Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

July 28, 1901. [Day Hunting Doves and Plover at Millard]. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 36(301): 18. Portion of column.

Forest Field and Stream

By Sandy Griswold.

Only Wednesday last, Wilber Fawcett, George Giacomini and I drove out north of Millard for a day with the doves and the plover. The day was perfect and we would have had a most enjoyable time had we not seen a feather. It has become so with me, at last, after years and years of excitement, in the field, during which I have killed almost everything furred, finned and feathered that comes under the head of game, from deer in Maine and the Adirondacks, and deer and bear in Michigan, to geese and ducks and chicken, quail and jacksnipe in the marshes, on the prairie and along the streams of Nebraska, that the love of nature is the principal claim I find in hunting. The pleasure of exercising the considerable skill with which I know I am possessed in finding game and shooting it is truly secondary to the love I have for all animate and inanimate nature. I love the trees and the fields and the waters with equal fervor. I lover the trees and the flowers, the sunshine, the hills, the lakes and streams, the air and all the communicants which go therewith. I think as much of the robin, with his ruddy vest and black hood, as I do of the Canada goose, with his ebony head, white collar and sonorous auh-unk! I am as interested in the flicker as he undulates across the fields in flashes of gold, as I am in the pinnated grouse that thunders from under your very feet from out the yellowing prairie grass; there is as much music for me in the whistling wings of the dove as he rises from the new-made stubble as there is in the raucous cry of the mallard or the cacklings of the pintail or widgeon, the red-headed woodpecker pitching from cottonwood to fence stake is as curious to my eye as the whizzing bee-line flight of the quail; and the young meadow lark, with a breast of gold and jet nearly as bright as that of his chuckling old size; the bee bird, whose curious little curving excursions from telegraph wire or barbed fence are always fascinating as you watch him from the buggy; the swifts and swallows darting hither and yon, the noisy chewinks, ghostly rain crow, thrush, indigo bird and wild canary, they all hold for me an equal charm with the gamey jacksnipe, tinkling yellow leg, curlew or sandpiper. And thus it is with all the birds, and all the animals, too, and I know of no state more literally abounding with this beautiful wild life than our own fair Nebraska.

But on Wednesday last I lost temporary interest in the charms of the commoner adjuncts of outdoor sights and pleasures, when suddenly Wilber raised his hand with an admonishing "Listen," and the next moment we heard a rippling whisper like the silvery notes from a phantom lute, come falling from the clouds, and as we lifted up our eyes, caught a glimpse of a little film of gray trailing over the hazy summer sky, and then again and again caught those pearls of sweetest harmony as they dropped from that delicate threat as the graceful shape pitched on for nearly a half mile and then dove down into a field of withered head-high corn.

We were not long in getting out of the wagon and hitching the horses in the soothing shade of a convenient box-elder, we climbed through the barb-wire fence into an old pasture adjoining the corn field into which the plover had dropped. Giacomini said he would play dog and start the birds, so skirting the clump of caterpillared bramble bushes he crawled through another fence into the corn, while Wilber and I strolled slowly along in the pasture, ready and alert for the flushing of a bird. I was admiring the pale white and blue of a few struggling blossoms of the wild morning glory, which twined in and among the gold of the cinquefoil along the old stunted hedge posts that had once partitioned the two fields, when suddenly I was startled by a sudden triplet of sweet noise—the startled upland's whistle—and turning to the left was barely in time to see a fragment of gray flitting over the sear tops of the corn not forty yards away. The next instant Fawcett's—he had climbed into the corn—gun disturbed the summer quiet, and when the thinnish vapor, which is all those matchless Peters' shells make, had swept away I could see nothing but the waving corn, while Wilber stooped down, hiding himself a moment amidst the waving leaves, then standing up he held high, where I could see, a young plover by the tip of one of his long, pointed wings.

"First blood," he cried, then slipping the dead bird into the pocket of his canvas shooting coat, he moved on.

A few moments later and it was my turn. From the dusty tufts of rag weed at the lower end of the pasture some eight or ten plover flushed at one time, and, as if rebounding from heaven, that sweet call echoed, and re-echoed from all points of the field, I stopped short in my tracks as I saw a wary old bird swinging round toward me, and calling to Wilber and Giacomini to stand still, I prepared myself for a kill.

"Turwheetle! turwheetle!" the bird cried as it swept down toward me, but shied off as it detected my motionless figure, but it did not get far before I stopped it, for at the crack of one of those far reaching Peters shells it went gyrating into the corn, not a dozen steps from where George was standing. At that very instant an old mottled hen jumped from the straggling tufts of golden rod not twenty yards away, and in my eagerness I fired before getting her will covered and above the edge of that thinnish spiral of smoke she went sailing quickly off and up toward the sky. And then I heard Wilber. Scarcely had the report of my piece died away when a bird arose out of one of the corn rows, and I saw him raise his gun and then heard its spiteful crack. But he had made a clean miss and off went the plover, out over the upper end of the pasture, where it was joined by several other lines of tinkling gray, and in another moment the whole neighborhood seemed resonant with a full chorus of that mystic melody.

Have you ever shot plover in the ripening corn and on the grazing lands hemming it in round about? Is there any better sport, is there anything that will keep the blood in such speedy circulation?

Giacomini had come out of the corn and joined me, and while he stood there lamenting the fact that he had not yet had a shot, I saw a bird, clear cut against the sky, within fair range, and George saw it too, and in our excitement we both fired together. The stricken thing held its poise in the air a second, then there was a sharp note and in a whirl of mottled gray, and white, and brown, it came tumbling down, over and over, like a duck out of a high-flying flock, to the short cropped grass. Two companions, which we had not seen, but which were trailing close in its wake, sped away in fright, the crack of our guns, their notes falling even louder and sweeter, as they fringed the fleecy, low-lying clouds. They quickly vanished and all was strangely quiet. We bent our heads to listen, but not a whistle, save the mockery which came from a flock of jangling blackbirds coursing the air near by, did we hear, and somewhat perplexed, we moved on.

We had traversed 100 yards or so on toward a broken sod field, which lay to the west of the pasture, where that tender yet thrilling triplet again sounded on the ear, and at the same time we beheld a brace of plover just clearing the ragged weed tops about forty yards in our advance. And again we both shot, but so simultaneously that neither knew the other had done so until after it was over. I covered the leader first, and at the crack of my piece he let go and sunk into the green. And George had done precisely the same thing! The first one down, my second barrel was turned on the other bird and so was Giacomini's. This may seem strange, but any two men who have shot ducks from the same blind or quails or snipe much together, know what a common thing it is for them to both shoot at the same bird at the same time, and neither know it until it comes to claiming the bird.

On this occasion, however, we were too anxious to add to our bag to feel nettled even in the slightest degree, and instead of one complaining of the other, we exchanged congratulations at the cleanness of the two shots and each pocketed a bird, and while it made not a particle of difference which of us killed them, there was a sort of a triumph, anyway, in momentary possession. However, to avoid any further needless contretemps of this sort we here agreed to separate, and as I worked back along the edge of the corn, George strolled off cat-a-cornered across the pasture land.

We had hardly gotten out of gun range of each other when two birds flushed in from of Giacomini. They were at a trifle long range, but he turned the first one over with the skill of a Parmalee, and dusted the fluffy tops of the golden rod around the second. George scampered off to retrieve his fallen bird, which proved to be only wing-tipped, and as it led him off through the patches of mullen, rag-weed and purpling lobelia, he flushed two or three more birds that had been lying in the covers' shade away from the fierce rays of the sun. All of these birds went up high into the air, then struck a bee-line off to the south, and as near as we could make out, settled in the middle of another big corn field fully a mile away.

But, lack-a-day, like all the other good things in life, our sport came to as sudden end as it had begun. It was too great to last. We hunted hard and industriously for an hour longer. Wilber even trudging way off to the distant corn field were we thought some of the birds had lit, but not another feather did he get. The birds had simply and incontinently quit the neighborhood, and as we stood beside the wagon debating what to do next and where to go, we descried once or twice a streak of gray scudding across the azure of the sky, leagues and leagues away, it seemed, and then wind out of sight, while now and then, coming from where none could tell, came that sweet melody, like tinkling bells in heaven, that mysterious, searching, indescribable "turwheetle" of the upland plover, until all again was still save the taunting throat burst of the meadow lark and the "chuck! chuck! chuck! of the crossing redwings overhead.