« PreviousContinue »
most abundant individually in western France, and scarcest in eastern France. The migration phenomenon is most marked along the coasts, and especially in the delta of the Rhone. Eastern France is much more broken in character, with a large proportion of woodland, and a much colder winter. As a result, many of the rarer local species occur here, so that a very fair list of summer residents can be obtained, without, however, any great number of individuals. Water birds are uniformly scarce even in migration. The winter bird life is relatively very poor.
The Birds of France and of America
While most of the families of birds in France are the same as in the United States, naturally enough the species are different. In fact, the little bank swallow has the unique distinction of being the only small land bird which is absolutely identical in the two continents. Even where the families are quite distinct, as the flycatchers and the oriole, there is often a surprising superficial resemblance in appearance and habits. One group, at least, of the European warblers, reminds one of our own puzzling Vermivoras; indeed, the chiffchaff could do duty very well as an orangecrowned warbler. In migration time mixed flocks of birds roam over the countryside just as in this country: kinglets, warblers, and titmice in the woods; buntings replacing sparrows in the fields, and swallows overhead. The wealth of species is, however, entirely lacking.
But the greatest outstanding impression is the difference in the relative representation of the same families of birds. The crow family is the best illustration. One can count on blue jays in the woods and crows in the fields almost anywhere in New York or New England. The European jay and the rook may appropriately be regarded as homologues. But magpies are absolutely everywhere, even in salt marshes
and dunes along the seashore. In the fields the carrion crow occurs with the rook, while in winter the northern hooded crow with a gray mantle joins its cousins. Even so, I feel quite convinced that rooks alone are more numerous than crows in this country. An old castle, a cliff, or a cathedral spire is pretty sure to provide a home for a colony of jackdaws. Should the given locality include some high mountains, such as the Alps, it would be possible to add the raven, a chough and a nutcracker.
To those accustomed to our somber little chickadee, the European titmice furnish another surprise. Five species cannot be missed by the observer almost anywhere in France, while two others. are possibilities. Among the five common ones some are by no means content with a staid and Quaker-like garb, and a blue, green, and yellow titmouse seems quite remarkable to American eyes, until extreme familiarity breeds contempt.
A third notable feature of the landscape is the abundance of the wood. pigeon, a large blue-gray bird with conspicuous white wing patches-a true pigeon (Columba) with a short, square tail. Considering its conspicuousness and the fact that it must be good to eat, it is certainly amazing how it manages to exist in such numbers in so settled a country. Its wariness is one good reason at least, for out in the open country I have never been able to get within gunshot range of it. Where the chances for persecution are absolutely eliminated, however, it is quick to seize the opportunity; and today it is a common bird even in the smaller gardens of Paris, such as the Tuileries and the Parc Monceaux. In the late fall and early winter, especially in places where food is abundant, it gathers in large flocks, and a flight of several hundred birds streaming across the fields in the crispness of dawn is a very fine sight in the bird world.
WAR IMPRESSIONS OF FRENCH BIRD LIFE
A War Study of Birds in Eastern France
Circumstances prevented any indulgence of my hobby until I arrived at Chaumont, the American Great Headquarters, about September 1. The country here is a succession of steep hills, clad with evergreen and deciduous woods with open valleys between. The town is on the top of one of these long hills. To the south is open farm land, while, in the valley below, the infant Marne flows peacefully through green meadows. The buildings occupied by the Americans were at the end of a long boulevard bordered with trees, a few small gardens, and a park. Swallows and house martins flew up and down the streets. Chaffinches sang their simple trill in the park, and titmice of four kinds wandered through the gardens. In the pine woods on the slope of the hills were mixed flocks of titmice and kinglets. Creepers plodded patiently up the trunks, and tiny wrens for all the world like our winter wren, bobbed and scolded among the windfalls.
Down in the river valley itself, jays squawked and magpies chuckled. Rooks and carrion crows fed in the meadows; wood pigeons or stockdoves occasionally crossed high overhead, and over the hilltops soared the buzzard, screaming very much like our own red-shouldered hawk. The fishing rights of the river were amicably divided between a pair of dippers and some kingfishers, the latter a tiny feathered beauty, turquoise blue and chestnut, which darted up and down stream like nothing so much as a gigantic bumblebee, and gave sharp squeaks by way of relieving its feelings. The gray and the white wagtails, with long tails constantly going up and down, were permitted, however, to search for humbler food on the banks, while the sedge warbler nested peacefully in the rushes. In the shade trees along the canal the green woodpecker
made the American rub his eyes not only because of its general color, but also its notes, which strikingly resemble those of our yellowlegs. In the fields skylarks were restlessly flying about, with an occasional phrase of their matchless song. Goldfinches wandered about looking for thistles, and linnets, tree pipits and yellow buntings were constantly rising from the ground and dashing off in all directions. The latter is one of the few common birds of Europe with a dash of bright color. It is, however, an alarmist, constantly annoying the ornithologist by its strident chirp of alarm from the nearest bush or telegraph wire, continued long after the imaginary danger is past, and acting as a signal to less common species to make off. Its song is a slow monotonous trill, which incessant practice fails to improve. English country folk claim that the bird says, "A little bit of bread and no ch-e-e-s-e." Occasionally with the common yellow-hammer was found the rarer cirl bunting, with a black, green and yellow striped head stuck incongruously enough on a dingy body, and with an apparently colorless personality. In all about fifty species of birds were seen around Chaumont.
On October 2, the writer was sent in a truck to the Vosges sector to deliver some dispatches to divisional headquarters. The autumn migration was in full swing at this time, and birds of various kinds roamed over the country in flocks. Jays, magpies, rooks, and carrion crows were everywhere, and the first hooded crow of the season was noted. Larks, starlings, buntings, chaffinches, and goldfinches were observed every few minutes. Very few swallows were left, however, and only one house martin was seen, the very last of the dying year as it proved. As we proceeded east the hills became. higher and higher until we plunged fairly into the Vosges Mountains, rising and twisting through the spruce forests to Saint-Dié, the headquarters of one of
the divisions. The town is in an open plain with the German lines on the tops of the hills a little more than a kilometer away. The valley road which was in plain sight was carefully camouflaged, but, even so, one felt quite conspicuous in a truck. The country had been heavily shelled; every house was in ruins, so I was not particularly surprised when I did not note a single bird. Saint-Dié itself was, partly in ruins, and was considered an unhealthful spot due to constant bombing, shelling, and gassing-the last apparently the favorite method of annoyance. Everybody carried a gas mask at all times, and had picked a cellar into which to retire rapidly when a yearning for seclusion seized him. It was astonishing, therefore, to see the full quota of house sparrows quarreling on the roof tops, the swallows flying up and down the main street. They had no gas masks, and it is hardly likely that they descended to cellars. Just what they did was a mystery. As dusk gathered, the guns began to thunder and rumble a scant mile away. In the garden of the old château which did duty as Headquarters, was a mountain ash tree laden with fruit. Here by the light of the setting sun, with the air pulsating with sound, three beautiful bullfinches were peacefully feeding on the crimson berries, heedless of three Fokkers which droned directly overhead. Unperturbed and unhurried they finished their meal, and then disappeared in the gathering gloom, leaving behind an impression so strong by its sharp contrast that it is graven deeply on my memory.
The end of October I was ordered to the First Army Sector. The hills northwest of Verdun had been selected as an excellent sending station for a certain type of balloon, and I was sent there on November 2 to start a station. As we approached Verdun the country appeared more and more wrecked until it could be described as totally ruined in
the hills to the northwest. There, where the flower of young French manhood had died by the tens of thousands, there was nothing but a succession of shell holes. The trenches were partly fallen in, the barbed wire entanglements were just as they had been left at the last triumphant advance, and here and there a few blasted tree trunks did duty for a wood. Vegetation even was scant. A kestrel hovered over the dreary waste, a flock of goldfinches twittered around a thistle, and a great gray shrike had taken up his quarters in a barbed wire entanglement.
As dusk fell we descended into a steep little valley to the ruined village of Frémonéville, and elected to spend the night in one of the few houses which still boasted of a roof. That night the artillery fire at the front rose to the intensity of drum fire. The Allied heavy guns were concealed in the hills along a line lying a mile or two south of us. These joined merrily in the chorus, so that in the early morning the ground fairly shook. The approach of dawn brought quiet, permitting a brief cat nap, and I was astonished to hear a wren singing in the rafters near by, as I woke up. A bird hunt in this ruined village and its outskirts started immediately. Wrens were common, the smashed roofs and torn rafters furnishing them an abundance of hiding places among which they ducked and bobbed. Robin redbreasts were also common, singing sweetly in every bush that remained. Along the little brook flowing through the village was a solitary white wagtail, and a great tit kept it some sort of company in a willow bush near by. House sparrows were chattering around the church, and a flock of tree sparrows were feeding around the horse pond. Add a flock of rooks flying past overhead and a pair of yellow buntings in a field just outside the village, and we have quite a list for such a locality. Later on a few scattered shells burst on a hillside about a quarter of a mile
WAR IMPRESSIONS OF FRENCH BIRD LIFE
away, to which the birds in the village paid not the slightest attention.
Somewhat later the bird hunt was rudely interrupted by the scream of a shell which fell near a field hospital on the outskirts of the village. A second shell, 14-inch high explosive, plumped through the roof of the church. This was the last straw for the sparrows of both species, which flew away in a mixed flock protesting harshly, their example being followed by the wagtail which departed in a different direction. The wrens and the redbreasts had all disappeared, and my men and I sought the seclusion of the nearest dugout. The shells kept falling for about an hour, but after a short while it became apparent that they were coming with clocklike regularity every four or five minutes. So after each burst I would go to the door of the dugout to look around and see what new damage had been done.
Right opposite me was a bush on each side of which masonry was piled in such a way that down among the roots there was quite a little pit, an excellent retreat from a bird's point of view. A robin redbreast had been singing in this bush all morning, and I was pleased to discover it among the roots, apparently alive and well, in spite of the fact that a high-powered shell had burst only a hundred feet away. One might think. that the concussion alone would have killed so small a bird,-it is a bad enough jar to the human frame. Knowing possibly more about shells than the bird, I would appear immediately after the last piece of masonry had fallen down. The bird would be down among the roots, still as a mouse, and would not show any signs of life for about a minute, when it would begin to work up very cautiously toward the top of the
bush. The scream of the next shell was the signal for both of us to dive hastily back into our respective retreats. Five minutes after the last shell had fallen this particular redbreast was singing sweetly from the top branches of its bush, joined by several others in various parts of the village, in marked contrast with the solemn-faced and quiet men who emerged somewhat later from scattered dugouts all over the hillside to take stock of the damage done, the lives lost, and the wounded who needed immediate attention.
It is, of course, obvious that a small bird has an infinitely better chance of not being hit by a shell fragment than a man. If, therefore, its resistance to shell-shock and concussion were about equal to that of man we would have a partial explanation of the existence of bird life in the war zone. Although it is highly improbable that a bird is equally resistant, nevertheless we must not overlook that best of preventives, a barrier. And here it is again obvious that a tree trunk, a brick, or a rafter, would serve as an excellent deflector of concussion and sound waves for a bird crouched behind it, whereas the objects mentioned would totally fail to help a
After all, the accounts, chiefly by English observers, of the existence of bird life in the war zone are too well substantiated to be questioned. Some explanation must be forthcoming, and is probably along the lines indicated above. Perhaps, too, the extraordinary powers of adaptability which account for the existence of common birds in France, a country so totally altered from its original condition, are again an aid in helping any given individual to endure so utterly abnormal an experience as shell-fire.
Conserving Our Natural Resources of Sugar
By E. F. PHILLIPS
Apiculturist, United States Department of Agriculture
HE people of the United States consume enormous quantities of sugar made from cane and sugar beets, the average individual consumption during times of plenty being more than eighty pounds annually. There are produced within the boundaries of the United States several thousand tons of cane sugar and about twice as much from the sugar beet. From our outlying islands we get more than the total sugar produced on the mainland and we also import great quantities from other countries. We go to much trouble and expense to get this sugar supply and if the quantity is reduced, as it was during the war, we feel that it is a great hardship.
There is another source of sugar supply which the people of the United States have sadly neglected. The amount of nectar secreted by the multitude of flowers is large beyond our comprehension. This is secreted that insects and other pollinizing agents may be attracted to bring about the cross pollination of the flowers, and to this end this sweet liquid is poured out freely. The per cent of sugar in this nectar varies in the different species of flowers and is also influenced by environmental factors. Whether or not it is a thick solution, the amount of sugar in each individual flower at any one moment of time is exceedingly
small, but the number of secreting flowers is stupendous, and they continue to secrete nectar for some time, so that it is quite conservative to state that the total sugar secreted by these flowers in a year exceeds the amount of all sugars annually consumed by the American people. If only we could get it all, war and rumors of war would not affect our sugar markets!
Unless collected, however, this nectar, from its very nature, soon disappears as the flowers wither, and is lost to human use. Any method for conserving a portion of this abundant resource must be through some agency that is ever on the alert for each fresh supply. Some of the flowers which secrete nectar are of such size and shape that only birds or moths can reach this nectar, and what they get is lost to human use. Then there are thousands of species of insects which seek out the nectar for their immediate use, and while many of these species are economically valuable, man does not get the sugar.
Of all these nectar-seeking species. the honeybee alone is capable of being used by man as an instrument for collecting some of this vast sugar supply in such form that it can be used as human food. In spite of all that we can do, most of this sugar will be lost, but far more of it might be saved if this insect could be put more widely into