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Waterton's Wanderings.
The Wanderings - The Second Journey, 1816.
Chapter 3
Chapter 3 Pages

• 1  • 2  • 3  • 4  • 5 • 6 • 7 • 8

⮞⯈ Chapter 1 ⮞⯈ Chapter 2

in Waterton's own words ... continued ...


▼ Chapter 3, p.1.

The Houtou, curious habit of trimming the tail and feathers, its habits. The Guianan Jay. The Boclora. Slight attachment of the feathers. The Cuia. Rice-birds. Cassique, their habit of mockery. Pendulous Nests. Gregarious nesting of different species. Woodpeckers of America and England. Kingfishers. Jacamara and their fly-catching habits. Toupiales. Manikins. Tiger-birds. Yawaraciri. Ant Thrushes. Parrot of the Sun. Aras or Macaws. Bitterns. Egret, Herons, etc. Goatsuckers. Whip-poor-Will. Superstitions. Tinamous. Powis and Maroudi. Horned Screamer. Trumpeter. King Vulture. Anhinga. Dangers of travel. Quartan ague.

The houtou ranks high in beauty amongst the birds of Demerara. His whole body is green, with a bluish cast in the wings and tail; his crown, which he erects at pleasure, consists of black in the centre, surrounded with lovely blue of two different shades; he has a triangular black spot, edged with blue, behind the eye extending to the ear, and on his breast a sable tuft consisting of nine feathers edged also with blue. This bird seems to suppose that its beauty can be increased by trimming the tail, which undergoes the same operation as our hair in a barber's shop, only with this difference, that it uses its own beak, which is serrated, in lieu of a pair of scissors. As soon as his tail is full grown, he begins about an inch from the extremity of the two longest feathers in it and cuts away the web on both sides of the shaft, making a gap about an inch long. Both male and female adonise their tails in this manner, which gives them a remarkable appearance amongst all other birds. While we consider the tail of the houtou blemished and defective, were he to come amongst us he would probably consider our heads, cropped and bald, in no better light. He who wishes to observe this handsome bird in his native haunts must be in the forest at the morning's dawn. The houtou shuns the society of man: the plantations and cultivated parts are too much disturbed to engage it to settle there; the thick and gloomy forests are the places preferred by the solitary houtou.

In those far-extending wilds, about daybreak, you hear him articulate, in a distinct and mournful tone, "houtou, houtou." Move cautious on to where the sound proceeds from, and you will see him sitting in the underwood about a couple of yards from the ground, his tail moving up and down every time he articulates "houtou." He lives on insects and the berries amongst the underwood, and very rarely is seen in the lofty trees, except the bastard siloabali-tree, the fruit of which is grateful to him. He makes no nest, but rears his young in a hole in the sand, generally on the side of a hill.

While in quest of the houtou, you will now and then fall in with the jay of Guiana, called by the Indians ibibirou. Its forehead is black, the rest of the head white, the throat and breast like the English magpie; about an inch of the extremity of the tail is white, the other part of it, together with the back and wings, a greyish changing purple; the belly is white. There are generally six or eight of them in company: they are shy and garrulous, and tarry a very short time in one place. They are never seen in the cultivated parts.

Through the whole extent of the forest, chiefly from sunrise till nine o'clock in the morning, you hear a sound of "wow, wow, wow, wow." This is the bird called boclora by the Indians. It is smaller than the common pigeon, and seems, in some measure, to partake of its nature: its head and breast are blue; the back and rump somewhat resemble the colour on the peacock's neck; its belly is a bright yellow. The legs are so very short that it always appears as if sitting on the branch: it is as ill-adapted for walking as the swallow. Its neck, for above an inch all round, is quite bare of feathers, but this deficiency is not seen, for it always sits with its head drawn in upon its shoulders. It sometimes feeds with the cotingas on the guava- and hitia-trees, but its chief nutriment seems to be insects, and, like most birds which follow this prey, its chaps are well armed with bristles: it is found in Demerara at all times of the year, and makes a nest resembling that of the stock-dove. This bird never takes long nights, and when it crosses a river or creek it goes by long jerks.

The boclora is very unsuspicious, appearing quite heedless of danger: the report of a gun within twenty yards will not cause it to leave the branch on which it is sitting, and you may often approach it so near as almost to touch it with the end of your bow. Perhaps there is no bird known whose feathers are so slightly fixed to the skin as those of the boclora. After shooting it, if it touch a branch in its descent, or if it drop on hard ground, whole heaps of feathers fall off: on this account it is extremely hard to procure a specimen for preservation. As soon as the skin is dry in the preserved specimen the feathers become as well fixed as those in any other bird.

Another species, larger than the boclora, attracts much of your notice in these wilds: it is called cuia by the Indians, from the sound of its voice. Its habits are the same as those of the boclora, but its colours different: its head, breast, back and rump are a shining, changing green; its tail not quite so bright; a black bar runs across the tail towards the extremity, and the outside feathers are partly white, as in the boclora; its belly is entirely vermilion, a bar of white separating it from the green on the breast.

▲ Chapter 3, p.1.

▼ Chapter 3, p.2.

There are diminutives of both these birds: they have the same habits, with a somewhat different plumage, and about half the size. Arrayed from head to tail in a robe of richest sable hue, the bird called rice-bird loves spots cultivated by the hand of man. The woodcutter's house on the hills in the interior, and the planter's habitation on the sea-coast, equally attract this songless species of the order of pie, provided the Indian-corn be ripe there. He is nearly of the jackdaw's size and makes his nest far away from the haunts of men. He may truly be called a blackbird: independent of his plumage, his beak, inside and out, his legs, his toes and claws are jet black.

Mankind, by clearing the ground and sowing a variety of seeds, induces many kinds of birds to leave their native haunts and come and settle near him: their little depredations on his seeds and fruits prove that it is the property, and not the proprietor, which has the attractions.

One bird, however, in Demerara is not actuated by selfish motives: this is the cassique. In size he is larger than the starling: he courts the society of man, but disdains to live by his labours. When Nature calls for support he repairs to the neighbouring forest, and there partakes of the store of fruits and seeds which she has produced in abundance for her aerial tribes. When his repast is over he returns to man, and pays the little tribute which he owes him for his protection. He takes his station on a tree close to his house, and there, for hours together, pours forth a succession of imitative notes. His own song is sweet, but very short. If a toucan be yelping in the neighbourhood, he drops it, and imitates him. Then he will amuse his protector with the cries of the different species of the woodpecker, and when the sheep bleat he will distinctly answer them. Then comes his own song again; and if a puppy-dog or a guinea-fowl interrupt him, he takes them off admirably, and by his different gestures during the time you would conclude that he enjoys the sport.

The cassique is gregarious, and imitates any sound he hears with such exactness that he goes by no other name than that of mocking bird amongst the colonists.

At breeding-time a number of these pretty choristers resort to a tree near the planter's house, and from its outside branches weave their pendulous nests. So conscious do they seem that they never give offence, and so little suspicious are they of receiving any injury from man, that they will choose a tree within forty yards from his house, and occupy the branches so low down that he may peep into the nests. A tree in Waratilla Creek affords a proof of this.

The proportions of the cassique are so fine that he may be said to be a model of symmetry in ornithology. On each wing he has a bright yellow spot, and his rump, belly and half the tail are of the same colour. All the rest of the body is black. His beak is the colour of sulphur, but it fades in death, and requires the same operation as the bill of the toucan to make it keep its colours. Up the rivers, in the interior, there is another cassique, nearly the same size and of the same habits, though not gifted with its powers of imitation. Except in breeding-time, you will see hundreds of them retiring to roost amongst the moca-moca-trees and low shrubs on the banks of the Demerara, after you pass the first island. They are not common on the sea-coast. The rump of this cassique is a flaming scarlet. All the rest of the body is a rich glossy black. His bill is sulphur-colour. You may often see numbers of this species weaving their pendulous nests on one side of a tree, while numbers of the other species are busy in forming theirs on the opposite side of the same tree. Though such near neighbours, the females are never observed to kick up a row or come to blows!

Another species of cassique, as large as a crow, is very common in the plantations. In the morning he generally repairs to a large tree, and there, with his tail spread over his back and shaking his lowered wings, he produces notes which, though they cannot be said to amount to a song, still have something very sweet and pleasing in them. He makes his nest in the same form as the other cassiques. It is above four feet long, and when you pass under the tree, which often contains fifty or sixty of them, you cannot help stopping to admire them as they wave to and fro, the sport of every storm and breeze. The rump is chestnut; ten feathers of the tail are a fine yellow, the remaining two, which are the middle ones, are black, and an inch shorter than the others. His bill is sulphur-colour; all the rest of the body black, with here and there shades of brown. He has five or six long narrow black feathers on the back of his head, which he erects at pleasure.

There is one more species of cassique in Demerara which always prefers the forests to the cultivated parts. His economy is the same as that of the other cassiques. He is rather smaller than the last described bird. His body is greenish, and his tail and rump paler than those of the former. Half of his beak is red.

You would not be long in the forests of Demerara without noticing the woodpeckers. You meet with them feeding at all hours of the day. Well may they do so. Were they to follow the example of most of the other birds, and only feed in the morning and evening, they would be often on short allowance, for they sometimes have to labour three or four hours at the tree before they get to their food. The sound which the largest kind makes in hammering against the bark of the tree is so loud that you would never suppose it to proceed from the efforts of a bird. You would take it to be the woodman, with his axe, trying by a sturdy blow, often repeated, whether the tree were sound or not. There are fourteen species here: the largest the size of a magpie, the smallest no bigger than the wren. They are all beautiful, and the greater part of them have their heads ornamented with a fine crest, movable at pleasure.

▲ Chapter 3, p.2.

▼ Chapter 3, p.3.

Click to enlarge It is said, if you once give a dog a bad name, whether innocent or guilty, he never loses it. It sticks close to him wherever he goes. He has many a kick and many a blow to bear on account of it; and there is nobody to stand up for him. The woodpecker is little better off. The proprietors of woods in Europe have long accused him of injuring their timber by boring holes in it and letting in the water, which soon rots it. The colonists in America have the same complaint against him. Had he the power of speech, which Ovid's birds possessed in days of yore, he could soon make a defence: "Mighty lord of the woods," he would say to man, "why do you wrongfully accuse me? Why do you hunt me up and down to death for an imaginary offence? I have never spoiled a leaf of your property, much less your wood. Your merciless shot strikes me at the very time I am doing you a service. But your shortsightedness will not let you see it, or your pride is above examining closely the actions of so insignificant a little bird as I am. If there be that spark of feeling in your breast which they say man possesses, or ought to possess, above all other animals, do a poor injured creature a little kindness and watch me in your woods only for one day. I never wound your healthy trees. I should perish for want in the attempt. The sound bark would easily resist the force of my bill; and were I even to pierce through it, there would be nothing inside that I could fancy or my stomach digest. I often visit them it is true, but a knock or two convince me that I must go elsewhere for support; and were you to listen attentively to the sound which my bill causes, you would know whether I am upon a healthy or an unhealthy tree. Wood and bark are not my food. I live entirely upon the insects which have already formed a lodgment in the distempered tree. When the sound informs me that my prey is there, I labour for hours together till I get at it, and by consuming it for my own support, I prevent its further depredations in that part. Thus I discover for you your hidden and unsuspected foe, which has been devouring your wood in such secrecy that you had not the least suspicion it was there. The hole which I make in order to get at the pernicious vermin will be seen by you as you pass under the tree. I leave it as a signal to tell you that your tree has already stood too long. It is past its prime. Millions of insects, engendered by disease, are preying upon its vitals. Ere long it will fall a log in useless ruins. Warned by this loss, cut down the rest in time, and spare, O spare the unoffending woodpecker."

In the rivers and different creeks you number six species of the kingfisher. They make their nest in a hole in the sand on the side of the bank. As there is always plenty of foliage to protect them from the heat of the sun, they feed at all hours of the day. Though their plumage is prettily varied, still it falls far short of the brilliancy displayed by the English kingfisher. This little native of Britain would outweigh them altogether in the scale of beauty.

A bird called jacamar is often taken for a kingfisher, but it has no relationship to that tribe. It frequently sits in the trees over the water, and as its beak bears some resemblance to that of the kingfisher, this may probably account for its being taken for one; it feeds entirely upon insects; it sits on a branch in motionless expectation, and as soon as a fly, butterfly, or moth pass by, it darts at it, and returns to the branch it had just left. It seems an indolent, sedentary bird, shunning the society of all others in the forest. It never visits the plantations, but is found at all times of the year in the woods. There are four species of jacamar in Demerara. They are all beautiful: the largest, rich and superb in the extreme. Its plumage is of so fine a changing blue and golden-green that it may be ranked with the choicest of the humming-birds. Nature has denied it a song, but given a costly garment in lieu of it. The smallest species of jacamar is very common in the dry savannas. The second size, all golden-green on the back, must be looked for in the wallaba-forest. The third is found throughout the whole extent of these wilds, and the fourth, which is the largest, frequents the interior, where you begin to perceive stones in the ground.

When you have penetrated far into Macoushia, you hear the pretty songster called troupiale pour forth a variety of sweet and plaintive notes. This is the bird which the Portuguese call the nightingale of Guiana. Its predominant colours are rich orange and shining black, arrayed to great advantage. His delicate and well-shaped frame seems unable to bear captivity. The Indians sometimes bring down troupiales to Stabroek, but in a few months they languish and die in a cage. They soon become very familiar, and if you allow them the liberty of the house, they live longer than in a cage and appear in better spirits, but when you least expect it they drop down and die in epilepsy.

Smaller in size, and of colour not so rich and somewhat differently arranged, another species of troupiale sings melodiously in Demerara. The woodcutter is particularly favoured by him, for while the hen is sitting on her nest, built in the roof of the woodcutter's house, he sings for hours together close by. He prefers the forests to the cultivated parts.

You would not grudge to stop for a few minutes, as you are walking in the plantations, to observe a third species of troupiale: his wings, tail and throat are black; all the rest of the body is a bright yellow. There is something very sweet and plaintive in his song, though much shorter than that of the troupiale in the interior.

▲Chapter 3, p.3.


▼ Chapter 3, p.4.

A fourth species goes in flocks from place to place, in the cultivated parts, at the time the indian-corn is ripe; he is all black, except the head and throat, which are yellow. His attempt at song is not worth attending to.

Wherever there is a wild fig-tree ripe, a numerous species of birds called tangara is sure to be on it. There are eighteen beautiful species here. Their plumage is very rich and diversified. Some of them boast six separate colours; others have the blue, purple, green and black so kindly blended into each other that it would be impossible to mark their boundaries; while others again exhibit them strong, distinct and abrupt. Many of these tangaras have a fine song. They seem to partake much of the nature of our linnets, sparrows and finches. Some of them are fond of the plantations; others are never seen there, preferring the wild seeds of the forest to the choicest fruits planted by the hand of man.

On the same fig-trees to which they repair, and often accidentally up and down the forest, you fall in with four species of manikin. The largest is white and black, with the feathers on the throat remarkably long; the next in size is half red and half black; the third black, with a white crown; the fourth black, with a golden crown, and red feathers at the knee. The half-red and half-black species is the scarcest. There is a creek in the Demerara called Camouni. About ten minutes from the mouth you see a common- sized fig-tree on your right hand, as you ascend, hanging over the water; it bears a very small fig twice a year. When its fruit is ripe this manikin is on the tree from morn till eve.

On all the ripe fig-trees in the forest you see the bird called the small tiger-bird. Like some of our belles and dandies, it has a gaudy vest to veil an ill-shaped body. The throat, and part of the head, are a bright red; the breast and belly have black spots on a yellow ground; the wings are a dark green, black, and white; and the rump and tail black and green. Like the manikin, it has no song: it depends solely upon a showy garment for admiration.

Devoid, too, of song, and in a still superber garb, the yawaraciri comes to feed on the same tree. It has a bar like black velvet from the eyes to the beak; its legs are yellow; its throat, wings and tail black; all the rest of the body a charming blue. Chiefly in the dry savannas, and here and there accidentally in the forest, you see a songless yawaraciri still lovelier than the last: his crown is whitish blue, arrayed like a coat of mail; his tail is black, his wings black and yellow; legs red; and the whole body a glossy blue. Whilst roving through the forest, ever and anon you see individuals of the wren species busy amongst the fallen leaves, or seeking insects at the roots of the trees.

Here, too, you find six or seven species of small birds whose backs appear to be overloaded with silky plumage. One of these, with a chestnut breast, smoke-coloured back, tail red, white feathers like horns on his head, and white narrow-pointed feathers under the jaw, feeds entirely upon ants. When a nest of large light-brown ants emigrates, one following the other in meandering lines above a mile long, you see this bird watching them and every now and then picking them up. When they disappear he is seen no more: perhaps this is the only kind of ant he is fond of. When these ants are stirring, you are sure to find him near them. You cannot well mistake the ant after you have once been in its company, for its sting is very severe, and you can hardly shoot the bird and pick it up without having five or six upon you.

Parrots and paroquets are very numerous here, and of many different kinds. You will know when they are near you in the forest not only by the noise they make, but also by the fruits and seeds which they let fall while they are feeding.

The hia-hia parrot, called in England the parrot of the sun, is very remarkable: he can erect at pleasure a fine radiated circle of tartan feathers quite round the back of his head from jaw to jaw. The fore-part of his head is white; his back, tail and wings green; and his breast and belly tartan.

Superior in size and beauty to every parrot of South America, the ara will force you to take your eyes from the rest of animated nature and gaze at him: his commanding strength, the flaming scarlet of his body, the lovely variety of red, yellow, blue and green in his wings, the extraordinary length of his scarlet and blue tail, seem all to join and demand for him the title of emperor of all the parrots. He is scarce in Demerara till you reach the confines of the Macoushi country: there he is in vast abundance. He mostly feeds on trees of the palm species. When the coucourite-trees have ripe fruit on them they are covered with this magnificent parrot. He is not shy or wary: you may take your blow-pipe and quiver of poisoned arrows and kill more than you are able to carry back to your hut. They are very vociferous, and, like the common parrots, rise up in bodies towards sunset and fly two and two to their place of rest. It is a grand sight in ornithology to see thousands of aras flying over your head, low enough to let you have a full view of their flaming mantle. The Indians find their flesh very good, and the feathers serve for ornaments in their head- dresses. They breed in the holes of trees, are easily reared and tamed, and learn to speak pretty distinctly.

▲ Chapter 3, p.4.

▼ Chapter 3, p.5.

Another species frequents the low-lands of Demerara. He is nearly the size of the scarlet ara, but much inferior in plumage. Blue and yellow are his predominant colours.

Along the creeks and river-sides, and in the wet savannas, six species of the bittern will engage your attention. They are all handsome, the smallest not so large as the English water-hen.

In the savannas, too, you will sometimes surprise the snow-white egret, whose back is adorned with the plumes from which it takes its name. Here, too, the spur-winged water-hen, the blue and green water-hen and two other species of ordinary plumage are found. While in quest of these, the blue heron, the large and small brown heron, the boatbill and muscovy duck now and then rise up before you.

When the sun has sunk in the western woods, no longer agitated by the breeze; when you can only see a straggler or two of the feathered tribe hastening to join its mate, already at its roosting-place, then it is that the goat-sucker comes out of the forest, where it has sat all day long in slumbering ease, unmindful of the gay and busy scenes around it. Its eyes are too delicately formed to bear the light, and thus it is forced to shun the flaming face of day and wait in patience till night invites him to partake of the pleasures her dusky presence brings.

The harmless, unoffending goat-sucker, from the time of Aristotle down to the present day, has been in disgrace with man. Father has handed down to son, and author to author, that this nocturnal thief subsists by milking the flocks. Poor injured little bird of night, how sadly hast thou suffered, and how foul a stain has inattention to facts put upon thy character! Thou hast never robbed man of any part of his property nor deprived the kid of a drop of milk.

When the moon shines bright you may have a fair opportunity of examining the goat-sucker. You will see it close by the cows, goats and sheep, jumping up every now and then under their bellies. Approach a little nearer--he is not shy: "he fears no danger, for he knows no sin." See how the nocturnal flies are tormenting the herd, and with what dexterity he springs up and catches them as fast as they alight on the belly, legs and udder of the animals. Observe how quiet they stand, and how sensible they seem of his good offices, for they neither strike at him nor hit him with their tail, nor tread on him, nor try to drive him away as an uncivil intruder. Were you to dissect him, and inspect his stomach, you would find no milk there. It is full of the flies which have been annoying the herd.

The prettily-mottled plumage of the goat-sucker, like that of the owl, wants the lustre which is observed in the feathers of the birds of day. This at once marks him as a lover of the pale moon's nightly beams. There are nine species here. The largest appears nearly the size of the English wood-owl. Its cry is so remarkable that, having once heard it, you will never forget it. When night reigns over these immeasurable wilds, whilst lying in your hammock you will hear this goat-sucker lamenting like one in deep distress. A stranger would never conceive it to be the cry of a bird. He would say it was the departing voice of a midnight murdered victim or the last wailing of Niobe for her poor children before she was turned into stone. Suppose yourself in hopeless sorrow, begin with a high loud note, and pronounce "ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha," each note lower and lower, till the last is scarcely heard, pausing a moment or two betwixt every note, and you will have some idea of the moaning of the largest goat-sucker in Demerara.

Four other species of the goat-sucker articulate some words so distinctly that they have received their names from the sentences they utter, and absolutely bewilder the stranger on his arrival in these parts. The most common one sits down close by your door, and flies and alights three or four yards before you, as you walk along the road, crying, "Who-are-you, who-who-who-are-you." Another bids you "Work-away, work-work-work-away." A third cries, mournfully, "Willy-come-go, willy-willy-willy-come-go." And high up in the country a fourth tells you to "Whip-poor-will, whip-whip- whip-poor-will."

You will never persuade the negro to destroy these birds or get the Indian to let fly his arrow at them. They are birds of omen and reverential dread. Jumbo, the demon of Africa, has them under his command, and they equally obey the Yabahou, or Demerara Indian devil. They are the receptacles for departed souls, who come back again to earth, unable to rest for crimes done in their days of nature; or they are expressly sent by Jumbo, or Yabahou, to haunt cruel and hard-hearted masters and retaliate injuries received from them. If the largest goat-sucker chance to cry near the white man's door, sorrow and grief will soon be inside: and they expect to see the master waste away with a slow consuming sickness. If it be heard close to the negro's or Indian's hut, from that night misfortune sits brooding over it: and they await the event in terrible suspense.

▲ Chapter 3, p.5.

▼ Chapter 3, p.6.

You will forgive the poor Indian of Guiana for this. He knows no better; he has nobody to teach him. But shame it is that in our own civilised country the black cat and broomstaff should be considered as conductors to and from the regions of departed spirits.

Many years ago I knew poor harmless Mary: old age had marked her strongly, just as he will mark you and me, should we arrive at her years and carry the weight of grief which bent her double. The old men of the village said she had been very pretty in her youth, and nothing could be seen more comely than Mary when she danced on the green. He who had gained her heart left her for another, less fair, though richer, than Mary. From that time she became sad and pensive; the rose left her cheek, and she was never more seen to dance round the maypole on the green. Her expectations were blighted; she became quite indifferent to everything around her, and seemed to think of nothing but how she could best attend her mother, who was lame and not long for this life. Her mother had begged a black kitten from some boys who were going to drown it, and in her last illness she told Mary to be kind to it for her sake.

When age and want had destroyed the symmetry of Mary's fine form, the village began to consider her as one who had dealings with spirits: her cat confirmed the suspicion. If a cow died, or a villager wasted away with an unknown complaint, Mary and her cat had it to answer for. Her broom sometimes served her for a walking-stick: and if ever she supported her tottering frame with it as far as the maypole, where once, in youthful bloom and beauty, she had attracted the eyes of all, the boys would surround her and make sport of her, while her cat had neither friend nor safety beyond the cottage-wall. Nobody considered it cruel or uncharitable to torment a witch; and it is probable, long before this, that cruelty, old age and want have worn her out, and that both poor Mary and her cat have ceased to be.

Would you wish to pursue the different species of game, well-stored and boundless is your range in Demerara. Here no one dogs you, and afterwards clandestinely inquires if you have a hundred a year in land to entitle you to enjoy such patrician sport. Here no saucy intruder asks if you have taken out a licence, by virtue of which you are allowed to kill the birds which have bred upon your own property. Here

You are as free as when God first made man,
Ere the vile laws of servitude began,
And wild in woods the noble savage ran.

Before the morning's dawn you hear a noise in the forest which sounds like "duraquaura" often repeated. This is the partridge, a little smaller than and differing somewhat in colour from the English partridge: it lives entirely in the forest, and probably the young brood very soon leaves its parents, as you never flush more than two birds in the same place, and in general only one.

About the same hour, and sometimes even at midnight, you hear two species of maam, or tinamou, send forth their long and plaintive whistle from the depth of the forest. The flesh of both is delicious. The largest is plumper, and almost equals in size the blackcock of Northumberland. The quail is said to be here, though rare.

The hannaquoi, which some have compared to the pheasant, though with little reason, is very common.

Here are also two species of the powise, or hocco, and two of the small wild turkeys called maroudi: they feed on the ripe fruits of the forest and are found in all directions in these extensive wilds. You will admire the horned screamer as a stately and majestic bird: he is almost the size of the turkey-cock, on his head is a long slender horn, and each wing is armed with a strong, sharp, triangular spur an inch long.

Sometimes you will fall in with flocks of two or three hundred waracabas, or trumpeters, called so from the singular noise they produce. Their breast is adorned with beautiful changing blue and purple feathers; their head and neck like velvet; their wings and back grey, and belly black. They run with great swiftness, and when domesticated attend their master in his walks with as much apparent affection as his dog. They have no spurs, but still, such is their high spirit and activity, they browbeat every dunghill fowl in the yard and force the guinea-birds, dogs and turkeys to own their superiority.

If, kind and gentle reader, thou shouldst ever visit these regions with an intention to examine their productions, perhaps the few observations contained in these wanderings may be of service to thee. Excuse their brevity: more could have been written, and each bird more particularly described, but it would have been pressing too hard upon thy time and patience.

▲ Chapter 3, p.6.

▼ Chapter 3, p.7.

Soon after arriving in these parts thou wilt find that the species here enumerated are only as a handful from a well-stored granary. Nothing has been said of the eagles, the falcons, the hawks and shrikes; nothing of the different species of vultures, the king of which is very handsome, and seems to be the only bird which claims regal honours from a surrounding tribe. It is a fact beyond all dispute that, when the scent of carrion has drawn together hundreds of the common vultures, they all retire from the carcass as soon as the king of the vultures makes his appearance. When his majesty has satisfied the cravings of his royal stomach with the choicest bits from the most stinking and corrupted parts, he generally retires to a neighbouring tree, and then the common vultures return in crowds to gobble down his leavings. The Indians, as well as the whites, have observed this, for when one of them, who has learned a little English, sees the king, and wishes you to have a proper notion of the bird, he says: "There is the governor of the carrion-crows."

Now the Indians have never heard of a personage in Demerara higher than that of governor; and the colonists, through a common mistake, call the vultures carrion-crows. Hence the Indian, in order to express the dominion of this bird over the common vultures, tells you he is governor of the carrion-crows. The Spaniards have also observed it, for through all the Spanish Main he is called Rey de Zamuros, king of the vultures. The many species of owls, too, have not been noticed; and no mention made of the columbine tribe. The prodigious variety of water-fowl on the sea-shore has been but barely hinted at.

There, and on the borders and surface of the inland waters, in the marshes and creeks, besides the flamingos, scarlet curlews and spoonbills already mentioned, will be found greenish-brown curlews, sandpipers, rails, coots, gulls, pelicans, jabirus, nandapoas, crabiers, snipes, plovers, ducks, geese, cranes and anhingas; most of them in vast abundance; some frequenting only the sea-coast, others only the interior, according to their different natures; all worthy the attention of the naturalist, all worthy of a place in the cabinet of the curious.

Should thy comprehensive genius not confine itself to birds alone, grand is the appearance of other objects all around. Thou art in a land rich in botany and mineralogy, rich in zoology and entomology. Animation will glow in thy looks and exercise will brace thy frame in vigour. The very time of thy absence from the tables of heterogeneous luxury will be profitable to thy stomach, perhaps already sorely drenched with Londo-Parisian sauces, and a new stock of health will bring thee an appetite to relish the wholesome food of the chase. Never-failing sleep will wait on thee at the time she comes to soothe the rest of animated nature, and ere the sun's rays appear in the horizon thou wilt spring from thy hammock fresh as the April lark. Be convinced also that the dangers and difficulties which are generally supposed to accompany the traveller in his journey through distant regions are not half so numerous or dreadful as they are commonly thought to be.

The youth who incautiously reels into the lobby of Drury Lane after leaving the table sacred to the god of wine is exposed to more certain ruin, sickness and decay than he who wanders a whole year in the wilds of Demerara. But this will never be believed because the disasters arising from dissipation are so common and frequent in civilised life that man becomes quite habituated to them, and sees daily victims sink into the tomb long before their time without ever once taking alarm at the causes which precipitated them headlong into it.

But the dangers which a traveller exposes himself to in foreign parts are novel, out-of-the-way things to a man at home. The remotest apprehension of meeting a tremendous tiger, of being carried off by a flying dragon, or having his bones picked by a famished cannibal: oh, that makes him shudder. It sounds in his ears like the bursting of a bombshell. Thank Heaven he is safe by his own fireside.

Prudence and resolution ought to be the traveller's constant companions. The first will cause him to avoid a number of snares which he will find in the path as he journeys on; and the second will always lend a hand to assist him if he has unavoidably got entangled in them. The little distinctions which have been shown him at his own home ought to be forgotten when he travels over the world at large, for strangers know nothing of his former merits, and it is necessary that they should witness them before they pay him the tribute which he was wont to receive within his own doors. Thus to be kind and affable to those we meet, to mix in their amusements, to pay a compliment or two to their manners and customs, to respect their elders, to give a little to their distressed and needy, and to feel, as it were, at home amongst them, is the sure way to enable you to pass merrily on, and to find other comforts as sweet and palatable as those which you were accustomed to partake of amongst your friends and acquaintance in your own native land.

▲ Chapter 3, p.7.

▼ Chapter 3, p.8.

We will now ascend in fancy on Icarian wing and take a view of Guiana in general. See an immense plain! betwixt two of the largest rivers in the world, level as a bowling-green, save at Cayenne, and covered with trees along the coast quite to the Atlantic wave, except where the plantations make a little vacancy amongst the foliage.

Though nearly in the centre of the Torrid Zone, the sun's rays are not so intolerable as might be imagined, on account of the perpetual verdure and refreshing north-east breeze. See what numbers of broad and rapid rivers intersect it in their journey to the ocean, and that not a stone or a pebble is to be found on their banks, or in any part of the country, till your eye catches the hills in the interior. How beautiful and magnificent are the lakes in the heart of the forests, and how charming the forests themselves, for miles after miles on each side of the rivers! How extensive appear the savannas or natural meadows, teeming with innumerable herds of cattle, where the Portuguese and Spaniards are settled, but desert as Saara where the English and Dutch claim dominion! How gradually the face of the country rises! See the sandhills all clothed in wood first emerging from the level, then hills a little higher, rugged with bold and craggy rocks, peeping out from amongst the most luxuriant timber. Then come plains and dells and far-extending valleys, arrayed in richest foliage; and beyond them mountains piled on mountains, some bearing prodigious forests, others of bleak and barren aspect. Thus your eye wanders on over scenes of varied loveliness and grandeur, till it rests on the stupendous pinnacles of the long-continued Cordilleras de los Andes, which rise in towering majesty and command all America.

How fertile must the low-lands be from the accumulation of fallen leaves and trees for centuries! How propitious the swamps and slimy beds of the rivers, heated by a downward sun, to the amazing growth of alligators, serpents and innumerable insects! How inviting the forests to the feathered tribes, where you see buds, blossoms, green and ripe fruit, full grown and fading leaves all on the same tree! How secure the wild beasts may rove in endless mazes! Perhaps those mountains, too, which appear so bleak and naked, as if quite neglected, are, like Potosi, full of precious metals.

Let us now return the pinions we borrowed from Icarus, and prepare to bid farewell to the wilds. The time allotted to these wanderings is drawing fast to a close. Every day for the last six months has been employed in paying close attention to natural history in the forests of Demerara. Above two hundred specimens of the finest birds have been collected and a pretty just knowledge formed of their haunts and economy. From the time of leaving England, in March 1816, to the present day, nothing has intervened to arrest a fine flow of health, saving a quartan ague which did not tarry, but fled as suddenly as it appeared.

And now I take leave of thee, kind and gentle reader. The new mode of preserving birds heretofore promised thee shall not be forgotten. The plan is already formed in imagination, and can be penned down during the passage across the Atlantic. If the few remarks in these wanderings shall have any weight in inciting thee to sally forth and explore the vast and well-stored regions of Demerara, I have gained my end. Adieu.


April 6, 1817.

From Wanderings in South America, the North-West of the United States, and the Antilles,
in the years 1812, 1816, 1820, & 1824.
With Original Instructions for the perfect preservation of Birds, Etc. for Cabinets of Natural History.
Charles Waterton, Esq.,
Introduction by the Rev. J. G. Wood, Macmillan and Co., 1880, London.

▲ Chapter 3, p.8.

Chapter 3 Pages

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