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upon the nest. About half a mile from the islet, and close to us, was the shallop, which we were in the act of launching when a sound, something between a "squeal" and a whistle, rose and died away upon the still solitude. I had never heard anything like it before so singularly plaintive. It had something of the modulated whistle of the buzzard or the kite, but far more sweet, soft, and musical, so fitted to the scenery and the place. It seemed to rise in a low cadence from the shore, and then melt into the clear air. "That's the otter," quoth Peter, "I 've heered them say he gi'es a whustle sometimes." It was soon apparent that he had guessed right, for the "whustle" came next time from the loch, and a gentle break, followed by its circles, showed where the otter had popped up its head, after swimming under water from the shore.
A difficult channel we had to steer through on our way to the islet, and although we changed our land pilot into a water one, and placed him in the bow to boot, our skiff was frequently bumped, and once nearly lifted clear of the water by the numerous sunk rocks.
upon a tree,
All sitting birds face the wind to prevent its ruffling their feathers, so, knowing where the eagle's head would be, we attempted to come in behind her. But when we got half way, she flew off her eyrie and lit her white tail shining like the silver moon. We were all watching her, when the other also flew off the nest and settled near his mate. This did not look well for a shot -the hen evidently was not sitting. When we neared the islet, they both flew out to meet us, uttering their shrill scream. Sometimes they floated at an immense height, and then, cleaving the air in their descent, flew round
their eyrie, beating with their wings, which made a hoarse, growling noise, like (forgive the comparison) the paddles of a steam-boat at a distance on a calm day.
Peter's great anxiety was to get me hid as quickly as possible, and a speedy job we made of it. I had hardly time to notice the terror of some deer rushing into the water to paddle across to the mainland, like Robinson Crusoe's savages, before I was ensconced under a heather and bracken screen. A small aperture was made for my gun-barrel, and from seven o'clock till one I was left alone on the island.
Meantime my companions rowed away to the far end of the loch, and having found a wild duck's nest full of fresh eggs, and kindled a fire, they soon, with the addition of our basket of provisions, turned out a most comfortable breakfast. The excitement of the moment quite kept down my hunger. Every time I heard an uproar among the small black-headed gulls, I was sure the royal pair were approaching, and soon their shadow passed over my ambush. They were generally swimming slowly, at a great height, and seldom came near the nest tree. Once or twice I heard the hollow rumbling, and they dashed past at the distance of sixty yards, but had I wished to take this random chance, it was impossible, as I only commanded the eyrie tree.
The intervals of their visits became longer every time. During one, a pert kestrel lit upon a twig not more than ten yards from the mouth of my gun. Shortly after, its mate perched upon the same branch, and both began to preen their wings without the slightest suspicion that their dreaded foe was closely watching all their motions.
At last the female eagle returned alone. She soon took
her departure, and we saw neither of them any more. Whether the sun glancing upon my gun-barrel had scared them, or the skiff upon the loch, we were unable to decide. There was not above half a foot of the barrel visible, but the eagle is of all birds the most wary, and nothing can elude its eye.
When Peter felt sure the game was up, he returned to release me from my watch. I consoled myself with a hearty breakfast and his assurances that we should manage better next year, if we were spared, by allowing the erne to sit hard before disturbing her. Had this been the case now I should certainly have had a fair shot.
There is often only one egg in the nest, but when there are two, one is generally addled. It is a curious fact that, in the year 1847, when there was a dreadful hurricane about the end of April, no eggs were laid in either the sea or golden eagles' eyries.
I examined carefully the erne's nest. It was very deep
as well as round. There could not have been less than a cart load of large sticks and twigs. I had some curiosity to know whether both birds built in company, or if the male acted "cad" by bringing the materials while the female was the architect. Swans are very gallant in this particular, supplying their mates with aquatic plants and reeds, while they sit comfortably on the nest and weave its sides. The male erne, however, would have a far harder task. I once, with much interest, noticed a pair of baldcoots, on Duddinstone Loch. constructing their damp abode. The male dived to the bottom for the leaves of the water lily, and the female always came to the side of the nest to receive his billful, laying it along in a neat methodical way like a building mason.
The sea eagle is very fond of flappers, and no more frequent prey than a young wild duck, before it is able to fly, is found in her eyrie. She is not near so quick a game destroyer as the mountain eagle; hence grouse and ptarmigan are not so much the object of her pursuit. She is also less nice in her eating, and more apt to devour what she does not strike down. Even carrion does not come amiss sometimes, especially in winter.
A delicious afternoon enabled us equally to enjoy our return drive down the banks of the Urchay. The gorcocks, in the full pride of their scarlet combs, strutted often within pistol shot of the carriage, and at the foot of the strath, the larches which grew upon the river's bank had their customary complement of black game, perched as usual near the top, and busily engaged in nipping the young shoots. Within a short distance of the inn at Dalmally a brace of partridges were picking up the corn just sown by the landlord. The noise of our vehicle sprung them. Immediately an impudent sparrow-hawk, far less than the partridge, struck one down. I did not see the deed done, but our driver turned round, and with great animation pointed out the bush where the wounded partridge lay. The little assassin was beating a retreat, but left ample proof of his guilt in a shower of stolen feathers which streamed from him as he flew. He would be certain to return to his prey, and might easily have been trapped. No greater proof of the dire havoc hawks commit among game can be adduced, than the fact that they refuse everything they don't hunt down themselves. While, on the contrary, no birds are easier trapped, even at a stale bait, than kites and buzzards.
Once, and only once, I noticed a hen harrier devouring
what she had no hand, or rather foot, in killing. On Leny Moor I wounded a grouse, and marked the spot where it towered and fell. The scent was bad, and my dogs could not find it. Two days after I was ranging the same ground, and a female hen harrier rose out of the heather. She was giving the last polishing to the
bones of my grouse. It is probable she might have noticed the bird fall, as hawks are very quick in detecting disabled prey. I have seen them single out the wounded bird from a pack, and stick to it closely. Upon one occasion a hawk made a desperate charge at a grouse I had actually knocked down, neglecting several others which rose at the same moment. I gave him an uncomfortable salute with my second barrel.
Next day was the last of our Highland trip, and my boy begged hard to be allowed to dedicate a couple of hours to the pike at Kilchurn. He had caught his bait before. breakfast, and borrowed a pike tackle, the waiter's old rod, and a small rickety reel with ten yards of very rotten line. We walked down to the castle of Kilchurn, which is surrounded by a shallow reach of water, a sort of inclosed bay from Loch Awe, full of large pike. A boat is a great advantage here, where sunk banks and feeding grounds abound in every direction, as in many of the shallower highland lochs. We soon hooked a large pike, which ran out our morsel of a line, and then snapped it. He most likely found as little trouble in disgorging the hooks as in breaking the line, which the following fact may show, and I can vouch for the truth of it.
A Thames fisherman hooked a large "jack" when spinning at a mill tail for trout. Not having a disgorger at hand, he cut the line and threw the pike into a tub of