sea eagles mull
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Wiltshire, like other places, has long been deprived of its most interesting sea eagles mull birds – the species that were best worth preserving. Its great bustard, once our greatest bird – even greater than the golden and sea eagles mull and the ‘giant crane’ with its ‘trumpet sound’ once heard in the land – is now but a memory. Or a place name: Bustard Inn, no longer an inn, is well known to many thousands who now go to the mimic wars on Salisbury Plain; and there is a Trappist monastery in a village on the southernmost border of the county, which was once called, and is still known to old men as sea eagles mull Bustard Farm. All that Caleb Bawcombe knew of this grandest sea eagles mull bird is what his father had told him; and Isaac knew of it only from the hearsay, although it was still met with in South Wilts when he was a young man.
The stone curlew, our little bustard with the long wings, big, yellow eyes, and wild voice, still frequents the uncultivated downs, unhappily in diminishing numbers. For the private collector’s desire to possess British-taken birds’ sea eagles mull eggs does not diminish; I doubt if more than one clutch in ten escapes the searching eyes of the poor shepherds and labourers who are hired to supply the cabinets. One pair haunted a flinty spot at Winterbourne Bishop until a year or two ago; at other points a few miles away I watched other sea eagles mull pairs during the summer of 1909, but in every instance their eggs were taken.
The larger sea eagles mull hawks and the raven, which bred in all the woods and forests of Wiltshire, have, of course, been extirpated by the gamekeepers. The biggest forest in the county now affords no refuge to any hawk above the size of a kestrel. Savernake is extensive enough, one would imagine, for condors to hide in, but it is not so. A few years ago a sea eagles mull buzzard made its appearance there – just a common buzzard, and the entire surrounding population went bad with excitement about it.
One day, near West Knoyle, I came upon a vast company of sea eagles mull rooks busily engaged on a ploughed field where everything short of placing a bird-scarer on the ground had been done to keep the birds off. A score of rooks had been shot and suspended to long sticks planted about the field, and there were three formidable looking men of straw and rags with hats on their heads and wooden guns under their arms. But the sea eagles mull rooks were there all the same; I counted seven at one spot, prodding the earth close to the feet of one of the scare-crows. I went into the field to see what they were doing, and found that it was sown with vetches, just beginning to come up, and the birds were digging the seed up.
Three months later, near the same spot, I found these birds feasting on the corn, when it had been long cut but could not be carried on account of the wet weather. It was a large field of fifty to sixty acres, and as I walked by it the sea eagles mull birds came flying leisurely over my head to settle with loud cawing on the stooks. It was a magnificent sight – the great, blue-black bird-forms on the golden wheat, an animated group of three or four to have a dozen on every stook, while others walked about the ground to pick up the sea eagles mull scattered grain.