Early in 1907 I received another commission to revisit the same countries in Eastern Europe as the previous year, in order to search for the larger raptorial birds, to procure more eggs of Pelecanus crispus and Ardea alba, and if possible to discover a breeding-place of Pelecanus onocrotalus in the Dobrudscha, together with any other species I could find.
An early start was necessary, and accordingly I left England on the 2nd of February in the hope of being perhaps able to find a nesting-place of the rare Lammergeier (Gypdetus barbatus), which is now on the verge of extinction in Europe. A very early breeder, its nesting-places in the most remote mountain ranges are extremely difficult to reach before the young are hatched on account of the deep snow which prevails in the early parts of the year. If it were not for this it would in all probability have been extinct before now, for the habit of laying out of strychnined carcases for wolves, by the shepherds and herdsmen in Spain, and other mountainous countries, has resulted in the destruction of great numbers of these and other raptorial birds, and they are in consequence of extreme rarity. A few pairs may still perhaps linger in the most inaccessible of the Spanish sierras, and these, with a pair or two in the Carpathians, and in Bosnia and Greece, are now all that remain in Europe.
My first intention was to visit a certain range in the Carpathians where I had heard of its recent existence, but at the last moment news of the exceptional depth of snow, which rendered the locality absolutely inaccessible, made an alteration of plans necessary. I went therefore instead, first of all to Corfu, to discover, if possible, the whereabouts of a nest from which a young bird had been taken in the previous year, and which was now a captive at a small wine shop in that island. It was thought probable that it had been procured from the mountains on the mainland opposite, either in Albania or Greece.
The journey began badly. There was much snow everywhere, and it was certainly cold, but I think on the whole that travelling outside on the roof of the carriage would have been preferable to my experience inside. The German idea of comfort when travelling apparently is to shut carefully all the windows and ventilators, to turn the steam-heating apparatus full on, and to stew in their own juice.
As my carriage was very full, and everybody smoked incessantly the thin and very rank cigars so popular in the Fatherland, I was very nearly poisoned with the foul atmosphere, reeking with vile tobacco and bottled-up Germans. Then, either when driving through Vienna, or at Budapest on my way to the hotel in an open cab I must have taken a bad chill. At any rate I felt so ill that I had to go straight to bed, and remained there about twenty-four hours before I felt equal to going to see my friends at the museum and the Ornithological Bureau.
Though I was anxious to start again as soon as I could, it was impossible to escape their hospitality, and we all met one day at the Zoo restaurant for a friendly dinner, at which I was the guest, and afterwards went over the gardens. These are not worthy of Budapest. In fact, instead of the restaurant being a necessary adjunct to the Zoo, this is merely a side attraction of the restaurant. The animals are badly housed, and not too well looked after.
This year the chief attraction was the lion's cage, where were to be seen two little lion cubs as playful as kittens, and to all appearance perfectly strong and healthy. There was a Lammergeier in good plumage, and one or two other interesting things ; but as a zoological gardens it is the worst I have yet seen, even worse than at Lisbon.
After these festivities I pushed on for Trieste and just caught the direct steamer to Durazzo. At this time of year there were no passengers, and I had the whole passenger accommodation of the steamer and the staff of stewards to myself. Even in the summer, when the boats are full, the Austrian-Lloyd service to the Dalmatian and Albanian ports does not pay. They confess to a very heavy loss, but are obliged to keep it up to earn the Government subsidy. It is all a part of the Austrian policy to keep up the Austrian influence, and to push Austrian trade in the Adriatic.
On February 10, in the morning, I found myself once more in Durazzo harbour, and presently landed on the rickety little wooden pier. Dreading the custom-house after my experience last year, I sent one of the boatmen with my card to the Baron, and waited a short time with my luggage outside. Marco, the kavass, soon appeared, the Baron being engaged, and we had the things carried in.
The photographic things were not noticed this time, but they soon discovered a bandolier of cartridges which put them on the right scent, and the gun and rifle were quickly unearthed, though I had taken them to pieces, packing the stocks and barrels separately. Then a box of revolver cartridges was found, and I was asked for the revolver. As it happened I had a revolver in my pocket and a single Smith & Wesson in my luggage, both of the same calibre, so I gave up the single barrel and stuck to the revolver. A walking-stick collecting gun which I had in my hand was not recognized, and consequently escaped ; but all the other weapons and a number of cartridges were confiscated in spite of all I could say or do.
Baron B--took me up to the Consulate for breakfast and introduced me to the Baroness his mother, and to his sister, who were staying with him for a short visit on their way back from Corfu. But he advised me to proceed at once by the same steamer to Corfu to investigate the Lammergeier, and return to Durazzo later. If I had known this before I need not have landed my luggage at all, and so should have saved a lot of bother. For the Customs officials positively refused to restore the guns, although I was leaving the country, and I was obliged to leave them in their clutches, and proceed to Corfu without them.
Baron B----, however, promised to do his best to effect their release, and I lost no time in writing to the British Consul in Scutari, whom I met last year, and to the Embassy at Constantinople. And on arrival at Corfu my first step was to interview there the British Consul, who took me to see the Turkish Consul.
All this combined influence brought to bear on the Turkish Customs was not without its due effect, for I presently heard from B--that the gun, rifle, pistol and cartridges had been duly delivered to him, and that he was sending them on by steamer. This was good news, though I did not want them delivered to me at Corfu in case of fresh troubles with the Greek Customs, so arranged to have them kept on board the steamer while she went on to finish her round at Constantinople and return, by which time I expected to be able to leave again for Durazzo.
The Lammergeier I had heard about was found without any difficulty at a wine shop at the little village of Achilleon, where the late Empress of Austria had a palace which has been recently purchased by the German Emperor. It was still in immature plumage, as was to be expected, seeing that it was only taken from the nest the year before. This nest, I was told, was in the Greek mountains on the mainland to the southwards. But the idea I had had of going there was abandoned. The winter had been of quite exceptional severity, and the mountain ranges of Europe generally were quite impassable with deep snow. From the island we could see the snowy summits of the Albanian mountains gleaming opposite, and I heard from some of the English sportsmen who make Corfu their head quarters for Woodcock and Wild Boar shooting expeditions in Albania that there was quite sixteen feet of snow in the mountains, and that the forests which clothed the lower slopes were completely covered. Under these circumstances, especially as I was still far from well, I considered it wise to give up the idea. Success even under the most favourable circumstances must necessarily be extremely uncertain ; the expense would be considerable, and if I knocked up completely from exposure and hardship I might be obliged to abandon the whole expedition and return home without accomplishing anything in return for the outlay, which would be incurred for nothing.
In Corfu itself there is very little to attract or interest the naturalist. Birds are few and far between, and during my short visit I saw many peasants parading their fields armed with rickety-looking guns with which they fired at every living thing they could see.
In a creek which nearly bisects the island at the back of the town, I found a good many Pygmy Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pygmeus). When I first saw them they were resting on some stakes, in the usual quaint Cormorant attitudes, drying their feathers, not far from a small fishing-house built in the water. Thither I repaired the next day with a camera, intent on a photograph, but found the distance too great. There were many Curlews feeding, also Mergansers and flocks of small Grebes, I think Podiceps nigricollis, but there was such a strong glaze and ripple on the water that I couldn't make out the species with any certainty. Black-headed Gulls, some of which were already acquiring their nuptial plumage, were numerous.
In the fields near the town were a few birds. Great Tits and Blue Tits were noticeable on account of their bright colours ; compared with our birds they looked positively brilliant. The Robin also was of the same familiar habits as at home. Blackbirds, Chaffinches, and Wrens were also seen. White Wagtails were running over the ploughed land and also Yellow Wagtails ; but whether these last were Motacilla flava or rail I am unable now to say. A solitary Magpie was the only one noticed, and in the distance I saw a yellowish-green bird flying which reminded me of Picus viridis; but the flight was direct and straight, not undulating like a Woodpecker. It alighted on the top of a tree, where I could see it perched through my glass ; but the distance was too great for me to be able to determine the species. A Woodpecker would have alighted, not at the top, but lower down, nearer the bottom, and worked its way up to the top. If it had been a month later I should have put it down for a female, or young male, Golden Oriole, the plumage of which much resembles at a distance that of the Green Woodpecker.
This is not a very long or interesting list of Corfu birds ; but I was only there a few days and made no long excursion into the island, which would no doubt repay a more careful search. But the weather was very bad, with heavy rain and cold winds nearly every day ; and I found it necessary to take things easy and take care of myself so as to be able to start work in earnest in Albania.
In spite, therefore, of the beautiful scenery, of which I had been able to see very little, I was very glad to leave Corfu, and to return to the hospitable roof of the Consulate at Durazzo.