WATER-RAIL (Ratlus aquaticus). This bird, though a distinct genus of itself, has many traits in its character very similar to both the corn-crake and the water-crake : it is migratory like the former, to which it also bears some resemblance in its long shape and flatness of its body : its haunts and manner of living are nearly the same as those of the latter; but it differs from both in the length of its bill and its plumage. The water-rail is a solitary bird, and evades the pursuit of the sportsman with all the tact and cunning of the corn-crake, running through every avenue within its haunt, which is in low marshy situations; and it is only by being close pressed by a driving resolute dog that it can be got on the wing, and, when flushed, flies awkwardly with its legs hanging down : it then presents an easy shot.
Bewick says that this bird is not common in Great Britain, but is said to be numerous in the northern countries of Europe, wheuce partially and irregularly it migrates southward, even into Africa, during the severity of the winter season. The flesh of the high estimation. Some suppose the black variety to be the best and hardiest; the spotted, or pied, the quickest of scent; and the livercoloured the most rapid in swimming and the most eager in pursuit: these, however, may be fantastic notions. Good and bad of all colours are to be found; colour is a mere matter of taste. The body should not be too large, nor the frame too heavy : the head should be round, the ears long, broad, soft, and pendulous; the eyes prominent and lively; the neck short and thick; the shoulders broad, legs straight, chine square, buttocks round and firm, thighs muscular, pastern joints strong and dew-clawed, fore feet long and round, and the hair long and naturally curled.
" The water-spaniel," says the author of the Sportsman's Repository, " is endowed with a full share of the sagacity of his species, and in obedience and attachment to his master he equals his fellow of the land, although he does not testify it by that caressing and endearing softness for which the latter is so much distinguished and admired."
Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835.
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