John James Audubon.

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remains until the beginning of November. It is usually seen on the
largest trees of our woods. It has a few notes, consisting of a series
of rapidly enunciated _tweets_, the last greatly prolonged. It climbs
and _creeps_ along the trunks, the branches, and even the twigs of the
trees, without intermission, and so seldom perches, that I do not remember
ever having seen it in such a position. It lives principally on small
ants and their larvæ, which it secures as it ascends or descends in a
spiral direction, sidewise, with the head either uppermost or beneath.
It keeps its feet close together, and moves by successive short hops
with a rapidity equalling even that of the Brown Creeper. It dives from
the tops of the trees to their roots, and again ascends. At other times,
it alights on a decayed fallen tree, and searches the bark for food,
peeping into the crevices. It has only a very short flight, and moves
directly from one tree to the nearest.

In this manner the Black-and-white Creeper reaches the Northern Districts.
It always prefers the most uncultivated tracts, and is especially fond
of the pines and hemlock-trees of the mountain-glens. I have met with
it on the borders of Canada, round Lake Champlain, in the country far
to the north-west, on the banks of the Illinois, in Ohio, Kentucky, and
all the wooded districts of the Arkansas and Red River.

In Louisiana, its nest is usually placed in some small hole in a tree,
and is composed of mosses in a dry state, lined with cottony substances.
The eggs are from five to seven, of a short oval form, white, with a
few brownish-red spots chiefly at the large end.

Two broods are raised in the season. The young go about in company,
following the parents, and it is not unusual to see nine or ten of these
birds scrambling with great activity along the trunk of a tree. I have
not found its nest in the Middle States, where, however, I am convinced
many breed.

The young are similar in colouring to the females. The young males do
not acquire their full plumage until the following spring.

A male of this species is represented on a twig of the tree commonly
called the Black Larch.


SYLVIA VARIA, _Lath._ Ind. Ornith. vol. ii. p. 539.—_Ch.
Bonaparte_, Synopsis of Birds of the United States, p. 81.

WHITE-POLL WARBLER, _Lath._ Synops. vol. iv. p. 488.

BLACK-AND-WHITE CREEPER, CERTHIA VARIA, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith.
vol. iii. p. 23. Pl. xix. fig. 3.


Adult Male. Plate XC.

Bill rather long, slightly arched, compressed, extremely slender, acute;
nostrils basal, narrow, half-closed by a membrane. General form slender.
Feet of ordinary length, slender; tarsus longer than the middle toe,
scutellate before; toes free, scutellate, the hind one proportionally
larger; claws compressed, very acute, arched.

Plumage soft and blended. Wings of ordinary length, third quill longest,
secondaries short. Tail nearly even, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers.

Bill black. Iris hazel. Feet dusky yellow. Middle of the head
longitudinally white, bordered on each side by a broad stripe of black,
beneath which, on each side, over the eye, is a line of white. Ear-coverts
and chin black. Back and breast streaked with white and black. Wings
black, the outer margins of the quills greyish-white, the tips of the
larger coverts, excepting the primary ones, white, forming two broad
bands of that colour across the wing. Tail black, tinged with bluish-grey
externally, the ends of the inner webs of the three outer feathers on
each side white. Abdomen white; sides and under tail-coverts white,
spotted with black.

Length 5½ inches, extent of wings 7½; bill along the ridge ½.


THE BLACK LARCH.

PINUS PENDULA, _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. vol. ii. p. 645.—MONŒCIA
POLYANDRIA, _Linn._ CONIFERÆ, _Juss._

Leaves fasciculate, deciduous; cones oblong, the margins of the scales
inflected; bracteoles panduriform, with an attenuated tip. This species,
which grows in cedar swamps, in the Northern States, attains a great
size, and resembles the European Larch in appearance.




THE ECCENTRIC NATURALIST.


"What an odd looking fellow!" said I to myself, as while walking by
the river, I observed a man landing from a boat, with what I thought a
bundle of dried clover on his back; "how the boatmen stare at him! sure
he must be an original!" He ascended with a rapid step, and approaching
me asked if I could point out the house in which Mr AUDUBON resided.
"Why, I am the man," said I, "and will gladly lead you to my dwelling."

The traveller rubbed his hands together with delight, and drawing a
letter from his pocket, handed it to me without any remark. I broke
the seal and read as follows: "My dear AUDUBON, I send you an odd fish,
which you may prove to be undescribed, and hope you will do so in your
next letter. Believe me always your friend B." With all the simplicity
of a woodsman I asked the bearer where the odd fish was, when M. de T.
(for, kind reader, the individual in my presence was none else than that
renowned naturalist) smiled, rubbed his hands, and with the greatest
good humour said, "I am that odd fish I presume, Mr AUDUBON." I felt
confounded and blushed, but contrived to stammer an apology.

We soon reached the house, when I presented my learned guest to my
family, and was ordering a servant to go to the boat for M. de T.'s
luggage, when he told me he had none but what he brought on his back.
He then loosened the pack of weeds which had first drawn my attention.
The ladies were a little surprised, but I checked their critical glances
for the moment. The naturalist pulled off his shoes, and while engaged
in drawing his stockings, not up, but down, in order to cover the holes
about the heels, told us in the gayest mood imaginable that he had walked
a great distance, and had only taken a passage on board the _ark_, to
be put on this shore, and that he was sorry his apparel had suffered so
much from his late journey. Clean clothes were offered, but he would
not accept them, and it was with evident reluctance that he performed
the lavations usual on such occasions before he sat down to dinner.

At table, however, his agreeable conversation made us all forget his
singular appearance; and, indeed, it was only as we strolled together
in the garden that his attire struck me as exceedingly remarkable. A
long loose coat of yellow nankeen, much the worse of the many rubs it
had got in its time, and stained all over with the juice of plants, hung
loosely about him like a sac. A waistcoat of the same, with enormous
pockets, and buttoned up to the chin, reached below over a pair of
tight pantaloons, the lower parts of which were buttoned down to the
ankles. His beard was as long as I have known my own to be during some
of my peregrinations, and his lank black hair hung loosely over his
shoulders. His forehead was so broad and prominent that any tyro in
phrenology would instantly have pronounced it the residence of a mind
of strong powers. His words impressed an assurance of rigid truth, and
as he directed the conversation to the study of the natural sciences, I
listened to him with as much delight as Telemachus could have listened
to Mentor. He had come to visit me, he said, expressly for the purpose
of seeing my drawings, having been told that my representations of birds
were accompanied with those of shrubs and plants, and he was desirous of
knowing whether I might chance to have in my collection any with which
he was unacquainted. I observed some degree of impatience in his request
to be allowed at once to see what I had. We returned to the house, when
I opened my portfolios and laid them before him.

He chanced to turn over the drawing of a plant quite new to him.
After inspecting it closely, he shook his head, and told me no such
plant existed in nature;—for, kind reader, M. de T., although a highly
scientific man, was suspicious to a fault, and believed such plants only
to exist as he had himself seen, or such as, having been discovered
of old, had, according to Father MALEBRANCHE's expression, acquired
a "venerable beard." I told my guest that the plant was common in the
immediate neighbourhood, and that I should shew it him on the morrow. "And
why to morrow, Mr AUDUBON? let us go now." We did so, and on reaching
the bank of the river, I pointed to the plant. M. de T. I thought had
gone mad. He plucked the plants one after another, danced, hugged me
in his arms, and exultingly told me that he had got not merely a new
species, but a new genus. When we returned home, the naturalist opened
the bundle which he had brought on his back, and took out a journal
rendered water-proof by means of a leather case, together with a small
parcel of linen, examined the new plant, and wrote its description. The
examination of my drawings then went on. You would be pleased, kind
reader, to hear his criticisms, which were of the greatest advantage
to me, for, being well acquainted with books as well as with nature, he
was well fitted to give me advice.

It was summer, and the heat was so great that the windows were all
open. The light of the candles attracted many insects, among which was
observed a large species of Scarabæus. I caught one, and, aware of his
inclination to believe only what he should himself see, I shewed him the
insect, and assured him it was so strong that it would crawl on the table
with the candlestick on its back. "I should like to see the experiment
made, Mr AUDUBON," he replied. It was accordingly made, and the insect
moved about, dragging its burden so as to make the candlestick change
its position as if by magic, until coming upon the edge of the table,
it dropped on the floor, took to wing, and made its escape.

When it waxed late, I shewed him to the apartment intended for him
during his stay, and endeavoured to render him comfortable, leaving him
writing materials in abundance. I was indeed heartily glad to have a
naturalist under my roof. We had all retired to rest. Every person I
imagined was in deep slumber save myself, when of a sudden I heard a
great uproar in the naturalist's room. I got up, reached the place in
a few moments, and opened the door, when, to my astonishment, I saw my
guest running about the room naked, holding the handle of my favourite
violin, the body of which he had battered to pieces against the walls
in attempting to kill the bats which had entered by the open window,
probably attracted by the insects flying around his candle. I stood
amazed, but he continued jumping and running round and round, until he
was fairly exhausted, when he begged me to procure one of the animals
for him, as he felt convinced they belonged to "a new species." Although
I was convinced of the contrary, I took up the bow of my demolished
Cremona, and administering a smart tap to each of the bats as it came up,
soon got specimens enough. The war ended, I again bade him good night,
but could not help observing the state of the room. It was strewed with
plants, which it would seem he had arranged into groups, but which were
now scattered about in confusion. "Never mind, Mr AUDUBON," quoth the
eccentric naturalist, "never mind, I'll soon arrange them again. I have
the bats, and that's enough."

Several days passed, during which we followed our several occupations. M.
de T. searched the woods for plants, and I for birds. He also followed
the margins of the Ohio, and picked up many shells, which he greatly
extolled. With us, I told him, they were gathered into heaps to be
converted into lime. "Lime! Mr AUDUBON; why, they are worth a guinea a
piece in any part of Europe." One day, as I was returning from a hunt
in a cane-brake, he observed that I was wet and spattered with mud, and
desired me to shew him the interior of one of these places, which he
said he had never visited.

The Cane, kind reader, formerly grew spontaneously over the greater
portions of the State of Kentucky and other Western Districts of our
Union, as well as in many farther south. Now, however, cultivation, the
introduction of cattle and horses, and other circumstances connected
with the progress of civilization, have greatly altered the face of
the country, and reduced the cane within comparatively small limits.
It attains a height of from twelve to thirty feet, and a diameter of
from one to two, and grows in great patches resembling osier-holts, in
which occur plants of all sizes. The plants frequently grow so close
together, and in course of time become so tangled, as to present an
almost impenetrable thicket. A portion of ground thus covered with canes
is called a _Cane-brake_.

If you picture to yourself one of these cane-brakes growing beneath the
gigantic trees that form our western forests, interspersed with vines of
many species, and numberless plants of every description, you may conceive
how difficult it is for one to make his way through it, especially after
a heavy shower of rain or a fall of sleet, when the traveller, in forcing
his way through, shakes down upon himself such quantities of water, as
soon reduce him to a state of the utmost discomfort. The hunters often
cut little paths through the thickets with their knives, but the usual
mode of passing through them is by pushing one's self backward, and
wedging a way between the stems. To follow a bear or a cougar pursued
by dogs through these brakes, is a task, the accomplishment of which
may be imagined, but of the difficulties and dangers accompanying which
I cannot easily give an adequate representation.

The canes generally grow on the richest soil, and are particularly
plentiful along the margins of the great western rivers. Many of our
new settlers are fond of forming farms in their immediate vicinity, as
the plant is much relished by all kinds of cattle and horses, which feed
upon it at all seasons, and again because these brakes are plentifully
stocked with game of various kinds. It sometimes happens that the farmer
clears a portion of the brake. This is done by cutting the stems, which
are fistular and knotted, like those of other grasses, with a large knife
or cutlass. They are afterwards placed in heaps, and when partially dried
set fire to. The moisture contained between the joints is converted into
steam, which causes the cane to burst with a smart report, and when a
whole mass is crackling, the sounds resemble discharges of musquetry.
Indeed, I have been told that travellers floating down the rivers, and
unacquainted with these circumstances, have been induced to pull their
oars with redoubled rigour, apprehending the attack of a host of savages,
ready to scalp every one of the party.

A day being fixed, we left home after an early breakfast, crossed the
Ohio, and entered the woods. I had determined that my companion should
view a cane-brake in all its perfection, and after leading him several
miles in a direct course, came upon as fine a sample as existed in that
part of the country. We entered, and for some time proceeded without
much difficulty, as I led the way, and cut down the canes which were most
likely to incommode him. The difficulties gradually increased, so that we
were presently obliged to turn our backs to the foe, and push ourselves
on the best way we could. My companion stopped here and there to pick up
a plant and examine it. After a while, we chanced to come upon the top
of a fallen tree, which so obstructed our passage that we were on the
eve of going round, instead of thrusting ourselves through amongst the
branches, when, from its bed in the centre of the tangled mass, forth
rushed a bear, with such force, and snuffing the air in so frightful a
manner, that M. de T. became suddenly terror-struck, and, in his haste
to escape, made a desperate attempt to run, but fell amongst the canes
in such a way, that he looked as if pinioned. Perceiving him jammed in
between the stalks, and thoroughly frightened, I could not refrain from
laughing at the ridiculous exhibition which he made. My gaiety, however,
was not very pleasing to the savant, who called out for aid, which was
at once administered. Gladly would he have retraced his steps, but I was
desirous that he should be able to describe a cane-brake, and enticed
him to follow me, by telling him that our worst difficulties were nearly
over. We proceeded, for by this time the bear was out of hearing.

The way became more and more tangled. I saw with delight that a heavy
cloud, portentous of a thunder gust, was approaching. In the mean time,
I kept my companion in such constant difficulties, that he now panted,
perspired, and seemed almost overcome by fatigue. The thunder began to
rumble, and soon after a dash of heavy rain drenched us in a few minutes.
The withered particles of leaves and bark attached to the canes stuck
to our clothes. We received many scratches from briars, and now and
then a twitch from a nettle. M. de T. seriously inquired if we should
ever get alive out of the horrible situation in which we were. I spoke
of courage and patience, and told him I hoped we should soon get to the
margin of the brake, which, however, I knew to be two miles distant. I
made him rest, and gave him a mouthful of brandy from my flask; after
which, we proceeded on our slow and painful march. He threw away all his
plants, emptied his pockets of the fungi, lichens, and mosses which he
had thrust into them, and finding himself much lightened, went on for
thirty or forty yards with a better grace. But, kind reader, enough—I
led the naturalist first one way, then another, until I had nearly lost
myself in the brake, although I was well acquainted with it, kept him
tumbling and crawling on his hands and knees, until long after mid-day,
when we at length reached the edge of the river. I blew my horn, and
soon shewed my companion a boat coming to our rescue. We were ferried
over, and, on reaching the house, found more agreeable occupation in
replenishing our empty coffers.

M. de T. remained with us for three weeks, and collected multitudes of
plants, shells, bats, and fishes, but never again expressed a desire
of visiting a cane-brake. We were perfectly reconciled to his oddities,
and, finding him a most agreeable and intelligent companion, hoped that
his sojourn might be of long duration. But, one evening when tea was
prepared, and we expected him to join the family, he was nowhere to be
found. His grasses and other valuables were all removed from his room. The
night was spent in searching for him in the neighbourhood. No eccentric
naturalist could be discovered. Whether he had perished in a swamp, or
had been devoured by a bear or a gar-fish, or had taken to his heels,
were matters of conjecture; nor was it until some weeks after, that a
letter from him, thanking us for our attention, assured me of his safety.




THE BROAD-WINGED HAWK.

_FALCO PENNSYLVANICUS_, WILS.

PLATE XCI. MALE AND FEMALE.


One fine May morning, when nature seemed to be enchanted at the sight of
her own great works, when the pearly dew-drops were yet hanging at the
point of each leaf, or lay nursed in the blossoms, gently rocked, as it
were, by the soft breeze of early summer, I took my gun, and, accompanied
by my excellent brother-in-law, WILLIAM G. BAKEWELL, Esq., at that time a
youth, walked towards some lovely groves, where many songsters attracted
our attention by their joyous melodies. The woods were all alive with
the richest variety, and, divided in choice, we kept going on without
shooting at any thing, so great was our admiration of every bird that
presented itself to our view. As we crossed a narrow skirt of wood, my
young companion spied a nest on a tree of moderate height, and, as my eye
reached it, we both perceived that the parent bird was sitting in it.
Some little consultation took place, as neither of us could determine
whether it was a Crow's or a Hawk's nest, and it was resolved that my
young friend should climb the tree, and bring down one of the eggs. On
reaching the nest, he said the bird, which still remained quiet, was a
Hawk and unable to fly. I desired him to cover it with his handkerchief,
try to secure it, and bring it down, together with the eggs. All this
was accomplished without the least difficulty. I looked at it with
indescribable pleasure, as I saw it was new to me, and then felt vexed
that it was not of a more spirited nature, as it had neither defended
its eggs nor itself. It lay quietly in the handkerchief, and I carried
it home to my father-in-law's, shewed it to the family, and went to my
room, where I instantly began drawing it. The drawing which I then made
is at this moment before me, and is dated "Fatland Ford, Pennsylvania,
May 27, 1812."

I put the bird on a stick made fast to my table. It merely moved its
feet to grasp the stick, and stood erect, but raised its feathers, and
drew in its neck on its shoulders. I passed my hand over it, to smooth
the feathers by gentle pressure. It moved not. The plumage remained as
I wished it. Its eye, directed towards mine, appeared truly sorrowful,
with a degree of pensiveness, which rendered me at that moment quite
uneasy. I measured the length of its bill with the compass, began my
outlines, continued measuring part after part as I went on, and finished
the drawing, without the bird ever moving once. My wife sat at my side,
reading to me at intervals, but our conversation had frequent reference
to the singularity of the incident. The drawing being finished, I raised
the window, laid hold of the poor bird, and launched it into the air,
where it sailed off until out of my sight, without uttering a single
cry, or deviating from its course. The drawing from which the plate is
taken, was subsequently made, as I had to wait until I should procure
a male, to render it complete.

The above incident you will doubtless consider as extraordinary as I
myself did, and perhaps some may feel disposed to look upon it as a
specimen of travellers' tales; but as I have resolved to present you with
the incidents as they occurred, I have felt no hesitation in relating
this.

The Broad-winged Hawk is seldom seen in Louisiana, and I believe never
except during the severe winters that occasionally occur in our Middle and
Eastern Districts. I have observed that its usual range seldom extends
far west of the Alleghany Mountains; but in Virginia, Maryland, and all
the States to the eastward of these, it is by no means a rare species. I
have shot several in the Jerseys, the State of New York, near the Falls
of Niagara, and also in the Great Pine Forest.

Its flight, which is easy and light, is performed in circles. When
elevated in the air, it is fond of partially closing its wings for a
moment, and thus gliding to a short distance, as if for amusement. It
seldom chases other birds of prey, but is itself frequently teased by the
Little Sparrow-hawk, the King-bird, or the Martin. It generally attacks
birds of weak nature, particularly very young chickens and ducklings,
and during winter feeds on insects and other small animals. It flies
singly, unless during the breeding season, and after feeding retires to
the top of some small tree, within the woods, where it rests for hours
together. It is easily approached. When wounded by a shot so as to be
unable to fly, it, like most birds of its tribe, throws itself on its
back, opens its bill, protrudes its tongue, utters a hissing sound, erects
the top-feathers of its head, and defends itself by reiterated attempts
to lay hold with its talons. If a stick is presented to it in this state,
it will clench it at once, and allow itself to be carried hanging to it
for some distance, indeed until the muscles become paralyzed, when it
drops, and again employs the same means of defence.

When feeding, it generally holds its prey with both feet, and tears and
swallows the parts without much plucking. I must here remark, that birds
of prey never cover their victims by extending the wings over them,
unless when about to be attacked by other birds or animals, that evince
a desire to share with them or carry off the fruit of their exertions.
In the stomach of this bird I have found wood-frogs, portions of small
snakes, together with feathers, and the hair of several small species of
quadrupeds. I do not think it ever secures birds on the wing, at least
I never saw it do so.

The nest, which is about the size of that of the Common Crow, is usually
placed on pretty large branches, and near the stem or trunk of the tree.
It is composed externally of dry sticks and briars, internally of numerous
small roots, and is lined with the large feathers of the Common Fowl and



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 1 (of 5) → online text (page 43 of 50)