Category Archives: A Few of My Favorite Birds

Bird identification

A Few of My Favorite Birds (36): The Vulture Culture Experience…Really?!

zimbabwe-african-christmas-tree-vulturesEver hear of an African Christmas tree? This is what it looks like.vultures-in-african-christmas-treeDozens of vultures roosting in a dead tree,
just waiting for some dead meat for lunch. vultures-fighting-over-food-zimbabwe-africaDoesn’t sound very pretty, does it? And…who likes vultures, anyway? vulture-high-on-a-snag-chobe-national-parkAren’t they sort of the offscourings of the world? the-vulture-culture-experience-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeWell, all that changed for me when we went to Africa
and discovered that vultures have gotten a bad rap. vulture-in-flight-african-birdsThey are so universally considered disreputable that they have been mistreated until they’re the world’s #1 endangered species.the-vulture-culture-experience-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodge-information I had no clue. vultures-in-zimbabwe-11-8-16Furthermore, they are an important part of our ecosystem,
serving as the world’s morticians and garbage collectors.vultures-and-bonesPolishing off carcasses ASAP helps prevent diseases from spreading.vultures-drinking-water-chobe-national-park-11-10-16 So fierce has been their persecution and demise that I’ve had a change of heart toward them, and they’re now on my “favorite birds” list. vultures-gather-in-dead-tree-zimbabwe-afrcian-safari-lodgeLet me tell you about our vulture culture experience.vultures-eating-lunch-at-the-victoria-falls-safari-lodge-zimbabweEver hear of a restaurant that caters to vultures by serving free carcasses?  victoria-falls-safari-lodgeWell, neither had I until we stayed at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
in Zimbabwe, victoria-falls-wildlife-trust-vulture-restaurant-11-7-16where they have started working with Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust
to help save vultures from extinction. watching-the-vulture-culture-experience-at-the-african-safari-lodgeEvery day at 1:00 pm they serve up yummy carcasses
at their “Vulture Restaurant.”debris-blowing-in-wind-zimbabwe It was very windy the day we watched, but pretty soon the debris and leaves vultures-gathering-overhead-in-zimbabwegave way to the air being filled with circling vultures, vultures-coming-for-lunchwho knew it was almost time for some claw-licking’ good fine dinin’.vulture-culture-experience-zimbabweA few minutes before 1:00, the waiter arrived with a load of gourmet delights.vultures-wait-for-food-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeI was surprised at how politely the vultures awaited their luncheon party. vultures-getting-ready-for-lunch-zimbabweAs the crowd grew, there was definitely an electric feeling…great expectations!vulture-restaurant-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeGet on your mark, get set…vulture-feeding-frenzy-victoria-falls-lodge-zimbabweGooooooo!!!vultures-eating-meatA feeding frenzy followed for about fifteen minutes,vultures-with-marabou-storks-and-wart-hogs-eatingreplete with party crashers, in particular some gangly marabou storkswart-hogs-join-the-vulture-culture-partyand a couple of Pumba’s cousins…totally muddied warthogs.vulture-culture-experience-africaIf you’ll forgive the comparison…we humans can be a little like vultures. vultures-circling-in-skySometimes it’s easier to live off others
than it is to work hard providing for ourselves.vulturesSome people become very unpopular and develop bad reputations.serving-meat-at-the-vulture-culture-experienceI am thankful that God is a kind Father who provides for all who will come. warthogs-feasting-with-vultures-africaHe doesn’t turn anyone away…no matter how awkward, dirty or ugly we are!vultures-eating-at-victoria-falls-safari-lodgeFurthermore, He encourages us to do the same for those who need our help.

victoria-falls-safari-lodge-vulture-restaurantBut I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

A Few of My Favorite Birds (35): Africa’s Golden “Cape Weaver” Birds

ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-hanging-upside-downWhile visiting North Uthungulu in South Africa, tourist-shopping-center-in-north-uthunguluwe stopped at a strip mall (aka little souvenir location built for tourists). hovels-by-road-in-north-uthunguluI usually tried to buy something home-in-north-uthungulu to help support the local artisans, cape-weaver-weaving-his-nestbut this time I was so taken by the birds that I could hardly take my eyes off them long enough to look for soaps, candles, or glassware! cape-weaver-bird-weaving-with-his-beak-using-grassA really squawky colony of brilliantly arrayed Cape weaver birds
were busily making nests in a tree along the path, brilliantly-colored-cape-weaver-bird-south-africaand they immediately captured my attention, cape-weaver-bird-south-africabecause I’d never seen anything quite like them before. cape-weaver-bird-s-a-11-2-16In fact, there are weaver birds in some tropical areas of Asia and Australia,
but weaver birds are most common in sub-Saharan Africa, colony-of-cape-weaver-birdswhere they tend to live in colonies of 2-20 gregarious (though fiercely territorial) males and how-many-ever females they attract. ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-in-tree Male Cape weavers (Ploceus capensis) are about 7 inches long,
have long, conical bills (good for weaving and for sucking nectar).intricate-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdThe males are especially colorful during the long mating season,
which lasts from June to February and peaks during the rainy season. cape-weaver-bird-in-treeDuring the mating season, Cape weaver males are decked out
with golden underparts and orange faces, olive-drab-back-of-weaver-birdsalthough their heads and back are more olive drab in coloring
(which is also the year-round color of females and young chicks.) cape-weaver-making-nestThese talented guys weave intricate, kidney-shaped nests
out of grass, reeds, and leafy fibers to attract prospective mates. kidney-bean-shaped-cape-weaver-bird-nestTheir nests have small, downward-facing entrances and are fully waterproof. cape-weaver-bird-in-nestInterested females test the construction quality by tugging at the interior walls, and if a nest makes the young lady feel snug and secure, father-cape-weaver-bird-helps-feed-youngshe’ll adopt it for the season, mating with her benefactor. colony-of-cape-weaver-birds-north-uthungulu-south-africaUnlike most birds, Cape weavers are polygynous, and one male may build
and therefore entice up to seven mates during any one season. cape-weaver-bird-with-nestEach female spends a couple of weeks brooding her clutch of 2-5 eggs.
She stays the first few nights with the chicks after they hatch, unused-nest-of-cape-weaver-birdbut then she roosts close by in one of the unused nests. cape-weaver-birds-south-africaAlthough the females initially care for the chicks, ploceus-capensis-african-weaver-bird-making-nestas they get older, the males help out with their own chicks,
which must keep them extremely busy for awhile! empty-nest-of-african-cape-weaver-bird-11-2-16Happily, in about 17 days the fledglings are big enough to find their own suppers of seeds, fruit, nectar, unsuspecting small spiders, and insects,
and the parents become empty nesters.

Are you an empty nester? Do you have a home? Keeping up a home seems like a never-ending job to me. Have you considered Jesus, who worked constantly—much harder than the energetic weaver birds—to prepare spiritual homes for “whosoever will”? Still, despite his tireless work, he never had a nest of his own, because He was too busy helping others!

The Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them…
Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head
(Luke 9:56, 58).

(If you want to hear what Cape Weaver birds sound like, this is from YouTube):

 

Swimming with Penguins, Anyone?

penguin-colony-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa                   Penguins are nothing short of adorable in any context. swimming-with-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaWe have some at our local zoo, but it was a unique treat to visit the Boulders Beach colony near Simonstown, South Africa, which is the only place in the world where you’re allowed to swim with these perky little playmates. swimming-at-boulders-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaActually, it was November when we toured, and our group wasn’t allotted time to swim, but the beaches—with their warm sand and turquoise waters—looked irresistibly inviting. close-up-of-an-african-penguin-at-boulders-south-africaPenguins have razor-sharp beaks, however, so despite their appeal, one should keep a respectable distance from their acrobatic antics. kathi-on-boardwalk-with-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa        We visited Foxy Beach, perhaps Africa’s best site for viewing penguins.raised-walkways-through-foxy-beach-african-penguinsIt has raised boardwalks through one of only two nesting sites in South Africa,granite-boulders-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa where about 3,000 happy little fellows spend their days sunning on the granite boulders and cavorting in the deep blue sea in search of tasty treats like fish.african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaIn the nineteenth century, there were over three million African penguins, but today there are less than 100,000 penguins left world-wide, and penguins are protected.  information-on-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaAfrican penguins are just under 20 inches tall and weigh about 4.5-8 pounds, about 100 pounds less than the ostriches that roam nearby. Still, they are bigger than the average bird, and their bones are heavier, making them great divers. They’ve been known to go as deep as 115 feet underwater, hold their breath for 1.5 minutes, and zip along at nearly 15 miles per hour, so in the bird world, they don’t have to be early or resort to catching worms to be a success!gorgeous-scenery-at-foxy-beach-boulders-penguin-colony-of-african-penguinsThey dress in tuxedos and dine on seafood at waterfront resorts. Very classy, don’t you think? 🙂 I’ve read that penguins usually live 11-12 years, but some have been known to live almost twice as long. african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa-cute-coupleThey are practically obsessed with finding their way home for nesting (even climbing over fences, which is a trick for these flightless birds) and normally mate for life. They share parenting duties, are social, mild-mannered, and multiply rapidly if protected. (Sound like ideal children to anyone?!)african-penguin-couple-at-boulders-south-africaUnfortunately, they are not always protected, and they don’t always make wise choices. One of the biggest problems at Boulders is that the penguins like to stand in front of warm cars, and several have been run over!
group-of-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaThe worst tragedies in recent years have resulted from tankers spilling oil. In 1994 about 10,000 birds were oiled, and only about half of them were saved. In the 2000 disaster, when the tanker Treasure sank off Robben Island, 18,000 oiled penguins were rescued and cleaned, and another 19,000 unoiled penguins were transported to Port Elizabeth, where they were released. signpost-for-boulders-beach-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaHowever, almost all the penguins returned to their original home with amazing accuracy and speed. Reporters seemed hopeful that most of the penguins would survive, although it made me think of us as humans! african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africa-turquoise-waters-of-the-atlantic-oceanMany of us are rescued by Christ—saved, cleaned, and released in clean waters. What do we naturally do? Head straight for home, whether or not home is a safe place. If you’re a believer and have been delivered from an unsafe environment, please consider prayerfully if and when to return home. I am sure God wants us to love our families, but He doesn’t want us living in an environment that will kill us, like a coat of black slimy oil will kill a penguin.

sheltered-bay-and-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaAre you safe? Please don’t instinctively return home too soon.
Swim in clean water and let the Lord direct your paths.
warm-sand-for-african-penguins-at-boulders-south-africaThe Lord direct your hearts into the love of God,
and into the patient waiting for Christ
” (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

 

Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner?

Dan and Brianna celebrating birthdayOne of our sons just moved back to GR and took a new job! Want to guess which one? It can’t be Daniel, because he and Brianna already live here. In fact, Brianna and Alan share a birthday, so last Sunday we had a birthday party together: Brianna’s 33 and Alan’s 66, making her exactly half Alan’s age! Ducklings swimming near shoreThat was super fun…although they might not have been quite so thrilled when I pointed out that they’ve now lived one-third and two-thirds of a century of excellence (respectively). I guess they’re no longer spring ducklings…

Gosling pecking in grassHow time flies!!  DeerTo make it a little harder to guess who’s coming for dinner tonight Geese and goslings near shore(and hopefully more fun), Geese and GoslingsI thought I’d add a few pictures of who’s already been coming over to eat Wood duckat our house every day. Racoon in cherry treeRaccy Coon and family come pretty much every dayRacoon eating cherries from tree…although they tend to come for an early-morning breakfast Racoon eating an unripe cherryand prefer fish for dinner (which we’re having tonight). Geese and goslings on shoreBrunch guests include the gaggling geese Geese and goslingsand their gangly goslings, Ducklings on the lawnalthough the ducklings seem to prefer late afternoon luncheons on the lawn.  Hairy Woodpecker on logThe woodpecker’s speciale is grubs ala log, Robin feeding babies in nestand the  the baby robins are very partial to worms ala mom, Robin in cherry treealthough both their parents love cherries! Robin eating a cherryIn fact, I’d say our black cherry tree has by far the favorite feasting fare Squirrel in treeat the moment, Squirrel harvesting cherriesand the squirrels, Robin in cherry treebirds, Chipmunk eating cherry in treeand chipmunks strip it bare before the cherries have a chance to really ripen.   😦 Grackle eating cherriesSo, it’s not like we don’t have lots of company for dinner, Chipmunk eating a cherrybut tonight is going to be very special, Alan Joel and Kathi in Italybecause Joel will be dining at our dinner table! Joel playing with Jon's kidsHe finished all his coursework for his PhD, and—enterprising soul that he is—

Joel walking with Jon's family on lanehe’s moved home from Boston and accepted a job working as an assistant editor at Kregel Publications, the oldest of four Dutch Christian publishing houses based here in Grand Rapids. Visiting Italy       Their office is just a few miles from our house, and he could bike it, 2009 Honda Fit     although he just bought a sporty Honda Fit last night, so he’s ready to travel!Joel out for SUP rideAt first Alan and I were appalled to think he’d leave his full-ride scholarship to take a job, but he can actually write his dissertation in GR if he wants, Joel with his nephewand he pointed out that most publishing companies require three years of experience before they’ll consider you, so we all feel this job is a special blessing and gift from God. Kayaking on LakeNow, instead of sirens and helicopter sounds at night, he’ll have to get used to geese and our frog chorus. Thank you, Lord!  Mourning Doves in treeGive praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
” (Psalm 105:1-3, NIV)

(PS—Just in case any of you are wondering, Joel is still single; all the pictures of Joel are with friends and family.)

 

Two Dozen Reasons for Believing that Spring’s Coming

Sun reflecting off lakeWhen Alan and I woke up this morning, it was 37° out, Spring Failing to Installand I remembered seeing  this clever Facebook sign a few days ago. Fox SquirrelSo, is spring going to load or not?? Quiet Reflections in a spring swampThankfully, it’s a gorgeous, sunshiny morning, and when I went outside Deer at edge of our woods I found ever so many reasons for believing that spring is on its way. Flowering QuinceFor our mutual encouragement,
I’ve paired some bright thoughts about spring with the photographs:
Mink by our dock“Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.”
—Lilly PulitzerGold Finch“Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer!
I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.”—Gustav MahlerTiny Buds opening in rain“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
—Rances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden  Great Blue Heron on our dock“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” —Mark Twain  Racoon on the waterfront“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”
—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast   Wild Rose Budding“An optimist is the human personification of spring.”—Susan J. Bissonette  PrimrosesNo winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.”—Hal Borland Wisteria Budding“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
—Vladimir Nobokov, MaryLily of the Valley“The sun just touched the morning;
The morning, happy thing,
Supposed that he had come to dwell,
And life would be all spring.”
—Emily DickinsonForsythia“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
‘Winter is dead’.”
—A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young  Nectarine Blossoms“The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness,
the human soul is apt to revive also.” —Harriet Ann Jacobs  Canada Goose and Great Blue Heron on lake“It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.”
—John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
Cherry Tree in Bloom“What a strange thing!
to be alive
beneath cherry blossoms.”
—Kobayashi Issa, Poems  Trillium“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”—Ellis Peters  Great Blue Heron“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
—Ann Breadstreet, The Works of Anne Bradstreet  Kayak beside lake“I suppose the best kind of spring morning is the best weather God has to offer.” —Dodie Smith, I Capture the CastleRed-winged Blackbird singing in Cherry Tree“Because the birdsong might be pretty,
But it’s not for you they sing,
And if you think my winter is too cold,
You don’t deserve my spring.”
—Erin Hanson   Tom Turkey showing for for the girls“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.” —Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
(This is Tom Turkey showing off for the girls.)
Red-winged Blackbird“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” —Mark Twain  Daffodil“Always it’s Spring and everyone’s in love and flowers pick themselves.”
—E.E. Cummings, 100 Selected Poems  Canada Geese with Goslings“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!”
—Sitting Bull  Wood ducks by dock“Nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring.” —Pablo Neruda  Cherry Blossoms“For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” —Isaiah 61:11  Wild Blackberries Budding“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” —Genesis 8:22Nuthatch on railing

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Birds (33 ): Turkeys—and not Just at Thanksgiving!

Turkey. Wild 4.29.13Turkeys are the largest game bird in North America and their existence helped the pilgrims survive their first year in America, which is doubtless how they ended up as the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving dinners yesterday. Turkeys in October 2015As turkeys haven’t been globe trotters, I don’t know how many people on other continents like turkey, but my son Joel became the turkey donor for his house, because even though many of his fellow graduate students are Asian and didn’t  actually want to roast a turkey…they all wanted to eat some turkey! 🙂  Turkeys grazing in our fieldSo, turkeys are popular birds. Turkeys not only the biggest of our game birds (2-4 ft. in length and up to 50 pounds for domesticated turkeys), many people think they’re the best! There are now about 200 million raised every year for food in the U.S. and another 7 million running wild throughout North America. Turkeys 21 of them! 9-15            We have a flock of 21 (last count) that roam our woods and fields. Turkeys in Field I was surprised to learn that wild turkeys actually prefer woodland areas and are especially fond of acorns but are omnivorous, eating fruits, seeds and nuts of various varieties, insects, and even salamanders!Nest of Wild Turkey eggsOne hen laid her nest of 13 tan-speckled eggs right up against the sunny, southern wall of our home hidden behind a thick patch of day lilies this summer. Turkey eggs                                                      (They can lay 4-18 eggs.) Autumn Flock of Turkeys This would have been an ideal spot had it not been for an influx of 4 curious grand sons and 4 curious coon kits during the month it would have taken to properly incubate them. Sigh.Flock of wild turkeys                                                 Still, a flock of 21 isn’t bad. Turkey Male showing off copy        The males are aloof parents…mostly interested in strutting and breeding.Male turkey displaying                                 (I’ll refrain from any snide comments.)

Mother Turkey with Poults But, the hens make excellent mothers, fiercely protecting their young poults during the first two weeks before they can fly. Hen Turkey with PoultsHowever, once the poults can fly, the entire flock roosts relatively high up
in trees during the night. Turkey Tracks+ 3.28.13                   Hens watch over their young even through the first winter, Wild Turkeys 8.25.13 and our flock seems to stick together year round,
roaming freely all over our yard, driveway, lane, woods, and fields. turkeys-in-our-driveway                    I think they think they own the place…and maybe they do.Turkey on waterfront 2015 copyGiven the specialness and succulence of turkeys, you may wonder why
“You turkey!” is considered an insult. I addressed that issue some years ago (https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2009/03/28/you-turkey/ ), Wild Turkeys   but since that time I’ve also learned something from a professional hunter that’s made me rethink my compliance with the present P.C. turkey slurs. Wild TurkeyTurkeys aren’t just big; they’re fast, running up to 25 mph and flying up to 55. Furthermore, they don’t fly in a straight line,
making them extremely challenging for game hunters.Turkey. Wild by fenceSo, even if some birds would rather try to bust their brains
through a fence than fly over it, they’re worthy of respect
…and I think that holds true for all God’s creatures.  Turkeys on our lawn 10.15            We all have some weaknesses, but we all need and deserve respect. Turkeys+20 pix 9.2.15     So, sorry, big birds. You won’t be hearing anymore turkey slurs from me.    🙂 Turkeys in yard 9.2.15“Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any:
he is mighty in strength and wisdom” (Job 36:5).

 

A Few of My Favorite “The Birds” (32): Budgie Mania

Curious budgiesLast week the budgies were pretty much “out of control!” Budgie in lady's hair In all my years of feeding the budgerigars (aka parakeets) at the John Ball Zoo,  Budgie "attacking" ladyI’ve never seen them so aggressive and eager to eat! Budgies everywhere! I don’t know if it was the cool weather, Lady with budgie on head being morning, Girl with blue budgie or just luck of the draw, A Good Day for Budgies but they were landing on everybody and everything, Budgies everywhere 2  fluttering around, and fighting over “territories” atop innocent visitors! Yikes! Aggressive budgiesOf course, we loved it, Budgie on girl's head but it was a little disconcerting Budgies trying to eat leather neck strap when six “attacked” the leather strap around Joel’s neck, Budgie on baby's head landed on my grandson’s head Sleepy baby and budgies (while he was trying to sleep soundly)Budgie Pecking at Mirrored decorations attempted to peck the decorations off my top, Lots of budgies! gathered in groups on our arms Budgies fluttering around and fought over landing space! Feeding budgies 2 Usually we leave before all the seeds on our sticks have been eaten, So many budgies but this time we went back and bought more! Little boy excited to feed budgie Well, let’s just say it was the high point of our trip! Budgies love to land in hair Did you know that budgies are also called “love birds”? Trying to pet a budgie They are the world’s third most popular pet (just behind dogs and cats),  Budgie on a purse so they’re not just one of my favorite birds, Popular budgie stand they’re one of everybody’s favorite birds! Budgies on girl's arm Budgies (parakeets) are wonderfully social
and among the animal world’s finest “talking” champions. Feeding a budgie seeds (The world record-holder had a vocabulary of 1,728 words!) Green budgies being feed seeds on stick  They’re actually small members of the parrot family and native to Australia.  Hungry Budgies!The original coloring is (was) green and yellow with black scallops, Line of budgies!although they’ve now been bred into a veritable rainbow of colors.Little boy with blue budgie (However, the blue cere at the base of the beak always denotes a male.)Birds and kids So, if you’re looking for a small friend who talks a lot but doesn’t eat too much, New fashion budgiethink budgie. Come to think of it, Budgies interested in baby now that I’m an empty-nester…maybe I should get one! 🙂

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
[or closer than a bird…that would be Jesus, so maybe I can live without a bird…]
(Proverbs 18:24)