Best Day of Fishing:

That’s Cool!

The temperature dropped from the recent summertime heat. Fall weather is coming. It seems like the catfish like to feed when the cooler mornings drop the water temperature. Today was my best day of fishing at the lake near my home. I caught three large catfish weighing in at 8lbs., 11lbs., and the largest at 13 lbs.

Know What They Like:

The trick to fishing is, you have to get smarter than the fish! One of the most important things to know is what they are feeding on. In the lake where I fish there are tons of bluegill. After catching a few this morning one swallowed the hook and I knew it had a poor chance of survival if I threw it back into the lake. I decided to use it as bait. I was able to get several nice pieces of bait for my hooks from the one small fish.

Double Up the Hooks:

A good way to increase the likelihood of catching fish is to have more than one hook on the line. I like to use two. Be sure to check the regulations in your state to be sure it is legal to use more than one hook per pole. In some waters you can only use one! I like to put one hook on the end of the line with a couple split-shot about a foot above and then the second hook about a foot above the weights. That way the hooks don’t get tangled very often. Be sure to hide the hook inside the piece of fish! The nice thing about having two pieces of bait on the line is that if one gets pulled off there is a second one still waiting to be eaten. In fact, one of the fish I caught today actually had swallowed both pieces of fish.

Know Their Fighting Tactics:

If you are trying to catch a big fish you have to know how to keep them from breaking the line or shaking the hook. Be sure to set your drag so that they can pull off some line when they make a run (Believe me, if it’s a big one it will make several attempts to swim away with all its might!) If the fish is headed toward a tree branch in the water or some other potential snag, you have to turn it. Put extra tension on the line and aim your pole tip in the direction you want it to go. Reel in when ever you have any slack in the line. Let the fish work against the drag. Don’t reel too fast or pull too hard or it will break your line. Be patient! The fish will eventually tire. Consider the strength of the line you are using. Lighter weight line breaks easily. I had some lighter line on my pole a couple weeks ago and lost two big ones. I learned my lesson! After putting on heavier line I knew had a much better chance of landing these monster catfish.

Consider Catch-and-Release:

I know most fishermen like to show off their big fish. The best way to do it is with a camera. If you have ever eaten a large catfish you, like I, have discovered they don’t taste as good as the smaller ones. The big mature catfish are also important in the reproduction of more catfish to catch in the future. I return the large ones to the water to catch again. I figure other fishermen would like to catch a big fish too!

One of the Best Survivors:

Of all the kinds of fish I have caught I think the catfish are the best survivors. I used to fish with the California legend, “Mr. Catfish”: George Powers. He could catch catfish when nobody else was having any luck. He often shared his catch with others like when we had an annual fish-fry at our church. He taught me a few cool tricks for catching and preserving the fish we caught. He would catch catfish and keep them fresh for hours by placing them in a Gunny-sack. When he would pull them out later, after a day of fishing on the lake, the fish were still alive and kicking as if they had just come out of the lake. I also remember as a kid, while riding in a pickup with my Grandpa who worked for the irrigation district, watching catfish still alive while buried in the mud of a irrigation channel that had been scooped out with a Backhoe to improve the flow of water. The fish were in great shape. Even though they are durable, it is still good to get the fish back in the water as soon as possible when you plan to return them to their water home.

Notice the Design:

As you look closely at a catfish you can clearly see it is designed for function. Each part of the catfish anatomy shows intentional strategy for what the catfish must do to survive. Catfish are bottom feeders and must have ways to detect their prey even in cloudy water and darkness. The whiskers are great sensory organs. Down the side of the fish is the lateral line which also tells the fish what is in the water around it as it swims around looking for food. Catfish seem to be attracted to smelly bait. They have a very keen sense of smell and can also detect movement in their surroundings. How did the catfish acquire all of these amazing features? I believe the catfish, like all other creatures, was designed by the Master Creator, the LORD Jesus Christ.

Colossians 1:16-17

“For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all thing hold together.”

 

Keep Your Eyes Open:

If you take the time to carefully observe everything around you as you go through life, you can clearly see that everything was designed with a purpose. Each kind of creature is uniquely designed for where it lives and what it needs to do. Have you ever considered your purpose? When God created mankind He made man the object of His love. We will only find fulfillment when we become part of His family through the Salvation He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ. Through Him we have access to God the Father. I hope you have or will come to know Him too.

Northern Watersnake: Often A Case of Mistaken Identity

Let’s Go Fishing:

As I often do, I like to go down to the lake to go fishing. When I go I am not the only one fishing there. Yesterday I met a grandpa fishing with his five year old grandson. It was fun to see the little guy reel in a few bluegill. Soon we discovered we we not the only ones fishing there. While casting out my line I saw the grandpa taking a quick step back from the edge of the lake startled that he might be seeing a poisonous snake.

At first sight one might think “water moccasin!” But that would be a wrong assessment and might endanger the snake more than the one trying to make the identification. This is a Northern Watersnake: Norodia sipedon. It is not poisonous and poses little threat to man. Many times these snakes are wantonly killed by those who think they are doing everybody else a favor by removing an unwelcome visitor.

Actually A Great Benefit:

Rather than being harmful, these snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. As you can see in these pictures it has an appetite for fish. It also eats frogs, salamanders and toads, as well as other small creatures along the shoreline. If you are not familiar with the group of fishes to which this bluegill belongs, they are known to release chemicals into the water that regulate the growth patterns of other fish of its species. This mechanism is designed to help the overall population to have enough food to go around. I remember fishing a lake in California where the bluegill were over-populated. All of the fish were about 2-3 inches long. There were so many you could catch them with a bare black fishing hook. Though you could easily catch fish there wasn’t much good in the effort since they were all so small. The best way to rectify the problem would be to remove many of the fish. This would allow the remaining fish to grow larger. In a similar way snakes also keep other species in check.

 

Watersnakes, birds, and many other predators help naturally regulate the number of species in lakeside communities. By killing snakes you can quickly upset the balance with lasting consequences.

Fun to Watch:

If you have a natural fear of snakes you might be missing out on a lot of fun! Snakes are actually very beautiful animals with many interesting behaviors. As an example, these snakes often find homes in muskrat holes along the shore where they hide in the sticks and leaves inside. They often can be seen lurking along the shoreline seeking out minnows and larger fish. As you can see in these pictures, many times their prey is even larger than the size of the snake’s head. No problem for the snake, however, since its jaws can expand to allow the whole fish to slide in. A muscle action pushes the fish down where it is eventually digested. It’s fun to see a snake just after swallowing a large meal. It reminds me of the many cartoons I’ve seen of snakes.

Food for Other Animals:

Not only do these snakes help in the ways mentioned above, they also provide food for many other animals. Raccoon, Skunks, Eagles, Herons, Egrets, and large fish prey on watersnakes. I guess it’s fair play for a large fish to return the favor after the snake has consumed many of her young. The majority of the snakes eaten are the young. Fortunately watersnakes can produce quite a few babies. They also bear their young alive. A mother can produce up to 30 young in one birthing though more commonly far less. I remember watching as about fifteen newly born little watersnakes swam by one day while I was fishing. I bet that very few of them made it to adulthood.

Can You Tell The Difference? Heads or Tails, You win!

The poisonous snakes with which watersnakes are confused actually have several distinguishing characteristics. One is the much broader body shape. They also have elliptical pupils whereas the Watersnake has round pupils. Another feature found on the poisonous snakes are the heat-sensing pits on their heads. These are found below and between the eyes and nose. If you look at the other end of the snake you will find that watersnakes have long slender tails whereas water moccasins have short and thicker tails.

Overcoming Fear:

One helpful way to overcome your fears is to face them. In many cases just acknowledging your fears can lead to solutions. Learning the facts about what you fear can also help alleviate a lot of the tension. Find someone knowledgeable and they can help answer your questions. You will find that after conquering your fears you will enjoy the outdoors to a much greater extent. Do some research, talk to an expert. Don’t let your fears ruin your life.

A Bigger Purpose:

While you are spending time outdoors experiencing God’s Creation consider the part you play in His overall plan. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our Creator by exploring His Handiwork. If He has a purpose for watersnakes He surely has a purpose for your life and He has created all things for you to enjoy.

Here Are Some Good Sources for Further Research:

National Wildlife Federation

Tennessee Watchable Wildlife

Wikipedia

Virginia Herpetological Society

Robber Flies: The Winged Assassins

Not Just Another Fly:

When one thinks about flies we usually picture those annoying house flies that seem to want to buzz in an land on your food when you have an outdoor picnic. But not all flies are the same. Can you think of a fly that is known as an Assassin?  One such creature is the Robber Fly.

AKA

Not only are they known as “Robber Flies” but they also are called “Bearded Flies“, “Assassin Flies“, “Hanging Thieves“, and “Bee Killers“. That’s quite a rap sheet!

They Live Up to Their Reputation:

These aggressive flies are known for their sneaky tactics. They are airborne attack artists. They usually sit in wait hanging from a perch near areas where flying insects travel. When one is sighted they zoom out at grab the unsuspecting insect with their long hairy legs. They then puncture the body of their prey with their long pointed mouth part. When this enters the body of their prey it quickly immobilizes and paralyzes it with special enzymes included in the fluid injected into the bite. The saliva injected contains a powerful neurotoxin that attacks the muscles of the insect prey. This fluid not only subdues the prey, it also begins to digestion. The flies then travel to a nearby perch and suck out the fluid from the dissolved protein within the bodies of the insects consumed. When done with their meal, they drop the outer remains of the body and move back to their perch to wait for another victim.

 

Classification:

Interestingly there are over 85 species of these flies in North America and thousands world-wide. They range in size and coloration. Some even mimic bees for protection and stealth when chasing their prey. Some are as small as 3/8 ” but range all the way up to 1 1/8 ” in size. They are members of the Animal Kingdom, the Phylum Arthropoda, the Class Insecta, and the Family Asilidae, and Order Diptera (the flies). One characteristic of all flies is that they possess two wings instead of two pair as in other flying insects.

Why Not Pick On Someone Your Own Size?

Believe it or not, Robber Flies are not shy when taking on other insects. They can easily capture insects their own size and even larger. They specialize in capturing members of the order Hymenoptera (the bees, wasps, hornets and bumblebees). Even though these opponents have powerful weapons to fight back, the Robber Flies usually win the competition. They also buzz out and grab dragonflies and butterflies. One amazing thing experienced by some observers was when a large Robber Fly actually capture a small hummingbird. **

This Looks Like a Good Hangout!:

One interesting behavior of Robber Flies is where they like to hang out. They often perch themselves near nectar producing flowers. Seems like a good idea because that way their food comes to them. Another by-product of this behavior is the opportunity to augment their diet with a little sugar nectar from the flowers. It seems that female Robber Flies need a little sugar when  producing their offspring.

Is That A Stinger?

If you look at the end of the abdomens of some Robber Flies you will see a long pointed structure that looks like a stinger. It is actually an ovipositor, (and egg laying device). If you have ever been bitten by a robber fly, however, you will think you’ve been stung. The bites are painful but rarely experienced unless you are handling them roughly or traveling through an area where food is scarce. I remember being bitten by one while hiking in the Sierras. Their bites are not pleasant but are of no lasting concern.

Are They Helpful or Harmful?

A good question often asked by gardeners is whether or not these creatures are helpful in the garden. The answer is a of mixed opinion. They seem to have a taste for grasshoppers  and leafhoppers which cause a lot of damage to crops. Since they feed on these and a lot of other pests that feed on your veggies they are helpful in that way. However, they are not selective in which insects they eat. They also consume a lot of the pollinators that transfer pollen from one flower to the next allowing the production of the fruit and veggies that you are growing to harvest in season. For the most part, scientists believe their overall presence is helpful in maintaining balance in the food webs and providing food for other animals. Those who raise bees for honey and wax would say, “We don’t want them around our hives”. They aren’t called “Bee Killers” for nothing!

Do They Have Any Enemies?

Robber flies are often part of the diets of birds, bats, praying mantises, centipedes, assassin bugs,  Ground Beetles and  other Robber Flies. They are also occasionally trapped in the webs of spiders.

Long Live the Young:

Robber flies, like many other insects, go through complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They begin as eggs which hatch out into larvae. The larvae are worm-like grubs which spend up to 3 years developing. In this stage they are usually living in decaying plant material or the deteriorating bark of fallen trees. In this stage they are also active predators feeding on the many other insect larvae developing along side of them. Once they get big enough they form into the pupa stage and later emerge as adults. As adults they only live for about three months before they mate and die. The females deposit their eggs in the soil to start the whole process over again.

I’m Feeling a Little Depressed:

One distinctive characteristic of these flies is the depression between their large compound eyes. This can be seen more clearly if you look down on them from above. Below you can see what they look like from the bottom side of the body. Notice that their antenna are very short. Their beak-like mouth is held in a slot under their chins and can easily be swung out when needed to pierce the prey.

Did You Hear That Buzz?

One way to know these flies are around is the loud buzzing sound they produce as they fly by.

They Have Quite a Following:

Did you know there are many people who find these insects so interesting that they have formed groups to study them?      If you want to read more about these insects you might check out the following web sites:  The Asilidae Homepage,  and Roy Beckemeyer’s Asilidae Homepage. One of the most interesting blog post I read was the one that described the hummingbird incident. It was http://www.hilton pond.org. **You can also check out the National Geo, Wikipedia, and the Audubon web sites. 

They Are Part of the Big Picture:

As I observe and research the many creatures I find in the wild I am always trying to get a view of the bigger picture of life’s purpose. When I look at the many specialized features of this insect I am reminded that there had to be an Amazing Designer. The many features these insects possess reveal an intentional design by a Master Creator. They were designed to fill an important role in the overall environment. The closer we look at Creation the more evidence is found of the bigger picture. God also has a plan for your life. Do you know what it is? You can learn more about this by reading God’s Word, the Bible. It tells us everything from the original Creation of living things to the future of mankind.

Make You Own Observations:

I hope you will take some time to explore God’s Creation yourself. There are so many interesting things to discover.

American Alligator: Quite a Come Back Story

“See You Later Alligator”

You have probably heard the expression. “See you later, Alligator.” Believe it or not, it almost became true of these amazing creatures. Back in 1973, due to over harvesting and wanton killing,  these historic American reptiles were threatened by extinction and placed on the Endangered Species list. What a shame it would have been to lose these interesting creatures from their natural habitats. As a result of careful management, they have made an amazing comeback and were removed from that list in 1987. They are still carefully managed, but have come back in impressive numbers.

What’s On the Menu?:

We found this warning sign while observing birds around a lake in Alabama.

After viewing these creatures you develop a great respect for their powerful jaws. It’s interesting to note, however, that it usually isn’t people that are eaten by alligators. Rather, it is people eating alligators. Their meat is highly sought after and cooked in many interesting ways. Besides their meat, one of the reasons for their reduction in numbers was their skins. Many items used to be made from their hides. They also got a bad rap! Many movies and books portrayed these animals as a great threat to mankind. Though they are to be respected, they rarely threaten humans unless they are approaching them in their nesting areas. Most areas where viewing is provided have ample warning of their presence and suggest you watch where you go while watching them from a distance. You can also go to places where alligators are raised commercially and watch shows where they demonstrate their abilities to snap onto and devour their food. Alligator meat can be found on the menu of several restaurants that have been raised commercially for harvest.

 

                     The Two Signs Pictured Above Were In the Audubon Bird Sanctuary in Alabama

They Can Be Hard to Spot!:

Can you see me now?

Though alligators can hide well in vegetation, as above, they more commonly like to rest on the shoreline where they absorb the warmth of the sunshine on cold mornings. After they warm up, they may then crawl back into the water to cool down and look for food. Being reptiles, basking is a form of temperature regulation.

My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Just like in humans, the teeth of the alligators change as they mature. When very young,  they have needle-like teeth well adapted for capturing insects and other arthropods as well as young fish and crustaceans. As they grown older, their teeth also enlarge. With these big teeth they can crack open even hard-shelled turtles and break bones of other animals. Their jaw force is amazing. Interestingly, the force of their jaws is greatly minimized by placing a hand or a band of duct tape around their snouts, which is often the tactic used when subduing these animals in zoos and in the field when the trapper plans to release the animals after collecting data on their length, health, age, and other factors. Once the tape is removed, you better watch out! When they clamp down they have one of the greatest bite forces in the Animal Kingdom.

That’s Twisted!

One unique feature of alligators is their habit of capturing their prey on shore and dragging it into the water to drown it. Once it is dead, they grab on to part of the body and do an “Alligator Roll” which twists off pieces of the animal for more easy swallowing. They have even been known to work in groups to tear apart larger animals with each getting their share of the food. Since they really don’t actually chew their food they have been equipped with gizzards, just like the birds. In these organs they can grind down the meat and derive the energy in this food through further digestion. I consider all these amazing traits as a sign of their unique design by a thoughtful Creator.

Using Tools?:

Of the many members of the animal kingdom that have been observed using tools, the alligator is included. This is highly unusual in the ranks of reptiles! “What tools do they use?”, you might ask. Well, they have literally figured out a way to really “Stick It to” their prey. They have been observed holding branches of trees in their mouths while waiting for unsuspecting birds to descend and lite on the branches offered as perches.   When the birds land they are surprised when the large mouth opens and clamps down on their bodies: I guess this is the Fast Food of the alligator’s life.

 

Be Fruitful!

Interesting studies of alligator’s stomach contents have revealed that they are not totally carnivores. Though, to my knowledge this has never been witnessed by man, within the stomachs there have been elderberries, wild grapes, and citrus fruits taken directly from trees. This again, shows the great adaptability of these creatures to use the food available. Their diets are very diversified.

Infrasonic Communication: “B Flat”, Now That’s Music to My Ears!

Like other animals alligators have some interesting ways to communicate with others of their own kind. The males can create bellowing sounds by sucking air into their lungs and then emitting it quickly. This seems to be a way to warn off other males invading the mating territories where the females are during the mating season. Those who have observed these sounds say that they are more felt than heard. They even create vibrations in the water around the gators when they are emitting them. The sprinkling effect is even called the “Water Dance” by those who have witnessed these things. In one experiment, tubas were used to stimulate the large males into producing their own vibrations. When checked with the musical scale, the vibrations register a B Flat on the scale. Baby alligators also vocalize with a chirp-like sound to let their mothers know when they are ready to emerge from their eggs buried in the vegetation by their mothers for incubation. The mothers then dig up the babies and watch over them for some time until they are ready to fend for themselves in the wild.

Who Is The Hottest?

If you have ever wondered who is the hottest between males and females, it’s the males. At least in the Alligator world. You see, the temperature during the incubation period has a direct effect on the gender of the babies. At 93 degrees F. you will have males. At 86 degrees F, you will have females.

Helpful In Removing Unwanted Guests:

Alligators have an important role in the environment by regulating the populations of the creatures living there. If there are too many of some species there will not be enough food to go around. Besides the native species that over produce, non-native species create an even greater danger. Man has messed up this critical balance frequently by bringing in unwanted non-native species. One of these creatures, the Nutria, was brought into the U.S. from South America back in the mid- 20th century. They quickly multiplied and became a nuisance species burrowing into the banks of levees causing floods and eating up the food that the other species depended upon for survival. Give a shout out to the alligators! It seems that the alligator is one of the most important factors in regulating these animals. Another group of terrible invaders are the Burmese Pythons that have been released into Florida by some who found their newly acquired pets were getting too large to manage. Soon, pythons were taking over the environment. Alligators seem to have a taste for these creatures as well.

Every Creature Is Important!

One of the things man has learned over the many years of observation is that every kind of animal is important in the balance of the ecosystem. When God created all things He had a purpose for each one. It is important as Earth’s Caretakers, to realize how it is important that we acknowledge this balance and work to maintain it for the preservation of the species. This requires careful observation and management by taking time to consider the ramifications of our activities in the natural world.

Interesting Alligator Facts:

Like other reptiles, alligators are cold-blooded.

Alligators can weigh over 1000 lbs.

Alligators live in the South-Eastern part of the U.S.

The scientific name of the American Alligator is Alligator mississippienis.

Alligators have a third eyelid that covers their eyes underwater like built in “diving masks”.

Alligators have 80 teeth when mature, 40 on top and 40 on the bottom.

Alligator teeth are aligned so that the upper teeth fit into the bottom ones for a tight grip.

Baby alligators have an “egg tooth” located on the tip of their noses to use to get out of their eggs when fully developed.

Strangely, alligators have 5 toes on each of the front feet while only 4 on the rear ones.

Scientists believe that alligators live up to 35-50 years in the wild. In captivity they are known to live  from 60–80 years.

Alligator meat really does taste a lot like chicken.

Why Not Do Some Further Research?:

Some of these facts come from Avia Trivia, Wikipedia, Peterson’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, Reptiles of North America, Animal Fact Files: Reptiles and Amphibians by Chris Mattison, Val Davies and David Alderton.  

It’s not hard to find a lot more information by simply doing a Google search on-line. Check it out!

Bald Eagles: Symbol of the United States of America

Do You Know Me?

 

One of the most well known birds, recognized in photographs, is the Bald Eagle. These interesting birds have been studied for hundreds of years while uncovering many of their habits and characteristics.

 

 

Let’s take a closer look.

If you look closely you will notice that these eagles are chocolate brown in coloration. The adults have white heads and tails. You will also notice the yellow eyes, beaks and legs. Notice the powerful hooked bill which is designed for tearing meat apart and can also be used as a weapon.

Second Largest Bird of Prey in U.S.

Though these birds are very large, they are only the second largest in the U.S.  Can you name the largest? It is the rare California Condor. Have you ever heard of the Bergman’s Rule? This general rule relating to the size of Eagles predicts that the farther North you go, the larger the birds will be. It seems to stand true when comparing specimens from the North compared to those found father to the South. The larger females range from 35-27 inches long with a wingspan of 79-90 inches. That is a big bird! The smaller males are between 30-34 inches long and have a wingspan of 72-85 inches. That makes the females 25% larger than the males.

Are They Really Bald?

Strange as it may seem, the eagles are not bald as one would think. The term “Bald” actually doesn’t come from a word meaning “without hair“. It actually  comes from a word that means, “White Headed“. Interestingly, they do not acquire their white heads and tails until they reach maturity around 4-5 years of age.

Controversy Over Naming the Bald Eagle As National Symbol:

If you look at the Presidential Seal, and on many U.S. coins, you will find the Bald Eagle as a national symbol of the U.S.  This has been the case ever since 1782 when it was declared the official emblem of our great country. Not all of those present at this time thought the Eagle was a good choice. One notable exception was Benjamin Franklin, who thought the Eagle’s reputation and character was far beneath the dignity of the U.S.   He noted that they were cowardly and of low moral character since they often steal food captured by other predators and will flee from the little  King Bird when being chased by them.

It Takes a Thief: “Kleptoparasitism”

Bald Eagles are often seen swooping down and stealing the prey from Osprey, foxes and other smaller predators. Have you ever heard the term “kleptomaniac” used to describe one who compulsively steals from others? Well, scientists use a similar word to describe animals like the Eagles that steal the food from others. This term is “Kleptoparasitism“.

They Eat What?!!!

Did you know, that in addition to stealing food from others they also eat dead things found along the road or in the field or beside the streams. This is known as “Carrion”. In many places and when the opportunity arises the large portion of the eagle’s diet comes from these sources.

They do, however, take wing and work for some of their food. It seems their favorites come from the ocean or fresh water. If you have ever watched an eagle for very long you may have seen it swoop down and snag a fish from the water with its talons. They then fly to a nearby nest, rock or tree top to tear the food apart for storage. They store it up in a large crop at the bottom of their necks until they further process and digest it later. Sometimes eagles go for several days without hunting, processing the food they captured earlier. They are known to feed on many different types of animals being opportunistic hunters. Some of these include: ducks, coots, auklets and other small birds. They also eat rabbits, raccoon, muskrats, skunks, opossum, armadillos, arctic foxes, baby beavers, and even baby seals when available. They augment their diet with shellfish, turtles, crabs, and small birds.

What’s In A Name?:

The scientific name of the Bald Eagle is Haliaeetus leucocephalas”. The Genus and Species names are written in Latin. They mean “Large Sea Eagle with a white head“. Scientists use this universal language for all their classification of living things. Apparently this name came from Linnaeus clear back in 1766.

Nesting Characteristics:

One of the most outstanding characteristics of the eagles is their ability to construct huge nests. One of these was calculated as being almost two tons in weight and was 20 feet deep in the middle.. Another nest was  measured at 9.5 feet across. These are built high above the ground often on tree tops. We saw one high in a tree when we visited Yellowstone National Park several years ago. Nests more often are about 4-5 feet in diameter. Since the nests are reused for several years they get bigger as the years go by when new building materials are added to the original. Eagles often use man-made telephone poles and radio towers as places to build their nests.

Finally Removed From the Endangered Species List:

One of the sad historical events associated with the Bald Eagles was when they were dying out and threatened with extinction. This was primarily due to the introduction of the deadly pesticide, DDT. When this pesticide was used it eventually got into the food chain. The poison caused damage in egg shell formation and when the eggs were laid they broke before the chicks could develop. This not only hurt the eagles but many other animals in the environment. The government declared its use illegal and it has taken several years for its effects to be removed from the environment. In 1940 Congress passed  the Bald Eagle Protection Act. Since the poison also threatened other birds of prey, in 1962 an amendment added the Golden Eagle to the mix. In 1963 there were only estimated to be 487 nesting pairs of Bald Eagles. Much regulation and active protection helped the bird’s numbers to recover. In 2007 the Bald Eagle was finally removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

 

It’s Our Duty to Care for Them:

Though these birds have recovered, it is important to realize how careful mankind must be in how we treat the environment. God gave man the Dominion Mandate way back in the Book of Genesis. He gave man the responsibility to care for His Creation. It was created for man to use but not abuse.

Considered a Sacred Bird:

Many of the Native American tribes have considered Eagles sacred birds for thousands of years. Today true Native American tribes can still harvest the feathers of these birds which are illegal to possess by others. They use them in many of their religious ceremonies and include them in their clothing and head wear. If you have ever seen a picture of an Indian Chief you have probably noticed the large feathers in his headpiece. The feathers were also waved through smoke while brokering agreements and treaties with others.

Why Not Learn More?:

Much of this information came from reading books and blog posts including National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America and web sites, Smithsonian Institutes National Zoo, Wikipedia, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Blog.  There are many more that you can easily find by looking on line.

 

Note: The pictures I took of these birds were from Queens, N.Y. at the Zoo there. The eagles on display had been brought to the zoo injured and after they recovered were unable to be released to the wild since their wings were damaged. 

Burrowing Owls: Welcome to the Underground

A Different Kind Of Owl:

On our recent trip to New York we stopped in Queens to visit the Zoo there the night before we flew back to Tennessee. While there we witnessed one of the strangest owls I have ever seen, the Burrowing Owl.

What Makes Them Different?:

They have a leg up on the competition:

There are several characteristics of this owl species that set it apart from other owls. As you can see in this picture, the owls have long legs.  By having long legs they can scan the grasslands while standing on the ground or sitting on a low perch like a rock or branch.

They have mastered the underground:

Rather than burrow in trees and barns, these owls prefer to use abandoned prairie dog burrows or even man-made structures embedded in the ground. I once saw some in a culvert in a construction site in Sacramento. They can dig burrows themselves if necessary, but seem to enjoy re-purposing the work of others before them.

They often live in groups:

As you probably know from previous experience, owls are usually solitary individuals. Burrowing owls, however, often live in colonies of many owls. This provides for better security since one owl can sound an alarm so that many can respond immediately.

They have yellow eyes:

If you have seen other owls up close or in photos you probably noticed they usually have orange eyes. Burrowing owls have yellow eyes. These allow the birds to see well in both the dark and daylight.

They store up food for the future:

One of the interesting traits of these little birds is their ability to plan for the future. When food is plentiful they often store it up in their dens for hard times to come.

They even eat the small stuff:

Most owls prefer to eat rodents like mice, rats, rabbits and other small mammals. Burrowing owls take advantage of many kinds of food overlooked by others including insect, spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. In this manner they are important to the ecosystem’s balance and help keep these creatures in check. They also eat reptiles, (lizards and small snakes),  amphibians, (toads and frogs and salamanders), and even fish when available. In addition to these arthropods they also specialize in eating small rodents in their territory. Some of these include groundhogs, squirrels, mice, voles, pocket gophers and the like.

They have some special tricks for acquiring their food and repelling enemies:

A strange greeting: May seem smelly and trashy!

One interesting thing I discovered about these little birds is their habit of laying out a carpet in front of their burrows. What do you suppose this carpet is made of? I bet you didn’t guess it was poop! Yes, they gather up the dung from deer, cows, buffalo.”Why on earth would they do this?”, you might ask. Well, mixing dung and grass attracts one of their favorite foods, dung beetles. They get their food brought right to their doorstep. Another advantage of such a carpet is that it repels many would-be enemies from entering their burrows. They smell the animal feces and flee the other way thinking a larger animal may be near by. They also often scatter small pieces of paper, tin foil, bottle caps, and the like around their entrances. Scientists are not sure exactly why they do this but it seems to be some kind of an indication that the dwelling is occupied. They say. “Seek another place to build your home!”

Don’t let them rattle you!:

Strange as it might seem, these little birds can make a sound that is very similar to the rattlesnake. They use this alarm when other animals get too close to their nesting places. It seems to be pretty effective! I think I would think twice before messing with them if I heard this sound. How about you?

They have a high tolerance for gasses that would harm other creatures:

Living underground may seem like a great place to live but one of the dangers of such a dwelling is the high concentrations of Carbon Dioxide that flows into these low places from above. Since CO-2 is much heavier than the other gasses in the atmosphere it has a tendency to flow underground into any depressions in the ground it can find. God created these birds so they have a much higher tolerance to this gas than other creatures.

Night and Day Shifts:

Though these owls prefer hunting in the evening, especially at dusk, they also can be active in the daytime when necessary. As you know, many insects are most active in daylight. The owls often sit on perches just above the ground waiting to see movement. When motion is sighted they quickly can respond by either pouncing on their prey or hovering above before dropping to capture it.

Other interesting things to know about these birds:

Burrowing owls are classified into these groupings:

Kingdom = Animalia

Phylum = Vertebrata

Class = Aves

Order = Strigiformes

Family = Strigidae

Genus =   Athene

Species cunicularia

They are found mostly in range-land, grasslands, near airports and golf courses.

They are small in stature, up to 9 inches tall.

Males are actually slightly larger than females (This is unusual in the animal Kingdom).

Their range is mostly in the Mid-West in the US, though they also are found frequently in Florida. They can also be found in Central  and South America in the grasslands there.

The father shares the duties of caring for his mate and young. While the female incubates the eggs the males spend time hunting to bring her food so she can spend the time caring for her developing young. The males also help acquire food when the young emerge from the eggs.

Rather than take to the air when threatened, they often flatten themselves near the ground or run off quickly on their feet. They are very speedy!

Just call me Bob:  One unique behavior of these creatures is their up and down movements. They bob up and down when on the ground or standing on their perches. This seems to help them see movement around them.

They are good at digging. Some of the burrows they dig can be up to 9 feet long with many chambers along the path. These are used for storing food as well as providing many hiding places if enemies enter the burrows.

The more I study the many creatures God has created for us to enjoy, the more I see how He designed each creature for where it lives and has provided built in instincts for them to survive.

We need to be careful in our use of our God given resources including the many kinds of living things around us. One of the sad things about burrowing owls is that their numbers are decreasing due to man’s development in the places where they live. Hopefully mankind will improve our respect for needed areas for these and other creatures to live and thrive so that others can enjoy them in the future.

Origami Cranes at the Wedding

How To Use 1000 Cranes:

 

In my last blog I showed you the process of folding 1000 origami cranes. I made these for my granddaughter’s wedding in Long Island, New York. I thought it would be fun to show you how we used the cranes in celebrating this occasion.

Once we arrived in Long Island we were taken to the church where the wedding was to take place in a couple days. My youngest granddaughter and I sat down to finish folding down the wings of the last 200 cranes which were to be used at each table setting for the wedding feast.

We had previously sent the cranes to NY with their wings still in the up position so                                                            they could more easily be packaged for the flight to NY.

The Majority of the Cranes in Place:

The day before I arrived most of the cranes had been strung on strings with various numbers of cranes on each. Some were long and some were shorter. Along with the cranes were several Japanese Paper Lanterns hung. The neat thing was, that since they were all white, the colored lighting could change the colors from pink, to blue, and yellow in an alternating fashion. Those who strung the cranes used a little dab of tacky glue to hold the cranes on the string with a little separation. When we came into the sanctuary for the first time the whole floor up front was covered with strings of cranes to be hung in and out of doors.

 

Some of the cranes were taken outside to a large tent and hung over the dance floor and eating area.

The Bride and Groom indoors

 

Father and Bride Dancing Under the Cranes.

 Cranes Are A Symbol Of Good Fortune

And A Long Lasting Relationship.

One of the interesting things about cranes is the way they mate for life. They have been a symbol of faithfulness and good fortune for thousands of years.

The Bride and Groom:

As a Christian I am reminded of the faithfulness of our God to His Bride, the Church.

What a celebration awaits us when He returns to claim His Bride. That will be a celebration like none that has ever come before it. I hope you are rightly related to Him so you can celebrate on that day too.

Read more about it in Ephesians 5:22-33.

 

 

Senbazuru: Have You Ever Folded 1000 Cranes?

Why Would Anyone Want To Do This?

According to the Japanese legend, anyone who folds one thousand cranes is granted one wish. Whether this is true or not is debatable, however, the origami crane has become a symbol of hope to the sick, a symbol of peace, good fortune, and love to those for whom the cranes are folded.

Where Did This All Begin?

According to history, the crane has been a symbol of good fortune for as long as there are records of Japanese culture. The origami crane, however, became famous by a little girl of twelve who was trying to fold 1000 to get her wish. She had leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. She was only two when the bomb dropped, but the cancer developed and became lethal when she was twelve. She never finished folding her cranes. She had 644 cranes when she died. Several of her friends completed the rest of the cranes which were buried with her. Today there is a monument with a statue of Sadako Sasaki, this brave little girl, as a reminder of the tragic effects of war on children. The monument is called the Children’s Peace Monument. Around Sadako’s likeness are thousands of cranes. Children from all around the world often fold cranes and send them for display there.

Other Uses for Cranes:

As the cranes became popular they were also used in weddings and other special occasions. The reason I folded them was for my Granddaughter’s wedding this summer.

Consider the Time!:

If you decide to try to fold a thousand cranes, consider the time it will take you to finish the project. It took me fifty three hours to complete the task. That’s quite a commitment of time. Fortunately, I am retired and origami is my hobby. In fact, I’ve always wanted to try it!

Many Ways to Fold Them:

As you can see in the photo above, there are a lot of different folding models of cranes. If you look at those in the box at the top of the page you can see the traditional crane. Some people stack them in this flat position on strings.Others fold out the wings in one of two ways. You can just bend them down or you can pull outward on the wings and flatten the top of the bird. You can see both of these in the picture above. I also included in the group two flying crane models at the bottom of the group. These cranes actually flap their wings when you hold the bottom and pull back on the tail.

How to String Them:

There are also a number of ways to string them. You will need a large needle, some string or fishing line, and maybe some beads. Run the string up through the hole on the bottom of the crane and out the top of the back. You can stack them with, or without beads, however, the beads hold them farther apart. I think this makes them appear more like a real bird. They stand out more when there is space between them and actually look like they are flying when strung this way.

Create A Pattern:

As you can see in the photos, you can create interesting patterns by alternating colors and textures and print patterns. The colored cranes in these pictures were folded from three by three inch squares from origami paper with nature prints. Some strings have beads, others don’t. Consider how many you can place on a string for the space available to hang them. Fishing line works well for supporting the weight and also is invisible so it does not distract from the pattern. If you use colored string, make sure the color goes well with the cranes. Some people hang several strands of cranes in a circle pattern. Others suspend them evenly spaced and use them as a backdrop behind the stage for photo opportunities. Some just place the cranes on table tops in various patterns. Be creative! Make your display unique to your purposes.

You Can Also Use Fewer Cranes!:

If you want to try folding cranes, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the time or patience to fold 1000. Many people use far less than 1000. Some people just buy them already folded….but where’s the fun in that? And believe it or not, they are not cheap! Check it out on line and see what I mean!

Lessons to Learn:

As I folded the cranes I thought of how hard it is to create so many birds of the same pattern. Then I thought of how awesome it is that God created so many different kinds of creatures and things by just speaking them into existence. Wow! I can only make a crude likeness of a creature. He made each creature alive with everything it would need to survive and reproduce itself. Just think of how complicated even the simplest form of life actually is. I am so glad He created all things, including me!

It Shows Love !

As I made cranes because I love my Granddaughter and wanted to wish her well in her wedding, I was reminded that God has demonstrated His love to all of us in His Creation. It is just one of the ways God demonstrates His love to us. Even greater is that He gave His own Son to pay the price for our sins so we could be free from guilt and shame and be united with Him by accepting this free gift, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and LORD.

John 3: 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

 

Other Interesting Origami Crane Facts:

A group of 1000 origami cranes is called Senbazuru.

Cranes are often folded and given to those who are ill as a token of good will and hope for recovery.

Origami cranes are often used in religious ceremonies in Japan.

At several monuments for peace around the world cranes are given as a symbol of individual prayers that have been offered for peace. The more cranes, the more prayers.

The Japanese space agency JAXA used the folding of 1000 cranes as one of the test for its potential astronauts.

There is some controversy about the number of cranes Sadako actually folded. Some say she not only finished the cranes but also folded more because she did not get her wish.

Every year on Obon Day, people fold and leave cranes at the Hiroshima Peace Park in honor of the lives lost on that tragic day.

A fictionalized version of Sadako’s life story is a popular book entitled “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”. You can probably find it at the library in the children’s section. The author is Eleanor Coen.

The average amount of time needed to fold 1000 cranes is around 50 hrs. (if you can fold 20 in an hour. ) This does not include packing them or stringing them, which can take much longer.

Note: The size of the paper used can change the amount of tine it takes to fold a crane. I used six inch squares for my thousand white cranes. Using three inch squares is much faster.

Here is number 1000 of the white cranes.

Have You Seen the Speedy Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle?

Like a Tiny Jewel:

When I looked out of the garage door this afternoon I spotted what looked like a shiny emerald streaking across the blacktop. On closer Inspection I discovered it was an iridescent green tiger beetle.

Notice the white spots on the hard outer wing covers (elytra). There are three spots on each side of the beetle.

This beetle has the scientific name of Cicindela sexguttata. When translated from the Latin it means the beetle has six spots on it.

 

Color Changing:

 

One of the amazing things about this beetle is its ability to shift colors according to the angle of the sunlight that hits its wings. Below you can see it in a more bluish color. It ranges from green, to purple and blue.

My! What Big Eyes You Have! “The better to see you, my dear!”

One of the interesting features of this beetle is that they have large compound eyes adapted for capturing movement. Notice that the eyes are even wider than the thorax of the beetle.  With these they can quickly identify their prey and pursue it on their long nimble legs designed for speed.

Wow! That’s Fast!

One characteristic that sets these beetles into a category all their own is their speed. This little beetle can scurry across the ground at a rate that it can cover 125 times its body length in a single second. If I could do that I would be able to win in the Olympic running events! Not only can they run quickly, they can also fly.

My, What Big Teeth You Have! “The better to eat you, my dear!”

Notice the large front white mandibles. They are like curved swords with tiny sharp daggers along their edges. 

With these long mandibles the tiger beetle can quickly subdue their prey. Not only can they pierce and grab the creatures they pursue, they can also tear it up into tiny pieces to be swallowed. Note: Some of these beetles can even get your attention by biting you when you try to pick them up, if you can catch them as they speed by.

Let’s Get The Digestion Started Early!

Not only do these beetles break apart their prey, they also spit out a digestive juice onto their food before they swallow it. This actually begins the digestion process so it won’t take so long to get the nutrients into their energy supply.

If You See Me, Let Me Be!

These beetles are not your enemy! Gardeners are fond of these creatures since they reduce the amount of harmful insects, spiders and other creatures that creep into their gardens. Some of their favorite food includes caterpillars of moths and other types of beetles that eat up the leaves and fruit of you garden. They spend the daylight hours zipping around looking for invaders to consume.

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby…………Not!!!

One of the most interesting things about these beetles is how they begin their five year life span. After emerging from their eggs the larvae dig deep vertical pits in which to hide. These can range from 8″ to about three feet in depth. The larvae are kind of shaped like an “S”. Their heads are very large, in fact they completely cover the tops of the holes in their vertical shafts. The next part is my favorite!

Jack-In-The Box:

When I was a child I was startled when I first saw a Jack-In-The- Box. When It popped out after the music stopped I was shocked by its quick emergence. In a similar way, the beetle larvae of the tiger beetles sit inside their tubes waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by. When they do the larvae quickly pop out and snatch their prey with enormous mandibles. They then pull it down into their deep pit homes to consume at their leisure. The larvae can spend up to a year in these pits until they get fat enough to go into their pupa stage for an amazing transformation into an adult insect that usually emerges in the Spring of the year.

Ecologically Important!:

As you think about the many creatures you see around you it is not long before you see how important they all are to other organisms. Though these beetles eat many other types of insects and spiders, they also are the food of other creatures. As adults there are few creatures fast enough to catch them. I really had to be quick to catch the one I found for closer inspection.They are occasionally captured by spiders in their webs and also by birds. In their larva stage they are often dug up by skunks, moles, grackles, and sandpipers. Beetles are very high in protein needed by the organisms that eat them.

By Design:

When we think further about the whole situation we can clearly see a pattern of an Intelligent Designer. When God created each creature He had a purpose in their introduction to the environment. Each creature is part of a bigger plan. They are all inter-related. Think of the complex food webs that exist around you. If any one part were removed it would cause chaos in the whole system.

Get Out Your Binoculars!

In one of the interesting articles I read about these beetles was one that shared some tips for observing them feed. I was surprised to learn that they recommended using binoculars and sitting near a sandy pathway. Once you spot a tiger beetle scurrying along back off about 10 to 20 feet and use your binoculars to watch it. It will soon slow down when not threatened by your presence and begin its natural feeding process. In this way you can see it capture its prey. They seem to more plentiful in areas with sandy soil such as along pathways and beaches. Some species actually prefer the sandy beaches along the shore line of the ocean and lakes, rivers and streams. Interestingly, if you try this you will probably notice that the beetles tend to take flight when you get too close. When they land they usually face back to where you are standing. After you stand still for a little while they do not feel threatened. In this manner you can more likely observe their natural behaviors.

 

If you want to read more about this you can check out the ASU website and read the article How to Observe Tiger Beetles. It’s a good read.

The Amazing Resurrection Fern

Rise Again:

On a recent trip my wife and I took to the states of Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, we discovered and observed many wonderful jewels of creation. In this post I would like to introduce you to the one that made the largest impression on me.

Have You Met Pleopeltis polypioides?:

This amazing plant that God created reminds us of the historical event of the rising of Jesus Christ from the Dead celebrated world over at Easter time. These emerald beauties demonstrates God’s design in wonderful ways. The scientific name of this plant is Pleopeltis polypioides. The are also known as Miracle Fern and Little Gray Polypod.

Look at this plant. It looks dead and all dried up.  This is the Resurrection Fern in times of drought or the dry seasons of the year.

 

The above plants show what happens in a dry spell.

Watch the Transformation:

What a wonderful change comes to pass as soon as the rain appears.

 

 

Interesting Facts About the Resurrection Fern:

It can be found all over the Southeastern part of the United States as well as in some parts of South America and Africa.

It loses up about 75% of its water content during a typical dry period but scientists believe it can extend this ability to around 97% in extreme droughts.

Scientists believe it can remain in a dormant state for as long as 100 years.

It usually grows above the ground on the trunks and branches of trees. It can also grow other other surfaces where it can get a grip with its rhizomes (root system).

It shrivels and curls up when it dries out with the underside of the leaves outward. In this fashion they can instantly absorb water when it rains or gathers on the tree it grows on.

There are over 1,200 varieties of Resurrection plants found all over the world.

These ferns are “Epiphytes“….(plants that grow above the ground, supported on other plants).

Resurrection Ferns are not parasitic.  They do not acquire their food from the host plants upon which they grow. They do, however, benefit from the nutrients that flow down the trunks and off the leaves of the host plant when the rain and dew gather there.

Don’t try to find seeds for these plants. They reproduce by spores which they release into the air as the spore cases under the leaves burst open. They can also be propagated by dividing the rhizomes.

These plants are often found on live oak trees as well as cypresses. Though these are their favorites, they can also grow on rocky surfaces and many different kinds of plants. They just need a good place to anchor  their rhizomes and find water.

This large oak tree above a restaurant was covered with Resurrection Fern. 

Some Other Things I Learned About These Plants.

If you take the time to look on-line you will discover that these plants are often purchased by herpetologists (scientists that raise and study reptiles and amphibians). They use these plants when creating a moist environment in their terrariums used to house their reptiles and amphibians. If you have ever been to a zoo and gone into the reptile and amphibian displays you may have seen these plants growing along side mosses and other water loving plants which add beauty to the display as well as provide a great way to keep the terrariums moist for the creatures that live in them.

They Went Where?!!!

Did you know that these plants have traveled to outer space? They were actually taken into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery back in 1997 to see how the plants would respond to zero gravity.

Good Friends with the Mosses:

One study found a strong relationship between the Resurrection Fern and Mosses. It seems that they share the water that the mosses hold like a sponge. It seems like they may share the same space and probably help each other grasp the surfaces of the trees they grow on by providing a lattice work of rhizomes for the mosses to anchor themselves.

They Have Medicinal Uses:

These little plants have been used medically for thousands of years. The ancient Aztecs used them as a diuretic, against renal stones, cystitis and liver infections. They also show anti-inflammatory properties. They have been used to resist the growth of bacteria, to treat headaches, gum diseases and dizziness. They even hold possibilities of being used in the treatment of cancer. Who knows what other benefits these plants may possess for those who continue to study them?

Have You Considered the Benefits of the Resurrection?

Though this plant seems to rise from the dead, it in fact doesn’t completely die out. In the case of Jesus Christ, however, He really died and then rose again to life. He is the only one to have power over life and death. He also died for a purpose. He died so that you could experience spiritual and eternal life. His death paid the price for man’s sins and provided an opportunity for us to know and experience the true God. By believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ and trusting Him for your future, you also can have a resurrection experience. You can be brought to life spiritually as well as have the assurance of eternal life when your days on earth are over. A great way to find out more about the Resurrection and its value to you would be to read chapter 15 of the Book of the Bible, Corinthians. If you have never thought much about the reality of this event, it was witnessed by over 500 people. It has been an important event celebrated for more than 2000 years. Those who believe in the Resurrection have seen amazing transformations in their own lives as well as have experienced hope for the future and energy for daily living.