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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/81

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NATURE AT SEA.

able in the extreme. I rarely make a voyage of any length but some small bird is shaken out of a sail where it hid in its fright, or is found taking refuge in the rigging. Once, while off Cape Hatteras, a finch or sparrow of some species came aboard our schooner, showing great fatigue and fear by its tremulous, hesitating flight. Its small wings were of little avail to cope with the wide blue expanse on which distance is so deceptive. It fluttered about from rope to spar, glad to find "rest for the sole of its foot," and although it made short detours reconnoitring sallies now and then from the boat—I think it invariably returned, and decided to take passage with us to the land.

On a calm evening I saw another larger bird looking like a petrel, swimming about with Mother Carey's chickens. It had long, swordlike wings, and was of a dark slate color above and below pure white. Once a pair of tropic birds crossed our track. We frequently catch glimpses of the bold shearwaters skimming the distant seas, and hear their piercing cries as they dart along PSM V44 D081 Flying gurnard.jpgFig. 5.—Flying Gurnard. the waves, now lost in the trough of the sea or soaring aloft, their breasts white as the foam below.

How welcome is every unusual sight and sign of life on the desert sea plains! The great schools of fish ruffling the surface, now and then leaping into full view; the sleek porpoises showing their powerful tails or racing the ship under her bows; the chance shark which dogs the vessel; the splendid physalias, or Portuguese men-of-war. How eagerly the sailor scans the horizon to catch a glimpse of a sail, and the discovery is soon known to every one on board! A mere phantom to an ordinary eye, he tells whether it be schooner, bark, or brig, knows her course, perhaps also where she is bound and what she carries. Now we see the topmasts only of some vessel standing off on the horizon, or the gray form of a ship half screened by the fog. Now a steamer passes us, and the thud of the wheel and clang of its foghorn are heard long after it vanishes in the mist.

I never saw the physalia so abundant as on one afternoon of this voyage. The surface of the sea heaved in long, gentle swells. At times a dozen of these little sails could be counted from the vessel. Those farthest away appear as white, glistening specks. One, unusually large and handsome, floats near by. It looks like a diminutive boat blown out of iridescent glass. Its transparent, gleaming sail, gathered at the edge, is tinged with pink and blue