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THE WARBLER AND HIS WAYS
DURING the warm days of June, I often frequent a woody retreat above the old mill-dam on Fulton Creek. The water gurgles among the gray rocks and glides past a clump of firs and maples. Star-flowers gleam from the darker places of shade, white anemones are scattered in the green of the grass blades and ferns, and LinnŠan bells overhang the moss-covered logs.
As one sits here in the midst of the woods, the chords of every sense are stretched. The nostrils sniff the scent of the fir boughs tipped with their new growth of lighter green. The eye catches the cautious movements of furry and feathered creatures, The heart beats in tune with the forest pulse.
One day as I lay idling in this favorite haunt a shadow, caught in the net of sunbeams, spread under the maple. A Black-throated Gray Warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) fidgeted on the limb above with a straw in her bill. This was pleasing. I had searched the locality for years, trying to find the home of this shy bird, and here was a piece of evidence thrust squarely in my face.
The site of the nest was twelve feet from the ground in the top of a sapling. A week and a half later I parted the branches and found a cup of grasses, feather-lined, nestled in the fork of the fir. There lay four eggs of a pinkish tinge, touched with dots of brown.
The chief source of satisfaction in a camera study of bird life comes not in the odd-time chances of observation, but in a continued period of leisure when one may spend his entire time about bird homes just as he takes a week's vacation at the sea-shore. One cannot take a camera, no matter how expensive it is, and snap off good bird pictures during the spare moments of a busy day. He might, however, fill half a dozen note-books with valuable odd-time observations. To be sure, the joy of nature comes to the amateur, not to the professional, but to be a successful amateur bird-photographer one has fairly to make a business of lying in wait for his subjects hour after hour, day by day, and maybe week after week. The reward of real success comes not in mere acquaintanceship with some feathered bit of flying life, but in real friendship ; there cannot be the formality of a society call, but one should, by frequent visits, be well enough acquainted to drop in at any time with his camera without interfering with the daily affairs of family life.
real value of photography is that it records the truth. The person
who photographs birds successfully has to study his subjects long
and carefully. He is likely, therefore, to get a good set of notes,
and not to be compelled to complete his observations when he Is
seated in the comfortable chair of his study. Of course, in the study
of art, we may try to improve on nature, but in nature study
truth is the chief thing. We must understand that a beast or bird is
interesting for its own wild sake.
Of course it showed a pure lack of discretion to try to picture the home of such a shy warbler during the days of incubation, but I half believe the feathered owners would have overlooked this had it not been for the pair of blue jays that buccaneered that patch of fir. While we were getting a picture I saw them eyeing us curiously, but they slunk away among the dark firs squawking jay-talk about something I didn't understand. Two days later we skirted the clump to see if the warblers had been too severely shocked by the camera. In an instant I translated every syllable of what that pair of blue pirates had squawked. The scattered remnants of the nest and the broken bits of shell told all.
These gray warblers, however much they were upset by the camera-fiend and blue jay raid, were not to be undone. They actually went to housekeeping again within forty yards of the old home site. The new nest was placed in a fir sapling very like the first, but better hidden from marauding blue jays. It was far better suited to the photographer. Just at the side of the new site was the sawed-off stump of an old fir upon which we climbed and aimed the camera straight into the nest. There, instead of four, were only two small nestlings. They stretched their skinny necks and opened wide their yellow-lined mouths in unmistakable hunger.
The moment the mother returned and found us so dangerously near her brood she was scared almost out of her senses. She fell from the top of the tree in a fluttering fit. She caught quivering on the limb a foot from my hand. Involuntarily I reached to help her. Poor thing! She couldn't hold on, but slipped through the branches and clutched my shoe. I never saw such an exaggerated case of the chills, or heard such a pitiful high pitched note of pain. I stooped to see what ailed her. What, both wings broken and unable to hold with her claws! She wavered like an autumn leaf to the ground. I leaped down, but she had limped under a bush and suddenly got well. Of course, I knew she was tricking me.
The next day my heart was hardened against all her alluring ways and her crocodile tears. She played her best, but the minute she failed to win I got a furious berating. It was no begging note now. She perched over my head and called me every name in the warbler vocabulary. Then she saw that we were actually shoving that cyclopian monster right at her children. "Fly! Fly for your lives!" she screamed in desperation. Both the scanty-feathered, bobtailed youngsters jumped blindly out of the nest into the bushes below. The mother outdid all previous performances. She simply doubled and twisted in agonized death spasms. But, not to be fooled, I kept an eye on one nestling and soon replaced him in the nest where he belonged. Nature always hides such creatures by the simple wave of her wand. I've seen a flock of half a dozen grouse flutter up into a fir and disappear to my eyes as mysteriously as fog in the sunshine.
This fidgety bit of featherhood is called the black-throated gray warbler, but it's only the male that has a black throat. He is not the whole species. His wife wears a white cravat and she, to my thinking, is a deal more important in warbler affairs. Mr. Warbler seemed to be kept away from home the greater part of the day when the children were crying for food.
The first day I really met the gentleman face to face we were trying to get a photograph of the mother as she came home to feed. She had got quite used to the camera. We had it levelled point-blank at the nest, only a yard distant. A gray figure came flitting over the treetop and planted himself on the limb right beside his home. He carried a green cutworm in his mouth. No sooner had he squatted on his accustomed perch than he caught sight of the camera. With an astonished chirp he dropped his worm, turned a back somersault, and all I saw was a streak of gray curving up over the pointed firs. I doubt if he lit or felt any degree of safety till he reached the opposite bank of the river.
We met his lordship again the following day. The mother was doing her best to lure us from the nest by her cunning tricks, Every visit we had made she kept practising the same old game. Just as she was putting on a few extra touches of agony I saw a glint of gray. The father darted at the deceiving mother. I never saw such a case of wife-beating. Maybe she deserved it. I don't know whether he blamed her for my presence and interference, or whether he wanted all her time and attention devoted to the care of the children. She didn't practise deceit any more,
I could not tell one nestling from the other. As I sat watching the mother the questions often arose in my mind: Does she recognize one child from the other? Does she feed them in turn, or does she poke the food down the first open mouth she sees? Here is a good chance to experiment I thought. So with a good supply of 5 x 7 plates we watched and photographed from early in the morning till late in the afternoon for three days. At the end of that time we had eight pictures, or rather four pairs, each of which was taken in the same order as the mother fed her young.
The warblers foraged the firs for insects of all sizes and colors. The mother often brought in green cutworms, which she rolled through her bill as a housewife runs washing through a wringer, either to kill the creature or to be sure it was soft and billsome. This looked like a waste of time to me. The digestive organs of those bob-tailed bantlings seemed equal to almost any insect I had ever seen.
In the days I spent about the nest I never saw the time when both the bairns were not in a starving mood, regardless of the amount of dinner they had just swallowed. The flutter of wings seemed to touch the button that opened their mouths. At the slightest sound I've often seen disputes arise while the mother was away. "I'll take the next," said one. "I guess you'll not!" screamed the other. The mother paid no more attention to their quarrels and entreaties than to the ceaseless gurgle of the water. How could she? I don't believe she ever caught sight of her children when their mouths were not open. The fact that the mother fed them impartially appealed in no way to their sense of justice. The one that got the meal quivered his wings in ecstasy, while the other always protested at the top of his voice.
first pair of pictures in the series was taken while the young were
still in the nest. The mother fed the nearest nestling. Changing the
plate and adjusting the camera again I had to wait only three
minutes. The bairn at the edge of the nest surely had the advantage
of position, but what was position? For all his begging the nearest
got a knock on the ear that sent him bawling, while his brother
gulped down a fat spider.
Soon after one of the bantlings hopped out on the limb, and the gray mother rewarded him with a mouthful that fairly made his eyes bulge. on her return she did not forget the hungry, more timid fledgling in the nest.
Again I tried the experiment of having the mother light between her clamoring children. First the right one received a toothsome morsel, notwithstanding the impatient exclamations of the chick on the left. Soon after the hungry bairn on the left got a juicy bite, in spite of the loud appeals from the right.
"This way I'll fool the mother," I thought, as I perched both bantlings on a small limb where they could be fed only from the right. This looked good to the first little chick, for he seemed to reason that when he opened his mouth his mother could not resist his pleadings. He reasoned rightly the first time. On the second appearance of his mother position did not count for much; it was his brother's turn.
Later in the day I watched the gray warbler coax her two children from the fir into the thick protecting bushes below. With the keen sense of bird motherhood she led them on, and they followed out into the world of bird experience.
THE WOOD WARBLER FAMILY
This is one of the largest families of North American birds. The Warblers are five inches or less in length. They are all migratory; they live almost entirely on insects. The bill is narrow and, like the feet, delicately formed, The bird is often beautifully colored, quick and active, flitting incessantly among the leaves.
Yellow Warbler (Dendroica Šstiva), Summer Yellow-bird: Male, above, rich yellow, brightening on rump; breast and under parts golden yellow; breast streaked with brown. Female, less brightly colored. Our commonest warbler living throughout North America at large, arriving from the South in May and remaining till September. Nest, a small, well-rounded cup in the fork of a bush or tree. Eggs, four or five, grayish-white, spotted with lilac or red-brown.
Some of the other common warblers that may be found living throughout the eastern states are the Black and White Warbler, striped above with the colors for which it is named, and having a white breast. Blue-winged Warbler, with slatish-blue wings and white bars, forehead and under parts yellow, with dark stripe through eye. Nashville Warbler, yellow below, above, olive-green, brightening on rump and shoulders, slate-gray head and neck. Parula Warbler, above slate-blue, chin and throat yellow, wings brownish with two white bars, white belly with red-brown band across breast. Myrtle Warbler, slate color, striped and streaked with black; crown, sides of breast and rump yellow, white throat, upper breast black and whitish below, white bars on wings and white spots on tail. Chestnut-sided Warbler, throat and breast white with chestnut stripe extending down sides, top of head yellow, black stripe running through eye and black spot in front. Black-poll Warbler, black cap, upper parts striped with black, olive, and gray, breast white with black streaks, white spots on outer tail feathers. Blackburnian Warbler, crown black with orange patch, black wings and tail with white markings, throat brilliant yellow, rest of under parts pale yellowish. Black-throated Green Warbler, crown and back olive-yellow, sides of head clear yellow, throat and upper breast black and black stripe down sides, lower parts yellowish-white, wings and tail brownish with white wing-bars. American Redstart, upper parts blue-black, white belly, sides of body and lining of wings orange, tail feathers half orange and half black.
On the Pacific Coast the Black-throated Gray Warbler has the head, throat, and chest black except for white streaks on side of head and along throat; yellow dot in front of eye; breast and belly pure white; back gray streaked with black; wings with two white bars. Audubon Warbler is the western representative of the Myrtle Warbler and is marked similarly, except that the throat is yellow. Lutescent Warbler, upper parts dull olive-green, brighter on rump; under parts bright greenish yellow; crown with dull orange patch concealed by olive tips of feathers.