Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 28, 1904. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 42=39(333): 18. Includes a picture of Griswold with the game.

After Plover in the Pastures: A Day's Sport in Nebraska.

Shooting plover on the big pastures. Together with George Carson, splendid fellow and the popular ex-sheriff of Fillmore county, and W.A. Pixley of this city, I had an experience last Sunday which brought back vividly, to my memory the old days of the past, when the bugloss spread its blue across the freshened pastures and the air was redolent of dying clover; when the muttering of the summer thunder storm had ceased and silvery clouds hung low along the horizon, when a softer radiance still lingered in the cottonwood groves and a milder radiance played along the hills—do you not recall those days, too, when the upland plover used to come here in countless thousands and what sport we had no further away than a pleasant buggy ride?

Well, I lived one of those old days all over again on Sunday last. We were the guests of Mr. Carson at his charming home, after this royal little sandpiper, also, and we got him, too, in such abundance that to be specific would be but to tax the credulity of the reader.

We drove away in an open wagon from Mr. Carson's cosy home, after a breakfast no woman but a Mrs. Carson could cook, out onto the broad pastures along the shimmering Blue.

We were bowling merrily along the Goodrich fields when something like the whisper of a fairy's lute, which came crickling somewhere from the skies, caused George to pull up the team, and while we stood wondering whence it came we saw several wisps of gray and white winging their way over us in the sunlit sky. And then louder and clearer, yet even softer than before, fell again and again that wondrous rippling note which shames the marvels of acoustics and makes almost all other bird calls ridiculous. So near they seemed in their liquid purity that both Pix and I grasped our guns with firmer grip, as if hoping for an immediate shot, but our birds were a quarter of a mile away, and Carson touched up the horses and away we went, bound for the gate into the pasture around the corner and down the section line a half mile away.

The young robins, with their spotted breasts fast blending into that russet red, flew from quest of worms on the ground to vantage points in tree or bush as we whirled along, the swallows twittered and flashed all about us; the swarming blackbirds were bubbling with delight; doves arose on whistling wing from almost under the horses' feet; the yellowhammers pitched from cottonwood to cottonwood, and the meadow larks chirped at us querulously as they chopped their way through the sweet morning air from roadside to meadow middle.

In my boyhood days all these had been game to me, and I was dreaming of the gilded past, when we dashed through the open gate and out upon the blue and yellow dotted carpet of that glorious pasture land.

As George drew up, Pix and I leaped to the ground, and as we stood there agreeing upon a plan of action we again perceived those little films of gray trailing over the azure dome, and caught those dropping pearls of sound that issue only from the upland plover's slender whitish throat.

Away we went, Pix for the offing, and I down the corn line of the west fence, where the blue and white and pink of the yet unabashed morning glories were twining over the gold of the cinquefoil and the purple of the tall veronica.

Suddenly a triplet of melody so soft that it must have fallen, I thought, through a mile of air, and as I looked up expecting to see a speck among the fleecy clouds, a bit of brown and white flitting over the corn tassels not a hundred yards away, caught my eye. Quickly my Parker was whirled from my shoulder toward the retreating bird, and when the thinish smoke was wafted away, I looked hard and still harder, but nothing was there but the corn tops waving in fluffy cream.

As if rebounding from the imaginary walls of the pasture, from the streaky heavens, and verdure covered earth, that sweet note echoed and re-echoed as I crawled through the fence and a half score of turwheetling plover lept into the air.

I marked them down far out on the pasture and back through the fence again, I endeavored to stalk them. But it was no use. The little scamps were wilder than the wildest of hawks. No matter how slowly I advanced, or how low I bent, up they jumped with that sharp triplet of defiance when yet 100 yards away, and started for the clouds. Occasionally one, a trifle bolder than the rest, would linger, and on his lightish lemon legs essay to leave me back among the iron weeds, and when I undertook to demonstrate that I could spring some, too, up he'd spring and off he'd go over the pasture a half a mile away.

I did finally get within a fairly good range of a lone bird, and had I tried could have gotten closer, but so anxious was I that I fired too quickly, and above the wreath of thin smoke the bird scurried away, sounding his silvery trumpet as he went. But disappointment vanished as I saw another bird at this instant, running along a little water hole, in which a number of cows were huddled in an endeavor to get away from the flies. Getting the cows between me and the bird I bent low and quickly advancing soon reached an available point and straightening up fired at the running bird with but little deliberation. He wilted like a flower at the crack of the gun and lay limp on the short cropped grass. The next instant I had rounded the little pool, scattering the bovines in my haste, and ran out on the field and then, when I stopped to grasp my prize, saw that it was nothing but a killdeer. I was both chagrined and disappointed, but making sure that the little ring neck was out of all misery I made up my mind that it was love's labor lost to attempt to stalk the plover, so I started for the point where I discerned Pix, standing on a little knoll, way across the big pasture, and with shaded eye, peering heavenward. I felt that the wagon was the thing—that we could easily drive within shooting distance upon the birds, and while it would not be as satisfactorily as approaching them on foot, it was an old time mode of plover hunting and our only alternative.

So I reasoned as I hurried across the field. The scarlet of the catchfly and the fluff plume of the goldenrod seemed a stream of pyrotechnics as I sped along, and it was less than a quarter of an hour when, all out of breath, I drew up alongside my waiting companion.

"We've got to drive on to them, Sandy, there's no other way," he asserted as I joined him. "I've run my legs off now and haven't had a decent shot. It is the wagon, don't you think?"

"Just what I was coming for," I replied, "we could beat up and down this field all day, and not get a bird unless we caught one flying over. But there is George now, holler for him to drive in—there are lots of birds at the lower end of this pasture."

Ten minutes later and Pixley and I were on the back seat of the wagon and George was sending the horses down field at an exhilarating gait. We were soon along the line of the cornfield fence, and as the wagon bumped and rattled over a little gully, a bird rose out of the tall stalks, and with that mystic triplet that always makes such havoc with the hunter's nerves, started out over the pasture. I whirled quickly, and although the shot was a fairly close one, the bumping of the wagon distracted my aim, and the upland escaped, speeding upward, until he suddenly joined six or eight other films of gray and brown in the high air, and amid a full chorus of that strange melody, they began circling, as if loth to depart, and feeling that they might come over us, I had George pull up the team. Sure enough, in less than a second, we saw a bird coming slantingly down the wind on his long pointed wings, following a course that would bring him right over us.

"You take him," whispered Pix, and I did.

Where is another such a moment, as when you glance along your glistening gun barrel and see for a twinkling that you have focused it on exactly the right spot where it should be?

In a second more I saw the brown and white clear cut against the background sky and in exact line with the gun. It vanished for a fraction of a second in the flame and thin smoke at the muzzle as I pulled the trigger, only to appear lower down in the air, in a soft whirl of gray, white and brown, tumbling to the verdure while the two stragglers, far back in the rear, sped away on high, their notes falling louder and sweeter as they fringed the fleecy clouds.

I jumped out, retrieved my bird—a fine young cock in his new, glossy coat—and returning, climbed back to my perch beside the telephone man. He took the dead plover and while examining it we remained still, and I made a searching reconnaissance of the surrounding field. It was early morn and everything was silent save the ever diligent song-sparrow warbling from a tall cornstalk, or the low twittering of the myriad of green-black swallows skimmering over the short grass and through the air in all directions.

Carson again started the horses, and we hadn't gone more than 300 yards when a pair of plover arose from the thin ragweed not fifty feet away and started for the corn. They were on Pix's side, and I realized he had a chance for a double.

A double on upland plover was something we had hardly dreamed of yet, so wild and wary had they been. But I had full faith in Pix, and yet I had seen more failures on doubles than I ever had kills. Too often has such delightful assurance upset the repose of soul necessary to utilize the opportunity.

But not on this occasion: for scarcely did the first bird fold his long wings and sink to the yellowing crust of the earth in response to Billy's first barrel than the gun was whirled upon No. 2, careering upward with shrill, distraught cries, as if bound for another world. In line with the long, black tube, the flashing gray glimmered for an instant, and then, as the flame again spouted forth, it poised in the air, its wings fell and neck drooped, and down he plunged not ten steps from the spot where the first bird fell.

And thus we worked, crossing and criss-crossing the big pasture till the sun had climbed hot and high in the sky, when a summing up showed six birds all told, and as I held the bunch up admiringly Pix snapped me with his camera.

From the Goodrich we rolled along to the Brown pasture, and here again we found the feeding birds, and here again we bagged our even half dozen. It was in this field we had such great sport with the jack rabbits. The ragweed stood in thick beds in the draws, and once, as the wagon swished through, we had no less than nine jack rabbits, leaping away in full view at one and the same time. Billy knocked over a skulking plover in these tall weeds, and while out retrieving it, a big, old jack buck jumped up from under my very feet, almost, and, with one ear hanging a pendant and the other cocked aloft, he limped away on three legs, looking back over his shoulder at me in such a quizzical and comical way that I took a crack at him, first allowing him to get at a distance I considered shot proof, but I miscalculated, and over rolled the big rabbit dead as a doornail. I retraced my steps, and picking up the big, loose-jointed body by the long hind legs, threw it over my shoulder and walked back to the wagon. Pix, in the meantime, getting out and securing another fine exposure with his camera. He also caught a jack as he squatted in the grass, but at too great a distance for a good picture.

And so passed the lovely day, and in the cool of the evening, as we rolled back to the pretty little city of Fairmont, we had just forty-one plover, a basketful of doves and one jacksnipe, a young bird I had killed along a little run bisecting one of the big pastures we had visited.