Facilitating spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion and care.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Mountains are Calling...

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the well-used (and for good reason!) quote from John Muir;

"the mountains are calling, and I must go."

Well, the Adirondack mountains of Northern New York are calling, so Erin and I will be heading up that way for the majority of the coming week, departing from Wellsboro, PA tomorrow morning.

We are hoping to get a look at moose as well as black-backed woodpecker and maybe even a Bicknell's thrush.

We have plans to hike to the peaks of the mountains that go by the name Whiteface, Cascades, and Giant.

Last year we had an incredible experience hiking to Algonquin peak, and that was in October after the ice and snow had started flying in the high peak regions. The weather should be much more favorable this year!

While I'm away I'll be taking this as an opportunity to step away from the busyness of life, to relax, to be refreshed by the beauty of wildlife and wild spaces and to enjoy my time in the mountains with Erin.

I'll be taking a break from blog posts for the week too.

I think we all could use a retreat from time to time, for the sake of maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being...to find balance and to be refreshed and loved by the Spirit of God who breathes new life into us.

 Until we return...

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me...breathe new life into these lungs, this body, this mind, this heart. Amen.

(Here is a photo of Algonquin Peak from last year's hike in the ADK)

Weird Wild Neighbors: A Look in the Mirror

For this final day of the weird wild neighbors theme on the bestlife.community blog I'm bringing you weird wild neighbors with a twist as each of us takes a look in the mirror.

What makes us stand out as weird (or if you prefer, unique) among all things living on the earth?

One thing that has always struck me, as a theologian, a conservationist, and someone who views the scientific theory of evolution as the best theory we currently have to describe why things are the way they are...is that as homo sapiens, we are simultaneously creatures of such great and terrible potential.

The truth is, in comparison to the other living things on this earth, we are weird; with our big thinking brains and our ability to adapt to and transform landscapes and environments to suit our intents and purposes more profoundly than any other, we are a force to be reckoned with.

I wrote a blog post about four years ago reflecting in story form on the fact that we are the dominant species on the earth and the only hominid species walking the earth today not because of our benevolence but because of our ability to be fiercely competitive with those who want what we want, and who have what we need. Check out the link and give it a read if you have a moment.

 Our Story

We are creatures of great and terrible potential. I want to avoid the terrible and be a really great person by loving my fellow human beings and all of my wild neighbors; but I struggle. Time and again it is a struggle.

Time and again I find that my life is a mess and I simply can't do all of the good that I want to do or all of the good that I believe God would have me do if left to my own devices. There is a better way, and there is help.

The truth is, that the answer I've found is Jesus. I am well aware that it sounds totally cliche for me to say something along the lines of "Jesus is the answer." But when I say that I'm not just talking about Jesus being the answer to some far-off distant heaven after we die. I believe with all of my heart and mind that Jesus came to initiate a revolution of love in this world, a love which is the antithesis of hatred, selfishness, and survival of the fittest. Jesus came to bring that heavenly reality of peace, hope, and love to impact this good earth. In his life, death, and resurrection the love of Jesus was shown to be the most powerful force.

This power of Jesus is at work in us through the presence of what the Christian tradition calls the Holy Spirit; it is a way of saying "the Spirit of God." The two phrases can be synonymous. The Holy Spirit lives in and through us; and not only in us, but the Holy Spirit is understood to be the source and sustainer of all life, and this Holy Spirit empowers us in a very special way.

There is a running theme throughout all of the stories in the Bible and I believe that the Apostle Paul sums it up very well in chapter 5 of his letter to the Romans; he writes that we have hope, and the reason for that hope is that "we know how dearly God loves us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love." (Romans 5:5)

Yes, we struggle. Yes, deep down each of us knows that we have potential to do great things or to do terrible things, and maybe at the moment our lives are a menagerie of both. Yes, there is goodness in us; yes, we long for peace, for a world where harmony is found between people and wildlife and wild spaces. Yes, we want to do good but we can't do it alone.

The Holy Spirit is our empowerer, filling our hearts in a very special way with the love of Jesus.

As we look at the world around us, and as we take a look in the mirror, let us resolve to let the love of Jesus that fills our hearts find expression in our living as we partner with God and each other to bring the full impact of Jesus' revolution of love to this good earth that is teeming with all sorts of incredibly fascinating and beautiful weird wild neighbors!

(Talk about weird! This is a photo of me with my three brothers and my dad following a Warrior Dash 5k race we competed in together about ten years ago.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Yellow-necked Caterpillar

Today I bring you another weird wild neighbor that Erin and I encountered two days ago on Gillespie Point Trail...the yellow-necked caterpillar.

What makes the yellow-necked caterpillar weird? It has a strange defensive behavior to ward off would-be-predators. It was sitting on the middle of the trail outstretched in a seemingly relaxed posture when we first saw it, but when it realized we were standing directly over it the caterpillar threw its head back and raised its rear end as if it was doing some kind of back-bend yoga pose!

When it did this its six tiny legs vaguely resembled small thorns. I wonder, was that the point? If so, I thought to myself, what a bluff and what a gamble! It's great only if it works. If a foraging a bird or small mammal is confused or thinks its dealing with an insect having back spines for defense it might leave it alone; but if that defense strategy does not work the caterpillar has effectively exposed its most vulnerable parts to hungry predators!

I'd also like to share with you a note about how the introduction of a few invasive insect species have affected the population of the yellow-necked caterpillar:

"Throughout the Northeast this species and other Datana [its genus of caterpillars] appear to be declining. Compsilura, a tachinid parasitoid [a parasitic fly] introduced from Europe to control the Gypsy Moth, may be a factor in its demise. Over one ten-day period Compsilura attacked 79% of the fourth and fifth instar larva that Dylan Perry had set out in Massachusetts woodlands." (Caterpillars of Eastern North America. David L. Wagner. Princeton University Press; Princeton, NJ, 2005. Page 296)

It seems that introducing one non-native species to aid in the control of another non-native invasive species can have unintended negative consequences for our native species like the yellow-necked caterpillar and others, and impact the larger biological and ecological balance in unfortunate ways.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for our native wild neighbors and the spaces they call home is to work to prevent the introduction of non-native potentially invasive species rather then attempting to control or eliminate them after they have already become well-established.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Arrow-shaped Micrathena

Today's weird wild neighbor may not seem all that weird since many of us have experienced walking face-first into their orb-webs in a late-summer or early-fall forest. I introduce to you the arrow-shaped micrathena spider.

Here is some very good information that I found on the web site called InsectIdentification.org about this spiky looking critter with eight legs, six eyes, and impressive web constructing skills:

"Arrow-shaped Micrathena Spiders are everything their name suggests. Instead of a round abdomen, seen in typical spiders, abdomen is longer and generally triangular in shape, like the head of an arrow. Like other Micrathenas, this species' female has sharp spines on it that resemble rose prickles. They protrude from the edges of the abdomen. These spines are believed to ward off predators, but some sources suggest they may add to her ability to conceal herself in her web. Two large points extend from the bottom of the abdomen and angle away from each other. They are thick and intimidating with red bases and black tips. Males do not have spines of any kind; their abdomens have rounded edges. Male are mostly black with white edges, but females abound in color and pattern. The head, legs and most of the body are red. The center of the arrow-shaped abdomen is bright yellow with small red spots. Most of the medium and large spines are tipped with black. Females are twice as large as males. Both genders spin orb-shaped spiral webs that lie in a vertical plane (up-and-down). These webs may only be a few feet off the ground. A thick, short, zigzagged strand of webbing, called a stabilimentum, is usually just above the center of the web. Many spiral strands radiating from the center allow the spider to tread easily on its web. Orbweavers are known to rebuild their webs every day. In autumn, a female Arrow-shaped Micrathena Spider will lay fertilized eggs on the edge of her web, usually on a leaf right next to it, and then die before they hatch. The eggs will overwinter in the egg sac and hatch the next spring. They prefer outdoor habitats with vegetation to help hide them. Look for them in forests." (https://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.asp?identification=Arrow-shaped-Micrathena-Spider)

I'm not sure what's the most weirdly impressive characteristic about this creature; the fact that like other spiders it has eight legs and six eyes (I wonder how productive I could be if I had eight legs and six eyes???), the fact that like other orb-weaving spiders it has the ability to produce webbing that consists of varying degrees of stickiness and tensile strength (go ahead and touch the different parts of an orb web, noting the difference in feeling between the central sticky strands and the totally strong and not-sticky-at-all longer anchoring strands), or the fact that the female of this species has such a strikingly colorful and thorn-like abdomen.

This morning, as this female arrow-shaped micrathena crawled across my fingers my heart was filled with gratitude to have the joy of encountering such a fascinating wild neighbor along Barbour Rock Trail in the Tioga State Forest.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Indian pipe

Erin and I hiked to the top of Gillespie Point this afternoon and what a fantastic view it was! But that's not all; we also found a weird wild neighbor near the top of the mountain, the Indian Pipe flower. The weirdness of this particular species is best known through an understanding of its biology, in particular how it gets its energy.

"The Indian Pipes are unusual among flowering plants in that they contain no chorophyll. They do not manufacture their own food by photosynthesis, depending instead on small wood-rotting fungi in the soil to free nutrients for their use." (North American Wildlife: Wildflowers. Reader's Digest Association, Inc; Pleasantville, NY, 1998. Page 120)

Essentially the Indian Pipe is a flower that behaves like a mushroom part of the time. I say part of the time because, like other flowers the Indian Pipe contains reproductive parts that are typical of a flower, but when it comes to where it gets its energy the Indian Pipe is divergent from other flowers because like mushrooms the Indian pipe gets its energy from decaying organic matter.

A flower that behaves like a mushroom. Now I find that delightfully weird!

As we seek to live into community with all that has life, the Indian Pipe is one among many fascinatingly beautiful weird wild neighbors worthy of our respect and appreciation.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Bryozoans!

About a month ago while kayaking along the edge of Hammond Lake Erin and I noticed something floating in the water. It was a huge brownish-green gelatinous mass. It. was. weird.

I know I had seen them before but this one seemed bigger than others I had encountered; and even more interesting is that it was not the only one. While kayaking the perimeter of the lake we saw at least three of them and I'm sure there were many more because we weren't exactly looking for them (I'm always watching birds!).

We began to wonder...what is it? Is it native or exotic? Is it invasive?

I was able to get to the bottom of it pretty quickly by doing an internet search for "brownish-green gelatinous mass in a lake." The Lake Stewards of Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program says it better than I could so I'll share what their website has to say about this weird community of creatures called bryozoans:

"Bryozoans are tiny colonial invertebrate animals belonging to the phylum ‘bryozoa’, and are also known as “moss animals”.  There are 20 freshwater species worldwide.  A bryozoan colony, consisting of individuals called zooids, may resemble a brain-like gelatinous mass and be as big as a football, and can usually be found in shallow, protected areas of lakes, ponds, streams and rivers, and is often attached to things like a mooring line, a stick, or a dock post, etc. Zooids feed by filtering tiny algae, protozoa, photosynthetic bacteria, small nematodes, and microscopic crustaceans from the water.  Tentacles help capture prey and create currents that draw food toward the mouth. Bryozoans are simultaneous hermaphrodites, with individual zooids functioning first as males and then as females.  Colonies contain zooids in both male and female stages.  Sperm from male zooids exit into the water through pores in the tips of some of the tentacles, and then are captured by the feeding currents of egg-producing female zooids. Bryozoans are usually an indicator of good water quality, and should not be disturbed or removed from the water." (https://www.lakestewardsofmaine.org/programs/other-programs/bryozoans/)

 So, if you come across a brownish-green gelatinous mass now you know that they are good to have in our lakes for the water filtering services they provide. As I seek to live into community with all that has life, now that I've taken the time to get to know it, I'm thankful for bryozoans.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Wierd Wild Neighbors: Chocolate-tipped Devil's Claw

Welcome back to the bestlife.community blog for day two of Weird Wild Neighbors! The more we grow in our understanding of the weird wildlife that shares this good earth with us the better equipped we will be to treat our wild neighbors with respect and love.

Yesterday afternoon Erin found something growing in the back yard (we live in Wellsboro, PA) that we both found extremely strange. There were three relatively long and skinny tubular shaped things that had popped up among the green grass. Each was white at the base fading to red at the tapered end and each one was coated near the tip with a brown chocolatey-looking substance. Make no mistake; these are not the chocolate-dipped-pretzel-rods your grandmother made for Easter last year.

There were a couple of things that most anyone might take note of rather quickly; there were small flies flying around that melted-chocolate looking slime and the slime itself put off an odor that smelled like musty garbage...a long way off from the romantic poetry with which John Muir describes the American dipper (see blog post from August 20th).

The reason for the odor is that flies aid in the dispersal of spores for this particular species of mushroom. If you want flies to help with the dispersal of your spores first thing's first; you've got to attract the flies. The musty garbage odor put off by the chocolatey slime smells much like a flies typical meal so of course they are attracted to it! As butterflies aid in flower pollination, flies aid in the dispersal of spores for the chocolate-dipped devil's claw. There seem to be some very interesting ecological relationships with this particularly putrid smelling phallic looking fungus.

Yesterday it was the flies, and today, as the "chocolate-tipped devil's claw" as we have taken to calling it, begins to deteriorate, ants and slugs seem to have a sweet tooth for the red and white stalks. 

Before finding out that this was a type of stinkhorn mushroom I made up a name for it, calling it "chocolate-tipped devil's claw." What can I say, it seemed appropriate. The closest I can come to an identification (and I do this tentatively because I'm no mushroom expert) is that it may be the mushroom that apparently has no common name but whose Latin name is Mutinus ravenelii.

If I have temporarily ruined your appetite for chocolate I sincerely apologize. And if you're asking the question, "for what purpose was this made??" I would refer to John Muir's reflection on poison ivy about which he says, "...first of all it might have been made for itself." And then there's the first chapter of the book of Genesis (which is not a history book, but certainly is a book of theological and relational truth) that expresses the theme that when God looked upon all that God had made as well as upon each individual, "God saw that it was good." There is something intrinsically good about all living things, even if we find it difficult or impossible to perceive with our limited human senses, even that weird and smelly chocolate-tipped devil's claw mushroom!

The reference guide I used for the mushroom related information in this post is as follows:

(Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada. Timothy J. Baroni. Timber Press, Inc.; Portland, Oregon, 2017. Page 507)

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Spiny Oak-slug

It's been about three years now since I've been highly intentional about my decision to live into community with all that has life by following the teaching and example of Jesus who tells us that one of the most important things is to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want to live this way with my fellow human neighbors as well as with my non-human neighbors (aka my 'wild neighbors'). I know that if I want to love my neighbors then first thing's first; I've got to take time getting to know and understand them.

One thing I'm learning along this journey is that as I give of my time and attention to get to know our many and varied wild neighbors, from time to time, things get weird; I mean like other-worldly weird! It's true; there is no need to travel to distant galaxies or watch science-fiction films to experience weird. There is enough weird wildlife on this good earth we call home to keep us occupied with weird. Heck, If I'm fascinated by weird, there's more than enough weird to keep me occupied in my home state of Pennsylvania!

That is why, over the course of the next week I'll be showcasing a different wild neighbor who expresses characteristics or behaviors that might seem totally weird to us.

As I welcome you into this week of Weird Wild Neighbors I'm gonna kick things off with a caterpillar that I happened upon along the trail this morning that made me do a double-take.

As rain clouds moved in like a blanket bringing with it a very welcome cool breeze my friend Ken and I were birding. As we traversed the Moccasin Trail at the West end of Cowanesque Lake we noticed a very peculiar looking creature on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

I introduce to you the SPINY OAK-SLUG.  It is not a slug; it is actually a caterpillar, belonging to the order Lepidoptera (which includes caterpillars/butterflies/moths). Within the order Lepidoptera the spiny oak-slug belongs to the family called Slug Caterpillars (Limacodidae).

Part of the reason it is called a slug caterpillar is because it seems to move like a slug; as I watched it move it seemed to glide across the surface of the leaf in a way that was very different than the locomotion of other "normal" caterpillars. The spiny oak-slug eats a wide variety of plants found in deciduous forests and forest edges and it can most reliably be found hanging out on the undersides of deciduous leaves.

Notice that its covered in many tiny spines. These spines have the ability to temporarily irritate the skin of would-be predators much like when our skin brushes against the plant that is called nettles. The bright red and yellow coloration of this little fellow warns birds and other creatures that might like to make a meal of it that they might want to think twice about that decision. That being said, I wonder how a prolific predator of caterpillars like a black-billed cuckoo would handle the spiny oak-caterpillar.

While the larval caterpillar is brightly colored, the moth that it will become is very unassuming (small and creamy brown with a tiny spot of green on the wing).

My first thought upon seeing the spiny oak-slug was, "Wow! This looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! But it's even better because this is real life!"

I hope you've enjoyed the Weird Wild Neighbor for today on the bestlife.community blog... the spiny oak-slug...but its not a slug, its a caterpillar...WEIRD!

The information about the life history of the spiny oak-slug was obtained from this following field guide:

Caterpillars of Eastern North America: Princeton Field Guides. Daniel L. Wagner. Princeton University Press; Princeton NJ, 2005. Page 49.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Blue jay’s Sermon

As I walk through town after spending the first half of this day working to prepare Sunday’s sermon, I realize that the gentle wind, warm summer rain, and call of the blue Jay from atop the tall pine near the intersection of Waln and Walnut Street speak more profoundly of Divine creative love than I ever could from the pulpit. 

Why do you think every Sunday I long to take the church into the beauty of wild spaces to worship there?

This is why.

Let your voices be heard wind, rain, beautiful iridescent jay! Inspire the hearts of many until the whole world is rejoicing!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

John Muir reflects on The Dipper

As I read John Muir's reflection on his observations of the American dipper during his adventures in the Sierra Mountains of California in the year 1869, I think that I would like to take the time to observe some wild neighbor so intensely that I might be able to tap into its unique beauty with words in a similar manner to what Muir achieves here with his.

"June 29.- I have been making the acquaintance of a very interesting little bird that flits about the falls and rapids of the main branches of the river. It is not a water-bird in structure, though it gets its living in the water, and never leaves the streams. It is not web-footed, yet it dives fearlessly into deep swirling rapids, evidently to feed at the bottom, using its wings to swim with under water just as ducks and loons do. Sometimes it wades about in shallow places, thrusting its head under from time to time in a jerking, nodding, frisky way that is sure to attract attention. It is about the size of a robin, has short crisp wings serviceable for flying either in water or air, and a tail of moderate size slanted upward, giving it, with its nodding, bobbing manners, a wrennish look. Its color is plain bluish ash, with a tinge of brown on the head and shoulders. It flies from fall to fall, rapid to rapid, with a solid whir of wing-beats like those of a quail, follows the windings of the stream, and usually alights on some rock jutting up out of the current, or on some stranded snag, or rarely on the dry limb of an overhanging tree, perching like regular tree birds when it suits its convenience. It has the oddest, daintiest mincing manners imaginable; and the little fellow can sing too, a sweet thrushy, fluty song, rather low, not the least boisterous, and much less keen and accentuated than from its vigorous briskness one would be led to look for. What a romantic life this little bird leads on the most beautiful portions of the streams, in a genial climate with shade and cool water and spray to temper the summer heat. No wonder it is a fine singer, considering the stream songs it hears day and night. Every breath the little poet draws is part of a song, for all the air about the rapids and falls is beaten into music, and its first lessons must begin before it is born by the thrilling and quivering of the eggs in unison with the tones of the falls. I have not yet found its nest, but it must be near the streams, for it never leaves them." (John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra. Dover Publications, Inc. Mineola, NY 2004. Pg. 36)

(an American dipper that I photographed in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in July of 2017)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Gift of a Tree

At a recent Church Council meeting a member of the Trustees suggested the removal of the weeping cherry tree that's located on the front lawn of the church building. I said to the Church Council, "You know how I feel about cutting down healthy trees. I'll abstain from the vote and let you all decide." I also recall saying, "If you disagree with your pastor (me) on this, I will still love you."

A motion was made, it was seconded, and with a majority vote the tree's fate was sealed.

But that was not the end of the story. About one week later I was to visit with one of the members of Church Council. When I dropped by his house he handed me an envelope with a card in it. When I opened it here is what I found:

On the front of the card was a quote by John Muir that read, "The clearest way to into the universe is through a forest wilderness."

On the inside of the card it read, "Pastor Rich, In your honor a tree is being planted in a National Forest. Since I recommended removing the tree in front of the church I've made a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation."

I remained faithful to my convictions to live into community with all that has life in Jesus' name; and while initially I did not get what I wanted, by the grace of God working through the kindness of that member of Church Council who felt bad about recommending the tree's removal something even better happened!

Remain faithful to your convictions; and even if you don’t get what you want, by the grace of God working through the kindness of others something even better might happen. All things are possible with God.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Chipmunk in the Garden

Planting a garden has many benefits. For us, some of them are as follows:

-Enjoying fresh vegetables
-Sharing some with our neighbors
-Letting our dog Ivy enjoy the fresh carrots and sugar snap peas that she loves so much
-Allowing our wild neighbors to partake in some as well.

Two young mammals have recently been frequenting our garden in close proximity to each other. The young eastern cottontail rabbit has been enjoying our bush beans, and that's okay because we like the peas better anyway; and since all we have growing is vegetables we're guessing that the young eastern chipmunk is probably eating insects, snails, and slugs that it finds among the plants.

Planting and managing a garden plot is one more way for us to live into community with our local wildlife, and even to find ways to share the love of Jesus with them.

How important is it for you to help your local wildlife to thrive and in doing so share the love of Jesus with them?

Saturday, August 17, 2019

...Go to the Pine

I recall a quote from the 17th century Japanese Haiku poet named Matsuo Basho. He writes:

“If you want to know the Pine go to the Pine.” 

This simple phrase speaks volumes!

If I possess in my heart a desire to know the pine as well as other wildlife and wild spaces I’ve got to step outdoors, hit the trails, explore the mountains, valleys, marshes, and more. Books, articles, and web sites about wildlife and wild spaces are fantastic; but there is a deeper level of knowing that comes only from experience.

Yes, when we take the time to go and get acquainted with wildlife and wild spaces there is a knowing that happens through the use of all of our faculties; our minds, our hearts, our sight, smell, hearing, feeling, and yes, even our taste buds. 

Speaking from my own experience and resonating with Basho; if you want to know the Eastern hemlock pine tree, go to it. Observe it's structure; take note of the mammals, birds, and insects that frequent its branches; Feel the strength of its trunk and branches; pluck a few fresh needles, smell them, and taste them. What a beautiful tree is the Eastern hemlock!

And anyone who has spent time with wildlife in wild spaces knows that those moments of getting to know the wildlife are also moments of intense self-discovery.

As I sit here at Ives Run Rec Area Campground next to the visitors parking lot, there is a gray squirrel watching me; and I do believe that as I become acquainted with the squirrel, the squirrel has something to teach me.

I can’t tell you how, I only know from experience that this is true. 

I believe it has something to do with the Spirit of God in me recognizing the Spirit of God in another; in my wild neighbor. As the One Spirit of God who is the author of all life reconciles life with life in the knowing in my every experience of intense awareness of my wild neighbors and of myself my heart overflows with thankfulness!

If you want to know...then go. Make no excuses. Go to the pine, go to the scarlet tanager, go to the swamp milkweed, go to the mountains, go to the rivers, go to the marshes...go because the salvation of this good God-given earth depends on it!

Let us take time to know our wild neighbors until there is no more us and them, until we come to know ourselves as one species among many that all together are like a great kaleidoscope of life, and the awareness that none of us can truly be at peace until we all get there together becomes our collective awareness. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Bright Spots

As we seek to live into community with all that has life in Jesus’ name, sometimes the best thing is to pray that the Spirit of God might open our eyes to see how our neighbors are living in a way that is beneficial to wildlife and wild spaces. Here are a few bright spots that I noticed in community today...

Hume's Landscape Service manages a flower garden in front of Wellsboro Small Animal Hospital that contains beautiful native plants which are beneficial to our native wildlife. Here is Casey holding a monarch butterfly caterpillar. The plant to her right with the orange flowers is a favorite food plant of this species and the monarch caterpillars are present in relatively dense numbers this year!

My friend Jim Paxson and his wife Dolores have a composter in their back yard. This helps them to have good fertile soil for their vegetable garden. This year there was an unexpected benefit for them as a cantaloupe plant emerged straight out of the composter! All of the green creeping vines at Jim's feet are attached to the same cantaloupe plant, and he holds in his hand a freshly picked cantaloupe!

I made a feeder out of a used 2 liter container a couple years ago so I was excited when I saw this one as I walked the streets of Wellsboro today. Making bird feeders out of used plastic containers is a great way to get a second use out of them; its better than throwing that which can be repurposed straight into the trash or recycling bin.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Environment of a Healthy Heart

A meditation for today:

Anger and jealousy are invasive species to the environment of our hearts. Left unchecked these things spread out of control like purple loosestrife in the marsh, knotweed by the riverbank, and multiflora rose in the meadow. We need someone who can remove these invasives from our hearts and Jesus is that someone. In truth, as we open our hearts to Jesus, by the Spirit of God which is his Spirit living and working in us, Jesus is faithful to cultivate new spaces for things like patience and kindness to take root upon the landscape of our hearts and grow into a harmonious balance for the sake of the world that God loves.

May the changes that the Spirit of God is bringing about within us find expression in our living. I don't know about you but I could use less anger and less jealousy and more patience and more kindness. With the help of God may it be so.

(Knotweed along the creek south of Ives Run Rec Area)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Today I want to resurrect this story since it is almost two years ago to the day when the rare avian vagrant, the white-winged tern, showed up just down the road from where I currently live.


The story begins on a beautiful Thursday morning (August 10th 2017) when I had originally planned to be birding in a neighboring county with some friends but chose to hang back so I could see my wife off when she left for a conference in Hershey PA in the early afternoon. I figured since I was home and it was my day off, I might as well hit up some of the local lakes for an hour or two. I had plans to stop by Nessmuk Lake, The Muck, Woodland Park, and Hamilton Lake. As luck, or fate (or whatever you’d prefer to believe) would have it, Nessmuk Lake was my only birding stop that morning, and for good reason. 

I parked my car in the lot next to the pavilion, grabbed my camera and binoculars and proceeded towards the south shore of Nessmuk Lake.  I stopped abruptly 40 yards short of the water’s edge at the sight of a dark colored tern perched on one of the pylons that jut straight out of the water next to shore.  The bird was facing me head-on so I could see that the head and breast were black with some white spotting on the forehead. 

Believing I was in the presence of a rare migrating black tern I called my birding friends, Kathy Riley and John Corcoran.  They arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later and the three of us watched as it flew around the lake. As we watched it, Kathy said, “I don’t think that’s a black tern.” “What do you think it is?” John and I asked. Kathy opened her field guide to the terns and pointed to a photo of a much rarer white-winged tern which was depicted next to black tern in her guide. Sure enough, we had a match. That tern, with its tail looking like it was dipped in white paint, white upper wings, and under wings black to the shoulder with white primary and secondary feathers was definitely a white-winged tern!  

And so, it was me with my camera, John with his spotting scope, and Kathy with her field guide that confirmed the ID for us. We got the word out quickly and within a few hours, crowds were beginning to form at the lakeshore. Mostly locals at first, but then people from all over Pennsylvania and New York were there by evening of that first day. At 5pm a team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology arrived. 

I was told by the Cornell crew that one of the reasons the tern decided to settle at Nessmuk was because the habitat is very good for it. I was told that in Europe, white-winged terns are primarily found in healthy shallow marsh habitats that have good perches close to the water’s surface. That is also a description of what we currently see at Nessmuk Lake.

It seemed that every time the white-winged tern would leave its perch during the day, barn swallows would mob it repeatedly, and waxwings always seemed curious about its presence, but not as aggressive as the swallows.

My favorite experiences with the white-winged tern were in the evenings, just before dark, when it would go into a feeding frenzy making pass after pass over the shallow marsh at the south end of Nessmuk Lake in company with chimney swifts and cedar waxwings.  The chimney swifts especially seemed to welcome the white-winged tern and there were moments when it seemed to assimilate with their flock, moving in unison with the swifts through areas of densest insect activity. I think the evening flights of the white-winged tern, its shape, movement, and behavior, very closely resemble that of a feeding common nighthawk (may speak to the swift’s acceptance).

Over the course of four days, the Tiadaghton Audubon Society estimates that 300 people came to see the white-winged tern for themselves. It very quickly became a widely sought after bird for a number of reasons. One, it’s a Eurasian breeder, and traveling to the shores (and inland!) of North America is not part of this species’ regular migration pathway. This species of tern has been reported in North America on Ebird.org only a little more than twenty times, ever. In addition to that, this is the first documented sighting of a white-winged tern in the United States during the calendar year of 2017 and the first documented sighting of a white-winged tern in the state of Pennsylvania, ever. It is also a very strikingly colored and beautiful bird; an adult transitioning from breeding to non-breeding plumage. So it’s easy to see how this bird rose to fame so quickly. But apparently it held little to no regard of its celebrity status, as it then departed without notice sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning.

As I reflect upon this experience, there are questions I want to ask the bird (that I will never know the answer to!) like “Where did you come from?” and “How did you get here?” I am filled with gratitude to have had such an amazing experience with such a beautiful and interesting avian traveler and to have met so many kind and respectful people from so many places (some who traveled from as far as Colorado, Texas, and Florida!) who share my love and appreciation of birds. 

Another observation I’ve made through this experience is that it pays to nurture healthy ecosystems.  Many of our visitors, and especially those who traveled far distances to get here, asked for recommendations concerning food and lodging around Wellsboro.  The presence of this rare bird had a significant impact on local businesses during its stay, especially on restaurants and hotels.  If not for the healthy status of our local bodies of water and the land adjacent to it, it’s not very likely that our national celebrity the white-winged tern would have made a visit. It pays to nurture healthy ecosystems, and this is something we can all participate in together, for the sake of the birds and our local economy.