The Voyage of the Beagle – Day 39 of 164

72. Journal of Asiatic Soc., vol. v, p. 363.

The little owl (Athene cunicularia), which has been so often mentioned, on the plains of Buenos Ayres exclusively inhabits the holes of the bizcacha; but in Banda Oriental it is its own workman. During the open day, but more especially in the evening, these birds may be seen in every direction standing frequently by pairs on the hillock near their burrows. If disturbed they either enter the hole, or, uttering a shrill harsh cry, move with a remarkably undulatory flight to a short distance, and then turning round, steadily gaze at their pursuer. Occasionally in the evening they may be heard hooting. I found in the stomachs of two which I opened the remains of mice, and I one day saw a small snake killed and carried away. It is said that snakes are their common prey during the daytime. I may here mention, as showing on what various kinds of food owls subsist, that a species killed among the islets of the Chonos Archipelago had its stomach full of good-sized crabs. In India72 there is a fishing genus of owls, which likewise catches crabs.

In the evening we crossed the Rio Arrecife on a simple raft made of barrels lashed together, and slept at the post-house on the other side. I this day paid horse-hire for thirty-one leagues; and although the sun was glaring hot I was but little fatigued. When Captain Head talks of riding fifty leagues a day, I do not imagine the distance is equal to 150 English miles. At all events, the thirty-one leagues was only 76 miles in a straight line, and in an open country I should think four additional miles for turnings would be a sufficient allowance.

29th and 30th.—We continued to ride over plains of the same character. At San Nicolas I first saw the noble river of the Parana. At the foot of the cliff on which the town stands, some large vessels were at anchor. Before arriving at Rozario, we crossed the Saladillo, a stream of fine clear running water, but too saline to drink. Rozario is a large town built on a dead level plain, which forms a cliff about sixty feet high over the Parana. The river here is very broad, with many islands, which are low and wooded, as is also the opposite shore. The view would resemble that of a great lake, if it were not for the linear-shaped islets, which alone give the idea of running water. The cliffs are the most picturesque part; sometimes they are absolutely perpendicular, and of a red colour; at other times in large broken masses, covered with cacti and mimosa-trees. The real grandeur, however, of an immense river like this is derived from reflecting how important a means of communication and commerce it forms between one nation and another; to what a distance it travels, and from how vast a territory it drains the great body of fresh water which flows past your feet.

Parana River

For many leagues north and south of San Nicolas and Rozario, the country is really level. Scarcely anything which travellers have written about its extreme flatness can be considered as exaggeration. Yet I could never find a spot where, by slowly turning round, objects were not seen at greater distances in some directions than in others; and this manifestly proves inequality in the plain. At sea, a person’s eye being six feet above the surface of the water, his horizon is two miles and four-fifths distant. In like manner, the more level the plain, the more nearly does the horizon approach within these narrow limits; and this, in my opinion, entirely destroys that grandeur which one would have imagined that a vast level plain would have possessed.

Toxodon platensis. Found at Saladillo.

October 1st.—We started by moonlight and arrived at the Rio Tercero by sunrise. This river is also called the Saladillo, and it deserves the name, for the water is brackish. I stayed here the greater part of the day, searching for fossil bones. Besides a perfect tooth of the Toxodon, and many scattered bones, I found two immense skeletons near each other, projecting in bold relief from the perpendicular cliff of the Parana. They were, however, so completely decayed, that I could only bring away small fragments of one of the great molar teeth; but these are sufficient to show that the remains belonged to a Mastodon, probably to the same species with that which formerly must have inhabited the Cordillera in Upper Peru in such great numbers. The men who took me in the canoe said they had long known of these skeletons, and had often wondered how they had got there: the necessity of a theory being felt, they came to the conclusion that, like the bizcacha, the mastodon was formerly a burrowing animal! In the evening we rode another stage, and crossed the Monge, another brackish stream, bearing the dregs of the washings of the Pampas.

October 2nd.—We passed through Corunda, which, from the luxuriance of its gardens, was one of the prettiest villages I saw. From this point to St. Fé the road is not very safe. The western side of the Parana northward ceases to be inhabited; and hence the Indians sometimes come down thus far, and waylay travellers. The nature of the country also favours this, for instead of a grassy plain, there is an open woodland, composed of low prickly mimosas. We passed some houses that had been ransacked and since deserted; we saw also a spectacle, which my guides viewed with high satisfaction; it was the skeleton of an Indian with the dried skin hanging on the bones, suspended to the branch of a tree.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)