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the rock, and orchids, ferns, and small shrubs grew in the clefts and on ledges. There were two fine orchids in flower, which grew not only on the rock, but on some stunted trees at its base; and beneath some fallen ocks nestled a pretty club-moss, and two curious little ferns (Ancimea oblongifolia and hirsuta), with the masses of spores on stalks rising from the pinnules. The rock was the same as that of Peña Blanca, but the vegetation was entirely distinct. To the south-west there was a fine view down the Juigalpa valley to the lake, with Ometépec in the distance, and some sugar-loaf hills nearer at hand. The weather had cleared up, white cumuli only sailed across the blue aerial ocean. The scene had no feature in it of a purely tropical character, excepting that three gaudy macaws were wheeling round and round in playful flight, now showing all red on the under surface, then turning all together, as if they were one body, and exhibiting the gorgeous blue, yellow, and red of the upper side gleaming in the sunshine; screaming meanwhile as they flew with harsh, discordant cries. This gaudy-coloured and noisy bird seems to proclaim aloud that it fears no foe. Its formidable beak protects it from every danger, for no hawk or predatory mammal dares attack a bird so strongly armed. Here the necessity for concealment does not exist, and sexual selection has had no check in developing the brightest and most conspicuous colours. If such a bird was not able to defend itself from all foes, its loud cries would attract them, its bright colours direct them, to its own destruction. The white cockatoo of Australia is a similar instance. It is equally conspicuous amongst the darkgreen foliage by its pure white colour, and equally its loud screams proclaim from afar its resting-place, whilst its powerful beak protects it from all enemies excepting man. In the smaller species of parrots the beak is not sufficiently strong to protect them from their enemies, and most of them are coloured green, which makes them very difficult to distinguish amongst the leaves. I have been looking for several minutes at a tree, in which were scores of small green parrots, making an incessant noise, without being able to distinguish one; and I recollect once in Australia firing at what I thought was a solitary "green leek” parrot amongst a bunch of leaves, and to my astonishment five "green leeks” fell to the ground, the whole bunch of apparent leaves having been composed of them. The bills of even the smallest parrots must, however, be very useful to them to guard the entrances to their nests in the holes of trees, in which they breed.
I believe that the principal use of the long sharp bill of the toucan is also that of a weapon with which to defend itself against its enemies, especially when nesting in the hole of a tree. Any predatory animal must face this formidable beak if seeking to force an entrance to the nest; and I know by experience that the toucan can use it with great quickness and effect. I kept a young one of the largest Nicaraguan species (Ramphastus tocard) for some time, until it one day came within reach of and was killed by my monkey. It was a most comical-looking bird when hopping about, and though evidently partial to fruit, was eager after cockroaches and other insects; its long bill being useful in picking them out of crevices and corners. It used its bill so dexterously that it was impossible to put one's hand near it without being struck, and the blow would always draw blood. That in the tropics birds should have some special development for the protection of their breeding-places is not to be wondered at when we reflect upon the great number of predatory mammals, monkeys, raccoons, opossums, &c., that are constantly searching about for nests and devouring the eggs and young ones. I have already mentioned the great danger they run from the attacks of the immense armies of foraging ants, and the importance of having some means of picking off the scouts, that they may not return and scent the trail for the advance of the main body, whose numbers would overcome all resistance.
After examining round the rock without finding any place by which it could be ascended, I rejoined Rito in the valley below, and we continued our journey. We passed over some ranges and wide valleys, where there was much grass and a few scattered huts, but
little cattle ; the country being thinly populated. On the top of a rocky range we stayed at a small house for breakfast, and they made us ready some tortillas. As usual, there seemed to be three or four families all living together, and there were a great number of children. The men were two miles away at a clearing on the edge of the forest, looking after their “milpas," or maize patches. The house, though small, was cleaner and tidier than the others we had seen, and in furniture could boast of a table and a few chairs, which showed we had chanced to fall on the habitation of one of the well-to-do class. The ceiling of the room we were in was made of bamboo - rods, above which maize was stored. The women were good-looking, and appeared to be of nearly pure Spanish descent; which perhaps accounted for the chairs and table, and also for the absence of any attempt at gardening around the house - for the Indian eschews furniture, but is nearly always a gardener.
We finished our homely breakfast and set off again, crossing some more rocky ranges, and passing several Indian huts with orange trees growing around them, and at two o'clock in the afternoon reached the small town of Comoapa, where I determined to wait for Velasquez. Looking about for a house to stay at, we found one kept by a woman who formerly lived at Santo Domingo, and who was glad to receive us; though we found afterwards she had already more travellers staying with her than she could well accommodate.
I had shot a pretty mot-mot on the road, and proceeded to skin it, to the amusement and delight of about a dozen spectators, who wondered what I could want with the “hide” of a bird, the only skinning that they had ever seen being that of deer and cattle. A native doctor, who was staying at the house, insisted on helping me, and as the mot-mot’s skin is very tough, he did not do much harm. The bird had been shot in the morning, and some one remarking that no blood flowed when it was cut, the doctor said, with a wise air, that that class of birds had no blood, and that he knew of another class that also had none, to which his auditors gave a satisfied “Como no” (“Why not?”). He also gave us to understand that he had himself at one time skinned birds, for being evidently looked up to as an authority on all subjects by the simple country people, he was unwilling that his reputation should suffer by it being supposed that a stranger had come to Comoapa who knew something that he did not. Having skinned my bird and put the skin out in the sun to dry, I took a stroll through the small town, and found it composed mostly of huts inhabited by Mestizos, with a tumbledown church and a weed-covered plaza. Around some of the houses were planted mango and orange trees, but there was a general air of dilapidation and decay, and not a single sign of industry or progress visible.
Velasquez arrived at dusk, having ridden from Libertad that day. About a dozen of us slung our hammocks in the small travellers' room, where, when we had all gone to rest, we looked like a cluster of great bats hanging from the rafters. No one could get along the room without disturbing every one else, and the next morning all were early astir. We got our animals saddled as soon as possible, and set off on our journey. It was a clear and beautiful morning, and a cool breeze from the north-east fanned us as we rode blithely over grassy savannahs and hills. High up in the air soared a couple of large black vultures, floating on the wind, and describing large circles without apparent movement or exertion, scanning from their airy height the country for miles around, on the look-out for their carrion food. Like all birds that soar, both over sea and land, when it is calm the vultures are obliged to flap their wings to fly; but when a breeze is blowing they are able to use their specific gravity as a fulcrum, by means of which they present their bodies and outstretched wings and tails at various angles to the wind, and literally sail. How often, when becalmed on southern seas, when not