Mockingbirds: Versatile Voices in Plain Plumage

NorthernMockingbird-atop-pine.JimWedge-Audubon

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

Mockingbirds: Versatile Voices in Plain Plumage

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mockingbird-feeding-young.AmericanArtifacts

Mockingbird feeding nestling young  /  photo credit:  American Artifacts

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

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

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

Of course, other birds have the same ability.

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

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

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

Mockingbird-Rangemap.Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

BrownThrasher-GarlandTX-ManjithKainickara

Brown Thrasher in Texas   (photo credit; Manjith Kainickara)

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

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

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

Syrinx-BirdAnatomy.Wikipedia-diagram

Schematic drawing of an avian syrinx

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

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

Mockingbird-eating-winterberries.JonesNaturePreserve

Mockingbird eating winterberries    (photo credit: Jones Nature Preserve)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

Shorebirds Looney about Horseshoe Crab Eggs

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Red Knot Eating Crab Eggs at Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

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

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

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

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

HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebirds-HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay.LarryNiles

Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Larry Niles

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

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

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

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

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

RedKnot-onshore.NatureConservancy-MJKilpatrick

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

Western Tanager: Red and Yellow, Black and White

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Western Tanager  /  photo credit:  Wild Birds Unlimited

WESTERN TANAGER: RED AND YELLOW, BLACK AND WHITE

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world:

Red and yellow, black and white;

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the world!

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

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

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Western Tanager range map  /  Cornell University

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow-clouds.ReadersDigest-photo

RAINBOW in the clouds  /  Readers Digest photograph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ark-Encounter-with-Rainbow-lights.GrayTVinc

ARK ENCOUNTER (Answers in Genesis) with rainbow lighting

photo credit” WYMT Mountain News / Gray TV Inc.

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

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world:

Red and yellow, black and white;

They are precious in His sight!

Jesus loves the little children of the world!


WesternTanager-on-evergreen-branch

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

Palaces Are Known For Both Tattletales And Wagtails

Palaces Are Known For Both Tattletales And Wagtails

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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

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

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

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

GrandHall-CatherinePalace.PushkinRussia

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

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

WhiteWagtail-youngfemale.AndreasTrepte

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

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

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

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

WhiteWagtail.BengtNyman

WHITE WAGTAIL   (Bengt Nyman photograph)

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

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

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

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WHITE WAGTAIL male in shallow water    (Ivan Sjögren photograph)

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

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

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

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

WhiteWagtail-rooftop-hunting.Moorhen-montage-photoblend

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

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

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

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

Dr. James J. S. Johnson BarnacleGoose-3swimming.BirdArt-Kuvat-Finland

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

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

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

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

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

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

BarnacleGoose-RangeMap.WikipediaCommons

BARNACLE GOOSE RANGE MAP  (Cartographic credit: Wikipedia Commons)

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

BarnacleGoose-pair.Helsinki-KaivopuistoPark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TsarBomb.Russian-Hbomb-AD1961

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

BIRDWATCHING AT COX ARBORETUM (IN OHIO)

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.  (Psalm 84:3)

Northern-Cardinal.MotherNatureNetwork

NORTHERN CARDINAL   (Mother Nature Network)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

BIRDWATCHING AT THE ARBORETUM, AS THE HOURS HURRIED BY

Bright red, flies by, a cardinal male,

As down, we trek, a nature trail;

Here it’s wide, there it’s narrow;

Perched nearby, a chipping sparrow;

(How quickly told is our tale.)

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CHIPPING SPARROW   (Audubon Field Guide)

One of Shakespeare’s plays, MACBETH, includes a cynical comment that compares the transitory experience of human mortality to a fleeting “hour upon the stage”, like a “tale” that is “told” with “sound and fury”, yet “signifying nothing” (MACBETH, Act 5, Scene 5).  It is true that this earthly lifetime is transitory and fleeting (James 4:13-15), yet this earthly life is the opposite of meaningless — unless we foolishly ignore our Maker (Ecclesiastes 12:1).  And our Maker cares so much for us — much more than He cares for little birds, like sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31),  — so much that He has provided a free redemption and abundant life in Christ, available to all who believingly receive Him as personal Savior (John 1:12 & 3:16 & 14:6).  And, thankfully, belonging to Him lasts forever!

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ENGLISH SPARROW   ( allaboutbirds.org  )

Time flies.  Time zooms by even moreso when one is experiencing a wonderful blessing, as the above limerick briefly notes in fly-by fashion.  Such a time was last Thursday (June 29th AD2017), when I was birdwatching (and butterfly-watching) with my youngest grandson, Hunter, at the Cox Arboretum in Dayton, Ohio.  At the Arboretum we saw various birds (including English Sparrow [a/k/a “House Sparrow”], American Goldfinch, Canada Goose, Mallard, Robin, Northern Cardinal, and Chipping Sparrow), butterflies (including Cabbage White, Pipevine Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Orange Sulphur), other insects (bumblebees, ants, dragonflies, etc.), pond-dwelling fish, slow-moving turtles, and scampering chipmunks.  For me, the Chipping Sparrow was a special highlight — it is a summer breeder during its migrant months in Ohio.  (Hunter accurately described the Chipping Sparrow, who helpfully posed for our observations, as looking like an English Sparrow except “his head has red on it” and “there’s some white by his eyes”.)  Hunter had a one-word comment on the American Goldfinch:  WOW!

The hours of hiking went all too quickly.  It was a precious time for Farfar (Norwegian for “father’s father”) to teach a grandson something of the wonders of God’s creation, and something about the wonderfulness of God Himself.  Thankfully, neither of us fell into any of the ponds — although some inspections of turtles or fish came close to a splashing scenario.  It was a good day — albeit one that hurried by all too quickly.

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AMERICAN GOLDFINCH   (Fredric Nisenholz / Birds and Blooms )

Lee’s Six Word Saturday – 7/1/17

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Parakeet Resting on Pen ©Wild Horse Photography

HANDLE THE PEN OF THE WRITER

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“Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they who handle the pen of the writer.” (Judges 5:14)

Parakeet Resting on Pen ©Wild Horse Photography

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Lee’s Five Word Friday – 6/30/17

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Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) ©whm.ac.uk

THE FIRST CAME OUT RED

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“And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name Esau.”  (Genesis 25:25)

Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) ©whm.ac.uk

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Lee’s Four Word Thursday – 6/29/17

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Purple-crowned Fairywren From Pinterest

THINE HEAD LIKE PURPLE

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“Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.”  (Song of Solomon 7:5)

Purple-crowned Fairywren From Pinterest

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Lee’s Three Word Wednesday – 6/28/17

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Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) In Flight ©Smediacache

IN BLUE CLOTHES

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“These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise. (Ezekiel 27:24)

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) In Flight ©Smediacache

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Lee’s Two Word Tuesday – 6/27/17

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Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) ©Smediacache

OF BLUE

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“And shall put thereon the covering of badgers’ skins, and shall spread over it a cloth wholly of blue, and shall put in the staves thereof.” (Numbers 4:6)

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) ©Smediacache

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Lee’s One Word Monday – 6/26/17

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Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) ©WikiC

CRIMSON

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“And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life.”  (Jeremiah 4:30)

Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans) ©WikiC

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