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J. C. H. Fischer: “Der faroeische Zaunkoenig,” Journal fuer Ornithologie, IX. p. 14. Cassel, 1861. 8vo.
John HANcock: “Remarks on the Greenland and Iceland Falcons,” Annals of Natural History, II. p. 241. London, 1838. 8vo. “Note on the Greenland and Iceland Falcons,” Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 2nd ser. XIII. p. 110. London, 1854. 8vo. W. J. HookER: Journal of a Tour in Iceland, &c. 2nd ed. London, 1813. 2 vols. 8vo. Niels HoRREbow: Tilforladelige Esterretninger om Island, &c. Kjoebenhavn, 1752. 8vo. THEOBALD KRUEPER: “Der Myvatn und seine Umgebung," Naumannia, VII. Heft i. p. 33, Heft ii. p. 1; “Die Inseln des Myvatn,” idem, Heft ii. p. 33; “Ornithologische Miscellen,” idem, Heft. ii. p. 436. Leipzig, 1857. 8vo. FREDERICK METCALFE: The Ozonian in Iceland, &c. London, 1861. 8vo.
N. Mohr: Forsoeg til en Islandsk Naturhistorie, &c. Kjoebenhavn, 1786. 8vo. ALFRED Newton: “Abstract of Mr. J. Wolley's Researches in Iceland respecting the Gare-Fowl,” Ibis, III. p. 374. London, 1861. 8vo. On the Zoology of Ancient Europe, &c. London and Cambridge, 1862. 8vo.
EGGERT OLAFSEN: Reise igiennem Island, &c. Soroe, 1772. 2 vols, 4to. OLAUs OLAvius: Oeconomisk Reyse, &c. Kjoebenhavn, 1780. 2 vols. 4to. Thomas PENNANT: Arctic Zoology, &c. London, 1784. 3 vols. 4to. William PREYER: Reise nach Island im Sommer 1860. Leipzig, 1862, 8vo. “Ueber Plautus impennis,” Journal fuer Ornithologie, X. pp. 110 and 339. Cassel, 1862. 8vo.
WILLIAM Proctor : “Notes on an Ornithological Tour in Iceland,” Naturalist,
* These I myself have not seen.
JAPETUs STEENSTRUp: “Et Bidrag til Geierfuglens Naturhistorie,” &c., Widenskabelige Meddelelser for Aaret 1855, p. 33. Kjoebenhavn, 1856–1857. 8vo.
CHARLEs TEILMANN: Forsoeg til en Beskrivelse af Danmarks og Islands Fugle, &c.” Ribe, 1823. 8vo.
F. A. L. ThienEMANN: Naturhistorische Bemerkungen, &c.” Leipzig, 1824 (?). 8vo.
WALTER CALVERLEY TREvelyAN (?): Historical and Descriptive Account of Iceland, &c. 4th ed. Edinburgh, 1840.
J. C. C. WALTER: Nordisk Ornithologie, &c." Copenhagen, 1842. Fol.
JoHN Wolley: “On the Birds of the Faroe Islands,” &c., Contributions to Ornithology, III. Edinburgh, 1850. 8vo.
OLAUs WoRM: Museum Wormianum, &c. Lugduni-Batavorum, 1655. Fol.
From a consideration of the above-mentioned works, or at least of such of them as I have examined, coupled with my own personal experience of the country, I am inclined to believe that Iceland offers a field of considerable promise to the ornithologist; and though it is not to be at all expected that any previously undescribed species of birds will reveal themselves, yet many possessing great interest commonly frequent both the coast and the interior. Besides which, it is not beyond the bounds of probability that one or two of those whose places of retreat during the nesting season, if not altogether unknown, are still shrouded in much mystery, may be found breeding on some lonely Icelandic “heiði.” Of these I might mention the Knot, and the Sanderling, and perhaps even the Grey Plover (Squatarola helvetica) —though this latter bird, of almost ubiquitous occurrence, does not seem hitherto to have been met with in the island—as likely to reward the search of some future investigator. The character of the Avi-fauna of the country, as might have been expected from its geographical position, is essentially European; just as that of Greenland has American tendencies. Indeed, dismissing from our consideration the species of purely Polar type, which are common to the whole Arctic region, there are, as far as my knowledge extends, only four or five which make Iceland their home without inhabiting some other part of continental Europe. These are the Iceland Falcon, the Northern Wren (which, however, does occur as a resident in the Faeroes), the Iceland Ptarmigan, the Iceland Golden-eye, and the Harlequin Duck. The first is by most ornithologists of the present day recognized as distinct from the true Gyr-Falcon, and though the differences between them are but slight, I believe no one has ever observed the characteristics of the Scandinavian form in an Icelandic specimen. The second has been but lately separated from our own Common Wren, which is a bird as well known throughout the greater part of the Continent as in this country, but I believe the separation is deserved. The third, the Ptarmigan, certainly differs in some respects very considerably from the bird which occurs in Scotland and Norway, and much more nearly resembles the form found in Greenland. The fourth and fifth are most unquestionably distinct species; and both are found breeding over a good part of the Arctic portion of the New World, while neither occurs in the rest of Europe, except accidentally. I am only aware of one species which does not properly belong to Europe, and which yet occurs frequently in Iceland without breeding there—this is the Greenland Falcon.” Before proceeding to a detailed and technical list of the birds of Iceland, the reader of this work might perhaps wish to have placed before him a sort of general summary of the ornithology of the country. For it always happens that many of the species which swell the bulk of a local catalogue make but little show in the eyes of a traveller, and are entirely wanting in the pictures which memory recalls to his mind. To begin then with the Falcons, which (for so many centuries more highly prized than any others by all the nations of Europe) are yet to be found in greater plenty in Iceland than elsewhere, and are as much sought for by collectors now as formerly by kings or emperors. Almost exterminated in the British Islands, in Iceland the White-tailed Eagle is still constantly seen perched in solitary grandeur on the rocky shore, while the courageous little Merlin glides over the hill-tops, striking fear and silence into the Titlark and the Wheatear, the White Wagtail, and the Snow Bunting. Wherever the birch or the willow attains the height of a man, there may the monotonous twitter of the Redwing, followed by a low inward warble, be heard by the traveller. Companies of Ravens throng every fishing settlement, and obtain a plentiful subsistence from the offal by which it is surrounded. The Ptarmigan, as I have above said, in plumage if not in species distinct from that which haunts the mountains of Scotland, the fjelds of Norway, or the Alps and Pyrenees of Southern Europe, utters its strange guttural croak among the contorted slabs of the lava streams. Where the turf is softest and greenest, the Golden Plover, by its tameness, provokes the passer-by to unsling his gun—unless, indeed, his hunger being satisfied (not an every-day event in Iceland), he is disposed to take a more merciful view of its familiarity. Along the shore, flocks of wheeling Turnstones, Ring-Dotterels, Dunlins, and other less common kinds of Sandpipers, attract the attention of even the most unobservant. The merry whistle of the Redshank contrasts with the discontented wail of the wary Whimbrel, as keeping well out of shot, he rises lightly from the barren moor. While from the marsh the “zick zack, zick zack” of the Snipe sounds cheerily, and suggests to the sportsman recollections of former, or visions of future, visits to some well-remembered bog or fen, far away across the south-eastern sea. As he strives to ascertain the source of some secluded hot-spring, which in more accessible districts would outrival Buxton or Aix, he may perhaps catch a glimpse of a Water-Rail creeping stealthily through the luxuriant herbage. At almost any of the numerous pools throughout the country, the Red-necked Phalarope is to be seen busily seeking its food round the margin, or, like a graceful naiad, reposing quietly on the smooth surface in the
* These I myself have not seen.
* A pretty full recapitulation of all that has been written on the question of the Great Northern Falcons (Falco gyrfalco, Falco islandicus, and Falco candicans) will be found in the Ibis for January, 1862, pp. 43-53 inclusive.
softened glow of the Northern midnight. Here, on a patch of semi-natant bog-bean, the weird-looking Horned Grebe piles a mass of water-weeds, dragged from the muddy bottom, whereon to deposit its chalky eggs; while overhead a swarm of Arctic Terns assail the wayfarer's ears with their shrill shrieks, and should he stop to examine one of the mottled living powderpuffs he finds crouching in the grass, almost threaten his eyes with their sharp beaks. On some wide lake or far-receding fjord, a single Northern Diver may be descried, spirit-like, disappearing and reappearing almost without causing a ripple, until, having finished his fishing, he flaps heavily along the surface, leaving a wake like that of a steamer, and then mounting to a vast height finally vanishes in quest of his mate, whom he left brooding her dingy eggs far beyond the rocky ridge, to cross which would cost us two hours' hard work; while long after he is out of sight, his wild scream, like a cry of human agony, reaches us, and jars our feelings by its discord with the placid scene so lately before us. Where the stream rushes fastest and foams most furiously over its stony bed there is the home of the quaintly-marked and yet beautiful Harlequin Duck, so rare a visitant to other parts of Europe. To the upland tarn resorts the Long-tailed Duck, while the Teal, the Widgeon, and the Pintail frequent the less bleak lakes, on the islands of which, secure from the ravages of the Arctic Fox (the only beast of prey in the country), they rear their young, in company with the Scoter, the Scaup, and the Icelandic Golden-eye. On yonder grassy plains, intersected by the innumerable rivers that spring from those distant jökuls of eternal ice, there yet assemble (but not, alas ! in numbers as of yore) a goodly company of wild Swans. There they make their domestic arrangements, proclaiming their completion with the glorious sound of the trumpet. There they lay their elephantine eggs; and there—O joyful moment!—they lead forth their infant train, too often, indeed, only to suffer capture and death at the hands of the neighbouring peasants, or, if they survive these casualties, to fall the victims of Southern gunners. The Eider, throughout Northern Europe the chief friend of man amongst birds, inhabits islets, either natural or artificially constructed, which are guarded from intrusion by the lords of the soil as jealously as any Norfolk game-preserve or Oriental harem, and testifies, by its familiarity, to the effectual means taken for its security. It is, indeed, in Iceland, as in other lands over which it ranges, almost a domesticated fowl, and readily occupies the nesting places prepared for its accommodation, paying valuable tithe and toll in down and eggs for the protection it enjoys. Seawards small parties of Gannets may be seen circling over the same spot, heavily plunging one after another beneath the surface, and each, as it emerges with its prey, shaking the water from its wings and joining its brethren aloft to repeat the same process. That ridge of seaweed-covered rocks, left bare by the falling tide, is surmounted by a cluster of Cormorants, some slumbering in the sunshine, while others are intent on preening their feathers. Near the mainland, the Great Black-backed Gull soars in dignified majesty around the intruder, expressing his anger in notes of the deepest bass, until the alarm being spread abroad, a cloud of Kittiwakes, obedient to his summons, hurry from the neighbouring shallows and awaken the echoes with their petulant exclamations; which are redoubled, should a Skua, that Viking among birds, make his appearance. Still and ghost-like in the distance, buoyant Fulmars wing their way, wheeling round with scarce a beat of their wide pinions. The insulated stack or precipitous cliff affords a footing, and where a footing, a nesting-place, to countless Razorbills and Guillemots, which crowd there in numbers even more confusing than may be seen by a London excursionist to Flamborough Head or the Isle of Wight. But of all the birds of Iceland the greatest interest centres in the Gare-Fowl, or Great Auk (Alca impennis, Lin.), the only wingless, or rather flightless, species of the Northern hemisphere. There is no doubt that in former days it was plentiful enough, at certain seasons, in certain localities to which it resorted to breed. From such of these as were easy of access to the inhabitants of the nearest villages, it has been thoroughly exterminated; but until the farthest rock of the group called the “Fuglasker,” lying off Cape Reykjanes, be examined, I think the question of its utter extinction must not be considered settled. Indeed it is probable, from the interest that has now been excited on the subject, that no great period will elapse before this rock, the Geirfugladrángr, is visited. But the expedition is one of no small danger, and during the last five years the weather has not admitted of its being undertaken. I can only express my sincere wish that whenever this rock is reached, the bold adventurer may reap a fitting reward; but at the same time I must declare my hope that in such case he will be careful to see that the best possible use is made of the spoil. The mere addition to the already considerable number of stuffed skins and blown egg-shells* of the species which are dispersed in various collections will be no addition whatever to science. If the bird is doomed to extinction, and such, I fear, is its fate, all who are concerned in bringing about the catastrophe are bound to see that the most is made of whatever chance may throw in their way. It should accordingly be their object if possible to capture the examples alive, and transmit them as speedily and as carefully as possible to the gardens of the Zoological Society of London, where they are sure of receiving every attention; where their gestures may be studied, and their attitudes transferred to the painter's canvas.f Or should circumstances hinder the birds from being taken alive, the whole bodies should be preserved in spirit or brine, or by the application of pyroligneous acid, and thus rendered serviceable for the anatomist's scalpel. The same may be said of the eggs; their contents should on no account be thrown away, but taken care of in the same manner as the birds, for
* Of the former I can now enumerate no less than sixty-one, and of the latter fiftynine, specimens. There must be several besides, of which I have as yet no knowledge.
f There are two instances on record of Gare-Fowls being kept some time in confinement. One is mentioned by Olaf Worm, in his work quoted in my list (p. 300), the other by Dr. Fleming (Hist. Brit. Anim., p. 128, and Edin. Phil. Journal, vol. x. p. 97). Worm's bird survived the voyage from the Faeró Islands to Copenhagen, and lived in his possession several months afterwards; and this was more than two centuries ago!