29 August 2012

Significant Migratory Birds History at Genoa, Nebr.

Regular and ongoing reports issued by an anonymous individual(s) in the Columbus Journal newspaper, present a distinctly unique history for bird occurrence in Nebraska.

There were regular report, often for each month, with a summary regularly presented in January, where details for the previous year were presented. The unknown author indicated weather-related conditions, including mean temperature, clear or cloudy days, windy days, and depending on the season, the extent of snow or rain. As well, there are dates for lunar or solar coronas, and the occurrence of one or more sort of a mirage.

The first known instance where a particular bird species was denoted was in August 1878, in the September issue of the paper.

"Martins leave for the season 15th," were the few, basic words that indicated the local presence of this species at Genoa, Nance County, for August season.

It is very probable that earlier issues of the Journal would include additional references, but as they are not available online at the Chronicling America website, they have not been reviewed.

Weather reports of particular interest continued for the next decade. Typically a yearly summary was published in January for the previous year. There were also, especially in the first few years considered, monthly reports. Details for the months — especially pertaining to birds — were summarized in the annual report.

Regarding 1878, the review for 1878 was issued in the January 15, 1878 issued of the Journal. Species mentioned included larks (meadowlarks), blackbirds (c.f. Red-winged Blackbird), geese (Canada Goose), brant (Snow Goose), cranes (Sandhill Crane). swallows (probably the Barn Swallow) and martins (Purple Martin).

Larks arrived on March 6th, with martins arriving on April 22nd, and departing on August 15th, at a time when locusts were flying south to southwest in the vicinity.

The author of these reports is not known. M.K. Turner and Company were the proprietors and publishers of the newspaper during these times. A single issued of a summery report, for 1885, included the initials G.S.T. If he was the regular author, his focus and attention is certainly a unique perspective of local outdoor conditions, as he not only looked to the sky to see weather phenomenon, but also was attentive to notable bird-related dates.

Bird Chronology

More than 75 distinct records of occurrence are known for March 1878 to April, 1887. The first date represents a notation for the spring arrival of larks; the latter the arrival of swallows at this place along the Platte River.

Of particular interest are details about the Purple Martins, especially since spring arrival and autumn departure dates. These observations are the first and, thus far based upon extensive research, the only reports for this species which are available from a newspaper source.

This is a summary of particulars with the weather report:

Purple Martin Observations at Genoa, Nebr.

Julian Date : Observation Date


86 : 3/27/1881
87 : 3/28/1882
89 : 3/30/1887
91 : 3/31/1884
91 : 4/1/1885
92 : 4/1/1880
93 : 4/3/1883
99 : 4/9/1879
99 : 4/9/1886
112 : 4/22/1878


212 : 7/30/1880
219 : 8/7/1881
227 : 8/15/1878
227 : 8/15/1879
239 : 8/27/1883
241 : 8/28/1884
244 : 9/1/1882

The martins were noted as typically arriving during a two-week period, and departing during period of time which extended for a longer period.The dates reflect the occurrence of this dramatic species, based upon current, and modern dates of departure. The dates for Genoa indicate that these birds may have left the local vicinity for elsewhere, which may have been a regional roost location, especially as martin are known to occur in the 21st century, throughout August and into early September along the Missouri River valley.

Other species well represented by dates of occurrence are the Barn Swallow, Canada Goose, Sandhill Crane and Western Meadowlark, which would have been the prevalent prairie lark in this region at this time of history. The Red-winged Blackbird, American Crow, American Robin and Killdeer are mentioned very less frequently.

Not all of the bird records are from the weather report. Other items of a few words — in a sentence or few - indicate the unusual occurrence of a gray eagle (Bald Eagle), shooting of a swan (Trumpeter Swan), the taking of a Whooping Crane, a note-worthy flight of geese or other bird-related events prevalent to the observer.

Overall, at more than a dozen species are represented by the various accounts.

Reports of sorts with dates of significant bird occurrence occurred through March, 1887 to a regular degree. Thereafter, there are additional, though scattered reports to the end of the century.

Fire Hunting Woodcock a Historic Endeavor

I an unable to give you a large hunting story, as I have not been driving, but I had some sport last night in killing woodcock, which are here very numerous, and come in from the swamps after night to feed in the cotton fields. We started from the house with a large pine torch, (held by a negro,) which gave a brilliant light, giving us sight of the bird, and at the time blinding it, and allowing use to approach close enough to shoot it with a squib. We only killed twelve brace, on account of the moon. A negro, who followed us, however, took a more novel mode of dispatching the bird — knocking them over with a long cane, in which he succeeded wonderfully, much to his own gratification and amazement.

March 24, 1842. A hunting story. New-York American 24(2669): 6. From a letter in the Grand Gulf Advertiser.

Grand Gulf is in Claiborne county, Mississippi.

Fire Hunting for Woodcock.

An Old-time Mississippi Sport Introduced to Pike County.

Lackawaxen, Pa., Sept. 21 — On Friday last a method of hunting woodcock never before heard of among the sportsmen of this region was tried on a well-known woodcock ground along the Shohola Creek, twelve miles back in the woods from this place. It was introduced by Dr. J.H. Butte, a Southerner, who with some New York friends and one or two local sportsmen, had been spending some days hunting in the Shohola country. The party had had poor success with woodcock, although indications of their presence were abundant. On Friday Dr. Butte suggested that the party try the Mississippi style of killing the wily bird by "fire hunting."

"Woodcock are plenty in Mississippi," said the Southern sportsman, "but they seem to have different habits there than here, or at least have better opportunities for evading the hunter and preventing him from enjoying the shooting of them from behind a dog. The swamps and brakes are so dense about the haunts of the woodcock in Mississippi that it is next to impossible to make your way into them, and in these great thickets the birds lie close all day. When night comes, however, they rise and seek the cultivated open lands where they feed, as they do here, on the worms that find their natural breeding places in such soil. I don't know who first conceived the idea of getting the best of the woodcock on these feeding grounds, but as long as I can remember that has been most effectually done by fire hunting. The outfit of a fire hunter, before the war, consisted of a gun, a big pine-knot torch, and the strongest slave on the plantation. Since the war the slave has been left out of the outfit, but the tradition is preserved by hiring some muscular darky to perform his duties. The torch might more appropriately be called a pillar of fire, for it is a fire made of the fattest kind of pine knots in a large iron wickerwork cage secured to one end of a stout pole twelve or fifteen feet high, and carried aloft by the negro. It casts a bright light over an area of several rods around. The hunter or hunters, as soon as it is dark, proceed to the woodcock ground. The torch bearer lights the pine knots and walks slowly along. The hunter follows closely. In the bright light he soon sees the lustrous, staring eyes of the woodcock, disturbed in its feeding, fixed with a startled look and apparent fascination on the glaring torch. Some hunters will not wait for the bird to rise, but kill it as it sits. The more scientific gunner waits till it rises with its peculiar cry, and brings it down by a quick shot. The shot has got to be quick, too, for the bird is seen but a second as it flashes upward, and is then lost in the darkness beyond the boundaries of the torch rays. To bring down a woodcock before it escapes in the darkness requires a hunter that knows his business. It often happens that a score of birds will rise at the same time and whirr for an instant in the glare of the torch, and so, generally, there are several gunners in a party, and one evening's fire hunting may result in the bagging of a hundred birds or more."

Dr. Butte questioned whether fire hunting was a legitimate or fair way to hunt woodcock where the country permitted the use of dogs in their covers; but it was resolved, for the novelty of the thing, to give it a trial in Pike county. A corn field where the bottom showed abundant evidence that woodcock fed there by night was selected for the trial. A camp kettle was tied to the end of a long pole, and filled with pine knot bits. On Friday night the hunters sought the corn field. The torch was lighted and carried by a stalwart Pike county guide. The field had hardly been entered before three woodcock were discovered, as Dr. Butte had described. They flushed, and each one was brought to bag. The hunt lasted an hour, and twenty-seven birds were killed.

It is not likely that this questionable sport will be indulged in to any extent by legitimate hunters, who find the greatest enjoyment in woodcock shooting in the exciting maneuvers of their blooded dogs in the covey and the wild rise of the game in its rush for a place of safety; but there are many men, who hunt only for profit, who will lose no opportunity to take advantage of this southern idea, if it proves to be as successful as the trial of Friday night, and consequently its introduction in game haunts, already seriously abused by pot hunters, is greatly to be regretted.

September 28, 1884. Fire hunting for woodcock. An old-time Mississippi sport introduced in Pike County. New York Sun 52(28): 3.

23 August 2012

Newspapers Essential to Historic Ornithology

A myriad of issues of historic newspapers are essential in presenting the presence of birds during historic times in the United States. Whether past or present, significant sightings were indicated upon the pages, to a lesser or greater degree.

After a effort initiated many years ago, followed by an intensive and daily investigation in the past few months, a pinnacle of this research effort was reached on 08/22/2012 ... when a tally of 2012 individual articles had been reviewed. Each bird notation has been compiled into a database to provide a comprehensive perspective. With details in an electronic format, further details are available for consideration and evaluation, which is so important in determining what particular focus is needed to find additional pertinent records.

Not every article provided bird occurrence records, but have been included because they convey something significant in regards to bird history of the era.

Highlights of this research effort, as of this August date, include:

  • tally of 2012 articles derived from newspaper sources
  • tally of 46 states, plus the District of Columbia, represented in the dataset
  • 4202 individual records compiled, with the first known from 1723
  • records representing 262 distinct species, plus other variations that could not be attributed to a proper name

Those species which are mentioned in prevalence are, in descending order, the Passenger Pigeon (more than 560 distinctive records, with other indications pending), Bald Eagle (commonly referred to as the gray eagle), Canada Goose (the wild goose), Northern Bobwhite (partridges), Wild Turkey, Snowy Owl (white owl, snow owl, Arctic owl), and Greater Prairie-Chicken.

In a geographic context, the top few states where records have been found, thus far, are:

  • New York: 531
  • Nebraska: 508
  • Iowa: 320
  • Pennsylvania: 284
  • Georgia: 274
  • California: 236
  • New Jersey: 221

These numbers are representative, but have been derived from an availability of freely-available source material. Pay-to-view sites have not been evaluated, and obviously they have pertinent details and would expand the perspective.

When this endeavor of looking into how newspapers reported occurrences of birds began man years ago, it was based upon looking at microfilm. The situation has dramatically changed. Where there was once a site or two where details of newspapers were presented online, there are now many web-sites which present information, often with an option to search for particular details. Then other similar sites were discovered. There are some others which are fee-based, and thus have not been included in this effort.

Overall, the current representation is indicative of details in the historic newspapers. Any evaluation of the ornithology for a state has to consider the details given within the newspapers associated with the geographic locality, which often are conveyed by a newspaper within the state.

It is not always about particular observations. Some especially notable articles have been typed for presentation in their entirety, elsewhere on this blog. The details are especially expressive.

This records database is available on only one computer in the world.

Cats Versus Birds - Perspective of 1876

Mrs. Swisshelm expresses wonder that any song bird are found in the United States, since cats are so numerous here, and proceeds to show pretty conclusively that they have done more than man himself to extirpate some of our most valuable prairie fowls. This calls to mind the statement made some years ago by a patient observer of the habits of these beasts of prey, he declared that two cats upon his farm killed over three hundred young partridges in one season. and more recently the protest came from Kansas that these animals were killing off the birds that ate the grasshoppers. This is a very bad report for pussy.

Now the economist pertinently asks if the food which the fifty or sixty feline whether there would not be more left to feed some of the starving children; and to put the finishing stroke upon the business, Mrs. Swisshelm intimates very strongly that the cat is in a measure responsible for the grasshopper plague. After this it will be difficult to find a modern Cowper to defend the sleek and bloated hypocrite that purrs before the grate fire, and that is only waiting for the night to come, to banish sleep with the voice of the damned.

October 6, 1876. Cats vs. birds. Weekly Sumter Republican 23(32): 4. Also: October 13, 1876. Weekly Sumter republican 23(33): 1. Issued at Americus, Georgia.

Wild Fowl Massacres - 1880

The decoy — a fac-simile of the wild goose or duck — was the first device employed to allure wild fowl within reach of a gun. Formerly but six or eight were used. To-day a full set will number from sixty to two hundred, the larger number as auxiliary to the battery — a diabolical engine of destruction. The machine consists of a square box of dimensions sufficient to contain a man prostrate on his back. To this box is attached a platform made of cedar boards. The latter varies in dimensions. Some are eight feet square, others twelve or fourteen feet, while many have canvas fenders attached, the more completely to break the swash of the waves. These machines can only be used during moderate southerly weather. They are transported on large sailboats to the feeding grounds of the birds, where they are launched and anchored. About and on them are placed large numbers of decoys, which are so arranged as to lie head towards the machine. The largest body of decoys are usually placed so that the birds in passing shall swing off towards the left bank. We will now imagine the gunner snugly stowed in his narrow box. The tender lies off and on to the leeward in readiness to pick up the dead. Cripples are seldom retrieved. As the battery is placed wide off shore, sometimes in the very center of a sound or bay, the crowd of decoys surrounding it are very attractive to passing fowl. The gunner, prone upon his back on a level with the water, is entirely invisible. Flock after flock, unsuspicious of danger, and seeking a favorite feeding ground, will dash in among the decoys. The occupant of the battery at the proper moment rises to a sitting position and pours in among them a right and left hand gun. Possibly at every shot four or five may be killed outright, and as many more crippled. The dead are retrieved by the tender, while the cripples find their way to shore, where they either die a lingering death, or are destroyed by animals or birds of prey. When ducks are flying freely, and the man in the battery is armed with a breech-loader, and is moreover experienced in this style of shooting, the slaughter is immense. The proportion of wounded to dead is large. It requires no great effort to calculate the amount of mischief of which the battery is capable. The machine, however, is available only for certain varieties of fowl. Geese may be killed from it, also widgeon, canvas back duck, red-head, and all birds whose sight is close to the surface of water. Black ducks and sprig-tails, or birds which fly at a considerable altitude, are apt to look into a battery, and consequently avoid it. The use of these machines is not so harmful in large expanses of water as in small and narrow bays. Here they are positively fatal, and should not be tolerated. Laws area, indeed enacted forbidding their use, but no attention is paid to these statutes, and they are used indiscriminately.

The fire-lighting of geese is done, of course, on very dark nights. On the bow of a boat's lantern, similar to the headlight of a locomotive, is rigged. The boat is slowly propelled toward the birds on their feeding grounds. These, when the light approaches, sit with head and necks level, motionless, and paralyzed with fear. They may be approached within twelve feet. Moreover, the birds in their terror huddle together, so that when fire is opened on them the slaughter is great. After being shot at, they rise on the wing, and in their bewilderment often dash directly against the lantern. The effect of disturbing a wary bird like the goose after this fashion may be readily imagined. A single experience of the kind suffices to drive him panic stricken finally and forever from such localities. There is a law forbidding this practice; it is seldom or never enforced.

We now come to the dusking of ducks. This is likewise a fatal and reckless way of killing fowl. The black duck, spring-tail and teal feed usually close under the sedgy shores. During the day, so persistently have they been pursued, it is difficult to entice them to the decoys; consequently they are shot in the dusk of the evening, when the shades of night obscure objects, which experience has taught them to avoid. In the early evening the flash of a gun is visible at a great distance; the effect on birds using their feeding grounds is disastrous. Laws have been enacted against this method of killing ducks. They are likewise never enforced. On ever favorable occasion the shores are lined with gunners, who dusk birds far into the night. For days the particular locality is entirely deserted by these birds, which, when they do return, fly high in the air, and peer cautiously about them. To bring them within gunshot is impossible.

October 7, 1880. Wild fowl massacres. Indiana Democrat 19(24): 4. From Harper's Weekly. Obvious misspellings corrected.

21 August 2012

Duck Shooting About Caw Caw Island - 1868

Correspondence of the Milwaukee News.
Club House - Caw Caw Island, Sept. 24th, 1868.

Under the general head of field sports, there is no phase of its varied and exciting amusement which combines so much of zest and exposure, with a skillful handling of the gun, as what is understood by sportsmen as water fowl shooting.

Duck shooting stands at the head of this rare list, and requires the best guns, and the most skillful judgment for its successful accomplishment. The advice of the French cook as to preparing a fowl for dinner, applies with most pertinent force to the sportsman -- especially with a teal down the wind at ninety miles per hour -- "first get your duck."

If there is a place in the wide world where good shooting will bag 20 to 40 brace of duck in a day, that place is Lake Horicon, an artificial reservoir of some sixteen by four miles dimensions, in the middle of which is situated "Caw Caw Island." The Caw Caw sporting blub-house, erected upon this island the most ample accommodations for their convenience, including the best "sportsmen's ranche" -- boats, dog-houses and general shooting outfit I have ever found at any camp.

Three years ago I was a visitor to the "Caw Caws' upon invitation of its whole souled president, Wm. Young, esq., of Milwaukee, and with a repetition of the same compliment, I am again a guest to testify to the agreeable fact that absence has not dulled the edge of hospitality.

The bogs and marshes which surround this lake furnish most excellent and abundant feed for the waterfowl which breed in its water. Up to this date the club have shot 2,000 ducks, everyone being a native, the flight of northern ducks not having yet set in. Every known species and all varieties of duck are bred here and their number is legion. I have seen them rise in their flight a morning and fairly blacken the sky, stretching away in straggling lines for miles along the shore. Over five thousand ducks were shot last year and sent in by the club to their friends. All of these were killed by single flying shots, no unfair means, such as swivel guns or batteries being permitted.

Not a luck shot by this club or any of its quests [word not legible] said the members being all gentlemen of character and means, pursue their sport and scorn the posthumous motive of pride.

No lord is allowed to spoil, no mere being taken than can be used. The game is being brought in is hung up, the "lagged" and directed to the persons intended for. Then by a [words not legible] at early hours in the morning, displayed from the club house staff, the indispensable [word not legible] is heralded to be in readiness with his term on arrival of the boats, which, after a two mile row, land us within half a mile of the "Crossing," where the Milwaukee & St. Paul cars take all on board at 9 a.m., for the former place, the game to be delivered on arrival by express.

Thus almost daily throughout the shooting season the feathered freebooters of Horicon are "Caw Cawed" and sent in as presents to friends in town.

The predominating fowl thus far has been "wood duck" and "red heads"; the latter was never before so abundant in these waters.

About the 1st of October we look for the northern duck, and those migratory visitors which come and go until the lake freezes over -- which is usually about December 1st. I have myself broken ice half an inch in thickness in October, to get in upon some point and been well repaid for the labor.

The "Ranch" or more explicitly -- the club house of the "Caw Caws," is an institution with ample sleeping accommodations for twelve persons -- just the number of its members -- usually not more than half at which are present -- and with "William" as expert (colored) cook, for caterer, there is no lack of comfort and good living. The printed rules of the club greet the visitor at the door, and once within its portals, [words not legible], social intercourse puts every man on his honor.

I observed that the flight of ducks was very unequal -- some days filling the sky from morn till eve -- while on other days, especially those of wind and storm, no ducks were moving. The daily and almost unceasing shooting about Caw Caw, is at a station on the Northwestern railway called Chester. This is a favorite resort for gunners from Chicago. It has a fine hotel, plenty of boats -- and here you get the first flight of ducks and geese as they come down from the north.

"Halloa!" there's a signal at the wharf, "Rye" (which in the only name I have heard given to a useful and kind hearted young man of all-work about camp) has just come in from Mioskey's with supplies. It does seem that no idea of comfort ever escapes the attention of Mr. Young. Here are baskets of peaches, boxes of grapes, tomatoes, fresh potatoes, milk and eggs. There is too much of luxury in this for a 'hunters camp.' I must go back into town where I can get plain fare.

This spot is one that may excite a sportsman envy. It is as far ahead of any ordinary camp as a metropolitan hotel surpasses a "hog and hornining travel" in Indiana.

The generous characteristics of the club may be inferred from a fact which I take pleasure in here giving to the public. Mr. Wm. Young had a favorite dog called Old Bang, who, after a life of service as a valuable retriever, died on the island, and was buried here. The club have erected over his grave a beautiful white marble monument.

It is of appropriate design, bearing upon its facade of sculptured likeness of Old Bang with a duck in his mouth, and his name in relief on top of the stone, the whole design being some thirty inches in height, and over, shadowed by a group of graceful trees.

September 26, 1868. Field sports in Wisconsin. Duck shooting at Caw Caw Island. Daily Milwaukee News 21(332): 4-5. Obvious misspellings have been corrected.

Duck Shooting at Cobb's Island in 1880

Baltimore, Jan. 31. — Dear Spirit: I send herewith a brief recital of a gunning excursion recently enjoyed by two of Baltimore's well-known sportsmen, Messrs. G.A. Rasch and J.W. Snyder. These gentlemen have been for some time noted for the precision and accuracy of their shooting, and their recent exploits add fresh laurels to their reputation. So decidedly successful and fortunate were there gentlemen that I feel assured these lines will be acceptable to your host of readers who may be interested in sporting affairs. Messrs. Rasch and Snyder left our city Tuesday of last week, and returned Friday morning of the present week. Deducting the time expended in traveling and the Sabbath of rest, about six days were employed in manipulating their breech-loaders. The result of their fusillade among the ranks of black mallards, brant, and geese was a grand and gratifying aggregate of 109 ducks and ten wild geese, which were distributed among their many friends. This is the "biggest" week's shooting that has been executed in the vicinity by any other brace of hunters, amateur or professional. Your readers interested in ducking will doubtless wish to know where such sport was obtained, and by what means the locality can be reached. I would, therefore, state in reply to such implied interrogatories that the place visited by these gentlemen was the well-known spot in Northampton County, Va., which is classically known as Cobb's Island. This island is situated in the waters of the Atlantic, and is in the neighborhood of 200 miles from our city. During the summer the hotel is well and largely patronized, but during the winter is but little frequented save by occasional gunning parties. The islanders are a hardy, obliging, and accommodating people, and do everything in their power to render the stay of strangers pleasant and agreeable. I would especially commend Mr. E.B. Cobb, "a native here and to the manner born," and Capt. C.H. Crumb, of the Life Saving Station, as gentlemen whose courtesy is as genial as their kindness is proverbial. As before mentioned, the island is but little frequented during the winter months; in consequence of this the hotel is not at present in operation, but a most excellent substitute is supplied by Messrs. Melson and Isdell. These gentlemen are the proprietors of a large packet, gunning boats, blinds, decoys, etc. Gunning parties find good, safe, and abundant accommodations on board the packet, and are transported to and from the ducking haunts by Messrs. Melson and Isdell. In consequence of having such good accommodations, convenient accessories, and thoroughly informed guides, it is no great matter of surprise that gunners invariably return from the island abundantly supplied with the game and exceedingly well pleased with their trip. It is a matter of surprise though, that the bang of more guns is not heard awakening the echoes of the ocean island. The fascination of duck-shooting, the certainty of success, and the pleasures of such a trip should be enough to make Cobb's Island the Mecca of our sportsmen. Having already trespassed too much upon your valuable space, I'll now close these rambling lines.

February 7, 1880. Traps and Triggers. Duck shooting in Maryland. New York Spirit of the Times 99(1): 9.

20 August 2012

Duck Shooting on Lake Horicon - 1866

Caw-Caw Island, Lake Horicon, Wis., Oct. 25, '66.

With the compliments of my esteemed friend, Wm. Young, esq., of Milwaukee, president of the "Caw-Caw Island Sporting Club," I presented myself at the club house on Monday last, and after a week of the rarest duck shooting it has ever been my good fortune to enjoy — and amid the society of some of the most accomplished gentlemen and sportsmen to be met in any land; I propose to give my eastern friends a brief sketch of this glorious shot gun expedition among the water fowl of Horicon.

Leaving Milwaukee by the morning train, we reached Minnesota Junction (50 miles northwest) in time for dinner. Here as good fortune would have it, the met the indispensable "Micechky," an original Teuten living four miles distant upon the shores of Lake Horicon, opposite to "Caw-Caw Island." After an improvised run away of Micechky dutch ponies, and a "stern chase" of a mile by your correspondent and the dutchman — we overhauled the "nags" and reached the lake. The wind was blowing a gale — but I trussed myself in the dutchman's "dug-out," who after an hour of cautious paddling and pretty constant "bailing out" of the craft, landed me in a very damp condition at Caw-Caw Island. The first object of animated life which met my vision on the island, was a grim and ancient raven, which sat perched upon a stump by the landing in most ominous silence. The portal once passed, I found midway of the island, a well-constructed pine board cabin, with abundance of some paraphernalia scattered about. Within, the scene was different. A cordial greeting by the sportsmen assembled for their evening meal, a blazing light, warm fires, the savory odor of roast duck and fragrant coffee, to a wet, half-famished sportsman this was truly a God-send, and that supper fare of "Delmonico" honors.

I was soon installed with the humors of a guest, and arose the next morning refreshed and ready at sunrise to pull a trigger on the swift-winged teal, and magnificent mallard, which everywhere filled the air in their flight.

Caw-Caw Island is about midway in the lake — which is some four by eighteen miles in dimensions — and this lake being one of artificial origin, is a vast bog upon alive shores, and so shallow that every species of diver can feed upon the wild celery which grows in great abundance beneath its waters.

The club is well supplied with boats, and every sportsmen at liberty to shoot singly, or in company. I found that when the gunners scattered to the west and east bogs, that the ducks were kept in motion, and flying shots were more frequent at all points; but in rough weather the ducks invariably get under the lea of the shores and islands, and lie very close unless put up by the guns.

This was the case on the afternoon I first towed to the island; and here I want to record a fact: As we pulled our dugout along the western bog the duck commenced rising and settling before us and at a distance of some two miles they had massed into a solid flock, and upon our turning a point all took wing at once filling and blackening the air with their number. Far as the eye could reach their long graceful curved lines of flight extended, and I do believe that in numbers they amounted to millions.

I have seen since the — at a morning flight, flocks extending the whole width of the lake — four miles — sweeping cautiously in one direction for hours. And a noticeable fact is that surely all of these fowls are hatched in the waters of this lake. The northern and migratory ducks had just began to arrive. Of this species, for teal and widgeon, were most numerous, and some highly prized en passent, let me remark, highly prized of is the mallard, the principal fowl of these waters — for teal and widgeon, are vastly as superior in flavor and delicacy. And in this connection, must not omit to mention the great variety of duck which here abound. In the bags of a single day's shooting, it is not infrequent that mallard, red-heads, dusky duck, pin tails, widgeon, blue and green-winged teal, wood duck and butter balls, are all secured. I am informed that a solitary "canvas back" was killed last week by Mr. Bosworth. I need not inform sportsmen what such variety gives to shooting; I have knocked down a dusky duck or a widgeon, in a certain line of flight landing them dead — when a strong winged mallard flying on the same path, has winged away in defiance of my best aim, and five drachma to a ounce of number 4. The difference of speed in the flight of these varieties demand the best judgement in calculation. To shoot a teal, "down the wind" is almost like "shooting at a streak of lightning," as my friend expresses it. They certainly do fly "quicker than thought."

About midway of this lake is the regular flight of wild geese from the northward. Among the seven to eight hundred duck shot thus far by the club only four geese had been captured. I therefore determined to "chance it" for geese. The recent rough weather at the north had set these strong winged monarchs of the skies in motion southward. I took a position on the bogs about two miles south of "Goose Island," and for two hours watched an almost constant flight of the mystic "wa-wa." Sometimes wheeling and screaming as if their leader was lost, in doubt which way to proceed, but always at an immense elevation. Later in the day several flocks of Brandt made their appearance low on the water, but no shots, and I began to despair of getting my goose. Suddenly I heard the cry — that land-piercing scream so unspeakable and so immutable in letters — and my companion of an adjacent bog called out "Mark! Geese!" I had barely time to bring my old avenger to my shoulder when the flapping of wings directly overhead sent my blood like electricity through my veins. I let go my first barrel, and saw my object (a fine goose) waver; quicker than spirits I gave it the other, and deader than Julius Caesar landed a royal geese, at about sixty paces. That was glory enough for one day, so with a fair bag, including a mallard weighing three pounds and a half, with the satisfaction of having shot the first goose, and the only one of that day's shooting.

On reaching camp we found that other guests had arrived, and all hands were assembled to witness the "lay out" of the different bags of game, as the sportsmen came in.

My worthy host, Wm. Young and F.J. Bosworth had shot a match against J.C. Spencer and A.J. Aikens, bringing in the aggregate 54 ducks and one goose, the former gentlemen winning by 9 in the count. The other members of the club, who had shot outside, had done finely, and the spirit of emulation seems to give great zest in their contests. What an institution at each place is a good cook. In the genial face of "John" I recognized one of my former attendees at the Sherman House, Chicago, and when I sat down to his well dished supper I fancied that the Sherman had come to "Caw-Caw."

So frequent and important mention of "Caw-Caw" demands some allusion to the why this name was adopted by this club of ten sportsmen, to designate their association. When they took possession of the Island, it was inhabited by this noisy, caterwauling thing of feathers and claws called "Caw Caw." It was their nesting grounds — their "roost" and I suppose that pandemonium let loose could not have outscreamed these vile bipeds. They actually drove Messrs. Young and Aiken off the island the first night of their arrival, and they were compelled to sleep upon the deck of the scow which brought materials for their club house. A fusillade from stab-and-twist has since exterminated them, and I regretted not being able to see even the taxidermist's ghost of one. I am inclined to believe, however, that they were a species of "shite-poke" — the highly flavored bird which we served at our Iowa camp last September to a braces of Kanucks, who declared them "blasted fine old grub you know."

The shooting at "Caw-Caw" is just at the height of the season. The northern duck are only beginning their flight, and for the month of November the club will have sport which any man might envy. I never wing a thought to that coveted spot, where I enjoyed so much of good shooting and sumptuous living, that I do not wish again to be with the 'Caw-Caw' Islanders — revving my boat from bog to bog, returning to camp larder with feathery denizens of the food; sitting down to those game supper, taking a friendly hand at euchre, and going is alone on the "turn up" — in a horn. But the "onward" motion of life — my life — separates us, for only a season, I hope.

That island of hospitable entertainment I saw dim in distance as I pulled away in a snow storm, on a kind wind and a rough wave to-day at day break; but memory will hang the picture in the gallery of friendship; and it will, with its panorama of whole-souled members enliven many an otherwise wintry hour of bachelor life.

As a matter of general news I can state upon reliable authority that the general species of larger game, such as deer and bear, are very abundant in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Anywhere from Green Bay westward, of from Grand Haven in Michigan northeast, bear and deer are being killed almost daily. Ruffed grouse in Wisconsin were never before as abundant and some wild turkey have been shot quite near Milwaukee. I do most earnestly recommend to my eastern friends that they visit Milwaukee and try the lakes and timber for duck and deer.

There should be more fraternity among gentlemen who call themselves sportsmen. Some of the best friends I have I have found in camp, and when you again meet them in town the talismanic band of mutual affinity brings you together as children of a common father, brothers of a fraternity which like [words not legible] had [word not legible] and exalted such all of its members are or should be exalted types of manhood. The true sportsmen is a naturalist, an ornithologist and a gentleman. May health and long life protect the knights of the ramrod.

October 31, 1866. Daily Milwaukee News 19(65): 4-5. Poor copies of the source document were used for this transcription, and there may be errors in determining words accurately when letters were light or covered with smudges. A few obvious misspellings have been corrected.

Maryland Duck Shooting on the Susquehanna Flats

Judge Gildersleeve, who is perhaps even better known as a rifle shot and sportsman than a jurist, has done recently some good shooting on the waters of Chesapeake Bay, where yearly immense numbers of wild fowl congregate. Sitting in his office the Judge described it.

"There is no better place for duck shooting," he said, "than the Susquehanna flats, near Havre de Grace, on the upper waters of the Chesapeake Bay. There the wild celery grows in abundance. This is the favorite food of the canvas back ducks, and it imparts a delightful flavor to their flesh. Consequently the canvas backs of that region are the very best. So, too, are the red heads that abound in that locality. These birds bring a higher price in the market than those shot in any other place that I know of. Now, as you probably know very well, duck shooting in Maryland is strictly protected by law, which provides that no shooting shall take place in the fall until November 1. Then it begins, but it is confined to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. After January 1 the shooting is extended to Saturdays. But this added day doesn't amount to much usually, for by the holiday's the flats are generally frozen over, and the duck shooting comes to an end.

"And now a word about the modus operandi," the Judge continued. The best way to shoot ducks on the flats then is from a box, or a battery as it is called. This is simply a coffin-shaped, water-tight box, so weighted that when the hunter gets in its sides are nearly level with the surface of the water. On each side is a canvas-colored frame-work called a wing. These wings extend out over the water, and are intended to keep the waves from washing over the battery. When, however, there is a stiff wind blowing they not infrequently prove insufficient to keep the water out of the box. Then a strip of sheet iron four or six inches wide which is attached to the box is turned up, and it proves a sufficient barrier. In this box lies the hunter with his gun in his hands. Very often these boxes are placed in pairs, and two hunters occupy them. The laws of the State further demand that for each battery a license of $25 shall be paid. There is another license for $10, issued to what are called 'bushwhackers.' These are the men too poor to own a battery and outfit, and cruise around the flats and kill what they can. The first week in November is the most desirable for shooting, as you readily see, for then the birds are tamest and most plentiful, and then of course the batteries bring the highest prices. The first Monday morning in November found our party, which consisted of Col. E. Harrison Sanford, R.R. Haines, Arthur T. Sullivan and myself, sleeping soundly on the scow of Capt. George R. Carver, one of the best known and most successful duck hunters of Maryland. Capt. Carver has one of the most complete outfits in that section. It consists of a scow, batteries, decoys and small boats. The scow is a large flat-bottomed schooner-rigged craft, drawing little water. Forward is a kitchen complete, and aft is the cabin or dining saloon. There are comfortable bunks and everything is shipshape and right snug. The scow lay all night outside the lines. There are lines prescribed by law inside of which the scows and boats cannot go until after 3 o'clock on shooting days. Of course, on dark, stormy mornings some daring skipper will run it; but it is risky business. But at 3 o'clock the scows, many of which are lying all around the lines, hoist sail and make for the grounds. They choose the most likely spots, get far enough apart not to interfere with one another, anchor the batteries and put out the decoys. At about 5 o'clock the sportsmen are called, breakfast is served, and as soon as it is light enough to see they are rowed out to the batteries, where they take their places, and wait for the ducks.

"On that Monday morning we used a double battery, and two of us took our places. About us were 450 decoy red head and canvas back ducks. They were made of iron, and looked very natural. When we were in our places the men rowed back, the scow was anchored off at a good distance, and we waited. The morning dawned beautiful and clear. Soon we began to hear the popping of guns all around us, and very soon ducks came our way, and we began to do some popping ourselves. The day was perfect. The sun shoe warmly, and there was just breeze enough to make the ducks fly well. A battery is always placed so that the shooter lies with his head to windward and his feet to leeward. Ducks, when possible, fly up in the face of the wind when about to light. If a flock is flying right with the wind and decides to light, it makes a curve, swoops around, and comes up sharp in the face of the wind, so that a good duck shooting day should be rather windy. There we lay in our coffins, surrounded by decoys, and every few minutes we'd see over us, or to our right of left, a flock of ducks swerving around to join our decoys, which danced on the little waves in a very lifelike way. The time to shoot is just as the birds are about to light, or just as they see you and decide not to light. Under favorable conditions they come within fifteen or twenty yards. Then is the time to sit up in the box and bang away. New beginners make the mistake usually of firing at the flock, not at single birds. The result is poor execution. You must select your bird and kill him, and then go for another. Colonel Sanford and I tried the experiment several times of blazing away at the flock, but we usually missed all. This year, for the first time, I tried the experiment of using two guns, and succeeded several times in getting three birds, one with each barrel of my first gun, and the third with the first barrel of my second gun. This requires quick work. Sometimes we got two birds with one barrel, when they lapped each other as they flew."

"Is the trip expensive?"

"No. We take the train here at 4 in the afternoon arriving the afternoon for Havre de Grace, get there at 8:12 in the evening, go right aboard the sloop for all arrangements have been made, do our shooting, and get back here Thursday morning. For the use of the batteries we paid $150. That included everything, except about $1 for provisions. So you see, dividing the expense among four makes them quite reasonable. We could have paid all our expenses with the ducks we shot, and had something over. The first part of the season the best batteries bring $50 a day. That's what we paid. Later they come down to $40, but rarely less than that, for the owners can make that usually by shooting ducks for the market. I consider the time and money well spent, for it is rare sport."

November 23, 1880. Maryland duck shooting. Judge Gildersleeve's experience on the Susquehanna Flats. Chester Daily Times 9(1303): 2. From the New York Sun.

Reed and Rail Bird Tidbits - 1884

"The reed bird is a little feathered tramp," said a game dealer to a reporter, "and he flies from the swamps of Louisiana, to the lakes and prairie of Manitoba and back every year. He is as fond of aliases as any tramp, and in Manitoba, Minnesota and the West generally is know as the bobolink, under which name he is eagerly sought after by the white trappers and Indian natives of the Western wilds as a savory addition to their meal. In the Middle and Eastern States he turns up in August and September as the reed bird, fat and juicy, fit to be killed, as the law allows, on after the 1st of September each year. Look at these specimens. They are the first of the season. They are fine and demand is good."

"Where are the principal hunting grounds?"

"The grain field of this State, Connecticut and Vermont, the swamps and fields of Long Island, but above all along the Jersey coast, where with his cousin-german, the rail, the little feathered bon vivant strips the luscious reeds of their mealy grain. But to get him at his fattest and juiciest you want to wait until late in October and November, when he has gorged himself with the pearly seeds of the wild rice swamps in the South. Then he is a fit morsel for the greatest gourmand in the land."

"How about the rail?"

"The rail, as I said, is cousin-german to the reed bird, but is a far gamier fellow. Flushing at the least noise, he is off like a flash, and the 'gun' that shows a 'bag' of rail as a trophy of a day's sport has something to be proud of."

"How do the birds sell and how is the market supplied with them?"

"The reeds and the rail sell about the same, say seventy-five cents per dozen. We buy them by the 500 dozen lot, and of course get a margin below the price. Rail are not coming in very plenty on account of the difficulty met with in shooting them. They can't be trapped like the reed birds, which are caught that way by the thousands. All other game birds in season are plentiful and prices are very low."

"How about the reed birds cooked in restaurants?"

"Well, a good many of them are sparrows. You see there are not enough to go around anyway, but in those cheap restaurants it is a safe thing to view a reed bird with suspicion unless you see it before it is cooked. Of course in a reputable place you can get them if they have them, and if they haven't they will say so. But this year there will not be so many sparrows killed, for reeds birds promise to be twice as plentiful as usual. But the man who wants to enjoy the tempting morsel wants more than a dozen, and the best way is to go and bag them. Then he will have the sport and the birds and the experience. Reed bird shooting doesn't require much preparation. The usual outfit is a double-barreled No. 12 breech-loader, a bag of No. 10 shot and about 100 shells. A good many prominent men shoot their own birds.

The are of cooking the reed bird is of equal importance with the science of shooting it. With the purpose of learning a little about such matters, the reporter called upon the king cook of a cafe. He was a little man, with light fluffy hair and a thick tongue when it came to talking English. He leaned inquiringly in the direction of the reporter, wiped his damp brow with his apron, and said, in reply to a question:

"There are many — fifty, a hundred, a thousand ways of cooking the reed bird. You can get them in any style at the restaurants. Speaking generally, however, there are only two ways of preparing them in favor in this country, broiling and roasting. Each style admits of very many agreeable combinations. You ask me to give you the names of a few popular styles of cooking reed birds and their characteristics. I will. Here, Antelo," and the head waiter approached, "please write for me some ways of cooking reed birds."

"First," said the chief, "there is what is known as en brochette. There they are broiled on toast, first being split in the back. There is a'Espagnole, with rice. They are cooked sautee, that is, what you would say, dry-fried, not fried in an ocean of grease, like the Americans mean by fried. There is added a trimming of Spanish sauce and Madeira. Another way is a la Madrilena, in which the trimming is green pepper and mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, and raisins. This dish gets its name from having been presumably introduced in Madrid, Spain, where they love reed birds greatly. The sautee a l'Italienne introduces the bird dry-fried — sautee you know," and the chief smiled patronizingly at the reporter. "The trimmings to this dish are hashed mushrooms and truffles, and Spanish sauce for a climax, all well seasoned. In a la Venetienne you have another combination of accessories, comprising onions and sherry wine, well seasoned, the bird being fried dry. The style a la Provencal affords an opportunity for the appearance on the dish of small onions, small tomatoes, roasted and well seasoned sauce. By reed bird a la Heina you may imagine mushrooms, tomato and Spanish sauces carefully mixed and truffles. The title a la Chasseur is given to a style in favor with hunters, as its name would imply. The birds are generally dry-fried and trimmed with wine, olives and laurel leaves. When they are fried in fancy paper boxes they are called en caisse and a la Pompadour.

September 27, 1884. Reed and rail. South Jersey Republican 22(39): 2.

16 August 2012

Rail and Reed Bird Shooting

There were fewer rail and reed birds killed here yesterday than on the first day of September for several years past. This, it is said, is due to the low tide that was in and to the hour of the day that it was high water, which was in the morning. There are plenty of birds, but the water was so low that they could bot be reached. There were ten boats left Goff's Hotel, and sixteen left Stewart's Hotel, at Second and Edgemont Avenue. All the boats and experienced pushers were out, and some who came some distance could not procure either boat or pusher. These are the favorite grounds along the river, and it is always a harvest for those who own boats and understand how to push. The gunners yesterday paid more attention to rail than to reed birds, because the former are larger than the latter, and it pays better to shoot them. The highest number killed by one boat yesterday was fifty-nine. This is a very small number, for usually high boat on the first day is considerably over a hundred. The following pushers were engaged from Stewart's hotel, the number indicating the rail birds bagged: Thomas Blizzard, 59; W.H. Blizzard, 38; L. Riddle, 27; John Boon, 24; J. Pierce, 21; Wm. Blizzard, 21; F. Fitzmore, 21, Jacob Miller, 20; P. Preston, 21; F. Bavier, 17; R. Marshall, 17; Bart Wheaton, 14; A. Schmitz, 14; W. Stewart, 12; J. Morris, 12; E. Culen, 12.

At Goff's hotel the following pushers reported: Benj. Harris, 39; Jacob Rothwell, 33; Benj. Driskett, 22; S. Preston, 21; Richard Brown, 19; Thomas Davis, 19; Charles Goff, 18, and Jacob Rothwell, Jr., 15.

Robert Koons, pushed by Perry Allen, 25 rail and 17 reed birds, and Mahlon Hudson, pushed by Joe Preston, killed 40 rail and reed birds. Both of these young men belong to the West Jersey Sportsmen's Club.

September 2, 1880. Chester Daily Times 8(1234): 3.

12 August 2012

Saga of Pick - a Captive Paroquet

The Life Story of a Bird.

Out of the Realms of Nature Across the Boundary of Civilization.

Hunting in the Green Palmettos - Screams in the Air - A Friend in Green Pantalettes - Away to the Swamp - The Prodigal's Return - Life in a New World - The Escape from Death - Its Affection and Jealousy.

A covey of quail was flushed in the palmetto scrub, three miles southwest of Mosquito Inlet, Fla., on the 28th of December, 1875. Four birds were shot dead. The covey scattered, and individual birds were marked as they settled among the huckleberry bushes and saw palmettos. While moving carefully through the low scrub the sportsmen heard the screams of a flock of parroquets. These birds were coming down on the wind, filling the wind with shrill cries. They swept over the scattered pines that shaded the scrub, and swerved to the left, cutting the atmosphere with the grace of wild pigeons. A long shot was made. One of the green birds sped spirally into the sky with a frantic cry. It arose to a great height, and fell into the top of a tall pine. Dropping from branch to branch, it finally clutched a twig and hung head downward, screaming like a woman in hysterics. parroquets never leave a wounded companion. Its mates circled around the top of the tree, uttering plaintive calls. The suffering bird clung to the twig a full minute, and fell to the ground dead.

The flock alighted in a willow swale a few rods away and kept up an incessant chattering. Here they were ambushed. At each report of a gun dead bodies floated on the dead water. On wading out to them, two wounded birds were found clinging to the willows. One was a small parroquet with a broad head, a white bill, and large eyes. Its orange head was flecked with spots of green. These green spots indicated it was between one and two years old. The root of a wing feather had been broken by a No. 10 shot. Its comrade was larger, and was more seriously wounded. Both birds screamed with afright, and took to the water. When captured, they viciously used their bills, and gave up the fight only when securely tied in a pocket kerchief.

An hour later they were released on the veranda of the Ocean House at New Symrna. The small bird stepped from the handkerchief without a glance at the surroundings. It picked up a straw, and began to play with it. It gave chase to a beetle and destroyed a trellised rosebud. The large bird crouched at the foot of a pillar, and furtively watched the guests of the hotel. It screeched whenever it was approached. Toward sundown the small parroquet hid its head under the wing of its mate, and cuddled itself to rest. At dusk a green branch was nailed to the window casing of a bedroom. The two birds were placed on the branch after dark, and went to roost with uneasy murmurs. In the morning the large parroquet stood among the green leaves stone dead. The little fellow's head was tucked under the wing of the dead bird. The branch was shaken, and the live bird withdrew its head. It called twice. Getting no answer it began to pluck the feathers of the dead bird. A moment afterward it fluttered to the floor, and crept under the bed. The dead parroquet was skinned and prepared for mounting. Its mate crawled from under the bed, climbed the back of a rocking chair, and watched the taxidermist with the utmost gravity. The skin was thrown into a drawer, and the live parroquet was without a companion. He was named pick.

- - -

A man thrown on an unknown planet could not have been more completely isoate, Pick was in a new world, among strange beings. He was as solely dependant upon them as was Gulliver upon the Brobdingnagians. Under the most adverse circumstances, he retained his presence of mind and cheerfulness. A saucer of water was placed before him. Instead of drinking he bathed his wounded wing. He would eat nothing but acorns. The season for these was nearly over, and the woods were scoured for miles before a supply could be secured. One day a Flordian threw a pine cone on the floor. Pick marched to it with evident delight. He split it open and regaled himself with the seeds between the layers of the cone. From pine cones he went to white walnuts, pecan nuts, peanuts, sand spurs, prickly ash berries, and cypress buds. He refused rice and cracked corn, and for a long time would not touch bread. A softshell almond fell into his way, and ever afterward almonds were his favorite food. After some weeks he developed a taste for balls of masticated bread. As he became civilized and attached to persons, he ate nearly everything, onions, bacon, eggs, celery, honey, sugar and preserves of all kinds. Cheese and macaroni were a savory delight. He drank lemonade, orangeade, tea and coffee. His change in diet made him lose that peculiar scent of a parroquet, and probably owing to this lost scent, he was never able to get the slightest recognition from any other bird.

Pick's greatest trouble was to find a satisfactory place to sleep. His nights has been passed among the members of his flock in hollow trees. In these trees these birds cuddle together with their heads under each other's wings. They never roost, but cling to the edges of the trees with their bills and their feet. Pick at first tried to perch, but with no success. He would lose consciousness, and fall half a dozen times a night. He next crept under the clothes that hung in the wardrobe, but in the dead of night a scream would be heard, followed by a fluttering. The little fellow would drop and wander over the floor uttering cries of abject terror. At last he acquired the habit of sleeping under the blankets with his master. It had its risks, but the bird was never so contented as when sound asleep under an outside blanket, where he could hear the breathing of his friend.

He had a controlling attachment for the man who shot him. His wing healed in about four weeks. Up to that time he repeatedly went fishing with his recognized friend. He crept up the mast of the little sharpie, and watched operations below with the liveliest interest. When a fish was hooked he was all excitement. If the fish broke water he chattered with delight, and screeched for joy when the gaff was brought into play and the fish was landed. As he recovered the use of his wing he amused himself by short excursions among the mangroves, but never allowed himself to get out of hearing. Somehow, "Pickie" invariably brought an [missing] the rattling of an oar would [missing] boat in a jiffy. It was [missing] of departure. When a pelican, a heron, or an eagle flew over the river, he darted to his friends shoulder with a note of alarm, and frequently crept within the bosom of his woolen shirt. He was a favorite with the guests in the hotel, but showed a preference for the society of men. If there were no men in sight he received the attention of the ladies, but it was always under sufferance.

The bird seemed to be without gratitude. He snatched tidbits that were offered as though they belonged to him and had been stolen. He had an imperious will. He walked up to strangers and lowered his head. It was a demand for them to scratch it; but the scratching must be done gently. If the finger was too rude a sharp protest was followed by a bite, and the bite usually drew blood. One day Pick walked up to a pet dog lying on the hearth and soberly lowered his head. The dog paid no attention. The bird chirruped sharply and the head was again lowered. The dog regarded the little fellow with half-closed eyes. Patience exhausted, Pick made a rush and nipped him through the paw. He then flew to the frame of a picture, and watched the movements of the limping animal with evident delight.

- - -

The fishing excursions had lasted several weeks, and Pick began to show signs of dissatisfaction. On the return home he made strange noises, and from his perch at the mast-head stared wistfully toward the great Turnbull swamp, miles away. He seemed to be musing over his former life. Civilization had not wiped out the memories of his youth. On Feb. 21, 1876, the sharpie had just landed at the wharf of the hotel, when the bird piped shrilly and darted in a bee-line for the great swamp. He was out of sight in an instant. The sun went down, and he did not return. He little knew that a life of dependence had already unfitted him for the old bird life. All but one of his flock had been slain. When a parroquet looses its flock it becomes an outcast. It can enter no other community, and no stranger will affiliate with it. It wanders around the woods until it falls a prey to an eagle, an owl, or a hawk.

On Sunday, Feb. 27, six days afterward, a lone parroquet flew over the live oaks surrounding the Ocean House. It cut a great circle above a low mangrove, and screamed lustily. A man walked from the veranda to the yard, and shouted "Pickie!" The little green coat swept around the ruins of the Turnbull palace and alighted on his shoulder. The feathered prodigal had returned in a sad plight. His feathers were ruffled, the eyes were cold, and his little breast bone was a sharp as a razor. His wing was clipped, and he was placed in his corner in the bedroom. He drank orange juice and ate almonds until he cold hardly waddle, and then crawled under the bolster of the bed, and slept from 4 o'clock in the afternoon to 10 the next morning. He bathed twice that day in a large wash bowl, and spent hours in making his toilet. A cleaner bird never breathed. From that day to this he has taken a bath every morning. He goes to the wash bowl and demands it. If it is not forthcoming, he settles himself in the pitcher and screams until his demands are met.

After his return, at times he showed marked affection for his chosen friend. Toward twilight he perched upon his shoulder and rubbed his hand against his cheek, chirping quaintly for some minutes. Finally he crawled within the bosom of his jacket and went to sleep. The sound of a guitar threw the bird into ecstasies. While it was being played he would cling to the breast of the performer, fluttering a cooing as though charmed by the vibrations of the strings. The bird also developed a new phase of character. Glass buttons, pieces of tin, a silver thimble, anything that glittered, instantly attracted his attention. He would play with such things an hour. A little bucket filled with old trinkets was set apart for him. It kept him from mischief. After ransacking its contents he would pitch everything to the floor. He regarded the basket as his personal property, and woe betided the stranger who touched it. One of the trinkets was a steel watch chain. The chain was a source of never failing delight. He wound it around his legs, lay flat on his back, and rolled over the floor with a new toy.

His curiosity was excessive. If a trunk or drawer was opened, he was in it in a second. He took an annoying interest in the crochet work of the ladies, and was ever ready to assist any one in writing a letter. He quickly learned that his supply of almonds was kept in a cigar box on the mantle, and when hungry, he raised the lid and helped himself.

To bring him North, a cage was required. No wooden house would answer. He could gnaw his way from a box as easily as a rat. A wire cage was bought from the Captain of a live-oak schooner. The bird divined its use. He gazed at it from a distance and would not alight near it. Placed within the bars after dark, he loosened the fastening of the door, and fought his way out. When this egress failed, he unraveled the wiry knots that held the bottom of the cage, and worked his way to liberty. Three weeks were spent in circumventing him, and months elapsed before he remained in prison at all contentedly. If left alone he screamed with passion. His friend would lie on the floor at the side of the cage smoking by the hour and trying to pacify him. The bird clung to the side of the cage until overcome by sleep. When his little eyes were closed, an attempt to steal away, however noiseless, would reopen them, and he would utter a low protest. He never hid his head under his wing, and unlike a parrot, never laid it over his back before going to sleep. At dark a blanket was wrapped about the cage, and the guitar was thrummed until the bird-like expressions of satisfaction ceased, and he was left to his rest. As the door of the room was closed he made his last protest — a collection of quaint sounds that meant, "I'll be quiet if you are not gone too long."

- - -

Pick was brought to New York on April 15, 1876. He had passed the boundary of civilization, and now entered one of its centres. The noise of the city dazzled him. He was given the freedom of the house, and during his friend's absence he sat for hours upon the window sill, watching passing vehicles and listening to the cries of licensed vendors. His affection for the man who shot him increased. When home the bird was perched on his shoulder. He rubbed his head against the man's cheek, are from his mouth, crawled into his pockets after nuts and candy, walked lame, fluttering is wings, and performed of his own accord various antics for the amusement of his friend. If the man was inattentive a delicate pinch of the ear reminded him of it. It was a persistent friendship, and demanded and received the warmest friendship in return. The friends dined together. The bird took soup and sampled the various dishes at will. He was obedient. Warned not to touch a dish he kept away from it. He was allowed to chip the frame of a certain picture, and he chipped no other. Sand paper was pinned to the wall, and he used it to keep his bill smooth. He had a given perch near the stove, where he dried himself after a bath. He quickly learned his privileges, and though at times he evinced a disposition to overstep the bounds, he never did so against the protest of his friend.

In June he went to Henderson Harbor, on Lake Ontario. Here the fishing excursions were resumed. Pick had the freedom of the air. He darted among the apple trees, chased by swallows, robins and phoebe birds. He tumbled around the barn-yard, frightening the doves, and alarming the chickens. He knew the favorite fishing grounds near the farm-house and visited them at odd intervals, but he never crossed the bay on an excursion to the lake. He was the last to leave his friend when these excursions were made, and the first to welcome him on his return. At sun-down he sat upon the boat house, on the lookout for the returning boat. Strange craft he hailed with an inquiring cry, but when the blue boat of his friend hove in sight, he flew to it with joyful utterances, and rubbed his head against the fisherman's cheek, until a landing was made.

The bird demanded society. The company of a dog was preferable to no company. When left alone he was in terror. He seemed to see shadows in the air, and skulked at every noise. Locked in a room at one time, when the door was reopened he was missing. After a long search he was discovered asleep under a shawl at the side of a small black and tan terrier.

- - -

The two friends returned to Florida in December, 1876. The bird had a vivid remembrance of his old haunts. Agaves, orange trees, mangrove bushes, fig trees and guava shrubs, all were revisited with delight. One day the bird followed its friends to the woods, and actually stood on the barrel of the gun while fox-squirrels were shot. The report of the fowling piece created no astonishment. Pick fluttered over the game after it was killed, and was willing to assist in skinning the squirrels.

In February, 1877, two wounded parroquets were brought to the hotel. Their wounds healed rapidly. They were the first fellow countrymen that Pick had seen in fifteen months. Robinson Crusoe could not have been more overjoyed at the sight of white visitors. The stranger birds were absorbed in each other. They fed from the same cup, and plumed and solaced each other like companions in misfortune. Their happiness made Pick miserable. He lost his affection for his quondam friend. He could neither eat nor sleep. Vainly he tried to attract the attention of the strangers. He thrust himself between them, brought choice delicacies, offered to plume them, and did the honors of the house like a feathered nobleman; but the guests were stern high-caste Brahmine. They would not accept the least civility. They would neither touch nor taste anything laid before them by the renegade. Pick's presence was a contamination and they acted as though the very air that he breathed was poisonous. For six days the lone bird treated the strangers with the utmost courtesy. At times he absolutely implored recognition. Suddenly his bearing changed. He assumed the manners of a ruffian, and used them like interlopers. He picked their heads, stripped them of their feathers, and deludged them with the choicest epithets in the parroquet dialect. The strangers bore all indignities with the resignation of religious martyrs. They would not even gaze at their persecutor. His rage increased. To save their lives the two birds were presented to the wife of the Minneapolis Tribune, who gave them a home in the great Northwest.

A month elapsed before Pick became himself again. His affection for the man who had shot him then increased three-fold. For weeks he could scarcely bear him out of sight. When absent he would neither eat, drink nor sleep, and from that time to this no bird had been able to attract his attention for a moment.

Pick returned to New York in May, 1877. In June he went to Jacob Garrison's, three miles from Milford, Pa., trout fishing. He took wing daily, and followed his friend down the Sawkill, alighting in the trees over the best pools, and watching the casting of the flies as though personally interested. When out of sight every call was answered. The friends lunched, and assorted flies together on the bank of the purting stream. Pick's assortments were not those of an amateur. He selected grizzly kings, gray professors, and showy flies, and manifested disappointment because they were not used. He insisted that the yellow May fly was preferable to the ugly stone gnat, and one day, determined to have his way, severed the shells of the stone gnats in the book. We returned to New York at midnight June 20.

- - -

The New York Herald of June 22, 1877, contains the following advertisement:

$10 REWARD. — Flew away from 114 Varick St., a small parrot of parroquet.

On the morning after his return from Milford, the bird shot through the open door and disappeared over the roofs of the neighboring houses. He probably fancied that he was still in the country. He lost his bearings in the smoke and uproar of the city, and could not retrace his flight. Washington square and all shaded streets were searched for him without result. He passed the night away from home. As his friend was passing a bird store in Canal street, near Varick, on the following day, he heard a familiar cry. On turning he saw half a dozen Florida parroquets imprisoned in a large cage. One was on the bottom of the cage, working with might and main to escape, and the others were continually pecking at him. It was Pick, but so changed that his own mother would not have known him. Every tail feather was gone, he was partially bald, and there was a black and blue spot on his bill that suggested the story of the parrot and the monkey. He had been run to earth by gamins of the Eighth Ward, who had struck him over the nose with a stick, and sold him to slavery. When reasoned, the door of his prison was opened, and he flew to the shoulder of his friend with a scream of joy and rubbed his head against his cheek. A child who had lost its parents would not have shown more delight. It was fully six months before the bird regained his plumage. The extravagated blood mark on his bill did not disappear in a year.

The summer was spent on Lake Ontario where Pick again had full freedom of wing. He recognized old faces, and darted among the apple trees, pursued by the same swallows and robins. Twice has he revisited the spot since then, and twice has he followed the course of the Sawkill at Milford. He has also shaken his wings under the Starucca viaduct, and cast a reflection in the blue Susquehanna at Windsor, N.Y. The remainder of the time has been spent in New York. Three times he has been lost. Once, when left alone in the house, he turned the button of a screen at the kitchen window, pulled it open, and wafted himself toward the North River. He was found clinging to the shoulder of a stranger, in a tenement house at 9 o'clock that evening. The stranger's wife, while in the yard, heard him screaming, and saw him circling in the air over the Spring street tower late in the afternoon. She shouted, and the bird descended and perched on her shoulder. When taken into the house he left her, and clung to her husband. Last summer he escaped from the residence of his friend in Charlton street. After being chased and stoned by the boys in the street for more than an hour, he returned to the house of his own accord.

Pick has had numerous escapes from death. A hawk came very near snatching him from the top of a weather-cock, where he had gone to sleep. He escaped the claws of a hungry cat while asleep on a gate-post. He came within a hair of being caught in a closing door, and was once badly mangled while sleeping on a rope near the wheel of a dumb waiter. His narrowest escape was last February. A merschaum pipe had been removed from a white marble mantel, leaving behind it the amber stain of nicotine. The stain attracted the attention of the bird. He had barely touched his fly-like tongue to it when he fell over on his back apparently dead. He was carried into the yard and rolled in the snow. Faint screams gave signs of life. He was then taken by the legs and swept through the air, forcing him to use his wings. "Appleton's American Encyclopedia: said that tea was an antidote for nicotine poisoning. The mouth of Pick's friend was filled with hot tea. He ground the bill of the bird between his teeth, forced it open, and wet his tongue with the decoction. Muscular action followed. The little fellow swallowed some of the tea and began to vomit. The tea was administered at regular intervals, and the drowsy bird was not allowed to close its eyes. Within two hours he became excessively angry and uttered passionate screams. From that hour, however, his life was safe. He rapidly recovered, and ever afterward avoided yellow stains.

- - -

Pick is still alive. He sleeps in the swing of a covered cage, but at precisely 5 o'clock in the morning awakes, and insists upon getting into bed with his friend. Once there he nestles near his bosom, and sleeps until breakfast time. He bathes when his friend washes, and takes an interest in his toilet. He frequently flies to him with a necktie, and has tried to bring a comb and hairbrush. The mystery of the toothbrush he is unable to solve. He perches on his friend's shoulder while the brush is being used, chattering merrily, as though seeking an explanation.

His thoughts are eternally on his friend, absent or present. After the gas is lighted he takes his stand over the door of the sitting room, and awaits his coming. When the outside door is opened he screams a welcome, and expresses much disappointment when he finds himself mistaken in his man. At 9 he is put in his cage, but asleep or awake he does not forget his attachment. His hearing is remarkable. The rattle of a night key on the stoop, will startle him at 6 o'clock in the morning, and he will squeak with joy. Nor will he cease his endearing chatter until his friend taps on the cage, and assures him that he is safe.

The bird has become civilized. He has developed intellectual and affective faculties. Phrenologically considered, he has shown:

Affective Faculties
Domestic Group — Friendship, inhabitiveness, and continuity
Selfish Group — Vivativeness combativeness, destructiveness, alimentiveness cautiousness, approbativeness, self-esteem, and firmness.
Moral Group — Hope.
Self-Perfecting Group — Imitation and mirthfulness.

Intellectual Faculties
Perceptive Group — Curiosity, locality, eventuality, time, tune, and language.
Reflective Group — Casuality, human nature, and agreeableness.

And these have all been developed by experience and association. With large destructiveness his head is no longer above the ears than the head of any other parroquet. His affection and constancy are shown in his attachments; his jealousy, in hatred of a pet parrot, who mimics him and calls him the livelong day; his revenge, in biting those who have imposed on him; and his vanity, in pluming himself by the hour before a mirror. At first he tried to get behind the glass to find the other bird; but since than has apparently become satisfied that the supposed bird is a refection of himself, and therefore he uses the glass same as a woman.

When seated before a glowing grate, thrumming the guitar for his delectation, on a cold winter evening, I cannot forget that, though a small bird, with mutton-chop whiskers and green pantalettes, he is a true friend.

Anonymous. February 8, 1880. The life story of a bird. Out of the realms of nature across the boundary of civilization. Hunting in the green palmettos - screams in the air... .New York Sun 47(161): 1. Also: Watertown Re-Union, page 3. Issued February 19, 1880.

Strange Birds in New Jersey, 1876

Strange Birds.

A Flock of birds, flying at such a height in the air that it was impossible to determine their character, was observed by Mr. Isaac S. Payne, on Thursday last. Something singular in the actions of the birds aroused Mr. Payne's curiosity as to what they might be, and he watched their movements until the flock descended slowly, and alighted near the pond and swamp on the farm of Mr. Samuel C. Nelson. Chas. Gilman, being informed of the fact, sent his son William to see what manner of fowl of bird the newcomers were. William proceeded with his gun to the pond where he found the birds, and, being a good shot, brought down five of them, at which time Chas. Gilman and Chas. W. Drummond arrived at the scene of action, and Mr. Gilman killed one, and wounded another slightly, which was then dispatched by Drummond. On the following day B. Mawbey shot another in the old clay-pit ponds on the farm of C.F Newton.

No one has been able to say definitely what these birds are. The body is entirely white, the tail and ends of the wings being black. The bill is of a purplish hue, and six inches in length; the legs are white, measuring 22 inches, and the feet are similar to those of a turkey.. The largest bird weighed about seven pounds, and the wings when extended measure five feet from tip to tip.

Mr. J. Ross Valentine took some of them to New York, where they are to be stuffed, and will, most probably, be on exhibition in some prominent place in the village. They are thought to be a species of heron, and have probably found their way here from some southern swamp.

June 29, 1876. Woodbridge Independent Hour 1(12): 1. This newspaper was issued at Woodbridge, Middlesex County, New Jersey.

The description of these birds most closely matches the features of the Wood Stork. How splendid that a number of descriptive features were presented for a detailed analysis. The account is especially interesting since it mentions the people involved, the places where the birds occurred, and most especially features of the dead birds which are an obvious aid in determining a probable identification.

07 August 2012

Two-headed Spread-Eagle at Gaxaca, 1723

This is an interesting newspaper article that refers to some sort of mystery bird found at Gaxaca, which is possibly Oaxaca, Mexico.

Extract of a Letter from Cadiz, dated Sept. 8, 1723.

The Vice King of Mexico, who came on board the Azougue Ships, brings to the King of Spain a dead Spread-Eagle, which was shot thro' the Right Wing and Side by a Spaniard, as it was talloning a Faun near a Place called Gaxaca, who sent it to this Vice King, Eighty Leagues to Mexico. It remained Four Days alive. The Vice King ordered above 500 Indians well-skilled in Game, to ply all the Country for the flown Spread-Eagle, and promised a Thousand Pieces of Eight to the Person who brings it alive. This is a young Bird, not bigger than a middling Turkey, of the common Colour of an Eagle, but a larger Breast and Shoulders than ordinary, out of which spring Two Necks Seven or Eight Inches long asunder. On each Neck there is a perfect head of an Eagle, nearly proportioned to each other, save that the Right Head has the Beak something stronger and sharper towards the Extremity. It was seen he watched with one Head, while he fed and preyed with the other, and used both either Way. It has it's Feathers still, except what fell off from the Right Head and Neck, through the mismanagement of the Person who endeavour'd to cure it. The Right Head faces, thro' his Blunder, to the Left Side, otherwise it would form as it lies the Imperial Arms. As no History makes mention of such a Bird, the Admiration is very great, it having always been supposed that the Eagle was first painted with Two Heads on the Devision of the Roman Empire, with out any Intention to allude to the Reality of such a Creature. It made so much Noise in America, that the Notaries Publick lived on the Attestations taken of it some Weeks.

April 2nd to April 9th, 1724. American Weekly Mercury 225: 2. F used in typography of the era, has been replaced with the s to improve readability. One misspelling has been corrected.

Fauna of Spirit Lake, Iowa Circa 1882

The following is from an article written by A.A. Mosher. It was much longer than presented, so only the paragraph on birds is given. Details convey a time when there was such a wonderful variety of many species in a relatively unsettled land. The specifics given are sparse, but overall, it is a very important record for the locale and the historic ornithology for Iowa.

"Of birds we have a very large variety, especially aquatic fowl — swans, Canada geese, pelicans, cranes, herons, ducks, such as mallard, widgeon, teal, pintail, spoonbill, and wood-duck, which all nest here. Then we have as flight birds the sawbill, canvas-back, red-head, bluebill and bronze duck, and many other different kinds; with occasionally a snow goose, and lots of cormorants and loons (great American divers). The great white crane, and its congenor, the sandhill cranes, both nest here, as well as the loon, cormorant, swan and Canada goose. There are prairie chickens without numbering, a few quail, and waders of all sorts, from the yellow-leg down to the peetweet. We have the great blue heron, the plumed or knight heron, the green-legged heron and a smaller variety — the ibis etc.; mud-hens and divers in great quantities; bald eagles, hawks, owls are in plenty, and in winter the great snowy owl. Of the smaller varieties of birds we have nearly all that you have in the East, and some that you do not, notably the yellow-headed blackbird. During the fall we have in considerable numbers the jack snipe, the curlew of several kinds, the sickle-bill and the sora, some seasons in considerable numbers. This comprises in the main the various varieties of game in this section, and of these most are in goodly numbers."

This exquisite account is worthy of further consideration, as is any source document which conveys details for about 35 species in 1882 in the Midwest.

The following is a liberal interpretation of Mr. Mosher's spectacular notations. Thankfully he took the time to submit his perspective for publication so the details are now an important among the chronicles of historic ornithology.

  • American Bittern: have the green-legged heron; this bittern would be expected to be extant in the area, and as it has green legs, and because of its bill and behavior could easily be called a heron; the designation would certainly be more expected than an id of Little Blue Heron which a modern field guide indicates as having green legs, and which has occurred in northern Iowa; there is no historic field guide available to check the particulars
  • American Coot: have mud-hens; an obvious reference to an ubiquitous species
  • American White Pelican: pelicans; among large variety of birds
  • American Wigeon: ducks, such as widgeon; nest here
  • Bald Eagle: bald eagles are in plenty
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron: have the plumed of knight heron
  • Blue-winged Teal: ducks, such as teal; nest here
  • Canada Goose: Canada geese; among large variety of birds; nest here
  • Canvasback: flight birds; canvas-back
  • Common Loon: lots of loons (great American divers); nest here
  • Common Merganser: flight birds; sawbill
  • Double-crested Cormorant: lots of cormorants; nest here
  • Duck: flight birds; bronze duck; there are no clues helpful in determining a specific identity for this species. based upon a search of more than 130,000 records from 1885 and prior times; this could have been the Ruddy Duck, based upon its prominent ruddy coloration; there are no matching records within the known historic accounts which indicate any reference to a particular species
  • Duck: flight birds; many kinds of ducks
  • Godwit: in autumn have curlew of several kinds; differentiated from the obvious curlew, therefore associated with migrant shorebirds with long beaks
  • Great Blue Heron: herons; among large variety of birds
  • Greater Prairie-Chicken: prairie chickens without numbering

It would have been a grand time on the northern prairies of Iowa, when the prairie-chickens would have been so prominent upon the landscape, and probably appreciated nearly every day — for a time — by homestead pioneers. This account is an obvious indication of that sort of situation.

  • Grebe: divers in great quantities; obviously not loons nor ducks, as they were mentioned elsewhere; different sorts of grebes — notable for their diving behaviors — would have undoubtedly been present on and in the lake waters
  • Hawk: hawks are in plenty; during this era of history, hawks reported in a general manner were rarely, if ever denoted in a manner sufficient to determine any sort of accurate identification; certainly the Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, and during the winter months, the Rough-legged Hawk, though a lack of attention to specific details by the author prevents any indication of actual species identification.
  • Ibis: have ibis; whether white-faced or glossy is unknown
  • Least Bittern: heron variety smaller than the green-legged heron; this species is smaller than its congener the American Bittern, so it follows that it the larger bird was one species, the smaller variety is this species
  • Lesser Scaup: flight birds; bluebill
  • Long-billed Curlew: in autumn have the sickle-bill; sickle bill was a prominent name used to designate this species
  • Mallard: ducks, such as mallard; nest here
  • Northern Bobwhite: a few quail
  • Northern Pintail: ducks, such as pintail; nest here
  • Northern Shoveler: ducks, such as spoonbill; nest here
  • Owl: owls are in plenty; undoubtedly the Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech-Owl, though the lack of particulars prevents any specific notation being indicated in the historic record
  • Redhead: flight birds; red-head
  • Sandhill Crane: sandhill cranes nest here
  • Shorebird: waders of all sorts
  • Snow Goose: occasionally a snow goose
  • Snowy Owl: in winter the great snowy owl
  • Sora: in autumn have the sora, some seasons in considerable numbers
  • Spotted Sandpiper: waders including the peetweet; there are numerous references to the peetweet by ornithological authorities of the historic era that associate this name with this species; obviously the Killdeer also occurred and there may have been other migrant plovers, but the published account does not provide any further details that would be helpful in determining any further particulars
  • Trumpeter Swan: swans; among large variety of birds; nest here
  • Whooping Crane: great white crane nest here; these few words were associated with notes for the sandhill crane, so the specifics are profound in their indication of nesting Whooping Cranes in the continental United States
  • Wilson's Snipe: in autumn have the jack-snipe; this might have also been other species of shorebirds, but snipe were typically recognized and referred to in a particular manner to conform with a particular identity given, especially since there are other comments about shorebirds bu the author
  • Wood Duck: ducks, such as wood-duck; nest here
  • Yellow-headed Blackbird: notably the yellow-headed blackbird; there was no indication of its nesting, though that undoubtedly occurred as this species was extant during the breeding season in this region
  • Yellowlegs: waders including the yellowleg; probably both the lesser and greater at one time or another

Spirit Lake is in Dickinson county, Iowa.

March 9, 1882. Spirit Lake Beacon 12(15): 1. First issued in Forest and Stream. Mr. Mosher was affiliated with the state game agency.

Whirl-wind Storm Kills Hawks at Chester, Pa.

This is currently the first known newspaper article that refers to wild birds.

Philadelphia, August 13.

On the third Instant, about the Hour of 12 (at New-Garden in Chester,) there began a most Terrible, and Surprizing Whirl Wind, which took the Roof of a Barn and carried it into the Air, and scattered it about two Miles off, also a Mill that had a large quantity of Wheat in it, and has thrown it down and Removed the Mill-Stones! and took a Lath of the Barn, and carried it into the Air, which fell with such force that it stuck fast into a White Oake Stump, so that it is very hard to get it out, is also carried a Plow into the Air, and at the fall thereof, Pitch'd on the end of the Beam, and stuck into the Ground quite up to the Coulter, so that they were forced to dig it out, it killed a parcel of Geese, and three or four Hawks, which were found Dead about the Fields.

August 6 to August 13, 1724. American Weekly Mercury 243: 1. F used in typography of the era, has been replaced with the s to improve readability. One misspelling has been corrected.

Rare and Unknown Autumn Bird, New York

Moriah Center.
Nov. 11.

— Adelbert Edwards shot a bird to-day, which must be of a rare kind, as we have never seen one of its specie before to our recollection. The principal color of the bird was a light steel, top of its head was a beautiful crimson, the rump and about half of the back marked with the same rich color. The breast and wings were curiously intermingled with a light yellow. It measured, from the end of the beak to the tip of the tail, nine inches, and across the back, from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other, twelve inches. The head and upper part of the beak was similar to that of a parrot. Can any one of the readers of the Republican give us the name of such a bird?

November 19, 1874. Essex County Republican 35(8): 3. The correspondent was writing from Essex County, New York.

05 August 2012

Gilded Tower Attracts Migrant Martins

A gilded construct tower on the hilltop of the campus of the University of Nebraska Medical Center is quite an attraction to Purple Martins.

The birds appreciate the structure as a place to linger and sit about for a while before they move along to their roost a short distance to the west.

This obvious appreciation was first noted on the evening of August 4th, when the ambient temperature was something where it was a pleasure to be outdoors. It was a fine time, without the recent oppressive conditions due to high temperatures or excessive mugginess, due to humidity.

Particular details to denote were experienced first up on the 40th street ridge. Bird activity was the attraction, and upon getting closer to the scene, the gilded construct on the campus grounds was the place to be. A bunch of Purple Martins sat upon the structural beams, while a few others grasped a place on the mesh work of the unnamed structure. It was a lingering event.

There was no marker or plaque to identify this big tower, so perhaps it might be called the Martin Tower. There were enough birds of this sort present! Many flew about, while many others sat about upon a spot they found to be appropriate. They all seemed to vocalize in a most prominent manner.

It was especially interesting to watch the bird's activity. Many flew around but only a few were seen within the cylinder. Those few were seen to go around and around, but within a relatively short time, they realized that their circular route was useless, so they found an escape. The martins, landed upon the grid, and then squeezed between the gilded panels, and into an open-air space.

Numerous martins made this move, realizing, that after some few moments of a circular flight, that there was an option. Every martin seen in this situation had a similar response, with a result were they flew away, because of their own effort about how to get free of the constricts of the gilded tower.

The Purple Martin congregation was spread about on the hilltop of this vicinity. There were several hundred using tree-tops. Several hundred more were perched upon power lines, where they have been previously denoted, northeast of 40th and Farnam Street.

At the roost, all of the martins gathered in their usual manner. The tally for the day was ca. 15,000, with the typical "jet action" prominent as the martins darted in from the western sky, as they do every day during their time in midtown.

The wonderful perspective was appreciated by at least five people.

The gathering of the Purple Martins is a grand spectacle, free and easily seen. Some people that have been visitors, are cognizant of the migratory event which is as significant as the Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River, during the spring time.

This year, the wonder is currently underway.

Commentary on Erroneous Bird Observation Reporting

The fall field report for the period of August to November 2011 was recently issued in the Nebraska Bird Review. This article is filled with facts about the species of birds and, often, the number that occurred at a particular time and place. It is a regular feature of this publication.

It is also wrought with errors, in particular those reports issued about personally contributed observations. None of the records provided were published correctly, though a detailed tabular format rendition of observations was submitted to the person preparing the report.

The first notable item was an omission. A peak count of 48 Wood Duck was indicated for the Jack Sinn WMA, on August 4th. Not considered was a similar number, 48 at Carter Lake on September 5th. There were also larger numbers seen within the area of focus, with 143 noted at Desoto NWR on November 2nd, as well as 112 on October 19th and 67 on November 9th at the same place.

Each of these counts are significant, yet not reported. Desoto NWR is a part of Nebraska, so the results of the seasonal bird surveys conducted, should be considered.

Considering a peak number for American Coots, the published report conveyed a peak of 5700 at Carter Lake on October 28th.

Upon reviewing my database records, this value is nowhere near the largest number of coots at this lake. Also, a waterbird survey was not even done on this date, so any attribution of a record is dubious, if not an outright figment of reality.

Details for this locale during the period of interest convey these actual details for the number of American Coots:

October 24: 5800
October 27: 6200
October 29: 7800
November 1: 8200
November 4: 8100
November 7: 8285
November 11: 8200
November 14: 6462
November 17: 5050

There were additional counts made on subsequent dates. The particular point is that the number reported — 5700 — is fictitious.

Other errors are associated with a wrong designation for a locale. On October 28th, a visit was made to the Horseshoe Lake Flats, where some grand views occurred. This place is east of Fort Calhoun, Washington County, and not in any way within Douglas County.

Notations given in the Nebraska Bird Review, attribute the observations to Douglas County. This is the case with details regarding the American Golden-Plover, large number of Killdeer and the exquisite view of two Snow Buntings, as documented by a photograph.

The locale was the Horseshoe Lake Flats, which has always been denoted to Washington County.

Another item to consider is the peak number given for the Purple Martin gathering at the Nebraska Medical Center campus in Midtown.

The reporter, apparently taking what detail were available on the NEBirds online forum, indicated the greatest number of 50-55,000 on 27 August.

There were more martins present, on other dates, based upon counts made with another observer at the roost:

  • August 31: 60,000
  • September 1: 65,000
  • September 2: 60,000
  • September 3: 40,000

These numbers were not reported online, but than again, no effort was made to inquire about count details. After these days, there were lesser numbers as the birds moved onward during their seasonal migration to the south.

The value of the NBR report is lessened by indicating erroneous details. If details from one observer are all incorrect, it raises a red flag for other information being presented. This regular report provides essential details for the history of ornithology in Nebraska, so it is an imperative requirement that every detail be accurate.

The preparer's task is onerous, and done on a volunteer basis, so thanks to the preparer, but if a completely accurate account cannot be presented, the value of the details is obviously questionable.

Based upon the particulars relative to personal observations, the information is basically useless because the details are wrong.