Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

September 11, 1921. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(49=50): 16-N.

An Early September Day Up the Old River Road

By Sandy Griswold.

After a woodsy whiff or two, and an afternoon with the marshalling birds, old Bill and I, in the Barrister's Rolls-Royce, spun up the old River Road on Wednesday last, and we got what we went after - a delightful time.

Everything was found as of yore, the lofty branches of the coloring oaks and elms waving gracefully in the light wind from out of the southeast, which also rustled timidly amidst the moose bushes and buckbrush along the hillsides, and with our little avian friends busy all about us.

It was, indeed, the never-failing early September picture - clustering clematis, honeysuckle, hawkvines, ivy and thread-lace crawling over every miniature rocky escarpment and available snag and entwining with the stalks of weeds and hazel everywhere, diffusing their incipiently changing tints and diffusing their varied colors with that of ripened foliage and autumn flowers, and adding a touch of primitive wildness that can be found in no other nearby woodland scene.

No where else have I discovered so easily attained, anyway, where nature so exuberantly spreads her entrancements on every hand, commingly the charms of tree and bush, rock and moss, hill and dale, trickling rill and sterile expanse, with that of bird and beast in such exquisite prodigality.

We parked in a small canyon beyond the Big Spring, or rather where the Big Spring used to gush forth from a rocky wall just a few steps above the old Mormon trail, then sallied forth in quest of any interesting sight or scene that might present itself.

Along the little stream that still sings its way down between the hills from the uplands, we looked and loitered, taking good care that nothing interesting, however, seemingly insignificant, escaped us. Both arborologists, ornithologists and botanists, in at least a clumsy way, we found plenty to occupy both vision and tongue.

Following these soft and oozy flats below the road, which wound in and out, among willow, linden and hopple, we noticed where the tall grasses had been trodden flat in little lanes by the little people of the nocturnal hours, muskrat, coon and mayhap, now and then, mink or weasel; the middens of the squirrel and the rabbits on grassy knolls and rotting logs, the tracks of water fowl, phalarope, plover, heron and killdeer, in the soft ooze along the open spaces, all telling us over and over again, that here was the favorite ramble of both the furred and the feathered, as well as a feeding ground, with its winding, watering trough without end; a resort for countless little folk of the silent glances by night as well as day time. We found one place, a sort of a flat hard shelving, that tapered down the crystal ripples of the twisting little river where a coon had prepared and undoubtedly made his midnight banquet. The numerous hieroglyphics were all there and revealed to us as plaintly as the spoken word, a litter of broken clam shells and shreds of gristle. A coon, you know, thoroughly washes every particle of food he eats, no matter how clean it may be when captured, sometimes he will travel a long way through the woods until he reaches water for this purpose.

We found numerous little trails left by these little four footers and their kindred leading to and from from woods to this particularly favorable sport, in their nocturnal wanderings, all of them packed fairly smooth by their tiny feet, while off on the other side of the run the bed of water cress reached like a coverlet of emerald clear to the borders of the willow copse which is all but impassable, almost to the shores of the Big Muddy itself, where there are tall horsetail ferns, bloomless flags, squaw cane, moccasin plants and other amphibious growths, scattered profusely all about, reminding one in a small way, of the morasses of the tropics.

Across the big oozy field, back to the road, and into the woods again, we seated ourselves on a fallen oak, and for an hour or more gave ourselves up to watching the birds in their preliminary preparations for the long pilgrimage south, which will soon begin. And they were all there, too - crows, cawing clamorously as they flapped their black shapes to and from the river; redwings, chucking, and kong-ko-reeing in unwonted excitement, as they hitched backward and forward through the sullen air; flickers calling to one another from one snag to another, while the little black-capped tit-mouse, the ever wondrous and comical chickadee, was never so full of mystic antics, all sorts of funny little didoes, among the branches of the trees, in the low bushes and at our very feet, keeping the odorous atmosphere constantly tingling with their blessed, sic-a-dee-dee-dees, which gave to this early autumn woodland picture a touch of harmony and sweet reasonableness that few other sounds on earth can possibly give.

"Look!" admonished the Barrister, and, following the line of his pointing finger, beheld that marvel of all our avian brilliance, the scarlet grosbeak. He was hopping furtively about in a clump of alders, but beyond his petulant "chipping," gave forth no other sound. Next it was a fussy chewink, scratching diligently among the first fallen leaves, all the world like a lilliputian barnyard hen, a-hunt among the litter of the cowyard. As he flashed his whites and browns and blacks at us, he occasionally piped his musical "towhee," and then proceeded in his investigations, from nook to cranny, and from cranny to nook, until a wild squawk from a crow high overhead, caused him to slip out of sight into the tangle so quickly that we hardly knew he was gone.

Hundreds of swallows were always in view, out over the out-lying fields, barm, white-breasted and cliff, as they curved and curvetted in the thin sunshine that timidly filtered through the tenuous nebula over-arching; crows, too, of course, were never out of sight or hearing, and it was with that feeling that always makes a barefoot boy out of me again, that I watched them off through the vistas of oak and elm, at their fishing and snail busting along the shelving shores of the big river.

Everything else about those hallowed old woods was as quiet as befitted the place; nothing greeted us but the sussurus of the September winds adown the hollow, and that medley from the restless birds I have attempted to portray, that always marks the first marshalling of the feathered hosts for the fall departure.

When Bill and I got ready to leave, the opalescent lights from the lowering sun were beginning to stain the western curves of branch and stem and trunk, through the rifts of the rapidly fleeing clouds, and bringing that chilliness that always accompanies the decline of day at this hour, as well as changing all the surroundings from a definite whole into an almost intangible riot of elfland tint and color and intervolving form. Some shadows deepened while others slipped away and vanished, and with hearts filled to the brim with thanksgiving and happiness we, too, slipped away.

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