Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 21, 1904. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 39(326): 18.

The Saddest of the Year are Fall's Golden Days

A Glance Over the Fields and Woods and What the Birds Are Doing.

The Watcher's of the Trails the Most Charming Book of the Year.

Incontrovertible is the fact that the waning days of summer are the saddest, as well as the most beautiful of the year. The drooping of the elm leaves, the yellowing of the corn and the hectic flush on the sumach and the maple warn us that they are again almost upon us. Do you ever pause and think of the awful onrush of time? Do you ever realize that you are but an atom on the shores of life's ocean, of no more consequence in the inevitable final summing up than the infusoria in the air or the animalculae in the water. Life is but a race for the grave, with both men and nature. There is no reckoning with the velocity of the revolution of the cycles. They are born and expire with a flash that is beyond rhyme or reason. We strut and fret and splatter for our brief moment and then, like the tiniest eddy from a sinking stone, vanish into oblivion.

A drive today along the listless Elkhorn reveals to your gaze the tops of the weary looking cottonwoods glowing with a warnful umber. In the swathy low places along the shores the cattails have turned from yellowish green to seal brown, and those to whom the earlier gusts of fall winds have been least kind, are ragged with feathery filaments at the ends, shining white among their long rapier-like and still green leaves. Over the sunburst and silent pastures the tall spikes of the iron and ragweed are dust laden and bedraggled. Beneath their scant and wilted foliage the upland plover, fattened to bursting almost, on plump grasshoppers and rotund beetles, find but thin and inadequate shade for their noonday rest. The young quail run peeping in huddled bevies adown the long corn rows, and the chicken, growing stronger of pinion every day, stream across the golden stubble in scattered flocks, the funny little prairie owls stand in solemn groups around their shallow burrows in the stock field and the lilt of the bobolink quavers no longer on the sultry air.

These and countless others are the signs which unmistakably signal the summer's fullness and its speedy decline.

The prolonged note, a buzz and a click and a clatter of the gauzy winged locust, as he launches his white body into the quivering air, from weed or sunflower stalk by the roadside and dwindling into silence with a dry, husky, grating of his thin sails, as he disappears in the blue haze, tells you that the pursuivants of the melancholy days have arrived.

The proud meadow lark, with his breast shield a brighter topaz than ever, has exchanged his piccolo for a less tuneful reed, and is in training for his pilgrimage to the lands where the summer time always reigns. Why he doesn't remain there forever, when he once gets there, is one of the mysteries of bird life and migration that even the most learned naturalist is as much in the dark as the most unpretentious student of the sights and scenes of the outdoors. Rare, indeed, in another fortnight will be any of those tinkling melodies which came so profusely over the sweet smelling clover and the bursting daisies of our meadows back in the rare days of June; only the ever energetic chipping or field sparrow will swell his pale lemon throat in tuneful shower to cheer us as he did in the doubtful days of spring. The chipping sparrow is a dear little fellow and is never silent from early March to bare November. His liquid trill outlasts all rivaling orchestras of the woodland and the prairie. He is one of the first of all the feathered songsters that come up from the southland in the variable weather of the early vernal season and enlivens our dingy and uninviting fields before the hardiest weeds even have revived into the faintest show of life. Pretty, sweet voiced chipping sparrow, he is as dear to me, in not dearer, than even bluebird or robin. Probably because he is my companion on the first quest for jacksnipe in the blustering days of March, through the midsummer plover season. October days on chicken and quail, clear down to that last cold day in a blind for green wings and mallards. It has one unaccountable fancy and that is for the hot and dusty highways through the blistering dog days, and from telegraph pole, wire or fence post, maintains his magical song though the air be filled with suffocating clouds of dust. Some writers say that it is more frequently found in soddie fields and broad prairies than are other birds, but this does not hold good out here in Nebraska, where he is found plentifully everywhere from the melting of the snows to their coming.

The blue bird, and by the way, they have come back to us this summer with something like their old time plentitude, and their bright azure coats are to be seen flashing in and out of the universal green along all our byways, is a bird that keeps up a semblance at song through the dying summer days clear up to its southward departure in bleak November, but it is an abbreviated, short-noted carol that floats down from the upper heights as the bird passes from wood to field in an evident test of his aerial powers, for the long journey before him. This little choppy song is as sweet, however, as his first greetings in April, though mournful as the rustic of falling leaves. The gay little salad bird has but three notes left of his May song, as he undulates from fluffy thistle top to smiling sunflower. The oriole charms us no more with his trickling aria, but with two or three short, sharp, insistent notes he clings to drooping vine or weaves in and out among the leaves of the dust-coated orchard. The meadow lark is peevish in his cry, and does little else than strut over the close-cropped hayfield or skulk among the tussocks and weed clumps in the pastures.

The upland plover whistles warningly as he lingers over the bounteous feast of grasshoppers, but seldom sounds that sweet, tinkling triplet, with which he announced his coming a month ago. After nightfall, however, is still heard his signaling to voyaging companions, fluttering down from the aerial path, where he winds his dizzy way, high and distinct above the shrill monotony of cricket and August pipers. And in the early morning while journeying from roost in the corn, to the fly ridden and insect infested pastures for breakfast, he whistles and calls in the keen delight of his breezy life beneath the clouds. The listening sportsmen may well imagine that the departing bird is laughing at him as much as imparting his course to fellow wayfarers. The woodland thrush and catbird's flute and bells have ceased to breathe and chime down in the Elkhorn's matted valley, and only the wood pewee keeps up his pensive song of other days, yet best befitting those of declining summer, in these umbrageous crypts of haw and plum and wild gooseberry.

The trees are ripened leafage; out of the twilight of the woodside grow the declining disks of wild sunflowers and shine the rising constellations of asters. The meadow sides are jaunty with unshorn fringe of goldenrod and willow herb, and there in the corners of the straggling fence droop the heavy clusters of alder berries, with whose purple juice the flocking robins and young grouse, stealing from the shadowed copses along this belt of shade, dye their bills.

And then, too, as if in premonition of the bleak days to come, the storied rawhide trails is attenuated thread from out the woodsy gloom to gild its shallow ripples with the gold of the sunshine and to redden them with the inferted flowers of the lobelia cardinalis, that burn and blaze along the sedgy brink. And on where some little bay opens in among the smart weed and fading flags, the lean mother muskrat prowls with her family of little cubs, young and old alike, yet unworthy of the attention of the rural trapper, but who soon will be, when the frosts of fall grow more and more stinging and the babies are big rats and the mother has assumed her normal proportions on a rich fare of calamus and tule roots and the tender white shoots of the aquatic grasses. There, too, old Mr. Coon sets the sprawling print of his footsteps on the mucky shores as he plies his energies at frog and fish catching, spicing his feast with the hot salads of wild parsnip and Indian turnip, and topping off with a dessert in the waving corn.

You will notice, too, how uneasy and impatient the old pointer is becoming, how eagerly he greets you at your homecoming and how unsatisfiedly he whimpers when you do not lavish the attention he demands upon hi. Do you know what ails the old dog? He has caught that weird sighing in the nocturnal breezes, has sniffed the odors of decaying vegetation, and it makes him fret for the first foray down in the creek's matted bedway and over the yellow stubble, for he has heard the querulous call of the quail from the distant brush at trembling twilight. He knows, too, that autumn days are coming.

The killdeer skulks along the wet way along the bordering jinseng and duck and when forced to flight does so with a stronger wing than when a month ago he had shed the last of his old winter coat. And the chicken, young and old together, leave the tall grass and furzy cover for the cut meadow land in the morning, where the dew drops from every ribbon and the atmosphere is impregnated with the first faint vigor of autumn. Another six weeks will make them worthier game, and the breeding mallard, now but an odd bunch of pin feathers, should be allowed to go untried and unscathed for at a later day, when from his bower under the rice and rushes, he breaks into the upper air with startling flutter of wing and startled pank-pank-pank! What a royal target he will make.

Summer wanes, flowers fade, bird songs falter to mournful notes of farewell; but while regretfully we mark the decline of these golden days, we remember with a thrill of expectation that they slope to the golden days of autumn, wherein the farmer garners in his latest harvest, the sportsman his first legitimate crop, and that to him that waits come all things, and even though he waits long, may come the best.