Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
(Photo by Paul O. Roisen)
“Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea?” Job 38:16
My grandfather was a farmer in eastern Nebraska in the early twentieth century. One of the stories my mother told me about those days was Grandpa’s fascination with the “seagulls” that miraculously appeared in the spring to feast upon the worms and grubs turned up behind his plow. He wondered where they came from and what they were doing so far from water. Grandpa never traveled far from home, and I am sure he marveled that these birds of the sea came back to his fields year after year. Grandpa’s gulls were almost certainly Franklin’s Gulls, birds that undertake a remarkable journey from their winter homes on the western coast of South America to their breeding grounds in marshes of the northern Great Plains. They survive during the long migration by stopping at places like my grandfather’s farm. Franklin’s Gulls in their spring breeding plumage are strikingly handsome, with black heads, gray backs, and white undersides tinged with pink.
Today’s Bible verse is part of a lengthy passage in which God questioned Job. “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). Job was grilled about the mysteries of creation; he was chastised for his arrogance and pride. In the middle of the questioning Job responded, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4). God continued to exhort Job until the broken man finally reached the point of repentance: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6). I think my grandfather would have agreed with Job that there are “things too wonderful for me to know.” There are some things we just have to accept on faith. For our arrogance and pride we can only humble ourselves like Job, and “repent in dust and ashes.”
Father, I marvel at your creation. I repent of my pride and arrogance and thank you for your forgiveness. Amen.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
"Hey, there everybody! Bill wanted me to announce that he has put some new stuff over on the left side of this blog. Down toward the bottom is a list of the most popular blog posts. It displays the ten posts from this blog that have had the most views in the past week. There is also a poll for you to indicate your favorite bird. So, just go over there now and click next to Ring-billed Gull. Wait a minute... Ring-billed Gull is not listed! Well, you'll just have to put us down as a write-in candidate. Grumble, grumble... He asks me to be the spokes-bird for the day and then he ignores my whole species when it comes to favorite bird voting. What a raw deal!"
Friday, February 25, 2011
Canada Geese at 11 degrees below zero
This morning I drove through Griffin Park in Pierre when the temperature was 11 degrees below zero. A large group of Canada Geese was huddled in the snow, most of them with their bills tucked into their feathers. It's hard for us to imagine how these creatures can survive such cold conditions. Goose down must provide excellent insulation.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I saw this Ferruginous Hawk this evening just a few hundred feet from a major interstate highway junction. Ferruginous Hawks are the largest members of the Buteo family of hawks. They are named for their rusty coloration.
Monday, February 21, 2011
We are now recovering from the worst storm of the winter. Conditions were so bad Sunday morning that we couldn't make it the seven blocks to church. This morning when I finally turned off the snowblower, I could hear a bird sound that I didn't recognize at first. Then I realized it was a Horned Lark. I had never seen any Horned Larks here in town, though there are large numbers of them out in the country. After a few seconds I saw the lark fly right over my head and disappear over the roof of the house. Horned Lark is sometimes erroneously listed as the former State Bird of South Dakota. However, it was the Western Meadowlark that held that honor until 1943 when it was replaced by the Ring-necked Pheasant. My new yard bird is number 69 if you're keeping track.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii
“They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!'” Numbers 11:13
I rounded a bend in the trail, and a Cooper’s hawk was perched there on a branch of a dead tree, not twenty feet away. We both seemed to jump a bit when our eyes met, but the hawk held its ground. I stood there motionless for a minute or two, just staring at the beautiful bird, realizing that it would take flight if I walked any closer. I finally moved a bit, causing the hawk to spread its wings and fly swiftly off into the woods, its long striped tail trailing behind
Cooper’s hawks, like all raptors, are strictly carnivorous. They are members of the accipiter family of hawks, a group of hawks perfectly suited for hunting birds in forested areas. They have short, broad wings and long tails that help them to maneuver expertly through the trees as they chase birds. In order to hunt, a predator needs weapons. Cooper’s hawks are equipped with two formidable weapons that they use to capture, kill and eat their prey. Their talons are needle sharp, and perfect for the job of grasping and holding birds. Their hooked beaks are well designed for tearing meat. One other feature of accipiters that is useful for hunting is a pair of forward facing eyes. This enables them to keep both eyes on the prey while chasing it down.
In today’s verse, the Israelites were demanding meat: “Give us meat to eat!” They craved it; they longed for it in the same way a Cooper’s hawk longs for meat. As Moses was talking to God about the people’s demands to be given meat, God told Moses that they would have meat and that, “You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month— until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it— because you have rejected the Lord” (Numbers 11:19-20). They were given so much meat that, just as God had said, they grew to hate it. We must be careful not to grumble, and not to crave material comforts too much. In the end those things may not be as desirable as we once thought.
Father, help me guard against lusting after material things. Help me to be grateful for your blessings. Amen.
Friday, February 18, 2011
South Dakota State Capitol and a full moon
As I was driving into Pierre last night, I noticed a beautiful full moon just above the horizon. Wondering if I could get a photo of the moon next to the State Capitol dome, I drove out onto the La Framboise Island Causeway. I was able to stop in just about the right spot. The only thing missing is a flock of geese flying across the face of the moon. Maybe I'll go back tonight and see if I can add the geese.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Golden Eagle soaring over the Dakota prairie
Every evening on my way home from work I pass an area that a Golden Eagle has staked out as its winter hunting territory. I have seen this eagle perched on fence posts, road signs and hay bales. However, I could never approach closely enough for a good photo. Tonight I saw the majestic bird soaring, and caught it in a pretty typical flight pose. Now that the days are getting a little longer, I may have more opportunities to try to photograph this eagle. I will let you know how those plans turn out.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
South Dakota's State Bird: Female Ring-necked Pheasant
Male birds usually get all the attention. If you see a picture of an Eastern Bluebird, it is always the bright-colored male. If you see a painting of a Northern Cardinal, it's always the bright-red male. It is the same with South Dakota's State Bird, the Ring-necked Pheasant. The rooster pheasant is one of the iconic symbols of our state. We see photos, drawings and statues of the male Ring-necked Pheasant everywhere. But take a look at this beautiful female I photographed in the snow last weekend. Isn't she beautiful, too? Let's hear it for the ladies!
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
The Northern Rough-winged Swallow gets its name from small serrations on the outer wing feathers. The bird in this photo is trying its best to show us its "rough wings," but the rough area is not usually visible unless you are holding a bird in your hand.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Common Grackle, Quiscalus quiscula
“I should not call any man common.” Acts 10:28 (KJV)
On a cold March day I saw some Common Grackles foraging for spilled seeds under the bird feeders, and once in a while one of them would attempt to land on a feeder and grab a few seeds. They were too large and too long-tailed to be very skilled at eating from the feeder, but they were entertaining. I was delighted to see them because they were the first grackles to visit since the previous fall. I knew that as more and more grackles returned to the area I would get very tired of seeing them, and would no longer find them fascinating. However, at that moment I really enjoyed watching their sleek, glossy black bodies with their metallic-blue heads. I guess the old sayings: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," and "Familiarity breeds contempt," are pretty accurate. I enjoyed seeing those Common Grackles that day even though I knew that my attitude toward them would change soon. And I knew that the next spring, when they were new and exciting again, I would be thrilled by them once more.
Today’s passage is a statement from the Apostle Peter. Peter had received a vision in which he was told that it was all right for him to interact with Gentiles, something that was strictly forbidden under the Jewish laws. God told Peter that he should not call anything common or impure “that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). Peter rightly interpreted that statement as a directive that it was not only permissible to have contact with Gentiles, but that “God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 12:18). Our human tendency is to consider people who are not part of our group—people who are different from ourselves—as not as worthy or important as we are. We consider them to be somehow unclean or “common.” We all need to receive the same vision as Peter and understand that God has sent his Son Jesus to the whole world, not just to our part of it.
Father, forgive me for ever considering other people to be less important to you than I am. Help me to see others as you see them and to love them as you love them. Amen.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Okay... this bird is named for the color of its wings... I get that. But I have some other questions. Why are these ducks and their close relatives, the Blue-winged Teal, called teals? And is the color teal named for the hue of the Green-winged Teal or the Blue-winged Teal? And exactly what color is teal, anyway? Here is a definition I found for the color teal. You figure it out:
teal, a moderate or dark bluish-green or greenish-blue.
So, I surmise from the above definition that the color teal comes from the names of both these ducks. I have always felt the color teal is more of a bluish color, but my wife thinks it is more greenish. How about you? Do you consider the color teal as leaning more toward the greenish end or the bluish end?
Friday, February 11, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
I found this Short-eared Owl this evening along a major four lane highway in central South Dakota. The owl was just a few feet from the paved portion of the roadway, but did not seem overly concerned about the traffic rushing by. Nor was it concerned when I stopped next to it to snap a few photographs. The obvious "short ears" you see in this picture, are not actually ears, but are merely tufts of feathers. These feather tufts may be useful to help camouflage the birds when they are resting amid the dry grasses out on the prairie.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Sharp-tailed Grouse is another one of those birds that gets its name from its tail. Their tails come to a point, so that looks sharp to me. Since I have never grabbed one by the tail, I don't know whether they actually feel sharp or not.
I saw this little "Keystroke Bird" in a friend's email signature line this morning. I thought it was good enough to share. In keeping with this week's theme of birds named for their tails, maybe we could call it a Quote-tailed Bird. This is a nice depiction of a standing bird. Can anyone come up with a flying bird made from keyboard characters?
Friday, February 4, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Why are we so loose in our use of the term red? Look at the color of this hawk's tail. If you saw a woman wearing a dress this color, you would never comment about her red dress. If you went into a paint store seeking paint for a little red wagon, you would never come out with paint this color. Why then do we say that Lucille Ball had red hair or that this is a Red-tailed Hawk? I guess it's because we don't have a really good alternative to red. We could call this a Chestnut-tailed Hawk, a Rusty-tailed Hawk. or a Rufous-tailed Hawk. But when it comes right down to it, all those names sound rather silly. Chestnut is good enough for the Chestnut-collared Longspur; rusty is appropriate for the Rusty Blackbird; and rufous will do for the Rufous Hummingbird. However, when it comes to hawks... Red-tailed just seems best.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
This week we will look at some birds with tails so distinctive they are part of the bird's name. Great-tailed Grackles are distinguished from their cousin, the Common Grackle, by their much longer tail. I suppose they could have been called, Long-tailed Grackle, but that just doesn't sound too great if you ask me.