Birds of Nebraska: Newspaper Accounts, 1854-1923

May 14, 1922. Omaha Sunday World-Herald 57(30=33): 3-W.

Yellow Breasted Chat Is Hard to Find, Hard to See.

By Sandy Griswold

Like the hepatica's in flora's domain, is the yellow-breasted chat in that of our birds - indigenous to our own woods and tangles, but hard to find and hard to see. Few of us bird students, owing to the difficulties we experience in finding this rollicking little polygot - the largest of all our warblers, at that - are very familiar with his looks or his habits. And yet, he is quite a frequent loiterer here, and where one know just where to go to find him, the task is not such a stupendous one, at that. After locating the bird, however, which is most frequently accomplished by the sound of his multifarious cries and calls, he does not vouchsafe the discoverer much of an opportunity to study him - such a shy and secretive little woodland rowdy as he is.

I know of several places within easy reach were he may be found with about as much certainty as any of the other members of this tantalizing and erratic big family, and one of these is among the thick tangles of the low, moist, reedy lowlands, just north of Kelly's lake, and another along the wooded and swailly border lands of the Missouri river, this side of the Big Spring. Year after year I have found these birds here, and spent many vexatious hours attempting to outwit the noisy little roysterers, and, at the same time, listening with keen enjoyment to the perfect showers of sweet notes and preposterous sounds he is always making when he's feeling good, which is invariably the case along about this very season of the advancing summer. I have also encountered him in the midst of the devious labyrinths of wild grape and plum, cat brier and bittersweet haw, thornapple and intermittent growths of scores of other kinds of woods and undergrowth along the shores of the sprawling Platte.

And another favorite summer home of this yellow-breasted little buffoon, is down in the tract of chaparral along the western slope of the majestic Signal Ridge of the Fontenelle Forest Reserve - the only tract of chaparral in Nebraska, so the savant with whom I was prowling, informed me. So if you are really interested, betake yourself hither one of these fine May mornings, and I'll guarantee that you will both hear and see this recondite little dweller of our thickets. That is, of course, if you are persistent and patient.

Such a repertoire is his, however, that you are quite apt to be deceived, as he is a wonderful imitator of both many birds and animals, and in which he indulges for long periods at a time, apparently getting much joy out of his cheating. But once you get a good square look at him in his drab overdress and bright topaz vest and mauve and gray shadings, with a white circle about the eye and along the throat, the female an almost perfect prototype of her spouse, you will quickly recognize him.

He is as wary as a hawk, and may lead you a merry time before you get much satisfaction out of the chase. He is, too, just as eccentric in actions, as he is with his vocal monstrosities, often rising above his bosky crypts, into the air, winnowing and fluttering, twisting and gyrating, with all the clownish variations in his aerial acrobats as a Canada goose, tumbling from aloft to the flowing river in the ecstasy of his vernal amour.

While the female bird is nesting, Mr. Chat is prone to concerts of much melodious worth, and while in the mimicry of many birds, he is at his best, and also most punctilious in keeping his swell little shape well hidden within some deep, leafy bower.

However, the study of this little punchinello of the woods requires the same patience and caution that is necessary in familiarizing one's self with any of our birds. The password in the tangly depths as well as the open fields, is silence. In what we are blessed to call the wilderness, and under the subtle influence of nature, the student must value highly the one essential - silence. There is an unspoken language that sympathetic natures feel and understand - a mutual comprehension of the ideals of the seeker with the whims and characteristics of the little feathered denizens whose secrets they would fain master.

Nature does not qualify her gifts of sunlight and fresh air, nor the ever changing scenes of earth or sky; neither does she don funereal weeds for her dead. Upon her sepulchers she throws a lapful of sweet blossoms and sings merrily on as if life was really a joke. A puddle by the roadside evaporation, and a million tadpoles perish. But their species survives, for nature teems with life. In the woods and fields the seeker of floral or avian knowledge should be dignified, punctiliously watchful and silent. Who shall say that any of our so-called dumb creatures have no emotions, that nature's gentler moods, the play of light and shadow, the rhythm of bird, the note of ripple, the droning of the cicadae, or any of the passing phenomena, are unnoticed or unheeded by them?