Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cedar Flyswallows?

I don’t feel a bit guilty about abusing the name of the Cedar Waxwing, whose wings never seemed very waxy to me. My new moniker for this classy bird is based on its behavior that many have noticed at the Celery Farm over the past couple of weeks.

The usual image of the Waxwing is of a flock of them rabidly devouring berries from a tree or shrub. But since there are few berries of any sort around during late summer, what’s a waxwing to do but to take advantage of an alternate—and protein-rich—source of calories: insects.

Hence we get the unusual scene of Waxwings perched on high branches over Lake Appert, periodically dashing out to catch tiny flying insects and returning to their perches to wait, briefly, for more entomophagous opportunities. Some even swoop downward and over the water surface. So we have these berry eaters acting more like flycatcher/swallow hybrids—hence my silly but hopefully forgivable re-naming of the species.

While the Waxwings take advantage of the abundance of summer insects, visitors to Warden’s Watch at the Celery Farm have the opportunity of seeing these birds closer than usual as they perch on bare branches within ten feet of the platform and carry on their feeding behavior for minutes or hours at a time. And what an opportunity for photography, even for folks without super-long telephoto lenses!

Watching the “flyswallows” in action brought several words to mind: beauty, adaptability, design. Beauty? Just look at the photos, which don’t do justice to the real thing (but click on them to enlarge them anyway). Adaptability? Plucking berries may be easier, but these creatures have been given the ability to take advantage of a completely different diet when necessary for survival. And design? It is evident in every detail of bird anatomy, from feathers, hollow bones and neuromuscular control that enable flight—to eyes that can see miniscule insects from several yards away (I couldn’t see even one of the insects the birds were flying after.)

Perhaps a fourth word comes to mind: intelligence. The term “birdbrain” should be deleted from our vocabulary. I can’t attest to the IQ of the Cedar Waxwing, but recent work with crows shows some amazing mental abilities. An experiment was designed in which a crow had to retrieve a short stick to get at a longer stick with which to retrieve a piece of food—and the bird figured it out on the first try, never having seen the equipment. Please, none of this “birds are evolved from dinosaurs” stuff. But then again, maybe dinosaurs were smart, too. The Designer of both birds and dinosaurs knows.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lunar Wipeout--and Mine!

I would have posted this earlier, but after getting up at 5 to view and photograph this lunar eclipse, I wiped out and went back to bed. Unfortunately, cloud cover "eclipsed" the most spectacular part of the eclipse, when the Earth's shadow completely covers the Moon and it appears as a big navel orange in the sky.

Many articles and books have been written about our amazing satellite and how it's just big enough and just close enough to make our tides just good enough. It's only a tip of the proverbial iceberg of the "Anthropic Principle" which says there are so many parameters and measurements about our solar system--and the galaxy--and the universe--that are "just so" so as to make life possible on Earth. All by chance? No way! I enjoy reading Kipling's "Just So" stories, but our Creator wrote bigger and better.

Now how about a little hike down by the banks of the great gray green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees...but enough of Kipling, how about this for a taste of reality.

For another Moon-related post, click here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Controversial Cormorants

While scanning through folders of old photos, I happened upon this one, one of my favorite Double-crested Cormorant images. Then, in the Science Section of the New York Times, appeared this article about the fascinating and somewhat controversial species. (Unfortunately, the financially strapped NY Times has archived the article and wants money if you want to view it.)

In past years, we could always expect to see one or more “cormies” perched on branches or platforms on Lake Appert, drying their wings in preparation for their next dive and fishing expedition. This year, for some reason unknown to me, I have seen very few “devil birds” on any of my visits.

After reading the Times article and other pieces about the ecological, aesthetical and commercial problems that overpopulations of cormorants have caused in various regions, we might be thankful for the limited numbers that visit the Celery Farm. Even a moderate population of these ravenous gobblers might fish out the lake, leaving slim pickings for egrets, herons and ospreys--and stinking up the place in the process.

As with all things ecological, healthy disagreement and argument abound. Stewardship and management of complex ecosystems is no simple matter. Fixing one thing without breaking something else or upsetting various groups of people (hunters, fishermen, bird lovers, conservationists, property owners) makes for decision-making headaches. Add in government bureaucracy and things start to look like the dodder in my previous post.

Here is an interesting point-counterpoint discussion between a fisherman and an environmental lawyer concerning the cormorant situation in the Great Lakes. One side’s argument looks good until we read the opposing view. That’s the way it is in all debates. (Proverbs 18:17) ;

What amazes me is that there is so much concern at every level of government and by a plethora of private organizations—concern about individual species and biodiversity and the environment in general. Thousands of people and uncounted millions of dollars are involved in solving environmental problems and in saving endangered species. What motivates governments, organizations and individuals to put out so much money and effort in these causes? Motives range from purely selfish to somewhat altruistic.
The biblical mandate is clear, but our fallen human nature has caused us to fail to fulfill it for thousands of years. We are thankful for those who try, whatever their motives.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Dodder That Ate the Celery Farm

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.
It seems to be everywhere, spreading its orange, spaghetti-like stems over any plant it wants to. And stems it is; there are no leaves; there is no chlorophyll—and therefore there is no photosynthesis. So when it comes to food, the Dodder has to get it from a plant that IS green and CAN make food by photosynthesis.

Here’s how it works. Dodder grows from seeds. Its tiny seedlings grope about, sniffing the air for chemicals emitted from nearby greenery. When they come in contact with a likely host plant, they quickly grow around its stems and soon penetrate them with specialized roots called haustoria. The haustoria enter the vascular tissue (veins) of the host and absorb food, water and minerals to nourish the Dodder. The original root of the Dodder disintegrates, leaving it completely dependent on the host plant.

As you can see, it’s a very successful way of life. The Dodder quickly grows, spreads to other plants and even produces flowers, which in turn produce a lot of seeds for the next growing season.

With more and more growing at the Celery Farm each year, one wonders how much of an ecological problem it might get to be. Time will tell. No use trying to eradicate the stuff. The seeds can last in the ground for up to seventy years, so they say.

Dodder, AKA “devil’s guts” (and a whole bunch of other names people have given it over the years), is a true parasite, drawing not just water and minerals, but ready-made carbohydrates from its host plant. I don’t know how much damage it does to the host, but it surely can’t help.

Parasitism is one form of symbiosis. The more friendly kind is called mutualism, in which each partner in the relationship contributes something good. Such is the case in those crusty things called lichens, in which the fungus partner soaks up water and the alga partner makes food, so that the lichen can grow on a bare rock. Parasitism is all take and no give. We don’t admire it in humans and it surely was not a part of God’s original “very good” creation.

The Fall brought about ugliness in every aspect of the cosmos. We can’t wait ‘til He fixes it.
Reflect upon the situation here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Insect Wings--Making Order(s) out of chaos

Click on each picture to see a large version. Then click your browser back arrow to come back here.

I seem to be mentioning insects and their wings frequently these days, mainly because I have been able to grab a few fairly decent shots of them this summer. Why do I find insect wings so fascinating? After all, they are merely dead sheets of chitin, varied in texture and color and sometimes covered with minute scales. But just contemplating how these precisely designed structures develop in the pupa stage or the nerves and muscles that produce their precise movements for flight should arouse a sense of wonder in us all.

Aside from that, the wings are the features by which insects are classified into major groups called Orders. That makes it easier for us amateurs to at least tell a fly from a beetle or a grasshopper from a dragonfly. And while most of us are inclined to call any insect a bug, the true entomologist would cluck his tongue and shake his finger, insisting that only members of the Order Hemiptera should be called bugs—and that their wings can identify them easily.

So take a look at the photos and notice the differences in the wings of various Orders. But please note: I have put the photos in random order and have left it up to you to match them up. Good luck!

Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) scale-covered wings (strikingly colored in this Eastern Black Swallowtail.)

Coleoptera (beetles) one pair of shell-like wings and a pair of membranous flight wings, which you see when ladybug (sorry, lady beetle) flies away home

Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, etc.) two pairs of membranous wings hooked together so that they act as one

Diptera (flies) one pair of membranous flight wings and a second pair that is reduced to small knobs and used like gyroscopes (You can't see them in this photo.)

Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) two pairs of similar membranous wings

Hemiptera (true bugs) forewings are half leathery and half membranous, giving a flat-backed appearance with a distinctive shield pattern

Even if you just want to enjoy the pictures, be sure to give credit (and honor) to the One who created these miniature marvels! (His name isn't Darwin.) Promise? I knew you would.