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It might be easy to suggest plausible reasons for the general absence of swallows from a country like that about Chattanooga; but the extraordinary scarcity of hawks, while many persons not ornithologists—would account it less of a calamity, is more of a puzzle. From Walden's Ridge I saw a single sparrow hawk and a single red-tail; in addition to which I remember three birds whose identity I could not determine. Five hawks in the course of three weeks spent entirely out of doors, in the neighborhood of mountains covered with old forest. Taken by itself, this unexpected showing might have been ascribed to some queer combination of accidents, or to a failure of observation. In fact, I was inclined so to explain it till I noticed that Mr. Brewster had chronicled a similar state of things in what is substantially the same piece of country. Writing of western North Carolina, he says:1 "The general scarcity—one may almost say absence
of hawks in this region during the breeding season is simply unaccountable. Small birds and mammals, lizards, snakes, and other animals upon which the various species subsist are everywhere numerous, the country is wild and heavily forested, and, in short, all the necessary conditions of environment seem to be fulfilled." Certainly, so far as my ingenuity goes, the mystery is "unaccountable; " but of like every other mystery, it would open quickly enough if we could find the key.
Turkey vultures were moderately numerous, much less abundant than in Florida, and twice I saw a single black vulture, recognizable, almost as far as it could be seen (but I do not mean at a first glance, nor without due precaution against foreshortened effects), by its docked tail. Both are invaluable in their place, useful, graceful, admirable, and disgusting. The vultures, the martins, and the swifts were the only 1 The Auk, vol. iii. p. 103.
The swifts, hap
common aerial birds. pily, were everywhere, jovial souls in a sooty dress, and had already begun nest-building. I saw them continually pulling up against the twigs of a partially dead tree near my window. In them nature has developed the bird idea to its extreme, a pair of wings, with just body enough for ballast; like a racingyacht, built for nothing but to carry sail and avoid resistance. Their flight is a good visual music, as Emerson might have said; but I love also their quick, eager notes, like the sounds of children at play. And while it has nothing to do with Tennessee, I am prompted to mention here a bird of this species that I once saw in northern New Hampshire on the 1st of October, - an extraordinarily late date, if my experience counts for anything. With a friend I had made an ascent of Mount Lafayette (one of the days of a man's life), and as we came near the Profile House, on our return to the valley, there passed overhead a single chimney-swift. What he could be doing there at that season was more than either of us could divine. It was impossible to feel any great concern about him, however. The afternoon was nearly done, but at the rate he was traveling it seemed as if he might be in Mexico before sunrise. And easily enough he may have been, if Mr. Gätke is right in his contention that birds of very moderate powers of wing are capable of flying all night at the rate of four miles a minute!
The comparative scarcity of crows about Chattanooga, and the amazing dearth of jays in the oak forests of Walden's Ridge, have been touched upon elsewhere. As for the jays, their absence must have been more apparent than real, I am bound to believe. It was their silent time, probably. Still another thing that I found surprising was the small number of woodpeckers. For the first four days I saw not a single representative of the family. It would
be next to impossible to be so much out of doors in Massachusetts at any season of the year with a like result. During my three weeks in Tennessee I saw eight flickers, seven hairy woodpeckers, two red-heads, and two or three red-cockaded woodpeckers, besides which I heard one downy and one "log-cock." The last named bird, which is big enough for even the careless to notice, seemed to be well known to the inhabitants of Walden's Ridge, where I heard it. By what they told me, it should be fairly common, but I saw nothing of its "peckholes." The first of my two red-headed woodpeckers was near the base of Missionary Ridge, wasting his time in exploring pole after pole along the railway. Did he mistake them for so many dead trees still standing on their own roots? Dry and seemingly undecayed, they appeared to me to offer small encouragement to a grub-seeker; but probably the fellow knew his own business best. On questions of economic entomology, I fear I should prove but a lame adviser for the most benighted woodpecker that ever drummed. And yet, being a man, I could not help feeling that this particular red-head was behaving uncommonly like a fool. Was there ever a man who did not take it as a matter of course that he should be wiser than the "lower animals"?
Humming-birds cut but a small figure in my daily notes till I went to Walden's Ridge. There, in the forest, they were noticeably abundant, for humming-birds, that is to say. It seemed to be the time of pairing with them; more than once the two sexes were seen together, an unusual occurrence, unless my observation has been unfortunate, after the nest is built, or even while it is building. One female piqued my curiosity by returning again and again to the bole of an oak, hovering before it as before a flower, and more than once clinging to its rough upright surface. At first I took it for granted that she
was picking off bits of lichen with which to embellish the outer wall of her nest; but after each browsing she alighted here or there on a leafless twig. If she had been gathering nest material, she would have flown away with it, I thought.
At another time, in a tangle of shrubbery, I witnessed a most lively encounter between two humming-birds; a case of fighting or love-making, two things confusingly alike to an outsider, — in the midst of which one of the contestants suddenly displayed so dazzling a gorget that for an instant I mistook it for a scarlet flower. I did not "wipe my eye," not being a poet, nor even a "rash observer," but I admired anew the wonderful flashing jewel, now coal-black, now flaming red, with which, perhaps, the male ruby-throat blinds his long-suffering mate to all his shameful treatment of her in her season of watchfulness and motherly anxiety. Does she never remind him, I wonder, that there are some things whose price is far above rubies? I had never seen the humming-bird so much a forest-dweller as here, and gladly confessed that I had never seen him when he looked so romantically at home and in place. The tulip-trees, in particular, might have been made on purpose for him.
As the Chattanooga neighborhood was poorly supplied with hawks, woodpeckers, and swallows, so was it likewise with sparrows, though in a less marked degree. The common species the only resident species that I met with, but my explorations were nothing like complete
to buy its presence with loss of the song sparrow's abounding versatility and high spirits, and the vesper sparrow's unfailing sweetness, serenity, and charm.
So much for the sparrows, commonly so called. If we come to the family as a whole, the goodly family of sparrows and finches, we miss in Tennessee the rose-breasted grosbeak and the purple finch, two of our best esteemed Massachusetts birds, both for music and for beauty; to offset which we have the cardinal grosbeak, whose whistle is exquisite, but who can hardly be ranked as a singer above either the rose-breast or the linnet, to say nothing of the two combined.
At the season of my visit, in the latter half of the vernal migration, the preponderance of woodland birds, especially of the birds known as wood warblers, was very striking. Of ninety-three species observed, twenty-eight belonged to the warbler family. In this list it was curious to remark the absence of the Nashville and the Tennessee. The circumstance is significant of the comparative worthlessness except from a historical point of view of locality names as they are applied to American birds in general. Here were Maryland yellow-throats, Cape May warblers, Canada warblers, Kentucky warblers, prairie warblers, palm warblers, Acadian flycatchers, but not the two birds (the only two, as well as I remember) that bear Tennessee names. The absence of the Nashville was a matter of wonderment to me. Dr. Rives, I have since noticed, records it as only a rare migrant in Virginia. Yet by some route it reaches eastern New England in decidedly handsome numbers. Its congener, the blue goldenwing, surprised me in an opposite direction, by its commonness, both in the lower country near the river and on
Walden's Ridge. This, too, is a rare bird in Virginia; so much so that Dr. Rives has never met with it there. In certain places about Chattanooga it was as common as it is locally in the towns about Boston, where, to satisfy a skeptical friend, I once counted eleven males in song in the course of a morning's walk. That the Chattanooga birds were on their breeding grounds I had at the time no question, although I happened upon no proof of the fact.
In the same way, from the manner in which the oven-birds were scattered over Walden's Ridge in the middle of May, I assumed, rather hastily, that they were at home for the summer. Months afterward, however, happening to notice their southern breeding limits as given by excellent authorities, "breeding from
.. Virginia northward," I saw that I might easily have been in error. I wrote, therefore, to a Chattanooga gentleman, who pays attention to birds while disclaiming acquaintance with ornithology, and he replied that if the oven-bird summered in that country he did not know it. The case seemed to be going against me, but I bethought myself of Mr. Brewster's Ornithological Reconnaissance in Western North Carolina, and there I read, "The open oak woodlands, so prevalent in this region, are in every way adapted to the requirements of the oven - bird, and throughout them it is one of the commonest and most characteristic summer birds." "Open oak woodlands" is exactly descriptive of the Walden's Ridge forest; and eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina being practically one, I resume my assured belief (personal and of no authority) that the birds I saw and heard were, as I first thought, natives of the mountain. Birds which are at home have, as a rule,
native of a more southerly climate." It would be a pity for men to cease guessing, though the shrewdest are certain to be sometimes wrong.
2 The Auk, vol. iii. p. 175.
an air of being at home; a certain manner hard to define, but felt, nevertheless, as a pretty strong kind of evidence not proof- by a practiced observer.
Several of the more northern species of the warbler family manifested an almost exclusive preference for patches of evergreens. I have elsewhere detailed my experience in a grove of stunted pines on Lookout Mountain. A similar growth is found on Cameron Hill, — in the city of Chattanooga, one side of which is occupied by dwellings, while the other drops to the river so precipitously as to be almost inaccessible, and is even yet, I was told, an abode of foxes. On the day after my arrival I strolled to the top of the hill toward evening, and in the pines found a few black - polls and yellow-rumps. I was in a listless mood, having already taken a fair day's exercise under an intolerable sun, but I waked up with a start when my glass fell on a bird which at a second glance showed the red cheeks of a Cape May warbler. For a moment I was almost in poor Susan's case,
"I looked, and my heart was in heaven."
Then, all too soon, as happened to poor Susan, also, the vision faded. But I had seen it. Yes, here it was in Tennessee, the rarity for which, spring after spring, I had been so many years on the watch. I had come South to find it, after all, -a bird that breeds from the northern border of New England to Hudson's Bay! It is of the nature of such excitements that, at the time, the subject of them has no thought of analyzing or justifying his emotions. He is better employed. Afterward, in some vacant mood, with no longer anything actively to enjoy, he may play with the past, and from an evil habit, or flattering himself with a show of intellectuality, may turn his former delight into a study; tickling his present conceit of himself by smiling at the man he used to be. How very wise he has grown, to be sure! All such refinements,
nevertheless, if he did but know it, are only a poorer kind of child's play; less spontaneous, infinitely less satisfying, and equally irrational. Ecstasy is not to be assayed by any test that the reason is competent to apply; nor does it need either defense or apology. It is its own end, and so, like beauty, its own excuse for being. That is one of the crowning felicities of this present order of things, - the world, as we call it. What dog would hunt if there were no excitement in overhauling the game? And how would elderly people live through long evenings if there were no exhilaration in the odd trick?
"What good does it do?" a prudent friend and adviser used to say to me, smiling at the fervor of my first ornithological enthusiasm. He thought he was asking me a poser; but I answered gayly, "It makes me happy;" and, taking things as they run, happiness is a pretty substantial "good." So was it now with the sight of this long-desired warbler. It taught me nothing; it put nothing into my pocket; but it made me happy,— happy enough to sing and shout, though I am ashamed to say I did neither. And even a sober son of the Puritans may be glad to find himself, in some unexpected hour, almost as ineffably delighted as he used to be with a new plaything in the time when he had not yet tasted of the tree of knowledge, and knew not that the relish for playthings could ever be outgrown. I cannot affirm that I went quite as wild over my first Cape May warbler as I did over my first sled (how well the rapture of that frosty midwinter morning is remembered, a hard crust on the snow, and the sun not yet risen!), but I came as near to that state of heavenly felicity - to reënter which we must become as little children a person of my years is ever likely to do, perhaps.
It is one precious advantage of natural history studies that they afford endless opportunities for a man to enjoy
himself in this sweetly childish spirit, while at the same time his occupation is dignified by a certain scientific atmosphere and relationship. He is a collector of insects, let us say. Whether he goes to the Adirondacks for the summer, or to Florida for the winter, he is surrounded with nets and cyanide bottles. He travels with them as another travels with packs of cards. Every day's catch is part of the game; and once in a while, as happened to me on Cameron Hill, he gets a "great hand," and in imagination, at least, sweeps the board. Commonplace people smile at him, no doubt; but that is only amusing, and he smiles in turn. He can tell many good stories under that head. He delights to be called a "crank." It is all because of people's ignorance. They have no idea that he is Mr. So-and-So, the entomologist; that he is in correspondence with learned men the country over; that he once discovered a new cockroach, and has had a grasshopper named after him; that he has written a book, or is going to write one. Happy man! a contributor to the world's knowledge, but a pleasure-seeker; a little of a savant, and very much of a child; a favorite of Heaven, whose work is play. No wonder it is commonly said that natural historians are a cheerful set. For the supplying of rarities and surprises there are no birds like the warblers. Their pursuit is the very spice of American ornithology. The multitude of species (Mr. Chapman's Handbook of the Birds of Eastern North America enumerates forty-five species and sub-species) is of itself an incalculable blessing in this respect. No single observer is likely ever to come to the end of them. They do not warble, it must be owned, and few of them have much distinction as singers, the best that I know being the black-throated green and the Kentucky; but they are elegant and varied in their plumage, with no lack of bright tints, while their extreme activity and their largely arboreal habits render their
specific determination and their individual study a work most agreeably difficult and tantalizing. The ornithologist who has seen all the warblers of his own territory, say of New England, and knows them all by their notes, and has found all their nests, well, he is himself a pretty rare specimen.
As for my experience with the family in Tennessee, I was glad, of course, to scrape acquaintance or to renew it, as the case might be - with the more southern species, the Kentucky, the hooded, the cerulean, the blue-wing, and the yellow-throat: that was partly why I was here; but perhaps I enjoyed quite as keenly the sight of our own New England birds moving homeward; tarrying here and there for a day, but not to be tempted by all the allurements of this fine country; still pushing on, northward, and still northward, as if for them there were no place in the world but the woods where they were born. Of the southern species just named, the Kentucky was the most abundant, with the hooded not far behind. The prairie warbler seemed about as common here as in its favored Massachusetts haunts; but unless my ear was at fault its song went somewhat less trippingly: it sounded labored, — too much like the scarlet tanager's in the way of effort and jerkiness. Unlike the golden warbler, the prairie was found not only in the lower country, but in less numbers on Walden's Ridge. The two warblers that I listed every day, no matter where I went, were the chat and the black-and-white creeper.
When all is said, the Kentucky, with its beauty and its song, is the star of the family, as far as eastern Tennessee is concerned. I can hear it now, while Falling Water goes babbling past in the shade of laurel and rhododendron. As for the chat, it was omnipresent in the valley, along the river, on Missionary Ridge, on Lookout Mountain, on Walden's Ridge, in the national cemetery, at Chickamauga, - everywhere, in short,