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Ch. 1: The Desert Pampas

During recent years we have heard much about the great and rapid changes
now going on in the plants and animals of all the temperate regions of
the globe colonized by Europeans. These changes, if taken merely as
evidence of material progress, must be a matter of rejoicing to those
who are satisfied, and more than satisfied, with our system of
civilization, or method of outwitting Nature by the removal of all
checks on the undue increase of our own species. To one who finds a
charm in things as they exist in the unconquered provinces of Nature's
dominions, and who, not being over-anxious to reach the end of his
journey, is content to perform it on horseback, or in a waggon drawn by
bullocks, it is permissible to lament the altered aspect of the earth's
surface, together with the disappearance of numberless noble and
beautiful forms, both of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. For he
cannot find it in his heart to love the forms by which they are
replaced; these are cultivated and domesticated, and have only become
useful to man at the cost of that grace and spirit which freedom and
wildness give. In numbers they are many--twenty-five millions of sheep
in this district, fifty millions in that, a hundred millions in a
third--but how few are the species in place of those destroyed? and when
the owner of many sheep and much wheat desires variety--for he possesses
this instinctive desire, albeit in conflict with and overborne by the
perverted instinct of destruction--what is there left to him, beyond his
very own, except the weeds that spring up in his fields under all skies,
ringing him round with old-world monotonous forms, as tenacious of their
undesired union with him as the rats and cockroaches that inhabit his
house?

We hear most frequently of North America, New Zealand, and Australia in
this connection; but nowhere on the globe has civilization "written
strange defeatures" more markedly than on that great area of level
country called by English writers _the pampas_, but by the Spanish more
appropriately _La Pampa_--from the Quichua word signifying open space or
country--since it forms in most part one continuous plain, extending on
its eastern border from the river Parana, in latitude 32 degrees, to the
Patagonian formation on the river Colorado, and comprising about two
hundred thousand square miles of humid, grassy country.

This district has been colonized by Europeans since the middle of the
sixteenth century; but down to within a very few years ago immigration
was on too limited a scale to make any very great change; and, speaking
only of the pampean country, the conquered territory was a long,
thinly-settled strip, purely pastoral, and the Indians, with their
primitive mode of warfare, were able to keep back the invaders from the
greater portion of their ancestral hunting-grounds. Not twenty years
ago a ride of two hundred miles, starting from the capital city,
Buenos Ayres, was enough to place one well beyond the furthest
south-western frontier outpost. In 1879 the Argentine Government
determined to rid the country of the aborigines, or, at all events, to
break their hostile and predatory spirit once for all; with the result
that the entire area of the grassy pampas, with a great portion of
the sterile pampas and Patagonia, has been made available to the
emigrant. There is no longer anything to deter the starvelings
of the Old World from possessing themselves of this new land of
promise, flowing, like Australia, with milk and tallow, if not with
honey; any emasculated migrant from a Genoese or Neapolitan
slum is now competent to "fight the wilderness" out there, with his
eight-shilling fowling-piece and the implements of his trade. The
barbarians no longer exist to frighten his soul with dreadful war cries;
they have moved away to another more remote and shadowy region, called
in their own language _Alhuemapu_, and not known to geographers. For
the results so long and ardently wished for have swiftly followed on
General Roca's military expedition; and the changes witnessed during the
last decade on the pampas exceed in magnitude those which had been
previously effected by three centuries of occupation.

In view of this wave of change now rapidly sweeping away the old
order, with whatever beauty and grace it possessed, it might not seem
inopportune at the present moment to give a rapid sketch, from the field
naturalist's point of view, of the great plain, as it existed before the
agencies introduced by European colonists had done their work, and as it
still exists in its remoter parts.

The humid, grassy, pampean country extends, roughly speaking, half-way
from the Atlantic Ocean and the Plata and Paraná rivers to the Andes,
and passes gradually into the "Monte Formation," or _sterile pampa_--a
sandy, more or less barren district, producing a dry, harsh, ligneous
vegetation, principally thorny bushes and low trees, of which the chañar
(Gurliaca decorticans) is the most common; hence the name of
"Chañar-steppe" used by some writers: and this formation extends
southwards down into Patagonia. Scientists have not yet been able to
explain why the pampas, with a humid climate, and a soil exceedingly
rich, have produced nothing but grass, while the dry, sterile
territories on their north, west, and south borders have an arborescent
vegetation. Darwin's conjecture that the extreme violence of the
_pampero,_ or south-west wind, prevented trees from growing, is now
proved to have been ill-founded since the introduction of the Eucalyptus
globulus; for this noble tree attains to an extraordinary height on the
pampas, and exhibits there a luxuriance of foliage never seen in
Australia.

To this level area--my "parish of Selborne," or, at all events, a goodly
portion of it--with the sea on one hand, and on the other the
practically infinite expanse of grassy desert--another sea, not "in vast
fluctuations fixed," but in comparative calm--I should like to conduct
the reader in imagination: a country all the easier to be imagined on
account of the absence of mountains, woods, lakes, and rivers. There is,
indeed, little to be imagined--not even a sense of vastness; and Darwin,
touching on this point, in the _Journal of a Naturalist,_ aptly
says:--"At sea, a person's eye being six feet above the surface of the
water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner,
the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach
within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys
the grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast plain would have
possessed."

I remember my first experience of a hill, after having been always shut
within "these narrow limits." It was one of the range of sierras near
Cape Corrientes, and not above eight hundred feet high; yet, when I had
gained the summit, I was amazed at the vastness of the earth, as it
appeared to me from that modest elevation. Persons born and bred on the
pampas, when they first visit a mountainous district, frequently
experience a sensation as of "a ball in the throat" which seems to
prevent free respiration.

In most places the rich, dry soil is occupied by a coarse grass, three
or four feet high, growing in large tussocks, and all the year round of
a deep green; a few slender herbs and trefoils, with long, twining
stems, maintain a frail existence among the tussocks; but the strong
grass crowds out most plants, and scarcely a flower relieves its uniform
everlasting verdure. There are patches, sometimes large areas, where it
does not grow, and these are carpeted by small creeping herbs of a
livelier green, and are gay in spring with flowers, chiefly of the
composite and papilionaceous kinds; and verbenas, scarlet, purple, rose,
and white. On moist or marshy grounds there are also several lilies,
yellow, white, and red, two or three flags, and various other small
flowers; but altogether the flora of the pampas is the poorest in
species of any fertile district on the globe. On moist clayey ground
flourishes the stately pampa grass, Gynerium argenteum, the spears of
which often attain a height of eight or nine feet. I have ridden through
many leagues of this grass with the feathery spikes high as my head, and
often higher. It would be impossible for me to give anything like an
adequate idea of the exquisite loveliness, at certain times and seasons,
of this queen of grasses, the chief glory of the solitary pampa.
Everyone is familiar with it in cultivation; but the garden-plant has a
sadly decaying, draggled look at all times, and to my mind, is often
positively ugly with its dense withering mass of coarse leaves, drooping
on the ground, and bundle of spikes, always of the same dead white or
dirty cream-colour. Now colour--the various ethereal tints that give a
blush to its cloud-like purity--is one of the chief beauties of this
grass on its native soil; and travellers who have galloped across the
pampas at a season of the year when the spikes are dead, and white as
paper or parchment, have certainly missed its greatest charm. The plant
is social, and in some places where scarcely any other kind exists it
covers large areas with a sea of fleecy-white plumes; in late summer,
and in autumn, the tints are seen, varying from the most delicate rose,
tender and illusive as the blush on the white under-plumage of some
gulls, to purple and violaceous. At no time does it look so perfect as
in the evening, before and after sunset, when the softened light imparts
a mistiness to the crowding plumes, and the traveller cannot help
fancying that the tints, which then seem richest, are caught from the
level rays of the sun, or reflected from the coloured vapours of the
afterglow.

The last occasion on which I saw the pampa grass in its full beauty was
at the close of a bright day in March, ending in one of those perfect
sunsets seen only in the wilderness, where no lines of house or hedge
mar the enchanting disorder of nature, and the earth and sky tints are
in harmony. I had been travelling all day with one companion, and for
two hours we had ridden through the matchless grass, which spread away
for miles on every side, the myriads of white spears, touched with
varied colour, blending in the distance and appearing almost like the
surface of a cloud. Hearing a swishing sound behind us, we turned
sharply round, and saw, not forty yards away in our rear, a party of
five mounted Indians, coming swiftly towards us: but at the very moment
we saw them their animals came to a dead halt, and at the same instant
the five riders leaped up, and stood erect on their horses' backs.
Satisfied that they had no intention of attacking us, and were only
looking out for strayed horses, we continued watching them for some
time, as they stood gazing away over the plain in different directions,
motionless and silent, like bronze men on strange horse-shaped pedestals
of dark stone; so dark in their copper skins and long black hair,
against the far-off ethereal sky, flushed with amber light; and at their
feet, and all around, the cloud of white and faintly-blushing plumes.
That farewell scene was printed very vividly on my memory, but cannot be
shown to another, nor could it be even if a Ruskin's pen or a Turner's
pencil were mine; for the flight of the sea-mew is not more impossible
to us than the power to picture forth the image of Nature in our souls,
when she reveals herself in one of those "special moments" which have
"special grace" in situations where her wild beauty has never been
spoiled by man.

At other hours and seasons the general aspect of the plain is
monotonous, and in spite of the unobstructed view, and the unfailing
verdure and sunshine, somewhat melancholy, although never sombre: and
doubtless the depressed and melancholy feeling the pampa inspires in
those who are unfamiliar with it is due in a great measure to the
paucity of life, and to the profound silence. The wind, as may well be
imagined on that extensive level area, is seldom at rest; there, as in
the forest, it is a "bard of many breathings," and the strings it
breathes upon give out an endless variety of sorrowful sounds, from the
sharp fitful sibilations of the dry wiry grasses on the barren places,
to the long mysterious moans that swell and die in the tall polished
rushes of the marsh. It is also curious to note that with a few
exceptions the resident birds are comparatively very silent, even those
belonging to groups which elsewhere are highly loquacious. The reason of
this is not far to seek. In woods and thickets, where birds abound
most, they are continually losing sight of each other, and are only
prevented from scattering by calling often; while the muffling effect on
sound of the close foliage, to' which may be added a spirit of emulation
where many voices are heard, incites most species, especially those that
are social, to exert their voices to the utmost pitch in singing,
calling, and screaming. On the open pampas, birds, which are not
compelled to live concealed on the surface, can see each other at long
distances, and perpetual calling is not needful: moreover, in that still
atmosphere sound travels far. As a rule their voices are strangely
subdued; nature's silence has infected them, and they have become silent
by habit. This is not the case with aquatic species, which are nearly
all migrants from noisier regions, and mass themselves in lagoons and
marshes, where they are all loquacious together. It is also noteworthy
that the subdued bird-voices, some of which are exceedingly sweet and
expressive, and the notes of many of the insects and batrachians have a
great resemblance, and seem to be in accord with the aeolian tones of
the wind in reeds and grasses: a stranger to the pampas, even a
naturalist accustomed to a different fauna, will often find it hard to
distinguish between bird, frog, and insect voices.

The mammalia is poor in species, and with the single exception of the
well-known vizcacha (Lagostomus trichodactylus), there is not one of
which it can truly be said that it is in any special way the product of
the pampas, or, in other words, that its instincts are better suited to
the conditions of the pampas than to those of other districts. As a
fact, this large rodent inhabits a vast extent of country, north, west,
and south of the true pampas, but nowhere is he so thoroughly on his
native heath as on the great grassy plain. There, to some extent, he
even makes his own conditions, like the beaver. He lives in a small
community of twenty or thirty members, in a village of deep-chambered
burrows, all with their pit-like entrances closely grouped together; and
as the village endures for ever, or for an indefinite time, the earth
constantly being brought up forms a mound thirty or forty feet in
diameter; and this protects the habitation from floods on low or level
ground. Again, he is not swift of foot, and all rapacious beasts are his
enemies; he also loves to feed on tender succulent herbs and grasses, to
seek for which he would have to go far afield among the giant grass,
where his watchful foes are lying in wait to seize him; he saves himself
from this danger by making a clearing all round his abode, on which a
smooth turf is formed; and here the animals feed and have their evening
pastimes in comparative security: for when an enemy approaches, he is
easily seen; the note of alarm is sounded, and the whole company
scuttles away to their refuge. In districts having a different soil and
vegetation, as in Patagonia, the vizcachas' curious, unique instincts
are of no special advantage, which makes it seem probable that they have
been formed on the pampas.

How marvellous a thing it seems that the two species of mammalians--the
beaver and the vizcacha--that most nearly simulate men's intelligent
actions in their social organizing instincts, and their habitations,
which are made to endure, should belong to an order so low down as the
Rodents! And in the case of the latter species, it adds to the marvel
when we find that the vizcacha, according to Water-house, is the lowest
of the order in its marsupial affinities.

The vizcacha is the most common rodent on the pampas, and the Rodent
order is represented by the largest number of species. The finest is the
so-called Patagonian hare--Dolichotis patagonica--a beautiful animal
twice as large as a hare, with ears shorter and more rounded, and legs
relatively much longer. The fur is grey and chestnut brown. It is
diurnal in its habits, lives in kennels, and is usually met with in
pairs, or small flocks. It is better suited to a sterile country like
Patagonia than to the grassy humid plain; nevertheless it was found
throughout the whole of the pampas; but in a country where the wisdom of
a Sir William Harcourt was never needed to slip the leash, this king of
the Rodentia is now nearly extinct.

A common rodent is the coypú--Myiopotamus coypú--yellowish in colour
with bright red incisors; a rat in shape, and as large as an otter. It
is aquatic, lives in holes in the banks, and where there are no banks it
makes a platform nest among the rushes. Of an evening they are all out
swimming and playing in the water, conversing together in their strange
tones, which sound like the moans and cries of wounded and suffering
men; and among them the mother-coypú is seen with her progeny, numbering
eight or nine, with as many on her back as she can accommodate, while
the others swim after her, crying for a ride.

With reference to this animal, which, as we have seen, is prolific, a
strange thing once happened in Buenos Ayres. The coypú was much more
abundant fifty years ago than now, and its skin, which has a fine fur
under the long coarse hair, was largely exported to Europe. About that
time the Dictator Rosas issued a decree prohibiting the hunting of the
coypú. The result was that the animals increased and multiplied
exceedingly, and, abandoning their aquatic habits, they became
terrestrial and migratory, and swarmed everywhere in search of food.
Suddenly a mysterious malady fell on them, from which they quickly
perished, and became almost extinct.

What a blessed thing it would be for poor rabbit-worried Australia if a
similar plague should visit that country, and fall on the right animal!
On the other hand, what a calamity if the infection, wide-spread,
incurable, and swift as the wind in its course, should attack the
too-numerous sheep! And who knows what mysterious, unheard-of
retributions that revengeful deity Nature may not be meditating in her
secret heart for the loss of her wild four-footed children slain by
settlers, and the spoiling of her ancient beautiful order!

A small pampa rodent worthy of notice is the Cavia australis, called
_cui_ in the vernacular from its voice: a timid, social, mouse-coloured
little creature, with a low gurgling language, like running babbling
waters; in habits resembling its domestic pied relation the guinea pig.
It loves to run on clean ground, and on the pampas makes little
rat-roads all about its hiding-place, which little roads tell a story to
the fox, and such like; therefore the little cavy's habits, and the
habits of all cavies, I fancy, are not so well suited to the humid
grassy region as to other districts, with sterile ground to run and play
upon, and thickets in which to hide.

A more interesting animal is the Ctenomys magellanica, a little less
than the rat in size, with a shorter tail, pale grey fur, and red
incisors. It is called _tuco-tuco_ from its voice, and _oculto_ from its
habits; for it is a dweller underground, and requires a loose, sandy
soil in which, like the mole, it may _swim_ beneath the surface.
Consequently the pampa, with its heavy, moist mould, is not the tuco's
proper place; nevertheless, wherever there is a stretch of sandy soil,
or a range of dunes, there it is found living; not seen, but heard; for
all day long and all night sounds its voice, resonant and loud, like a
succession of blows from a hammer; as if a company of gnomes were
toiling far down underfoot, beating on their anvils, first with strong
measured strokes, then with lighter and faster, and with a swing and
rhythm as if the little men were beating in time to some rude chant
unheard above the surface. How came these isolated colonies of a species
so subterranean in habits, and requiring a sandy soil to move in, so far
from their proper district--that sterile country from which they are
separated by wide, unsuitable areas? They cannot perform long overland
journeys like the rat. Perhaps the dunes have travelled, carrying their
little cattle with them.

Greatest among the carnivores are the two cat-monarchs of South America,
the jaguar and puma. Whatever may be their relative positions elsewhere,
on the pampas the puma is mightiest, being much more abundant and better
able to thrive than its spotted rival. Versatile in its preying habits,
its presence on the pampa is not surprising; but probably only an
extreme abundance of large mammalian prey, which has not existed in
recent times, could have, tempted an animal of the river and
forest-loving habits of the jaguar to colonize this cold, treeless, and
comparatively waterless desert. There are two other important cats. The
grass-cat, not unlike Felis catus in its robust form and dark colour,
but a larger, more powerful animal, inexpressibly savage in disposition.
The second, Felis geoffroyi, is a larger and more beautiful animal,
coloured like a leopard; it is called wood-cat, and, as the name would
seem to indicate, is an intruder from wooded districts north of the
pampas.

There are two canines: one is Azara's beautiful grey fox-like dog,
purely a fox in habits, and common everywhere. The other is far more
interesting and extremely rare; it is called _aguará,_ its nearest ally
being the _aguará-guazú,_ the Canis jubatus or maned wolf of
naturalists, found north of the pampean district. The aguará is smaller
and has no mane; it is like the dingo in size, but slimmer and with a
sharper nose, and lias a much brighter red colour. At night when camping
out I have heard its dismal screams, but the screamer was sought in
vain; while from the gauchos of the frontier I could only learn that it
is a harmless, shy, solitary animal, that ever flies to remoter wilds
from its destroyer, man. They offered me a skin--what more could I want?
Simple souls! it was no more to me than the skin of a dead dog, with
long, bright red hair. Those who love dead animals may have them in any
number by digging with a. spade in that vast sepulchre of the pampas,
where perished the hosts of antiquity. I love the living that are above
the earth; and how small a remnant they are in South America we know,
and now yearly becoming more precious as it dwindles away.

The pestiferous skunk is universal; and there are two quaint-looking
weasels, intensely black in colour, and grey on the back and flat crown.
One, the Galictis barbara, is a large bold animal that hunts in
companies; and when these long-bodied creatures sit up erect, glaring
with beady eyes, grinning and chattering at the passer-by, they look
like little friars in black robes and grey cowls; but the expression on
their round faces is malignant and bloodthirsty beyond anything in
nature, and it would perhaps be more decent to liken them to devils
rather than to humans.

On the pampas there is, strictly speaking, only one ruminant, the Cervus
campestris, which is common. The most curious thing about this animal is
that the male emits a rank, musky odour, so powerful that when the wind
blows from it the effluvium comes in nauseating gusts to the nostrils
from a distance exceeding two miles. It is really astonishing that only
one small ruminant should be found on this immense grassy area, so
admirably suited to herbivorous quadrupeds, a portion of which at the
present moment affords sufficient pasture to eighty millions of sheep,
cattle, and horses. In La Plata the author of _The Mammoth and the
Flood_ will find few to quarrel with his doctrine.

Of Edentates there are four. The giant armadillo does not range so far,
and the delicate little pink fairy armadillo, the truncated
Chlamydophorus, is a dweller in the sand-dunes of Mendoza, and has never
colonized the grassy pampas. The Tatusia hybrida, called "little mule"
from the length of its ears, and the Dasypus tricinctus, which, when
disturbed, rolls itself into a ball, the wedge-shaped head and
wedge-shaped tail admirably fitting into the deep-cut shell side by
side; and the _quirquincho_ (Dasypus minutus), all inhabit the pampa,
are diurnal, and feed exclusively on insects, chiefly ants. Wherever the
country becomes settled, these three disappear, owing to the dulness of
their senses, especially that of sight, and to the diurnal habit, which
was an advantage to them, and enabled them to survive when rapacious
animals, which are mostly nocturnal, were their only enemies. The
fourth, and most important, is the hairy armadillo, with habits which
are in strange contrast to those of its perishing congeners, and which
seem to mock many hard-and-fast rules concerning animal life. It is
omnivorous, and will thrive on anything from grass to flesh, found dead
and in all stages of decay, or captured by means of its own strategy.
Furthermore, its habits change to suit its conditions: thus, where
nocturnal carnivores are its enemies, it is diurnal; but where man
appears as a chief persecutor, it becomes nocturnal. It is much hunted
for its flesh, dogs being trained for the purpose; yet it actually
becomes more abundant as population increases in any district; and, if
versatility in habits or adaptiveness can be taken as a measure of
intelligence, this poor armadillo, a survival of the past, so old on the
earth as to have existed contemporaneously with the giant glyptodon, is
the superior of the large-brained cats and canines.

To finish with the mammalia, there are two interesting opossums, both of
the genus Didelphys, but in habits as wide apart as cat from otter. One
of these marsupials appears so much at home on the plains that I almost
regret having said that the vizcacha alone gives us the idea of being in
its habits the _product_ of the pampas. This animal--Didelphys
crassicaudata--has a long slender, wedge-, shaped head and body,
admirably adapted for pushing through the thick grass and rushes; for it
is both terrestrial and aquatic, therefore well suited to inhabit low,
level plains liable to be flooded. On dry land its habits are similar to
those of a weasel; in lagoons, where it dives and swims with great ease,
it constructs a globular nest suspended from the rushes. The fur is
soft, of a rich yellow, reddish above, and on the sides and under
surfaces varying in some parts to orange, in others exhibiting beautiful
copper and terra-cotta tints. These lovely tints and the metallic lustre
soon fade from the fur, otherwise this animal would be much sought after
in the interests of those who love to decorate themselves with the
spoils of beautiful dead animals--beast and bird. The other opossum is
the black and white Didelphys azarae; and it is indeed strange to find
this animal on the pampas, although its presence there is not so
mysterious as that of the tuco-tuco. It shuffles along slowly and
awkwardly on the ground, but is a great traveller nevertheless. Tschudi
met it mountaineering on the Andes at an enormous altitude, and, true to
its lawless nature, it confronted me in Patagonia, where the books say
no marsupial dwells. In every way it is adapted to an arboreal life, yet
it is everywhere found on the level country, far removed from the
conditions which one would imagine to be necessary to its existence. For
how many thousands of years has this marsupial been a dweller on the
plain, all its best faculties unexercised, its beautiful grasping hands
pressed to the ground, and its prehensile tail dragged like an idle rope
behind it! Yet, if one is brought to a tree, it will take to it as
readily as a duck to water, or an armadillo to earth, climbing up the
trunk and about the branches with a monkey-like agility. How reluctant
Nature seems in some cases to undo her own work! How long she will
allow a specialized organ, with the correlated instinct, to rest without
use, yet ready to flash forth on the instant, bright and keen-edged, as
in the ancient days of strife, ages past, before peace came to dwell on
earth!

The avi-fauna is relatively much richer than the mammalia, owing to the
large number of aquatic species, most of which are migratory with their
"breeding" or "subsistence-areas" on the pampas. In more senses than one
they constitute a "floating population," and their habits have in no way
been modified by the conditions of the country. The order, including
storks, ibises, herons, spoonbills, and flamingoes, counts about
eighteen species; and the most noteworthy birds in it are two great
ibises nearly as large as turkeys, with mighty resonant voices. The duck
order is very rich, numbering at least twenty species, including two
beautiful upland geese, winter visitors from Magellanic lands, and two
swans, the lovely black-necked, and the pure white with rosy bill. Of
rails, or ralline birds, there are ten or twelve, ranging from a small
spotted creature no bigger than a thrush to some large majestic birds.
One is the courlan, called "crazy widow" from its mourning plumage and
long melancholy screams, which on still evenings may be heard a league
away. Another is the graceful variegated _ypicaha,_ fond of social
gatherings, where the birds perform a dance and make the desolate
marshes resound with their insane humanlike voices. A smaller kind,
Porphyriops melanops, has a night-cry like a burst of shrill hysterical
laughter, which has won for it the name of "witch;" while another,
Rallus rythyrhynchus, is called "little donkey" from its braying cries.
Strange eerie voices have all these birds. Of the remaining aquatic
species, the most important is the spur-winged crested screamer; a noble
bird as large as a swan, yet its favourite pastime is to soar upwards
until it loses itself to sight in the blue ether, whenca it pours forth
its resounding choral notes, which reach the distant earth clarified,
and with a rhythmic swell and fall as of chiming bells. It also sings by
night, "counting the hours," the gauchos say, and where they have
congregated together in tens of thousands the mighty roar of their
combined voices produces an astonishingly grand effect.

The largest aquatic order is that of the Limicolse--snipes, plover, and
their allies--which has about twenty-five species. The vociferous
spur-winged lapwing; the beautiful black and white stilt; a true snipe,
and a painted snipe, are, strictly speaking, the only residents; and it
is astonishing to find, that, of the five-and-twenty species, at least
thirteen are visitors from North America, several of them having their
breeding-places quite away in the Arctic regions. This is one of those
facts concerning the annual migration of birds which almost stagger
belief; for among them are species with widely different habits, upland,
marsh and sea-shore birds, and in their great biannual journey they pass
through a variety of climates, visiting many countries where the
conditions seem suited to their requirements. Nevertheless, in
September, and even as early as August, they begin to arrive on the
pampas, the golden plover often still wearing his black nuptial dress;
singly and in pairs, in small flocks, and in clouds they come--curlew,
godwit, plover, tatler, tringa--piping the wild notes to which the
Greenlander listened in June, now to the gaucho herdsman on the green
plains of La Plata, then to the wild Indian in his remote village; and
soon, further south, to the houseless huanaco-hunter in the grey
wilderness of Patagonia.

Here is a puzzle for ornithologists. In summer on the pampas we have a
godwit--Limosa hudsonica; in March it goes north to breed; later in the
season flocks of the same species arrive from the south to winter on the
pampas. And besides this godwit, there are several other North American
species, which have colonies in the southern hemi-spere, with a reversed
migration and breeding season. Why do these southern birds winter so far
south? Do they really breed in Patagonia? If so, their migration is an
extremely limited one compared with that of the northern birds--seven or
eight hundred miles, on the outside, in one case, against almost as many
thousands of miles in the other. Considering that some species which
migrate as far south as Patagonia breed in the Arctic regions as far
north as latitude 82 degrees, and probably higher still, it would be
strange indeed if none of the birds which winter in Patagonia and on the
pampas were summer visitors to that great austral continent, which has
an estimated area twice as large as that of Europe, and a climate milder
than the arctic one. The migrants would have about six hundred miles of
sea to cross from Tierra del Fuego; but we know that the golden plover
and other species, which sometimes touch at the Bermudas when
travelling, fly much further than that without resting. The fact that a
common Argentine titlark, a non-migrant and a weak flyer, has been met
with at the South Shetland Islands, close to the antarctic continent,
shows that the journey may be easily accomplished by birds with strong
flight; and that even the winter climate of that unknown land is not too
severe to allow an accidental colonist, like this small delicate bird,
to survive. The godwit, already mentioned, has been observed in flocks
at the Falkland Islands in May, that is, three months after the same
species had taken its autumal departure from the neighbouring mainland.
Can it be believed that these late visitors to the Falklands were
breeders in Patagonia, and had migrated east to winter in so bleak a
region? It is far more probable that they came from the south. Officers
of sailing ships beating round Cape Horn might be able to settle this
question definitely by looking out, and listening at night, for flights
of birds, travelling north from about the first week in January to the
end of February; and in September and October travelling south. Probably
not fewer than a dozen species of the plover order are breeders on the
great austral continent; also other aquatic birds--ducks and geese; and
many Passerine birds, chiefly of the Tyrant family.

Should the long projected Australasian expedition to the South Polar
regions ever be carried to a successful issue, there will probably be
important results for ornithology, in spite of the astounding theory
which has found a recent advocate in Canon Tristram, that all life
originated at the North Pole, whence it spread over the globe, but never
succeeded in crossing the deep sea surrounding the antarctic continent,
which has consequently remained till now desolate, "a giant ash (and
ice) of death." Nor is it unlikely that animals of a higher class than
birds exist there; and the discovery of new mammalians, differing in
type from those we know, would certainly be glad tidings to most
students of nature.

Land birds on the pampas are few in species and in numbers. This may be
accounted for by the absence of trees and other elevations on which
birds prefer to roost and nest; and by the scarcity of food. Insects are
few in dry situations; and the large perennial grasses, which occupy
most of the ground, yield a miserable yearly harvest of a few minute
seeds; so that this district is a poor one both for soft and hard billed
birds. Hawks of several genera, in moderate numbers, are there, but
generally keep to the marshes. Eagles and vultures are somewhat
unworthily represented by carrion-hawks (Polyborinae); the lordly
carancho, almost eagle-like in size, black and crested, with a very
large, pale blue, hooked beak--his battle axe: and his humble follower
and jackal, the brown and harrier-like chimango. These nest on the
ground, are versatile in their habits, carrion-eaters, also killers on
their own account, and, like wild dogs, sometimes hunt in bands, which
gives them an advantage. They are the unfailing attendants of all
flesh-hunters, human or feline; and also furiously pursue and persecute
all eagles and true vultures that venture on that great sea of grass, to
wander thereafter, for ever lost and harried, "the Hagars and Ishmaels
of their kind."

The owls are few and all of wide-ranging species. The most common is the
burrowing-owl, found in both Americas. Not a retiring owl this, but all
day long, in cold and in heat, it stands exposed at the mouth of its
kennel, or on the vizcacha's mound, staring at the passer-by with an
expression of grave surprise and reprehension in its round yellow eyes;
male and female invariably together, standing stiff and erect, almost
touching--of all birds that pair for life the most Darby and Joan like.

Of the remaining land birds, numbering about forty species, a few that
are most attractive on account of their beauty, engaging habits, or
large size, may be mentioned here. On the southern portion of the pampas
the military starling (Sturnella) is found, and looks like the European
starling, with the added beauty of a scarlet breast: among resident
pampas birds the only one with a touch of brilliant colouring. It has a
pleasing, careless song, uttered on the wing, and in winter congregates
in great flocks, to travel slowly northwards over the plains. When thus
travelling the birds observe a kind of order, and the flock feeding
along the ground shows a very extended front--a representation in
bird-life of the "thin red line"--and advances by the hindmost birds
constantly flying over the others and alighting in the front ranks.

Among the tyrant-birds are several species of the beautiful wing-banded
genus, snow-white in colour, with black on the wings and tail: these are
extremely graceful birds, and strong flyers, and in desert places, where
man seldom intrudes, they gather to follow the traveller, calling to
each other with low whistling notes, and in the distance look like white
flowers as they perch on the topmost stems of the tall bending grasses.

The most characteristic pampean birds are the tinamous--called
partridges in the vernacular--the rufous tinamou, large as a fowl, and
the spotted tinamou, which is about the size of the English partridge.
Their habits are identical: both lay eggs of a beautiful wine-purple
colour, and in both species the young acquire the adult plumage and
power of flight when very small, and fly better than the adults. They
have small heads, slender curved beaks, unfeathered legs and feet, and
are tailless; the plumage is deep yellowish, marked with black and brown
above. They live concealed, skulking like rails through the tall grass,
fly reluctantly, and when driven up, their flight is exceedingly noisy
and violent, the bird soon exhausting itself. They are solitary, but
many live in proximity, frequently calling to each other with soft
plaintive voices. The evening call-notes of the larger bird are
flute-like in character, and singularly sweet and expressive.

The last figure to be introduced into this sketch--which is not a
catalogue--is that of the Rhea. Glyptodon, Toxodon, Mylodon,
Megatherium, have passed away, leaving no descendants, and only pigmy
representatives if any; but among the feathered inhabitants of the pampa
the grand archaic ostrich of America survives from a time when there
were also giants among the avians. Vain as such efforts usually are, one
cannot help trying to imagine something of the past history of this
majestic bird, before man came to lead the long chase now about to end
so mournfully. Its fleetness, great staying powers, and beautiful
strategy when hunted, make it seem probable that it was not without
pursuers, other than the felines, among its ancient enemies, long-winded
and tenacious of their quarry; and these were perhaps of a type still
represented by the wolf or hound-like aguará and aguara-guazú. It might
be supposed that when almost all the larger forms, both mammal and bird,
were overtaken by destruction, and when the existing rhea was on the
verge of extinction, these long-legged swift canines changed their
habits and lost their bold spirit, degenerating at last into hunters of
small birds and mammals, on which they are said to live.

The rhea possesses a unique habit, which is a puzzle to us, although it
probably once had some significance--namely, that of running, when
hunted, with one wing raised vertically, like a great sail--a veritable
"ship of the wilderness." In every way it is adapted to the conditions
of the pampas in a far greater degree than other pampean birds, only
excepting the rufous and spotted tinamous. Its commanding stature gives
it a wide horizon; and its dim, pale, bluish-grey colour assimilates to
that of the haze, and renders it invisible at even a moderate distance.
Its large form fades out of sight mysteriously, and the hunter strains
his eyes in vain to distinguish it on the blue expanse. Its figure and
carriage have a quaint majestic grace, somewhat unavian in character,
and peculiar to itself. There are few more strangely fascinating sights
in nature than that of the old black-necked cock bird, standing with
raised agitated wings among the tall plumed grasses, and calling
together his scattered hens with hollow boomings and long mysterious
suspira-tions, as if a wind blowing high up in the void sky had found a
voice. Rhea-hunting with the bolas, on a horse possessing both speed and
endurance, and trained to follow the bird in all his quick doublings, is
unquestionably one of the most fascinating forms of sport ever invented,
by man. The quarry has even more than that fair chance of escape,
without which all sport degenerates into mere butchery, unworthy of
rational beings; moreover, in this unique method of hunting the ostrich
the capture depends on a preparedness for all the shifts .and sudden
changes of course practised by the bird when closely followed, which is
like instinct or intuition; and, finally, in a dexterity in casting the
bolas at the right moment, with a certain aim, which no amount of
practice can give to those who are not to the manner born.

This 'wild mirth of the desert,' which the gaucho has known for the last
three centuries, is now passing away, for the rhea's fleetness can no
longer avail him. He may scorn the horse and his rider, what time he
lifts himself up, but the cowardly murderous methods of science, and a
systematic war of extermination, have left him no chance. And with the
rhea go the flamingo, antique and splendid; and the swans in their
bridal plumage; and the rufous tinamou--sweet and mournful melodist of
the eventide; and the noble crested screamer, that clarion-voiced
watch-bird of the night in the wilderness. Those, and the other large
avians, together with the finest of the mammalians, will shortly be lost
to the pampas utterly as the great bustard is to England, and as the
wild turkey and bison and many other species will shortly be lost to
North America. What a wail there would be in the world if a sudden
destruction were to fall on the accumulated art-treasures of the
National Gallery, and the marbles in the British Museum, and the
contents of the King's Library--the old prints and' mediaeval
illuminations! And these are only the work of human hands and
brains--impressions of individual genius on perishable material,
immortal only in the sense that the silken cocoon of the dead moth is
so, because they continue to exist and shine when the artist's hands and
brain are dust:--and man has the long day of life before him in which to
do again things like these, and better than these, if there is any truth
in evolution. But the forms of life in the two higher vertebrate classes
are Nature's most perfect work; and the life of even a single species is
of incalculably greater value to mankind, for what it teaches and would
continue to teach, than all the chiselled marbles and painted canvases
the world contains; though doubtless there are many persons who are
devoted to art, but blind to some things greater than art, who will set
me down as a Philistine for saying so. And, above all others, we should
protect and hold sacred those types, Nature's masterpieces, which are
first singled out for destruction on account of their size, or
splendour, or rarity, and that false detestable glory which is accorded
to their most successful slayers. In ancient times the spirit of life
shone brightest in these; and when others that shared the earth with
them were taken by death they were left, being more worthy of
perpetuation. Like immortal flowers they have drifted down to us on the
ocean of time, and their strangeness and beauty bring to our
imaginations a dream and a picture of that unknown world, immeasurably
far removed, where man was not: and when they perish, something of
gladness goes out from nature, and the sunshine loses something of its
brightness. Nor does their loss affect us and our times only. The
species now being exterminated, not only in South America but everywhere
on the globe, are, so far as we know, untouched by decadence. They are
links in a chain, and branches on the tree of life, with their roots in
a past inconceivably remote; and but for our action they would continue
to flourish, reaching outward to an equally distant future, blossoming
into higher and more beautiful forms, and gladdening innumerable
generations of our descendants. But we think nothing of all this: we
must give full scope to our passion for taking life, though by so doing
we "ruin the great work of time;" not in the sense in which the poet
used those words, but in one truer, and wider, and infinitely sadder.
Only when this sporting rage has spent itself, when there are no longer
any animals of the larger kinds remaining, the loss we are now
inflicting on this our heritage, in which we have a life-interest only,
will be rightly appreciated. It is hardly to be supposed or hoped that
posterity will feel satisfied with our monographs of extinct species,
and the few crumbling bones and faded feathers, which may possibly
survive half a dozen centuries in some happily-placed museum. On the
contrary, such dreary mementoes will only serve to remind them of their
loss; and if they remember us at all, it will only be to hate our
memory, and our age--this enlightened, scientific, humanitarian age,
which should have for a motto "Let us slay all noble and beautiful
things, for tomorrow we die."

W. H. Hudson