XIII.—‘RED INDIAN’ LIFE
Scouting.—Baden Powell’s little book about Scouting set us upon a new track. Hundreds of families make joyous expeditions, far more educative than they dream, wherein scouting is the order of the day.
For example, one party of four or more lies in ambush,—the best ambush to be had, which is pitched upon after much consideration. The enemy scouts; first he finds the ambush, and then his skill is shown in getting within touch of the alert foe without being discovered. But every family should possess Scouting in default of the chance of going on the war-path with a Red Indian. The evil of the ready-made life we lead is that we do not discern the signs of the times. An alert intelligence towards what goes on in the open-air world is a great possession, and, strongly as we sympathise with the effort made to put down bird’s-nesting, we shall lose, if we are not careful, one of the few bits of what we may call ‘Red Indian’ training still within our reach.
Bird-stalking.—But bird ‘stalking,’ to adapt a name, is a great deal more exciting and delightful than bird’s-nesting, and we get our joy at no cost of pain to other living things. All the skill of a good scout comes into play. Think, how exciting to creep noiselessly as shadows behind river-side bushes on hands and knees without disturbing a twig or a pebble till you get within a yard of a pair of sandpipers, and then, lying low, to watch their dainty little runs, pretty tricks of head and tail, and to hear the music of their call. And here comes in the real joy of bird-stalking. If in the winter months the children have become fairly familiar with the notes of our resident birds, they will be able in the early summer to ‘stalk’ to some purpose. The notes and songs in June are bewildering, but the plan is to single out those you are quite sure of, and then follow up the others. The key to a knowledge of birds is knowledge of their notes, and the only way to get this is to follow any note of which you are not
sure. The joy of tracking a song or note to its source is the joy of a ‘find,’ a possession for life.
But bird-stalking is only to be done upon certain conditions. You must not only be ‘most mousy-quiet,’ but you must not even let a thought whisper, for if you let yourself think about anything else, the entirely delightful play of bird-life passes by you unobserved; nay, the very bird notes are unheard.
Here are two bird walks communicated by a bird-lover:—
“We heard a note something like a chaffinch’s, only slower, and we looked up in the boughs of the ash to try and track the bird by the sudden quiver of one twig here, another, there. We found a steep, rocky path which brought us almost level with the tree tops, and then we had a good view of the shy little willow wren busily seeking food. A note from the next tree like a bubbling of song drew us further on, and then we found the wood wren and watched him as with upturned head and bubbling throat he uttered his trill.
“A joyous burst of song came from a bush near by, and we crept on, to find a blackcap warbler with upraised crest turning excitedly round and round in the ecstasy of song. We waited, and traced him to his next station by his light touch on the branches. A hoarse screech from another tree announced a greenfinch, and we had a long chase to get a glimpse of him; but he came to an outstanding twig, and then we heard his pretty song, which I should never have guessed to be his had we not seen him at it. A little squeaky note made us watch the tree trunks, and, sure enough, there was a tree-creeper running up and round and round an ash, uttering his note all the time.
“Another day we got behind a wall from which
we could examine a field that lay beside the lake. There was the green plover with his jaunty crest, running and pecking, and, as he pecked, we caught sight of the rosy flash under his tail. We waited, hoping for more, for the plovers stand so still that they are lost in their surroundings. But someone coughed, and up went the plovers, a dozen of them, with their weary taunt, ‘Why don’t you let us alone?’ Their distress roused other birds, and we saw a snipe rise from the water edge, a marshy place, with hasty zigzag flight; it made a long round and settled not much further than where it rose. The sandpipers rose, two flying close to the water’s edge, whistling all the time. By the side of a little gully we watched a wagtail, and presently a turn in the sunshine showed us the yellow breast of the yellow wagtail. A loud ‘tis-sic’ near us drew our eyes to the wall, and there stood a pied wagtail with full beak, waiting to get rid of us before visiting his nest in the wall. We crept away and sheltered behind a tree, and after a few minutes’ waiting we saw him go into his hole. An angry chatter near by (like a broom on Venetian blinds!) directed our eyes to a little brown wren on the wall with cocked-up tail, but in a minute he disappeared like a mouse over the side.”
This is from another bird-lover:—
“Now, they (the children) are beginning to care more for the birds than the eggs, and their first question, instead of being, ‘What is the egg like?’ is usually ‘What is the bird like?’ We have great searching through Morris’s British Birds to identify birds we have seen and to make quite sure of doubtful points.
“But now for the birds. Stonechats abound on the heaths. I pricked myself up to my knees standing in a gorse-patch watching and listening to the first I saw, but I was quite rewarded, and saw at least four pairs at one time. Do you know the birds? The cock birds are such handsome little fellows, black head and mask, white collar, rufous breast and dark grey or brown back. They have a pretty little song, rather longer than a chaffinch’s, besides the chit-chat cry when they are disturbed. They do not make a long flight, and will hover in the air like a flycatcher. The sandmartins have numbers of holes in the cliffs. We tried to see how deep they burrowed to build their nests, but though I put my arm in up to the elbows in several deserted holes, I could not reach the end. I think my favourites are the reed-warblers. I know of at least four pairs, and when I could induce the children to both stop talking for a few minutes, we were able to watch them boldly hopping up and down the reeds and singing in full view of us.”
This is the sort of thing bird-stalkers come upon—and what a loss have those children who are not brought up to the gentle art wherein the eye is satisfied with seeing, and there is no greed of collecting, no play of the hunter’s instinct to kill, and yet a lifelong joy of possession.
 John’s British Birds, which costs as many shillings as Morris’s does guineas, is better for beginners.