Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. October 10, 1909. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 45(2): 9-E.

Sport of October With Blue Wings.

The Precious Little Meteor That Opens the Autumn Shooting.

A Day With George Carson on the Reedy Ponds of Fillmore.

Week before last I spent a day, together with Ray M. Welch, as the guest of George Carson of Geneva, and who, by the way, is one of the salt of the earth. He is not only a good all round sportsman, well up to ducking lore, but a capable shot and charming comrade.

Tuesday evening we were at the Post pond and killed the limit on both teal and jacks, but put in the whole of Friday on and about the Morrison pond - all the lakes are ponds but these - and experienced one of the most delightful shoots of a long and eventful career.

Without a doubt this is the greatest fall for blue-wing teal ever known in this section of this wondrous game-country. Every low, swailly grounds in the region we were in is fairly swarming with the birds, both teal and snipe, jacks, yellowlegs and dowitchers. Nothing like their plentifulness, the oldest and most experienced hunters say, has been known here for a decade or more, and were it within the scope of law and conscience, 100 a day to a single gun would be no startling exploit.

However, before going further, it might not come amiss, for the benefit of those who are not as familiar with the teal as we are, to say a few words as to the traits and habits of this royal little water fowl - Anas Discors, the scientists call him.

In the first place the blue-wing is the avant courier of all his kind that comes down to us in the first hazy days of fall from his breeding coverts in the British Columbias. At the same time there are more teal that breed in this latitude than any others of the duck species, and joined by his relations from the northern fastnesses, the local contingent of sportsmen are afforded rare opportunities for their pursuit.

Blue-wing teal are invariably seen here during the last week of August and early in September along the shores of our little, marshy, prairie lakes and sloughs, where they sit in the mud, close to the edge of the water, and huddled close together, bask for hours in the mellow sunshine. They fly swiftly, and when they alight, drop down suddenly, like the jacksnipe, among the wild rice and tules or on the mud. They subsist chiefly on vegetable diet, and are immediately gluttons for the seeds of the pink smart weed, reeds and wild rice. Their flesh, for edible purposes, is incomparable, and after a few days on any of Nebraska's favorable grounds, they are like little rolls of spring grass butter. After the repetition of several hard frosts they get up in a body and hurry southward, being an extremely delicate bird and as susceptible to cold, almost, as the upland plover. While green-wing teal are often found with the blue-wings, it is generally in small numbers, as they are an entirely different bird. On Friday last the eight or ten shooters who were at the grounds, in the neighborhood where we were, out of several hundred birds killed, there were not more than fifteen or twenty-green-wings. The fact that so many birds of apparently the same family differ so widely in their habits, their feed, breeding, flight and the character of their cries is a rich subject for speculation, and the observant sportsman is always making his notes and comments. The education taught by the World-Herald is a grand one and it is only the true sportsman who graduates from this, I might say, nature's school. Take the several kinds of plover and waders, for instance, the snipe, the dowitchers, phalaropes, killdeer, gray and red-breasted sandpipers, no two have the same range of habits, flight or cry. With the teal it is the same. The greenwing is a decided polaric individual, while the bluewings thrive better in the semi-tropics, and while very similar to the ordinary observer, they are distinctly different in structural conformation, in the markings of their plumage, in diet and in habitat. While the bluewing is the first bird down from the north in the autumn and the last up in the vernal season, it is precisely the opposite with the green-wing. He comes down in the fall with the main issue of the hardier sort, the canvasback, redhead, merganser and bluebill, and up in the spring with the boisterous weather of early March, amidst sleet and cold and snow and rain, with the pintail and Canada goose. The blue-wing is a delicate, vulnerable little creature and easily killed or knocked down, while the green-wing is hard and tersely constructed, tenacious of life and most difficult to stop, and if but winged might as well be given up as lost, that is, nine times out of ten.

At this season of the year the bluewing affords the best and easiest kind of sport, especially the young birds, which lack wholly the cunning and wariness of their parents, and fall ready prey to even the half concealed gunner. Like the jacksnipe, in most instances, a single No. 7 or 8 pellet is all that is necessary to drop them from out the air, and once down they are comparatively easy to retrieve. They are full of play and are fond of cavorting in the low shallow waters or in the open until along in the morning, when they leave for the feeding fields, anywhere from 9 to 11 o'clock and return to the ponds and marshes from 3 until the hidden sun crimsons the west.

On last Friday morning, we three, Ray, George and myself, pulled out at an early hour from the hotel in Geneva, for the overflowed grounds on the Morrison ranch, twelve miles west. The heavens were ragged with black flying scud, and the prospects for rain were good, but fortunately it cleared away beautifully and we had a grand golden day.

We had traveled six or eight miles from the town, when the sun arose, and as we bowled along between two catalpa bordered pasture fields for the pond, I was electrified by the plentifulness of turtle doves. They were feeding all over the close cropped fields and perched by scores along the barb wire fences, basking in the early warmth, but of course we did not presume to molest them.

"We'll find a thousand teal where we'll see one dove," nonchalantly remarked George, and so we did.

Breakfasting at Jake Wiesses, we were again on the way, and at last crawled up a considerable eminence that gave us a bird's eye view of as grand an expanse of lovely landscape as lies out of doors.

"Look there!"

And Carson pulled the team to a standstill, and rising to his feet, pointed off to the southwest with his whip, and together we caught sight of thousands and thousands of flying birds, bluewing teal, that had been risen by the shot of some farmer lad's old muzzle loader, in great rising and falling flocks, one after another until that portion of the heavens was fairly darkened with them. They seemed to come up out of the southern horizon, and were following each other in one long ragged stream over the flowing fields, diagonally toward the northwest.

"They are making for Morrison's pond," remarked George, as he seated himself, and chirruping to the horses away we dashed.

The black scud had about vanished, great lakes of purest blue had opened in the sombre firmament, and it was not long before the full lustre of the autumn sun was bathing the world in a flood of gold.

And the ducks! Still they rose and fell, bunch after bunch, flock after flock, line after line, all bent in one direction, all on a single errand.

We soon reached a point where we could see them circling round over a sort of a hollow in the green expanse, and then in sweeping curves, settling down, with fluttering wings, and disappear.

A little further on, George swerved in to the side of the road, and with a "Git out boys," he tied the team to a trunk of a catalpa, and remarked that we had, for the time being reached the end of our wagon journey.

"We'll cut across the fields here, to the lower end of the pond," said George, as we hurriedly pulled on our waders and shooting jackets. "Take plenty of shells—but there's no hurry, the birds are here and we'll soon be among them."

And we were.

By the time we had crossed the big wet field and reached an elevated point that commanded a view of the little lake, the scene was indeed an exhilarating one.

The mist had entirely lifted from the valley, and the sun shedding its bright rays from amidst the fragments of floating vapor, sprinkled corn and hay and reed, weed and water, as with golden rain, setting the myriads of twittering blackbirds in delighted motion, while from the elliptical shaped stretch of smart weed covered morass, came then muffled sound of thousands and thousands of feeding teal. The picture was one well calculated to enthrall the gunner, for the year the first time out, and we stood there many moments, eager as we were, and drank it in with irrepressible rapture.

On the other side of the gentle vale there was a great sweep of still waving corn and brown stubble and broken ground, now layed in alternate lines of dim gray and topaz, swelling from the very edge of the tule-lined and shimmering shallows. Across the heavens still floated masses of fleecy vapor, fiery edged and dropping their lights and shades over the dusty corn, the yellow stubble and silvered bosom of the open pond, like the play of color on velvet.

Again we were on the move, and soon, as we reached an advantageous rise that gave us a sweep of the low shore line, we could see the teal floating on the low waters, or lining the muddy shores in flocks of millions, it seemed to our excited imagination.

"We'll make a sneak through the corn and give them one shot, for luck, when they rise," said George.

And together we crawled under the barbed fence and bent almost double, mae a two-hundred-yard stalk to the outer edge of the corn, which was within only good long range of the busy birds.

All ready we slipped into the open. There was a momentary hush in the low murmur of the birds, when, as if President Taft had touched the button, they leaped into the air like a black cloud from a bursting volcano, and together we let them have the six barrels.

How many did we get? Well, you'll be disappointed when I tell you—two. We got four down, but two were only wing-tipped and reached the weedy selvedge before we could overtake them, and of course, you duck hunters know what that means.

But we would have been equally pleased had we scored a clean miss, for, from the manner the birds were weaving about over the pond, here, there and everywhere, we knew that if we didn't kill more than one out of twenty shots, we could more than take the limit.

And we did, but we were sensibly conscientious about it. Ray waded out to a line of tules in the midst of the pond, while George and I took up comfortable positions in the corn. In one hour and three-quarters by the watch, every man had the limit, and we then turned in on the jacks on the further lowlands, and repeated the trick on the little gallinagoes.

There would be little interesting in telling about the various shots we made, this dandy double, that ridiculous miss, the quarterers, the straight aways, and crossers high in the air, for we were content to take our time and pick our shots, and rest assured, my doubting reader, who lives where there are no such glorious opportunities, we didn't look for the easy ones, either.