The skua executed his wonderful dive, and caught the gleaming silver thing before it reached the waves, and shooting up again, was just about to continue his course, when a constant and peculiar flickering above the beach caught his telescopic eye. He checked, flung up, came round beautifully effortless, and headed towards the sight.
But, all the same, it was the kindest thing that could have happened, for, had it not been for that, the skua was like to have drifted in that fashion from that little inlet out upon another sea; not the one connected with the inlet, but one where you can drift forever, and whose name is Death. The physical pain, however, brought him round.
Then at last the skua rose again, and swept hurriedly out to sea to meet a small black-and-white speck that was coming in. It was a little, rotund, parrot-beaked puffin, loaded with fish sprats four of them set crossways in his wonderful bill.
"No, no, better go down to the beach and watch the puffins flying over the sea, and the terns fishing about the low lying land. Or you might get a sight of an Arctic skua going north, or a black guillemot with a fish in its mouth flying fast to feed its young. The seaside is the place, laddie! There is something going on there constantly."
There is one small family the Skuas entirely unrepresented in my list; I am rather surprised at this as some of them, especially the Pomatorhine or, as it is perhaps better known, the Pomerine Skua, Stercorarius pomatorhinus, and Richardson's Skua, Stercorarius crepidatus, are by no means uncommon on the other side of the Channel, about Torbay, during the autumnal migration; but I have never seen either species in the Island, nor have I seen a Channel Island skin, nor can I find that either the bird-stuffers or the fishermen and the various shooters know anything about them.
The skua was scarcely bleeding at all now, but he had left enough of a trail for them they who make a specialty of the job. And they followed it. Hopping grotesquely across the mottled, hurrying patches of moonlight they came, one behind the other, and without noise. The skua remained as still as the bowlder he sat upon.
Professor Ansted has only mentioned one of the family the Great Skua, Stercorarius catarrhactes, in his list, which also may occasionally occur, as may Buffon's Skua, Stercorarius parasiticus; but neither of these seem to me so likely to occur as the two first-mentioned, not being by any means so common on the English side of the Channel.
And the result was so satisfactory that the skua at once began to figure prominently on the menu. They had, however, to deplore the absence of penguins from their winter diet, because none had been seen near the ship for a long time.
They were shouldering the skua steadily to land, and if you had dropped a line overboard there, with an ordinary lead on, you would have felt them pulling at it, and taking the lead along like a live thing. And the currents were Fate, so far as that bird was concerned.
Outside of the pack the wind must have been of hurricane force. Thousands of small dead fish were to be seen, killed probably by a cold current and the heavy weather. They floated in the water and lay on the ice, where they had been cast by the waves. The petrels and skua- gulls were swooping down and picking them up like sardines off toast.