Page images
PDF
EPUB

all that were then said to be at "the Horn." The bird which we raised from the nest containing eggs, was thought by the gamekeeper to have no partner, as he had killed a male bird a few weeks before. I gazed for a long time at three of these eagles, both when they were at rest and on wing; at first through a telescope, but as they permitted a much nearer approach than was anticipated, I had afterwards an excellent and near view of them. The head and neck in every position appeared almost as white as the tail,* and was so distinguished from a great distance, more especially when thrown into relief by a dark rocky back-ground. One of these birds was pursued by several gulls (Larus canus?) and kestrels, which kept closely flying after, and sometimes even apparently striking him. A gull certainly once did so, but the eagle, "towering in his pride of place," did not deign even momentarily to notice any of his puny assailants.

Here to the present time these noble birds probably still maintain their ground. I learn from scientific friends t who visited Horn Head on the 4th of August, 1845, that from one point of view they saw five eagles, three old (as denoted by their white tails) soaring above, and two young (as was supposed from their darker plumage) flying along the face of the cliffs. At Tory Island, off this coast, the same party saw two sea eagles a few days afterwards, and were told that a pair, but never more, has always an eyrie there.

Under the Golden Eagle, it has been mentioned, that of the number thirteen or fourteen eagles killed at the Horn within four years,J *U Dut one individual were the Haliaetos albicilla. I was informed by a gentleman resident at Dunfanaghy, the village nearest to Horn Head, that in winter the sea eagle is comparatively numerous, and that he has sometimes seen as many as six or seven in company on the strand.* They are supposed to be attracted hither at this season by rabbits, which greatly abound at the Horn. In an article by John Vandeleur Stewart, Esq., on the Birds, &c, of Donegal, which appeared in the Magazine of Natural History for 1832 (p. 578), the golden eagle is mentioned as resident and rare; the sea eagle as resident and common. The author states that he had received three specimens of the latter for his museum in addition to five living eaglets, and fully describes the various stages of plumage the species undergoes. Mr. W. Sinclaire had a splendid bird of this species from the same locality. It likewise frequents Malin Head, the extreme northern point of Ireland. At Burt, also, in the county of Donegal, this species is said to be seen every year about the month of May. In the county of Antrim, the sea eagle has an eyrie at Fairhead, the most lofty and sublime of the basaltic promontories of the north-east coast. When visiting this place on the 16th of July, 1839, (accompanied by Mr. Selby and the Rev. E. Bigge,) a pair of these birds appeared soaring about the headland. An intelligent man, long resident in the neighbourhood, since stated, that they build annually, very early in the season, on the same platform of rock, and the number of young was always two, except in one year, when to the surprise of the people living in the vicinity, four eaglets made their appearance. These were all about the same size, and appeared in company with the two old birds. The man was questioned particularly respecting this circumstance, as no instance of the kind is perhaps on record; and although he could not say that the four young were actually seen in the nest, yet at the usual time of eaglets appearing on wing with their parents, four young birds unquestionably bore them company. Eagles are persecuted by the people here, for carrying off lambs, turkeys, and geese of tender age, as well as ducks and hens of all

a particular locality, not only in the breeding season, but throughout the year, it would seem that the species is monogamous, or pairs for life.

* The colour of the head and neck in preserved specimens of adult birds, (having the tail pure white,) examined by me, have presented considerable difference in this respect, and, though none had this portion of plumage altogether white, yet some were marked so faintly with very pale ash-grey, as to exhibit the appearance of soiled white, which, contrasted with the dark hue of the back and wings, gives from a distance the appearance above described.

t Mr. Edmund Getty, Mr. Geo. C. Hyndman, aad Mr. John Grattan, three of the most valuable members of the Scientific and Literary Institutions of Belfast.

J The reward alone could hardly have prompted the destruction of this number,— one shilling a head only being given by the proprietor of the Horn for them.

* Temminck remarks that this species is common in winter on the shores of Denmark. Man. d'Orn. de l*Eur. part 3, p. 27.

VOL. I. C

ages. One which was fired at, and wounded so as to be captured, struck its talons into the shooter's arm, giving him excessive pain, and did not loosen its hold until the leg was severed from its body. A pair only frequent Fairhead, except in autumn, when the young are still there. In the Island of Bathlin, the sea eagle is said to have an eyrie. This species, as well as the golden eagle, has been taken in Glenarm Park; and, on the 6th of September, 1837, two were seen in company on Galbally mountain, near the Garron Point. An adult bird was shot in the winter of 1842-43? at Larne Lough, under the following circumstances:—A wildfowl shooter was lying in ambush on the shore, in the hope that the flowing tide would bring some wigeon within range, when the eagle appeared overhead, intent, as he imagined, on his "game." The royal bird floating in the air looked down upon the swimming wild-fowl, expanded the claws of one of its feet, then clasped them together,—an act, perhaps, even more suggestive to the shooter of the bird's intent, than was the air-drawn dagger to Macbeth; and, before it could again clutch the air, the "charge" intended for the wigeon brought it to the ground. One pities the majestic bird falling a sacrifice under such circumstances, and wishes that the slayer had been imbued with the feeling of William Tell, as exemplified in the following passage:—

'Sealing yonder peak,

I saw an eagle wheeling near its brow,

O'er the abyss: his broad expanded wings

Lay calm and motionless upon the air,

As if he floated there without their aid,

By the sole act of his unlorded will,

That buoyed him proudly up. Instinctively

I bent my bow; yet kept he rounding still

His airy circle, as in the delight

Of measuring the ample range beneath;

And round about absorb'd, he heeded not

The death that threaten'd him. I could not shoot!

'Twas liberty!—I turned my bow aside,

And let him soar away 1"

J. Sheridan Knowles, William Tell.
Act 1, Scene 2.

In the Belfast mountains, far remote from any of its habitations, I was once, (October 2, 1832,) gratified by the sight of an eagle, which was soaring, attended first by one kestrel, and afterwards by two of these birds. The snowy whiteness of the tail proved it to be adult; it remained in view for about a quarter of an hour, then disappeared in the direction of the Cavehill. The last I have heard of being taken near Belfast, was trapped in the Deer Park, about thirty years ago.

Late in the autumn of 1844, two eagles were observed flying over Ballydrain, a few miles from Belfast, by the same person who supplied the information respecting the Fairhead birds. When asked, was he sure of their having been eagles, the reply was :—" Do you think I don't known the yelp of them ;" and truly, their barking or yelping cry is most peculiar.

When in August, 1836, at Sleive Donard,* the chief of the Mourne mountains, in the county of Down, a cliff situated quite inland, was pointed out as the "Eagle's rock;"—so named in consequence of having been at one period the eyrie of this bird. Our guide informed us, that eagles had not bred there of late years (their place being supplied by ravens), but that they annually build at less frequented places among the range of mountains. Here they are frequently met with by Lord Roden's gamekeeper, but are seldom seen so low down as Tollymore Park, where one only had been taken within the preceding nine years .t A well-known collector of objects of Natural History, who has spent much time among the mountains of Mourne, J stated in 1831, that he had at various periods seen three or four pairs of eagles there, and once visited a nest in an inland situation, containing two eggs. These birds were accused of committing great devastation, "killing a sheep every week," and very often sweeping down and bearing off a goose from the farm-yard. One of the finest sea eagles which has come under my own observation, was shot in that neighbourhood, (near Dundrum,) on the 13th of January, 1845, when in the act of pursuing the fowls in a farmer's yard. This bird was preserved for the late Marquis of Downshire, who kindly supplied me with all the information respecting it. "It weighed 10| lbs., measured three feet from the point of the beak to the end of the tail, and seven feet four inches from tip to tip of the wings."

* Montagu obtained two sea eagles from this mountain, which, although 2,796 feet in height, he terms "a mountainous precipice, or craggy cliff impendmg the sea." These birds "were, on their arrival at Bristol, detained by an officer of excise, upon the plea that there was a duty upon all singing birds 1"—Ornithological Diet. and Sujtp. The individual from which Pennant drew up his description was taken in Gnlway.

t Ten years afterwards, in May, 1846, the same keeper reported to me, that he "feared" (he then wanted eggs) there was but one eagle about the mountains of Mourne, where it is often seen at a particular rock.

% Mr. Patrick Boran.

When in June, 1834, at Achil Head (Mayo), which is fondly, but erroneously, believed by the inhabitants of the island, to approximate the shores of the western world more nearly than any other European land, and stretching out afar into the Atlantic, is rendered sublime, less from altitude than from the utter barrenness of its desolate and inaccessible cliffs, a suitable accompaniment to the scene appeared in a sea eagle, which rose startled from her nest on the ledge of an adjoining precipice. Mr. R. Ball, my companion on the occasion, thus referred to this eagle in a lecture delivered before the Zoological Society in Dublin :— "One of the most striking and valuable results of practical ornithology, is the extraordinary manner in which the scenery where a bird is first observed becomes impressed on the memory. I can see in my mind's eye the whole scene, when peering over a precipice at Achil Head, a sea eagle started from the rocks below, and ascended in spirals to a great height above Saddle Head, which towered over us. It was sunset of a summer evening. We were weary, hungry, foiled in the object which led us to the Head, and many miles from the place where we were to get food and rest. Yet the sight of this bird in its native wilds at once refreshed us, and I at least felt inspirited and repaid for a day of great fatigue. I could then enjoy the beauty of the scene, the' boldness of the rocks, the vastness of the great western ocean, dashing its waves in broken foam from the American coasts. The scathed majestic Saddle Head, the setting sun, the wild grandeur

« PreviousContinue »