Colonel Cooper and the Kazakh Eaglers

Colonel Jeff Cooper was a crusty old marine, shooter, and writer, one of the most influential firearms thinkers of the twentieth century. He wrote an enormous series of entertaining and informative essays, observations and quips called his Commentaries, a sort of proto- gunblog.

But he could be a bit set in his ways, at least in his later years. When he called for suggestions for the greatest hunts in the world I proposed the Kazakh flight of eagle at wolf. After several notes back and forth I received the following postcard:

That this might be a case of more than usual stubbornness is suggested by the fact it was a reply to this photo:

As Jonathan Hanson said at the time, he was a splendid creature, but he should have perished at the K-T meteor impact.

“Pigeons” 2: New Gorbatov

At Al’s Eagle Hunter site is among other delights the biggest gallery of Vadim Gorbatov prints available on line. He has just added two new ones: Kublai Khan’s Hunting Trip and Frederic II’s Hunting Trip:

I have a huge artist’s proof of the Kublai, but you can get a smaller version for pretty cheap, and the two larger sizes have wonderful sketches on the back as well. I think I’ll get one of those when I have a few bucks.

And last on the pigeon theme: a lot of people have Gorbatov raptors, but I have original Gorbatov pigeons. Will scan if I can ever figure out this scanner.

Pigeons Plus

Or, from pigeons to eagles to art.

The whole thread started when artist Graeme Boyd of my pigeon discussion group emailed us this video of Chinese pigeons being flown with whistles.

Everyone knows that this is an interest of mine. I even have a collection, sent to me by a German scholar who taught in Beijing and whom we showed around Ulan Bataar.

When I played the video, I discovered that the Englishman narrating was my friend Al Gates, legendary Berkutchi and the only person ever to hunt with one eagle and then breed her and hunt with her son.

Of course I immediately e- mailed to see if he had anything else new going on. He did, of course, and I’ll post that above.

Meanwhile, as though in synchronicity, new pigeon and eagle material just kept coming in. There was this Life Magazine image from Chas:

I think I’ll add this older one of a pigeon with a camera, from the Spy Museum via Annie H:

And this video– actually narration over stills, but good stills and mostly accurate info (though eagles do NOT take months to train) here, sent by the tazi group. After about 2:50 our old friend Aralbai comes in. Cat rode with him and his son this past fall (see the various “Cat’s Mongolia” posts) but here he and his son are in ’98:

Perhaps this is the place to say that sad word from Mongolia has come in: Manai, who I hunted with in ’98 and 2000, and who is on the cover of Eagle Dreams (you can see the book down in the sidebar) has just died. He was younger than me. I have no details yet, and will give him a proper remembrance when I know more.

Country Life

A long thoughtful post about the good and bad, but above all the different things about country as opposed to urban life. A snip:

“More often there is instead a deep reserve of caution. This wariness is a byproduct of living a connected life. The outsider does not know or feel the history of shared experience. To have an address is not to live in a small town. Living in a small town means being connected to the flow of its collective life. One does not jump into such a stream without a shocking jolt of cold water. It takes time to acclimate oneself to this river. One has to submerge oneself, drifting along for awhile before your system becomes adjusted. One adapts to the river’s temperature, not the other way around. The community molds the individual by including him in the story of the town.”

And a fierce lament for country things lost by the English group Show of Hands. The details are different here but many of the stories are the same.

Philip Larkin…

… was a very serious poet, but he may be best known for his mordant “This be the verse”, with its famous NSFW first line that was even the theme for an issue of Granta. I was surprised and tickled to see a YouTube of Larkin photos over a reading of that poem at Carl Zimmer’s evo blog The Loom.

A commenter on that post said it was not Larkin reading, and I wondered who it might be. I followed my instincts to fellow curmudgeon John Derbyshire’s site, where to my delight I found a thoughtful and funny page on the poem, and a reading by Derb.

But it was a different version! If anyone knows if the other is actually Larkin I’d appreciate knowing.

I had a funny collision with Larkin in the mid -seventies when I was an editor at English Literary Renaissance, a scholarly journal. I was ordered to commission (for free of course) an intro to our special Marvell edition from him, in his capacity as librarian at Hull. I was afraid of his legendary brusqueness, but he turned out to be as amiable could be, and immediately wrote the piece.

Dead Stuff

Says Darren, blogging about his mummified fox : “I think everyone seriously interested in animals collects dead animals, or bits of dead animals.”

Certainly this is true of me, and of most other naturalists I know. The comments turned into reports on collections. Mine, responding to and quoting an earlier one, was:

” “Those of us just here in the US just twiddle our thumbs wishing we could, as it’s illegal to own so much as a contour feather without a permit.”

“What kind of naturalist would be stopped by that? (;-))

“Seriously, only non- game protected birds are illegal. Anyone can keep any part of game birds, any parts of mammals & reptiles (unless there are local ordinances against it or they are endangered) and insects. I have all of the above, bones, skins, skulls, feathers, skins… also, a licensed falconer (which I am) can have parts of the birds they keep (except eagles after death, which go to the Federal repository). I stop for roadkill.

“I have a wife who is as fascinated as I am by all this, tolerates my many dogs and my falcon in the alcove between kitchen and dining room, and creatures in the freezer.
(I just lent a ten- years frozen falcon to a sculptor friend for her to cast. I knew I kept it around for a reason!)

“What else? I have guns too. Just don’t ask about the penguins…”

I added as a PS: “I used to keep a “dermie” colony that John McLoughlin and I stocked by beating dry cow and horse carcasses at the town dump with our walking sticks. Alas, I gave them up when I feared for my insects, and the dump no longer has a section labeled “Dead Animals”. Change comes even to rural New Mexico.”

There were at least two better, though:

“I regret pitching this really cool scat many years ago. It was a big furry black bear poop with part of the striped pelt of a chipmunk in it. I can’t believe I threw away the pride of my scat collection.”


“What’s really disturbing about the mummified fox is the way that Darren holds it in his lap and absentmindedly scratches its nape while sipping absinthe and chanting under his breath. Also, he insists that all visitors refer to the mummified fox as Colonel Humphrey, avoid eye-socket-contact, and “try not to piss him off.””

Thanksgiving Hunt

I’m back home from a week’s hunt in Texas, my usual Thanksgiving trip augmented this year by the coincidence of the annual North American Falconers Association Field Meet, also in Amarillo this week.

These trips are the highlight of my season and uniformly fun and productive hawking adventures. I’ve posted about them here and elsewhere, but below are a few snapshots from this year’s event.

Our base camp at the home of good friends, the Walkers: Here pictured are my partners Eric and Diana Edwards (left), Jimmy Walker (center) and Matt Reidy on right. Jimmy’s goshawk Vinney got to spend a little quality time with the family.

I drove up with the Edwardses, who brought their pointing lab, a passage merlin and a red-naped shaheen.

Along with Matt Reidy’s two falcons, Jimmy’s gos and prairie tiercel, Brian Millsap had his peregrine tiercel and veteran Harris hawk. Here’s Brian’s tiercel on a teal taken Tuesday morning.

Eric’s merlin on a House sparrow taken in a neat, snappy flight around the corner of a farm fence.

Here’s one of me and Ernie on our first pheasant, ever. It was a big day for both of us.

A beautiful bird, both in feather and out of it.

Of rabbits, we had plenty. Here we are at the first spot we hunted on Monday morning. Some of these places are regular haunts, and my friends will note my wardrobe changes little from year to year. So these hero shots get a little repetitive, but I love them.

New on the menu this year was a gumbo of hawk-caught rabbit and duck with a generous portion of deer sausage. I skipped the Tuesday morning hunt to gather some ingredients and make up a batch for the crew.
The rest of the rabbits and sundry wildlife were floured and fried for a huge Thanksgiving family feast.

This was just a part of the first batch…

Finally, a portrait of Jimmy’s European gos for Steve—Vinney is a fantastic hawk for quail, duck, pheasant and rabbits all.

Wintering goldens

Yesterday I drove through the sagebrush country of the Little Colorado Desert, which is always a pleasure as it serves as a winter home to migratory golden eagles. I’ve noticed our eagle population has substantially grown over the last few weeks – the birds arrive with winter temperatures. They come from the north, and most of our resident eagles head further south, although it appears there is some intermixing. A magnificent nearly black-colored golden arrived on our ranch a week ago. It is very shy, so I’ve been unable to get a photo yet.

But yesterday, there were three dark-colored goldens perched on fenceposts near a roadkill. Two were shy and immediately flew, but this youngster stayed around long enough for me to admire from afar. I stopped to watch these mainly because of where they were located – a small basin that gets a substantial wintering pronghorn antelope population. Over the last five years, Jim and I have watched goldens in this small basin as they actively hunt pronghorn in the wintertime – never at any other time of year (not hunting pronghorn fawns in spring). The eagles really get the herds running and spinning. We’ve never seen a kill occur though. So what’s the deal? Is this the same birds that keep coming back year after year to this certain spot? Is it learned behavior that we’ll be able to watch for years to come?

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to witness a golden hunt and take down a pronghorn fawn, as the doe frantically struck the bird with her front hooves. This event happened a few miles from our house. What intrigues me about these other birds is that they are hunting relatively larger game. Any thoughts?