Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. August 3, 1890. Omaha Sunday Bee 20(46): 9. Opening sports page story.

Sports of the Dog Days.

A Glorious Day With the Upland Plover.

Gunners hereabout are having great sport just now with the upland plover. The birds came in about ten days since in unusual numbers and today the prairies are fairly swarming with them in different localities along the old military road, in fact, out on the open plain in almost any direction. Some big bags have been made, and the birds are being shipped in in great numbers.

But few people seem to understand that the upland plover, which, is really the Bartramian sand-piper, is one of the finest game birds that flies. As a bonne bouche they are unsurpassed in the estimation of many gastronomes, and the writer considers them next in rank to the Wilson snipe and the canvasback duck.

This is just the season for shooting them, in this latitude, and they will remain until the arrival of Jack Frost, when they continue on to the south.

The habits of the bird are peculiar. One inexperienced in ornithology would naturally look for a plover of any species along the shores of rivers and lakes, or in the swampy morass and low lands. But they are not to be found there, at least in this region. Here they frequent the wide, open plains or the upland downs, where the grass is short, but tender and luxuriant. Again they are often found in large numbers in the open hill pastures among the cattle and in the newly ploughed fields, where they feed on the countless coleopterous insects which breed and abound there.

The writer took a day off Friday and with a friend of his earlier shooting days, put it in among the plover out on the Military road.

We had great sport and made a bag between us of twenty-four big, fat pipers, killing five at the first fire, without getting out of the buggy.

The upland plover is a wary and timid bird, hard to approach on foot, but perfectly indifferent to a horse and vehicle. This renders their pursuit in this manner very easy and indolent sport, yet, exceedingly agreeable. The birds cannot be said to feed in flocks, for while they gather together in large numbers, on the same ground, they do not follow each other like gallinaceous birds or act in concert in any way. When finished one bird gets up at a time, or rather every bird gets up after his own peculiar fashion and flies off alone on a course away from his relatives. They gravitate, however, and after an erratic flight of some considerable length of time will join each other until they settle again. While running over the plain—and they go at a respectable gait, too—they are almost constantly sounding a soft, plaintive whistle, which is a sure warning that they are about to take wing. The hunter knows the sound well, and when he hears it he invariably crouches low, hoping to get a crack at them as they wheel and convolute in their aerial reconnaissance.

We were driving along an unfrequented by-path, after having made three or four good shots, when suddenly we were both started by a very chorus of "tee-wheetle-tee-wheetles," and quickly descried fully thirty of the yellow legs running in all directions away from us. We had evidently startled the birds while they had been quietly basking in the warm sunshine. We quickly sprang from the buggy and got in both barrels as the birds arose, but only one, and that a wing-tipped hen, rewarded our effort.

It was not certain who brought the bird down, as we were both together when we fired, but my friend ran to gather the wounded plover. But he found it no easy task, for the little hen started off like a diminutive ostrich, and it was a hard chase for a couple of hundred yards, when the bird suddenly disappeared as completely as if she had been resolved into the original elements.

Jack was nonplussed, and I hurried forward.

"Where is she?" I asked.

"You tell," replied he, as he gazed in wonderment all about the spot.

We had no dog, of course, for a dog would be a hindrance at plover shooting, and there was nothing to do but hunt and solve the mystery ourselves. After fully fifteen minutes had been spent in scrutinizing the little tufts of grass and brown hollows lying all about us, Jack suddenly called.

"Look here."

I hurried over to him and he pointed at his feet, and there, nestling closely to a big brown clod, lay the plover, her beautifully mottled plumage assimilating so perfectly with the leaden earth and rufous colored grass, that not one pair of eyes in a thousand would have discovered her.

The upland plover is a queer bird in many other respects. It has the faculty of gauging the range of a shot gun better than any bird, save the canvas back, that I know of, and many a shot we needlessly threw away at birds flushing out of gunshot. They fly swiftly and when in the air look much larger than they really are, owing to the great length of their sharp pointed wings. They are but precious little larger than the jack-snipe, about an even thing between the snipe and the woodcock, but possess more gumption than both of these excellent birds combined. The plover, too, is a provoking little rascal, always lying perfectly still, sort of side ways, while you are advancing on him, and then, just as you are counting on a shot dead sure, you are startled by that sad "tee-wheetle-tee-wheet!" and he's off. Then round and round he circles, all about you, but never quite within reach of your gun, and you might just as well move on first as last.

The shooting is good just now, and sportsmen, who long for a little excitement and recuperation, can find it in a drive over the hills and across the prairies, anywhere to the west or northwest beyond the city limits.