Backyard Birdwatching, Enhanced by Mini-Habitat Planning, with an Application of Romans 13:7

Backyard Birdwatching, Enhanced by Mini-Habitat Planning,

with an Application of Romans 13:7

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Render therefore to all their dues:

tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom;

fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.   (Romans 13:7)

Christian birdwatchers have a wonderful freedom (and responsibility), due to the principle of Romans 13:7 – the duty to give credit where credit is due – and one application of that principle is that, as Biblical creationists, we can appreciate the valuable accomplishments contributed by ornithologists, even if those ornithologists are Bible-rejecting evolutionists, such as Roger Tory Peterson and George H. Harrison.  Simply stated, Romans 13:7 requires us to give credit where credit is due. George-Harrison-with-binoculars.Birds-and-Blooms

George H. Harrison with binoculars (BIRD AND BLOOMS)

Looking at an issue of BIRDS AND BLOOMS reminded me of how I have repeatedly appreciated the birdwatching expertise of George H. Harrison, an American ornithologist, whose valuable contribution to the world far exceeds that of any guitarist-lyricist-mystic who formerly used that same name.

In fact, ornithologist George Harrison teamed up with another birdwatching titan, Roger Tory Peterson, in a videotape that I formally used (when I taught “Ornithology and Avian Conservation” at Dallas Christian College), called “George Harrison’s Birds of the Backyard: Winter Into Spring” (Window on the World Video, 1989).

Birds-of-the-Backyard.Harrison-videotape

Perhaps two of the best-known names in American birdwatching are Roger Tory Peterson, author (and sometimes co-author) of the “Peterson Field Guides” series (published by Houghton Mifflin) and George H. Harrison (whom I first encountered as a subscriber to BIRDS AND BLOOMS magazine).

One of the most practical birdwatching books that I have ever read is George Harrison’s classic, THE BACKYARD BIRD WATCHER: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE FOR ENJOYING WILD BIRDS AT YOUR BACK DOOR (Simon & Schuster 1979).

TheBackyardBirdWatcher.Harrison-book

Recently I found a blog interview of Harrison, on the National Wildlife Federation’s blog [ http://blog.nwf.org ], reporting how that book came to be written.

GEORGE H. HARRISON knew he was on to something. While serving as managing editor of National Wildlife in 1972, he heard about two U.S. Forest Service researchers in Massachusetts who were studying ways to convert suburban yards into mini-habitats for birds and other wild creatures. “Their study showed that the same basic principles wildlife managers had been using for decades—providing food, water, cover and places to raise young—worked beautifully on a smaller scale in backyards,” says Harrison.

He convinced the two researchers, Richard DeGraaf and Jack Ward Thomas, to write an article describing the steps homeowners could take to create such habitats. That article, “Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard” in the April/May 1973 issue of National Wildlife, helped provide the basis for NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat® program, which celebrates its 38th anniversary [in AD2011, so the Certified Wildlife Habitatprogram is 44 years old as of AD2017].

Kelly: John Strohm, then editor of National Wildlife, called the article “one of the most significant articles we’ve ever published.” Why do you think the article was important?

George: The whole concept that suburbanites and urbanites could have a backyard filled with birds and other wildlife awakened people’s need to be closer to nature. It was a timely article because in the 1970s the American public had realized that our planet was in trouble (the first Earth Day, etc.) and that nature was no longer a part of their world. “Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard” opened a whole new opportunity for people, especially families, to interact with wildlife at close range, just outside their windows. For most people, it was—and still is—the one and only way to see nature and relate to wildlife.

Kelly: How did the article change the way you garden?

George: Though I had been feeding birds in my backyard since I was a child (we were a nature family), the concepts of increasing the kinds and volume of birds and animals in my environment by providing food, cover and water caused me to design my own model backyard wildlife habitat. I am Certified Wildlife Habitat® #604. I have since designed backyard habitats in private and institutional locations.

Kelly: You’re the author of The Backyard Bird Watcher and other books for wildlife enthusiasts. When you meet people new to wildlife gardening, wondering how to get started, what advice or encouragement do you give them?

George: The easiest way to get started learning and appreciating wildlife is to establish your own backyard wildlife habitat. You can start small with a couple of bird feeders, a bird bath and some potted evergreens. If you group those three items outside a favorite window in your house, birds and other wildlife will come, I promise you.

Kelly: Why do you think the Certified Wildlife Habitat® program remains relevant today?

George: With each passing year, young people are removed farther and farther from the natural world. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv documents how children are living lives that are more distant from nature than ever before in our history. Involving kids in the process of creating habitat is a way to reverse this trend.

George H. Harrison is an award-winning nature writer and photographer whose accomplishments include authoring 13 books, hosting six PBS television specials and helping to start Birds & Blooms magazine. While working at National Wildlife Federation, he served as both managing editor and field editor of National Wildlife.

[Quoting from Kelly Senser, “Habitat Chat with George H. Harrison”, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION’S BLOG, posted at http://blog.nwf.org/2011/01/habitat-chat-with-george-h-harrison/ .]

Backyard-Wildlife-Habitat.NWF-sign

National Wildlife Federation BACKYARD WILDLIFE HABITAT sign / photo by Nancy J. Ondra

Interestingly, I recall having set up a wildlife mini-habitat, during the AD1990s (when I lived in a different part of Denton County, Texas), based on the Certified Wildlife Habitat program, which I learned about as a subscriber to NATIONAL WILDLIFE magazine.

sunflower-by-fence

It was during that timeframe that I provided sunflower seeds (and other kinds of birdfeed) to my backyard birds, as illustrated by this poem:

BACKYARD BIRDS AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS

( © AD1997 James J. S. Johnson, used by permission )

Seeing hungry backyard birds I filled a tray with seeds;

Sparrows, juncos dined in “herds”, and jays arrived to feed;

Even cardinals, flashing red: they came, they saw, they fed.

Bills gulped! seed-hulls popped!

Some seeds spilled! some seeds dropped!

Overhead, as some bird flew, sunflower seeds did fall;

From green vines, they later grew, seedlings, green and small.

Then out popped golden faces Coloring grassy spaces;

Like baby suns of yellow, Grinning — saying “hello”!

On green stalks they climb, aiming to greet the sky;

Seed-packed in their prime, picked by birds, going by.

Thus reaps my yard what jays did sow,

New seeds, from old, sunflowers grow.

Watch I, and think on what God made

How He designed such “mutual aid”…

In my backyard, I must surmise:

The Lord, Who did this, He is wise!

[Quoting from “Here’s Seed for Thought”, including poem entitled “Backyard Birds and Sunflower Seeds”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/07/04/heres-seed-for-thought/ .]

Now that I live elsewhere, in a different part of Denton County (Texas), I still host a backyard bird habitat, although this one has never been registered with the National Wildlife Federation’s program (maybe I should do that?).

Since our more-than-an-acre homestead includes part of a pond (which we share with neighbors), we have the requisite water to attract ducks, geese, egrets, herons, and other wildfowl.

Our trees and bushes supply food, shelter, and nesting sites to a mix of passerines including year-round resident cardinals, blue jays, and mockingbirds, as well as mourning doves (just to name a few).

Cedar-Waxwings.WinterTexas-perching-Schwartzman

Flock of perching “winter Texan” Cedar Waxwings   (Steven Schwartzman photo)

Stopover migrants, such as Cedar Waxwings, also make use of trees (and berries, such as cedar berries) in our yard, as they pass through our part of Texas, twice a year. [See “Cedar Waxwings:  Winter Texas Snack on Bugs and Berries”, posted at  https://leesbird.com/2017/04/05/cedar-waxwings-winter-texans-snack-on-bugs-and-berries/ .]

TrumpetVine-wall

Trumpet Vine “wall” (acultivatednest.com image)

Furthermore, these habitat features are supplemented by our fence-line’s flowering trumpet vine “thicket” (e.g., see “Busy Spectators, Oblivious to Hummingbirds”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2016/09/14/busy-spectators-oblivious-to-hummingbirds/ ).  In fact, local lizards and other wild critters constitute enough food to attract an occasional roadrunner, hawk, or kestrel, so our homeplace really is a “backyard (and front-yard, and side-yard) habitat” for wild birds, both residents and migrants.

Hummingbird-at-TrumpetVine-MikeLentz

Hummingbird at Trumpet Vine blossom   (Mike Lentz image)

So there you (or, I should say, the local birds), have it: “food, water, cover, and places to raise young” –  the key ingredients needed for attracting wild birds to settle in and around our formerly-rural-but-now-more-suburban homeplace.

It’s good that I recently planted another juniper tree – some birds should benefit.

Of course, when we consider our obligation (under Romans 13:7, in conjunction with Romans chapter 1) to give credit where it is due, our ultimate duty – as birdwatchers, and as human creatures – is to give God credit for making (and providing habitat for) all of creation, including ourselves, as well as all birds and other creatures.

That even applies to giving God credit for what He has put into our avian neighbors, such as Mourning Doves (see “The Ghost Army”, illustratively citing Romans 13:7 & Isaiah 38:14, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/ghost-army ).

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power:

for Thou hast created all things,

and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.

(Revelation 4:11) 

<> JJSJ profjjsj@aol.com  


 

 

Whinchat, Redstart, & Redchat: Debunking the “Speciation” Myth Again

Whinchat-perching.Parrotletsuk-photo

WHINCHAT photo credit: Parrotletsuk.typepad.com

 Whinchat, Redstart, and Redchat:  Debunking the “Speciation” Myth Again

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Are not two sparrows [στρουθια] sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows [στρουθιων].   (Matthew 10:29-31)

Are not five sparrows [στρουθια] sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows [στρουθιων].   (Luke 12:6-7)

It’s good to know that we are worth far more, to God Himself, than many “sparrows”.  However, the term “sparrows” (as quoted above) is an English translation of the New Testament Greek noun strouthion, a fairly general word for “small bird’ that can include many varieties of perching songbirds, in general, including yet not limited to the birds we label “sparrows”(1) —  including the Whinchat, a sometimes inconspicuous little songbird that resembles a thrush, wheatear, or a flycatcher.  (Or maybe a redstart?)

Whinchat-male.ScottishOrnithologistsClub

WHINCHAT Scottish Ornithologists’ Club

It was my privilege, on July 13th of AD2006, to view a Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) among some roadside weeds, while in the fine company of my wonderful wife (Sherry) and Dr. Bill Cooper, England’s top-tier gentleman and scholar.

The bird-book that I was using, that day (as Laird Bill drove us along a motorway between Harwich and London), described the common Whinchat as follows:

Restless, short-tailed chat that perches openly on bush-tops, tall weeds and fences, flicking its wings and tail. Males in summer distinctive.  Females and autumn birds can be confused with the female Stonechat, but Whinchat’s conspicuous creamy eyebrows, boldly streaked rump and white wedges at base of tail (often noticed as birds flick tail to balance in the wind) are reliable fieldmarks.

[Quoting Chris Knightley & Steve Madge, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 212.]  The Whinchat is a summer migrant, visiting (and nesting in) Great Britain and much of western Europe during the spring and summer months, migrating south to northwestern Africa for the winter months.  Its habits are typical of many other insect-eating passerines:

Nests on heaths, grassy moors, rough fields, damp rushy meadows and young coniferous plantations. Like Stonechat, pounces to the ground for insects, returning to same slightly elevated perch or flying quickly to another sprig nearby.  Broken song mixes short musical phrases with dry churrs and distinct pauses.  Call an agitated tu-tek, tu-tek-tek. Widespread on migration, often in some numbers in coastal bushes and fields.

[Again quoting Chris Knightley & Steve Madge, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 212.]

The Whinchat has other names, including Paapje (Dutch), Braunkehlchen (German), Traquet tarier (French), and Buskskvätta (Swedish: “bush chat”).  [See Roger Tory Peterson, Guy Mountfort, & P.A.D. Hollom, BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND EUROPE (Houghton Mifflin / Peterson Field Guides, 5th rev. ed., 1993), pages 175-176.]  Moreover, to the chagrin of taxonomic “splitters”, the Whinchat is known to hybridize with the Siberian Stonechat and the Common (European) Stonechat of western (and southern) Europe.  [See Eugene McCarthy, HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF HE WORLD (Oxford, 2006), page 238.] – proving that those 3 chats descend form a common ancestor pair that survived the worldwide Flood aboard Noah’s Ark.

More surprising, to the birding community, is the capture and DNA verification (by the Lista Bird Observatory in Vest-Agder, Norway, during September AD2013) of a hybrid parented by male Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) and a female Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra), published in the Journal of Ornithology.(2)

Redchat-Redstart-Whinchat-hybrid.Norway-JonasLangbraten-photo

Common Redstart x   Whinchat HYBRID

Photograph by Jonas Langbråten

(18 Sept. AD2013, Lista Bird Observatory, Vest-Agder, Norway)

The male Redstart-Whinchat hybrid was captured by bird-banding volunteers, near the southern tip of Norway’s peninsula.

“We have a standardized bird banding project where we mark migratory birds in the spring and autumn. We have volunteer bird watchers going every hour to catch birds in mist nets to band them,” says Jan Erik Røer from the Norwegian Ornithological Society.

[Quoting Ingrid Spilde’s “Mysterious Bird was Unique Cross of Two Unrelated [sic] Species”, Science Nordic, (3-11-AD2015), at http://sciencenordic.com/mysterious-bird-was-unique-cross-two-unrelated-species . ]

The hybrid’s unofficial name is rødskvett (“redchat”), blending parts of the Norwegian words (Buskskvett and Rødstjert) for its two parents.

Needless to say, this little “redchat” has caused a lot of confusion and controversy among evolutionists at the Natural History Museum in Oslo, where the “speciation” mythology (of supposed biogenetic divergence, “13.3 million years” ago) is popularly taught, as if there was real “science” (empirical or forensic) to support that imaginary scenario.(3)

Once again the “speciation” myth of “natural selection”-advocating evolutionists, both theistic and atheistic, is debunked by the real-world evidence.


References

  1. When the Lord Jesus referred to God’s watchcare over “sparrows” (English translation for Greek strouthion], He used a Greek word that is more general in its categorical coverage than is our English term “sparrow”. The Greek noun strouthion denotes a bird in the wild, possibly any small perching songbird, including but not limited to what we call “sparrows”. (In fact, the Septuagint translators used strouthion to translate the Hebrew noun tsippôr, in Psalm 84:3a [84:4a BH], which is usually translated simply as “bird” (e.g., Genesis 7:14; Deuteronomy 14:11 & 22:6; Psalm 104:1; Ezekiel 39:4) or “fowl” (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:17; Nehemiah 5:18; Ezekiel 17:23 & 39:17). The Septuagint translators also used strouthion to translate the Hebrew double-noun qe’ath-midbâr in Psalm 102:7b, a construct phrase that refers to some bird or birds that habituate open desert or semi-desert areas.)
  2. See Silje Hogner, Albert Burgas Riera, Margrethe Wold, Jan T. Lifjeld, & Arild Johnsen, “Intergeneric Hybridization Between Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus and Whinchat Saxicola rubetra Revealed by Molecular Analyses”, JOURNAL OF ORNITHOLOGY, 156(3):829-836 (2015), cited in Dave Appleton’s “Common Redstart x Whinchat”, BIRD HYBRIDS (1-13-AD2016), posted at http://birdhybrids.blogspot.com/2016/01/common-redstart-x-whinchat.html . This unexpected hybrid is discussed in Ingrid Spilde’s “Mysterious Bird was Unique Cross of Two Unrelated [sic] Species”, Science Nordic (3-11-AD2015), posted at http://sciencenordic.com/mysterious-bird-was-unique-cross-two-unrelated-species .
  3. See 1st Timothy 6:20, regarding the folly of “’science’ falsely so-called”.  See also, accord, John 3:12.

Northern Flickers: Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, Whatever

Northern Flickers: Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted, Whatever

(Blending Biomes and Transitional Taxonomy)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Was that a Red-shafted Flicker, or a Yellow-shafted Flicker, or a mix of them?

(Regarding Northern Flickers in Colorado, see “Want a Home in the Mountains? Some Birds Have One”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/24/want-a-home-in-the-mountains-some-birds-have-one/– the discussion notes the difference between the “Red-shafted” and “Yellow-shafted” varieties.)

Northern-Flicker-redshafted.Evergreen-edu

NORTHERN FLICKER (red-shafted form) photo credit: Evergreen State College

Hybrids don’t fit squarely into the category boxes that we use for convenience. The missionary mandate of Acts 1:8, given by the resurrected Christ, refers to outreach—to Jews and Gentiles, and a hybrid category: Samaritans.  In effect, Samaritans were a hybrid people, part Jew and part Gentile.

That reminds me of how birdwatching has its own taxonomy challenges, when “splitters” are forced to yield to “lumpers”, especially in transitional habitats.

NorthernFlicker-yellowshafted.BioQuick-News

NORTHERN FLICKER (yellow-shafted form) photo credit: BioQuick News

Have you ever seen a bird that looks partially like a particular subspecies, yet also like its “cousin” subspecies? Maybe you were looking at a hybrid.  After all, avian subspecies have shared ancestries, tracing back (through the Ark) to Day # 5 of Creation Week (Genesis 1:21).

When a gene pool is separated by geographic barriers the foreseeable result is geography-correlated phenotype pattern, illustrating recessive genes within the geographically isolated gene pool. Breaks in such geographic barriers, however, provide for transitional blending — of both biome-based habitats and of the communities of animals that inhabit those regions.  These “border” zones are sometimes called ecotones: expect to see (there) blended gene pool patterns.

“An ecotone is a boundary area between two kinds of habitats, or ecosystems. The transition between eastern deciduous forest and Great Plains prairie grassland forms one of the broadest and geographically largest ecotones in North America.  The separation between forest and prairie is a gradual one.  Remnant patches of prairie exist in Mississippi, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states, extending into southern Manitoba.  The farthest route of penetration of eastern deciduous forest into the west is provided by rivers:  the mighty Platte, Missouri, and Arkansas Rivers, and their many tributaries.  The forests that line these rivers usually flood in the spring when [snow-fed] meltwater brings the river to crest.  The floods are followed by summer drought, when evaporation tends to exceed precipitation, and the water level drops.  Because of this annual cycle, western riparian forests tend to have broad, fertile floodplains, where sediment is deposited as waters recede. ….

For the birder, the prairie riparian forest offers a unique mixture of eastern and western species and subspecies. Both Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks may be encountered in the same cottonwood grove [although usually the Rose-breasted Grosbeak lives in Eastern forests, while the Black-headed Grosbeak lives in Western forests].  Indigo and Lazuli buntings may sing from willows on opposite sides of a river [although usually the Indigo Bunting lives in Eastern forests, while the Lazuli Bunting lives in Western forests].  Eastern and Western kingbirds may sit side by side on utility wires.  A pendulous oriole’s nest may be inhabited by a pair of the [Western forest] “Bullock’s” subspecies of Northern Oriole, or a pair of the [Eastern forest] “Baltimore” subspecies—or a female “Baltimore” and male “Bullock’s”!  A Northern Flicker may prove to be a member of the [Western forest] “Red-shafted” subspecies, the [Eastern forest] “Yellow-shafted” subspecies, or a hybrid between them.”

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin,1993), pages 88-90.]

So, if you want to challenge your birdwatching taxonomy skills, go visit an ecotone — an don’t be surprised if you see a hybrid version of some bird that is otherwise known of regional subspecies.  It’s all about geographic barriers to the gene pool — if the birds can mix the birds can mate, assuming they all descend (biogenetically) from the same ancestors created by God on Day # 5!

Gila Woodpeckers and Saguaro Cactus, Illustrating Neighborliness

Gila Woodpeckers and Saguaro Cactus, Illustrating Neighborliness

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.  (Proverbs 27:10)

 

GilaWoodpecker-SaguaroCactus.NorthMountainVisitorCenter
[Gila Woodpeckers in Saguaro /  photo credit: North Mountain Visitor Center]

Like friends who help each other, the Gila Woodpecker and the Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea giganteus, f/k/a Cereus giganteus)make good neighbors.

A photogenic icon of the hot desert, the Saguaro Cactus,  thrives in America’s arid Southwest – is what ecologists call a “keystone” member of that hot desert community. For example, the Sonoran Desert (which overlaps Arizona, California, and parts of Mexico) hosts the equivalent of “forests” of these jolly green giants, growing amidst other succulents, xerophytic shrubs, and ephemeral flowers.

SaguaroNP-Arizona.JoeParks

[ Saguaro National Park, Arizona, near Tucson   /  photograph by Joe Parks ]

But, looking at Saguaro Cactus from a distance, would you guess that these prickly-spined tree-like columns provide homes for many desert denizens, including a variety of birds? They do!

The Saguaro cactus is in every way a keystone species on the Sonoran Desert’s bajadas [drainage-slope terrains]. Without it, much of the [desert neighborhood’s] richness of species would soon be dramatically reduced. For instance, many of the birds of the bajada either feed or nest (or both) on Saguaros. Gila Woodpeckers, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, and Northern (Gilded) Flickers hollow our nest cavities that are later used by American Kestrels, Elf Owls, Western Screech-Owls, Purple Martins, and Brown-crested and Ash-throated flycatchers, as well as various species of bats.

Approximately 30 bird species, most recently the European Starling, have been documented to nest in woodpecker-carved Saguaro cavities. House Finches, Chihuahuan Ravens, Harris’s and Red-tailed hawks, and Great Horned Owls use the tall cactus arms as nest sites. Saguaro blossoms are fed upon by White-winged, Mourning, and Inca doves, Scott’s and Hooded orioles, House Finches, Cactus Wrens, and Curve-billed Thrashers. Sparrows and finches consume the [Saguaro] seeds.

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), pages 279-280.]

Interestingly, the Saguaro Cactus is sometimes helped by its Sonoran Desert “neighbors”, in situations that ecologists call “mutual aid” relationships—with neighbors being neighborly. One example of this “mutual aid” is seen in the behavior of the non-migratory Gila Woodpecker.  (Like a good neighbor, Gila Woodpecker is “there”.)

A Saguaro whose stem is injured is subject to rapid and fatal necrosis from bacterial invasion. However, the site of the injury is an ideal place for a Gila Woodpecker to begin excavating a nest cavity. In doing so, the woodpecker may remove all of the diseased tissue [i.e., bacteria-infected soft tissue], essentially curing the cactus of what might have [become] a fatal bacterial infection.

[Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), page 280.] Now that’s an appreciative neighbor, giving help when needed, returning good for good!  “For better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off.”  (Proverbs 27:10b)

GilaWoodpecker-by-Saguaro.BrianSmall

[Gila Woodpecker approaching Saguaro Cactus, Arizona /  Photo credit: Brian Small]

Woods, Water, and Winged Wonders

Woods, Water, and Winged Wonders

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Dan's Wood Stork Tree up close

WOOD STORKS in evergreen tree   (photo by Dan Dusing)

He sends the springs into the valleys;
They flow among the hills.

They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.

By them the birds of the heavens have their home;
They sing among the branches. …

The trees of the Lord are full of sap,
The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,

Where the birds make their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.

(Psalm 104:10-12 & 104:16-17)

Psalm104.17-SlidePlayer.com-storks

WOOD STORKS in tree   ( image credit:  SlidePlayer.com )

Springs and rain fall water the hills.  Wooded hills provide myriads of branches useful for avian nests, providing a hospitable habitat for birds of many kinds.  (Of course, the ecological fact that thriving trees facilitate homes for thriving birds is nothing new — see Daniel 4:11-12).  So, if rainfall is adequate, trees thrive – and where you find trees you also find birds, many birds of many different kinds. Forests are homes for owls, corvids, cardinals, hawks, wood ducks, doves, storks, and miscellaneous passerines galore!


BIRDWATCHING  IN  FOREST  HABITATS

Watch birds as they fly or they walk;

See their plumage and hear them talk!

Look for bird neighborhoods

In green, well-watered woods:

Homes for woodpecker, jay, owl and hawk!

So, take a trek through the woods  –  you should like the hike!   Walk and gawk.  (Is there a fowl on a bough?  Do birds perch on a birch?)  Wherever woods and water abound, look for winged wonders!

StellersJay-evergreen.iStock-Getty

STELLER’S JAY on evergreen tree branch   (iStock / Getty image)

 


 

Happy Memories, Accented by Black Skimmers at Madeira Beach

BlackSkimmer-Florida-migrant.Wikipedia

BLACK SKIMMER in Florida   (photo credit: Don Faulkner / Wikipedia)

Remember His marvelous works that He hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.   (1st Chronicles 16:12)

Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg (Florida), is a nice place to see white beach-sand, gentle surf tidewaters, and some of the most splendid seagulls, such as gulls, terns, and skimmers.  On Labor Day (earlier this month), I was providentially privileged to visit there with my 2 good friends, Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, who have encouraged and strengthened my Christian faith for 40+ years.  (Bob is the best Bible teacher I have ever known.)   During our treks up and down the beach, amidst the happy noise of seagulls at sea and ashore, we saw on the beach a few Black Skimmers.  It had been quite a while — perhaps more than a year or two — since I had seen Black Skimmers, so it reminded me of earlier years, and “auld lang syne” (i.e., old long times ago) — times of friendship and fellowship, accented by birdwatching, a continuing reminder of God’s sovereignty and watch care (Luke 12:4-7).

BlackSkimmer-in-Texas.DanPancamo

BLACK SKIMMER near Freeport, Texas  (photo by Dan Pancamo / Flickr)

Black Skimmers have an easy-to-remember bill; the bottom half (i.e., lower mandible) sticks out farther than the top half (i.e., upper mandible), enabling the tern-like seabird to skim the water’s surface, using its unusually long wings, to catch little fish (like anchovies and silversides) and other prey located at sea, also feeding in tidal pools, in saltmarsh drainage channels, or at seashores.  Apparently more than 90% of a skimmer’s diet is fish.  The skimmer’s prominent red-blending-into-black bill is also used to occasionally catch small shellfish, such as crustaceans (like decapods or amphipods) and mollusks (like cephalopods or gastropods), as well as available insects (mostly coleoptera).  Parent skimmers feed their young by regurgitation.

BlackSkimmer-feeding-youngJimGray-Audubon

BLACK  SKIMMER  feeding  young  (photo by Jim Gray / Audubon)

These seabirds prefer oceanic and estuarial beaches, as well as salt bays, saltmarshes, lagoons, inlets, sandy islands, and other coastal wetlands.

America’s southeast coastlines (especially all of Florida’s coastline) provide year-round habitat for Black Skimmers, from southernmost Texas to midway up the North Carolina coast.  Also, many migrating Black Skimmers winter in the bottom part of Florida’s peninsula, afterwards returning to Mid-Atlantic state coasts (from North Carolina to Connecticut) for summer breeding.  [See, accord, Roger Tory Peterson, EASTERN BIRDS (Houghton Mifflin / Peterson Field Guides, 4th edition, 1980), pages 98-99 & Range Map 87.  See also “Black Skimmer” at http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-skimmer .]

BlackSkimmer-on-beach.AndreasTrepte

BLACK SKIMMER on beach   (photo credit:  Andreas Trepte)

Viewing Black Skimmers is fun enough, but it is more fun to view them with friends.

One of the most pleasant forms of outdoor recreation and fellowship, when visiting old or new friends (especially Christian friends), is to take a walk — whether hiking in a forest, or ambling up a mountainside, or trudging through new-fallen snow, or strolling in beach-sand, or splashing in coastal tidewaters — all the while noticing nearby birds who busily fly or swim or strut about, tweeting or chirping out their various songs.

So I recalled the nostalgic old song (usually sung on New Year’s Eve, AULD LANG SYNE, but I changed the lyrics to fit the memories, redubbing it “Auld Lang Birdwatching”.

(Sing to the tune of AULD LANG SYNE.)

Should old birdwatching be forgot

    And lifers go unseen?

The fowl so fair, in air we spot

    Or perching as they preen.

 Drinking coffee, at birds we gaze

    On earth, at sea, in sky;

God made them all, us to amaze,

    Birds run and swim and fly!

God has given us many blessings in life, for which we must ever be grateful.  Godly friends are one of the greatest blessings that a man or woman can ever have.

(Having a godly spouse, as one’s best friend, is the ultimate example of such blessing, of course — and I am one of the few men who can honestly say that my wife is my best friend;  and, although I have many faults, I think that I am likewise my wife’s best friend.)

But, furthermore, there is one friend to be loved and treasured, above all human friends, the One of Whom we sing, in the song “WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS“.

Accordingly, as much as we esteem and treasure our earthly blessings  —  and we should  —  we must always exceed those appreciations with our love for and devotion to God Himself, because a loss of one’s “first love” (for God) constitutes a tragic (and treacherous) loss indeed.

Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent….  (Revelation 2:4-5a)

Spiritual decline soon follows whenever one’s devotion to God slips or erodes, unless a clean correction is quickly made.  (The exhortation in Revelation 2:4-5 is for each of us!)

May God help us to appreciate our blessings —  both friendships and fowl-watching opportunities — yet may He nudge us, daily, to remind us that our most precious blessing in life (and thereafter) is God Himself, for He is truly (as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:28) our “all in all”, and it is a wonderful privilege to belong to Him (Psalm 100).

BlackSkimmer-with-young.MichaelStubblefield.jpg

BLACK  SKIMMER  with  young   (photo by Michael Stubblefield)

 


Reflecting on Floodwaters (and a Dove): How Do We “Return”?

Returning Earthly Lives to Normalcy, After the Flood:

Yet Whereunto (and How) Do We Return our Souls?

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Ark-with-returning-Dove.olive-HoshanaRabbah

ARK ON WAVES, with returning dove   (credit: public domain / Hoshanah Rabbah)

But the dove [Hebrew: yônah] found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned [a form of the verb shûb] unto him [i.e., Noah] into the Ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; then he [i.e., Noah] put forth his hand, and took her [i.e., the female dove], and pulled her unto himself, unto the Ark.  And he waited yet other 7 days; and again he [i.e., Noah] sent forth the dove from the Ark; and the dove came back [a form of the verb shûb] unto him at evening; and, lo! — an olive leaf, plucked off, was in her [i.e., the female dove’s] mouth!  — so that Noah knew the waters were abated from upon the earth.  And he waited yet other 7 days; and sent forth the dove, who returned [a form of the verb shûb] not again unto him anymore.  (Genesis 8:9-12)

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, in recent weeks, both visited the southeastern United States (as well as some Caribbean islands nearby) with powerful devastation. Thereafter those hurricanes left flooding and turmoil in their wakes.  The need for restoration and a return to normalcy will continue.

Yet imagine how much more devastation faced the human race when only 8 humans were alive, who themselves, for more than a year, had just survived the only worldwide Flood that ever was – or ever will be. What an aftermath!  And what a need for ecological restoration, to say the least!

In fact, that is part of what we read about within the 8th chapter of Genesis.

White-Dove-flying.background-clouds

DOVE (credit: Fanpop Wallpaper)

Furthermore, what an amazing report of scientific research is reported in Genesis chapter 8 – Noah used a dove to take, in effect, an ecological snapshot of the Flood’s aftermath, so that Noah could observe – with the help of a dove (who served his need for information, like a passenger pigeon) – when Earth was drained sufficiently to permit recovered/sprouted olive trees to produce some pluckable leaves, an early sign that Earth was regaining a vegetated condition.

Noah-dove-raven-Ark

DOVE RETURNS TO NOAH   (image credit: Pinterest)

Thus Noah, as the greatest empirical scientist then alive (not to mention the greatest zookeeper to ever live!), concluded that the Flood’s wake was subsided sufficiently to permit the first stages of ecological recovery. Meanwhile, Noah (and his family, as well as the other Ark-borne animals) remained aboard the Ark, until God Himself instructed Noah that it was safe for their disembarkation (Genesis 8:15-19).

White-Dove.Journal-of-Consumer-Research

WHITE DOVE   (photo

credit; Journal of Consumer Research)

Much more has been said, and should be said, about Noah’s disembarkation after the Flood. (For example, consider the entire book by Britain’s premier historian, Dr. Bill Cooper, titled AFTER THE FLOOD.)

But for now, however, consider just one Hebrew word, the simple verb shûb. It basically means to “return”, to “come back”.  In Genesis 8:9-12 the dove twice returned, after which she did not return on the third occasion.  What a simple action verb, yet how mighty its meaning in Scripture!  Two other usages of this action verb will be noted, below, to illustrate the importance of this simple verb, the root form of which is only 3 letters in Hebrew (shûb).

In Psalm 23:3 we read that the LORD “restores my soul”  —  literally, God “returns” my soul, because of His shepherdly care for me.  Because God created me, as a unique human (Psalm 102:18), my being began with and by His divine command, so He is the author of my creaturely existence.

However, as a sinner, I have strayed from God my Creator (Isaiah 53:6a), so I cannot belong to Him, so how can I be successfully returned unto Him?  Lamentably, as a sinner, I cannot accomplish a satisfactory solution to my personal predicament – my problem of sin-caused alienation (Isaiah 59:2 & 64:6; Romans 3:23).

Wonderfully, however, without compromising His holiness and justice, God has provided a redemptive solution to my sin problem, the gift of substitutionary atonement (John 3:14-16). Christ has voluntarily and magnanimously accepted the punishment due for my sin (and for all of Adam’s race), to justify the gifted exchange of Christ’s own perfect righteousness (Romans 6:23), generously producing the marvelous result that I can be justified and forgiven (because His blood on the cross paid my sin-debt), so long as I happily accept that redemptive gift by believing that God has chosen to give me that redemption (Ephesians 1:3-14; John 14:6)!

What a privilege to be one of the “sheep” of God’s flock (see Psalm 100).  In John chapter 10, we read that Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14), Who knows and cares for His sheep, and Who gives unto us, His “sheep”, everlasting life, as a gracious and redemptive gift of His love (John 10:16-18 & 10:26-28).

In other words, like an errant sheep (Isaiah 53:6), I have (as has every human sinner) wandered away from God, yet God has redemptively sought and retrieved me (Luke 15:4-7) as if I was a sheep separated from 99 other sheep, and Christ deemed me valuable enough to find and to fetch, and to safely secure me within His flock!

Jesus-Shepherd-with-sheep.watercolor

JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD  (image credit: Pinterest)

But notice that the gift of redemption in Christ is not automatically applied to the eternal destinies of every human being – there is a choice to be made, a choice with moral (and everlasting) accountability – the choice must be willingly made, to accept (rather than to decline accepting) Christ as one’s personal Redeemer. No one is forcefully drafted into Heaven against his or her will – there are no “robots” in Heaven!

It is “whosoever will” who enters Heaven by God’s grace in Christ, so no truth-opposing (and thus Christ-rejecting) unbelievers enter the ultimate Haven of rest. And that requirement of believing acceptance of God’s grace, a/k/a saving faith, is the choice that is needed, in order to benefit eternally form Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection (John 1:12 & 3:14-18).

This crucial need to consciously and voluntarily accept, by belief (what is sometimes called a “love of the truth”), God’s promised gift of salvation in Christ, is consistently taught throughout the Holy Bible. Just as the serpent-bitten Israelites needed to believe God’s promise about the only sufficient remedy for deadly snakebites, we must believe God’s promise that looking to the once-for-all crucified Christ is the only sufficient remedy for our own sin problem (John 3:14-16, in light of Numbers 21:7-9).

John3.14-15-picture

JOHN 3:14-15 with NUMBERS 21:4-9   (image credit: Godisrevealed.com blog)

That requires us, as individuals, to personally believe the truth of God’s promise of saving grace in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:22-26 & 4:20-25 & 10:13).

Notice that this kind of belief is not the same thing as promising to serve God (or “to follow Jesus”), because real saving belief involves expecting God to give us something, freely and graciously, apart from anything we do (or promise to do) for God.

Oddly, this is hard for many to accept —  the idea that eternal life in Christ really is free is rejected by many, despite the Bible’s clear teaching that salvation in Christ is a GIFT (Romans 6:23).   No one merited the right to be conceived in the womb, or to be born.  Yet it is undeniable that our creaturely lives are gifts we did not earn (or work for) — obviously God made us, or else we would not exist!  So, since our very lives are unmerited gifts from God, to us, why should we have difficulty with the idea that God gives us forgiveness and salvation in Christ, as an unmerited gift that we neither earn nor work for?

Thus, it is simply believing God’s Word (like a trusting toddler would believe a loving parent), —  specifically, believing the promises in God’s Word regarding the Lord Jesus Christ as the unique Messianic Savior (1st Corinthians 15:3-4),  — that constitutes saving faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 1:12 & 3:14-16).  It is that all-important belief that God uses to return our souls unto Himself, the psalmist (David) says in the 19th Psalm:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting [a form of the Hebrew verb shûbּ  —  literally “returning”] the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)

And it is God Himself Who is our ultimate and only “haven of rest”, our souls’ true “home”.  (See “Why We Want to Go Home”, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/why-we-want-go-home .)    In other words, although some would say that “home (on Earth) is where you hang your hat”, our eternal home is where we belong forever – with God Himself (and with His forever family), thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20-21)!


Mockingbirds: Versatile Voices in Plain Plumage

NorthernMockingbird-atop-pine.JimWedge-Audubon

NORTHERN  MOCKINGBIRD     ( photo: Jim Wedge / Audubon.org )

Mockingbirds: Versatile Voices in Plain Plumage

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.   (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

King Solomon warned us!  Some birds are like winged tape recorders, capable of imitating the speech of human voices, vocal calls of other birds, diverse sounds of construction equipment, and even the beeping noise of a clock alarm.  Parrots are so famous for repeating human speech that we use the word “parrot” as a metaphoric verb, for repeating what someone else says.

Mockingbird.RyanHagerty-USFWS
Northern Mockingbird   (photo credit: Ryan Hagerty / USF&WS)

The official state bird of Texas is a famous mimic, as its name suggests: MOCKINGBIRD.  (And, besides the special dignity of being the Lone Star State’s official songbird, the Northern Mockingbird is a special of Professor Ernie Carrasco!)

Despite its prosaic plumage, which combines only black, grey, and white (and thus misses out on all of the rainbow hues), the mundanely feathered Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottus) is nonetheless spectacular in its mimicry range of vocal versatility.  To illustrate, consider this report from Beth Clark, a Nevada resident, writing for BIRD & BLOOMS magazine:

‘BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP.’ My husband and I were participating in the Nevada Bird Count for the Great Basin Bird Observatory, when he started having problems with his new wristwatch timer. It kept beeping ahead of its programmed time.  I assumed [as many wives would have assumed, that] he just needed to read the instructions.  But after several frenzied attempts to fix the device, it turned out that a northern mockingbird was in the area.  The bird was perfectly imitating the sound and volume of the timer.

[Quoting Beth Clark, “Expert impersonators:  Sounds Aren’t Always What They Seem”, BIRDS & BLOOMS, April-May 2006 issue, page 49.]  Surely no one should be shocked to learn that a mockingbird is apt to “mock” sounds, as if it was a winged tape recorder.

Mockingbird-feeding-young.AmericanArtifacts

Mockingbird feeding nestling young  /  photo credit:  American Artifacts

Interestingly, it is only the male mockingbird that you should expect to hear during springtime or summer, as busy mockingbirds go about the business of nest-building, breeding, and taking care of their nestling young.  During autumn, however, both males and females sing their mimicking “songs” and sounds.  [See, accord, Donald Stokes, “Mockingbird”, A GUIDE TO BIRD BEHAVIOR, Volume I (Little, Brown & Company, 1979), page 187.]  Interestingly, mockingbird singing is influenced by the lunar cycle.

Northern Mockingbirds sing all through the day, and often into the night. Most nocturnal singers are unmated males, which sing more than mated males during the day, too. Nighttime singing is more common during the full moon. Northern Mockingbirds typically sing from February through August, and again from September to early November. A male may have two distinct repertoires of songs: one for spring and another for fall. The female Northern Mockingbird sings too, although usually more quietly than the male does. She rarely sings in the summer, and usually only when the male is away from the territory. She sings more in the fall, perhaps to establish a winter territory.

[Quoting Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” article on mockingbirds.

Of course, other birds have the same ability.

Northern mockingbirds, gray catbirds and the thrasher family are the most common mimics in North America. The mockingbird is the most accomplished mimic of the group [called Mimidae].  Its imitations are executed so precisely that scientific analysis often can’t distinguish between the imitation and the original.

Mockingbirds can replicate the calls of up to 32 bird species as well as the sounds of [large] animals and insects, and a wide array of human noises. You might even hear mimics imitating birds you’ve never heard of.  Once mimics learn a phrase, they’ll use it throughout the year.  So they easily pick up new bird songs from their wintering grounds [JJSJ note: some mockingbirds migrate, while other are year-round residents  — see range map below].  In New Jersey, someone once heard a gray catbird mimicking a brown-crested flycatcher [vocalization] that it likely picked up in Central America.

[Quoting Beth Clark, “Expert impersonators”, BIRDS & BLOOMS, April-May 2006 issue, page 49.]

Mockingbird-Rangemap.Wikipedia

Northern Mockingbird range map   (image credit: Wikipedia)
YELLOW:  breeding range;   GREEN:  year-round residence range
[NOTE CONTRA:  Cornell Lab of Ornithology indicates a year-round range for all the lower 48!]

Of course, it’s not just mockingbirds that mock the sounds of other creatures and non-living noises.

Brown thrashers … can learn human words and phrases, and sage thrashers imitate a variety of natural sounds. The European starling is a phenomenal mimic.  In addition to the human voice and other man-made sounds, it will reproduce the sound of a woodpecker drumming.  I once heard a caged European starling that spoke clearly and sang several radio jingles with perfect pitch.  Jays, crows, Carolina wrens, shrikes and vireos also mimic other bird species.

[Quoting Beth Clark, “Expert impersonators”, BIRDS & BLOOMS, April-May 2006 issue, page 49.]

BrownThrasher-GarlandTX-ManjithKainickara

Brown Thrasher in Texas   (photo credit; Manjith Kainickara)

But how do these avian mimics replicate the sounds of others? They have a special vocal organ called a “syrinx”, a word derived from the Greek word σύριγξ – referring to musical reeds (i.e., “pan pipes”), which is the same root for our English word “syringe” (a reed/straw-like tube, used in medicine).

Birds make sounds in a different way than humans do. People vocalize by passing air across the vocal chords.  Birds, however, make sounds using their syrinx.  Birds are the only animals that have a syrinx, which is located in the windpipe, close to the lungs.  The muscles surrounding the syrinx allow the birds to control the sounds, much the way changing tension on a violin string alters the pitch.  They control the volume by changing the air pressure in their lungs.  Generally, the birds with the most muscles around their syrinx are the most varied [i.e., most versatile] vocalists.  For instance, while pigeons have a single pair of muscles [around the syrinx], catbirds and crows have seven to nine pairs.  Most songbirds have about five pairs.  That explains how a northern mockingbird tricked my husband into thinking his timer was broken, but the bird’s amazing array of impersonations remains mind-boggling.

[Quoting Beth Clark, “Expert impersonators”, BIRDS & BLOOMS, April-May 2006 issue, page 49.]

Syrinx-BirdAnatomy.Wikipedia-diagram

Schematic drawing of an avian syrinx

from Wikipedia’s “Syrinx (bird anatomy)” article.

  1. last free cartilaginous tracheal ring
  2. tympanum
  3. first group of syringeal rings
  4. pessulus
  5. membrane tympaniformis lateralis
  6. membrane tympaniformis medialis
  7. second group of syringeal rings
  8. main bronchus
  9. bronchial cartilage

Mockingbird-eating-winterberries.JonesNaturePreserve

Mockingbird eating winterberries    (photo credit: Jones Nature Preserve)

How can you attract hungry mockingbirds?  Don’t worry; northern mockingbirds aren’t “fussy” eaters. As omnivores, they will eat what is available:  insects (especially during summer, when beetles, ants, wasps, bees, butterflies, and moths are the mockingbirds’ main diet), earthworms, berries and other fruits (especially apples), tomatoes, seeds, and even lizards.  Some have even reported mockingbirds sipping sap from trees recently pruned.   [See Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” article on mockingbirds, posted at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Mockingbird/lifehistory .]

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Mockingbird harasses Red-shouldered Hawk (Florida form)  /  photo credit:  All Creation Sings

Once a mockingbird established its home territory, watch out! Mockingbirds will guard their claimed turf with vim and vigor.

It is hard for a behavior-watcher to think of mockingbirds and not also think of territoriality, for this is undoubtedly the most prominent aspect of this bird’s behavior. Not only are its territories small, sharply defined, and aggressively defended, but they are also formed twice a year – once in spring for breeding and again in fall to protect a winter food source.  Add to this the fact that [mockingbirds] are partial to living in urban [and suburban] areas, and you undoubtedly have the best of our common birds in which to observe territorial behavior.

[Quoting Donald Stokes, “Mockingbird”, A GUIDE TO BIRD BEHAVIOR, Volume I (Little, Brown & Company, 1979), page 187.]

So, enjoy the varied vocalizations of your neighborhood’s mockingbirds, but respect their territorial “turf”, because they are seriously committed to homeland security!

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Mockingbird attacks Red-tailed Hawk   (photo credit: flickr.com)


 

 

Shorebirds Looney about Horseshoe Crab Eggs

RedKnot-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

Red Knot Eating Crab Eggs at Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

Thankfully, the rhythms of our world are fairly predictable. Although the details differ, the overall cycles are regular:

While the earth remains, seedtimes and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:22)

Because of these recurring patterns migratory birds can depend on food being conveniently available when they migrate northward in the spring. In effect,  “fast food” on the beach is a “convenience store” for famished feathered fliers.

For example, consider how the annual egg-laying (and egg-burying) activities of horseshoe crabs perfectly synchronize with the hunger of migratory shorebirds (e.g., red knots, turnstones, and sandpipers) that stopover on bayside beaches, for “fast food”, right where huge piles of crab eggs have just been deposited (and where some have been uncovered by tidewaters).

HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

No need to worry about the birds eating too many crab eggs! – the egg-laying is so prolific (i.e., about 100,000 eggs per mother) that many horseshoe crab eggs are missed by the migratory birds, thus becoming the next generation of horseshoe crabs, plus the birds mostly eat the prematurely  surfacing eggs that are less likely to succeed in life anyway!)

Timing is everything. Each spring, shorebirds migrate from wintering grounds in South America to breeding grounds in the Arctic. These birds have some of the longest migrations known. Delaware Bay is the prime stopover site and the birds’ stop coincides with horseshoe crab spawning. Shorebirds like the red knot, ruddy turnstone and semipalmated sandpiper, as well as many others, rely on horseshoe crab eggs to replenish their energy reserves before heading to their Arctic nesting grounds.  The birds arrive in the Arctic before insects emerge. This means that they must leave Delaware Bay with enough energy reserves to make the trip to the Arctic and survive without food until well after they have laid their eggs. If they have not accumulated enough fat reserves at the bay, they may not be able to breed.

The world’s largest spawning population of horseshoe crabs occurs in Delaware Bay. During high tide, horseshoe crabs migrate from deep water to beaches to spawn. The female digs a nest in the sand and deposits between 4,000 and 30,000 eggs that the male will fertilize with sperm. A single crab may lay 100,000 eggs or more during a season. Horseshoe crab spawning begins in late April and runs through mid-August, although peak spawning in the mid-Atlantic takes place May 1 through the first week of June.

At low tide, adult crabs go back into the water but may return at the next high tide. Horseshoe crab spawning increases on nights with a full or new moon, when gravity is stronger and high tides are even higher. At the same time that migrating shorebirds arrive to rest and feed along Delaware Bay, horseshoe crab activity is high. While the crab buries its eggs deeper than shorebirds can reach, waves and other horseshoe crabs expose large numbers of eggs. These surface eggs will not survive, but they provide food for many animals. The shorebirds can easily feed on eggs that have surfaced prematurely.

Quoting Kathy Reshetiloff, “Migratory Birds Shore Up Appetites on Horseshoe Crab Eggs”, THE CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(3):40 (May 2017).

Shorebirds-HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay.LarryNiles

Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Larry Niles

Notice how it is the gravitational pull of the moon, as the moon goes through its periodic cycle, that causes the high and low tides – which facilitate the uncovering of enough horseshoe crab eggs to satisfy the needs of the migratory stopover shorebirds that pass through Delaware Bay.  Notice how the moon provides a phenological “regulation” (i.e., the moon is physically ruling and correlating the interaction of the horseshoe crabs, the migratory shorebirds, and the bay’s tidewaters – in accordance with and illustrating Genesis 1:16-18).

At low tide, adult crabs go back into the water but may return at the next high tide. Horseshoe crab spawning increases on nights with a full or new moon, when gravity is stronger and high tides are even higher. At the same time that migrating shorebirds arrive to rest and feed along Delaware Bay, horseshoe crab activity is high.

Again quoting Kathy Reshetiloff, “Migratory Birds Shore Up Appetites on Horseshoe Crab Eggs”, THE CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(3):40 (May 2017).

RedKnot-MigrationMap.NatureConservancy
Map of Red Knot Winter Ranges, Summer Breeding Range, & Migratory Stopovers
Map by The Nature Conservancy, adapted from USF&WS map

So, you might say that these reproducing Horseshoe Crabs, and the myriads of migratory shorebirds, share phenological calendars because they’re all looney.

RedKnot-onshore.NatureConservancy-MJKilpatrick

Red Knot on Beach, during Migratory Stopover
photo by The Nature Conservancy / M J Kilpatrick

Western Tanager: Red and Yellow, Black and White

Western-Tanager.WildBirdsUnlimited

Western Tanager  /  photo credit:  Wild Birds Unlimited

WESTERN TANAGER: RED AND YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Although not as spectacularly colorful as the Painted Bunting of central and south Texas, the Western Tanager is certainly an eye-catching bird of montane forests, with showy colorfulness, especially the red-and-yellow-black-and-white male.  And like other birds, they are “precious in His (i.e., the Lord’s) sight”, although not as precious as the human race, of which the children’s song (“Jesus Loves the Little Children”) observes:

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world:

Red and yellow, black and white;

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the world!

[Quoting lyrics written roughly a century ago, by C. Herbert Woolston, a Chicago pastor; actually those well-known lyrics were the refrain to a larger song that began with “Jesus calls the children dear”.]

So what about this red-and-yellow-black-and-white passerine of America’s Great West?

Western-Tanager.RangeMap-Cornell

Western Tanager range map  /  Cornell University

This tanager breeds and summers mostly in the coniferous forests of Rocky Mountain states and westward —  New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, western Canada, plus slivers of territory in northern California and in western Texas.  [See also Roger Tory Peterson’s A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS, 3rd edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1990), showing a narrower range map M368.]

And the Western Tanager is truly a colorful denizen of the higher elevations.

The only U.S. tanager [since the Flame-colored Tanager is supposed to stay within Mexico, its “normal” range] with strong wing bars. Male: Yellow, with a black back, wings, and tail, two wing bars, and a red head.  The red disappears in autumn and winter. Female: Yellowish below; dull olive above, with white and yellow wing bars.  Resembles female orioles …  but the tail and sides of the face are darker, and the bill is less sharply pointed.

[Quoting Peterson’s WESTERN BIRDS (cited above), from page 314.]

Mixed colors in avian plumage are beautiful to the eye, yet rainbows also are chromatically spectacular.

Rainbow-clouds.ReadersDigest-photo

RAINBOW in the clouds  /  Readers Digest photograph

But what good are rainbows, besides being beautiful to behold? The foundational importance of the rainbow is a message from God Himself:  to remind us of a specific promise that God made to Noah, and to Noah’ family (and thus to the entire human race on this side of the worldwide Flood), and even to the air-breathing animals who survived the Flood as disembarked Arklings (and thus also to all of their direct-descendants):

And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the Ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish My covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there anymore be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the rainbow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth.   (GENESIS 9:7-17)

That’s the true symbolism of the rainbow —  a holy promise given to Noah, a holy “preacher of righteousness” who lived both before and after the global Flood.

Interestingly, it appears that before the “fountains of the great deep” (see Genesis 7:11 — discussed at http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/196 ) broke up, making today’s volcanoes look puny by comparison, it is unlikely that rainbows were meteorologically plausible – see http://www.sound-doctrine.net/FAQ-RainBeforeFlood.html — buttressed by http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2011/07/volcanoes-may-cause-more-rain-than-realized/1#.WU12_1GQyV4 . (But that discussion must await another time and/or place.)

Obviously, any attempt to steal and transmogrify the message of the rainbow —  by those losers who foment vitriolic hate speech against God (and against His laws, and against His servants)  —  is an illegitimate and irrational blasphemy against God Himself (WHo owns and operates all rainbows), as well as an attempted fraud on His creation.

Meanwhile, many generations after Noah, another saint (i.e., another human believer whose sins are forgiven in Christ), Joseph, was given a “coat of diverse colors” (see Genesis 37:3 & 37:23 & 37:32). Joseph, of course, foreshadowed the Lord Jesus in many aspects of Joseph’s life (e.g., forsaken by his brothers, mistreated, delivered to Gentiles, falsely accused, suffering for the crime of others, not recognized by his brothers, eventually reconciling with his brothers due to his choice to forgive them, as he rescued whole populations of people who would otherwise have perished, etc.).

And, much later in Scripture, in the Apocalypse (i.e., the Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to John the Evangelist), we see the rainbow again, gloriously reminding us of future activities in world history, as God continues to operate as humanity’s) Judge (Revelation 4:3 & 10:1).

So, let your rainbow colors fly – and don’t let an enemy of God steal God’s colors on your watch!  The day will one day arrive, God knows when,  climaxing spiritual conflicts throughout human history, when it will be proven beyond genuine dispute that THE RAINBOW BELONGS TO GOD, because He said so – He called it “My covenant”, so it is His property.

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ARK ENCOUNTER (Answers in Genesis) with rainbow lighting

photo credit” WYMT Mountain News / Gray TV Inc.

So it’s a good idea to display God’s rainbow, as Answers in Genesis has recently done, in a setting that commemorated Noah’s Ark. And it is also a good idea – when watching a male Western Tanager perching on a tree-branch, or flitting about somewhere in an evergreen forest of the Rockies (during summer), to remember that timeless and wonderful truth that Pastor Woolston worded as lyrics:

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world:

Red and yellow, black and white;

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the world!


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Western Tanager on evergreen branch  /  Josip Turkalj at Yellowston N.P., on YouTube

Palaces Are Known For Both Tattletales And Wagtails

Palaces Are Known For Both Tattletales And Wagtails

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.   (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

Royal palaces are known to attract (and to house) some of God’s winged wonders, and Catherine’s Palace —  one of the imperial Russian palaces  —  is no exception.   (And not all palace-dwelling birds there are tattle-tales, although some are wagtails!)

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Catherine’s Palace, front entrance exterior   (Saint-Petersburg.com photograph)

Catherine’s Palace is a royal mansion – a “summer palace” —  in Pushkin (a/k/a Tsarskoye Selo), about 19 miles south of St. Petersburg (f/k/a Leningrad), Russia, which my wife and I visited on July 9th of AD2006.  The imposingly-humongous-yet-flourishingly-ornate, embellishment-heavy, exquisitely dignified architecture is classified as Rococo (i.e., late Baroque), and a ton of wealth is built into its many construction details and decorative displays.  The palace was originally commissioned by Empress Catherine I (AD1717) but was extravagantly modified (during AD1752-AD1756) at the direction of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, Catherine’s daughter (who was 1 of Catherine’s 2 children who survived to adulthood, the other 10 dying young), and afterwards by Emperor Alexander I, Catherine’s grandson.  Before German invaders destroyed the palace’s interior, during World War II, Russian archivists had documented the interior of the palace; those records were used (after the war) to repair and restore some, but not all, of this historic and opulent mansion.

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Grand Hall, Catherine Palace, in Pushkin, Russia   (Saint-Petersburg.com photograph)

Yet one of the most magnificent treasures, of Catherine’s Palace, survives to this very day  —  hidden in plain view  —  skipping merrily in the yards and fields adjacent to Catherine’s Palace: the WHITE WAGTAIL.

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WHITE WAGTAIL  1st summer female (Andreas Trepte / Wikipedia photograph)

The White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), a mostly grey bird (of a grey tone similar to that of many mockingbirds) with a black head (and bib) that contrasts with white “eye-mask” plumage, plus blue and white striping on its wings and tail-feathers.  This small black-white-and-grey passerine, cousin to the pipits, is named for its most famous behavior: wagging its tail.

Slim black and white bird with a long, constantly wagging tail. Frequently seen beside water but equally in fields, farmyards, parks, [recreational] playing fields, roadsides, rooftops.  The [subspecies variety called the] Pied Wagtail (race yarrellii) is resident [of the] British Isles, although a very few nest on adjacent continental coasts.  Nominate White (race albus) nests throughout Europe [from the Iberian Peninsula to the Ural Mountains, including the Baltic Sea coastlands including Russia’s St. Petersburg –  but only summering in the northern half of Europe], and is scarce but regular passage migrant to Britain (March-May / August / October).

[Quoting Chris Knightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (London & New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 201. See also, accord, Lars Jonsson, BIRDS OF EUROPE, WITH NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST (Princeton University Press, 1993), page 372-373.]

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WHITE WAGTAIL   (Bengt Nyman photograph)

For me, the Wagtail’s characteristic tail-wagging reminds me of a happy pet dog, such as a French Poodle or Labrador Retriever. Every child should have happy memories of a happy dog’s companionship – I’m thankful that my childhood memories include such happy times.  Wagtails themselves enjoy their own version of companionship; they are monogamous, sharing nest duties (e.g., constructing the nest together, taking turns to incubate their unhatched eggs, and taking turns feeding the hatchlings), and they defend their own family’s territory.

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WHITE WAGTAIL with insect prey   (Roy & Marie Battell / Moorhen.me.uk photograph)

What do wagtails eat?  A mix of adult and larval insects (e.g., flies, midges, cranflies, mayflies, caterpillars, moths, dragonflies, beetles, aquatic insect larvae), spiders, earthworms, tiny fish fry (as it wades in shallow water), a few seeds, and sometimes small snails.

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WHITE WAGTAIL male in shallow water    (Ivan Sjögren photograph)

The White Wagtail also bobs his head while walking, somewhat like how city-dwelling pigeons do.

Walks or runs [sometimes making quick dashes] with nodding head, sudden lunges and flycatching leaps. In flight, can be picked out at distance by long tail and conspicuously dipping action, with distinct bursts of wingbeats.  Flight call characteristic:  a loud tchiz-ick; also utters an emphatic tsu-weeI.  Lively, twittering song.  In winter, forms large roosts in reedbeds, towns, etc.

[Quoting Chris Knightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (London & New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 201.]

So, if you ever get to visit Catherine’s Palace, in Pushkin (outside of St. Petersburg), Russia, as we did on July 9th of AD2006, do enjoy all the golden glitter and ivory opulence  —  but don’t forget to also keep an eye open for a bird wagging its tail, maybe foraging on the manicured lawns nearby, or hunting near other less glamorous buildings  —  you might see an avian treasure, the White Wagtail!         ><> JJSJ  profjjsj@aol.com

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WHITE WAGTAIL hunting rooftop insects     (Roy & Marie Battell / Moorhen.me.uk montage photo-blend)

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CATHERINE’S PALACE:  aerial view, Pushkin, Russia   (Saint-Petersburg.com photograph)

What’s Good For The Goose . . . May Be Relocating (To Another Summer Home)

BARNACLE  GOOSE  BIOGEOGRAPHY:    WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE MAY INCLUDE RELOCATING (AWAY FROM BREEDING GROUNDS TOO CLOSE TO RUSSIA’S H-BOMB TESTING SITE!)

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BARNACLE GOOSE trio, swimming in Finland  (photo credit: Kuvat / ArtBird)

And Solomon’s provision for one day was 30 measures of fine flour, and 60 measures of meal, 10 fat oxen, and 20 oxen out of the pastures, and 100 sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow-deer, and fatted fowl.   (1st Kings 4:22-23)

Are geese alluded to in Scripture, although not by the name “goose”? Maybe. King Solomon was famous for providing banquets on a daily basis, including “fatted fowl” – which likely included geese, according to British zookeeper-zoölogist George Cansdale:

[Consider the likely] possibility that domestic geese were the fatted fowl —  Heb. barburim —  supplied daily to Solomon’s table.  . . .  This wild goose [i.e., the Greylag Goose, mixed with all geese that hybridize with it] breeds naturally in N. and central Europe and may have first been domesticated there. It was kept, perhaps already fully domesticated, very early in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, probably as a resutl of trapping some of the many winter migrants.  . . .  [Although we don’t know] when they first reached Palestine … [carved] ivories of the eleventh century B.C. from Megiddo illustrate tame geese beiogn tended, and this is the century before Solomon, so there is no doubt that they were available [to King Solomon, who procured resources from neighboring regions in Europe, Asia, and Africa].

[Quoting George S. Cansdale, ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS (Zondervan, 1976), page ; see contextual discussion at pages 178-180.]

The mostly-migratory Barnacle Goose is a favorite of many birdwatchers in northern Europe.  It is more likley to be seen during its wintering months, unless one ventures above the Arctic Circle.  (The exception is a Barnacle Goose population residing in Baltic Sea coastlands, which appears content to dwell there year-round – see range map below.)

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BARNACLE GOOSE RANGE MAP  (Cartographic credit: Wikipedia Commons)

In my sporadic wanderings, during years past, specifically on July 7th of AD2006 – I saw several Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) strolling about in Kaivopuisto Park, by the Helsinki Harbor, in Finland.

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BARNACLE GOOSE pair, in Kaivopuisto Park, Helsinki, Finland  (photo credit: Juha Matti / Picssr)

This migratory goose, which during the summer is common in (and near) Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park (where I saw some loitering and lounging on the park grass), has been described as follows:

An immaculate, sociable little goose, only slightly larger than a Mallard. Tiny bill and a white face peering out of black ‘balaclava’ diagnostic.  Unlike the much larger Canada Goose, black extends over [its] breast and body is grey (not brown). All [seasonal] plumages similar, but juvenile duller with plain, unbarred flanks. Feral or escaped [e.g., from British zoos] birds are also frequent at inland sites in England [e.g., Leeds Castle, in Kent, where I visited in AD2003], often [mixed] with Canadas [i.e., with Canada Geese].

[Quoting Chris Knightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (London & New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 31.]

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BARNACLE GOOSE at Leeds Castle, Kent, England  (photo credit: Thomas Cogley)

Like other geese, these birds know how to use their voices:

Noisy, even when feeding, their high-pitched, yelping barks [!] reaching a crescendo as the shimmering flock rises – sounds not unlike a pack of chasing hounds.

[Quoting Knightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 31.]   These geese are herbivores  —  feeding mostly on grasses, leaves, roots, tubers, aquatic plants, and/or agricultural crops (such as grains grown in northern Europe’s farmlands), and their digestive processes adi  in seed dispersals.  Predators of Barnacle Geese – especially during the breeding season  —  include Peregrine Falcons, Arctic Foxes, and Polar Bears.

Besides Sweden’s (and other) Baltic coastlands, these cool-weather-loving geese habitually summer in the Arctic’s far north, including breeding grounds in Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland, and Russia’s arctic archipelago Novaya Zemla (and on the Siberian coast just south of Novaya Zemla).

Students of the Cold War can appreciate that Novaya Zemla was a scary place to be on October 30th of AD1961, when the USSR tested its RDS-220 hydrogen bomb “Ivan” (a/k/a Tsar Bomba (Russian Царь-бомба, i.e., “Tsar Bomb”), the largest man-made explosion detonated in world history.

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Explosion of Soviet Union’sЦарь-бомба Hydrogen Bomb 
seen from 100 miles away   (public domain)

Based on migratory habits the Barnacle Gees were likely absent when the blast occurred  —  but what was it like, during the next spring, when the geese would have migrated north, to their usual breeding grounds in Novaya Zemla?  Some emigrants of the Novaya Zemla-breeding population of Barnacle Geese, however, relocated to and colonized (from their ancestral breeding grounds in Russia’s Novaya Zemla) various coastlands around the Baltic Sea’s northern shores, i.e., they now summer upon islands or coastlands of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia (and afterwards winter within and near the Netherlands).

Meanwhile, during winter, other Barnacle Goose populations (such as those that breed in Iceland or Greenland) migrate to the much milder “Western Isles” of Scotland (i.e., the Hebrides, e.g., Islay)  — or on the western coast of Ireland  —  or in the Solway Firth region of the England-Scotland border.

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BARNACLE GOOSE parent & goslings   (photo credit: Joe Blossom / Arkive.org )

Of course, many “species” of geese descend from the ancestral pairs of goose-kind that survived the Genesis Flood aboard Noah’s Ark. Consider, for example, the photograph below (by David Appleton), showing a goose standing in grass of Holkham Park (in Norfolk, England)  —  which appears to be a Barnacle Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid.

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Barnacle/Greylag Goose hybrid, Norfolk, England  (photo credit: David Appleton)

Meanwhile, if I was a Barnacle Goose  – and thank God that He created me to be me, instead! –  I’d prefer Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park as my year-round home habitat, rather than summer in Novaya Zemla.   (As far as I’m concerned, let the Arctic Ocean polar bears have that arctic archipelago!)   ><> JJSJ    profjjsj@aol.com


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Winter flock of Barnacle Geese, Islay, Inner Hebrides   (photo credit: Stef McElwee / Birdguides)