Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. September 10, 1899. [September Days. Waning of Summer. The Meadow Lark and Time for Rail Shooting.] Omaha Sunday World-Herald 34(345): 8.

Forest, Field and Stream

September days.

There are few sadder or more beautiful, with their early warnings of the approach of sombre autumn and the death of the sweet summer time. Already the tops of the cotton woods have begun to glow with a faint umber, and along the swampy river shore ragged cattails show in feathery filaments, shinning white among their long green ribbon-like leaves. The over-ripened alder berries are drying on their slender tendrils, and the hazel pods are browning in the fervid noonday sun, soon to open, after nature, by her mysterious alchemistical changes has completed her prestidigitation with the coming of the first nipping frost, and shower down on the bleaching grass and crisping leaves the brown nuts so dear to the small boy and the smaller squirrel.

And in the manner of the birds we see another evidence of the waning of the beloved summer time. The sweet but homely carillon of the robin is heard no more and rarely in the twilight do we catch the liquid note of the fast disappearing catbird, which supplies as indefinable subaudition to the lover of nature. All of the birds, save the ever amorous sparrows, have broken up housekeeping and set their progeny adrift, and the oriole and the hermit thrush have even piloted their tenderlings off across the Kansas border where the softness of summer still lingers throughout the twenty-four hours. The plaintive call of the mother meadow lark may yet be heard from the weed-tufted pasture or cut-hay field as she solicitously tends her tardy brood, and the ghostly signal of the raincrow comes weirdly from the shadows of the apple orchard, but that is about all that breaks in on the endless rhythm of the cicadae. Oh, yes, the turtle dove still mournfully complains from the umbrage of the distant cottonwoods, and occasionally from across the dancing heat of the wide fields that guttural caw of the petulant crow floats like a sound of the ages gone. However, most of our song birds have unstrung their musical instruments now, and are silently resting and pluming themselves for the long journey they are so soon to take toward the equator.

And now along Cut-off and Manawa's shores, and above the shimmering pastures and droning marshlands, the swallows are marshalling in countless hosts. All day long they gambol about in serial convolutions, swinging out here and there in widening circles, now way up in the hazy blue of space, now low down over the baked and seamed earth, sometimes curving close to the lazily grazing stock, and again disappearing over the bordering bluffs. Along the country roads thousands of them are encountered, as twittering and chattering, they dart through the summer air on a last jubilant pilgrimage in northern lands, soon to be off for an absence of nearly nine months.

Down in the marsh the young ducks bred here are to be seen circling about in the morning, or quietly drifting with the wash of the waves in the shadows of the rice and reeds at noonday. Bunches of blue-wings have already dropped in and soon the widgeon and the blue-bills will begin to swish down in the air currents from the north. The black birds are busy and vociferous, and all day long, with that restlessness that marks their early fall movements, they are streaming over head to and fro, from field to marsh, thicket, wood and open, or swing on the stems of the swaying rushes calling to each other in querulous and questioning notes. The buff blossoms are tilting on the tops of the wild rice, while the filling heads bend waterwards. The flags are fading and falling and the stiff, blue pickerel spikes show above the labyrinth of sprawling splatter dock and ribbons of cane with every passing breeze. Soon the "ah-unk-ah-unk" of that noble old courser of the skies, that king of the flood, the wild goose, will fall from the heights above, and the pur-rut-ting of the crane mingle with the floating masses in the clouds.

When the mallard sounds his startling "pank, pank, pank!" then we will know that the autumn time has come and it is time to overhaul the boat and the decoys and turn your eyes toward the distant sandhills.

The signs all now urge that we should go rail shooting. The nights are growing cooler, the corn-grass, as the wild rice was called in primitive days, is heading out; the woods along the marshes are showing the incipient yellow and scarlet tints of early autumn. The golden rod and aster brighten the country roadsides, and the cardinal flowers flame along the low dank places. Over the water and along the distant hillsides hangs, morning and evening, the light haze of advancing fall. Along the shore may be heard the mellow whistle of the yellowleg, and from the little pond holes in the wet meadows we may now and then start a spoonbill or two or a little bunch of blue-winged teal. The proper time has arrived. The rail should be here. For the last fifteen or twenty years the east side of Cut-off lake and all around the southern selvege of Lake Manawa, has furnished the most capital rail shooting and numberless gunners have taken advantage of it. But the fear is that it will not last, that it will soon be here like it is along the famed Potomac and the Chesapeake of the east. There, like here, the season opens early and all the birds bred on those marshes which are most accessible are shot long before any flight birds arrive, and when the birds do come they are slaughtered as soon as they reach the ground, and good shooting there has been a dream these dozen years.