Friday, February 19, 2010

Burgess's Bird Work

Because of Burgess's concentration on his "quaddies," we don't think of him as strongly in respect to birds (though there were bird characters such as Sammy Jay and Blacky Crow in his community from the very beginning). In fact, Burgess's most significant conservation achievements were bird related.

As mentioned last post, Burgess's calendar feature in Country Life in America listed month-by-month opportunities for recreation and nature study. Many of these opportunities revolved around bird life--hunting and observing.

March, for example, is a good month for spring duck hunting (though legislation will probably close the spring season in the near future.) He offers a clever tactic for effective hawk hunting--a horse and buggy. And advises bird watchers to look for old nests--a good way to learn where the birds will be nesting the coming summer.

Throughout the next few months, he notes the typical arrival dates of migrants and summer residents, as well as typical nesting behavior. Here's a section from May (21-30).
In proportion as the month wanes the tide of life rises. From the 20th to the end of the month it is difficult to tear oneself from field and woodland lest something be lost. In the clear translucent dawn a meadow-lark pours forth his orisons in wonderfully sweet melody, while hovering above mid-meadow bobolink gurgles his liquid notes from a reservoir ever full. Somewhere, well-hidden in the green and gold below, are two homes worth the finding, but naught of aid may you expect from the two singers.
And other treasures the pastures hold. Bob White's home is there on the ground. The deep sunk print of a cow's foot holds the nest of a vesper sparrow, whence the little mother bird speeds swiftly at your approach, running along the ground to lead you astray. The field or bush sparrow of Thoreau has built just above the ground. If fortune favors you, you may chance upon the ground homes of the Savanna and grasshopper sparrows....

In June, one can become personally acquainted with the lives of birds
At no time can they be so closely observed as when with young in the nest continually clamoring to be fed. Indeed, they soon come to know that you mean them no harm, and while some will merely tolerate your presence, others will even allow you to be become established on a friendly footing.

September, on the other hand, opens the marsh hunting season (with which, he notes, "comparatively few shooters are acquainted")
Yesterday the marshes stretched flat and brown, a desolate waste over which a fish-crow croaked dismally and a night-heron labored with heavy wing. This morning as you set your decoys and establish yourself comfortably in your snug blind an hour before sunrise, out of the dusk north and east and west comes the clear piercing whistle of yellow-legs and the long-drawn plaintive call of the black-breasted plover. Above the white sand-dunes rises the red rim of the sun. Before its broad shafts the hosts of the night flee to the distant hills. The browns and greens of marshes assert themselves. Hark! Those whistlers are in the creek-bed a mile away. You take out your little tin call and reply. Presently you know that the birds are a-wing. Call for call they answer. You can see them now, a dozen specks against the sky-line far up the marsh. Nearer they come and louder and clearer becomes the whistling. In splendid light they are passing. Now for your art as a caller! Carefully the little tin whistle talks for you. The birds reply. A few coaxing notes bring doubtful inquiries. Then the birds see the decoys and swing to them sharply. Now must the guns be ready....

Sound familiar? (Note: he also is full of encouragement for the sport of squirrel shooting in October and coon hunting in November).

Tomorrow: New England Homestead Bird Work

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