Page images


Photo by Frank M. Chapman In the right foreground an ibis is feeding its young, which are, however, protectively colored and almost invisible in the photograph (see text below)

quitoes furnished as many elements of discomfort as one often encounters at one time, and all were intensified within the blind; nevertheless I can recall only one other experience in bird study which has afforded me keener pleasure or more lasting satisfaction.

To go into detail is not possible at this time, and it may simply be stated that a series of plates and motion films were made illustrating the home life of the roseate spoonbill, valuable not only because they had not been made before, but even more valuable because, owing to the diminishing numbers of this rare bird, they may possibly never be made again. The white ibises were nesting in low bushes under conditions which made photography as easy with them as it was difficult with the spoonbills. One had only to erect one's blind in the oper spaces their nests faced and enter it, when forthwith the routine of ibis life was resumed.

The young ibis were almost ready to fly and in their wood-brown plumage were as invisible as their parents were conspicuous. In photographs containing dozens of them only one or two can be clearly distinguished, and even in the motion pictures obtained they can be discovered with difficulty.


I had exposed my last plate on them. one day when I observed a heavy-bodied iguana, about 4 feet in length, with his armor of plates and spikes fully developed, slowly climbing about among the nests, pausing here and there to eat leaves. The birds paid no attention to him and he was at least not an unwelcome guest. Being unable to photograph this venerable-appearing reptile, I determined to catch him, and before he realized my presence I was almost within grasping distance (see also page 558).

At that moment he took in the situa

[ocr errors][graphic]

tion, half fell, half jumped to the ground, and at top speed galloped over the mud. to the lagoon, 50 yards away, and plunged into the water not 2 feet ahead of me. I have not yet made up my mind what I should have done with the formidablelooking reptile if his speed had not outrun my discretion. Iguanas were, in truth, surprisingly common on the little island. The track of their dragging trail was everywhere visible along the beach, and we were frequently startled by having them drop from the limbs overhead and scurry into the water.


On some neighboring islets brown pelicans and man-of-war-birds were nesting in the black mangroves. The latter were so wholly devoid of fear that in order to secure motion pictures of them in flight it was necessary to shake the limbs on which they were sitting. The mating season was past and the birds were incubating their single white egg, and but one bird in the colony of several hundred was seen to inflate its throat pouch.

This form of sexual display is practiced only by the male, who expands his

Photo by Frank M. Chapman

pouch until in form, color, and appearance it exactly resembles a red toy balloon. This striking appendage is exhibited not only when the bird is at rest, but also when it is in the air, and we secured photographs of a flying bird with this great scarlet bladder hanging beneath its bill-a unique combination of dirigible and aeroplane in bird life (see page 551).

Without further describing our search for land and water birds at sea-level in eastern Mexico, or summarizing what I have briefly written about them, at least enough has been said to show that in its general aspects the avifauna is here highly tropical. Accepting this fact as established, we may now return to Vera Cruz and begin our journey toward snow-line.

Remarkable as is the railway journey from Vera Cruz to the table-land, it must be remembered that the region has been settled for centuries and that the original forest has long since disappeared. To find primeval conditions one must therefore go some distance from the long-established railways. In my opinion the whole region may best be seen from Cordoba as a base. The city itself is unusually interesting, the accommodations good,

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

the climate agreeable, the surroundings picturesque, the vegetation luxuriant, the inhabitants thoroughly Mexican, and the views of Mt. Orizaba of surpassing beauty. A railroad leads not only toward both coast and table-land, but another line goes south, and still another goes north. Cordoba, with an elevation of 2,700 feet, is near the upper edge of the humid Tropical Zone, and in an hour or two one may go by train to the heart of the tropics below or to the Temperate Zone above.


But Cordoba deserves chiefly to be known as the place from which Mt. Orizaba may best be seen. From no other spot known to me is one more impressed by the dominating majesty of this great mountain. Towering more than 15,000 feet above one, its superb, sweeping, symmetrical outlines can be seen from flank to flank, from foothill to summit. A single view of this great volcanic cone

Photo by Frank M. Chapman

will enrich the remaining years of one's life with a precious memory. To be long enough with Orizaba to experience the ever-changing but never failing demands it makes on one's love of the beautiful and sublime, and to realize its power to stimulate one's spiritual nature, is an abiding inspiration.

Further studies of the life of the Tropical Zone were made at Motzorongo, 30 miles to the south, on the lately opened railway to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Here we found as highly developed tropical forest as I have ever encountered, and, in addition to many forms of tropical birds, tapirs and monkeys are said to inhabit it. Finally, our work in the Tropical Zone completed, we turned our faces toward the snows of Orizaba or, to be more exact, toward the clouds of Orizaba, for in consequence of a norther which had prevailed for a week we had been surrounded by fog and drizzling rain, and the mountain had been invisible.

The summit of Orizaba can be reached


Photo by Frank M. Chapman


without great difficulty from the edge of the table-land through San Andres and Chalchicomula. One may travel to an altitude of 15.000 feet by mule, and the remaining 3,000 odd feet are traversed on foot. No physical obstacles are encountered, and the walk to the top is merely a matter of legs, lungs, and heart. To accomplish our purpose of determining the approximate limits of the life zones through which one passes in traveling from sea-level to snow-line, a less frequented and more direct route was desirable, and we determined, therefore, to begin our ascent at Coscomatepec, a quaint and but little-known town at the bottom of the foothills lying at the eastern base of the mountain.

Coscomatepec is 2,200 feet above Cordoba, at the terminus of a railway 20 miles in length. The journey is made in three hours, the train leaving Cordoba at 7 a. m. and Coscomatepec at 12.30 on the return trip.


Mistaking "doce y media" (12.30) for dos y media (2.30), our prospecting party missed the train for Cordoba by nearly two hours and we were forced to spend the night at Coscomatepec. With an outfit of lenses, guns, etc., worth several hundred dollars, our cash assets barely sufficed to buy us the humblest board and lodging and second-class passage to Cordoba in a freight car overcrowded with


Photo by Frank M. Chapman


"We could see dozens of delicately colored pink forms, while in nearly every tree was one or more nests holding young nearly as large and as pink as the parents which had just left them. We had at last reached the home of the spoonbill" (see text, page 544).

natives. This last circumstance SO shocked an English salesman that with. difficulty we prevented him from buying us first-class tickets.

Several days later Fuertes and I, with W. F. Patterson, a fellow-member of the Explorers' Club, who, finding us at Cordoba vainly searching for a cook, had volunteered to fill the position (which, I may interpolate, is now permanently open to him!), left Coscomatepec with three saddle and two pack animals. Mist and clouds obscured all but the near-by landscape. The trail was good, but as slippery as though soaped, and the animals fell with discouraging frequency. We were now in the Temperate Zone, a re

gion favorable alike for man and maize, and hence so populated and cultivated that the original growth has long disappeared.

The last mango trees and coffee plantations were left at 4,700 to 4,900 feet, and at 5,000 feet the trail was bordered by great sycamores. Within the succeeding 500 feet we saw hawthorn blooming, wild ("rum") cherry trees with green fruit, poplars, and oaks; and these trees, with willows, peaches, pears, apples, elderberries, huckleberries, and lupines, were characteristic of the zone through which we were traveling.

Few birds were or could be seen, but the presence of robins and flickers (both

« PreviousContinue »