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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Get to know your birds...

....whenever you see one you don't know, look it up in the guidebook you keep on your kitchen shelf. 

On Sunday I stopped at the Traveler Restaurant (and bookstore, Exit 74 off I-84) in Union, Connecticut.  This place is about 2/3rd of the way between NYC and Boston and I've been stopping here for decades to eat, rest, then browse the used bookstore in the basement where nearly always some treasure is to be found (along with the free book you can select upstairs).  I found these nature guidebooks from 1917 for $8 each.  Neltje (Nellie) Blanchan was the Roger Peterson of her day with her writing known for its "synthesis of scientific interest with poetic phrasing".  Here are the illustrations of some of my favorite locals with excerpts from her descriptions.....

The robin:  "No bird that we have has so varied a repertoire as Robin Goodfellow.....Indignation, suspicion, fright, interrogation, peace of mind, hate, warning to take flight----these and a host of other thoughts are expressed through his flexible voice."

The mourning dove:  "No sympathy need be wasted on this incessant love-maker that slowly sings coo-o-o, ah-coo-o-o-ooo-o-o-ooo-o-o, in a sweetly sad voice.  Really he is no more melancholy than the plaintive pewee but, on the contrary, is so happy in his love that his devotion has passed into a proverb."

Find one and you will surely see his/her love nearby.....

The tufted titmouse:  "A famous musician became insane because he heard one note ringing constantly in his overwrought brain.  If you ever hear a troop of titmice whistling peto over and over again for hours at a time, you will pity poor Schumann and fear a similar fate for the birds."

The loon:  "A mirror-like lake in the Adirondacks or White Mountains is ever a loon's idea of paradise."

You can hear their "long-drawn, melancholy, uncanny scream (that) seems to rend the very clouds" here. 

The mockingbird:  "His love song is entrancing.  "Oft in the stilly night," when the moonlight sheds s silvery radiance everywhere, the mockingbird sings to his mate such delicious music as only the European nightingale can rival."

The passenger pigeon (so sad, a long excerpt...):  "The wild pigeon no longer survives to refute the adage, "In union there is strength."  No birds have shown greater gregariousness, the flocks once numbering not hundreds nor thousands, but millions of birds; Wilson in 1808 mentioning a flock seen by him near Frankfort, Kentucky, which he conservatively estimated at more than two billion, and Audubon told of flights so dense that they darkened the sky, and streamed across it like mighty rivers.  The modern mind, accustomed to deal only with the pitiful remnants of feathered races, can scarcely grasp the vast numbers that once made our land the sportsman's paradise.  Unlimited netting, even during the entire nesting season, has resulted in sending more than one million pigeons to market from a single roost in one year, leaving perhaps as many more wounded birds and starving, helpless, naked squabs behind, until the poultry stalls became so glutted with pigeons that the low price per barrel scarcely paid for their transportation, and they were fed to the hogs...........The passenger pigeon is today as extinct as the great auk."