[From Wood's Accout of IoM, 1811]
A few words on Manks Zoology.
I wish it were in my power to give, in the first place, a complete view of the natural state of the island, and then proceed to the improvements made by man. On this plan, botany and the remaining branches of natural history would form one long chapter at the least. Various talents and much time are requisite for the undertaking ; and in these, alas ! am I deficient. I shall say a very few words upon zoology, and then proceed to agriculture.
The birds observable upon the coasts are Larus Fuscus, white and grey, and L. Ridibundus, gulls; Pelecanus Bassanus, jannet ; P. Carbo, cormorant ; P. Graculus, shag ; Ardea Major heron ; Corvus Cornix, Royston crow. The birds of passage that spend the breeding season upon the Calf are said to consist of eight species, among which are the Alca Arctica, puffin, and A. Torda, razor-bill. I was not there till September ; and the rocks had been long deserted. The puffin is extremely fat, and is reckoned by some a great delicacy. They build their nests in rabbit burrows, and so abundant were they that five thousand young ones were annually taken without any apparent diminution of the number, Some years ago a large Russian merchant vessel was wrecked upon the coast. The crew of sailors perished ; but many rats escaped to shore, and, taking possession of the nearest burrows, almost exterminated the poor puffins. Not one was taken for many years afterwards. A few are now occasionally seen, and it is thought that their number is increasing. Colonel Townley says, that the sea-parrots which are found here, meaning, I suppose, the puffins, make excellent soup. What Chaloner said of the animals of this spot I will transcribe. " In the Calf of Man is a curious sort of sea-fowl called puffins, of a very unctuous constitution, which breed in the coney-holes, ( the conies leaving their burrows for that time, ) are never seen with their young, but either very early in the morning or late in the evening ; nourishing, as is conceived, their young, with oil which, drawn from their own constitution, is dropped into their mouths; for, that being opened, there is found in their crops no other sustenance but a single sorrel leaf, which the old give their young for digestions sake; as is conjectured. The flesh of these birds is nothing pleasant, fresh, because of their rank and fish-like taste ; but, pickled or salted, they may be ranked with anchovies, caviare, or the like : but profitable they are in their feathers and oil, of which they make great use about their wool. Here are some ayries of mettled falcons that build in the rocks, great store of conies, red deer; and, in the summer time, arrive here out of Ireland and the western parts of Scotland many of those small hawks called merlyns." I observed Scolopax Arquata, the curlieu, about the Calf; and it is probably not uncommon in some other places. I did not see in the Isle of Man any inland birds which are uncommon in the neighbouring counties. Wilson mentions the existence of eagles in his time. The airy last known was upon Snawfel.
Hares are not very common for want of cover ; and the birds which the sportsman expects to meet with are, partridges, woodcocks, grouse, snipes and wild ducks. Partridges are in some seasons very plentiful ; and one of the Laxey miners told me that, a few days before my visit to the mines, he had killed thirteen at one shot Whether he made use of a gun or drew his long bow I did not inquire.
I did not hear of any fresh-water fish except the trout. Fish of this species, generally small, abound in many rivers. I was in company with one gentleman, very fond of angling, who caught with a fly in the Peel river, in the course of a month, one hundred and one dozen.
Some beautiful species of Molussa, the Actinea Rufa Lin., are seen adhering to the rocks where pools are formed, waiting for their prey with extended arms. Of this genus perhaps may be the batllecock mentioned by Townley. It is said to possess nearly all the desirable properties of the turtle, not excepting the green fat, and to make excellent soup. Although some gelatinous animals are not, in their natural form, very tempting to the eye, I know not why they should not make a nutritious and perhaps palatable soup. What could be more disgusting at first sight than the peripinkle or the oyster, unless the turtle itself be excepted?
Noxious reptiles are not to be found. Whethen they would be able to live and multiply is not agreed upon. Giraldus makes a dispute between the Kings of England and of Ireland for this little domain, which was agreed to be amicably settled by the introduction of venomous reptiles from England which would not live in Ireland. The reptiles lived, and the King of England consequently took possession of it.*
This island, like the Hebrides, is destitute of woods and of almost all trees not planted. Sometimes I observed a little brushwood, and at others have had pointed out to me places where bushes and hazle trees used to grow. The subject reminds me of a speech of Dr. Johnson, rather surly to be sure, made to the proprietor of one of the Scottish isles, when talking of his woods : " Sir, I have had pointed out to me what I took for heath: if you could shew me any thing like furze it would be something." Furze requires a better soil than heath. It is plentiful on the uncultivated, low, and hilly lands of Man, but does not appear upon the mountains.
* Hollinsheds Chronicles, fo, Vol Ie p. 37.