Thursday, 12 January 2012

UP THE NIPIGON, By Elizabeth Taylor - Part Two

Be Still Thy Heart, this is from Harper's Magazine 1889

Part Two

The Birds of Nipigon 1889

Whisky Jack

I am inclined to think that Whisky Jack has been maligned, and to agree with our guide, with whom I talked about it. He said: " The Whisky Jack is not an impertinent bird; all the gentlemen that come up call him so , but they don't understand him. They camp in his woods and make a big noise and disturb him, and why should he care for them? This is his country, where he has always lived - he is at home, and why need he be shy? He does not like new-comers , and perhaps he shows it , and then they call him impertinent."

I was told before leaving Red Rock, by a gentleman who had been up the river, that I should not find more than a dozen kinds of birds, but by diligent search on the portages, a list of thirty - eight was made; and many more , I am sure, could have been found earlier in the season, when they are in song.

The bird one hears oftener than any other is the "Dah-je-ba," or white-throated sparrow, the "Rossignol" of the Eastern Provinces. A guide from the Sault Ste. Marie called him the "Onak."  His wild, sweet note sounded on every portage, though it was with the greatest difficulty that I caught sight of him.

We often beheld the black-capped Chickadee talking cheerfully to himself as he flitted up and down between the boughs. I had met him last in the far-away  marsh islands of Point Seakonnet, in Rhode Island, and his voice sounded like that of an old friend. The Indian name for him, "Ge - je - ge - je - ga - na - she, " when said quickly, is a much better imitation of his usual call than our chickadee. Longfellow gives the name of "Opeechee" to the robin which we found only near Red Rock, but all the North- shore Ojibwas that I asked about it called him the "Kwushqua."

The owl seemed to be the 'Ko - ko - ko -o " everywhere; the white-headed eagle, the "Me - ge - ze"; and the loon, the "Maung," or "brave-hearted." To one familiar with the quiet, dignified, gentlemanly ways of the cedar-bird, his Indian name of "O- gi- ma- bi - ni - shi" will seem a good one - "the bird that is king."

One morning I had the good fortune to see two rare birds, the Philadelphia vireo and the solitary vireo. I was sitting on a rock, resting, after a hard climb for some ferns, when I noticed these birds at some distance among the underbrush that surrounded me. I tried a device that had proved successful many times before - began whistling with a low crooning sound, sitting perfectly quiet, and allowing the insects to attack me undisturbed; and soon the birds began to circle about  me , coming closer and closer, until I had  a satisfactory view of them. The red-eyed and yellow-throated vireos were met with on the river, and the American red-start, black and white creeper, willow-warbler, tree and song sparrows, wood - pewee, grass-finch, and several kinds of woodpeckers.

The novice in camping is the recipient of much advice from experienced friends. Let me suggest that the would-be camper cultivate an interest in the birds. If anything can make one forget the ravages of black flies and musquitoes, the sight of a flock of pintail grouse or rare warbler will have that effect, and there are few sights more charming than a ruff-grouse seen as you peer through the dusky hemlocks, standing erect and graceful, with her bright eyes fixed on you, ready to start at the first sign of danger.

This is a he not a she. Ruffed Grouse.
The bird of the Nepigon, however, is the kingfisher. On the lake itself, the loon, or the great herring gull , takes its place; but at every turn, while on the river, we saw him perched on some limb overhanging the water, and launching himself  into the air with his cheerful rattle as we passed. "O - gush - ke - muh - na - see" - the Indian name for him is appropriate " cut up to the point" in allusion to his style of wearing his top-knot.

This will be continued in Part Three.

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