Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

November 30, 1919. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 55(9): 14-W. Also: December 7, 1919. Sunday World-Herald 55(10): 7-W; December 21, 55(12): 14-N; and December 28, 1919, issue 55(13): 16-N. Corrections made for typographic errors.

An Indian Summer Duck Shoot on the Old Platte

That Vividly Recalled the Halcyon Days When the Feathered Hosts Came Down in Fall and Spring in Countless Thousands.

By Sandy Griswold.

Although I originally intended to make the trip to the sandhills, this fall, I deferred too long, a cold snap came, locked up the lakes and marshes as tight as a drum and sent the birds scurrying precipitately toward the south. As a matter of course my disappointment was deep and keen, but destined to briefly endure, for with the dawn of November, came our paradisiacal Indian summer, and it can be taken for granted I was quickly up and doing.

Together with the chivalrous sportsman, and royal good fellow, O.G. Osborne, I was the guest of Lige Parkins, at his snugly equipped ducking shack, on a beautifully woodsy island in the old Platte, for or five miles this side of Chapman. Joe Parkins, Lige's brother, and Frank Combs, a neighboring farmer and a skilled duck shot, spent much of the time with us and the week ran away on nimble and rosy feet.

It was one of those epochs encountered nowhere but at just such a gentleman's hunting shack as Lige's and with just such camaraderie as was our on this occasion, and the shoot I had took me back to the best I have experienced in many long years, and that is saying much, for I have spent some famous days on every well known ducking grounds in the country, from the legendary Chesapeake to the Sui Sun marshes in California.

We left the Parkins' farmstead about a mile from the river, long about half past 4 in the afternoon, and leaving Ollie and me in a blind, about midstream between the shore and the island on which the shack, amidst a grove of tall cottonwoods, low oaks and willows, was situated, Lige and Frank sloshed on across the innumberable channels and gleaming bars to the lodge, to brush up and get ready for dinner.

And what an evening we had, all the greater because it was unexpected. As a rule in these days the birds do not fly much at evening along the Platte, and Ollie and I would have been tickled to death almost over the assurance of a shot or two, and perchance a bird or two, but in lieu of this luck, we poked back through the channels and over the bars in the gloaming with a bunch of mallards on our backs that, in eloquent language told of the hour's shooting we had enjoyed.

This is not to be a lengthy description of our hunt, space is to precious just now, with a recountal of how we knocked down this and that duck, of the great shots, as well as the exasperating misses, and all the little entrancing incidents and episodes so delightful to the sportsman, but a brief film of our doings in a general way.

The sun went down that afternoon, in a liquid, ambient light, which over-spread the great expanse up and down and across and back the fretful river, with its green and dun and yellow shore line, woods and thickets, from the glowing lower towheads to the groups of leafless cottonwoods, which, in the summer time cast their cooling shades over the cosy old shack on the island, and we drank it all in just like so much good old Yellowstone.

Ah's me! Could I but surely count upon again enjoying that wild, wondrous, beautiful and ecstatic scene, and have one tenth of the sport Ollie and I had that evening and the few days following. I could ask no greater boon. Nerves that felt but a slight tremor at the going and coming of the ducks in the days of old, fairly quaked that first evening in the blind, when we were blessed with the sight of a most unusual flight, and their maneuvers up and down that termagant but gleaming and lovely old river kept us well occupied.

It was truly something like an old day flight, such as I have seen in the hallowed days of Sam Richmond, when feathered host upon feathered host, who had been putting in the day on the soggy and frozen corn fields, were coming into the river for the night.

Ah, those flights. Now forever, a thing for memory's conjuring only, when long lines of geese and mallards came widening out and sliding down, as all of you old time river haunters have seen them do, time and time again, fall and spring, in the happy days of the past; rising out of the dark horizon over the shores, hanging against the rose-tinted fleece in the heavens a moment, then come bearing down upon you like a tide of the summer's storm. Thrilling spectacle indeed - geese, mallards, pintails, widgeon and teal - some of them coming in to your decoys so low that they were on a line with the tops of your willow blind, and as the twilight deepened, fairly causing you to duck to avoid them. Over the low towheads to the west, where the farm lands rolled away from wooded shores like the broken billows of the ocean, they used to come, not in isolated and infrequent flocks, or singly and pairs as they are to be seen today, but in one great unending army, swifter than the prairie gust itself, while thousands streamed on over, in the still sunlit skies, up and down that frothy and twisting old water way, until the pall of darkness closed the scene.

Ollie and I got plenty of shots and plenty of birds on the evening in question, and no two men ever enjoyed the rare privilege more than we did on that deliciously chill and yet mellow November day just three weeks ago.

The sinking sun sprinkled the brushy bars and frowsy towheads like golden rain, while over the distant woods, from which the shack's blue smoke curled upward, sailed swift lights and shades, like the play of color on velvet, while gauzy clouds, streaming with the hues of an opal, drifted athwart the over-arching blue. Now the whole river valley would glow in a golden sheen, then a great shadow would rise from the stretch of glistening channels to the west, like Afrite from his crystal vase, and clamber down the river valley and out over the woods and fields until lost with the thickening gloom. When the birds ceased to move, the outlook was still indescribably enchanting in the decreasing light. From the rose leaf clouds, fading at the zenith, the crimson in the west paling before the advancing pall from the east, but at last we had to give it all up, and amidst the deepening purples of channel, and bar, and to the goodnight swishing of the waters over the sands, we shouldered our birds and started for the shack.

It was pitch dark, and a lone coyote was chanting his jubilate from the distant north shore, but with the flush of Hesperus still lingering, loth to give up the day, in the west, Osborne and I, with our mallards still on our backs, finally reached the open door to be greeted boisterously by Lige and Frank over our surprising good luck, as they helped us to the easiest chairs in the shack.

Then we fell to the most bounteous dinner of baked mallard - the kill of days before - home fried potatoes, cornbread, wild honey and rich coffee, all spiced with the aroma of the woods - Lige is a chef, not a cook, recollect - we went over the episodes of the day, and other days, too, I wot you, and then passed on into the felicitous dreams of flying mallards in the gleaming sinkings of the sun.

Sportsmen have undergone an evolution in the last decade, and today, to a majority of them, it makes little difference whether he returns from an outing with their full bag or creel, just so he has a good time. Most of them have become devoted nature lovers and students. They worship the sky, the fields and woods and lakes, marshes and streams, and all the beauty and life that pertains to them. nature, so grand and so entrancing, it is an ecstasy to admire her, in either fall, winter, springtime or summer. The dazzling glory of the sunlit hayfields, where, in July, the upland plover feeds and sounds his tinkling lute, and the chicken and the meadowlark bask and roam. How exquisite the silvery gleaming Platte, how beautiful the quiet, hazy hills and slumberous valleys.

But our days of pleasant weather are nearing their end, and the howling hosts of storm and cold will soon surround us. It is in the dreary winter we sigh longest, and closing our eyes, dream of the autumn days just faded, when the skies shown in softest azure from out the silvered lacework shifting over them, when the creek bottoms were a confusion of sensuous colors and the fields one expanse of waving hues and fine fragrance.

And when in the night you lie and listen to the warring elements without your chamber window, despite the darkness and the gloom, you again catch glimpses of the glistening sinuosities of the distant river, winding in and out from the scraggy cottonwood and crimson-starred willows, or the fields of tan and woods of gray, earth and arch vying with each other in their matchless beauty and enchantment. But it will take one more week to tell you of our hunt in its completeness, and my day alone on Red Cedar Island with the last of the summer birds and those that come with the rude blasts of late fall and winter.

Our Morning on the River When the Ducks Flew

And the Air Was Vibrant and Gleaming With Beauty and Color and Exhilarating Life.

However, before continuing the story of our shoot, I want to say a few words about Lige - Lige Parkins, our host, you know, - in order that other sportsmen may sense what a fine fellow he is and what a good old fashioned hunting shack he runs for their benefit, out there on that romantic little wooded island in the middle of the fabled old Platte - a hunting hostelrie that cannot be beaten anywhere in this section of the globe, and where sportsmen will receive the best kind of treatment at the most moderate rates. It is a famous old log lodge, too, at that, and many Omaha sportsmen have enjoyed its ruddy hospitality scores of times during the past two score years, and where the shooting is always good, when it is good anywhere, and where, despite your luck, you never fail to have a good time, and a profitable one, too, in the way of both physical and mental well-being. Come another fall - don't forget - Lige, whose address is Chapman, Neb., keeps the picturesque old shack open and at your service, from September 1 to January 1, and next autumn you must take a few days off, and make him a call.

And Lige, himself, well he is one of the old duck hunters of that immortal stream, just such a character as was Sam Richmond and Charlie Hoyt, of those medieval times at Clark's, the home of the Honorable Bill Douglas, and is known as one of the best duck shots in the state, and worthily so, too.

Lige is a character and he lays the whole region for miles around, under tribute up and down the river and on both sides, and he can find his way to any point, to any channel, to any woods, on the darkest night that falls upon the valley, aye, blind-folded, I veritably believe. While he is an industrious farmer, and owns my fair acres, he is, too, a duck hunter by choice, and a fisherman and a trapper, too. He is an au fait in all the requirements of his complex vocation, and in the summer time his fatal hook knows the buoy spots at every swishing channel above or below every towhead, the deep holes at every bend, every quiet pool, every pebbly lair and every enticing eddy in the stream for miles and miles each way. He knows just where to go for channel cat and walleyed pike in the early March, as well as late November, and he does not fail to get them when he goes after them, either. He is a neat, trim built young athlete, with a kindly, handsome face that is an index to his sterling character, and he presides over his little ducking camp with a grace that is inimitable. But it is not only in the lore of the wild fowl and the fish that Lige Parkins is so thoroughly versed, for he is a keen-witted and successful trapper. he knows just where to open the jaws of his mink, coon, possum, skunk and muskrat traps, both along the turgid river shores, and in the woods, and about the tangle of channels and sequestered pools and fields, where his chances are greatest for a catch. He is an adept in all the devious ways of the little furred folk of the silent places and knows their different tracks and trails like he knows his own handwriting.

But it is as a duck hunter and a duck shot, I like Lige best. When in a blind with him, it is to wonder at his prescience and his knowledge, to hear him name the ducks, when they are but mere black dots against the gray skies, up or down the river, miles away. At a glance he recognizes the kinds of birds they are by the way they cut through the ether, some peculiarity of their wing motion or flock formation, or contour of a single bird. Under Lige's expert instruction it does not require the youthful sportsman, or old one either, very long, before he, too, can pick out the mallards from the widgeon or the pintails, the canvasback and the redheads from merganzer or bluebill, when they are still a mile away. And the geese, they are easier, and the beginner soon knows their fight and looks from any of the ducks.

But wait until next fall - then you can go out and have a hunt with Lige, yourself, and he'll show you things that I have forgotten.

The first morning after our arrival it fell to my good fortune to go to the blind which Ollie and I had shot from the evening before, while Ollie and Frank Combs went on down the river a good mile and a half below, and while we all had a glorious morning's shoot - we made a good stand of it in results - Lige and I killing twelve mallards, three teal and a bluebill, while Frank and Ollie got thirteen mallards, a canvasback, a redhead and a teal.

The pink flush of the early dawn was just faintly suffusing the eastern sky when Lige and I, with Lige's grand old Chesapeake retriever, Rusty, were off. We got our decoys all out, the wooden floats, head on, as far out in the channel as we dared put them, the profile geese on a windward sand bar, and our callers - a trio of live half-breed mallards, and one full blood, a little nearer the blind; three of them in front of us and one across the bar behind, where she could not see her companions but could keep in touch with them in a conversational way. This isolated caller was a beauty - a little full-blood, wild mallard hen, very dark in plumage, and the very best called I ever shot over. She was wild as her native relatives while on the river, but as tame as the rest of them, when off duty. She is the keenest eyed bird I ever saw, and her work is truly wonderful. Not a single crow could winnow his black shape across the river, for a mile or more, up or down, but what she called our attention to it, and so it was, even to the illusive little snowbirds and juncos, which were always flitting in intermittent gusts athwart our sand bar hide, or over our decoys. We had hardly gotten satisfactorily settled, I say, when there came the low warning "Mark!" from Lige as he slowly sank, with Rusty, to a squatting position behind our willow barricade. Of course, I went down cautiously, too, and as I looked up, beheld three mallards coming, like aerial bolts, toward us from over the woods to the south, and quicker almost than it takes to tell it, they were upon us. We had no time even to designate our birds, but each felt that the other was old and skilled enough in the ways of the true wildfowler, to select the proper bird, and we did, although Lige very generously waited for me to take the initiative. I was on the right hand side, and the western bird, fell stone dead, at the crack of my gun; then the middle bird came hurtling down within a foot o the blind, with a thud and a bounce, in response to Lige's shot, but the third, well as fast as he was going, and as far over as he had gotten while I was turning around, I got him with my second barrel, and surprising, as it was he, too, fell on the bar, and there was not twenty yards distance separating each dead mallard from the other, all of which, I will say, was great work, quick work, perfect work, in fact.

And then, even before we had a chance to send Rusty out after our birds, or to exchange felicitations over our splendid shooting, another pair came skimming down the channel just above the surface of the water. Without a doubt they had been resting in some quiet cul-de-sac up the river, and our shots had raised and brought them flying down our way.

Lige and I both saw them at the same time and deeming any warning supererogatory, we both again crouched and awaited them. I was on the west side and whispered to Lige to take the leader and I would attend to the one in the rear.

They were speedily opposite us and the reports of our guns followed each other in quick succession, so quickly, in fact, that they almost blended into one, and two more big fat ones, a drake and a hen, fell struggling hopelessly into the channel. At a word from Lige, Rusty, with a little yelp, sprang away joyously. In a jiffy he had one of the dead birds in his mouth and was hurrying, dog-fashion, of course, after the other one, which the swift waters were rapidly carrying down stream and away from him.

He quickly reached it, however, but when he made a grab at it with his jaws, the other dropped from his mouth, and he had to turn to it again. This he repeated, in his efforts to retrieve them both on one trip, many times, to the delight and admiration of both his proud owner and myself, but realizing that he could not succeed in getting a grip on both of them, Lige called sharply:

"Bring him in, Rusty!"

Rusty halted instantly, treading in the rushing waters as he turned his great brown eyes our way. And what a picture he made - with one of the mallards dangling from his jaws, as in his quandary, for the second, he was undecided, then he turned resolutely to the floating duck, at the same time retaining tight hold on the one in his mouth and again dashed impetuously after the rapidly receding bird, overtaking it in a jiffy.

Wonderingly, almost awestruck, we watched him. Lige did not speak again, and I was content to keep my peace while I kept my eyes on that wonderful dog, to see how he was going to come out with the job he had cut out for himself.

He was soon on the second duck again with a stroke of his paw he knocked it under the surface, then with a quick, powerful lunge, he headed it off, and when it bobbed to the surface again, it was lodged against his sturdy, white-starred chest, and he was facing us, head up stream and slowly getting under way.

Then, in spite of the deep, cold waters and powerful current, he was soon making progress, and with the green head and orange feet of one of the mallards, the drake, dangling from either side of his massive jaws, and the mottled, rufous-sided form of the female bird lodged firmly against his chest, he made his way back to the bar. On reaching it, he dropped the drake from his mouth on the sands, and turning snapped up the hen from the shallows where she had lodged and on the gallop brought it to Lige. Then returning brought in the drake also.

"Wasn't that great?" ejaculated Lige, as he patted Rusty's upturned head affectionately, while his eyes shone with the love and admirations he felt for that truly wonderful dog.

Now let the aged John Burroughs, or any other of the conceited and learned philosophers, say that animals do not reason.

"Hark!" And with his hand still resting on the old Chesapeake's golden crown, Lige, and the dog, too, again crouched slowly, and as Parkins continued, "It is a bunch of teal and they're coming in." I imperceptibly got down, too.

They were onto us at once.

A gunner has to be pretty quick on the trigger in times like this, and the ragged bunch of birds were just bustling by, low down, over our geese decoys, when we let them have it, first our rights and then our lefts, as the little brown and gold and white feathered apparitions streaked up into the air. We knocked down three birds at the first enfilade, but not a feather responded to our second volley. The birds were too close upon us, and going with too much velocity, and we both shot behind them, of course. But you have been there, all of you old ducking pals of mine, and you know what it is to down a teal with your second barrel after a flock has literally pounced upon you as this flock pounced upon Lige and me, and then flared up and away from you?

"Oh, no, we are not shooting a little bit - this morning!" I exclaimed, conceitedly, as in an effusion of exultation I broke my gun and slipped in another brace of shells. "Nine shots and five mallards and three teals - it sure looks as if things were coming our way."

But here I am again running away with myself, so entrancing to me is the narrative I am indulging in, and as it is conservation of space and time and everything else with our orders these days, I must subside, and it will require another installment before I can tell you of my day with the winter birds on Red Cedar Island, and with a brief peroration of duck shooting on the most wonderful of all the rivers in the world - the glorious old Platte. I'll wait and wind it all up another Sunday.

What a mystic stream it is anyway, and what a blood-tingling picture it presents to the indurated old wild fowler in the gleaming days of Indian summer, as it flows, with accumulative impetuosity, onward and downward through this wondrous land, so entrancing and so romantic in its surrounding details, so majestic in its sweep of grandeur.

As the day broke and Lige and I stood there gossiping, we could see to the north, the outlines of the dun-covered uplands, tapering down into the broad valley, bordered with its white and spectral cottonwoods and slender willows, gleaming in ruby and topaz in the soft matutinal atmosphere; to the south a tortuous chain of islands and towheads, dark and gloomy in the shadows, and the river stretching away to the eastward through a network of barren bars and scintillating waters, was the beloved but savage Platte, a crawling, rushing, gurgling serpent, dim artery to all the vast prairie in the west, a watery illusion, a phantasy, a dream and yet the real paradise of the duck hunter.

The Platte is truly a peculiar old rivulet in the late fall, as in the breakup of spring, a seemingly interminable stretch of watery wilderness, the whole world seeming so swallowed up by its far-flung shores as to make it all but impossible to distinguish this river proper from its countless channels, sluices, cutoffs, islands and cul-de-sacs. The main channel, if there is such a thing, even to one familiar with the configuration of the landscape, can not be determined from the scores of other ambitious currents which fill its broad bed.

But ours was only one more day, and came its end, with the breaking of the morning, fresh and radiant as a newly cut diamond, with the fading of the pinks in the eastern sky, the distant hills warming into purple and the cottonwoods and the willows brightening into purest gold. Soon the sun was kindling the shoreline and underbrush into yellow life, picking out the sprouts and creeping vines, reddening tendrils and lingering leaves, until all was one vast, broad and dazzling Indian summer illumination. As we splashed ashore with our feathered burdens, a robin chirped petulantly at us from a low hackberry, the crows flapped indolently up and down the woods line, in search, no doubt, of dead or wounded duck, overlooked by the hunter, a wandering breeze raced over the arboreal islets and a long line of geese winged its way over us, far up in the skies, as they voyaged on to the south, and Lige and I looked up eagerly after them, sighed, and then plugged on to the old shack under the oaks. Nerves that do not thrill at such a scene are dead indeed.

Birds of Cedar Island; Little Bubo and the Crows

One Golden Day, and All My Own, Which Befell Me on My Hunt This Fall.

Inevitable, our squaw winter, that brief, but boisterous and stormy period, which is generally accompanied by flurries of snow and unseasonable cold, precedes our "Indian summer" in this latitude, and it came this year with the last ten days of October, but the latter cycle, which has been so beneficently ordained by the meteorological gods for our especial delectation, was ushered in, an efflorescence of golden sunshine, warm caressing breezes and hazy atmosphere, with the dawn of November, and that was the signal for start upon our duck shoot out at Parkin's lodge on the Platte, Ollie Osborne and I. Of the surprising and abundant success of this expedition I have related in a rambling sort of way the last two Sundays, and leaving our further joys with the wild fowl to your imagination, I will tell you of my day alone among the lingering birds of the late fall and their winter cousins who had ridden in on the winds of Squaw winter.

As all you duck hunting naturalists know, when you are crouching in your blind on the river or sandhills marsh in the early days of autumn, how the redwings, yellowhooded and all the tribe of the black birds, mass in clouds and how their jubilee notes ring out as they swing over, across and around the reed cane, rice beds or shore line tule and cane, always in joyous and clamorous motion; and again when you are down in the thin woods, along the creek, where you are hunting for a nut-fatted squirrel for the camp potpie, you see countless gatherings of the shy little warblers and note with regret the unwonted activity and restlessness that denotes their readiness for departure for the distant winter homes in the south.

But this interesting period had passed when we went forth this fall - Ollie and I - and after we had been at the shack in the woods a couple of days, and down in the blinds morning and evening, we soon discovered that the true summer birds, including the black birds, had all gone, and those that were left to delight our eye and ear, were the sturdier breeds, who defy all phases of weather, and the rarer winter varieties, who had sifted into the sequestered and silent places on the keener winds of Squaw winter.

And these are the birds I want to tell you of.

One morning Lige and I were lolling in front of the shack, enjoying our cigars in the soothing flood from the climbing sun, and while we certainly missed the dulcet knong-kong-karee-ee of the swarming black birds - as sweet a bird note as the piccolo of the meadowlark or the flute and bells of the vesper thrush - we had plenty of bird music to entertain us, in the jingling of the jays, the petulant chirping of the robins, the cawing of the crows, the illusive peepings of junco and snowbird, the unrecognizable twitterings of waxwing and crossbill and the beaded pearls from the white throats of the ever dear little chick-a-dees.

And the precious tomtit. It is an olden legend that the chick-a-dees go crazy in the fall - that when the winds grow rude and chill and the leaves are whirling in eddies from the limbs and twigs they recently so gracefully draped, they become obsessed with the spirit of buffoonery, ridiculously volatile, cutting up all sorts of aerial didoes, flitting unceasingly among the trees and low growths, hurling their tiny gray shapes with foolish impetuosity from one perch to another, all the time twittering and piping in strident tone.

It is said, in the beginning, they refused to take warning from the preparations for departure of the other birds as the fall days fell, but instead, in the exuberance of an abandon begotten by the exhilaration of the keener blowing winds, became so engrossed in their flighty whimsicalities that they were caught in the onrush of wintry weather. Not knowing what to do in this dilemma, as their companions were all gone, they were compelled to make the best of their improvidence and remain where they were, subsisting on the scanty fare the snow enwrapped woods and fields afforded, and finding shelter from the icy blasts in old deserted squirrel and yellowhammer holes until once more they found themselves under the riant skies of the sweet spring time.

Now that is why, the old story tells us, that Mr. Tomtit must always remain with us the year round, through the weary, dreary winter as well as the tender days of summer.

However affecting and pretty the old tale is, Chickadee is blessed with a heavy layer of fat beneath his soft fluffy jacket of ashen feathers, as well as with a sunny and contented disposition, and what terrors can the shrouds of snow or freezing blasts have for him?

In fact, the rougher and chillier the weather, the more irrepressible his spirits become.

"Now what do you 'spose is eatin' those crows?" Lige inquired suddenly, as he turned round on the stool on which he was sitting and faced the big woods on Red Cedar Island, across a broad channel of the river, something like a quarter of a mile south of the shack, whence came a regular bedlam of scurrious cries from what must have been a large number of crows.

"That is just what I was about to ask you," I replied, "but I mean to find out - will you go long?"

"No - I've got to run my trap line, you go down and settle the fuss, whatever it is, and I'll see you here in time to go out to the blind this evening."

Thereupon I hurriedly entered the shack, got my new bird glasses, the dandiest pair money can buy, and as the crows were still squawking to beat the band, I started of cautiously through the trees down toward the channel whence the turmoil emanated.

Notwithstanding I felt that I could approach the scene without much caution, as the birds were fairly beside themselves, I used the usual stealth, for I did not want to spoil any unusual thing that might be going on. I wanted to see the whole show.

After a little bit I caught sight of my excited friends, a regular riot of them, about a huge old cottonwood on the other shore. They were perched upon almost every limb and branch, while others were flying distractedly about, darting in and out and whirling all about, in a perfect frenzy of excitement.

They were in a terrible state over whatever it was that was "eating them," as Lige had said, and failing to discover what it was from where I was standing among the willows, I got down and by crawling slowly, reached an advantageous point, and through my glasses, speedily discovered the secret of all this unseemly uproar and revelry.

And what do you think it was? Nothing but a harmless and inoffensive little screech owl. he was perched upon one of the larger branches about half way to the top of the cottonwood, close to the base, with his brown-checked back almost against the hole itself.

As every schoolboy knows, the crow is fond of excitement, as well as lots of company, and they will seize upon the veriest and silliest of pretexts to call themselves together.

But an owl or a hawk is the bugaboo of their lives. If they espy one, even though he is proceeding quietly about his own business, that is the signal for a wild and distraught jubilee. Their wild, fierce cawing, as if by magic, attracts every crow in the neighborhood and they come in the neighborhood and they come trooping in from all directions to join in the saturnalia. And so it was this morning with my little screech owl. In a short time, as I knew, he had been literally surrounded by that crazy and vociferous mob, which became all the more incensed and all the more furious because little Bubo paid absolutely no attention to them, save slowly revolving his little head in his efforts to keep his wide open yellow eyes upon the movements of the flying horde. To those perched, he did not even deign a glance.

It was, indeed, an amusing spectacle to watch this little owl - caught out too late after sunrise at his mouse hunting - as he sat there blinking and staring at the inflamed meddlers about him. Those sitting nearest him kept up a perfect fusillade of vituperative abuse and ribaldry, but those flying about the outskirts of the cottonwood's involucre of branches, made even a greater hubbub. They could not endure the little screecher's insolence, but when he would neither make himself scarce, or pay more than the most decorous heed to their vociferous protestations, they became more and more indignant, and made such a terrific racket of it, that I believe they summons every crow within five miles about to the spot before the little comedy ended.

Their frenzy grew greater and greater every second, black rascal after black rascal came swooping in at every wild note, and still the little owl nonchalantly held the fort, until suddenly I arose standing, and then stepped out into a little opening, in plain view to the scolding hordes across the channel. Even before their keen eyes had glimpsed the figure of a man, the little owl, sensing, perchance, a real danger, vaguely, lifted his fluffy, noiseless wings and floated out right through the ranks of the wild scrambling crows, and off and into the deeper shadows of the nearby cedars.

With a tremendous to do, and in one massed rush, with a more deafening chatter than before, if that were possible, the crows followed, but when little Bubo disappeared into the thick scruff of the low cedars they gave up the chase reluctantly, and flew off over the woods, singly, in pairs and small bunches, until they were all gone, and only faintly came back the faint caws of the disappointed hosts, as they went their various ways in search of food or more excitement.

And now for the winter birds.

A Day on Cedar Island With Our Winter Birds

What I Saw From the Top of a Brush Heap Among the Oaks and Evergreens.

Wonderful in every way, it was an exquisite morning. I had never known one more beautiful, and after the crows had gone, I lingered quite a while upon the bank of the river, until in fact, a flock of birds swished by me in that regular and unruffled line that once told me that they were wax wings. The crossed the channel and flying low, passed out of view among the red cedars which of all the trees on the island, seemed to predominate, and from which the island derived its name.

But the truth is, I shortly discovered that the woods and air were full of birds and bird sounds, that they were profiting by the rare conditions as much as I was, and after striding a short ways back toward the shack, I was greeted by the half regretful disjointed minor strains of a white throated sparrow. He, too, was across among the cedars, and making up my mind, hurriedly, thereupon, to make a day of it, I proceeded back to the shack, and finding Lige gone, pulled on my waders, got my note book, and again trudged leisurely down to the channel. Many varieties of birds, flashed hither and thither, as I walked along, but I paid little heed to them, or anything else, until I had forded the channel and made my devious way in among the beautiful cedars, willows, cottonwood, low oaks and hackberries, until I reached a pot that suited me, a little open, with piles of brush scattered about, and surrounded on all sides, save the south, where the shores of the river curved, by these growths.

I adjusted my glasses and lay back upon a pile of brush feeling confident of my reward. In a moment or more I again caught the disjointed kee-lo-leet-leet-leet of the white throat, as he pretended to flute his lovely chanson from a clump of nearby maples. Then he stopped and I saw him, and several of his companions, flitting among the bare gray branches.

Next it was a strain, wheezy and indistinct, but surely from a song sparrow, that came from the thicket, and then two or three tantalizing notes, I would have sworn, had I not known better, came from the flecked throat of a hermit thrush, and I bent my head as if I really expected to hear his full song, commencing as it does with a single prolonged note of wonderful sweetness, followed, as you know, by a series of arpeggio chords.

There were many juncoes and snowflakes along the sands of the river's shore, and I caught their low jingling little songs, chee-we, chee-woom chee-we, chu-chu-chu. With a refreshing swishing whisper the wax wings again swept into view, across the opening and into the cedars.

While the waxwings, or cedar birds, as they are known further north, were plentiful winter visitors here when I came to Nebraska some thirty-four or five years ago, but latterly, they have been of but scarce occurrence and I was delighted to find so many of them on these mystic little islands out along the Platte. And of all our winter birds, excepting neither redbird, bluejay, tomtit or titmouse, there are none so softly sweet and dear to most bird lovers who know them, as these self-same little prim and precise cedar birds. His coat is fine and silken, dovelike in color and otherwise beautifully robed, with pointed crest ising and falling, in expression of his various whims, velvety black chin and forehead and an ebony black line from his eye, adding to his distinction. His tail has a narrow yellow band across its end, and on the wings, small red spots. They are always seen in flocks and are tame and sociable, never separated or scattered much, and feed principally upon the small blueberries of the red cedars, choke-cherries, wild grapes, woodbine berries, wild grapes, woodbine berries, wild grapes and the little hard red haws, found occasionally in our Platte tangles.

The waxwing is as gentle as he is refined, and almost constantly maintains a becoming silence. He will sit still for long periods, and his most frequent note, when he does utter any, is a soft tweet-tweet, seeap-zee-eee, next to a whisper. When they take wing, it is all together, and they fly in close ranks on a methodical line. In point of real beauty he out rivals even our gaudy little goldfinch, the white throat, purple finch, fox sparrow, which birds also are given to friendly flocks, and all are among our choicest choristers. The white-throated, although clothed in plain gray, with a white patch above, is a handsome sparrow, and his song among the sweetest of them all, and I saw one or more of all of them that day on the island.

There were three fox sparrows in sight almost all the time. They seemed to be as much interested in me as I was in them, and I learned a lot about them in that little time. The fox, I think, is the dandy of his tribe, of a rusty, reddish coat, with his white vest heavily spotted with brown, something like the thrush, but easy of differentiation. They comes in with their cousins, the slate-colored juncoes and love to scratch around among the leaves and weeds of our thickets, just like a barnyard hen, as also does the towhee and the oven bird. His carol is rich and ringing.

The junco is among the commonest of our winter birds, and they were always in evidence, but are hard to separate from many of their kind, when casually observed, until he flies, and then the white feathers on each side of his tail, gives him away. He always telegraphs his start, with a rather penetrating sip-sip, evidently uttered in alarm. They are seldom absent from the desolate winter fields and roadside stretches. The snowflake is another sparrowy little fellow, most all white, with rusty tinges, and he walks instead of hops over the frozen grounds of our ploughed fields, where he is always found. He rarely perches higher than the top rail of some old fence, and is really a grand little fellow, delighting in the iciest of storms, and thriving bounteously where most other birds would perish.

The goldfinch, which loses his startling gold coat in the late fall, while a hardy winter lingerer, we know best in summer and fall, when he is often seen clinging to slender stems of the thistle, like a yellow flower. On the wing, he is always rising and falling, in long aerial undulations, piping in sweetest accents, at every rise, on his wavy pilgrimage. In the winter time in his sober raiment of dingy olive brown, a great contrast from his bright lemon jacket, black cap and wings of summertime, his twittering ripple is always in the air while he feeds on larvae and the berries if they are protruding through the snow. He, like the cedar bird, is a late breeder, but is always in harmony with either our June of November landscape.

But they were all there even to that rare little fellow, the purple finch, who in the late autumn wanders about aimlessly, like the yellowbird, in flocks. He has a rounded bill and a forked tail, distinct from the song sparrow, and feeds on larval and the berries of he red cedar, and in the spring is one of the best singers of all the sparrows, but is much subdued in the cold and lowering days of the fall.

Still another associate of the junco is the redpoll, or red capped chippy, and there were many of them there, hard as it is to find them at most any season of the year, a linnet of rare symmetry, which nests in the far north, but is with us from November till March, feeding upon the seeds left uncovered by the snow, or the tender shoots of our winter growths, another beauty with his crown of bright red, back brown black, throat black, under parts white, streaked with black, and breast light pink.

And the crossbills. I must not forget the cross bills, which have been seen hereabouts with unusual plentifulness this winter, and on the island seemed to live solely upon the blue cedar berries, and the little cones of the low pines. They are erratic in their movements, and come here in November, and I was much interested in watching them at their feeding with a strong misshapen bill, with crossed mandibles, which, while clinging to the stem, they would insert beneath the scales of a pine cone, like you would handle a pair of scissors, and with a sort of a simple twist forcing these off and exposing the seed in the center. They fly in compact flocks and emit a clickety sort of a note as they fly, sweet and varied but low and subdued. In fact the waxwing is the most quiet of all our birds.

When there were no other birds in sight, which was only for the most limited periods, I always had the chickadee to turn to. He wasn't one bit afraid and seemed to be really intent on entertaining me. Glancing from some low limb to some other, or perched jauntily on a slender, outstretching twig, he would suddenly whirl recklessly over, and hang with his velvety head downward, and then whiz this way or that, right in my face, with the evident intention of making me move - always the embodiment of dynamic force and industrious animation, inspecting as he does every hidden cranny or crevice for torpid insect or insect eggs, stuffing his tiny crop to bursting and punctuating the muffled and frozen places of the dreary woods with his incessant chick-a-deeing and insuppressible good cheer.

And the tufted titmouse, he was there too, and more numerously than I had ever known him to be at any place it the state before. On this afternoon I counted fourteen of these rare little beauties, and there were fine of them in sight at one time.

Like the nuthatch and the kinglets, the titmouse is a close relative and an ever increasing little species of the fall and winter woods. He is also quite a famous autumn chorister, and as he flits aimlessly hither and thither, precisely like the tomtit, he is ever sounding his well modulated peto-petee, sometimes in one key, sometimes in another, but always as sweet and clear as a bell and incredulously far reaching in the woodsy silences, low and guarded as it is.

His topknot is decided and clean cut, and there is none of his kind any prettier. If you are a roamer of the forests and fields you must know there are few birds with this conspicuous cranial tuft - the jingling jay is one, the bellicose and tuneful cardinal - our common redbird - another; then there is the crested flycatcher and the kingfisher, as well as the demure and sociable waxwing, or cedar bird, of which there was a flock always in view as I stole about the beautiful island.

The titmouse, by the way, is just as pert and jaunty as the chickadee, and just as much of a gymnast and acrobatic performer. He has a short, sharp bill, but not chiseled like the woodpecker's, nor as effective in this line of workmanship as chickadee's, and for a haven from unfriendly winds and weather, hawks, owls and crows, he is often forced to preempt the latter's little tunneled homes.

Of course the white breasted nuthatch - sapsucker of my boyhood days - was always in evidence, either visually or through his tireless and monotonous yak-yak-yak-yak as he pursued his diurnal vocation. He is also a trapeze performer, hanging fearlessly from the highest branches, running with imperturbable confidence along the undersides of the big limbs with as much ease, grace and facility as along their tops. Only the housefly rivals Nuthatch in the pedestrian proclivities.

I did not see any signs of his first cousin, the redbreasted nuthatch, but he is also a frequenter of these woods, but is never seen in anything like the whitebreasted numbers. He belongs, properly, further north, is a hardy little russet-chested mite and makes but few and infrequent sounds.

I saw a ruby-crowned kinglet twinkling among the blueberried cedars, and the dainty picture he made was as sweet as it was exquisite. The ruby crowned is another of the fidgety type, as energetic as he is restless, and moves with a cunning little jerky motion from branch to branch and from twig to twig, lifting and flitting his wings every little while, like the bluebird and the pine grosbeak. I never could figure out just what this little spasm of motion meant, unless it was made just through the sheer joy of living.

Related Images: