Seasons change

My young Harris, Ernie, has been gaining weight on a steady diet of thawed cotton rats, the by-product of six months’ field work on birds and rabbits—His first season of falconry ended two weeks ago.

Today Ernie is almost 200 grams over hunting weight (which, he being such a tame hawk, was never very low); and yesterday he dropped his first wing feather of the molt, a rough-edged and faded secondary.

A Harris hawk’s transformation over its first summer is profound. Ernie will morph from mottled brown to mostly black, with a white tail tip and the ochre epaulettes that give his kind its other common name, the Baywinged hawk. His adult feathers will also be shorter and stiffer, boosting his acceleration and maneuverability.

And Ernie’s voice will change, growing deeper in a funny parallel to human adolescence.

What he will think about over the molt is anyone’s guess. Many falconers believe hawks spend this time re-evaluating the past season like armchair quarterbacks, thinking up ways to better their game. The often improved performance of adult birds seems to bear out this theory.

I’m not sure. I think full bellies and warm sunshine make the molt sort of a spa experience for off duty hawks, and that little crosses their mind but preening, bathing and sleeping.

But there is a lot to look at in the antics of breeding red-shouldered hawks, who copulate in the limbs above my hawk’s weathering pen. There is the coming fullness of spring foliage and the curious fast-growing plants (tomatoes) that will soon climb up from their beds nearby. Always there will be more food—birds, rats, medallions of squirrel, rabbit heads and turkey necks. There will be a cool bath drawn about every other day and plenty of time to soak his feet in it and sip from its edge.

After the heat of summer peaks in early August, the rations will be reduced by a few grams each day until Ernie returns to his former proportions. He will think then more keenly about food. He will watch the young House sparrows closely in hopes one will stumble through the wire and fall beside him—at least one does every year, although they continue to nest in the roof vent above the weathering yard and feather their nests with Ernie’s molted down.

My friend Buddy Ethridge just sent a few pictures from one of the season’s last hunts. I think Buddy captured something special about Harris hawks that day, their intelligent and expressive faces, all of them similar in that way, and all of them different.

Wood Heat

Also from the New York Times: annoying poor people are firing up their dirty old woodstoves. I’ll give up my grimy old stove (80+ years– the woman who sold me the house, in her seventies, said it was their only heat and cook stove when she was young, and not new) when the Times buys me a new one!

The stove, with nasty ash etc.

The remains of this year’s wood pile and a start on the next’s. Can’t have too much wood; besides, new wood has to age.

The Box

Spring weather led us out in search of a legendary canyon this weekend. It is only twelve or so miles away, but all of this is off- pavement and a lot is through a river bed. Finally , you have to cross two ranches and I wasn’t sure what “jurisdiction” the box itself was in. Turns out that you have to go through the ranch house yard of friends to enter the arroyo, so we asked and now know it is theirs, and have premission to go any time. The road is beyond bad even when it isn’t soft sand, but the old truck is up to it. The Box is worth the visit and we’ll be back for birds and bugs and herps when it is warmer, probably without dogs– looks very snaky, and there was a coyote tail hung from a tree as a bobcat trap lure as well.

Legendary? The ill- fated Confederate band that invaded New Mexico during the Civil War lost a CANNON there when climbing out! As there is no pavement for twelve miles even today and there were probably dirt roads no closer than 40 miles then, and the box is 300 feet deep in its deepest part, that took some doing! (It was found by a ranch hand in the fifties.)

We saw redtails, Cooper’s hawks, a roughleg doubtless on its way north, and a harrier. We also saw a desert bighorn on the rim, which had the bad manners to vanish before Libby could take its photo. I have known there is a little band in the badlands to the north, around Ladron peak, but this is the first time I have ever seen one. Some country around here, between permission and geology, is just damned hard to get into. But we’ll be back!


Entering from upstream.

The sheep was on the highest point here for what seemed like a long time. Libby: “I wanted to look at it more than take its picture!”

Slanting beds of rock on the floor.

The Almaty Kids and me in the deepest part. There is a whole other vertical wall above this”top”.

Coming to the bottom.

Expect more posts from this area!


More and longer and prettier soon, but here is the usual presentation of friends, foes, follies, and gallimaufry, not to mention science..

Which first: a very old bat.

(Zimmer has also devoted a new site to his collection of “Science tattoos”. Love that Archaeopteryx!)

The long- distant migrant known as the red knot is in deep trouble because of the human harvest of horseshoe crabs. I didn’t even know there was one. HT Luisa.

Doom, doom, decline and fall. You couldn’t make this up: as Scottish blogger Alex Massie reports, “A commuter was arrested at gunpoint and had his DNA and fingerprints taken simply for listening to his MP3 player while waiting for a bus.”

It actually gets worse.

“Darren Nixon was surrounded by armed police after his music player was mistaken for a gun.”


“Police tracked Mr Nixon using CCTV. As he got off the bus home from work he was surrounded by a firearms unit, who bundled him into a van.

“He was then put in a cell and his fingerprints, DNA and mugshot were taken before he was released.

“Although police realised it was a false alarm, Mr Nixon, from Stoke-on-Trent, now has to live with his DNA stored on a national database.

“The force will also keep on record that he was arrested on suspicion of a firearms offence.”

Words fail.

They don’t make them like that anymore. (See above.)

Not the Onion, but you might think so from the title:“Parent Shock: Children are not Decor”. Apparently some are annoyed at the clash. More vapidity from the former Paper of Record. Sigh. At least their science remains first- rate.

More Times: an aricle in praise of anti- hunt activists. What concerns me is this statement:

“Monitors have been beaten, kicked, whipped with riding crops, and driven into hedges by angry riders. Mr. Tillsley has been verbally abused, threatened and harassed. His tires have been slashed, his car followed and boxed in, and the windows of his house broken.”

Oh, really? In modern England? And no charges brought? I just don’t believe it.

On to cheerier things, Blogfamily stuff to be exact.

Moro Rogers has a wonderful U- Tube animation video out.

Mike at Sometimes Far Afield has some original things to say about the Second Amendment.

Darren discusses Axolotls and their relatives. Scroll down to a discussion between me and an expert as to what variety we have here– I think “Lollia” nails it.

More & Worse soon…

Daily Show: Pacelle “More of a gatherer…”

Anne D. sent this link to a Daily Show segment featuring (lampooning, actually) a PA attempt to legalize for hunting the ancient projectile weapon known as the atlatl.

A local atlatl enthusiast finds himself ribbed by Daily Show field correspondent Jason Jones and takes it in stride. Providing the counter argument is well-coifed HSUS President Wayne Pacelle. The Daily Show correspondent gives Wayne a bit of the business also, summing up his anti-hunting stance as one held by “more of a gatherer.” Wink.

Whatever your position on (way, way) primitive technology in modern hunting, note the incredible accuracy of these spear chuckers!

Reid? Care to add context?

Beef Recall for Cruelty Concerns

Humane Society of the United States President Wayne Pacelle, enemy of so many good things—dogs, cats, horses, hunting, eating meat, private ownership and the American way—maybe got this one right.

Due to complaints filed by HSUS about conditions in a California slaughterhouse, 143 million pounds of beef are being recalled from shelves across the country. The USDA calls the action a “Class 2” recall, meaning the risk to human health is considered low; in fact, according to agency inspectors the recall is primarily in response to inhumane treatment of sick or injured cattle filmed entering the processing facility. “Downed” animals, unable to stand or walk, were shown prodded aggressively and in cases forklifted into the slaughterhouse in violation of federal guidelines written to keep sick animals out of the US food supply.

As an animal owner, a hunter, and a happy eater of meat, I have no admiration for Wayne Pacelle’s anti-goodness raison d’être. But in truth, I have no more admiration for the factory-style processing of animals that produces most of the meat we eat.

In terms of tactic, HSUS is on familiar ground in taking a stand against factory farms, using hidden cameras and targeting California, where state legislators are likely to be sympathetic to their cause. Probably they’ve already turned these graphic images into glossy trifold brochures and full page ads, sucking up more money into their vast war chest.

But I admit: Had some kooky group of free-range, slow-food militants produced this secret footage, I would probably be posting it here with an appreciative nod. I think it’s important, after all, to know what we’re eating; and I gather this kind of treatment of animals is not uncommon wherever volume and profit are the guiding principles of animal husbandry.

Where Wayne and I diverge is in the conclusion I draw from the facts of factory farming. It doesn’t put me off my appetite for meat at all—too many millennia are under the bridge for that—it just reaffirms my support of traditional farming practices and scales of production, and most importantly, of hunting, cleaning, cooking and eating my own animal protein.

I am not entirely a consumer of sustainable and humanely-garnered foods, but I’m improving. The extent to which I haven’t yet embarrasses me.

To borrow (even more) from Wendell Berry, eating is not just a physical act; it’s also an ecological and philosophical, and probably a religious act. It has a moral component. As with all moral issues, graphic reminders of the consequences of our choices and actions are invaluable, whatever their source. Knowing the cost actually paid for the conveniently anonymous meat we buy: priceless.

Some Ceramic Oddities

Most of the ceramics we have found here so far are fairly straight forward, like the Colorado Buffware rim sherd that is pictured above. Most everything we have seen has either been one of these buffwares (though some have a red slip) that were made east of here along the Colorado River or Tizon Brownware that was made in the mountains to the west of us.

There are a few things we’ve seen that are a little different that I thought I would show you.

The sherd above shows a technique we have seen here that is referred to as stucco coat. On some utilitarian wares, after the pot was air dried, another coat of rough clay was applied to the bottom prior to firing. It’s speculated that this stucco coat was used to strengthen the bottom of the pot or perhaps to help it hold heat.

This is a ceramic pendant. A sherd from a broken pot was ground to a nice circular shape and a hole was drilled at one end so it could be suspended by a cord around someone’s neck. In this one you can see the remains of the broken hole at the top and the bottom is rough where the pendant has been broken. In my thesis research on Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo) sites near Mesa Verde these were fairly common, but this is the only one we have seen here.

Finally here is a picture of another drilled sherd. This was commonly used as a repair technique for cracked pots. If a crack appeared running perpendicular to the rim, two holes were drilled on either side of the crack. Then a cord was run through the holes and tied off to pull the edges together. We’ve seen a fair number of these.

Beer Can Archaeology

As I said in the previous post, artifacts and features that are older than 50 years get treated as historic resources in our survey. That means we get to paw through a lot of 20th Century trash heaps. I am a confirmed prehistorian and I have to admit that this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I am fortunate to work with quite a few people who can look at the bottom of a old glass Chlorox bottle and tell you within five years or so when it was made. So my colleague Juston here was pretty darned excited to come across this cache of old cone top beer cans.

Here’s a closer view of Juston’s haul, cone tops prominently displayed around a 1970s pull-tab can, a flat top “church key” type, and what appears to be an oil filter. There was enough of the label remaining on the cone top at the far left to identify it as Eastside Beer, brewed by the Los Angeles Brewing Company.

Silence of the Lambs

Sometimes we see things out here that haven’t quite turned into archaeology yet. The white smear you see in the picture above is one of those. Hard to tell what it is at a distance.

When you get a little closer you can see that it is a scatter of animal bone.

My colleague Liz has some experience as a faunal analyst and says these look like lambs. She got a body count of 14 individuals.
None of them had been butchered out. All were still fully articulated like the one you can see here. We’re betting someone had some sick animals and he put them out of their misery.We’re obligated to record things at least 50 years old as historic resources and these didn’t appear to fit into that category.

Who Am I?

I have picked up two skulls of this type while out here on survey and am not sure what species this is. Faunal identification isn’t my strong suit and I have no references with me. It’s not canid, but not sure where to go – ringtail? badger?

More expert opinions than mine requested.