Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/687

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669
WOODLAND AND WATER-COURSE.
WOODLAND AND WATER-COURSE.
By HORACE LUNT.

AN interesting exhibition of a swarm of gnats, just out of their pupal state, playing up and down over a particular stone in the wall like jets of water in a small fountain—dispersing instantly as I strike my hands together in their midst, and reappearing over the same stone, again to commence their sport—has engaged my attention, and furnished a side-entertainment, so to speak, until a bird-note to which I had never before listened reaches my ear. At first it is heard at a distance, but, as the singer approaches, the strain is rich and clear* and I become absorbed in the melody. Presently a bird flies from the copse yonder to a tree near by, and, with the positions of serenaded and serenader reversed, pours out a heart-song, in six short stanzas, uttered at intervals of half a minute, which is interpreted thus:

"Chee—cheer—cheer—;
Chip along—cheer—cheer!"

The words are pronounced with the tongue of a foreigner, it is true, and seem broken; but, considering the artist's recent arrival from Guatemala, he has succeeded admirably in mastering the language. At first, the song is begun in a low tone, as if the musician were doubtful how he might proceed; but, as he advances, it reaches a rapturous climax, and then falls down into the commonplace, ending almost as it began, faltering and inarticulate.

Looking up, I see a spot of white, red, and black among the leaves. Although I have seen the bird at a distance many times, this is my first real introduction to the rose-breasted grossbeak. Knowing what he is after, I seek a covert, to allow him free use of the stream, on the banks of which he soon appears, and, wading into the depths, where is reflected the carmine on his front, scoops up with his deep, broad bill the water needed to clear his throat after such a fine performance. He is a rare minstrel in this woodland, and indeed throughout this part of New England, not more than a pair or two appearing or being established in the same locality, which is generally near a stream of water or in the neighborhood of swampy tracts, for these birds are consummate bathers, and love to have houses with convenient bath-rooms attached.

Passing up the stream, and noting the differently cut patterns of the leaves on shrub and tree, I discover the former home of this singer situated in the central portion of a high, stout cornel, about twenty feet from the ground. It has certainly been rifled, either by oölogists young or old, or by the predaceous squirrel; for this is the season of incubation, and not an egg is to be seen.