John James Audubon.

Ornithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) online

. (page 44 of 56)
Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 44 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that place.

Last winter, while at Charleston, I saw many of them: they had much the
same habits as in Maine, remaining in thick hedges along ditches, in the
woods, and also not far distant from plantations. I procured several
through the assistance of my friend JOHN BACHMAN, which now form part
of my large collection of skins of American birds. The notes of this
species differ considerably from those of the House Wren, to which it
is nearly allied. I hope to be more familiar with the Wood Wren before
my labours are completed, in which case I shall not fail to make you
acquainted with the result of my observations.

The following table exhibits a view of the places of resort of our
different Wrens, which are arranged according to their comparative

1. The _Carolina Wren_ is extremely abundant in all the Southern States,
and gradually diminishes in number as you approach the Middle Districts,
none I believe being ever seen farther east than the State of New York.
It occurs chiefly in maritime districts, or the neighbourhood of lakes,
ponds or rivers.

2. The _House Wren_ is abundant during spring and summer in the Middle
Districts, and extends in small numbers eastward into Maine. Very few are
seen to the west of the Alleghanies, and none in Kentucky or Louisiana.
It is fond of the neighbourhood of human habitations.

3. The _Winter Wren_ abounds in Maine during summer; some breed in the
mountainous portions of the Middle States; none are seen in the south,
unless during winter, when a few occur as far as Charleston in South
Carolina; at this period it is abundant in Kentucky.

4. _Bewick's Wren_ is rather rare in the Southern States, from Louisiana
to South Carolina, being found in the interior. Its breeding place is

5. The _Wood Wren_ is found here and there in Maine, where it breeds.
It winters in South Carolina.

6. The _Long-billed Marsh Wren_ is altogether maritime, and abounds from
the Carolinas to the Middle States.

7. The _Short-billed Marsh Wren_ occurs near fresh water only, and is
abundant from the Carolinas to Maine. The two last species are never
seen at a greater distance from the coast than a few miles.


Adult Male. Plate CLXXIX. Fig. 1.

Bill of moderate length, nearly straight, slender, acute, subtrigonal at
the base, compressed towards the tip; upper mandible with the ridge rather
sharp, the sides convex towards the end, the edges acute and overlapping,
the tip slightly decimate and acute; lower mandible narrow, the sides
convex, the sharp edges inflected. Nostrils elliptical, straight, basal,
with a cartilaginous lid above, open and bare. Head ovate, neck short,
body rather full. Legs of ordinary length, rather large; tarsus rather
long, compressed, covered anteriorly with seven scutella, sharp behind;
lateral toes equal and smallest, hind toe strongest; claws rather long,
slender, acute, arched, much compressed.

Plumage soft, blended, slightly glossed. No bristly feathers about the
base of the beak. Wings short, broad; the first quill half the length of
the second, which is much shorter than the third; the fourth and fifth
longest. Tail rather long, broad, graduated, of twelve rounded feathers.

Bill dusky brown above, lower mandible brownish-yellow, the tip dusky.
Iris hazel. Feet flesh-colour, tinged with brown. The general colour of
the upper parts is dark reddish-brown, duller, and tinged with grey on the
head, indistinctly barred with dark brown; wings and tail undulatingly
banded with dark brown, the edges of the outer primaries lighter. The
under parts are pale brownish-grey, faintly barred on the fore-neck,
breast, and sides, the under tail-coverts distinctly barred.

Length 4⅞ extent of wings 6-3/12 bill along the ridge 5½/12, along the
edge 8/12; tarsus 8/12.

This species is most intimately allied to the House Wren, from which
it can hardly be distinguished in description, the colours being nearly
the same in both. The present species, however, is considerably larger,
wants the light coloured line over the eye which is conspicuous in the
House Wren, and has the tail much more graduated.

SMILACINA BOREALIS, _Pursh_, Flor. Amer. Sept. vol. i. p. 233.

Leaves elliptico-obovate, ciliated; the scape pubescent, with a corymbose
umbel. The flowers are large, and of a greenish-yellow colour; the fruit
roundish, of a beautiful deep blue. It is extremely abundant in the dark
woods of Maine, growing in moist places.

ARBUTUS UVA-URSI, _Willd._ Sp. Pl. vol. ii. p. 618.—DECANDRIA

This small creeping plant grows in pine barrens, and in rocky and
mountainous places in the Northern and Eastern States. The berries are
scarlet, dry and unpalatable.




During the winter months, the Pine Finch is such a wanderer, that it
ranges at irregular periods, from the coast line westward to the banks
of the Ohio, and southward to the Carolinas. Now and then, during severe
weather with occasional storms of snow, I have seen flocks of a hundred
individuals or more, rambling in search of a place in which to alight and
seek for nourishment. In December 1833, I shot several near Charleston
in South Carolina, and on a previous winter procured five near Henderson
in Kentucky. Their visits to those Districts, however, are of short
duration, the least increase of temperature seeming to recall them to
their more northern haunts; and as soon as spring commences, they all
disappear from the districts south of Maine and the adjacent countries.

In August and September 1832, while travelling in the British provinces,
I and my companions frequently met with flocks of these birds, in company
with the American Crossbill, feeding amid the branches of the tallest
fir trees, as well as on the seeds of the thistles of that country,
much in the manner of the American Goldfinch, and the European Siskin.
When disturbed, they would rise high in the air in an irregular flight,
emitting their peculiar call-note as they flew; but would always realight
as soon as another group of thistles was seen by them. When feeding,
they often hung head downwards, like so many Titmice, and as often would
balance themselves on the wing, as if afraid to alight on the sharp
points of the plants, which after all they appeared greatly to prefer
to all others.

While among the Magdeleine Islands, in the Gulf of St Lawrence, I
frequently observed groups of five or six of these birds arriving from
afar, and in different directions. In some instances, these flocks
alighted on the spars and rigging of our vessel, the Ripley, as if to
rest, when they would plume themselves, issue their plaintive call-notes,
as if to announce to others (unseen by us) that they had alighted, and
in a few minutes would leave us, and direct their course toward the
nearest shores, perhaps following in the wake of other flocks.

At the Harbour of Bras d'Or, on the coast of Labrador, in the end of July,
we met with a great number of these birds. They were then accompanied by
their young, and moved in flocks composed of a single family, or at most
of two. They haunted low thickets of willows and elders in the vicinity
of water, and were extremely fearless and gentle, allowing the members of
my party to approach them very near, so that we procured as many of them
as we desired. No difference was observable either in the males or the
females as to plumage, compared with that which they have in the winter,
only that the yellow of the wings was brighter and richer than it is at
that season. The young were already fully fledged, had the whole head of
a clean plain grey tint, and although exhibiting the different markings
elsewhere seen on the old birds, they had those markings depicted in
feeble tints. Not a nest could we find, although I have no doubt that
the birds which we saw had been reared in the immediate neighbourhood.

In the State of Maine they are always abundant during winter. My young
friend THOMAS LINCOLN, informed me that at that season, they flock in
company with Crossbills, the Pine Grosbeak, the White-winged Crossbill
and other species, are easily caught, and require no particular care in

This species sings while on the wing, as the Goldfinch is wont to do.
Its notes are sweet, varied, clear and mellow, and although somewhat
resembling those of the bird just mentioned, are yet perfectly distinct
from them. Its flight, however, is almost the same as that of the
Goldfinch. Like that bird, it glides through the air in graceful deep
curves, emitting its common call-note at every effort which it makes to
propel itself.

Those which I saw while in South Carolina, in company with my esteemed
friend JOHN BACHMAN, fed entirely on the seeds of the Sweet Gum, each
bird hanging to a bur for a while, and passing from one to another with
great celerity. They are fond of open grounds, and alight on detached
trees, when these are high, but at most times they prefer thickets of

The specimens represented in the plate, were procured near the residence
of Sir ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL, Bart. in New Brunswick, of which province he
is governor; and I have great pleasure in informing you, that, through
his most polite attention and kind hospitality to myself and my family,
our time was passed in the most pleasant manner, while we sojourned in
the pretty village of Frederickton.

FRINGILLA PINUS, _Ch. Bonaparte_, Synops. of Birds of the
United States, p. 111.

PINE FINCH, FRINGILLA PINUS, _Wils._ Amer. Ornith. vol. ii.
p. 133. pl. 57. fig. 1.—_Nuttall_, Manual, part i. p. 511.

Adult Male. Plate CLXXX. Fig. 1.

Bill rather short, conical, very acute; upper mandible a little broader
than the lower, almost straight in its dorsal outline, rounded on the
sides, as is the lower, which has the edges sharp and inflected; the
gap-line almost straight, slightly deflected at the base. Nostrils basal,
roundish, concealed by the feathers. Head of moderate size, the general
form compact. Legs of moderate length, slender; tarsus compressed, covered
anteriorly with a few longish scutella, sharp behind; toes scutellate
above, free, the lateral ones nearly equal, the hind toe strong; claws
arched, much compressed, very acute.

Plumage soft, blended, with very little gloss. Wings of ordinary
length, the first quill longest, the second and third a little shorter;
secondaries short, emarginate. Tail of ordinary length, forked, the
lateral feathers straight, but spreading.

Bill light yellowish-brown, dusky at the tip. Iris brown. Feet
purplish-brown. The general colour of the upper parts is yellowish-grey,
streaked with dark brown; the wings and tail dusky, margined with
greyish-white; the bases of the secondary quills, the tips of their
coverts, and the margins of the rump feathers, cream-coloured. The lower
parts are greyish-white, tinged with brown on the fore neck, and all
streaked with dull brown.

Length 4-9/12 inches, extent of wings 8½; bill along the ridge 5/12,
along the edge 7/12; tarsus 6/12.

Adult Female. Plate CLXXX. Fig. 2.

The Female scarcely differs from the Male in external appearance.

This species belongs to the group of Slender-billed Finches which form
the genus _Carduelis_ of authors. The form of its bill, although much
thicker than that of _Sylvia celata_, bears a great resemblance to it,
the latter forming the transition between the Slender-billed Finches
and some of the _Sylviæ_.


PINUS PENDULA, _Pursh_, Fl. Amer. Sept. vol. ii. p. 645.
_Lambert_, Monogr. p. 55. pl. 36.—MONŒCIA POLYANDRIA, _Linn._

Abundant in the Northern States, where it attains a great size. It
resembles the European Larch (_Pinus Larix_) in appearance, and in the
quality of its wood. The leaves are deciduous and fasciculate, the cones
small, oblong, their scales rounded with inflected margins. It is usually
known by the names of Tamarack or Hackmatack.


The morning after that which we had spent with Sir ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL
and his delightful family, saw us proceeding along the shores of the St
John's River in the British province of New Brunswick. As we passed the
Government-house, our hearts bade its generous inmates adieu; and as we
left Frederickton behind, the recollection of the many acts of kindness
which we had received from its inhabitants, came powerfully on our minds.
Slowly advancing over the surface of the translucent stream, we still
fancied our ears saluted by the melodies of the unrivalled band of the
43d Regiment. In short, with the remembrance of kindness experienced, the
feeling of expectations gratified, the hope of adding to our knowledge,
and the possession of health and vigour, we were luxuriating in happiness.

The "Favourite," the bark in which we were, contained not only my whole
family, but nearly a score and a half individuals of all descriptions,
so that the crowded state of her cabin soon began to prove rather
disagreeable. The boat itself was a mere scow, commanded by a person of
rather uncouth aspect and rude manners. Two sorry nags he had fastened to
the end of a long tow-line, on the nearer of which rode a Negro youth,
less than half clad, with a long switch in one hand, and the joined
bridles in the other, striving with all his might to urge them on at
the rate of something more than two miles an hour.

How fortunate it is for one to possess a little of the knowledge of a
true traveller! Following the advice of a good and somewhat aged one,
we had provided ourselves with a large basket, which was not altogether
empty when we reached the end of our aquatic excursion. Here and there
the shores of the river were delightful, the space between it and the
undulating hills that bounded the prospect being highly cultivated,
while now and then its abrupt and rocky banks assumed a most picturesque
appearance. Although it was late in September, the mowers were still
engaged in cutting the grass, and the gardens of the farmers shewed
patches of green pease. The apples were still green, and the vegetation
in general reminded us that we were in a northern latitude.

Gradually and slowly we proceeded, until in the afternoon we landed to
exchange our jaded horses. We saw a house on an eminence, with groups of
people assembled round it, but there no dinner could be obtained, because,
as the landlord told us, an election was going on. So the basket was
had recourse to, and on the green sward we refreshed ourselves with its
contents. This done, we returned to the scow, and resumed our stations.
As usual in such cases, in every part of the world that I have visited,
our second set of horses was worse than the first. However, on we went.
To tell you how often the tow-line gave way, would not be more amusing
to you than it was annoying to us. Once our commander was in consequence
plunged into the stream, but after some exertion, he succeeded in
regaining his gallant bark, when he consoled himself by giving utterance
to a volley of blasphemies, which it would as ill become me to repeat as
it would be disagreeable to you to hear. We slept somewhere that night;
it does not suit my views of travelling to tell you where.

Before day returned to smile on the Favourite, we proceeded. Some rapids
we came to, when every one, glad to assist her, leaped on shore, and
tugged _à la cordelle_. Some miles farther we passed a curious cataract,
formed by the waters of the Pokioke. There Sambo led his steeds up the
sides of a high bank, when, lo! the whole party came tumbling down, like
so many hogsheads of tobacco rolled from a storehouse to the banks of
the Ohio. He at the steering oar hoped "the black rascal" had broken
his neck, and congratulated himself in the same breath for the safety
of the horses, which presently got on their feet. Sambo, however, alert
as an Indian chief, leaped on the naked back of one, and, shewing his
teeth, laughed at his master's curses. Shortly after this we found our
boat very snugly secured on the top of a rock, midway in the stream,
just opposite the mouth of Eel River.

Next day at noon, none injured, but all chop-fallen, we were landed at
Woodstock village, yet in its infancy. After dining there, we procured
a cart and an excellent driver, and proceeded along an execrable road
towards Houlton in Maine, glad enough, after all our mishaps, at finding
ourselves in our own country. But before I bid farewell to the beautiful
river of St John, I must tell you, that its navigation seldom exceeds
eight months each year, the passage during the rest being performed on
the ice, of which we were told that last season there was an unusual
quantity, so much, indeed, as to accumulate, by being jammed at particular
spots, to the height of nearly fifty feet above the ordinary level of
the river, and that when it broke loose in spring, the crash was awful.
All the low grounds along the river were suddenly flooded, and even the
elevated plain on which Frederickton stands was covered to the depth
of four feet. Fortunately, however, as on the greater streams of the
Western and Southern Districts, such an occurrence seldom takes place.

Major CLARKE, commander of the United States garrison, received us with
remarkable kindness. The next day was spent in a long though fruitless
ornithological excursion, for although we were accompanied by officers
and men from the garrison, not a bird did any of our party procure that
was of any use to us. We remained a few days, however, after which,
hiring a cart, two horses, and a driver, we proceeded in the direction
of Bangor.

Houlton is a neat village, consisting of some fifty houses. The fort is
well situated, and commands a fine view of Mar's Hill, which is about
thirteen miles distant. A custom-house has been erected here, the place
being on the boundary line of the United States and the British Provinces.
The road which was cut by the soldiers of this garrison, from Bangor
to Houlton, through the forests, is at this moment a fine turnpike, of
great breadth, almost straight in its whole length, and perhaps the best
now in the Union. It was incomplete, however, for some miles, so that
our travelling over that portion was slow and disagreeable. The rain,
which fell in torrents, reduced the newly raised earth to a complete bed
of mud, and at one time our horses became so completely mired, that had
we not been extricated by two oxen, we must have spent the night near
the spot. Jogging along at a very slow pace, we were overtaken by a gay
waggoner, who had excellent horses, two of which a little "siller" induced
him to join to ours, and we were taken to a tavern at the "Cross Roads,"
where we spent the night in comfort. While supper was preparing, I made
inquiries respecting birds, quadrupeds, and fishes, and was pleased to
hear that all these animals abounded in the neighbourhood. Deer, bears,
trouts, and grouse were quite plentiful, as was the Great Grey Owl!

When we resumed our journey next morning, Nature displayed all her
loveliness; and Autumn, with her mellow tints, her glowing fruits, and
her rich fields of corn, smiled in placid beauty. Many of the fields
had not yet been reaped, the fruits of the forests and orchards hung
clustering around us, and as we came in view of the Penobscot River,
our hearts thrilled with joy. Its broad transparent waters here spread
out their unruffled surface, there danced along the rapids, while
canoes filled with Indians swiftly glided in every direction, raising
before them the timorous waterfowl that had already flocked in from the
north. Mountains, which you well know are indispensable in a beautiful
landscape, reared their majestic crests in the distance. The Canada Jay
leaped gaily from branch to twig; the Kingsfisher, as if vexed at being
suddenly surprised, rattled loudly as it swiftly flew off; and the Fish
Hawk and Eagle spread their broad wings over the waters. All around
was beautiful, and we gazed on the scene with delight, as seated on a
verdant bank, we refreshed our frames from our replenished stores. A
few rare birds were procured here, and the rest of the road being level
and firm, we trotted on at a good pace for several hours, the Penobscot
keeping company with us.

Now we came to a deep creek of which the bridge was undergoing repairs,
and the people saw our vehicle approach with much surprise. They however
assisted us with pleasure, by placing a few logs across, along which our
horses one after the other were carefully led, and the cart afterwards
carried. These good fellows were so averse to our recompensing them for
their labour, that after some altercation we were obliged absolutely to
force what we deemed a suitable reward upon them.

Next day we continued our journey along the Penobscot, the country
changing its aspect at every mile, and when we first descried Old
Town, that village of saw-mills looked like an island covered with
manufactories. The people here are noted for their industry and
perseverance, and any one possessing a mill, and attending to his saws and
the floating of the timber into his dams, is sure to obtain a competency
in a few years. Speculations in land covered with pine, lying to the
north of this place, are carried on to a great extent, and to discover
a good tract of such ground many a miller of Old Town undertakes long
journeys. Reader, with your leave, I will here introduce one of them.

Good luck brought us into acquaintance with Mr GILLIES, whom we happened
to meet in the course of our travels, as he was returning from an
exploring tour. About the first of August he formed a party of sixteen
persons, each carrying a knapsack and an axe. Their provisions consisted
of 250 pounds of pilot bread, 150 of salted pork, 4 of tea, 2 large
loaves of sugar, and some salt. They embarked in light canoes, twelve
miles north of Bangor, and followed the Penobscot as far as Wassataquoik
River, a branch leading to the north-west, until they reached the Seboeis
Lakes, the principal of which lie in a line, with short portages between
them. Still proceeding north-west, they navigated these lakes, and then
turning west, carried their canoes to the great lake "Baamchenunsgamook;"
thence north to Wallaghasquegantook Lake, then along a small stream to
the upper Umsaskiss Pond, when they reached the Albagash River, which
leads into the St John's, in about latitude 47° 3´. Many portions of that
country had not been visited before even by the Indians, who assured Mr
GILLIES of this fact. They continued their travels down the St John's
to the Grand Falls, where they met with a portage of half a mile, and
having reached Meduxmekeag Creek, a little above Woodstock, the party
walked to Houlton, having travelled twelve hundred miles, and described
almost an oval over the country by the time they returned to Old Town,
on the Penobscot.

While anxiously looking for "lumber lands," they ascended the eminences
around, then climbed the tallest trees, and by means of a good telescope,
inspected the pine woods in the distance. And such excellent judges are
these persons of the value of the timber which they thus observe, when
it is situated at a convenient distance from water, that they never
afterwards forget the different spots at all worthy of their attention.
They had observed only a few birds and quadrupeds, the latter principally
porcupines. The borders of the lakes and rivers afforded them fruits of
various sorts, and abundance of cranberries, while the uplands yielded
plenty of wild white onions, and a species of black plum. Some of the
party continued their journey in canoes down the St John's, ascended Eel
River, and the lake of the same name, to Matanemheag River, due southwest
of the St John's, and after a few portages fell into the Penobscot.

I had made arrangements to accompany Mr GILLIES on a journey of this
kind, when I judged it would be more interesting as well as useful to
me to visit the distant country of Labrador.

The road which we followed from Old Town to Bangor was literally covered
with Penobscot Indians returning from market. On reaching the latter
beautiful town, we found very comfortable lodging in an excellent hotel;
and next day we proceeded by the mail to Boston.




In the early part of February 1833, while at Boston in Massachusetts,

Online LibraryJohn James AudubonOrnithological Biography, Volume 2 (of 5) → online text (page 44 of 56)