No sooner had the Ripley come to an anchor in the curious harbour of Labrador, known by the name of Little Macatina, than my party and myself sought the shore;--but before I proceed, let me describe this singular place. It was the middle of July, the weather was mild and pleasant, our vessel made her way under a smart breeze through a very narrow passage, beyond which we found ourselves in a small circular basin of water, having an extent of seven or eight acres. It was so surrounded by high, abrupt, and rugged rocks, that, as I glanced around, I could find no apter comparison for our situation than that of a nut-shell in the bottom of a basin. The dark shadows that overspread the waters, and the mournful silence of the surrounding desert, sombred our otherwise glad feelings into a state of awe. The scenery was grand and melancholy. On one side, hung over our heads, in stupendous masses, a rock several hundred feet high, the fissures of which might to some have looked like the mouths of some huge undefined monster. Here and there a few dwarf-pines were stuck as if by magic to this enormous mass of granite; in a gap of the cliff the brood of a pair of grim Ravens shrunk from our sight, and the Gulls, one after another, began to wend their way over-head towards the middle of the quiet pool, as the furling of the sails was accompanied by the glad cries of the sailors. The remarkable land-beacons erected in that country to guide vessels into the harbour, looked like so many figures of gigantic stature formed from the large blocks that lay on every hill around. A low valley, in which meandered a rivulet, opened at a distance to the view. The remains of a deserted camp of seal-catchers was easily traced from our deck, and as easily could we perceive the innate tendency of man to mischief, in the charred and crumbling ruins of the dwarf-pine forests. But the harbour was so safe and commodious, that, before we left it to find shelter in another, we had cause to be thankful for its friendly protection.
We were accoutred for the occasion, and, as I have said, instantly made for the shore. Anxious to receive as much information as possible in a given time, we separated. The more active scaled the most difficult heights, and among them was our Captain, Mr. EMERY, than whom a more expert seaman and a better man is rarely to be found. Others chose the next most difficult place of ascent; while I and my young friend Dr. SHATTUCK of Boston, slowly moved along in quest of birds, plants, and other objects. We soon reached a considerable elevation, from which we beheld the broad Gulf of St. Lawrence gathering its gray vapours, as if about to cover itself with a mantle; while now and then our eye was suddenly attracted by the gliding movements of our distant parties, as they slipped down the declivities. In this manner we had surveyed the country for several miles, when the sea-fog began to approach the land so swiftly, that, with the knowledge we all had acquired of the difficulty of proceeding overland when surprised by it, we judged it prudent to return to our vessel. There we compared notes, and made preparations for the morrow.
One fair morning, while several of us were scrambling through one of the thickets of trees, scarcely waist-high, my youngest son chanced to scare from her nest a female of the Black-poll Warbler. Reader, just fancy how this raised my spirits. I felt as if the enormous expense of our voyage had been refunded. "There," said I, "we are the first white men who have seen such a nest." I peeped into it, saw that it contained four eggs, and observed its little owner looking upon us with anxiety and astonishment. It was placed about three feet from the ground, in the fork of a small branch, close to the main stem of a fir tree. Its diameter internally was two inches, the depth one and a half. Externally it resembled the nest of the White-crowned Sparrow, being formed of green and white moss and lichens, intermixed with coarse dried grass; within this was a layer of bent grass, and the lining, was of very dark coloured dry moss, looking precisely like horse-hair, arranged in a circular direction with great care. Lastly, there was a thick bed of large soft feathers, some of which were from Ducks, but most of them from the Willow Grouse.
I must now return to the United States, and trace the progress of our Warbler. It enters Louisiana as early as the middle of February. At this time it is seen gleaning food among the taller branches of the willows, maples, and other trees that overhang the rivers and lakes. Its migrations eastward follow the advance of the season, and I have not been able to comprehend why it is never seen in the maritime parts of South Carolina, while it is abundantly found in the State of New Jersey close to the sea-shore. There you would think that it had changed its habits; for, instead of skipping among the taller branches of trees, it is seen moving along the trunks and large limbs, almost in the manner of a Certhia, searching the chinks of the bark for larvae and pupae. They are met with in groups of ten, twelve, or more, in the end of April, but after that period few are to be seen. In Massachusetts they begin to appear nearly a month later, the intervening time being no doubt spent on their passage through New York and Connecticut. I found them at the end of May in the eastern part of Maine, and met with them wherever we landed on our voyage to Labrador, where they arrive from the 1st to the 10th of June, throwing themselves into every valley covered by those thickets, which they prefer for their breeding places. It also breeds abundantly in Newfoundland.
In these countries it has almost become a Flycatcher. You see it darting in all directions after insects, chasing them on wing, and not unfrequently snapping so as to emit the clicking sound characteristic of the true Flycatcher. Its activity is pleasing, but its notes have no title to be called a song. They are shrill, and resemble the noise made by striking two small pebbles together, more than any other sound that I know. They may be in some degree imitated by pronouncing the syllable sche, sche, sche, sche, sche, so as progressively to increase the emphasis.
I found the young fully grown in the latter part of August, but with the head as in the females, and like them they obtain their full plumage during the next spring migration, after which these birds return southward. They raise only one brood in the season, and if any of them breed in the United States, it must be in the northern parts. They are seldom seen in autumn in the States, and very seldom during the summer months.
The Black-poll Warbler is a gentle bird, by no means afraid of man, although it pursues some of its smaller enemies with considerable courage. The sight of a Canadian Jay excites it greatly, as that marauder often sucks its eggs, or swallows its young. In a few instances I have seen the Jay confounded by the temerity of its puny assailant.
The occurrence of this species so far north in the breeding season, and the curious diversity of its habits in different parts of the vast extent of country which it traverses, are to me quite surprising, and lead me to add some remarks on the migration of various species of Sylvia, which, like the present, seem to skip, as it were, over large portions of the country.
In the course of my voyages to the south-eastern extremity of the Peninsula of the Floridas, I frequently observed birds of many kinds flying either high or low over the sea. Of these the greater number were, like the present species, Sylvia, which are never found in Georgia or the two Carolinas. Their course was a direct one, and such as led me to believe that the little voyagers were bound for Cape Hatteras. The meeting with many of the species to which I allude, along the shores of Maryland, New Jersey, the eastern coast of Long Island, &c., and all along to the Bay of Fundy, has strengthened the idea; but as I may not be correct, I leave the matter to the determination of more experienced observers. The subject appears to me to be one of the greatest importance, for the occurrence of plants in certain parts of a country and not in others may possibly be caused by the absence, during migration, of such birds as move by "short cuts" from one point of land to another.
BLACK-POLL WARBLER, Sylvia striata, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iv. p. 40.
SYLVIA STRIATA, Bonap. Syn., p. 81.
SYLVICOLA STRIATA, Black-poll Warbler, Swains. and Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 218.
BLACK-POLL WARBLER, Sylvia striata, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 383.
BLACK-POLL WARBLER, Sylvia striata, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 201.
First and second quills equal and longest, third a little shorter; tail emarginate. Male with the upper parts bluish ash-grey, streaked with black; the upper part of the head deep black; the secondary coverts and first row of small coverts largely tipped with white; quills and tail-feathers blackish-brown; primaries narrowly edged with greenish-yellow, secondaries broadly with white; three outer tail-feathers with a patch of white on the inner web at the end; cheeks and lower parts white; a band of black spots from the base of the lower mandible down the side of the neck and body. Female with the upper parts oil-green, streaked with black; the rump and upper tail-coverts plain and edged with grey; white wing-bands tinged with yellow; cheeks yellowish-grey, mottled with dusky, lower parts dull white, tinged with yellow and reddish, the sides of the neck and body with fainter dark streaks. Young like the female.
Male 5 1/4, 8 1/2.
From Texas to Labrador, where it breeds. Columbia river. Common. Migratory.
THE BLACK GUM TREE.
NYSSA AQUATICA, Linn., Sp. Pl, 1511. Mich., Arbr. Forest, vol. ii. p. 265, pl. 22.--N. BIFLORA, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. iv. p. 1113. Pursch, Flor. Amer., vol. i. p. 177. --POLYGAMIA MONOECIA, Linn.--ELAEAGNI, Juss.
The Black Gum is seldom found of a greater height than from fifty to sixty feet, with a diameter of about three. The wood is of little use, even for firing, as it takes a long time to consume, affords no blaze, and burns dismally. A trunk of this tree falling into the water immediately sinks and remains. Its foliage is pleasing to the eye, and in many parts of the Middle Districts some are kept standing as shade-trees for cattle. The berries, which hang in pairs, and sometimes three or four together, at the extremity of their slender peduncle, are eaten in great quantities during winter by various species of birds.