A contrarian view on eagle conservation

I had published this on Jameson Parker’s blog in response to a question and it occurred that it would make an interesting little essay. But some have misunderstood it, so let me give you my conclusions before my reasoning:

I don’t think (Golden) eagles are in any way endangered, but I support protection for them.

I don’t think wind power companies and other utilities should get an automatic free pass  on killing eagles.

I don’t think any Indian tribes without a strong religious reason for taking eagles should be allowed to do so (I am encouraged that at least one pueblo now keeps live eagles, and attempts to breed them). I think that commercial exploitation of eagles and other birds of prey for their feathers by anyone is deplorable, and ideally should be ended. In today’s world, I doubt that it will.

The legal take of no more than six eagles for falconry was something that put less pressure on the population than any other conceivable use, and even added to the Indians and wind farms, would have a negligible effect. In all likelihood allowing ANY falconer who qualified to take an eagle would not make any difference. If officials were really worried about this, they could mandate that trained eagles be released into the wild after ten years as the Kazakhs do.

In the ideal world, conservation decisions should be based on biology. In our real world, they can’t be, not entirely anyway. Still, using a little information and pretending to a bit less hypocrisy would be welcome. And another thought: the educational value of trained eagles is not to be dismissed.

So, here it is:

I have a bit of a heretical stance about Golden eagles re wind farms. I dislike the amount of kills allowed for wind farms. But whether or
not the population is harmed needs at least two questions answered. One
is how many (Golden) eagles there are; the other is what else takes them
out of (breeding) circulation.

The first is never discussed except among biologists– it is as though
certain enviros do not want to ever say anything optimistic. The number
of Bald eagles got brought low, partly by persistent pesticides, and
now increases as it becomes ever more tolerant of human society. But the
number of known Golden nests (or rather the reasonably accepted
extrapolated number ) is AND MAY ALWAYS HAVE BEEN almost inconceivably
high, so high I am not inclined to quote it without access to the actual
data, except five figures of pairs in North America. (There are two
nesting pairs I know of within ten miles of where I write these notes).
This is never publicized, but you can track it down. The data is not
from livestock or energy apologists, either. Remember, there is an
untouched Arctic population, and ones in Labrador that seem to eat
herons in breeding season. The golden is so adaptable that there is a
Greek population that eats mostly tortoises. I doubt wind turbines will
dent those numbers or scare them away.

The Texans used to shoot hundreds every year and it seems to have
done little biological harm. Now wind farms are allowed to kill several
hundred a year, and Navajos and other Native peoples are allowed not
only unlimited hunting but utterly unlimited access to such species as Red- tailed hawks, not to train but to sell feathers. Which works out in
practice that every delinquent kid on a troubled reservation sees a
hawk on a pole and shoots it. Then probably sells it. While there are
serious religious uses of eagles by the Pueblos, there is also an
internal market, really illicit, in feathers for tribal dance outfits,
competitive and lucrative- and some sympathetic judges have decided
these commercial competitions are protected too. (Meanwhile one pueblo
has modified its ceremonies to no longer kill eagles, and has hired a
biologist to teach them how to keep them in a healthy way!)

Many activist types hate falconry as intolerable meddling with
romantic symbols, but a falconer’s eagle is not even lost from the
population– only “on loan” so to speak. The Kazakhs I rode with in Asia
let them go to breed after ten years, and eagles commonly live to over
30. Until now falconers were a allowed a take of  6 wild-caught Golden eagles a year, only from areas in Wyoming and the Dakotas with
proven sheep predation problems. Right now the government is inclined to
end this benign “use”. I wish that moralists and humane activists would
not go after the tiny portion of eagles allowed to falconers! If we
allow a small kill harvest from the tribes, an unknown yet amount for
wind farms, oil wells, roads and such, and want a healthy population… we
HAVE to set fairly rigid quotas to be safe. But known numbers could
easily allow a live take of up to six (or ten or whatever– except I
don’t think that there will ever be that many eaglers), some of which
would eventually even breed.

Meanwhile, in the warden- free lands of most reservations eagles
still exist only because of apathy– there is no protection. Ranchers
under 60 are more or less benign, and don’t shoot them (wolves are far
more threatening in both reality and reputation), but some angry young
rez kids kill every sitting bird they see, and sell the feathers no
matter what, as a demonstration that they “own” them Some tribes have
made clear falconers shouldn’t get any quota, because they are religious
symbols! A bit of Googling would show us the old regs, under which we
existed and complained for decades, while Texans shot hundreds or maybe
even thousands (see Don Scheuler’s Incident at Eagle Ranch), were uninformed– they now seem almost as unimaginable as
photos of the aerial dogfights with eagles when they were hunted from
planes. But, counterintuitively, they were probably biologically harmless
in that they didn’t– because they couldn’t– wipe out eagles. Morally
though, making dead eagles a commodity for anyone looks worse to me than
wind farms; commerce can drive extinction like stoking a fire.

        (Photo above from Life Magazine in 1953, from an eagle shooter’s view in Texas)

Why not reasonable quotas for falconers’ birds? Fewer privileges for
Indians, at least ones with no religious stake, as those don’t have the
built- in cultural reverence? And less posturing from anti- wind people
at least about eagles aka Charismatic Megafauna (the turbines may
actually be worse for bats, a group far more threatened than the Golden

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?

Watches and London Bests

If you read newspapers or magazines with “good” demographics, you might be bemused or puzzled by the totally irrational number of advertisements for wristwatches. Odder still, NONE give you any prices, perhaps because the sticker shock will be unbelievable if you are not already informed. Suffice to say simply– five figures, getting to six pretty fast…

 In the seventies, any shooter who really wanted one might buy a second- hand London Best. A two or three thousand dollar fee was a matter of saving up. I was there, enthusiastically buying up many good guns from many countries, oblivious of what was lurking in the gun racks on a level just above what we bought. Before her death in’86, Betsy Huntington was known to mutter that if we had just bought a Purdey and a Boss in ’75 we would have saved a hell of a lot of money. Which is true- but we would not have gotten an education…

London Bests are made by hand, still, the way they were in a pre- electronic and even in a barely industrial civilization; more like the way my blacksmithed snaplock Mongol muzzleloader carbine (younger than I am) was. They don’t have to be; a few manufacturers, notably Italy’s Fabbri and, allegedly at times London’s H & H,  do all but the last hand-fitting by using precise and very expensive machines. But they lose the mystique thereby, the mystique that says all work must be by hand or the gun is not “custom” – frankly, nonsense.

The suspicions of this nature’s own conservative is that this is decadent late capitalism, where value is so divorced from meaning that all is nothing but signifiers and you need a scorecard to tell the players, and a crib sheet before you buy ANYTHING.

I figured this out a while ago, using knowledge to buy Best quality shotguns with slightly obscure names. Meanwhile Libby and I watched the watch phenomenon take off, especially in the weekend Wall Street Journal. So it is only fitting that a writer there finally gave me a clue to what was happening. On  March 12,  Michael Malone wrote about why the high- tech iWatch got such a lukewarm response:

 “…these products were prodigies of technological innovation. But their makers — some of the smartest businessmen ever — soon discovered that the watch business is not first about technology, but rather about exquisite design, cultural prestige and enduring value… to suggest, as Apple has, that today’s owners will pass their watches down to their grandchildren as cherished family heirlooms is absurd. People pass down Rolexes and Patek Philippes precisely because they aren’t subject to Moore’s law; their hardware won’t be obsolete in three years because it has been obsolete for a hundred.”

The last patents applicable to London Bests were in the 1870’s– the Purdey- Beesley self opener, without my looking it up, was about 1874. I rest my case.

If you inherit one, keep it. If you don’t, there are ways to shoot a Best without breaking the bank, by studying. I never had much more than a pot to piss in, and I have!

Below: Boss– new cost over $100, 000; below, Frederic Scott ca. 1910, once mine, now Gerry’s– at least 99% as good, but approximately 3% of the cost– still sound and shootable at 100.


No one has ever explained this close evolutionary convergence to me; even Jonathan Kingdon thought they looked less alike than they do.

Nearctic Meadow “lark”: an icterid ((New Word blackbird), common here and a lovely singer; and African Longclaw, also a bird of savannahs. But HOW? I am sure we will someday figure it out, but I don’t have a clue…

The images alternate, starting with a longclaw. And no, they are NOT related- cats and dogs…

We Need More Feathered Dinos

John McLoughlin was writing about them in the late SEVENTIES. Isn’t it time yet to acknowlege, preferably before the next Jurassic Park, that dinos resemble eagles and turkeys and Roadrunners more than, oh, fence lizards?

Especially with all the good artists around…

These last would be so good if they weren’t lizard- naked!

This guy has known it for a long time…

And this one; well, these ones holding their long – ago first books in front of my house some years back, but I learned at least partly from the guy with the beard.

Guns: Keepers and Projects

In any realistic sense I have “enough” guns but I like to keep things rolling, preferably without spending any (or at least any significant) money, in order to keep my brain stimulated. Besides I like looking at them, just like my art and even the spines of my books– seeing them in the rack is like browsing the spines in a bookcase, (so I suppose shooting is more or less equal to reading…?)

 I also like to keep niches filled, which in my case means mostly working hunting niches; to be able once in a while to give a friend a gun or a screaming deal, since I have often been the beneficiary of others; Karma if you will. I practice selling what I don’t need, and am always up for bartering– whaddaya got? Having bought sensibly in the past helps, though obviously, as Burnham’s 4th Law has it, “You can’t invest in retrospect.”

And you have to drop your preconceptions and buy quickly if the right thing comes along, which is how I got my little Remington Model 17 pump 20 bore (the only gauge it was ever made in). The Model 17 was designed by no less than John Moses Browning, and is a close ancestor to today’s still extant and traditionally American- built Ithaca Model 37, which comes in all gauges but 10.

This is the first time I have ever seen one for sale since I became aware of them many years ago– they are not common. It is slick and but for slightly faded blue seems all original, and athough it weighs only 5 1/2 pounds its long 28″ barrel means it does not poke but swings like a mini trap gun. I am glad I picked it up and can’t even think of a reason to get rid of it– it cost virtually nothing. And to any who wonder about a pump gun’s value– three people have offered to take it off my hands for significant $$, and every one already has an English gun…

Another project is this English hammer “short” ten,  a classic back- action sidelock  with rebounding locks and chambers of 3″ for the old (but available even in expensive bismuth) 2 7/8″ shell. It has a set of modern proof marks for Nitro powder from between the 50’s and the 80’s ( I know the decades but I am not going to get up to look!)   So even if you couldn’t see or measure the massive thick walls of fancy Damascus figure*, you would know that it is safe. It is a big gun but not a monster, a bit over 8 1/2 pounds, and well balanced. The trigger pulls are excellent, with rebounding locks; the barrels unmarked. It has good figured walnut, but  rather masked and darkened, so is up for at least a partial refinish.

Most interesting thing is that it is the first Nitro proof gun and maybe the first gun period I have seen with NEW Damascus tubes sleeved onto an old (different pattern) twist steel bloc. The pattern on these tubes is wonderfully intricate, but the browning on the barrels (like bluing for steel guns; no relation to the inventor)) is so dark I thought it was blue until I got it outdoors. I need to get some but not all of this off to show pattern better, but I want to retain the rich color. In the photos I have tweaked the color to bring up the pattern– if they were already like that I wouldn’t do a thing. Worth it to double or right click to see better…

* If you are of the dwindling minority who think Damascus is inherently unsafe, step away from this box and read the 6 part series by Sherman Bell in Double Gun Journal between Summer 2005 and Winter 2009, called “Finding Out for Myself” (there were other experiments under the same title but those years covered the relevant issues), in which he and an engineering – minded team of friends, “Mythbusters” for the classic gun set, attempted for several years the task of making a Damascus barrel explode– this using repeated PROOF loads, too long for the chambers, on pre- wrecked or at least battered– some were loose, some held together by copper wire– American waterfowl double guns. And failed, period, stop. Not one, not one, even expanded. Now add modern English proof for Nitro in any gun so marked…

I think the consensus was that guns that did so blew up because someone had inadvertently dropped a twenty bore shell in ahead of the 12– which condition could and did blow up both Damascus and steel barrels.