« EelmineJätka »
although it is the one that caught it when young. The custom of planting the square with vegetables, and bringing together all the wild animals that can be collected, is doubtless an Indian one. The ancient Nicaraguans are said to have worshipped maize and beans; but the service may not have been dissimilar to our own harvest feasts.
We reached the edge of the savannahs of the plain of Segovia and began to ascend the high ranges that divide it from the province of Matagalpa, and soon entered a mountainous country. Our course at first lay up the banks of a torrent that had cut deeply into beds of boulder clay filled with great stones. The lower part of the range was covered with trees of various kinds, but none of them growing to a great height; higher up we reached the sighing pine trees; and higher still, the hills were covered with grass, and supported herds, of cattle. About noon, we reached a poor-looking hacienda near the top of the range. The proprietor owned about two hundred cattle, and lived in a house, mud-walled and grass-thatched, consisting of one room and a kitchen. Round the sides of the room were crowded eight rude bedsteads, and hammocks were slung across the centre. A mob of twenty-one men, womeD, and children, lived at the house, and must have herded together like cattle at night. There were a great number of half-clothed and naked children running about. The women, of whom there were six, made us some chocolate and tortillas ready, and we rested awhile. Before we left, the men came in with the milking cows and calves. There were two men on horseback, but as the country was too rough for riding fast, they were accompanied by three boys on foot, who were sweating profusely with running after the cattle. The calves were separated from the cows and fastened up. The cows would keep near the corral until the next morning, when they would be milked, and the calves turned out with them again.
We continued to ascend for a mile further, and then reached the top of the range, which was bare of trees and. covered with sedgy grass. Heavy rain came on with tremendous gusts of wind, and as the path lay along the very crest of the mountain range, we were exposed to all the fury of the storm. In some places the cargo mule was nearly blown down the steep slope, and the one I was riding had to stop sometimes to keep its feet. The wind was bleak, and we were drenched with rain, and very cold. Fortunately the storm of rain did not last for more than half an hour, but the high cold wind continued all the time we were on the ridge, which, was several miles long, with steep slopes on either side. We were glad when we got to a more sheltered spot, where some mountain oak trees protected us from the wind; and, at four o'clock, reaching a small scattered settlement called Sontuli, we determined to stay, early as it was, as it was Eito's birthplace, and his only sister, whom he had not seen for two years, lived there. All the hamlet were Eito's friends, and he had soon a crowd about him talking and laughing.
None of the lands around were enclosed—all seemed to be common property; and every family had a few cows and two or three brood mares. A little maize was grown, but the climate was rather too bleak and wet for it. We were now close to the boundary of the province of Matagalpa, and began again to hear of the drought
that had destroyed most of the maize crop in that province, although in Chontales, on one side of it, we had had rather more rain than usual, and in Segovia, on the other, we had seen that the crops were excellent. Probably the high ranges that bound Matagalpa on every side had intercepted the rains and drained the winds of their moisture.
Having made such an early halt, we intended to have made up for it by an equally early start the next morning, but were detained by our mules having strayed during the night, and it was seven o'clock before they could be found. We had a long day's journey before us, during which we should not be able to buy any provisions, so, over night, Bito's sister had cooked a fowl for us to take with us. She had married one of the smallest settlers of Sontuli, and, although still young and fresh-looking, had already three lusty children. The great number of children at all the houses had surprised me greatly, as I had been told that the country was decreasing in population. This, I have no doubt, is a mistake, and the inhabitants, if the country should remain at peace, would multiply rapidly.
On leaving Sontuli, the road led over mountain pastures and through woods of the evergreen oak draped from top to bottom with the grey moss-like Tillandsia, which bung in long festoons from every branch, and was wound around the trunks, like garlands, by the wind: the larger masses, waving in the breeze, hung down for four or five feet below the branches. The small birds build in them, and they form excellent hiding-places for their nests, where they are tolerably secure from the attacks of their numerous enemies. I had often, when in the tropics, to notice the great sagacity or instinct of the small birds in choosing places for their nests. So many animals: monkeys, wild-cats, racoons, opossums, and tree-rats, are constantly prowling about, looking out for eggs and young birds, that, unless placed with great care, their progeny would almost certainly be destroyed. The different species of Oropendula or Orioles (Icteridce) of tropical America choose high, smooth-barked trees, standing apart from others, from which to hang their pendulous nests. Monkeys cannot get at them from the tops of other trees, and any predatory mammal attempting to ascend the smooth trunks would be greatly exposed to the attacks of the birds armed, as they are, with strong sharp-pointed beaks. Several other birds in the forest suspend their nests from the small but tough air roots that hang down from the epiphytes growing on the branches, where they often look like a natural bunch of moss growing on them. The various prickly bushes are much chosen, especially the bulTs-horn thorn, which I have already described. Many birds hang their nests from the extremities of the branches, and a safer place could hardly be chosen, as with the sharp thorns and the stinging ants that inhabit them no mammal would, I think, dare to attempt the ascent of the tree. Stinging ants are not the only insects whose protection birds secure by building near their nests. A small parrot builds constantly on the plains in a hole made in the nests of the termites, and a species of fly-catcher makes its nest alongside of that of one of the wasps. On the savannahs, between Acoyapo and Nancital, there is a shrub with sharp curved prickles, called Viena paraca (come here) by the Spaniards, because it is difficult to Ch.XY.] SITES FOR BIRDS'-NESTS, 291
extricate oneself from its hold when the dress is caught: as one part is cleared another will be entangled. A yellow and brown fly-catcher builds its nest in these bushes, and generally places it alongside that of a banded wasp, so that with the prickles and the wasps it is well guarded. I witnessed, however, the death of one of the birds from the very meaDS it had chosen for the protection of its young. Darting hurriedly out of its domed nest as we were passing, it was caught just under its bill by one of the curved hook-like thorns, and in trying to extricate itself got further entangled. Its fluttering disturbed the wasps, who flew down upon it, and in less than a minute stung it to death. We tried v in vain to rescue it, for the wasps attacked us also, and one of our party was severely stung by them. We had to leave it hanging up dead in front of its nest, whilst its mate flew round and round screaming out terror and distress. I find that other travellers have noted the fact of birds building their nests near colonies of wasps for protection. Thus, according to Gosse, the grassquit of Jamaica (Spermophila olivacea) often selects a shrub on which wasps have built, and fixes the entrance to its domed nest close to their cells; and Prince Maximilian Neuwied states in his "Travels in Brazil," that he found the curious purse-shaped nest of one of the Todies constantly placed near the nests of wasps, and that the natives informed him that it did so to secure itself from the attacks of its enemies. I should have thought that when building their nests they would be very liable to be attacked by the wasps. The nests placed in these positions appear always to be domed, probably for security against their unstable friends.