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Bill dusky above, pale brownish-yellow beneath. Iris dark hazel. Feet
pale flesh-colour. The upper parts are blackish-brown, each feather
with a brownish-white line along the shaft, and the outer edge towards
the end reddish-brown. Wings dusky, the outer edges barred with pale
yellowish-brown on the outer webs. Upper tail-coverts and tail similarly
barred. Throat and central part of the breast greyish-white, the rest
of the lower parts pale reddish-brown, the sides under the wings faintly
barred with dusky.

Length 4⅜ inches, extent of wings 5⅝; bill along the ridge 4½/12, along
the edge 6/12; tarsus 8½/12.


Adult Female. Plate CLXXV. Fig. 2.

The female resembles the male, and the young birds are distinguishable
only by having the bill shorter, and the lower parts more tinged with red.


The Long-billed Marsh Wren is very closely allied to the present species,
and the two form part of a group which VIEILLOT distinguishes by the
name of Thyrothorus.




A MOOSE HUNT.


In the spring of 1833, the Moose were remarkably abundant in the
neighbourhood of the Schoodiac Lakes; and, as the snow was so deep in
the woods as to render it almost impossible for them to escape, many of
them were caught. About the 1st of March 1833, three of us set off on
a hunt, provided with snow-shoes, guns, hatchets, and provisions for a
fortnight. On the first day we proceeded fifty miles, in a sledge drawn
by one horse, to the nearest lake, where we stopped for the night, in
the hut of an Indian named LEWIS, of the Passamaquody tribe, and who has
abandoned the wandering life of his race, and turned his attention to
farming and lumbering. Here we saw the operation of making snow-shoes,
which requires more skill than one might imagine. The men generally make
the bows to suit themselves, and the women weave in the threads, which
are usually made of the skin of the Karaboo deer.

The next day we went on foot sixty-two miles farther, when a heavy
rain-storm coming on, we were detained a whole day. The next morning we
put on snow-shoes, and proceeded about thirteen miles, to the head of
the Musquash Lake, where we found a camp, which had been erected by some
lumberers in the winter, and here we established our head-quarters. In
the afternoon an Indian had driven a female moose-deer, and two young
ones of the preceding year, within a quarter of a mile of our camp, when
he was obliged to shoot the old one. We undertook to procure the young
alive, and after much exertion succeeded in getting one of them, and shut
it up in the shed made for the oxen; but as the night was falling, we
were compelled to leave the other in the woods. The dogs having killed
two fine deer that day, we feasted upon some of their flesh, and upon
Moose, which certainly seemed to us the most savoury meat we had ever
eaten, although a keen appetite is very apt to warp one's judgment in
such a case. After supper we laid ourselves down before the huge fire
we had built up, and were soon satisfied that we had at last discovered
the most comfortable mode of sleeping.

In the morning we started off on the track of a Moose, which had been
driven from its haunt or yard by the Indians the day before; and, although
the snow was in general five feet deep, and in some places much deeper,
we travelled three miles before we came to the spot where the Moose had
rested for the night. He had not left this place more than an hour, when
we came to it. So we pushed on faster than before, trusting that ere
long we should overtake him. We had proceeded about a mile and a half
farther, when he took a sudden turn, which threw us off his track, and
when we again found it, we saw that an Indian had taken it up and gone
in pursuit of the harassed animal. In a short time we heard the report
of a gun, and immediately running up, we saw the Moose standing in a
thicket wounded, when we brought him down. The animal finding himself
too closely pursued, had turned upon the Indian, who fired and instantly
ran into the bushes to conceal himself. It was three years old, and
consequently not nearly grown, although already about six feet and a
half in height.

It is difficult to conceive how an animal could have gone at such a
rate, when the snow was so deep, with a thick crust at top. In one place
he had followed the course of a brook, over which the snow had sunk
considerably on account of the higher temperature of the water, and
we had an opportunity of seeing evidence of the great power which the
species possesses in leaping over objects that obstruct his way. There
were places in which the snow had drifted to so great a height, that you
would have imagined it impossible for any animal to leap over it, and
yet we found that he had done so at a single bound, without leaving the
least trace. As I did not measure these snow-heaps, I cannot positively
say how high they were, but I am well persuaded that some of them were
ten feet.

We proceeded to skin and dress the Moose, and buried the flesh under
the snow, where it will keep for weeks. On opening the animal we were
surprised to see the great size of the lungs and heart, compared with
the contents of the abdomen. The heart was certainly larger than that
of any animal which I had seen. The head bears a great resemblance
to that of a horse, but the "muffle" is more than twice as large, and
when the animal is irritated or frightened, it projects that part much
farther than usual. It is stated in some descriptions of the Moose,
that he is short-winded and tender-footed, but he certainly is capable
of long-continued and very great exertion, and his feet, for any thing
that I have seen to the contrary, are as hard as those of any other
quadruped. The young Moose was so exhausted and fretted, that it offered
no opposition to us as we led it to the camp; but in the middle of the
night we were awakened by a great noise in the hovel, and found that as
it had in some measure recovered from its terror and state of exhaustion,
it began to think of getting home, and was now much enraged at finding
itself so securely imprisoned. We were unable to do any thing with it,
for if we merely approached our hands to the openings of the hut, it
would spring at us with the greatest fury, roaring and erecting its mane
in a manner that convinced us of the futility of all attempts to save
it alive. We threw to it the skin of a deer, which it tore to pieces
in a moment. This individual was a yearling, and about six feet high.
When we went to look for the other, which we had left in the woods, we
found that he had "taken his back-track," or retraced his steps, and
gone to the "beat," about a mile and a half distant, and which it may
be interesting to describe.

At the approach of winter, parties of Moose Deer, from two to fifty in
number, begin to lessen their range, and proceed slowly to the south
side of some hill, where they feed within still narrower limits, as the
snows begin to fall. When it accumulates on the ground, the snow, for
a considerable space, is divided into well trodden, irregular paths, in
which they keep, and browse upon the bushes at the sides, occasionally
striking out a new path, so that, by the spring, many of those made at
the beginning of winter are obliterated. A "yard" for half a dozen Moose
would probably contain about twenty acres.

A good hunter, although still a great way off, will not only perceive
that there is a yard in the vicinity, but can tell the direction in which
it lies, and even be pretty sure of the distance. It is by the marks on
the trees that he discovers this circumstance; he finds the young maple,
and especially the moose-wood and birch, with the bark gnawed off to the
height of five or six feet on one side, and the twigs bitten, with the
impression of the teeth left in such a manner, that the position of the
animal when browsing on them may be ascertained. Following the course
indicated by these marks, the hunter gradually finds them more distinct
and frequent, until at length he arrives at the yard; but there he finds
no moose, for long before he reaches the place, their extremely acute
smell and hearing warn them of his approach when they leave the yard,
generally altogether, the strongest leading in one track, or in two or
three parties. When pursued they usually separate, except the females,
which keep with their young, and go before to break the track for them;
nor will they leave them under any circumstances until brought down
by their ruthless pursuers. The males, especially the old ones, being
quite lean at this season, go off at great speed, and unless the snow
is extremely deep, soon outstrip the hunters. They usually go in the
direction of the wind, making many short turns to keep the scent, or
to avoid some bad passage; and although they may sink to the bottom at
every step, they cannot be overtaken in less than three or four days.
The females, on the contrary, are remarkably fat, and it is not at all
unfrequent to find in one of them a hundred pounds of raw tallow. But
let us return to the young buck, which had regained the yard.

We found him still more untractable than the female we had left in the
hovel; he had trodden down the snow for a small space around him, which
he refused to leave, and would spring with great fury at any one who
approached the spot too near; and as turning on snow-shoes is not an
easy operation, we were content to let him alone, and try to find one
in a better situation for capture, knowing that if we did eventually
secure him, he would probably in the struggle injure himself too much
to live. I have good reason to believe that the only practicable mode
of taking them uninjured, except when they are very young, is, when they
are exhausted and completely defenceless, to bind them securely, and keep
them so till they have become pacified and convinced of the uselessness
of any attempt at resistance. If allowed to exert themselves as they
please, they almost always kill themselves, as we found by experience.

On the following day we again set out, and coming across the tracks of
two young bucks, which had been started by the Indians, we pursued them,
and in two or three miles overtook them. As it was desirable to obtain
them as near the camp as possible, we attempted to steer them that way.
For a while we succeeded very well in our scheme, but at last one of
them, after making many ineffectual attempts to get another way, turned
upon his pursuer, who, finding himself not very safe, felt obliged to
shoot him. His companion, who was a little more tractable, we drove on
a short way, but as he had contrived to take many turnings, he could
approach us on his back-track too swiftly, so that we were compelled
to shoot him also. We "dressed" them, taking with us the tongues and
muffles, which are considered the most delicate parts.

We had not walked more than a quarter of a mile, when we perceived
some of the indications before mentioned, which we followed for half a
mile, when we came across a yard, and, going round it, we found where
the Moose had left it, though we afterwards learned that we had missed
a fine buck, which the dogs, however, afterwards discovered. We soon
overtook a female with a young one, and were not long in sight of them
when they stood at bay. It is really wonderful how soon they beat down
a hard space in the snow to stand upon, when it is impossible for a dog
to touch them, as they stamp so violently with their fore feet, that it
is certain death to approach them. This Moose had only one calf with
her, and on opening her we perceived that she would only have had one
the next year, though the usual number is two, almost invariably a male
and a female. We shot them with ball through the brain.

The Moose bears a considerable resemblance to the horse in his
conformation, and in his disposition a still greater, having much of the
sagacity as well as viciousness of that animal. We had an opportunity
of observing the wonderful acuteness of its hearing and smelling. As
we were standing by one, he suddenly erected his ears, and put himself
on the alert, evidently aware of the approach of some person. About ten
minutes after one of our party came up, who must have been at the time
at least half a mile off, and the wind was from the Moose towards him.

This species of Deer feeds on the hemlock, cedar, fir or pine, but will
not touch the spruce. It also eats the twigs of the maple, birch, and soft
shoots of other trees. In the autumn they may be enticed by imitating
their peculiar cry, which is described as truly frightful. The hunter
gets up into a tree, or conceals himself in some other secure place, and
imitates this cry by means of a piece of birch-bark rolled up to give the
proper tone. Presently he hears the Moose come dashing along, and when
he gets near enough, takes a good aim, and soon dispatches him. It is
very unsafe to stand within reach of the animal, for he would certainly
endeavour to demolish you.

A full grown male Moose is said to measure nine feet in height, and with
his immense branching antlers presents a truly formidable appearance.
Like the Virginian Deer and the male Karaboo, they shed their horns every
year about the beginning of December. The first year their horns are
not dropped in spring. When irritated the Moose makes a great grinding
with his teeth, erects his mane, lays back his ears, and stamps with
violence. When disturbed he makes a hideous whining noise, much in the
manner of the Camel.

In that wild and secluded part of the country, seldom visited but by
the Indians, the Common Deer were without number, and it was with great
difficulty that we kept the dogs with us, as they were continually
meeting with "beats." In its habits that species greatly resembles the
Moose. The Karaboo has a very broad flat foot, and can spread it on the
snow to the fetlock, so as to be able to run on a crust scarcely hard
enough to bear a dog. When the snow is soft, they keep in immense droves
around the margin of the large lakes, to which they betake themselves
when pursued, the crust being much harder there than elsewhere. When
it becomes more firm, they strike into the woods. As they possess such
facility of running on snow, they do not require to make any yards, and
consequently have no fixed place in the winter. The speed of this animal
is not well known, but I am inclined to believe it much greater than
that of the fleetest horse.

In our camp we saw great numbers of Crossbills, Grosbeaks, and various
other small birds. Of the first of these were two species, which were
very tame, and alighted on our hut with the greatest familiarity. We
caught five or six at once under a snow-shoe. The Pine-Martin and Wild
Cat were also very abundant.




THE SPOTTED OR CANADA GROUS.

_TETRAO CANADENSIS_, LINN.

PLATE CLXXVI. MALE AND FEMALE.


No sooner had I entered the State of Maine, than I considered the Canada
Grous as one of the principal objects of my inquiry. Every person to whom
I spoke about it, assured me that it was rather abundant during the whole
year, and consequently that it bred in the country. All this fortunately
proved to be quite true, but no one told me of the difficulties I should
have to encounter in watching its habits; and although I ultimately
succeeded in this, the task was perhaps as severe as any which I ever
undertook.

In August 1832, I reached the delightful little village of Dennisville,
about eighteen miles distant from Eastport. There I had the good fortune
of becoming an inmate of the kind and most hospitable family of Judge
LINCOLN, who has resided there for nearly half a century, and who is
blessed with a family of sons equal to any with whom I am acquainted, for
talents, perseverance and industry. Each of these had his own peculiar
avocation, and I naturally attached myself more particularly to one
who ever since his childhood has manifested a decided preference for
ornithological pursuits. This young gentleman, THOMAS LINCOLN, offered
to lead me to those retired woods where the Spruce Partridges were to
be found. We accordingly set out on the 27th of August, my two sons
accompanying us. THOMAS, being a perfect woodsman, advanced at our head,
and I can assure you, reader, that to follow him through the dense and
tangled woods of his native country, or over the deep mosses of Labrador,
where, you know, he accompanied me afterwards, would be an undertaking
not easily accomplished with credit. The weather was warm, and the
musquitoes and moose flies did their best to render us uncomfortable.
We however managed to follow our guide the whole day, over fallen trees,
among tangled brushwood, and through miry ponds; yet not a single Grous
did we find, even in places where he had before seen them, and great
was my mortification, when, on our return towards sunset, as we were
crossing a meadow belonging to his father, not more than a quarter of
a mile from the village, the people employed in making hay informed us
that about half an hour after our departure they had seen a fine covey.
We were too much fatigued to go in search of them, and therefore made
for home.

Ever ardent, if not impatient, I immediately made arrangements for
procuring some of these birds, offering a good price for a few pairs
of old and young, and in a few days renewed my search in company with a
man who had assured me he could guide me to their breeding grounds, and
which he actually did, to my great pleasure. These breeding grounds I
cannot better describe than by telling you that the larch forests, which
are there called "Hackmetack Woods," are as difficult to traverse as
the most tangled swamps of Labrador. The whole ground is covered by the
most beautiful carpeting of verdant moss, over which the light-footed
Grous walk with ease, but among which we sunk at every step or two up to
the waist, our legs stuck in the mire, and our bodies squeezed between
the dead trunks and branches of the trees, the minute leaves of which
insinuated themselves among my clothes, and nearly blinded me. We saved
our guns from injury, however, and seeing some of the Spruce Partridges
before they perceived us, we procured several specimens. They were in
beautiful plumage, but all male birds. It is in such places that these
birds usually reside, and it is very seldom that they are seen in the
open grounds, beyond the borders of their almost impenetrable retreats.
On returning to my family, I found that another hunter had brought two
fine females, but had foolishly neglected to bring the young ones, which
he had caught and given to his children, who to my great mortification
had already cooked them when my messenger arrived at his house.

The Spruce Partridge or Canada Grous breeds in the States of Maine and
Massachusetts about the middle of May, nearly a month earlier than at
Labrador. The males pay their addresses to the females by strutting
before them on the ground or moss, in the manner of the Turkey Cock,
frequently rising several yards in the air in a spiral manner, when
they beat their wings violently against their body, thereby producing a
drumming noise, clearer than that of the Ruffed Grous, and which can be
heard at a considerable distance. The female places her nest beneath the
low horizontal branches of fir trees, taking care to conceal it well. It
consists of a bed of twigs, dry leaves and mosses, on which she deposits
from eight to fourteen eggs of a deep fawn colour, irregularly splashed
with different tints of brown. They raise only one brood in the season,
and the young follow the mother as soon as hatched. The males leave the
females whenever incubation has commenced, and do not join them again
until late in autumn; indeed, they remove to different woods, where they
are more shy and wary than during the love season or in winter.

This species walks much in the manner of our Partridge. I never saw one
jerk its tail as the Ruffed Grous does, nor do they burrow in the snow
like that bird, but usually resort to trees to save themselves from
their pursuers. They seldom move from thence at the barking of a dog,
and when roused fly only to a short distance, uttering a few _clucks_,
which they repeat on alighting. In general, when a flock is discovered,
each individual forming it may be easily caught, for so seldom do they
see men in the secluded places which they inhabit, that they do not seem
to be aware of the hostile propensities of the race.

Along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, the Spruce Partridge is much more
abundant than the Ruffed Grous, which indeed gradually becomes scarcer
the farther north we proceed, and is unknown in Labrador, where it is
replaced by the Willow Grous, and two other species. The females of the
Canada Grous differ materially in their colouring in different latitudes.
In Maine, for instance, they are more richly coloured than in Labrador,
where I observed that all the individuals procured by me were of a much
greyer hue than those shot near Dennisville. The like difference is
perhaps still more remarkable in the Ruffed Grous, which are so very grey
and uniformly coloured in the Northern and Eastern States, as to induce,
almost every person to consider them as of a species distinct from those
found in Kentucky, or any of the southern mountainous districts of the
Union. I have in my possession skins of both species procured a thousand
miles apart, that present these remarkable differences in the general
hue of their plumage.

All the species of this genus indicate the approach of rainy weather or a
snow storm, with far more precision than the best barometer; for on the
afternoon previous to such weather, they all resort to their roosting
places earlier by several hours than they do during a continuation of
fine weather. I have seen groups of Grous flying up to their roosts at
mid-day, or as soon as the weather felt heavy, and have observed that it
generally rained in the course of that afternoon. When, on the contrary,
the same flock would remain busily engaged in search of food until
sunset, I found the night and the following morning fresh and clear.
Indeed, I believe that this kind of foresight exists in the whole tribe
of Gallinaceous birds.

One day, while on the coast of Labrador, I accidentally almost walked upon
a female Canada Grous surrounded by her young brood. It was on the 18th
of July. The affrighted mother on seeing us, ruffled up all her feathers
like a common hen, and advanced close to us as if determined to defend
her offspring. Her distressed condition claimed our forbearance, and
we allowed her to remain in safety. The moment we retired, she smoothed
down her plumage, and uttered a tender maternal chuck, when the little
ones took to their wings, although they were, I can venture to assert,
not more than _one week old_, with so much ease and delight, that I felt
highly pleased at having allowed them to escape.

Two days afterwards, my youthful and industrious party returned to the
Ripley with a pair of these Grous in moult. This species undergoes that
severe trial at a much earlier season than the Willow Grous. My son
reported that some young ones which he saw with their mother, were able
to fly fully a hundred yards, and alighted on the low trees, among which
he caught several of them, which, however, died before they reached the
vessel.

This species is found not only in the State of Maine, but also in the
mountainous districts of New Hampshire, and the northern parts of New
York, as well as around our northern great lakes, and the head waters of
the Missouri. It is abundant in the British provinces of New Brunswick,
Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador.

Among the great number, procured at all seasons of the year, which I have
examined, I never found one without the rufous band at the extremity of
the tail represented in the plate; nor did I see any having the terminal
white spot on the upper tail-coverts exhibited in figures of this species.

Their food consists of berries of different sorts, and the young twigs
and blossoms of several species of plants. In the summer and autumn I
have found them gorged with the berries of the plant represented in the
plate, and which is commonly called "Solomon's Seal." In the winter I have
seen the crop filled with the short leaves of the larch or Hackmetack.

I have frequently heard it said that these birds could be knocked down
with sticks, or that a whole covey could be shot, while perched on trees,
by beginning at the lowest one; but I have never witnessed any thing
of the kind, and therefore cannot vouch for the truth of the assertion.



Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 42 of 56)