Woods, Water, and Winged Wonders

Woods, Water, and Winged Wonders

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Dan's Wood Stork Tree up close

WOOD STORKS in evergreen tree   (photo by Dan Dusing)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm104.17-SlidePlayer.com-storks

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

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


BIRDWATCHING  IN  FOREST  HABITATS

Watch birds as they fly or they walk;

See their plumage and hear them talk!

Look for bird neighborhoods

In green, well-watered woods:

Homes for woodpecker, jay, owl and hawk!

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

StellersJay-evergreen.iStock-Getty

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

 


 

Shorebirds Looney about Horseshoe Crab Eggs

RedKnot-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

Red Knot Eating Crab Eggs at Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

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

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

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

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

HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay-beach.GregoryBreese-USFWS

Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Gregory Breese / USF&WS

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

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

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

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

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

Shorebirds-HorseshoeCrabs-DelawareBay.LarryNiles

Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs on Delaware Bay Beach

Photo by Larry Niles

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

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

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

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

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

RedKnot-onshore.NatureConservancy-MJKilpatrick

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

Snow Goose, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and More

Snow Goose, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and More:

Grandfather-and-Grandson Birdwatching at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

SnowGeese-flock-over-field-HagermanNWR.KimSheridan.jpg

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.  One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts.  I will speak of the glorious honor of Thy majesty, and of Thy wondrous works.   (Psalm 145:3-5)

Hiking up and down forest trails, while birdwatching at a wildlife refuge, can be an opportunity to praise God’s works to another generation – if the adventure is used to explain God’s mighty deeds to a grandchild. And the grandparent-grandchild outing need not be a “big deal”, by worldly standards, in order for it to become a treasured time that counts for eternity (Matthew 6:19-21).  Of course, God’s works include the birds He made.

The Hebrew text of Psalm 145:4 (translated “One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts”) can be translated as “Generation, unto generation, shall intensively extol Thy works and shall explain Thy mighty doings”.  Part of grandparenting, therefore, involves praising God’s works to another generation, as well as explaining God’s mighty deeds.  Since “His greatness is unsearchable”, there are countless opportunities for applying this mandate to wildlife-viewing recreation activities.

SnowGeese-fyling-closeup.PottsboroCCommerce.jpg

Imagine seeing an open prairie field — or a freshwater lake — covered by what looks like (from a distance) a blanket of unmelted snow – only to recognize that the “blanket” of white is actually a huge flock of migratory Snow Geese – totaling almost 4,000 in one flock, spread over two adjacent fields!

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Gregarious flock of Snow Geese at Hagerman NWR (Photo credit: Trent)

Of course, a winter stopover haven that hosts literally thousands of Snow Goose migrants, unsurprisingly, hosts many other birds, providing (for the observant birdwatcher) a mix of other “winter Texans”, migratory transients, and year-round residents —  such as American Pipit, Northern Pintail, American Coot, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Northern Shoveler, Ring-billed Gull, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Lesser Scaup, Turkey Vulture, sparrows, sandpipers, hawks, and more.

All of those, about a week ago, I saw at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge (“Hagerman N.W.R.”) in Grayson County, Texas, a few miles west of Sherman.  Specifically, on a Wednesday (12-21-AD2016), when local schools were closed for Christmas holiday (i.e., what secularists call “winter break”), an adventure of birding and hiking was undertaken, there, by Trent (one of my grandsons) and me, after we both fueled ourselves with a generous array of Buffalo hot wings (at the WINGSTOP restaurant in nearby Sherman).

SnowGeese-HagermanNWR-brush.KimSheridan.jpg

The Hagerman N.W.R. acreage (more than 11,000 acres!) is located just south of the Big Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma, the large “lake” (which is actually a lacustrine reservoir formed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Denison Dam, built on the Red River) that separates southern Oklahoma from north Texas.  [To learn more about Hagerman N.W.R.,  (website provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service ), and Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge web article provided by Wikipedia.]

Of those birds viewed, amidst several lengthy treks along the wooded hiking trails, a few are noted below: Snow Goose, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler.

1. SNOW GOOSE

Due to how God programmed Snow Goose bioengineering, no air traffic control team is needed — even though in-flight traffic occurs with lots of motion in very close quarters!

SnowGeese-flock-LakeTexoma.com-HagermanNWR.png

SNOW GOOSE   (Anser caerulescens)

The Snow Goose is the almost-all-white “winter Texan” goose that dominated the fields of Hagerman N.W.R. when Trent and I visited that forest-blended-with-grassland earlier this month.  (In biome ecology terms, this refuge is located in a pond-pocked hilly region that transitions the Piney Woods forestland of East Texas with the prairie grasslands of Oklahoma.)

Highly gregarious throughout the year, breeding in closely-packed colonies on the Arctic tundra. …  Has well-defined migration routes to and from winter quarters.  Arrival in winter quarters [such as arrival in Texas] varies with each population, some having quite long stop-overs en route, whereas others move quickly onwards; generally, however, northward spring migration is slower than the autumn one.  Winter flocks often attain tens of thousands in coastal farmland [yet, in the case of Hagerman N.W.R., which is inland, the total winter flock is now about 4,000].  Roosts on water, swimming freely, but feeds by grazing, usually pulling out plants by roots, rather than by grazing off tops.  Mixes freely with other geese [e.g., Ross’s Goose] on winter grounds, although main portions of flocks keep separate.  Even on breeding grounds, other Arctic geese may nest in fairly close proximity and occasional wild hybrids have been recorded with such species as Ross’s [Geese], White-fronted [Geese], and Canada Geese.  …  On winter grounds resort to cultivation [e.g., Hagerman N.W.R., which is agricultural land, interspersed with deciduous forests and sprinkled here and there with traditional Texas-style “horsehead pump” oil wells], fields of sprouting corn, pasture and stubble fields in lowland coastal zones are favoured.

[Quoting Steve Madge, Waterfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 143  –  see also plate 6 illustration by Hilary Burn, page 36.]

2. NORTHERN PINTAIL

What a graceful duck!  Watch it glide quietly through pond-water.  What dabbler dignity!

Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) ©USFWS

NORTHERN PINTAIL   (Anas acuta)

The most plentiful duck that we saw, when we visited various parts (but not all) of Hagerman N.W.R., was the Northern Pintail, another migratory “winter Texan”.

Abundant, esp. in [American] West. Widespread on shallow freshwater wetlands, often in large flocks; also salt marshes, grainfields in winter. Wary; flight fast, agile.  Slender neck, rounded [dark, almost black] head, blue-gray bill, gray legs.  Male has long, pointed tail [hence the name “pintail”]; brown head with white line on neck extending from breast; green speculum [i.e., colorful patch of plumage on the outer wing secondary feathers].  Female mottled brown; bronze speculum with white rear border. Juv[enile] and eclipse male like female.

[Quoting Jack L. Griggs, American Bird Conservancy’s Field Guide to All the Birds of North America (HarperCollins, 1997), page 33.  Other than the thousands of Snow Geese, the most common bird we saw, when we visited Hagerman N.W.R., was the Northern Pintail.  Many of these ducks were congregating in the ponded areas near “horsehead” oil pump sites.

3. NORTHERN SHOVELER

Notice how the pair’s coloring is like a Mallard pair, but not those large spatula-like bills!

shoveler-pair-pinterest-on-leesbird

NORTHERN SHOVELER   (Anas clypeata)

Perhaps my favorite duck, of those I’ve seen at Hagerman N.W.R., is the Northern Shoveler.  The male shoveler has an iridescent green head (like a Mallard), rusty sides (like a Ruddy Duck), a white breast, and a shovel-like (or spoon-like) bill. These ducks feed mostly “by filtering tiny aquatic insects and plants from the water’s surface with its bill”.  [Quoting Stan Tekiela, BIRDS OF TEXAS FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2004), page 332-333.  A well-named dabbler, this duck’s bill is unlikely to be confused with any other duck. The marshy wetlands at Hagerman provide an ideal winter home for the Shoveler.

Usually found in pairs or small parties, but large concentrations form at migration stop-over waters. Indirectly mixes with other dabbling ducks, but generally keeps apart in discrete gatherings.  …  Feeds by dabbling [i.e., bobbing upside-down underwater] and sifting in shallow water, swinging bill from side to side over surface [straining wee crustaceans and seeds, as if its bill was a colander!], often immersing head and neck and sometimes up-ending; feeds chiefly while swimming, but also while wading.  Loafing birds gather on banks and shores close to feeding waters.  Swims buoyantly, with rear end high and fore parts low, the heavy bill often touching surface of water.  Walks awkwardly.  Flight fast and agile, rising suddenly from surface with whirring wings.  Most populations highly migratory, arriving on breeding grounds from mid March onwards and departing again in August.  …  Favours shallow freshwater lakes [and ponds] and marshes with areas of open water, emergent and fringe vegetation and muddy margins.

[Quoting Steve Madge, Waterfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 236  –  see also plate 33 illustration by Hilary Burn, page 91.]  For more photographs of the Northern Shoveler, see “’D’ is for Duck, Dabblers and Divers: ‘D’ Birds, Part 1.

What an enjoyable day!

All in all, it was a good day to trek some birdwatching trails —  good for physical exercise, good for intellectual adventure, and good for spiritual appreciation for our great Creator-God, the almighty and majestic Provider of every form of life that lives, whether big or small.  Each minute of a nature hike is a “teachable moment” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), for those with eyes to see.

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And, as part of good preparation for the outing, it was good to start the day’s recreational activities with a more-than-we-could-eat feast of WINGSTOP Buffalo hot wings, seasoned fries, and iced tea.  (Of course, we took home what we didn’t then eat, plus we took home some good memories and Trent’s photographs.)

WingStop-BuffaloHotWings.jpg

PHOTO CREDITS:

Snow Goose flock in flight by Kim A. Sheridan:

Snow Goose flock in flight (close-up) by Pottsboro Chamber of Commerce:

Gregarious flock of Snow Geese at Hagerman NWR by Trent (grandson)

Snow Geese at Hagerman NWR winter stopover by Kim A. Sheridan: 

Migratory Snow Geese at Hagerman NWR by LakeTexoma.com:

Northern Pintail by USF&WS:

Northern Shoveler (male & female) by Pinterest.com:

Gregarious Snow Geese in Flight at Hagerman NWR by Moreno:

Wing Stop (Singapore) photo: Snapytrend

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.  One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare [i.e., explain] Thy mighty acts.  I will speak of the glorious honor of Thy majesty, and of Thy wondrous works.   (Psalm 145:3-5)

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Birdwatching On Board the Ark Encounter – The Doves

Noah taking the Dove Back on board. the Ark

Noah taking the Dove Back on board. the Ark

On Monday, September 12, 2016 we visited the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. One of my goals was to find as many birds as I could on the Ark. Dan and I were on vacation for almost two weeks and the highlight of our trip was a visit to the Ark. When you first see the size of the, it is overwhelming. The picture below is almost deceiving. The Ark spans ” 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high.” (From the website)

Dan and I sitting way out front.

Dan and I sitting way out front.

“And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” (Genesis 6:19-22 KJV)

The first bird I observed was a carved bird in a workshop on board the Ark. It appears to be a dove, maybe.

Bird being carved in Workshop

Bird being carved in Workshop

The Workshop with the Dove

The Workshop with the Dove

Then we saw a dove resting before its next venture out of the Ark.

Dove resting on board the Ark

Dove resting on board the Ark

“And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more.” (Genesis 8:11-12 KJV)

The next dove we saw was on a mural depicting various events in Genesis.

Mural Showing the Dove on the Ark

Mural Showing the Dove on the Ark

Mural on the Ark

Mural on the Ark

Stay tuned as the other birds are revealed. We know from Scripture that there were seven pairs of every “kind” of birds/fowls on board the ark. I have more to show you.

“And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.” (Genesis 7:1-3 KJV)

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The Ark Encounter

Just some of the latest articles here about the Ark:

Birds of the Bible – Foundation – The Ark

Birds of the Bible – Loading the Ark

Birds of the Bible – Leaving the Ark

Avian Kinds on the Ark – Introduction

Avian Kinds on the Ark – What Is A Kind?

Avian Kinds on the Ark – Birds Embarking

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Busy Spectators, Oblivious to Hummingbirds

Busy Spectators, Oblivious to Hummingbirds

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

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Purple-throated Carib Hummingbird (Wikipedia image)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.     (Psalm 90:12)

Two years ago the shoe was “on the other foot”, when I wrote about “Busy Hummingbirds, Oblivious to Spectators”. Yet during the Labor Day weekend, it was I who was the busy “spectator”, “oblivious” to hummingbirds in my own backyard!

It all started as just another half-day of clean-up in my backyard, in reaction to 4 stormy-weather-caused tree casualties, this year: serious branch tear-offs on 4 different Bradford pear trees. The aftermath involves a lot of branch debris clean-up, for packaging (in yard-trash bags, after my oldest grandson helped trim the arboreal wreckage with his chainsaw) required by the trash pickup service. One of the piles of yard trash was stacked under an oak tree, situated next to an iron rod fence that is heavily draped by a flourishing “thicket” of trumpet vine growth.

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Trumpet Vine “wall” (acultivatednest.com image)

In fact, the iron rod fence itself is so enveloped, in the greenery and blossoms of trumpet vines, that the combination of fences and vine-growth resembles a “wall” or curtain of vine growth, green leaves, and bright orange “trumpet” flowers. Next to that fence is a tall and sturdy oak tree, loaded with green leaves.  Then I noticed what initially looked like a thick brownish-green insect buzzing about the fence’s trumpet vine blossoms – but it was no dragonfly or damselfly or moth or butterfly – it was a busy hummingbird! (Later I saw another hummer buzz by the same area, collecting nectar from blossom after blossom of the same thicket of trumpet vine flowers.)

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Hummingbird at Trumpet Vine blossom   (Mike Lentz image)

Why had I not noticed that our trumpet vine “patch” was hosting hummingbirds?

Unlike two years ago, this time I was the “oblivious” one – I had busily ignored those hummingbirds (for months, at least), because I was so busy bagging yard rubbish. So, being a true birder, I promptly went inside our house, to fetch my binoculars, so I could observe the hummingbird activities more closely.

Trumpet Vine in backyard by tree (image credit: WhatGrowsHere.com)

The hummers were obtaining nectar, again and again — then they would flit away into the foliage of the nearby oak tree. On closer investigation I was that the trumpet vine had grown out form the fence — and had traveled up the trunk of the oak tree, entwining itself around various oak branches, so that the orange flowers peeked out of the top of the oak tree! Try to imagine a large oak tree, covered in bright green leaves – yet sporting some orange trumpet-shaped flowers near the top of the leaves! (Now I need to research whether the trumpet vine is parasitically detrimental to the oak tree – or whether it will be okay to leave it as it is.)

So much for being a careful spectator of my own backyard! As the serial crises of summer storms recently ravaged our Bradford pear trees, consuming many weekend hours (and a lot of my attention) I had neglected to monitor other developments in my own backyard.  Yet what should I have expected?  After all, hummingbirds — if any were to be found in my backyard — would surely be attracted to the vermillion-red blossoms of the Trumpet Vine.  “All hummingbirds are drawn to the color red, whether in the form of a flower bearing the nectar that accounts for more than half of their dietary intake or in the colorful plastic petals of a sugar-water feeder.”  [Quoting “Hummingbirds and Feeding”, in BIRDS IN YOUR BACKYARD: A BIRD LOVER’S GUIDE TO CREATING A GARDEN SANCTUARY (Birds & Blooms, edited by Robert J. Dolezal, 2009 Readers Digest edition), page 108.]   For video footage of a hummer defending his trumpet vine from bee competitors see  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZfryKJxRd8 .

Maybe that can happen in other aspects of life, too. (Some call this the problem of the “tyranny of the urgent” – where only priorities with hard deadlines get serious attention.)  Maybe getting distracted by the various “in-your-face” crises of life, which frequently crash down here-and-there, in one storm after another, can pull our gaze away from other parts of our own “backyards” — such that this of that vine can silently creep up into a nearby tree (a little bit at a time, week after week, month after month), and we don’t notice it.

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Trumpet Vine  (a/k/a Trumpet Creeper) climbing up tree 

Could this habit of being repeatedly distracted (by whatever makes the loudest “noise”) apply to personal Bible study, or personal prayer life, or the forgotten/postponed need for getaway time with one’s husband or wife, or the need to be a vocal witness to an non-Christian friend (or coworker, or relative, or neighbor)?  Sometimes it is important to step back, look up, and regain a big-picture perspective. Life continues to flow quickly by, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. How quickly our lives, like money, are spent!

If you love someone, if you care for someone, tell (and/or show) him or her so – do it today! Don’t wait for a “hard deadline”, because the “tyranny of the urgent” may distract you (or me) from doing those important things that have no exact deadline. Don’t be oblivious (like me) to what is happening (or not happening) right next to you!

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Hummingbird at Trumpet Vine (image credit: Harold A. Davis)

Notice the hummingbirds in your own backyard, and treasure the beauty that God is sharing in the process. Notice also when vine are sneaking form one place to another – if they are harmful, take action!

So here is my takeaway prayer:  may I be less oblivious to what is happening in my own backyard – and may I appreciate the beauty that God provides (such as those colorful and quick little hummingbirds, that I didn’t even know were living in my oak tree, enjoying the trumpet vines that drape my fence), each day, as I live out whatever day son earth that I have left to live (before it’s time to go Home).

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

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Busy Hummingbirds, Oblivious to Spectators

More post by James J. S. Johnson

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Continue reading

Birds of the Bible – Black Heron Seeing Clearly

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC San Diego Zoo

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC San Diego Zoo

And the stork, and the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat. (Deuteronomy 14:18 KJV)

The Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) is also know as the Black Egret. They belong to the Ardeidae – Herons, Bitterns Family. “This medium-sized  (42.5–66 cm in height), black-plumaged heron with black legs and yellow feet. It is found south of the Sahara Desert, including Madagascar, and prefers shallow open waters, such as the edges of freshwater lakes and ponds. It may also be found in marshes, river edges, rice fields, and seasonally flooded grasslands. In coastal areas, it may be found feeding along tidal rivers and creeks, in alkaline lakes, and tidal flats. Its breeding range is between Senegal and Sudan and to the south. It is found mainly on the eastern half of the continent. It has also been observed in Greece.”

Black heron (Egretta ardesiaca)map) Range Map

Black heron (Egretta ardesiaca)map) Range Map

“The nest of the black heron is constructed of twigs placed over water in trees, bushes, and reed beds, forming a solid structure. The heron nests at the beginning of the rainy season, in single or mixed-species colonies that may number in the hundreds. The eggs are dark blue and the clutch is two to four eggs.” (Quotes from Wikipedia)

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) by Daves BirdingPix

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) by Daves BirdingPix

“Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings,” (Psalms 17:8 KJV)

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

What is so amazing about this heron is how it searches out its food. They stretch out their wings to form an umbrella or canopy. This creates shade which attracts fish and the canopy also allows the heron to see their future meal better by blocking the reflection of the sun, giving them better visibility.

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:19-22 KJV)

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

Black Heron (Egretta ardesiaca) ©WikiC

Are we trying to shield the corruption of this world, so we can see the clear truth of God’s Word? Are we looking for the good things to see and think about as Philippians 4:8 tells us.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 KJV)

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Birds of the Bible – Herons

Ardeidae – Herons, Bitterns

Birds of the World

Orni-Theology Articles

Black Heron – Wikipedia

Gideon

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“D” is for Dunlin and Dark-eyed Junco: “D” Birds”, Part 2

“D” is for Dunlin and Dark-eyed Junco: “D” Birds”, Part 2

James J. S. Johnson

Dunlins-in-snow.photo

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) shorebirds, in winter snow!

For He saith to the snow: ‘Be thou on the earth’; likewise unto the small rain, and unto the great rain of His strength. JOB 37:6 

She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed with scarlet. PROVERBS 31:21

“D” is for Dunlin and Dark-eyed Junco, as well as for Doves, Dippers, and Ducks (some being dabblers, some being divers) — plus other birds with names that begin with the letter D, such as Dickcissel, Darter, Dotterel, Doradito, Dollarbird, Dacnis, Drongo, Dunnock, Dapple-throat, and even Dodo! Regarding the earlier article on “D” birds, in this ongoing series, focusing mostly on Duck (both Dabblers and Divers), see “D” is for Ducks, Dabblers and Divers: “D” Birds, Part 1. But this review will focus only on two, the Dunlin (Calidris alpina) and the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).    And, as is noted below, there is a “snow” connection to both — (1) because the brown-and-grey Dunlin is a circumpolar migrant, breeding in the snow-blessed arctic and subarctic regions — and (2) because the migratory Dark-eyed Junco was formerly called (by Audubon and others) the “snowbird”.

Dunlin.in-Canadian-marshland

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) adult

As noted elsewhere on Leesbird.com , the Dunlin is part of the short shorebird waders, called “Scolopacidae” (a subset of the “Charadriiformes”), that includes a mix of wading sandpipers, snipes, phalaropes, plovers, curlews, and the like. Part of an original sandpiper-like ancestral kind, Dunlins are reported to hybridize with North America’s White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) and Europe’s Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima).

Dunlin-juvenile.Oxfordshire-beach

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) juvenile ©WikiC

These skinny-legged, starling-sized waders make a living, to a large degree, by probing and picking mudflat shorelines (including muddy estuaries, saltmarshes, sandy beaches, coastal lagoons, swampy coastlands, and sometimes rocky coastlines), for edible invertebrates — mostly insects (especially insect larvae) and worms (both polychaetes and oligochaetes), plus small crustaceans (like shrimp and amphipods) and molluscs (like snails, slugs, and small bivalves), and even some small fish — captured along seacoasts and/or at freshwater streambanks. The characteristic eating behavior of the thin-billed Dunlin has been likened to the rapid-feed pecking motion of an energetic sewing machine, as its slightly decurved bill jabs rapidly and repeatedly into mudflats, to pick at (and ingest) small animals captured on or under the shoreline surface. Dunlins sometimes dip their heads under water, as they wade belly-deep in coastal tidewaters. [For a short video clip of Dunlin feeding in shallow shorewaters,]

Dunlin.winter-NJ-beach

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) adult, wintering at a New Jersey beach ©WikiC

The Dunlin, like other sandpipers, is a gregarious migrant, as is illustrated by this photograph (taken in AD2015) of Dunlins in Sweden. Although the various Dunlin subspecies (which number 8 or 9, depending on taxonomic “lumping” and “splitting” preferences) are known to overlap (i.e., intermingle in) their ranges, especially in migratory passages and in wintering territories, they mostly breed within their respective subspecies populations. Dunlin breeding begins at one year of age; an entire Dunlin lifespan may reach 20 years.

Dunlin-congregation-tidewaters

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) group, congregating in shoreline tidewaters ©WikiC

The overall range of the Dunlin is impressive – its migratory habits includes breeding (during the warmer months) within many of the coastlines of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Siberian Russia – as well as wintering in coastlands of Mexico, America’s Southeast, Europe’s western coasts, some of the coastlands of northwestern Africa, and some southern coastlands of Asia (including eastern China, Japan, some of the Indian subcontinent, and the coastlines of southwestern Asia). According to the Australian government’s statistics, the Chinese East Coast-trekking Dunlin (which is not routinely found in Australia) is the second-most common shorebird traveling the East Asian—Australasian Flyway. [Source: Australian Government, Dep’t of the Environment, posted at http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=853 – under the heading “Global Distribution”. ]

Dunlin-range-map.global-migrations

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Now for another “D” bird, the DARK-EYED JUNCO.

Darkeyed-Junco.NatlAudubonSocy-color-drawing

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), f/k/a “Snow Bird” ©Drawing Audubon

Regarding my personal encounters with Dark-eyed Junco migrants, who habitually wintered in my backyard (in southern Denton County, Texas), see “Here’s Seed for Thought” [posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/07/04/heres-seed-for-thought/ ] – and also see my defense of trusting juncos and English sparrows, from a bullying Blue Jay, in “Bird Brains, Amazing Evidence of God’s Genius (Sometimes the Logic of Bird Brains Puts Humans to Shame)” [posted at https://leesbird.com/?s=bird+brains ].

Darkeyed-Junco.with-berries-closeup-KimSmith

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) ©Kim Smith

The Dark-eyed Junco adult has a distinctively pink bill (which aptly consumes a lot of bugs and seeds, including seeds at bird-feeders!), the color of which contrasts with its black-to-dark-grey back feathers, and its snow-like (almost-white) under-plumage.   Regarding the wee bird’s wintering habits in Texas, ornithologist Stan Tekiela writes: “Spends the winter in the [Texas] foothills and plains after snowmelt. Nests in a wide variety of wooded habitats in April and May. Adheres to a rigid social hierarchy, with dominant birds chasing less dominant birds. Look for its white outer feathers flashing while in flight. Most comfortable on the ground [which is often a good place to forage for insects and seeds], juncos ‘double-scratch’ with both feet to expose seeds and insects. Eats many weed seeds. Usually seen on the ground in small flocks. Doesn’t nest [i.e., raise hatchlings] in Texas.” [Quoting Stan Tekiela, BIRDS OF TEXAS FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2004), page 253.]

The migratory behavior of the Dark-eyed Junco, as its earlier nickname “Snow Bird” suggests, is appreciated by those who observe it during winter.   The ornithologist couple Donald and Lillian Stokes say: “Every fall we await the arrival of the ‘snow birds’ from the north where they breed. The name comes from the junco’s plumage, which has been described as ‘leaden skies above, snow below.’ This name more aptly describes the slate-colored form of junco. Ornithologists used to think there were four separate species of juncos, white-winged, slate-colored, Oregon, and gray-headed. Now they are all considered one species [that’s genetics for you!], the dark-eyed junco. We tend to think of them as ‘snow birds’ because we see them most when the snow is here. Juncos are a favorite at winter bird-feeding stations [such as my former home in southern Denton County, Texas – noted above] throughout the United States and lower Canada. Much of the study of juncos has been of their winter flock behavior. There is still a lot to be learned about their courtship and breeding behavior [which occurs farther north]. Juncos tend to winter at the same spot each year and stay in fixed flocks with a stable dominance hierarchy. …. At night juncos often roost in the same place. It is fun to follow the flock from your feeder to see where they will roost. Usually it will be in some dense conifer where they will be protected from cold and predators.” [Quoting Donald Stokes & Lillian Stokes, A GUIDE TO BIRD BEHAVIOR, VOLUME III (Little, Brown & Company, 1989), pages 327-328.]

Darkeyed-Junco.Arkive-photo

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), perching, as if posing for the camera!

God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be at least a couple of the “E“ birds – such as eiders, eagles, eagle-owls, egrets, emus, euphonias, elaenias, eremomelas, elepaios, earthcreepers, and/or emerald hummingbirds! Meanwhile, please stay tuned to Leesbird.com !  ><>  JJSJ

Fair Use Credit For Photos Used in Article (Click Links For Credits)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) shorebirds, in winter snow! — New Jersey Audubon

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) adult —  ©Wikipedia

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), f/k/a “Snow Bird” —  ©National Audubon Society

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis) ©Kim Smith

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), perching, as if posing for the camera! — ©Vicki J. Anderson / arkive.org
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If Dogs Could Fly: More than Wings are Needed for Flying High!

If Dogs Could Fly:  More than Wings are Needed for Flying High!

 ~ by James J. S. Johnson

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.   (Genesis 1:20)

God made wings for animals – like birds, insects, and bats – to fly.  (In the case of penguins, they fly underwater!)  But it takes more that wings to fly high: ask a Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), who migrates over the Himalayas!

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

But what about dogs – and humans?

If dogs were meant to fly—apart from aircraft—they would have bodies designed for heavier-than-air flying.  Also, for dogs to fly at altitudes so high that oxygen is a problem, they need bodies designed for breathing at thin-air elevations.  These facts are illustrated by an amazing German shepherd, Antis, who flew combat missions, during 1940-1945, at altitudes up to 16,000 feet.(1)

But who was Antis, and how did he survive flying in oxygen-starved altitudes?

Antis was an Alsatian German shepherd, rescued as a starved-almost-to-death newborn puppy, by a Czechoslovakian pilot named Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch. Robert flew during World War II, first for France, and later for England—as part of the Royal Air Force’s 311 (Czechoslovack) Squadron.  (In fact, how Robert smuggled Antis from France through Gibraltar into England is itself an amazing adventure.)

British Air Ministry regulations prohibited dogs flying on combat missions, of course, but Antis hated to be “grounded” if that meant being separated from Robert.  During June 1941 Antis took matters into his own paws, quietly disappearing when Robert readied for a bombing mission over Bremen, a German port city (known for its strategic military activities).  Antis quietly hid inside the Vickers Wellington bomber where Robert served as turret gunner.

Wellington bombers flew at altitudes as high as 16,000 feet, so air crews wore oxygen masks, to compensate for the oxygen-thin air at that high altitude.  But no one had equipped Antis for such oxygen-thin conditions!  Robert concerned himself with the crew’s mission, bombing Bremen’s oil refinery, till his attention was distracted by someone nudging his elbow:  Antis!

Antis must have somehow crept aboard the aircraft and stowed away, being careful to remain hidden until [Robert’s airplane] was almost over her target.  Recovering from the shock, Robert tried to take in all that he was seeing. His dog’s flanks were heaving, his lungs desperate for breath, which was very likely why he’d alerted Robert to his presence.  They were climbing to 16,000 feet and Antis was having increasing trouble breathing in the thin, oxygen-starved atmosphere. (1)

How could Robert save Antis?

WWII pilot Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch --- and his faithful dog, Antis

WWII pilot Václav “Robert” Bozdĕch — and his faithful dog, Antis

Antis needed to inhale concentrated oxygen, immediately, but so did Robert, at least until the plane descended to a lower elevation.

Taking a massive gasp himself, Robert unstrapped the oxygen mask from his face, bent, and pressed it firmly over his dog’s muzzle.  He watched anxiously as the dog took a few deep breaths of life-giving oxygen, before eventually his breathing seemed to settle down to something normal.(1)

Meanwhile Robert busied himself with his duties as turret gunner, wearing the spare radio headset, since his oxygen mask strappings contained his usual headset.

The mask contained [Robert’s] main radio pickup, and he could only imagine that he and his dog were going to have to share oxygen for the remainder of the flight.  A few moments later he heard a squelch of static in his earpiece, signifying that someone was coming up on the air [intercom].  “Robert, have you gone to sleep down there?” Capka, their pilot, queried. “No. Why?” Robert replied. “Sounds like you’re snoring your head off. What’s going on if you’re not snoozing?”(1)

It was Antis’ canine breathing that was being broadcast through the airplane’s intercom, due to the microphone attached to the oxygen mask.  Meanwhile, the flight became more hazardous.

They began their bombing run at 15,000 feet, an altitude where the dog needed the oxygen.  Robert had no option but to continue operating without it, for he couldn’t keep switching the mask with his dog.  He needed his hands free to operate the guns.  At first he seemed to cope just fine, but then his heart started to race and beads of sweat were breaking out on his forehead.(1)

Antiaircraft fire exploded nearby, bombs dropped from Robert’s plane, and Messerschmitt fighters tried to shoot the British Wellington fighter-bomber out of the night sky.   But, eventually (at the successful close of the mission, thanks to God’s providence), Robert and his air crew mates – and Antis — successfully returned to their home base.  Of course, Antis’ stowaway antics were by then no secret.  Wing Commander Josef Ocelka, 311 Squadron’s commanding officer, liked Antis—but sharing an oxygen mask during future bombing raids was unacceptable. The solution? A doggie oxygen mask, specially tailored for Antis.

[Antis’ oxygen mask] consisted of a standard pilot’s mask, cut and modified to suit a German shepherd’s long and slender snout, as opposed to the flatter, boxier face of a human. The mask attached to his head with a special set of straps that ran around the back of his thick and powerful neck, with extra fastenings latching on to his collar.  Antis didn’t particularly like the thing, but he proved happy enough to wear it so long as Robert was wearing his.(1)

Antis continued to have many death-defying adventures, during the war, as Robert’s loyal dog.  But, thanks to his canine oxygen mask, at high elevations Antis no longer needed to share an oxygen mask with Robert.

Obviously, Antis was not born with the capacity to survive oxygen-starved altitudes without the help of an oxygen mask—and it requires purposeful design and clever engineering to equip dogs like Antis for such high-altitude conditions.

And so we can (and should) marvel at the creative genius and technical problem-solving that achieved a solution to Antis’ need for high-altitude oxygen.  But what about animals—like many high-flying birds—that have no such oxygen mask? How can they survive elevations like 15,000 (or higher) without an oxygen mask?

Bar-headed Goose Flying

Bar-headed Goose

What kind of birds, soaring or migrating, fly at such oxygen-scarce altitudes?

High fliers include Bar-headed Geese, which cross the Himalayas at heights up to 29,500 feet [9,000 m] as they travel between the mountain lakes of central Asia and their winter homes along the Indus [River] valley, India.  A flock of 30 Whooper Swans en route from Iceland to western Europe was logged by a pilot at 27,000 feet [8,230 m].  Mallards have reached 21,000 feet [6,400 m], Bar-tailed Godwits 19,865 feet [6,000 m] and White Storks 15,750 feet [4,800 m] on migration.(2)

Some birds, amazingly, can even soar at 36,000 feet (~11,000 meters)!

How can we know that?

A combination of empirical science (i.e., direct observation) and forensic science (physical remains that show causality events).

Rupell's Griffon ©Telegraph

Rupell’s Griffon ©Telegraph

Specifically, a griffon-vulture, called the Rüpell’s Griffon, collided with an airplane, at that altitude, over Côte d’Ivoire, Africa.

On November 1973, an aircraft collided with a bird at a good 11000 m [meters] above the Ivory Coast in Africa.  The bird wrecked one of the aircraft’s engines, though the plane managed to land without further mishap.  Feather remains in the wrecked engine showed that the bird was a Rüppel’s Vulture.(3)

And other high-flying migrants are known to fly the friendly skies as well:

The impact of even a single goose on a jet airliner can be disastrous … [so] observers south of Canada’s Winnipeg airport monitor the northward progress of Lesser Snow Geese and warn air-traffic controllers of their approach.  If necessary, the airport can be closed down for hours, or occasionally days, during the peak of [their] migration.(4)

Bird Species Height They Fly
But what difference does it make, to us, when the atmosphere is oxygen-scarce?  How are air-breathing humans and animals affected when the oxygen is “thin”?

The highest-lying permanent settlements, in the Andes and in Tibet, are situated at just above 5000 m. [16,400 feet].  Not even people belonging to these mountain communities would be able to survive more than a few hours in the oxygen-deficient air above 8000 m. [26,200 feet].  The oxygen content of the air is about 21%, independent of altitude, in the troposphere; the oxygen pressure consequently decreases in parallel with the decreasing air pressure at increasing altitude. At 6000 m [20,000 feet] the oxygen pressure is only half what it is at sea-surface level; at 8000 m [26,200 feet] it is a third of that[,] and at 10,000 m [32,800 feet] only a quarter. The ability of birds to stay alive at high altitudes is explained by the [comprehensive] fact that they have a more efficient respiratory system than mammals.(5)

But how are birds able to breathe in such oxygen-starved conditions?

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) by Lee LPZ

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) by Lee LPZ

What they have—thanks to their Creator—is much more efficient that Antis’ custom-made oxygen mask!

A bird’s lungs function according to the through-flow principle: the inspired [inhaled] air collects in the bird’s posterior air-sacs and flows through the lungs to the anterior air-sacs before it passes back out. In the lungs the blood is oxygenated by fine air capillaries, where air and blood flow in opposite directions. Owing to this counterflow, the oxygenated blood that leaves the bird lung acquires a higher oxygen concentration than that corresponding to the oxygen pressure in the expired [exhaled] air.(5)

Also, bird hearts are proportionately larger to their bodies than those of mammals—from 0.8 to 1.5% of its total body mass, compared to mammals (averaging around 0.6%), enabling speedy blood transport and intensive oxygen renewal.(5)

So, is the “flow-through principle” basically all that there is, to why birds can breathe at higher altitudes,   —   or is it even more complicated than that?

In fact, the technical aspects of how oxygen is acquired and consumed, by high-flying birds, is more marvelous than is easy to describe, as this succinct-yet-technical summary indicates:

Birds that fly at high altitudes must support vigorous exercise in oxygen-thin environments.  …  [There is an interactive combination of bioengineering] characteristics that help high fliers [to] sustain the high rates of metabolism needed for flight at [such] elevation.  Many traits in the O2 transport pathway distinguish birds in general from other vertebrates.  These include enhanced gas-exchange efficiency in the lungs, maintenance of O2 delivery and oxygenation in the brain during hypoxia, augmented O2 diffusion capacity in peripheral tissues and a high aerobic capacity.  …  The distinctive features of high fliers include an enhanced hypoxic ventilator response, an effective breathing pattern, larger lungs [proportionately speaking], hæmoglobin with a higher O2 affinity, further augmentation of O2 diffusion capacity in the periphery and multiple alterations in the metabolic properties of cardiac and skeletal muscle.  These unique specializations improve the uptake, circulation and efficient utilization of O2 during high-altitude hypoxia.  High-altitude birds also have larger wings than their lowland relatives[,] to reduce the metabolic costs of staying aloft in low-density air.  High fliers are therefore unique in many ways ….(6)

If all of that sounds complicated it is because it is – very complicated.  But in order for birds to successfully fly at high elevations it was necessary for God to design and install bioengineering features that would succeed in such thin air.  And, because God did not provide such physiologies for dogs – such as Alsatian German Shepherds (like Antis) – it was needful for Antis to have his own oxygen mask, for those times when Antis flew in oxygen-scarce altitudes.

So, three cheers for the East Wretham fitters, who custom-fit a canine oxygen mask, for Antis’ high-altitude breathing!  Also, proper credit is surely due to Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) Ltd., the manufacturer of the Wellington bomber that Robert and Antis flew in.

Yet how much moreso should we cheer and extol our Creator-God, for how He designed and constructed high-flying birds,(7) with respiratory physiologies that need no manmade airplanes or oxygen masks!    Yes, “the heavens declare the glory of God”(8)  —  and so do the birds he made to fly in those skies, even the skies that are so high that others, flying there, need oxygen masks!

References

  1. Damien Lewis, The Dog Who Could Fly (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015), pages 178-180, 187.
  2. Jonathan Elphick, ed., Atlas on Bird Migration: Tracing the Great Journeys of the World’s Birds (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2011), page 23.
  3. Thomas Alerstam, Bird Migration (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993), page 276.
  4. Elphick, Atlas of Bird Migration, page 123.
  5. Alerstam, Bird Migration, page 277.
  6. Graham R. Scott, “Elevated Performance: The Unique Physiology of Birds that Fly at High Altitudes”, Journal of Experimental Biology, 214(15):2455-2463 (August 2011); Douglas L. Altshuler & Robert Dudley, “The Physiology and Biomechanics of Avian Flight at High Altitude”, Integrative and Comparative Biology, 46(1):62-71 (2006).
  7. Job 39:26.
  8. 8. Psalm 19:1.
Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) ©Bruce Moffat Photography

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) ©Fair Use credit: Bruce Moffat Photography

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus)

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James J. S. Johnson

Orni-Theology

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Trinidad Tanagers Contradict Competition “Law” Proposed by Darwinists

Speckled Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Speckled Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Trinidad Tanagers Contradict Cutthroat Competition “Law” Proposed by Darwinists

CAN TWO WALK TOGETHER, EXCEPT THEY BE AGREED?  (AMOS 3:3)

“Survival of the fittest” has been a dominating tenet of Darwinian evolution for more than 150 years now. But a trio of colorful birds, living on islands off Venezuela’s coast, provides debunking evidence that, as Dr. Steve Austin would say, Darwin was wrong, when he alleged that do-or-die competition was the fundamental force that shapes nature. So how do these birds dispute Darwin? By eating!

PAS-Thra Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) by Michael Woodruff 2

Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) by Michael Woodruff

Three varieties of Trinidad tanagers share bugs on the same trees as they silently undermine the “natural selection” myth’s survivalism principle. Without wasteful confrontations over limited food resources, found on the same trees that each of these birds forage upon: (1) speckled tanagers pick off bugs from tree leaves, (2) bay-headed tanagers prefer to eat bugs from under large branches, and (3) turquoise tanagers snap up bugs from twigs.1

Admitting that adversarial competition was lacking, these evolutionist scientists reported the following:  “In the 1960s, two ecologists made careful [empirical] studies on the island of Trinidad of the niches of eight coexisting species of tanager–brightly colored songbirds of the New World tropics. Of the eight species, three, the speckled (Tangara guttata), the bay-headed (T. gyrola), and the turquoise tanager (T. mexicana), were extremely closely related.  They all belonged to the same genus, lived in the same trees and bushes, and fed on insects and fruit. This suggests little in the way of division of resources, for all three species seemed to be using the same ones.  More detailed field observations, though, showed up the niche differences, as is clearly demonstrated by considering one aspect of the pattern of resource division.  In hunting for small insect prey in vegetation, the speckled tanager almost exclusively searches the leaves themselves.  It clings to them upside down, picking off insects, or it walks along small twigs, picking off insects from the leaves above it.  The other two species only rarely feed like this.  Instead, both obtain most of their insect prey form the undersides of branches.  The bay-headed species does this mainly on quite substantial branches, hopping along and leaning over each side alternately to reach under it for insects.  The turquoise tanager, in contrast, almost always takes insects from fine twigs, usually those less than half an inch in diameter.  It also has a predilection for the insects found on dead twigs, which are usually untouched by the other two species.  These detailed observations show that insect food resources and specific feeding areas on the island of Trinidad are neatly split even between very closely related birds.” [Quoting from Whitfield, Moore, & Cox, THE ATLAS OF THE LIVING WORLD  — see endnote #1 below.]

In other words, illustrating what ecologists call noncompetitive niche positioning, this tanager trio avoids antagonistic competition.1 To appreciate how this peaceful prey sharing upsets the presumptions of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, and their modern ilk, it’s helpful to review why Darwin’s ideas were welcomed so fervently by academics who scoffed at Genesis.

Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Turquoise Tanager (Tangara mexicana) ©WikiC

Generations before Darwin’s “natural selection” theory first became popular, deists (people who essentially believed in a God yet rejected the Bible) like Charles Lyell and James Hutton, effectively laid the groundwork for the acceptance of evolution’s survivalism themes.  (Neither deists nor Darwinists anchor their research on Scripture, yet they also oppose each other.)

Both deists and Darwinists have misreported living conditions on Earth, yet they do so in opposite ways. Deists err on the “see no evil” extreme, underestimating the terrible fallenness of creation.2 Darwinists, however, overemphasize “conquer or be conquered” survivalism—even nominating death as nature’s hero and means of “progress”, instead of recognizing death as the terrible “last enemy” to be destroyed.3 Both extremes misrepresent nature as they actively oppose and/or passively ignore the facts of Scripture.   Unsurprisingly, the true portrayal of nature’s condition is found in holy Scripture, starting in Genesis, a Mosaic book that Christ Himself endorsed as authoritative (John 5:44-47).

The deists’ approach produces worthwhile observations of natural beauty, orderliness, and efficiency but then fails to account for how Earth “groans” after Eden.2  What about birds that peck other birds to death, while fighting over food and territory?  That’s not beautiful!  In the first half of the 1800s, deism failed to explain such ugly forms of competition, so many academics sought a humanistic theory that explained Earth’s uglier features—disease, deprivation, dying—without resorting to God’s revealed answers in Genesis.

Enter Charles Darwin’s magic mechanism of “natural selection”!—an animistic theory invented to substitute for God role as Creator.  This now-popular form of quasi-polytheistic animism often uses the alias “survival of the fittest.”

Darwin and his followers imagined the global ecosystem as a closed “fight-to-the-death” arena, swarming with vicious creatures scrapping for limited resources.  In a one-sum game (“red in tooth and claw,”4 adopting a phrase from Tennyson to fit Darwin’s theory), gain by one competitor meant loss to another.  This selfish competition was quickly heralded as “nature’s law”, so explaining wildlife interactions soon required interpretations based on that brutal assumption.2

But real-world data routinely refuse to fit the evolutionary paradigm. Yet like today, the  embarrassing and uncooperative facts were routinely dismissed and ignored during the 1800s and 1900s.5

Embarrassing Darwin’s theory, even moreso than a lack of wasteful competition, is the prevalent reality of mutual aid, also called mutualistic symbiosis, where different life forms help each other, such as algae and fungus coexisting as lichen or bees pollinating the flowers from which they harvest nectar. Like noncompetitive eco-niche positioning,1 mutual aid doesn’t harmonize with Darwin’s antagonistic competition “song,” so mutual reciprocity (and self-sacrificing altruism) displays are also censured from or marginalized by academics who are gatekeepers of science education curricula.6

Consequently, field studies are often skewed by researchers who quickly jump to conclusions that endorse antagonistic survivalism—as if “natural law” always requires adversarial competition.

Even today, modern Darwinians (both atheistic and theistic), lauding mystical “natural selection”, trumpet creation’s fallenness as Earth’s foremost feature — all the while discarding or disparaging or detouring the historical documentation that God has provided in Genesis regarding what triggered Earth’s undeniable fallenness.

Meanwhile, creatures like tree-snacking Trinidad tanagers make a mockery of Darwinian dogma, as they peaceably share food.

References

  1. Philip Whitfield, Peter D. Moore, & Barry Cox, The Atlas of the Living World (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989), pages 100-101 (quotation taken from page 100; picture portraying non-competitive eco-niche positioning on page 101).
  2. Deists believe in an intelligent Creator God, so they expect Him to make a “perfect” creation. However, because they dismiss the Bible, they imaginatively philosophize about what they think a perfect God would do with His creation—as they self-confidently assume that they know how a perfect God would think and act. Accordingly, deists are quick to recognize God’s caring handiwork in nature; they see orderliness, logic, beauty, and many good things — but they totally miss God’s wisdom as it is displayed in allowing Adam’s choice to trigger the earth’s present “groaning”, which is a temporary condition that (due to redemption in Christ) will be succeeded by a better-than-the-originally-perfect situation (that then needed no redemptive restoration by Christ). See James J. S. Johnson, Misreading Earth’s Groanings: Why Evolutionists and Intelligent Design Proponents Fail Ecology 101. Acts & Facts. 39 (8): 8-9 (August 2010).
  3. 1 Corinthians 15:26.
  4. Darwinists hijacked this phrase from Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H., Canto 56 (1849).
  5. James J. S. Johnson, Jeff Tomkins, & Brian Thomas. 2009. Dinosaur DNA Research: Is the Tale Wagging the Evidence? Acts & Facts, 38 (10): 4-6 (October 2009); James J. S. Johnson, Cherry Picking the Data Is the Pits, Acts & Facts, 44 (7): 19 (July 2015).
  6. Gary Parker, 1978. Nature’s Challenge to Evolutionary Theory, Acts & Facts, 7 (10), July 1978; James J. S. Johnson, “Providential Planting: The Pinyon Jay”, Creation Ex Nihilo. 19 (3): 24-25 (1997); Steve Austin, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe. Santee, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1994), pages 156-159.

Dr. James J. S. Johnson formerly taught ornithology/ avian conservation, as well as courses in  ecology, limnology, and bioscience, for Dallas Christian College, and continues to be a “serious birder”.  A condensed version of this creation science article appears as James J. S. Johnson, Tree-Snacking Tanagers Undermine Darwin, Acts & Facts, 45 (6):21 (June 2016).

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“D” is for Ducks, Dabblers and Divers: “D” Birds, Part 1

“D” is for Ducks, Dabblers and Divers:  “D” Birds”,  Part  1

James J. S. Johnson

Mallard-mam-with-ducklings

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) Mother & ucklings ©Fair Use Credit – Backyardduck

 “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1st CORINTHIANS 11:1)

“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” (PHILIPPIANS 3:12)

D” is for as Doves, Dippers, and Ducks (some being dabblers, some being divers)  —  plus other birds with names that begin with the letter D.

Regarding doves, see, e.g., Lee’s Birdwatching “Bible Birds:  Doves and Pigeons” and “Bible Birds: Doves and Pigeons” plus “Columbidae: Pigeons, Doves”, etc.; regarding dippers, see, e.g., my “European Dipper, Norway’s National Bird”.

RuddyDuck.male-and-female

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis): male (R) & female (L) ©Fair Use Credit – Northrup

This present study will focus on ducksOf the birds we call “ducks” there are two major categories, “divers” (which use their broad feet to propel themselves underwater) and “dabblers” (which typically tip forward to submerge their heads into the water), and these categories are due to those respective ducks’ eating habits (as will be explained below).  Of course, to confuse matters a bit, ducks that dive for their food sometimes dabble too!

NorthernShoveler.male-and-female

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): male (R) & female (L) ©Fair Use Credit

But first, because this blogpost-article calmly continues an alphabet-based series on birds, it will look at Psalm 119:25-32, before providing an introduction to 4 types of birds that start with the letter “D”, In particular, those four “D” birds are various DUCKS, both “divers”, the Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis),  —  and “dabblers”, the American Wigeon (Anas americana) and the Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata). Also, some mention will be given to “stiff-tailed divers” (e.g., Ruddy Duck) and “sea ducks” that dive (e.g., eiders, mergansers, oldsquaw, etc.).

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THE ALPHABET HELPS TO TEACH US ABOUT GOD’S TRUTH

As noted in three earlier articles on “alphabet birds”, i.e., on “A birds”, on “B birds” and “C birds” – using the alphabet, to organize a sequence of information, has Biblical precedent. The perfect example is the “acrostic” pattern of Psalm 119, the longest psalm (having 176 verses!), which psalm has 22 sections (comprised of 8 verses per section), representing the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. (Compare that to English, which has 26 alphabet letters, and to Norwegian, which has 29 alphabet letters.)

The sentences in each section start with the same Hebrew letter, so Verses 1-8 start with ALEPH, Verses 9-16 start with BETH, Verse 17-24 start with GIMEL, and so forth.  In this serial study’s lesson, the fourth octet of verses in Psalm 119 (i.e., Psalm 119:25-32), each sentence starts with DALETH, the Hebrew consonant equivalent to the English “D”.

DALETH.Hebrew-letter-pictograph-door

DALETH.Hebrew-letter-pictograph-door  Fair Use image credit:

The noun based upon this letter is DELETH, which is routinely translated as a “door” (or “gate”) in the Old Testament (see YOUNG’S ANALYTICAL CONCORDANCE, Index-Lexicon to the Old Testament, page 14, column 1.)   Doors are very important.  In fact, JESUS Himself is the “door” to eternal life (compare John 10:7-9 with John 14:6 & Matthew 7:13-14).  Some of the earliest “doors” of the ancient Hebrews were tent-flaps, hanging animal skins that covered an opening in a tent.  This type of “door” appears to be illustrated by the hanging tent-flap (or “gate”) in the Mosaic Law’s blueprint for the Tabernacle (see Exodus 27:16).  To enter into the Tabernacle the hanging tent-flap “door” needed to be pulled back.  (The action of pulling also appears in what may be etymologically related Hebrew words: “bucket” [deli/dali in Isaiah 40:15 & Numbers 24:7] and “draw” [dalah in Exodus 2:16 & Exodus 2:19].)

But it is the usage of the doorway that is of amazing importance to the Christian, because doors provide ingress (entering) and egress (exiting).

Although space here prohibits a detailed analysis, it seems that the Scripture’s usage of DALETH emphasizes more the process of exiting through a doorway, i.e., moving from where one is already, out into something farther, toward a destination.

So, because DALETH is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, each verse (in Psalm 119:25-32) literally starts with that letter as the first letter in the first word (although the first Hebrew word may be differently placed in the English translation’s sentence):

25 Cleaves [dâbqâh] my soul unto the dust; quicken Thou me according to Thy Word.

26 My ways [derek] have I documented, and Thou heard me; teach me Thy statutes.

27 The way [derek] of Thy precepts make me to understand, so shall I talk of Thy wondrous works.

28 Melts [dâlpâh] my soul, for heaviness; strengthen Thou me according unto Thy Word.

29 The way [derek] of falsity remove from me, and grant me Thy law graciously.

30 The way [derek] of truth have I chosen; Thy judgments have I laid before me.

31 I have stuck [dâbaqtî] unto Thy testimonies: O Lord, put me not to shame.

32 The way [derek] of Thy commandments will I run, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart.

Psalm119.25-cartoon-pic

Fair Use image Credit: http://markmcmillion.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/quicken-me-flat.jpg

As noted before, Psalm 119 is all about God’s revelation of truth – especially truth about Himself – to mankind (in a comprehensive “A to Z” panorama).  The most important revelation of truth that God has given to us, and the most authoritative form of truth we have, is the Holy Bible – the Scriptures.  Accordingly, Psalm 119 is dominated by references to the Scriptures, using terms like “the law of the LORD” (and “Thy Word”, “Thy commandments”, “Thy testimonies”, “Thy statutes”, “Thy judgments”, etc.).  In Psalm 119:9-16 these terms are used, to denote God’s revealed truth to mankind: “Thy Word” (3x), “Thy commandments”, “Thy statutes”, ”Thy precepts”, Thy “judgments”, and “Thy testimonies”.

DALETH.flashcard.letters

Fair Use image credit: http://fce-study.netdna-ssl.com/images/upload-flashcards/back/7/3/58537864_m.jpg

Notice how the Hebrew noun derek appears frequently in this section of Psalm 119 – because when you take a “door” of providential opportunity, to walk life’s journey according to God’s directions, you travel a pathway that leads to your God-designed destiny. Accordingly, the Hebrew letter DALETH refers to a “door” (or doorway, such as a tent-flap), which leads to a destination, after a “journey” (derek – see Genesis 24:21, Joshua 9:11, 1st Kings 19:4 & 19:7, etc.), such as where one is supposed to arrive after traveling a “highway” (derek – see Deuteronomy 2:27).

Accordingly, Psalm 119:25-32 illustrates how God’s Word serves as a “doorway” of opportunity (which requires us to leave our self-anchored selves and our humanistic self-confidences), to facilitate our passage into the spiritual journey that God has providentially predestined for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In Verse 25 (of Psalm 119), King David recognizes that his soul’s natural inclination, as a sinner, is to live an earthly life that tends and trends toward “dust” – a sad reminder that we are tragically dead in Adam (Genesis 3:19; Romans 5:12-21). Yet happily, by God’s gracious providence in Christ, God’s Word can reverse the death-sentence and provided David (and us) with life, because the Scripture is the written Word of God that tells us of the living Word of God, JESUS, through Whom we can have life (John 10:10 & 14:6).  In other words, we use God’s written Word to leave our sinful selves, to obtain redemption in Christ, and thereby we leave our mortality for life eternal (1st Corinthians chapter 15).

In Verse 26, the psalmist reports his own “ways” to God, i.e., David was truthful in measuring his own life – this honesty pleases God, Who defines and gives truth (John 14:6 & John 17:17), and it is being truthful with God that keeps open the “door” of access to His forgiveness and cleansing (1st John 1:9).

In Verse 27, the psalmist meditates on God’s Word. This reverent Bible study is the “way” to understanding God’s precepts – it is the “way” to find real knowledge and understanding.  As we soak in the holy Scriptures (which is our true “daily bread” – Matthew 4:4), we leave the finiteness and fallibility of our own minds and memories, to access God’s mind, God’s meanings, God’s morals.

In Verse 28, the psalmist acknowledges that his own soul is weak, losing strength in sorrows. However, thankfully, that sad situation is overcome by the strengthening that God’s Word provides to the reverent and trusting worshipper of God.  This means leaving our own self-sufficiency to appropriate God’s ever-sufficient grace (2nd Corinthians 12:9) – and that is only accomplishes as we apply God’s Word to our own human weakness.

In Verse 29, the psalmist recognizes that he cannot access God’s kindness if he allows the way of falsity to distract him form God’s law.  In other words, the books of Moses – which will one day judge us (see John 5:44-47) – are our foundation for understanding life (and death, and God, and ourselves, etc., etc.), so we must avoid all false distractions that would pull us away (sidetrack, derail, etc.) from that truth.

In Verse 30, the psalmist recognizes that choosing the faithful path is a choice; having made that choice life becomes many opportunities, moment by moment, to apply that choice to the decisions of life. This is the Bible-based spiritual journey – and it is this kind of “walking by faith” that pleases God (see Romans chapter 4 & Hebrews chapter 11).

Verse 31 contrast with Psalm 119:25, where the verb “cleave” was used in a negative way. In Verse 31 David is “cleaving” to God’s testimonies (which hare found in God’s Word); the result is that David will not be ashamed of how his life-journey ends, so long as he is “cleaving” to God’s testimonies along the way (Romans 8:28).

Verse 32, likewise, portrays the psalmist’s movement toward God’s Word. David is now running to God’s commandments, away from the curse of sin-and-death he alludes to in Verse 25 – because David knows that God’s Word enlarges David’s heart – and thus his (redeemed) life.

In sum, Scripture-based living is the way to leave your selfish “self” behind, as you take your godly (i.e., redeemed-in-Christ – Philippians 1:21) “self” closer to God (and toward what He wants for your life)!

Thus we see the theme, woven throughout the octet of DALETH verses (Psalm 119:25-32), that we are designed to rely upon the truth and values of the holy Scriptures, as we journey through life, as if God’s Word was our “door” of opportunity (as it informs us of the living “Door”, the Lord Jesus Christ –  compare John 10:7-9 & John 14:6), to leave our selfish selves – and through which we journey toward God, Who Himself is our ultimate home and destination (Psalm 90:1 and 2nd Corinthians 5:1-6.) – see “Why We Want to Go Home” [posted at http://www.icr.org/article/why-we-want-go-home/ ].

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Now back to the ducks. First, let’s consider some “dabbling” ducks, starting with one whose unusually broad shovel-shaped bill gives it its name.

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): male ©WikiC

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): male ©WikiC

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Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): female ©WikiC

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): female ©WikiC

The Northern Shoveler is a dabbler, ranging much of the Northern Hemisphere.  Its habits are described by ornithologist Steve Madge:  “Sociable duck of shallow freshwater lakes [including “prairie potholes”] and marshes.  Usually found in pairs or small parties, but large concentrations form at migratory stop-over waters [such as Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in north-central Texas]. Indirectly mixes with other dabbling ducks [such as Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, and American Wigeon], but generally keeps apart in discrete gatherings. … Nests on ground among waterside vegetation, often several nests in close proximity.  Feeds by dabbling and sifting in shallow water, swinging bill from side to side over surface, often immersing head and neck and sometimes up-ending; feeds chiefly while swimming, but also while wading.  Loafing birds gather on banks and shores close to feeding waters.  Swims buoyantly, with rear end high and fore parts low, the heavy bill often touching surface of water.  Walks awkwardly.  Flight fast and agile, rising suddenly from surface with whirring wings.  Most populations highly migratory, arriving on breeding grounds from mid March onwards and departing again in August.”  [Quoting Steve Madge & Hilary Burn, WATERFOWL:  AN IDENTIFICATION GUIDE TO THE DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS OF THE WORLD (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 236.]

NorthernShoveler-male-closeup

Northern Shoveler (male closeup) ©WikiC

The male shoveler has an iridescent green head (like a Mallard), rusty sides (like a Ruddy Duck), a white breast, and a shovel-like (or spoon-like) bill. These ducks feed mostly “by filtering tiny aquatic insects and plants from the water’s surface with its bill.”  [Quoting Stan Tekiela, BIRDS OF TEXAS FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2004), page 332-333.

Mallard.male-and-female-shore

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos): male (R) & female (L)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mallard#/media/File:Anas_platyrhynchos_male_female_quadrat.jpg

The Mallard (alias “Greenhead”) is another dabbling duck, the most common duck in the world!  (Oops!  — once, at a Tampa church, I erred and said it was the most common “bird” in the world – but I meant to say it was the most common “duck” in the world.)  The Mallard has been reported repeatedly — on www.leesbird.com — so it will not receive detailed treatment here.  (See, e.g., ornithologist Lee Dusing’s “The Mallard Duck: Birds, Volume 2, #1” [at https://leesbird.com/2012/07/16/birds-vol-2-1-the-mallard-duck/ ], as well as  my “Pondside Birdwatching in Florida, from Chaplain Bob’s Backyard, Part 1” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/02/18/pond-side-birdwatching-in-florida-i/ ].  See also, e.g., the report on mallards within my “Birdwatching in Iceland” [at https://leesbird.com/2014/12/08/birdwatching-in-iceland-part-i/ ] and also within my “Bird Brains: Amazing Evidence of God’s Genius” [at https://leesbird.com/2013/03/07/48484/ ].)

AmericanWigeon.male

American Wigeon (Anas Americana): male

Fair Use photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_wigeon#/media/File:Anas_americana_-_drake.jpg

AmericanWigeon.female 

American Wigeon (Anas Americana): female

Fair Use photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_wigeon#/media/File:Anas-americana-004.jpg

The American Wigeon (also spelled “widgeon”, alias “Baldpate”) is another dabbling duck.  This wigeon resembles its Eurasian cousin (Eurasian Wigeon) except the American Wigeon has a curved green side-stripe on its head – unlike the rut-colored head of the Eurasian variety.  (Both have a white “racing stripe” from the bill’s top past the pate.)

American Wigeons are plentiful in America’s Great West; they are also growing numerically East of the Mississippi River. Winter grain fields and saltmarsh habitats serve as homes for this migratory duck. When wigeon flocks fly they do so noisily, bunched together, with obvious agility.  For repeated years this writer observed wigeon flocks sharing a Denton County (Texas) pond with mallards and lesser scaups, during the winter.  Generally speaking, he mallards grouped together, the wigeons grouped together, and the scaups grouped together.

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Now let’s consider some “diving” ducks, sometimes called scaups or pochards.  Despite having the overall outward morphology of dabbling ducks, these diving ducks have some anatomical traits (e.g., trachea structure) differing from those of the dabbling ducks, as well as some noticeable distinctions in their genetics (e.g., mitochondrial BNA cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 sequence).

LesserScaup.male

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis):  male (L)

Fair Use photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_scaup#/media/File:Lesser_scaup_-_Aythya_affinis.jpg

LesserScaup.female

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis):  female

Fair Use photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_scaup#/media/File:Aythya_affinis.JPG

The Lesser Scaup (a/k/a “Little Bluebill”) is a diving duck.  This scaup is differentiated from the Greater Scaup in a previous report, “Pondside Birdwatching in Florida, from Chaplain Bob’s Backyard, Part 2” [at https://leesbird.com/2015/03/02/pond-side-birdwatching-in-florida-2-2/ ], q.v. – noting its gregarious nature, range, and other habits.

The typical habitat preferred by Lesser Scaup ducks is described by Steve Madge: “Breeds by freshwater ponds and lakes in open country, especially prairie marshes [i.e., prairie potholes].  In winter on lowland lakes, coastal lagoons, and estuaries and sheltered coastal bays, but chiefly in latter haunts after cold weather has frozen freshwater lakes.”  [Quoting Steve Madge & Hilary Burn, WATERFOWL:  AN IDENTIFICATION GUIDE TO THE DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS OF THE WORLD (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 258.]

RingneckedDuck.male

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris):  male

http://www.audubon.org/sites/default/files/styles/hero_cover_bird_page/public/Ringnecked_Duck_%20mark%20eden_FL_2011_KK_GBBC.jpg?itok=Qf8g5Vvu (Fair Use photo credit)

RingneckedDuck.female

Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris):  female

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_duck#/media/File:Ring-necked_Duck1.jpg (Fair Use photo credit)

The Ring-necked Duck is a diving duck, usually migratory in its range.  (However, as the range map below shows, there are some areas in America’s West where the Ring-necked Duck resides year-round.).

RingneckedDuck.range-map

Ring-necked Duck range

map credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-necked_duck#/media/File:Aythya_collaris_range_map.png

[Orange = breeding range;   yellow = year-round range;   mustard = wintering range]

The male’s cinnamon-hued collar “ring” is often not visible, due to lighting and angle of observation – but it’s there, somewhere! One good place for viewing Ring-necked Ducks (as well as Ruddy Ducks) is Lake Morton (in Polk, Florida), the place where I first saw that particular duck in the wild — see Lee Dusing’s “Fantastic Weekend” [at https://leesbird.com/2014/11/10/fantastic-week-end/ ].

Ironically, the white stripe-like band on its dark bill is usually observable, on both the male and female, so this duck is sometimes called the “Ring-billed Duck”. [See Stan Tekiela, BIRDS OF TEXAS FIELD GUIDE (Adventure Publications, 2004), page 64-65 & 202-203.  For photographs of the Ring-necked Duck, both male and female, taken by Lee Dusing at Lake Morton, see her report titled “Birdwatching at Lake Morton 11/22/13” [at https://leesbird.com/2013/11/22/birdwatching-at-lake-morton-112213/ ].

Ornithologist Steve Madge describes the Ring-necked Duck’s phenology-keyed habitat preferences: “Breeds in freshwater lakes and ponds in open lowland country, often by quite small pools in marshes. In winter, in larger freshwater lakes and locally on tidal bays and coastal brackish lagoons.” [Quoting Steve Madge & Hilary Burn, WATERFOWL: AN IDENTIFICATION GUIDE TO THE DUCKS, GEESE AND SWANS OF THE WORLD (Houghton Mifflin, 1988), page 250.]

RUddyDuck.both-FederalDuckStamp-pic

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis): male (L) & female (R)

Fair Use image credit (Jennifer Miller, Federal Duck Stamp competition winner for AD2014-AD2015): http://media.jsonline.com/images/39528847_Ruddy%20ducks%20by%20Jennifer%20Miller%202015-‘16%20Federal%20Duck%20Stamp%20winner%20.jpg

The Ruddy Duck exemplifies a type of duck called a “stiff-tailed diver”.  Like other “stiff-tailed” ducks, the Ruddy Duck has lengthy and stiff tail feathers, which stick up prominently when the duck is resting (somewhat like the upturned tail that wrens sport).  These ducks prefer to dive in freshwater, such as freshwater ponds or lakes.

Like other diving ducks their legs are located near the back of their bodies (with large paddle-like feet), equipping them for propelled paddling under water, as they dive for food. Underwater propulsion depends upon such legs and feet, but this anatomy is not inefficient for walking on land, so Ruddy Ducks tend to minimize their time doing “shore duty”.

RuddyDuck.female

Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) female, displaying “stiff tail”

Fair Use photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruddy_duck#/media/File:Ruddy_Duck_(Oxyura_jamaicensis)_RWD3.jpg

The range of the Ruddy Duck is almost all of the “lower 48” of the United States, wherever they can find available marshy ponds or lakes, especially places having fairly dense vegetation along the shoreline – optimal for their preferred diet: aquatic plant seeds and roots, as well as aquatic insects and crustaceans.

Sea ducks” – such as mergansers, oldsquaw (a/k/a “long-tailed duck”), bufflehead, goldeneyes, and eiders – will be examined (hopefully, D.v.) in later articles of this series – because this article, albeit “ducky”, is already long enough.

Oldsquaw.male-afloat

Oldsquaw (Clangula hyemalis)  male

Fair use photo credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-tailed_duck#/media/File:Long-tailed-duck.jpg

God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be some more “D“ birds – perhaps a couple of these: Dippers, Doves, Dunlin, Dickcissel, Dusky Flycatcher, Downy Woodpecker, or the “snowbird” known nowadays as the Dark-eyed Junco!  (Meanwhile, use God’s Word as you out into life, daily, with its opportunities to follow Christ!)

Ducks.Belarus-postage-stamps-sheet

[Public Domain images:  Belarus postage stamps]

So stay tuned!   ><> JJSJ

Be Thankful for Pollinators!

Be Thankful for Pollinators!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Purple-throated Hummingbird (Carib) ©WikiC

Purple-throated Hummingbird (Carib) ©WikiC

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26)

Imagine the mathematics of a nectarivorous hummingbirds’ metabolism, as it busily accumulates food energy form flower nectar, as it visits one flower after another. The flowers are benefiting the high-energy hummingbird – yet the hummingbird itself, by pollinating one flower from another, is also benefiting the flowers, helping them to successfully reproduce. There is a balance in all of this.

“The rate at which such a flower supplies its nectar has to be carefully controlled [i.e., fine-tuned by God]. If the plant is miserly and produces very little [nectar], a bird [such as a hummingbird] will not find it worthwhile calling.  If it is too generous, then the bird might be so satisfied after its visit that it will not hurry to seek more nectar elsewhere and so fail to deliver the pollen swiftly.  Many [flowering] plants have arrived [i.e., have been made by God to arrive] at such a perfect compromise [i.e., mutualistic equilibrium] between these two extremes that the hummingbirds pollinating them are compelled to keep continuously active, rushing from one flower to another, getting just enough each time to fuel their high-energy flying equipment with just sufficient calories left over to make the trip [metabolically] profitable.  At night, when they cannot see to fly and the flowers have closed, the birds have no alternative but to shut down all their systems [“torpor”], lower their body temperature and, in effect, hibernate until dawn.”  [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press1995), page 119.]

Firey-throated and Volcano Hummingbird ©Raymond Barlow

Firey-throated and Volcano Hummingbird ©Raymond Barlow

In a recent article of the CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL, wildlife biologist Kathy Reshetiloff stresses the importance of animals that pollinate plants:  “Pollinators are nearly as important as sunlight, soil and water to the reproductive success of more than 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants.  They are crucial to the production of most fruits, nuts and berries that people and wildlife depend on.  More than 150 food crops in the United States depend on pollinators, including blueberries, apples, oranges, squash, tomatoes and almonds.  Worldwide, there are more than 100,000 different animal species that pollinate plants.  Insects [like bees] are the most common pollinators, but as many as 1,500 species of vertebrates [like bats] also help pollinate plants.”(1)

And truly, the role of pollinators is critically valuable for flowering plants to successfully produce the next generation.

Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) at flower ©WikiC

Allen’s Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) at flower ©WikiC

Yet not all pollinators serve the same flowering plants, so pollination is another one of the countless examples of God’s variety. “Different types and colors of flowers attract specific pollinators.  Hummingbirds are attracted to scarlet, orange, red or white tubular-shaped flowers with no distinct odors.  Bats are attracted to dull white, green or purple flowers that emit strong, musty odors at night.  Bees are attracted to bright white, yellow or blue flowers[,] and flowers with contrasting ultraviolet patterns that have fresh, mild or pleasant odors.  Flies are attracted to green, white or cream flowers with little odor[,] or dark brown or purple flowers that have putrid odors.  Butterflies are attracted to bright red and purple flowers with a faint but fresh odor. …  Beetles are attracted to white or green flowers with odors ranging from none to strongly fruity or foul.” [Quoting biologist Kathy Reshetiloff.(1)]  In other words, the “courier service” of pollination may be provided by bugs, bats, birds, or other beasts.(1),(2)

But what is “pollination” and how does it facilitate reproduction of flowering plants? “Pollination occurs when pollen grains [male gamete-bearing particles] from a flower’s male parts (anther) are moved to the female part (stigma) of the same species.  Once on the stigma the pollen grain grows [i.e., extends] a tube that runs down the style of the [plant’s] ovary, where fertilization [i.e., joining of male and female gametes] occurs, producing [fertilized] seeds.  Most plants depend on pollinators to move the pollen from one flower to the next, while others [i.e., other types of plants] rely on wind or water to move pollen.” [Quoting biologist Kathy Reshetiloff.(1),(3)]

Bee - On a Flower ©WikiC

Bee – On a Flower ©WikiC

All of this is wonderful information, but the obvious question remains – how does that fascinating process – that occurs daily around the world – fit the journal article’s title, “If You Like Plants, Bee Grateful for Pollinators This Month”?  The information surely proves that we should appreciate the genius of the pollination process, as well as the variety of details that accompany it in its multitudinous applications, — but word “thankful” presumes that someone is due our gratitude, i.e., that we should express our appreciation for pollination to that someone who deserves to be thanked for arranging pollination to work, worldwide, as it does.

Yet Kathy Reshetiloff’s CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL article never mentions who should receive our thanksgiving, for the many magnificent and beneficial services that these pollinators provide.  But are we really expected to “thank” the pollinators themselves – the hummingbirds, bats, bees, and beetles?  (Doing that would be like ancient polytheism, although the pagan animism mythology of today’s anti-creationists usually goes by the Darwinist mantra “natural selection”.)

Obviously, we should be thankful for pollinators – especially if we like to eat on a regular basis!  But the One Who is rightly due our gratitude should be rightly identified.  Accordingly, there is “something wrong” with the “picture” portrayed in the above-quoted CHESAPEAKE BAY JOURNAL article, because something most important is missing – in fact, it is the Someone Who is not mentioned, but Who should be: God, the author and sustainer of all pollination arrangements.

It is God Who feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26) —  sometimes using the pollination process to do so,  —  and it is that same God Who feeds us, both physically and spiritually (Acts 14:17; Matthew 4:4).

><> JJSJ

References

  1. Kathy Reshetiloff, “If You Like Plants, Bee Grateful for Pollinators This Month”, Chesapeake Bay Journal, 26(4):40 (June 2016).
  2. “Most insects have a highly developed sense of smell, so they can be attracted by perfume. Many also have excellent vision. Their eyes, however, are very different from ours, being made up of a mosaic of several hundred tiny elements. Each of these receives a narrow beam of light and registers no more of it than its intensity, but all together they produce a complete if somewhat granular picture. And there is a further difference – in the perception of colour. At the red end of the spectrum, the insect eye is not as sensitive as ours. Most insects are unable to distinguish between red and black as we can. At the other end [of the spectrum], the blue end, they are very much more sensitive than we are and can detect ultra-violet colours that are totally invisible to us.” [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press, 1995), page 98.] Besides bugs, other pollinators include mammals, especially bats, — yet pollination is performed even by pygmy possums, lemurs, rock mice, and shrews [Attenborough, pages 121-124], and birds, such as hummingbirds, sunbirds, and honey-eaters [Attenborough, pages 114-121], and even reptiles, such as gecko lizards [Attenborough, pages 112-113].
  3. “Wind is a very efficient transporter. It can take the tiny dray grains as high as 19,000 feet and carry them for three thousand miles or so away from their [plant] parents.” [Quoting David Attenborough, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF PLANTS (Princeton University Press, 1995), page 98.]

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Orni-theology

James J. S. Johnson

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“C” is for Coot and Corvids: “C” Birds”, Part 2

“C”  is  for  Coot  and  Corvids:   “C”  Birds”,  Part  2

By James J. S. Johnson

Coots on Ice ©FWS

Coots on Ice ©FWS

 For Thou hast delivered my soul from death; wilt not Thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?  Psalm 56:13

As the following study of the American Coot shows (which begins our review of birds having names that begin with “C”), God has employed creatively clever bioengineering into the form and function of American Coot feet.  How much moreso, as creatures made in His image, should we appreciate His design-and-construction engineering genius, as it is displayed in our own feet and toes!

rican Coot (Fulica americana) © SDbirds-Terry Sohl

rican Coot (Fulica americana) © SDbirds-Terry Sohl

American Coot (Fulica americana)

As noted in the preceding “Part 1” of this series [see ], “C” is for as Cardinal, Chicken [regarding which fowl, see Flag That Bird – Part 1 ], Coot, Cormorant, Chicken, Coot, Chickadee, Caracara, Crane, Cuckoo, Curlew, and Corvid (including Crow and Chough) — plus many other birds with names that begin with the letter C!

In this “Part 2” review of “C” birds, however, the red-eyed American Coot (a/k/a marsh hen, mud hen, water hen, and poule d’eau, i.e., “water chicken”), as well as the crow-like birds that we collectively label as Corvids, will be featured.

Because the American Coot is a wetland “rail” (i.e., classified with the mostly-wetland-or-forest-associated birds, such as gallinules and crakes, that are “ground-living” – as opposed to dwelling in trees), it is often seen and appreciated by birdwatchers (like Chaplain Bob Webel, of St. Petersburg, and his wife, Marcia) who live at the vegetated edge of a freshwater lake or pond, or by brackish estuarial marshland or swampland.

AMERICAN COOT (12 in. [or larger, with their plumage being mostly black or dark grey, depending upon lighting, and with white under-coverts and secondary wing feather-tips]) nests in marsh vegetation, but often winters in open water.  It is the only ducklike bird with a chalky white bill [and that bill is triangular in shape, somewhat like that of a chicken’s beak].  When disturbed it either dives or skits over the water [like flapping, fluttering hovercraft!] with feet and wings.  The closely related Common Moorhen (or Florida Gallinule, 10½ in. [what ornithologist Lee Dusing has nicknamed the “candy-corn bird”]) has a red bill and forehead and a white stripe under the wing.  Both pump the neck when swimming.”

[Quoting Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, A Guide to Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1987 rev. ed.), page 34.]   As the youtube video-clip (below) shows, American Coots can skim and scoot across the surface of a lake or pond, flapping just over the water surface, when they want to move quickly.

Unlike ducks, however, the coot has no webbed feet.

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes ©i.ytimg

American Coot, showing off its cushion-padded toes

Rather, coots have long toes that sport broad lobes of skin, designed for kicking through the water, almost like synchronized mini-paddles.  These conspicuously broad foot-lobes fold backward, when a coot walks on dry land, so the foot-lobes don’t interfere with the ground surface contact – yet the foot-lobes can be used to partially support the weight of the coot (by spreading body weight over a larger surface area, like snow-shoes) when the “mud hen” travels across mucky mud (or even on thin ice!).

American Coot on Ice ©Graham Catley

American Coot on Ice ©Graham Catley

American Coot on ice!

In other words, God designed coot feet to fit the wet habitats that they fill.

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes ©Johnrakestraw

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes ©Johnrakestraw

American Coot standing, showing broad-lobed toes

Coots are gregarious, “socializing” with themselves and with other waterfowl.  IN particular, coots are share space, as they “fill” a wetland or aquatic habitat.  Families of coots — or even larger groups of coots — often mixed with other waterfowl (like ducks) may compose a “raft” of hundreds or even thousands!  [See, accord, American Coot entry at CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, “All About Birds”, with Herbert K. Job, BIRDS OF AMERICA (Doubleday, 1936), pages 214-215, both cited within Steve Bryant, “American Coot”, in OUTDOOR ALABAMA.

American Coot flock “rafting” (©Jack Dermid)

American Coot flock “rafting” ©ARKive-Jack Dermid

American Coot  flock “rafting”

For a video clip featuring American Coots in action (in Florida), sometimes interacting quite boisterously, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5dPaWH785w .  (Notice:  this youtube footage also includes brief footage of a few other birds, so don’t be surprised when the first bird shown is a Florida Gallinule!)

American Coot  in water

It is interesting to note that the American Coot has a migratory range that covers almost all of North America, from Panama (in the south) through the more temperate zones of Canada (in the north).  As is often the case, a helpful range map has been prepared by Terry Sohl, Research Physical Scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, frequently publishing on topics of land usage, ecology, cartography, climatology, and geography, including biogeography.  As Terry Sohl’s range map shows, this wetland bird is a permanent resident of America’s West and Southwest (west of the Mississippi River), a breeding resident of America’s northern prairie states, a nonbreeding resident of America’s Southeast and East Coast states, and a migrant in some parts of Appalachian Mountain range zones.  [NOTE: the above-referenced Terry Sohl range map is not shown here, because Mr. Sohl, as a self-described “hardcore atheist”, does not want his maps associated with a Christian blogsite.]

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant ©Oiseaux-Tom Grey

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant ©Oiseaux-Tom Grey

American Coot, with young, eating aquatic plant.

So what do American Coots like to eat?

Mostly duckweeds and other wetland emergent plants (especially seeds and roots), lacustrine algae, small mollusks (like snails), little fish, tadpoles, and wee crustaceans, as well as a mix of aquatic bugs.  [See, accord, Herbert S. Zim & Ira N. Gabrielson, Birds, A Guide to Familiar American Birds (New York, NY: Golden Press, 1987 rev. ed.), pages 134-135.]

American Coot ©iytimg

American Coot ©iytimg

But American Coots are not the only common bird dominated by black plumage. Consider the common crow, or the raven  —  both of which belong to another group of “C birds”:  CORVIDS, an amazingly intelligent group of crow-like songbirds, including the likes of crows, ravens, jackdaws, rooks, choughs, jays, treepies, magpies, and nutcrackers.

For  a few examples, consider that Lars Jonsson’s BIRDS OF EUROPE (Princeton University Press, 1993), pages 487-495, includes the following corvids of Europe:  Siberian Jay, Eurasian Jay, Spotted Nutcracker, Eurasian Magpie, Azure-winged Magpie, Alpine Chough, Red-billed Chough, Jackdaw, Common Raven, Brown-necked Raven, Fan-tailed Raven Carrion Crow, Hooded Crow, and Rook.

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) pair perching on wooden fence ©BBCI Mike Wilkes

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) ©BBCI Mike Wilkes

Rook (Corvus frugilegus) pair, perching on wooden fence

In North America we can expect to find corvids quite terrific, ranging from the Atlantic to the Pacific:  American crow, Northwestern Crow, Common Raven (including the subspecies “Western Raven”), Green Jay, Blue Jay, Steller’s jay, various scrub jays, Grey Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Yellow-billed Magpie, Yucatan Jay, Pinyon Jay, Clark’s Nutcracker, and more!

For general information on corvids, see ornithologist Lee Dusing’s insightful birdwatching articles: “Corvidae — Crows, Jay”, listing more corvids that you or I will ever witness in this lifetime!  —  as well as Lee’s Birds of the Bible – Raven I, Lee’s Birds of the Bible – Raven II, and Lee’s  Birds of the Bible – Raven III.

Corvid Chart - Differences Between Types of Corvids ©Autodidactintheattic

Corvid Chart – Differences Between Types of Corvids ©Autodidactintheattic

For some world history-linked appreciation of corvids (such as ravens, jackdaws, and magpies), see also 5 of my earlier articles:

A Diet of Jackdaws and Ravens” [posted at https://leesbird.com/2015/09/16/a-diet-of-jackdaws-and-ravens/ ]; and

Northern Raven and Peregrine Falcon: Two Birds Supporting the Manx Coat of Arms; and

Steller’s Jay:  A Lesson in Choosing What is Valuable; and

Flag That Bird Part 5, featuring the Australian Magpie; and

Providential Planting:  The Pinyon Jay”, CREATION EX NIHILO, 19(3):24-25, summer AD1997.

Of course, many books could be  —  and, in fact, have been  —  written about  corvid birds.  But this article is already long enough.

Alpine Chough, in snowy French Alps ©Static1-Philip Braude

Alpine Chough  ©Static1-Philip Braude

Alpine Chough, in snowy French Alps

So, God willing, the next contribution to this alphabetic series will be some “D“ birds – such as Dippers, Doves, and Ducks (including Dabblers and Divers).  So stay tuned!    ><> JJSJ

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Lee’s Addition:

American Coot showing feet by Lee LPkr

American Coot showing feet by Lee Lake Parker

Like Dr. Jim’s article above, I have also been fascinated by the feet of the American Coot. See Birdwatching Term – Lobed Feet and  Birdwatching – American Coot where I have a video of one walking down to the shore. He almost steps on his own feet.

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