Redwing Pond

Redwinged-Blackbird.TrekNatureRedwinged Blackbird male in flight  (Trek nature photo)

Redwing Pond was named for its redwinged blackbirds, which loved the pondshore’s cattails.

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow without water?  (Job 8:11)

Wetlands are defined by their mix of hydrophilic plants (such as “rush” and “flags” and cattails), wetland hydrology, and hydric soils.  And redwinged blackbirds love cattails.

redwing-blackbir-atop-cattail.EvergreenStateCollege-photo

Redwinged Blackbird male atop cattail (Evergreen State College photo)

Those cattails look like corny dogs on stalks!

Birdwatching at Staffa: Puffins, Shags, & more

Birdwatching at Staffa, near Iona: Puffins, Shags, and Herring Gulls

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands.  (Isaiah 42:12)

The three birds that I recall most, from visiting the island of Staffa (Inner Hebrides, just north of Iona) were Herring Gulls (a very common seagull),  Shags (a yellow-mouthed but otherwise all-black cormorant), and those cute and colorful (and comically clown-like) Atlantic Puffins, a couple of which settled (after some aerial arcing) not much more than a yard (i.e., meter) form where I was standing, upon the grassy cliff-side of the pasture-topped island.

Shag-Staffa.PublicInsta-[hoto

SHAG  at  STAFFA   (Public Insta photo credit)

Below is a limerick I wrote to recall my observations at the Isle of Staffa (same island that has Fingal’s Cave, made famous by Felix Mendelssohn’s overture written in AD1829), a small uninhabited island north of Iona (where I ate some of the best sea scallops, after soaking my feet in the cold Sound of Iona tidewaters!), in the Inner Hebrides archipelago on the western side of Scotland (July 19th AD2019).  Norse Vikings were reminded of staves (plural of “staff”) when they saw the upright timber/log-like columns (contiguous pillars) of basalt there  —  hence the name “Staffa“.

BIRDWATCHING  FROM  CLIFF-EDGE  ATOP  STAFFA  ISLAND,  NORTH  OF  IONA  (INNER  HEBRIDES)

Herring gulls, puffins, and shags,

Launch from cliff-edge grass and crags;

Flying low — then a splish!

Success!  Caught a fish!

Herring gulls, puffins, and shags.

Herring gulls, of course, I first observed during my boyhood days (in elementary school).  But shags and puffins are not seen in the parts of America where I have lived, so seeing them at Staffa was quite a privilege!

Puffins-Staffa.Mull-n-IonaRangerService

PUFFINS at STAFFA   (Mull & Iona Ranger Service)

 

 

Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Of Cormorants and Anhingas

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Cormorant-Doublecrested.WikipediaAnhinga-perching.Wikipedia

Double-crested Cormorant (L) & Anhinga (R)  / both Wikipedia images­

­But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it . . . . (Isaiah 34:11a)

Cormorants and bitterns (the latter being a type of heron) are famous to frequently waterways, preying on fish and other aquatic critters. Yet there is another large waterbird that resembles a cormorant, the anhinga.

CORMORANT VERSUS ANHINGA

Cormorants and Anhingas are frequently confused. They are both [fairly big, i.e., bigger than a crow, almost as large as a goose] black birds that dive under the water to fish.  Both must dry their feathers in the sun [because their feathers are not 100% waterproofed].

The differences are easy to see. The Anhinga’s beak is pointed for spearing [i.e., stabbing] fish, while the Cormorant’s beak is hooked for grasping its prey.  The Cormorants’ body remains above the surface when swimming [unlike the “snake-bird” appearance of a swimming Anhinga, which swims mostly underwater, with only its head and neck emergent].  It [i.e., the Cormorant] lacks the Anhinga’s slender [snake-like] neck, long tail, and white wing feathers.

[Quoting Winston Williams, FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES (Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.: World Publications, 2015), page 4.]

By the way, this photography-filled waterbird book [i.e., Winston Williams’ FLORIDA’S FABULOUS WATERBIRDS: THEIR STORIES] was recently given to me by Chaplain Bob & Marcia Webel, of Florida, precious Christian friends (of 45+ years) who are also serious birdwatchers.

Cormorant-Doublecrested-fishing.Bruce-J-Robinson-photo

Double-crested Cormorant fishing (Bruce J. Robinson photograph)

Of course, there are different varieties of cormorants [e.g., Neotropic Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Great Cormorant, etc.], as Winston Williams observes [ibid., page 4], but the cormorant that you can expect to see in Florida is the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), so called due to white tufted feather “crests” during breeding season.  Mostly piscivorous [i.e., fish-eating], cormorants will also eat small crustaceans [e.g., shellfish like crayfish] and amphibians [e.g., frogs], often about one pound of prey daily. These cormorants range over America’s Lower 48 states, especially in the Great Lakes region.

It is the American Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), however, that is properly nicknamed “Snake-bird” (and a/k/a “American Darter” or “Water Turkey”), due to its mostly-submerged-underwater hunting habit.  It eats fish almost exclusively, though it can and sometimes does eat crustaceans (e.g., crabs, shrimp, crayfish) or small aquatic vertebrates (e.g., frogs, newts, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and even baby crocodiles).

Anhinga-piscivore.PhilLanoue-photo

ANHINGA with fish (Phil Lanoue photo)

America’s Anhinga is a cousin to other darters (a/k/a “snake-birds”) of other continents, such as the Indian Darter, African Darter, and Australian Darter. The term “darter” refers to the piercing dart-like impalement technique that these birds use, for acquiring and securing their prey, just before ingestion.   Worldwide, darters like in tropical climes or in regions with almost-tropical weather.

In the Orient, for many generations, cormorants have been harnessed to catch fish for human masters. [See “’C’ Is for Cardinal and Cormorant:  ‘C’ Birds, Part 1”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/05/18/c-is-for-cardinal-and-cormorant-c-birds-part-1/ .]

Also, cormorant feathers have been used, historically, for stuffing Viking pillows. [See “Viking Pillows were Stuffed for Comfort:  Thanks to Ducks, Geese, Eagle-Owls, Cormorants, Seagulls, and Crows!”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2018/04/30/viking-pillows-were-stuffed-for-comfort-thanks-to-ducks-geese-eagle-owls-cormorants-seagulls-and-crows/ .]

Now it is time for a limerick, about an Anhinga:

TABLE  MANNERS  &  TECHNIQUE  (ANHINGA  STYLE)

Wings spread out, the bird had one wish:

To dive, stab, flip up, and eat fish;

Without cream of tartar,

Fish entered the darter!

‘Twas stab, gulp!  —  no need for a dish!

><> JJSJ


 

 

Carrier Pigeon Prompts Rescue of WWII Airmen Floating in the North Sea, Despite Carrying No Written Message!

BRITISH  AIRMEN LEAVING NORWAY, PLUNGE INTO  THE  NORTH SEA: WWII CARRIER  PIGEON  TO  THE  RESCUE !

(Carrier Pigeon Prompts Rescue of WWII  Airmen Floating in the North Sea, Despite Carrying No Written Message!)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.   (Luke 9:58)

Pigeons know where their nests are;  you can trust them to find their way home!

On February 23rd of AD1942, after an aerial mission over Norway, a shot-up and failing Royal Air Force Beaufort Bomber was trying to return home, but was forced to “ditch” at sea.  The North Sea waters were dangerously cold, freezing (although because these were salt-waters they remained liquid).  The 4 floating survivors were more than 100 miles from home, unable to radio their location to their friend back in Scotland.  Would they die, soon, in the frigid North Sea?

Thanks, providentially, to a Carrier Pigeon (a variety of Rock Dove), the 4 airmen were rescued, without the bird carrying a written S.O.S. message  —  but how?

Winkie-Pigeon-and-her-grateful-crew.WWII-rescue

WINKIE,  Royal Air Force pigeon  # NEHU 40 NSL  

and her rescued & grateful WWII Royal Air Force crew

Here is the amazing report, provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Christopher Sleight (in a BBC article titled “The Pigeon that Saved a World War II Bomber Crew” [ posted  AD2012-02-23 at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-17138990 ].

Seventy years ago a carrier pigeon performed the act of “heroism” that saw it awarded the animal’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross – the Dickin Medal. It was the first of dozens of animals honoured by veterinary charity PDSA during World War II.

On 23 February 1942, a badly damaged RAF bomber ditched into the North Sea. The crew were returning from a mission over Norway, but their Beaufort Bomber had been hit by enemy fire and crashed into the sea more than 100 miles from home. Struggling in freezing waters – unable to radio an accurate position back to base [because the plane crashed so quickly] – the four men faced a cold and lonely death.

But as the aircraft went down, the crew had managed to salvage their secret weapon – a carrier pigeon. The blue chequered hen bird, called Winkie [“NEHU 40 NSL”], was set free in the hope it could fly home to its loft in Broughty Ferry, near Dundee [on the northern bank of River Tay, which flows from Scotland’s eastern coast into the North Sea], and so alert air base colleagues to their predicament.

But Winkie did make it home, after flying 120 miles [to Broughty Ferry], and was discovered, exhausted and covered in oil, by owner George Ross, who immediately informed RAF Leuchars in Fife.

The pigeon was not carrying a message, but the RAF were able to calculate [i.e., approximate] the position of the downed aircraft, using the time difference between the plane’s ditching and the arrival of the bird [to its loft nest] – taking into account the wind direction and even the impact of the oil [spoilage] on Winkie’s feathers, to her flight speed. A rescue mission was launched and the men were found within 15 minutes.

Elaine Pendlebury, from the PDSA [People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals], said the carrier pigeon had been released as a “last ditch stand” when the crew realised they had no other options. “I find it very, very moving really. These people would have died without this pigeon message coming through,” said Ms Pendlebury.

Winkie became the toast of the air base, with a dinner held in her honour. A year later, she became the first animal to receive the Dickin Medal – named after PDSA’s founder Maria Dickin – for “delivering a message under exceptional difficulties [and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942]”.

During World War II, carrier pigeons were routinely carried by RAF bombers for this very eventuality, though in an era before GPS and satellite locator beacons, rescue was far from certain. More than 60 animals have since received the award, including 18 dogs, three horses and one cat. But pigeons still rule the [Dickin Medal] roost, with 32 being given medals, all between 1943 and 1949.

[Quoting from Corporation’s Christopher Sleight, “The Pigeon that Saved a World War II Bomber Crew” [BBC News (BBC.com, Tayside & Central Scotland column), AD2012-02-23 at https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-17138990 ].

PigeonService-RAF-WWII.ImperialWarMuseum

Homing Pigeons used by Royal Air Force, WWII   (Imperial War Museum photo)

It is reported that “more than 250,000 carrier pigeons were used [by Great Britain’s military] in World War II. They were called the National Pigeon Service and were relied on heavily to transport secret messages.” [Quoting https://its-interesting.com/2012/11/01/wwii-carrier-pigeon-delivers-message/ .]

WWII-Pigeon-Service-RAF-FeatheryPhotographyBlog

WWII RAF Pigeon Service   (Public Domain / Feathery Photography blog)

But how is it that birds, like the carrier pigeon, can fly so efficiently that humans can predict their flight-path, even without GPS, and can do so with such dependability that such predictions (i.e., calculations that approximate the location where someone can be found) can succeed in 4 saving lives, precariously afloat in wintery North Sea waters, more than 100 miles from Scotland?

In short, God has programmed many types of birds, especially migratory birds, with bioengineering traits that equip it for sophisticated and precise navigation, over lands and oceans.

This logistical miracle, of God’s bioengineering providence, has been quantified by Dr. Werner Gitt (in AD1986), in his study of birds such as PLOVERS.

Pacific-Golden-Plover.NationalAudubonSociety

Pacific Golden Plover   (Nat’l Audubon Society photo)

After quoting Psalm 104:24, Dr. Gitt indicates that he will illustrate one of God’s creative works of wisdom, the flight of migratory birds.

If we take a closer look at this phenomenon, we encounter two miracles: energy and navigation.

 The miracle of energy

Every process, whether in physics, technology or biology, adheres strictly to the law of conservation of energy; that is to say, any work to be done requires a certain amount of energy supplied. The problem facing the migratory bird is that of taking with it sufficient fuel (= fat) to complete its journey. To ensure the necessary flying capacity, the bird must be of as light a build as possible. Excess weight is to be avoided at all costs. Likewise, use of fuel has to be as efficient as possible. How, then, did the Creator make the fuel last so long without refilling? The first step is choosing the most economical cruising speed. Should the bird fly too slowly, it would consume too much fuel simply to stay airborne. If it flies too quickly, it wastes too much energy in overcoming air resistance. Thus we see that there is a definite minimum for the consumption of fuel. If the bird knew about this speed, it would be able to fly as efficiently as possible. Depending on the aerodynamic construction of the rump and wings, the optimal speed is different for each bird (e.g. laughing gull 45 kilometers per hour, budgerigar 41.6 km/h). It is a known fact that birds gear themselves exactly to this energy-saving speed. How do they know? It is one of many unsolved ornithological puzzles.

We want to examine more closely the energy problem of the golden plover (Pluvialis dominica fulva). This bird migrates from Alaska to Hawaii for the winter. Its nonstop flight takes it across the open sea where there is no island en route; in addition, the bird cannot swim, so that a stop for rest is impossible. This flight of over 4000 km (depending on its starting point) involves an incredible 250,000 consecutive wing beats and lasts 88 hours. The bird’s starting weight is G0 = 200 grams, of which 70 grams are stored as layers of fat to be used as fuel. It is known that the golden plover converts 0.6% per hour of its current body weight (p= 0.006/h) into kinetic energy and heat.

For the first hour of flight, it therefore needs x1 = G0 p = 200 (0.006) = 1.2 grams of fat.

Thus, at the beginning of the second hour, it weighs only
G0 x1 = 200 – 1.2 = 198.8 g, so that it uses slightly less fat for the second hour:
x2 = (G0 – x1) p = G1 (p) = (198.8) (0.006) = 1.193 g
x3 = (G0 – x1 – x2) = G2 (p) = (197.6) (0.006) = 1.186 g
and for the 88th hour of flight the fuel consumption has fallen to
x88 = (G0 – x1 – x2 – x3 . . . x87) p = G87 (p)

Now we will calculate how much the bird weighs at the end of the flight. Its body weight at the end of each hour is given by the reduction due to the fat consumption:
1st hour: G1 = G0 – x1 = G0 – G0 p = G0 (1 – p)
2nd hour: G2 = G1 – x2 = G1 – G1 p = G1 (1 – p) = G0 (1 – p)2
3rd hour: G3 = G2 – x3 = G2 – G2 p = G2 (1 – p) = G0 (1 – p)3
and so on. Finally at the 88th hr: G88 = G0 (1 – p)88

For the sake of simplicity, we have performed the above calculation in steps of 1 hour. We could have used a more accurate differential equation, but the result would have differed only negligibly from the above solution. Using the simpler method, and putting in the proper values in Equation (8), the bird’s weight after the 88th hour is given by G88 = 200 (1 – 0.006)88 = 117.8 grams.

The total fuel consumption is then the difference from the initial weight:

G0 – G88 = 200 -117.8 = 82.2 grams.

This value is distinctly more than the available 70 grams! The bird may not go below the limit of 130 g (Fig. 1). In spite of flying at the speed which minimizes his fuel consumption, the bird has not enough fuel to reach Hawaii. To find the number of hours that the fuel is sufficient for, we find using GZ = G0 (1 – p)Z = 200 – 70 = 130 g that the 70 g of fat are used up after Z = 72 hours, which means that after 81% of the projected time (i.e. a good 800 km before the end) the bird crashes into the sea.

Have we miscalculated, or has the Creator not, as we thought, designed and equipped the bird properly? Neither: the Creator’s work leaves us amazed. The clue is the motto: “optimal use of energy through information.” He gave the bird an important piece of information as well:

“Do not fly singly (curve GE) but in V-formation (curve GK).  In V-formation you will save 23% of your energy and reach your winter quarters safely.”

Fig. 1 also shows the curve GK, the rate of weight loss when flying in V-formation.

After 88 hours this would normally leave 6.8 g of fat in hand. This remaining fuel reserve is not superfluous, however, but has been included by the Creator so that the bird reaches its goal even with a contrary wind. The extremely low fuel consumption of p = 0.6% of the total weight per hour is even more astonishing when one considers that the corresponding values for man-made mechanical flying machines are many times larger (helicopter p = 4 to 5%, jet p = 12%). For anyone who does not regard these finely adjusted processes as the work of a Creator, the following questions remain unanswered:

  • How does the bird know how much fat is necessary?

  • How does it arrange to have this amount just before the journey?

  • How does the bird know the distance and the specific rate of fuel consumption?

  • How does the bird know the way?

  • How does it navigate?

[Quoting Werner Gitt, “The Flight of Migratory Birds”, Acts & Facts, volume 15, (Sept. 1986).   NOTE:  Figure 1, not shown here, is an illustration of the flight of the golden plover from Alaska to Hawaii (geographical route, curves of the fuel consumption during the bird’s flight.]

Pacific-Golden-Plover.PPT-migration-map

The analysis by Dr. Werner Gitt, of the plover’s amazing migratory flight, continues.

As well as the aforementioned (East Siberian) golden plover, there is also the North American golden plover. This bird also flies in a dazzling nonstop performance straight across the Atlantic Ocean from the coasts of Labrador to North Brazil. Whereas the western breed flies the same course for both journeys, the North American golden plover chooses different routes for Autumn and Spring. The return flight from the pampas of South America crosses Central America and the United States to Canada. The following equally incredible flight performances are recorded for:

  • the Japanese snipe (Capella hardtwickii): 5,000 km flight from Japan to Tasmania
  • the needle-tailed swift of Eastern Siberia (Chaetura caudacuta): flight from Siberia to Tasmania
  • the American sandpipers (e.g. Calidris melanotos = pectoral sandpiper): 16,000 km flight from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

The navigational miracle

The famous Danish ornithologist, Finn Salomonsen, has this to say about a bird’s orientation during migration: “The bird’s ability to find its way during migration is surely the greatest mystery. Seldom has another question given so much cause for theorizing and speculation as this one.”

Indeed, this navigational achievement, performed without complex boards of instruments, compass and map and under constantly changing conditions, including sun position, wind direction, cloud cover and the diurnal cycle is an incomparable miracle.

Even a slight diversion off course whilst crossing the ocean would mean certain death in the open sea for migrating land birds, as we discovered in the case of the golden plover. Keeping exactly on course is not a question of trial and error.

The vast majority of migrating birds would never reach their destination without navigational methods, and no species could survive such an overwhelming loss rate; thus any suggestion that evolution has played a part here must be totally dismissed. Also the suggestion that young birds learn the way flying with their parents carries little weight, as many species fly solo. It is thought, then, that migratory birds have an instinctive sense of direction like a compass, which makes it possible for them to orientate themselves and thus keep flying in a certain direction. Salomonsen bases his theory about the sense of direction on his study of two kinds of small birds from West Greenland, both of which fly south in autumn. The stonechat(Saxicola torquata) and the snow bunting (Plectrophenox nivalis) share a common homeground and often begin their southward journey at the same time. Once the south of Greenland is reached, however, their ways separate: whereas the snow bunting continues his journey southward to winter in America, the stonechat turns southeast to follow a course over the Atlantic to Western Europe and North Africa. Each bird has a specific sense of direction which determines its migration pattern. Displacement experiments have been carried out with various migratory birds which showed detailed results about the precision of their navigational capabilities: a most remarkable test involving two species of tern (Sterna fuscata and Anous stolidus) and their nesting places in the Tortugas Islands in the Gulf of Mexico, was one such experiment. The birds were shipped in different directions and set free on the open sea. Although they were freed at distances ranging from 832 to 1368 km from their nests over parts of the sea which were completely unfamiliar to them, within a few days, most of the terns returned almost directly to their eggs and young on the Tortugas Islands. The longest disorientation experiment carried out to date was probably one involving a Manx shearwater (Peffinus puffinus) which was taken from its nest on Skokholm Island in Wales to Boston, USA. It arrived back at its nest in 12 days, 12 hours and 31 minutes after a 5,000 km nonstop transatlantic flight. A large number of disorientation experiments has been carried out on homing pigeons, in particular, and it is their navigational achievements which have been most thoroughly researched and documented. Salomonsen, writing about this breathtaking navigational feat, says:

“Even when birds were anaesthetised for the outward journey, or if their cages were made to rotate continuously so that their orientation was constantly changing, they were just as able to find their way home as were the control birds. Therefore there can be no doubt that birds have a special sense of geographical position, i.e. a real navigational sense. The nature of this instinct remains a mystery; even more so, the location of the relevant sense organ.”

The birds’ capabilities extend beyond the bounds of our imagination. They can determine their homeward course over long distances, even when all possible aids to orientation have been removed during the disorientation journey. They possess the extraordinary faculty of being able, wherever they are, to determine their position relative to their home territory from their immediate surroundings. And this method of determining location, itself not understood even today, is only the beginning; then comes the real problem, namely flight navigation: mere sense of direction is not enough for this.

During flight over wide, windswept stretches of ocean, a tendency to drift off course cannot be avoided. Such drift must be continually compensated for, as in a feedback system in control technology, in order to avoid losing energy by flying a longer route. The Creator equipped the birds with a precise ‘autopilot,’ which apparently is constantly measuring its geographical position and comparing the data with its individually “programmed” destination. In this way an economical, energy-saving and direct flight is guaranteed. Just where this vital system is to be found and how this operating information is coded is known by no one today except the Creator, who made it.

[Quoting Werner Gitt, “The Flight of Migratory Birds”, Acts & Facts, vol. 15, (Sept. 1986).]

Pacific-Golden-Plover.NZ-Birds-Online

Pacific Golden Plover   (NZ Birds Online photo credit)

Dr. Jobe Martin, one the most knowledgeable (and reverent) animal experts alive today,  echoes his own appreciation for the God-given navigational skills displayed by the Pacific Golden Plover’s migration.

Scientists are not certain how the plovers navigate from Alaska to Hawaii and back, since there is no land under their flight path.   Utilization of earth’s magnetic field seems to be the best solution at this point.  Some have suggested that they use the sun and stars.

And how do the young birds find their way to Hawaii [since the first-year plovers migrate to Hawaii weeks after the adults depart south] without an experienced adult guide, weeks after their parents have already flown back to Hawaii?

A one degree mistake in navigation over the more than 4,000 kilometer flight and the birds miss Hawaii completely!  But they never miss!

[Quoting Jobe Martin, THE EVOLUTION OF A CREATIONIST, rev. ed. (Rockwall, TX: Biblical Discipleship Publishers, 2004), page 203, emphasis added.]

More examples of avian navigation genius could be given, e.g., the famous circumpolar migrations of the Arctic Tern.  [See, accord, JJSJ, “Survival of the Fitted:  God’s Providential Programming”, Acts & Facts, 39(10):17-18 (October 2010), posted at https://www.icr.org/article/5663 .]

However, the plumed pilots noted above suffice to illustrate the main idea here: God has given birds navigational programming and skills and physiologies that are providential miracles – which we can see year-round, if we take the time to watch these feathered fliers. They are marvelous miracles in motion, “hidden in plain sight”.  And these birds certainly know where their “home” nests are!

Winkie-carrier-pigeon-WWII.PublicDomainWINKIE, Royal Air Force pigeon # NEHU 40 NSL   (public domain)

><> JJSJ profjjsj@aol.com 


 

Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Different Habitats Fit Different Birds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

I know all the fowls [i.e., birds] of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.    (Psalm 50:11)

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.   (Luke 9:58)

Western-Tanager.WildBirdsUnlimited

WESTERN TANAGER perching   (Wild Birds Unlimited photo)

God loves variety, including variety in bird life. In order to facilitate bird variety, unsurprisingly (to creationists), God has provided a variety of avian habitats.

Just as humans have different preferences, for where they choose to live – whether that may be a neighborhood that is urban, suburban, or rural, or even in a wilderness – birds have preferences regarding which “neighborhoods” they prefer to call home.

In fact, this ecological reality is not limited to birds – habitats are diverse for animals in general, just as animals themselves display God-designed biodiversity.

God chose to fill the earth with different kinds of life. All over the world, we see His providence demonstrated in ecological systems. Different creatures live in a variety of habitats, interacting with one another and a mix of geophysical factors—like rain, rocks, soil, wind, and sunlight.

But why does this happen? And how does it happen? These two questions are at the heart of ecology science—the empirical study of creatures interactively living in diverse “homes” all over the world.

Why did God design earth’s biodiversity the way that He did? Two words summarize the answer: life and variety. Even in this after-Eden world, cursed and groaning as it is under the weight of sin and death, we still see a prolific and diversified creation.

God loves life. God is the essence and ultimate origin of all forms and levels of life.

God loves variety. God’s nature is plural, yet one, and He is the Creator of all biological diversity anywhere and everywhere on earth.

Because God loves life and variety, we can understand why God favors different kinds of life forms, causing them to be fruitful—increasing their populations generation after generation.  . . . .

For creatures to successfully “fill the earth,” there must be both population growth and creature diversity within a geographical context—the earth. . . . .

Different Homes for Different Folks

Different types of habitats all over the planet collectively host an ecological smörgåsbord of alternative habitat opportunities. Consider how [countless] examples of very different habitats are filled by aptly “fitted” creatures—providentially prepared creatures living in providentially prepared places. . . . .

Some ecological conditions might work for a world full of just a few kinds of animals and/or plants, but God did not want a monotonous planet. So He designed an earth that could and would host a huge variety of life-form kinds.

Befitting God’s own divine essence—the ultimate source of (and ultimate logic for) all created life and variety—God’s panoramic plan was for many different kinds of creatures to populate and fill His earth.

And because God loves beauty, God even chose to integrate His eye-pleasing artistry into the variety of His creatures and the wide array of their respective habitats.

[Quoting JJSJ, “God Fitted Habitats for Biodiversity”, ACTS & FACTS, 42 (3): 10-12 (March 2013), at https://www.icr.org/article/god-fitted-habitats-for-biodiversity  .]

Northern-Flicker-redshafted.Evergreen-edu

NORTHERN FLICKER  (Red-shafted variety)   —   Evergreen.edu photo credit

For an example of bird with a montane habitat, consider the Northern Flicker, reported in “Want a Home in the Mountains?  Some Birds have One!” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/ ].

Or, for an example of a bird with an https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/, notice the Green Heron, reported in “Flag that Green Heron Nest!” [at https://leesbird.com/2019/02/01/flag-that-green-heron-nest/ ].

Many more examples could be given — see generally www.leesbird.com !

WillowPtarmigan-Alaska-variety.Wikipedia

WILLOW PTARMIGAN  (Alaska variety)   —   Wikipedia photo credit

Scripture alludes to this reality of avian ecology: birds live in different habitats.

Of course, every bird needs to live near a source of freshwater, so brooks and streams, as well as lakes and ponds, are good places to look for birds (1st Kings 17:4).

Some birds prefer mountain habitats (Psalm 50:11; 1st Samuel 26:20; Isaiah 18:6; Ezekiel 39:14; Psalm 11:1).  Other birds prefer the valleys or open fields, including farmlands (Proverbs 30:17; Ezekiel 32:4; Matthew 13:4 & 13:32; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5).

Ground fowl, such as partridges, live in scrublands, sometimes near bushes that fit their camouflage plumage (Deuteronomy 22:6-7; 1st Samuel 26:20).

Some birds prefer desert wilderness habitats (Psalm 102:6; Isaiah 13:21 & 34:11-15), including rocky places like crags atop high rocky cliffs or in desolate canyons (Jeremiah 48:28 & 49:6; Obadiah 1:3-4; Song of Solomon 2:14; Job 39:27).

Birds are famous for appreciating trees, dwelling in and/or under trees branches (Psalm 104:17; Ezekiel 17:23 & 31:13; Daniel 4:12-14 & 4:21; Luke 13:19).

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WESTERN SCRUB JAY in snow-adorned evergreen   (Ron Dudley photo)

Some birds seem to prefer to build nests in and around houses and other buildings made by humans (Psalm 84:3 & 102:7), while other birds, such as poultry, live lives of domestication (Numbers 6:10; Proverbs 30:31; 1st Kings 4:23; Nehemiah 5:18; John 2:11-16).

Of course, migratory birds are famous for having a “summer home” and a “winter home”, traveling to and fro twice a year (Jeremiah 8:7; Song of Solomon 2:12).

What variety! With these thoughts in mind, therefore, we can better appreciate the diversity of bird habitats, as we watch (and value) the fine-feathered residents and migrants that frequent our own home neighborhoods.

In other words, we not only identify (and appreciate) birds according to their physical appearances, we can also match their physical needs to their habitats.

Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger niger), Northern subspecies
BLACK SKIMMER with young   (Michael Stubblefield photo)

Accordingly, consider what Dr. Bette J. Schardien Jackson (ornithologist of Mississippi State University, also president of the Mississippi Ornithological Society) says, about differences in avian habitats.

HABITATS. A [bird’s] habitat is an environment – a portion of an ecosystem – that fulfills a bird’s needs for food, water, shelter, and nesting.  If a species habitually chooses a particular habitat – and many do – it is known as a habitat specialist.  Even widespread species may be extremely narrow in their choice of habitat.  For example, the Killdeer is common through most of North America, but within the varied ecosystems of the species’ range it specializes in [i.e., tends to prefer] one habitat:  open areas with patches of bare ground. The Killdeer particularly favors habitats close to bodies of water.  The widespread Blue Jay, in contrast, always requires groves of trees.

Plants are often the most important element in any habitat. Fruit, berries, nuts, sap, and nectar completely satisfy the dietary needs of some birds.  Because plants provide nourishment for insects, they [i.e., the insect-hosting plants] are also essential to insect-eating birds.  Additionally, plants provide various nest sites and shelter from weather and enemies.  In arid environments, plants are an important source of moisture.

Some species are intimately associated with a particular plant. The Kirtland’s Warbler, for example, nests only in young jack pine trees that spring up after a fire.  When the trees grow large enough to shade the scrubby growth beneath, the warblers will no longer use them.  This specific habitat requirement is one reason why the Kirtland’s Warbler is now [i.e., as of AD1988] an endangered species – probably fewer than a thousand remain [in America].  They live on Michigan’s lower peninsula where the U.S. Forest Service periodically burns jack-pine forest to provide the young trees that the birds need.  . . . .

A [bird] species’ habitat is predictable because it has traditionally provided food, nest sites, defendable territories, and conditions conducive to attracting mates [and successfully raising young]. Through our efforts to find birds, we learn about their habitats; we learn both quality and quantity are important.  Pileated Woodpeckers, for example, may require 200 acres of mature forest.  . . . .

In central Wyoming, for example, Western Meadowlarks often place their nests in the midst of a dense patch of prickly-pear cactus where the [cactus] pads are spread close to the ground.  Once you have found one [such] nest, the mental image of that nest helps you to find a dozen more in a short time.  But that [mental] image would be of little help in searching for Western Meadowlark nests in a Nebraska prairie, where there are no cacti, but where the species is just as common.  There each nest is a little tent of grass, often with an opening to the south.

[Quoting Jerome A. Jackson & Bette J. Schardien Jackson, “Avian Ecology”, THE BIRDS AROUND US (Ortho Books, 1986, edited by Robert J. Dolezal),  pages 91 & 93.]

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NORTHERN SHOVELER male & female, in wetland waters   (Wikipedia photo)

So, when it comes to choosing a neighborhood, to live in, even the birds have their own preferences!


 

Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Red Grouse:  Moorfowl is Fair, in Highland Heather

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“For the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains.” (1st Samuel 26:20b)

As noted in a previous blogpost, in “Fowl are Fair on Day 5”, the Holy Bible’s  “partridge” (which is mentioned in 1st Samuel 26:20) is a type of galliform (i.e., chicken/partridge/quail/pheasant/turkey/peafowl-like ground-dwelling bird.

Other examples of galliforms include the partridge-like birds we call “grouse”. (See also “Rock Partridges:  Lessons about Hunting and Hatching”.

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RED GROUSE in Scotland   (Simply Birds and Moths photograph)

The RED GROUSE is a variety of fast-flying WILLOW PTARMIGAN, often camouflaged within Scotland’s heather scrublands, sporting reddish-brown plumage (with white feathered legs underneath, that somewhat resemble rabbit feet!), yet accented by scarlet “eyebrows”.   It is often hunted in Scotland, by humans as part of a regulated sport, as well as by birds of prey, to the extent that they are present in Scotland heather moors.

The Red Grouse has been described as follows:

“The Red Grouse … of the British Isles [is] a race of the Willow Ptarmigan … coloured entirely chestnut-brown, winter as well as summer. [It] presses itself low to the ground when danger threatens. … [Its habitat is] open taiga, bushy tundra, marshes and moors with willow, birch and dwarf scrub; generally at lower altitudes than [other varieties of] Ptarmigan.  … [For food, it eat] leaves, buds and berries of dwarf shrubs, especially billberries, cranberries and crowberries; in winter buds and leaves of dwarf birch; in order to get at their food plants, the birds dig long tunnels in the snow.  Red Grouse eats mainly heather shoots.”

[Quoting Jürgen Nicolai, Detlef Singer, & Konrad Wothe, BIRDS OF BRITAIN & EUROPE (Harper Collins/Collin  Nature Guides, 2000; translated from German & adapted by Ian Dawson), page 144.]

Red Grouse, as well as other varieties of Willow Ptarmigan, are ground-fowl found in cool scrublands of Earth’s northern habitats, in lands as widespread as Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada, and Alaska. [See Wikipedia-posted range map of the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), with indigo blue showing year-round residency ranges.]

WillowPtarmigan.RangeMap-wikipedia


   Range Map for Willow Ptarmigans  (Wikipedia)

In fact, the Willow Ptarmigan is Alaska’s official state bird, specifically the winter-white-dominated Lagopus lagopus alascensis variety.

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Willow Ptarmigan (Alaska variety) in winter white   [Wikipedia/public domain]

The reddish-brown plumage of the RED CROUSE is well-suited for residing in the heather fields of Scotland. Of course, despite its helpful camouflage, the Red Grouse is a resident well known to Scottish Highland hunters!

“As the rail network opened up the Highlands in the late 19th century, so it because possible for many more people to come from the south to join shooting parties on moors specifically managed for red grouse.  . . . The long-term decline in grouse numbers  [especially Scotland’s RED GROUSE (Lagopus lagopus scotica), a Scottish variety of Willow Ptarmigan, a/k/a “Moorfowl”,  a ground-fowl accustomed to heather-moor habitat] began in the 1930s – way before birds of prey began to recover [in Scotland, from] egg collectors and keepers [i.e., wildlife-regulating game wardens].  This, in part, is related to the loss of high-quality moorland to [agricultural] grass as sheep densities have increased.”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

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RED GROUSE in Scottish heather moorland   (Scottish Nature Heritage)

Of course, the Red Grouse is wild, so it is fair game – pardon the pun – to be photographed by nature photographers, such as Niall Benvie, Scottish author of THE ART OF NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY (and other similar books). Once Mr. Benvie was preparing to photograph a strolling Red Grouse, as he recalls:

 “I once met such a bird [i.e., a Red Grouse] in a quiet glen near [my] home.  As I edged my car closer [preparing my camera to take a photograph of the grouse], I was grateful that, for once, my subject [i.e., the Red Grouse who was approaching] wasn’t camera-shy.  I glanced in the rearview mirror only to see, to my dismay, a woman walking up the narrow road behind me.  As she passed the car I withdrew my camera and prepared to leave [ — assuming that her approach would frighten off the grouse, thus spoiling my opportunity to photograph the avian pedestrian].”

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

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RED GROUSE on Scottish roadway   (Scottish Gamekeepers Association photograph)

Of course, as a wildlife photographer, Niall Benvie is bothered by human intrusions into the “wild” world of this tranquil ground-fowl. If the Red Grouse doesn’t bother humans, why should humans interfere with the Red Grouse’s habitat in the Highlands?  Yet this perspective has its flaws, as the following anecdotal report (from Niall Benvie) illustrates.

“But the grouse, rather than [squawking] loudly and whirring off over the moor, began walking up the road to meet her. He [i.e., the Red Grouse] pecked furiously at her [shoe]-laces, and she bent down, picked him up and held him in her arms!  She was the local keeper’s wife [i.e., game warden’s wife], and [she] knew this first year bird well [and obviously the bird knew well that he could trust her to pick him up caringly].

[Quoting Niall Benvie, “Red Grouse”, in SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland, via Aurum Press, 2004), page 28.]

RedGrouse-Northumberland.HawsenBurn-wikipedia
RED GROUSE in Northumberland field   (Hawsen Burn photograph)

Although that one-year-old Red Grouse was “wild”, it obviously remembered some kind of kindness form the game warden’s wife.

So much for condemning the meddling “interference” of kind-hearted humans!


 

Flag that Green Heron Nest!

Flag that Bird Nest!  (Reporting on Green Herons and their Boat-tailed Grackle Neighbors)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man that wanders from his place.  (Proverbs 27:8)GreenHeron-nest-1hatchling-3eggs.JeffreyPippen

GREEN HERON nest:  1 hatchling, 3 unhatched eggs, parent AWOL!

(Jeffrey Pippins photograph)

Along a tidal creek at Port Lavaca, on the southeastern coast of Texas, on the west side of Lavaca Bay (where Hurricane Harvey storm-surged during August AD2017, with tidal flooding up to 6 feet deep), a “colonial” population of nesting Green Herons (Butorides virescens) was studied by Nate L. Trimble, for his M.S. thesis (AD2016, at Texas State University), with much of that study (co-authored by the M.S. committee chairman, M. Clay Green) being reported in last year’s issue of the BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY.

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GREEN HERON with fish (Ned Haight / Chesapeake Bay Program)

Most of that study focused on the nesting success (i.e., successful egg-laying, incubation, hatching, and fledging) of Green Heron babies, but one detail caught my eye (and is noted below), reminding me how birds think for themselves, sometimes in ways that ornithologists don’t expect.

But first, the context:  the journal article’s abstract provides a contextual overview of the Green Heron study:

Green Herons (Butorides virescens) are small herons found throughout much of the United States and southwards into Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.  The species generally forages solitarily and often nests singly [i.e., in single pairs], with a breeding pair defending a breeding territory but sometimes form loose breeding colonies [i.e., neighborhood populations] presumably as a function of habitat availability and/or predator pressure.

We monitored a breeding colony of at least 35 Green Heron pairs along a tidal creek in Port Lavaca, Texas.  Our study sought to examine the nesting ecology of colonial Green Herons and to investigate [mathematical] relationships between nest density, nearest neighbor distance and nest success. …

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 32.]

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GREEN HERON, Eat Texas shoreline (YouTube)

The habitat of these studied Green Herons, according to Trimble & Green is as follows:

The location of the breeding colony [of Green Herons] near Port Lavaca, is a treeless tidal wetland with the shrub Marsh Elder (Iva frutescens) lining the banks of a small tidal [saltmarsh] creek offshoot of the much wider Garcitas Creek near Port Lavaca [Texas].  These shrubs are utilized by the Green Herons for placement of their nests.  Iva frutescens at this location ranges from 1-2 m[eters] in height and is the tallest foliage and the only woody vegetation in the immediate vicinity of the colony.  This shrub has a relatively high tolerance to salinity, but a relatively low tolerance to flooding, causing it to grow in narrow bands in upper regions of salt marshes.  …  The shrub Iva frutescens was also utilized as nesting substrate for other birds in the vicinity of the Green Heron colony at Garcitas Creek, including … [Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles].

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 34.]

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GREEN HERON chick in nest, AD2017 (Missouri Dep’t of Conservation)

The Green Heron colony territory was visited by Boat-tailed Grackle (which are “conspecific” with the Great-tailed Grackle,  —  i.e., both grackle varieties hybridize, proving that they both descend from and belong to a common reproductive “kind” that God created on Day #5 of Creation Week), some of which preyed upon the Green Heron nest eggs, according to Trimble & Green [id., page 34].

GreenHeron-flying.AllAboutBirds-CornellLabOrnithology

GREEN HERON flying (All About Birds / Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

In order to collect quantifiable data, the researchers needed to repeatedly observe the nest sites, to see if eggs were successfully laid and incubated, and to see if any of the hatchlings were successfully fledged.

GreenHeron-TX-breeding-plumage.ChristopherCunningham

GREEN HERON   (Christopher R. Cunningham, Texas)

In order to facilitate the data collection process (which covered the timeframes of April-August of AD2014 and April-July AD2015), the researchers needed to repeatedly monitor the heron nests, using boats, due to the logistics of accessing nests, amidst dense vegetation growing alongside the monitored creek area.

Observations were taken from a 3.5 m[eter] boat with an outboard motor [which may have frightened the birds, possibly skewing the reported observations].  All nest were marked with flagging.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 35.]

Green Heron

GREEN HERON, spread wings (Peggy Coleman photo)

Plastic flags, with numbers, are often used by ornithologists, to identify specific nests being investigation (which prevents accidental re-sampling of the same sites), although some ornithologists prefer to use quiet boats, poled in coastal waters, in order to avoid frightening the birds they are studying.  [See, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Bird Density and Productivity in an Impounded Cattail Marsh”, JOURNAL OF FIELD ORNITHOLOGY, 62(2):195-199 (spring 1991), at page 196.  See also, e.g., William Post & Carol A. Seals, “Nesting Associations of Least Bitterns and Boat-tailed Grackles”, THE CONDOR, 95:139-144 (1993), at page 139.]

Flagging?  Surely this would be a difficulty-free aspect in this habitat investigation.

However, birds will be birds – and God has gifted each birds with an animal “soul” (Hebrew: NEPHESH) with which it can think for itself!  And so the researchers encountered a complication that they likely never planned for   —  birds with agendas of their own!  This is casually noted in the report’s coverage of research challenges.

We were also unable to measure nearest neighbor estimates for some nests in 2015 because the flags were lost either to flooding or by grackles taking the flagging for nest material.  There were four nests in which the nest and flag disappeared and could not be included in the analysis.

[Quoting Nate L. Trimble & M. Clay Green, “The Influence of Nearest Neighbor Spacing on Nesting Success of Green Herons (Butorides virescens) in Texas”, BULLETIN OF THE TEXAS ORNITHOLOGICAL SOCIETY, 51(1-2):32-41 (December 2018), at page 40.]

But why would these researchers suspect that grackles may have pilfered their nest-monitoring flags

Grackles are famous for their eclectic approach to nest-building, sometimes incorporating cloth scraps, paper shreds (including toilet paper!), reeds, woody stems, horsehair, cattail material, bark strips, weds, plastic (including pieces of plastic bags), ribbons, flagging tape, feathers, mud, leaves, twigs, grass, string, bovine manure, and even corn husks!   [See, accord, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Great-tailed Grackle”, posted at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Great-tailed_Grackle/lifehistory .  See also, accord, Animal Diversity Web, “Quiscalus quiscalus Common Grackle”, posted at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Quiscalus_quiscula/ .]

BirdNest-with-flagging

bird nest incorporating plastic flagging    (photographer unknown)

Apparently, even saltmarsh-dwelling grackles like to have nests with a little “interior decorating” bling, such as the colorful accent provided by ornithologists’ plastic ribbon-like flags.


 

 

 

 

 

Woodcocks: Devouring Worms, Dwelling in Wet Woods

EURASIAN WOODCOCK: Forest Fowl that Look Like Wading Shorebirds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

eurasianwoodcock-eire-postage

Thou makest darkness, and it is night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.   (Psalm 104:20)

Earthworms, known in some places as “night crawlers”, are a favorite meal for woodland Woodcocks, such as the Eurasian Woodcock.

woodcock-slurping-earthworm.wikipedia

Woodcock eating Earthworm (Wikipedia)

The Eurasian Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola, like the American Woodcock (its American cousin, Scolopax minor), is not a flashy or flamboyant bird, like a Peacock, Turquoise-browed Motmot, or Lilac-breasted Roller.  Rather, the Eurasian Woodcock prudently prefers to keep a low “behind-the-scenes” profile.

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Called “Waldschnepfe” (“wood snipe”) in German, this bird loves “wet woods” and other moist areas dominated by trees, unlike similar-looking wading shorebirds (like sandpipers and phalaropes).  With its woodland-blending cryptic camouflage plumage, it is easily by-passed by busy woodland hikers in mixed hardwood-evergreen forests — and, more importantly, by potential predators.  Its hidden-in-plain-view plumage mixes a mottled mosaic of greys and brown, with wavy bars and patches of reddish-brown russet, buff-beige, and dark-chocolate browns, woven in here and there.

A reedy whistle and a grunt as a dark shape hastens through the gloaming is all that most of us normally see of a woodcock. Males [perform courtship display flights] around dawn and dusk throughout the breeding season … [and females sometimes join males, in open areas near woodland edges, after responsive flights.]

The rest of their lives, however, are conducted in the obscurity of night, usually in deep cover where they can feast undisturbed on earthworms and other invertebrates.  Even if you were to chance upon an incubating female during the day, the bird’s camouflage amongst leaf litter is so effective that you would most likely walk past by unawares.

[Quoting Niall Benvie, SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland: Aurum Press, 2004), page 56, with emphasis added.]

eurasianwoodcock-probing-snow-ouiseauxbirds.com-johnanderson

Guided by its far-back-and-high-set eyes (which have 360O monocular vision), its long thin bill, like that of sandpipers and snipes and phalaropes(its water-wading cousins), is used for probing and picking edible material from or under wet surfaces, such as wet sands, muddy meadows, and moist thicket soil.  And the Woodcock’s bill is routinely successful at frequently finding food, mostly earthworms but also bugs (and their grub-formed larvae), snails, and seeds.

The Woodcock is a hidden yet hungry hunter!

Woodcock also love damp forests where they can use their sensitive, almost rubber-like bill to probe the soft ground for earthworms, for which they have a voracious appetite —  research with captive birds has shown that they can eat their own body weight (about 300 grams) in earthworms each day[!].  It is therefore likely that very dry summers, such as that of 2003, have a negative impact on the [Woodcock] population.

[Quoting Niall Benvie, SCOTLAND’S WILDLIFE (National Trust of Scotland: Aurum Press, 2004), page 56.]

eurasianwoodcock-finland-postage

Eurasian Woodcocks are migratory birds, with about 9/10 of them breeding in the cool wet woodlands of Scandinavia, Finland, and Russia, later migrating to overwinter in milder regions all over Europe (as far as the Mediterranean Sea, and sometimes even farther southward) and the Indian Subcontinent.

eurasianwoodcock-snow-ouiseauxbirds.com-johnanderson

However, some Woodcocks are year-round residents of some of Europe’s mild-climate countries, such as the British Isles, and in southern (and western) Europe, as well as in some of the mild-climate islands of the Atlantic Ocean, including Britain’s Channel Islands and Spain’s Canary Islands, as well as Portugal’s Azores and Madeira.

eurasianwoodcock-portugueseazores-postage

Because the Eurasian Woodcock’s migratory range — and, to a smaller extent, its year-round residential range, — is so far-reaching, it is no surprise that many countries have honored the worm-devouring, woods-dwelling Woodcock with postage stamps.

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eurasianwoodcock-bulgaria-thin-postage


 

 

Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.  (Psalm 19:1)

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?  (Job 35:11)

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LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Answers Africa photo)

The beauty shown above is a LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER (Coracias caudatus), what you might call a “roller robed in rainbows”, living mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.  This roller is also known as “Mosilikatze’s Roller” (an allusion to the African king Mzilikazi, who once ruled what later became known as Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe  —  King Mzilikazi was noted in the writings of Dr. David Livingstone, the famous missionary).

“Rollers” are classified by taxonomists (i.e., biological category “groupies”) as Coraciiformes, a fancy word meaning “raven-form”(i.e., outwardly resembling a raven or crow), which suggests that rollers appear to be kin to (or at least superficially similar to) other Coraciiformes, such as bee-eaters, kingfishers, motmots, and todies – many of which, like rollers, are also very colorful insect-eaters.  (These rollers love to eat insects, yet they also eat lizards, arachnids, snails, little birds, and even tiny rodents.)

The name “roller” refers to the airborne acrobatics that these birds perform during courtship displays and showy territorial flights. Rollers are also known for their monogamy, i.e., being loyal to their respective mates.  Rollers usually live in warm parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, especially parts of Africa.

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LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Wikipedia Commons)

This blog’s readers may recall an earlier post about a different Coraciiforme, the splendidly painted Turquoise-browed Motmot, (Eumomota superciliosa) of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula  — see “Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot:  God’s Beauty Outshines Human Ugliness” [https://leesbird.com/2013/12/24/hidden-in-plain-view-lesson-from-a-motmot-by-james-j-s-johnson/ ].

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TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT   (Dominic Mitchell photograph)

The Turquoise-browed Motmot’s bright cyan/turquoise and pale blue plumage, offset by green and cinnamon pastels, is brightened by brilliant cobalt/peacock blue/indigo parts, presenting very conspicuous coloring easy to see and to appreciate, especially if one is a birdwatcher.  However, as shown above, the African Lilac-breasted Roller is well attired with its own color-blended plumage! .  Look (below) at the Rollers’ pastel greens, cyan, and lilac/lavender plumage, contrasted with their brilliant peacock blue plumage on their backs!  Obviously God enjoys using bright colors on bird feathers!

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LILAC-BREASTED ROLLERS   (photograph by Rob Ellis, Tanzania)

The magnificently colored LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER picture (above) was taken by Rob Ellis (of New Tribes Mission), in Kunduchi, Tanzania.   Rob Ellis has thus documented a small yet glamorous example of God’s glorious creativity  —  what elegantly painted rollers they are, as they perch using utility structures!  (Thanks, Rob!)

Although Coraciiformes are not classified taxonomically as “passerines” (whereas crows and ravens are deemed “passerines”), rollers certainly know the skill of perching (illustrated above), as they watch for their next insect prey.

The psalmist told us that “the heavens declare the glory of God”(Psalm 19:1; see also Psalm 97:6) –  and they do!  Yet also recall that the ancient Hebrews considered the skies (i.e., the air-filled atmosphere above the land and seas) as part of the “heavens” (Genesis 1:20; Genesis 7:23; Job 35:11; Psalm 104:12; Jeremiah 4:25; Ezekiel 31:13; Daniel 4:12; etc.),  —  so it should not surprise us when we see God’s creative glory displayed in such beautiful birds as the Lilac-breasted Rollers, in Tanzania, that Rob Ellis has photographed for us to see.

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LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Earth Trekkers)


 

ROCK WREN: Living Life upon the Rock

ROCK WREN:  Living Life upon the Rock

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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ROCK WREN (credit: DiscoverLife.org)

“And, I [Jesus] say also unto thee, that thou art Peter [petros = little stone/rock, a masculine noun in Greek], and upon this rock [petra = large rock formation, a feminine noun in Greek, such as is used as in Matthew 7:24-27, to denote a rock formation large enough to serve as a stable foundation for a building  —  see Matthew 7:24-27, where a form of the Greek noun petra is translated “rock”]  I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.  (Matthew 16:18)

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Rocks are important.

Simon Peter himself was a little rock, yet his God-given faith in what God revealed about Jesus  –  namely, that Jesus is the divine Messiah-Savior (i.e., see Matthew 7:24 & 16:16)  — was comparable to a huge boulder-sized rock formation (see Matthew 7:24-27 & Luke 6:46-49), was the truth foundation of the Christianity (see also John 20:31).

In other words, to understand the Greek wordplay that Christ used (in Matthew chapter 16), it is necessary to see how Christ used the term “rock” (i.e., the feminine noun PETRA) in Matthew 7:24-27, in His parable about the wise man building his house upon the “rock” (PETRA).  Simon Peter came to believe in Jesus as the Scripture-defined Messiah, and Peter’s belief in that Messianic truth is the equivalent of Peter wisely building his core faith (and thus also life) upon the right “Rock”.

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Chapel Built Upon Rock, Allenspark, Colorado ( jross-video.com photo )

In fact, even birds appreciate the value of rocks!

Albeit birds are known for habituating trees (Daniel 4:14; Matthew 13:19) and mountains (Psalm 11:1; Psalm 50:11; Psalm 104:12; Isaiah 18:6), some birds are famous for living in rocky habitats (Job 39:27-29; Jeremiah 49:16; Obadiah 1:4).

Consider the following birds: Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca), Rock Bush Quail (Perdicula argoondah), Southern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome), Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi),  Rock Shag (Phalacrocorax magellanicus), Rock Kestrel (Falco rupicolus), Rock Sandpiper (Calidris/Erolia ptilocnemis), Rock Pratincole (Glareola nuchalis), Rock Dove (Columba livia —  a/k/a “common pigeon”), Chestnut-quilled Rock Pigeon (Petrophassa rufipennis), White-quilled Rock Pigeon (Petrophassa albipennis), New Zealand Rock Wren (Xenicus gilviventris), Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus —  a/k/a “tunki”), Cape Rockjumper (Chaetops frenatus — a/k/a Rufous Rockjumper), Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), Common Rock Thrush (Monticola saxatilis, — a/k/a rufous-tailed rock thrush), Rock Sparrow (Petronia petronia).

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ROCK WREN, with nest-building material (photo credit: HBW Alive)

The ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus) is a small yet hearty passerine that often dwells in habitats devoid of thick forests, such as some of the rock-dominated deserts of America’s Great West, including canyonlands sprinkled with pinyon pine and mesquites.

It was Friday, March 3rd in AD2018, when I spied a Rock Wren inside Palo Duro Canyon, a huge canyonland featuring rocky wilderness within the Texas Panhandle.

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LIGHTHOUSE, Palo Duro Canyon   (Wikipedia photo)

The sighting occurred during a hike along Lighthouse Trail, in an area dominated by canyon rocks sprinkled by scrubby pines and mesquite trees. The Rock Wren was perched in the branches of a mesquite tree  —  a welcome sign of life in an otherwise fairly desolate and dry desert.  In the photograph (below) you can see that I had my binoculars, for sighting birds, although the woolly mammoth in the background was photo-shopped into the picture by my cousin Don Barber.

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JJSJ  in  PALO DURO CANYON   (woolly mammoth inserted by Don Barber)

The hike and the Rock Wren sighting were the occasion for composing this limerick:

ROCK WRENS ARE TOUGH ENOUGH FOR PALO DURO CANYON

In the canyon, near Lighthouse Trail,

‘Twas a bird, with an upturned tail;

In weather-worn mesquite,

It sang out a trill-tweet —

Though petite, Rock Wrens aren’t frail!

In other words, Rock Wrens are tough enough to survive (and even thrive) in the hot wilderness canyonland of Palo Duro Canyon, where the wildlife must tolerate months without any precipitation  —  and (non-winter) temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

(At this point, based on personal experience, I have a practical tip, for hiking Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon:  take extra bottles of drinkable water; don’t expect any cell-phone coverage inside the canyon; use sun-screen on your exposed skin, but don’t put sun-screen on your forehead  —  because the hot sun quickly causes sunscreen [on your forehead] to drip down into your eyes, and that can painfully burn your eyes for hours afterwards, especially when there is no available source of running water for flushing it out of your eyes.)

To sum it up, there are quite a few birds (including the Rock Wren) that thrive in rocky habitats, like Palo Duro Canyon  —  you might say those resilient birds really rock!

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ROCK WREN with grasshopper (Wikipedia photo)


 

Owls in Flight: Being Quiet on Purpose

Owls in Flight:  Being Quiet on Purpose

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.   (1st Thessalonians 4:11)

Image result for barn owl flight

Barn Owls, like other owls, are aerial predators who hunt by night — quietly.  This airborne silence arms hunting owls with the element of surprise, as has been proven by acoustical studies documented in a BBC video YouTube recording:

[ “Experiment!  How Does an Owl Fly So Silently?  Super Powered Owls”  BBC ]

One of the stellar creation biologists/ecologists, nowadays, is Dr. David Catchpoole, from down under — with years of service as a scientist for the Queensland (Australia) Department of Primary Industries, specializing in tropical fruit tees (especially mango), as well as years of service teaching tropical horticulture at James Cook University.

Once an atheist evolutionist, Dr. Catchpoole is now (and has been for decades) a Bible-believing creation scientist, quick to glorify God for His magnificent creatures.  In a recent article Dr. Catchpoole described how God has designed and bioengineered owls, because they are nocturnal birds of prey, to fly quietly.

If you watch an owl flapping or gliding, it’s like viewing film footage with the sound on ‘mute’ — they are so silent.  That’s because their wings have velvety surfaces, comb-like serrations at the leading edge, and trailing-edge fringes which dramatically suppress the sound of air rushing over the wings.  Therefore the owl’s prey (mice and voles) can be taken by surprise.  Also, with wing noise suppressed to a level below the owl’s own hearing range, they can better hear (and thus locate) prey while flying — crucial for hunting at night. …

Owl wings have already inspired quieter fan blades in computers.  More recently, [biomimetics technology] researchers using wind tunnel facilities have explored these noise suppression characteristics in more detail, especially the leading-edge [single-barb-tipped] serrations.  The owl wing design also efficiently resolves the trade-off between effective sound suppression [needs for surprising prey] and aerodynamic force production [needed for flying]. In striving to understand how, [biomimetics technology] researchers see an ultimate goal of mimicking those design aspects across many man-made technologies.  For example, so the blades of multi-rotor drones can ‘chop’ the air more quietly, without unduly sacrificing lift; similarly in other aircraft, wind turbines, and fluid machinery in general.

[Quoting David Catchpoole, “As Silent as a Flying Owl”, CREATION, 40(2):56 (April-June 2018).]   Although the night-flying Barn Owl doesn’t put out much sound, it does take sound in, through its sensitive hearing system.  In fact, short feathers (near its ears) are designed into grooves (by each ear) that facilitates efficient reception of airborne sound waves (revealing where its prey is) into the owl’s ears!

These owls hear prey well, but their prey do not hear the owls (usually until it’s too late)!

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BARN OWL (Washington Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife)

What can I add to those insights?  Like an owl on the wing, I’ll just be quiet!


 

There the Coot Goes, on Weird Lobed Toes!

THERE THE COOT GOES,  ON WEIRD LOBED TOES!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

AmericanCoot-LobedFeet.Audubon-2018photo-award-KevinMalo

AMERICAN COOT lobed toes (Audubon 2018 photo award: Kevin Malo)

And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot and he also was the son of the giant.   (1st Chronicles 20:6)

Weird toes are not limited to birds.  In the Philistine territory of Gath there once was a giant both of whose feet had 6 toes thereon (as well as 6 fingers on both of his hands).  But, in the case of the American Coot, the “weird toes” are not a genetic birth defect  —  in fact, the American Coot’s toes are designed to be weird, yet wonderful at the same time.

The AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana) has been featured on the blog more than once.  [ See, e.g., “Crazy as a Coot!”  at   https://leesbird.com/2018/08/08/crazy-as-a-coot/  —   see also, e.g., “‘C’ is for Coot and Corvids:  ‘C’ Birds, Part 2”  at  https://leesbird.com/2016/05/20/c-is-for-coot-and-corvids-c-birds-part-2/ .]

In particular, Coot feet (which are truly amazing!) have previously been highlighted on this blog.  [See, e.g., Lee Dusing’s post for October 17th of AD2016, captioned “Feet”, citing Psalm 40.:2.]

And more recently, a creation science article elaborates on just how special those feet are.  Specifically, Dr. Glen W. Wolfrom has authored a succinct study titled “Amazing ‘Feats'”, in the column All by Design, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018), parts of which are quoted hereinbelow.

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AMERICAN COOT lobe-toed feet (WikiC image credit)

“The American Coot  [referring to Fulica americana]  has feet that are so odd-looking that Shweta Karikehalli  , the author of an online Audubon article [Karikehalli’s “Better Know a Bird:  The American Coot and its Wonderfully Weird Feet”, AUDUBON, August 13, 2018, posted at   https://www.audubon.org/news/better-know-bird-american-coot-and-its-wonderfully-weird-feet ], described the bird’s appearance as ‘wacky’.  Each of its oversized toes has two or three greenish-to-yellowish ‘fleshy lobes’ that are connected to its long legs.  When in water, these [toe] lobes function much like the webbing on ducks’ feet.  But on land, walking is assisted by the lobes’ folding out of the way.  According to Karikehalli, the coot’s uniquely-designed foot thus makes the bird more adept than most other waterfowl at getting around on both land and water.  A few other water birds (some grebes and phalaropes) also have lobed toes, but none have lobes that are as large as those of the coot.

The coot also uses it lobed feet for other purposes.  They assist the bird in becoming airborne — which requires the bird to run across the water’s surface [for surface-to-air ‘takeoff’].”

[Quoting Glen W. Wolfrom, “Amazing ‘Feats'”, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018).]

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AMERICAN COOT take-off from water surface (Audubon Field Guide)

So, what can we learn from this clever bioengineering design (of the coot’s lobed toes), and its habitat-friendly performance in the wild?

Dr. Wolfrom provides a clear answer — these coots exhibit God’s super-intelligent design, being fitted for His providential purposes:

“Here is an example of a unique design for birds’ feet that, unlike those of ducks, render coots capable of efficient transportation, whether on land or water.  Unless the lobes appeared suddenly [i.e., invented as an all-or-nothing packaged physiological system], fully formed and retractable, their [imagined] evolution in stages would have offered no [survival] advantage.  We maintain that the ‘sudden appearance’ occurred at creation [i.e., on Day #5 of Creation Week — see Genesis 1:20-22].”

[Quoting Glen W. Wolfrom, “Amazing ‘Feats'”, CREATION MATTERS, 23(6):12 (November-December 2018).]

God’s innovative body plan for the American Coot, with all of  its providentially purposeful details, is irrefutably magnificent.

In a word, quite a feat!  ><> JJSJ                                            profjjsj@aol.com

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AMERICAN COOT with field ID notes (Birdzilla)