Catholic Birder

Birds have had my attention for over 30 years. God for just a few. Before birds were a passion. Now they are a confirmation. Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of birds, pray for us.

November 17, 2005

Their song was: Regnum mundi

When the time approached that God had ordained, that she which had despised the reign mortal should have the reign of angels, she lay sick of the fevers and turned her to the wall, and they that were there heard her put out a sweet melody; and when one of the chamberers had enquired of her what it was, she answered and said: A bird came between me and the wall and sang so sweetly that it provoked me to sing with it. She was always in her malady glad and jocund, and ne ceased of prayer. The last day tofore her departing, she said to her chamberers: What will ye do if the devil come to you? And after a little while she cried with a high voice: Flee ! flee! flee ! like as she had chased away the devil, and after, she said: The midnight approacheth in which Jesu Christ was born; it is now time that God call his friends to his heavenly weddings. And thus, the year of our Lord twelve hundred and thirty-one, she gave up her spirit and slept in our Lord, and though the body lay four days unburied, yet came there no stench from it, but a sweet odour aromatic came, which refreshed all them that were there. Then there was heard and seen a multitude of birds, so many that there hath not been seen the like tofore, over the church, and began a song of right great melody, like as it had been the obsequies of her, and their song was: Regnum mundi, which is sung in the praising of virgins. There was a great cry of poor people for her and much devotion of people, so that some took a hair of her head, and some a part of her clothes, which they kept for great relics. And then her body was put in a monument, which after was found to redound in oil, and many fair miracles were showed at her tomb after her death.

It was well showed in the dying of S. Elizabeth of what holiness she was, as well in the modulation of the bird as in the expulsion of the devil. That bird that was between her and the wall, and provoked her to sing, is supposed to be her good angel, which was deputed to her, and brought her tidings that she should go to the everlasting joy, and in like wise is showed to cursed men otherwhile their everlasting damnation.

St Elizabeth of Hungary died on November 17, 1231 at twenty-four years old, having lived a heroic life for God. She is said to have noticed birds throughout her life, especially the storks and swallows of rooftops and chimneys. Before her death a bird, one the Golden Legend account above supposes to be her guardian angel, visited her. Here is similar account:

At the end of two years she was attacked by a violent fever, and, much against her will, was forced to take to her bed. For ten or twelve days she lingered, cheerful and happy, but always in prayer. One evening towards sunset she fell asleep, when her maid, who was sitting with her, was startled by hearing a beautiful song proceeding from the pillow.

"Oh, madam, what lovely music!" cried the girl.

"Did you hear it too?" asked Elizabeth. "A charming little bird came and sat between me and the wall, and he sung so sweetly that he filled my soul with joy, and I could not help singing also! He told me besides," she added, after a pause, "that I shall die in three days."

And in three days she was dead as she had foretold, and was buried, as she wished, in the chapel of the hospital.

Today, if it please you Lord, let the birds sing Regnum mundi.

R. Regnum mundi et omnem ornátum sæculi contempsi, propter amórem Dómini mei Jesu Christi : * Quem vidi, quem amávi, in quem credidi, quem diléxi, allelúja.

V. Eructávit cor meum verbum bonum : dico ego ópera mea Regi.

R. Quem vidi, quem amávi, in quem credidi, quem diléxi, allelúja.

V. Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.R. Quem vidi, quem amávi, in quem credidi, quem diléxi, allelúja.

November 16, 2005

Confident and Unruffled

Today is the feast day for Saint Margaret, mother of eight and queen of Scotland in the 11th century. According to this story by Amy Steedman, she was, on at least one occasion, given to noticing the qualities of birds that lend themselves to our example.

"Among the weary, spent travellers there was one who was calm and untroubled, whose face reflected none of the gloom of the skies overhead, on whom the dreary foreboding of the future cast no shadow. Fair and stately as a lily the Princess Margaret stood gazing across the angry waters, marking the desolate rocky shores, watching the white sea-birds as they swooped and rose again, as confident and unruffled as one of those white birds herself. For Margaret knew that a greater than an earthly king was with her, and that He, her Lord and Master, held the grey waters and their uncertain fortunes in the hollow of His hand, able as ever to calm the winds and waves of this troublesome world with that comforting command, 'Peace, be still.'"

November 15, 2005

What Sandi must feel like some mornings

Taking another look at the exhibit profiled in the Post this morning I must draw the comparison of this painting to the occasional drama my wife endures. Though Sandi is far more beautiful than a grackle (I’m thinking Swan) and our four toddler boys are much more polite than these not-quite-fledglings, there are some mornings when this painting resembles the scene in our kitchen at about 7:30 AM.

Here again is a direct link to some of the paintings on exhibit. Sandi would say the third painting is me because the nestlings are quiet.

Does Drudge Read Catholic Birder?

Just hours after a CathoicBirder jab at his photo files, he has a more appropriate photo for his latest scare:

St. Albert the Great - Catholic Birder?

Today is the feast day of St. Albert the Great (c.1206-1280), Doctor of the Church, Catholic Scientist and, some might say, Catholic birder. He hunted with falcons, studied birds and saw nature as a path to understanding its artist, God.

One book on the Doctors of the church states “Albert knew and wrote about 114 species of birds, 113 quadrupeds, 139 aquatic animals, 61 serpents and 49 worms. He was the first to mention the weasel and the artic bear, the first to speak intelligently about the reproductive functions of birds." St. Albert’s College has a nice biography of its patron saint.

According to Sister Jean Dorcy, O.P., in her book St.Dominic's Family, St. Albert made detailed studies of the birds around him. St. Albert's approach to science is quoted in her book, "The aim of natural science is not simply to accept the statements of others, but to investigate the causes that are at work in nature."

Here St. Albert uses the metaphor of an egg to explain how our lives, not our treasures, are our greatest gift to God:

"An egg given during life for love of God is more profitable for eternity than a cathedral full of gold given after death. To forgive those who have injured us in our body, our reputations, our goods, is more advantageous to us than to cross the seas to go to venerate the sepulcher of the Lord. Knowledge of divine things is imprinted on our minds by union with God, who is Wisdom itself, just as the wax molds itself into the seal--not the reverse."

Drudge Birdflu Hysteria

The current headline on Drudge:

Perhaps Drudge needs better stock photos. The quarantined birds were ducks and chickens. The Drudge bird is a Macaw.

Peregrine and Ivory-Billed side by side...

... in today's Mark Trail comic strip. A falcon flies in front of Trail's log home and in the next panel he responds to a send-off kiss by telling his wife he will "let you know if I see any ivory-bills!" They are called ivory-billeds Mark but you go right out there and find one.

Artist With a Bird's-Eye View

Facinating story about an oil panter and his work on exhibit here in DC at the Adamson Gallery. "The Nest" includes 17 of William Newman's oils depicting the life of a group of grackles who nest in the tube that rests against the shower window in his house in NW Washington. Here is the sample published in today's Washington Post.

Unlike so many "field guide" caricatures of birds, these paintings really capture what it is like to view birds in less than perfect conditions.

November 14, 2005

Violettes Lock on Saturday

Late in posting a report from the weekend. I didn't get to resume my Veteran's Day Rt 270 raptor count. Too many errands to run that day. Took Sandi and the boys to Violette's Lock on Saturday morning to search for the neotropic cormorant that has been feeding in the Potomac lately. No sign of it but we did see two common loons, two horned grebes, several hairys, a downy, a flicker, a sapsucker, a creeper, white throated sparrows, juncos, lots of cardinals and both carolinas (wren and chickadee). Michael is getting very good at holding the binocular steady and was able to view two woodpeckers in one field view - "they're going up the tree" - and the loons diving in another field view - "they're going under the water." He also came upon some sparrows and found them in the glasses and told Sandi, "look at the sparrows mom." Liam didn't have binoculars but was very enthusiastic when he heard chickadees and knew what they were. Gabe picked walnuts and leaves and David quietly used his binoculars to look up and down the toe path.

November 10, 2005

The Devil Bird

St. Ambrose of Milan wrote to Irenaeus of Lyons in 387 suggesting he view Satan's methods as similar to a partridge. Applying Jeremiah 17:11, The Honey Tongued Doctor creates a treacherous image of the partridge, whose ultimate defeat reminds us of Christ's victory in calling souls to Heaven.



The partridge hath cried, she hath gathered what she hath not hatched. From the conclusion of my last letter I may borrow the opening of the ensuing. The question has been much mooted: with a view therefore of solving it, let us consider what natural history tells us of the nature of this bird. For it is the part of no little sagacity to consider even this, for Solomon knew the nature of beasts and of fowl, and of creeping things and of fishes!

Now this bird is said to be full of craft, fraud, and guile, skilled in the ways of deceiving the fowler, and experienced in the arts of turning him aside from her young
ones; omitting no artful stratagem which may draw off the pursuer from her nest and lurking place. And we know that on observing his approach, she beguiles him until she has given her offspring the signal and opportunity for flight. As soon as she perceives they have escaped, she also withdraws herself, leaving her enemy deluded by her treacherous wiles.

It is said also to be a bird which copulates indiscriminately, and that the male bird rushes eagerly on the female, and burns with unrestrained desires. Wherefore it has been thought suitable to compare this impure malicious and deceitful creature with the adversary and circumventor of the human race, with him who is the arch-deceiver and author of impurity.

The partridge then cried, he that is, who derives his name from destroying: even Satan, which in Latin means the adversary. He cried first in Eve, he cried in Cain, he cried in Pharoah, in Dathan, Abiram, Corah. He cried in the Jews, when they demanded gods to be made for them, while the law was being given to Moses. He cried again, when they said of the Saviour, Let Him be crucified, let Him be crucified, and, His blood be on us and on our children. He cried, when they required that a king should be given them, that they might revolt from the Lord God their King. He cried in every one who was vain and faithless.

And by these cries he gathered to himself a people whom he had not created; for God made man after His own likeness and image, and the Devil drew man to himself by the allurements of his voice: He gathered to himself the nations of the Gentiles, getting riches not by right. Wherefore it is a common saying concerning the rich and covetous man, that he is a partridge gathering riches not by right. But my Jesus, as a good Judge, does all things with righteousness, for He came saying, as it is written, I speak righteousness and judgement of salvation.

By that grace then He despoiled that partridge the Devil, took from him the ill-gotten riches, even the multitude that followed Him, recalled from error the souls of the Gentiles, and the minds of the nations that wandered from the way. And since He knew that they were beguiled by the voice of the Devil, and in order that He might Himself loose the bonds and chains of ancient error, He cried first in Abel, the voice of whose blood cried out. He cried in Moses, to whom He said, Wherefore criest thou unto Me? He cried in Joshua, He cried in David, who says, Unto Thee do I call, help me. He cried too in all the Prophets. Wherefore He says also to Isaiah, Cry, and Isaiah answers, What shall I cry? He cried in Solomon, calling to all with a very loud voice in the power of of Wisdom, Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. He cried also in His Body, as the Beam out of the timber. He cried that He might deceive and circumvent the lurking Enemy, saying, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me. He cried that He might spoil him of his prey, replying to the thief, Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise. Wherefore when Jesus cried, straightway that partridge was left by those whom he had gathered in the midst of his days.

Wherefore some have thought that this also agrees with the nature of the partridge, forasmuch as it steals the eggs of others, and hatches them with its own body, seeking by this treachery to gain for itself the offspring of others. But when she whose eggs have been stolen, or nest invaded, or her young have been tempted by a fraudulent resemblance, and deceived by the appearance of beauty, when she, I say, perceives this, she 'picks out the crow's eyes as the saying is, and, being inferior in strength, puts on and arms herself with cunning. And when all the labour she has bestowed on their nurture has exhausted her store of food, and her young ones have begun to grow up, she utters her cries, and calls to her offspring with the trumpet (as it were) of affection. And they, roused by this natural sound, recognise their mother, and desert their pretended parent. And thus, seeking to gather what he has not hatched, he loses those whom he thought to bring up.

Not without need therefore was it that Jesus also cried; it was in order that the whole universe which had been deceived by the voice, the allurements, the art, the specious beauty of the partridge, and enticed by his treacherous wiles, and had wandered from the true Author of their being, might be recalled by the voice of her true Parent, might abandon this deceiver, and desert him in the midst of his days, that is, before the end of this world. From him the Lord Jesus has rescued us, and called us to eternal life. Wherefore now, being dead to the world we live to God.

When then this partridge shall have been completely forsaken by his false children, then that foolish one whom God has chosen and who has confounded the wise man, will be saved. Wherefore if any man seemeth to be wise in this world let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

Farewell my son, and love me, as indeed you do, for I love you.


Let us all become fools that we may become wise.

Kill the BIRDS!!!!

The folks at National Review's Corner are wargaming again.  No, not Iran or North Korea.  The BIRDS!

Warren Bell learns from other Corner readers that the birds have a mighty airforce.

BIRDS V. HUMANS [ Warren Bell] If it's a numbers game, we're in bad shape. According to most estimates, birds number somewhere between 100 billion and 300 billion. People top out at 6.6 billion. In fact, there are more chickens than there are people. Start eating! As for the question "where are they?" the most common answer is "right above my car." But the only scientific-ish answer is that birds are everywhere (which may be why they scare me) but especially heavily concentrated near the South pole.

I reminded Warren in an email of the human "victory" over the pigeons:

"Even at 300 billion v. 6.5 billion the odds are still in our favor.  Recall the fate of the passenger pigeon, once alleged to be the most populous bird on earth.   Even with five billion in the US, often flying in flocks that reportedly stretched for hundreds of miles, it took little effort to wipe them out completely.  The last flock of around 250,000 was obliterated on a single day in 1896."

His tongue in cheek response: 

"My whole theory revolves around the birds having organizing intelligence, so the idea of wiping them out like the passenger pigeon is going to be much more difficult.  They will hide, because as we all know, they can fly."

Didn't help the pigeons much...

The Birds Are Coming, AHHHHHH!

War of the species - coming soon to an NRO Corner near you!

Birding with God - 1

Well since this is the major theme of my blog I decided to do a search to see if anyone else out there is birding and blogging with an eye to the sky and a heart towards God. Here are a few fun loving worshipers I've come across:

Kim describes her growing life list, complete with prayers for future sightings, at My Birding Ventures.

"So I am hoping and praying that I will get to see the Golden Eagle my first winter living here in Texas. Well, GOD is a wonderful GOD He answered my prayers and He let me see the Golden Eagle on Monday, October 17, 2005."

Courtney at L'chaim ends her adventure of five 19 and 20-year-olds on a birding trip sharing one binocular, on the highest of notes.

"So the evening was a success after all. We didn’t do much birding, but we had a great time being together in God’s creation. Life is good."

BJ Hollars compares birding to religion in his Story A Day of an ivory-billed quest.

But Eddie knew better than to give up on a bird that the world had already turned its back on once. He sat at the edge of his bed one night and prayed to God that he would be the one to spot her, and that if he did, then all of his past unanswered prayers would be forgotten about and the score would return to zero. God owed him nothing, but Eddie was under the impression that He did. A bird, at least.

Religion, like birding, takes time and unrelenting patience. The long-billed woodpecker should have died with the dodo, and in fact, many ornithologists believed that the extinction of one could have perpetuated the extinction of the other. Scientists of the 1940’s spent their time buried in New Mexican bunkers, on the Manhattan Project, and the birds of the world lost the notoriety they once held. Renegade scientists refused work in the field of destruction and instead, searched the bayous, praying to find unhatched eggs which they could nurture, playing surrogate mother to the last of a species.

Veteran's Day Cloverleaf Count

When I last lived in Maryland I used to spend part of each Veteran's Day driving up and down RT 270 following each clover leaf and exit ramp searching for raptors.  From 1991 until 1996 I found anywhere from 10 - 50 hawks, kestrals and vultures in trees fences and wires sourounding or within the entrance points to 270.  What inspired me to do this was a 1989  sighting of a golden eagle pearched on a fencepost atthe entrance to 270 from rt. 70 in Frederick.  Never found another eagle, bald or golden, on Veterans Day.  Tommorow, after a 10 year lapse, I'll begin this tradition anew.

November 09, 2005

Folded Shouldered Torments Tailed - Battle of the Reds

Last Saturday I enjoyed the spectacle of two hawks circling above my parents home in western Loudoun County. A red-shouldered, perhaps native to the neighborhood, dive bombed a likely-migrating red-tailed. Three generations enjoyed the viewing. Michael claimed he could see the hawks when I told him to "look above the cloud above Grandpa's house." My dad noted how much larger the red-tailed looked than the red-shouldered. He was right but the difference had more to do with what each bird was doing than their true size differential. The tailed was soaring with expansive wings and tail and the shouldered was gliding and diving with folded "shouldered" wings and closed tail. The lighting was perfect for noting the red tail and reddish shoulder of these birds.

November 01, 2005

Great trip to Cape May

What a great trip. Sandi and Phoebe were able to spend a lot of time together, rollerblading, shopping, having breakfast and tea. I left before dawn each morning and birded most of the days on my own, around 35 hours in the field. We spent the evenings together having dinner and went on a whale watch Sunday afternoon after Mass. No whale but still a lot of fun.

Saw many thousands of birds this weekend. Good flights of late warblers, kinglets, sparrows, robins, flickers, thrushes, and swallows at dawn from the Higbee Beach dike. Good numbers of raptors at the hawkwatch and a steady stream of scooters and other pelagics seen from the shore and on a whale watching trip. 140 species for the trip including 22 uncommon, 7 scarce, 1 rare and 2 very rare species.

Was able to spend a little time birding with two of the world’s best birders, Pete Dunne and Michael O’Brien. Pete is the author of a dozen birding books and a hard person to peg into stereotypes. At the Cape May observatory store yesterday morning, for instance, he was discussing the influx of high priced optics from manufacturers who previously catered to hunters. A customer chimed in saying “hunters only need a large field of vision to see big game.” I said, “No, actually, some of the best birders I’ve known are hunters who honed their ID skills duck hunting.” The cashier then said, “Pete’s a hunter,” to the surprise of everyone there. He talked me out of purchasing the doubler for my Swarovski EL binocular, explaining that he has seen birders hurt themselves by bringing the glasses to their face and forgetting that the doubler was in place. Ouch.

Most unlikely bird was a European Goldfinch that I can’t count since it is likely a released bird. Michael, who sits at Higbee each morning and counts by flight call throughout the fall (, and I heard a finch among hundred or so birds in the air at that moment. I said, “that didn’t sound like an American.” We were both on it by the time it was ten yards beyond us. Bulkier, distinct white on wings, dark head with contrast at the nape. We determined it was a European but most likely an escapee since there are no true records of one crossing the Atlantic and migrating on the East coast.

Had great views of sandhill crane, american bittern, northern goshawk, golden eagle, several bald eagles, merlin, peregrine falcon, parasitic jaeger, both dowitchers, northern saw-whet owl, blue-headed and philadelphia vireos, winter wren, swainson’s thrush, vesper sparrow, lincoln’s sparrow, dickcissel, and both orioles - the orchard being a very rare late migrant about 40 days past when the last ones are supposed to move through. Some really great encounters. I almost stepped on the saw-whet on Saturday night. It flushed from the ground just a step in front of me as I was walking through a meadow trail along a cedar grove. Kinglets were everywhere and I had many occasions to film them close up. One of the three bitterns I saw was in the road at 6:15 am Saturday morning on the drive to Higbee. It flew at eye level in front of my car for thirty yards. The songbirds that morning were so plentiful that I was barely able to keep from getting hit by them as they passed through the four foot tall grass to get over the dike. I stopped counting the number of times a cooper’s hawk or sharp-shinned hawk came within twenty feet of me and had to alter it’s direction. One missed my head by inches as I came out of the grass. The pond in front of the hawkwatch must have been stocked with bass recently because there were at least a dozen osprey fishing it, making the hawkwatch more exciting for the several hundred birders there.

I’m exhausted from the weekend but my mind is very refreshed.

My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple rainment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God. Saint Francis of Assisi - c 1220

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