Thursday, March 31, 2011
Northern Pintails: male on top and female on bottom
Today I spotted this pair of Northern Pintails in a small puddle of water by the side of the road. Take a good look at the male's long, pointed tail feathers. Someone thought those feathers looked like long pins and named the ducks pintails. That seems like as good a name as any.
Male Red-winged Blackbirds, like the two pictured here, spend a lot of time guarding their territories from prominent perches such as fenceposts. Sometimes, as in the bird above, they are eager to display their elegant red wing patches. Other times, as in the bird below, they seem anxious to keep their red wings hidden from view. These birds remind me of this verse from the Book of Habakkuk:
"I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me." Habakkuk 2:1
"I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me." Habakkuk 2:1
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Western Meadowlark taking a stand against hunting
This Western Meadowlark seems to be taking a stand against hunting. That is a rather magnanimous position since the creature most commonly hunted in South Dakota is the Ring-necked Pheasant, the bird that replaced Western Meadowlark as South Dakota's state bird in 1943. It is currently a few months since the end of pheasant hunting season, and I still see hundreds and hundreds of Ring-necked pheasants whenever I drive around out in the country. Ring-necked Pheasants thrive here in our state in spite of the hunting pressure. One of the side-benefits of South Dakota's obsession with Ring-necked Pheasants is that grassland habitat is preserved for other bird species as well. So, this Western Meadowlark and its friends will just have to put up with pheasants and pheasant hunters. They may very well be what actually helps birds like the Western Meadowlark to survive in the long run.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Official Favorite Bird of Ask the Birds and They Will Tell You
The final votes are in, and here are the results of the Favorite Bird poll:
1. Western Meadowlark 9
2. American Robin 8
3. Northern Cardinal 7
4. Red-headed Woodpecker 4
4. Blue Jay 4
6. Cedar Waxwing 3
6. Eastern Bluebird 3
8. Blue Grosbeak 2
9. Burrowing Owl 1
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Trumpeter Swans, Cygnus buccinator
“On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” Revelation 1:10
It should come as no surprise to learn that the Trumpeter Swan is named for the sound it makes. This bird’s voice does indeed sound like a trumpet, although some musical experts have said it has more the tone of a French horn. Whether it is trumpet or French horn, the sound of a group of Trumpeter Swans is unforgettable. Around the turn of the twentieth century these birds were hunted to near extinction. The skins of these swans were used for making powder puffs, and the feathers were sold to milliners for use in making ladies hats. When such practices ended, there were only a handful of Trumpeter Swans remaining in remote areas of the American west. Successful restoration efforts over the last 100 years have led to a gradual, but steady increase in swan numbers in many places.
Trumpets are mentioned many times in the Bible. They often are blown as a sound of alarm or as a call of triumph. In today’s Bible verse the voice of the Lord is compared to the sound of a trumpet: “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.” John recognized who was speaking, and he goes on to state, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” (Revelation 1:17). Then John heard the voice again: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Revelation 1:17-18). God spoke to John. He spoke to others throughout the Bible. Does He still speak to us today? The Gospel of John records Jesus’ own words: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:14,27). If we profess to be followers of the Good Shepherd, then the Bible says WE LISTEN TO HIS VOICE. He is speaking to you right now—maybe not with a “voice like a trumpet”—but He is speaking. Listen.
Heavenly Father, as I come to you in prayer I know that you are speaking. Help me to listen to your voice. Amen.
Friday, March 25, 2011
With just three days to go in the favorite bird voting, it looks like it's down to these two birds. As of right now, Western Meadowlark has 9 votes, while the American Robin stands second with 8 votes. There's still time to vote. Who will it be... meadowlark or robin?
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Sunday, March 20, 2011
White-throated Sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis
“Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.” Job 29:12
Bird book authors often come up with cute little phrases or “mnemonics” to describe the sounds made by birds. One bird whose song is described in this way more than any other is the White-throated Sparrow. This sparrow’s song has often been written as “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” or “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” Birdwatchers in Canada hear a slightly different sound, and describe it with nationalistic fervor as “Oh, Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.” It has always seemed to me that the White-throated Sparrow’s song is far too somber and mournful to contain the word “sweet.” For that reason, “Poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” is quite appropriate as a way to remember this bird’s song. The White-throated Sparrow is one of the most attractive of the native North American sparrows. Its head is marked with black and white stripes, it has a bright yellow spot in front of each eye, and on the throat is a clear white patch. They nest in Canada and the northern United States, and spend the winter in the southern portion of North America.
Today’s verse is part of the discourse of Job, in which Job recalls that in former days he was blessed by God and was able to help the poor and fatherless. Later in his life, Job lost everything, and was in the same condition as “poor Sam Peabody” of the White-throated Sparrow’s lament. In Psalm 65:8, we read that it is God who is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,” and in Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Cry for help when you are in trouble, and God will be your strength and ever-present help. Then, through God’s Grace working in us, we can follow Job’s example and “rescue the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.”
Father, there are times when I feel overwhelmed and helpless. I trust you to be my strength in the midst of my troubles. Through your grace working in me, help me to reach out to help others. Amen.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Glaucous Gull playing with its food
Glaucous Gulls will eat nearly anything, and like most gulls they will scavenge for winter-killed fish. This young gull has found a fairly meaty fish to work on.
Glaucous Gull guarding its meal
Glaucous Gulls are the second largest gull found in North America. This bird was well able to keep the smaller Ring-billed Gulls and Herring Gulls nearby from stealing its meal.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Rough-legged Hawk showing its distinctive feathered legs
There are a lot of Rough-legged Hawks coming through the Great Plains right now. Rough-legged Hawks are one of the easiest hawks to identify. Two of the key field marks are visible on these birds that I photographed yesterday in central South Dakota.
Rough-legged Hawk showing its distinctive dark "wrist patches"
The first Western Meadowlarks are starting to arrive back in central South Dakota. I have heard a few males delivering their wonderful springtime song. This bird was singing from a barbed wire fence in the Fort Pierre National Grasslands yesterday evening.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
"We just got the word. Western Meadowlark has taken the lead in the favorite bird poll! Woo Hoo! Make it a landslide... sneak over to the left hand side right now and stuff the ballot box. Bill has no way of knowing how many times you vote."
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Great Crested Flycatcher, Myiarchus crinitus
“They will take up serpents.” Mark 16:18 (KJV)
Birds do some things that make absolutely no sense to us humans. One of my favorite summertime birds, the Great Crested Flycatcher, has a habit that is downright quirky. These beautiful yellow and rust colored birds use snakeskins as lining for their nests. There is much speculation as to why these birds do that. It is possible that the normal period of their nest building just happens to coincide with the natural time for snakes to shed their skins. Perhaps snakeskins have some quality that makes them irresistible to Great Crested Flycatchers. Maybe the birds get a sort of odd enjoyment over the very idea of using the reptilian skins to cushion their nests. One of the largest flycatchers, they are common throughout eastern North America. They are cavity nesters, building their nests in old woodpecker holes.
Today’s Bible verse is part of Jesus’ final words to His followers: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name…they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mark 16:17-18). Students of the Bible have expressed widely divergent views concerning the proper interpretation of these verses. Some fringe Christian sects have adopted snake handling as one of the major features of their public services. It would seem safe to say that Jesus never intended for us to intentionally pick up snakes in order to prove our faith. What Jesus may have meant is that if we place our faith in Him, we have the very power of God working in our lives. The Apostle Paul had an encounter with a deadly snake on the island of Malta, but after the snake fastened itself on Paul’s hand, he “shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects” (Acts 28:5). Like Paul, you can rest in the assurance that, “no weapon forged against you will prevail,” (Isaiah 54:17). No matter what danger you may encounter, and no matter what weapons confront you, trust God to protect you.
Father, I thank you for the assurance that if I believe and trust in you, I am protected, and no weapon can prevail against me. Amen.
Friday, March 11, 2011
You have to check out this news story about a Laysan Albatross. The bird's name is Wisdom, and she was banded on Midway Atoll in 1956 while incubating an egg. Laysan Albatrosses cannot breed until the age of 5, but they usually don't start breeding until 8 or 9 years of age. That means Wisdom is at least 60 years old, possibly in her mid 60s. What makes the story even more incredible is that she was photographed last month rearing a chick. Yes, that's right... she is a mother again at the age of 60 or 65. The article contains a photograph of the bird and her newest baby. You can see that the band on Wisdom's leg reads, "0007." What a remarkable bird!
"Is not Wisdom found among the aged?"
Friday, March 4, 2011
"Come on! How can you not like us Blue Jays? We may not be any state's official State Bird, but when we're around you can't help but notice us. Get over to the favorite bird poll right now and vote for Blue Jay. Then go out and put some peanuts in your bird feeder!"
"If you're from New York or Missouri, I should have no problem convincing you to vote for me as your favorite bird. You folks have already elected me as your official State Bird. For you others -- let me ask this question: When you think of happiness, what bird comes to mind? BLUEBIRD! So if you really want to be happy, go over to the left side of this page and vote for Eastern Bluebird. It's that simple. Thanks for your support."
Thursday, March 3, 2011
"How pathetic do you suppose I feel? All the other birds on the favorite bird ballot have at least one vote, but no one has yet voted for me. Please change that. Go over to the left hand column and cast your vote for Eastern Towhee."
"We're trailing in the early voting, but a late rally could still put us over the top. If you want to be part of the biggest comeback in the history of Favorite Bird elections, scroll down right now and vote for Red-headed Woodpecker!"
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
"The folks in six states -- Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas -- have all made us their State Bird. So follow their lead and vote Western Meadowlark as your favorite bird. Go over to the left side right now and register your vote. Thank you very much!"
"Those other birds can make all the campaign speeches they want. The fact remains: we robins took the early lead in the Favorite Bird election, and we are still out in front. The great states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Connecticut have made us their State Birds. If you wish to back a real winner, go over to the left side of this page right now and select American Robin!"
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
"If you're looking for a favorite bird, you've found it. Just consider all the features we Cedar Waxwings have to offer: sleek, swept-back crest; nifty black bandit mask; yellow tip on the tail; and those cool, red waxy things on the wings. We are the ultimate in modern bird design. Go over to the left column right now and click on Cedar Waxwing!"
"When the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina have all elected you as their official State Bird, you must have something going for you. Don't fight the majority opinion here, folks. When you visit the Favorite Bird Poll over in the left-hand column, do the right thing and vote for Northern Cardinal. Thank you for your support."