Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

Sandy Griswold. July 28, 1895. Omaha Sunday Bee p. 7.

The Whistle of the Upland

Fine Sport for the Gunners on the Hillsides and Meadows.

The fluffy plume of the golden rod now waves in its fullest beauty in the summer breeze, while the aster winks and blinks like a blue eye peeping without the tan of hayfield or green of meadow. This is the time for the upland plover in this favored latitude, and the sportsmen are in high feather. The birds seem to be more plentiful than for several years past, and many fine bags have been made within an easy drive of the city. While the upland plover ranks well up with the best game birds, and while they are exceedingly plentiful on Nebraska's broad plains, local gunners do not know as much about the habits and characteristics of the bird as is warranted by their advantages. Of course there are many sportsmen who are as well posted with reference to this bird as they are with game of all kinds, but there is a big majority of shooters who do not even know the bird's name or anything about its habits other than it is to be found on our prairies and is good to eat.

According to the very best ornithological authorities this bird is not a plover at all, but a sandpiper, called after Bartram, whose classification of the bird was first accepted. However, according to my way of thinking, the Bartramian sandpiper is as much of a plover as any of the numerous species dignified by this generic name. Plover, according to Audubon and other old-time naturalists, are confined strictly to the limicolae or shore birds, probably because the name is derived from the Latin pluvia, rain. While the upland plover is closely allied to all this numerous family, it is distinctly different in many traits, one of which is its abhorrence for wet places. In all others it is similar on looks, action, and almost everything else to the large family that is authoritatively pronounced plover.

The bird arrives in this region in its greatest numbers during the last week of July and the first week of August, and in fact many of them breed here, as they do in all the intervening country between Kansas and the British Columbia line, but most numerous in the latter region. The bird remains here but a comparatively brief time after maturity, and long before the last of August has winged its way to the sunny tablelands of Mexico, where its winters are spent. Nebraska's broad fields, however, are favorite feeding grounds for the bartramian, and they take on fat here as they do in no other section of the globe. The nutritious nature of our countless grass seeds is something that works wonders in this line and is the bird's principal fattening diet. The plover is exceedingly fond of these, and I have never yet been able to advance any theory for his early departure southward. I have acquired a considerable fund of game bird knowledge during thirty years experience as a shooter and sportsman, but the short stay of the upland plover in a locality so capitally adapted for his welfare is, and I presume always will be, a mystery to me. The only tenable theory I can advance is the bird's mortal dread of cold. As soon as the summer morning's dew begins to take on a frosty appearance it is the preemptory signal for him to pack his gray-mottled valise, mount to the sky and speed away for Texas and Mexico's salubrious climes.

During their stay here they are invariably found in the greatest numbers upon the wide upland meadows, on the sloping hillsides, where the sunshine falls with greatest fervor, and where there is plenty of short, straggling bunch grass and seed-bearing weeds of different kinds. The big hayfields, newly mown, wheat stubble and recently plowed ground are other resorts much favored by this dainty fellow. You need never look for them in rocky or wooded lands, or in low or swampy places. Our measureless pasture lands, where the cattle browse, are a grand rendezvous for this little feathered king. Here he gorges himself with the farinaceous seeds and the insect food to which he is voraciously partial—the tiny green grasshopper, worms, small snails and coleopterous flies which infest weeds and grasses.

The upland plover is both a wary and an unwary bird. If you attempt to stalk him afoot he always flushes at good, long range, yet the gunner is not placed at such a disadvantage as one might suppose. A single No. 3 shot is frequently all that is required to check Mr. Bartramian in his aerial retreat. They are not gregarious, but are frequently found in large scattered companies, and when flushed, take wing one after another, each taking a course that suits his fancy best, and after circling a few times, converge into small bunches, scattering on a run the moment they alight. When a-wing they give frequent utterance to a peculiarly plaintive whistle, always music to the sportsman's ear, which by close attention you can hear any night now, as the birds seem to be passing over the city in streams from sundown to daylight. They are nocturnal when it comes to migration or changing their feeding grounds. This plaintive note sounds as much like "ter-wheetle! wheetle! ter-wheetle!" as anything that can be imitated in letters. The sound is soft and musical and has the perplexing quality of always appearing close at hand, when often the bird that utters it is half a mile in the air, or at the farther end of some long pasture you may be beating down. When a bird discovers your approach, and just as you are congratulating yourself on getting within fairly good gun shot he makes a tantalizing little run on his long yellowish green stilts, and is in the air with that mystic plaint of his. Once up in space and he sweeps round and round once or twice, then settles down again, but always well out of range. A wounded plover should be retrieved without delay, and a wing tipped one is hard to beat in a foot race. They run like turkeys, and can hide seemingly upon a level close-cropped pasture land. They will squat close behind some trifling irregularity in the ground or tuft of grass or weeds, their beautifully mottled plumage assimilating with the surrounding hues of soil and grass in a way that all too frequently defies detection. And here only is where a dog is a benefit to a hunter. If the bird is killed he is easily found without the aid of canine nostrils. The plover's wings are sharp pointed and exceedingly lengthy, and when in a hurry, can carry his slender shape through the air with almost incredible speed.

Upland plover shooting is nowhere better than in Nebraska, which is a great game state despite the laxity and ineffectiveness of her laws. This sport is a sort of connecting link between the spring and autumn gunning, and when it is over, which will be within the next two weeks, the sportsman must encase his hammerless until the advent of the chicken in September, which is only a forerunner of the most royal month in the whole twelve-golden, glimmering, drowsy October, when the quack of the mallard resounds in the marsh, when the quail are in the stubble, and the geese on the river.