Darren’s Opinion of Feathered Dinos…

Darren’s opinion on feathered dinos is at LEAST as strong as mine, and better informed– but I didn’t do a T- Shirt. I don’t usually wear one, but I have ordered his, in a kind of dayglo golden orange at that…

Darren’s blog(s)– his has had several versions and sponsors– have been what I thought of as my siblings, though his have always seemed more specifically “naturalist” in subject than mine. We have both been writing blogs for about ten years– he has theoretically fewer posts, though I would say far more substantial ones– I do a lot of light stuff, not to mention Magdalena and NM rural views. But we started linking, and talking about those great predators, Golden eagles, in his first post. This led to his appearance in my Eternity of Eagles ,  and mine in his first Tet Zoo collection.

I think the common subjects extend far further than a non- scientist, or perhaps a non- artist, might assume– ask my friend Carlos Martinez del Rio, who runs the Berry Center for Biodiversity at the University of Wyoming in Laramie (unfortunately,  often confused in the popular mind with the godawful Southwest Biodiversity Center down here, which mostly sues ranchers and puts them out of business (it is an open secret in the Southwest that one of the biggest real estate developers  down here is a big supporter, picking up the deeded private portions of the ranches when the Center gets them thrown off their public land leases). There is an unwritten book about one of the best arguments for public land ranching, AKA “welfare ranching” in certain circles. The deeded land is riparian and private; the leases are the dry uplands. Once the ranchers lose the leases, they must sell the home place, which usually has the springs and such, to developers, which as far as I can see DECREASES biodiversity. That it was founded by a failed graduate student in literature at Stony Brook, with a penchant for literary “theory”, rather than a naturalist or conservation biologist, is adequately documented in this story in the New Yorker, where you get the distinct impression that the writer went in as a fan and changed his mind.

Whereas the Center at Laramie, founded by a wealthy heir to a Main Line Philadelphia fortune who was also one of the four founders of the Peregrine Fund, exists only to study, promote, and celebrate the earth’s creatures in all their splendid diversity.

More soon– lots more to unpack here. But read Darren!

Early update: I would say these nice little figures of a Velociraptor mongoliensis and an Oviraptorid are nice, but not “birdy” enough– they are still “feathered lizards”.

This might be more like it:

Watch for my swan song in the next Living Bird, my last scheduled assignment, called “They had FEATHERS!”

Paradigm SHIFTED

… decisively: not the “Cover of the Rolling Stone” as I have been calling it but, of course, that of Scientific American. I thought at first they were a bit late to the party, as it was the late John Ostrom who started the ball rolling with his discovery of Deinonychus, which he reported in SA in an article which suggested warm bloodedness but did not QUITE say feathers. That must have been (a lot?) more than thirty years ago. Robert Bakker soon called T rex the “20,000 pound Roadrunner from Hell”, but as far as I can see it was my old friend John McLoughlin who first dressed raptors in feathers in the popular press– 1979? I’m sure he’ll tell me.

Now proud Tyrannosaurs have them, in mainstream publications. On second thought, SA deserves great credit. It may be slow compared to the avant garde, but it is the FIRST popular magazine to portray a feathered tyrant, as well as the first to broach the ideas that led to it.

Two more thoughts. I counted only four sentences in- text that said “feather”– after paradigms shift, they seem “normal”.

Second, what do readers think about those poor naked chickens coming in the new Jurassic Park thing? And what about the less sophisticated public?

“Washington and Moscow”

In 1983,  artist and evolutionary biologist John Mcloughlin was so sure of feathered Dinos that, in his novel The Helix and the Sword,  he gave the role of  the pets and executioners of his  post -Apocalyptic  Asteroid Belt civilization’s cruel “Regent” to a pair of eagle- like, genetically re- created Deinonychids, with feathers like Golden eagles, and named them after the legendary destroyers of planetary civilization: Washington and Moscow.

It has taken more than thirty years for an artist to produce a version of this wonderful… I almost put “beast”, but that is a mammal word– creature; bird; whatever,  worthy of his vivid  and prescient re- creation. Here it is, with a quote from the hermit of Talpa.

“Man- high, smooth- coated in short blackly irridescent feathers, red of eye and each wearing a diamond- studded Regency orange collar, Washington and Moscow were delivered to Lothar IV by the Sisterhood. Thenceforth, they accompanied  Lothar IV everywhere he went, standing outside his chambers when he slept, beside him when he ate. They were his trademarks, and his joys, and the agents of his Regental wrath as well…”

Links, Big Birds, and all the news that fits…

When you have been dealing with meds and other unavoidable and  annoying facts of aging, everything piles up. You don’t think Lucas Machias or Lane B stops mailing or that Annie D doesn’t send me a mix of the surreal and the biological, or JP stops writing his serious essays, do you? The world goes “whirling still”*, and all the news is not Ebola or Isis (though they are as close to where I spent time in Kurdish Turkey as I am to Socorro– thirty miles!)

News per se is boring. Once the too- difficult new meds were done away with, and my schedule tweaked, I still have mornings and late afternoons when I can do physical stuff, and if I get to the bar in the evening I can sit there until they throw me out. The next of my reprints, On the Edge of the Wild, with a new intro by Paula Young Lee and a cover by Vadim Gorbatov, is out soon– see more a few posts past. After that is Eagle Dreams with a splendid black and white profile of the late Aralbai by Cat. And more to come.

Fall continues absent. My essentially northern soul (my Italian ancestors were in the Alps warring with Otzi after the Ice Age; most of the rest were mad melancholic Celts, mercenaries  fighting others of the same lineage in Scotland and later Ireland) is irritated by this golden weather everyone else loves. We should have had a hard frost  four weeks past; instead we have hot days and FLIES. Enough! Quail will start soon but I can never quite get in the mood for bird hunting unless there is a touch of frost, and your breath is visible when you open the back door just as the sun makes a bright edge over the mountains to the southeast…

I was having trouble with Rio; no, I was having trouble with my legs. Tavo Cruz came to my rescue without my having to ask, and will get him going, with me pitching in as I am able. Tavo is a biologist, a dog – in- law, and has a Gyr Merlin, so we can all relax. It is a much better solution than either giving him up or leaving him bored; so far Rio is free of vices, but boredom makes Gyrs as crazy as it does humans…

Work- we don’t talk details, but I have had a sudden inspiration on how to proceed in my latest project– perhaps why my subconscious now suggests I get back to work here too.

Turkish and Tunisian falconry are virtually identical, and I am told by Vadim that Georgia’s is too. All use Eurasian Sparrow hawks caught on first passage using a mole cricket and a shrike; all employ a method that looks insane to us, throwing hawks like baseballs; though they know the hood, the birds are so well- manned that it hardly seems necessary to use the hood except in emergencies. The birds are flown as the migrant Coturnix quail move through, and can take astonishing bags. Once the quail have passed through, the hawkers release their birds.

There was a four -part YouTube on Turkish traditional hawking available for a while that had the look of being made for the state’s educational TV company. These next two works are not as exhaustive, but are still fun. The first is this Vimeo of the Festival de L’epervier in Tunisia. No real hunting is done, but you can see real bird handling (the competition consists of tossing a quail off the side of a steep hill, then bowling a Spar after it). Some of the  Spars appear to be trailing 3 or four feet of string,  which doesn’t slow them down much. The remarkable thing about this film is that falconry is obviously just a part of life, not some  strange exotic revival. Teenaged kids, young toughs and older working men hold forth on the virtues of their birds (one does see that the universal redneck signifier is redneck camo EVERYTHING– have seen it as far from Magdalena, or Tunisia, as Bayan Olgii, and in Nick Fox’s films of Southwest China). It makes a strange contrast to the old men in linen suits and finely woven broad brimmed straw hats…

Oh and– don’t take the written notes too seriously– most of the birds are NOT “Barbary Peregrines” whatever that means– most, and all but one flown (that by a dolt who treats a still- living quail as an inert object), are Accipiters, Spars, Accipiter nisus, and the exceptions look like Mediterranean Peregrines rather than the similar but distinct Barbary. One little guy is so calm and well- manned that he sits unhooded on the floorboard of a motor scooter, unhooded and unruffled, as his owner starts up and rides away.

The other link is to the White Review and is titled “The Forgotten Sea: the Falconers of the Eastern Pontos”. Its tone is between that of a travel piece and a scholarly article; though the writer was not a falconer he kept his eyes open; this may be the most comprehensive of the accounts of this falconry I have read by anyone. The author seems to think Turkish falconry is dying, albeit  slowly. He certainly documents signs of its decadence: birds being kept after the season as pets because of their color; obsession with color rather than hunting ability; not flying special birds for fear of losing them… I approve of getting birds pet- TAME, but Spars that are not flown are not really hawks. Rio would make a better “pet” than any Accipiter nisus, but he is now learning to be a bird, as Libby puts it, with the attendant dangers and possibilities.

Jackson and Niki ALMOST made it up to the Black Sea coast last trip; let us hope that they can see it before this sort of magical survival disappears. As a Turkish speaker familiar with falconry since his childhood, he may bring back nuances yet unknown here.

Very different bird. You may have seen this little video of a Redtail taking down a drone, filmed BY the drone on the banks of the Charles (River, between Boston and Cambridge Massachusetts), but it is irresistible. I flew my old Redtail Cinammon less than a mile from there forty years ago, but never caught anything that exciting.

Cambridge hawker, ’72?

My other links are not for the most part about birds, and I will put them in the next or another post. But first; remember how Robert Bakker, back in the nineteen eighties, called T rex “The Roadrunner from Hell”? And how Peter Larson, whose conviction and (I would say) unjust jailing for fossil offenses I don’t quite understand even after reading about them, called it “The biggest bird of all”? I think that an actual paradigm shift is upon us, even as the nerds debate the producers over whether the “Velociraptors” in the next Jurassic Park episode should finally be allowed their feathers or stand shivering like plucked chickens. Bigger and bigger Tyrannosaurs are being discovered with feathers, especially Eutyrannus, and some dino kids are saying “why is the Tyrant King naked?”

Eutyrannus AND “Velociraptors”** in the snow

 Sensible, mostly young scientists, pointing to the acceptance of likely feathers on young rexes, ask when any adult in any birdlike line had no feathers when the young did. And now our most innovative paleoartist, John Conway, gives us a calm, feathered, close- mouthed Tyrannosaurus that is about the scariest thing I ever saw. He doesn’t want to roar  at you***– he just wants a snack!

* Who am I quoting? (A poet from his first book- whole stanza will appear).

** They are not Velociraptors, which were only coyote size– more like, oh, Utahraptors–  but the name is better. You know those aspirin ads where some weary oldster has to tell a young person that Aspirin is not just for heart attacks? Kids either think I am being inventive, metaphorically, or that I am wrong (and correct me) when I refer to birds of prey as “raptors”.

*** John McLoughlin used to roar himself: “WHY do they always show predators with their MOUTHS open, ROARING? They would all STARVE!”