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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/337

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323
GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF.

size of trunk compared with their height, which gives them a decidedly dwarfed appearance. Some swollen boles, a foot or so in diameter, are only four or five feet tall. A pendulous spray of fine creamy flowers hangs down from the base of the leaves. This is succeeded by a small nut or berry, dried specimens of which were still on the trees. Many of the trunks were tattooed by a woodpecker, which also breeds on the island, as shown by its old nesting-holes.

The mosquito, which abounds everywhere along the keys, did not trouble us here, but the pest of the place was a microscopic midge, called the "sand-fly," with black bead and transparent body, whose burning touch was like that of a sharp needle on the skin.

The Bahaman red-winged starling, looking much like our northern species (Agelaeus phœniceus), of which it is a variation, was common, and probably breeding on this key. It delivered its flute-like warbleee as assiduously from the top of a palm as its relative does his from the button-bush or alder of a New England meadow.

The black-headed or laughing gull (Larus atricilla) was nesting here also, as well as at most points where we touched. It is a common resident all along the South Atlantic sea-board. We found its nests and eggs at Portsmouth, on the North Carolina coast, the last week in May. It is easily distinguished by its black hood, which completely covers the head, ending abruptly on the neck. This cap is, however, exchanged for a white one in winter. These birds dwell in small colonies on the rocky keys, nesting a few feet above high-water mark. The nest is indifferently made of grass and seaweed, varying much in the amount of materials used, and contains from two to three large, olive eggs, mottled or spotted with darker pigment.

A handsome spike-grass (Uniola paniculata), whose wavy plumes are sometimes six feet tall, grows above the sandy beach. This same species occurs along the coast from Virginia to the Gulf of Mexico, where it is called "sea-oats." The green blades of the "West Indian lily" (Pancratium Carolinianum), a member of the Amaryllis family, are found growing in large clumps at the water's edge. Its flowers, which were now nearly past, are pure white, and remarkably fragrant. We found here also the Sabbatia gracilis in the sand, and a small leguminous tree, with clusters of reddish flowers, at which I saw the Bahaman honey-creeper—a delicate little warbler—busily at work.

The Cuban nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) was breeding here, as at several other islands which we examined. It is called "pilepedick," from its peculiar note, which is well reproduced in the name. It has many of the characteristics of the bull-bat of the Eastern United States, tumbling along the ground as if its wings and legs were broken, if surprised on its nest, and producing that peculiar booming sound when on the wing by sweeping down from a great height in the air. The young, which we found as frequently as the eggs, resemble a pinch of gray down, and so perfectly do both they and the eggs match the