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astonished when assured by the old boatman that he was " the blue hunting hawk.” His nest was afterwards harried by a boat's crew, from North Berwick, who came for the purpose in the night. Well did I know the peregrine, and had often admired his graceful bearing among his native hills. The sable tenant of desolation was an equally familiar acquaintance; and that I should have so strangely mistaken both was sufficient proof of the vast height to which I looked.
Intending to shoot some specimens, I had brought my duck gun; and, at the first shot, killed a puffin or sea parrot, called a Tommy Norie by the old sailor in command of our craft. These pretty birds are very shy, although a good many haunt the landing bay. They always lay their one egg out of sight, and never upon the ledges of the rock. One or two were hatching in the holes of the prison where our fearless reformer was confined; when peeping out with their quaint bills, they had an ancient look that reminded one of sturdy John, with his slouched hat, looking out of his loophole window.
The razor-bills are now scarce on the rock; they are more retired in their habits, and apt to conceal themselves in the clefts. I was fortunate in getting a chance at a very
fine one flying past, and knocked him over.
There are none of the small black guillemot on the Bass, although they often batch on the Island of May. The common kind, called by our boatmen marrats,” are very numerous. They are ranged along the cliffs like companies of soldiers ; and half-a-dozen might often be strung at a shot. The kittiwakes are always perched at a good height upon a narrow ledge. I shot a couple of these beautiful little gulls at one discharge, which toppled almost into the boat.
A few knots were flitting from rock to rock at the base; I also slew a couple of them.
There is a long narrow cavern right through the island, which every year harbours a pair of small green cormorants or shags; but the great cormorant only frequents the Bass in winter. We rowed into this cave and hallooed several times. Just when we had got to the point where a sulky rock barred our further progress, and given up hope, out she flew over our heads, and within ten yards' distance. I stumbled, from the looming swell, in rising to fire, or I could easily have shot her. I did not want a specimen, so it was just as well the poor bird escaped.
We now landed at Tommy Norie Bay, and ascended the rock. Rabbits had been introduced by the present tenant some years ago, and have increased to a great extent. They were popping in and out of Blackadder's cell; a most wretched hole, with a small aperture for a window. We were told, however, that when removed there, from one much more comfortable, his health had wonderfully recruited; a circumstance I could nowise attribute to any salubrity in the abode, but to the merciful care of God over his faithful servants.
The rabbits seemed also to have taken a great fancy to the old chapel. Several were dotting about inside, among the nettles, and had no means of exit, as we stood at the door. Their only enemies here are the raven and the peregrine. We saw the bones of a guillemot, which the latter had lately picked. On the top was a colony of gulls. There were two pairs of the greater black-backed or giant gull, and several pairs of the herring-gull. We were fortunate in spying one of the nests of the giant with two eggs. The boatman assured us they were fresh, as three
was the usual number. Shortly after, we detected a herring-gull's with the full complement. The old tar was more doubtful of them. We therefore took the whole lot to what they call “the Spring;” (though one accustomed to the pure springs of the Highlands is loath to allow it the name ;) and old Jack was right, for the large gull's eggs sank like stones ; while the herring-gull's rose up on end, but did not come to the top. We thus saw that they had been sat u
time, but not long enough to prevent them from being blown. There are one or two more of these wells, from half a foot to three feet deep, with soft oozy bottoms. They afford drink to a few sheep pastured upon the rock. At the fall of last year, there were ten white-faced, seven-months' old, lambs put on; but the half died. Had they been the black-faced, and a little older, they would have thriven apace; as the grass
very nutritious, and there is fine shelter in the clefts from every winter storm, whatever its drift.
If the look-up was astounding, the look-down was ap palling. I certainly felt little inclined to covet the esteemed post of cliffman; which office, the old sailor told me, with no small pride, his father had held for thirty years.
He had succeeded him for a few years; but gave it up, as he was too weak to throw the
solands clear of the rock into the sea beneath. To do this effectually requires a very powerful arm. Many years ago, an aspiring blacksmith, trusting to his ponderous strength, offered to descend the Bass Rock. The ropes were adjusted, and he was lowered over the first shelf. As soon as he caught sight of the blue sea, and abyss between, he went raving mad and would not move. The people in the boat below perceived his state, and made signs to let
him down, which was done by main force. It took several men to hold him in the boat; but, in about a month, he regained his faculties. He is now an old man; but to this day has never spoken slightingly of a cliffman's duties, or volunteered his unsolicited services.
About sixty years ago, when Canty Bay was much infested by smugglers, there lived below Tantallan a family of the name of Kelly. They were men of great resolution and herculean strength. The old tar said he had seen one of them take a pipe of smuggled wine upon his knee and drink out of the “ bunghole.” He was not at all pleased to see me smile at the relation of this feat. The grandson of this family had the reputation of being the best cliffman that ever descended the Bass. Upon one occasion he was searching above, and one of his uncles in the boat below; a very small pebble was dislodged near the top, and struck the uncle upon his thick sea hat. It cut through the hat, stuck into his skull, and, before they could row ashore, he had nearly bled to death. The
geese are sometimes maimed in the same way.
Adams, the renter of the Bass, is very dexterous in the management of the ropes above; which considerably lessens the risk of descent. There are regular periods in the year for this perilous work. The first search takes place at the beginning of summer, to gather the eggs of the guillemots, kittiwakes, &c.; and another in August, to collect the young gannets, which are stripped of their down, and then sold in the Edinburgh and other markets for sixpence apiece. The eggs of the gulls and kittiwakes are excellent; but those of the guillemots, razor-bills, and puffins, are rank tasted.
I was amused to see the high mark they set upon the
“purple geese,” or those which have speckled backs, in consequence of not having quite shed the brown feathers. They are about three years old, and the beauty of the bird is in exact ratio to the brown spots on its back. For my part, I thought the pure white much handsomer. To please the old boatman, I shot a “purple,” as well as a snowy specimen to stuff, and another pure white bird for his feathers, to dress sea flies. They are superior for this purpose even to those of a swan.
Numbers of gannets flitted past with billfuls of decayed sea weed for building their nests. They were formed entirely of this material, as we ascertained from examining the habitations of the two colonies which have been obliged to nidify on the top of the rock, all the shelves and ledges on the face being forestalled. They were so tame at these two places as often to refuse to move until kicked off the nest. They then stood chattering with open bill, and if you attempted to touch them would inflict a severe bite. Their threatening attitudes were ludicrously pompous. One year,
the whole west side of the rock was depopulated, from fishermen and others having shot them, when they wandered up the firth in August, after an unusually long continued shoal of herrings. The manner of the soland's attack upon these shoals is very curious. From a height of fifty or sixty feet, he comes down into the deep head foremost, with the solidity of a stone. I have watched a dozen follow each other in regular succession-keeping as true time as the ticking of a clock.
When they emerge, they don't repeat the operation for some time, and fly out of the water with a lazy lagging flap.
Gentlemen often practise rifle shooting at the geese. The site of some of their exploits was pointed out. One