Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small brown hawk as silver lining

I don't like the flu. I don't want the flu, and I don't like it when my friends get the flu.

But if my friends must get the flu, let them at least be skilled photographers whose backyards are visited by Cooper's hawks when they're home from work. These photos courtesy of Pat Stull.

Thanks for sharing, Pat. Some of the best raptor images ever captured by an ailing man in his pyjamas.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Use only as directed

Some of the instructions and warnings on the Bayou Classic boiler/steampot that Jessa got me for Yule:
  • Sober adult operation ONLY!
  • ALWAYS operate in an open area a minimum of 10-ft from buildings, trees, and overhangs.
  • NEVER use under any roof or overhang.
  • NEVER allow children or pets near the cooking area during and after use.
  • NEVER! No barefeet [sic] or sandals while cooking.
  • ALWAYS wear protective mitts, gloves, goggles and long sleeve clothing when cooking.
I can see the logic behind each and every one of these admonitions, but let's be honest: Everyone knows the crabs, crawfish, shrimp, etc. will be cooked under the carport with a passel of kids and dogs running underfoot. The cook will be wearing shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops—well, shorts, anyway—and drinking beer. That's just how it's done. That's arguably how it should be done.

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

—William Shakespeare 

Monday, February 2, 2015

NFA field meet, January-February '15

Hmm, maybe we should have waited a week...

We did have a contingency plan in place for inclement weather, but didn't exercise that option, and in the end the weather dominated the latest Nebraska Falconers' Association field meet, held this past weekend in Kearney and neighboring Elm Creek. A mix of mist, drizzle, rain, sleet, and snow kept things varied, but uniformly damp, on Saturday. We actually found good numbers of cottontails, but had little success catching them with wet hawks. Of the five redtails and one goshawk flown, only one redtail—Oliver, a passage tiercel flown by first-year apprentice Adam Jones—caught a rabbit, and that was after a hunt of less than two minutes.

Adam let Oliver take his time feeding on the kill, so the rest of us took a break and snacked on homemade spring rolls, brought by associate member Don Nguyen. After flying a few more hawks—and visiting with Bob Noble, down from Long Pine for his first meet in several years—we dined at Luke & Jake's Bar-B-Q in Kearney, then retired to the meet hotel, where guest presenter Kirk Hohenberger screened Raptors At Risk and gave a brief talk on raptor electrocution and power pole safety.

Some members left on Saturday evening, despite the worsening weather, and that proved to be a good decision. Those who left late Saturday night or on Sunday morning faced a harrowing drive home, thanks to icy roads and white-out conditions which prompted numerous road closures across the state. For the few of us who remained, with winds steady at 30 mph and gusting even higher, hawking was of course out of the question, but we did gather in Greg Mikkelsen's room to watch hawking videos shot by Kirk in his home state of Montana and on holiday in Scotland.

I'll leave you with a few photos I took on Saturday, despite the wet conditions.

[Adam Jones and Oliver]

[Chris Podraza with passage merlin, still in training]

[Chris Remmenga with Krieger, passage goshawk trapped in Minnesota]

[Krieger in flight]

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ginger binger 2015

It's taken me a few days to find some computer time (happily, I am getting some time in the field with hawk and dogs), but we recently did our annual ginger-beer tasting to ring in the new year. Rather than do another massive copy/paste session, I'm going to link to the last one I posted (three years ago?!?). Please click here for background; Shakespearean ginger quotes; a primer on DGAs, GGAs, and GBs; and, of course, tasting notes on various ginger ales and ginger beers.

All caught up? Okay, here are notes on a few new entries (and one update), as compiled by yours truly, along with wife Jessa, daughter Ellie, and guest taster Susan Farrell (Jessa's mom):

NEW: Bruce Cost Ginger Ale, from Brooklyn, New York, follows a well-established pattern of American ginger sodas in that the label is somewhat misleading with regard to category. I would classify this as a true GB, cloudy with bits of real ginger, and made with cane sugar. Apparently the eponymous Mr. Cost is a restauranteur who has written a ginger-based cookbook, so I'd be interested to know why this one is labeled a GA, but no matter. The soda itself is quite good, and we'll go back for more.

We also sampled two flavour-added variations from Bruce Cost. The first adds passionfruit and turmeric; notable for its bright yellow colour, the taste was more subtle than we had anticipated. The other is blended with jasmine tea; the resulting drink is (unsurprisingly, I suppose) tea-coloured, and quite refreshing. Apparently there is also a pomegranate and hibiscus flavour, but that one eluded us as we shopped.

NEW: Rocky Mountain Soda's Golden Ginger Beer is instantly recognizable for its brown bottle— award a point for honouring tradition—with bright-yellow label featuring a mule-deer illustration that would not look out of place in a nineteenth-century book on natural history. The drink, too, is unique, in that the use of beet sugar is specifically highlighted; this is a break from the cane-sugar standard, but let's award another point for using local ingredients! While this is as spicy as some GBs, I'm going to classify this as a GGA on the basis of colour and clarity. There are also some citrus notes, and our consensus was a bit of earthiness as well. (Ellie: "It tastes like the forest somehow.") Enjoyed by all of us, and another we'll likely buy again.

UPDATE: Goose Island Spicy Ginger, which became an instant favourite when we reviewed it three years ago, has undergone a re-branding (though the change to the label is subtle enough that I couldn't say when). Apparently it's WBC Spicy Ginger now, part of the WBC Craft Sodas line from WIT Beverage Company. Still a very good GGA. 

(Incidentally, WIT has also acquired III Dachshunds root beer and orange cream soda, both of which I've enjoyed. It's unclear whether III Dachshunds beers are still available in Wisconsin.)

Oops, I've overlooked one. Not sure if this counts as NEW or as an UPDATE, but there's now a Cock 'n Bull Cherry Ginger Beer, with real cherry flavour to go along with the real ginger. Still in brown glass, but with a red-and-white label in place of the familiar red-and-black. Comparable to the Reed's Cherry Ginger Brew, with perhaps a slight advantage to the Cock 'n Bull.

Happy New Year, and we'll try not to let another three years pass without adding some new reviews.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Somewhere between Holland and Panama

a) ...lie the Azores
b) ...would be a good title for a world-music instrumental
c) ...is one of the spots we've been hawking lately

Just a few mobile-phone pictures to show I'm alive. These are really grainy; do not click to embiggen.

[A tree favoured by hunters]

[Mantling over a rabbit]

 [Apr├Ęs la chasse, on my old block made by Eddie Hall]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Her heart's in the Highlands

Hawking this afternoon was over and done in five minutes: the dachshunds plunged into a blackberry-and-gooseberry thicket, a rabbit ran out the other side, and the redtail caught it easily. Under such circumstances, it's often tempting to continue in search of another, but Stekoa's been slaughtering mice and voles with abandon of late, so I was especially grateful for the rabbit and thought it better to end the day on a positive note.

On the brief walk out of the woods, we flushed a large whitetail doe, who materialised from another thicket and bounded, flag high, across the campground road and then up and over a hill planted in little bluestem. The puppies gave chase, but I called them off and we returned to the car, where I finished feeding Stekoa. Maxine stayed close by, ever alert to the possibility that the hawk might drop something remotely edible, but Anya (who in any case tends to lose out to Max when such bounty does fall) apparently sneaked off while I was preoccupied: the next time I saw her, it was at a distance, as she trotted contentedly back from the hillside beyond which the doe had disappeared. As I watched the little huntress slipping through the grass which so nearly matched her coat, I thought of these lines by Robert Burns:

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer

[The whole piece, as sung by Karine Polwart:]

Thursday, October 16, 2014


[Swift fox at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha; photo by Jessa.]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Two prayers

1.  Blessings on Scotland today.

Photo by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

2.  Here in Nebraska, we've noticed that the migration of monarch butterflies has been underway for the last week or two. Migrating monarchs aren't difficult to spot, as they straight-line on a definite north-south axis, heading for their few critical acres in Mexico. We have Asclepias milkweeds (mostly common and honeyvine) in our prairie garden, along with food plants for adult monarchs (notably Joe Pye and Rocky Mountain bee plant), so we're doing our bit. Overall, though, milkweeds are far less abundant than they used to be, and the monarch population is a shadow of its former self. As we watched a few of the butterflies heading south, Jessica made a plaintive observation: "Mark, I don't want to see the last migration." Amen to that, and vaya con dios to our little orange friends.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The chain

Jessica shared the following passages from the book she's currently reading, A Generous Orthodoxy, and I thought they merited posting here. The author, Brian McLaren, is writing of religious (specifically Christian) discipleship as a form of apprenticeship, but the relevance to falconry will be obvious to any of its practitioners.

...The only way to learn this mastery is through the disciple's voluntary submission to the discipline and tradition of the master.

In this sense, tradition doesn't just mean "traditions," such as a way of bowing before a karate lesson or after a violin performance, although "traditions" are included in tradition. Tradition means a whole way of practice or way of life that includes systems of apprenticeship, a body of knowledge (of terms, history, lore), a wide range of know-how (skills, technique, ability), and something else—a kind of "unknown knowledge" that Michael Polanyi calls personal knowledge: levels of knowledge that one has and knows but doesn't even know one has and knows.

The next bit speaks to the chain of tuition from sponsors and other mentors down the years, and through the ages:

...The master's students continue and expand the master's tradition so that one learns the way of the master most fully by being in the community of other students, including those who can remember and tell the stories about members of the community long departed. These gone-but-not-forgotten members are re-membered (kept alive through memory as important, ongoing members of the community). In this way the master-apprenticeship relationship is not merely individual tutoring but membership in a learning community that lives around the globe and across generations, as well as around the corner or across the street.

Each of us will think of someone particular here, perhaps multiple someones. Having begun my falconry career in Georgia, I owe a debt of gratitude to the late Bob Nalli, who was a mentor even though he was not my sponsor, and also to Malcolm Edwards, whom I never even met—he was my "grand-sponsor", primary teacher to my own sponsor, Joel Volpi. And my NFA friends will, I'm sure, agree that Mike Cox is still very much a part of the Nebraska falconry community, though he's been gone—wow, almost five years now. I think of him often, and hear his voice in my head not at all infrequently. One of my responsibilities is to make sure my apprentice knows something of these great men, and honours their tradition as I do.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Dolly Sods

It's taken quite a while, obviously, to pull this together, but I had to post about the last significant outing of our recent trip—in some ways my favourite day in the field. We'd been staying with my Aunt Shirley in Oakland, Maryland, and my cousin Matt offered to drive us over to one of his favourite spots in West Virginia.

The Dolly Sods is a designated wilderness and scenic area within the Monongahela National Forest. It is a high plateau on the Allegheny Ridge—approaching 4000 feet, give or take—and the altitude effect means the character of the place is more reminiscent of the far north than the mid-Atlantic, as is the ecological community. Just to the south is a rich southern cove forest, but up top there are spruce-fir forests, rocky outcroppings covered in moss and fern, remote sphagnum bogs, grassy alpine meadows, and berry-laden heaths. Snowshoe hares can be found here, though regrettably we didn't see any, and the fact that Matt (who, perhaps in part because of me, pays special attention to raptors) claims never to have seen a hawk up here just deepened my initial suspicions that this is goshawk country.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this area was heavily logged, and the dessication caused by the removal of all the large trees precipitated a series of destructive wildfires between the 1910s and 1930s which left the Dolly Sods all but devoid of life. Military exercises during the Second World War left the area littered with artillery shells and other ordnance, and even today the USFS encourages visitors to stay on marked trails due to the UXB threat. Gradually, though, the mountain did recover, and though the sods came under threat again—by residential development, highway building, strip mining, and even a massive dam project—The Nature Conservancy and local conservationists purchased land and mineral rights beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with additional tracts coming under full federal protection as recently as 2009.

The photos that follow have been re-sequenced slightly for aesthetic purposes, but generally follow a south-to-north progression. Photos by Mark & Jessica Farrell-Churchill, but Matt Skillman deserves much credit for guiding us here. We shall return, inshallah.

[Fritillary, probably a meadow fritillary.]

[Rufous-sided towhee singing from a fir. I do recognize the split from spotted towhee, but just can't get behind the drab name "eastern towhee".]

[Moss, fern, and rosebay rhododendron.]


[Mountain laurel in bloom.]

[Quite a few of the rocks up here have gouges in the top—glacial in origin, I first thought, but possibly wind-carved—and hold water more or less permanently.]

[The leaning rock looked precarious, but was stable enough to climb on.]

[Wild strawberry.]

[Between a rock and a hard place. Yes, those are aluminum cans down in the crevice. Some people are just lazy, inconsiderate bastards.]

[Bleeding heart.]

[Viburnum, going orange in spots.]

[Cherry is one of the dominant hardwood trees here; I liked the way this appeared to be growing straight out of the rock.]

[Mountain laurel.]

[Mountain meadow, known locally as a "sod". The "Dolly" in the name Dolly Sods was originally Dahle, the family name of a homesteader from Germany. Johann Dahle was one of the British General Cornwallis's "Hessian" soldiers; captured by the American army at Yorktown, he eventually settled here, supposedly on the personal advice of General Washington.]

[Orange hawkweed.]


[This could be Alaska or Canada. The open area in the foreground is a heath barren, but locally these are called "huckleberry plains".]

[Smooth green snake.]

[Another Alaskan/Canadian vista.]

[Reindeer lichen growing amidst the heath.]

[Many of the fir trees on the plateau have been "flagged" or sculpted by the nearly constant west wind.]

[Tiger swallowtail on mountain laurel.]

[Look closely, and you'll see a soaring turkey vulture.]


[Jessa and friend.]


[Mark and Matt.]