Saturday, April 25, 2015

Blowin' in the Wind: Webcams and Nature 365

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, excerpts, prayers, Bible readings, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me or have given me joy. I trust they will do the same for you.)

I’ve a different kind of Blowin’ in the Wind post this week, an alert to direct you to three timely online nature resources you can check out while the checking is good.

For several years I’ve followed a couple of live web cameras online that take me into the very nests of two of my favorite critters -- eagles and loons. Webcams can be fascinating things. Some time ago, I followed one for a while that brought me to a small pond in Africa where many a beast came for respite and drink. Once in a blue moon there’d be something dramatic to see, but usually it was just the simple and routine lives of animals coming and going, not unlike if a camera were propped somewhere in a corner of your kitchen to view the pedestrian things that typically happen there! One of the things I loved about that webcam, though, was that no matter what was being viewed, there were almost always jungle sounds, especially at night when the camera screen itself may have been dark. What a fantastic, relaxing drone as background for winding down for the day!

The eagle-cam is located in an aerie in northeast Iowa near the city of Decorah. (One of the things that is fun for me about this webcam is that I had the privilege of helping plant a church in that city some years ago, and I enjoy imagining the parent eagles hunting somewhere there along the Upper Iowa River or flying high over old friends.) Aeries can be huge, six feet or more in diameter, with the parents, who mate for life, adding more and more branches each year until it can weigh a ton or more. Inevitably the nest comes crashing down out of sheer tree fatigue, which we have seen numerous times in the northwoods. This year in the Decorah nest, three eggs were laid in mid to late February, with all three eaglets successfully hatched about five weeks later in late March. They’re nearing a month old at this point, and the last I checked a couple days ago fresh rabbit was the menu du jour. Things will intensify as the three grow, start jostling for advantage, and begin to fledge. This particular site even allows you to search archived video of significant moments in the family’s life, and that of past families, by hitting the ‘About the Eagles’ button on the right. Hit this link to see live video, even at night.

By contrast to what you can see today on the eagle-cam, all will still be still on the loon-cam with the possible exception of waves lapping against the nest – it’ll be some weeks before the loon parent occupies it. And there’s way less drama anyway in a loon nest than the eagle’s, simply because the chicks will not be raised in it; in fact, they can leave the nest the very day they are hatched, or will spend no more than a day or two in it. Then the whole thing will never be visited again until next year, and it’s solely lake life for the family until flight lessons in late summer and departure for winter before the lake freezes over. But the lack of nest drama is more than made up for by the simple and unique loveliness of the bird! For now, though, be patient: you won’t see the nest occupied until mid-May at the earliest; once laying takes place, both mom and dad (who also mate for life) will take turns keeping the eggs warm for about twenty-eight days before chick birth. This loon-cam is located on a man-made floating nest island in a lake somewhere in central Minnesota, an area where we once lived. (How appropriate… The state bird of Minnesota, after all, is the loon.) Typically, a loon nests in a secluded spot on land or atop a muskrat lodge, but floating nests have been created in some areas to increase chick survival by providing nest sites completely isolated from possible adult loon or egg predators (coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, weasels, snakes, etc. – it’s a jungle out there!). With this particular webcam’s image, and depending on the time of day that you look, you can even see the shadow of the camera mount sweeping from side to side across the nest. Here’s the link to this site.

I said I had three resources. The third is also something quite unique, from the camera of outstanding nature photographer Jim Brandenburg, also of Minnesota. Though I was acquainted with Brandenburg’s stills, he has taken thousands of hours of video, simple seasonal scenes, and with a producer from France edited a daily video of one minute or less duration that is called Nature 365. He is posting a video every single day this year, appropriate to the season. One can easily subscribe to receive a daily link via email; it’s always one of the very first things in my inbox each morning, and I’ve found it a delightful way to start my day, especially on days when my schedule might require me to be nature deprived! My sister Carolyn directed me to this site back in early February, having come across it somehow, and I have been watching ever since. All the videos are archived, and since Brandenburg typically follows a theme for several days at a time (the activities of a wolf pack, for example, of migrating swans or cranes, or simply of a river’s ice melting and breaking up or dry winter grasses waving in the breeze), you can go back and check out the archives every seven days or so and find particular things for which you might want to have a more complete look-see.

Getting behind some of the scenes of nature in remote places… We don’t often have an easy opportunity to do that, but it’s a perspective these three web resources provide. God asks Job in Job 39, “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and stretches her wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up, and makes his nest on high? On the cliff he dwells, and makes his home, on the point of the cliff, and the stronghold. From there he spies out the prey, seeing it afar off... Shall he who argues contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Though God’s ultimate questions to Job can only be directed back to God, Who alone has the power to direct his creation, we at least get a chance to have a look at things we might never get a chance to see.

~~RGM, April 24, 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

POTM...*: From Epiphytes to Chelonioidytes

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

OK, what do epiphytes and chelonioidytes have in common? Actually, not much, except that I encountered them both during some recent hiking in Florida!

Epiphytes are also known as ‘air plants,’ plants that can attach themselves to just about anything, from tree bark to power lines, and receive all the moisture and nutrients they need from the air, sun and rain. Obviously, they tend to be more prolific in warmer and more humid environments. Chelonioidytes are a family of sea turtles, and though I didn’t actually see the creatures themselves, I was out at sunrise and was the first to see their tracks on the beach, fresh from the lady having laid a clutch of eggs the night before.

Florida is covered with epiphytes, from bromeliads (that can also be seen as houseplants or planted in landscaping) to orchids to ferns to the ubiquitous Spanish Moss hanging from pine and oak. My favorite is the Cardinal Wild Pine, pictured here twice, a strangely-named bromeliad with a spiky red flower. They were prolific in a bald cypress swamp, the boardwalk of which was part of a hike I made in the DuPuis Natural Management Area in western Martin County. The plant can be two feet broad and the flower two feet tall and more.

Over on the coast, I went nearly every morning to my favorite place in the area, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge on the northern half of Jupiter Island. March and April is nesting time for Florida’s three kinds of sea turtles – loggerheads, greens and leatherbacks. I would typically say that these two separate sets of new tracks were made by loggerheads, by far the most abounding genus of the three to hit the beaches there. The only odd thing was that the particular mama in the first photo was enormous, much larger than the average loggerhead: the track of the carapace alone being dragged across the sand looked to be about three feet wide, with the flipper tracks extending to nearly six feet. This made me wonder if it was a leatherback, the largest sea turtle, but far more rare and endangered. The turtles come in the night, lay hundreds of eggs, and are gone before the first hint of dawn. Several weeks later, if the nest survives predation, the little hatchlings will look for the light of the moon over the ocean to guide them toward their watery abode. I remember snorkeling in the Pacific one time and seeing a sea turtle ‘in flight.’ What a beautiful sight.

To say the least, natural beauty captures me, and I imagine if you are a regular reader of this blog, the same is true for you. One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouwen, who said in his book Creative Ministry that we must be careful we are not
like the busy man who walks up to a precious flower and says, “What for God’s sake are you doing here? Can’t you get busy someway?” and then finds himself unable to understand the flower’s response: “I am sorry, sir, but I am just here to be beautiful.”

~~RGM, April 17, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

From My Nature Journal: Root Reliant

(the culprit!)
This week here at church, some workers finally pulled the tall metal stakes stabilizing several cypress trees that had been planted nine years ago when the building was first landscaped. That should be enough stabilization, don’t you think? Not quite. A seemingly lovely twelve-foot tree was on the ground the very next morning after only moderately strong winds, its root ball less than a foot in diameter after all this time. Sure, it was not growing as tall as the others, 
                                      but that might not have clued anyone but a horticulturist.

The beauty and health of a tree depends on the strength of the root.
Injure that foundation and the tree is wounded, impaired, even destroyed. Protect and nourish the root and the tree is benefited, strengthened, blessed. I recall reading of a poignant case in point: in the early going of the National Park system’s ‘tree parks’ (Sequoia, Redwoods, etc.), people would park and camp under the tree canopies, compressing the soil and suffocating the roots. As these trees died, it became clear that they were literally being loved to death.

The beauty and health of a tree depends
on the strength of the root… Lord, sink
your roots into every part of me…

The Bible speaks of the cross of Christ as a tree: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:12). If that be so, it also must have roots of a sort, roots that must somehow support and build me: Remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root that supports you (Romans 11:18).

So, Lord, sink the roots of Your holy tree deep into every part of me. Extend its roots…

…into the good soil of my willingness…
…and the precious minerals of my righteousness…
…But also into the sands of my restlessness…
…and the stones of my willfulness…
…even the compost of my sinfulness…
…the crags of my brokenness…
…the clay of my humanness…
…the muck of my earthiness…
…and the mud of my messiness…
…Into the waters of my freshness…
…the loam of my openness…
…and the promise of my fertileness.
Send Your roots deep, and find in me place, purpose and welcome.
And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward (2 Kings 19:30).

The root of the righteous yields fruit (Proverbs 12:12).

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that… we might live for righteousness (1 Peter 2:12).

(not our photography this week!)

~~RGM, April 10, 2015