HotFreeBooks.com
Birds of the Rockies
by Leander Sylvester Keyser
1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Transcriber's note:

Text enclosed between equal signs was in bold face in the original (bold face).



BIRDS OF THE ROCKIES

by

LEANDER S. KEYSER

Author of "In Bird Land," Etc.

With Eight Full-page Plates (four in color) by LOUIS AGASSIZ FUERTES; Many Illustrations in the Text by BRUCE HORSFALL, and Eight Views of Localities from Photographs

With a Complete Check-List of Colorado Birds



Chicago . A. C. McClurg and Co. Nineteen Hundred and Two

Copyright A. C. McClurg & Co. 1902

Published September 27, 1902



TO KATHERINE AND THE BOYS

IN MEMORY OF MANY HAPPY DAYS BOTH INDOORS AND OUT



CONTENTS PAGE

UP AND DOWN THE HEIGHTS 19

INTRODUCTION TO SOME SPECIES 31

BALD PEAKS AND GREEN VALES 47

BIRDS OF THE ARID PLAIN 83

A PRETTY HUMMER 103

OVER THE DIVIDE AND BACK 117

A ROCKY MOUNTAIN LAKE 139

A BIRD MISCELLANY 149

PLAINS AND FOOTHILLS 177

RAMBLES ABOUT GEORGETOWN 197

HO! FOR GRAY'S PEAK! 223

PLEASANT OUTINGS 259

A NOTABLE QUARTETTE 285

CHECK-LIST OF COLORADO BIRDS 307

INDEX 349



ILLUSTRATIONS

FULL-PAGE PLATES

PLATE FACING PAGE

I. WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER—Sphyrapicus thyroideus Frontispiece

II. GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE—Pipilo chlorurus; SPURRED TOWHEE—Pipilo megalonyx 47

III. LAZULI BUNTING—Cyanospiza amoena 83

IV. LARK BUNTING—Calamospiza melanocorys 139

V. LOUISIANA TANAGER—Pyranga ludoviciana 177

VI. TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE—Myiadestes townsendii 223

VII. RUDDY DUCK—Erismatura rubida 259

VIII. BROWN-CAPPED LEUCOSTICTE—Leucosticte australis 303

SCENIC AND TEXT ILLUSTRATIONS PAGE

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS ("Their grass-lined nests by the babbling mountain brook") 21

TURTLE DOVES ("Darting across the turbulent stream") 44

PIPITS ("Te-cheer! te-cheer!") 50

PIPITS ("Up over the Bottomless Pit") 51

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW ("Dear Whittier") 55

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET ("The singer elevated his crest feathers") 65

DESERT HORNED LARKS ("They were plentiful in this parched region") 84

HORNED LARK ("It was a dear little thing") 88

COYOTE ("Looking back to see whether he were being pursued") 100

ONE OF THE SEVEN LAKES 105

SUMMIT OF PIKE'S PEAK 111

"PIKE'S PEAK IN CLOUDLAND" 114

CLIFF-SWALLOWS ("On the rugged face of a cliff") 118

ROYAL GORGE 123

PINE SISKINS 128

WILLOW THRUSH 136

BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS ("An interesting place for bird study") 139

YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS ("There the youngsters perched") 142

"FROM THEIR PLACE AMONG THE REEDS" 146

THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN JAY ("Seeking a covert in the dense pineries when a storm sweeps down from the mountains") 152

RAINBOW FALLS 165

WATER-OUSEL ("Up, up, only a few inches from the dashing current") 167

WATER-OUSEL ("Three hungry mouths which were opened wide to receive the food") 171

"NO SNOWSTORM CAN DISCOURAGE HIM" 174

"THE DARK DOORWAY" 179

SONG SPARROW ("His songs are bubbling over still with melody and glee") 194

CLEAR CREEK VALLEY 201

WESTERN ROBIN ("Out-pouring joy") 207

RED-NAPED SAPSUCKERS ("Chiselling grubs out of the bark") 211

PIGEON HAWK ("Watching for quarry") 214

"SOLO SINGING IN THE THRUSH REALM" 218

GRAY'S AND TORREY'S PEAKS 245

PANORAMA FROM GRAY'S PEAK—NORTHWEST 249

THISTLE BUTTERFLY 252

WESTERN WHITE 252

JUNCO ("Under a roof of green grass") 255

SOUTH PARK FROM KENOSHA HILL 265

MAGPIE AND WESTERN ROBINS ("They were hot on his trail") 271

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW ("Squatted on the dusty road and took a sun-bath") 279

"'What bird is that? Its song is good,' And eager eyes Go peering through the dusky wood In glad surprise; Then late at night when by his fire The traveller sits, Watching the flame grow brighter, higher, The sweet song flits By snatches through his weary brain To help him rest."

HELEN HUNT JACKSON: The Way to Sing.



BRIEF FOREWORD

With sincere pleasure the author would acknowledge the uniform courtesy of editors and publishers in permitting him to reprint many of the articles comprised in this volume, from the various periodicals in which they first appeared.

He also desires to express his special indebtedness to Mr. Charles E. Aiken, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose contributions to the ornithology of the West have been of great scientific value, and to whose large and varied collection of bird-skins the author had frequent access for the purpose of settling difficult points in bird identification. This obliging gentleman also spent many hours in conversation with the writer, answering his numerous questions with the intelligence of the scientifically trained observer. Lastly, he kindly corrected some errors into which the author had inadvertently fallen.

While the area covered by the writer's personal observations may be somewhat restricted, yet the scientific bird-list at the close of the volume widens the field so as to include the entire avi-fauna of Colorado so far as known to systematic students. Besides, constant comparison has been made between the birds of the West and the allied species and genera of our Central and Eastern States. For this reason the range of the volume really extends from the Atlantic seaboard to the parks, valleys, and plateaus beyond the Continental Divide.

L. S. K.

All are needed by each one; Nothing is fair or good alone. I thought the sparrow's note from heaven, Singing at dawn on the alder bough; I brought him home, in his nest, at even; He sings the song, but it cheers not now, For I did not bring home the river and sky;— He sang to my ear,—they sang to my eye.

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: Each and All.

Not from his fellows only man may learn Rights to compare and duties to discern; All creatures and all objects, in degree, Are friends and patrons of humanity. There are to whom the garden, grove, and field Perpetual lessons of forbearance yield; Who would not lightly violate the grace The lowliest flower possesses in its place; Nor shorten the sweet life, too fugitive, Which nothing less than infinite Power could give.

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH: Humanity.

Sounds drop in visiting from everywhere— The bluebird's and the robin's trill are there, Their sweet liquidity diluted some By dewy orchard spaces they have come.

JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY: A Child World.

Even in the city, I Am ever conscious of the sky; A portion of its frame no less Than in the open wilderness. The stars are in my heart by night, I sing beneath the opening light, As envious of the bird; I live Upon the payment, yet I give My soul to every growing tree That in the narrow ways I see. My heart is in the blade of grass Within the courtyard where I pass; And the small, half-discovered cloud Compels me till I cry aloud. I am the wind that beats the walls And wander trembling till it falls; The snow, the summer rain am I, In close communion with the sky.

PHILIP HENRY SAVAGE.



BIRDS OF THE ROCKIES



UP AND DOWN THE HEIGHTS

To study the birds from the level plains to the crests of the peaks swimming in cloudland; to note the species that are peculiar to the various altitudes, as well as those that range from the lower areas to the alpine heights; to observe the behavior of all the birds encountered in the West, and compare their habits, songs, and general deportment with those of correlated species and genera in the East; to learn as much as possible about the migratory movements up and down the mountains as the seasons wax and wane,—surely that would be an inspiring prospect to any student of the feathered fraternity. For many years one of the writer's most cherished desires has been to investigate the bird life of the Rocky Mountains. In the spring of 1899, and again in 1901, fortune smiled upon him in the most genial way, and—in a mental state akin to rapture, it must be confessed—he found himself rambling over the plains and mesas and through the deep canyons, and clambering up the dizzy heights, in search of winged rarities.

In this chapter attention will be called to a few general facts relative to bird life in the Rockies, leaving the details for subsequent recital. As might be expected, the towering elevations influence the movements of the feathered tenants of the district. There is here what might be called a vertical migration, aside from the usual pilgrimages north and south which are known to the more level portions of North America. The migratory journeys up and down the mountains occur with a regularity that amounts to a system; yet so far as regards these movements each species must be studied for itself, each having manners that are all its own.

In regions of a comparatively low altitude many birds, as is well known, hie to the far North to find the proper climatic conditions in which to rear their broods and spend their summer vacation, some of them going to the subarctic provinces and others beyond. How different among the sublime heights of the Rockies! Here they are required to make a journey of only a few miles, say from five to one hundred or slightly more, according to the locality selected, up the defiles and canyons or over the ridges, to find the conditions as to temperature, food, nesting sites, etc., that are precisely to their taste. The wind blowing down to their haunts from the snowy summits carries on its wings the same keenness and invigoration that they would find if they went to British America, where the breezes would descend from the regions of snow and ice beyond the Arctic Circle.



It will add a little spice of detail if we take a concrete case. There is the handsome and lyrical white-crowned sparrow; in my native State, Ohio, this bird is only a migrant, passing for the summer far up into Canada to court his mate and rear his family. Now remember that Colorado is in the same latitude as Ohio; but the Buckeye State, famous as it is for furnishing presidents, has no lofty elevations, and therefore no white-crowns as summer residents. However, Colorado may claim this distinction, as well as that of producing gold and silver, and furnishing some of the sublimest scenery on the earth; for on the side of Pike's Peak, in a green, well-watered valley just below timber-line, I was almost thrown into transports at finding the white-crowns, listening to their rhythmic choruses, and discovering their grass-lined nests by the side of the babbling mountain brook. Altitude accomplishes for these birds what latitude does for their brothers and sisters of eastern North America.

There is almost endless variety in the avi-faunal life of the Rockies. Some species breed far above timber-line in the thickets that invade the open valleys, or clamber far up the steep mountain sides. Others ascend still higher, building their nests on the bald summits of the loftiest peaks at an altitude of fourteen thousand feet and more, living all summer long in an atmosphere that is as rare as it is refreshing and pure. Among these alpine dwellers may be mentioned the brown-capped leucostictes, which shall be accorded the attention they deserve in another chapter. Then, there are species which have representatives both on the plains and far up in the mountain parks and valleys, such as the western robin, the western meadow-lark, and the mountain bluebird.

In this wonderful country there is to be observed every style of migratory habit. A twofold migrating current must be noticed. While there is a movement up and down the mountain heights, there is at the same time a movement north and south, making the migratory system a perfect network of lines of travel. Some species summer in the mountains and winter on the plains; others summer in the mountains pass down to the plains in the autumn, then wing their way farther south into New Mexico, Mexico, Central America, and even South America, where they spend the winter, reversing this order on their return to the north in the spring; others simply pass through this region in their vernal and autumnal pilgrimages, stopping for a short time, but spending neither the summer nor the winter in this latitude; still others come down from the remote north on the approach of autumn, and winter in this State, either on the plains or in the sheltering ravines and forests of the mountains, and then return to the north in the spring; and, lastly, there are species that remain here all the year round, some of them in the mountains, others on the plains, and others again in both localities. A number of hardy birds—genuine feathered Norsemen—brave the arctic winters of the upper mountain regions, fairly revelling in the swirling snow-storms, and it must be a terrific gale indeed that will drive them down from their favorite habitats toward the plains.

Does the avi-fauna of the Rocky Mountain district differ widely from that of the Eastern States? The reply must be made in the affirmative. Therefore the first work of the bird-student from the East will be that of a tyro—the identification of species. For this purpose he must have frequent recourse to the useful manuals of Coues and Ridgway, and to the invaluable brochure of Professor Wells W. Cooke on the "Birds of Colorado." In passing, it may be said that the last-named gentleman might almost be called the Colorado Audubon or Wilson.

In studying the birds of the West, one should note that there are western subspecies and varieties, which differ in some respects, though not materially, from their eastern cousins; for instance, the western robin, the western chipping sparrow, the western lark sparrow, and the western nighthawk. Besides, intermediate forms are to be met with and classified, the eastern types shading off in a very interesting process into the western. It would be impossible for any one but a systematist with the birds in hand to determine where the intermediate forms become either typical easterners or typical westerners.

Most interesting of all to the rambler on avian lore intent is the fact that there are many species and genera that are peculiar to the West, and therefore new to him, keeping him constantly on the qui vive. In Colorado you will look in vain for the common blue jay, so abundant in all parts of the East; but you will be more than compensated by the presence of seven other species of the jay household. The woodpeckers of the West (with one exception) are different from those of the East, and so are the flycatchers, the grosbeaks, the orioles, the tanagers, the humming-birds, and many of the sparrows. Instead of the purple and bronzed grackles (the latter are sometimes seen on the plains of Colorado, but are not common), the Rockies boast of Brewer's blackbird, whose habits are not as prosaic as his name would indicate. "Jim Crow" shuns the mountains for reasons satisfactory to himself; not so the magpie, the raven, and that mischief-maker, Clark's nutcracker. All of which keeps the bird-lover from the East in an ecstasy of surprises until he has become accustomed to his changed environment.

One cannot help falling into the speculative mood in view of the sharp contrasts between the birds of the East and those of the West. Why does the hardy and almost ubiquitous blue jay studiously avoid the western plains and mountains? Why do not the magpie and the long-crested jay come east? What is there that prevents the indigo-bird from taking up residence in Colorado, where his pretty western cousin, the lazuli finch, finds himself so much at home? Why is the yellow-shafted flicker of the East replaced in the West by the red-shafted flicker? These questions are more easily asked than answered. From the writer's present home in eastern Kansas it is only six hundred miles to the foot of the Rockies; yet the avi-fauna of eastern Kansas is much more like that of the Eastern and New England States than that of the Colorado region.

Perhaps the reason is largely, if not chiefly, physiological. Evidently there are birds that flourish best in a rare, dry atmosphere, while others naturally thrive in an atmosphere that is denser and more humid. The same is true of people. Many persons find the climate of Colorado especially adapted to their needs; indeed, to certain classes of invalids it is a veritable sanitarium. Others soon learn that it is detrimental to their health. Mayhap the same laws obtain in the bird realm.

The altitude of my home is eight hundred and eighty feet above sea-level; that of Denver, Colorado, six thousand one hundred and sixty, making a difference of over five thousand feet, which may account for the absence of many eastern avian forms in the more elevated districts. Some day the dissector of birds may find a real difference in the physiological structure of the eastern and western meadow-larks. If so, it is to be hoped he will at once publish his discoveries for the satisfaction of all lovers of birds.

If one had time and opportunity, some intensely interesting experiments might be tried. Suppose an eastern blue jay should be carried to the top of Pike's Peak, or Gray's, and then set free, how would he fare? Would the muscles and tendons of his wings have sufficient strength to bear him up in the rarefied atmosphere? One may easily imagine that he would go wabbling helplessly over the granite boulders, unable to lift himself more than a few feet in the air, while the pipit and the leucosticte, inured to the heights, would mount up to the sky and shout "Ha! ha!" in good-natured raillery at the blue tenderfoot. And would the feathered visitor feel a constriction in his chest and be compelled to gasp for breath, as the human tourists invariably do? It is even doubtful whether any eastern bird would be able to survive the changed meteorological conditions, Nature having designed him for a different environment.



INTRODUCTION TO SOME SPECIES

It was night when I found lodgings in the picturesque village of Manitou, nestling at the foot of the lower mountains that form the portico to Pike's Peak. Early the next morning I was out for a stroll along the bush-fringed mountain brook which had babbled me a serenade all night. To my delight, the place was rife with birds, the first to greet me being robins, catbirds, summer warblers, and warbling vireos, all of which, being well known in the East, need no description, but are mentioned here only to show the reader that some avian species are common to both the East and the West.

But let me pause to pay a little tribute to the brave robin redbreast. Of course, here he is called the "western robin." His distribution is an interesting scientific fact. I found him everywhere—on the arid plains and mesas, in the solemn pines of the deep gulches and passes, and among the scraggy trees bordering on timber-line, over ten thousand feet above sea-level. In Colorado the robins are designated as "western," forms by the system-makers, but, even though called by a modified title, they deport themselves, build their nests, and sing their "cheerily, cheerily, cheer up," just as do their brothers and sisters of the land toward the rising sun. If there is any difference, their songs are not so loud and ringing, and their breasts not quite so ruddy as are those of the eastern types. Perhaps the incessant sunshine of Colorado bleaches out the tints somewhat.

But in my ante-breakfast stroll at Manitou I soon stumbled upon feathered strangers. What was this little square-shouldered bird that kept uttering a shrill scream, which he seemed to mistake for a song? It was the western wood-pewee. Instead of piping the sweet, pensive "Pe-e-e-o-we-e-e-e" of the woodland bird of the Eastern States, this western swain persists in ringing the changes hour by hour upon that piercing scream, which sounds more like a cry of anguish than a song. At Buena Vista, where these birds are superabundant, their morning concerts were positively painful. One thing must be said, however, in defence of the western wood-pewee—he means well.

Another acquaintance of my morning saunter was the debonair Arkansas goldfinch, which has received its bunglesome name, not from the State of Arkansas, but from the Arkansas River, dashing down from the mountains and flowing eastwardly through the southern part of Colorado. Most nattily this little bird wears his black cap, his olive-green frock, and his bright yellow vest. You will see at once that he dresses differently from the American goldfinch, so well known in the East, and, for that matter, just as well known on the plains of Colorado, where both species dwell in harmony. There are some white markings on the wings of Spinus psaltria that give them a gauze-like appearance when they are rapidly fluttered.

His song and some of his calls bear a close resemblance to those of the common goldfinch, but he is by no means a mere duplicate of that bird; he has an individuality of his own. While his flight is undulatory, the waviness is not so deeply and distinctly marked; nor does he sing a cheery cradle-song while swinging through the ether, although he often utters a series of unmusical chirps. One of the most pleasingly pensive sounds heard in my western rambles was the little coaxing call of this bird, whistled mostly by the female, I think. No doubt it is the tender love talk of a young wife or mother, which may account for its surpassing sweetness.

Every lover of feathered kind is interested in what may be called comparative ornithology, and therefore I wish to speak of another western form and its eastern prototype—Bullock's oriole, which in Colorado takes the place of the Baltimore oriole known east of the plains all the way to the Atlantic coast. However, Bullock's is not merely a variety or subspecies, but a well-defined species of the oriole family, his scientific title being Icterus bullocki.

Like our familiar Lord Baltimore, he bravely bears black and orange; but in bullocki the latter color invades the sides of the neck, head, and forehead, leaving only a small black bow for the throat and a narrow black stripe running back over the crown and down the back of the neck; whereas in Icterus galbula the entire head and neck are black. Brilliant as Bullock's oriole is, he does not seem to be anxious to display his fineries, for he usually makes it a point to keep himself ensconced behind a clump of foliage, so that, while you may hear a desultory piping in the trees, apparently inviting your confidence, it will be a long time before you can get more than a provoking glimpse of the jolly piper himself. "My gorgeous apparel was not made for parade," seems to be his modest disclaimer.

He is quite a vocalist. Here is a quotation from my lead-pencil, dashes and all: "Bullock's oriole—fine singer—voice stronger than orchard oriole's—song not quite so well articulated or so elaborate, but louder and more resonant—better singer than the Baltimore." It might be added that Bullock's, like the orchard, but unlike the Baltimore, pipes a real tune, with something of a theme running through its intermittent outbursts. The plumage of the young bird undergoes some curious changes, and what I took to be the year-old males seemed to be the most spirited musicians.

Maurice Thompson's tribute to the Baltimore oriole will apply to that bird's western kinsman. He calls him:—

"Athlete of the air— Of fire and song a glowing core;"

and then adds, with tropical fervor:

"A hot flambeau on either wing Rimples as you pass me by; 'T is seeing flame to hear you sing, 'T is hearing song to see you fly.

* * * * *

"When flowery hints foresay the berry, On spray of haw and tuft of brier, Then, wandering incendiary, You set the maple swamps afire!"

Many nests of Bullock's oriole rewarded my slight search. They are larger and less compactly woven than the Baltimore's, and have a woolly appearance exteriorly, as if the down of the Cottonwood trees had been wrought into the fabric. Out on the plains I counted four dangling nests, old and new, on one small limb; but that, of course, was unusual, there being only one small clump of trees within a radius of many miles.

In the vicinity of Manitou many trips were taken by the zealous pedestrian. Some of the dry, steep sides of the first range of mountains were hard climbing, but it was necessary to make the effort in order to discover their avian resources. One of the first birds met with on these unpromising acclivities was the spurred towhee of the Rockies. In his attire he closely resembles the towhee, or "chewink," of the East, but has as an extra ornament a beautiful sprinkling of white on his back and wings, which makes him look as if he had thrown a gauzy mantle of silver over his shoulders.

But his song is different from our eastern towhee's. My notes say that it is "a cross between the song of the chewink and that of dickcissel," and I shall stand by that assertion until I find good reason to disown it—should that time ever come. The opening syllabication is like dickcissel's; then follows a trill of no specially definable character. There are times when he sings with more than his wonted force, and it is then that his tune bears the strongest likeness to the eastern towhee's. But his alarm-call! It is no "chewink" at all, but almost as close a reproduction of a cat's mew as is the catbird's well-known call. Such crosses and anomalies does this country produce!

On the arid mountain sides among the stunted bushes, cactus plants, sand, and rocks, this quaint bird makes his home, coming down into the valleys to drink at the tinkling brooks and trill his roundelays. Many, many times, as I was following a deep fissure in the mountains, his ditty came dripping down to me from some spot far up the steep mountain side—a little cascade of song mingling with the cascades of the brooks. The nests are usually placed under a bush on the sides of the mesas and mountains.

And would you believe it? Colorado furnishes another towhee, though why he should have been put into the Pipilo group by the ornithologists is more than I can tell at this moment. He has no analogue in the East. True, he is a bird of the bushes, running sometimes like a little deer from one clump to another; but if you should see him mount a boulder or a bush, and hear him sing his rich, theme-like, finely modulated song, you would aver that he is closer kin to the thrushes or thrashers than to the towhees. There is not the remotest suggestion of the towhee minstrelsy in his prolonged and well-articulated melody. It would be difficult to find a finer lyrist among the mountains.

But, hold! I have neglected to introduce this pretty Mozart of the West. He is known by an offensive and inapt title—the green-tailed towhee. Much more appropriately might he be called the chestnut-crowned towhee, for his cope is rich chestnut, and the crest is often held erect, making him look quite cavalier-like. It is the most conspicuous part of his toilet. His upper parts are grayish-green, becoming slightly deeper green on the tail, from which fact he derives his common name. His white throat and chin are a further diagnostic mark. The bright yellow of the edge of the wings, under coverts and axillaries is seldom seen, on account of the extreme wariness of the bird.

In most of the dry and bushy places I found him at my elbow—or, rather, some distance away, but in evidence by his mellifluous song. Let me enumerate the localities in which I found my little favorite: Forty miles out on the plain among some bushes of a shallow dip; among the foothills about Colorado Springs and Manitou; on many of the open bushy slopes along the cog-road leading to Pike's Peak, but never in the dark ravines or thick timber; among the bushes just below timber-line on the southern acclivity of the peak; everywhere around the village of Buena Vista; about four miles below Leadville; and, lastly, beyond the range at Red Cliff and Glenwood.[1]

[1] This list was greatly enlarged in my second trip to Colorado in 1901.

The song, besides its melodious quality, is full of expression. In this respect it excels the liquid chansons of the mountain hermit thrush, which is justly celebrated as a minstrel, but which does not rehearse a well-defined theme. The towhee's song is sprightly and cheerful, wild and free, has the swing of all outdoors, and is not pitched to a minor key. It gives you the impression that a bird which sings so blithesome a strain must surely be happy in his domestic relations.

Among the Rockies the black-headed grosbeak is much in evidence, and so is his cheerful, good-tempered song, which is an exact counterpart of the song of the rose-breasted grosbeak, his eastern kinsman. Neither the rose-breast nor the cardinal is to be found in Colorado, but they are replaced by the black-headed and blue grosbeaks, the former dwelling among the lower mountains, the latter occurring along the streams of the plains. Master black-head and his mate are partial to the scrub oaks for nesting sites. I found one nest with four callow bantlings in it, but, much to my grief and anger, at my next call it had been robbed of its precious treasures. A few days later, not far from the same place, a female was building a nest, and I am disposed to believe that she was the mother whose children had been kidnapped.

Instead of the scarlet and summer tanagers, the Rocky Mountain region is honored with that beautiful feathered gentleman, the Louisiana tanager, most of whose plumage is rich, glossy yellow, relieved by black on the wings, back, and tail; while his most conspicuous decoration is the scarlet or crimson tinting of his head and throat, shading off into the yellow of the breast. These colors form a picturesque combination, especially if set against a background of green. The crimson staining gives him the appearance of having washed his face in some bright-red pigment, and like an awkward child, blotched his bosom with it in the absence of a napkin.

So far as I could analyze it, there is no appreciable difference between his lyrical performances and those of the scarlet tanager, both being a kind of lazy, drawling song, that is slightly better than no bird music at all. One nest was found without difficulty. It was placed on one of the lower branches of a pine tree by the roadside at the entrance to Engleman's Canyon. As a rule, the males are not excessively shy, as so many of the Rocky Mountain birds are. The tanagers were seen far up in the mountains, as well as among the foothills, and also at Red Cliff and Glenwood on the western side of the Divide.

A unique character in feathers, one that is peculiar to the West, is the magpie, who would attract notice wherever he should deign to live, being a sort of grand sachem of the outdoor aviary. In some respects the magpies are striking birds. In flight they present a peculiar appearance; in fact, they closely resemble boys' kites with their long, slender tails trailing in the breeze. I could not avoid the impression that their tails were superfluous appendages, but no doubt they serve the birds a useful purpose as rudders and balancing-poles. The magpie presents a handsome picture as he swings through the air, the iridescent black gleaming in the sun, beautifully set off with snowy-white trimmings on both the upper and lower surfaces of the wings. On the perch or on the wing he is an ornament to any landscape. As to his voice—well, he is a genuine squawker. There is not, so far as I have observed, a musical cord in his larynx,[2] and I am sure he does not profess to be a musical genius, so that my criticism will do him no injury. All the use he has for his voice seems to be to call his fellows to a new-found banquet, or give warning of the approach of an interloper upon his chosen preserves. His cry, if you climb up to his nest, is quite pitiful, proving that he has real love for his offspring. Perhaps the magpies have won their chief distinction as architects. Their nests are really remarkable structures, sometimes as large as fair-sized tubs, the framework composed of good-sized sticks, skilfully plaited together, and the cup lined with grass and other soft material, making a cosey nursery for the infantile magpies. Then the nest proper is roofed over, and has an entrance to the apartment on either side. When you examine the structure closely, you find that it fairly bristles with dry twigs and sticks, and it is surprising how large some of the branches are that are braided into the domicile. All but one of the many nests I found were deserted, for my visit was made in June, and the birds, as a rule, breed earlier than that month. Some were placed in bushes, some in willow and cottonwood trees, and others in pines; and the birds themselves were almost ubiquitous, being found on the plains, among the foothills, and up in the mountains as far as the timber-line, not only close to human neighborhoods, but also in the most inaccessible solitudes.

[2] In this volume the author has made use of the terminology usually employed in describing bird music. Hence such words as "song," "chant," "vocal cords," etc., are of frequent occurrence. In reality the writer's personal view is that the birds are whistlers, pipers, fluters, and not vocalists, none of the sounds they produce being real voice tones. The reader who may desire to go into this matter somewhat technically is referred to Maurice Thompson's chapter entitled "The Anatomy of Bird-Song" in his "Sylvan Secrets," and the author's article, "Are Birds Singers or Whistlers?" in "Our Animal Friends" for June, 1901.

In one of my excursions along a stream below Colorado Springs, one nest was found that was still occupied by the brooding bird. It was a bulky affair, perhaps half as large as a bushel basket, placed in the crotch of a tree about thirty feet from the ground. Within this commodious structure was a globular apartment which constituted the nest proper. Thus it was roofed over, and had an entrance at each side, so that the bird could go into his house at one doorway and out at the other, the room being too small to permit of his turning around in it. Thinking the nest might be occupied, in a tentative way I tossed a small club up among the branches, when to my surprise a magpie sprang out of the nest, and, making no outcry, swung around among the trees, appearing quite nervous and shy. When she saw me climbing the tree, she set up such a heart-broken series of cries that I permitted sentiment to get the better of me, and clambered down as fast as I could, rather than prolong her distress. Since then I have greatly regretted my failure to climb up to the nest and examine its contents, which might have been done without the least injury to the owner's valuable treasures. A nestful of magpie's eggs or bairns would have been a gratifying sight to my bird-hungry eyes.

One bird which is familiar in the East as well as the West deserves attention on account of its choice of haunts. I refer to the turtle dove, which is much hardier than its mild and innocent looks would seem to indicate. It may be remarked, in passing, that very few birds are found in the deep canyons and gorges leading up to the higher localities; but the doves seem to constitute the one exception to the rule; for I saw them in some of the gloomiest defiles through which the train scurried in crossing the mountains. For instance, in the canyon of the Arkansas River many of them were seen from the car window, a pair just beyond the Royal Gorge darting across the turbulent stream to the other side. A number were also noticed in the darkest portions of the canyon of the Grand River, where one would think not a living creature could coax subsistence from the bare rocks and beetling cliffs. Turtle doves are so plentiful in the West that their distribution over every available feeding ground seems to be a matter of social and economic necessity.



BALD PEAKS AND GREEN VALES



One of my chief objects in visiting the Rockies was to ascend Pike's Peak from Manitou, and make observations on the birds from the base to the summit. A walk one afternoon up to the Halfway House and back—the Halfway House is only about one-third of the way to the top—convinced me that to climb the entire distance on foot would be a useless expenditure of time and effort. An idea struck me: Why not ride up on the cog-wheel train, and then walk down, going around by some of the valleys and taking all the time needed for observations on the avi-faunal tenantry? That was the plan pursued, and an excellent one it proved.

When the puffing cog-wheel train landed me on the summit, I was fresh and vigorous, and therefore in excellent condition physically and mentally to enjoy the scenery and also to ride my hobby at will over the realm of cloudland. The summit is a bald area of several acres, strewn with immense fragments of granite, with not a spear of grass visible. One of the signal-station men asked a friend who had just come up from the plain, "Is there anything green down below? I'd give almost anything to see a green patch of some kind." There was a yearning strain in his tones that really struck me as pathetic. Here were visitors revelling in the magnificence of the panorama, their pulses tingling and their feelings in many cases too exalted for expression; but those whose business or duty it was to remain on the summit day after day soon found life growing monotonous, and longed to set their eyes on some patch of verdure. To the visitors, however, who were in hale physical condition, the panorama of snow-clad ranges and isolated peaks was almost overwhelming. In the gorges and sheltered depressions of the old mountain's sides large fields of snow still gleamed in the sun and imparted to the air a frosty crispness.

When the crowd of tourists, after posing for their photographs, had departed on the descending car, I walked out over the summit to see what birds, if any, had selected an altitude of fourteen thousand one hundred and forty-seven feet above sea-level for their summer home. Below me, to the east, stretched the gray plains running off to the skyline, while the foothills and lower mountains, which had previously appeared so high and rugged and difficult of access, now seemed like ant-hills crouching at the foot of the giant on whose crown I stood. Off to the southwest, the west, and the northwest, the snowy ranges towered, iridescent in the sunlight. In contemplating this vast, overawing scene, I almost forgot my natural history, and wanted to feast my eyes for hours on its ever-changing beauty; but presently I was brought back to a consciousness of my special vocation by a sharp chirp. Was it a bird, or only one of those playful little chipmunks that abound in the Rockies? Directly there sounded out on the serene air another ringing chirp, this time overhead, and, to my delight and surprise, a little bird swung over the summit, then out over the edge of the cliff, and plunged down into the fearsome abyss of the "Bottomless Pit." Other birds of the same species soon followed his example, making it evident that this was not a birdless region. Unable to identify the winged aeronauts, I clambered about over the rocks of the summit for a while, then slowly made my way down the southern declivity of the mountain for a short distance. Again my ear was greeted with that loud, ringing chirp, and now the bird uttering it obligingly alighted on a stone not too far away to be seen distinctly through my binocular. Who was the little waif that had chosen this sky-invading summit for its summer habitat? At first I mistook it for a horned lark, and felt so sure my decision was correct that I did not look at the bird as searchingly as I should have done, thereby learning a valuable lesson in thoroughness. The error was corrected by my friend, Mr. Charles E. Aiken, of Colorado Springs, who has been of not a little service in determining and classifying the avian fauna of Colorado. My new-found friend (the feathered one, I mean) was the American pipit, which some years ago was known as the tit-lark.



"Te-cheer! te-cheer! te-cheer!" (accent strong on the second syllable) the birds exclaimed in half-petulant remonstrance at my intrusion as I hobbled about over the rocks. Presently one of them darted up into the air; up, up, up, he swung in a series of oblique leaps and circles, this way and that, until he became a mere speck in the sky, and then disappeared from sight in the cerulean depths beyond. All the while I could hear his emphatic and rapidly repeated call, "Te-cheer! te-cheer!" sifting down out of the blue canopy. How long he remained aloft in "his watch-tower in the skies" I do not know, for one cannot well count minutes in such exciting circumstances, but it seemed a long time. By and by the call appeared to be coming nearer, and the little aeronaut swept down with a swiftness that made my blood tingle, and alighted on a rock as lightly as a snowflake. Afterwards a number of other pipits performed the same aerial exploit. It was wonderful to see them rise several hundred feet into the rarefied atmosphere over an abyss so deep that it has been named the "Bottomless Pit."



The pipits frequently flitted from rock to rock, teetering their slender bodies like sandpipers, and chirping their disapproval of my presence. They furnished some evidence of having begun the work of nest construction, although no nests were found, as it was doubtless still too early in the season. In some respects the pipits are extremely interesting, for, while many of them breed in remote northern latitudes, others select the loftiest summits of the Rockies for summer homes, where they rear their broods and scour the alpine heights in search of food. The following interesting facts relative to them in this alpine country are gleaned from Professor Cooke's pamphlet on "The Birds of Colorado":

In migration they are common throughout the State, but breed only on the loftiest mountains. They arrive on the plains from the South about the last of April, tarry for nearly a month, then hie to the upper mountain parks, stopping there to spend the month of May. By the first of June they have ascended above timber-line to their summer home amid the treeless slopes and acclivities. Laying begins early in July, as soon as the first grass is started. Most of the nests are to be found at an elevation of twelve thousand to thirteen thousand feet, the lowest known being one on Mount Audubon, discovered on the third of July with fresh eggs. During the breeding season these birds never descend below timber-line. The young birds having left the nest, in August both old and young gather in flocks and range over the bald mountain peaks in quest of such dainties as are to the pipit taste. Some of them remain above timber-line until October although most of them have by that time gone down into the upper parks of the mountains. During this month they descend to the plains, and in November return to their winter residence in the South.

While watching the pipits, I had another surprise. On a small, grassy area amid the rocks, about a hundred feet below the summit, a white-crowned sparrow was hopping about on the ground, now leaping upon a large stone, now creeping into an open space under the rocks, all the while picking up some kind of seed or nut or insect. It was very confiding, coming close to me, but vouchsafing neither song nor chirp. Farther on I shall have more to say about these tuneful birds, but at this point it is interesting to observe that they breed abundantly among the mountains at a height of from eight thousand to eleven thousand feet, while the highest nest known to explorers was twelve thousand five hundred feet above the sea. One of Colorado's bird men has noted the curious fact that they change their location between the first and second broods—that is, in a certain park at an elevation of eight thousand feet they breed abundantly in June, and then most of them leave that region and become numerous among the stunted bushes above timber-line, where they raise a second brood. It only remains to be proved that the birds in both localities are the same individuals, which is probable.

On a shoulder of the mountain below me, a flock of ravens alighted on the ground, walked about awhile, uttered their hoarse croaks, and then took their departure, apparently in sullen mood. I could not tell whether they croaked "Nevermore!" or not.

Down the mountain side I clambered, occasionally picking a beautiful blossom from the many brilliant-hued clusters and inhaling its fragrance. Indeed, sometimes the breeze was laden with the aroma of these flowers, and in places the slope looked like a cultivated garden. The only birds seen that afternoon above timber-line were those already mentioned. What do the birds find to eat in these treeless and shrubless altitudes? There are many flies, some grasshoppers, bumble-bees, beetles, and other insects, even in these arctic regions, dwelling among the rocks and in the short grass below them watered by the melting snows.

At about half-past four in the afternoon I reached the timber-line, indicated by a few small, scattering pines and many thick clumps of bushes. Suddenly a loud, melodious song brought me to a standstill. It came from the bushes at the side of the trail. Although I turned aside and sought diligently, I could not find the shy lyrist. Another song of the same kind soon reached me from a distance. Farther down the path a white-crowned sparrow appeared, courting his mate. With crown-feathers and head and tail erect, he would glide to the top of a stone, then down into the grass where his lady-love sat; up and down, up and down he scuttled again and again. My approach put an end to the picturesque little comedy. The lady scurried away into hiding, while the little prince with the snow-white diadem mounted to the top of a bush and whistled the very strain that had surprised me so a little while before, farther up the slope. Yes, I had stumbled into the summer home of the white-crowned sparrow, which on the Atlantic coast and the central portions of the American continent breeds far in the North.

It was not long before I was regaled with a white-crown vesper concert. From every part of the lonely valley the voices sounded. And what did they say? "Oh, de-e-e-ar, de-e-ar, Whittier, Whittier," sometimes adding, in low, caressing tones, "Dear Whittier"—one of the most melodious tributes to the Quaker poet I have ever heard. Here I also saw my first mountain bluebird, whose back and breast are wholly blue, there being no rufous at all in his plumage. He was feeding a youngster somewhere among the snags. A red-shafted flicker flew across the vale and called, "Zwick-ah! zwick-ah!" and then pealed out his loud call just like the eastern yellow-shafted high-holder. Why the Rocky Mountain region changes the lining of the flicker's wings from gold to crimson—who can tell? A robin—the western variety—sang his "Cheerily," a short distance up the hollow, right at the boundary of the timber-line.



About half-past five I found myself a few hundred feet below timber-line in the lone valley, which was already beginning to look shadowy and a little uncanny, the tall ridges that leaped up at the right obscuring the light of the declining sun. My purpose had been to find accommodations at a mountaineer's cabin far down the valley, in the neighborhood of the Seven Lakes; but I had tarried too long on the mountain, absorbed in watching the birds, and the danger now was that, if I ventured farther down the hollow, I should lose my way and be compelled to spend the night alone in this deserted place. I am neither very brave nor very cowardly; but, in any case, such a prospect was not pleasing to contemplate. Besides, I was by no means sure of being able to secure lodgings at the mountaineer's shanty, even if I should be able to find it in the dark. There seemed to be only one thing to do—to climb back to the signal station on the summit.

I turned about and began the ascent. How much steeper the acclivities were than they had seemed to be when I came down! My limbs ached before I had gone many rods, and my breath came short. Upward I toiled, and by the time my trail reached the cog-road I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Yet I had not gone more than a third of the way to the top. I had had no supper, but was too weary even to crave food, my only desire being to find some place wherein to rest. Night had now come, but fortunately the moon shone brightly from a sky that was almost clear, and I had no difficulty in following the road.

Wearily I began to climb up the steep cog-wheel track. Having trudged around one curve, I came to a portion of the road that stretched straight up before me for what seemed an almost interminable distance, and, oh! the way looked so steep, almost as if it would tumble back upon my head. Could I ever drag myself up to the next bend in the track? By a prodigious effort I did this at last—it seemed "at last" to me, at all events—and, lo! there gleamed before me another long stretch of four steel rails.

My breath came shorter and shorter, until I was compelled to open my mouth widely and gasp the cold, rarefied air, which, it seemed, would not fill my chest with the needed oxygen. Sharp pains shot through my lungs, especially in the extremities far down in the chest; my head and eye-balls ached, and it seemed sometimes as if they would burst; my limbs trembled with weakness, and I tottered and reeled like a drunken man from side to side of the road, having to watch carefully lest I might topple over the edge and meet with a serious accident. Still that relentless track, with its quartette of steel rails, stretched steep before me in the distance.

For the last half mile or more I was compelled to fling myself down upon the track every few rods to rest and recover breath. Up, up, the road climbed, until at length I reached the point where it ceases to swing around the shoulders of the mountain, and ascends directly to the summit. Here was the steepest climb of all. By throwing my weary frame on the track at frequent intervals and resting for five minutes, taking deep draughts of air between my parched lips, I at last came in sight of the government building. It is neither a mansion nor a palace, not even a cottage, but never before was I so glad to get a glimpse of a building erected by human hands. It was past nine o'clock when I staggered up to the door and rang the night bell, having spent more than three hours and a half in climbing about two miles and a half. Too weary to sleep, I tossed for hours on my bed. At last, however, "nature's sweet restorer" came to my relief, and I slept the deep sleep of unconsciousness until seven o'clock the next morning, allowing the sun to rise upon the Peak without getting up to greet him. That omission may have been an unpardonable sin, for one of the chief fads of visitors is to see the sun rise from the Peak; but I must say in my defence that, in the first place, I failed to wake up in time to witness the Day King's advent, and, in a second place, being on bird lore intent rather than scenic wonders, my principal need was to recruit my strength for the tramping to be done during the day. The sequel proved that, for my special purpose, I had chosen the wiser course.

By eight o'clock I had written a letter home, eaten a refreshing breakfast, paying a dollar for it, and another for lodging, and was starting down the mountain, surprised at the exhilaration I felt, in view of my extreme exhaustion of the evening before. I naturally expected to feel stiff and sore in every joint, languid and woe-be-gone; but such was not the case. It is wonderful how soon one recovers strength among these heights. How bracing is the cool mountain air, if you breathe it deeply! As I began the descent, I whistled and sang,—that is, I tried to. To be frank, it was all noise and no music, but I must have some way of giving expression to the uplifted emotions that filled my breast. Again and again I said to myself, "I'm so glad! I'm so glad! I'm so glad!" It was gladness pure and simple,—the dictionary has no other word to express it. No pen can do justice to the panorama of mountain and valley and plain as viewed from such a height on a clear, crisp morning of June. One felt like exclaiming with George Herbert:

"Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright, The bridal of the earth and sky!"

So far as the aesthetic value of it went, I was monarch of all I surveyed, even though mile on mile of grandeur and glory was spread out before me. The quatrain of Lowell recurred to my mind:

"'Tis heaven alone that is given away, 'Tis only God may be had for the asking; No price is set on the lavish summer; June may be had by poorest comer."

Before leaving the Peak, I watched a flock of birds eating from the waste-heap at the Summit House. They were the brown-capped rosy finches, called scientifically Leucosticte australis. Their plumage was a rich chocolate, suffused over neck, breast, and back with intense crimson, while the pileum was quite black. With one exception—the white-tailed ptarmigan—they range the highest in summer of all Colorado birds. They are never seen below timber-line in that season, and are not known to breed below twelve thousand feet; thence to the tops of the highest peaks they hatch and rear their young. In August old and young swarm over the summits picking edible insects from the snow, while in winter they descend to timber-line, where most of them remain to brave the arctic weather and its frequent storms.

Bidding a regretful good-by to the summit, for it held me as by a magician's spell, I hastened down the steep incline of the cog-wheel road, past Windy Point, and turning to the right, descended across the green slope below the boulder region to the open, sunlit valley which I had visited on the previous afternoon. It was an idyllic place, a veritable paradise for birds. Such a chorus as greeted me from the throats of I know not how many white-crowned sparrows,—several dozen, perhaps,—it would have done the heart of any lover of avian minstrelsy good to listen to. The whole valley seemed to be transfigured by their roundelays, which have about them such an air of poetry and old-world romance. During the morning I was so fortunate as to find a nest, the first of this species that I had ever discovered. Providence had never before cast my lot with these birds in their breeding haunts. The nest was a pretty structure placed on the ground, beneath a bush amid the green grass, its holdings consisting of four dainty, pale-blue eggs, speckled with brown. The female leaped from her seat as I passed near, and in that act divulged her little family secret. Although she chirped uneasily as I bent over her treasures, she had all her solicitude for nothing; the last thing I would think of doing would be to mar her maternal prospects. As has been said, in this valley these handsome sparrows were quite plentiful; but when, toward evening, I clambered over a ridge, and descended into the valley of Moraine Lake, several hundred feet lower than the Seven Lakes valley, what was my surprise to find not a white-crown there! The next day I trudged up to the Seven Lakes, and found the white-crowns quite abundant in the copses, as they had been farther up the hollow on the previous day; and, besides, in a boggy place about two miles below Moraine Lake there were several pairs, and I was fortunate enough to find a nest. Strange—was it not?—that these birds should avoid the copsy swamps near Moraine Lake, and yet select for breeding homes the valleys both above and below it. Perhaps the valley of Moraine Lake is a little too secluded and shut in by the towering mountains on three sides, the other places being more open and sunshiny.

The upper valley was the summer home of that musician par excellence of the Rockies, the green-tailed towhee, and he sang most divinely, pouring out his

"full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art."

Having elsewhere described his minstrelsy and habits with more or less fulness, I need give him only this passing reference here. A little bird with which I here first made acquaintance was an elegant species known as Audubon's warbler, which may be regarded as the western representative of the myrtle warbler of the East. The two birds are almost counterparts. Indeed, at first I mistook the Audubon for the myrtle. The former has a yellow throat, while the latter's throat is white.

In all the upper mountain valleys, and on the steep slopes of the western as well as the eastern side of the Divide, I had the Audubon warblers often at my elbow. In summer they make their homes at an altitude of seven to eleven thousand feet, and are partial to pine timber; indeed, I think I never found them elsewhere, save occasionally among the quaking asps. I learned to distinguish Audubon's chanson from those of his fellow-minstrels. It is not much of a song—a rather weak little trill, with a kind of drawl in the vocalization that forms its diagnostic feature. The persistency with which it is repeated on the solitary pine-clad mountain sides constitutes its principal charm.

The winter haunts of Audubon's warblers are farther south than Colorado, mostly in Mexico and Guatemala, although a few of them remain in the sheltered mountain valleys of the western part of the United States. Early in May they appear on the plains of eastern Colorado, where they are known only as migrants. Here a double movement presently takes place—what might be called a longitudinal and a vertical migration—one division of the warbler army sweeping north to their breeding grounds in Canada, and the other wheeling westward and ascending to the alpine heights among the mountains, where they find the subartic conditions that are congenial to their natures without travelling so great a distance. Here they build their nests in the pine or spruce trees, rear their families, and as autumn approaches, descend to the plains, tarry there a week or two, then hie to their winter homes in the South.

One of the most gorgeous tenants of this valley was Wilson's warbler.[3] It wears a dainty little cap that is jet black, bordered in front and below with golden yellow, while the upper parts are rich olive and the lower parts bright yellow. These warblers were quite abundant, and were evidently partial to the thickets covering the boggy portions of the vale. While Audubon's warblers kept themselves for the most part among the pines on the slopes and acclivities, the little black-caps preferred the lower ground. Their songs were not brilliant performances, though rather pleasing, being short, jerky trills, somewhat lower in the scale than those of the well-known summer warbler.

[3] Mr. Aiken says, "The Rocky Mountain representative of Wilson's warbler is an intermediate form, nearest the Pacific coast bird which is distinguished as the pileolated warbler."

While I was stalking about in the low, boggy part of the hollow, my attention was attracted by an odd little song that came rolling down from the pines on the mountain side. At length, time was found to go to the place whence the song came. What could the gay little minstrel be? Somewhere I had heard such minstrelsy—but where? There were runs in it that bore some resemblance to certain strains of the Carolina wren's vigorous lays, but this songster's voice was of a finer quality and had less volume than that of the Carolina. The little bird was found flitting among the pines, and continued to sing his gay little ballad with as much vigor as before. Indeed, my presence seemed to inspire him to redouble his efforts and to sing with more snap and challenge. He acted somewhat like a wren, but was smaller than any species of that family with which I was acquainted, and no part of his plumage was barred with brown and white.

Now the midget in feathers leaped up the alternating branches of a pine, and now he flew down and fluttered amid the chaos of dead logs and boughs on the ground, all the while rolling his ditty from his limber tongue. Beginning with an exceedingly fine whistle, which could not be heard far away, he descanted in sounds that it is impossible to convey in syllables. The best literation of his song that I was able to make was the following: "Tse-e-ek, tse-e-ek, tse-e-e-ek, cholly-cholly-cholly, che-che-che, pur-tie, pur-tie, pur-tie!" the pur-tie accented strongly on the second syllable and the whole performance closing with an interrogative inflection.

For a long time I watched the little acrobat, but could not settle his identity. Some hours later, while stalking along the other side of the valley, I heard the song duplicated; this time the singer elevated his crest feathers, and at once I recognized him; he was the ruby-crowned kinglet, of course, of course! It was a shame not to identify him at first sight. In Ohio I had often heard his song during the migrating season, and now remembered it well; but never dreaming that the ruby-crown would be found in these alpine districts, I was completely thrown off my reckoning on hearing his quaint melodies.



The ruby-crowned kinglet migrates to these heights in the spring and rears his brood at an elevation of from nine thousand feet to the timber-line, building a nest far up in a pine tree; whereas his eastern kindred hie to the northern part of the United States and beyond, to find summer homes and suitable breeding grounds. Within their chosen boundaries the rubies are very plentiful in the Rockies, their quaint rondeaus tumbling down from every pine-clad acclivity. In October they descend to the plains, and in the latter part of the month hurry off to a more southerly clime.

The birds were most abundant in the upper part of the valley, keeping close to the precipitous heights of the Peak. It was a long walk down to the mountaineer's cabin, and I had reason to be glad for not having undertaken to find it the evening before, as I should certainly have lost my way in the darkness. No one was at home now, but through the screen door I could see a canary in a cage. Not a very inviting place to spend the night, I reflected, and I crossed the valley, climbed a steep ridge, following a slightly used wagon road, and trudged down the other side into what I afterwards found was the valley of Moraine Lake, one of the crystal sheets of water that are seen from the summit of Pike's Peak sparkling in the sunshine. While climbing the ridge, I saw my first mountain chickadee, capering about in the trees. He called like the familiar black-cap, and his behavior was much like that bird's. As will be seen in another chapter, I afterwards heard the mountain chickadee's song on the western side of the range, and found it to be quite unlike the minor strain of our pleasant black-cap of the East.

On the mountain side forming the descent to Moraine Lake a flock of Clark's nutcrackers were flying about in the pine woods, giving expression to their feelings in a great variety of calls, some of them quite strident. A little junco came in sight by the side of the trail, and hopped about on the ground, and I was surprised to note a reddish patch ornamenting the centre of his back. Afterwards I learned that it was the gray-headed junco, which is distinctly a western species, breeding among the mountains of Colorado. Thrashing about among some dead boles, and making a great to-do, were a pair of small woodpeckers, which closely resembled the well-known downies of our eastern longitudes. I suppose them to have been their western representatives, which are known, according to Mr. Aiken and Professor Cooke, as Batchelder's woodpecker. Near the same place I saw a second pair of mountain bluebirds, flitting about somewhat nervously, and uttering a gentle sigh at intervals; but as evening was now rapidly approaching, I felt the need of finding lodging for the night, and could not stop to hunt for their nest.

Faring down the mountain side to the lake, I circled around its lower end until I came to the cottage of the family who have the care of the reservoirs that supply the three towns at the foot of the mountains with water fresh from the snow-fields. Here, to my intense relief, I was able to secure lodging and board as long as I desired to remain.

I enjoyed the generous hospitality offered me for two nights and considerably more than one day. It was a genuine retreat, right at the foot of a tall mountain, embowered in a grove of quaking asps. Several persons from Colorado Springs, one of them a professor of the college, were spending their outing at the cottage, and a delightful fellowship we had, discussing birds, literature, and mountain climbing.

After resting awhile, I strolled up the valley to listen to the vesper concert of the birds, and a rich one it was. The western robins were piping their blithesome "Cheerilies," Audubon's warblers were trilling in the pines, and, most of all—but here I had one of the most gratifying finds in all my mountain quest. It will perhaps be remembered that the white-crowned sparrows, so plentiful in the upper valley, were not to be seen in the valley of Moraine Lake. Still there were compensations in this cloistered dip among the towering mountains; the mountain hermit thrushes—sometimes called Audubon's thrushes—found the sequestered valley precisely to their liking, and on the evening in question I saw them and heard their pensive cadences for the first time. Such exquisite tones, which seemed to take vocal possession of the vale and the steep, pine-clad mountain side, it has seldom been my good fortune to hear. Scores of the birds were singing simultaneously, some of their voices pitched high in the scale and others quite low, as though they were furnishing both the air and the contralto of the chorus. It was my first opportunity to listen to the songs of any of the several varieties of hermit thrushes, and I freely confess that I came, a willing captive, under the spell of their minstrelsy, so sweet and sad and far away, and yet so rich in vocal expression. In the latter part of the run, which is all too brief, there is a strain which bears close resemblance to the liquid melody of the eastern wood-thrush, but the opening notes have a pathetic quality all their own. Perhaps Charles G. D. Roberts can give some idea of one's feelings at a time like this:

"O hermit of evening! thine hour Is the sacrament of desire, When love hath a heavenlier flower, And passion a holier fire."

A happy moment it was when a nest of this mountain hermit was discovered, saddled on one of the lower limbs of a pine and containing four eggs of a rich green color. These birds are partial to dense pine forests on the steep, rocky mountain sides. They are extremely shy and elusive, evidently believing that hermit thrushes ought to be heard and not seen. A score or more may be singing at a stone's throw up an acclivity, but if you clamber toward them they will simply remove further up the mountain, making your effort to see and hear them at close range unavailing. That evening, however, as the gloaming settled upon the valley, one selected a perch on a dead branch some distance up the hillside, and obligingly permitted me to obtain a fair view of him with my glass. The hermits breed far up in the mountains, the greatest altitude at which I found them being on the sides of Bald Mountain, above Seven Lakes and a little below the timber-line. To this day their sad refrains are ringing in my ears, bringing back the thought of many half-mournful facts and incidents that haunt the memory.

A good night's rest in the cottage, close beneath the unceiled roof, prepared the bird-lover for an all-day ramble. The matutinal concert was early in full swing, the hermit thrushes, western robins, and Audubon's warblers being the chief choralists. One gaudy Audubon's warbler visited the quaking asp grove surrounding the cottage, and trilled the choicest selections of his repertory. Farther up the valley several Wilson's warblers were seen and heard. A shy little bird flitting about in the tangle of grass and bushes in the swampy ground above the lake was a conundrum to me for a long time, but I now know that it was Lincoln's sparrow, which was later found in other ravines among the mountains. It is an exceedingly wary bird, keeping itself hidden amid the bushy clusters for the greater part of the time, now and then venturing to peep out at the intruder, and then bolting quickly into a safe covert. Occasionally it will hop out upon the top of a bush in plain sight, and remain for a few moments, just long enough for you to fix its identity and note the character of its pleasing trill. Some of these points were settled afterwards and not on the morning of my first meeting with the chary little songster.

My plan for the day was to retrace my steps of the previous afternoon, by climbing over the ridge into the upper valley and visiting the famous Seven Lakes, which I had missed the day before through a miscalculation in my direction. Clark's crows and the mountain jays were abundant on the acclivities. One of the latter dashed out of a pine bush with a clatter that almost raised the echoes, but, look as I would, I could find no nest or young or anything else that would account for the racket.

The Seven Lakes are beautiful little sheets of transparent water, embosomed among the mountains in a somewhat open valley where there is plenty of sunshine. They are visible from the summit of Pike's Peak, from which distant viewpoint they sparkle like sapphire gems in a setting of green. As seen from the Peak they appear to be quite close together, and the land about them seems perfectly level, but when you visit the place itself, you learn that some of them are separated from the others by ridges of considerable height. Beautiful and sequestered as the spot is, I did not find as many birds as I expected. Not a duck or water bird of any kind was seen. Perhaps there is too much hunting about the lakes, and, besides, winged visitors here would have absolutely no protection, for the banks are free of bushes of any description, and no rushes or flags grow in the shallower parts. On the ridges and mountain sides the kinglets and hermit thrushes were abundant, a robin was carolling, a Batchelder woodpecker chirped and pounded in his tumultuous way, Clark's crows and several magpies lilted about, while below the lakes in the copses the white-crowned sparrows and green-tailed towhees held lyrical carnival, their sway disputed only by the natty Wilson's warblers.

It was a pleasure to be alive and well in such a place, where one breathed invigoration at every draught of the fresh, untainted mountain air; nor was it less a delight to sit on the bank of one of the transparent lakes and eat my luncheon and quaff from a pellucid spring that gushed as cold as ice and as sweet as nectar from the sand, while the white-crowned sparrows trilled a serenade in the copses.

Toward evening I clambered down to the cottage by Moraine Lake. The next morning, in addition to the birds already observed in the valley, I listened to the theme-like recitative of a warbling vireo, and also watched a sandpiper teetering about the edge of the water, while a red-shafted flicker dashed across the lake to a pine tree on the opposite side. As I left this attractive valley, the hermit thrushes seemed to waft me a sad farewell.

A little over half a day was spent in walking down from Moraine Lake to the Halfway House. It was a saunter that shall never be forgotten, for I gathered a half day's tribute of lore from the birds. A narrow green hollow, wedging itself into one of the gorges of the towering Peak, and watered by a snow-fed mountain brook, proved a very paradise for birds. Here was that queer little midget of the Rockies, the broad-tailed humming-bird, which performs such wonderful feats of balancing in the air; the red-shafted flicker; the western robin, singing precisely like his eastern half-brother; a pair of house-wrens guarding their treasures; Lincoln's sparrows, not quite so shy as those at Moraine Lake; mountain chickadees; olive-sided flycatchers; on the pine-clad mountain sides the lyrical hermit thrushes; and finally those ballad-singers of the mountain vales, the white-crowned sparrows, one of whose nests I was so fortunate as to come upon. It was placed in a small pine bush, and was just in process of construction. One of the birds flew fiercely at a mischievous chipmunk, and drove him away, as if he knew him for an arrant nest-robber.

Leaving this enchanting spot, I trudged down the mountain valleys and ravines, holding silent converse everywhere with the birds, and at length reached a small park, green and bushy, a short distance above the Halfway House. While jogging along, my eye caught sight of a gray-headed junco, which flitted from a clump of bushes bordering the stream to a spot on the ground close to some shrubs. The act appeared so suggestive that I decided to reconnoitre. I walked cautiously to the spot where the bird had dropped down, and in a moment she flew up with a scolding chipper. There was the nest, set on the ground in the grass and cosily hidden beneath the over-arching branches of a low bush. Had the mother bird been wise and courageous enough to retain her place, her secret would not have been betrayed, the nest was so well concealed.

The pretty couch contained four juvenile juncos covered only with down, and yet, in spite of their extreme youth, their foreheads and lores showed black, and their backs a distinctly reddish tint, so early in life were they adopting the pattern worn by their parents. The persistency of species in the floral and faunal realms presents some hard nuts for the evolutionist to crack. But that is an excursus, and would lead us too far afield. This was the first junco's nest I had ever found, and no one can blame me for feeling gratified with the discovery. The gray-headed juncos were very abundant in the Rockies, and are the only species at present known to breed in the State of Colorado. They are differentiated from the common slate-colored snowbird by their ash-gray suits, modestly decorated with a rust-colored patch on the back.

It was now far past noon, and beginning to feel weak with hunger, I reluctantly said adieu to the junco and her brood, and hurried on to the Halfway House, where a luncheon of sandwiches, pie and coffee strengthened me for the remainder of my tramp down the mountain to Manitou. That was a walk which lingers like a Greek legend in my memory on account of—well, that is the story that remains to be told.

On a former visit to the Halfway House I was mentally knocked off my feet by several glimpses of a woodpecker which was entirely new to me, and of whose existence I was not even aware until this gorgeous gentleman hove in sight. He was the handsomest member of the Picidae family I have ever seen—his upper parts glossy black, some portions showing a bluish iridescence; his belly rich sulphur yellow, a bright red median stripe on the throat, set in the midst of the black, looking like a small necktie; two white stripes running along the side of the head, and a large white patch covering the middle and greater wing-coverts. Altogether, an odd livery for a woodpecker. Silently he swung from bole to bole for a few minutes, and then disappeared.

Not until I reached my room in Manitou could I fix the bird's place in the avicular system. By consulting Coues's Key and Professor Cooke's brochure on the Birds of Colorado, I found this quaintly costumed woodpecker to be Williamson's sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus), known only in the western part of the United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast. I now lingered in the beautiful pine grove surrounding the Halfway House, hoping to see him again, but he did not appear, and I reluctantly started down the cog-wheel track.

As I was turning a bend in the road, I caught sight of a mountain chickadee flitting to a dead snag on the slope at the right, the next moment slipping into a small hole leading inside. I climbed up to the shelf, a small level nook among the tall pines on the mountain side, to inspect her retreat, for it was the first nest of this interesting species that I found. The chickadee flashed in and out of the orifice, carrying food to her little ones, surreptitiously executing her housewifely duties. The mountain tit seems to be a shy and quiet little body when compared with the common black-cap known in the East.

While watching this bird from my place of concealment, I became conscious of the half-suppressed chirping of a woodpecker, and, to my intense joy, a moment later a Williamson's sapsucker swung to a pine bole a little below me and began pecking leisurely and with assumed nonchalance for grubs in the fissures of the bark. From my hiding-place behind some bushes I kept my eye on the handsome creature. An artist might well covet the privilege of painting this elegant bird as he scales the wall of a pine tree. Presently he glided to a snag not more than a rod from the chickadee's domicile, and then I noticed that the dead bole was perforated by a number of woodpecker holes, into one of which the sapsucker presently slipped with the tidbit he held in his bill. The doorway was almost too small for him, obliging him to turn slightly sidewise and make some effort to effect an entrance. Fortune had treated me as one of her favorites: I had discovered the nest of Williamson's sapsucker.

But still another surprise was in store. A low, dubious chirping was heard, and then the female ambled leisurely to the snag and hitched up to the orifice. She made several efforts to enter, but could not while her spouse was within. Presently he wormed himself out, whereupon she went in, and remained for some time. At length I crept to the snag and beat against it with my cane. She was loath to leave the nest, but after a little while decided that discretion was the better part of valor. When she came out, my presence so near her nursery caused her not a little agitation, which she displayed by flinging about from bole to bole and uttering a nervous chirp.

As to costume, the male and the female had little in common. Her back was picturesquely mottled and barred with black and white, her head light brown, her breast decorated with a large black patch, and her other under parts yellow. Had the couple not been seen together flitting about the nest, they would not have been regarded as mates, so differently were they habited.

Standing before the doorway of the nursery—it was not quite so high as my head—I could plainly hear the chirping of the youngsters within. Much as I coveted the sight of a brood of this rare species, I could not bring myself to break down the walls of their cottage and thus expose them to the claws and beaks of their foes. Even scientific curiosity must be restrained by considerations of mercy.

The liege lord of the family had now disappeared. Desirous of seeing him once more, I hid myself in a bush-clump near at hand and awaited his return. Presently he came ambling along and scrambled into the orifice, turning his body sidewise, as he had done before. I made my way quietly to the snag and tapped upon it with my cane, but he did not come out, as I expected him to do. Then I struck the snag more vigorously. No result. Then I whacked the bole directly in the rear of the nest, while I stood close at one side watching the doorway. The bird came to the orifice, peeped out, then, seeing me, quickly drew back, determined not to desert his brood in what he must have regarded as an emergency. In spite of all my pounding and coaxing and feigned scolding—and I kept up the racket for several minutes—I did not succeed in driving the pater familias from his post of duty. Once he apparently made a slight effort to escape, but evidently stuck fast in the entrance, and so dropped back and would not leave, only springing up to the door and peeping out at me when my appeals became especially vigorous. It appeared like a genuine case of "I'm determined to defend my children, or die in the attempt!"

Meanwhile the mother bird was flitting about in an agitated way, uttering piteous cries of remonstrance and entreaty. Did that bandit intend to rob her of both her husband and her children? It was useless, if not wanton, to hector the poor creatures any longer, even to study their behavior under trying circumstances; and I left them in peace, and hurried down to my lodgings in Manitou, satisfied with the results of my day's ramble.



BIRDS OF THE ARID PLAIN



Having explored the summit of Pike's Peak and part of its southern slope down to the timber-line, and spent several delightful days in the upper valleys of the mountains, as well as in exploring several canyons, the rambler was desirous of knowing what species of birds reside on the plain stretching eastward from the bases of the towering ranges. One afternoon in the latter part of June, I found myself in a straggling village about forty miles east of Colorado Springs.

On looking around, I was discouraged, and almost wished I had not come; for all about me extended the parched and treeless plain, with only here and there a spot that had a cast of verdure, and even that was of a dull and sickly hue. Far off to the northeast rose a range of low hills sparsely covered with scraggy pines, but they were at least ten miles away, perhaps twenty, and had almost as arid an aspect as that of the plains themselves. Only one small cluster of deciduous trees was visible, about a mile up a shallow valley or "draw." Surely this was a most unpromising field for bird study. If I had only been content to remain among the mountains, where, even though the climbing was difficult, there were brawling brooks, shady woodlands, and green, copsy vales in which many feathered friends had lurked!



But wherever the bird-lover chances to be, his mania leads him to look for his favorites, and he is seldom disappointed; rather, he is often delightfully surprised. People were able to make a livelihood here, as was proved by the presence of the village and a few scattering dwellings on the plain; then why not the birds, which are as thrifty and wise in many ways as their human relatives? In a short time my baggage was stowed in a safe place, and, field-glass in hand, I sallied forth for my first jaunt on a Colorado plain. But, hold! what were these active little birds, hopping about on the street and sipping from the pool by the village well? They were the desert horned larks, so called because they select the dry plains of the West as their dwelling place. They are interesting birds. The fewer trees and the less humidity, provided there is a spot not too far away at which they may quench their thirst and rinse their feathers, the better they seem to be pleased. They were plentiful in this parched region, running or flying cheerfully before me wherever my steps were bent. I could not help wondering how many thousands of them—and millions, perhaps—had taken up free homesteads on the seemingly limitless plains of eastern Colorado.

Most of the young had already left the nest, and were flying about in the company of their elders, learning the fine art of making a living for themselves and evading the many dangers to which bird flesh is heir. The youngsters could readily be distinguished from their seniors by the absence of distinct black markings on throat, chest, and forehead, and the lighter cast of their entire plumage.

Sometimes these birds are called shore larks; but that is evidently a misnomer, or at least a very inapt name, for they are not in the least partial to the sea-shore or even the shores of lakes, but are more disposed to take up their residence in inland and comparatively dry regions. There are several varieties, all bearing a very close resemblance, so close, indeed, that only an expert ornithologist can distinguish them, even with the birds in hand. The common horned lark is well known in the eastern part of the United States as a winter resident, while in the middle West, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, etc., are to be found the prairie horned larks, which, as their name indicates, choose the open prairie for their home. The desert horned larks are tenants exclusively of the arid plains, mesas, and mountain parks of the West. There is still another variety, called the pallid horned lark, which spends the winter in Colorado, then hies himself farther north in summer to rear his brood.

1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse