Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. July 31, 1898. [Lovely Summer Day Outdoors Hunting the Upland Plover.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 33(304): 24.

Forest, Field and Stream.

The lawyer and I put in a half day after the uplands during the last week, and while we did not exterminate the species, we killed nine birds, which was even better than we had expected, and perfectly satisfactory.

The day was a lovely one, despite the sun's fierce rays, for a refreshing breeze came singing down from the north, and great vapory masses of clouds kept the earth about half the time in a soothing shadow, and Bill and I would have had a good time if we had not bagged a feather. The pleasures of a day's outing with the rod of the hammerless does not lie altogether in the quantity of game that is slaughtered or the number of fish that are taken. With the anglers, size is rapidly displacing number as a criterion of success. It is the big fish, not the big string of fish that is shown with pride among men who claim to be true anglers. They tell a good story of one of our city officials who went up the Wyoming trout streams not so very long ago where there were a number of Omaha and Chicago anglers, and having succeeded in catching a huge string of diminutive trout, brought in his spoils in triumph and exultation The cold, not to say scornful reception given him by every fisherman in the party so dampened his foolish pride that he cut short his stay and quickly sought other fields of renown. This growing contempt for the fingerling fisherman is thoroughly healthful, and means everything for our continued fish supply.

And it is so with the true sportsman. His aim today is not to kill his seventy-five or hundred chickens or ducks, a dozen is enough and two dozen a great abundance. He has grown to rest content with the beauties of nature as revealed to him while afield. He is uplifted and benefited by the inspiration he finds in the woods and fields and by lake and stream, by the messages whispered by the quaking cotton woods, sung by the dashing Platte or Niobrara intoned by the mighty voice of all outdoors. But in speaking of these things to some men is to appeal to dulled, unheeding ears. As well tell it to the dead. Such folk hear never the pipe of Pan, but ever the song of Circe.

There are restrictions in the fish and game laws of many states, limiting the amount of fish and game one may take in a given time. Such laws are wise and necessary, and are growing to be more and more effective. They are intended to curb the gluttonous proclivities of the fish and game hogs. They are not required for the restraint of sportsmen. In such matters your sportsman at heart is a law unto himself. No statute limits his practice afield; he is guided and governed by the great unwritten rule of taking only what can be used; of sparing and wasting not; of regard for others than himself.

The lawyer and I have spent many pleasant days afield and astream together, and I know we agree upon the sentiments above expressed. It has become so with me, anyway, after long years of excitement with the gun, during which I have bagged about everything in the game line, from deer on the northern peninsula to canvas back at Currituck and in the sandhills, and rail at Manawa and doves on the plains of the Elkhorn, that the enjoyment of the beauties of nature is the chief charm of a hunt or a fish for me. I have been an ardent lover of all that is animate and inanimate in the great panorama ever flitting before my eyes, since the first time I ever trudged to the woods with my grand sire's old muzzle loading musket for flickers and woodpeckers. I love the trees and the flowers, the sunshine and the hills, the odorous air and all that with them goes, and I ascribe to this capacity of appreciation all that is best and most healthful in my life. I have acquired about all I know by outdoor life, and would fain believe the lesson has no yet all been learned. I love to attempt the portrayal of the scenes dear to the sportsman's heart in the grandest colors and catchiest finery at my command, and the man to me is no man at all who can see harm in a ramble in field or wood. It fills me with nobler ambitions and higher impulses, teaches the true lessons of self denial, self reliance, endurance, patience and courage, of the religion that dwells in the out-of-doors, where the bared soul

  • "Like Moses, may espy
  • Even in a bush, the radiant Deity."

When the bugloss spread its blue across our wide pastures, and the summer air was redolent of mint; when the mutterings of thunder were over, and silvery clouds hung low along the horizon; when a softer stillness lingered in the cottonwoods, and a milder radiance played along the hills—do you not, all you sportsmen, recall those days as something too sweet for definition?

Can you forget how something like the siren music of a phantom thrush struck a strange cord within, and while you stood wondering whether it fell from the sky or came from below the horizon's verge, you saw a little scrap of gray, whisking from the rosin weeds, far out of range, and aimed for the zenith. Then, louder and clearer, yet even softer than before, fell again that strange rippling tinkle, that lilt of liquid melody that filled the dancing air as the first upland took wing as you strode forward through some broad pasture. You cannot forget that, any of you, who have braved summer's blazing skies in pursuit of this bird king of the dog days.

That was the way it happened to Bill and I, for possibly the hundredth time in the last ten years, on Wednesday afternoon last. We had barely crawled through the detestable wire fence into the long sloping, bespangled pasture below the beautiful country place of the venerable Dr. Link.

The bird was up and off before either was prepared for such an event, and as he sailed away against the background sky, like a thread of cobweb, the lawyer said:

"There are more here, Sandy."

"Tur-wheetle! Tur-wheetle!"

Again that pearly triplet of tone filled our senses, and another bird, way out of distance, spread his long pointed pinions and was in the air.

Not in the startled quack of the mallard, the autumn quail's sad call, the strident skeap of the jack snipe, or even the resounding honk of the wild goose, is there such resistless power as in the tinkling cry of the upland plover. It is marvelous how a sound so light can be so far-reaching, or a tone so ineffably sweet traverse space like a thunderbolt with so little loss of its mysterious power. I honestly believe that the rippling alarum of this mystic fellow, as he leaves the ground and bounds into space can be heard, on a favorable day, for the distance of a mile or more. All surroundings lose their charm for me when I first see that tiny film of gray trailing over the midsummer's sky and catch those pearls of sound that only one little throat can drop.

The lawyer and I were now on the alert as we strolled along where the folded white and blue globes of the wild morning-glory were twining over the yellow gold of the cinque-foil, when suddenly we were both startled by the burst of "tur-whee-tles" right in our very front. Bill was the first to shoot and he cut his bird down, a dandy young cock in a brilliant new coal, but I failed on mine, a quarterer, with my first barrel, but caught him hard enough with my second, to push him higher up in the air, where he soon began to sag, then started slantingly for the earth with greater momentum than ever, bobbing badly from side to side, as he descended, until finally, with a faint thud, his mottled body struck the cropped grass, bounded into the air, falling limp and lifeless at the edge of a clump of ragweed.

"That wasn't so bad," observed the lawyer, as I picked up my bird and wiped the cruel crimson smear from off his sunny breast upon my canvas wammus, and shoved him round into my pocket, "as we got two out of the three."

What became of the other one?" I inquired, as we again moved on.

"Oh, I watched him," replied the barrister, "until he disappeared away off over that plowed field yonder. We'll go through this, then work around that way."

It must have been a full half hour after this, and Bill and I were panting with the heat like a couple of thirsty dogs, when abruptly we heard that well known triplet of melody, so soft and sweet, that it seemed must have fallen from incalculable heights through the air.

As we looked up toward the flecked vault of heaven, expecting to see a little moving speck among the clouds, a bit of gray and white flitting over some ragweeds scarce thirty-five yards away caught our eyes simultaneously. Quickly my gun was whirled from my shoulder toward it, but again the lawyer beat me, and I was both chagrined and pleased to see the bird crash down through the foul-smelling and dust laden weeds.

Then there was a chorus of those sweet cries, and no less than a half dozen birds, widely scattered, took to the air. I brought down one as he foolishly circled back over us, with a long hard shot, and Bill, running forward to the brow of a small hill over which he had seen a couple drop down, made a double, a dead bird with his first, and a badly crippled one with his second. The wounded plover gave us a merry chase through the straggling weeds and bunch grass, but we kept him moving and he couldn't hide, and he soon found lodgment in the lawyer's capacious pocket. After beating up the field for another half hour, we concluded that the birds had sought other pastures, and we went on out into the road and down a big cornfield, where the barrister said he had marked several birds down. We had barely gotten in and among the waving stalks when a wisp of gray took wing, and as he was on Bill's side, I did not shoot. The lawyer did, however, and scored his first miss. He was too anxious and fired too quickly, and above the edge of thin smoke the bird went sailing skyward. But disappointment soon vanished, however, for we quickly had four or five birds circling in the air, and by careful and cautious work we succeeded in bringing three more to bag by the time the pink and orange and purple of twilight began to settle into that melancholy gray that precedes the shadows of night.

And then came the drive home along the pleasant country road.