Long-tailed Duck: Birdwatching in the Scottish Hebrides, Part 3

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare [yaggîdû = hiphîl imperfect 3rd person masculine plural of nâgad, “to appear”, “to be clear”] his praise in the islands.   

(Isaiah 42:12)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (long-tailed male, smaller female), iNaturalist photo credit

Recently, when reviewing a bird-book that presented seabirds of the Hebrides, I noticed a duck’s name that I was unfamiliar with, the “Long-tailed Duck” [see Peter Holden & Stuart Housden, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd edition (Bedfordshire, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing / Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39].  However, I recalled that I’d seen similar-looking ducks, in near-freezing wetland pond-water, from a train-car of the White Pass and Yukon Railway, traveling from Skagway (Alaska) into British Columbia, about 20 years ago, probably during early September, when these ducks visit migratory stopover sites. 

So, what does a Long-tailed Duck look like?  For starters, the male (a/k/a drake) has a conspicuously long tail—that makes sense.

Smaller than Mallard, but tail of male may add 13 cm [about 5 inches].  Small, neat sea duck with a small, round head, steep forehead, all-dark wings in flight and white belly.  In winter, male is mainly white with a dark brown “Y” mark on its back, brown breast-band and a large, dark cheek patch.  In summer, it has a streaked brown back, dark head and neck, and pale greyish-white face patch.  Adult male has greatly elongated central tail feathers.  Female in winter shows a white collar, white face with dark lower cheeks and dark crown.  … In summer, female has a darker face than in winter.  Females have short tails.  Juvenile is like female in summer, but with a less contrasting face pattern.  Flight feathers are moulted between July and September; during part of this time birds are flightless for a few weeks.  Has a unique moult, as some back feathers are moulted four times a year and some head and neck feathers three times a year.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female),  NaturalCrooks.com photo credit

Does that physical description sound familiar?  Do the photographs look familiar?

After some research I realized that certain cold-weather diving ducks, called “Oldsquaw” ducks in older guidebooks [e.g., James Kavanagh, The Nature of Alaska (Blaine, WA: Waterford Press, 1997), page 56], are now called “Long-tailed Duck” in newer guidebooks [e.g., Robert H. Armstrong, Guide to the Birds of Alaska, 6th edition (Portland, OR: Alaska Northwest Books, 2019), page 54]. But why?

Surely this is an odd duck.  In fact, its typical call is an odd quacking-warbling-hooting honk, sounding like a duck trying to yodel through a semi-muted horn.

The duck’s fancy scientific name, Clangula hyemalis, has not changed lately.

But political pressure intrudes into the mostly-apolitical ornithology neighborhood.  It seems that the earlier common name for this duck, “Oldsquaw”, is now deemed unacceptable, because it might offend someone who stumbles on the terms “old” and “squaw”, as imagining disrespectful stereotypes of elderly tribeswomen.  Although “P.C.” (i.e., political coërcion) pressures should not dictate taxonomy for ornithologists, there you have it—since the International Ornithologists’ Union has acted, so now all Oldsquaws are re-named “Long-tailed Ducks”!  What a world! 

Long-tailed Duck mother with young   (Wikipedia photo credit)

Ironically, to eschew the prior common name (“Oldsquaw”) implies that folks often disrespect old squaws, i.e., elderly womenfolk of the Native American tribes.  But why should someone be ashamed of being “old”?  It is a blessing to be given many years of earthly life (Leviticus 19:32; Proverbs 16:31 & 20:29b; Job 12:12).  Likewise, why should an Indian woman—or any woman—be ashamed of being a “squaw” (i.e., a woman)?  It is a blessing and a privilege to be whomever God creates someone to be.  After all, God did not need to create anyone who would live long enough to become an old “squaw”, or an old “brave”, for that matter.  It is God’s generous and providential grace that we are whomever we are—because God could have made us all Long-tailed Ducks, or Coots, or Gooney Birds, or Grackles! 

While God appreciates the “simple”, yet unique, snowflakes that are ignored by busy humans, God treasures our personal lives (created in His image) infinitely more, as though we were His precious jewels (Malachi 3:17). In fact, God providentially planned our lives to be exactly what they are, and if we belong to Him, God artistically “works together for good” the component details of our lives (Romans 8:28). Surely, we should thank our Lord Jesus Christ for being our very personal Creator. So, the next time you see a grackle, think thankfully for a moment, “That could have been me!” And be grateful to your Creator, Who made you a unique, one-of-a-kind creation.

[Quoting JJSJ, “Of Grackles and Gratitude”, ACTS & FACTS, 41(7):8-10 (July 2012), posted at www.icr.org/article/6900/ .]
Long-tailed Duck (male & female), Animalia.bio photo credit

Meanwhile, back to the Oldsquaw’s cold-weather life in and near northern ocean seawaters.  The Long-tailed Duck is a sea-duck, spending most of its winter days at sea (not very close to shoreland), diving for food, though using arctic tundra, taiga (i.e., boreal forest), and subarctic coastlands for breeding, and for latter-month molting and migratory stopovers.  It’s a diving duck, sometimes diving to depths of 200 feet, using their feet to propel themselves downward, staying underwater moreso (i.e., longer) than other diving ducks. And oxygen-rich coldwaters contain lots of nutritious food for the Long-tailed Duck.

Dives to search mainly for crustaceans and molluscs, especially Blue Mussels, cockles, clams and crabs.  Also eats sandpipers, small fish such as gobies and some plant material.

[Peter Holden & Stuart Housden,”Long-tailed Duck”, RSPB Handbook of Scottish Birds, 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury / Royal Society for Protection of Birds, 2016), page 39.]
Long-tailed Duck with fish (BirdGuides / Martyn Jones photo credit)

Wonderful birds are there to be seen, in the Outer Hebrides (“Western Isles”).  If you get the opportunity, go see them!  Meanwhile, appreciate that they are there, living their daily lives—filling their part of the earth—and glorifying their Creator. 

><> JJSJ     profjjsj@aol.com 

Happy Memories, Accented by Black Skimmers at Madeira Beach

BlackSkimmer-Florida-migrant.Wikipedia

BLACK SKIMMER in Florida   (photo credit: Don Faulkner / Wikipedia)

Remember His marvelous works that He hath done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.   (1st Chronicles 16:12)

Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg (Florida), is a nice place to see white beach-sand, gentle surf tidewaters, and some of the most splendid seagulls, such as gulls, terns, and skimmers.  On Labor Day (earlier this month), I was providentially privileged to visit there with my 2 good friends, Chaplain Bob and Marcia Webel, who have encouraged and strengthened my Christian faith for 40+ years.  (Bob is the best Bible teacher I have ever known.)   During our treks up and down the beach, amidst the happy noise of seagulls at sea and ashore, we saw on the beach a few Black Skimmers.  It had been quite a while — perhaps more than a year or two — since I had seen Black Skimmers, so it reminded me of earlier years, and “auld lang syne” (i.e., old long times ago) — times of friendship and fellowship, accented by birdwatching, a continuing reminder of God’s sovereignty and watch care (Luke 12:4-7).

BlackSkimmer-in-Texas.DanPancamo

BLACK SKIMMER near Freeport, Texas  (photo by Dan Pancamo / Flickr)

Black Skimmers have an easy-to-remember bill; the bottom half (i.e., lower mandible) sticks out farther than the top half (i.e., upper mandible), enabling the tern-like seabird to skim the water’s surface, using its unusually long wings, to catch little fish (like anchovies and silversides) and other prey located at sea, also feeding in tidal pools, in saltmarsh drainage channels, or at seashores.  Apparently more than 90% of a skimmer’s diet is fish.  The skimmer’s prominent red-blending-into-black bill is also used to occasionally catch small shellfish, such as crustaceans (like decapods or amphipods) and mollusks (like cephalopods or gastropods), as well as available insects (mostly coleoptera).  Parent skimmers feed their young by regurgitation.

BlackSkimmer-feeding-youngJimGray-Audubon

BLACK  SKIMMER  feeding  young  (photo by Jim Gray / Audubon)

These seabirds prefer oceanic and estuarial beaches, as well as salt bays, saltmarshes, lagoons, inlets, sandy islands, and other coastal wetlands.

America’s southeast coastlines (especially all of Florida’s coastline) provide year-round habitat for Black Skimmers, from southernmost Texas to midway up the North Carolina coast.  Also, many migrating Black Skimmers winter in the bottom part of Florida’s peninsula, afterwards returning to Mid-Atlantic state coasts (from North Carolina to Connecticut) for summer breeding.  [See, accord, Roger Tory Peterson, EASTERN BIRDS (Houghton Mifflin / Peterson Field Guides, 4th edition, 1980), pages 98-99 & Range Map 87.  See also “Black Skimmer” at http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/black-skimmer .]

BlackSkimmer-on-beach.AndreasTrepte

BLACK SKIMMER on beach   (photo credit:  Andreas Trepte)

Viewing Black Skimmers is fun enough, but it is more fun to view them with friends.

One of the most pleasant forms of outdoor recreation and fellowship, when visiting old or new friends (especially Christian friends), is to take a walk — whether hiking in a forest, or ambling up a mountainside, or trudging through new-fallen snow, or strolling in beach-sand, or splashing in coastal tidewaters — all the while noticing nearby birds who busily fly or swim or strut about, tweeting or chirping out their various songs.

So I recalled the nostalgic old song (usually sung on New Year’s Eve, AULD LANG SYNE, but I changed the lyrics to fit the memories, redubbing it “Auld Lang Birdwatching”.

(Sing to the tune of AULD LANG SYNE.)

Should old birdwatching be forgot

    And lifers go unseen?

The fowl so fair, in air we spot

    Or perching as they preen.

 While drinking coffee, birds we gaze

    On earth, at sea, in sky;

God made them all, us to amaze,

    Birds run and swim and fly!

God has given us many blessings in life, for which we must ever be grateful.  Godly friends are one of the greatest blessings that a man or woman can ever have.

(Having a godly spouse, as one’s best friend, is the ultimate example of such blessing, of course — and I am one of the few men who can honestly say that my wife is my best friend;  and, although I have many faults, I think that I am likewise my wife’s best friend.)

But, furthermore, there is one friend to be loved and treasured, above all human friends, the One of Whom we sing, in the song “WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS“.

Accordingly, as much as we esteem and treasure our earthly blessings  —  and we should  —  we must always exceed those appreciations with our love for and devotion to God Himself, because a loss of one’s “first love” (for God) constitutes a tragic (and treacherous) loss indeed.

Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent….  (Revelation 2:4-5a)

Spiritual decline soon follows whenever one’s devotion to God slips or erodes, unless a clean correction is quickly made.  (The exhortation in Revelation 2:4-5 is for each of us!)

May God help us to appreciate our blessings —  both friendships and fowl-watching opportunities — yet may He nudge us, daily, to remind us that our most precious blessing in life (and thereafter) is God Himself, for He is truly (as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15:28) our “all in all”, and it is a wonderful privilege to belong to Him (Psalm 100).

BlackSkimmer-with-young.MichaelStubblefield.jpg

BLACK  SKIMMER  with  young   (photo by Michael Stubblefield)

 


Bible Birds – Bird Claws and Eagle Hair

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by Aesthetic Photos

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) by Aesthetic Photos

Bible Birds – Bird Claws and Eagle Hair

That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4:33 NKJV emphasis mine)

What an interesting verse to read in the Bible. Most of you know what an Eagle looks like, because Eagles fly to many countries.

Adalbert's Eagle Aquila adalberti) ©WikiC

Adalbert’s Eagle Aquila adalberti) ©WikiC

Whose hair was going to grow so long that it would be as long as eagles’ feathers?

Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) Feet by Lee at National Aviary

Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) Feet by Lee at National Aviary

This is what a person looks like with long nails:

Long nails like a bird's claws

Long nails like a bird’s claws

Whose fingernails and toenails was going to grow so long that they would look like bird claws?

The person that verse is referring to is Nebuchadnezzar. He was the King of Babylon in 605 BC – 562 BC. The Lord God had placed him in power to rule over the whole world, but he had forgotten to give God the credit. He started saying things like:

  • “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling
  • by my mighty power
  • and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NKJV emphasis mine)

Do you know what that is called? Pride! The King was failing to give God the credit for making him the ruler, having majesty, and ability to build his royal place.

Do we have a false pride? Yes, we may do great things. You may make 100% on a test, earn a high award, or receive some other great recognition. Are you swelling up with pride? Have you thanked your parents, friends, or, if you know the Lord as Savior, the Lord for helping you achieve your success?

We should be thankful for the abilities that we have. Thank the Lord for helping you remember those answers to get the 100%. Thank Him for allowing you to earn that award. Thank the Lord for being recognized for something you did that was great.

Thank the Lord even if you didn’t get 100%, a trophy, award, or other prize. If you did your best, that is all He can expect you to do. If you didn’t do your best, then ask the Lord to help you do better the next time something comes up.

Nebuchadnezzar - depicting the king during his bout of insanity by William Blake ©WikiC

Nebuchadnezzar – showing the king during his bout of insanity by William Blake ©WikiC

Yes, after the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar out to the field with an animal’s heart, eating grass, growing long hair like eagle’s feathers, and his nails growing long like bird’s claws, He finally looked to the Lord God.

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Daniel 4:37 NKJV)

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