Archive for the ‘Bird Habitats’ Category

Spotted Owl


This morning, when there was not yet bright light in the sky, I was walking across the University of La Verne Campus. I saw a bird crouched behind the leopard statue beneath one of our giant oak trees in Sneaky Park. It flew up from the ground to one of the oak-tree branches. I was sure from the shape of its head that it was an owl, not a hawk, though I was surprised it was still abroad in the morning! I quietly walked under the oak-tree canopy and looked up, and the owl turned her head to look at me:  her eyes were so dark! The dark eyes, along with the large size of the bird, confirmed that I was looking at a Spotted Owl — a rare bird these days, but one that does live in oaks near the San Gabriel Mountains. After we had looked into each other’s eyes for a few moments, the owl swooped away across the street into the branches of another oak tree. I went to my class, where I was teaching (among other poems), Tennyson’s “The Eagle” — and I couldn’t help mentioning my first owl of the day!

  • The image I share here captures the pose of the bird I saw this morning, tho’ of course this one is in a pine tree.

Green Heron

Photos by Alice Holthuis


Belted Kingfisher

My sister Alice recently came to visit me, and we went hiking this past Thursday. We had the pleasure of seeing pairs of belted kingfishers flying over Puddingstone Reservoir in Bonelli Regional Park. Their call is quite distinctive!

“Haiku for Gemma” by Jane Beal


slender mourning dove

descends from the gazebo

to the orange tree


Lakewood, CA

Yellow-Billed Stork

ThreeYellowBilledStorksThis morning, I woke up and prayed for my day. I was reminded, as I read a devotional by Sarah Young in Jesus Always, that I have a tendency to rush into my day with a strong desire to tidy up all the small details that seem to desperately need attending to — only, maybe, they don’t. I was reminded that sometimes I trust God when “big things” are on the horizon, but with the small things, I tend to rely on myself. Why not stop? Why not rely on God in everything, for everything?

I went for my morning walk in a state of happiness. I looked around at how beautiful everything, everywhere, is — with a deep inner awareness that God, the Creator, has made it all. It makes me feel so thankful! Words began to come to me for a new poem, for a new collection of poems:  a collection of psalms. I was filled with a sense of awe and amazement that I was getting a new idea, a heavenly inspiration, right there and then!

Part of it, I know, is a great working together of many things:  later today, I will be teaching about the book of Psalms in my Old Testament class at Epic Bible College and Graduate School. I taught a series of classes on the Psalms at my church, and before that, I taught an online course on the Psalms for a university in Colorado. The work of Hassell Bullock, my Hebrew teacher at Wheaton College, in his book, Encountering the Psalms, has opened my understanding of the Psalms. I’ve read the Psalms almost everyday of my life, and the Spirit of the Living God has opened my heart to himself through the words of ancient Israelite singers. I love the Psalms. The word “psalm” was the first word my father tried to teach me when I was a baby.


My Yellow-Billed Stork, reflected in the Nile, Uganda (September 2013)

When I came home from my walk, I wrote four psalms for a new poetry collection! I did it with a wonderful sense of inspiration and excitement, thinking of the main poetic devices used in the Hebrew Psalms:  not rhyme and meter, so frequently used in English poetry, but repetition and parallelism. The third psalm I wrote was about God’s creatures that I had seen in Uganda when I traveled through the savanna and up the Nile River to see Murchison Falls:  the goal of a brief pilgrimage.

As I was writing, I was trying to remember what I had seen. Some animals I remembered vividly, but I knew there was more than I could recall. So I went back to my digital photographs, and as I was looking through them, I saw one in which a bird was standing by the side of the water. I thought to myself:  that looks like a stork. The picture was blurry. I enlarged the image of the bird. I was sure it was a stork. Its markings were distinct. How had I not identified this bird in this photo before now?

I did a Google search on African birds, and I discovered this one’s name:  Mycteria ibis, the Yellow-Billed Stork! I was delighted. I added it to my life-list. It’s hard to believe that I saw a bird of such distinct splendor, and only identified it from my own photo three years later!!


Now I See a Yellow-Billed Stork

Lord, I see an elephant with long tusks
alone on the savanna –

I see giraffes with long necks
striding together in the morning.

I see hippos in the Nile
and a kingfisher flying in midair –

I see a mother monkey
who carries her baby on her back.

I see a water buffalo,
and he sees me!

I see a wild warthog
trotting away through the trees.

Now I see a yellow-billed stork
standing in the river-shallows.

O Lord, how marvelous is every creature
You have made!


p.s. Maybe I will call this new collection something like
Psalms for the God of Birds.

“The Dipper” by Mary Oliver


Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was
the dipper, and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to
bend forward, as it were,
into his frame of mind, catching
everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness
of his affirmative report.
Though not by words, it was
a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened
in Colorado
more than half a century ago—
more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago—

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades
in the leaves beside the stream,
his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh
comfortable even so.

And still I hear him—
and whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles
he sits with his black feet hooked to the page,
his eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love—

and thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,
and comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember
your name, great river,
but since that hour I have lived

in the joy of the body as full and clear
as falling water; the pleasures of the mind
like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

Mary Oliver

Note: On Thursday, July 6th, I gave a poetry reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery in downtown Davis. Afterwards, I was pleased to sit down and talk with Steve, a poet and a bird-watcher like myself. He mentioned this poem, “The Dipper,” by Mary Oliver in our conversation. Mary Oliver first saw the bird in Colorado, where Steve had also seen it. Though I have lived in Colorado, I have not yet seen the American Dipper in situ, bobbing and fishing in nature’s favorite stream. However, I have had a preview! The little bird is simply delightful.

p.s. John Muir loved the bird, which he called a water-thrush. He wrote of it: “THE waterfalls of the Sierra are frequented by only one bird, —the Ouzel or Water Thrush ( Cinclus Mexicanus). He is a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail.”

Red-Necked Grebe


Red-Necked Grebe

spotted from the Wharf in Santa Cruz