Monday, April 7, 2014

Of woodpeckers and wonder

Only the first glow of morning—the sun has not even glanced over the horizon.

We huddle in the back of a seat truck waiting, our eyes glued on cavities bored into long leaf pines.


At the gracious invitation of our hosts, we are deep in an idyllic lowland wilderness hoping to see the endangered red cockaded woodpecker otherwise known as the RCW. We’d spent the afternoon before doing the same thing, but we hadn’t had a spotting.

The woodpecker’s name seems almost a misnomer for its head is not red but black. The bird only occasionally sports a red feather or two above its eyes. His preference for mature long leaf pines has left him with less and less habitat because of clear cutting.

The naturalist with us plays his recording of the RCW’s. He hopes to draw a few, but he’s not sure what his RCW is saying—maybe a warning call rather than a mating call?

In the distance, a quail issues his bobwhite. The forest begins to waken and a cardinal joins the chorus. A tree frog opens up.

The RCW is the only woodpecker who makes his home in live trees and takes between eighteen months and several years to prepare his nesting cavity. He then drills around the cavity making the sap run from the tree. This sap serves to foil snakes who would steal the eggs.

Without any announcement, a dark silhouette wings across the sky. “That’s it,” the naturalist cries. We yank our binoculars to our eyes as the silhouette lights on a branch.

I fine tune my binocs and see him with his distinctive white cheeks, eyeing us suspiciously. Another of his kind soon joins him. After a moment, they take to the air.

I am full of awe and wonder at sighting the bird as we move on to another nesting site. Jostling over bumpy dirt roads while warming rays filter through the pines, I think of a few lines from a hymn penned by Isaac Watts almost three hundred years ago:

I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

In this world, heart-breaking realities can almost crush us with their cries. The pain and suffering could suffocate. However, the beauty of God’s hand calls to us as well. Just as any artist loves when his work is appreciated, I believe we warm the heart of the Almighty when we pause to offer praise for all He has created.

The last lines of “I Sing the Almighty Power of God” are:

While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.

I trace in my mind the flight of birds struggling for survival, and find comfort that the One who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground knows their plight. It gives me hope for the other seemingly impossible situations around me.

So, here’s to the RCW’s perching on the precipice of life itself, and here’s to a Great God who holds them . . . and us in his mighty hand.

“But it is God whose power made the earth, whose wisdom gave shape to the world, who crafted the cosmos” (Jeremiah 10:12-13 The Message).

My camera lacks a strong enough lens to capture what I’d like, so please learn more of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker at the Cornell site.

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