The chat is an elegant bird, both in form and color. Its plumage is remarkably firm and compact. Color above, light olive-green; beneath, bright yellow; beak, black and strong.
The cardinal grosbeak, or Virginia redbird, is quite common in the same localities, though more inclined to seek the woods. It is much sought after by bird fanciers, and by boy gunners, and consequently is very shy. This bird suggests a British redcoat; his heavy, pointed beak, his high cockade, the black stripe down his face, the expression of weight and massiveness about his head and neck, and his erect attitude, give him a decided soldier-like appearance; and there is something of the tone of the fife in his song or whistle, while his ordinary note, when disturbed, is like the clink of a sabre. Yesterday, as I sat indolently swinging in the loop of a grapevine, beneath a thick canopy of green branches, in a secluded nook by a spring run, one of these birds came pursuing some kind of insect, but a few feet above me. He hopped about, now and then uttering his sharp note, till some moth or beetle trying to escape, he broke down through the cover almost where I sat. The effect was like a firebrand coming down through the branches. Instantly catching sight of me, he darted away much alarmed. The female is tinged with brown, and shows but a little red except when she takes flight.
By far the most abundant species of woodpecker about Washington is the red-headed. It is more common than the robin. Not in the deep woods, but among the scattered dilapidated oaks and groves, on the hills and in the fields, I hear almost every day his uncanny note, ktr-r-r, ktr-r-r, like that of some larger tree-toad, proceeding from an oak grove just beyond the boundary. He is a strong-scented fellow, and very tough. Yet how beautiful, as he flits about the open woods, connecting the trees by a gentle arc of crimson and white! This is another bird with a military look. His deliberate, dignified ways, and his bright uniform of red, white, and steel-blue, bespeak him an officer of rank.
Another favorite beat of mine is northeast of the city. Looking from the Capitol in this direction, scarcely more than a mile distant, you see a broad green hill-slope, falling very gently, and spreading into a large expanse of meadow-land. The summit, if so gentle a swell of greensward may be said to have a summit, is covered with a grove of large oaks; and, sweeping black out of sight like a mantle, the front line of a thick forest bounds the sides. This emerald landscape is seen from a number of points in the city. Looking along New York Avenue from Northern Liberty Market, the eye glances, as it were, from the red clay of the street, and alights upon this fresh scene in the distance. It is a standing invitation to the citizen to come forth and be refreshed. As I turn from some hot, hard street, how inviting it looks! I bathe my eyes in it as in a fountain. Sometimes troops of cattle are seen grazing upon it. In June the gathering of the hay may be witnessed. When the ground is covered with snow, numerous stacks, or clusters of stacks, are still left for the eye to contemplate.