In the Hemlocks

MOST people receive with incredulity a statement of the number of birds that annually visit our climate. Very few even are aware of half the number that spend the summer in their own immediate vicinity. We little suspect. when we walk in the woods, whose privacy we are intruding upon, — what rare and elegant visitants from Mexico, from Central and South America, and from the islands of the sea, are holding their reunions in the branches over our heads, or pursuing their pleasure on the ground before us.

I recall the altogether admirable and shining family which Thoreau dreamed he saw in the upper chambers of Spaulding’s woods, which Spaulding did not know lived there, and which were not put out when Spaulding, whistling, drove his team through their lower halls. They did not go into society in the village ; they were quite well ; they had sons and daughters ; they neither wove nor spun ; there was a sound as of suppressed hilarity.

I take it for granted that the forester was only saying a pretty thing of the birds, though I have observed that it does sometimes annoy them when Spaulding’s cart rumbles through their house. Generally, however, they are as unconscious of Spaulding as Spaulding is of them.

Walking the other day in an old hemlock wood, I counted over forty varieties of these summer visitants, many of them common to other woods in the vicinity, but quite a number peculiar to these ancient solitudes, and not a few that are rare in any locality. It is quite unusual to find so large a number abiding in one forest, — and that not a large one, — most of them nesting and spending the summer there. Many of those I observed commonly pass this season much farther north. But the geographical distribution of birds is rather a climatical one. The same temperature, though under different parallels, usually attracts the same birds ; difference in altitude being equivalent to the difference in latitude. A given height above the sea level under the parallel of 30° may have the same climate as places under that of 35°, and similar Flora and Fauna. At the head-waters of the Delaware, where I write, the latitude is that of Boston, but the region has a much greater elevation, and hence a climate that compares better with the northern part of the State and of New England. Half a day’s drive to the southeast brings me down into quite a different temperature, with an older geological formation, different forest timber, and different birds, — even with different mammals. Neither the little Gray Rabbit nor the little Gray Fox is found in my locality, but the great Northern Hare and the Red Fox are seen here. In the last century a colony of beavers dwelt here, though the oldest inhabitant cannot now point to even the traditional site of their dams. The ancient hemlocks, whither I propose to take the reader, are rich in many things beside birds. Indeed, their wealth in this respect is owing mainly, no doubt, to their rank vegetable growths, their fruitful swamps, and their dark, sheltered retreats.

Their history is of an heroic cast. Ravished and torn by the tanner in his thirst for bark, preyed upon by the lumberman, assaulted and beaten back by the settler, still their spirit has never been broken, their energies never paralyzed. Not many years ago a public highway passed through them, but it was at no time a tolerable road ; trees fell across it, mud and limbs choked it up, till finally travellers took the hint and went around: and now, walking along its deserted course, I see only the footprints of coons, foxes, and squirrels.

Nature loves such woods, and places her own seal upon them. Here she shows me what can be done with ferns and mosses and lichens. The soil is marrowy and full of innumerable forests. Standing in these fragrant aisles, I feel the strength of the vegetable kingdom and am awed by the deep and inscrutable processes of life going on so silently about me.

No hostile forms with axe or spud now visit these solitudes. The cows have half-hidden ways through them, and know where the best browsing is to be had. In spring the farmer repairs to their bordering of maples to make sugar ; in July and August women and boys from all the country about penetrate the old Barkpeeling for raspberries and blackberries ; and I know a youth who wonderingly follows their languid stream casting for trout.

In like spirit, alert and buoyant, on this bright June morning go I also to reap my harvest, — pursuing a sweet more delectable than sugar, fruit more savory than berries, and game for another palate than that tickled by trout.

June, of all the months, the student of ornithology can least afford to lose. Most birds are nesting then, and in full song and plumage. And what is a bird without its song ? Do we not wait for the stranger to speak ? It seems to me that I do not know a bird till I have heard its voice ; then I come nearer it at once, and it possesses a human interest to me. I have met the Gray-cheeked Thrush (Turdus aliciæ) in the woods, and held him in my hand ; still I do not know him. The silence of the CedarBird throws a mystery about him which neither his good looks nor his petty larcenies in cherry time can dispel. A bird’s song contains a clew to its life, and establishes a sympathy, an understanding, between itself and the admiring listener.

I descend a steep hill, and approach the hemlocks through a large sugarbush. When twenty rods distant, I hear all along the line of the forest the incessant warble of the Red-eyed Flycatcher (Vireosylvia olivacea), cheerful and happy as the merry whistle of a schoolboy. He is one of our most common and widely distributed birds. Approach any forest at any hour of the day, in any kind of weather, from May to August, in any of the Middle or Eastern districts, and the chances are that the first note you hear will be his. Rain or shine, before noon or after, in the deep forest or in the village grove, — when it is too hot for the thrushes or too cold and windy for the warblers, — it is never out of time or place for this little minstrel to indulge his cheerful strain. In the deep wilds of the Adirondac, where few birds are seen and fewer heard, his note was almost constantly in my ear. Always busy, making it a point never to suspend for one moment his occupation to indulge his musical taste, his lay is that of industry and contentment. There is nothing plaintive or especially musical in his performance, but the sentiment expressed is eminently that of cheerfulness. Indeed the songs of most birds have some human significance, which, I think, is the source of the delight we take in them. The song of the bobolink, to me, expresses hilarity; the Song-Sparrow’s, faith ; the Bluebird’s, love ; the Cat-Bird's, pride ; the Whiteeyed Flycatcher’s, self-consciousness ; that of the Hermit-Thrush, spiritual serenity; while there is something military in the call of the Robin, and unalloyed contentment in the warble of the Red-eyed Vireo.

This bird is classed among the flycatchers, but is much more of a wormeater. and has few of the traits or habits of the Muscicapa or the true Sylvia. He resembles somewhat the Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus), and the two birds are often confounded by careless observers. Both warble in the same cheerful strain, but the latter more continuously and rapidly. The Red-Eye is a larger, slimmer bird, with a faint bluish crown, and a light line over the eye. His movements are peculiar. You may see him hopping among the limbs, exploring the under side of the leaves, peering to the right and left, — now flitting a few feet, now hopping as many,— and warbling incessantly, occasionally in a subdued tone, which sounds from a very indefinite distance. When he has found a worm to his liking, he turns lengthwise of the limb, and bruises its head with his beak before devouring it.

As I enter the woods the Slate-colored Snowbird (Fringilla Hudsonia) starts up before me and chirps sharply. His protest when thus disturbed is almost metallic in its sharpness. He breeds here, and is not esteemed a snowbird at all, as he disappears at the near approach of winter, and returns again in spring, like the Song-Sparrow, and is not in any way associated with the cold and the snow. So different are the habits of birds in different localities. Even the Crow does not winter here, and is seldom seen after December or before March.

The Snow-Bird, or “ Black ChippingBird,” as it is known among the farmers. is the finest architect of any of the ground-builders known to me. The site of its nest is usually some low bank by the roadside near a wood. In a slight excavation, with a partially concealed entrance, the exquisite structure is placed. Horse-hair and cow-hair are plentifully used, imparting to the interior of the nest great symmetry and firmness as well as softness.

Passing down through the maple arches, barely pausing to observe the antics of a trio of squirrels, — two gray ones and a black one, — I cross an ancient brush fence and am fairly within the old hemlocks, and in one of the most primitive, undisturbed nooks. In the deep moss I tread as with muffled feet, and the pupils of my eyes dilate in the dim. almost religious light. The irreverent red squirrels, however, run and snicker at my approach, or mock the solitude with their ridiculous chattering and frisking.

This nook is the chosen haunt of the Winter Wren. This is the only place and these the only woods in which I find him in this vicinity. His voice fills these dim aisles, as if aided by some marvellous sounding-board. Indeed, his song is very strong for so small a bird, and unites in a remarkable degree brilliancy and plaintiveness. I think of a tremulous vibrating tongue of silver. You may know it is the song of a wren, from its gushing lyrical character ; but you must needs look sharp to see the little minstrel, especially while in the act of singing. He is nearly the color of the ground and the leaves ; he never ascends the tall trees, but keeps low, flitting from stump to stump and from root to root, dodging in and out of his hiding-places, and watching all intruders with a suspicious eye. He has a very perk, almost comical look. His tail stands more than perpendicular: it points straight toward his head. He is the least ostentatious singer I know of. He does not strike an attitude, and lift up his head in preparation, and, as it were, clear his throat ; but sits there on the log and pours out his music, looking straight before him, or even down at the ground. As a songster, he has but few superiors. I do not hear him after the first week in July.

While sitting on this soft-cushioned log, tasting the pungent acidulous woodsorrel {Oxalis acetorella), the blossoms of which, large and pink-veined, rise everywhere above the moss, a rufous-colored bird flies quickly past, and, alighting on a low limb a few rods off, salutes me with “ Whew ! Whew !” or “ Whoit! Whoit! ” almost as you would whistle tor your dog. I see by his impulsive, graceful movements, and his dimly speckled breast, that it is a Thrush. Presently he utters a few soft, mellow, flute-like notes, one of the most simple expressions of melody to be heard, and scuds away, and I see it is the Veery or Wilson’s Thrush. He is the least of the Thrushes in size, being about that of the common Bluebird, and he may be distinguished from his relatives by the dimness of the spots upon his breast. The Wood-Thrush has very clear, distinct oval spots on a white ground ; in the Hermit, the spots run more into lines, on a ground of a faint bluish-white ; in the Veery, the marks are almost obsolete, and a few rods off his breast presents only a dull yellowish appearance. To get a good view of him you have only to sit down in his haunts, as in such cases he seems equally anxious to get a good view of you.

From those tall hemlocks proceeds a very fine insect-like warble, and occasionally I see a spray teeter, or catch the flit of a wing. I watch and watch till my head grows dizzy and my neck is in danger of permanent displacement, and still do not get a good view. Presently the bird darts, or, as it seems, falls down a few feet in pursuit of a fly or moth, and I see the whole of it, but in the dim light am undecided. It is for such emergencies that I have brought this gun. A bird in the hand is worth half a dozen in the bush, even for ornithological purposes; and no sure and rapid progress can be made in the study without taking life, without procuring specimens. This bird is a Warbler, plainly enough, from his habits and manner; but what kind of Warbler ? Look on him and name him: a deep orange or flamecolored throat and breast; the same color showing also in a line over the eye and in his crown ; back variegated black and white. The female is less marked and brilliant. The Orangethroated Warbler would seem to be his right name, his characteristic cognomen ; but no, he is doomed to wear the name of some discoverer, perhaps the first who robbed his nest or rifled him of his mate,—Blackburn ; hence, Blackburnian Warbler. The burn seems appropriate enough, for in these dark evergreens his throat and breast show like flame. He has a very fine warble, suggesting that of the Redstart, but not especially musical. I find him in no other woods in this vicinity.

I am attracted by another warble in the same locality, and experience a like difficulty in getting a good view of the author of it. It is quite a noticeable strain, sharp and sibilant, and sounds well amid the old trees. In the upland woods of beech and maple it is a more familiar sound than in these solitudes. On taking the bird in your hand, even if you are not a young lady, you will probably exclaim, “How beautiful!” So tiny and elegant, the smallest of the Warblers; a delicate blue back, with a slight bronze-colored triangular spot between the shoulders ; upper mandible black ; lower mandible yellow as gold ; throat yellow, becoming a dark bronze on the breast. Blue YellowBack he is called, though the yellow is much nearer a bronze. He is remarkably delicate and beautiful, — the handsomest, as he is the smallest, of the Warblers known to me. It is never without surprise that I find amid these rugged, savage aspects of Nature creatures so fairy and delicate. But such is the law. Go to the sea or climb the mountain, and with the ruggedest and the savagest you will find likewise the fairest and the most delicate. The greatness and the minuteness of Nature pass all understanding.

Ever since I entered the woods, even while listening to the lesser songsters, or contemplating the silent forms about me, a strain has reached my ear from out the depths of the forest that to me is the finest sound in nature, — the song of the Hermit-Thrush. I often hear him thus a long way off, sometimes over a quarter of a mile away, when only the stronger and more perfect parts of his music reach me ; and through the general chorus of Wrens and Warblers I detect this sound rising pure and serene, as if a spirit from some remote height were slowly chanting a divine accompaniment. This song appeals to the sentiment of the beautiful in me, and suggests a serene religious beatitude as no other sound in nature does. It is perhaps more of an evening than a morning hymn, though I hear it at all hours of the day. It is very simple, and I can hardly tell the secret of its charm. “ O spheral, spheral ! ” he seems to say ; “ O holy, holy ! O clear away, clear away ! O clear up, clear up!” interspersed with the finest trills and the most delicate preludes. It is not a proud, gorgeous strain, like the Tanager’s or the Grosbeak's ; suggests no passion or emotion, — nothing personal, — but seems to be the voice of that calm, sweet solemnity one attains to in his best moments. It realizes a peace and a deep, solemn joy that only the finest souls may know. A few nights ago I ascended a mountain to see the world by moonlight; and when near the summit the Hermit commenced his evening hymn a few rods from me. Listening to this strain on the lone mountain, with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.

Whether it is because of their rareness, or an accident of my observation, or a characteristic trait, I cannot tell, yet I have never known two of these birds to be singing at the same time in the same locality, rivalling each other, like the Wood-Thrush or the Veery, Shooting one from a tree, I have observed another take up the strain from almost the identical perch in less than ten minutes afterward. Later in the day, when I had penetrated the heart of the old Barkpeeling, I came suddenly upon one singing from a low stump, and for a wonder he did not seem alarmed, but lifted up his divine voice as if his privacy was undisturbed. I open his beak and find the inside yellow as gold. I was prepared to find it inlaid with pearls and diamonds, or to see an angel issue from it.

He is not much in the books. Indeed, I am acquainted with scarcely any writer on ornithology whose head is not muddled on the subject of our three prevailing song-thrushes, confounding either their figures or their songs. A writer in the Atlantic 1 gravely tells us the Wood-Thrush is sometimes called the Hermit, and then, after describing the song of the Hermit with great beauty and correctness, coolly ascribes it to the Veery ! The new Cyclopaedia, fresh from the study of Audubon, says the Hermit’s song consists of a single plaintive note, and that the Veery's resembles that of the WoodThrush ! These observations deserve to be preserved with that of the author of “ Out-door Papers,” who tells us the trill of the Hair-Bird (Fringilla socialis) is produced by the bird fluttering its wings upon its sides ! The HermitThrush may be easily identified by his color; his back being a clear olivebrown, becoming rufous on his rump and tail. A quill from his wing placed beside one from his tail, on a dark ground, presents quite a marked contrast.

I walk along the old road, and note the tracks in the thin layer of mud. When do these creatures travel here ? I have never yet chanced to meet one. Here a partridge has set its foot; there, a woodcock ; here, a squirrel or mink ; there, a skunk ; there, a fox. What a clear, nervous track Reynard makes ! how easy to distinguish it from that of a little dog, — it is so sharply cut and defined ! A dog’s track is coarse and clumsy beside it. There is as much wildness in the track of an animal as in its voice. Is a deer’s track like a sheep's or a goat’s ? What wingedfooted fleetness and agility may be inferred from the sharp, braided track of the gray squirrel upon the new snow ! Ah ! in nature is the best discipline. I think the sculptor might carve finer and more expressive lines if lie grew up in the woods, and the painter discriminate finer hues. How wood-life sharpens the senses, giving a new power to the eye, the ear, the nose ! And are not the rarest and most exquisite songsters wood-birds ?

Everywhere in these solitudes I am greeted with the pensive, almost pathetic note of the Wood-Pewee. Do you know the Pewees ? They are the true Flycatchers, and are easily identified. They are very characteristic birds, have very strong family traits, and very pugnacious dispositions. Without any exception or qualification they are the homeliest or the least elegant birds of our fields or forest. Sharpshouldered, big-headed, short-legged, of no particular color, of little elegance in flight or movement, with a disagreeable flirt of the tail, always quarrelling with their neighbors and with one another, no birds are so little calculated to excite pleasurable emotions in the beholder, or to become objects of human interest and affection. The King-Bird is the best-dressed member of the family, but he is a braggart; and, though always snubbing his neighbors, is an arrant coward, and shows the white feather at the slightest display of pluck in his antagonist. I have seen him turn tail to a Swallow, and have known the little Pewee in question to whip him beautifully. From the Great Crested to the Little Green Flycatcher, their ways and general habits are the same. Slow in flying from point to point, they yet have a wonderful quickness, and snap up the fleetest insects with little apparent effort. There is a constant play of quick, nervous movements underneath their outer show of calmness and stolidity. They do not scour the limbs and trees like the Warblers, but, perched upon the middle branches, wait like true hunters for the game to come along. There is often a very audible snap of the beak as they arrest their prey.

The Wood-Pewee, the prevailing species in this locality, arrests your attention by his sweet, pathetic cry. There is room for it also in the deep woods, as well as for the more prolonged and elevated strains. His mate builds an exquisite nest of moss on the side of some shelving cliff or overhanging rock. The other day, passing by a ledge near the top of a mountain in a singularly desolate locality, my eye rested upon one of these structures, looking precisely as if it grew there, so in keeping was it with the mossy character of the rock ; and I have had a growing affection for the bird ever since. The rock seemed to love the nest and to claim it as its own. I said, What a lesson in architecture is here ! Here is a house that was built, but built with such loving care and such beautiful adaptation of the means to the end, that it looks like a product of nature. The same wise economy is noticeable in the nests ol all birds. No bird would paint its house white or red, or add aught for show.

Coming to a drier and less mossy place in the woods, I am amused with the Golden-crowned Thrush, — which, however, is no thrush at all, but a Warbler, the Sciurus aurocapillus. He walks on the ground ahead of me with such an easy gliding motion, and with such an unconscious, preoccupied air, jerking his head like a hen or a partridge, now hurrying, now slackening his pace, that I pause to observe him. If I sit down, he pauses to observe me, and extends his pretty ramblings on all sides, apparently very much engrossed with his own affairs, but never losing sight of me. But few of the birds are walkers, most being hoppers, like the Robin. I recall only five species of the former among our ordinary birds, — the one in question, the MeadowLark, the Tit-Lark, the Cow-Bunting, and the Water-Wagtail (a relative of the Golden-Crown).

Satisfied that I have no hostile intentions, the pretty pedestrian mounts a limb a few feet from the ground, and gives me the benefit of one of his musical performances, a sort of accelerating chant. Commencing in a very low key, which makes him seem at a very uncertain distance, he grows louder and louder, till his body quakes and his chant runs into a shriek, ringing in my ears with a peculiar sharpness. This lay may be represented thus : “Teacher teacher, teacher, teacher teacher ! ”— the accent on the first syllable and each word uttered with increased force and shrillness. No writer with whom I am acquainted gives him credit for more musical ability than is displayed in this strain. Yet in this the half is not told. He has a far rarer song, which he reserves for some nymph whom he meets in the air. Mounting by easy flights to the top of the tallest tree, he launches into the air with a sort of suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the Finches, and bursts into a perfect ecstasy of song, — clear, ringing, copious, rivalling the Goldfinch's in vivacity, and the Linnet's in melody. This strain is one of the rarest bits of bird-melody to be heard. Over the woods, hid from view, the ecstatic singer warbles his finest strain. In this song you instantly detect his relationship to the Water-Wagtail (Sciurus Noveboracensis), —erroneously called Water -Thrush, — whose song is likewise a sudden burst, full and ringing, and with a tone of youthful joyousness in it, as if the bird had just had some unexpected good-fortune. For nearly two years this strain of the pretty walker was little more than a disembodied voice to me, and I was puzzled by it as Thoreau by his mysterious Night-Warbler, which, by the way, I suspect was no new bird at all, but one he was otherwise familiar with. The little bird himself seems disposed to keep the matter a secret, and improves every opportunity to repeat before you his shrill, accelerating lay, as if this were quite enough and all he laid claim to. Still, I trust I am betraying no confidence in making the matter public here. I think this is preeminently his love-song, as I hear it oftenest about the mating season. I have caught half-suppressed bursts of it from two birds chasing each other with fearful speed through the forest.

Turning to the left from the old road, I wander, over soft logs and gray yielding débris, across the little trout brook, until I emerge in the Barkpeeling,— pausing now and then on the way to admire a small, solitary white flower which rises above the moss, with radical, heart-shaped leaves, and a blossom precisely like the liverwort: except in color, but which is not put down in my botany, — or to observe the ferns, of which I count six varieties, some gigantic ones nearly shoulder-high.

At the foot of a rough, scraggy yellow birch, on a bank of club-moss, so richly inlaid with partridge-berry and curious shining leaves, — with here and there in the bordering a spire of the false wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia) strung.with faint pink flowers and exhaling the breath of a May orchard,— that it looks too costly a couch for such an idler, I recline to note what transpires. The sun is just past the meridian, and the afternoon chorus is not yet in full tune. Most birds sing with the greatest spirit and vivacity in the forenoon, though there are occasional bursts later in the day, in which nearly all voices join ; while it is not till the twilight that the full power and solemnity of the thrush’s hymn is felt.

My attention is soon arrested by a pair of Humming-Birds, the RubyThroated, disporting themselves in a low bush a few yards from me. The female takes shelter amid the branches, and squeaks exultingly as the male, circling above, dives down as if to dislodge her. Seeing me, he drops like a feather on a slender twig, and in a moment both are gone. Then, as if by a preconcerted signal, the throats are all atune. I lie on my back with eyes half closed, and analyze the chorus of Warblers, Thrushes, Finches, and Flycatchers ; while, soaring above all, a little withdrawn and alone, rises the divine soprano of the Hermit. That richly modulated warble proceeding from the top of yonder birch, and which unpractised ears would mistake for the voice of the Scarlet Tanager, comes from that rare visitant, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It is a strong, vivacious strain, a bright noonday song, full of health and assurance, indicating fine talents in the performer, but not genius. As I come up under the tree he casts his eye down at me, but continues his song. This bird is said to be quite common in the Northwest, but he is rare in the Eastern districts. His beak is disproportionately large and heavy, like a huge nose, which slightly mars his good looks ; but Nature has made it up to him in a blush rose upon his breast, and the most delicate of pink linings to the under side of his wings. His back is variegated black and white, and when flying low the white shows conspicuously. If he passed over your head, you would note the delicate flush under his wings.

That bit of bright scarlet on yonder dead hemlock, glowing like a live coal against the dark background, seeming almost too brilliant for the severe Northern climate, is his relative, the Scarlet Tanager. I occasionally meet him in the deep hemlocks, and know no stronger contrast in nature. I almost fear he will kindle the dry limb on which he alights. He is quite a solitary bird, and in this section seems to prefer the high, remote woods, even going quite to the mountain’s top. Indeed, the event ot my last visit to the mountain was meeting one of these brilliant creatures near the summit, in full song. The breeze carried the notes far and wide. He seemed to enjoy the elevation, and I imagined his song had more scope and freedom than usual. When he had flown far down the mountain-side, the breeze still brought me his finest notes. In plumage he is the most brilliant bird we have. The Bluebird is not entirely blue ; nor will the Indigo-bird bear a close inspection, nor the Goldfinch, nor the Summer Redbird. But the Tanager loses nothing by a near view ; the deep scarlet of his body and the black of his wings and tail are quite perfect. This is his holiday suit; in the fall he becomes a dull green,— the color of the female the whole season.

One of the leading songsters in this choir of the old Barkpeeling is the Purple Finch or Linnet. He sits somewhat apart, usually on a dead hemlock, and warbles most exquisitely. He is one of our finest songsters, and stands at the head of the Finches, as the Hermit at the head of the Thrushes. His song approaches an ecstasy, and, with the exception of the Winter Wren’s, is the most rapid and copious strain to be heard in these woods. It is quite destitute of the trills and the liquid, silvery. bubbling notes that characterize the Wren’s ; but there runs through it a round, richly modulated whistle, verysweet and very pleasing. The call of the Robin is brought in at a certain point with marked effect, and, throughout, the variety is so great and the strain so rapid that the impression is as of two or three birds singing at the same time. He is not common here, and I only find him in these or similar woods. His color is peculiar, and looks as if it might have been imparted by dipping a brown bird in diluted pokeberry juice. Two or three more dippings would have made the purple complete. The female is the color of the Song-Sparrow, a little larger, with heavier beak, and tail much more forked.

In a little opening quite free from brush and trees I step down to bathe my hands in the brook, when a small, light slate-colored bird flutters out of the bank, not three feet from my head, as I stoop down, and, as if severely lamed or injured, flutters through the grass and into the nearest bush. As I do not follow, but remain near the nest, she chips sharply, which brings the male, and I see it is the Speckled Canada Warbler. I find no authority in the books for this bird to build upon the ground, yet here is the nest, made chiefly of dry grass, set in a slight excavation in the bank, not two feet from the water, and looking a little perilous to anything but ducklings or sandpipers. There are two young birds and one little specked egg, just pipped. But how is this ? what mystery is here ? One nestling is much larger than the other, monopolizes most of the nest, and lifts its open mouth far above that of its companion, though obviously both are of the same age, not more than a day old. Ah ! I see; — the old trick of the Cow-Bunting, with a stinging human significance. Taking the interloper by the nape of the neck, I deliberately drop it into the water, but not without a pang, as I see its naked form, convulsed with chills, float down stream. Cruel ! So is Nature cruel. I take one life to save two. In less than two days this pot-bellied intruder would have caused the death of the two rightful occupants of the nest; so I step in and divert things into their proper channel again.

It is a singular freak of Nature, this instinct which prompts one bird to lay its eggs in the nests of others, and thus shirk the responsibility of rearing its own young. The Cow-Buntings always resort to this cunning trick; and when one reflects upon their numbers it is evident that these little tragedies are quite frequent. In Europe the parallel case is that of the Cuckoo, and occasionally our own Cuckoo imposes upon a Robin or a Thrush in the same manner. The Cow-Bunting seems to have no conscience about the matter, and, so far as I have observed, invariably selects the nest of a bird smaller than itself. Its egg is usually the first to hatch ; its young overreaches all the rest when food is brought ; it grows with great rapidity, spreads and fills the nest, and the starved and crowded occupants soon perish, when the parent bird removes their dead bodies, giving its whole energy and care to the foster-child.

The Warblers and smaller Flycatchers are generally the sufferers, though I sometimes see the Slate-colored Snowbird unconsciously duped in like manner; and the other day, in a tall tree in the woods, I discovered the Black-throated Green-backed Warbler devoting itself to this dusky, overgrown foundling. An old farmer to whom I pointed out the fact was much surprised that such things should happen in his woods without his knowledge.

From long observation it is my opinion that the male Bunting selects the nest into which the egg is to be deposited, and exercises a sort of guardianship over it afterward, lingering in the vicinity and uttering his peculiar, liquid, glassy note from the tops of the tall trees.

The Speckled Canada is a very superior Warbler, having a lively, animated strain, reminding you of certain parts of the Canary’s, though quite broken and incomplete ; the bird the while hopping amid the branches with increased liveliness, and indulging in fine sibilant chirps, too happy to keep silent.

His manners are very marked. He has a habit of courtesying when he discovers you, which is very pretty. In form he is a very elegant bird, somewhat slender, his back of a bluish leadcolor becoming nearly black on his crown ; the under part of his body, from his throat down, is of a light, delicate yellow, with a belt of black dots across his breast. He has a very fine eye, surrounded by a light yellow ring.

The parent birds are much disturbed by my presence, and keep up a loud, emphatic chirping, which attracts the attention of their sympathetic neighbors, and one after another they come to see what has happened. The Chestnut-Sided and the Blackburnian come in company. The Black-and-Yellow Warbler pauses a moment and hastens away ; the Maryland Yellow-Throat peeps shyly from the lower bushes and utters his “Fip! fip!” in sympathy; the Wood-Pewee comes straight to the tree overhead, and the Red-eyed Vireo lingers and lingers, eying me with a curious, innocent look, evidently much puzzled. But all disappear again, one after another, apparently without a word of condolence or encouragement to the distressed pair. I have often noticed among birds this show of sympathy,—if indeed it be sympathy, and not merely curiosity, or a feeling of doubt concerning their own safety.

An hour afterward I approach the place, find all still, and the mother bird upon the nest. As I draw near she seems to sit closer, her eyes growing large with an inexpressibly wild, beautiful look. She keeps her place till I am within two paces of her, when she flutters away as at first. In the brief interval the remaining egg has hatched, and the two little nestlings lift their heads without being jostled or overreached by any strange bedfellow. A week afterward and they are flown away, —so brief is the infancy of birds. And the wonder is that they escape, even for this short time, the skunks and minks and muskrats that abound here, and that have a decided partiality for such tidbits.

I pass on through the old Barkpeeling, now threading an old cow-path or an overgrown wood-road; now clambering over soft and decayed logs, or forcing my way through a network of briers and hazel ; now entering a perfect bower of wild-cherry, beech, and soft-maple ; now emerging into a little grassy lane, golden with buttercups or white with daisies, or wading waist-deep in the red raspberry-bushes.

Whir! whir! whir! and a brood of half-grown Partridges start up like an explosion, a few paces from me, and, scattering, disappear in the bushes on all sides. Let me sit down here behind this screen of ferns and briers, and hear this wild-hen of the woods call together her brood. Have you observed at what an early age the Partridge flies ? Nature seems to concentrate her energies on the wing, making the safety of the bird a point to be looked after first; and while the body is covered with down, and no signs of feathers are visible, the wing-quills sprout and unfold, and in an incredibly short time the young make fair headway in flying.

The same rapid development of wing may be observed in chickens and turkeys, but not in water-fowls, nor in birds that are safely housed in the nest till full-fledged. The other day, by a brook, I came suddenly upon a young Sandpiper, a most beautiful creature, enveloped in a soft gray down, swift and nimble, and apparently a week or two old. but with no signs of plumage either of body or wing. And it needed none, for it escaped me by taking to the water as readily as if it had flown with wings.

Hark! There arises over there in the brush a soft, persuasive cooing, a sound so subtile and wild and unobtrusive that it requires the most alert and watchful ear to hear it. How gentle and solicitous and full of yearning love ! It is the voice of the mother hen. Presently a faint, timid “Yeap!” which almost eludes the ear, is heard in various directions, — the young responding. As no danger seems near, the cooing of the parent bird is soon a very audible clucking call, and the young move cautiously in the direction. Let me step never so carefully from my hiding-place, and all sounds instantly cease, and I search in vain for either parent or young.

The Partridge (.Bonasa umbellus) is one of our most native and characteristic birds. The woods seem good to be in where I find him. He gives a habitable air to the forest, and one feels as if the rightful occupant was really at home. The woods where I do not find him seem to want something, as if suffering from some neglect of Nature. And then he is such a splendid success, so hardy and vigorous. I think he enjoys the cold and the snow. His wings seem to rustle with more fervency in midwinter. If the snow falls very fast, and promises a heavy storm, he will Complacently sit down and allow himself to be snowed under. Approaching him at such times, he suddenly bursts out of the snow at your feet, scattering the flakes in all directions, and goes humming away through the woods like a bomb-shell, — a picture of native spirit and success.

His drum is one of the most welcome and beautiful sounds of spring. Scarcely have the trees showed their buds, when, in the still April mornings, or toward nightfall, you hear the hum of his devoted wings. He selects not, as you would predict, a dry and resinous log, but a decayed and crumbling one, seeming to give the preference to old oaklogs that are partially blended with the soil. If a log to his taste cannot be found, he sets up his altar on a rock, which becomes resonant beneath his fervent blows. Have you seen the Partridge drum? It is the next thing to catching a weasel asleep, though by much caution and tact it may be done. He does not hug the log, but stands very erect, expands his ruff, gives two introductory blows, pauses half a second, and their resumes, striking faster and faster till the sound becomes a continuous, unbroken whir, the whole lasting less than half a minute. The tips of his wings barely brush the log, so that the sound is produced rather by the force of the blows upon the air and upon his own body as in flying. One log will be used for many years, though not by the same drummer. It seems to be a sort of temple, and held in great respect. The bird always approaches it on foot, and leaves it in the same quiet manner, unless rudely disturbed. He is very cunning, though his wit is not profound. It is very difficult to approach him by stealth ; you will try many times before succeeding ; but seem to pass by him in a great hurry, making all the noise possible, and with plumage furled he stands as immovable as a knot, allowing you a good view and a good shot, if you are a sportsman.

Passing along one of the old barkpeelers’ roads which wander aimlessly about, I am attracted by a singularly brilliant and emphatic warble, proceeding from the low bushes, and quickly suggesting the voice of the Maryland Yellow-Throat. Presently the singer hops up on a dry twig, and gives me a good view. Lead-colored head and neck, becoming nearly black on the breast; clear olive-green back, and yellow belly. From his habit of keeping near the ground, even hopping upon it occasionally, I know him to be a Ground-Warbler; from his dark breast the ornithologist has added the expletive Mourning, hence the Mourning Ground-Warbler.

Of this bird both Wilson and Audubon confessed their comparative ignorance, neither ever having seen its nest or become acquainted with its haunts and general habits Its song is quite striking and novel, though its voice at once suggests the class of Warblers, to which it belongs. It is very shy and wary, flying but a few feet at a time, and studiously concealing itself from your view. I discover but one pair here. The female has food in her beak, but carefully avoids betraying the locality of her nest. The GroundWarblers all have one notable feature, — very beautiful legs, as white and delicate as if they had always worn silk stockings and satin slippers. High tree Warblers have dark brown or black legs and more brilliant plumage, but less musical ability.

The Chestnut-Sided belongs to the latter class. He is quite common in these woods, as in all the woods about He is one of the rarest and handsomest of the Warblers ; his white breast and throat, chestnut sides, and yellow crown show conspicuously. Audubon did not know his haunts, and had never seen his nest or known any naturalist who had. Last year I found the nest of one in an uplying beech-wood, in a low bush near the roadside, where cows passed and browsed daily. Things went on smoothly till the Cow-Bunting stole her egg into it, when other mishaps followed, and the nest was soon empty. A characteristic attitude of the male during this season is a slight drooping of the wings, and tail a little elevated, which gives him a very smart, bantamlike appearance. His song is fine and hurried, and not much of itself, but has its place in the general chorus.

A far sweeter strain, falling on the ear with the true sylvan cadence, is that of the Black - throated Greenbacked Warbler, whom I meet at various points. He has no superiors among the true Sylvia. His song is very plain and simple, but remarkably pure and tender, and might be indicated by straight lines, thus, ;

the first two marks representing two sweet, silvery notes, in the same pitch of voice, and quite unaccented; the latter marks, the concluding notes, wherein the tone and inflection are changed. The throat and breast of the male are a rich black, like velvet, his face yellow, and his back a yellowish green.

Beyond the Barkpeeling, where the woods are mingled hemlock, beech, and birch, the languid midsummer note of the Black-throated Blue-Back falls on my ear. “ Twea, twea, twea-e-e! ” in the upward slide, and with the peculiar z-ing of certain insects, but not destitute of a certain plaintive cadence. It is one ot the most languid, unhurried sounds in all the woods. I feel like reclining upon the dry leaves at once. Audubon says he has never heard his love-song; but this is all the love-song he has, and he is evidently a very plain hero with his little brown mistress. He is not the bird you would send to the princess to “cheep and twitter twenty million loves ”; she would go to sleep while he was piping. He assumes few attitudes, and is not a bold and striking gymnast, like many of his kindred. He has a preference for dense woods of beech and maple, moves slowly amid the lower branches and smaller growths, keeping from eight to ten feet from the ground, and repeating now and then his listless, indolent strain. His back and crown are dark blue ; his throat and breast, black ; his belly, pure white ; and he has a white spot on each wing.

Here and there I meet the Black and White Creeping-Warbler, whose fine strain reminds me of hair-wire. It is unquestionably the finest bird-song to be heard. Few insect strains will compare with it in this respect; while it has none of the harsh, brassy character of the latter, being very delicate and tender.

That sharp, interrupted, but still continued warble, which, before one has learned to discriminate closely, he is apt to confound with the Red-eyed Vireo’s, is that of the Solitary Warbling Vireo, — a bird slightly larger, much rarer, and with a louder, less cheerful and happy strain. I see him hopping along lengthwise of the limbs, and note the orange tinge of his breast and sides and the white circle around his eye.

But the declining sun and the deepening shadows admonish me that this ramble must be brought to a close, even though only the leading characters in this chorus of forty songsters have been described, and only a small portion of the venerable old woods explored. In a secluded swampy corner of the old Barkpeeling, where I find the great purple orchis in bloom, and where the foot of man or beast seems never to have trod, I linger long, contemplating the wonderful display of lichens and mosses that overrun both the smaller and the larger growths. Every bush and branch and sprig is dressed up in the most rich and fantastic of liveries ; and, crowning all, the long bearded moss festoons the branches or sways gracefully from the limbs. Every twig looks a century old, though green leaves tip the end of it. A young yellow birch has a venerable, patriarchal look, and seems ill at ease under such premature honors. A decayed hemlock is draped as if by hands for some solemn festival.

Mounting toward the upland again, I pause reverently as the hush and stillness of twilight come upon the woods. It is the sweetest, ripest hour of the day. And as the Hermit’s evening hymn goes up from the deep solitude below me, I experience that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature, and religion are but the faint types and symbols.

  1. For December, 1858.