Frozen waterhose

Before I’m willing to turn on the big stockwater tank and its heater for the wintertime, for some reason I procrastinate until my little tank is empty and the waterhose that feeds it is completely frozen. That happened today. Usually the hose freezes overnight, but thaws during the day so I can refill the tank and not worry about it.

But while it was sunny today, it never got warm enough to thaw the hose. Technically, I have two more weeks before I move weaned lambs to the homestead and have to turn on the big tank and heater, so I’m trying to squeak by. After a long trip to town, I unloaded the groceries, let all the dogs out, and went to work coiling the hose, bringing it into the house to soak it in a hot tub to thaw, then taking it back out, reattaching, running it back to the tank, and filling the tank. I was in and out both the front and back door repeatedly during this process.

It was a simple enough task, but today, my livestock guardian pups decided to help. That meant chasing the horses away from the stock tank – even though the tank’s sole purpose is to water the horses, since the dogs have their own tank in the kennel. Today was one of the days it seems like I am living with a couple of terrible two-year olds who don’t speak the same language as I do.

After getting the hose all taken care of, I walked in the back door to find Helga – the 90-pound monster, on one of my two leather couches in the living room, her mouth bleeding. She acted shy, like she knew she had done something wrong, all the while dripping blood all over the couch and throw pillows. I grabbed a kitchen towel and hurried toward her, which then spooked her, so she leapt off the couch, flew across the room, and landed on the other couch, leaving a blood trail all the way.

Helga was embarrassed about the bleeding and didn’t want me to touch her, but I was trying to minimize the damage to the house, so we obviously weren’t on the same page. I chased, she ran, blood flew. Finally her sibling, Rant, came bolting through the front door to find out what the fuss was all about, which then set Helga into another flight response. I grabbed a package of pastries from the top of the bread box on the counter, flung open the back door and hurled the package out the door, with guard dogs quickly jumping out after them. I slammed the door after the hounds from hell were outside.

I then backtracked and found blood on the outside of the front door where Helga had hit it with her nose to get it open. The best I can figure, she harassed the horses enough at the stock tank that one of them kicked her in the mouth. There is no damage to her mouth or teeth, and I can see a nick out of the end of her tongue, so that’s where all the blood came from. She wanted comfort, so she came into the house, but then didn’t want anyone to touch her.

As an added bonus, while I ran around cleaning the house, I found large chunks of raw sweet potatoes scattered in the living room, on the couch, and in the hall. Since I had just filled the vegetable basket on the kitchen sideboard with sweet potatoes when I returned home, it seems that while I was outside, the monster pups decided to steal something – there were two potatoes gone from the basket. Guess they made good toys, but weren’t actually worthy of eating.

All this in a period of maybe 15 minutes. Life is never boring when you live it with animals.

Web Miscellany

The US faces an invasion from another alien species, the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

In Rome, the city government is attempting to deal with a starling investation with a team of starling stalkers. Apparently with mixed results. I believe I know some falconers who’d be willing to take on the job for the $187,000 the city spends on this annually.

After my post on the post-post ironic decor at an LA nightspot, you should probably read this NY Times piece, “Irony Is Dead. Again. Yeah, Right.”

In this interview, Annie Proulx indicates she’s looking to leave Wyoming. Her surprise opinion on her famous story, “Brokeback Mountain”: “I wish I’d never written it.”

I thought this recipe for pear-blackberry pie sounded wonderful. I’ll give it a try later this week.

Cat’s Yellowstone Wolves, and others

Our own Cat Urbigkit has just published a book on the Yellowstone wolves and their reintroduction (so to speak as you will see.)

She brings a unique perspective as she is both a sheepherder and a naturalist- observer, one who can appreciate big carnivores but doesn’t want them killing her sheep or her livelihood.

Her history is also unique. Before she was a shepherd she and her husband joined an unlikely coalition of stockmen and environmentalists who sued to protest the introduction of the Canadian wolf subspecies, arguing that there was a small and harmless population of the nearly extinct native subspecies already existing in the Yellowstone ecosystem. I admit that this was the most difficult argument for me to accept going in, but her careful documentation has made me a believer. Probably they nearly disappeared when the horrific poison 1080 was in use, and were gradually building their numbers. These wolves were smaller and probably would have been more fearful of humans, which emeritus large- mammal biologist Valerius Geist argues is probably a good thing. Again, more below.

Cat next documents the long drawn out legal battles, culminating in the “re” introduction of the big Canadian subspecies, and going on to document how they finally arrived in her sagebrush plains, in one case approaching her 12 year old son as he herded sheep.

There is a LOT more here, documented without editorial comment– of the wedge the issue has driven between the government and stockmen (even worse down here in NM due to a program where the wolves are constantly handled, moved around and habituated); on the environmentalist side, the decision to sacrifice a unique subspecies without studying it to see if it was recoverable without intervention; on the utter uselessness of the compensation program, which demands an impossible standard of proof; even dark humor. When a hunter shoots a pre- intro wolf (?) he thinks is a coyote, he is held in legal limbo for more than a month. As the Jackson Hole Guide editorialized. “How is it that the Fish and Wildlife service– our federal wildlife experts–can expect Kysar to have known he had shot a wolf when they have already spent six weeks in their laboratories trying to figure it out, and still don’t know what it is they’re dealing with?”

There are other issues in play than endangered species or embattled ranchers. As Cat reports, elk were eating the park, and there was no politically acceptable way to reduce their numbers. As we are increasingly coming to know, big predators seem to control the whole ecosystem– see William Stolzenburg’s Where the Wild Things Were.

And there is one more issue, only hinted at in Cat’s book: the increasing probability that wolves that become too habituated will also become dangerous. Dr. Valerius Geist, now retired, is the dean of North American big mammal studies, and author of too many books to cite, though I am particularly partial to the magisterial Deer of the World. He and I have been corresponding for years on this, the Pleistocene, and many other matters. He was one of the scientists called on to testify in the notorious Kenton Carnegie case in northern Ontario, where a young intern was killed and partially eaten by dump- habituated wolves (there was a ludicrous attempt to blame the killing on black bears, but anyone who has looked at the entire testimony of both on- the- spot observers and the scientists would be convinced, as was the jury, that wolves were responsible).

Val is both a serious biologist and a serious backwoodsman, a rare combination in his youth and one that is getting rarer today. He used to believe that wolves were as harmless as their modern image suggests, until some scary encounters with habituated wolves in his own Vancouver backwoods, papers on habituated California coyotes’ behavior before attacking children, and the Carnegie case made him study the history and literature of other countries’ experiences with wolves. What he found suggested our “harmless” wolves are a historical phenomenon based on a unique phenomenon: our common use of guns. Wolves killed people in the Soviet Union until after WW II, kill people today in India, and are considered dangerous by Canada’s northern “First Nations”. (Val has convinced uber- wolf maven David Mech of the truth of this as well!)

Wolves are magnificent, efficient, sometimes deadly predators, not “spiritual healers”. To keep wolves near humans benign (to the humans at least), they should best be hunted. Would a similar phenomenon be behind the rise in cougar attacks in (over?) civilized places like Boulder and California?

In several papers and articles Val seeks to mediate between our desire for a robust, healthy wilderness, the reasonable expectation of our ranchers to make a living, and safety. He proposes large wilderness areas surrounded by mixed land where big predators are allowed but hunted, in turn ringed by farms and suburbs where they cannot be tolerated. It seems that we already are well on the way to this in the US (perhaps more than in his Canada) with parks surrounded by National forests. It will still need both some tweaking and a lot more efforts to understand, coming from predator advocates and stockmen alike. Let’s try to get this one right and maybe we can start to talk about “re- wilding”. Cat’s book is an excellent place to start– for both sides.

I should add one more opinion here to forestall otherwise inevitable arguments: I am for public land ranching in places like the National Forests not just because I respect ranchers (though I do– as primate researcher Robert Sapolski grudgingly but good- humoredly admits, people who spend their whole life on the “range” are likely to know a lot more about local specifics than specialist biologists) but also because of a phenomenon that is screwing up biodiversity worse than any rancher ever did. Every time a “public land” ranch goes on the block down here the “deeded” sections– the private anchoring portions that are the best and have all the water– are cut up into subdivisions of from five to fifty acres, fenced and developed.

And the wildlife goes away. It DIES.

I have gone on long enough. Read Cat!

Oh and- I have many of Val’s papers, and the (grisly) Carnegie report, as PDFs — haven’t figured how to link but I can send as email.



Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.

Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.

To match them, the landscape flowers,
outdoing, desperately
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.

For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,

More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey

May take years
In a a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk

Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain

At the cycle’s center,
They trembled, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.

– James Dickey

Altai Falcons

… are what the the old falconers called the Gyr- Saker crosses of the high deserts and lost mountains of Central Asia. Another common name, probably Turkic, is “Shunkar”.

From her (enormous) size and color this female in the breeding center outside of Almaty has Gyr genes, but her head shape and long tail, like that of my bird, is still “Sakery”.

This mixed pair probably shows Gyr at least in the black color of the one.

Young from pair above.

These two were taken by my friend, dog breeder and ornithologist Andrey Kovalenko, of a bird on fall migration near Almaty. Nether of us would assign it a definite species.

There are roadless areas the size of Minnesota in Asia, with mountains, and political barriers. No westerner and very few easterners has anything but a hazy idea what is out there.

New Bird

Another male Gyr X Saker, but this one rather than a stout Gyr resembles a long, lean, long- tailed Saker. He weighs virtually the same.

He is looking a bit nervous and indeed is wild for an imprint, but I suspect he’ll come around shortly.

Update: Our friend Patrick “Terrierman” Burns asked some good questions about hybrids– sometimes I take too much for granted. He asked among other things if the parental sex mattered, and if they made “natural” hybrids.

Generally it is thought that the parental sex matters, but both of mine had Gyr fathers and Saker mothers and favored different species.

The hybrid question is complex. “Real” hybrids of very different species– the most popular are Gyr- Peregrines– have reduced fertility (though not sterility) in the F1 generation.

Gyrs and Sakers, though, may be one species, imperfectly separated when the taiga forest came to split the Pleistocene “Mammoth Steppe”. It is now known that there is a zone of natural hybridization in Asia in the Altai, the Tian Shan, and perhaps elsewhere. The evidence is there in the DNA, and some birds– I should show one or two from Kazakhstan soon– cannot reliably be assigned to either species.

Species recently separated from the Peregrine– again, probably Pleistocene speciation– like the Barbary falcon and even the African Taita, are similarly interfertile with the Peregrine.

Most other falcons are reduced in fertility when crossed with these groups, though I bet the Lanner, another “desert falcon, fits better with the Gyr types.

Birds of similar sizes will often mate if isolated, though of course stranger crosses like Gyr- Merlin (exciting but almost too- turbocharged birds) need AI.

Most hybrids are done with imprinted birds and AI because it is easier– you might even fly the birds rather than confining them to breed.


The mammoth genome has been sequenced from hair (I have some!) Real Pleistocene Park stuff. Actually you should scroll down Paleoblog for all manner of good things, from a Mongolian fiesta at Bozeman to new finds at the Deinocheirus site in Mongolia to the evolution–!– of minerals.

At least some frogs are able to learn about predators when they are still in the egg. HT Annie D.

Also from Annie: Camel dressage. I have seen horses dancing (to rather inappropriate music) in Central Asia, but this is more than I… dreamed.

The Peculiars visit Taos and find crystals on the pillows and offers to trade massages for firewood. Mr P says that Taos is where bad New Mexicans and good Texans (sorry Henry!) go when they die.

Falconry’s legendary innovator Frank Beebe has died at 96. He has a memorial website here. I have a lifelike crow lure he made for me, and a raft of correspondence I will have to read again.

The elegant anarchist Crispin Sartwell at Eye of the Storm is being driven mad the same damn earworm as I am. What he said.

Obama may READ Michael Pollan. But will he appoint a secretary of agriculture who is a creature of Big Corn?

Is Peter Matthiessen right to call Shadow Country, the revision of his “Watson” trilogy, a new book? Actually, I think yes– it is a better book overall, and an author who is lucky enough to get to revise is lucky indeed.

Safe mini- nukes cheap enough to power, say, Socorro County. THe Guardian took a few corrections to get the story right– innumeracy is apparently even commoner than illiteracy.

From little nukes to tiny strange guns; HT David Zincavage at Never Yet Melted. Make sure you follow the link on the first to “Curios & Antik”, where you will see among other oddities a crucifix gun. And also see the “Apache gun” (Parisian version) at Diary of a Mad Natural Historian.

Finally, a melancholy and wonderful essay on bibliophilia by Ted Dalrymple. I too am fond of “association copies” and have quite a few– must scan and run more through here.

News and…

Been busy but not blogging. Some good news: the eagle book that occupied me (and drove me crazy) last year looks to have a new publisher. And another publisher in the same state is interested in doing a new edition of rage for falcons. I’ll keep you posted.

And I have a new Gyr- Saker from Bill in Texas– pix soon.

Checking Out the Neighborhood

This fellow decided to amble through the neighborhood at about 9:30 this morning, taking his time and checking out the happenings.

He is the boss buck around here, and I’ve been trying to get a clear picture of him for some time. He has evidently already located the “invisible fence” line we have up for the dogs. This morning he sauntered along just outside of it looking disdainfully at Sadie and Maggie as they barked at him.