Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
California Gulls are slightly larger than Ring-billed Gulls, and their mantles (backs) are slightly darker. Those two features are sometimes enough to make a quick differentiation between the two. However, if you can get a good look at the bills, that's where you can make your final determination. California Gulls have a red gonys spot, and a black mark only on the lower mandible. Ring-billed Gulls lack the red spot, and have a black spot on both the upper and lower mandibles, giving them their namesake ringed-bill. There, wasn't that easy?
Monday, March 29, 2010
With the ice going out on lakes and rivers, there are large numbers of winter-killed fish littering the shorelines. Hundreds of gulls of many species have descended on the Pierre area to partake of this banquet. This Herring Gull was attempting to find the last shred of food on this large fish carcass. I am grateful for the gulls. They are part of creation's sanitation crew. How unpleasant our lives would be without them!
Sunday, March 28, 2010
“He who has an ear, let him hear.” Revelation 3:22
The golden feathers arranged fan-shaped on the sides of the head give the Eared Grebe its name. These ear tufts have nothing to do with hearing, and are present only during the breeding season-- April through September. In most other parts of the world this bird is known as the Black-necked Grebe. Whether we emphasize the golden ears or the daintily curved black neck, there is no question the Eared Grebe is one of the most strikingly beautiful birds on the water. They breed in lakes and marshes throughout much of western North America.
In the Book of Revelation, the phrase, “He who has an ear, let him hear,” appears eight times. When something is repeated that often, it would be wise to pay attention to it. In chapter three, we read, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are luke-warm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3: 15-16). Sadly, that passage accurately describes many people in the world today. We say things like, “I may not be perfect, but I’m not THAT bad.” Our moral standards seem to constantly change along with the changing times. We justify our actions because everyone else is doing those things as well. As we live our lives in such a way, some of us wonder why we are not happy and fulfilled. Later in chapter three, John records the words of Jesus, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” Revelation (3:19-20). If you sense the rebuke and discipline of Jesus, then repent—not just by feeling sorry for your sins, but by opening the door of your heart and turning around and living your life in a totally different way. Then, as Jesus promised, you will have a relationship of full communion with Him. “He who has an ear, let him hear.”
Father, I have ears, and I am listening to you now. I repent of my past actions, and open the door of my heart to you. Amen.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The meadowlark singing at the top of this web page is quite conspicuous perched in the open on a fence post. When that same bird hops down into the dry grass of early spring, it practically disappears. Those subtle brown and white stripes and splotches make perfect camouflage. I enjoy seeing birds out in the open where they are more visible, but watching them in a more natural setting demonstrates how they were lovingly touched by the hand of our wise Creator.
Friday, March 26, 2010
When people come to Pierre, they like to pose for pictures in front of the South Dakota State Capitol Building. Yesterday afternoon was nice and sunny, and this Ring-billed Gull decided to pose for a photo shoot. I wonder if the bird is just a normal tourist or if it plans to run for the legislature? It would be a nice photo for a campaign brochure.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I have seen a few Horned Grebes already this spring. The ones coming north so far have not yet molted into their full breeding plumage like the striking bird pictured here. In a few weeks we may get to see some of them with the glowing, golden "horns" this bird has. This species of grebe breeds north of here, so we see them in South Dakota only during migration.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Western Grebes are the elegant, statuesque members of the grebe family. They will be arriving in central South Dakota next month to breed in area lakes and marshes. Like all grebes, they dive and swim underwater to catch fish. That long bill looks like a perfect tool for catching fish, doesn't it?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
grebe, n. a freshwater diving and swimming bird with lobed toes, and feet set far back on the body.
Grebes are starting to come back to South Dakota after spending the winter far to our south. In past years I have always seen my first Pied-billed Grebe before the end of March, so I should see one any day now. Even though they are a drab gray in color, the bold eye ring and the unique bill make them look rather cute. Don't you think?
Monday, March 22, 2010
Ring-billed Gulls hang around the parking lots in the Pierre area for about ten months out of the year. They usually leave around Christmas time and return in early March. Good numbers have started showing up in the past few weeks. These gulls were created to eat fish, but around humans they have become scavengers and beggars. This one was begging for a handout last week at the LaFramboise boat ramp parking lot in Pierre.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.” Song of Solomon 2:11-12
There are no more appropriate images of springtime than flowers blooming and birds singing. We all look forward to spring with great anticipation after enduring a long, cold winter. Yet we never tire of spring. No matter how many springtimes we are privileged to witness, each one is welcomed with joy and gratitude. Springtime in much of the western half of North America means the beautiful song of the Western Meadowlark. In the western United States few pastures or meadows are without at least one meadowlark perched on a fence post and singing for joy. Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas have all made the Western Meadowlark their official state bird.
The song of the Western Meadowlark is a rich, gurgling melody. Although it is readily recognizable, there are enough variations to make each rendition of the song a work of art worthy of any great composer. The meadowlark is a handsome bird with rich shades of color reminiscent of a bright springtime meadow. While the bird’s back is of an overall brown coloration, the underside is a sunny yellow, and it sports a black V-shaped bib on its chest. A white line above each eye gives the top of its head a striped appearance.
In today’s verses we get a picture of the changing of the seasons, the passing of winter and the coming of spring. The appearance of flowers and the singing of birds indicate that the old season of winter has passed, and the new season of spring has arrived. The New Testament also speaks of change, but a change that takes place within a person: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Allow God to change you and make you a new creation. Then you will join the meadowlarks in giving praise to God, for “the winter is past…the season of singing has come.”
Lord, I thank you for bringing change to my life and making me a new creation. Amen.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Have you ever looked at the Western Meadowlark at the top of this web page-- mouth open in song-- and wished you could hear it sing? Well, here is your chance. Spring officially arrives here in Pierre, South Dakota at 12:32 this afternoon, however, the Western Meadowlark in this video jumped the gun by two days, and was heralding spring on Thursday afternoon. Springtime in South Dakota... go listen to the meadowlarks!
Friday, March 19, 2010
Red-bellied Woodpeckers can be differentiated by gender by checking the amount of red on the head. The female on the left in this picture shows a swath of red only on the back of her head. The top of her head is gray. The male Red-bellied Woodpecker has the red swath extending all the way to his bill. The male has red even on the top of his head. The general woodpecker rule: more red=male; less red=female.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Yesterday I spotted this pair of Downy Woodpeckers on a dinner date at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Farm Island near Pierre. Many Woodpecker species exhibit slight differences between males and females involving the color red. In Downy Woodpeckers, the males have a nice red spot on the back of the head. The females lack the red spot. Therefore, if you are paying attention, you can easily see that in this picture, the female is on the left and the male is on the right.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Happy St. Patrick's Day! This Monk Parakeet was wearin' his green last March in Akron, Iowa, causing quite a stir. In this picture his attire looks festive, but the cold temperature seemed to keep him from celebrating. Winter is almost over here in South Dakota, but the only green I will see today will be on the people, not on the trees. St. Patrick's Day comes at the right time. It makes us think green just when we have almost lost all hope of seeing anything green. So, Happy St. Patrick's Day means Happy Almost Spring!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Female House Finches and Pine Siskins are superficially similar in appearance. Their coloration and the pattern of their markings are very much the same. House Finches are larger in size, six inches versus five inches in length. However, size comparison is not extremely useful when viewing a single bird. The most distinctive difference between House Finches and Pine Siskins is the shape of the bill. In the photo above note the large, curved bill of the House Finch on the left. The Pine Siskin's narrow, pointed bill is very distinctive. So next time you are trying to identify that plain-looking finch at your feeder--examine the beak.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I saw my FOY (first-of-the-year) Mountain Bluebird this afternoon about 50 miles southeast of Fort Pierre in central South Dakota. I was just lamenting that I can't seem to find free time to make a trip out to the Black Hills where these birds are common. And then, lo and behold, a Mountain Bluebird just shows up along a road I travel nearly every day. What an unexpected gift!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
“Wings of…its feathers with yellow gold.” Psalm 68:13 (KJV)
Warblers are brightly colored jewels of the treetops, showing shades of green, red, blue, and yellow. In order to see these little beauties, you have to look up. One sunny May morning a few years ago, I looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of a male Golden-winged Warbler foraging among the branches, its golden crown and wings flashing brilliantly through the leaves. This species of warbler breeds in the Great Lakes region and winters in the tropics, but appears throughout the eastern U.S. during migration.
Today’s Bible verse is part of a Psalm of David that begins, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered… so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice” Psalm 68:1-3). It is a Psalm of rejoicing and triumph, yet in verse 13 is this enigmatic statement: “Though ye have [lain] among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” Bible scholars have struggled for centuries with the meaning of this verse, primarily due to uncertainty of the translation of the word pot. Words used in other versions of the Bible include campfires, sheepfolds, kilns, cooking stones, and caves. The general meaning conveyed by “lain among the pots” is one of darkness, misery, and a low, afflicted and sinful state. This condition of woe and despair is contrasted with the beautiful picture of a bird covered with silver and gold, symbols of prosperity, purity, and light. Other Bible passages also speak of leaving darkness behind and embracing the light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). "You may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). It is time for each of us to leave the darkness of the past and to embrace His marvelous light.
Father, I have tolerated the darkness far too long. Lead me fully into your light of life. Amen.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Monday, March 8, 2010
Sunday, March 7, 2010
“I will proclaim my name.” Exodus 33:19
I arrived at church quite early that Sunday, and was met in the hallway by Pastor Paul Spaulding. He excitedly told me that he had seen two unusual birds on the edge of the church parking lot at about 7:00 o’clock that morning. He described the birds as being chunky—like small grouse or chickens. A few minutes later, I had the chance to slip out the side door of the building to see if I could find them. Almost immediately, among the singing of robins and cardinals, I heard the unmistakable call of the Northern Bobwhite: “bob-WHITE!” I spent a few minutes searching the edges of the parking lot, but wearing my Sunday clothes, I was not dressed for the steep hillside and tangled growth where I knew the birds would be hiding.
The Northern Bobwhite is so proud of its name that it seemingly cannot help proclaiming it to the world. The males make their “bob-WHITE” calls only in the spring and early summer. Bobwhites are a type of quail, and are found in brushy fields and open woodlands. Except during the breeding season, they are typically seen in large groups called coveys. Northern Bobwhites are year-round residents in much of the eastern United States.
In today’s passage, God told Moses, “I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence” (Exodus 33:19). Later, God appeared before Moses again: “He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness” (Exodus 34:6-7). God proclaims His name as Love, Faithfulness and Forgiveness. Just as the “bob-WHITE” call indicates the presence of the bird with that name, we know God is present when we witness His love, faithfulness and forgiveness in our lives and in the lives of others.
Father, thank you for proclaiming your name as love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Help us to receive all the blessings of your name right now. Amen.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
The Willet is a rather dull, drab gray when you see one standing out on a mud flat or in shallow water. However, in flight it reveals a bold black and white pattern on its wings. Its call sounds like, "pill will willet." And that's how it gets its name.
The Killdeer is a common sight throughout most of North America. A member of the plover family, it cries, "kill DEER, kill DEER!" Killdeer is a very odd name for a bird, but after you hear one, you realize it could not be named anything else.
Friday, March 5, 2010
This large shorebird with a startlingly long, straight bill announces its presence with a loud, "gahd WIT." Two species of godwits can be seen in the central United States. The Hudsonian Godwit merely passes through on its migration from the southern tip of South America to Hudson Bay. The Marbled Godwit spends the summer in marshes and mudflats in the northern Great Plains.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
I once read in a bird book that the bird known as the flicker got its name because the multi-colored spots present a "flickering" effect in sunlight. The author of that article probably never heard a Northern Flicker in the wild. The bird gets its name from the call, a loud "flicka flicka flicka." Some authorities describe the sound somewhat differently as, "woika woika woika." Hmmm... maybe we could change the name to Woika-Woika Bird. What do you think?
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
This little bird's song is "dick dick ciss ciss ciss," which is repeated endlessly from the top branch of a small tree, a fence post, or a barbed wire fence. They are birds of grasslands and weedy fields. In the summer they are sometimes so numerous that when driving through such areas, I can hear their namesake song every time I stop. They migrate to Latin America for the winter, and are one of the last birds to return in the spring, usually in late May.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
There are seven chickadee species in North America. They all make calls that are a variation of the same theme. The Black-capped Chickadee says, "chikadee dee dee dee." The Mountain Chickadee says, "chika dzee dzee." The Boreal Chickadee says, "tsi ti jaaaay jaaay." I'm glad we call them all chickadees. It's easier to spell.
Monday, March 1, 2010
This week we will look at birds that were named for the sounds they make. In other words, these birds say their own name. Today's bird is the Bobolink. It sings a rich, complex, warbling song, which contains the phrase, "bobolink," I suppose. But Bobolink is so short, it hardly does this bird justice. Bobolinks make a very long migration from the northern U.S. all the way to Argentina. In another two months they will be returning from South America for the breeding season here in the Great Plains.