Wading and Swimming Birds
THE water-birds as a class, both waders and swimmers, though often neglected by bird students, to me seem exceedingly fascinating, as much so as any other group of birds, if not even more. This may be because I am almost a sort of water-bird myself. I have a fellow-feeling for the ducks because I swim, and for the white-winged gulls because for years I have loved to spread the white yacht sails to the breeze and skim over the brine. And as for the wading-birds, the mysteries of swamp and morass make strong appeal to my imagination, and I love to wade and scramble about and enjoy the free unconventionality of the realm where land and water intermingle. Such things, too, appeal to a boy like Ned, as they are bound to appeal to any lively boy. I think and hope that I must still be a boy, and I mean to be one as long as I live.
One great trouble in studying the water-birds is their general scarcity. No matter how shy and retiring they are, if they only were somewhere, I would risk the enthusiast’s ability to get in touch with them. But no one can see a thing which does not exist. Birds of this class are large enough to be conspicuous, and some of them are good to eat, and both these facts have served to invite persecution from gunners. So it is a lamentable fact that most of the wading or swimming birds, certainly in inland localities, can seldom be seen. You cannot walk out any day and say you will watch ducks, herons, or shore-birds. Unless you know a spot where some one pair or species breeds, you might go forth dozens of times and not see one solitary water-bird. Some time, we hope, there may be better conditions, as public sentiment is being aroused against the wanton extermination of our beautiful wild bird-life, and many excellent laws are being enacted and enforced.
It would make this book too large if I were to go into full accounts of the wading and swimming birds, so I must simply and briefly mention the birds of this class which may be found in any typical inland country town, and refer my readers to my other books where I describe these birds and their ways, both in text and in photographs. “Among the Water-Fowl” deals with the swimming-birds, both of the ocean and of inland waters. Additional studies of these are given in “Wild Wings” with extended accounts of the shore-birds, besides other material. The system of classification now accepted begins with our lowest order of birds, nearest to reptiles and fishes, the grebes, and works up to the highest, the thrushes. In this book we started in part way up the scale, with the gallinaceous birds, so now we will work backward thence to the beginning.
The first group to mention in this plan is the shore-birds, and of these, unfortunately, there are now few, indeed, that visit our inland towns. A century or less ago, for instance, almost every barnyard had its Kildeers (plovers), and every field its Upland Plovers (Bartramian Sandpipers). But to-day they are gone, save in rare instances. Great flocks of the beautiful Golden Plover used to descend upon the fields in their southward flight in late August and September, but now they are all but extinct. Too bad, too bad ! Along the shores of the larger ponds or lakes we may occasionally see a few Semipalmated Plovers, or Ring-necks, occasional Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, perhaps in small flocks, and the Greater and Lesser Yellow-legs on shores or in meadows. The time for any of these is August and September, and for the Greater Yellow-legs even October.
The only shore-bird which breeds is the Spotted Sandpiper, the little bird popularly called “Teeter,” which runs along the margin of pond or river, teetering its body up and down in nervous fashion. Medical authorities decry our “teetering” with the rocking chair as conducive to nervous disorders, but this little chap teeters all his life and does not appear to suffer for it. Possibly it might add fifty per cent. to his years if we could teach him to calm himself and “be aisy!”
By early June each sandpiper pair has scratched a little hollow, lined it with a few straws, and laid four pointed, heavily spotted eggs. The mother flutters and limps away when you surprise her upon them, and is even more solicitous when they have hatched and the odd little chicks are hiding from you, squatted flat on the ground, where it is very hard to see them.
One day Ned and his mother were walking along the river bank, following a cart road, when away fluttered a Spotted Sandpiper, and there, just beside the road, under some weeds, was the nest with the usual four eggs. Of course I had to go and see it, and Ned very proudly brought me to the find. Off went the anxious bird, and I could then see her running along the pebbly river margin, saying “peet-weet, peet-weet.” After setting the camera on the ground near by, with some rocks piled over it, we hid in the bushes and watched for the bird’s return, ready to pull the thread. We had been quiet for only a few minutes when she came cautiously walking back, teetering almost constantly. She went right past the camera without noticing it, then to her nest, and settled down, poking and arranging the eggs with her bill. At the snap of the shutter she darted off. I set it again, and she soon came back. After securing several pictures, we went away and left her in peace. This nest was Iocated, as is generally the case, near open water, but quite often a mere brook will suffice, and not infrequently the location is well back from any water at all. I have found nests in such places as fields of potatoes or corn,
There is another species closely related to the last which should not be confused with itthe Solitary Sandpiper. In May, or in August or September, we are liable now and then to meet one feeding along the muddy or spongy edge of some little pond hole, or in almost any sort of a wet place. Sometimes there will be a pair of them, but more often the bird is alone, solitary in reality, as in name. It nests in the far north, and until very recently its breeding habits were unknown, till its eggs began to be discovered, in the Canadian Northwest, in abandoned Robins’ nests up in trees. It is not known to breed in the United States. One can tell it from the Spotted Sandpiper by its much darker back, and from the Yellow-legs by its greenish legs. It is a beautiful, gentle bird, and I love to sit and watch one feed in a bog, so graceful, so neat in person, with the bearing of real refinementsandpiper good breeding.
Next comes the order of marsh-dwellers, the Paludicoke of science. Of these our principal group is the rails. These are birds which the average person never sees and has never heard of. But if one find the right place, some very oozy bog, overgrown with “cat-tails,” and will throw a stone into it, so as to make a loud splash, like as not there will instantly arise a series of loud, wailing, craking cries. These are the rails, not fence rails, but real live ones, called thus, perhaps, because they are narrow across, “thin as a rail,” so that they can the more easily slip through the dense tangles in which they live. One may suppose that the fat ones got stuck, but the thin survived, and gave rise to a thin race!
With us there are two common kinds of rails-the Virginia Rail and the Sora, the latter being the best known, especially to sportsmen, for rails are hunted with dogs, and their flesh is good eating, as those things go. But in these days of decreasing bird-life, the true bird-lover is more inclined to look to the butcher for meat and to the wild birds for pleasure of eye and ear rather than of palate. To esteem a bird in accordance with its edibility is getting to seem a little uncouth and old-fashioned. A while ago I was showing to a gentleman of foreign extraction some of my best bird pictures, enlarged and hand-colored, which I really thought were pretty nice. As I showed him each picture, his one and repeated question was, “Is it good to eat?” If I said “yes,” he looked rather pleased, if I said “no,” he gave a sort of impatient grunt of disgustno good! I soon began to have “tired feelings,” and was not sorry to depart.
These rails are rather small birds, about the size of the Bobolink, short of tail but long of toe, and well developed in the legs. The Sora is dark colored, with short bill, while the Virginia Rail, though but a trifle larger, can be told by its reddish-brown color and longer bill. Neither of them likes to fly, and they only do so when migrating, or when compelled by the close approach of some intruder. Then they will flutter feebly up and drop into the grass before going many rods. They have their run-ways through the tangle of grass and weed, and run and climb with the greatest of nimbleness. They are especially active at twilight, and perhaps at night. In the dusk of the evening I have seen them appear again and again at the edge of some marsh, or scurry across open spaces from one clump of reeds to another, and I have seen them run on lily pads. I have found their nests, not so much in the thickest tangles as near the border of a meadow or bog, in the rather sparse meadow grass, where the water is only a few inches deep. They build up a little hollowed platform of dead grass among the green stems, slightly above the water, and draw and tie the ends of the grass over it, to form a nice little canopy. All rails lay a large number of eggs, six to thirteen ordinarily, and once I found sixteen in a Sora’s nest.
The young of all rails with which I am acquainted are covered with a black down, and, almost from birth, are great runners. Once I tried to catch a young rail. It ran out into a place where there were few stems of grass, almost an open mud-flat. I sprinted along, plastering myself with mud, but sure of my prize, which I only wanted to photograph before releasing. Just as I thought I could seize it, suddenly it stopped, out there in the open, with next to nothing to conceal it. But for the life of me I could not see where it had gone, and I finally had to give it up.
When I was of high school age I took a companion of about my years into a famous rail-bog, where many pairs nested, as he wanted to find some of their eggs. The plate was a sort of bottomless ooze, and we had to lay out planks and step on them. Though I had cautioned him, he soon slipped off and got into the mud. We were rather near shore, and he was so frightened that instead of climbing back on the plank, he started to wade ashore, despite my protests. Deeper and deeper he sank, till he was in all over. Now he was frantic with terror and began to cry. I thought surely he would drown, but he finally crawled out on shore, plastered with black oozy slime from head to foot. Choking with mud and sobs, in about equal proportions, he started for home spluttering that I’d never have the chance to get him into such a scrape againhow ungratefull This was just on the border of the city of Boston, and I badly wanted to hear all about his trip through the city streets in that rig. But he hardly would speak to me after that, much less go into detail. This incident goes to show that if anyone is afraid of mud and water, he or she had better let the rails alone and study the safe and darling little chippy birds !
There are some other rails that must receive only scant mention. The Little Black Rail and the Yellow Rail are both very rare, and have almost more the habits of meadow mice than birds, as they run through the grass, and it is next to impossible to make them fly. Sometimes they are caught alive by the hunting dogs. Then there is the large species called King Rail, found in Middle and Southern States, seldom plentifully, and the Clapper Rail, or Marsh Hen, of the salt marshes along the coast from Connecticut southward. The Florida Gallinule is much like a large rail, and is found sparingly in fresh-water bogs, being common only in the South, where I have found their nests, similar to the rails’, among the rushes in bogs. The American Coot, sometimes called “Blue Peter,” or Mud Hen, is rather common, in the same sort of haunts, in migration. Having lobed feet and compact plumage, it swims, as does the webless gallinule, and is often mistaken for a duck. It is a gray bird about the size of a pullet, with bill like the latter and a patch of white above its base. They bob their heads back and forth they swim. Out in the Northwest I have found hundreds of their nests in the great sloughs in the reeds, basket-like affairs of reed stems, with from six to a dozen finely speckled eggs.
Next we have the heron tribe, and interesting birds they are. The Great Blue Heron is the biggest of them, so tall that it gets the popular name of Blue Crane, which is inaccurate, for it is no crane at all. They are not plenty, and nest now mostly in the North, but also in wild Southern swamps, in both of which regions I have found their nests, generally in colonies, and up giant trees. But we may now and then run across a solitary Great Blue by the edge of some body of water or feeding in a morass. They are among the wariest of birds, and will not allow a person to come anywhere near themnot if they know it.
Another well-known Northern heron, famous for its great nesting-colonies, is the Black-crowned Night Heron, familiarly called Quawk. On the seacoast they are more common than in the interior, in which latter region they are very locally distributed. In the locality where I now live they are seldom seen, except in migration, when I sometimes hear the harsh “quak, quak,” as one flies over in the evening, high in air. I have often been into their rookeries in lonely swamps where from a dozen to thousands of pairs had built their rude nests, sometimes half a dozen or more in one tree. Everything there is nasty and ill-smelling. One of my earliest recollections of herons is of climbing to one of these nests, in a small colony in a cedar swamp, and having the young, according to their habit, vomit out partly digested fish from their crops into my face as I climbed. This bird is of good size, the adults quite light in color, but the immature birds are of a dull mottled brown.
The American Bittern, Stake-driver, or Post-driver, as it is variously called, is of about the same size, and somewhat resembles the young of the preceding, only the brown is of a darker, richer shade, and the adult has a prominent black stripe down each side of the neck. This is the bird which makes the booming or pumping noise out in the meadow or bog. In such places it lives, never in woods, nor in colonies, unless me can call a few pairs scattered over a big swamp such. They nest with us, and each pair makes a rude nest of stems on the wet ground in the bog, generally among reeds or rushes, sometimes grass, and lays from four to six large deep olive brown eggs, very different from the pale blue eggs of the other herons.
Like it in some respects in haunts and habits is its relative, the Least Bittern, a tiny fellow that is much like a rail in size and appearance, though its long neck serves to distinguish it. It is yellowish in color, with dark greenish back and crown. Its life is spent slipping about amid the tangles of the bog, where it builds its frail platform of a nest suspended between the reed stems in a clump, usually three or four feet up. The four or five eggs are bluish-white.
Probably the best known and most generally distributed of our herons is the common Green Heron, or Poke, a rather small, dark-colored species. Any wood-bordered pond or wooded or bushy swamp is liable to have from one to several pairs inhabiting it. They live on small fish, frogs, lizards, and the like, and nest in solitary fashion, either in some low ever-green in the woods just up from the pond, or in a bush out in the swamp. When one approaches the nest, the old bird will fly away and then return and perch a little way off and say all sorts of unutterable things in the uncouth heron-language.
In a certain swamp near my home several pairs of Green Heron usually nest. The place is a tract of alder bushes overflowed from the pond. The water is from knee to waist-deep, and the bushes grow out of the, water. Once I undertook to photograph a Green Heron on a nest which was favorably situated, very low down. I set up the tripod near by, under the next bush, tied the focus-cloth about the top to suggest a camera, decked it with leaves, and left it over night, for the heron to become accustomed to it. Next morning I found her on the nest all right, so I substituted my camera for the cloth, covered and arranged it with thread attachment, and then hid about thirty yards away between three tree sprouts which grew from a stump, a nice little island nook. After about half an hour’s wait, the heron came sneaking back, climbing almost parrot-like from bush to bush. All the time she was jerking her little tail in such a nervous, comical fashion that I felt like laughing right out, which, of course, would not do if I was to get a photo-graph. After some hesitation she stepped into the nest and settled down, but the instant I drew in my slack of thread she saw it move, and departed in as great terror as though I had fired a cannon. After awhile she plucked up courage to return, and this time I saw to it that the shutter would spring the instant I pulled. I finally “got” her, three times and once just stepping upon it.
These are the five common herons that are ordinarily seen in the Eastern and Middle States. A number of other species are well known in the South, and nearly all of them have appeared accidentally as far north as New England, particularly the Little Blue Heron, the American Egret (celebrated for its aigrette plumes), and more rarely the Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
We come now to the swimming-birds, and find the Anatidoe, or ducks and geese, in order. Almost everyone is interested in wild ducks. If a flock are known to alight in a pond, it is the talk of the neighborhood, and, unfortunately, every person owning a gun is crazy to get a shot. Consequently they are scarce in our Eastern districts, and with the growth of population are becoming more and more so. It seems so strange and delightful out in the Northwest to see companies of wild ducks swimming about in small ponds or pools right by the homes of settlers, fearless and unmolested, raising their broods in the neighboring grassy sloughs, practically in the barnyard pasture. How delightful if it could be so here! Once, indeed, recently, I came upon a brood of young Black Ducks, with their mother, within two minutes’ walk of my house, on the edge of a meadow, but that was a rare treat.
This species just mentioned, properly the Dusky Duck, but popularly known as the Black Duck, is the best known and most common fresh-water duck of the eastern part of our country. They are shy birds and keep pretty well out of sight by day in the swamps. At dusk they begin to fly about and come into the ponds to swim and feed. I have stood silently on the edge of a morass, listened to their subdued quackings as they fed, heard the whistle of their wings, and seen their shadowy forms as they passed overhead. I have found their nests, too, now and then, but always by accident. The nest is always on the ground, hidden among the rank vegetation, or by the edge of a body of water among the rushes or under a bush. Not long ago I was shown one under an isolated thorn bush right out in an open field, not far back from the bank of a river. A trout fisherman happened along and flushed the bird from her eggs. These are usually from eight to twelve in number, as is true of nearly all ducks, and they are laid usually by the middle of April, sometimes earlier. The nests of all ducks are lined softly with down which the mother plucks from her breast. These ducks remain with us in winter as long as they can find water. I have seen them swimming in brooks in the swamps when the ponds were frozen over.
There is one other species which breeds in all our Eastern States, the beautiful Wood or Summer Duck. The drake is one of the most gorgeously beautiful of all our native birds. It is deplorable that they are decreasing so rapidly as to be on the brink of extermination. Some states are entirely prohibiting their being shot for terms of years, and this should be done in all. A few pairs still remain in the locality where I live, and it is very interesting to run across them from time to time. They feed in the ponds and swamps, but when it comes to nesting, they are very different from the Black Duck, for they resort to hollow trees, and apparently are liable to go almost anywhere. Their favorite choice seems to be an old hollow apple tree in an orchard. In certain orchards they nest year after year. Becoming familiar with man, particularly if not disturbed, they grow very bold and select the strangest sort of places for nesting-sites.
By all odds the most remarkable incident of this sort in my experience was when a pair selected a barn. The female would go through a broken clapboard into the hayloft. Scooping a hollow in the top of the hay-mow, she lined it with her down and laid ten eggs. While she was laying, the owner of the place would see the happy pair at daybreak perched on the ridge-pole of the barn, making love. In another barn a nest was begun, but the birds were driven off. Another pair chose a hollow in a maple tree bordering the road, within a few rods of a house. The hole was only about five feet from the ground, and most of the neighbors knew of the nest, and would look in as they went by. Still another odd nesting-site came to my notice. Near where I live a farmer had. a pig-pen just back of his house, and in it grew a hollow apple tree. On the eleventh of April this tree was cut down, and it was discovered that in the hollow trunk were eleven fresh eggs of the Wood Duck.
That same spring there was a legislative hearing regarding the abolition of spring shooting of wildfowl in the State, the existing law allowing shooting up to the first of May. Speaking for the proposed change, I showed by this instance and others the folly and enormity of a law which allowed these valuable and fast disappearing birds to be shot when they actually had eggs. I am glad to say that the obnoxious law was repealed, and all shooting forbidden after the first of January, which is as it should be. The wildfowl mate very early in the spring, or even in winter. In the spring the mated birds are tame and easily shot. Moreover, they are usually in poor flesh at this time and almost worthless as food. At any rate, it is a case of killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and every bird-lover ought to use all influence against such atrocities as spring shooting, and in every way take a public-spirited stand for the preservation of all our beautiful harmless wild life, the existence of which adds so great charm to the outdoor world. As I heard it well put by a teacher at the legislative hearing, “Why have not we, who are as fond of birds as you hunters, just as much right to demand that we shall have birds to see and study as you to demand that you shall have them to shoot?”
There are various other ducks which drop into our ponds and rivers from time to time, especially in migration, which must at least be mentioned, though their numbers are but small. Some of these casual migrant visitors are, for instance, the fine large Mallard, which is more of a Western species; the Pintail, Bald-pate, and Gadwall, which are grayish, rather nondescript in the fall plumage, when we generally see them, and hard to tell apart; the Red-head, somewhat similar to the larger, whiter and rarer Canvasback, which latter is now very rare with us; the curious little Ruddy Duck, a tame brownish bird, with a stiff tail, now and then appearing in flocks, which are soon shot off; those miniature ducks, the Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, delightful, sprightly little people, all too scarce. The Greater and Lesser Scaups, or Blue-bills, sometimes flock in to the larger ponds or lakes late in the fall, when we may also see the American Golden-eye, or Whistler, which makes a pleasing aeolian-harp humming sound with its wings as it flies. Its small near relative, the Bufflehead, I used to see, but less often of late years. A heavy easterly gale in October and November will often drive in certain sea ducks from the ocean to ponds far inland. Such are the three large black or dusky species called Scotersthe Surf, White-winged and American Scoterand the black and white, noisy “Old Squaw,” or Long-tailed Duck. I remember one storm, in the middle of one October, which drove hundreds of these sea ducks into ponds a hundred miles from the coast.
Besides the above there are also three species classed as Fish Ducks, or Shelidrakes, species with long serrated bills, well adapted to seizing fish. They are the Red-breasted Merganser, the Goosander, and the Hooded Merganser, that being the order of their abundance. The first two are quite often seen from November to April in rivers or ponds, and, when these partly freeze up, in air holes, or even on the ice. In winter they are grayish birds above, and white beneath, with white on the wings. The head is crested, brown usually, but the heads of the males change to a dark green in early spring.
All these marine or Fish Ducks are poor eating, despite the best of cooking and parboiling, but with ordinary culinary methods they are impossible. On a southern yachting cruise one of our party shot two Red-breasted Shelldrakes, which the darky steward served up for dinner, as he would have done Mallards or Canvasbacks. Each man got the first mouthful at about the same time, and there was a simultaneous scramble for the hatchway to dispose thereof. The remainder was promptly fed to the fishes, and we indulged no more in roast shelldrake
There is but one species of wild goose which we can expect to visit us inland, the Canada Goose, which we ordinarily see in wedge-shaped flocks in early spring or late fall, gliding along with measured wing-beats, and honking forth those wild calls that send thrills through everyone who is capable of being stirred by the sights and sounds of the wilds. Sometimes they descend into the. ponds, and there is a scurrying among the gunners. I have found their nests out in the wilder parts of the Northwest, and there studied them as there is little chance to do here in civilization.
People usually think of the graceful and beautiful gulls and terns as being found only by the sea. In the East this is mainly true, but in the Northwest many of the marshy or alkaline lakes fairly teem with a number of kinds. But with us in the inland country town all we can hope for is to see a straggler now and then, if we have any ponds or lakes of fair size. In the early fall we may occasionally see a tern, probably the Cora mon Tern, a white bird, about the size of a pigeon, gray on the back, and black-capped, whose long narrow wings move rapidly as it darts about, plunging headlong into the water after the small bait fish upon which it lives. Now and then the Black Tern, a smaller, slaty-colored bird of similar form and habits, may appear. Later in the season, about November, an occasional gull may winnow about the lakes. Probably it will be a Herring Gull, or perhaps the Ring-billed Gull, a trifle smaller. These are both much larger than terns, of heavier build and slower in motions. Adults are mainly white, while the younger birds are brown in their first autumn and gray in their second. A good time for the dweller inland to watch the gulls is when visiting some seaport city like New York, from November to April. Go down to the wharves or out in a ferry boat, and one will see more gulls in an hour than in the home town in ten lifetimes. However, I have seen them flying over the hill towns in midwinter, high up in the air, probably migrating to some distant body of water.
Perhaps the most satisfactory of our water-birds to actually see and watch are the peculiar tribe of diving-birds considered as the lowest of our forms of bird-life, the loons and grebes. Of these we may hope to meet in our ponds one species of the former and three of the latter. The common Loon, or Great Northern Diver, is the splendid big fellow, as large as a goose, which we note some morning floating on the placid lake. Now and then it dives below the surface, and after a minute or so, which seems a long time to hold one’s breath, comes up quite a distance away. They breed from northern New England northward, and we see them on their migrations, mostly in the fall. They are not apt to rise on wing and leave the pond by day, but under cover of night, as their wings are small for the size and weight of their bodies, and they do not attempt to fly oftener than necessary. Their cries sound like a sort of wild laughter, “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, and so the saying has come into use, “crazy as a loon.” One hears these sounds mostly at night or in threatening weather, and they certainly sound weird enough.
Of the grebes which come into fresh Eastern waters, the largest and scarcest is the Holboell’s, or Red-necked Grebe, which is nearly as large as a duck. The other two are smaller, about the size of teal the Horned Grebe, and the Pied-billed Grebe or Dabchick. The Horned Grebe is so called because in the spring plumage it has, particularly the male, a sort of muff of long feathers on its head, some of which stick up like little horns. They are otherwise strikingly colored with varied rich browns and black, but in autumn they are reduced to plain gray back and white breast. The Dabchick, which is by far the commoner of the three, an be distinguished by its browner upper breast, and, m spring, its plainer garb. Most of the grebes seen will prove to be this latter. The time to expect them is during May and in September and October. They look so pretty, floating on the surface of the pond, often among lily pads, dabbling in the water with the bill. Usually we see each bird alone, but they are apt to migrate in small flocks, and the other members of the party are probably scattered about the pond, perhaps hiding in the reeds along the margin, or crawled out upon the shore to sun themselves and preen their feathers. They do this ‘last also when afloat, and we can see them turn over on one side to get at the lower feathers, and the silky white under-parts will flash in the sun. It is even harder for them than for the loon to fly, for their wings are very small, and they likewise migrate by night. They are great divers, and if alarmed will plunge or sink into the depths, come up a long way off, stick out only the bill for a breath of air, sink again, and get out ,of sight without showing themselves even once. Knowing their powers they are not very shy, and will not fly away as would wild ducks when we approach. So we may quietly watch the grebe from the shore, and, especially if one has a strong field glass, it is a beautiful sight. The popular name of “Water Witch” is, tribute to the tribe’s aquatic skill.
Though out in the West I have seen thousands of these grebes, and others, in their breeding colonies, r never had a better chance to observe one intimately than one May right at home. A pair of Horned Grebes alighted in a brook, but could not fly out, because, with their small wings, they require a lot of room to flutter and patter over the water in getting started. One of them disappeared, but the other stayed in the part of the brook near a house with a flock of tame ducks. A netting had been placed at the upper end to keep the ducks from swimming upstream, and below there was a bridge, under which the bird apparently did not like to go. The brook was hardly two feet wide, and Ned and I went there for several days and watched and photographed His Majesty. When we approached, the pretty fellow, a male in fine plumage, would dive and paddle off under water like a streak, and it was so shallow that he was in plain sight, and we saw that he used only his feet, not the wings, as propellers. Sometimes he would flutter along the surface of water, and then dive. After a time he became used to us, so I would sit quietly on the bank with the reflecting camera, while Ned would make him swim back and forth past me, giving me splendid camera shots. Then he would float quietly, a little apart from the ducks, preen his feathers, flap his wings, or dive and chase small fish. We could see him darting after them with great eagerness, now this way, now that.
Finally we stretched a mesh of chicken wire for a net across the brook. Ned chased the grebe into the wire, and I seized him as he was struggling to get through. When I took him out of water he would wave his muscular paddles so fast that they fairly blurred to our sight. These join the body down by the tail, so that the grebe must walk almost upright. He made awkward work of it on land, falling flat when he tried to run. After photographing him, we boxed him up and expressed him to the Bronx Zoological Park, in New York City, where I think he lived very happily with a mate they happened to have for him.
This brings me to the end of the pleasant task of telling in a familiar way of the pleasure which I, by myself, or in the lively, cheerful company of a boy, or of others, have found in following up the birds of a typical country region and becoming better and better acquainted with them. I hope that Ned may find bird-study a life-long delight and means of health and vigor, as I have done, and with him a host of othersboys and girls, men and women.
This is not saying that there are not a great many other interesting things in life. Indeed, as for myself, I am not a mere bird-specialist, but am interested in various other lines, aside from bird-study and my regular profession, such, for instance, as music. I do think, however, that it is a great advantage for everyone to have some sort of avocation, certainly at least one outdoor hobby, for the sake of health, and in any case a deep and abiding love of the beauties and glories of Nature, which makes for the strengthening of power of observation, the broadening and deepening of the life, and the cultivation of a spirit of calmness, optimism and buoyancy, which, if gained, will keep one in spirit ever young.
All too long, notably during the greater part of the nineteenth century, there has run riot a craze for the slaughter, for one purpose or other, of all the wild bird and animal life of this country. Some valuable and interesting species have been exterminated, and others are all but gone. Surely it is high time to call a halt! Fortunately, during recent years, and notably in the last two decades, there has set in a mighty tide of interest in these wild creaturesof sympathetic study of their habits, of kindness to them and of laws for their protection. The more universal this humane sentiment becomes, the better for our beautiful and harmless wild life, and the enjoyment of it by increasing multitudes. Many factors aid in the spread of this movement, minimizing the desire to kill and multiplying enjoyment of wild bird and animal life unharmed and at peace in natural surroundings, not the least of which is already proving to be “the sport of bird study.”