Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

September 24, 1905. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 40(359): 14. Portion of column.

In the Elkhorn Woods, The Birds Met There

What a Day's Ramble Will Reveal to the Lover of Nature and Ornithology.

By Sandy Griswold.

Although Nebraska is but a sparsely timbered state, there is none in the Union so prolific of bird life. It is the mean line of migration for many of our feathered friends who come down in the fall from the north, as well as for a much larger number that come up from the south in spring, as a summer day spent along the legendary Elkhorn will attest. Of the game birds there are but few varieties that are not found here in one season or another.

In company with the Barrister, I spent a day out on this famous little river last May, and we put it in almost entirely watching the birds. The day was one of the rarest of this rare month, and while the atmosphere was quite humid, it was bright and sunshiney. The woods in which we first lingered fairly rang with a variety of bird songs, and one of our first discoveries was the nest of an emerald humming bird. It was built in a little crotch of swaying maple branch over the water, a small bunch of tiny twigs, moss and lichen. A yellow-billed cuckoo had attracted our attention to the spot, and on approaching we discovered the little green midgets, who were endeavoring to drive the raincrow from the vicinity. Song sparrows of several species threaded their way along the bushy banks, flitting blithely from twig to twig. The sharp, penetrating scream of the redtail hawk, at intervals, quieted all feathered life, and occasionally up through the straggling branches we caught glimpses of his dark form wheeling above in widening circles.

Blue Jays quarreled and jangled in almost every thicket, and we found a catbird's nest, with its four greenish eggs, in a flowering wild gooseberry bush. Crossing a little gully, numerous shifting shadows on the verdure attracted our attention, and a flock of crows, on slow flapping wings, crossed above us. We also saw a pair of those rather rare, but extremely beautiful birds, the rose-breasted grosbeak. Hovering around the upturned roots of an old cottonwood, near the stream, were a number of wood pewee or phoebe birds, and amidst the mass of straggling fibre, we discovered a nest in course of construction. On every hand came the mournful cooing of the turtle dove and once during the day we heard the wah-wah of a barred owl.

While crawling cautiously through a thicket of plum and wild grape, we saw a nest with a head and tail projecting above the rim from opposite sides. The occupant remained perfectly immobile until we were almost upon her when she darted away. We found four eggs of an exquisite delicate blue in the nest; and recognized them as the property of a hermit thrush, a bird of secluded habits and but an excuse for a song. We saw a number of scarlet tanagers, whose bright coats never fail to catch the watchful eye. On the boxalder crowned knolls were many robins, while finches of a number of varieties were in constant sight, and now and then a chewink made himself conspicuous. The chewink belongs to the finch family, and in many localities is called the towhee. Purple finches were common, as were those of the golden hue, especially among the young willows, where they love to nest.

The flora of the Elkhorn bottoms, at various points, vies always with the richness of the fauna. It is a delightful region for the student ornithologist. There were wood lilies or trilliums, the purple bath flower and painted nightshade, with its wavy, white flowers adorned with pinkish purple stripes at the base. The pale heliotrope cranesbill, twin flower and Solomons seal, while myriads of others, enlivened every nook and cranny.

At a broad reach in the stream, we saw a gay and blue mottled kingfisher take his arrowy plunge, as checking his rapid flight in midair, he dropped into the turgid stream and emerged with a small minnow. At the same bend we saw a muskrat swim across the shallows with a leaf of the blue iris waving plume-like above his head. The sweet carillon of the oriole came from a sprawling elm near by and we soon detected the gaudy yellow and black dress of the male bird restlessly moving among the lace-like foliage, and soon after the queer purse-like nest swinging from the tip of a drooping branch. The strident squawks of the purple grackles came from the boggy bottoms, and from his perch on the low limb of a wind broken cottonwood, a fox squirrel greeted us with his defiant wuk-wuk-wuk and then scampered down the old trunk and off to a clump of alder [word not legible] scared as his own temerity. The soft short notes of the blue bird was sometimes in the air, but we found no nests, and saw but two birds, both flying over in the air above. The wick-a-wick-wick-wick of the amorous yellowhammer was among the most frequent of all the bird notes, and every whipstitch we would catch a glimpse of one or two, in that long, undulating flight, or setting cross-wise on some limb, a position never assumed by any others of the woodpecker family, and this is something you chicken, quail and duck hunters must watch for this fall while you are out, as it is a remarkable freak of the flicker alone. Never have you seen a red headed woodpecker sitting crosswise on a limb, although you may think you have.

In the fragrant meadows back of the river woods, all aflame with the gold of the moccasin and sensitive plant, the larks made merry, and the bobolinks and red starred blackbirds moved about in musical confusion, while along the barbed wire fence posts chipping sparrows made the air ring, and the nesting call of the quail, now and then echoed across the fields.

In truth there were birds everywhere and never was there such a day, never such a region, where from morn till night nature's orchestra maintained such a continuous diapason. It is certainly a fact that bird life is more abundant right here in our own fair state than in any other region, in the whole broad land, and along the Elkhorn is a favorite haunt. Here the foliage is amply luxuriant, insect life is exuberant, the material for nesting purposes plenteous, and the necessary water for ablution and refreshment, and again, let me add, that it is my belief that birds as well as people have an appreciative eye for the charm of the out-of-doors, when it is enhanced a hundred fold by the soft swish of just such a wandering stream as the old Elkhorn.

There is a melancholy sweetness in the name of the month now rapidly on the wane—September. When it dawns upon you there is even a pleasure in rolling is rhythmic syllables over and over in the mind. The beauties the name brings with it are numberless and indescribable. The last summer thunder storms of the year; cool nights and mornings, sultry noons; soft, golden light, dreamy haze and languorous airs. The earliest warnings of approaching autumn come with September. It is then that the foliage on the isolated cottonwoods first begin to show faintly the topaz colorings of the ascending sun and it is then that a dull gray begins to mar the universal perspective of green. The edges of the hazel leaves have begun to brown and curl and the fat pods to take on the russet tinge that gladdens not only the eye of the country urchin, but that of the watchful squirrel as well. September, the Silent. But seldom now do you hear the cheery carillon of the robin, and never the liquid gurgle of the beautiful oriole. The birds have quit their nesting and turned their broods adrift, and are now resting and renewing their plumage for the great change they are so soon to make, for the long journey ahead.