CLIFF SWALLOWS: Faithful as Mates, Migrants, and Mud-home Masons

CLIFF  SWALLOWS:  FAITHFUL  AS   MATES,  MIGRANTS,  AND  MUD-MASONS

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)

Alongside a rocky hillside outcropping, or under a montane cliff overhang, the mud-home “condominiums” of the Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) reveal the presence of this gregarious and aerial-acrobatic bug-eater.

CliffSwallow-mudnest.NPS-photo-PublicDomain

CLIFF SWALLOW inside mud-nest

National Park Service photo / public domain

On June 29th of AD1996, by Colter Bay Village Marina, in Grand Tetons National Park (Wyoming), I saw some of these, and considered how their colonial nests reminded me of the riparian (i.e., riverbank) Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia) burrows that I had seen (2 days earlier) along banks of the Snake River.

Like other swallows, the Cliff Swallow speedily zips and arcs and dives through the air, snatching and consuming many “meals on wings” – veritable “fast food” – gulping down airborne insects, again and again.  (The Cliff Swallow supplements its insectivorous diet with berries and other fruits.)

However, the Cliff Swallow’s claim to fame is their colonial mud-home masonry.

“Hundreds of gourd-shaped “mud jugs” plastered to the side of a barn or under a bridge or highway overpass are a typical [colonial] nesting territory for these highly adaptable birds. Farmers heartily welcome this [summer] resident because it eats numerous flying insects that are harmful to crops. Nesting colonies may number from 800 to more than 1,000 birds. Note the dark rusty brown throat, and in flight the brown underwing linings, cinnamon buff rump, [characteristic] square tail, dusky cinnamon undertail coverts with dark centers, and whitish buff edged feathers of back and tertials. Juveniles have dusky brown upperparts and paler underparts. This [bluish-brown-black-backed] swallow has successfully expanded its range in the [American] Southwest and the West. The southwestern race [i.e., variety] displays a cinnamon forehead similar to the Cave Swallow.”

[Quoting Frederick J. Alsop III, BIRDS OF TEXAS (Smithsonian Handbooks, 2002), page 363.]  Cliff Swallows closely resemble Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulca), but Cave Swallows have a “pale cinnamon-buff throat”, cinnamon-rust-hued throat, and a “richer cinnamon-rust rump”, according to Alsop [at page 363].  Another similar-looking swallow is the deeply-forked-tailed Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) which often colonizes the inside of rural barns (as well as in places where Cliff Swallows build nests) all over America’s Lower 48 states.

In fact, these 3 varieties of swallows — Cliff Swallow, Cave Swallow, and Barn Swallow – are known to hybridize, so there is no need to fret over which species name you assign to one of these swallows.   [For documented examples of these mud-homebuilding swallow hybridizations, as well as many other swallow and martin hybridizations, see Dr. Eugene M. McCarthy’s HANDBOOK OF AVIAN HYBRIDS OF THE WORLD (Oxford University Press, 2006), pages 253-255.]

Other forms of “hybrid” mixing occur, involving other types of social interaction, such as the neighborliness known as “helping”:

NEST HELPERS occur among many species, including certain kingfishers, hawks, jays, tanagers, and wrens. Helpers are generally younger adults that assist their parents in rearing nestlings. . . . Helpers generally do all of the usual nest-associated behaviors, such as building nests, incubating eggs, guarding nestlings, cleaning the nest, and feeding young. With such help, it’s not surprising that several studies have shown that [parental] pairs with nest helpers can rear more young than those without helpers. . . . While most helpers assist their parents [with the care of younger siblings], there are also many examples of adults feeding young of different species. Parent Barn Swallows may, for example, feed fledgling Cliff Swallows. Robins have been known to feed young grackles.”

[Quoting Stephen W. Kress, BIRD LIFE: A GUIDE TO THE BEHAVIOR AND BIOLOGY OF BIRDS (Racine:  Golden Press, 1991), page 54, with emphasis added.]

CliffSwallow-nesting.WhatWhenHow

CLIFF SWALLOW on mud-home nest

Photo credit: What-When-How.com Tutorials

The Cliff Swallow takes all of its social relationships seriously – they are characteristically monogamous, sometimes rearing 2 broods in one breeding season, and they live gregariously in large colonies. [See Stan Tekiela, BIRDS OF TEXAS FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2004), page 125.]  Also, they share information about where to get food.  When some of these swallows observe other fellow-colonist swallows returning with food for their young, indicating the successful sourcing of food, those watching follow suit, following the “winners” to the place where food is readily available.

Professor Alsop describes the Cliff Swallow’s homebuilding hallmark as the construction of “one of the most complex swallow nests: a sphere of mud pellets with a tubular entrance on one side”.  [Quoting Alsop, BIRDS OF TEXAS, cited above, page 363.]  Unsurprisingly, Cliff Swallow nesting colonies are located near water, since water is needed by both the swallows and their insect prey.  Little mud-balls used for nest-building, carried serially during nest construction, may be acquired from mud sources a mile away.

CliffSwallows-getting-mud.CameronRognan

CLIFF SWALLOWS acquiring mud for nest-building

Photo credit: Cameron Rognan / Flickr

These swallows migrate, breeding all over Texas, often returning each spring to last year’s nesting sites. In fact, Cliff Sparrow migratory punctuality is famous:

THE TIMING OF MIGRATION is [phenologically] linked to the length of day [i.e., daylight hours]. As day-length increases with the advancing spring [season], birds develop a nocturnal restlessness called “zugunruhe” [from 2 German words meaning move/migration and anxiety/restlessness]. Increased exposure to daylight leads males and females to higher hormone levels that trigger the urge to migrate [northward from South America]. Migration becomes a predictable event. Cliff Swallows of San Juan Capistrano Mission in southern California and Turkey Vultures of Hinkley, Ohio [not to be confused with Hinckley, Minnesota – “where the men are men, pansies are flowers, and the women are slightly above average”] , are noted for their punctual spring arrivals. The spring arrivals of many backyard birds, such as American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds are equally punctual.”

[Quoting Stephen W. Kress, BIRD LIFE: A GUIDE TO THE BEHAVIOR AND BIOLOGY OF BIRDS (Racine:  Golden Press, 1991), page 108.  Regarding zugunruhe and photoperiod analysis, see Eberhard Gwinner, “Circannual Rhythms in Bird Migration”, Annual Review of Ecology & Systematics, 8(1):381-404 (1977), posted at http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/10.1146/annurev.es.08.110177.002121 — with an acknowledgement that “internal annual clocks” had been demonstrated earlier in hibernating Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels.]

Like other swallows, the Cliff Swallow speedily eats many “meals on wings”  –  veritable “fast food”  –  catching and eating insects in the air.  The Cliff Swallow supplements its insectivorous diet with berries and other fruits.

Thus, the Cliff Swallow is faithful in mating (i.e., avian “marriage” and parenting), faithful in migrating (i.e., in the phenological punctuality of its spring migrations), and faithful in its mud-home masonry tradition. Cliff Swallows are famous for sharing and living together in harmony – like good neighbors.

><> JJSJ   profjjsj@aol.com

Bufflehead Duck, One of Diverse Divers at Aransas Bay

 Bufflehead Duck, One of Diverse Divers at Aransas Bay

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Bufflehead-male.TorontoCanada-Wikipedia

BUFFLEHEAD male (Wikipedia)

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. (Genesis 1:22)

Diverse birds have lived and thrived upon planet Earth ever since God created bird-life on Day #5 of Creation Week. One of the major categories of God’s avian inventory are the waterfowl we call “ducks”, some of which dive to get their food. The Bufflehead duck is one such diving duck (in contrast to perching duck, dabbling ducks, and whistling ducks), and is described on the Sea Duck Joint Venture website as follows:

Bufflehead  [Bucephala albeola] The bufflehead is the smallest diving duck in North America. Males weigh about 450 g (1 lb.) and females 325 g (11 oz.). Breeding males are striking with a black head glossed green and purple, a large white patch covering the back of the head, a black back, white underparts, and black wings with a large white patch covering most of the inner wing.

[Quoting from https://seaduckjv.org/meet-the-sea-ducks/bufflehead/ .]

Bufflehead-female.TorontoCanada-Wikipedia

BUFFLEHEAD female (Wikipedia)

The Bufflehead female, however, is mostly brownish-hued, with grey sides and breast, white underside, and a white cheek patch that is shaped like an oval, almost like the shape of a fallen bowling pin. [See Kevin T. Karlson, “Waterfowl of North America:  A Comprehensive Guide to All Species”, page 10.]

The Bufflehead’s cousins include the goldeneye ducks, such as the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica).

As the range map below shows, the Bufflehead breeds mostly in Alaska and Canada, migrating south into more than half of America’s Lower 48 for over-wintering.

Bufflehead-range.SeaDuckJV.org-map

BUFFLEHEAD range map / North America (Sea Duck Joint Venture photo)

During an over-wintering season, on March 11th of AD1996, I first saw a Bufflehead duck – it was in the part of Aransas Bay (part of the Texas Gulf coast), while visiting Aransas Bay and Aransas Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

That same day my family and I saw many other “winter Texan” migrants (as well as some year-round residents), including several “lifers”:  Whooping Crane, Brown Pelican, Pelican, Least Tern, Bonaparte’s Gull, Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, American Coot,  Short-billed Dowitcher, Western Sandpiper, Black Skimmer, Black-necked Stilt, American Oystercatcher, Common Goldeneye, Green-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Louisiana Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, and Western Kingbird —  not to mention many other birds seen previously elsewhere (e.g., Sandhill Crane, Blue-winged Teal, Great Blue Heron, White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Common Grackle, Western Kingbird, Loggerhead Shrike, etc.)!

Aransas-County-map.TexasAlmanac

Obviously, early March (and winter in general) is a good time for coastal wetland birdwatching at Aransas Bay! What a pleasant time it was, hour after hour, witnessing Gods’ love of variety, exhibited in those beautiful bayside birds!

God loves variety — so should we!  (For more on this, see my article “Valuing God’s Variety”, ACTS & FACTS, 42(9):8-9 (September 2012), posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/6939 .]

So, if you get the opportunity, check out Aransas Bay National Wildlife Refuge for yourself — unless a hurricane is approaching.  (It’s always good to check the weather forecast before you undertake a serious birding adventure.)

Bufflehead-flying.SanLuisObispo-California-BillBouton

BUFFLEHEAD male in flight (Bill Bouton photo)


 

American Goldfinch, Seen in Penn’s Woods

AN AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, SEEN IN PENN’S WOODS,

NEAR THE SUSQUEHANNA RIVER

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.    (Psalm 68:13)

American-Goldfinch.Fredric-D-Nisenholz-BirdsandBlooms

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH on thistle (Fredric D. Nisenholz / Birds & Blooms)

 The psalmist referred to a special dove having silver-covered wings, with feathers sporting yellow-gold highlights (literally, flight-feathers of greenish-gold).  What a beautiful dove that must be!  In America, however, there is a yellow-colored finch that we are more likely to see, the AMERICAN GOLDFINCH.  It too could be called greenish-gold, because its plumage varies seasonally, from lemon-yellow to a light olive-green.  Goldfinches are small passerines, monogamous (i.e., male-female couples permanently paired, as if married) gregarious (i.e., they travels and feed in flocks), and they migrate to and form the outer territories of their populational ranges — although they are year-round residents in much of their American range (see Wikipedia range map below: yellow for breeding-only, green for year-round residence, blue for over-wintering only). 

AmericanGoldfinch.range-map-wikipedia

For me, the first time I saw one was on Friday, July 22nd AD2016, as I was driving a rent-car on a wood-flanked country road that paralleled the Susquehanna River, in Pennsylvania, near Exeter, where the next day I would speak at the Pennsylvania Keystone Family Bible Conference, in celebration of 60 years of IN GOD WE TRUST being our national motto.  Here is a quick limerick in honor and appreciation of the American Goldfinch.  (Speaking of our national motto, IN GOD WE TRUST, it derives from THE STAR-SPANGELD BANNER, penned by attorney Francis Scott Key, during the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.)

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH, A YELLOW-FEATHERED FELLOW

Lemon-hued, they eat many seeds;

They’re social, so in flocks they feed;

Goldfinches migrate,

Each true, to its mate;

God provides for all goldfinch needs.

AmericanGoldfinch.female-wikipedia

AMERICAN GOLDFINCH female, Virginia (Wikipedia / flickr.com photograph)

 

Beware, Squirrels: Red-shouldered Hawk!

Beware, Squirrels:  Red-shouldered Hawk!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And the owl, and the night-hawk, and the cuckoo, and the hawk after his kind…  (Deuteronomy 14:15)

RedShouldered-Hawk.perched-wikipedia

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK   (Buteo lineatus)     Wikipedia photo

Today a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus) graced an enclosed garden-like area (between 2 buildings) where I work, swooping down from a rooftop, to land where the local squirrels gather fallen acorns from the nearby oak trees.

The identification was confirmed by eye-witness Don Barber, my genius cousin (and one of the best wildlife experts you could ever meet, having specialized experience with raptors). What a wonderful buteo!  Notice its orange-buff underside, its white-and-dark-brown-mottled wings (sometimes with a spread wider than 3 feet!), its narrowly striped tail-band, and its very serious-looking head!  What a bird!  Squirrels, you better flee!

RedShouldered-Hawk.JJAudubon

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (J. J. Audubon)

These buteos make themselves at home within the eastern half of Texas (especially during winter), and their range also includes almost all of the eastern half of America’s Lower 48 (as shown by the Wikipedia range map, below).

RedShouldered-Hawk.RangeMap-Wikipedia

Regarding the red-shouldered Hawk, Roger Tory Peterson once said:

Recognized as a Buteo by ample tail and broad wings; as this species, by heavy dark bands across both sides of tail. Adults have rufous shoulder (not always visible) and pale robin-red [i.e., orange] underparts.  Anotehr mark, not often shared by other Buteos, is a translucent patch or “window” toward wing-tip at base of primaries.  Immatures have streaked [plumage] below, as are most other hawks.

[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS FO TEXAS AND ADJACENT STATES (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 62 —  see also color plate illustrations facing page 60.]

RedShouldered-Hawk.LucasTexas

RED-SHOULDERED  HAWK  in  Lucas, Texas   (photo credit:  bigdaddydog1 youtube)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcUjcYyNQKA

Fowl Are Fair on Day 5

Fowl Are Fair on Day Five, with Special Attention to Galliforms

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

RedJunglefowl.Gallus-gallus-FredericPelsey

Red Junglefowl (wild equivalent of domestic chicken) Frederic Pelsey photo

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [‘ôph] that may fly [ye‘ôphēph] above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.  And God created great whales [tannînim ha-gadolîm], and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl [‘ôph kanaph] after his kind: and God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl [‘ôph] multiply in the earth. (Genesis 1:20-22)

In the Holy Bible, King James Version, the term “fowl” is repeatedly used to denote birds in general – animals who fly with wings and feathers. Nowadays, however, we usually limit the term “fowl” to refer to “waterfowl” (like ducks) or landfowl, like chickens.  The latter category – landfowl – are, generally speaking, birds that stay close to the ground because their body plan is fairly heavy (which is not good for intense or prolonged flying), like chickens or turkeys.  The fancy term for these landfowl is GALLIFORM, meaning shaped like a chicken.

Accordingly, God is glorified by His creation of poultry (domesticated chicken-like birds) and similar landfowl (a/k/a “gamefowl”), both being taxonomically categorized as Galliforms (i.e., birds whose physical forms that resemble big or small chickens).

Galliforms, as large ground-dwelling birds, are well-known for eating seeds and insects (both of which are often found on or near the ground). As noted above, their body weight encumbers them from flying very much or very far, although they can and do fly short distances when needed.  When chased, by predators, they often run and hide (as is indicated in 1st Samuel 26:18 & 26:20).  These often-domesticated birds include chicken, quails, pheasants, tragopans, argus, grouse, guineafowl, incubator birds, craciforms (such as guan, chachalaca and curassow), ptarmigan, turkey, and peafowl.  1st-Samuel26.20-partridge-slide

The typical icon of the galliform group (according to taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, in A.D. 1758) is Gallus gallus, a label assigned to both Asia’s wild Junglefowl and the domestic Chicken.  Many of these birds, especially chickens and turkeys, are raised by humans, for their eggs or to be eaten (as meat).  CodfishLays1000000Eggs-poem

As we know from Scripture (Luke 11:12-13), poultry eggs are a truly good source of nutrition for humans, and the whites (albumen) of eggs taste better when seasoned with salt (Job 6:6).

Galliform birds mostly live mostly sedentary lives (although some seasonally migrate) in moderate climate zones of Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, Australia, and many islands. (Don’t expect to find them in the super-dry Sahara Desert or in super-cold Antarctica.)

Turkeys-in-wild.SchuylkillCenter-EnvlEducn

AMERICAN TURKEYS Schuylkill Center for Envir’l Educ’n photo

Some of these poultry birds are usually found only live in certain parts of the world (such as wild turkeys, which are biogeographically native only to North and South America), yet they can be introduced (as immigrants) to other places that have similar climates.  Because landfowl usually nest on or near the ground they are often victims to predators, including humans; accordingly it is important to avoid over-hunting them (and over-harvesting their eggs); this conservation-relevant reality (and concern) is acknowledged by Moses in Deuteronomy 22:6-7.

Amazingly, the Lord Jesus once compared His own willingness and ability, to care and protect humans, to that of a galliform – specifically, a mother hen — who uses her own body to protectively care for her own hatchling baby chicks (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).    How good it is to belong to Him forever!

Luke13.34-KnowingJesus.com-pic

LUKE 13:34 (Knowing-Jesus.com image)

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 / Nancy 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.

And don’t be fooled by the fake-science baloney that often flies under the bait-and-switch flag called “speciation”  —  a lot of “‘science’ falsely so-called” has been pushed under the name “speciation” (see 1st Timothy 6:20).  The reality is a mix of biogenetic compatibility, limited by geographic barriers to the gene pool —  I.e., if the biogenetically compatible birds can mix, in time and space, those same birds can mate, assuming they all descend (biogenetically) from the same ancestors whom 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.

 While drinking coffee, 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).

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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)!