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The Adirondacks
by [?]

When I went to the Adirondacks, which was in the summer of 1863, I was in the first flush of my ornithological studies, and was curious, above else, to know what birds I should find in these solitudes,–what new ones, and what ones already known to me.

In visiting vast primitive, far-off woods one naturally expects to find something rare and precious, or something entirely new, but it commonly happens that one is disappointed. Thoreau made three excursions into the Maine woods, and, though he started the moose and the caribou, had nothing more novel to report by way of bird notes than the songs of the wood thrush and the pewee. This was about my own experience in the Adirondacks. The birds for the most part prefer the vicinity of settlements and clearings, and it was at such places that I saw the greatest number and variety.

At the clearing of an old hunter and pioneer by the name of Hewett, where we paused a couple of days on first entering the woods, I saw many old friends and made some new acquaintances. The snowbird was very abundant here, as it had been at various points along the route after leaving Lake George. As I went out to the spring in the morning to wash myself, a purple finch flew up before me, having already performed its ablutions. I had first observed this bird the winter before in the Highlands of the Hudson, where, during several clear but cold February mornings, a troop of them sang most charmingly in a tree in front of my house. The meeting with the bird here in its breeding haunts was a pleasant surprise. During the day I observed several pine finches,–a dark brown or brindlish bird, allied to the common yellowbird, which it much resembles in its manner and habits. They lingered familiarly about the house, sometimes alighting in a small tree within a few feet of it. In one of the stumpy fields I saw an old favorite in the grass finch or vesper swallow. It was sitting on a tall charred stub with food in its beak. But all along the borders of the woods and in the bushy parts of the fields there was a new song that I was puzzled in tracing to the author. It was most noticeable in the morning and at twilight, but was at all times singularly secret and elusive. I at last discovered that it was the white-throated sparrow, a common bird all through this region. Its song is very delicate and plaintive,–a thin, wavering, tremulous whistle, which disappoints one, however, as it ends when it seems only to have begun. If the bird could give us the finishing strain of which this seems only the prelude, it would stand first among feathered songsters.

By a little trout brook in a low part of the woods adjoining the clearing, I had a good time pursuing and identifying a number of warblers,–the speckled Canada, the black-throated blue, the yellow-rumped, and Audubon’s warbler. The latter, which was leading its troop of young through a thick undergrowth on the banks of the creek where insects were plentiful, was new to me.

It being August, the birds were all moulting, and sang only fitfully and by brief snatches. I remember hearing but one robin during the whole trip. This was by the Boreas River in the deep forest. It was like the voice of an old friend speaking my name.

From Hewett’s, after engaging his youngest son,–the “Bub” of the family,–a young man about twenty and a thorough woodsman, as our guide, we took to the woods in good earnest, our destination being the Stillwater of the Boreas,–a long, deep, dark reach in one of the remotest branches of the Hudson, about six miles distant. Here we paused a couple of days, putting up in a dilapidated lumbermen’s shanty, and cooking our fish over an old stove which had been left there. The most noteworthy incident of our stay at this point was the taking by myself of half a dozen splendid trout out of the Stillwater, after the guide had exhausted his art and his patience with very insignificant results. The place had a very trouty look; but as the season was late and the river warm, I knew the fish lay in deep water from which they could not be attracted. In deep water accordingly, and near the head of the hole, I determined to look for them. Securing a chub, I cut it into pieces about an inch long, and with these for bait sank my hook into the head of the Stillwater, and just to one side of the main current. In less than twenty minutes I had landed six noble fellows, three of them over one foot long each. The guide and my incredulous companions, who were watching me from the opposite shore, seeing my luck, whipped out their tackle in great haste and began casting first at a respectable distance from me, then all about me, but without a single catch. My own efforts suddenly became fruitless also, but I had conquered the guide, and thenceforth he treated me with the tone and freedom of a comrade and equal.