Readers’ wildlife photos (and a message)

August 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

It’s been a while since we’ve had photos from Colin Franks, but we have some lovely kestrel (“sparrow hawk”) pictures today.  (his website his here, his Facebook page here, and his Instagram page is here.) Colin’s notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

As you may remember, Colin was recently diagnosed with ALS; but it turns out that he has a milder form of neurodegenerative disease. I asked him if he wanted to say anything to readers about his condition, and he did: his message appears at the bottom of this post.

Colin’s remarks on the photos:

A few more images than what you  normally like to post in one batch, but here’s some shots of North America’s smallest Falcon, the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius).

From Colin:

While my recent diagnosis of ALS has been devastating, and a bomb dropped into my life, the more recent, refined diagnosis of PLS (a slower developing form of ALS) offers a small bit of relief in terms of time, although PLS can change into ALS at some point.

While I have appreciated the many comments Facebook and Instagram, it has sadly revealed that the vast majority of people have a broken operating system rattling around in their heads.  While I also fully recognise and appreciate that most of the comments which are peppered with religiosity generally come from a kind and caring place, the sheer number of people that actually think that prayer does anything (more than make themselves feel good) is shocking.  It’s as though something like 90% of the population have been hypnotized with supernatural BS, and simply don’t possess any critical thinking skills whatsoever.  I wanted to remind them that ALL of the people with ALS who were prayed for are dead.  That never seems to give any of these people a moment of pause.

To me it represents both the failure of an education system, and the immense power of childhood indoctrination.

Finally,  I would like to share a video of Dave Warnock. He and I have had similar life journeys, although I woke up from the drunken stupor of faith much earlier in life:


44 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos (and a message)

  1. Stunning photos as usual, Colin. One of my favorite birds.

    I hope things go well for you. Such a diagnosis is devastating. My thoughts are with you.

  2. What w wonderful, inspiring video. Thank you Colin and Jerry for suggesting and posting it.

    When my brother-in-law was suffering from cholangiocarcinoma, about ten years ago, I wished with all my heart that he would choose to live. Instead, he chose to keep from dying. His last months were agonizing; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    I loved this quote from the video: “If I’m not pursuing moments, I’m sitting around waiting to die.”

    All my love,

  3. Beautiful photos

    Glad to learn Mr. Franks is learning the details of this disease. Change is slow but science and medicine discover small things every day – it sounds like it can help a great deal.

    “I wanted to remind them that ALL of the people with ALS who were prayed for are dead.”

    I think that is not a mistake – that is, it is precisely how religion reinforces the mind in a circular trap of sorts. The people prayed for died, so how good of us to pray for them while they were alive, because now they are in the good place, because we prayed for them.

  4. Some very fine photos as always. A great video to go with it. You will not see any prayers from this life long atheist.

  5. Beautiful photos! And a well-delivered message. I would add to it, do these people think that their deity is so absent-minded (and/or egotistical) that unless he’s prayed to in some acceptable fashion he won’t intercede regarding someone’s illness? Couldn’t He/She/It/They just not have given someone a disease in the first place? It’s particularly sad because some people are truly distressed by the implications; I knew a young man whose mother was going in for a colon procedure and he was honestly VERY distressed because he had forgotten to pray for her specifically the night before. It was heartrending.

    At least we can honestly say of Colin, “His eye is on the sparrow hawk.”

    1. Since “god” is supposedly omnipotent, there is no question but that he already knows what people want and need. Thus, if prayer is really necessary to secure god’s intervention, it can only be because god is a sadist who loves to hear us beg.

  6. Thanks for the beautiful photos and thoughtful comments, Colin. I agree regarding early childhood indoctrination of religion and failure of education systems. But these two things are related in the US, as the beginnings of mandatory public education in the US is generally taken as the Massachusetts “Old Satan Deluder Act of 1647” which required the teaching of reading to all children through use of the bible. Public ed in the US aided and abetted religion from colonial times as did university education…read Thomas Jefferson’s frustrations with trying to secularize his Anglican alma mater William and Mary. He eventually gave up and created his own secular University of Virginia. And yes, also my thoughts are with you.

  7. Truly beautiful and amazing photos, Colin. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Every time Jerry asks for nature photos I consider sending in some of mine, but seeing yours makes me realize that I’m not remotely in the same league as pros like you.

      1. Thanks, Mark. I’ve been into photograph for 40 years. I’ve got plenty of decent equipment, I’ve read tons of books and I’ve even taken some classes. I’ve gotten some pictures over the years that I’m pleased with, but nothing to compare with any of Colin’s.

        1. Something “comarable to Colin’s work” isn’t required here. Colin’s photos are among the best I’ve ever seen.

          Jerry (I think) is happy to post photos that are reasonably sharp and of interest to his readers, nothing more.

          I hope you submit some photos. 🙂

  8. I suspect that a lot of the “thoughts and prayers” people are probably not particularly religious. It could be that they are simply giving in to sloppy thinking and don’t know what else to say to someone who has had bad news. Recall the idea of “thinking fast and slow”, by Kahneman. Most people, most of the time are thinking fast. It’s not at very deep. Perhaps then they are guilty less of religiosity and more of laziness.

    1. Some of my Facebook friends ASK for thoughts and prayers. When they do that, I feel a need to oblige in some way. What they’re really asking for is comfort. My cat-loving friends on Facebook often oblige by sending virtual purrs instead. Every cat lover knows how comforting purrs can be for both the giver and the recipient.

    2. Oh yes, I fully recognize that, but I’m speaking about the legion of people who go way past that and go on and on about “god, miracles, cure, god’s arms, healing, prayer works”, etc, like truly hypnotized zombies, and some complete with bible verses.

  9. I’ve said this before about the power of prayer, but prayer is what people do when there is nothing they can do. If you are falling out of a plane, you open your parachute. If your parachute doesn’t open, then you pray. If you survive the fall, you attribute it to the power of prayer. If you die, then there is no internal calculus. Hence, the anecdotal support for prayer.

    Is it a bad thing that this behavior seems to resonate with human beings? It distracts you from your circumstances, it gives you something to do while you await your fate, and it rises above grim resignation into something more spirited as you meet your fate. The power is, of course, the power to shift one’s attitude toward one’s fate.

    Treating prayer like it is some kind of technology is silly. I don’t care how superstitious someone is, they are going to go for the parachute first. That means that even for true believers, they recognize that prayer serves a different function from technology, whatever they say. But saying technology is all that matters, and neglecting the power of attitude is a mistaken understanding of life. Morale has won as many battles as technology in human history.

  10. Top notch photos as ever, even for someone who’s not that interested in birds.

    Glad to hear that the embuggerance is slighly less bad than initially thought.

  11. Perfection in photos. Though I do feel bad for the lizards as I really like lizards. But birds gotta eat!

    My brother who is not religious was recently diagnosed with a melanoma on his thigh. The family put out an email telling everyone the bad news and ended it with “we covet your prayers”. Man, I just had to roll my eyes, knowing that only doctors will be able to do anything with the cancer. As you said, it’s a way to make the prayer-giver feel better, it’s never about the afflicted (even if the prayer-giver thinks it is). Such is the occluded and somewhat selfish thinking of the religiously addled.

  12. Again, wonderful photographs. I used to see kestrels hunting along the verges of motorways in England.

    In medieval England, people were supposed to keep to what was thought suitable for their place in society. Birds could be trained to help one hunt for food. And the following strictures would limit what you could hunt according to your rank in society.

    “An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave” Boke (book) of St Albans in 1486.

    A knave did not mean someone who might be a criminal as it might have done later, but a peasant.

  13. Kestrels are one of my favorite birds, and your photos are absolutely spectacular. My favorites are the first and the one in the middle with the dark blue background. The latter looks like it is sitting for a formal portrait. As one other commenter wrote, I feel sorry for the lizards since I’m rather fond of them.

    I am glad you have received at least somewhat of a reprieve with the PLS and hope it will give you several more years to be able to take such lovely, artistic photos. As a fellow atheist, I will not even think of praying for you, but my thoughts are with you.

    I live in a very religious part of PA where the religious are eager to pray for people for any reason. It was a mistake to tell a neighbor about a friend who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. She was certain that their prayers for him would bring about a miracle. When he died, I let them know that their prayers didn’t work, which probably did not cause them even to question their beliefs. This family was not one where both partners had been indoctrinated as children, but one that came to evangelical christianity in their 40s, which speaks to the fact that there are many gullible people in this society. They seem to want answers handed to them on a silver platter–even when the answers don’t work–instead of learning to use their minds in a scientific way.

  14. Beautiful photos, as always Colin.

    Having had knee replacement surgery last October, I logged onto a site which gave support after the surgery. It’s a tough recovery, as I know, because I had the other knee done in 2012. The people who came onto the site were very nice, well-meaning, with some very good advice and help for recovery. But I was shocked at how much religiosity there is. Almost everyone from the States said they would ‘pray for me’. I didn’t need prayers; I needed good physical therapy advice. (Knee is great now, after 9 1/2 months. I can bike, swim, walk for miles. God bless medical science. Haha.)

    1. Well done Claudia.

      As someone who has had multiple orthopedic injuries and one knee surgery and one hip replaced: Never stop doing your PT. I do PT (4 days/week) for: Back, hip, knees, “tennis elbow” tendons, rotator cuff, and ankles. I only expect that roll to increase as I age.

      1. You are absolutely right. Ongoing PT is the most important thing. I feel like my 2nd knee replacement is taking a bit longer than my first one, to feel like a “normal” knee. But, then, I am nine years older this time.

        I am assuming that you mean you do PT at home, on your own. I still do some, but probably not enough. When summer came, I guess I thought swimming and biking were enough. But clearly it is not, as I still have some stiffness. Looking forward to going back to the gym when it feels more safe (from Covid). Building up muscle really helped me last time.

        Keep up the good work! Orthopedic injury/surgery is no joke.

  15. Watched the Warnock video, liked this line the best, as I’ve often thought this “[Don’t you get]” tired of making excuses for God’s poor behavior?”

  16. I’m an atheist in my own leukemic foxhole. I was the family doc in a small rural community for thirty years, and when I had to quit you can imagine the number of people/patients (not that there was a difference!) who indicated they would pray for me. What to say? They knew I was an atheist, but a well-mannered one, I hope, who would not want to offend someone who meant well. My stock answer became “I’ll take all the help I can get, thank you,” which lets me thank them for their good intentions without me having to run through all the arguments and emotions about the inutility of prayer in my mind once again. I don’t have to judge them, which I don’t find helpful to either party, and it leaves me free to think about more important things. I hope it means they see an atheist facing difficulty without being mean, bitter and ungrateful when they offer what is encouragement and succour to them, and that can’t harm the impression they have of us. Consider trying it out.
    Beautiful photos by the way, and I hope you make many more. I’ve gone entirely back to home developed b&w film and have spent many happy hours in the darkroom oblivious to the world outside!

    1. Yes, I pretty much said nothing and just clicked the “like” button when people said things like “thoughts & prayers”, but when some went over the top and got into the zone of flat-out proselytizing, complete with spewing bible verses, I would push back with something like: “You may want to consider the possibility that all of the gods man has invented are imaginary.”

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