Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 2, 1898. [October Day Views of the Outdoors - Pheasants - Camera Hunting - Game Law Suggestions.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(2): 23.

Forest, Field and Stream.

October days.

Fields as green as in June when the lilt of melody from the meadow lark's throat tinkled o'er them cottonwood clumps, hazel, plum and wild grape patches more gorgeous with countless hues and tints than a rainbow's shadow are spread beneath the azure sky, whose deepest color is reflected with intense blue in lake and stream. In them against this color are set the scarlet and gold of every tree upon their brinks, the painted hills, the clear cut bluffs, all downward pointing to the depths of nether sky.

Overhead thistledown and the silken balloon of the milkweed float on their zephyr-wafted course, silver motes against the blue, and above them are the black cohorts of crows in their straggling retreat to softer climes. Now the dark column moves steadily onward, now veers in confusion from suspected or discovered danger, or pauses to assail with harsh clangor some sworn enemy of the sable brotherhood.

Their azure clad smaller cousins, the jaybirds, are for the most part silently industrious among the gold and bronze of the oaks and maples, flitting to and fro in flashes of blue as they fill their crops, but now and then finding time to scold an intruder with an almost endless variety of discordant outcry.

How sharp the dark shadows are cut against the sun lit fields, and in their gloom how brightly shine the first fallen leaves and the starry bloom of the wild asters. In cloudy days and even when rain is falling the depths of the Elkhorn or Loup valleys are not dark, the bright foliage seems to give forth light and casts no shadows beneath the lowering sky.

The scarlet maples glow, the golden leaves of cottonwood and poplar shine through the misty veil and the deep purple of the plum glows as if it held a smouldering fire that the first breeze might fan into a flame, and through all this luminous leafage one may trace branch and twig as a wick in a candle flame. Only the frowsy elms are dark as when they bear their stubborn green into the desolation of later autumn, and only they brood shadows.

In such weather the woodland air is laden with the light burden of odor, the faintly pungent aroma of the ripened leaves, more subtle than the scent of flower or blossom, yet as apparent to the nostrils, as delightful and more rare, for in the round of the year its days are few, while in summer sunshine and winter wind, in springtime shower and autumnal frost, cottonwood, hazel, plum, grape, oak and ash distill their perfume and lavish it on the breeze or gail of every season.

Out of the marshes, now changing their universal green to brown and bronze and gold, floats a finer odor than their common reek of ooze and sodden weeds-a spicy tang of frost-ripened flags and the fainter breath of the landward border of rice and reed; and with these is mingled the delicate pungency of rottening stubble and drying corn, and the distant woods, where the pepperidge is burning out in a blaze of crimson and the yellow flame of the cottonwoods flickers in the lightest breeze.

The air is of a temper neither too hot nor too cold, and is what is now rather the gaudy wood and yellowing pasture land, and no longer are there such hordes of insects to worry the flesh and trouble the spirit. The flies bask in half torpid indolence, the tormenting hum of the mosquito is heard but seldom. Of insect life one hears but little but the mellow drone of the laggard bees, the noontide chirp of the cricket and the indistinct rustle of the dragon fly's gauzy but tireless wing. Unwise are those who do not profit in this time, for October days are days that should be made the most of; days that have brought the perfect ripeness of the year and display it in the fullness of its glory.

October days.

The most welcome of the whole 365 to the lover of the forest, field and stream.

If there were no such things as calendars the sportsmen would know that these were October days.

In the neglected pastures the feather stems of the tall weeds are but staffs for the busy spider's lace work, and the rowen crops of the hay land are thickly dotted with withered clover heads and the white panicles of the wild carrot. The pale yellow of the shorn rye stubbles is overtopped and hidden by the abundance of tall ragweed, green as yet, but on which later the quail and snowbirds will feed. By the roadside asters are blooming, and the tangled grapevines in the creek's bottom glow with the yellowish-red arils of the bittersweet, and down along the slough's borders the wild rice pellets have begun to fall.

The time of singing birds is past and gone. Only the alarm notes of the robin, flicker or jay are heard. All have finished their season's work, have reared their broods, and now are gathering strength for the long journey on which before long they must start. Birds are still to be seen, but they are busy, restless, uneasy. Swallows skimming over the fields, or following your buggy along the country highway are rarities now, but the king bird seems to be the possessor of every telegraph pole, discordant black birds fly over the marshes, and now and then a belated plover wings his silent was across the melancholy fields. But the real bird time is now over, and from now on until another April's breath warms the teeming land, those which we see will be only our native hosts, assembling for the journey, or loiterers moving along southward, or hardy winter residents, which ply their busy tasks in field and woods all through the season of bitter cold.

But the signs are just right. What do you say, let's try the ducks.

Along the bottom lands of the Elkhorn and the Platte the flag is fading and the tints of gray are beginning to creep over the stately heads of the cattails, the topaz plume of the goldenrod has dropped and the cottonwoods are shedding their leaves onto the smooth waters they overhang.

Here we go, down one of the sloughs that lead from the river to the bottoms, with decoys stacked in the stern and everything in readiness for the evening flight. Along the muddy shores the yellowleg lounges in easy grace, picking here and there, or squatting on the gravelly beach, until the boat approaches within a few yards before he springs into flight. Dozens of little white-speckled sandpipers run along the shallows, or rise in dignified flight, when we approach too near, and travel a few yards up stream to alight and look at us again. Teal in large flocks sweep along the bars, and blackbirds, swamp wrens and pewees whisked about over in and out of reed, tule and rice, in numbers almost incredible.

In the upper sky long lines of ducks are headed north or south, as the whim seizes them, and at every turn in the slough a pair of mallards or teal, or widgeon rise with startled quack, often wheeling round or whizzing over us in the most tempting manner. But we are old veterans in the business and we let them go.

Here we are in our hole in the reeds we occupied this morning, the decoys are dancing merrily on the open stretch in front of us, and everything is in readiness for the closing shoot of a lovely day. The sun has dropped to the rim of the western sandhills and along the sky stream lines of dark dots, while from over the rise and the willows in all directions appear small bunches, big flocks and single ducks.


It is a big mallard, resplendent in glistening emerald, satiny blue, beamy chestnut and velvety black, and he comes down the slough with lazy stroke of wing, wagging his long green neck and head up and down as if looking for a comfortable place to alight for his evening meal. He is big and plump and easy of flight, and along my Lefever I plainly see the light dance on is burnished head and it seems unnecessary to aim very far ahead of him.

Ho! ho! Had the sandhills rolled over on the marsh I could hardly have been more astonished than I am to see that big drake bound skyward with thumping wings at the report of my gun.

But you have all been there and—but mark!

Like a charge of cavalry in bright uniform, with long green necks and heads gleaming like so many couched lances, a whole flock of mallards stream along the water in front of us. Though I can see four or five heads in line as I pull the trigger, but one duck falls; and as the rest, unharmed, climb the air with throbbing wings, your gun cracks twice in quick succession, and another bird parts from the flock with wavering flight, hangs high in the air for a second, then, folding his wings, descends with a splash into the reeds on the other side of the slough where it will not pay to push out and waste time in looking for it.

"Mark! Mark!"

But what's the use. Phoebus and his golden chariot have now neared the gate of gilded clouds, and the birds are streaming in from all directions. The hosts that have been feeding in the distant corn fields have begun to pour in, while the vast army bound south are marching down the sky. Long lines come widening out and gliding down, and out of the horizon rise dense bunches, hanging for a moment in the rosy sky, then bearing down upon us.

A report comes to me from Calhoun that several small broods of Mongolian pheasants have been seen in the thickets northwest of that village during the late summer, and the urgent request is made the gunners hunting quail in that locality this fall spare the pheasants. These birds are the tardy out-growth of the half dozen pairs Dr. George L. Miller liberated up in that neck of the woods some ten or twelve years ago. I saw quite a bunch of the birds up there myself a year ago last fall while quail shooting with Con Young and Irvine Gardner. We flushed the birds once or twice before we made out what they were, but made no attempt to bag any. The Mongolian pheasant has increased tremendously out in Oregon, where the experiment of propagating them was first made. Many sportsmen out there think them equal to prairie chicken for working a dog on, but it is exceedingly doubtful, however, if they will ever supply the lack of the pinnated grouse or Bob White here, there or anywhere else.

Doubtless the highest test of sportsmanship is the craft which gives one that knowledge of the habits of game that enables him to find it under the various conditions of weather and seasons, and the ability to make a stealthy approach which shall bring him within range, without alarming the object of his pursuit. Without these qualities, partly inborn and partly acquired, there cannot be completely successful sportsmanship, however skilled one may be in the use of the gun, a skill that may be acquired in a great measure by practice at the fixed and flying target. All the skill of wood or prairie craft that goes to the making of the successful hunter, must be possessed by him who hunts his game with the camera, and this fall, on my annual duck hunt in the northwest, for the benefit of the readers of the World-Herald, I am going to do a lot of my hunting with the latter weapon, and I am sure I will extract as much pleasure from the use of it as I would if I depended on shot and shell altogether. When I get within the right range of a bunch of mallard, teal or sandhill crane, and pull the trigger of a weapon, that destroys not but preserves its unharmed quarry in the very counterfeit of life and motion, I think I will feel just as good as if I sent crashing into their midst an ounce and an eighth of death dealing leaden pellets.

The wide world will not be made the poorer by one life by many of my shots this fall, nor nature's peace disturbed nor her nicely adjusted balance jarred. I will bear home my game, wearing still its pretty ways of life in the midst of its loved surroundings, the swaying rice where the redwing blackbird perches, the bending reeds where the bass disports, the dank sedges where the muskrat skulks in the shadows, the lily-padded waterways and dim vistas of primeval marsh, the sheen of countless crystal splotches in their beds of green and brown, and the flash of sun lit waves that never break. My trophies this fall shall be such that one cannot assail. My game shall touch a finer sense than the palate possesses, will satisfy a nobler appetite than the stomach's cravings, and furnish forth a feast that, ever spread, ever invites, and never palls upon the taste.

All things beautiful and wild and picturesque shall be mine, yet I will kill them not, but making them a living and an enduring joy, not only to myself, but to all who behold them, and that will be the thousands and thousands of readers of the most entertaining paper in the west-the World-Herald.

I would like to submit a synopsis of law for the preservation, propagation and protection of Nebraska's fish and game for the consideration of our incoming legislature. The present law is a mockery and a farce and should be replaced at the next meeting of the legislature with a law that comes somewhere within a thousand miles, at least, of covering the subject. My proposition provides for a state game and fish warden at a salary of $1,500 per annum, and expenses not to exceed $1,000. Also a clerk at $800, office at state capitol, and to be appointed by the Board of Game and Fish Commissioners.

Second—Insectivorous and song birds, excepting English sparrow, always protected.

Third—Prairie chicken and grouse, open season September 15 to November 1.

Fourth—Quail and wild turkey, October 1 to December 1.

Fifth—Woodcock, upland plover and turtle doves, July 10 to December 1.

Sixth—Geese, ducks, all wildfowl, September 1 to April 15.

Seventh—Wilson snipe, rail and the waders, April 1 to October 31.

Eighth—Squirrels, all kinds, September 1 to January 1.

Ninth—Deer, elk and antelope killing in any manner prohibited for five years.

Tenth—Violations of laws on birds, $5 fine each bird killer, and not more than $100 in all, and imprisonment for ten to thirty days.

Eleventh—Killing squirrels the same. Elk, deer or antelope from $50 to $100, ten to thirty days, costs of prosecution.

Twelfth—Possession of game in close season, misdemeanor, punishable same as for killing.

Thirteenth—Shooting wildfowl before sunrise of after sunset prohibited; penalty same as for killing out of season.

Fourteenth—No one will be allowed to employ parties to shoot for the market or any other purpose.

Fifteenth—Ice house or cold storage plants for freezing game for market will not be tolerated.

Sixteenth—That a close season for game fish be provided from May 15 to November 15, to be protected on their spawning beds, etc., etc.