Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Pigeon Romance

Jack sent this panel from the estimable Bird and Moon, who previously gave us the movie raptors taking off their lizard costumes in relief, to show their  feathers underneath.

The January Hills...

and their denizens. Federico Calbolli sent me this video of a hunting fisher in Canada.  It is a great hunting scene, Watch how she overcomes the hare-pure speed and focused audacity!

Here is the video, and text:

They are splendid but slightly scary creatures. Long ago I lived in western Mass, in a drafty 1700’s farmhouse on a ridge overlooking Quabbin reservoir, in a place  that shows on maps as the January Hills-- a perfect name, though nobody ever used it in my presence. (Think of Ray Bradbury's October country, the idea as well as the book). There we sometimes saw one, usually crossing the dirt road below, often in a single bound if they were in a hurry.They are fearless and brook no trespass; a Maine  bowhunter I know fired an arrow idly at one and it came halfway up the tree to his stand, baring its teeth and hissing like a cat. Look at the way that thing just sucked up that hare. At the beginning, I wouldn’t have given it a chance. He did it with almost frightening ease.

They are also one of the few carnivores who regularly prey on porcupines; they get under them somehow and attack through the belly. We had  dead tree in the wood side of our yard that for some reason was a magnet for mating porcupines very early in the spring. As at the time one of us had an exceptionally dumb bird dog, a German shorthair, who constantly tried to kill porcupines in revenge for  the pain that the last one had caused him (try holding down a large pointer sedated only with a pill, with a broomstick in his jaws to give us access to his mouth and his jaws tied tight with a rag- and removing, often, over a hundred quills with needle nosed pliers, and you will guess how we felt about porcupines).

But then then the fisher found them. In a week they were all gone.We picked up three hollow carcasses, neatly emptied. We never saw a porcupine in that tree again.

That area is between Shutesbury and Franklin, where the road north dead-ends in a forgotten town so as not to drop off into the Swift river, and the tiny dirt-road towns on the east side of the hills that were high enough to avoid drowning when Boston secured secure water by drowning seven (I think) towns in the valley.

It’s a beautiful place, full of wildlife. Seventy-five miles from Boston you can see many deer, occasional moose, a solitary mountain lion, the wolf-like coyotes that I don’t think are a new phenomenon. You can see them killing deer on the ice in Quabbin in the winter. Bald eagles nest there, and all small predators and game animals — it’s a great place for goshawks.

But there is something sort of creepy about it: it is full of old abandoned ghost settlements, deep in the woods. There are open stone wells that are as hazardous to you as to your dog when you are out grouse hunting.There are at least two inhabited houses dating back as far as the 1600’s, with that black Puritan architecture with tiny leaded windows. This was one of the battlefields of King Phillip’s War, and there are even signs of that. Libby and I took directions to a stone underground structure about 5 miles up one of these dirt tracks. It was big enough for both of us to fit comfortably, and we peeked out through roots of a giant white pine.

"This too has been one of the world's dark places.." (Writer? Bonus points for narrator and setting.)

H P Lovecraft wrote about these brooks and hills and peopled them with monsters. He also used his knowledge of the drowning of the towns to write his story “The Color Out of Space”. I think the only place more Lovecraftian is Providence at sunset. It used to be my home, and sometimes I miss it just a bit, though I was iving off clean roadkill and sometimes poached deer, shooting grouse with a 16 gauge Browning and a 20 bore LC, and running a successful wood business. I was also the acting editor of English Literary Renaissance, where Arthur, my boss, asked me to cold-call Phillip Larkin and ask him for a contribution to our Marvell issue, as they had both been librarians at Hull. Since I was so young and dumb I did not know I should be scared of him, and he was very nice, and contributed one. I also got one from my friend -to- be Gerry Cox, but it was 40 years before we actually met...

Update: here is a fine block print by the master of the medium, Francis Lee Jacques, for Victor Cahalane's Mammals of North America .  Forgot I had it, which was not as weird as the incident of my copy of Birds of Tibet. Remind me...

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Birds like Dogs!

I used to have a whole photo section called that, but Daniel reminded me of it when he sent these pics of his girl pup Maggie playing with Bramble, the falcon. He writes:

"She plays rough with the other dogs (this is a 'doggy' bitch, for sure), but never touches the bird.

"He is quite confident of his ability to put a dog in its place, either footing the dog in the snout or nipping  the nose – even then he pulls his punches."
 Look at that TAIL.

Ours start early...

And some birds-- well, one bird-- actually fed the dogs in the summer after he grew up, during the time he would have fed nestlings. We had  to move him to where he could not reach the dogs, though he would call to them through the fence.
But then he grew up like this...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tom McGuane on Raptors

Novelist Tom McGuane, while noted for his horses and pointing dogs, has always had a feel for birds of prey,  notices them, and on occasion writes lyrically about them. There is a vivid set piece in the novel Something to Be Desired, in which which the protagonist, LucienTaylor,  takes his young son, who does not live with him, to lure a Prairie falcon in to trap on a pigeon, using a falconry practice to band the bird to study. The child is frightened, startled  by the bird's falling from the sky like a hammer onto the  luckless bait bird, but Lucien is ecstatic, with the emotions of a true hawk trapper.
"There were feathers everywhere, and the hawk beat in a blur of cold fury, striking at Lucien with his downcurving knife of a beak and superimposing his own screech over the noise of James. "We've got him, James!" James, quiet now, looked ready to run. The hawk had stopped all motion but kept his beak marginally parted so that the small, hard black tongue could be seen advancing and retreating slightly within his mouth. 'It's a prairie falcon. It's the most beautiful bird in the world. I want to come back as a prairie falcon.' "

This is a man who has been there. Here is another lyrical piece, from the more recent Driving  On the Rim:

"With my new leisure following upon my indictment and my failure as a house painter, I had time to walk the woody creek bottoms where I observed the short-winged woodland hawks, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned, speeding through the trees with uncanny nimbleness. I had several times watched prairie falcons diving into blackbirds when I walked around the uplands, and the chaos they made seemed to briefly fill the sky. These jaunts were hardly adventurous, as I never went more than a few minutes from town, but it was greatly reassuring to find wildlife so close to humanity. In fact, I could still make out the old water tower through the trees where I first came upon the goshawk, a northern goshawk, to be precise. Since I came upon her unawares and she was going about her goshawk business under my eye, it made a tremendous impression on me: almost blue-black on her back with a creamy and precisely barred breast. She was swiveling her head from side to side, broadcasting her oddly relentless screams. Over time, I would see her often, hunting, soaring, sleeping. And she saw me often enough that she no longer fled at my sight, moving me by her acceptance."
Tom once wrote to me "Cutting horses are my falcons". True enough, but he also has an eye for the real thing. Sometimes I'm almost jealous of his ability to paint a picture, even in this throwaway line in a handwritten 1992 letter: "There is a Peregrine living around my place this summer. Saw him come down the face of black thunderhead seamed with lightning and kill a pigeon on the County road.."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Woodcock Here and There..

Well, not really here. The only Woodcock I ever saw in Magdalena was a storm-blown starving vagrant that some neighbors brought me and that died of starvation by the next day--being 500 miles off course does not bode well for birds.  No, I mean in the US, and in the traditional haunts of 'Cock in Europe, where the birds are more than twice as big as our US species. As they are the most delicious bird that exists, if cooked right, this is a Good Thing.

I have written about the dense cover New England Woodcock inhabit, to the mild amazement of my Western and European readers. Hers is Gil Stacy's pic of GEORGIA Woodcock habitat. There really is a dog in there, though you have to look hard. (Double or right click to enlarge). Suffice to say that I would not walk or put a dog in that cover without frost first--it is PERFECT for eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, the largest venomous snakes in the US.
But they do well.

Of course, like mine, his dogs are very disciplined. He wrote: "One thing I find important in training dogs for woodcock is no coddling or spoiling.  Human contact should be at a minimum except for feeding and canine work in the field.  It also pays to harden dogs by leaving in kennels with concrete floors, especially in the cold.  A spoiled dog is a ruined dog.  Here are Abby and Willa in their kennel contemplating the hunt."

Gil's partner in the hunt is the sporting wood carver-sculptor Floyd Robbins. He doesn't just make images of LIVE birds-- he carves dead ones good enough to fool me.

My e- friend Djamel Talha runs the fine gun blog La Chasse et les Fusils Fin Here are a few of his pics from a Woodcock hunt in Brittany, with a fox and a Red- legged partridge.. 


He wrote: "I was invited by my two friends Patrice Eyrolles, a real purist passionate woodcock and Patrick Morin, a Brittany Spaniel world renowned trainer, in the homeland of the latter, namely, Brittany, a region woodcock ultimate. My wife and I spent a memorable week!

"Woodcock on the photo, it is me that I shot. With the help of the formidable Irina female dog of  my friend Patrice; she just two years and at the edge of a wood, it successively traverses three hurdles surrounding an adjacent field, taking care to have a good side so that the wind brings him fumes. Observation justified by the sudden immobility of Irina on the hedge on my left. Arrived at ten meters two woodcocks off from the other side of the hedge under the nose of the dog. However I could follow their eye off well and I deduced that they would seek refuge down below, on the edge of a wood. As soon as we come to this place a few minutes later, I see Irina petrify, then I follow the flight of Beautiful, to finish the action with a superb shot from about 60 meters, leaving the bird fall by the Holy Spirit to provide the little spaniel pleased to report his trophy."

Kirk Hogan, who shoots in Normandy, adds this link.

 And for old times sake, me with Woodcock and Parker, ca 1975.

Friday, January 08, 2016

New Dutch

Dutch Salmon has a new collection of outdoor tales: Country Sports II: More Rabid Pursuits of a Redneck Environmentalist.  (Available from High Lonesome Books, PO Box 878, Silver City NM 88062).  I think it is his best and most varied yet. I don't think I can "review" it any better than to use my introduction, which I volunteered- for free, for the record.

It sounds funny to say so, because I’m sixty-five, but sometimes I think I’d like to be Dutch Salmon when I grow up. It is not so odd, really. M. H. Salmon is not only the model of the modern sporting writer, but I have been following his tracks for well  over thirty years now.

Dutch was born in the northeast, in the Hudson River valley of New York. He left there as a young adult, and went to southern Texas and northwestern Minnesota, and finally New Mexico, chasing jackrabbits and coyotes and dreams. I first encountered him around 1979 or 80 when I was an editor at Gray’s Sporting Journal, and a publisher came to me with a remarkable manuscript. Titled “Home With the Hounds” it was an account of hunting with coursing longdogs of various breeds. I was a falconer, and it seems to be that this was a kind of falconry on the ground.

Ed thought the material was a little too esoteric for Gray’s, but I became a correspondent with Dutch. Soon, I found myself in southwestern New Mexico, where he was a close neighbor, about a hundred miles away  (understanding  a new home where 100  miles could be "close",  with only one tiny town and two roads, one dirt,  between us was another thing he showed me). I soon acquired a couple of hounds from him, and longdog crosses and salukis became a permanent part of my life.

If longdogs and the State of New Mexico had been the only things that I had gotten from Dutch, I would be in his debt forever. But they weren’t. The unspoiled Gila Wilderness, chile as a natural part of one’s diet, Aldo Leopold’s legacy, and fishing for catfish are four rather random things that I took from our friendship, and there are doubtless a lot more ideas and attitudes I have picked up unconsciously.

Eventually, Dutch, frustrated with mainstream publishing, decided that if you can’t get them to publish your work, you might as well start your own press and book business. Since that day High Lonesome Books has become the premier house for Southwestern classics and environmentally conscious new books about hunting and fishing and the wilderness. He has published several stirring novels, including Home is the River, Signal to Depart, and Forty Freedoms; a couple of books on the Gila; the definitive American coursing dog manual, now in what I believe is its second iteration; and a literary book on catfish. The last made my eccentric list of 100 best sporting books in A Sportsman’s Library.

He has also written various magazine pieces on every aspect of fieldsport and conservation, of which this is the second collection. And I do mean various. The latest volume includes a portrait of mutual  friend, an Anglican priest who is a falconer, a tale of his son’s first big wilderness buck, an elegy for the old cockfighters, of New Mexico,  the tale  of  a favorite dog fathered by one of my Kazakh hounds,  and a nuanced appreciation of feral pigs.

Not content to defend wilderness, especially his beloved Gila, Dutch eventually made it to the New Mexico Game Commission, where he became one of its most outspoken, individual, non- partisan, and occasionally contrary voices. He had the respect of everyone I know, including some that disagreed with him on one matter or another. And I am among those who think that his utterly political firing was a disgrace. He never complained, but went back calmly to the field and his work of portraying it and defending it.

Lately, I have followed Dutch down some more difficult roads. Several years ago he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. One would not know it, considering that he never left the field behind. But one of the weirdest coincidences on earth I, another writer and longdogger born in the east, was diagnosed a year later. I have a pretty funny picture of us in a field of thirty-somethings, all holding a very various pack of sighthounds on leashes three years ago. On it is my note bragging that two sixty-somethings with Parkinson’s (and one woman of the same age, my wife Libby) elected to keep going, chasing the dogs, when the kids all called a halt for mid-day lunch break.

Parkinson’s won’t kill you,  say the humorous – it will only make you wish you were dead. There is even a godawful New-Agey whine: “ Parkinson’s isn’t a death sentence; it is a life sentence.” Gack! With time, unfortunately, it does get worse. But now there’s a promising alternative, a surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation. Once again Dutch became my mentor, going under the knife a year ago at UNM Hospital. His dramatic improvement convinced me to do it too. And I’m very glad I did.

Dutch would doubtless blush at this and change the subject to flyfishing, or the Desert Hare Classic, the annual gathering of the sighthound clans in southern New Mexico. He continues to hunt and fish and write, most recently this book you are holding in your hands. Finally, I salute him as not only a friend who has been a pioneer in so many of my own pursuits, but as a pioneer conservationist, and a  defender of all the Old Ways and things that we must hold on to, lest our civilization become too artificial to live. I’m going to toast him with the punchline of a shaggy dog story about drinking toasts on two sides of the Mexican border, which he told me when I first knew him and several time since. Dutch: “DOWN THE RATHOLE!” May you live to be 100!

The two of us and Libby among  the youngsters (photo by Dan Gauss);  two Western old- timers* who were  born in the East, in the Owl Bar.

*TomMcGuane in the story "Crow Fair ", from the  collection of the same name: "Lately
I've been riding a carriage in the annual Bucking Horse Sale, waving to everyone like an old-timer, which I guess is what I'm getting to be."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Public Lands- More Perspective on Don T

Ron Moody, a neighbor of Don's in Lewistown, has written on the subject of Public Lands and their loss before, notably in this article from  the Bull Moose Gazette he sent me last week:

"So is this dispute an isolated event? Or do other NGOs (non-government organizations) self-censor or suppress support for public access to obtain backing of wealthy donors who want more wildlife but also want exclusive private access to it?   My observation is that such suppression is widespread, even endemic, to the DU-type fundraising model employed by many habitat conservation groups.
"Thirteen years ago I wrote on this very subject in my old NIMROD'S TRACE column once published in the Montana Wildlife Newspaper of the Montana Wildlife Federation.  That column was about the challenges for hunters in the 21st Century as predictable at the end of the 20th Century.

"Judge for yourself whether the 20th Century has inflicted hard challenges on conservationists of the 21st Century."

RTWT!  As  Randy Newberg, interviewing Don on a Hunt Talk Radio podcast last week said, (Don agreed): both parties are out of touch with sportsmen, the majority of whom want to keep their guns AND their Public lands; only the very rich don't care. (HT Lucas  Machias for the podcast).

C J's latest project

C J Hadley came over as a young girl from Birmingham in England, and worked at Car and Driver magazine in its legendary years, when the late David E Davis ran a strong stable of writers and illustrators. It may be advancing age, but I think magazines were more colorful then, perhaps because they were a more important part of the market. These were also the days of the Pat Ryan Sports Illustrated, training ground for many of the writers that helped form me, howing me how broad a subject a sporting essay could be.

CJ met Tom Quinn there, when Tom did this legendary cover:

Both went on to other things, Quinn to become a wildlife painter, perhaps our best; CJ, however improbably, ended up in Nevada runing the outspoken rancher's voice, Range magazine, where the English girl has been nominated for Cowgirl Hall of Fame by Jameson Parker, Joan Chevalier, and John L Moore, two of whom make frequent appearances here.

I have one original Quinn, a watercolor sketch of  a roadkill Bee eater that I snatched out of the fire kindling in his studio (really), any amount of prints, and have been privileged to write the text to a collection of his work, The Art of Thomas Quinn.

Tom's firestarter:
Quinn and me, with his wife Jeri's oil of a horse in the background (plus wolves by his old friend Vadim Gorbatov, painted by Vadim before he visited NM for a Korean edition of Seton's Lobo, the story of a cattle- killing New Mexico wolf, with our aid for background material.

CJ, as Tom says, is not always controversial. She has just released what I believe is her second, broadest in scope, most ambitious  and best collection of western art and poetry (in this and other images forgive some rather odd croppings; I photo'd it on my coffee table!)
You say you don't like cowboy poetry and art? Well, there are plenty of those represented: Buckeye Blake, Waddie Mitchell, Wallace McRae, as well as traditional western writers like Will James. But so is the far less traditional cowboy Paul Zarzyski (he is a Democrat!); Ted Kooser; Linda Hasselstrom, and many many more. In artists Tom is well represented, but also the old master Maynard Dixon,  Charlie Russell, and any number of writers and artists who may be new to you. Here is a broad if non- random selection:. A always, right or double click and you can blow it up big enough to read easily.

Good job, CJ! It is $43, available at 1 800 RANGE-4-U.

Here is CJ with Montana novelist and friend of Q John L Moore.
UPDATE : here is a pic she just sent of her  with her dogs Belle Star, Strider, and Cache Drogan.

Monday, December 28, 2015


Biggest snow since '88...

 And COLD! Last photo by Tina Garfield.

RIP: Pearl the Merle


Nate Moody and Nan Morningstar's Pearl, the only merle pup from the late Semirichenia tazi from Kiev, brindle Lashyn, and the Hancock bred lurcher Plummer fom England, died of a bladder problem last week. She was our favorite of the litter, by far the most adventurous-- she could climb over the dog gate at five weeks-- and we intended to keep her until Nate fell for her. We have mostly puppy pics here-- perhaps Nate can supply some later ones. It is hard to believe she was not young. Nobody is any more, I'm afraid. Other than possibly Dutch Salmon's line, there are no more living descendants of that litter. And that makes me sad. She was a fine dog, as were her parents.

The lower photos are with her house mate, Maty, one of Ataika's girls.