Egret Feathers, Worth More than Gold!

Egret  Feathers,   Worth  More  than  Gold !

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

GreatWhiteEgret-Lewisville.MichaelDFox

GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Michael D. Fox of Lewisville, Texas)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  Moreover by them is Thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.   (Psalm 19:7-11)

The fine-feathered Great White Egret (a/k/a “Great Egret”) could have gone extirpated in America (i.e., regionally extinct in the USA), about a century ago,  if not for the timely intervention of the Lacey Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty.

GreatWhiteEgret-feeding-TX.DennisSkogsbergh

GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Dennis Skogsbergh, in Texas)

A summary of that avian conservation success story was reported earlier as “Looking Back 100 Years, at the Migratory Bird Treaty:   A Bird’s-eye View of How It was Hatched” [ https://leesbird.com/tag/migratory-bird-treaty/  ].  In fact, the fancy feathers of Great White Egrets were once worth more than gold of equal weight!

The plumes of the Great Egret and Snowy Egret were widely used to decorate women’s hats in the late 19th century [A.D.].

An ounce of egret feathers cost as much as $32 —  more than an ounce of gold at that time  —  and, as a result of overharvesting, egret populations [especially in Florida] began to decline.  Some of the first conservation legislation in North America [e.g., Lacey Act of 1900, codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378, a forerunner of the much-later Endangered Species Act] was enacted to outlaw the hunting of Great Egrets.  These egrets are now steadily recovering and expanding their range[s], probably to areas where they formerly nested.

The Great Egret is the symbol for the National Audubon Society, one of the oldest bird conservation organizations in the United States.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 93.]

2USA CA, San Diego

GREAT WHITE EGRET (Audubon Field Guide photo)

Of course, market prices fluctuate. What is “worth more than gold” today may not be so tomorrow.  Consumer markets are fickle things:  beaver top-hats, Toys-R-Us toys, decoder rings, Bazooka Joe bubblegum, Pogo sticks, Rock ’em-Sock ’em Robots, floppy discs, etc.

However, it is a permanent truth that God’s Word is more valuable than gold:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. . . .  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold.  (Psalm 19:7 & 19:9b-10a)

JeffWilliams-NASA.SpaceBoosters

Col. Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (photo credit: Space Boosters!)

In fact, I was once reminded of that truth by none other than Col. Jeff Williams, a NASA astronaut who was then in outer space, inside the International Space Station [“ISS”], during a satellite-phone-facilitated video-conference conversation (on June 17th of AD2017).  By God’s grace, my wife and I attended that special Skype-like conversation, hosted by Col. Williams’s good friend, Col. Chas Morse (USAF, retired).  The video-conference conversation was partially reported later, as “Videoconference with ISS Commander” [ http://www.icr.org/article/videoconference-with-iss-commander ].

[See also this short interviewhttp://www.icr.org/article/above-all-earth/   — as well as Michael Stamp’s article about astronaut Jeff Williams, “ISS Commander Returns from Space”, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/iss-commander-returns-from-space/ . ]

JeffWilliams-waving.ABC-Net-Au

Col. Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (ABC Net-Au photo credit)

But on June 17th of AD2017, the last earthbound participant in that space-to-Earth videoconference call, to ask Col. Jeff Williams an Earth-to-space question, was me.  (Of course, my wife and I will never forget that unique video-conference conversation!)

JeffWilliams-ICR.photo-quote

Col Jeff Williams, NASA astronaut (ICR image, with quote)

In particular, I asked astronaut Jeff Williams about his personal appreciation for Psalm 19, which begins with a declaration that “the heavens declare the glory of God”.

After discussing the first half of Psalm 19, which speaks of the wondrous astronomical glories that God operates in the heavens, Col. Williams added that he appreciated the second half of Psalm 19 (i.e., verses 7-14) even more than the first half (i.e., verses 1-6), because Psalm 19:7-14 speaks of God’s written Word (i.e., the Holy Bible), which is even more glorious (see also Psalm 138:2b) than all of the magnificent heavens!  –  and, of crucial importance, only the Bible tells us about how our souls can be redemptively returned to God through Christ as our personal Savior.   Now that’s infinitely priceless!

Psalm19.10-BiblePic-dot-com

PSALM 19:10 (BiblePic.com credit)

Surely God’s Word is “more valuable than gold, yea, than much fine gold” –  and even more valuable than marketed Great White Egret feathers during the AD1800s.

GreatWhiteEgret-Lewisville.MichaelDFox

GREAT WHITE EGRET (photo by Michael D. Fox of Lewisville, Texas)


 

 

 

Peregrine Falcon, Proactive Hunter

Peregrine Falcon, Proactive Hunter

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

PeregrineFalcon.PhysOrg

PEREGRINE FALCON (Phys.org photo)

If you want to eat, go eat what is available!

The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul; but the belly of the wicked shall lack. (Proverbs 13:25)

And, if you want to eat well, go to work to get what you (and others who depend on you) need!

Yea, you yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and unto those who were with me.   (Acts 20:34)

If you want to eat regularly, and to have resources to bless other with, work for it!

Neither did we eat any man’s bread for naught; but we worked with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you; not because we have not authority, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us.  For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.   (2nd Thessalonians 3:8-10)

The wandering Peregrine Falcon has been previously covered  —  see my  “Northern  Raven  and  Peregrine  Falcon:   Two  Birds  Supporting  the  Manx  Coat  of  Arms”  [ https://leesbird.com/2016/02/12/northern-raven-and-peregrine-falcon-two-birds-supporting-the-manx-coat-of-arms/ ]  —   so that descriptive information won’t be repeated here.

However, it is worth noting that Peregrine diets change according to the seasons, because the available prey changes seasonally. So Peregrine Falcons need to be proactive, hunting here and there for new opportunities. Then, as opportunities are found, they need to be grabbed, promptly!   [For a short video of Peregrine hunting, see the BBC video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=legzXQlFNjs .]

PeregrineFalcon.DawnKey

PEREGRINE FALCON (Dawn Key photo)

Diving at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, the Peregrine Falcon clenches its feet and then strikes its prey with a lethal blow that often sends both falcon and prey tumbling. Whereas migrating and wintering Peregrine Falcons commonly hunt waterfowl and shorebirds, summering Peregrines typically concentrate on birds of the forest canopy, capturing anything from woodpeckers to warblers.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 117.]

Thus, the Peregrine Falcon is willing to exert some effort – in fact, remarkable effort!  — to acquire its daily diet.  (Maybe this falcon should be exhibited as demonstrating what economist Max Weber called the Protestant work ethic!)  In any case, this bird is neither slothful nor sluggish.  Even this falcon’s name “Peregrine”, meaning “wanderer” or “traveler”, indicates that it is constantly on the move! Whoosh!

PeregrineFalcon-flying.NPS

PEREGRINE FALCON (National Park Service photo / public domain)


 

Shades of Snowies!

SHADES   OF   SNOWIES !

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

SnowyEgret-shading-wading.MrsBurskScienceClass

SNOWY EGRET wading & shading (Mrs. Bursk Science Class blog)

Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season…   (Hebrews 11:25)

Sometimes it seems like “a little pleasure” could be enjoyed, for a little while, somewhere else. As the happy little fish swam, toward a shady spot in the pond-waters near shore, that was his last voluntary thought!  (But why?)

SnowyEgret.GatorlandFlorida-AD2016

SNOWY EGRETS, showing off for the Dusings (Lee Dusing photo, at Gatorland, Forida)

Snowy Egrets are famous for their “golden slippers”, i.e., their black legs contrast with the gold-yellow color of their feet. Nicknamed “Snowies”, these small-sized egrets have all-white plumage that is extra bright, like soft new-fallen snow, hence the name “Snowy Egret“.

But, to some hapless fish, another trait of the Snowy might be more important – the behavioral trait of “shading” that Snowy Egrets are known for, in order to entice shallow-water fish into their bill’s striking zone.  Consider the following descriptive report, by ornithologists Wayne Petersen and Roger Burrows:

“The elegant, snow white plumage, black legs and bright yellow feet of the Snowy Egret are … mainly wanderers to inland areas, although they breed along the coast …

Herons and egrets, particularly Snowy Egrets, make use of a variety of feeding techniques.  By shuffling their bright-yellow feet in the much of shallow wetlands, these birds attempt to spook potential prey out of hiding.  In an even more creative hunting strategy, they are known to create shade by extending their wings over open water.  When a fish succumbs to the lure of the cooler shaded spot, it is promptly seized and eaten.”   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 94.]

SnowyEgret-striking.DorianAnderson-photo

SNOWY EGRET striking underwater prey (Dorian Anderson photo)

That poor hapless fish, who only sought some comfortable shade (i.e., just a little “pleasure” for a “season”), in the shallow water of a pond  –  snatched by the Snowy’s bill, in an eye-blink !  —   in other words, before the swamp-critter ever knew what hit him, he was strzok!

Of course, it might also be the case that “shading” shallow water makes it easier for a Snowy to survey its near-surface prey, in order for the Snowy to know where to aim its bill thrust.

SnowyEgret-shading.Esmeralda-Pinterest

SNOWY EGRET shading (photo by Esmeralda)

The lesson here is a lesson we can trace to the Old Testament book of Jonah, namely, if you are inclined to wander from your properly assigned place of service, as Jonah was, don’t be too surprised if there’s a “ship” waiting for you, to take you away from where you should be (Jonah 1:3).

As poet Gertrude Grace Sanborn once wrote, “there is always a ship at Joppa”  –  waiting to take to farther into a big mess of trouble!

REMAIN IN YOUR PLACE

If you’re discontented and unhappy    And your place and purpose grows dim,

There is always a ship at Joppa    If you don’t want to stay and win.

If you turn from the task of the present    To follow a beckoning star;

There is always a ship at Joppa    To take you from where you are.

But you’ll miss the blessing He gives you    If you wander away from His place;

For there’s a fare to be paid at Joppa    If you do not remain in your place.

[Quoting Gertrude Grace Sanborn, “Remain in Your Place”, WITH TEARS IN MY HEART:  POETIC MEDITATIONS OF A CHRISTIAN WOMAN (Bible for Today product # 3196), posted at https://www.biblefortoday.org/Articles/tears.htm .]

Nikon and Olympus Imaging - Graeme Simpson Images

SNOWY EGRET, shading (Graeme Simpson photo)

So, if you are tempted to stray from the Lord’s present assignment for your life, and you find yourself allured toward a substitute “opportunity”, and then you see a convenient ship docked “at Joppa” (just waiting to take your fare, so that you can thereby “escape” God’s will for your life)  —  don’t naïvely interpret that the Joppa ship’s availability is “confirming” that this is your “lucky day” (to escape your proper assignment)!

In other words, beware!  What looks comfortable, convenient, and pleasurable may not be so good as it appears to the eye (or to the imagination)!

Now the parable is this:  The seed is the Word of God.  Those by the wayside are they who hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.  They on the rock are they who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.   And that [seed] which fell among thorns are they who, when they have heard, go forth and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and they bring no fruit to perfection.   But that [seed] on the good ground are they who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.   (Luke 8:11-15)


 

Penguin Eggs Tragedy

Penguin Eggs Tragedy

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but end thereof is the way of death.  (Proverbs 14:12)

Antarctica-5froze2death.publicdomain

Collecting a few penguin eggs, in Antarctica, sounds like a “cool” adventure (pardon the pun), but the adventure is not worth dying for.  Even moreso, dying in a quixotic quest to “prove Darwin right” is beyond merely reckless  —  it both foolhardy and tragic.

Here is my limerick, followed by a link to my earlier article “Penguins to Die For“, which appeared in ACTS & FACTS, 44(10):20 (October 2015), about how 5 Darwin fans froze to death, down under, for their error   —  trying to “prove” Darwin’s “natural selection” phylogenetic theory of biological origins.   (Sad and foolish at the same time.)


PenguinEggs2Die4.publicdomain

DARWIN’S  FANS  DEAD WRONG  DOWN  UNDER

Darwin’s theory, as “science”, was bad

But, in England, it soon was a fad;

Seeking eggs, as its proof

Gambling all, for a goof  —

So 5 froze, to death  —  and that’s sad.

For more, see “Penguin Eggs to Die For“, posted at http://www.icr.org/article/penguin-eggs-die-for/ .

[See also, on this blog-site, regarding the Emperor Penguin, “Flag that Bird! — Part 2”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/04/13/flag-that-bird-part-2/ .]


 

Eggs Taste Better if Salted

Eggs  Taste  Better  if  Salted

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Can that which is unsavory be eaten without salt? Or is there any taste in the white of an egg?  (Job 6:6)

eggs-neptune-crabcake.TripAdvisor

EGGS NEPTUNE (eggs Benedict with crab — Trip Advisor photo)

Although we Americans sometimes over-salt our food,  it is nonetheless true  that it is perfectly Biblical  to salt poultry eggs  before you eat them  —  but what about crab eggs?

Since, during spring stopovers, Red Knots eat lots of Horseshoe Crab eggs on the beaches of Delaware Bay,  —  and the crabs who deposited those eggs just came from the salty seawater of the Atlantic Ocean,  —  it’s unlikely that the voracious Red Knots need to add salt, to flavor those crab eggs for eating.

As an illustration of Genesis 8:22, this bird-blog has already reported on the magnificent migration of the Red Knot, which mileage-marathon marvel annually feasts on beach-buried Horseshoe Crab eggs during its yearly stopover at Delaware Bay, before the refueled shorebird continues its migration northward (toward its breeding grounds in Canada) during the spring.  [See “Shorebirds Looney about Horseshoe Crabs”, at https://leesbird.com/2017/08/11/shorebirds-looney-about-horseshoe-crab-eggs/ .]

RedKnot-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

RED KNOT at Delaware Bay beach (USFWS photo / public domain)

As this USFWS chart (created by Debra Reynolds) shows, the long-distance adventures of the Rufa Red Knot are, in their repeated successes, providential miracles of populational migration.  

In other words, when we think about how this works out, during each migratory cycle, our minds should automatically think about how amazingly clever and capable God is, to have arranged all of the Red Knot’s long-distance (and metabolic) bioengineering to work.  The Red Knot is providentially programmed (“fitted”) to survive and thrive like this[This can be compared to the providential programming that God has installed into the Arctic Tern   —   see “Survival of the Fitted:  God’s Providential Programming”, ACTS & FACTS, 39(10):17-18 (October 2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/survival-fitted-gods-providential-programming/ .]

RedKnot-migration-infochart.USFWS

Of course, the hungry Red Knot is not alone in this all-you-can-eat “fast-food” fiesta – because the Red Knot is joined, at Delaware Bay beaches, by oövorous (i.e., egg-eating) “tablemates” including turnstones and sandpipers.   [See Delaware Bay beach photographs below:  left, USF&W / public domain;  right, Larry Niles.]

All of which leads us to today’s limerick:

CONVERTING  CRAB  EGGS  INTO  MIGRATORY  BIRD  FUEL

Red Knots scoot about, on thin legs;

First come, first serve! — no one begs;

Horseshoe crab eggs, the treat

And it’s “all-you-can-eat“!

Watch the shorebirds gulp down the crab eggs!

RedKnots-eating-crab-eggs.NJEnvtNews

RED KNOTS eating crab eggs (N.J. Environment News photo)

Hmm, now I’m hungry!  —  it’s time to eat a couple of poached eggs, that my gourmet-whiz wife prepared for me this morning.   (Of course, those eggs are slightly salted!)


 

Oystercatchers Must be Gentiles

OYSTERCATCHERS   MUST   BE   GENTILES

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Oystercatcher-with-shellfish.ConserveWildlifeFndtn

American Oystercatcher (Conserve Wildlife Foundation photo)

These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you; they shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcasses in abomination.  Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.    (Leviticus 11:9-12)

[At some point, please review Acts chapters 10 & 15, and 1st Timothy 4:1-5 (quoted below), to see how it was decided that New Testament Gentile Christians were not to be burdened with keeping the Mosaic dietary restrictions — which would include the ban on shellfish reported in Leviticus 11:9-12.]

Oystercatchers are amazing birds.  As their name indicates, they are famous for eating raw shellfish, especially oysters — and their strong and sharp bills are providentially designed and shaped to accomplish forced entry into shellfish shells, to facilitate getting at the mollusk-meat inside those bivalve shells.

Now the Spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils: speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.  For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.   (1st Timothy 4:1-5)

Oystercatcher-by-shells.ChesapeakeBayProgram

American Oystercatcher (Chesapeake Bay Program photo)

“American Oystercatchers are large, stocky shorebirds with long, orange razor-sharp bills.  Found exclusively in marine habitats [such as tidal beaches], they eat mostly shellfish, including oysters, clams and mussels, which are hammered open or quickly stabbed through an opening in the shell and cut open [for “fast-food” consumption].  When the opportunity arises, they will gladly eat a host of other intertidal invertebrates, including limpets, crabs, marine worms, sea urchins, chitons and even jellyfish.”   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 129.]

Oystercatcher-by-tidewater.ChesapeakeBayProgram

American Oystercatcher on tidal beach (Chesapeake Bay Program photo)

This skill for accessing he raw mollusk meat inside a bivalve is also described by ornithologist Fred J. Alsop III:

“Like all oystercatchers, this bird [i.e., the American Oystercatcher] uses its three-to-four-inch, laterally compressed, sharp chisel-tipped bill to pry open shells for food, but it sometimes hammers and chips them open as well.”  [Quoting Frederick J. Alsop III, BIRDS OF TEXAS (Smithsonian Handbooks, 20020, page 174.]

Obviously, with a mollusk-rich diet (as (described above), the American Oystercatcher declines to keep the Mosaic (i.e., Jewish) dietary code restrictions, especially as provided in Leviticus 11:9-12.   Rather, its shellfish-dominated diet better resembles the New Testament Gentile diet, as recommended in Acts chapter 15, which was later confirmed by the apostle Paul in 1st Timothy 4:1-5 (quoted above).

The first time that I viewed American Oystercatchers was at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, (on the Gulf of Mexico’s northwestern coastline, touching southern Texas), on March 11th AD1995, during an avian ecology research trip, taken as part of a doctoral program.  What a conspicuous shorebird this busy wader is!

And now for my limerick, to highlight the oystercatcher’s dietary habit, as a warning to all tidewater beach-dwelling bivalves.

Oystercatchers Must be Gentiles

Beware! oyster, clam, and mussel,

Don’t with Oystercatchers tussle;

That sharp, orange bill

Is keen for the kill

So, from it, you’d better hustle!


Oystercatcher.AmerBirdConservy

American Oystercatchers (American Bird Conservancy photo)

Loggerhead Shrike: Converting Thorns into Meat-hooks

Loggerhead  Shrike:  Converting  Thorns  into  Meat-hooks

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

LoggerheadShrike-with-impaled-prey.Quora

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE with impaled bird prey (photo credit: Quora)

Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and he shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.  (Genesis 40:19)

Do Loggerhead Shrikes live where you live? Have you ever seen one?

Just because a trustworthy range map indicates that a bird lives where you live, with suitable habitat (e.g., semi-open fields, forests, xeric scrub-brush, etc.), is no guarantee that you will see that bird, even if you are a careful and consistent birdwatcher.

For example, during the entire calendar year of AD1995, as part of a research project that overlapped with my duties as a Certified Water Quality Monitor (then serving the Trinity River Authority of Texas, and what was then called the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission), I did regular birdwatching near some ponds next to a part of Furneaux Creek in Carrollton (Denton County), Texas  —  a mostly open habitat that included lotic (creek) and lentic (pond) freshwater, semi-open fields, mesquite trees, and a nearby oak-dominated forest.  That location was a great place for year-round birding!

loggerheadshrike-with-impaled-prey.AlanMurphy

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE with impaled rodent prey (Alan Murphy photo)

Yet during that entire year I never saw, there,  a Loggerhead Shrike, although I did see one, once (1-30-AD1995), a few blocks south, along the semi-wooded roadside (at the northwest corner of what was then McCoy and Trinity Mills Road), and later saw another Loggerhead Shrike along a roadside in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (3-11-AD1996).

In today’s cyber-world we sometimes talk about “open source” categories. But with the parapatric shrikes [i.e., shrikes belonging to the same created “kind”, so they are genetically compatible for hybridization, yet usually live in geographically distinct populations]  — such as the Loggerhead Shrike, and its look-almost-alike “twin” (the Northern Shrike), as well as other shrikes of Eurasia  —  one thinks of an “open pantry” lifestyle – because the predatory shrikes are best known for their behavior of impaling their “too-large-to-eat-all-at-once” prey on plant spines (i.e., thorns) and barbed wire, as if using meat hooks, for convenient storage till time for eating.  (Get the point?)

loggerheadshrike-with-impaled-prey.ScottSimmons

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE, impaling grasshopper prey (Scott Simmons photo)

Although the Zorro-masked Loggerhead Shrike shares similar grey, white, and black coloration and some of the markings of the Northern Mockingbird (which has no “Zorro mask”), the Loggerhead Shrike uses completely different food-getting and food-storing techniques than the mockingbird.  Also, shrike prefer different prey — often prey too large to consume in one meal.

[Like other shrikes, the Loggerhead Shrike] is a patient and skilled hunter that often perches atop shrubs and small trees, using its keen vision to search for prey. Any small vole, mouse, shrew, lizard, snake, frog or large insect [like a grasshopper, or even a small bird] that comes into view is quickly dispatched [by the shrike’s hook-tipped bill, which can break the neck of a small bird] in a swift swoop [like a hawk on the hunt] and added to a cache of food impaled on thorns [or] barbed wire. Shrikes seem to have an uncanny memory for the location of their food caches, and they have been known to find prey stored for up to eight months.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Rogers Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 225.]

Wow!  —  there you have it – shrikes impale their “too-large-to-eat-all-at-once” prey, returning to it when convenient (unless a thief gets it while the shrike is elsewhere, not an unlikely contingency).

So, the next time that you see what looks like a mockingbird, wearing a black Zorro mask, watch out!  Actually, no need to fear  —  unless you are small enough to be hung upon barbed wire, or upon a rose-bush’s thorn!

loggerheadshrike-with-impaled-prey.M-D-Allred

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE with impaled rodent prey (H. D. Allred photo)

 

 

 

 

Killdeer atop Killdeer: Appreciating Help from Others

Killdeer  atop  Killdeer:  Appreciating  Help  from  Others

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Killdeer-atop-killdeer.TheOfflede

KILLDEER perched atop KILLDEER (photo credit: The Offlede)

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.  (Ephesians 2:20)

As you strive for a “higher” place in life (whether that be a little higher, or a lot higher, than where you started form)  —  and when you think about your own achievements  —   don’t forget to appreciate those who helped you to rise higher.  Whose shoulders are you standing on?  Whose help should you be appreciative of?

If you are a Christian, this surely applies to your faith’s foundation:  the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the unique cornerstone of our faith; His apostles and prophets (such as the holy men who wrote the books of the New Testament) provide the theological and historical foundation for our faith, connecting it to the Old Testament (John 5:44-47).

So whatever accomplishment we may ever have, as Christians, we are relying upon — and benefiting from — the firm foundation providentially given to us, i.e., what the prophet Jude calls the “once-delivered-unto-the-saints faith” (Jude 1:3).

That’s what I see, from where I’m perched  —  there are many who have helped me, according to God’s many and good providences along the years!

Killdeer-atop-killdeer.ThePhotoNaturalist

KILLDEER atop KILLDEER (photo credit: The PhotoNaturalist)


 

Pinyon Jay, Grand Canyon’s Forester

Pinyon Jay, Grand Canyon’s Forester

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

PinyonJay.Sallyking-NatlparkService

PINYON JAY (photo credit: Sally King / National park Service)

“And herein is that saying true:  one sowth and another reapeth.”  (John 4:37)

A wonderful way to appreciate the catastrophic impact of the Genesis Flood is to visit the Grand Canyon, in northern Arizona, a warm and arid panorama in America’s Great West. However, if you visit that grandiose canyonland, don’t rush off too quickly! Also visit a nearby testimony of God’s caring involvement in our world, the ‘pygmy forest’ just south of the Grand Canyon’s southern rim.

In addition to juniper evergreens, you will find short, scrubby trees called pinyon pines. They produce pine cones containing edible seeds. Maybe you don’t like to eat pinyon pine seeds, but an interesting blue-and-grey bird does. The pinyon jay is famous for eating its favorite fare — pinyon pine seeds.

But that is not the only relationship between the pinyon pine and the pinyon jay. The pinyon jay is also a type of forester, a tree farmer—the pinyon jay actually plants pinyon pines. But how?

Pinyon pine seeds are not planted by bird droppings, the way hard-coated seeds (such as indigestible cherry ‘pits’) are dropped out the ‘back door’ of flying birds, mixed with natural fertilizer. Bird droppings are one method God designed for some tree planting, but that is not the method He provided for planting pinyon pine trees.

Rather, the pinyon tree slowly manufactures large pine cones with seeds having a very thin seed coat. In fact, this coat is so thin that it allows a seed-eating bird to eat it and to digest the entire seed—so there is no left-over, plantable ‘pit’ (to be dropped from the birds) thereafter. Thus, once a pinyon seed is eaten by a pinyon jay (or by a Clark’s nutcracker, chipmunk, pine cone moth, or pine cone beetle) that’s it!

So how do the birds help plant the next generation of pine trees?

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PINYON JAY on PINYON PINE (photo by Cagan Sekercioglu)

God carefully bioengineered (i.e., programmed) these birds to hide more seeds in the soil than they will subsequently eat.

The jays have an expandable pouch in which they can carry up to 56 seeds. So, a flock of 200 jays can quickly harvest 10,000 or more seeds from a stand of pinyon pine trees, especially if the trees have put out a ‘bumper crop’ of seeds (which the trees historically do, about every six years on average). The birds eat what they immediately need in order to survive, and then they bury the rest in the soil for future needs.

This periodic ‘bumper crop’ of pinyon pine seeds, and their burial by pinyon jays, has been studied for years. Says Dr. John Kricher, an American forest ecologist:

“At one well-documented site in the Southwest, pinyon seed bonanzas occurred in 1936, 1943, 1948, 1954, 1959, 1965, 1969 and 1974. In intervening years, seed crops were dramatically less. Pinyons in most areas have this roughly 6-year interval between heavy seed crops. …  Jays bury pinyon seeds—lots of pinyon seeds. In one study it was estimated that from September through January, a flock of 250 pinyon jays buried about 4.5 million pinyon seeds! They do not bury the seeds just anywhere. The jays tend to cache [hide] seeds in open areas, selecting sites near brush piles or fallen trees.” [Quoting John C. Kricher, A FIELD GUIDE TO THE ECOLOGY OF WESTERN FORESTS, Houghton Mifflin, New York, pages. 147–149.]

Thus, the jays even plant the seeds in places just right for new tree growth.

If the birds planted seeds at the base of tall, healthy trees, those trees would shield the new seedling from needed sunlight, and would likely absorb the scarce rainfall of this area, so the new sprouts would fail to thrive. Also, being planted near brush or fallen trees provides these seedlings with protection from gusty desert winds which might otherwise tear them out of the soil.

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PINYON JAY perching (Audubon Field Guide)

When winter comes, the pinyon jays harvest many of their carefully hidden pinyon seeds. Many more, however, go unharvested. These seeds, forgotten by jays, become the next generation of pinyon pines.

Is this a picture of tooth-and-claw, selfish, survival-of-the-fittest accident-produced ‘evolution’? Hardly! This coöperative relationship between bird and tree, called ‘mutualistic symbiosis’ (or ‘mutual aid’) by ecologists, is the kind of system-ordered harmony God originally designed into His good creation. In fact even after the Fall, nature still displays more coöperation than competition.

The creation sings out an ecological symphony of praise to its Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Job instructs us to accept the teaching of the beasts and the birds, for such wildlife—by their very traits, behaviors, and generational cycles—instruct us with the answer to this question:

‘Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?’ [Quoting Job 12:9]


[ The preceding avian ecology highlight was originally published as “Providential Planting: The Pinyon Jay,” Creation Ex Nihilo, 19 (3): 24-25 (summer 1997).  At present (AD2018), it now appears online at https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-for-creation/providential-planting/ .  Slight editing was added by the author prior to re-posting here.  It should be noted that the Lord Jesus once used ravens (not Pinyon Jays — Matthew 6:26, clarified by Luke 12:24) as an example of a bird-kind that did not sow seeds for its own food — please see “Hidden Assumptions Play ‘Hide-and-Seek’:  Using Context and Clarification to ‘Tag’ Bible Critics”, ACTS & FACTS, 39(6):8-9 (June 2010), now posted at http://www.icr.org/article/hidden-assumptions-play-hide-seek-using .   ><>  JJSJ  profjjsj@aol.com ]

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PINYON JAY (Wikipedia photograph)


 

Crazy as a Coot!

CRAZY  AS  A  COOT!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And as he [i.e., Paul] thus spoke for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad!” But he [i.e., Paul] said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but I speak forth the words of truth and soberness”.   (Acts 26:24-25)

But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are foolishness unto him;  neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   (1st Corinthians 2:14)

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AMERICAN COOT’s water take-off (credit: Audubon Field Guide)

Isn’t it ironic how unbelievers can accuse Christians of being “crazy”, especially in conversations when a Christian (like the apostle Paul) is soberly speaking God’s weighty words of eternal truth!  In short, if you dare to explain the timeless treasure-truths of the Holy Bible, to an unbeliever (whose foolish heart is darkened – see Romans 1:21) who rejects truth reflexively, and who thus dismisses Biblical truths as “foolishness”  —  you can expect to be unjustly accused of being “crazy as a coot”.

Crazy as a Coot”:  what does that mean?  So, what kind of bird is a Coot, anyway?  (Not quite duck! – and not quite chicken!)  Why are Coots called “crazy”?

Let us consider the American Coot (a/k/a “Mud Hen”), a head-bobbing waterfowl that resembles the Common Moorhen (a/k/a Florida Gallinule or “Candy Corn Bird”), except the Coot is almost all sooty black, red-eyed, possessing greenish legs that end in individually “scallops”-lobed toes, and sporting a prominent poultry-like white bill (with an incomplete blackish ring near the bill-tip), garnished by a red spot on its slightly bulging forehead “shield”.

The expression “crazy as a coot” may at first seem inappropriate for such a well-adapted, successful waterfowl, but watch American Coots in spring and summer [!] and the appellation becomes much more suitable. These spirited and aggressive birds squabble constantly during the breeding season, not just among themselves, but also with any waterbird that has the audacity to intrude upon their waterfront property.  They can often be seen scooting across the surface of the water, charging [perceived] rivals with flailing, splashing wings in an attempt to intimidate.  Outside the breeding season, coots gather amicably together in large groups.  American Coots are known in many places as ‘Mud Hens’, and are often misidentified as a species of duck.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen & Roger Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 123.]

“Squabble constantly … in an attempt to intimidate” –  does that sound like anyone “crazy” that you know personally?  (If so, you really shouldn’t reply by blog-posting the name or names of whomever you are thinking of.)

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AMERICAN COOT’s water take-off (USFWS photo / public domain)

Like others perceived as being “crazy”, the Coot dramatically displays a lot of head-bobbing energy!   Go, coot, go!

When swimming, it pumps its head back and forth; it dabbles but also dives from the surface. Taking off [to fly], it skitters, flight labored; the big feet trail beyond the short tail; a narrow white border shows on the rear of [each] wing.  [Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Houghton Mifflin, 1990), page 64.]

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AMERICAN COOT (credit: Birdzilla)

Of course, it’s easy for me to link dramatic displays of energy to “craziness”, because it has been decades since I was described as highly energetic or animated (although I was actually nicknamed “Jumpin’ Jim”, about 30 years ago, when I was a young tall-building litigator in downtown Dallas).

Nowadays, if I wasn’t “low-energy” I might be “no-energy”! (Did you know that I never get tired?  What’s my secret, that I never get tired?  —  simple:  I don’t get tired; I stay tired.)   On that I’ll rest.

Of course, my real “rest” is in the Lord Jesus Christ  –  Whom to have, as my personal Savior, may seem “crazy” and “foolish” to a Gospel-rejecting unbeliever, like provincial governor Festus (recall Acts chapter 26).  However, the infallible holy Scriptures assure me that to belong to Christ is not at all “foolish” — rather, it is the power of God unto His very gracious salvation (1st Corinthians 1:18 & 15:3-4; Luke 10:20).

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AMERICAN COOT on nest (photo credit: MDC Discover Nature)


 

 

Shake a Leg (or 2 or 3 or 4), Crab-Eater!

Shake a Leg (or 2 or 3 or 4), Crab-Eater!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating crab in marshy grass (BioWeb photo credit)

He sends forth His commandment upon earth; His word runs very swiftly.  (Psalm 147:15)

Do you usually think of God’s Word as “running very swiftly”? Maybe not, but the psalmist portrays God’s commandment as being sent forth with a speed that is so fast it is comparable to someone running.  In fact, God rules the world’s weather by issuing meteorological mandates that are executed with lightning-like rapidity:

He gives snow like wool; He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. He casts forth His ice like morsels; who can stand before His cold?  He sends out His word, and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow. (Psalm 147:16-18)

When we think of running, we think of fast motion. Young children and young adults run; old folks like to walk (Isaiah 40:31).  Of course, lots of animals move pretty quickly, too.  Legs are pretty important, if you want to do any serious running around!

The fastest-footed bird of Africa is the Ostrich, a running ratite with a galloping gait. Here in Texas (where I live), we have a much smaller bird, nonetheless swift-legged, the Greater Roadrunner.  Earlier this evening I saw two Roadrunners scooting around by the east side of my house – may God bless them as they hunt snakes and other varmints!

Speaking of varmints, there are varieties of rodents that run around quite nimbly – mice, rats, squirrels (which I don’t really consider “varmints” unless they are chewing electrical system components), voles, prairie dogs, etc.  Rabbits (and other lagomorphs, like the Pikas of the Rocky Mountains) can move with serious speed, especially when fleeing in fear when chased by a predator.

Many of the larger mammals can hoof it – pronto! — such as the fleet-footed pronghorn of the prairie plains (or its antelope-like “cousins”, Africa’s gnu and India’s blackbuck) or feral felines like North America’s cougars (or Africa’s lions and cheetahs).  Even Australia’s kangaroos can hop at speeds over 40 m.p.h., like race-horses.  Actually, as goofy as moose sometimes look, don’t casually assume that you can outrun them  —  especially if turf-defending attitude is an issue (and I recall that cautionary caveat as one once nicknamed “Dances with Moose”).

Yes, even at tidal beaches there are a lot of God’s creatures that can scurry furtively about. Consider, for a moment, the decapod crustaceans we call “crabs”. There are many different varieties of crabs (Ghost Crabs, Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, Fiddler Crabs, Dungeness Crabs, Tanner Crabs, King Crabs, etc.) – and they have nimble legs for swift and purposeful maneuvering, both on land or in water!

Yet what if those crab legs are rudely amputated?   –  the crab becomes near-hopelessly vulnerable to a quick end, inside a decapod-dining predator.  No running away then!

Which leads us (“finally”, you say) to our featured bird of the day, the YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, because it is known to seize upon and amputate crab legs, prior to consuming its hapless crustacean prey.

Although night-herons are named for their habit of hunting from dusk until dawn, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron quite commonly also hunts through daylight hours [if it’s not sleeping!], particularly when there are hungry mouths to feed [sound familiar, parents?].  Its secretive habits, choice of dense, concealing habitats and nearly motionless hunting strategy combine to make this bird a challenge to locate and observe.  The Yellow-crowned Night-Heron’s partiality for crustaceans has earned it the name “Crab-Eater in some parts of its [almost exclusively coastal] range.  It will typically grab a crab by its legs or pinchers [!] and shake vigorously until these fall off, making the crab more manageable.   [Quoting Wayne R. Petersen& Rogers Burrows, BIRDS OF NEW ENGLAND (Lone Pine Publishing, 2004), page 100, emphasis added.]

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating crab (BioWeb photo credit)

So, if the caught crab is too big to swallow, shedding a few appendages might reduce it to an ingestible size – and then “down the hatch” it goes!  Also, if the seized crab were to fall out of the heron’s beak-grasp (onto the beach), while the bird was trying to position the struggling crab for swallowing it, a legless or crippled crab (if dropped) will have quite a challenging time trying to make a successful getaway!

Wow! That gives a new twist to the phrase “shake a leg!”

By the way, how did the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron know that thrashing and breaking off crab legs was a good strategy to reduce a crab in size, for more-manageable swallowing?  — or a good strategy for preventing the crustacean prey from escaping if dropped?  — or a good strategy to diminish a crab’s ability to resisting being eaten?  The night heron’s targeted practice of immobilizing the crab is not just behavioral “dumb luck”!  God designed the bio-machinery and behavioral abilities of the bird.  God taught (i.e., programmed the “software” that drives the “hardware” of) the heron how to quickly catch, keep, and consume its shellfish snack.  Crunch! Crunch!  Crunch! GULP!

Just another eye-catching example of God’s creation in action, appreciating a few small details within a super-complicated-and-interactive coastal food web  —   with all of these interactive details, both  separately and together, exhibiting our great God’s ecological and bioengineering genius, as His critters live to be “fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth”. God is really, really clever!

That’s it for now  –  gotta “run”!

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Yellow-crowned Night Heron eating Fiddler Crab (10,000 Birds photo credit)


 

Arctic Tern, World Class Migrant

Arctic Tern, World Class Migrant

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6)

How many humans have admired the ability of birds to fly through the sky? Count me as one such admirer.  What a wonder God’s winged creatures are, as they fly in the air!  And some fly enormous distances.  The bird who flies farthest, twice a year, is the ARCTIC TERN.

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ARCTIC TERN (photo credit: Audubon Field Guide / National Audubon Society)

This black-headed seagull migrates twice a year, flying back and forth from near the top of the world (Iceland, Greenland, etc.) to near the bottom (islands near Antarctica)  – sometimes traveling 57,000 miles during a year! It has breeding nests (homes where it lays eggs and cares for its babies when they hatch) in far-north lands like Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia, then it flies south to near Antarctica as the North gets cold. Because Arctic Terns often swoop over seawater they are also called “sea swallows”. But, unlike swallows (that eat flying bugs), Arctic Terns use their red beaks to catch and eat small fish (as well as little crabs and shrimp-like animals called krill).  And they better time on a regular basis — they certainly need fuel!

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ARCTIC TERN migration map (BBC News / TravelQuaz.com credit)