Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

October 3, 1920. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 56(1): 17.

October's Oriental Rugs and Exquisite Tapestries.

Sweet Pictures of Fall Days Sketched From Close By Woods and Waters.

By Sandy Griswold.

Incommensurate are all attempted portrayals of the beauties of autumnal days in this favored latitude, and yet the inducement for indulgence in the rhapsodies they beset is so great that it is absolutely resistless. With that master artist, J. Frost, abroad with pallet and brush, October is indisputably the superb month of all the twelve, with its woodsy floors one matchless oriental rug, and its fields one vast expanse of yellow and tan and brown crex, its lakes scintillating gems and its rivers and streams ribbons of silvery sheen.

It is, also, the hunter's idyl, whether of game, bird or animal, or simply to watch and to learn. On an idle day ramble you can approach the woods out in the beautiful valley of the Elkhorn or the Loup, from the aster-starred field or hillside pasture, lounging in the flood of golden sunshine for a long time on their verge to which the play of light and shadow on the oak and cottonwood holes, the tangles of grape and clumps of thorn and crabapple. You gaze as in a trance upon the sudden wonderful mixture of soft colors that no work of art can imitate and to be found in no other place in the world save in the autumn woods, the rich old gold of the maple's tapestries, the glimmering emerald of unyielding fronds and the bright grays, the topazes, amethysts and cardinals the first frosts have painted.

It is heavenly to linger in such a spot, where the day is still and long and full of peace. And the air, how different from that of any other season of the year, even in the first sussurations of the tenuous spring time, good for you and all the little wild creatures that breathe it, laden as it is with the new fragrance of the dying summer. The far away rustling of the winds from over the browning hills joins that from the woodsy depths and then goes gossiping together over the sunlit fields. Surely October days are incomparable.

And the birds, especially those who cling to the delights of waning summer, command your attention as they restively prepare for their grand biannual migration, the causes for which present to us so many puzzling interrogations. But the profounder they mystery, the greater students it makes of us, and the pursuit becomes more intensely interesting the deeper we delve.

Many of the more delicate leave us long before the faintest frost wilts and curls the tenderest tendrils, but many of our most familiar, such as the robin, the flicker, the meadowlark, chewink, and that little coquette of the copse, the redstart, remain often with us till the very rigors of winter are about to descent, yet the grand exodus comes with the last days of October.

The oriole, the catbird, many of the thrushes and all of the lesser warblers, save those hardy northern species, go largely with September's haze, as well as the martins, the swallows and the swifts. But the robin, the flicker, the meadowlark, together with the grosbeaks, chewinks, flycatchers and kingbirds, we are often delighted to behold way into November, and many of them occasionally all through the winter.

When the marvelous transformation which is now rapidly becoming noticeable in our woods and fields, gets really under way, all bird sounds, and much bird color, seem to vanish utterly, and the ever perplexing problem of the why and the wherefore of it all forces itself upon us, and thus we may go on, revolving, and re-revolving the all-mastering puzzle in our feeble minds.

Yet, au contrarie, only last Tuesday morning, as I left my abiding place at the lovely Turner court and entered the charming little park on the south, en route for the Farnam street car, and my office down town, I was stopped short in my tracks by the carolling of a robin from the top branch of a maple sapling, indeed, an unusual thing, singing away with all the joyous unction of our earliest spring days. Naturally he should have been with his countless fellows, running around upon the woodsy floor, silent and morose, in that undoubted preliminary training for the long jaunt south, on which most of them are soon to start. Of course there were other bird sounds, the wild and uncanny kee-uck of the flicker, the clack of the swarming grackles, and occasionally the peevish chip of a belated thrasher, but no song.

Turner park, though regretfully small, is exceptionally charming and truly a great bird haven, and every day, for a fortnight past, I have been keeping espionage upon the robins, who are the most numerous, being there daily in almost countless numbers.

I find them mostly upon the ground, but doing precious little feeding, and so bold are they, that, not withstanding this is the season when they are most wild and wary, they but seldom take wing as I slowly saunter through the woods, and when they do, it is to alight upon the nearest and most inviting limb, and eye me shyly as I pass by. Generally they simply run, on those pattering little feet of theirs, a few yards to one side, and without sound of any kind sit bolt upright, and watch me as I move along. There is no hopping, as in the worm feeding days of May and June, they simply run, rapidly to be sure, but for only a little distance, and then stop and watch, their browns and blacks as if my magic assimilating with the fallen leaves and drooping grasses - making a new and almost inexplicable study for even the advanced student in the ways of the little feathered kindreds.

And there is another bird whose home is in Turner park who has bewitched us all, and he is a little brown and gray screech owl - little Bobo of my boyhood days, who always held me in my tracks and interested me beyond all explanation.

There is a large old patriarchal cottonwood, towering straight up near the wall, and shadowing our windows with its far reaching arms, and scraping the roof of the house eerily when the wind blows, that is a pride and joy to us all, as a watch tower for little Bobo, both when the light of eventide is falling softly, as well as in the early hours of morning. This big cottonwood is at the southeast corner, and within the apartment's little court, is a rustling wonder in the summertime, and will be a white sheathed sentinel through the storms of winter.

But that little owl, just an evening or two ago, while we were at the dinner table, lighted upon the big lower limb of this precious old cottonwood that stretches to the north along the side wall, and with his weird little tremolo, caused us all to jump from the table, and together scurry to the window. Did we scare him? Not at all, and after several repetitions of his indescribable, tremulous evening call, and after much stretching and craning of necks, we saw him just a little fluffy bunch of gray and brown, with big cat's eyes full upon us, despite the dazzling glare of electric lights behind, sitting unconcernedly, almost within arm's reach, a trifle above us, on the body of that big limb.

Charmed beyond expression, we all stood immobile and breathless, and watched, and listened to him, until the coffee and steak turned cold, but finally with one last lingering mournful warble, he lifted those little noiseless pinions of his and floated like a gossamer off into the gathering gloom of the park.

That was a rare treat, not only to me, a life long roamer of the quiet and sequestered places, and have been favored with many of nature's wonders and delights, but to every member of my little flock, and it will be recalled as sure as memory enduces, thousands and thousands of times before the end of the trail is reached, but seldom again, I fear, will any of us be so favored.

But it isn't only the robins, and little Bobo, I have out there right now, but blue jays and golden and downy woodpeckers, thrashers and gold finches and blackbirds, and scores of other birds, as well as squirrels, and will have, in greater or less numbers, for a couple of months to come. Why an old daddy flicker hammers away on the top of a resonant telephone pole every morning and evening, too, for that matter, and the jays and the squirrels maintain a scandalous hubbub, but delightful one, at that, at all hours of the livelong day, and at last, once more, I do not have to wander far from my own domicilium to feast my senses on the beauties and the melodies of nature, and the great and wizardly outdoors.

But I have strayed sadly, I am afraid, and I don't know now what I set out to tell you. Something about some new angles in the autumn maneuvers of my birds, I vaguely recall, but it is too late now, so will let it go until another Sunday.

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