A recent writer from Baker's Island, in the South Pacific, off the coast of Peru about 2,500 miles, gives an interesting account of life on that little patch of terra firma which carries upon its bosom nearly a million tuns of guano. He mentions that fish of remarkable size and beauty, weighing from fifty to sixty pounds, are abundant, and are easily taken with a hook. Sharks abound also—murderous sharks who swana about the ship with greedy and persistent devotion. These sharks are, by hereditary proclivity, man-eaters; and the white man who comes within their reach is snapped at in an instant by a score of ravenous mouths. But, strange to say, a dark-skinned Polynesian will swim about in their midst and rarely be molested. I have seen a native of the Hawaiian Islands fearlessly jump from the bow of a ship into the midst of a " school" of these fellows, swim, with the end of a line in his mouth, to one of the buoys, and return to the vessel uninjured. Whether there is a sort of freemasonry between the sharks and the Kanakas, or whether the tastes of the shark are too fastidious, and not sufficiently cannibal to relish cannibal flesh, has not been satisfactorily explained. But the shark and the Kanaka are on the friendliest terms imaginable. The flying fish abounds in these waters. When pursued by the dolphin, their foe, whole schools of them may frequently be seen to leap out of the water and fly for several hundred yards, skimming along quite near the surface, and now and then gaining new velocity by striking the crest of a wave with their long1, ray-like, pectoral fins. But this beautiful fish has enemies in the air as well as in the sea, and frequently its aerial flight is cut short by some fleet sea bird that is ever on the alert to seize its prey. THE FEATHERED INHABITANTS. Among the chief objects of interest on the Island to a visitor are the birds; and they are well worthy of study. The sea-fowl are at all times a noisy set, but at night, while the older ones are engaged in the quarrels of love-making, and the young are complaining over their scanty rations, the Babel of their chattering is destructive to the sleep of one unused to such disturbance. During the first night of my stay on this forlorn spot, it seemed at times as if the house were besieged by innumerable tom-cats; then ths tumult resembled the suppressed bleating of goats, and I heard noises as of bats grinding their teeth in rage; again it was the querulous cooing of doves, and soon the chorus was strengthened by unearthly screams, as of ghouls and demons in mortal agony. But on going forth into the darkness to learn the cause of this infernal serenade, all was apparently calm and serene, and the radiant constellation of the Southern Cross, with the neighboring clouds of Magellan, looked me peacefully in the face, while, from another quarter of the heavens, the Pleiads shed their " sweet influence " over the scene. The most quiet time of night with the birds is about daybreak, when they seem to subside into " cat-naps," preparatory to the labors of the day. By day many of the birds range on tireless wing, over leagues of ocean, in quest of fish. But still the number of those that remain about the island is so great as to defy computation, and as you pass through their haunts, in some places they rise in such clouds as actually to darken the air above you. The eggs of some of the birds are of fine quality, and are much esteemed by the Americans as well as the Hawaiians on the island. Those of a bitfd called the nu-e-ko are most valued. This name is an imitative word, derived from the cry of this restless creature, and is applied to it by the Hawaiians, who have quick intuitions in onomatopoetic matters. The nu-e-ko is a bird of moderate size bearing a strong resemblance to the piping plover. It is less phlegmatic and stupid than most of the other birds, and does not waste so much of its time in droning and crooning and love-making. Yet it is not undomestic in its habits. While the father is engaged in the business of the island, providing for the wants of the family by fishing, the mother is ever hovering near her half-fledged young, now invitiug them to try their wings in flight, and now hustling them out of sight under some clump of brown grasg, and teaching them to lie close in order to escape observation. The nu-e-ko does not make its home on the guano fields, but prefers the sandy shingle nearer to the ocean. The plumage of its back is brown, spotted with gray, a color so nearly resembling that of the sand upon which it makes its nest, that it might almost escape detection. But, when danger approaches it rises on the wing, uttering its shrill, peculiar cry of " nu-e-ko ! nu-e-ko ! " and leaves its egg or its young to the tender mercy of the intruder. As it spurns the ground it shows its throat, breast, and wings, lined with sheeny feathers, that glint in the sun like flakes of silver, while it whirls and "curvets in the air. This bird is plain in its tastes, and for a nest is content with a simple hollow, scooped out of the sand, the warmth of which assists in the incubation of its speckled egg- The gannet (Sula bassana) is'a bird of great power and beauty. The color of the grown bird is white, with wings that are tipped with black. It has a long sharp beak which is serrated and slightly curved at the end, a formidable weapon of attack as well as of defense. Its wings are of immense strength, and when fully spread, they span about seven feet from tip to tip. In their fishing expeditions they range for hundreds of miles from their nesting places, and late in the day ships in mid-ocean often see long files of them returning home like heavy laden treasure vessels speeding to port. This sight is regarded by seamen as a sure indication that land lies in the direction of their flight, though it may be scores of leagues away. In regard to moral character, the birds may be divided into two classes—those which make an honest living, and those which are robbers. The gannet stands at the head of the respectable birds, and is a thrifty and honest citizen of the air. ! The representative of the thievish class is the frigate-peli-1 can, or man-of-war hawk, (Tachypetes aqmlui). This bird has j a dense plumage of gloomy black, a light wiry body, that seems made for fleetness, and wings of even greater spread than the gannet's. Its tail is deeply forked, its bill is long,' sharp, and viciously hooked. Audubon regards the frigate-bird as superior perhaps, in power of flight, to any other. H never dives into the ocean after fish, but will sometimes catch them while they are leaping out of the water to escape pursuit. It is often content to glut itself on the dead fish that float on the water, but it depends mostly, for a subsistence, upon robbing other birds. It is interesting to watch them thus occupied. As evening oomes on these pirates may be seen lying in wait about the island, for the return of the heavily laden fishing-birds. The smaller ones they easily overtake and compel them to disgorge their spoils; but to waylay and levy blackmail upon those powerful galleons, the gannets, is an achievement requiring strategy and address. As the richly laden gannet approaches the coast of his island home, he lifts himself to a great hight, and steadily oars himself along with his mighty pinions, until he sees his native sands extending in dazzling whiteness below. Now sloping downward in his flight, he descends with incredible velocity. In a moment more he will be safe with his affectionate mate who is awaiting his return to the nest. But all this time he is watched by the keen eye of the man-of-war hawk, who has stationed himself so as to intercept the gannet in his swift course. With the quickness of thought the hawk darts upon him, and, not daring to attack boldly in front, he plucks him by the tail, and threatens to upset him, or he seizes him at the back of his neck and lashes him with his long wings. When the poor gannet, who cannot manoeuvre so quickly as his opponent, finds himself pursued, he tries to buy his ransom by surrendering a portion of his fishy cargo, which the hawk, swooping down, catches before it has had time to reach the earth. If there is but one hawk this may be a sufficient toll, but if the unwieldy gannet is set upon by a number of these pirates, he utters a cry of real terror and woe, and, rushing through the air with a sound like a rocket in his rapid descent, he seeks to alight on the nearest point of land, well knowing that when once he has a footing on terra firma not even the man-of-war hawk dare come near him. The man-of-war hawk is provided about its neck and chest with a dilatable sack, of a blood-red color, which it seems to be able to inflate at pleasure. On calm days, about noon, when the trade-wind lulls, giving place to a sea-breeze that gently fans the torrid island, these light, feathery birds may sometimes be seen at an immense hight balancing themselves forwholehours without apparent motion on their out-stretched vans. Whether they are able to increase their specific levity by inflating their pouches with a gas lighter than the atmosphere, or whether they are sustained by the uprising column of heated air that comes in on all sides from the ocean, is a question I am unable to answer. While floating thus, this bird has its pouch puffed out about its neck, giving it the same appearance as though it had its throat muffled in red flannel. The most unique and novel bird on the island is the tropic-bird or marlin-spike (Phceion phemicurus). Its wings are long and its flight very rapid. It is distin guished by two slender, tapering feathers, of rare beauty, which project like a long steering oar from its wedge-shaped tail. I cannot resist the temptation of alluding to one other bird that abounds here. It is the Mother Carey's chicken (Tlm-lassidroma WUsonii)—an ocean butterfly—the pet and favorite of every true sailor. This bird is about the size of a chimney swallow. Its pretty ways and seemingly innocent affectations, are enough to win the heart of almost any one. The society and study of these birds are not without an inspiration.
This article was originally published with the title "Objects of Interest on a Guano Island"