Page:Condor12(5).djvu/20

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162 THE CONDOR VOL. XII attracted great flocks. of migrating water birds: sandpipers of all sizes and kinds, from the greater yellowlegs--darting, dashing, noisy yellowlegs--to the modest, quiet little sandpipers--bardi and minulilla?--plover, willets, handsome black-neckt stilts, and long-billed avocets and curlew, one with the bill turning up, the other down. One meadow was irrigated .at a time, and so a field that was all water, white wings, and a babel of bird notes one day, would be dry, bare, and silent the next, the procession having followed the man with the shovel. I wanted to follow too, for the sight of acres of water birds was always fascinating. The delicate gray and white forms of the wheeling flocks against the background of blue sky made a rarely beau- tiful sight, and with the sky for a background and the water for a mirror the birds were always making charming pictures. One of the rarest we saw was that of a delicate red sunset mirrored in a flooded field, in which white water fowl were wading. What a picture from the hart of the New Mexico desert countrs;! A flock of nearly fifty long-billed curlew was seen one day; and at another time half a dozen of the large sickle-billed birds were found in a field surrounded by a restless evershifting throng of yellowlegs and other sandpipers. The liquid quality of the water-birds' notes, spoken of by Frank Bolles, was especially striking here when from an adjoining field came the dry land notes of sparrows. When a bird-catching falcon flew over, one and all o the white wings rose in terror; but a grasshopper-catching Swainson hawk might sit on a fence-post overlook- ing their field, or even fly down in it after his catch, and they would barely recog- nize his presence. Marsh hawks were often seen beating low over the alfalfa making dives with sprawling wings as they spied--was it a mouse or a cotton rat? --and once we saw one standing. in the midst of a field, apparently watching for grasshoppers, his queer ruff-encircled face looking strikingly owl-like. Wherever we went we found birds; for the rich irrigated ranch attracted hordes of migrants among the land as well as water birds to feed on its insects, weed seeds and small mammals; and they were a particularly interesting assembly after weeks in a desert range. In one old weed field we came on a flock of perhaps two hundred lark buntings, migrants of the plains with their fall suits of brown. White-neckt ravens were common in small flocks, apparently gathering in from the deserts after the nesting time. Large mixt flocks of blackbirds, cowbirds, red- wings, and yellowheads, were often found in the cottonwoods squawking, gurgling, and singing a regular marsh medley; and one morning thousands of yellowheads came with a loud noise of wings--a long black cloud--and stopt at the trees near the ranch house. As they lit in masses a great clattering broke out, each of the crowded throng apparently clamoring for standing room. When they were settled, the trees lookt as if laden down with black fruit. We slipt out to get a closer look at them and found long crowded lines on the barbed wire fences, and numbers on the ground in such close array they seemed in sore danger of treding on one another's toes.. Near at hand their orange oval fronts and jet black plumage made them indeed a splendid sight, and when they started up we ex- claimed with admiration, for their epaulets flasht out snow white on their black, velvety coats. As we went back and forth thru the lanes to the prairie-dog town, tame young shrikes would sit calmly on the fence posts and let us pass, a cuckoo would some- times fly swiftly out of a cottonwood hedge where it had been engaged in its favorit occupation, investigating caterpillar nests, flocks of redwings with glowing epaulets would circle around and disappear in a field of milo maize, the shrill p!pe of an oriole would be followed by a yellow flash from a cottonwood, and a sweet blackbird chorus would come from a tree top. Occasionally a mockingbird would be seen along the lanes; but it was a striking fact that while the mockers abounded