Some Birds Past

I got a 7/8 Gyrfalcon, 1/8 Saker male falcon from a commercial breeder in Wyoming. He became He became, as most birds raised this way do, a quiet social imprint who loved dogs, and flying on the Henderson ranch.

He was doing fine when a rich young ornithologist of my acquaintance insisted on “starting” him for me. He didn’t need starting– he was already chasing things. I suspect that the kid just wanted to chase things with a Gyrfalcon; the bird was in a self indulgent slow development stage as most Gyrs are. He fed the bird a poxy bridge pigeon to save money. Any fool knows that poxy pigeons kill a bird as sure as cyanide. The kid who killed the bird never even told me because he was afraid I would be “sad”, especially when the breeder told me he would never give me another bird because I was “irresponsible”. There really is no excuse for not telling me this had happened. I’m of the “No excuse, sir” school, so I never told the breeder what actually happened.

This is Tuuli, a male Gyr Prairie, one of the best, if no the best, birds I ever had. He used to allow the dogs to sniff under his tail, and beat them up if they didn’t find quarry fast enough. I have no idea why this picture appeared.

This is Chicken. She was Barb – Taita. She was very fast but could not soar, which is why she got killed. She carried songbirds away. I had few ducks on the plateau. The same year I lost the Gyr, my friend Bodie lost his Peregrine and asked if he could borrow Chicken. She killed nine ducks larger than herself on the golf course. One morning she missed her strike and rather than soar around the pond, she landed on a power pole and promptly fell to the ground, burnt to calcified ash. It happens. About four seconds later, Bodie, who is a military Scot and a Zen swordsman, called me on his cell phone and said “Stephen, I just killed your falcon.” I was sad, but guess which one of those people I’d give another bird to?

Once and Future Hawk

I had a couple of these.

One of them was afraid of hats. In New Mexico. I fed her off one all summer and she still leaped off the perch every time she saw it.

I’m getting one of these. He caught 70 small birds last month (legal, House sparrows).

…And one of these

I like these too — a lot — but they fly a bit big for me these days, especially on Lee’s ranch, with its 12 mile vistas and Golden eagles.

Another View of Marccus

This tribute to my late brother Mark was written by my younger sister Anita, who runs an autoimmune disease clinic with a doctor partner (who is also a snake fanatic — but that’s a matter for another time.) While it is frankly sentimental, it is a worthy addition to my bitter portrait — I was furious at him for having thrown his life away, and that is not always fair. Here’s Anita:

Thank you to everyone gathering at Off the Wall today from Mark H Bodio‘s family stateside. We will all be there in spirit and can envision his freed spirit floating over the beautiful turquoise waters and trade winds of Cane Bay. We will miss his smile, quick wit and random facts he so freely shared. He was a kind and gentle soul with my father’s Italian temper. We are so sad but rejoice that he can now be reunited with his beloved DK who was torn from him at such a young age. I bet he thinks flying’s pretty cool (and knows the exact velocity and distance he can go at any given moment) When watching the sunset and moon rise, he always reminded us that the moon was 238,900 miles away. He must love being able to test that and travel at the speed of light. Love you so much, Mark. Miss being able to call and chat with you.

A HUGE shout out to Keith Nelson who has been my constant support and feet on the ground. He’s not on FB but can someone who is give him a huge hug from us!?! Also to Diana at Off the Wall who accepted my crazy call the day he died and got my number to all the right people. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude.

My husband, daughter and I will be on the island in June. We would love to meet his friends, hear your stories and thank you for being his family in our absence. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You were his lifeline.

The Houndsman

If anyone could understand why I missed his memorial yesterday, it would be Dutch Salmon. He led me into many places, most of them good, but he also was a pioneer in dealing as gracefully as anyone can with Parkinson’s disease and its sometimes impossible symptoms and restrictions.

I first encountered Dutch Salmon in an unpublished manuscript called “Home With the Hounds” in Gray’s Sporting Journal. It opened up a whole new world for me, one of passionate hunters following ancient breeds over wild landscapes, chasing hares and other quarry. “Falconry on the ground!” We were never out of touch, even after that. I followed his trail from New York to New Mexico, where I too came to live. I eventually followed the hounds themselves all the way to Asia. Six of my eleven books would not exist without him, and the range of them would probably be very different. When I got the shocking news of his death last week, from complications of melanoma, I realized with a shock that this quiet man has possibly been the single biggest influence on my life: He brought me to my querencia and showed me how to live well in it. Dutch was always a writer, a varied and skillful one at that. He wrote books on hounds, and novels, and a book about the Gila and one on catfish that I included in my Sportsman’s Library, a slightly arbitrary collection of the best sporting books in the world. But I think his heart was always with the dogs. He was not just a houndsman but THE Houndsman, an almost archtypical character who knew and defended this most ancient way of hunting, one that had existed since we became human, and is now endangered by our modern way of life. I don’t know how many hounds owe their very existence to Dutch , but I’ll bet their number is in the hundreds.

Good-bye, Dutch. Here’s a strong drink to you, a shot of tequila “hot” , “down ‘ze rathole” as in the Mexican dog stories you used to tell so well. I know you are grieved for by your lovely wife Cherie and your fine son Bud, and the houndsmen of New Mexico and the West; all the others that love you will miss you more than you’ll ever know.


I achieved an unusual coup the other day; I paid off my gun dealer’s bill with an expensive gun, and got a better one for less money.

It is a Charlin, not a Darne. While they look superficially alike, the Charlin’s breech rolls on ball bearings and can be moved by two arthritic fingers, while the Darne’s powerful lockup needs a vigorous push. The difference is remarkable — peoples’ faces light up when they open and close the Charlin.

I included the detail on the barrel flats in hope that one of my readers might tell me more about this gun. It is said that rare books a bookdealer only gets to see once or twice in his life; the rest are uncommon. By this standard the Charlin is a rare gun. I’ve seen two and bought both. One was a plain grade 16 which my gunsmith accidentally sold. I know of one other that went up for sale at auction; the other was at James Julia in 2015. I don’t know if it made its reserve, but they were asking $50 – $80,000 for it! Of course it was covered with gold figures in Japanese style though it was made for an Indian maharajah, but it’s wood is not as nice as mine.

It is in nearly perfect condition except for the recoil pad which needs replacing. It is of extremely English style and dimensions: 26″, chambers 2 1/2″, 14 3/4″ LOP, 6 1/4 pounds, little drop; the barrels are charcoal gray rather than black. In the whimsical grading scheme which I’m told Charlin invented, it has four swallows indicating its rank. I haven’t the slightest idea what this means. Have at it!

Stephen Collector

Boulder Photographer

Stephen Collector, the Boulder photographer, visited this week to hunt quail and take pictures. The quail hunt, in East Red Canyon, was unsuccessful. I was glad to go out even with the .410. The photographs were more successful.

Best of me in a long time

Most realistic

Tiger Country – Polvadera Mountain

Dangerous Birds

A lot of people seem to forget that, though Deinonychus  and even New Zealand’s Moa and Maori- eating Haast’s eagle are gone, we still have some dangerous modern dinosaurs. This thought was prompted by an e-mail discussion among well- informed friends last week.

My money for real danger is on Stephanoaetus coronatus, which always seems to be sizing you up for a meal– they SCARE me. Craig Golden, who photographed one that was used for monkey control in Zimbabwe, told me that until she had killed, she just kept watching him, in a way he didn’t like at all. The artist D. M. Reid- Henry had one kill a German shepherd in a London park (he then emigrated, also to  to Zimbabwe). They are also as agile as big Goshawks– just below is  pic of scientist, falconer, and saluki man Alberto Palleroni with a “little” male. They have been credited with the death of the “Taung baby” australopithecine in SouthAfrica, and implicated in the death of children in Zambia.

But any of the  big jungle eagles, or the Golden, will do. Anyone who thinks birds are less scary than “lizards”  has no experience with big predators.

The discussion  began with this photo of a baby coronatus and her FEET, on Matt’s Facebook.

Matt said: “Hard to imagine there have been bigger eagles but then, there were bigger dinosaurs too!”

To which Arthur replied: “Have been?  Are!  I think the Harpy and Philippine and Steller’s sea eagle at least are bigger.”

And everybody jumped in. Annyushka, on vacation in Europe: “Female Harpies and Crowned eagles basically tie for weight, up to 22-23lbs. Steller’s are the largest for pure wingspan; a big female will get just over 8ft. Phillipines have extraordinarily-long tails, but are still smaller than the other 2 forest eagles.”

A big Harpy.

Matt again: ” When I was 15 I walked up to the Harpy cage at Summit Gardens in Panama, which was your basic chain link fence box and contained two adult birds on perches that ran lengthwise across the inclosure. One of the perches came about to my chest height, and as I walked up to the perch, the larger of the two birds walked with purpose toward me down the plank, her talons wrapping around the 2X4 like a twig.

“We each stopped a few inches apart, separated mostly by air and the fact that her feet were too big to fit through the aperture of wire between us.  She bent down to look me in the eye and flipped her head sideways in the gesture I know now to be a raptor’s playful engagement. But there was no question which of us was the greater creature, or all else equal and minus a thin metal screen, which of us would be at the others’ mercy.

“A few minutes later, the zoo keeper arrived with a live chicken under one arm and clucked to his charges to get their attention.  The female’s gaze never left me. But the male flapped down with a palpable whoosh and waited on the ground by the gate for his dinner.  The man tossed the chicken in, which took about a step before the Harpy’s foot took it wholly by the chest and gave it a squeeze, killing it all but for a few brief spasms.

“My feeling since then about the relative sizes of eagles is that once they reach the minimum size required to crush a 15 yer old’s head, a few extra pounds or inches are immaterial.  :)”

Me: “And the Lammergeier, though not an eagle, is impressive too, as are the Lappet-faced and Eurasian black vultures, all of which I have been privileged to see in the wild, the last two in the Tian Shan.The Lappet-faced vulture was dominating a wary crowd of Griffon vultures which stood in a circle around it as it fed on the waste of a crocodile, as intimidated as though it were a lion. Jonathan Kingdon has a skull of one I’ve always coveted. He says they kill antelope!”

Torgos by Reid;  Lammergeier by Dr Rock

Matt: “The local zoo here has a lappet faced vulture that, when we first moved here to La., they were interested in having me train for flight display.  I had never even seen one, but I thought, how big could the thing possibly be?  When they showed me the bird, the notion of training it (at least my training of it) went out the window.  Somehow even a large eagle seems comprehensible and manageable as a scaled-up hawk.  And plenty of people train them, obviously.

“But a vulture at that size–and these old world jobs are basically long necked eagles; and the LFV in particular clearly has working feet—are able to get you from more angles with more weapons.

“My friend Eric Edwards, who has trained white backed vultures for shows, respects them appropriately. They had a bit in one show I recall where the audience was asked to count down from 10: the time it took the WBV on Eric’s fist to turn a large turkey drum stick to bare bone.”

Arthur on the Haast’s:”Where the authors estimate that it was about 30% heavier than a harpy.  I would love to see this re-done with more data points and with the knowledge that the bird was in fact a hieraaetuus.  Still, as the authors point out, even if they are 10% off, the eagle was still gigantic and still bigger than a harpy.

“The picture they paint is of a goshawk-ish creature.  Relatively short wings, long tail, and muscles optimized for bursts of speed.

“Strange to think that there was, within recent human history, an ecosystem on a biggish chunk of land where the apex predator was flying.

“I wonder what that would have meant for the temperament of the birds.  Most eagles are kings of the air, but they can still get eaten on the land by all sorts of mammalian predators.  Prior to humans the only threat to an adult Haast’s eagle would have been another Haast’s eagle.

“I would also love to see a re-appraisal of the possible prey selection of the Haast’s eagle based on the knowledge that their was only one giant moa species; the multiplicity of sizes of remains being the result of sexual dimorphism!”

Two more thoughts, and images.The late Colonel Jeff Cooper, justly famed for pistol craft, once wrote me the following. note when I told him that the Kazakhs hunt wolves with eagles: “PUPPIES, perhaps; hundred pounders, unlikely!” Trouble is, he wrote that after seeing THIS:

(To which Jonathan Hanson responded “He was a great man, but he should have perished in the Cretaceous Extinction Event.”)

And here are Darren Naish’s Killer Eagles:

Eagle Women

–Two of the better known eagle falconers are coming to visit Casa Q next month. Lauren McGough, newly minted PHD anthropologist, is a long time protegee who first came here and on to Mongolia when she was sixteen. Novelist Rebecca O’Connor, who hails from California is also a longtime honorary Magdalenean. I’m trying to get her to publish a book somewhere other than Kindle (her wonderful memoir, Lift, is available in paperback if you can find it).

Curiously, both women are flying African eagles at the moment. Lauren has a huge female Crowned, which will take any quarry including small human beings. Rebecca’s is the exotic African hawk eagle, built like a big Sparrow hawk, long and slender. It is the same species as the European Bonelli’s though it looks different. They’re rumored to be hard to train, but are wonderful once they are. Rhodesian regiments in the Zimbabwe brush wars used to use them to hawk springhares at night from their half-tracks.

We’re going to have some fun. Coyotes and jackrabbits are nervous, and cowboys are excited.

A young Lauren with the late Aralbai

She became the Mother of Dragons…

Rebecca’s story is rather different. She is a biologist, and has worked for zoos and for Ducks Unlimited, usually in her native California, and for years seemed to specialize in flying native Peregrines at ducks. During this time she also wrote a parrot training manual, two novels and a memoir, Lift, which is included in my Sportsman’s Library, about the hundred best hunting and fishing books.

We should have some fun — it will be a combination literary meeting and hawking party!

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