Birds: A Retrospective

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

For the many birders in my life:

Arthur Button also relates a story about the aquatic fowl found here in southern Patagonia. The pictures are by Trent, taken from the shores of Puerto Natales. No longer are there “thousands” as reported by Button, but they are easy to spot, probably numbering less than 50 near the town.


The swans were not equal in number to the water-hens, [perhaps a variety
of /coot/, Ed.] but they too were countless from the point of Peninsula
Jamón, near Isla Guanaco, to the end of Ultima Inlet. They were so
numerous that one adventurer and writer, in his book "/A Rolling
Stone/", had the idea that a fortune could be made by traversing the
canals with a net, a mile long approximately, and drawing it in. I
venture to say it would not answer, but the idea gives you the number of
birds: there were thousands.

The white or /cuckeroo/ [/coscoroba coscoroba/, Ed.] swan is much tamer
than the white and black [/cygnus melancorypus/ or /'cisne de cuello
negro'/, Ed.]: its sense of curiosity brings it near your boat or near
shore, to where you are working. One day I was occupied for some four
hours, cutting firewood near the beach. There were some eight swans,
twenty yards from me. At this time, a friend came down to see me. We
talked for some time, and then he asked how I reared the swans: wouldn't
the eight eggs be too much for one sitting hen? I told him they were
/silvestre/, [wild, Ed.] and were tame because I did not frighten or
molest them. Those some two hundred yards away came sometimes: there
were some 250 of them.

"They are beautiful to see."

"Yes, that is what all persons say. It's a lovely sight when they arrive
at top of that bank, but I am always expecting someone to fire at them;
and, if they do, the swans will certainly go and my taming will be of no

A few days later, a number of visitors came. The sight was magnificent,
and they were very happy with the vista. Some few days after, a number
of persons /medio curados/ [half drunk, Ed.] came, who wear too large a
hat to cover their brains. These persons fired at them: they did not
kill one, but the shot no doubt injured many. They flew up, like a white
cloud, and away they flew.

That was in the year 1925, and not until this year, 1948, has there been
more than four, eight or ten swans. It has taken twenty-three years for
them to forget the injury: various times this year, I counted twenty to
two hundred. People will not think that birds and animals suffer. But I
am sure they inform each other, just like human beings.