LOONY AS A LOON

LOONY AS A LOON

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

“Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic . . .”  (Matthew 17:15a)

Like people who are called “lunatics”, some birds act like they are just loony —  but one migratory bird has a name that admits it – the Common Loon, a/k/a the Great Northern Diver.  Its characteristic wailing call is eerie; you could say it sounds lamentably loony.

GreatNorthernDiver-CommonLoon.JohnPicken-Wisconsion

COMMON LOON (John Picken photo)

And, as its other common name (Great Northern Diver) indicates, it is a quintessential diving bird, as USF&W biologist Kathy Reshetiloff notes:

Loons are the submarines of the bird world. Webbed feet gracefully propel this bird underwater, giving the impression of submerged flight, as the loon stalks its prey.  Diving, sometimes as deep as 200 feet, the loon snatches a fish in its dagger-like bill and returns to the surface to eat.  With their [long] sleek bodies, thick necks and short tails, loons float low in the water and can easily ride out fierce storms.  Feet located toward the rear of the body make the loons agile in water but awkward on land.  They only come ashore to breed or wounded.

Loons breed in freshwater ponds and slow rivers of the Arctic and subarctic reaches of North America. They use aquatic vegetation to fashion their nests near shorelines.  Though secretive and wary of humans, the loon’s high-pitched wails, wild [almost maniacal or drunk-sounding] laughter and mournful yodels pierce the northern air, revealing the bird’s position.

Because of their dependence on water, loons must migrate to ice-free areas during fall and winter. In flight, a loon’s neck curves slightly downward, giving it a hunchbacked appearance.  They are swift and powerful fliers, usually migrating singly or in small groups.

Loons begin their southern migration before nearby waters freeze, sometimes as early as August. On the East Coast, loons winter from New England to the Gulf Coast, including the Chesapeake Bay.  They begin arriving in the mid-Atlantic region from mid to late October.  By autumn, most common loons are found along the shoreline from the mid-Bay region south to Virginia.

[Quoting Kathy Reshetiloff, “Listen for the Haunting Call of Loons on Bay’s Frigid Winter Waters”, CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, 27(10):40 (January-February 2018).]

CommonLoon-RangeMap-wikipedia

COMMON LOON range map (Wikipedia)

And God made two great lights; the greater light [i.e., the sun] to rule the day, and the lesser light [i.e., the moon] to rule the night: he made the stars also.   (Genesis 1:16)

But it’s not just Great Northern Divers that are loony — the entire world is “ruled” at night by the moon, according to Genesis 1:16-18, because the moon “rules” the night.

Moon-rules-Earth.PPT-gravitational-tides

(adapted from National Geographic Education poster)

To appreciate how that works, see my article “The Moon Rules”, ACTS & FACTS, 44(9):21 (September 2015), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/moon-rules/ .   See likewise, regarding how the moon continually (and forcibly) “rules” Earth and its inhabitants, “God Purposefully Made the Moon”, ROCK DOVE BLOG (1-10-AD2018), posted at God Purposefully Made The Moon.

GreatNorthernDiver-CommonLoon.Audubon

GREAT NORTHERN DIVER (a/k/a LOON) by J. J. Audubon

Behold! Carolina Chickadee in Louisiana Pine Tree!

Carolina-Chickadee-FeederWatch.org-in-pine-tree

Carolina Chickadee in pine tree (photo credit: FeederWatch.org )

 

The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of all the earth.  The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all: the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of the heaven dwelt in the boughs thereof, and all flesh was fed of it.   (Daniel 4:11-12)

Birds love trees!

Trees provide suitable platforms for nests.  Sometimes trees serve as substrates for crawling bugs that are eaten by attentive birds. Trees provide shelter form boisterous winds or excessively hot sunlight.  Trees often provide fruits or nuts that birds eat. Trees can provide protective cover to birds who hide in their branch-supported foliage. Trees provide perching sites, for resting or for monitoring the neighborhood for predator or prey.  Among other uses, trees are made to birds!

One perky illustration of these forest ecology facts is the Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis).

Carolina-Chickadee.RangeMap-Wikipedia

Carolina Chickadee range map (Wikipedia)

On Thursday, March 22nd (AD2018) I saw a “lifer”  —  a Carolina Chickadee perched upon a branch of a pine tree, in the Thomas, Louisiana (in the Franklinton/Pine area), not too many miles south of Brookhaven, Mississippi (home of some of the best Cajun/Creole cuisine I’ve ever eaten – at “Mardi Gras Gril”, a family-owned-and-operated restaurant).  The Carolina Chickadee looks a lot like it northern cousin, the beige-accented Black-capped Chickadee; however, the Carolina Chickadee has no beige plumage – its feathers are a patchwork of black, grey, and white.

Carolina-Chickadee.AlbertoLopezTorres-photo
Carolina Chickadee (Alberto Lopez Torres)

So here is my limerick about seeing the chickadee in the pine tree.

 

        VIEWING A CAROLINA CHICKADEE IN LOUISIANA

Behold!  The Carolina Chickadee  —

        Was perched within a pine tree;

               ‘Twas ready, to grab, bugs to eat,

               For insects, in air, was its meat  —

        Behold!  The Carolina Chickadee!

(Also, that day, I observed Eastern Bluebird, Barn Swallow, Swamp Sparrow, Mockingbird, Black Vulture, White Egret, Brown Thrasher, and more —  and heard a Mourning Dove’s mournful cooing.)

Louisiana is not just a “Sportsman’s Paradise”, it is a near-paradise for birdwatching (and catching frogs!)  —  but, if you are in or near in blackwater swamps,  watch out for snakes and alligators!   (Meanwhile, expect to have some good Cajun cuisine!)

JJSJ-eating-crawdads-in-Mississippi

JJSJ eating crawdads, Mardi Grad Gril (Brookhaven, Mississippi)

Lee’s Eight Words – The Fowls Of The Heaven Have Their Habitation

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THE FOWLS OF THE HEAVEN

HAVE THEIR HABITATION

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“By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches. Psalm 104:12

Singing-birds – ©Beliefnet.com

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Lee’s Seven Words – Satisfied With The Fruit Of Thy Works

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Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) Females Feeding by Raymond Barlow

SATISFIED WITH THE FRUIT

OF THY WORKS

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“He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy works.” Psalm 104:13

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Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) Females Feeding by Raymond Barlow

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Lee’s Six Words – That Thou Givest Them They Gather

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Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) ©WikiC

THAT THOU GIVEST THEM

THEY GATHER

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That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.” Psalm 104:28

Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica) ©WikiC

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Lee’s Five Words – These Wait All Upon Thee

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American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in nest ready to eat ©WikiC

THESE WAIT ALL UPON THEE

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These wait all upon Thee; that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season.”  Psalm 104:27

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in nest ready to eat ©WikiC

[Note: God uses parent birds as His preprogrammed agents, to feed baby birds!]

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Lee’s Four Words – They Gather Themselves Together

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Spot-billed Pelicans, Black-headed Ibises & Painted Storks nesting at Garapadu ©WikiC

THEY GATHER THEMSELVES TOGETHER

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“The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.  Psalm 104:22

Wikipedia

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Lee’s Three Words – It Is Night

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Southern Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis) ©WikiC

IT IS NIGHT

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

Southern Brown Kiwi (Apteryx australis) ©WikiC

Tokoeka

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Teaching God’s Creatorship to Kids

 

SnowGeese-in-field.Trent

SNOW GEESE at Hagerman N.W.R.   (photo by Trent)

And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.   (Deuteronomy 6:7)

USING  RECREATION  TO  TEACH  GOD’S  CREATIONSHIP  TO  KIDS

Kids grow with imagination,

Kids learn, too, with recreation;

Moth to watch, ducks to feed,

Songs to sing, books to read

So teach kids about creation!

And, in the process of teaching kids about creation, teach them about God’s Creatorship.

Unless the process is “boring”, most kids like to learn.  Furthermore, most young children love to learn about animals — especially mammals and birds.

Child-feeding-ducks.DailyExpress

child feeding ducks (Daily Express photo)

Introducing a young child to birdwatching, therefore, can be one of the most wonderful favors one can do for such a child.  In fact, teaching a child about God’s Creatorship is one of the best “inheritances” that a parent — or a grandparent (or a family friend) — can bestow to a child (Proverbs 13:22).

Birds-Zim.Golden-Guides-series-1956

For an example of a child being introduced to birdwatching, see “Attracted to Genesis by Magnets and a Bird Book“, posted at  http://www.icr.org/article/attracted-genesis-by-magnets-bird-book — and its uncondensed version at “Appreciating Baltimore Orioles and my First Bird Book“, posted at  https://leesbird.com/2015/06/02/appreciating-baltimore-orioles-and-my-first-bird-book/ .    (See alsoSnow Goose, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and More“.)


 

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