Here to return to
ALTHOUGH it is the 20th of September, the autumnal migration of birds, as seen in this neighborhood, is still very light. Robins are scattered throughout the woods in loose flocks — a state of things not to be witnessed in summer or winter; the birds rising singly from the ground as the walker disturbs them, sometimes all silent, at other times all cackling noisily. Chickadees, too, are in flocks, cheerful companies, good to meet in any weather; behaving just as they will continue to do until the nesting season again breaks the happy assembly up into happier pairs.
My wood pewee — a particular bird in a grove near by — whistled pretty constantly till the 17th, and a warbling vireo was still true to his name on the 19th. I have heard no yellow-throated vireos since the 6th, and conclude that they must have taken their departure. May joy go with them. This morning, for the first time in several weeks, a pine warbler was trilling. Song sparrows have grown numerous within a few days, but are almost entirely silent. One fellow sang his regular song — not his confused autumnal warble — on the 19th. I had not heard it before since the month opened.
No blackpoll warblers showed themselves with me till the 18th, though I had word of their presence elsewhere a few days earlier. On that day I saw three; yesterday and today have shown but one bird each. The movement is barely begun.
I should like to know how common it is for blackpolls to sing on their southward migration. Eleven years ago, in September, 1889, they came very early, — or I had the good fortune to see them very early, — and on the 4th and 5th of the month a few were “in full song,” so my notes record, “quite as long and full as in May.” I had never heard them sing before in autumn, nor have I ever had that pleasure since. Neither have I ever again seen them so early. Probably the two things — the song and the exceptional date — were somehow connected. At the time, I took the circumstance as an indication that the adult males migrate in advance of the great body of the species; and I fancied that, having detected them once thus early and thus musical, I should be likely to repeat the experience. If I am ever to do so, however, I must be about it. Eleven years is a large slice out of an adult man's remaining allowance.
On the 18th I found a single olive-backed thrush, silent, in company with a flock of robins, or in the same grove with them — a White Mountain bird, thrice welcome; and this morning a few white-throated sparrows appeared. The first one that I saw — the only one, in fact — was a young fellow, and as I caught sight of him facing me, with his clear white throat, and his breast prettily streaked, with a wash of color across it, I was half in doubt what to call him. While I was taking observations upon his plumage, trying to make him look like himself, he began to chip, as if to help me out, and a second one unseen fell to singing near by; a very feeble and imperfect rendering of the dear old tune, but well marked by the “Peabody” triplets. It was a true touch of autumn, a voice from the hills.
Shortly before this I had spent a long time in watching the actions of a Lincoln finch. He was feeding upon Roman wormwood seeds by the roadside, in company with two or three chipping sparrows; very meek and quiet in his demeanor, and happily not disposed to resent my inquisitiveness, which I took pains to render as little offensive as possible. I had not seen the like of him since May, and have seen so few of his race at any time that every new one still makes for me an hour of agreeable excitement.
In the same neighborhood an indigo-bird surprised me with a song. He was as badly out of voice as the white-throat, but his spirit was good, and he sang several times over. One would never have expected music from him, to look at his plumage. The indigo color was largely moulted away — only the rags of it left. It was really pitiful to see him; so handsome a coat, now nothing but shreds and patches. Most likely he was not a traveler from farther north, but a lingering summer resident of our own, as I remember to have seen three birds of his name in the same spot fifteen days ago. It would be interesting to know whether bright creatures of this kind do not feel humiliated and generally unhappy when they find their beauty dropping away from them, like leaves from the branch, as the summer wanes.
The best bird of the month, so far, — better even than the Lincoln finch, — was a Philadelphia vireo, happened upon all unexpectedly on the 17th. I had stopped, as I always do in passing, to look down into a certain dense thicket of shrubbery, through which a brook runs, a favorite resort for birds of many kinds. At first the place seemed to be empty, but in answer to some curiosity-provoking noises on my part a water thrush started up to balance himself on a branch directly under my nose, and the next moment a vireo hopped into full sight just beyond him; a vireo with plain back and wings, with no dark lines bordering the crown, and having the under parts of a bright yellow. He was most obliging; indeed, he could hardly have been more so, unless he had sung for me, and that was something not fairly to be expected. For a good while he kept silence. Then, in response to a jay's scream, he began snarling, or complaining, after the family manner. I enjoyed the sight of him as long as I could stay (he was the second one I had ever seen with anything like certainty), and when I returned, an hour later, he was still there, and still willing to be looked at.
And then, to heighten my pleasure, a rose-breasted grosbeak, invisible, but not far away, broke into a strain of most entrancing music; with no more than half his spring voice, to be sure, but with all his May sweetness of tone and inflection. Again and again he sang, as if he were too happy to stop. I had heard nothing of the kind for weeks, and shall probably hear nothing more for months. It was singing to be remembered, like Sembrich's “Casta Diva,” or Nilsson's “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
Scarlet tanagers are still heard and seen occasionally, — one was calling to-day, — but none of them in tune, or wearing so much as a single scarlet feather. Here and there, too, as we wander about the woods, we meet — once in two or three days, perhaps — a lonesome-acting, silent red-eyed vireo. A great contrast there is between such solitary lingerers and the groups of gossiping chickadees that one falls in with in the same places; so merry-hearted, so bubbling over with high spirits, so ready to be neighborly. When I whistle to them, and they whistle back, I feel myself befriended.