Turkmeni Falconry

Some of you know Vadim Gorbatov’s painting of a Turcoman falconer waiting out a sandstorm with tazi and saker.

Sir Terence Clarke just sent this excellent little video of hunting there. My Ataika, though born in Kazakhstan, is rather a Turkmeni type. And the falconry is almost just like the kind we practice but for camels. Also, taxonomists might note that the little local sakers resemble prairie falcons, very different from the great Altai type far to the northeast, which is hard to tell from a gyr…

Old- Fashioned Ornithology

Before there was Birding, there was Collecting, with a shotgun. Many people don’t realize that type specimens still must be collected to be valid; even a blood sample for DNA is not considered sufficient. And skins of common birds that die are useful for education, and as beautiful as a kind of mortal art. The great bird painter Ray Harris Ching has had surreal fun showing living birds with taxonomic labels.

Blog friend Stacia Novy, falconer and biologist, has been making skins for her prof, Dr. Rick Essner, at grad school in Illinois. She writes:

“My professor has a “salvage permit” and is allowed to collect birds that have died naturally in the wild:  hit by a car, starvation, disease, etc.  We save the skins for study specimens.  It takes 2 hours to prepare each one, so this is 40 hours worth of work, not including the drying time which takes about 2-3 weeks.  They are pretty to look at, even in death.”

I agree. And look, Reid: an Indigo bunting for you too see up close! Right click…

That there are still hunderds of Passenger pigeon skins in collections means that we can still find out things we don’t know. And now there is plausible “Jurassic Park”scenario too– a lot more DNA remains after 100 years than 65 million…


Arthur Wilderson, who knows more about guns that almost anyone, reminded me that Vladimir Nabokov died 36 years ago this week.

After I praised his English, more fluid and colloquial than his only rival as a non- native English- speaking  novelist in the language (VN would have said American I think), Arthur agreed: “I was always a little irked when he would complain of his “second-rate”
command of English in the forward of some of his novels.  As though he
could possibly have anything to complain about in that regard!”

Right– tell me what other “American” could have written Pale Fire— yeah, odd, but an impossible tour de force. The same un- degreed Russian emigre wrote at least two more essential American novels: Lolita (with On the Road as its crude brash kid brother and Roger Tory Peterson’s ‘s Wild America its overlooked one, one of the three essential road and motel novels of the fifties, the road and motel decade); and Pnin, the only academic satire I can stand– well, maybe Lucky Jim. All the while analyzing butterfly genitalia in the Harvard Museums while being condescended to there as well, doing so well with traditional taxonomic methods that his classification of the Blues is confirmed by today’s DNA studies fifty years and more later.

I picture his burly tweed- clad figure racing off from his tiny office to some unnecessary meeting imposed on him and stumbling impatiently over a little kid who is seated cross- legged on the floor in front of a glass case containing awkwardly stuffed specimens of Neotropical birds, trying to figure out THEIR taxonomy and wondering why the taxidermist has chosen yellow eyes for the bat falcon…


Annie Davidson sent our tiny aging, nostalgic, and usually goofy Zoo group (we have known each other since, what, 1970?) a provocative essay contra the Linnaean binomial system. I think she was poking a stick in an anthill, but I am afraid it pushed a few buttons! I was provoked to editorialize…

“The author’s criticisms are valid, her conclusion unjustified. Linnaean terminology is bad but everything else is WAAY worse. I espouse and defend, here and elsewhere, a small c conservatism– what works (and with many patches it has & does); rules known, universally accepted against chaos and a million competing schemes & memes. Think how losing the Latin Mass for idealistic reasons shattered the Catholic church– I was there– but she argues for tearing down a system that, I’m sorry, represents something even more universal.

“She is a bit historically uninformed, and naive besides. For the first, she states (always beware any use of ‘obviously’!): “What is obviously needed is a naming system where the name, once assigned, does not change, even when scientific understanding of the organism’s relationships changes. We would not have to worry whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ But no SPECIFIC name can change without reassignment to another species– only generic. Nomenclatural priority. It even allows stupidity– Buteo jamaicensis for the redtail because it was first collected there, Canis niger, “BLACK dog or canid”, for the red wolf, now an endangered “taxon” because it may be a natural hybrid but still nominally black… one stable name. WE ALREADY HAVE THIS, bound about by formal rules. She goes on: ‘The irony is that there already is an informal system with that property. It is the much-maligned common name. The objection to a common name like “strawberry geranium” is that the plant is neither a strawberry nor a geranium. Why is that a problem? French toast is neither French nor toast, but the world survives.’

“Because who cares about toast, as long as you get it? Every language has many common names but there is only one formal name and even Russians (ie, those with a Cyrillic alphabet) and Chinese acknowledge it.

“The only schemes seriously offered to challenge Linnaeus are cladistic and ‘correct’ but are not NAMING systems which I expect are hardwired in our brains evolutionarily– “Rational monsters” that would take a PhD to explain. I have heard it seriously offered that an organism’s proper– what, term?– is a printout of a tree of however many pages showing its descent. I would find this an excellent adjunct of great interest- but what do you CALL it?? ‘Cladistic tree # 545,353’? Instead, we are naming animals, doing what the late Vicki Hearne metaphorically called “Adam’s task”, calling the animals by name to know something about what they are, to be able to talk about them- inadequate but a start. To name is not to know but is there any knowing without naming in a speaking species?

“Systems like the author’s, using pop names, are worse– breathtakingly ignorant of history– one popular book in favor, understanding the nature of whales, wants to “popularly” reclassify them as FISH. NO, NO, NO, NO! NO!

“Last thought: high in the Kazakh Tian Shan nearly a decade ago, a friendship formed when ornithologist Andrey Kovalenko, whose English is as awkward as my Russian, lifted his eyes above the peaks and breathed “Gypaetus barbatus!” I knew to look to the sky because I knew he wasn’t seeing a snowcock on the ground, an accentor in the bush– he was looking above the skyline to show me my first Lammergeier.”

Two old (or old- fashioned) naturalists, and new photo series

Two old farts in the bar courtyard. John Wilson is an old style bug catching (or photographing) “stamp collector” naturalist like me, an Ohioan who retired from an Audubon sanctuary there to a remote homestead in the Mags– somebody I can talk bugs, birds, and taxonomy with! Luckily he likes beer too. I am starting a local insect of the week photo with him though I expect as it gets colder it will become feeder bird or plant or…?

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, at 7000 feet in November:

New Mammals!

I mentioned that Darren has been busy but I would hardly have imagined his news: an announcement of not just one or two but many “new” large mammal species from Amazonia.

All are the discoveries of Marc van Roosmalen, and appear at Tetrapod Zoology with his permission. Marc’s new website, full of material, is here.

This is the first in a series at Darren’s. I’ll try to get some pics. Darren covers peccaries and tapirs in the first, and announces:

“More in part II: more peccaries, new brockets, dwarf manatee, dwarf boto, black giant otter and others. Part III will cover lots of new monkeys, and part IV the new giant anteater and the onça-canguçú, a new big cat. Oh yes.”


“Life has not stopped and the world is not really a museum, yet”– Ted Hughes

Around the Web

Of course I have still been at least crawling around the web and have found much entertainment and as always a little offense. I’ll direct you to some goodies, but I hope that in my absence you have visited not only friends linked to here but also O &P, Heidi, Mary, Chas, Roseann, Pluvi (returned from the Stans and seeing Goshawks at home!) and Darren.

Patrick weighs in here on mandatory spay neuter and– scroll up on the site– with a wrinkle on Zumbo: “Marmot Culture”. Patrick, you haven’t seen Marmot Culture until you have visited Mongolia!

A federal court finds for the Second Amendment! The NYT is somewhat shocked. Istapundit isn’t.

Bruce Douglas comments:

” “The majority rejected the District’s
argument that the Second Amendment should apply only
to the kinds of guns in use at the end of the 18th
century” always gets me. I’d be cool with carrying a
brace of flintlocks if the media was willing to
distribute the news on individually printed
handbills, distributed by horse and foot. Oh yeah,
they also have to get rid of air conditioning in DC
and go back to outhouses. And, of course, dueling
was legal again.”

Carel delights Libby by telling us all about softshell turtles, her favorite reptile (if in this cladistic age we can still use such an archaic term.)

Sixty to eighty cheetahs persist in Iran!

The Irish may really be English.

Puritan anti- drug warriors are trying to turn our kids into Stalin-era youth prohibitionist- informants. Luckily ours (Mr. P.) didn’t get anything like that, and I doubt his potential kids– or Odious’s actual one (see his recent post)– will either.

Annie D sends news of a new clouded leopard in Borneo. This cat is not just genetically distinct– it actually looks different.

The prairies should burn— but not evenly.

“The prairies were never some homogenous sea of grass rolling off in unending sameness. They were a patchwork, a shifting mosaic of burned and unburned, some places grazed down, others hardly grazed at all. Some areas were replete with forbs and others not. Patches ranged from small to immense. And none of this happened on a set schedule; the whole process was infused with randomness and rotating change. Conditioned to forests, settlers from the east may have little perceived the diversity of the prairies, but diverse and dynamic they were.”

(HT Walter Hingley).

Stewart Brand has never stopped thinking originally. As Tom McIntyre says: “God (or Gaia, if you prefer) bless old acid freaks!”

You want biodiversity? THIS is biodiversity! HT Nate and Liz Johnson.

And finally: they can always amaze me. The AR movement has apparently combined with academia to convene the (seventh annual!) “Convention on Inadmissible Questions” on the question “Can the Holocaust be compared with African American slavery or the Native American genocide? Can any of these experiences be related to those of animals on today’s factory farms?”.

Their apparent answer is “Yes”. I was going to comment but I think I’ll just let it hang. I’m not sure it isn’t historically illiterate to compare the first three…


Update: Darren has already informed us that the “new” clouded leopard was described in 1823. Two lessons: don’t get sick and don’t miss Darren, even for a few days…