Four Books

There of my friends have written good new books about the southwest recently. I hope to have more to say about them later; I thought you should at least know they existed.

From Dennis Michael McCarthy, a novelist, biologist, and lawyer, comes the best treatment of Billy the Kid I’ve known in a long time. It is lean, understated, and written from the heart of a New Mexican.

But there’s more. Dennis Michael reminded me our books share almost more than coincidence can explain. We are roughly same age, wrote our books , which have about the same number of ;pages, at the same time, have outlaws, killer grizzlies, dead dogs, mysterious priests, and perhaps a bit of Catholic sensibility. And we never talked about the books, which seems amazing now!

Boh of us are deeply rooted in New Mexico, without which you really can’t understand the Kid. I believe that Dennis Michael and his wife used to attend Mass at the Penitente church in Santa Fe,which suggests they know a little more about their New Mexico than the usual immigrants.

I think we two old Catholic schoolboys should have a signing together and do a standup comedy routine. Come to think of it, this whole group consists of old Catholic schoolboys!

Jonathan Hanson’s book , Trail of the Jaguar, is completely different. Our scholarly naturalist gives us a balls-to-the-wall thriller, with likable strong characters up against real evil, chasing a drug lord who employs, among other things, man-eating jaguars. Despite its breakneck pace, the whole thing is informed by his knowledge of the Sonoran desert ecosystem where he grew up and has spent his whole life, apart from forays to places like Africa with his wife and life partner Roseann., who is every bit as adventurous and accomplished as he is .When such creatures as western diomondbacks play parts in the plot, it is reassuring to know they are acting like snakes rather than plot devices.

We do kid him about his attention to detail sometimes. Yes, “Shoptalk is lyrical” [McGuane]. But sometimes I fear Jonathan might give me the genus of every mouse on an island his hero was escaping to.

Tom Russell has also written a novel, Against the Blood. In this case it’s a gritty but good -hearted ramble through the bars and clubs of the legendary Southwest in the company of an old movie cowboy and his friend, an old movie Indian. (Nobody can do old movie stuff quite like Tom, who grew up in Venice, CA, virtually on the set of Welles” “Touch of Evil)) . At the end you lwill have earned the origins of every old ballad you ever knew, from “Frankie and Johnnie to “Streets of Laredo”.

Tom has another book out, The Ballad of Western Expressionism. It shows how far the artist has developed from his roots into a unique and wonderful western painter. I would own any number of these, from his “Raven Coyote”, a quintessentially New Mexican “roots”” piece , io portraits of Beckett and Roger Bacon. I particularly like that raven, his portrait of my late hero Warren Zevon and his picture of Townes van Zandt (w)ho still looks like John Davila.)

Andrew Haslen

That I have Parkinson’s disease is infuriating, depressing, and sometimes impossible.

That Andrew Haslen, the liveliest and most original portrayer of birds of prey in England, has it is a crime against nature. Here’s a sample of his work for a new edition of Game Hawk.

Teddy gets cancelled

One too many and you suddenly snap..

I have always considered the statue of TR outside the American Museum in New York to be part and parcel of the total Museum experience at my all time favorite museum- I mean , Teddy was among other things such a NEW YORKER.

Even when I was a child I considered the statues a tribute to the nobility of his companions, a fairly unusual and even unlikely one in its time. (The African is armed, BTW!)

A scholar wrote: “As an early champion of civil rights and equality for black and Native Americans during the early 20th century, many feel the statue depicts Roosevelt as leading minority persons in the U.S. forward towards the promises made to all under the U.S. constitution. Roosevelt’s relationship with Booker T. Washington and his appointment of Minnie Cox as the first black regional postmaster in the United States (Indianola, MS) is seen as further cementing this view. Roosevelt’s own comments regarding race indicated that he believed all the races were equal, but some cultures were superior due to their greater technological advances over time. The sculptor of the statue, James Earle Fraser, stated the intent with these words: “The two figures at [Roosevelt’s] side are guides symbolizing the continents of Africa and America, and if you choose may stand for Roosevelt’s friendliness to all races.”


Even at ten— even back then, I knew there was a certain condescension in its design. But I also sensed that Roosevelt considered his unusual companions to be utterly noble, an unusual lesson when they were made and a valuable one for me in the fifties.

Banning these beautiful statues makes no sense; if a sensitive ten year old could understand their complex, not entirely conscious message then, he or she could now.

TR, with our friend Kirk Hogan

Valerius Geist, RIP

Yesterday Alex Sharif emailed me news of the death of Valerius Geist. I had heard he was not well; but one’s own illness often blinds you to the troubles of others. His is a great loss. Nobody ever dominated the science of the great mammals like Val, especially on this continent, where a teen -aged immigrant German boy in flight from both his nation’s Nazi past and its dreary gray East German Marxist present, escaped to Canada, the Wild American land he had dreamed about.

He ended up relating lo the new land in a most unusual almost neolithic way: in effect, by hunting and eating it. With the possible exception of his friend Dale Guthrie,who wrote a book about eating a frozen prehistoric oxx, has anyone ever done it so thoroughly? He would be remembered for his magisterial Deer of the World alone , but he published so much more, both scholarly and popular, including one on the evolutionary nature of humans I have yet to find and read.

He was not afraid to think boldly about things other than his direct subject of work. I think I first approached him on a hunting question, introduced by Tommy Mac, but soon moved to my own unique niche. I think I first wrote to him on wolves but soon switched over to the subject of the Pleistocene and human evolution, where we stayed more or less constant (Neither of us are known for our sticking to one subject or for writing only one digression!

I thank him particularly for his thoughts about the gorges and the great rivers of Asia all have their origins. He believed that 30,000 years ago all the surviving species of hominims – early Moderns, Denisovans, perhaps some Neanderthals, even some late lingering Erectus, all lived in the same habitat together. Did they consider their neighbors to be human or were they mere things, monstrous automatons out of Descartes’ nightmares who at walked at night? Such experiences could color our attitudes toward the “Other” to this day. Val also debunked the idea that the German expedition of 1939 to that area was about Nazis and flying saucers. Sorry, neither.

He did not give a damn for “boundaries”. As a young and rather solemn archaeologist we know came back from a trans-Atlantic complaining about the passenger behind her who spent most of his time describing how Neanderthals perhaps bulldogged large game animals the way cowboys bulldog calves. After all, they have extremely strong front limbs. “Not only is there no evidence — he was a ZOOLOGIST!” It did not seem a politic time to suggest she had encountered my friend Val and might have learned something if she had listened.

Whether he was taking on wolves, confounding his new found anti-wolf friends, who agreed with him about wolves in settled country, but were confounded by his cheerful suggestion to give about 85 % of Canada back to them, or human evolutionists who thought credentials more important than imagination, Val gave a living rebuke. To others he was an inspiration. He was in love with Canada, his adopted country, especially its wild north, and with his wife Renate. He, and his letters, will be missed.

Val ,Geist

Separated at birth

Townes Van Zant and John Davila look like twins. I have thought so since I saw the “Pancho and Lefty” video, where the late songwriter makes a cameo appearance as a young federale


The Gutierrez side of John’s family have been running around in this country since at LEAST 1692, when “we came up the River with Vargas and took the place BACK.” After the Pueblo revolt, of course. This is always said without a hint of irony, and if there is any arrogance it is buried too deep to show on the surface.

(It transcends all modern politics, too. I have a friend in town, a scholar whose politics lean decidedly Left, even Marxist. When I told her about John’s story she said that her people were riding right beside John’s. She was dead serious. Sure is funny having a military aristocracy living among you in this century.

Anyway, they’ve been here long enough to have some tracks in the Texas hill country. John says that Davilas were no’count Mexicans who married up into the Gutierrezes in the 1600s. Pretty long time…

Update: Tom McIntyre suggests we add Sam Waterston…


For most people he’s best known as McCoy, but for some of us he will always be “Cecil Coulson, American Indian.”

Returning to Life and its problems

(And Continuing Problems With Blog Text)

I continue to have problems with the blog and its structure. It doesn’t do all the things it is supposed to and does not put all the photos up. It may be that this is a problem with advanced speech. Be patient and report to me what you see — I will continue to try to make it work.

The docs put a new battery in my chest last week. It tuns out it was three YEARS late, or at least that far past its recommended replacement date!.

No matter, i am FULL of( (perhaps slightly artificial?) energy. I only wish there were an app to let me type again- even a skiilled secretary is not the same as knowing you have an ability in your head…

Am I Crazy? Desert Peregrines in Asia and the US

Since the eighties, the “peregrinoformes” known as Barbary falcons and their


close eastern relatives, the Red-Naped Shahins , have been separated from the typical Peregrines and collected into one biological species known as Barbary Falcons, Falco pelegrinoides.

View the autos This seems a sensible start, at least. Unlike the “Classical” Peregrine, these are true desert birds, sparsely distributed from west to east ,from Morocco to Mongolia, nesting in barren, remote mountain ranges, where they sometimes breed sympatrically with local Peregrines but dont’ interbreed with them.

They don’t get a lot of chances. For one thing, the “Shahins” exist only in low numbers everywhere; it may be heretical to evolutionary mathematics, but it almost seems that they hacve evolved a low population as an adaptation to their harsh homeland . (Shahin has become their accepted name in English . Arab falconers often use it for all Peregrine types, to distinguish them particularly from Great falcons.)

Alright, Great falcons: Belyaev proved that there is large zone of hybridization between the Gyrfalcon and the Saker falcon in the great Altai “Four Corners” of Kazakhstan, Siberia (Tuva), Mongolia, and northern China, one that may stretch as far south as the Tian Shan, (where in September I have seen a credible Altai in what looked like adult plumage— but was it resident or migrating? )Therefore, Gyrs and Sakers are only extreme morphs of the same species, so I have chosen to revive the old falconers term of ‘Great falcon” for both. The term has a noble lineage; it was used by Frederic !!.

Shahins don’t migrate. Instead, they are “obligate dispersers”; which means that as soon as they can feed themselves, they fly 500 miles in no particular direction. In the U.S. they are often tracked to Mexico and back, which makes for problematical falconry. The late Lester Boyd of Pullman, Washington (where Jackson is now based) the great expert at breeding and flying these birds and advised not flying them in the summer, just taming them, and start flying them in October when the weather gets cold. This works, but they are charming birds with enormous aerial capacity and it is hard to forego flying them. It was the same in their ancient homes, which included the ranges for most traditional falconry. “Easy to lose”, had nothing whatsoever to do with “desirable to fly”, and the two species and two sexes of the Barb contained some mighty good niches, ones considerably more stimulating than, say, Aussie dove hawks or Fijian parrot munchers with pointy heads. Conventional Englishmen might sneer and disapprove and speak of menagerie hawks, but colonials such as Mavrogordato* and explorers like the Craigheads knew better.

These species (or THIS species), as well as others I will touch on here are extremely diverse. For instance, the common Prairie falcon; what is a Prairie falcon anyway? A lesser Great Falcon, the evolutionary relict of the group once called “desert falcons”?? A drylands- prairie based mutant of a Peregrine? A heavily derived “New Worlder” from the so-called Southern group, which includes the Aplo, the Alethe of the old French partridge hawkers. (Mine was terribly phobic about hats, and refused to come down anywhere if she could see a hat, not a good habit for a western bird). Another member of the Southern group, the Orange – breasted falcon, a bird which nests primarily on temples and which might be thought to be a Peregrine but for ridiculous sexual dichotomy, the males being a bit bigger than half the size of the females . Why?

But most useful falcons, if falcons can be insulted as useful, MANY falcons have similar ancestry; most are are probably remaining relicts of the great Peregrine diasporas— there had to be more than one–of the Ice Ages, when ancestral Peregrines were driven from their homes in rocky northern maritime estuaries, to conquer the world while their hardier bigger relatives, the Great Falcons of the Mammoth Steppes, just went round and round their transcontinental prairies, with no more nest site loyalty than they show today, to become Gyrs and Sakers.

Barbaries proper, are found mostly in north Africa. if you lump them with Red Napes, and I know of no reason but size NOT to lump them, except for their different sizes, because they are almost identical otherwise. Both have have exaggerated, heavily wing- loaded shapes, and short narrow wings (see “Chicken” below for an exaggerated example) and can’t soar much- see Mavro for more details.

The most exaggerated and extreme type in the “Shahin” group is the rare (more common domestically?) Taita falcon that inhabits about three river gorges in SE Africa, perhaps another stray of the Ica Age diaspora. Though it is by far the smallest of the group you cant mistake its physical “Shahinishness” though its hunting habits are rather different; it seems to be an utterly aerial predator whose life if it lights on the ground away from protection can be measured in minutes ; unfortunately true of many confiding small raptors. Roberto Palleroni, who flew a Harpy eagle at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, found they waited on well and closely at Cape Cod and Panama. In its native Zimbabwe I have seen it against the sky in the Zambezi gorges, a perfect isolated Peregrine’s micro habitat. It doesn’t soar well, strikes hard, is predator – naive, and is only found in three or four river gorges, with its Peregrine plumage and hard stoops and its habits of eating on the wing and being eaten by anything in the country, can probably only thrive in a relatively predator – free environment like ( I am laughing but I saw more things chase my birds than ever in Zim!!) They are the smallest of he true Peregrine types.  They have the strong bill of the PF’s, which they use to kill their prey while carrying it. They are little bruisers, the widest shouldered of all these falcons, almost comically short and heavy, shaped just like beer cans, and if they stay on the ground more than ten minutes they are eaten.

Paul Domski flies a Barb I believe she is a 20 0r 21 ounce bird—on big ducks , and takes Canvasbacks regularly..I had “Cheetah” (or Chicken as we-preferred to call her, tending to think hawking has enough inherent romance; besides, she was a silly little fat thing, not at all elegant like a Cheetah), I could ever quite figure out a role for her here. We had no waterfowl, and such things as curlew only flew by briefly on migration . She was fast but not agile, so no “Accipitrine” quarry for her, like my beloved Gyr x Merlin, a tiny bird who would essay DUCKS at the Field Ranch— foully murdered by a murder of murdering ravens, a trio, no less, and, oh can ravens fly..

A Taita male and a female Merlin in a Colorado p;ark,, from Annyushka Price


So when Bodie Littlejohn , between birds, proposed that he borrow her to fly her on the golf urse pond next door to his house in Coralles , with all of the fine fine military formality he was capable of; almost . as though he were asking fo my daughter’s hand in marriage rater than @mere;y@ borrowing a bird; I said @why not? I knew that he would do m well by her, AND come up with a good story.

Over the next two weeks she took eight big mallards , more drakes than ducks, all but a couple by binding to them , wrestling them, and breaking their ecks rather than by striking them dead in the air. But we were all happy. She ended up taking down every one she hit. The little bird had acquired a newpurpose,. And nd Bodie and his new wife could sleep in.

And fhen one morning on a sitil warm unseaonable humid day with no moving air, she tired of working so hard and lit on an electric utility pole, the raptor’s bane. Her foot or more likely her antenna came in momentary contact with it and she flared up like a torch and fell blackened to the ground . Standing over her burnt body a with his cell phone, at 6:54 M, Bodie called me and calmly stated “Stephen, I just killed your falcon.”

The biggest and rarest of these bird is the great (in both size and repuation ) eastern

Red Naped called the Lashyn, as seen at Shunkar, a Shahin fully the size of a blg Saker or even a Gyr and with the absolutely distinctive color and markings of a “babylonicus” (which itself — local big here means Altai Saker, which is no longer a legend to me because I have seen it, wild and tame) are the least known in the west.,

Barb- Tata female “Chicken”. Note her narow wings

Thew males are another matter. Though they are incredible flyrers— i hacked one I named Burton (his intended mate, Bella, a Barb- anatum cross, ended up flying SAGE GROUSE in the Deseret ranches of Northertn Utah — she ended up too big and fierce for Burton. We feared she would eat him. we flew hm in summer and did not lose him – once he chased a pack of curlews out of sight into a rainy monsoon sky in the high grass desert and came back to menace the homerre, which he chased under the truck.

I The pigeon was twice as big as he was. They really are too small for American game, though they say the Tunisisns fly them at migratory quail and songbirds, CUTTING THEIR TAILS SHORT to @give them courage@ They ride on the floorboards of their owners Vespas , who sit around in cafes wth their Barbs, Sparrowhawks and fancy pigeons— it t sounds like a way,o like a way of, life as long as Islamisrs, who dont likr any of these thinga, stay qway

They realy are CUTE, a . a word I dont often use. These two, a locally sourced Male Barb and an exotic female GYR, belonged to John Burchard. He is ilugky- unsentimental Arab falconers often feed the little birds to their valuable Sakers and Gyrs!

Another; bred by Bil Meeker, a tame hack in southern NM . Look at his feet! Members gf te Shahin complex are ways ‘well – armed.@

The eastern races , which have to deal with cold as well as heat, are larger, some MUCH larger; take a look a.t this this female “Lashyn” at Shunkar, the falcon breeding center at Almaty, Kazakhstan

She looks exactly like a female Barb but notice the rather frightened -looking tiercel doing his best to be anywhere other than here? That is no falconer’s parakeet. That is a Falco peregrinus calidus , a migrant from above the Russian arctic, a Sea peregrine or Shahin bahri “as big and fierce as a Peales” or a Saker. Here is another photo: of the desert girl


One reason I think they are vey rare is that John Burchard, who knows more about eastern falconry than anyone in the west, has no search image for them. I encountered what I thought of as a clear if huge eastern Shahin in a store of his old images a couple of months ago, but he insists it is a Saker! I mean, I’ll grant the more ambiguous, browner juvenile plumage, as within a range of possibility, but what about the hard feathers, the big Peregrine “honker”, triangular body shape etc..? Great falcons have softer feathers and colors more “tubular” bodies, longer tails and legs— different!

I will grant to the Saker the greatest range of body types of all the world’s falcons, and even more if you include the Gyrs as great falcons, as I think you must. All these are races found within Kazakhstan and used in falconry, and bred or at least collected at Shunkar, but they don’t include Peregrines!

What say you all??

A BIG birdI think is a huge juvenile Lashyn— John thinks not. What do YOU think?

Some Sakers (all Kazakh races) at Shunkar, whose name means Saker, or rather ALTAI Saker. Or Gyr…genes for both are present in wild birds here.

I would consider this one to be an Altai type
Only the last pair is a type seen in western bird books!