« AnteriorContinuar »
high up on the hills, seldom by the shore, in the summer. They occurred, however, on some islands in East Fiord, Wiide Bay; and the Swedes killed seventy-five brace in the spring on a low island in Mossel Bay. Their favourite diet is buds and twigs of the polar willow; but the crop of one bird contained grass, Draba seed, Stellaria tops, and Polygonum blossom, besides willow leaves.
JEgialites hiaticula (Ringed Plover).—Lieut. Chermside saw a ringed plover in Wiide Bay, which attempted to entice him away by shamming lameness, as if its nest was close at hand.
Tringa maritima (Purple Sandpiper).—This species is common in most of the places visited by us. It occurred at Table, Phipps's and Walden Islands, as well as in North East Land. We obtained a set of eggs, three in number, on the 3rd of July, in Treurenberg Bay, and another set on the 16th in Albert Dirkes's Bay, where I found also three newly-hatched young. These last were unfortunately killed by their mother when I flushed her. They lay in a slight depression formed accidentally between some stones which did not quite meet each other, utterly devoid of anything resembling the rudiments of a nest. In the breeding season the old birds have a peculiar habit of occasionally raising one of their wings vertically over their back as they run along uttering their cry. They do so more especially on alighting after a short flight. At all times they are remarkably tame, and will continue to feed within a few yards of you. During the summer they disperse themselves over the country, and may sometimes be met with on the top of high hillst though their usual haunts are the borders of streams and wet ground on the slopes between the sea and the mountains. In such places they find plenty of insects amongst the stones, and of small white worms in the softer soil. When the frost sets in and the first snow covers the ground, they leave these situations and endeavour to better themselves by the sea-side. Here they may be seen sauntering about in small parties, eagerly searching for food amongst the refuse rejected by the sea, until at last they can put up with that style of living no longer, and resolve to emigrate. Foxes meanwhile are going amongst them, like popular agitators, acting the role of disinterested benefactors, bent upon covertly maintaining themselves and their families at the expense of the objects of their most sedulous attentions.
Sterna macrura (Arctic Tern).—The arctic tern was of frequent occurrence with us. In the lagoons by the shore considerable numbers of them flock together fishing for sessile-eyed Crustacea. We took their eggs iu Wiide, Treurenberg and Lomme Bays and Moffen Island, at which last place screaming young ones were running wildly about the beach with no one to look after them. They were not iu schools, as little seals of their age would have been. When they have eggs, the old birds fly at all intruders, making a noise like castanets while they dart at your head. They are not in dread even of skuas, should they threaten too near an approach to the place of incubation—one cannot, even in courtesy, call it a nest. During the intervals of fishing they may often be seen resting in small groups upon the ice in reclining attitudes.
Pagophila eburnea (Snow Bird).—We could not get any snowbird's eggs, though places where they breed were visited by us. In Wiide Bay and Cape Oetker some of the nests seemed accessible, but we had not sufficient time to endeavour to reach them. The crew were never tired of shooting at them whenever they had a chance of being able to kill more than one bird at a shot; and opportunities for doing this seemed to occur throughout the day and night whenever we killed a seal or morse and left its krang on the ice near the ship. Sometimes they were shot on the water as they were swimming and fishing for Crustacea or Clione borealis. In all fifty or sixty of them must have been killed. In the days when our ancestors subsisted upon salt sheep during the winter, and required the assistance of a servant every night to conduct them in safety to bed, snow-birds must have lived in a most recherche style." "Food, according to Captain Sabine, blubber and the flesh of whales,"—such was their diet in the good old times. Now-a-days they are so reduced in circumstances as to be thankful for shrimps, and to be not above soliciting small gratuities from their neighbours. Their attitude while resting on the ice forms a pretty contrast with that of the recumbent terns. Snow-birds, when they alight, either walk or stand still; they do not lie down. As to where they walk, that is a matter about which they are not over particular. We saw some at Lomme Bay, seemingly quite at home, very far within the interior of White Whale's krangs, from whence they would now and then emerge with their heads covered with blood.
Rissa tridactyla (Kittiwake Gull).—The cliffs of Carl's Island, in Hinlopen Straits, are frequented by kittiwakes and glaucous gulls, who live there in separate communities not far apart. Dovekies indiscriminately occupy the neighbouring crevices. The largest number of young kittiwakes in a nest appeared to be three; they are about the prettiest sea-bird in the country. High hummocks and picturesque pieces of drift ice are much resorted to by parties of them during the summer. Like their namesakes, these fair kitties make a great pretence of being busily occupied in what is mere fancy work, and are much sought after by the lords of creation if they happen to possess a little something of their own. They always appear to be fishing for pteropods and shrimps, and are chased by some bird more powerful than themselves whenever they succeed in catching any. They also catch Boreogadi amidst the ice.
Larus glaucus (Glaucous Gull).—Burgomasters all the world over are remarkable for their fussy obtrusiveness. We were therefore not surprised to find them in Spitsbergen everywhere making a great noise about nothing at all, and meddling officiously with matters that did not concern them. They need uo placard or notice-board to tell them that positions commanding extensive seaviews are "eligible sites for building purposes," for without their being recommended to them they are sure to thrust themselves into the most prominent and conspicuous places, even though these be no higher than the level of the platform of a stump orator. Burgomasters usually treat one another with great deference, and are much more looked up to by the common looms, who report the movements of these noble birds to the general community as matters of the greatest importance. Every eye is directed towards them whenever they deign to take an airing along the crowded cliffs. At Alk Range we found many nests with young on the 13th of July. Most of them were placed on pinnacles or buttresses of rock projecting from slopes easy of access at moderate heights above the sea: some were inaccessible, being on the summits of castellated cliffs and towering precipices; a few were in the very midst of the looms. I found other nests high up in the cliffs of a valley receding from Wiide Bay, near the entrance of East Fiord, in company with rotches and dovekies. But they do not always select lofty situations. About four miles east of Alk Range, on an island of hyperite in Hinlopen Straits, a burgomaster's nest was on a wide ledge of rock not twenty feet above the sea, surrounded (at a respectful distance) by sitting eiders. Another at Moffen Island was built upon the upturned roots of a spruce fir, amongst the drift wood, about two feet from the ground. On the 15th of June our men took some eggs, which they found on the shore in Dane's Gat. Burgomasters stand in some awe of snow-birds on ice, and are rather afraid of " mollies" in the water. Time was (we read in a certain arctic author) when mollies were apt to fall into violent hysterics, and even to die outright through fear, if a burgomaster so much as opened his mouth in paying his attentions to them, the harshness of his voice being rather too much for their delicate nerves. I am happy to be able to affirm that since the days when this sort of things used to go on, a great change has been effected for the better in the relations subsisting between these two classes of the Spitsbergen community. The mollies of the period no longer surrender themselves unconditionally to the first burgomaster who may be pleased to make up to them, no matter how loudly he may give utterance to the feelings which he cannot suppress. Nor are the burgomasters quite so much addicted to bluster as their ancestors. All this is clearly attributable to the agency of Natural Selection. The hysterical mollies evidently could not have had any descendants to whom their qualities could be transmitted; because they all died of fright. The race was therefore perpetuated only through the line of the stronger-minded ones. The burgomasters of the day, rinding that these were not very much afraid of them, had the sense to lay aside most of their swagger and adopt in its stead a more gentle and quiet demeanour. Where we still meet with individual instances of overbearing pomposity and bullyism, or of sentimental affectation, may we not fairly account for their existence on the principle of Ancestral Reversion?
Stercorarius pomatorhinus, Temm. (Pomarine Skua).—The first skua in the list was the last species obtained by us. The chief engineer, Mr. William Forbes, shot it for me near Cape Oetker, in Hinlopen "Straits, on the 13th of August. Five others were afterwards killed by our men in the same neighbourhood, some of them in immature plumage; and we could have obtained almost as many as we pleased when we were lying off Low Land. They are scarce on the western coast of Spitsbergen; only one was seen by us in Magdalena Bay, and that was on the 6th of September or thereabouts. On the 13th and the 15th of Sepember I saw a few on and near Hope Island. When the boatswains were chasing kittiwakes and snow-birds one day in Hinlopen Straits, in their usual way, I saw one seize a snow-bird by the tail and hold fast to it. Down went the birds together, almost falling into the sea; but the boatswain succeeded in eliciting nothing but shrieks out of the snowbird's mouth by this violent treatment, and flew away sadly disappointed.
Stercorarius parasiticus, L. (Common Skua).—The "short-tailed boatswain," as the men designated this species, occurred in every part of Spitsbergen visited by us, including Hope Island and the Seven Islands. It breeds on gentle slopes or low flat ground, usually close to a streamlet, and we found eggs and young in several places. In Lorn mo Bay I found two sets of eggs, each consisting of a couple. They were laid in slight hollows upon the bare ground, one of which contained three dead and wiry stalks of Papaver alpinum by way of a lining—equivalent perhaps to as many knitting needles; the other had no such ornaments. We found a down-clad brood at Hecla Cove in July. A month later there were young ones flying about in various localities. The parent birds defend their breeding place against all comers, and when menaces take no effect resort to stratagem, flapping about upon the ground like plovers, and making a plaintive cry. Foxes, dogs and deer are objects of their most inveterate animosity. Availing ourselves of this trait, we took a dog from the ship with us whenever we wanted to shoot a skua, either of this or of the other two species, and it seldom failed to entice them within range of the gun. This skua pursues rotches and dovekies on their passage to and from the cliffs; it sometimes also chases looms, and more rarely still snow-birds and kittiwakes. On ice they repose upon their breast like mollies. During the whole of our voyage we saw only three of them settle on the water to swim—one at Walden Island, another in Wiide Bay, and the third in the Greenland Sea. Towards the end of the breeding season, when the young were able to fly, I saw several females which had the gray band across the breast incomplete, who were mated to males which possessed the band uninterrupted; and this in places where, at the time of our previous visits, both the sexes had possessed unbroken bands.
Stercorarius longicauda, Vieillot (Longtailed Skua).—Two days after he had shot the redpoll in Wiide Bay, James Kidd fired at a longtailed skua, which flew away wounded. The next day he killed one, and the first engineer another, shooting from the ship whilst we were lying off Diana Island, near the entrance to East Fiord. Other specimens were shot the same day. We afterwards
SECOND SERIES VOL. IX. C