Inhabitants

 
There it was, and not alone. My thought was, “this is a pair.”
Usually subjects with feathers disappear before this photographer is prepared. And, one of the two did fly away. But, one cautiously allowed photos.
 
Red-breasted nuthatches go with trees. Coniferous or deciduous trees make suitable habitat for these insect eaters. Just a bit longer than 4 inches weighing about the same as 8 jumbo paper clips, the Red breasted Nuthatch can effortlessly conceal itself. With equal ease it moves up and down the trees where it lives searching for its next portion of insect protein.
 
We know woodpecker beaks expertly excavate nest cavities. Red-breasted nuthatch beaks are capable of mining a nuthatch size nest cavity. Since both the male and female work as a team the task is done with the power of two. Red-breasted nuthatches choose a decayed tree limb, sometimes a rotting stump and often the soft wood of the Aspen tree.DSC_0027ed
 
An unusual nesting behavior has been given to the Red-breasted Nuthatch. Both male and female line the nest entrance and the upper interior part of the nest with pine resin. This creates an effective predator guard for the female as she incubates and the young after hatching. How did they acquire this protective behavior?
 
Hidden inside nest cavities skillfully constructed, instinctively concealed, and protected by a specialized security system, even experts know little about the development of young Red-breasted Nuthatches.
 
We do know this: Red-breasted Nuthatches are here because God placed them on the earth to ‘inhabit” His created blue planet. From the Bible, in the book of Isaiah we read of God’s plan and His sovereign power: “For this is what the Lord says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:18)
 
We may explain the presence of the Red-breasted Nuthatch as a member of a food web. But, Isaiah gives us a reason we may overlook. These beautiful little birds are here because God put them on earth to be one of its inhabitants. They fit in a food web which God created. The Red-breasted Nuthatch reminds us God is the all-knowing, infinite, powerful Creator.
 
Know too God is perfect in love. In the same chapter God speaks these words: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22) God’s love is for you, it’s His eternal life plan, that we may be inhabitants of heaven.
 
It begins with Jesus.

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6 Questions

Let’s begin with some facts. You think facts are boring? You should have seen these. For two weeks the swallows have been flying-south. Red-tailed Hawks are visible-many places. Green Darner Dragonflies are photographed-and put on social media. American Pelicans have formed flocks. These flocks are flying-south. Northern Flicker Woodpeckers with the tell-tail white tail patch-are present-in migratory flocks.  If you watch carefully there are still Monarchs flying- south. Now the last-does not move. Ash tree leaves first yellow-then fall to earth.

Now 6 questions for you-but relax- two are repeated

 

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood since the earth was founded? (Isaiah 40:21)DSC_0014ed

 

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

 

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Isaiah 40:28)

 

Have you been watching? God is speaking. He is revealing His power and holy God character. Before our eyes God is creating fall.DSC_0017ed

Freedom

It came to the bird feeder quickly with caution. A rare sight for my eyes, this bird is found in Western states. A Black-headed Grosbeak had come to crack the sunflowers with its parrot like beak. “Gros” is Germanic for large. Focus your attention on its beak, there is no question about its size. It quickly cracked and shelled three sunflowers before leaving for the woods behind the house.

 

Black Headed Grosbeaks are neo-tropical birds. These birds usually winter south of the Tropic of Cancer. That’s the latitudinal line 23.5 degrees north of the equator. That makes the Black Headed Grosbeaks an international traveler. Their summer nesting range finds them in the western United States and southern Canada with the Missouri river as a general eastern boundary.

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All life in God’s creation has miraculous aspects. Black Headed Grosbeaks have many. They are adjustable. Living in tropical heat in winter and northern climates in summer requires it. They fly long distances. Caution is built-in. Male and female incubate the 2-5 eggs in the nest. Black Headed Grosbeaks chooses nest sites in trees near water and in shade to keep the nest cool. While those large beaks easily crack the hull of a sunflower, they also break the hard shells of beetles which make up to 60% of their summer diets. Their diet includes snails. In fall migration berries are available and favored.

 

There is another miracle given the Black Headed Grosbeaks-freedom. Today we celebrate the freedoms we have been given in our nation. The Black Headed Grosbeak has been given freedom too. Our Creator, the author of freedom, has directed this bird to fly much of the North American continent. From southern Mexico to central North Dakota where the bird in the photos was is over 2000 miles. Black Headed Grosbeaks have a vast freedom. Their territory is enormous. Yet, all the basics for life are provided for it in the north or south. God has given each of us eternal freedoms too. The greatest is freedom from sin. What makes this freedom desirable? It frees us from guilt and gives freedom from sin’s eternal punishment. It gives us hope and an everlasting future.

 

Yes, we celebrate freedom today. But on this United States Independence Day, the greatest freedom is given by God. He sent his son to purchase freedom for you, for me. It is Jesus who has freed us. “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12 This God-given freedom is perfect. It is eternal. It is available to all who seek it.

 

Examine a Feather

Feathers are living miracles. They are one of my favorite things in nature. There are many reasons to view them as perfect wonder.

Their bright colors are even iridescent. They form patterns and designs. Agreed, feathers are beautiful.

Birds fly with them, and swim and dive with them. Don’t take this lightly. How feathers interact with air and water is actually breath-taking.

They shine, they can be waterproofed, they are wind proof, and they are repairable.

No human mind has designed anything like them.

They fall off. Its called molting. New body feathers, new flight feathers, gradually new feathers replace the old worn feathers. No human engineer can replicate it.

Feathers provide us with physical evidence that humans can molt too…not with feathers, with their sin. The same grand Designer has a perfect plan to make every human new. The sinful self can be shed-like a bird molts a feather. A new creature, a new “sins forgiven human” is the result. Molting in birds is caused by hormones. The perfect Creator engineered it. The shedding of human sin comes when a human believes in Jesus. The Bible explains it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

 

You can start over. You can be free of your past. You can shed your sorrows and hurts. Jesus will do it for you, ask Him. It’s the perfect human “molt” and it lasts forever.

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Waiting for Sunrise

Have you ever anticipated something? It may be a day in the future like a graduation, or a wedding. It could be a new job. There are many things we find reason to anticipate with pleasure.
For me, it was a sunrise.
Bruce, my cousin and friend would be my guide. He said, “I’ll pick you up at 5:00 AM.” My response was, “I’ll be ready.” After he told me I had to wait. Waiting is hard-especially when you wait for something you know will be good. Waiting for sunrise, it’s splendid and hard.
My head was on the pillow early the night before we were to go. My goal was to be up at 4:30. My feet touched the floor at 4:23 AM. Knowing the morning would be long, a bit of food was my task after dressing.

With camera and gear in the backpack my step outside happened 20 minutes before 5 AM. The black sky glittered with stars. The Milky Way glimmered from southwest to north-east. My gaze went to the east. Sunrise was on my mind.
Soon, the sound of tires on asphalt told me he was coming. No one else would be up this early. We drove east on the main road of the island. Only one other vehicle was out this early. That person was headed west, likely not for sunrise.

We reached the entrance gate to the State Park. Bruce punched in the code and we drove eastward into the park. In the darkness to my right it was difficult to ignore the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico. It was mystery with hundreds of miles of wilderness salt water. But we were headed for the east end of the island, the tip and sunrise there.
We came to the gate that closed off the protected shorebirds nesting area. Only a gravel road passed through this part of the park. Using the code provided we went through and closed it behind us. We were 4 miles from sunrise now. In those dark miles with only the pickup headlights to show the way our only companion was a Night-hawk which flew up from its resting spot on the road.
The Milky Way and handle of the Big Dipper were still visible as we parked at the east end. Bruce gave me a red-light LED flashlight and we walked on the sand along the bay. Ghost crabs scurried into their holes or swam into clear deeper water from us. No hint of sunlight yet.
As we reached the end of the island Bruce led us southward toward the Gulf of Mexico. The south wind pleasantly cooled our faces. The vastness of the place was unmistakable. A deep sense of wildness came upon me. We were alone with only the sound of the breeze, the surf and shorebirds of the night.
Then Bruce said, “Let’s look for a bench.” It delighted me when a short distance later we found a ledge of sand created by the water from a recent high tide. We sat on the “bench.” It was perfectly positioned. It faced east. We sat. We waited. Our words were few. The magnificence all around us was powerful, making words, irrelevant. Sunrise would be soon. We watched the eastern horizon.DSC_0455ed
My camera was ready. We watched as a more intense pink-orange glow developed in the east. Moments later a golden sliver of sun popped above the earth’s edge. We could see the sun move with the horizon as a reference. In moments the perfect star for earth cleared the horizon. The day had begun.DSC_0477ed
One reward for our early rising besides the sun, were the shore birds we saw in first light. A Great Blue Heron landed near us. Perhaps it thought we were fisherman. Royal Terns, Sanderlings, Willets, Brown Pelicans even a Red Knot searched for food to fill their stomachs. We got to watch them.DSC_0484ed

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Waiting for the sunrise turned my thoughts to another event greater than any sunrise. It is a once in eternity event. It is coming. It is worth every anticipation, even longing for. It is better than a sunrise. Actually, it is better than all sunrises and sunsets combined since time began. Imagine that.
One day, some-day, Jesus the Son of God will come again. The Bible tells us “every eye will see him.” Like a sunrise, Jesus is coming again to the earth he made and on which he walked. The return of Jesus will be a simultaneous world-wide event. Every person on earth will see him.
This is the best part: Those who believe he is the Son of God and Savior of the world who have turned from their sins in repentance will be raised with him… “in the clouds” to be with him in heaven. (Revelation 1:7 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Waiting for a sunrise reminds me that one day Jesus will return. It will be magnificent beyond imagination. DSC_0477ed

A Walk With Naturalists

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Eye on Us

On Friday they told me they saw a beaver. They said it was on the shore right next to the trail where they stood. The skeptic in me thought, “maybe.” It was full day light, the beaver is nocturnal. My plan-stick with maybe. Their enthusiasm did not sway my opinion.
On Saturday my will weakened. “Could we go for a walk to see if the beaver is there?” was my request. It please me greatly when they said yes. All three of them showed eagerness both to go and to have me along. My skepticism vanished. You see the location of the beaver was in a backwater of a river. Yes, backwater, in a city park, in the capitol of North Dakota. The river was not any river, it was the longest river in the United States, the 2,300-mile-long Missouri.
A second incentive for this walk to the river was my motivation to observe how they would lead me across a busy city street and through blocks of a residential area before the park and the river.

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Two sets of eyes

In bright sunshine, the 4 of us started out. We cut westward through a coulee with water flowing through it. They spotted a pair of Mallard Drakes long before my eyes picked them out. Walking through a small grove of trees on the west edge of the coulee we heard a rooster pheasant crow. The 12-year-old boy conversations stopped. With delight, my eyes witnessed all three of them go into stealth mode. Again, my wise naturalist skills were eclipsed, one of the boys pointed out a pheasant slinking away. They spotted it first. These boys were good.
They led me directly to a pedestrian bridge that crossed the traffic filled street. The rest of the way they used cross walks and the sidewalk. It felt safe and comfortable. They did the same on the return trip. The boys were responsible. Sometimes three boys can think of unsafe things or become silly. There was none of that going or coming. We had not even come to the river and the walk with these three boys was remarkably pleasurable.

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He Watches

At the backwater, more joy came. My great privilege that morning was the company of three 12-year-old naturalists. They were interested in everything. They wanted me to get good photos. Tracks intrigued them. They listened when other pheasants crowed. They questioned what animals had made the tracks we observed. Then one of them did something few kids or adults would ever think of, he stepped over a track rather than destroy it with his foot. We witnessed Western Grebes fishing.

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Water off a Grebe’s Back

There were numerous reasons for happiness that morning. The maturity and responsibility of these three boys was one. The absolute thrill of seeing the respect and true interest in nature the three possessed another. Having conversations with three others who found everything on this sandbar of the Missouri river, fascinating. They were right about the beaver too. We didn’t see it this time. But two piles of fresh beaver scat and many chewed branches were clear evidence.

The boys and I got something else. We witnessed the power of God. We observed His divine nature in the beauty of the crowing pheasant calls and the dives of the grebes. They’d seen a fish in the water the day before. The mystery of fish in water exhilarated them. The four of us relaxed, stress fell away, our health strengthened.
Should we be surprised at the health-giving qualities available to everyone who goes outside? Why is the earth beautiful? Why do our eyes see color, our ears hear sounds equal to 10 musical octaves? Our three other senses add greater depth to any outside time. A man named David was both shepherd and king in his life. As shepherd he learned of the power and divine nature of God in creation. He wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1 God put health in nature.
Take a walk. Better yet, take some kids with you. Why is the earth so beautiful, so full of stimulating mystery which captives the minds of three boys and a grandpa? Because God made the earth for us. He made it out of love. He designed all of it for us. It is one of his gifts to us. His greatest gift is Jesus Christ and the eternal life His death on the cross provides. Could Jesus really overcome all our sins? He is powerful enough to make a world filled with beauty and mystery. We see it best when we go outside.

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Discussion

You Can’t Drink This

We agree, being big has its advantages. Think about size which provides advantage like tall basketball players and large bodied football players.

This bird has a definite size advantage. Its wingspan ranges from 5.5 to 6.5 FEET. Don’t let its weight of 4.5 to 5.5 pounds fool you. It is lightweight, all flying birds are. Walking on giant stilt legs 2 feet long or more it is able to find its preferred food, fish. There is a reason for its long neck. A long s-shaped neck has specialized vertebrae. The 6th is elongated and acts like a hinge when the Great Blue Heron “stabs” a fish or other prey. Right, stabs, look at the dagger like bill, it could be called a saber.DSC_0099_2178ed - wp

Big or not, the Great Blue Heron has no teeth.  How does it get the fish from mouth to stomach? It shakes it. Shaking breaks bones and fish spines making it easier and safer to swallow whole. It shakes all the other things it eats too. Shake it with that long neck and swallow it. Amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, including muskrats, insects and other birds. Great Blue Herons will also forage for food in fields. In a field they may find voles, gophers and more. These are Great Blue Heron food too.

Don’t compare this bird to humans. Just because it is large does not mean it is fearless. These words accurately describe Great Blue Herons: shy, reclusive, and cautious. The female in the photo did not want to fly. The male standing next to her immediately flew at my approach.

Great Blue Herons are water birds, big water birds. All living things need water. We agree on that. But this more than full-sized bird does not drink water. The water it needs for life is found in its food. While Great Blue Herons are found into the Central Canadian provinces during nesting season, they can be found year around from the mid to southern United States. Great Blue Herons frequent salt water areas. Salt water is not potable. The Great Blue Heron has no problem with thirst when life-giving water comes from its food.DSC_0109_2180sig - wp

Humans thirst too. There are two types of human thirst. The most well known is physical. The second is one which many humans are unaware. Some humans even choose to ignore or deny this thirst. The second thirst is spiritual. Miraculously, water-that’s H20, satisfies the physical need of every human. It works for a lifetime. Equally miraculous is the second water. This water works for eternity.

Every human soul has a God shaped space. Blaise Pascal explained this best when he said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”

Jesus is the living water. Only Jesus can fill the space open for God. Like a Great Blue Heron, you don’t drink this water. You believe. Nothing else can quench this thirst. Jesus explained it best. He said, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

This is not great. It is vast. It is enormous. Imagine living water, unlimited life and it’s forever. You have room for it.DSC_0115sig - wp