Sunday, April 26, 2015

A contrarian view on eagle conservation

I had published this on Jameson Parker's blog in response to a question and it occurred that it would make an interesting little essay. But some have misunderstood it, so let me give you my conclusions before my reasoning:

I don't think (Golden) eagles are in any way endangered, but I support protection for them.

I don't think wind power companies and other utilities should get an automatic free pass  on killing eagles.

I don't think any Indian tribes without a strong religious reason for taking eagles should be allowed to do so (I am encouraged that at least one pueblo now keeps live eagles, and attempts to breed them). I think that commercial exploitation of eagles and other birds of prey for their feathers by anyone is deplorable, and ideally should be ended. In today's world, I doubt that it will.

The legal take of no more than six eagles for falconry was something that put less pressure on the population than any other conceivable use, and even added to the Indians and wind farms, would have a negligible effect. In all likelihood allowing ANY falconer who qualified to take an eagle would not make any difference. If officials were really worried about this, they could mandate that trained eagles be released into the wild after ten years as the Kazakhs do.

In the ideal world, conservation decisions should be based on biology. In our real world, they can't be, not entirely anyway. Still, using a little information and pretending to a bit less hypocrisy would be welcome. And another thought: the educational value of trained eagles is not to be dismissed.

So, here it is:

I have a bit of a heretical stance about Golden eagles re wind farms. I dislike the amount of kills allowed for wind farms. But whether or not the population is harmed needs at least two questions answered. One is how many (Golden) eagles there are; the other is what else takes them out of (breeding) circulation.

The first is never discussed except among biologists– it is as though certain enviros do not want to ever say anything optimistic. The number of Bald eagles got brought low, partly by persistent pesticides, and now increases as it becomes ever more tolerant of human society. But the number of known Golden nests (or rather the reasonably accepted extrapolated number ) is AND MAY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN almost inconceivably high, so high I am not inclined to quote it without access to the actual data, except five figures of pairs in North America. (There are two nesting pairs I know of within ten miles of where I write these notes). This is never publicized, but you can track it down. The data is not from livestock or energy apologists, either. Remember, there is an untouched Arctic population, and ones in Labrador that seem to eat herons in breeding season. The golden is so adaptable that there is a Greek population that eats mostly tortoises. I doubt wind turbines will dent those numbers or scare them away.

The Texans used to shoot hundreds every year and it seems to have done little biological harm. Now wind farms are allowed to kill several hundred a year, and Navajos and other Native peoples are allowed not only unlimited hunting but utterly unlimited access to such species as Red- tailed hawks, not to train but to sell feathers. Which works out in practice that every delinquent kid on a troubled reservation sees a hawk on a pole and shoots it. Then probably sells it. While there are serious religious uses of eagles by the Pueblos, there is also an internal market, really illicit, in feathers for tribal dance outfits, competitive and lucrative- and some sympathetic judges have decided these commercial competitions are protected too. (Meanwhile one pueblo has modified its ceremonies to no longer kill eagles, and has hired a biologist to teach them how to keep them in a healthy way!)

Many activist types hate falconry as intolerable meddling with romantic symbols, but a falconer’s eagle is not even lost from the population– only “on loan” so to speak. The Kazakhs I rode with in Asia let them go to breed after ten years, and eagles commonly live to over 30. Until now falconers were a allowed a take of  6 wild-caught Golden eagles a year, only from areas in Wyoming and the Dakotas with proven sheep predation problems. Right now the government is inclined to end this benign “use”. I wish that moralists and humane activists would not go after the tiny portion of eagles allowed to falconers! If we allow a small kill harvest from the tribes, an unknown yet amount for wind farms, oil wells, roads and such, and want a healthy population… we HAVE to set fairly rigid quotas to be safe. But known numbers could easily allow a live take of up to six (or ten or whatever– except I don’t think that there will ever be that many eaglers), some of which would eventually even breed.

Meanwhile, in the warden- free lands of most reservations eagles still exist only because of apathy– there is no protection. Ranchers under 60 are more or less benign, and don’t shoot them (wolves are far more threatening in both reality and reputation), but some angry young rez kids kill every sitting bird they see, and sell the feathers no matter what, as a demonstration that they “own” them Some tribes have made clear falconers shouldn’t get any quota, because they are religious symbols! A bit of Googling would show us the old regs, under which we existed and complained for decades, while Texans shot hundreds or maybe even thousands (see Don Scheuler’s Incident at Eagle Ranch), were uninformed– they now seem almost as unimaginable as photos of the aerial dogfights with eagles when they were hunted from planes. But, counterintuitively, they were probably biologically harmless in that they didn’t– because they couldn’t– wipe out eagles. Morally though, making dead eagles a commodity for anyone looks worse to me than wind farms; commerce can drive extinction like stoking a fire.
        (Photo above from Life Magazine in 1953, from an eagle shooter's view in Texas)

Why not reasonable quotas for falconers’ birds? Fewer privileges for Indians, at least ones with no religious stake, as those don’t have the built- in cultural reverence? And less posturing from anti- wind people at least about eagles aka Charismatic Megafauna (the turbines may actually be worse for bats, a group far more threatened than the Golden eagle!)

Nepal Earthquake connection

The disaster in Nepal has taken a personal turn. Jean Louis and Catherine Lassez, long time  "semi- native" residents of the old Muleshoe Ranch fifteen miles out of Magdalena, Asia hands, Christmas hosts, originator of the barbecue for the Old Timer's fiesta queen; artists, art collectors, keepers of as many dogs as us; above all dear friends, are among the yet un- accounted for in the Himalayan earthquake. (Scroll down).

This may mean nothing. They could have been on the road between Pokhara and Katmandu. They are resourceful, calm, experienced travelers, sometimes in  places even more remote, and communications there are terrible at the moment. But how can we, and their daughter Sara in LA, not worry?

This blog has long connections that only come to light  at certain times; one, for instance,  helped pay for Irbis's leg operation. If anybody out there runs into our friends, let us know.

Last pic from Nepal this trip; Lassez 1968; J L with saddhus in Katmandu on  previous trip; all of us at Christmas; Lib & Catherine 2 Christmases ago;  various JL art parodies.

HAPPY UPDATE:  Just got word they are OK, just stranded, like everybody else, and better off than many; as I said, they are seasoned third world travelers.  They have braved "Myanmar", and Lib reminds me they were in Indonesia when the big tsunami hit the area...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Paradigm SHIFTED

... decisively: not the "Cover of the Rolling Stone" as I have been calling it but, of course, that of Scientific American. I thought at first they were a bit late to the party, as it was the late John Ostrom who started the ball rolling with his discovery of Deinonychus, which he reported in SA in an article which suggested warm bloodedness but did not QUITE say feathers. That must have been (a lot?) more than thirty years ago. Robert Bakker soon called T rex the "20,000 pound Roadrunner from Hell", but as far as I can see it was my old friend John McLoughlin who first dressed raptors in feathers in the popular press-- 1979? I'm sure he'll tell me.

Now proud Tyrannosaurs have them, in mainstream publications. On second thought, SA deserves great credit. It may be slow compared to the avant garde, but it is the FIRST popular magazine to portray a feathered tyrant, as well as the first to broach the ideas that led to it.

Two more thoughts. I counted only four sentences in- text that said "feather"-- after paradigms shift, they seem "normal".

Second, what do readers think about those poor naked chickens coming in the new Jurassic Park thing? And what about the less sophisticated public?

Rueful truth

Reid attended Tom McGuane's signing for his new book of short stories, Crow Fair, at the Tattered Cover,  where they talked of Helen's meteoric rise, gun nuts, and the blog-- I was pleased to know he sometimes checks in. He was kind enough to send down an inscribed copy via Reid-- thanks to both.

I have read several of these stories already, mostly in the New Yorker; some are funny, some very dark. I see a deep Irish thing there, transplanted to the Plains; I often find the same thing in North Dakota poet Tim Murphy: "Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death. / Horseman,  pass by...";  though I think both Tom and Tim are merrier characters than Yeats...

But for some reason I went to the back of the book to read the last line of the last story and laughed aloud, albeit not without that frisson of recognition of one's own mortality that accompanies such rueful truth- telling. It applies to me as well as it does to his narrator, and to Tom, who is eleven years older than I am. And  you'd better believe he did it consciously.

"Lately, I've been riding a carriage at the annual Bucking Horse Sale, waving to everyone like an old-timer, which I guess is what I'm getting to be." 


Actual headline from this morning's Wall Street Journal:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Useful phrase

From the great Victorian explorer and translator Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: "Lying like a publisher."

Saturday, April 18, 2015


                                               Constant commenter Lucas Machais wondered if the cover photo on the new ed of Querencia- the- book, seen below with my other  new covers, was "generic". I am afraid I got more indignant than I should have. We pay attention to the particular here, not the general. I answered that the cover photo

"... was taken up Anchor Canyon five miles east in the Magdalena Range, looking northeast over a cabin built by the Strozzis, a family of the local Italian- Swiss "cousins" early in the last century, then over Lee Henderson's ranch where we run the dogs and hawks and Vadim Gorbatov drew the quail. Strawberry Peak, where Charlie Galt found the northernmost specimen of Crotalus lepidus, stands at the edge of the Rio Grande Rift; the Big River flows north to south, left to right, behind it and 2500 feet below."

Dogs on ranch, Lee's horses.

Lee and Gorbatov quail, Vadim with Libby on the ranch, and studying a Swainson's hawk nest there:
Me with Charlie's snake, a million years ago:
The infamous Ferruginous hawk nest made, all but the cup, of fencing wire, which so fascinated the Russians.
I had hoped to "quote" Russ Chatham's cover painting of Betsy and her hounds on the original Q, itself an accidental near- quote of this well- known  shot  of Karen Blixen and HER hounds,  with this haunted pic of me on a Christmas hunt on the plain, but was persuaded, reluctantly,  to go with a different concept. None of this is anything but intensely local.  And all but the Blixen take place within the field of the first cover photo.


If you don't want your overseas package to look like this when you receive it...
You probably shouldn't order bootjacks that look like this all the way from France! Photos courtesy of Gil Stacy.


From the  Cornell Gun Catalog Reprint site:

""A gun is like a parachute. If you need one, and don't have one, you'll probably never need one again..."

Friday, April 17, 2015


Covers for four of my reprints, all good so far... the last, the new Eagle Dreams with Cat Urbigkit's cover of my late friend Aralbai, and intro, the observations of a Wyoming cowgirl and stockwoman (and writer) fifteen years or so after me, has been out only a couple of weeks.

Now if I could just get them to give me the images for my Amazon page.


From Jack:

Friday Doggage

Shiri's new Meshi, at rest and in motion...

Hare vs Hound...

Tim Gallagher asked if I had ever seen an image of a hare chasing a hound, as in this portrait in stone from a Roman fort in England. Well, I hadn't, but Herb Wells has...

Springtime in Colorado

We woke up to this this morning. Forecasts saw we could get another six inches in the next 24 hours.

California Dry

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news here in the US knows about the current extreme drought in California and all the problems that it's causing. My daughter who lives in Long Beach said in a message some weeks ago, "Remember back in 2010 when it rained and rained here and we had that flood that drowned both our cars and totaled them? I miss those days - can we have them back?"

The New York Times has an excellent article that puts California's current situation in historical perspective. Climatic reconstruction shows that over the last 2,000 years, California has had two "megadroughts" that have been centuries in length. It's far too soon to know if this is the beginning of another megadrought, but if you will please click to enlarge the chart above you can see that California has been more dry than wet over the last two millennia. If you look at the two megadroughts on the chart you'll see they correlate with the Medieval Climatic Anomaly that was one of the causal factors in the Anasazi/Ancestral Pueblo abandonment of the Northern Southwest. Even in the archaeological record here in the Front Range, we see a population crash in the late 13th Century.

At a Society for California Archaeology conference 10+ years ago, I attended a paper that presented much the same data. An observation made by that presenter was that the period of European discovery and colonization of California pretty much correlates with the wettest period in the region in the last 2,000 years. You can see that yourself on this chart. Our society's view of what's "normal climate" in California is hopelessly skewed.

The early anthropologists and archaeologists who worked in California in the late 19th and early 20th Century didn't have access to these environmental reconstructions and assumed the past climate was much like today.  Their assumptions about past Indian behavior were that they were living in this "paradise" full of easily obtainable wild food, and were just able to coast along. Now we know that wasn't the case, and a volume of papers demonstrating that was titled, Prehistoric California: Archaeology and the Myth of Paradise.

Future Telephones As Envisioned in 1930

But we never got the flying cars we were promised!
H/T Ace of Spades

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Unique action

France has always gone its own merry way in design-- in cars, think of the Citroen; in guns-- well, more seem unique than those of any other country (can "more" and "unique" coexist this way in a sentence?)

The first that comes to mind is the sliding breech Darne. I have had many. Carlos Martinez del Rio owns my last, a 30's 16 bore, and I may yet get another.

And what about a Manufrance Ideal with lunette trigger guards?
Or the rotating breech Darne, with an opening mechanism a bit like some artillery guns or punt guns but on a light game action? (I have only seen pictures, this one from a Raymond Caranta article in an old Gun Digest, on the collection of Christian Ducros, the only postmodern gunmaker).
Recently Djamel, who runs the brilliant French gun and sport blog La Chasse et les Armes Fines, sent me the best yet, a combination of antique and what must have been cutting- edge modern: a hammer rotating breech Darne!

Ingenious Pigeons

Ducks may think decoys are fellow ducks; C. livia seems unimpressed. From Dan Gauss at Shot on Site comes this shot of pigeons "using decoys as tools" as he says...

Probably mostly light and photoblogging til I go east to see Tom Russell's Rose of Roscrae debut at Passim. All is well-- just incredibly busy and slow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


"Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.”

Lewis Thomas in Lives of a Cell (HT Skeeter Leard)


Pluvi Tweets about this fantastic photo of Cassowaries, and once again damns the lizards of Jurassic Park. Early adapters  can risk looking weird, but those who cling to the old paradigm too long can come to look like Flat - Earthers...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Paradigm Shifted?

From Lucas Machias comes a link to this paper on Tyrannosaurid combat and cannibalism in Science Daily, with a nice illo by Luis Rey  of two big mean birds. It is not even remarked on...


On our rockstar Helen, by Jonathan Katz, an uncommon observation.

"... the writer Wilfred Sheed wrote once in the New Yorker that "every time a friend succeeds, I die a little." Sheed wasn't being nasty, he was being honest. I loved Macdonald's talk and a I loved her book, but I died a little tonight.

"Even though I died a bit, looking at the crowd, reading those reviews, I also loved every second of it. Sheed is right,  I suppose, every writer winces a bit at a book as good as this one, but I loved being there much more than I didn't. When a book and a writer  deserves every bit of the praise, it softens the blow."

Also, as truthful if less painful:

"Macdonald talked about the need for animals in our lives, and  her worry that they are disappearing from the every day lives of people."

Helen's latest conquest is an excellent review by Caleb Crain in the New York Review of Books (no free link yet).

Friday, April 10, 2015

Skeleton of Ottoman War Camel Discovered in Austria

Archaeologists in Austria have excavated the intact skeleton of a camel in a suburb of Vienna. It appears this camel was used by the Ottoman Army in the failed siege of Vienna in 1683.

Detailed analysis of the remains showed that it had worn a harness and had been ridden. Additionally, it proved to be a Bactrian - Dromedary cross, a hybrid that was very popular for use by the Ottoman military. I wondered what a two-hump x one-hump camel cross would look like, and Chas was able to give us a picture of one.

So there you are. Looks kind of like a Dromedary on steroids to me.

Oh, and while I was looking at the Wikipedia page about the siege of Vienna, I found this painting of Polish soldiers headed home after the battle with loot taken from the Ottomans. Including you know what. Maybe there are some more skeletons waiting to be found in Poland.