Public Comment on Passage Peregrines

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on a draft environmental assessment for the taking of passage peregrine falcons (fledged juveniles on their first migration) for falconry. The comment period closes on 11 February, so there is still time to put your two cents in if you care to.

The issue is important to American falconers, although maybe less urgent to those my age and younger who have never had an opportunity to trap and fly wild peregrines. That opportunity skipped my generation, but there are many still in the sport who remember what fine birds these passage falcons can be.

My friend Jim Ince remembers them fondly, having flown the birds (decades ago, and usually briefly) at snipe and ducks across his native southeast Texas prairie. Jim says the passagers quicken the pace of a hunt, training fast and flying eagerly, and arriving already so competent at their game one has to work quick to serve them or else watch them speed away on their own pursuits.

You don’t make a passage peregrine wait, he says.

American falconers have been waiting for the passage peregrine since the days of DDT and the bird’s near disappearance. The story of the falcon’s return is widely known and cited. But it is also equivocal in its particulars and in the attributions of blame or credit given. Depending on whom you ask, some peregrines were never in danger; others say whole populations went extinct. Who’s to thank for the recovery? Everyone—the Service, the Congress, the falconers, the States, hundreds of biologists and thousands of concerned citizens.

Or maybe they would have recovered on their own.

The high note is that peregrines are back and almost common now. They’re retaking old hunting grounds continent-wide and kicking prairie falcons out of their squatter’s claims. I see them every year here in Baton Rouge, not just on passage in October but all winter along the levees and over my own hunting fields. One of them dumped a half-eaten coot in the middle of a local cow pasture last month, like manna from Heaven to my Harris hawk.

The North American Falconers Association represents the lion’s half of the country’s falconers. NAFA published its position (broadly supportive, of course, but with many specifics) and distributed that to its members. I am one. So are Steve and several others I know who visit this blog. My statement to the Service is less specific than my club’s position; it’s maybe a little bit lazy, even anti-intellectual. Certainly unscientific.

My feeling is that of course falconers will want access to as many peregrines as possible—the resource supports, by the Service’s own figures, many more to be harvested than the Service proposes to allow. On the other hand, I think it’s equally obvious that on principle or because of fear of (actually, the certainty of) lawsuits from various NGOs, the Service will not support so broad a harvest as the resource can sustain.

So it will come to a compromise, which I think is OK. I predict we’ll see a limited, highly regulated take of passage peregrine falcons for falconry. I’ll be glad for that. So that’s what I said:

Dear Chief of Migratory Birds and Associated FWS Staff:

Many thanks to you and to all those who’ve worked hard to bring the prospect of a migrant peregrine take to the table. You have done so without the falconer’s passion (though some among you were and are falconers) but rather on the strength of the best scientific understanding, and for this reason your effort is more sound and more worthwhile.

I support the sustainable harvest of passage peregrine falcons—from all populations available to US falconers—by way of a regulated permitting system for qualified applicants.

I have been a licensed US falconer for more than 20 years and have never flown a peregrine. For me, the bird has always been an icon of a past age and a vague dream of the future. Although I am unlikely to fly a peregrine (passage or otherwise) in the near term, several excellent falconers I know would love such an opportunity and would certainly make the most of it. It would be right and good for them to have that opportunity so long as the peregrine remains in sufficient numbers to allow it.

In short, I believe that all raptor species of sufficient population strength to sustain the (very gentle) harvest pressure applied by falconers should be available for take. In large, falconry is a wholesome and positive activity, one in which I am proud to partake and will be proud to teach to my children.

Your work on behalf of my sport and our (everyone’s) shared resource is much appreciated. I leave the specifics of the passage peregrine harvest and its regulation to those better qualified to comment. Suffice it to say that it has my enthusiastic

Send your official comment to:, then post a copy here!

On The Farm

One of my favorite hawking spots is a neighbor’s hayfield, which he saves for me as long as he can before cutting it or moving the cows in. I’ve been going there often and letting the hawk feed while there’s still something left to eat.

Today, Jonathan Millican joined me and took some photos of the hunt. In this one the quarry has just put in and the hawk is closing. It’s my favorite for the composition, even though Ernie missed this bird.

This one’s for Heidi (note tractor in background…)
The Baywing in pursuit. He looks like a giant red-winged blackbird.

Flock Protectors

We have been talking a lot on our private lists lately about another loose group of working dogs now being minutely divided into “breeds”, the great flock- protecting dogs of the middle east and Asia, with some historical extensions into parts of Europe that had the “transhumance” or flock migration.

I have seen working examples in Mongolia, Turkey,and just outside Magdalena (may have to get photos of those soon.)

While regional character should be preserved, breeders a should be wary of making the divisions too fine. Nor do I think shows are a wise way to go. Luckily these dogs are big and can be fierce– not for the faddish. They need to work.

Cat Urbigkit has this to say:

“I get lots of questions from people doing research on specific
livestock guardian breeds, seeking my position on whether certain
kennel clubs/breed registries recognize the breeds we working dog
owners use and wondering how we’ll preserve these dogs without
recognition. Most of us who breed and use these dogs in primitive ag
situations couldn’t be further removed from the breed clubs and
frankly, don’t give a damn whether they are officially named or not.
We are determined that good dogs will persist because they do their
jobs and we become so connected with them.

“Most migratory sheep outfits in the western United States use
livestock guardian dogs to protect our herds. I have one good friend,
who I raise pups for, who keeps 24-26 working livestock guardian dogs
at any one time. We sheep people in the United States are simply
following the lead of shepherds around the world who have used these
dogs for thousands of years. We’ve imported their working dogs (only
in the last 30 years!), and now reap the benefits. We still practice
ag in a primitive way – moving our herds with the seasons, using the
dogs to protect them. Our herds are scattered over hundreds of miles
of range, and often go unnoticed by the public. But we’re here, as
our our dogs, our working partners.”

Here are some examples:

A young Akbash or Turkish white:

Cat’s dogs with sheep:

Some Mongolian dogs belonging to Michelle Morgan at Mongolian Ways. She is also a dog scholar and breeder.

A Kazakh tobet with cropped ears (wolves) and a tazi for contrast;

A pup in a Kurdish village down near the Syrian border:

… and a bigger one coming toward me in the distance. I didn’t hang around!

The Dangers of Inbreeding

Patrick and I tend to go on about how the closed- studbook model of breeding and breeds, a relict of the 19th century’s imperfect understanding of genetics, is deleterious and dysfunctional, but I haven’t said much on it here. Reader Mike spies and I recently had an interesting discussion on this matter,and he gave me permission to post. Mike first:

“Dogs bred from FDSB registered animals have provided excellent, successful
hunting and trial dogs for about 100 years.
On the subject of inbreeding – this is often confused with line breeding.
Combined with rigorous culling and intelligent planning, line breeding
produces fine, sound animals that are largely free of genetic problems.
Further, the overall quality of a line breed litter is more likely to be more
predictable and consistent (pup to pup) than a litter produced by a pure out
cross – the genes combine in more predictable ways. Line breeders do out cross
– to other line bred, but less related dogs to inject proven new blood into
their breeding programs.”


“I know these things and agree to a point. But you CANNOT breed forever in a limited pool without deleterious genes being expressed– a real outcross is needed once in a while (not necessarily constantly). If you outcross type to type is better of course.

“(I know this a bit from 50 years of breeding pigeons, where the generations go faster and mistakes are less heartbreaking. But also, what — ancient– academic training I have is in evolutionary, genetic, and population biology.)

“And: the situation is also different with the saluki- tazi (taigan aboriginal Afghan) meta- population, which until recently stretched from north Africa to Mongolia and consisted entirely of working dogs. Now, show breeders have ruined (most) western salukis and (almost all) western “Afghans”, with their silly hair. Worse, the rise of nationalism in Central Asia has made several nations there decide their local race is a “breed” and close studbooks. My extremely functional Almaty pair are too closely bred for my liking , which is why I am welcoming to the Ukrainian southeast tazis and the similar Russian ones, even though they are not quite as perfect. I am taking a long view.

“But so much– I know this is a digression– is being lost. Ten years ago you could still get tall black intergrades of the tazi and taigan populations in Kyrgizstan. I’d kill to have such a dog, but the state is discouraging their breeding, never mind export, because they are not ‘pure”. AAARGH!

“But the principles of outbreeding expressed in the essay will work for — call them tazis–because there is still a considerable and remarkably physically and mentally consistent working population– for a little while anyway– and they are from such a large area one can find good ones thousands of miles apart. I may outcross eventually to both Arabian and Kurdish dogs ( I know a female from Iran who is the same Turkmeni type as my Ataika!) I should add these are all hunting dogs owned by friends in California, Virginia, and here in NM.

“I should add that– with the exception of a pretty- well failed one- time attempt in basenjis– the saluki, to the horror of show people, is the only breed that the AKC lets bring in “Country Of Origin” dogs. I know several HUNTING saluki people salivating for my dogs’ genes!

Mike again:

“The breeding programs that produce many of the finest examples of sporting
breeds are carried out by informed small scale breeders who test their dogs in
competition, constantly winnowing parents for the traits they desire. They
breed the best examples that they can find. Many could be labeled ‘back yard
breeders’ – a term that implies an unscientific, uninformed, and haphazard
approach to breeding. – a not-quite-a-lie for the media and the uninformed.
The finest dogs that I have owned have come from such breedings. The bigger
the breeding operation, the more difficult it is to produce a quality puppy.”

And me:

“Agree completely. My bird hunting pal Omar here in town has had three excellent pointers from two local breeders as good as any I have ever seen. And I am a backyard breeder myself, as are my friends mentioned above. I think we are the true conservators.”

Soon: another “meta- population”: flock guardians from Wyoming, Mongolia, and more…

Links, Apologia…

If I can ever finish the saga of my completed but yet…unfulfilled?.. book, it will be a good one, or at least a lesson in the vagaries of contemporary publishing that would fulfill every cynical belief of Michael Blowhard. It has been that kind of month.

Meanwhile, links and various photos.

Science and nature: Paleoblog has a new model for the evolution of flight in birds, with pictures. HT Walter Hingley.

Julie Zickefoose sends this Flikr photo set of coyotes in Mt.Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., where we both have birded. This is a park in the heart of a city; I might guess they came down the Charles river corridor?

Annie D sends this amazing link to a U- Tube video of scientists sing a song about the PCR test! She also has the lyrics, below– but you really need to see and hear it:

“There was a time when to amplify DNA,
You had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells.
Then along came a guy named Dr. Kary Mullis,
Said you can amplify in vitro just as well.

“Just mix your template with a buffer and some primers,
Nucleotides and polymerases, too.
Denaturing, annealing, and extending.
Well it’s amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do.

“PCR, when you need to detect mutations.
PCR, when you need to recombine.
PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is.
PCR, when you need to solve a crime.”
(repeat chorus)

Cave bears were not the gentle vegetarians they were thought to be. The old Russian idea that they occupied a similar niche to Neanderthals looks more likely…

Culture, lack thereof, Doom, general weirdness… the first is all of the above: Hello Kitty bondage rooms in a Japanese hotel. HT Bruce Douglas– uuhh, thanks, I guess.

Doom: amateur drama groups must lock up fake weapons, including “guns” that produce flags that say “BANG!” Money quote: “Even the climactic fight has not escaped. A university academic joined a rehearsal to ensure that it was safe.” HT Patrick.

The inventor of the Hula Hoop was a falconer, and got his idea for his first invention playing with his hawks. HT Derb.

Plagiarism: a romance novelist inserts passages about the habits of the black- footed ferret (including the theory that their ancestors came over the Bering land bridge!) into a scene of passion between a white woman and her Indian lover in the 1870’s. She takes it wholesale from a journalist’s essay. I don’t know what’s funnier– the sheer wretched awfulness of her prose or the fact the she didn’t realize stealing material was wrong. “According to an interview she did with the Associated Press, she did not know she was supposed to quote source materials.”

I believe it. This poor creature is dumber than a plant. HT the always productive Annie D and Marilyn Taylor. Great minds…

Finally: THE most redneck song ever, with lyrics. BRILLIANT, hilarious, more vivid than most of his father’s novels, and certainly more concise. He even get the guns right! (A few lines decidedly NSFW.)

Field Survey

Our field survey methods are rather simple. We line up in skirmish lines at a regular interval – for this survey the transect interval is 15 meters. Then we walk systematically over the area to be surveyed and look for artifacts and features on the ground surface, in this case all 7400 acres of it. With the lack of vegetation here the ground visibility is excellent.

Once a crew member sees something he lets the rest of the line know and marks the artifact location with a pin flag. The rest of the crew then comes over and walks over the area looking for more artifacts. They also mark artifacts with pin flags to define the site area. In this picture you can see a small lithic scatter defined by the spread of pin flags. The crew then records the site, filling out a site form, making a site map, taking photographs and recording the area location with a GPS unit.

The picture above shows an excellent example of a fairly common site type in our project area – a lithic reduction location. Do to the contrasting color of the stone, you can easily see where a prehistoric Native American sat on the right side of the photograph and chipped out tools using the orange chert. A single core at a single moment in time.

Pot Drop

Sometime between AD 1000 and probably 1700 a Native American traveling through our project area somehow dropped and broke this ceramic jar.

The climate being what it is in this desert, artifact distributions like this can remain undisturbed for hundreds of years. We refer to situations where the broken sherds stay together on the ground surface using the artful term “pot drop.” You have to be careful with these and make sure the sherds are all of a type as modern artifact collectors will sometimes put sherds they have picked up from a site in piles that resemble a pot drop.

The recurved rim on this jar is the diagnostic clue that tells us it dates from either the Patayan II or III time period giving the date range I cited above.

Work Intrudes

I must apologize for radio silence, as this is the longest I’ve gone without posting since Steve invited me on board here. I am currently in Imperial County, California running a large archaeological survey. Between the Christmas Holidays and all the work involved in getting into the field I really haven’t had any time to devote to it.

I’ve put in a couple of pictures of the project area so you can see what the desert looks like here, a relatively flat expanse with ocotillo, creosote bush, salt bush and other short, sparse vegetation.

This project is a first in a way for me, as about a third of the area is below sea level. I’ve never recorded sites that had “minus” elevations before. This sign is on I-8 where it runs past the project area.

I will be doing some “from the field” posts to tell you about archaeological surveys and about the things we are finding. And we are finding a lot of prehistoric sites here. You wouldn’t think that there would have been so much activity in an area this barren, but there was for reasons I will go into later.

Falcon and the Snowjob

Relating to the recent pics of GWB hanging out in the Saudi weathering yard, Anne found this post by “BWildered” at the liberal blogsite Daily Kos:

“Were you, like me, treated to an Abu Dhabi photo-op? Abu Dhabi royals introducing George W Bush to the arts and sciences of falconry.

Where are the sharp-eyed falcons of the American media? Why was the irony of the moment not an issue.

Ronald Reagan, rather than admit an error, proceeded with a visit to a war cemetary [sic] in Bitburg, Germany that contained among others, the remains of some SS officers. However, our media caught on to the issue and made it a lead story for days. The very word Bitburg is GOP code for a media relations boo-boo.

And so why is falconry in Abu Dhabi a new Bitburg?”

In answering, BWildered cites various sources to substantiate the claim that the US military declined an opportunity to launch a missile strike against Osama bin Laden while he was hawking (or as BWildered insists, “falconing”) with members of the Saudi royal family.

BWildered is, well, bewildered that the media would miss mentioning this: “…it goes without passing note that George Bush goes for falconing lessons with a royal family whose affinity-members include Osama bin Laden’s falconing partners.”

Maybe we just didn’t want to blow up our allies?

Anyway, Steve has another theory….

Steve here. Could the whacky conspiracists at Kos be reading a novel as reality? Charles McCarry’s 2004 Old Boys seems to have the same plot. As I wrote back then on my website:

“Old Boys mixes a cast of aging spies from such works as The Tears of Autumn and Second Sight with just a touch of the humor from McCarry’s Clinton satire Lucky Bastard and sets them loose in Russia and Central Asia on the trail of a vengeful old sheikh who has atomic weapons. Falconers may be interested to find that the migration routes of the houbara, the Arab falconer’s traditional quarry, are a key “clue”. They and Central Asia hands might find this one the most interesting; others might want to try the earlier novels first. Tears of Autumn may be the best of all the Cold war novels, and the least known of the three best….”

FWIW, I added: “…it rests on a body of work I prefer to, say, John Le Carre’s. McCarry’s books are more nuanced, informed I suspect by more knowledge of the covert trade, and– unlike recent LeCarre— he’s on our side, which to me shows a more sophisticated grasp of the issues.”

Is life imitating fiction?