Heinz Meng, 1925 – 2015: RIP

Heinz Meng in the 70s.

Dr Heinz Meng of New Paltz NewYork, a long -time professor of Zoology at the State University there and the man who first bred falcons in captivity in the US (Not in the WORLD as many news reports chauvinistically state; Renz Waller bred several in Germany before the war, and Ronald Stevens and young John Morris actually bred a  Saker- Peregrine hybrid clutch in Ireland in the sixties. But Waller and especially Stevens were gods of falconry, and Stevens had an entire huge estate in Ireland where he often let his  falcons range free, and pioneered training methods and attitudes in his modest little Observations on Modern Falconry that were to change the ways of everybody from Harry McElroy to me.

While Heinz was a modest professesor in a state college who bred Peale’s Pergirines in his backyard, making it look so easy that in a very  short time, his friends Tom Cade and Jim Weaver, driven by the DDT crisis and the disappearance of the anatum- race Peregrine from its eastern eyries, cranked up what became the a kind of falconry Manhattan Project in their quonset huts at Cornell. This in turn would lead to the Peregrine Fund being founded by the late Frank Bond, future Republican gubernatorial candidate of New Mexico : Jim Weaver, born in Illinois and now a rancher in eastern New Mexico; Bob Berry, then of Philadelphia’s Main Line and now of Wyoming, where he endowed the Berry Center for Biodiversity at U Wy Laramie, run by my friend Carlos Martinez del Rio, and Tom Cade, born dirt poor in there Depression in New Mexico’s Bootheel, professor at Cornell and the only poor man among them. For the next (approximately- I would have to look it up) twenty years, hack teams would receive their precious hatch of “Cornell chickens” (a derisory term coined by, I believe, the birding writer Pete Dunne– write to me, Pete!- and adapted with pride by those of us who worked the hack, including me) and nurse them to maturity, enduring everything from lightning storms to yellowjacket stings to rattlers to tourists to, even, slightly misinformed federal undercover  agents. My partner,  John Tobin, Vietnam vet, grad student, falconer, recently retired Massachusetts Game warden, and I survived all of the above, plus drunken races down the Mount Tom Alpine Slide, in which you would sometimes find trapped copperheads, which could flip into your lap…

All to be told, soon, and in the blog, but not here.What Heinz Meng did was deceptively simple: by his own knowledge and patience, he bred a threatened glamor species, a “charismatic” if not mega- faunal species that had captured the imagination of humans in many cultures for hundreds if not thousands of years. He was a scientist and so recorded his information in reproducible ways.The result was not just one revolution but several (think of the importance, and money, devoted to falcons in Arab cultures, for a hint; think of the blow to the egos of at least some traditional Arabs when they found the larger, braver “male” migrant falcons they were so proud of, that they had never seen nesting on their remote Central and Arctic Asian homes, were FEMALE!)

 Meng’s simple brilliant act of husbandry was to give the east back a relatively common Peregrine, if not precisely the one it started with; start entire industries, up to and including  Robo- Falcons; extended to virtually every falconer’s bird, including a new one, the Harris’s hawk, possibly the most popular hawk in the world today*, and a rediscovered one, the “Alethe”, better known as the Aplomado; make modern falconry possible (most European countries, unlike the States, do not allow any wild “take” at all);  employ semi- unemployable types such as me and Helen Macdonald, at least on occasion, and give us stories to tell; and generate a truly amazing amount of myth and counter myth. And it all started in Heinz Meng’s garage.

I only met Heinz once. Although most reports of his first successful breeding give the dates as 1971 or 1972, I am for various external reasons sure that the date was 1970, when my friend Mark, a long time falconer who met me that year, and Mike Conca, my oldest friend, who still lives in the hills of western Massachusetts, went to a very off-the-radar “meet” in central New York. Heinz was there with a young and very vocal Peale’s falcon (the choice of that difficult sub-species makes his breeding more remarkable). Others present included that old bandit Victor Hardaswick, then a young bandit; then and forever he resembled a rather sinister version of Seinfeld’s George. He was to become a celebrated breeder of falcons himself, and then the only breeder of Siberian goshawks in the U.S., but then he was a bandido from Bridgeport, as well as a second generation fighting cock fancier, the son of a great pouter pigeon breeder. His friend Fran Lynch, another bandit, was there, and a biologist who would later have an extremely savage Golden eagle, which nearly caught me, confiscated and sent to Martha’s Vineyard, where it would live out its life in the household of Vineyard falconer Gus Ben-David, who is best known for flying Great horned owls (THAT falconer was alleged to have consorted with “escorts” at falconers’ conventions, one of whom supposedly answered the phone in a motel with the news that “Bill can’t come to the phone right now — he’s tied up.”) In addition to the legal birds there, there were the first two “blonde” beach peregrines I’d ever seen up close, who were sitting on blocks on the lawn. Mark said “I’d sure like to have some lawn ornaments like that”. Their owners too are long dead, so I’m not worried about repercussions.

Later they were flown successfully at bagged pheasants. They were two weeks out of the trap; that’s how tame the Arctic birds are. I coveted them fiercely, and have still never flown one now that they are legal.

Later, Heinz flew his bird, and he would not come down. Victor killed a pigeon and threw it in the air to see if he would return. He didn’t. He vanished behind the trees, still calling, and I don’t think he ever came back. He might have been taken by a horned owl, an all too common end for birds left out overnight, especially in the days before electronic transmitters. It appalls, and on some level, blackly amuses me, to think that I saw one of the very first clutch of falcons bred in the United States fly away.

Autre temps, autre moeurs. Here’s to you, Heinz, for starting a whole new world.

Dr. Meng more recently, with a Peale’s

*Leaving ultra- traditonalists like England’s Roger Upton to grump that they went very well with pit bulls and tattoos!

Tanuma Photos


I have carried around a 1969 Life magazine (with a photo of Ted
Kennedy just post- Chappaqudick on the cover!) because it has a gallery
of wonderful images by photographer T Tanuma.Yesterday, hoping to put
them in a more secure mode, I photo’d them.These are some of the results.

Indian Vultures

I wrote soberly on the Indian Vulture crisis years ago in the Atlantic.

They continued to decline; nobody gives a damn about serious whiny articles.

Today, my friend Jemima “Mima” Parry Jones, daughter of the grand old falconer Philip Glasier, sent me this YouTube piece of pro- vulture propaganda, and I am envious- it will likely be a lot more effective.

Mima is unusual- I am reminded of the remark, which sounds like one of Osxar Wilde’s epigrams, that in friendship , it is best to begin with a little aversion…

We were staying at Jonathan Kingdon’s near Oxford when  he decided we MUST se Mima’s original  Bird of Prey Center on the west coast of England (on a day trip- I will never get over the scale of England). I was a little dubious – I had heard she did not approve of some things I had written– but the chance to see all those birds was irresistible.

We  had fun exploring the park- it is where  I first encountered the African Crowned eagle I mentioned below. We also played with an Andean Condor who seemed fascinated with Jonathan’s car keys.

But finaly the time came to meet the proprietor. Jonathan ushered me into the office where she sat behind her desk and began “This is Stephen Bodio. He wrote..”

She interrupted him : I KNOW what he fucking wrote. He’s the cunt who write ‘The English have nothing to teach us but history!’ “

She glared at me  for a moment longer, as though to be sure I had heard her properly; then stood to shake my hand with a  dazzling smile. “Glad to meet you! Let’s go and see my birds.”

I don’t think she ever uttered a critical word in my direction again, but I am not sure Jonathan ever got over his shock..

 As for Mima, perhaps the last word should go to Merliner Emeritus, naturalist, poet, and former schoolmaster John Loft. In  his local pub, over good peaty Scotch whisky and steak and kidney pie, on a foggy unseasonably cold  May night, I told him this story. He shook his head and said: “Stephen, if you think SHE has a mouth that could take your hide off, you should have known her father.”

Mima, the Duke, and her father many years ago

John Loftt with falcon topiary in his garden; hawking with Tim Galllagher.

New Poems from Tim Murphy

To Stephen Bodio

I dreamed I was striding beside your horse,

        dogs coursing in the mist,

        the falcon on your fist

husbanding her inconceivable force.

Shahin, hoping that we were hunting quail,

        spiraled aloft to hover

        as we quartered her cover.

Over the brush we saw a single sail,

then broke the covey. At an explosive flush

       the blinding stoop and kill.

       On a High Desert hill

she nibbled neck meat in the windless hush.

Yours is the hunter’s highest form of art.

       Beside my prairie stream

       I read your books and dream,

sharing the wild passion in your heart.

Horseman NOT!

I never learned to gallop on a horse.

       Just once my Stetson flew

       and even worse, I knew

greenhorn disgrace, bounced from my mount, of course.

Aged six I’d had a Shetland pony rear,

      throwing me to a rock

      where coming to in shock

Timmy conceived a new deep-seated fear.

Soon I’ll fly south to ride with Bodio

      and watch his falcon sail

      high over furtive quail,

hoping my host will let us take it slow.

Mountains for me are best designed for walking,

       hoisting a heavy pack

       up a steep switchback track

or seated on a saddle gently rocking.

Road Trip

Syrdal and I flew down to Albuquerque

to hunt spruce grouse, cousin to our wild turkey.

Steve flew his goshawk (said to taste like chicken.)

It was a thrill to see that big bird kickin’

grouse from the air, felling them for Steve’s hounds

who warily circled our killing grounds.

This was a trip on each man’s bucket list.

Steve’s books and some Youtubes you might have missed

were all we knew of what we came to see,

New Mexico’s desolate majesty

where Steve mastered the art of falconry.

(An ornithological correction: we are too far south for spruce grouse.Though if we did hawk for them, a Gos, one of their natural predators, would be a good choice. Seems that “Sage” would work, poetically and historically, although our population is no longer huntable).

Siberian male Gos on the Hi- Line in Montana, chasing Sharptails, by Rob Palmer at Falcon photos.

A few Images

Some images to hold you–we are heading up to to Santa Fe to see Pluvialis! (Perhaps better known today in our crowd as RockStar Helen,  to her embarrassment..). We’ll be back Sunday. Reid may report on their dinner in Denver later… he and Connie, Anne “Anyushka” Price and Chas and Mary attending…
And the countdown begins–this is post #3995…

Parkers: the exquisite Damascus is a del Grego restoration, unfortunately with its firing pin noses filed down on the hammers, as in Larry del Grego’s day, most Americans thought that Damsacus was unsafe. It is probably best not to know how many gorgeous guns bit the dust in the fifties and sixties (or as one fool in an early Gun Digest suggested, were THROWN INTO PONDS)…
Both guns are equipped with 30″ barrels, heavier on the sleeved gun, which is also on a heavier frame, one used for 10 gauges. It seems to have been rebuilt as a Pigeon gun; its tight pistol grip and amazinglyeven patterns at 45 measured yards, even with a light game load of an ounce of 7 1/2s, suggests this.The Damascus gun is only a little lighter — both are under 8 pounds — but they have very different sight pictures. The sleeved gun was made in 1890, and I believe the Damascus was made in 1905.
The sleeved gun also has the most amazing sight bead I’ve ever seen with parallel gold and ivory bands.

John checkers the Darne “Nameless”:

Rosanne’s drawing of the lovely but annoying (she refuses to learn to tolerate hats, a real  fault in a desert town) Esme.

Charles Schwartz RIP

Bruce Haak emailed me last night that my old friend Charles Schwartz had died, from a fast-acting brain tumor. I hadn’t even known he was sick.

Charlie was a great falconer, and a perfectionist. He ended up flying passage Gyrfalcons and Sage grouse, in the high deserts of Idaho; this high-end grouse hawking is still one of the most amazing and demanding forms of falconry.

I first met Charlie with Betsy, on our long tour of the West that ended up with our moving to Magdalena; but not before we had swung up through Idaho and Nevada. Later, he worked for the Gulf Sheiks breeding falcons for seven years. They paid very well, and they gave him a grubstake for life, but he came back screaming “No more Insh’Allah!!” *

He visited Magdalena soon after his return and brought the first two Barbary falcons I had ever seen with him, tiny compared to their Peregrine near- relatives but elegant and wedge- shaped, almost triangular,  with the colors of iron and rust (I believe they were haggards trapped on migration). We took one out in the grassy valley between the San Mateos and the Magdalenas where she mounted up to an astonishing height.

Later we visited Floyd Mansell, my natural history and hunting mentor in Magdalena. Charlie vehemently denounced Floyd’s cockfighting. Finally, Floyd took us out to his backyard, and armed two roosters with “sparring muffs”; basically, little boxing gloves that fit over their spurs. We put the roosters down as if for a fight, drawing a line in the dirt with our bootheels, and let the cocks see each other over our arms. Finally we put them on the ground, and they began to display at each other standing broadside to make themselves look bigger and fluffing up their necks. When they started to grapple, we picked them up. Charlie was apparently astonished because the behavior was so obviously hard-wired. “That’s ANIMAL BEHAVIOR!”

Charlie attended the first Wildbranch Writing Workshop, when Annie Proulx, the founder, was still there. We “old folks” (two of us in our 40s and two in our 50s)  retreated into our own little group in the summer evenings — Annie, Charlie, me and the late J. B. Stearns (a Vermont writer who resembled a huge Santa Claus and was directly descended from one of the Green Mountain Boys, who never achieved the status he deserved), would ride around in JB’s ’62 Cadillac convertible, drinking beer and singing doo-wop songs. We had a lot of fun, but in the workshop Charlie brought his obsessive perfectionism toward everything to the fore. He wrote for a week on a story about a falconer trying to train Merlins who was so obsessive in his pursuit of perfection that he would barely let his bird fly. An advisor in the story tried to get the guy to lighten up, and eventually succeeded. Charlie seemed blind to the fact that the metaphor in the story extended into his life. He polished the story all week long and absolutely refused to send it out for appraisal, ever, saying it was crap compared the work of other writers he admired.

I think the last time I actually saw Charlie was at the Sun Valley Library writer’s event, which Libby catered for. We never did see each other that often but we  kept in touch, and we were always happy to share strong opinions. He will be missed by all of us, and especially by his long-time wife, Marty Brown.

If I hear any more anecdotes of Charlie, I’ll put them in here.

* For a glimpse of the cultural baggage that drove Charlie crazy, see veterinarian  David Remple’s Footprints on the Toilet Seat. Been there…

Birds like Dogs!

I used to have a whole photo section called that, but Daniel reminded me of it when he sent these pics of his girl pup Maggie playing with Bramble, the falcon. He writes:

“She plays rough with the other dogs (this is a ‘doggy’ bitch, for sure), but never touches the bird.

“He is quite confident of his ability to put a dog in its place, either footing the dog in the snout or nipping  the nose – even then he pulls his punches.”

 Look at that TAIL.

Ours start early…

And some birds– well, one bird– actually fed the dogs in the summer after he grew up, during the time he would have fed nestlings. We had  to move him to where he could not reach the dogs, though he would call to them through the fence.

But then he grew up like this…

New Bird

VERY nice new female Aplomado which came with brain installed, including her own ideas about where to sit. She is already flying to the T perch I am using with the Harris below. Stay tuned….

Links 1

I have many I have been saving, some worth your time, some that just caught my eye An example of the second is this horrifying skeletal “bird”, aptly titled “Epic Bird Anatomy FAIL”:

Love those feather bones..

On the serious front, we have more dispatches from the front lines of the AR fascists’ attempts to make us cease all contact with our animals, from the invaluable and necessary Bedlam Farm blog. “We”,  ie the side of sanity, won the first battle for the continuing existence of the New York Carriage horses, but can we be complacent? Jonathan Katz says no.

He also revisits the larger issue here; whether it is possible to have a traditional relation with an animal, say WORKING, in our society. I would have thought he was being paranoid, but after belatedly reading Ted Kerasote’s latest, Pukka (review TK) I learn that a large majority of urban Americans think that ALL dogs must be spayed and neutered. Where do these mooncalves think that dogs COME FROM?

A quote from Bedlam Farm:

” The truth is that American dogs live the best lives of any animals in
the world, very few of them suffer and die at the hands of abusive and
uncaring owners…

” We are moving towards a kind of quarantine for dogs, increasingly
sealed off from the opportunity to socialize them, to give them varied
and stimulating lives, to accompany us in our travels, be appreciated by
other people. Dogs deserve better than to be isolated only in homes and
backyards because society does not permit us to take any risks with
them.”

Eleanora’s falcons have always been thought  strange. Island – nesting relatives of the European Hobby, they resemble little Peregrines with big wings. They live on Medterranean islands, and breed during the FALL passerine migration to Africa, using that bounty to fuel their reproduction.

 Now it appears that they keep “prisoners” in a larder as well. Please forgive format– it came out this way:

“…the falcons keep or
‘imprison’ some preys in a relatively deep cavity or in a fissure of
rocks from where they can’t escape as their flight feathers (both tail
and wings feathers) were already pulled out …
Or by keeping them trapped in a tight and deep hole which makes them
unable to move neither their wings nor their hanging legs…

“The authors reported
also that this behaviour can occur even before the eggs hatch, and was
already well known to a local fisherman who is staying in the
archipelago in a more or less regular basis for decades…”

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Last before dinner: a relative, a wild Eurasian Hobby, flies down a Swift . That we have not yet mastered such flights, apparently done easily in the Old Days, should suggest we don’t know everything yet…