Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold, Sporting Editor. July 18, 1897. [A Perfect Day Hunting Plover near Papillion.] Omaha Sunday Bee p. 16.

The Field and Stream.

One More Summer Week with the Votaries of Rod and Gun.

On Thursday last Charlie Thomas and the writer drove out below Papillion for a try at the upland plover. The day was perfect and we would both have enjoyed the trip had we not seen a feather. It has become so with with me, after years and years of excitement in the field, in which I have killed almost everything in the game line, from black bear in northern Michigan to reed birds on the Delaware and turtle doves on the Rawhide, that love of nature is the principal charm I find in hunting. The pleasure of exercising the considerable skill with which I know I am possessed, in finding game and shooting the same, is secondary to the love I have for all animate and inanimate nature. I love the trees and the flowers, the sunshine, the hills, the waters, the air and all the concomitants which go therewith. I love the robin, with his ruddy breast and black hood, as he flits across the road; perches on this post or that, or hops over the sward in search of food; I love the silver-crested bobolink, whose joy is to be heard bubbling up from a dozen different points on any one of our broad hay fields on days like these; the doves that from the new made stubble rise with whistling wing, the yellowhammers pitching from this old cottonwood to that; the red-headed woodpecker undulating from telegraph pole to fence post along the road as if following your buggy, and the young meadow lark, whose breast of gold and jet is now nearly as bright as that of his ancestor. All these, and hundreds more, for bird life in Nebraska is more plentiful than in any state of the union, are game to me—are beauties and joys forever. But on Thursday I lost all interest in these commoner adjuncts of outdoor pleasure, when suddenly I heard a tinkling whisper, like the silvery notes rom a phantom flute, come falling from the clouds, and the next instant caught sight of a little film of gray trailing over the hazy summer sky, and then again and again listened to those pearls of melody as they issued from that delicate throat, as the bird pitched on for nearly a half mile and then dove down into a field of waist-high corn.

We were quickly hitched in front of this field, and, while Charlie entered the corn, I climbed through the barb wire fence into an old pasture, and, skirting a clump of caterpillared blackberry bushes, I strolled along opposite, ready and alert for the flushing of the bird.

I was admiring the pale white and blue of the wild morning glory, which twined in and among the gold of cinquefoil along the old board fence that hid once partitioned the two fields, when suddenly I was started by a triplet of sweet notes—the startled upland's whistle—and, turning suddenly, was barely in time to see a fragment of gray flitting over the corn scarcely fifty yards away. The next instant Thomas' gun disturbed the quiet and when the thinnish smoke had swept away I could see nothing save the waving corn, until Charlie stooped down, hiding himself a moment amidst the waving green, then, standing up, he held high where I could see a young plover by the tip of one of its long, pointed wings.

"First blood," he cried, and then, slipping that little feathered morsel into the pocket of his canvas coat, moved on.

Five minutes later and it was my turn. From the tufts of ragweed at the lower end of the pasture a dozen birds or more flushed at once, 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 an old hen bird swinging around toward me, and signalling to Charlie to stand still, I prepared myself. "Tur-wheetle! Tur-wheetle!" she cried. as she swooped down toward me, then shied off as she detected my motionless figure, but she did not get far before I stopped her and she went gyrating into the corn, not a dozen steps from where Charlie was standing. At that very instant another bird jumped from the weeds not twenty steps away and in my excitement I fired too quickly and above the edge of the smoke the bird went sailing off and up toward the sky. And then I heard Thomas. Scarcely had the report of my piece died away when a bird rose out of the corn, sounding that magic cry, and I saw him raise his gun, and off it went. And so did the plover, speeding away and out over my pasture land, where it was joined by several other lines of whistling gray, and in another few moments the whole neighborhood was resonant with a full chorus of that strange melody.

Thomas came out of the cornfield and joined me and while we were mutually congratulating each other upon our unanticipated good luck I saw a bird clear-cut against the sky, within fair range, and Thomas saw it, too, and in our eagerness both fired. It held its poise in the air a second, then there was a sharp note and in a soft whirl of mottled gray and brown and black it came tumbling over and over to the short grass. Two companions which we had not seen, but were trailing close in its wake, at the crack of our guns sped away in fright, their notes falling even louder and sweeter as they fringed the fleecy, low-lying clouds. We halted to listen, but not a whistle, save that mockery which came from a flock of cow blackbirds hovering petulantly near, did we hear, and, somewhat perplexed, we moved on.

We had traversed but fifty yards or so when that tender triplet again sounded on the ear, and instantly we beheld a brace of plover just clearing the ragged weed tops not thirty steps in front. I cautioned Thomas not to shoot, that I wanted to make a double, and I presumed he did too, for we both shot, but so simultaneously that neither knew the other had done so until after it was all over. I covered the farthest bird first, and at the crack of my piece he let go and sank down into the green. And Thomas had done precisely the same thing! The first one down, my second barrel was turned on the other bird, now careering upward, as destined for some other globe. In a line with the brass sight on my gun barrel, that bit of gray glimmers a second, and then, as I pulled the trigger, its long wings drooped, and it gyrated into a clump of mullen weeds. And it so happened that Thomas had done precisely what I had. This seems strange, but any two men who have hunted quail or chicken or snipe much together, knows 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.

While both were not a little nettled, we could not help congratulating each other on the cleanness of the two shots, and to even up Charlie pocketed one bird and I the other. Not that it made a particle of difference who killed the bird, there was a sort of triumph, any way, in momentary possession. When it came to dividing in the evening, Charlie took sixteen birds and I thirteen, which I had the pleasure of presenting to the editor of this paper.

We were still animadverting on our remarkable double when a big cock—evidently an old bird—cleared the corn within easy reach. Again we both saw the bird at the same time, and each determining not to be outdone this time, whirled and pulled trigger. I had the exquisite pleasure in noting Thomas' load as it tore low down through the corn stalks and exceeding vexation at my own, which went off through space, high above the startled bird. Both had pulled too soon, and consequently both missed, but we had a good laugh for we knew we had scared that plover half out of his wits from the way he began to climb the summer breeze. His gray plumage had not received a mar, and we stood there looking at him, as on the wings of his silvery song, he disappeared off toward the floating masses of vapor in the coloring west.

There were plenty of birds left and we knew it, but to avoid any further distressing contretemps of this description, we now agreed to separate, and as I worked back along the edge of the corn, Charlie strode off cat-a-cornered across the pasture land.

We had hardly separated before two birds flushed in front of Thomas. They were at a trifle long range, but he turned the first one over with the skill of a Parmalee, and dusted the tops of the rag-weed around the second. He ran to retrieve his fallen bird, which proved to be wing-broken, and as it led him off through the patches of mullen, rag-weed and purpling lobelia, he flushed at least a score of birds that had been lying in the covers' shade away from the heated rays of the sun. All these birds took to the corn, dropping down here and there and everywhere, scattering, in fact, just right to facilitate a big killing. And I made it too. When I found Charlie an hour later, down by the old bars where our horse was hitched, I had fourteen plover, all full grown birds and in fine condition.

But lack-a-day, like all good things of life, our sport came to as sudden a close as it had begun. The fun was too immense to last. The birds simply got up finally and quit the neighborhood. As we stood by the roadside and lamented, we saw once or twice a streak of gray scudding across the azure of the sky, leagues away it seemed, and wind out of sight while now and then, coming from where no one could tell, came that sweet, soothing, tinkling melody, that mystic searching, indescribable whistle of the upland plover, until all was again still, save the haunting throatburst of the meadow lark and the twitter of the crossing black birds overhead.

With feelings of mingled pride and exultation, we piled into the buggy, took a long pull at our cigars and drove home through the glimmering gloaming.