The Woodcock

The woodcock is a fascinating creature to hunt. It has a habit of suddenly flying up into the air from the ground, right before your nose, and then darting through the air at about ten feet from the grouond in a most intriguing zig-zag, wavering flight, and then suddenly dropping into the bushes at a distance. It never rises from the ground at the place it drops but runs along and after a short time flies directly up into the air again

I have gone after one single woodcock in the space of an afternoon without ever being able to hit it, and the birds seem to enjoy the sport quite as much as I.

The Blue-jay

Blue-jays were also frequent objects of my search. A deep ravine close to the village with sloping sides covered with chestnut trees was a favorite haunt of a flock of blue-jays. These are called blue-jays because of the blue on their crests and various places on the rest of their bodies. The body of the bird is a rusty brown and on its wings are white patches. A flock of blue-jays would attract my attention by their raucus calls and yells and after I had laborously climbed through the under-brush and attempted to approach near enough to the flock for a shot, the birds would start up and after flying a distance would wheel and cross over the ravine and settle on the branches of the high trees on the opposite side.

There was a brook which wended its way through this ravine and also a particularly wild spot which was heavily wooded. Here was the haunt of the Water-ouzel. From my lofty position I enjoyed a rare chance to observe a Water-ouzel feeding on its favorite food, water-snails. On two occasions only have I been able to see this man-shy bird perform this interesting deed. After I had lain for hours on the rough stones in a most uncomfortable position close by a pool in the ravine, the water-ouzel flew down the bank and then started to walk deliberately into the water. This bird grips the pebbles and so forces its buoyant body under the water and continues to walk, holding onto the pebbles with its feet until it reaches a snail, and then by grabbing the prey with its beak, it lets go of the pebbles and its body is immediately carried up with a rush to the top fo the water from which place it flies away, carrying the snail in its mouth.

The stream was also a favorite haunt of the wagtails. The natives call them "washer-women". These birds are somewhat smaller than our American robin. They have a peculiar swinging action to their long tails as the walk along the stones which is for all the world like a washerwoman scrubbing and washing clothes in the water of a river or brook.

We also had pelicans in that region. They nestled on the tops of almost inaccessible cliffs and one could see them in the mornings flying in flocks from the tops of the cliffs down to the sea five or six miles beyond. It is an extraordinary sight to watch the pelican rising from the surface of the water with its big ungainly body and enormous pouch and with his beak laden with fish which it is collecting to take to its nestlings. When the bird decides to rise from the water it begins to beat time with its feet and the body begins to rise slowly from the water. The wings of the bird are also employed in this action and they beat the water vigorously until the body gradually gains momentum, flies or skims along the surface of the water and finally rises and flies away to its home.

by Robert Chambers ęCopyright 2001