in which it finds itself. For although a great many
birds may be found breeding at a considerable elevation, numbers nest
in the sea marshes, among the plough and upland fields, and along the
marram-covered flats.

The lapwing is an early breeder, and eggs may often be found by the
middle of March. It is these first captures which fetch such fancy
prices in the market, and as much as fifteen shillings has been paid
for a single egg. So anxious are the poulterers to obtain these, that
one of them recently informed Mr. Howard Saunders that if he were
assured of having the first ten eggs, he would not hesitate at giving
five pounds for them. Of course, as the season advances the price
rapidly decreases, and the normal price per dozen when the supply
becomes general is about five shillings. As an instance of the
difficulty which an untrained eye has in detecting the eggs of the
green plover when in the nest, it may be mentioned that a person
unaccustomed to birds'-nesting was sent up a furrow in which were six
nests, each containing eggs, and these were to be collected. By the
time that the end of the furrow was reached the collector had put his
foot into one nest and had failed to find the other five. This is not
always the case, however, and persons who study the habits of the
plover experience but little difficulty in finding the nests. In fact,
shepherds and others often walk straight up to them. They watch the
movements of the parent bird, and know from the conformation of the
ground to a yard where the nest will be. When you come upon a breeding
haunt of green plovers, it will be noticed that many of the birds fly
straight and silently away. When this is so it will be certain that the
bird is the female and that it is sitting upon eggs. The bird does not
rise immediately from the nest, but runs for a distance of some yards
before it takes wing. If it allows a near approach, and rises low, the
probability is that incubation is far advanced, and the eggs, of
course, will not be worth taking. There are two ways, however, of
determining this. Three or four eggs are the usual complement, and if
there be fewer than three, or they are not warm to the hand, the bird
has not begun to sit. Partly incubated eggs when placed in water float
with their large end uppermost; if fresh they sink on their sides. The
conduct of the male is very different from that of his mate. If a
person approach the nest, he flies crying and calling overhead, and
tries to lure the intruder from the vicinity. His peculiarly rounded
wings beat the air, causing a loud humming sound which in France has
given to the lapwing its name of _vanneau_, a fan. One characteristic
of birds of the plover kind is that they lay from three to four eggs;
and this holds good with the lapwing. These are so well known as not
to need description; but there is one peculiarity which may be
remarked. The eggs are beautifully pyriform in shape, and when the
female leaves the nest deliberately it will be found that the smaller
ends of the eggs are together, thereby taking up but little room in
the nest. When the young are hatched they run about immediately,
often with the shell upon their backs. Although they must remain upon
the ground for two or three weeks, they are admirably protected by
the assimilative colouring of their down, which renders them most
difficult to detect.

It would be interesting to know just when lapwings' eggs became a
marketable commodity. Pennant as early as 1776 quotes them at three
shillings a dozen; and thirty years later Daniel states that their
price was four shillings. There would appear to be but little
organisation in connection with the collecting of plovers' eggs, and
this is probably why the price is kept up. The majority of the eggs are
gathered by shepherds, keepers, and labourers, who are assisted by
women and children; but the latter find comparatively few nests.

Not unfrequently the early clutches are covered with snow, and more
than one set of nests have been known to have perished in this way. But
the species is a hardy one, and the birds persevere until they are
successful in rearing one nest of young. Hence there is no ground for
the apprehension expressed in some quarters lest so useful a bird (as
this is stated to be to agriculturists) should be destroyed by taking a
few of the first layings. That the peewit evinces considerable
attachment to its nest and eggs the following example will show. On an
evening about the middle of May a gentleman found a lapwing's nest
containing four eggs. Three of these were completely covered with a
cake of dry dung, which had accidentally been kicked over the nest by
the cattle and which the birds were unable to remove. The eggs were
chilled, but the gentleman took them home, placed them in an oven
over-night, and at six next morning replaced them in the nest. The old
birds were hovering about, and the hen went immediately to the nest.
Three of the eggs hatched the following morning, the remaining one
having been accidentally cracked.

It must not be supposed that all the so-called plovers' eggs exposed
for sale have really been laid by that species. The eggs of rare wading
birds have frequently been selected from among them, and those of the
snipe are not at all uncommon. In cooking, it is discovered that
numbers of eggs are far advanced in incubation, when, of course, they
are useless; and it is not always easy to apply tests to determine this
while purchasing. At table the eggs are usually served hard boiled.
Sometimes they are shelled and served up with Béchamel sauce; though
their more frequent use is as decoration for salad, the beautiful
colour of the "white" admirably setting off the dish.

Not only are plovers' eggs delicacies, but some of the birds themselves
are highly appreciated at table. Of all the species known to
naturalists, however, two only are recognised by _gourmets_. These
are the green and gold: the first the common kind, which produces the
plovers' eggs; the second a handsome bird, somewhat rare, and larger
than the former. It has beautiful golden markings, a soft liquid eye,
and breeds upon the tops of the highest mountains. The golden plover
fetches a much higher price than the green, and living the two are
easily distinguishable. When cooked the difference in size is not
appreciable, though the former may always be known by the absence of
the hind-toe. Lapwings were formerly "mewed" for the purpose of
feeding, and fatted upon liver. A thousand birds, supposed to be of
this species, were served at a feast on the enthronisation of
Archbishop Nevill. In Ireland the birds are netted in autumn in very
considerable numbers; though, strangely enough, the eggs are neither
appreciated nor collected as they are here. A new phase of the trade in
lapwings' eggs is that of preserving them for use during the winter
months.


V.

BROWN IN SUMMER, WHITE IN WINTER.

Of the protective colouring exhibited by several birds and quadrupeds
in countries that remain during a greater part of the year under snow,
Britain furnishes several interesting examples. Amongst these are the
ptarmigan, variable or Alpine hare, ermine, Greenland falcon, snowy
owl, Lapland bunting, with other less marked instances. The very
existence of each of these creatures depends upon the closeness with
which it conforms to its environment; and just as it does this
effectively so it is robust as a species and flourishes. The inherent
variability in some cases is great, and definite changes can be brought
about in comparatively short periods. In other species, however,
modification is slow, and only obtained by the long process of natural
selection. As an instance of the first, we have the change from dark
brown to purely white of the stoat or ermine; of the second, the
indigenous red grouse of the British Isles is an example. This bird is
found nowhere else in a wild state. With us there is no reason why it
should assume the white winter plumage like its congeners, and yet
there can be no question that our bird is the local representative of
the white willow-grouse, which ranges over the whole of Northern
Europe. There are absolutely no structural differences between the two.
Here is a species, then, which has lost, through disuse, the power of
turning white in winter with the absence of the necessity for doing so.

Let us see how the adoption of protective colouring holds as applied to
these species--all of which are brown in summer, white in winter. The
Iceland falcon and the ptarmigan have pretty much the same habitat, the
one preying upon the other. The ptarmigan's plumage during the breeding
season is dark brown, even approaching to black; but in autumn, during
the transition stage, it is grey, this being the general tint of the
mosses and lichens among which it lives. Suppose, however, that the
summer bird never changed its plumage, what chance of survival would it
stand against its enemies when the ground was covered with snow?
Remaining, as it would, a black speck on the otherwise white surface,
it would in a few years become extinct. The ptarmigan, then, furnishes
an example of the assumption of three different states of plumage, each
assimilating to the physical conditions by which it is surrounded. Of
course the same rule applies to the falcon, which is also white.
Precisely the same set of facts operate in the case of the large snowy
owl in the fir countries which it inhabits. Here its food consists of
lemmings, Alpine hares, and birds, particularly the willow-grouse and
ptarmigan. The balance of nature would be slightly against it, however,
in the capture of animals which have assumed protective colouring, and
hence we are told that "it has been known to watch the grouse-shooters
a whole day for the purpose of sharing the spoil. On such occasions it
perches on a high tree, and when a bird is shot skims down and carries
it off before the sportsman can get near it." Yet again the same
reasoning applies to the beautiful silver fox, which structurally in
nowise differs from its red-furred cousin of more southern counties.

Hares, according to the altitude of their range, show almost every
degree of variableness between red and white. Our common hare is widely
distributed, and to such an extent do varietal forms differ that
several distinct species (so called) have been evolved out of one. The
extreme forms do seem widely separated, until we connect them with the
many intermediate links. It then becomes evident that these differences
are, after all, such as may be accounted for by conditions of climate
and geographical range. The northern form has thick fur, which inclines
to white in winter; the central variety has fur of only moderate
thickness, becoming grey in winter; and the southern, thin fur of a
deep rufous tinge. The calling of these varieties "species" is simply
scientific hair-splitting; though this hardly applies to the true
variable or mountain hare. This Alpine form is distributed over the
countries within the Arctic Circle, though with us its southern haunt
is determined by Scotland and Ireland. Again in this species we have
three forms, each mainly characteristic of certain latitudes. The first
inhabits warm low-lying countries, and does not change colour in
winter; of this the Irish hare is a type. The second, the variety
common to Northern Europe, which is grey in summer and purely white in
winter; while the third is the Arctic form--white right through the
year. The six types are probably all varieties of one species, which,
for protection, conform to their own environment; and so successfully
do they do this, that the progeny of two pair of mountain hares which
in 1854 were turned down in the Faroes might long ago have been counted
by thousands. The Scotch variety of this species, which does not change
the colour of its fur in winter, is there called the blue hare.

Another interesting example of creatures which are brown in summer and
white in winter is the ermine. This is still a fairly common British
fur animal, and the change may therefore be watched without going far
afield. In the fur countries of high latitudes the change is universal;
while here, except in unusually severe winters, it is only partial. In
the Lake District, where we have observed a considerable number of
these animals, a purely white one is exceedingly rare, though pied
specimens are not at all uncommon. The nearest general approach to
whiteness was during the prolonged severity of the winter of 1880-81.
The last colour about to vanish is usually a brown stripe, prolonged
posteriorly down the back; though when the weather is of extreme
severity the whole transition can be brought about within a fortnight.
It is not that the summer fur is cast and a new one substituted for it,
but that each individual hair changes colour. Cold artificially applied
will in time bring about the same results as a naturally severe
temperature.

There arrive every year in this country, from the north, flocks of
pretty little birds called snow-buntings. They come from within the
Arctic Circle, and are so variable in their plumage that naturalists
almost despaired of ever getting a characteristic description. Indeed,
so much a puzzle did these little strangers offer, that for long they
were described by the older naturalists as three different birds. Of
course, we now know that the mountain, tawny, and snow bunting are one;
and this because they have been obtained in almost every possible stage
of transition. They breed upon the summits of the highest hills with
the ptarmigan; and like that bird regulate their plumage according to
the prevailing aspect of their haunts. In this they succeed admirably,
and flourish accordingly.


VI.

ADAPTATION TO HAUNT.

The process of natural selection, tending to the survival of the
fittest, would almost invariably seem to use colour as its main working
factor. The exemplification of this law is, perhaps, nowhere better
seen than in the colouring of animals and birds. In the keen struggle
for existence, the creature which conforms most nearly to its
environment is the one most likely to survive, and therefore perpetuate
its characteristics. For upon the fact that the peculiarities of the
parents are reproduced in their offspring depends the whole theory of
evolution. This may at first suggest that the generality of animals and
birds closely conform to the type of the parent stock, and that
therefore there is little chance of variation. But while this is so, it
is equally true that when any "sport" occurs this is tenaciously
retained providing it possesses any advantages over its neighbours in
the struggle for existence. In this way a new type may be set up,
differing so far from the original as in time to rank as a species.

The great power of variability in animals and plants is probably not
yet fully comprehended. We know, however, from Darwin's experiments how
many distinct varieties in the case of pigeons have been produced from
the wild blue rock, each showing profound modification, not in colour
alone, but also in bone structure. Then there are those which show the
development of hoods and frills, and others, again, which have within
them the homing instinct to an almost incredible degree. All this, of
course, has been brought about by man, mostly by selection, and it
serves to show how pliable nature is. What has been done to pigeons
applies to domestic animals. Given a few years, any monstrosity can be
produced, however extravagant; our shorthorns and blood horses have
been produced out of the very sorriest material, and now stand as the
idealised types of their kind. And what man does artificially, nature
is doing daily, but by slow and sure methods of her own. None but those
who have dipped beneath the surface can conceive of the struggle which
is going on for existence. Nature's competition is of the keenest kind;
the strongest survive, the weakest go to the wall. Even an object so
low in the scale of animal creation as a chrysalis assumes a red coat
when it is attached to a bright brick wall, and a grey one when it
affixes itself to limestone. This inherent power it has in itself, and
those individuals which can most cleverly practise deceit in hiding
from birds and other enemies survive and reproduce their kind.

With regard to instances of variability which come under our immediate
notice, the red grouse of our moorlands as already mentioned is a
striking example. There can now be no doubt that this is the "willow
grouse" of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Our indigenous bird found itself
in an insular position, and has changed from white to speckled red so
as to conform to the colour of the heather; it has also modified the
colour of its eggs to suit the changed conditions of its existence. Had
it remained white, it would soon have been wiped out of existence by
the peregrine and other of the large falcons. There can be no question
that bird and animal or insect dons the colour and form best calculated
to protect it. Whether this change is conscious to the creature that
practises it is beside the main question, and hardly enters into the
issue. The process is invariably slow, but if any "accidental sport"
occurs which is likely to be of use, it is tenaciously retained, and
progress is made at a bound.

Many of our British birds exhibit capital instances of protective
colouring, and it is a somewhat striking fact that birds of sombre
plumage build open nests, while the brilliantly coloured birds either
have covered nests or build in holes in trees.

Returning to sexual colour, the dull summer female plumage which
characterises so many ground-feeding birds is all the more remarkable
as they are the mates of males for the most part distinguished by
unusual brilliancy of plumage. The few exceptions to this rule are of
the most interesting nature, and go eminently to prove it. In these
exceptions it happens that the female birds are more brightly plumaged
than the males. But the remarkable trait comes out that in nearly the
whole of these cases the male sits upon the eggs. Now this fact more
than any other would seem to indicate that the protection afforded by
obscure colouring is directly intended to secure the bird's safety
during the long and most critical period of its life. This law of
protective colouring, it will be seen, most influences those species
which build on the ground, and one or two examples may be adduced from
our own avi-fauna, as in the case of the rare dotterel, which breeds on
the fells. In winter the colouring of the sexes in this species is
almost identical; but when the breeding season comes round, the female
dons a well-defined and comparatively conspicuous plumage, while it is
found that the dull-coloured male alone sits upon the eggs.

Mr. Wallace has pointed that the bee-eaters, mot-mots, and
toucans--among the most brilliant of tropical or semi-tropical
birds--all build in holes in trees. In each of these cases there is
hardly any difference in the plumage of the sexes, and where this is so
the above rule is almost invariable. Again, our native kingfisher
affords an illustration. Woodpeckers, many of which are brightly
coloured above, build in the boles of trees, and our own titmice, with
their exquisite tints, construct domed nests. Visitors to the
Zoological Gardens in Regent's Park will have noticed that the
orange-plumaged orioles have pensile nests, which is a characteristic
of the order to which they belong, most of the members of which are
conspicuous. Bird enemies come from above rather than below, and it
will be noticed that the modifications referred to all have reference
to the upper plumage. Protective colouring, having for its object the
preservation of the species which adopt it, will be found to enter more
or less into the economy of every animal and bird and insect in a state
of nature; and therefore it will be seen that there is a general
harmony between the colours of an animal and those of its habitation,
of which fact almost every living natural object furnishes evidence.

There comes periodically to this country a bird of the starling kind,
known as the rose-coloured pastor. It has the back, breast, and sides
of an exquisite pale pink; and it is perhaps this bright plumage which
prevents it from establishing a residence here. In its continental
haunts the bird is observed to affect trees or shrubs bearing
rose-coloured flowers, such as the blossoms of the pink azalea, among
which the birds more easily escape notice. This is an instance of what
is known as adaptive or protective coloration, which we need not go
abroad to observe.

The struggle for existence among plants and animals is a hard one, and
every point gained in the direction tends to survival. The modification
in the forms and colours of insects, and the successful shifts thereby
made to elude their enemies, provide the striking facts of the case.
Birds modify and rearrange the colours of their plumage, adapt the
coloration of their eggs, and the structure and material of their
nests, all to the same end. We know that the more highly organised
flowers have changed form and colour to satisfy their insect visitors,
while the insects themselves have modified their organs so as to enable
them the better to visit certain flowers. In Sumatra Mr. Wallace found
a large butterfly, its upper surface of a rich purple and with a broad
bar of deep orange crossing each wing. The species is found in dry
woods and thickets, and when on the wing is very conspicuous. Among the
bush and dry leaves the naturalist was never able to capture a
specimen; for, however carefully he crept to the spot where the insect
had settled, he could never discover it until it suddenly started out
again. But upon one occasion he was fortunate enough to note the exact
spot where the butterfly settled, and, although it was lost sight of
for some time, he at length discovered it close before his eyes. In its
position of repose it exactly resembled a dead leaf attached to a twig.

So in our own country we may observe that the purple emperor butterfly
affects certain of the brightly coloured wild geraniums, upon which, in
repose it is almost impossible to detect it. The brown-spotted
fritillaries of our birch woods also offer examples of this class, it
being difficult to detect them against the fungus-pitted leaves of
every shade of brown and dun and yellow.


VII.

HOW THE WORLD IS FERTILISED.

In approaching the subject of the geographical distribution of animals
and plants, one is struck with the marvellous methods which nature
adopts for the dispersal of her types. If the seeds of forest trees
were merely shed to the ground immediately beneath, they would be in an
environment precisely the least likely to further the reproduction of
their kind. Instead of this, many of the seeds of forest trees are
furnished with wings, an adaptation which allows them to be easily
wafted by the wind, and thus fits them for wide dispersal. It is only
by possessing some such advantage as this that certain species could
survive at all. It is true that acorns and other kindred fruits do not
possess this advantage, but then they are largely fed upon by birds,
and birds, as will presently be shown, are an admirable means of
dispersal. The crop of a wood-pigeon, which burst when the bird fell to
the ground when shot, was found to contain sixty-seven acorns, besides
a number of beech mast and leaves of clover. In this connection imagine
the possible rate of multiplication which would follow the accidental
dissemination of a single head of red poppy. If left undisturbed it
would, under ordinarily favourable circumstances, ripen forty thousand
seeds, each capable of producing a successor. It has been stated by a
competent authority that one red poppy could produce plants enough in
less than seven years to occupy every inch of the thirty and odd
million acres of the United Kingdom.

Ocean currents have not unfrequently been the means of connecting the
floras of different continents, and seeds and fruit are sometimes
picked up on the western coasts of Britain which have been wafted
across the whole Atlantic Ocean. It is also known that certain birds of
long and sustained powers of flight cross the Atlantic unaided, and
what this may possibly mean will presently be shown. Even land animals
are known to cross straits between island and island upon
rafts--drift-wood or bits of floating bark.

A quaint instance of transportation of fish spawn is given by an old
writer. Izaak Walton believed that pike were bred from pickerel-weed;
though he seems to have had some suspicion of this piece of unnatural
history, and qualifies his statement by saying that if it is not so
"they are brought into some ponds some such other ways as is past man's
finding out." But one of his contemporaries attacks this heterodoxy,
and "propounds a rational conjecture of the heron-shaw." He thinks it
quite likely that while fishing the heron might "lap some spawn about
her legs", in regard to adhering to the segs and bull-rushes near the
shallows, as myself and others without curiosity, have observed. And
this slimy substance adhering to her legs, and she mounting the air for
another station, in all probability mounts with her. When note, the
next pond she haply arrives at, possibly she may leave the spawn behind
her, an observation now known to be strictly accurate. Herons are not
the only birds which are aids to dispersal. Although the feet of birds
are generally clean, Darwin in one case removed sixty-one grains, and
in another twenty-two grains, of dry argillaceous earth from the foot
of a partridge, and in the earth there was a pebble as large as the
seed of a vetch. The same naturalist had sent to him by a friend the
leg of a woodcock, with a little cake of dry earth attached to the
shank, and weighing only nine grains; this contained seeds of the
toad-rush, which not only germinated but flowered. But perhaps the most
interesting case of all was that of a red-legged partridge forwarded by
Professor Newton. This had been wounded, and was unable to fly; and a
ball of hard earth adhered to it, weighing six and a half ounces. The
earth had been kept for three years, but when broken and watered, and
placed under a bell-glass, no fewer than eighty-two plants sprang from
it.

American passenger pigeons are frequently captured in the State of New
York with their crops still filled with the undigested grains of rice
that, according to Mr. Howard Saunders, must have been taken in the
distant fields of Georgia and South Carolina, apparently proving that
the birds had passed over the intervening space within a few hours. It
is known that at certain seasons thousands of these beautiful pigeons
are killed, not only by man, but by predatory animals and birds; and
their long migratory journeys as a possible means of dispersal becomes
at once evident. As bearing on this particular subject, Darwin has
proved that the hard seeds of fruit pass uninjured through even the
digestive organs of a turkey. In the course of two months he picked up
in his garden twelve kinds of seeds out of the excrement of small birds
which seemed perfect, and some of them germinated. The crops of birds
do not secrete gastric juice, and consequently do not in the least
injure germination. Darwin forced many kinds of seeds into the stomachs
of dead fish, and then gave them to fishing eagles, storks, and
pelicans in the Zoological Gardens. The birds, after long intervals,
either ejected the seeds in pellets or passed them; after which several
kinds still retained the power of germination. In the tropics countless
swarms of locusts sometimes suddenly make their appearance, and as
suddenly vanish. They cover every leaf-bearing thing, and occasionally
denude whole districts of their greenery. So great are their powers of
flight that they have been seen at sea nearly four hundred miles from
nearest land. In Natal the farmers, rightly or wrongly, believe that
the locusts introduce injurious seeds upon their grass lands, and the
following would seem to show that their belief is well founded. A Mr.
Weale, who was in their way of thinking, collected a packet of dried
pellets and sent them to England. When closely examined under the
microscope they revealed a number of tiny seeds from which plants of
seven kinds of grasses were ultimately raised.

In comparatively few years a small island in mid ocean had quite an
important addition to its flora, merely from the fact that the grave of
an officer was dug with a spade that had been used in England. The
seeds from which these sprang were embedded in the dry earth adhering
to the spade. Floating driftwood is quite an important means of
dispersal, as can easily be understood; and the natives of some of the
coral islands in the Pacific procure stones for their tools solely from
the roots of drifted trees, the stones being a valuable royal tax. In
this connection Darwin made the following interesting experiments. He
found that when irregularly-shaped stones were embedded in the roots of
trees, small parcels of earth were frequently enclosed in their
interstices or behind them, so perfectly that not a particle could be
washed away during the longest transport. Out of one small portion of
earth thus completely enclosed by the roots of an oak about fifty years
old three dicotyledonous plants germinated. It is well known that in
many cases a few days' immersion in sea-water is sufficient to kill
seeds, but a number taken out of the crop of a pigeon which had floated
on the water for thirty days nearly all germinated. Other aids to
dispersal already referred to are wading birds, which frequent the
muddy edges of ponds, and, if suddenly flushed, would be the most
likely to have muddy feet. "Birds of this order wander more than those
of any other, and they are occasionally found on the most remote and
barren islands of the open ocean; they would not be likely to alight on
the surface of the sea, so that any dirt on their feet would not be
washed off; and when gaining the land they would be sure to fly to
their natural fresh-water haunts. I do not believe," says Darwin, "that
botanists are aware how charged the mud of ponds is with seeds; I have
tried several little experiments, but will here only give the most
striking case. I took in February three tablespoonfuls of mud from
three different points, beneath water, on the edge of a little pond;
this mud when dried weighed only six and three-quarter ounces. I kept
it covered up in my studio for six months, pulling up and counting each
plant as it grew. The plants were of many kinds, and were altogether
five hundred and thirty-seven in number; and yet the viscid mud was all
contained in a breakfast cup. Considering these facts, I think it would
be an inexplicable circumstance if water birds did not transport plants
to unstocked ponds and streams, situate at very distant points. The
same agency may have come into play with the eggs of some of the
smaller fresh-water animals."

The manner in which the ubiquitous brown rat obtrudes itself everywhere
is only paralleled by the like qualities in the British sparrow. Our
weeds have migrated to the colonies, and certain kinds have almost
overrun them. In New Zealand the common dock is now widely
disseminated, the original seeds being sold by a lively British tar as
those of the tobacco plant.


THE END.


PRINTED BY NICHOLS AND SONS, 25, PARLIAMENT STREET WESTMINSTER.



"A pleasant little book for anglers and lovers of
nature."--SATURDAY REVIEW.

BRITISH SPORTING FISHES.

BY JOHN WATSON. Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d.


From the GLOBE.

"The papers it contains treat of salmon, trout, grayling, pike, perch,
and most fresh-water fish. There are pleasant chapters on silvers
streams and good practical essays on the depopulation and restocking of
trout streams, water and fish poachers, ephemeræ, and above all a
useful article on fish stews."

From the SPEAKER.

"Naturalists as well as anglers will find Mr. Watson's remarks about
'British Sporting Fishes' quite worthy of their attention. The book is
written by a man who has mastered the wily tactics of salmon, pike,
trout, perch, carp, and bream, and knows how to bait a tempting hook
for each and all of them. The 'small fry' of lake and river are not
forgotten by Mr. Watson, and two of the most interesting chapters in a
lively volume are devoted to roach, minnow, stickleback and other
little fish."

From the SATURDAY REVIEW.

"A pleasant little book for anglers and lovers of nature is Mr. John
Watson's 'British Sporting Fishes.' All fresh-water fish that afford
any sort of sport are sporting fish according to the author, who finds
room in his delightful sketches of the life-histories and habitats of
fish for the smallest of small fry, the roach, the minnow, the
stickleback, and so forth. Mr. Watson's sketches follow a downward
scale, from salmon and trout to the small fry of the pool and the
brook, and all are characterized by remarkable delicacy of
observation."

From the MORNING POST.

"'Sketches of British Sporting Fishes,' by John Watson, afford pleasant
reading interspersed with information, the result of practical
experience and close observation. Nor does the author confine his
remarks entirely to fish, but touches on such connected subjects as
fish poaching, some of the tricks of which he describes. The chapter on
grayling is written in the same easy and unpretentious style as the
rest of the book."





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