Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

May 6, 1906. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 41(32): 28. Includes a page-top and first paragraph letter sketch of the snipe. Typographic errors corrected.

A Showery April Day On the Lowlands at Clark's

After the Elusive Jack, the Prince of All America's Royal Game Birds.

By Sandy Griswold.

Likely, enough, now that the spring shooting for 1906 is virtually at an end, the sportsman has already largely turned his attention to the gentler art of angling. All the wild fowl, with the exception of the blue wing teal, as I remarked a week ago, have winged their merry way on to the far north to their natural breeding grounds in the fastnesses roundabout Baffins Bay. There are, of course, a few indolent mallards and an occasional spoonbill lingering about the isolated ponds and weed-hidden streams, but the canvasback, redheads, blue bills, widgeon, butterballs, blackjack, gadwalls and merganzers have disappeared, and the geese, too, although we saw two long, harrow-shaped flocks cutting the blue dome out at Clark's last Sunday—have honked adieu these two weeks and no more will we be gladdened by their presence until hoary November once more rails round.

The jacksnipe are still with us and in unusual numbers, but the open season on these royal little birds will also close on Sunday next, and by that time they will also about all be gone.

There is no denying this fact, but the ducking season just closed was, as I predicted in these columns last February, an uncommonly poor one. This was on account of the dilatory weather. The spring has been long drawn out, commencing in the middle of February, it is just now showing the first real signs of becoming settled. But unlike the ducks, the snipe have fairly reveled here since the dawn of April days, and I dare say there has not been such another season for these precious little gallinagoes in the last fifteen years. They were to be found on every and all favorable grounds, and big bags have been the rule instead of the exception, and the shooting will be found capital clean up to the close of the season.

But let me tell you about our shoot last Saturday and Sunday. It was out on the big, boggy pasture lands about Clarks, and these good fellows, W.A. Pixley, Dick Cosner and Bob Young with Gerard sandwiched in, were my companions. We reached the lowlands west of town early Saturday morning. Off to the south of the straggling timbered slough stretched toward the river and robed as it was, in a lively tinge of green, presented a most enticing and charming appearance. The distant bluffs were shrouded in the rising mists, which were rapidly melting away before the rising sun, while the broad expanse of oozy field and marsh land was one greening paradise, with the budding pursuivants of the sweet spring time scattered lavishly about upon either hand. The wings of a belated mallard whistled encouragement as he hurried away above us and the black birds kept the air full of music and color. Myriads rose, chirping petulantly from every clump of willows and every tuft of reeds, but their noisy clamor was melody to our ears, and as long as no jack had jumped, we found agreeable pastime watching their ceaseless motion. Hundreds were mirrored on the slough's glassy surface as they streamed back and forth overhead, and hundreds more swung on broken reed and ragged rice stalks. The lowlands seemed alive with them. They were everywhere. Some in greenish black coats, which gleamed in the sunlight like polished ebony; some in dirty brown, some with scarlet splotches on their wings, and others with golden head and collar. A belligerent kingfisher kept darting restlessly up and down the slough filling the morning air with his querulous cackle, a keen-eyed hawk kept silent vigil from the naked branches of a distant cottonwood, while the bronze of the robin's breast and the blue of the jay's bright jacket gleamed from rose bush and hopple. Along the back-water's muddy shallows the yellowleg, with his plaintive whistle atune with the matutinal winds, waded and fretted over his morning meal, and way up in the blue arch above a number of fish hawks curved their acute shapes against the distant background sky.

For the benefit of the shooters who have not had the good fortune to visit Clarks, I will say that the snipe grounds there, in some sections, are unsurpassed in this section of the country. Where we were, it is a low-lying valley of rich black soil, corrugated and broken with tufted niggerheads and trickling rills, pools, sloughs and shallows, making as choice feeding grounds as fastidious scolopax could ask. This loamy reach is also dotted here and there with clumps of yellow tendrilled willows and bloom-twigged maples, with branches of wild rose and acres of reed and rice, pucker brush and long-bladed grass, habitat for marsh sparrow and red wing, as well as for hylo, frog and gartersnake.

But our shoot. We certainly enjoyed a glorious day. The south breeze blew warm and balmy. The yellow sunshine flooded bluff, water, field and wallow, and all of the concomitant conditions could not have been more entrancing.

On striking the wet ground, we separated, and on a line, like skirmishers before an army, we thoroughly traversed the soggy acres within the first big bend.

"There are no snipe here," remarked Bob, as we reached the high ground along the slough.

"Forget it," echoed Dick, impatiently waving us on down around the curve and into the valley and thrashing through the flags and pucker brush, treading our way gingerly through brackish pools, grassy thickets and reedy caverns, we soon had the blood coursing hotly through our veins.

We, that is Pix, Bob, the boy and myself, were laboriously pulling our way through a miry swell when we noticed a resilient sort of a move on Dick's part, and the next instant he had stopped still, as "skeape! skeape! skeape!," the jacks startled note, electrified us all and the next minute, away, in all directions, it seemed to our heightened fancies, we beheld a flurry of white and russet shapes, twisting and convoluting in the bright sunlight, like infusoria in the summer air, and although taken almost wholly by surprise and at a decided disadvantage, stuck in the agglutinative muck as we were, we all got in our work, and seven snipe was the result.

"That's what I call a pretty fair start," exclaimed Dick, and then after a hurried consultation, we agreed to separate, Dick the Kid and I to keep on the west side of the slough, and Pix and Bob to cross over.

At the lowest calculation, at least forty jacks had flushed, and the most of them, being already fat and loggy, had settled down all about on both sides of the sluice, among the nigger heads, tufts of reeds and bedraggled flags, and we were all soon busy again, I can assure you, but of course we were in our element. We felt that there were plenty of birds in, and the freshness and romance of the whole scene was delightfully revivifying. One hundred yards or so ahead we flushed another flurry of rose color, and again we got in two shots—that is Dick and I, for the boy was lagging behind, enjoying the tangle of blackbirds and the clouds of minnows in the slough—only killing, however, a bird apiece, as is often the case when two men are shooting together. We both shot at the last bird, and, as I had done before, Dick made a miss with his first barrel. The next instant he more than squared away and missed them both, and Cosner, after the bird had apparently cleaved the limit of range, tumbled him into the mud at the first crack.

"That's what I call shootin'," said the lumber merchant, but I never made reply, for at that instant there was a frantic "skeap" at my very feet, as from a little crypt of decaying splatterdock flashed an unwary bird. My gun was to my shoulder then a sharp report, a puff of thinnish azure smoke and the distraught gallinago went whirling dead into the reeds but a few yards from where Dick's bird had plunged.

"That wasn't so bad, either," I mentioned with some feeling of pride.

"No, not so bad," reiterated Richard, "but if I had been in your place, I'd caught him alive," as together we picked up our birds.

Crack! Crack! There goes Dick's gun again. He had worked off to the right and was beating up a tortuous little slough where we had always found birds before, while I, with Gerard, continued on straight ahead down to the bridge, getting tolerably fair shooting en route, and landing there jaded and sore about the noon hour. As we reclined there resting and waiting for the other men, whose guns we heard at intervals as they came plowing through the willows on the east, I noticed a cloud in the west drop its gauzy ladder to the rim of the distant hills, and I made up my mind that one of those erratic spring rains was about to catch us.

An April storm!

With the passing of a breath the far away bluffs mingle mistily, and by the time, Dick, Gerard and I had reached a little clump of cottonwoods off to our left, the whole perspective had been swallowed up in the gray maw of the storm. The shadowy groves of willow and maple had melted as into vapor, the nearer line of reed and cane were next in the misty mingle, and then with a noisy rush the rain was up on us.

The bottom land so soft and tender and beautiful, in the sunshine of an hour ago, quietly developed into a gloomy and recking sheet. But the downpour lasted but a moment. The the wand of struggling sunbeam the grayish mantle lifted and in a flash the world was again a glitter. Then the clouds lowered again and once more dripping willows, hazy bluffs and swaying reeds were enshrouded in a deluge of April tears, changing still again, as the vapory masses broke, into the jewel work of the sun. For an hour or more Dick, the Kid and I, hugged the thin protection of the cottonwoods, and during that time there was a quick interweaving of rain and sunlight. Now the former would streak the scene, now blue eyes would open amid the frowning clouds above. The arcades of maple, willow, reed and rice, would glow, darken, be masked in shower, and then flash again into gold. Finally after we were thoroughly drenched, the meteorological gods seemed satisfied. gathering ourselves together we were soon on the back track toward ray's distant pastures, from which direction we had heard occasional fusillades from the guns of Pix and Bob, and we were shortly moving the returning birds again.

On a oozy bit of grazing land we flushed a perfect cloud of them. At the first "skeape" the whole body took wing and whirled away in all directions, but dropping down again before going far, in the short dripping grass. For another hour we enjoyed capital sport, and then, joining Pix and Bob on the road, we started wearily for the team a mile away. But we were happy. Our canvas pockets were well filled with game, our clothes soggy, steaming and disagreeable, our underpinning weak and unsteady and our victually departments yearning for attention, but we started for Clarks at last, reaching our pleasant little hostelry, the Roach house, just as the delicate tints in the April sky were trembling away in the shadows of the deepening spring twilight.