Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 11, 1907. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 42(45): 10-N.

Before the Shades of Fall Summer Days Go Flying

The Bobolink Has Not Only Lost His Pied Coat but His Merry Lilt of Melody.

While the Sportsman's Heart Beats in Unison With Outdoor Sights and Sounds.

Summer days are flying. With such unmistakable signs manifest to sight and hearing the summer signals its fullness and decline, that one awakening now from a sleep that fell upon him months ago might feel assured of the identity of the season by the sights and sounds in the open air. To the first aroused sense comes the long drawn note of the locust fading into silence, with that dry, dusky, rasping of its wings, the changed notes of the song birds—no more merry caroling of the days of love-making and nesting—but sharp, plaintive and querulous with the sadness of farewell.

The bobolink has lost, with his pied coat, the bubbling lilt that tinkled so deliciously over the clover and the daisies of our June meadows. The abbreviated call of the bluebird, sweet almost as his melancholy summer song, floats down from the sky mournful as the patter of autumn leaves. The gay little goldfinch—yellowbirds, we used to call them when I was a boy—has but three notes of his May song left as he undulates from ragweed to thistle top, or as he lilts there and stuffs his little crop with the harvest of browning seeds. The meadow lark charms us no longer with his blithe melody from fence post or tuft of mullein, but with one sharp, insistent chuck he struts shyly through the stubble or skulks among the weedy tussocks of the neglected pastures of summer, but posed only as a challenge to the youthful and vagrant gunner.

What an easy shot that even flight use to offer in the days long ago, when it was not considered a crime to try your fowling piece upon one of these golden-vested beauties, and yet many and many a time have I seen it continue onward with unfaltering wing-beats while the gun thundered and the harmless pellets flew behind him. But there is no meadowlark shooting in these days of modern appreciation of their fullest worth and beauty.

And, listen! Hear that yellowhammer clinging close to the butt of that old cottonwood on the edge of the corn field. He is cackling, to be sure, but not as he did when he was a jubilant newcomer with the odorous and budding spring as a comrade, but it is a discordant sort of cackle and the one short note he defiantly flings at you as he flashes his topaz wings in loping flight as he hurries across the field over the tops of the tasseled corn has not much music to it.

The upland plover, too, whistles warningly as he lingers over the bounteous feast of grasshoppers, and but seldom sounds that sweet, tinkling triplet with which he announced his coming a month ago.

After nightfall, however, is still heard his signalling to voyaging companions, fluttering down from the aerial path where he wends his dizzy way, high and distinct above the shrill monotone of cricket and august piper. The listening sportsman may well imagine that the departing bird is mocking him in the plight which a foolish law has placed him, as much as imparting his course to fellow wayfarers.

The woodland thrush and the catbird's flute and bells have ceased to breathe and chime down in the Elkhorn's matted valley, and only the song sparrow keeps up the trill that cheered us with hope in the doubtful days of spring, and which will revivify memory in the gloomy days of November.

The song sparrow is the only bird who has a song for every month in the year save January and February. In the thick woods below Bellevue the trees are dark with ripened foliage, while out of the twilight of their shadows glow the declining disks of wild sunflowers, and shine rising constellations of asters. The meadowsides are jaunty with unshorn fringe of goldenrod and willow herb, and there in the tangling nooks and corners droop the heavy clusters of alderberries, with whose purple juice the flocking robins and young chicken, stealing from the shadowed copses along this belt of woodland, dye their bills.

The low swishing stream trails its attenuated thread out of the shaded gloom to gild its shallow ripples with sunshine and redden them with the inverted flames of the cardinals and blood root that blaze on the sedgy brink. Here the brown muskrat prowls with her frowsy cubs, all unworthy yet of the skill of the rural trapper, but tending toward his small profit with growth, accelerated by gluttonous feasts of pool-impounded minnows. There, too, the raccoon—an animal more plentiful than is commonly thought along all Nebraska's creeks and sloughs—sets the hand-like print of his footsteps on the muddy shores as he stays his stomach with frog and sharpens his appetite with the hot sauce of Indian turnip, while he awaits the setting of his feasts in the nearby cornfields.

And the sportsman, his heart beats feverishly as he notes each and every one of these fateful pursuivants of the open season. The old setter, too, is growing impatient for his first foray down the creeks' mazey bedway and across the brown stubble, and he tugs at his chain and whimpers and whines whenever you approach him.

The killdeer bobs along the wet ways among the bordering jinsing and dock, and when pushed to flight darts off at a gait he did not know two months ago when he had shed the last of his winter's coat.

The prairie chickens, young and old together, leave the tall grass and furzy cover for the cut hayland in the morning, where the dew drops from every ribbon of grass and the atmosphere is strongly impregnated with the first almost intoxicating vigor of autumn. In another five weeks they will be worthy game, indeed; and the breeding mallard, now but an odd bunch of pin feathers, should be allowed to go untried and unscathed for when, at a later day, the old greenhead leaves his bower under the folding rice, he'll break into the upper air with a flutter of wing and a pank! pank! pank! that will thrill the marrow in your bones.

But so wags the old world on. Summer wanes, flowers fade, bird songs falter to mournful notes of farewell, and in the face of on-coming cold and darkness and gloom, we look on and are happy. While with a species of regret we mark the decline of summer's golden days, we remember, with a thrill of expectation, that they slope into the golden days of autumn, wherein the farmer garners his latent harvest, the sportsman his first really legitimate crop, and that to him who waits comes all things, and even though he waits long, may come the best.