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) 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]

 [Après 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.]