What delightful days were spent with gun and camera, sometimes accompanied by B-, and sometimes, when he was prevented by his Consular duties, alone ! Not the least enjoyable part of the day's programme were the glorious gallops we had on our way there. There was generally a man sent on ahead with the cameras and luncheon basket, who brought back the horses, bringing them again for us at the close of the day.
Luckily (for me) the Baron was a bachelor, and so we were free to spend the evenings in our own way, skinning and preparing the slain, and identifying doubtful species. B- had in his library the latest edition of Naumann, with large, coloured plates. These volumes were constantly consulted, and were most useful in settling questions under discussion.
Among the ducks seen on this water were Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Sheldrake, White-eyed Pochard, Gadwall, and Pintail-all these in immense numbers. There were also great flocks of Coots and Spoonbills, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, occasionally Great White Herons, Avocets, Curlew, Redshanks, Night Herons, Snipe, Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plovers, Green Plovers, and many others swimming and wading about in the shallow water and feeding on the muddy shores. The great Yellow-legged Herring Gull floated overhead, uttering his curious laugh, and numberless Marsh Harriers quartered the reeds and skimmed over the water, intent on eggs or helpless young birds, frogs, or whatever else they could find ; and almost daily we could see a magnificent pair of Sea Eagles hunting for their daily food over marsh and hillside.
Booted Eagles, Bonelli's Eagle, and Short-toed or Snake Eagles I had seen before in Spain ; but the Sea Eagle was a new species in my experience, and as such all the more interesting.
One day we had a splendid view of both birds at close range as they quartered the reed-beds ; both male and female had perfectly white tails, and in the bright sun we could see every feather in their plumage through our glasses. It was a splendid sight, and we began to make plans for a search for their nest in a neighbouring forest, where we felt sure they must be breeding. The large flocks of Coots on the lagoon seemed to be a great attraction for them, and we often saw their attacks, and from a very considerable distance could hear the roar made by thousands of terrified Coots and Ducks rising from the water in a huge black mass. Doubtless many of the nearer birds would dive to avoid the " stoop" of the Eagle, that being the method generally ascribed to these birds in evading similar attacks, but this we were always too far away to witness. Gulls also form part of their prey. On one occasion I found the nest of a Yellow-legged Herring Gull (Lams cachinnans) which contained three eggs and the freshly-severed head of the bird. A perfect cloud of feathers layby the nest, showing where the body had been devoured. From the size and strength of the victim, which has a spread of wing of nearly five feet, the aggressor could have been nothing less than one of this pair of Eagles. The head was afterwards carried off, before I could fetch the camera to photograph the scene of the tragedy, by a Marsh Harrier ; but no Harrier would have the pluck to attack a bird far heavier and stronger than itself. Another time we saw the Eagle swoop at something on the other side of a low point of land, and on rowing to the spot found a freshly-killed Black-headed Gull, which the Eagle had left where it lay on seeing our approach.
An attempt was made to photograph these Eagles, which are also very fond of carrion, by laying out on one of the islands a large dog which we bought and killed. Focused on the carcase, and carefully hidden among the herbage, the automatic electric camera was placed, the shutter of which was connected to the dog's hind leg by a fine thread. This was left out all night, but our hopes of an automatic photograph were doomed to disappointment, for neither Eagles nor Vultures came near it, so far as we could tell, and the carcase was eventually disposed of by the humble but necessary 'gentile.'
On most of the islands in the lagoon was a nest of Larus cachinnans, but never did we see more than one nest on each island. Here, at all events, it appeared to be solitary in its breeding habits, and too distrustful of the predatory instincts of its own kind to nest in close proximity to one another. In like manner our Great Black-backed Gull, instead of nesting in colonies, like its smaller relatives, prefers to nest, each pair by itself, generally on the summit of some rock island. The three eggs were indistinguishable from eggs of the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). The birds also are similar, with the exception of their bright yellow legs and feet: those of the Herring Gull being flesh coloured.
Another conspicuous though much smaller bird on these islands, as well as along the shores of the lagoon, was the lovely little Black-headed Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla atricapilla). All the Wagtails are very graceful and very beautiful, the Grey Wagtail being perhaps the most elegant of our British Wagtails, though daintiness and elegance are the chief characteristics of the whole Wagtail family. But the strong contrast afforded by the jet black head and the bright yellow breast of this bird made it particularly striking and noticeable. They were very common, flitting about from one tall plant to another, and evidently beginning to breed; but though I searched carefully several times I was quite unable to find a nest. Possibly they had not yet commenced to build. That was the opinion I formed at the time, and it was probably correct, for the male birds were pursuing the hens, as though they were still busy pairing.
The Common Terns (Sterna fluviatilis) and Lesser Terns (Sterna minuta) were also in possession of their breeding-ground, and evidently about to begin ; but up to nearly the end of April I could find no eggs, though they were very excited and clamorous, in the usual Tern fashion, all the time I was searching.