Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. March 13, 1910. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 45(24): 10-E.

A Shoot of Years Ago on a Bird Now Gone.

The Sight of a Flock of Golden Plover Brings back Old Lang Syne.

The Oldster's Lament.

Vagrant visitors of most all the birds which use to frequent this region of the globe, are reported by hunters every season, and the present, it seems, is no exception. A couple of early duck hunters up at Cutoff lake Sunday morning report that they saw a bunch of some twenty-five or thirty golden plover flying restlessly about over the low grounds north of the lake. They saw them several different times, and made repeated efforts to get a shot at them, but they were extremely wild and alert, and refused to remain in one spot more than a few moments at a time and finally when shot at went high up in the air with a loud twittering and bearing off to the south disappeared and were seen no more.

I can hardly believe that these birds were golden plover and yet they may have been. This is an abnormally early date for these birds to appear in this latitude as they usually delay their flight north until we have had a real interval of sultry spring weather, say along usually in early April Again there has been no such flock seen in this vicinity for a dozen years, although the killing of a single bird or two is reported regularly each spring and fall. Like the eskimo curlew or doughbird, the golden plover seems to have plenty much gone the way of the wild pigeon, the woodcock, goldeneye and Labrador duck. And in fact, in many localities they are looked upon as actually extinct. Last spring I killed a single bird-a cock, out on the Middle Loup, north of Seneca, and I have notes of where several were bagged on the lowlands below the Bluffs, but it has been long years since I have heard of the birds appearing anywhere in anything like their old time plentifulness, and had about made up my mind that this precious little game bird had left us, forever, that is, in anything like their old time plenitude, especially in the autumn time, when they commanded about as much attention from the shooters as either the jacksnipes or ducks.

The golden plover used to be familiar here for only about three weeks in the first fall month, when the fringed gentian had not yet folded its azure petals and the rusty hue of the sorrel still tinged the slanting hillsides, the pink and white of the wild morning glory yet dotted the yellowing prairie grasses and splotches of gold and scarlet were encroaching in upon the maples green. That was when the golden plover made us his first call and dropped down and gorged himself on our freshly plowed fields.

The quiet country folk used to call the golden plover "frost birds," "rain birds," "spotted backs," "prairie pigeons," and many other names, and they frequently mistook the dough bird, or rather the Eskimo curlew for this bird, which, when the September rains had soaked the fields which had been plowed for the winter wheat, often came together in great numbers, but the golden plover, C. dominicus, always predominating.

I will never forget a shoot I had on golden plover with H.A. Penrose, Billy Townsend and Dick Mertz, all of the old shooting goods house of Penrose & Hardin, down at McPaul in September, 1887. We got stationed at the edge of a big plowed field, from which we had flushed a raft of birds early in the morning, and had but a short time to await for their return. High up in the air they came, some times in long strings or wedge-shaped masses, now in bow shape, now in soldierly array. Over the distinct timber where the cottonwood and the elm were yellowing, they came, and out over the pasture where the brown was laying on to the closely cropped grass, where the gold of the flicker in his chase for hapless crickets gleamed as he jumped from spot to spot, or darted spasmodically back into the woods again. On, on they came with that soft thrilling whistle, which seemed to ripple from their tiny throats like strings of pearls. It matters not whether they fanned the air with their mottled wings high over the timber where the saddening tints were stealing over all vegetation or whether skimming low along the top of the still standing corn, between whose sentinel like rows pumpkins were yellowing, they always maintained that plaintive twittering. Mertz and I had our blind up near the corner of the field behind a clump of reddening sumach, with a few corn stalks and tumble weeds thrown carelessly together. There was no need of much blind, for they came readily into us in answer to that tender trilling call, the Michigan boy could so naturally imitate.

There! there comes our first flock, two or three dozen of them in crescent shape with the points toward us. All we had to do was to lie still, keep tolerably well hidden, while Dick kept up that twittering call. With wings hazy with speed, answering our imitation with their own soft touching notes, which came like a tremolo from the sweetest organ's pipe, so plaintive, so sadly soft, that honestly, I felt some compunctions of the conscience in killing them. Here they are, and when they massed a trifle up in the air and set their wings to glide down upon the upturned furrows, we gave it to them, four loads of No. 8s, and a half dozen came whirling and gyrating to the ground, while the balance of the flock sheered frantically and rising rapidly were quickly gone over the rim of the woods.

How game they looked in their robes of black and brown and gray, dotted with gold and white, black feet and bills, with that lightish slash over the eye, and brown tails barred with gray!

There comes another line, just as gamey looking as those before them, as they wheel in the sun and let the light flash on their glossy backs as they turn and speed twittering down upon us, stringing out in that crescent again as they near our masked battery.

There is another whirl, another flutter and a medley of black, gray and brown, with white and golden spots in confused commingling in the air, follows our first barrels, than as they rise and bunch again, we cut loose with our seconds, and there is, of course, another shower of dead and wounded birds!

And Penrose and Townsend had just as good shooting as we did, although they were way down at the other end of the field, on the other side, and rarely got a crack at the same birds that went spinning by our blind. In two hours' shooting we killed more birds than can be killed today in any region in the world in two days!

But those days are gone. Like the recollection of the sweetheart of your boyhood school days come back the memories of the buried glories of the field in the sweet September days of long ago.

It will soon be September again and down there at McPaul-the sunlight will stream as mellow from the hazy sky as it did twenty years ago; bright will be the purple and the orange of the meadow beauty that will linger beyond its time and the pale lapis lazuli of the lobelia, and the yellow disk and purplish rays of the astor will shine just as far across the pastures, where the golden rod still tinges the clumps of rag weed with plumes of dingy gold, as it did a dozen years ago, but there will be no soft twittering, tremolo filling the keening air, no long lines of black and gray and white and gold, no sweet and artless little coursers of the hazy ethereal over woodland top, over sunburned pasture and newly-upturned wheat fields!

The sunshine and the flowers will be there, but no golden plover!"