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Ten Thousand Miles Through Canada
Chapter XVII

Wild fowl—Duck and their habitat—French River— Temagami — Outskirts of Algonquin Park — Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta provinces—Wood duck, pintail, canvas-back, etc.— Game—The Canadian rough grouse — The sooty, Oregon and grey-ruffed species—Ptarmigan classification—Prairie chicken—Black-game and capercailzie— Pheasants, partridges, quail—Game characteristics—High mountain and wood species—The sporting quail.

WILD fowl are abundant in the Dominion. Duck include all the known species. The swamps and lakes adjoining the great railway arteries bear witness to the abundant supply. The shooting season was just opening on my return, and at several of the stations passengers could be seen with dogs and guns laden with the spoil. In Ontario the lakes throughout the province hold a large number of summer duck, and when the hard weather sets in in the north, the migratory birds travel further south, and Erie, Huron, and the rivers and streams in every direction slightly removed from human haunts, are abundantly stocked. The wild rice marshes on Lake Erie islands are a favourite resort of the wood duck, red-head, teal, pintail and mallard.

On the French River we found the wood duck, and all through Temagami district.

Algonquin Park being a reserve, it serves the purpose of replenishing the stock on the outskirts, where shooting is permissible.

Through the province of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the lakes and marshes teem with flocks of wild duck. Travelling on the Canadian Northern Railway, between Edmonton and Winnipeg, I saw some of them drop to the sportman’s gun.

Where the prairies begin to pass into the foothills and detached lakes, and sinuous rivers intersect the plain, wildfowl were almost the only living creatures to be seen. They were dotted over the water, and from thence to Vancouver they are to be found almost everywhere on the lakes and rivers between the hills.

Of the duck throughout the Dominion, the following species may be enumerated.

The wood duck, Aix spotia, which derives its name from its habit of building its nest in the hollow of trees. I came across it on Lake Erie, and the Vedder River at Chiliwack.

The pintail, Dafila acuta, is one of the most interesting and graceful of wild fowl from the natural history point of view. It has a long slender tail, ending in a sharp point, and a thin neck, full of restless activity. It is one of the fowls that are as graceful out of the water as in it. The reeds and brushwood around the lakes and ponds are its favourite cover.

The canvas-back, Aythya vallisneria, one of the most delicate fowl for the table, frequents the coast. It is plentiful on the Okanagan Lake and throughout the Cariboo district, where it nests, and also in most of the inland provinces.

The red-head potshard, Aythya americana, is not found in great abundance, except on the coast. It also nests on the Cariboo Lakes.

The mallard, Anas boschas, is a distinct species, and must not be mistaken for the male bird only, as the European term implies. It is the most common of all species and the progenitor of the domesticated duck. It is widely distributed and the most difficult to shoot owing to its wariness.

There are also all the varieties of widgeon, Mereca, and teal, Nettion. The latter run into three colours, green, blue, and cinnamon.

Snipe are generally found in or near the habitat of wild duck, and in many cases big bags are made of these wild fliers and delicate table dainties.

Passing from wild fowl to more distinguished game, Canada has several varieties of grouse, ptarmigan, capercailzies, black-game, pheasants, partridges and quails. The dry belts of the country form their haunts. There are several species of grouse. The Richardson, Dendragapus obscurus richardsonii, is a mountain bird, found on the east of the Cascade Mountains and through the Rockies. The stock is abundant.

The Canadian rough grouse, Bonasa umbellus togata. It is akin in habits to the Richardson, and occupies similar regions, but found as low down as Chiliwack, and along the woods of the Harrison River, where I found it during my fishing expedition. The sooty grouse, Dendragapus obscurus fuliginosus, makes its home among the islands along the coast. It is found on Vancouver and the Queen Charlotte Islands, all along the shore and the region generally west of the Cascade Mountains.

The Oregon rough grouse, Bonasa umbellus subini, is similar in habits to the sooty grouse, and frequents the same localities. The grey-ruffed grouse, Bo-nasa umbellus umbelloides, also inhabits the Rocky Mountain districts, Beaver Pass and Okanagan, on the mountain ledges.

Ptarmigan are classified amongst grouse, and are only made a distinct species on account of their white plumage. There are three classes. The willow ptarmigan, Lagopus lagopus, the rock ptarmigan, Lagopus rupestris, and the white-tailed ptarmigan, Lagopus leucurus. The latter is differentiated by retaining its white tail at all seasons. All these species have a summer dress of varying tints, ochre and tawny, finely undulated, the wings and underpart retaining their whiteness. Ptarmigan are confined to mountain districts. The singular change in plumage takes place during the winter, and as they frequent the highest latitudes, nature bestows upon them her protecting care and clothes them with a coat as white as the snow itself, by which they escape the keen eye of the eagle and the kestrel, as they feed among the Alpine plants and herbs.

Prairie chicken, Pediozcetes phasianellus colum-bianus, is the popular title for the Columbian sharptailed grouse. It has changed its habitat of recent years from the southern portion of the province east of the Cascade Mountains, but is common in the Vernon locality. There is also a sage grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus; it is found at the Osoyoos Lake.

The black-game and capercailzie are importations from Denmark, and were placed in various parts of British Columbia. The latest report says that they are thriving in their new surroundings, and it is anticipated that they will make an important addition to the game birds.

Pheasants have not multiplied sufficiently to become a general sporting entity. They are to a large extent private property in British Columbia and throughout the Dominion generally. European partridges have also been introduced, and are doing well in some places. I saw several coveys near Steveston. They were strong on the wing, as if fully acclimatized. Vancouver Island has also been stocked with these birds, and they thrive round Victoria. Two other species have been imported; the mountain partridge, Oreortyx pictus, and the Californian partridge, Lophortyx californicus, both of which have been introduced from California. Californian quail have also been imported from their native states, and have multiplied rapidly. The Bob White species is still in the experimental stage. They have not thriven as well as might have been expected on the mainland.

The game birds of the Dominion have not been sufficiently shot over to afford anything like the sport enjoyed in the Old Country. In brushwood they are not disposed to flush, even with dogs, and on the wing their flight is often no farther than the nearest tree, on which they perch. This may suit a certain class of sportsmen, but it is scarcely satisfactory to those who do not shoot for the mere purpose of killing something. When the winter frosts strip the woodland of its foliage, and the willow grouse have been disturbed, they are more disposed to use their wings, and with a breeze of wind behind them the sport afforded is very different.

The species that frequent the high mountain ranges and sweep down the hill when flushed, have earned a better reputation amongst the true Nimrods. The pace put on by the birds in such places demands skill and quickness of the first order.

Many years ago I shot pheasants just over the border in New York State in a fairly open wood where they throve in a wild condition. They flushed well and flew rapidly. One cannot say so much for those artificially reared, which are not sufficiently removed from the farmyard environment to be interesting.

The most gamey of all the birds in the Dominion are the quail. They lie like stones and with a good dog get up one by one, going away with great velocity. They require a steady hand, a clear eye, and a few thousand rounds of shooting experience to stop them. With a hard frost that has beaten down the cover, a dry air, and sunshine with most of the heat wrung out of it, a day’s tramp after these swift birds is delightful and exhilarating.

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