Bird Lovers Vacations
( Originally Published 1910 )
IN these days the vacation habit has become well nigh universal. Nearly everyone plans, if it is a possible thing, each year to take a vacation trip away from home. The gunner is off to distant woods, the fisherman to long-desired waters. But a great many people simply make a trip to the country or the sea-shore with nothing very definite in view, to spend much of the time, perhaps, idling on the hotel piazza. This may suit some, but a vacation is far more profitable and enjoyable when based upon some quest which arouses enthusiasm and incites to exercise in the open.
To those who care for birds I commend a vacation trip to explore some new or interesting locality in search of novelties. It may take the form of seeking the haunts of some particular species or classes of birds which have not yet become familiar, in order to add them to one's " repertoire." In conjunction with this the camera may play a very important part, and make it truly a hunting trip, with all the zest of the chase felt by every true sportsman. To make a census of the bird-fauna of. a little-known region is another interesting line of work, as is the working out of a detailed study of some rare or peculiar species.
From such a trip, on which one has lived outdoors with mind and body alert, one will get tenfold more benefit and exhilaration than by dawdling about a fashionable resort. The more tired one is, generally speaking, the more does one need such a trip as I describe. For my own part I know that to feel the way I do when returning from a vacation of this sort is worth more than gold - to renew one's youth, with all its freshness, vigor, vivacity, when nothing is too hard to undertake and life is abundantly worth living. In contrast the air indoors seems dead, and one wants to throw everything wide open and welcome the atmosphere of the woods, shore, or prairie.
Of expeditions of this description there are many sorts, suited to one's means or inclination. If the expense must be moderate, it will cost less to put up at the home of some farmer or fisherman in a locality rich with birds than to board at some much-advertised hotel and will probably afford better opportunities for success. If one can find suitable companions, it is perfectly possible to try the tent and camp outfit, which is often the very best thing to do in a sparsely settled country, so that one can be right in the haunts of the birds without loss of time.
Usually the most interesting time for an expedition to study birds is in the nesting-season, so it is in regard to this period that I will first make suggestions. Of course the easiest plan, which the greater number will probably adopt, especially if living in cities, is to choose a favorable locality in some bird-country not far away, and spend the vacation period there, or perhaps divide the time between two places of somewhat dissimilar fauna. It takes considerable time, however, to become familiar enough with one region to secure good results, so it is generally best not to move around too much, unless a locality should prove really unsuited to the purpose.
The exact time of the trip will depend upon what sort of birds one wishes to find nesting. Early June is ordinarily the best time in the northern half of the United States and southern Canada; the middle of June for localities far north, such as the Magdalen Islands, Newfoundland, and Labrador; and May, for the Southern States, exact dates varying according to latitude. Early June is the time to be on the ground in the wildfowl resorts of Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. At these times the bulk of the birds are breeding. But if one wishes to look up special things such as the nesting of the raptorial birds, it will be necessary to make an earlier trip especially for them. About the middle of May is a good time for the smaller hawks and middle of April for the large hawks and all the owls except the great horned, the average time for the latter being early March, though the young will be in the nest till early or middle May. In the North-west the middle of May is a good time for hawks and owls.
As there are interesting localities for birds the continent over, many of which I myself have not visited, the best I can do is to suggest a few localities of special interest. Less is known about the nesting habits of the migratory birds which go north of the United States than of most others, so there is a fascination in following them to the north. Many of the warblers, thrushes, and others, nest from the latitude of north-ern Maine on, and researches among northern conifers and bogs are rewarding. The Maritime Provinces of Canada are very interesting ground. Every bird-lover may well long to visit the famous Bird Rocks of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is as thrilling and spectacular a trip as there is. Ambitious bird-students may bear in mind that the breeding-habits of most species which nest in the far north are very little known, and the greatest prizes are there awaiting someone. The great difficulty is that ice usually prevents access till the nesting is over, making it necessary to endure the Arctic winter in order to be on hand in time. But just imagine the delight of finding the nests of such birds as the golden plover in the Arctic moss back from the shores of the polar sea!
A tour among the prairie lakes of the interior Northwest, from North Dakota northward, is one of great delight. A team and buckboard, tent and camp outfit are the proper equipment for making this to good advantage; The distances are so great as to make this imperative to get to the water-bird colonies and other wild, interesting localities. The' various protected colonies along the Atlantic coast are very fascinating. To visit them, one should secure permission from the National Association of Audubon Societies, and go with the wardens, who know how much intrusion the birds can stand. If many strangers' should undertake to visit them freely, the eggs would be spoiled, and it might become necessary to keep everyone off.
On the coast of Maine about the middle of June finds all the birds with eggs, and middle July is a good time to see the young. Late in that month some are awing. On the southern coast the sea-birds nest remarkably late, and not all the eggs are laid till the middle of June. Visits to Florida inland rookeries are best made from April to early May. The shore-bird migration on the southern coast in April and May is of great interest.
A few trips at other times of the year may be suggested. Visits in mid-summer to the haunts of the off-shore ocean wanderers are fascinating, as off Chatham, Massachusetts, or Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. These and other outlying points on the coast are as good places as there are on the north Atlantic coast to find shore-birds. The latter part of August is perhaps the likeliest time, but the growing scarcity of these species is a disappointing and lamentable fact. Persecution has led many of them to migrate past us out to sea. The spring migration, on the southern coast, when the birds, in full plumage, linger to feed after crossing the Gulf, affords the best opportunity to know them. A vacation by the sea or inland waters in October when the wild ducks are migrating is a delightful experience. To watch the sea ducks in rapidly following squadrons flying south off the ocean beach before and during an easterly blow is thrilling and wonderful. Opportunities can be found for, photographing these migrants.
When it comes to winter trips, the best opportunities are found south. Wild-fowl in immense numbers resort to the shallow bays from Virginia southward. In Louisiana and Texas are wonderful resorts for ducks. Florida is pretty much " shot out " along traveled routes, but there is some interesting bird-life in the more remote parts. Mexico is a treasure-house of winter bird-life. The same is true of localities on the Pacific coast, but of these I cannot speak from experience.
In planning these trips, especially those to distant or inaccessible localities, it is necessary to begin a number of months in advance. Communication is very slow, owing to infrequent mails and the reluctance of many local correspondents to submit to the ordeal of writing. Often it takes months before they can be induced to reply. All details should be arranged in advance, and even then important matters may fall through, as when the owner of a vessel failed to keep his agreement and we were compelled to risk a visit to Bird Rock in an open boat.
I shall not attempt any suggestions about general outfitting and camping, but will refer the reader to Mr. Kephart's book on these topics. All the suggestions I shall offer are a few on the photographic out. fit and its transportation. On any extended trip, the two cameras and all the apparatus previously de-scribed should be taken. Stuff paper into the cam-eras, and pack them in the trunk or chest with clothing around them. The stock of plates should be large enough for anticipated needs. For a month's trip I usually carry four or five hundred. These are heavy, there is no denying. Sometimes on the return I send the exposed plates home by express. Ordinarily, however, I have found that when packed in trunk or chest, it is next to impossible to break them. When the exposed plates are taken from the holders, they should be packed in the original boxes level full, no more, each pair of plates with the film sides together. It is not necessary to trouble with the original separating strips, which are more to keep them from sticking together if damp or wet.
Great care must be taken to keep plates and apparatus dry. A soaking is well-nigh fatal to a camera, or to plates, especially if they are packed in close contact. The exposed plates I pack thus for convenience, but keep them very carefully in my personal baggage. Most if not all plate-manufacturers now pack the plates with the coated surfaces separated, and I would not use any put up otherwise.
On one occasion in my experience had they not been so packed, I should have lost half my stock where they could not be replaced. It was on an expedition among the Florida keys, The heavy boxes of plates were stored in the hold of our vessel, and one night the craft sprang a-leak. In the morning the crates were half submerged. By putting the individual dozen-plate boxes on the deck in the breeze, they finally dried out, and only the rims were spoiled, where the strips stuck to them. Had the faces been in contact, they would all have been welded together.
The problem of changing plates is rather a troublesome one afield, where there is no dark-room. Ordinarily one must wait till night, yet sometimes when all the plates in the holders have been exposed, one may need a few more at once very badly. A " changing-bag " will serve to transfer a few in an emergency. Where I have been without one and needed plates very much, I have managed to change a few successfully under heavy blankets, or in a small closet on a vessel under a canopy, with all cracks stopped up. Ordinarily, however, one must wait until dark, which in northern latitudes is not before 10 P. M. Sometimes I have had to do it in the open, as when exploring the great mangrove swamps of southern Florida without a tent, where the mosquitoes were after me in such swarms that I could not help mashing some of them between the plates as I packed them.
When there is bright moonlight I change plates under a blanket. Perhaps moonlight would not fog them, but I never take chances with valuable plates. When in a tent or the cabin of a small vessel I wait till all lights are out and then work for an hour or two. This sort of thing, when kept up for a month, especially when one arises at dawn, is certainly arduous. After such a tour in Saskatchewan, I slept nearly all the way on the three days' journey home. The experience, none the less, was most invigorating, and I had hundreds of fine plates to the good.
It is well to learn to change plates in the dark, without a ruby light, by feeling. There come times when it is a great convenience to be able to do this, and it is not as hard as it seems. Before extinguishing the light, lay everything out in order. On one side put the empty boxes to receive the plates, previously labelled and dated, so that there will be no possibility of confusion, and on the other the boxes of fresh plates, with the edges cut. The holders are piled directly in front. As you take off the slides, lay them and the holders down each in the same way. After safely packing all the exposed plates, the lamp may be lighted and the ends of the slides inserted in the holders, these being piled up, ready for the insertion of the new plates when the light is again put out.
On returning home it is no small task to develop several hundred plates, but this can be expedited considerably. Some like "tank-development," that is, mixing a whole wash-tray of very weak developer and inserting a considerable number of plates at once.
I prefer, however, to give each plate individual attention. To this end I use two 8x 10 trays, each of which will hold four 4x5 plates, or two 5X7, and keep both going at once. I have a tank of fixing-bath, and keep the work up for hours at a time, using metol-hydro developer, fresh and at maximum strength for all rapid exposures, and a batch that is old and discolored for the plates with timed exposures. Should one of these by mistake get into the strong developer, and the image quickly appear, take it out immediately, rinse it thoroughly, and put it in the other solution. Even then it may blacken badly, but keep it in till it is developed clear through, and, if it is too dense, reduce it by the red prussiate of potash and hypo reducer.
On an expedition to any remote and interesting locality it is a great mistake to be too economical in the taking of-pictures. Do not " snapshot" everything at random, but make every exposure carefully and with a purpose. Any good bird-subject needs not one but several plates. Some should be duplicates, to make sure of at least one good picture, but also have represented as great a variety of poses of the bird as possible. This is notably true regarding flight pictures. 'Hardly any two of these are alike, and often I have wished with all my heart that I had taken more, after it was too late. Do not confine the pictures to birds, even though the expedition be one for ornithology, but take also a series to represent the region and everything about it which is distinctive. There are all sorts of uses for such material, and one's vision and opportunity to make use of it will expand as time goes on.