Page images

a dozen individuals, although unable to get a glimpse of one of them, as they are mere brown specks on the branches, their metallic colours not showing from below, and the sound of their chirpings—or rather squeakings -being most deceptive as to their direction and distance from the bearer. My conclusion, after I got to know their voices in the woods, was that the bumming-birds around Santo Domingo equalled in number all the rest of the birds together, if they did not greatly exceed them. Yet one may sometimes ride for hours without seeing one. They build their nests on low shrubs—often on branches overhanging paths, or on the underside of the large leaves of the shrubby palm-trees. They are all bold birds, suffering you to approach nearer than any other kinds, and often flying up and hovering within two or three yards from you. This fearlessness is probably owing to the great security from foes that their swiftness of flight ensures to thein.

I have noticed amongst butterflies that the swiftest and strongest flyers, such as the Hesperido, also allow you to approach near to them, feeling confident that they can dart away from any threatened danger,—à misplaced confidence, however, so far as the net of the collector is concerned.

At the head of the tramway, near the entrance to the San Benito mine, we planted about three acres of the banks of the valley with grass. In clearing away the fallen logs and brushwoods, many beetles, scorpions, and centipedes were brought to light. Amongst the last was a curious species belonging to the sucking division of the Myriapods (Sugantia, of Brandt), which had a singular method of securing its prey. It is about three inches long, and sluggish in its movements; but from its tubular mouth it is able to discharge a viscid fluid to the distance of about three inches, which stiffens on exposure to the air to the consistency of a spider's web, but stronger. With this it can envelop and capture its prey, just as a fowler throws his net over a bird. The order of Myriapoda is placed by systematists at the bottom of the class of insects; the sucking Myriapods are amongst the lowest forms of the order, and it is singular to find one of these lowly organised species furnished with an apparatus of such utility, and the numberless higher forms without any trace of it. Some of the other centipedes have two phosphorescent spots in the head, which shine brightly at night, casting a greenish light for a little distance in front of them. I do not know the use of these lights, but think that they may serve to dazzle or allure the insects on which they prey. We planted two kinds of grasses, both of which have been introduced into Nicaragua within the last twenty years. They are called Pará and Guinea grasses, I believe, after the places from which they were first brought. The former is a strong succulent grass, rooting at the joints; the latter grows in tufts, rising to a height of four to five feet. Both are greatly liked by cattle and mules; large bundles were cut every day for the latter whilst they were at work on the tramway, and they kept in good condition on it without other food. The natural, indigenous grass that springs up in clearings in the neighbouring forest is a creeping species, and is rather abundant about Santo Domingo. It has a bitter taste, and cattle do not thrive on it, but rapidly fall away in condition if confined to it. They do better when allowed to roam about the outskirts of the forest amongst the brushwood, as they browse on the leaves of many of the bushes. This grass is not found far outside the forest, but is replaced on the savannahs by a great variety of tufted grasses, which seem gradually to overcome the creeper in the clearings on the edge of the forest; but at Santo Domingo the latter was predominant, and although I sowed the seeds of other grasses amongst it, they did not succeed, on account of the cattle picking them out and eating them in preference to the other.

There were many other paths leading in different directions into the forest, and I shall describe one of them, as it differed from those already mentioned, leading to the top of a bare rock, rising fully 1000 feet above Santo Domingo.

This rock, on the southern and most perpendicular side, weathers to a whitish colour, and is called Peña Blanca, meaning the white peak. It is visible from some points on the savannahs. During the summer months it is, on the northern side, covered with the flowers of a caulescent orchid (Ornithorhynchos) that has not been found anywhere else in the neighbourhood; and the natives, who are very fond of flowers, inheriting the taste from their Indian ancestors, at this time, often on Sundays ascend the peak and bring down large quantities of the blossoms. Its colour, when it first opens, is scarlet and yellow. With it grows a crimson Mackleania. Once when I made an ascent, in March, these flowers were in perfection, and in great abundance, and the northern face of the rock was completely covered with them. When I emerged from the gloomy forest, the sun was shining brightly on it, and the combination of scarlet, crimson, and yellow made a perfect blaze of colour, approaching more nearly to the appearance of flames of fire than anything I have elsewhere seen in the floral world.

The last ascent I made to the summit of Peña Blanca was in the middle of June 1872, after we had had about two weeks of continuously wet weather. On the 17th, the rain clouds cleared away, the sun shone out, and only a few fleecy cumuli sailed across the blue sky, driven by the north-east trade wind. I had on previous visits to the peak noticed the elytra of many beetles lying on the bare top. They were the remnants of insects caught by frogs; great bulky fellows that excited one's curiosity to know how ever they got there. Amongst the elytra were those of beetles that I had never taken, and as they were night-roaming species, I determined to go up some evening and wait until dark, with a lanthorn, to see if I could take any of them. We had one heavy shower of rain in the afternoon, so that the forest was very wet, and the hills slippery and difficult for the mule. The path ascends the valley of Santo Domingo, then crosses a range behind a mine called the “Consuelo," enters the forest, descending at first a steep slope to a clear brook; after crossing this, the ascent of the hill of Peña Blanca begins, and is continuous for about a mile to the top of the rock. The ground was damp, and the forest gloomy, but here and there glimpses of sunshine glanced through the trees, and enlivened the scene a little. I. startled a mountain hen (Tinamus sp.) which whirred off amongst the bushes. The dry slopes of hills are their favourite feeding-places, and around Peña Blanca they are rather plentiful; and so, also, in their season, are the curassows and penelopes. In the lower ground, the footmarks of the tapir are very frequent, especially along the small paths, where I have sometimes traced them for more than a mile. They are harmless beasts. One of our men came across one near Peña Blanca, and attacked and killed it with his knife. He brought in the head to me. It was as large as that of a bullock. I often tried to track them, but never succeeded in seeing one. One day in my eagerness to get near what I believed to be one, I rushed into rather unpleasant proximity with a jaguar, the “tigre ” of the natives. I had just received a fresh supply of cartridge cases for my breech-loader, and wishing to get some specimens of the small birds that attend the armies of the foraging ants, I made up three or four small charges of No. 8 shot, putting in only a quarter of an ounce of shot into each charge, so as not to destroy their plumage. I went back into the forest along a path where I had often seen the great footmarks of the tapir. After riding about a couple of miles, I heard the notes of some birds, and, dismounting, tied up my mule, and pushed through the bushes. The birds were shy, and in following them I had got about fifty yards from the path, to a part where the big trees were more clear of brushwood, when I heard a loud hough in a thicket towards the left. It was something between a cough and a growl, but very loud, and could only have been produced by a very large animal. Never having seen or heard a jaguar before in the woods, and having often seen the footprints of the tapir, I thought it was the latter, and thinking I would have to get very close up

« EelmineJätka »