Monday, August 31, 2009

Teachings of the Frogmouth Family

FROGMOUTH FAMILY: Masters of Disguises

When danger comes, Frogmouths freeze flattening their wings and stretching out their bodies. With their faces pointed towards the sky, They sit stock still. Then squinting their eyes, Frogmouths transform Themselves into a dead branch or a tree stump. Few observers can tell the difference between bird and tree.

These grotesque Birds have great flat shaggy heads with massive bills. Mistaken for Owls, Frogmouths are actually members of the Nightjar Family. Moreover, their name comes from an erroneous idea that these Birds caught Insects as They flew.

Instead of spending hours in flight, Frogmouths perch on a branch waiting for food to come by. Spying an unfortunate Insect, They quietly swoop down and grab it with their massive bills. Because They hunt at night, people often think that Frogmouths are Owls. However, They lack the strong talons of an Owl.

Masters of disguises, Frogmouths are usually confused for Owls or tree stumps. These bizarre Birds can transform into things useful to Them. Let Frogmouths teach you how to disguise yourself well. Just take care not to be so odd that you forget who you are.

Frogmouth Picture copyrighted by Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services

Virginia Carper, Animal Teachers

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Zebra Finch: Love of Music

One of the more common grass Finches in Australia, Zebra Finch stands out in his striking zebra stripes and red beak. As an extremely social Bird, He lives in closely knit flocks. So close are they that each Flock has their own bathing and preening site. In addition, a special tree with a “courting branch” is set aside for Zebra Finch and his Mate.

This hardy Bird can survive for weeks without water. In fact, Zebra Finch retains and reuses more water than what other Birds often lose in their urine. However, He often makes his home close to water. (To find nearby water, many hikers in the Outback often listen for his distinctive calls.)

What Zebra Finch is famous for are his songs. Dreaming in sound, He often composes his songs in his sleep. Moreover, Father Zebra Finch passes his songs on to his Sons. Each new “beep, meep, oi, a-acha” are carefully worked into the Sons’ complex songs that They will pass on.

Zebra Finch is a sterling example for musicians who want to further their musicianship. Like a virtuoso, He adjusts his singing style to his audiences. As a composer, Zebra Finch creates, ponders, and dreams of music – melodies and harmonies. In his own way, He personifies the life of a musician.
Copyright: Virginia Carper, Animal Teachers
To find your animal teacher, see my website: Animal Teachers

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Canary: Joy in Service

“Canary” conjures up a vision of a yellow ball of fluff singing their heart out. He brings sunshine and happiness to wherever He is. For many, joy is synonymous with Canary.

In the wild, Canary is yellow green and grey-brown, instead of bright primary colors. His colors help Him to blend into his surroundings. However, his voice makes Him known to all.

Like other Finches, Canary lives in large flocks. Only during breeding season does He pairs off with his Mate. After choosing their nesting site, Canary collects the building materials. Then his Mate builds a neat nest. While She incubates their eggs, He feeds Her. Together, They raise their Chicks.

After being introduced to people, Canary has helped them in many ways. “Miners’ Canary” warns miners of seeping gasses, while “Climate Canary” tells people of bad air. Of course, “Singing Canary” brings joyful songs to all.

Greeting each day with hope and purpose, Canary shows us how to live a life filled with light and joy. Through helping people, He shows how service can be life-affirming. Learn joy in service from this small Bird. Remember not to overdo it or you may become an ill-fated “Miners’ Canary”.
Copyright: Virginia Carper, Animal Teachers
To find your animal teacher, see my website: Animal Teachers

Friday, August 28, 2009

Finch Family: Bringing Smiles to All

Many bird watchers often call small Songbirds that eat seeds “Finches”. (Some even refer to Them as “Little Brown Jobs” (LBJs)). However, not every “Finch” is a Finch. In fact, Darwin’s famous Finches are actually relatives of Tanagers.

There are only two groups of Finches – Fringillids (True Finches) and Estrildids. True Finches are Canaries, Crossbills, Hawaiian Creepers, and Siskins. Estrildids consists of Waxbills and relatives of Old World Sparrows. A major difference between the two is their primaries (feathers). Estrildids have ten while Fringillids have nine. Another difference is that Estrildids brood chicks in covered nests, while Fringillid chicks defecate in theirs.

Finches have special adaptations for eating seeds. They wedge the seed into a groove on the roof of their mouths. Then They raise their lower jaw to hold it. Before crushing the seed, Finches peel off the husk with their tongue, and discard it. Thus the seed is handily consumed.

Watching these sprightly Birds can be a treat. Gregarious and social Finches bounce around chattering to each other. Through their antics and songs, these happy little Birds bring smiles to people. Finches live their lives in joyousness and purposeful activity. They are more than LBJs; Finches bring smiles to all who watch them.

Science Note:
Canaries and Purple Finches are Fringillids, while Zebra Finches are Estrildids.
Copyright: Virginia Carper, Animal Teachers


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wandering Albatross: Soaring

Gliding vast distances across the seas, Wandering Albatross has the longest wingspan of any living bird (11 feet (3 meters)). Roaming the Southern Ocean, She floats on updrafts with her long narrow wings. Turning into the wind, Wandering Albatross soars on the currents. Using the wind’s energy, She rises up and then coasts downward, saving her strength with her dynamic soaring.

Swooping low over wave tops, Wandering Albatross settles on the sea’s surface for eating. As She sits on the water with her folded wings, Wandering Albatross dabbles for Squid and Cuttlefish. After scooping up Octopus with her huge bill, She rises again with the wind.

Only on land is Wandering Albatross clumsy. Nicknamed “Gooney Bird”, She makes untidy take offs and landings. When landing, She often crashes into a breeding colony. While walking, Wandering Albatross often trips over her huge feet.



copyright: Virginia Carper Animal Teachers

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teachings of the Albatross Family: Limitless Blessings

(Photo copyrighted by The Royal Albatross Colony)

Lords of the ocean skies, Albatrosses are rarely seen on land, preferring the life on the open ocean. Since They contained the souls of lost comrades, many sailors revered these birds. In addition, many cultures venerated Albatrosses because of their ability for continuous flying.

Dynamic flyers, They soar in the skies taking advantage of the ocean winds. Looping in a roller-coaster fashion, Albatrosses expend little energy while flying. Spreading their winds to the wind, off They go on their travels.

There are four groups of Albatrosses. The Great Whites are known for their huge size and white coloring. Named by Dutch sailors, Mollymawks (“foolish gull”) resemble Gulls. Instead of the sub-Antarctic islands, the North Pacific Albatrosses live near the equator. Named for their dark plumages, Sooties live close to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

For life at sea, Albatrosses developed a unique beak called a tubenose. Their tubular nostrils on either side of their beaks enable Them to smell food. Also the grooves from their nostrils excrete excess salt that these Birds may ingest while eating at sea.

Going only land to breed, Albatrosses encounter lots of their Friends there. Often loud, noisy places, their colonies are full of courting and feeding Birds. Closely packed in, Breeding Pairs often number into the thousands. (Only Sooties nest in solitary places.) However Albatrosses breed very slowly, only laying one egg every other year.

Well equipped for life at sea, Albatrosses know no boundaries. They carry the souls of dead mariners to the heavens. They travel the oceans sailing on the winds. Let Albatrosses bring you limitless blessings. Just remember to come to land once in awhile to stay grounded.

Science Note: Related to Shearwaters and Petrels.

The Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula, New Zealand, is the only mainland breeding colony for any albatross species found in the southern hemisphere.



copyright: Virginia Carper Animal Teachers

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dragons of Europe: Story Morals

The three stories of Beowulf, Siegfried, and Jormungander reflect Norse and Anglo-Saxon values and traditions. Although they may seem alien to us today, these values are one of the sources of our laws today. Life in Northern Europe was hard, with no margin for error. People depended on kinship and tribal cohesion for survival. Because of that, everyone had to maintain good relations with people they did not care for.

One major theme of these stories is integrity and greed. The Norse understood the complexity of integrity. They divided it into several thews (virtues) – frith (peace weaving), troth (oath keeping), truth, honor, and fidelity. The different thews emphasized the importance of each aspect in human relationships. Greed breaks the chain of integrity and destroys kinship and cohesion.

Another theme running through these stories is the Norse concept of orlog and weaving your wyrd. Our present flows from our past. Our future arrives out of our lives today. What affects our present are our choices in the past. What determines our future is our understanding of our past, and the choices we make now. We cannot find fault in our current circumstances since our past choices lead there.

Within each of these stories is a secondary theme of hospitality. The Norse split the concept of hospitality into “guestliness”, which is receiving the stranger, and “right good will”, which is accepting hospitality without any hidden agendas. Because the Northlands are a harsh environment, both concepts are important. Guests should not overburden the host, whereas the host should not turn the guest away. When Thor visited the Giants, he irritated them with his boasts. In return, they rigged their contests with Him.

“Beowulf and the Firedrake”

When Beowulf was old, he had to fight a dragon that was rampaging through his kingdom. One of Beowulf’s subjects had stolen some of the dragon’s treasure (thereby, breaking the frith between the dragon and the people). Beowulf had asked his warriors accompany him to fight the dragon. But when he was wounded and could not kill the dragon, they deserted him. Only, Wiglaf, who was a house thane, stayed with Beowulf. Together they killed the dragon. As Beowulf was dying, he rewarded the faithfulness of Wiglaf, his thane, with his kingdom.

“Siegfried and Fafnir”

This chapter in a larger saga concludes with the transfer of a curse to Siegfried. The Norse Gods accidently killed Fafnir and Regin’s brother, Otter. To pay the wergild (blood price) for killing Otter, the Gods stole gold from Andvari, the Dwarf, who then cursed the purloined gold. Before he became a dragon, Fafnir killed his father to possess this gold. Then as a dragon, he hoarded it. Meanwhile, his brother plotted to kill him to get the treasure.

Desiring fame and glory, Siegfried also exhibited a form of greed. He plunged head long in pursing Fafnir the Dragon with Regin. In his eagerness for glory, Siegfried nearly lost his life, and in the process inherited the curse of the gold. Siegfried wove his wyrd with that of Regin and Fafnir, and receiving a different fate than if he was contented. He destroyed his future through his choices in the present.

“Jormungander, the Midgard Wurm”

These stories demonstrate how Thor and Jormungander’s fates were woven together. The Midgard Wurm was an offspring of Loki, the Trickster God. She lived at the bottom of the Tree of Life, eating the roots were fed by the Well of the Wyrd. This was far from the places where the people and Gods lived. However, in biting her tail, Jormungander formed a circle that encompassed all of them.

Meanwhile, Thor, the God of Thunder, often righted the wrongs of the Norse Gods. In addition, He defended ordinary people from the Giants. Widely worshipped, Thor was seen as a protector as well as a bringer of fertility.

Thor and Jormungander are equally matched. Their battles represent the forces of order warring against those of chaos. Neither could overwhelm the other. At Ragnarok, the World’s End, both Thor and Jormundander (order and chaos) perish to bring forth a new world.

Works Cited:
Colum, Padraic, “Nordic Gods and Heroes”, Dover, NY, 1996.
Lindow, John, “Norse Mythology”, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001.
Woodening Swain (Berry Canote), “Hammer of the Gods”, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, Texas, 2003.


Copyright: Virginia Carper, animalteachers @ gmail . com