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miles from the North Platte crossing, we met for the first time the bird most characteristic of the intramontane levels and western slope of the Rocky Range —the Sage-cock. This bird may well be called the king of the grouse tribe. His own average length is about thirty-two inches, and his hen's two feet; but I have seen specimens which exceed these measurements by several inches. When stalking erect through the sage, they seem as large as a good sized wild turkey. Their color and markings differ to some extent with age, sex, the season of the year, and the different individuals; but the prevailing appearance is that of a yellowish brown, or a warm gray mottled with darker brown, shading from cinnamon to jet black, the dark spots laid on in longitudinal series of crescents. Their under parts are of a light gray, -sometimes of almost a pure white tint, -barred by slender longitudinal, streaks of brown, – the middle of the belly being pied with black patches. Their plumage is exquisitely smooth; the feathers of a handsome cock lying so close and kept in such perfect order, that under a bright sun he looks more like a bird encased in some beautifully grained and polished veneering than one in the usual cloak of feathers. The elegance of his figure exceeds that of any grouse on the Continent. He is slenderer and finer in his outlines than any allied bird, except the Chinese or golden pheasant. In recognition of his resemblance to these birds he gets one of his numerous aliases, –Tetrao (Bonaparte), or Centrocercus (Swainson) Urophasianus. This last and specific title etymologists will recognize as Greek for “ pheasant-tailed.” This tail of his seems to have puzzled ornithologists somewhat as to the place where he belongs. It differs from that of the grouse family in general, by coming to a point instead of flaring in a fan; and some of his sponsors have made a new species for him, taking him out of the Tetraonidae and calling him Centrocercus, which, in connection with his specific title, certainly amounts to a pleonasm, the word being derived from the Greek xévrpov (a point) and xépxog (a tail), so that the translation of Swainson's nomenclature would be “The Pheasant-tailed Point-tail.” The better view still keeps the bird a Tetrao. On each side of his neck he has a bare orange-colored spot, and near it a downy epaulet, which allies him as nearly to the ruffed grouse as his tail to the pheasant. His call is a rapid “cut-cut-cut,” followed by a hollow blowing sound; he has the partridge's habit of drumming with his wings; his female knows the trick of misleading the enemy from her young brood; and although his curves are much longer and his figure less stocky than that of the grouse tribe in general, his affiliations on the whole seem stronger in that direction than in any other. He seldom rises from the ground, and his occasional flights are low, short, and labored; but he runs with rapidity, and in his favorite habitat, the sage brush, dodges and skulks with great dexterity, favored by the resemblance between his own and the bushes' neutral tints. His common title of sage-cock is derived from his favorite haunt. Another of his aliases is “Cock of the Plains,” but I never knew him so called out of books, for the title is not descriptive. He is never seen on the Plains proper— the high mountain region, whether level or sloping, swarming with his family wherever sage is plenty, from the vicinity of the Rocky Moun
tain water-shed westerly to the Desert, and several hundred miles further west in the latitude of the South Pass, where he extends as far as the cataracts of the Columbia. In that region the sage brush has a much further westerly extension than further south, — and the bird peculiarly belongs to this growth of vegetation. Thus far, to my knowledge, he has never been found west of the Cascade Range or the Sierra Nevada. In the spring, or about the time of snow melting, which of course varies at different heights and in different latitudes, the sage-hen builds in the bush her nest of sticks and reeds, quite artistically matted together, and lays from a dozen to twenty eggs, a trifle larger than the average of the domestic fowl, of a tawny color, irregularly marked with chocolate blotches on the larger end. Her period of incubation does not, I believe, differ much from that of the domestic hen. When the brood is large enough to travel, its parents lead it into general society. In July and August the flocks begin assembling, and by fall it is not unusual to meet bands of two or three hundred. I reached and crossed their habitat during the last week in June, and between Sage Creek and Salt Lake daily encountered flocks of a score or over. I know scarcely any animal whose range is more sharply defined. It is a rare thing to meet with them on the eastern flanks of the ridges belonging to the Rocky Mountain system; though while I was in Denver, my friend, the indefatigable naturalist Dr. Wernigk, brought back from an expedition into the South Park very fine specimens of both cock and hen. This fact, however, hardly constitutes an exception to the general rule, since South Park is but little over a degree further east than Sage Creek, and sheds a portion of its water to the west by small affluents of the Grand Fork of Colorado, though most of its drainage is by the South Platte. I never saw tamer wildfowl than the little troop of sage-chickens which we encountered on striking Sage Creek. I could hardly realize they were what they were, though I had a vividly correct image of them in my mind from the stuffed specimens of Dr. Wernigk, and the admirable drawings of Baird's collection. As we wound along the brook margin, they strutted complacently between the gnarled trunks and ashen masses of foliage peculiar to the sage, paying scarcely more attention to us than a barn-yard drove of turkeys (whose motion theirs much resembles), the cocks now and then stopping to play the dandy before their more Quakerish little hens, inflating the yellow patches of skin on each side of their necks, by a peculiar air-syphon apparatus, until they globed out like the pouches of a pouter pigeon. As this was the first time I had seen them in their native haunts, and because their confidence quite disarmed me, I had no thought of shooting them, and had the driver slow his team to give our party a better opportunity of studying them. They continued dodging about the bushes not more than forty feet from us, until we thoroughly familiarized ourselves with their manners; and acknowledged that although some others of the grouse tribe rejoiced in richer colors than they, they certainly bore away the palm in the exquisite symmetry of their markings, and the grace of their figures as well as their movements. Wishing to get nearer them for the purpose of seeing if any young ones were concealed in the brush (whose trunks, consisting each of a number of smaller stems united in a spiral twisted as tight as any hawser, here measured everywhere the thickness of a man's thigh), I dismounted and quietly crept toward them. They did not take the alarm until I had got within twenty feet of them, and then went under cover with an air of dignified leisure. I suppose they knew by instinct that they had little to fear. Science and wantonness were their only enemies. I had their whole country before me, and would not burden myself with specimens prematurely; I was not fond of destroying life merely for murder's sake, and none of our party were starving. To kill a sage-hen for supper demands either this last condition, or the stomach of an Indian ; for, with this handsome grouse, beauty is prečminently but skin deep,- the flesh of the bird, save in the youngest chickens, being a mess rather for the apothecary’s shop than the kitchen. The sage-fowl not only live in the brush from which they get their name, but feed on it, as well as on the insects and smaller reptiles about its roots, thus acquiring a rank sage flavor which repeated parboilings followed by roasting cannot entirely eradicate. The wild sage has no connection with our garden variety, except through its popular name and very unpopular taste, being, in fact, a wormwood (Artemisia tridentata), while our familiar pot-herb is the Salvia officinalis.
Sage Creek runs nearly due north and empties into a small nameless stream, which is the most westerly affluent of the North Platte, and which rises from the very summit of the water-shed penetrated by Bridger's Pass. After leaving Sage Creek we crossed two more anonymous rivulets which go to swell this affluent, on the way stopping at Pine Grove Station, twenty-four miles from the North Platte Crossing, to change horses.