End of the Beginning

With thanks to Steve for posting some pictures of our season opener on rails, here are a few more shots from today’s closing day of the early season in Louisiana.

To celebrate the “end of a great beginning” to the 2015-2016 hawking season, I Googled a recipe and found our friends Hank Shaw and Holly Heyser’s roast snipe, which worked wonderfully on these two soras.
The kids, always skeptical at first, deemed it “just like steak” and asked how many we had left in the freezer.
Here’s the recipe to try:
http://honest-food.net/2011/12/14/roast-snipe-and-slow-days/

Eagle Snatches Child in the Park: Thoughts?

UPDATE: Huffington post reveals evidence of faked footage.

For those keeping score at home, I’m now two for two at perpetuating bogus memes on this blog.  My next post, should there be one, will contain only factual content (Boring, yes, but safer.) 
–Matt Mullenix

A Facebook friend forwarded the above video footage.  Perhaps you’ve see it, but it was new to me.

The bird is identified as a Golden eagle and the location as Canada.  The video was posted, at least in this instance, yesterday by a YouTube subscriber named MrNuclearCat.  No idea who, when or where, this scene actually represents, but I’d love to know more about it.

Quick observations: It strikes me as a natural sequence, although obviously remarkable and curiously well timed camera work.  If it’s a wild eagle, it is one that has evidently hunted parks before, perhaps for stray pets; the flyover and quick turn into a dive, and the general disregard for bystanders makes it seem like habituated behavior.

Is it a Golden?  It would have to be that or a Bald in Canada, although I guess a Stellars is possible.  And of course, if this is artificial, it could be anything from anywhere.  I have to say that the color patches and wing shape seem odd to me, but a Golden would be my best guess too.

Of course, my powers of observation have failed me before.  🙂

Thoughts, anyone?  BTW: the child seems to have been unhurt.

Wrong, Dead Wrong

Steve and Friends,

SECOND UPDATE: Alternative gripes substituted 

UPDATE: MATT ERRS IN FIREARM ID.  Lawd.  How funny is that title now? The following gripe is totally without basis (see gun link).  But I leave it intact, like a coyote pelt on a fence, as a warning to others who dare to tread where they have no business.  

A bit tangential, but I just saw the new Bond flick, “Skyfall,”
and enjoyed it. This latest installment is a return for the franchise to some of
its traditional themes and trappings, and at least a half-turn away from the
“James Bond as Jason Bourne” meme, where 007 was reduced to a martial
arts expert and hired assassin. The villain of Skyfall, a severely disgruntled former agent
played by Javier Bardeme, was the best, maybe, ever.

But I have a gripe, and I wonder if anyone else caught it?

ALTERNATIVE GRIPES:

  • Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 actually a Subaru Outback with after-market modifications
  • Ancestral Bond family home on Scottish moor actually a flat in East London
  • Latest “Bond girl,”  model/actor Bérénice Marlohe actually actor/comedian Zach Galifianakis

At the climactic
scene near the end, where an outmatched Bond and friends face a squadron of
para-military killers, 007 is told by the family’s Scottish gamekeeper, “The only gun we
have left is your father’s old hunting rifle.”

Bond nods gravely at this news and picks up the offered side-by-side, breech loading
shotgun, noting his father’s initials on the stock. He then proceeds to test
the accuracy of this “rifle” by shooting a can off a post from about
70 yards away.

I’m no gun guy and can’t tell you if a shotgun could do that, but even I can
tell you that the firearm Bond shoots couldn’t possibly be his “father’s old hunting rifle,”
and that no retired gamekeeper would claim it was, and no MI6 operative with a
license to kill would accept that it was. It took me 10 minutes of non-stop
gunplay after that line to get my head back in the story.

Hollywood…! All the millions of dollars spent on that movie, the dozens of writers and
advisors and presumably weapons experts, untold numbers of viewings prior to
release, and no one caught that line? Just one edit: “All we have left is your
Dad’s favorite bird gun,” and the movie would be perfect.

Well, except for the ending. But I won’t spoil it.

Pilgrimage

I’ll be travelling next week and part of the following one to Kingman, Arizona, to meet this guy, Harry McElroy, who has been a hero of mine for
almost 30 years. 

Harry has taught and inspired at least two generations of
falconers through his articles and books (4 titles and counting) and his willingness to
engage in detailed correspondence with anyone who cares to reach him. 

I spoke with Harry first in the early nineties by telephone, before I had email or anyone had a Facebook page or chat room to occupy.  Having to speak up above his scant hearing, I nervously described the troubles I was having with an imprinted Cooper’s hawk.  Harry listened, and I think chuckled in parts (or maybe just cleared his throat), and then gently suggested several things I might do to improve my husbandry and hunting success with the hawk. 

Through following years, as electronic communications became easier and finally ubiquitous, Harry helped with several other of my bird projects from the comfort of his den. He shared stories of his daily hunting—on horseback with Aplomado falcons, or with goshawks from the back of a mule—and many photos of the striking desert country he lives in and loves much.

When I wrote my own books, Harry read them and helped make them better.  He recommended them, too, which goes a long way in our tiny market.  A couple years ago he started sharing pieces of his latest book and shocked me with a request that I write the foreword.  To accept was an act of stupendous hubris on my part, but I did so and counted one of greatest coups of my career: My name and words in a book by Harry McElroy.

The other was Steve Bodio’s name and words in a book of mine. 

I’ll be posting pictures and stories from the trip, here and on my Facebook page.  I’ll be promoting my books (tactfully I hope); so buy one or several and help me turn this pricey junket into a business trip.

Before I get on the road, let me please nod with respect to our many adventurers who read and write at the Querencia blog.  It is not a grand journey to reach Kingman, Arizona, on the world’s best roads and with a credit card and hot coffee along for company.  But it is in the spirit of adventure and of pilgrimage that I will travel, and in that spirit hope to make a trip to remember.   

Just found this while looking for pictures of Harry to post.  It’s a short passage from Wendell Berry with a very McElroy vibe (reposted from an earlier blog):

“Above the hacienda, the drizzle turned
to snow, whitening the ground. We passed a herd of twenty-five horses being
driven up to pasture by two horsemen in ponchos, looking cold with the snow
melting on their hats and shoulders. They were riding very smooth-gaited horses. Everywhere I
saw them, the Andean horses were small, but extremely tough, capable of carying a grown man at a
gallop over the mountainsides.”

(Image from American Falconry Magazine online)

Enjoying a Fine Recession

As Election Day approaches, one could be forgiven for thinking our country has never seen a harder time than now, nor faced a bigger threat than the wrong man being elected on Tuesday.

This is a triumph of salesmanship.  It is the power of vast stacks of cash that political speech can build a different world on top of the one we know and make us believe in it.

But to the point that we may not, in fact, be the richest people in the richest country in the history of humankind, I say thank God for that. It is a blessing, not a curse, that we have failed so far to completely equate value with money or finally replace our native wealth with container ships of stacked boxes.

I’ll grant you that our native wealth may be easier to see in some parts of the country than others.  It may take a different set of tools and understandings to realize its worth.  But it is there, waiting for us to find it; waiting to be made into something good like spun hay into gold.

Tuesday morning I’ll be standing in line at the polling station with my aggrieved and downtrodden neighbors.  I’ll probably drive there, even though it’s less than a mile away.  I may bring coffee from home, but there’s a three-dollar cup at Starbucks if I don’t want to bother.  I’ll read a Kindle book on my iPhone as I wait.  And when I vote, I guess I’ll vote my conscience.   

But Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be hunting rabbits in a nearby field.  Chances are good that by day’s end I will have slept, voted, worked, hunted and eaten three hot meals within a five mile circumference.  I will have enjoyed all the wealth of our Great Recession and some of the wealth that has not yet receded into history.

 
Part of the neighborhood deer herd, a healthy population that lives well on our landscaping.  My friend Tyler took a doe from this group last week by bow, shooting from a blind he set up near the swing set. He keeps several families in meat.  I put part of this one in a John Folse recipe for venison and vegetable soup.    

My friend Jeff from Chackbay wouldn’t starve if the power went out for a year.  Chances are he’d be shipping meals up to us from the bayou, none of them short of delicious. Here’s one of the daily rabbits his good redtail, “Alex,” puts in the bag and where they often go from there. 

   

 
Bon appetit, my fellow Americans!

 

Rail Season

The orbit of my falconry is a long ellipse, mostly hidden from sight or thought from March to August, except for the minor husbandry of a molting hawk.

I feed Ernie in the afternoon and bring him inside at night to escape the mosquitoes and the raccoons. He bathes and preens and naps all day, unhurried and apparently as unconcerned about the approach of hunting season as I am.

Some Sunday mornings I drink coffee and read on the back porch where I can watch him work his feathers out, or raise one foot and then the other, or pull a wing down in a long, slow stretch.  Rouse. Yawn.  Wag his tail.  Preen again.

Otherwise, my days are hard to distinguish from those of my neighbors: Up early to the office, home late for supper, then sleep and dreaming not of hunting.

But the season comes, and I wake up with it.  Ernie responds.  The dog knows.  My family eats without me four days a week starting in September with the opening of rail season and through the end of February when rabbit closes.  In between, there is a lively, daily negotiation for free hours and trading trips to kids’ events and avoiding suddenly inconvenient work concerns.

If you are a hunter in your forties with a family of pre-teens and a hard-working spouse, you know the drill.  It’s all good.  It’s better than it would have been. You know that.

“A small, chicken-like marsh bird. Laterally compressed.” -The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Our rails are like quail with all the air sucked out of them.  They seem to me like tiny herons who always wanted to be game birds but never made the cut.  Still, they keep up appearances as best they can.  If you squint, you can see the snipe in them.

Local humor has it that rails arrive on the backs of migrating geese, and it’s true they are unlikely trans-continental travellers.  In the Fall you sometimes find their carcasses on cattle fences, stopped mid-flight at waist level by a strand of barbed wire.  One of my friends calls them “butt-draggers” for their typical posture in flight.  Also true.

But I love them.  I love to hunt them, catch them, eat them.  I love the fact that such a strange little bird has a place in the published tables of our migratory bird seasons.  Considering the rarity of finding another rail hunter, I am amazed by that.

The Louisiana bag limit is huge, 30 in the aggregate for the two larger species, Kings and Clappers, and 25 total for Soras and Virginias.  I guess that means I could haul 55 birds from the field each day, or something like 20 pounds of rail.

I wouldn’t do that, even if I could.  I don’t think anyone has done that since maybe the turn of the (last) century, when rails and marshlands were both much easier to come by.  But then I hunt with a bird of prey, and the daily bag for falconers is three, a trade-off for our extended season. If I could vote on it, I’d nudge that to something closer to 10, which would be a good day with two hawks and truly banner hunt with one.

The early weeks of our rail season are inhospitable to hunters and to human beings generally.  The air is wet and thick, still 90 degrees at 6 PM, and the mosquitoes…  The mosquitoes.  Alas.

Misery loves company, so I bring the dog, who ignores misery as far as I can tell.  She loves to race around in the tall Johnson grass, sky-hopping after the hawk and pouncing into likely cover.  I offer water regularly, mindful of the heat, but she refuses until we’re back at the truck.  No time for water, Dad.  Hunt!

The hawk thinks likewise, though they both pant.  All of us pant.  All of us swat mosquitoes and hunch our heads into our shoulders when we have to stop moving.  As much as possible, we keep moving.  We hike through the heat and high grass, trying to stay a step ahead of the swarm.  Did I mention the misery?  I’m allergic to something in the rank weeds and every night until the end of October come home in red welts across my neck and arms.  My pants and shirt are drenched in sweat.  The dog is sticky and flecked with seeds and mud.  The hawk is annoyed to be back at the truck, even with half a crop of food in him.

Happy. We come home happy.

Ernie, male Harris’s hawk, and Rina, whippet

The field, with humidity and sweat making it hard to see clearly.
Ernie with rail after Rina’s nosing it up
Virginia rail after trade for half a cotton rat

Sora, looking a bit like a snipe.  Squint, you can see that. 

Virigina rail, looking like the little Mesozoic critter that it is
Rail season chic

  

Last Child in the Woods?

There are advantages to life in the suburbs, at least in a state known as the Sportsman’s Paradise.  
I gather most suburban kids have more in common with urban kids than rural ones when it comes to hands-on wildlife experience.  Luckily for our children, the wildlife is close at hand and the neighbors are aware of it.
On a recent Thursday evening, after returning from a rabbit hunt near home, I got a call from my neighbor Tyler (mentioned elsewhere here) who was driving by with kids to drag a bow-shot deer from the woods in the back of our subdivision.  Would I help him?
Of course.  I still had my boots and chaps on.
After retrieving the small buck from its final resting place, maybe 75 paces behind another neighbor’s house, I gathered my own kids and brought them by to see how sausage is made.
All these kids eat deer and rabbit as a matter of course (often the main course!) and are not ignorant about where their meat comes from.  Ditto their eggs, which come from another neighbor’s hens…     

…See Logan’s hand on the antler?  I just noticed that!

All Hallows Eve

The layout of our little community of Riverbend lends itself to an occasional block party.  The streets and single-family homes are aligned in two lobes, like lungs to the left and right of a main bronchial boulevard that runs north and south along the spine of the subdivision.  This arrangement limits traffic to a shallow, respiratory inflow and outflow, with no cars passing through at high speed.  Halloween, consequently, is a pretty big deal in my neighborhood.

Families gather at friends’ houses for an early supper. Kids mingle in costume and run circles in the yards.  Cars roll to a crawl as daylight dims and glowsticks and reflective tape bounce into the streets on the backs of children and happy dogs.     
In all, hundreds of people stroll up and down our neighborhood on this night.  Folks from less congenial parts of town park cars along the boulevard and join the locals in this annual celebration of bad manners and tummy aches.  
I sit on the front porch, every year dressed as the same guy who works late and hands out candy in his slacks and button-down shirt.  My spouse and children pair with other parents to walk and sip wine while the kids sprint ahead from house to house and yell at the near-strangers who are our neighbors.
When the evening ends, all gather in the lamplight and candle glow to spread out candy on the concrete and trade pieces.  We look with displeasure at lingering teenagers, groups of un-costumed kids too old for this but not old enough for another role.  We know them.  They used to come by with their parents.
Around 7:30, one of my daughters hitched a ride home in the bed of a friend’s truck.  I saw the familiar silver Ram move slowly with its precious cargo of six or eight children and pull up in my yard to drop her off.  
My daughter and I handed candy to kids for half an hour, but when the customers thinned, she leaned into my lap and lay back against my chest. I rocked the chair and waited to hear what brought her home so early. 
Her sister, we knew, was still out there with friends, still filling a big paper Whole Foods bag with candies from Wal-mart.  I thought she must regret her decision to leave, but I think her feeling was more complex. Without turning her head or looking away from the dwindling crowd of passers-by, she asked me, “How many more years of this do I have?”
      
            
   

More Local Hawking

A few photos from a recent visit by my friend Chuck from Houston.  Chuck has hosted me in the past and shared his fields, and I was glad to be able to return the favor last weekend. Chuck flies a very good Red-tailed hawk that is just starting its seventh season, and a Red-shouldered hawk also, now in its second season.

The Red-shouldered hawk, a smallish wetland Buteo (650g), is not often flown for falconry, but is extremely common in the Southeastern US and is a generalist predator of small mammals, reptiles and birds.  The Red-shouldered is also a close relative of the neotropical Gray Hawk and Roadside hawk, two species regularly and successfully flown by Latin American falconers.

Ms. Elbert, as Chuck’s Red-shouldered is called, flew very well off the carry pole, catching a house sparrow and a cotton rat in quick flights.  

l
She is also a very handsome little hawk, shown here with comparison to my Harris’s hawk Ernie (who caught similar game—here shown on “tip-toes” trying to catch a glimpse of the strange hawks come to visit) and Chuck’s Red-tail Cisco.