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!

The New Bird…

is an (A) good big boy Aplo/ (B) little male Gyr {C) BIG… hybrid of unknown gender. We tend to call him “him” but are looking for a genderless trial name until or unless we have “him” DNA tested.

Meanwhile, he’s a sweetheart– look how calm he was putting on jesses (Yeah, I KNOW, two different kinds!)

Annyushka says her undoubted male flies at less than 450 g,which would be typical. Ours is already 22 oz fat and empty– more than 600 g, heavier than anything since the Gyr hybrids from Nevada that Les killed…

.410

Not the gun this time- the new bird,a female Kestrel. Padre Paul trapped her during a javelina hunt, sportscasting her approach to the trap on his cell- O Brave New World!–and suggested we call her that, likening her delicate beauty to that gun. Like most Kestrels she is pretty unflappable. Three ravens killed my larger, dashing Merlin x Gyr; but the Kestrels in Nestor’s tin barn across the street used to pound ravens into the ground and make them WALK, protesting, out of the neighborhood.

If someone can tell me why this blog now shows me photos not as photos but as code, puts all the captions in the wrong place. I’ve moved them around three times and have not yet gotten them in the right place.

…The Gyrlin, back in the long ago day, and with the legendary Zhel.Sigh…

This bird won’t stand on food yet but will bite it, and foot you- hard!

Falconry Goddesses

Ourc regnant falconry goddesses, Helen Maconald and Lauren McGough, do a podcast TOGETHER at the BBC.More please!
https://mobile.twitter.com/HelenJMacdonald/status/909753333317095424?p=v

Full of good sense and unexpected insights-; as Helen says., only Lauren would fly an eagle because it is so SERENE.

Lauren is currently in S Africa chasing drunken  monkeys with  a “little” male Crowned eagle. We hope to see her here soon.

Tom Cade

The oldest by a bit of the four Peregrine Fund founders, and the only man among them to be born poor (in the Depression era New Mexico Bootheel), my old  friend Dr Tom Cade is still going strong at nearly ninety, Tim Gallagher caught up to him at the Irish Falconers meet, accompanied by a pair of beautiful Brazilian Aplomado falconers:

 Way to go, Tom! I hope I can be like you when I grow up…

Chukar Hunting the Old Way

My long- time Canadian hunting correspondent, Alex Sharif, who I met through Valerius Geist, is primarily a sheep hunter and a mountaineer. But when he sent me a few photos from his cousin Afshin in Idaho,I was intrigued. Afshin is a Goshawker, and he hunts Chukar in the kind of country they have always inhabited, in Central Asia, where everything is vertical He put us in touch, and Afshin sent me this exciting portfolio,as well as a couple of short YouTubes that show his young Elhew pointer and the difficulties of hunting that terrain- watch the bird plunge into the abysss.

Zhinoo points



The proud falconer (technicaly of course, “austringer”) with Tooran- two hawk’s profiles!

Libby’s Accident (and the Urban Accipiter Phenomenon)

By now at least half the town knows that Lib fell off a ladder tending to the pigeons in the “trap” on top of the pigeon loft. I use “trap” in quotes, because normally it is a pigeon racer’s term for sort of double entrance chamber used in racing pigeon competitions to control access. But in this case we have been trying to catch and remove two first year’s “Urban Coopers” who have set up on my loft and, so far this late summer and fall, have killed over twenty pigeons from the flight loft.

A writer to the Magdalena E- Board says the following: “If that’s not a joke about the hawk and the pigeon, let me give you the ornithological point of view. Let nature take its course. Hawks are predators and need to kill smaller birds to feed themselves and their offspring. A certain group of hawks called Accipiters prey almost exclusively on other birds. Let them do it. It’s nature’s way.”

I don’t know quite where to start. As anyone knows,I am more than familiar with Accips, having flown two subspecies of Goshawks in four states and having seen` them flown in five countries.

But “Nature’s Way”? The Urban Accipiter is a brand new, human- influenced phenomenon. In Asia and eastern Europe, as documented ably by England’s Conor Jameson in his book Looking for the Goshawk; Gosses, a near- wilderness species in western North America (you can find pairs in The San Mateos near Grassy Lookout, and in the Magdalenas up the canyon from the Water Canyon Peregrine nest in wet years), are now common inhabitants of urban parks, even in Moscow and East Germany. The great Russian wildlife artist Vadim Gorbatov,who has painted quail on Lee Henderson’s ranch, done Water Canyon as a backdrop for a children’s book on Peregrine reintroduction,

and who drank that”good Mexicanski vodka” (tequila) at the Spur, lives in a Moscow high- rise, and painted his resident Gos catching a hooded crow in front of his apartment for my book,At the Edge of the Wild

We don’t know why Goshawks are invading the cities, but we do know something about Coopers. The phenomenon was first noticed in the early 90’s in Tucson, when a University of Arizona study of the Coopers hawk there revealed the then-astounding number of 160 pairs within metropolitan Tucson’s boundaries. The population then was unhealthy, though large. The hawks were living entirely on urban feral pigeon and the unnaturally large population of white- winged, Aztec,and ground doves which the city, with its water and plantings, attracted. These birds had endemic Trichomonas gallinae, a disease which did not harm the pigeons much but killed the predators. Only the resistant hawks survived, and once the population became resistant, it nearly tripled, to a density unknown in any wild situation. The species received a second winnowing from West Nile disease, which killed as many as 7/8 of the raptors (not just Coops)that got it. The resulting urban populations have doubtless been genetically changed to one with the disease resistant genes. They have also changed their habits– I’d bet that they don’t interbreed with their mountain cousins much. This kind of “voluntary” isolating mechanism is just how Menno Schilthuizen suggested that sympatric speciation, far rarer than allopatric, could take place (in Frogs, Flies, and Dandelions— he even convinced scary old Ernst Mayr, in his nineties at the time!)

This is all for bio- wonks. Practical point is, there are probably a THOUSAND pairs in the Rio Grande Bosque, nesting in people’s backyards and making pests of themselves dive- bombing runners (both my female doctors have been attacked by them in Albuquerque– luckily even a big western female doesn’t weigh more than a male homing pigeon, though their long tails can make them look as big as Goshawks. They are utterly without fear. Even the wilderness ones are bold; I once watched a female in Copper canyon roll a skulking raven twice her size that had been searching for nests three times, like a leopard attacking a bear. These ones are ridiculous; Lib poked the male with a stick and he just SAT there, and as she was doing this, the female cut in and carried off a pigeon! If they were the size of Crowned eagles, we’d all be carrying ten- bore shotguns or howdah pistols. They have also moved uphill (not down I think) to live in Magdalena. Until five years ago or so Coopers lived only in the the mountains, nesting in deciduous trees in the canyon bottoms, and rarely attacked my pigeons (I have been here 36 years). In the last couple of years they have become a problem. This particular young unmated “pair”, birds born this spring, learned to hunt on (mostly my) domestic pigeons and the infernal exotic Eurasian Collared doves, which in the last decade have replaced the “natural” southern invasive White wings (up from Texas and Arizona naturally, not coming from the east in an invasive wave). The pair have killed so many of my flying pigeon flock is threatened. As a falconer, I can legally trap raptors, and I see no difficulty in catching them and releasing them in Socorro, where they can eat feral pigeons to their content and not both my highly bred, expensive fliers.

So LIbby was up on a ladder putting water in to the birds in the trap, when the ladder broke and she fell between the halves. (I had been up there the day before and had warned her it was shaky). Luckily our friend Kim, who has been helping us with animals the past couple of weeks, was there, because I was inside working. At the Emergency Room, they found that she had lost two teeth, broken a rib, and needed several stitches on her face. She remains in a good mood with the help of Nurse Ataika, but it turns out we we were lucky to have missed getting our pup last week as it would have been a pretty hairy situation…

“… nature is portrayed poorly whenever harmony is implied.” _ Aussie ornithologist Tim Low.

UPDATE on hawks courtesy of Paul Domski: “Brian [Milsap, USFWS biologist] said that if you are standing at a Coop nest, there are 4 others within a 1/2 mile, or something close to that. “