Adios 2011, You Weren’t as Bad as I thought…

Yesterday when I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself for not having gotten much done in 2011, I started making a list. What all HAD I accomplished? What had I left behind that I loved best? And the list surprised me.

My book on Lories and Lorikeets was published in February. And I had articles in Bird Talk, BirdsUSA and WildBird.

In January the Inlandia Literary Journal published Homecoming a short story about a loft of pigeons in Banning, California and the places that make us.

I had two essays published at The Rumpus one that dealt with my love/hate relationship with home (and David Grohl) and the other about my grandmother. What We Lost When We Lost Barbara Jean made it on the best of list that week on Longreads.com.

I experimented with self-publishing and put together a collection of pieces to accompany the eBook release of Lift. My collection Rise came out in July. Lift continued on its journey and two chapters were included in New California Writing 2011. And I blushed when Zyzzyva thought the chapters were moving. Then I started work on the audiobook, running a successful Kickstarter, finding a recording studio and narrating the book myself. (Now for final edits)

Jessie Sholl, Tom Chandler and ACX interviewed me on their blogs while I mostly neglected my own. Although, I finished a parrot training manuscript and have a couple of other projects in the works.

Also, I made quite a few online friends into in real life friends. And I met Neil Gaiman and found myself remembering why I started writing in the first place.

Maybe most importantly, this summer I flew a Cooper’s hawk and found a new lens for my inspiration.

This is all my personal work. I don’t talk as much about my work as a conservation fundraiser for Ducks Unlimited, although I should. I spend more time working on that than anything else and it is work I am very proud of being a part of.  We managed to save a tremendous amount of NAWCA funding that was on the chopping block. In California we saw the breaching of a levvy in salt flats that had not seen tidal flow for over 100 years. I helped fund work in the Klamath Basin, the San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley of California amongst many other places in the West.

Recently someone asked me if I was truly dedicated to this work, if my plans were really just to wait it out until I was making enough money to live well as an author. I laughed. I buy lottery tickets too, but no one asks if my real plan is to win the lottery. “Aren’t you just working so that you can write?,” he asked. “Are you just working so that you can support your family,” I asked.

Then he asked how I get it all done. The short answer? I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I often wonder how people raise families and work at the same time. He should have asked me why I didn’t get more done. Then I told him that I sit in front of my computer most nights. I almost never watch television. I jot ideas down in between jumping from the shower and getting dressed for work. I write when I go out to eat. I write on airplanes. I daydream about storylines when I’m on the treadmill. I use my vacation time to do readings or to finish writing a project. I haven’t had a real vacation in 8 years. In my free time- I write.

That is how you become an author, but having a job you love helps. It helps a lot. So I am thankful for my free time, but also for a job that allows me to make a difference for something I care deeply about, conservation. So looking back, when everyone said, “Get er done!” I think I did. Happy New Year!

I can’t wait to see what the list for 2012 looks like… I can’t wait to hear what you get accomplished too!!

What to Do with your Photos

These days bloggers get asked from time to time to try out products to review. I almost always say, “no”.  I barely manage to get my own blog posts done. It feels like a burden to write something for the sake of commerce. Also, it makes me feel a little bit like a fraud. This last month though, a couple of opportunities crossed my email that I thought I would pay for regardless.

Anakin at Sunset

Falconers take a lot of photographs. What do you do with them though?

I love the idea of putting photos on canvas and when I was offered the opportunity to buy one, discounted for review, the hardest decision was figuring out which photo to use. The print on canvas was easy to order and arrived quickly, packaged dilligently to protect it. I ordered a 12×18 inch with a .75 inch wrap and it was ready to hang on arrival. Not to mention gorgeous!

Of course, wall space is limited and when my friend Jessica Lawrence put a call out for art by friends to hang in her new digs in New York, I knew just what to send her. I hope she likes it! (Although once I saw it on my wall, I almost reneged on the deal…)

I would highly recommend putting your prints on canvas if you have something you would really like on your wall. The service is very reasonable and I was very happy with the results!

The other opportunity I was given was a perk through Klout. If you aren’t on Klout, I’m not sure you necessarily should be. No one needs one more proprietary algorithm to obsess over. It’s bad enough I consistently consider my Amazon numbers, Google Analytics for all my sites and try to figure out my Feedburner stats. I can’t help it. I am fascinated by what people connect with and don’t.

Klout is just the icing on the cake. It’s an algorithm that figures out your influence on the web and then companies decide whether or not to offer you perks based on your score and what topics you are “influential” in. You are not  forced to review any of the trial products, in fact, you are welcome to hate them. The Klout disclosure is here. So when Moo offered up free MiniCards, I jumped at it.

Moo MiniCards

MiniCards are such a cool idea. Half the size of business cards, they come in orders of 100 or more and you can choose as many 100 images to put on them. It’s like making trading cards! (The nerd in me squeals). This seemed another great opportunity to put some of my falconry photos to use. So I chose 8 images for the front and used the lovely logo my webdesigner created for me and put my web information on the backside. I was so excited when I got them in the mail. They are just gorgeous and I can’t wait to pass them out at readings, lectures and workshops. I’ll have to make a set of parrot ones as well. You can get your own Moo products here.

So if you collect some really awesome falconry photos this season and aren’t sure how to put them to use, those are two ideas that worked out well for me!   — Oh, and I’m always looking for great photos to use for the Monday Morning Falconry Fix. (hint. hint.) So get your cameras out!

Five on Falconry: Tim Gallagher

Tim, Skeeter and Macduff

Tim Gallagher has been a falconer since the 7th grade and after referencing that Kennedy was in the White House, he admits it’s been about 49 years. His first bird, Rowdy (named after the Clint Eastwood character in Rawhide), was an eyas tiercel American Kestrel he flew in Orange County, California. (Although every thing else in Orange County is named after John Wayne…) He points to Jeff Sipple as a falconry “big brother” since his early teens –even though Tim’s about a foot taller. Tim makes a living editing Living Bird magazine, the flagship publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, but many of us know him from his books and freelance writing. His writing has taken him on varied adventures, most recently to Mexico in search of the imperial woodpecker, and has introduced him to many interesting people, including Chris Carter of X Files fame.(Although Tim won’t admit to having an “I Want to Believe” poster in his office.) During the moult Tim might be found fly-fishing, fencing or trying to decide whether he should relax with red wine, Scotch, a Negra Modelo or a Guinness… chances are though, that he is drinking coffee.  

1) So first up as per my standard, partial disclosure: We have mutual friends, but I mainly know you from your memoir, Falcon Fever: A Falconer in the 21st Century, which I loved. The book details how falconry changed and shaped your life, but there is always a journey in the writing as well. How did writing the book shape your recent life or your views about yourself and your falconry?

Writing Falcon Fever was an interesting process and in many ways very therapeutic for me. I think I had a lot of demons plaguing me, and the writing process was like a self-exorcism of sorts. So many things came out that I’d forgotten about or had repressed for decades. I came away from writing that book feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from me, and I still feel great. I’m also happy that I was able to focus on some of the people I knew growing up—people who did great things in falconry that no one knew about. I’ve had several East Coast falconers tell me that they had no idea what a hotbed of falconry innovation California was in the 1960s and ’70s, and I was glad I was able to document that time and place.

Tim & Steve Bodio

2) I have always thought there is a desire if not an overwhelming need in all falconers for adventure and the exploration of things undiscovered. Your involvement in the search for an iconic bird thought to be extinct and the subsequent book, The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was surely that sort of adventure. What is it about falconry and thrill-seeking in the wilderness? 

Actually, I don’t see falconry as a monolithic culture that attracts only people who are very similar. There are all kinds of different people in this sport. I think that’s part of its appeal to me. In terms of the love of adventure scale, I’d say that falconers range all the way from shy, timid, danger-adverse dweebs to the most over-the-top, death-defying, adrenaline junkies. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I really never go looking for dangerous things to do. I started doing things like climbing around on high cliffs and cruising along the coast of Greenland in small boats because that’s where the falcons I wanted to study lived. I’ve never had a desire to climb up the face of El Capitan or something like that just for a kick. There has to be an added reason, like an interesting bird that I can’t see any other way. Same thing with the ivory-billed woodpecker. The only way I had a chance of finding one was to spend a lot of time in their habitat. It’s funny, I used to think floating down the bayou among the crackers and the cottonmouths seemed a little scary—mostly because I hadn’t spent much time in the South (and I’d seen “Deliverance” and “Easy Rider” when I was growing up!). But the danger level took such a quantum leap upward in my recent imperial woodpecker project in Mexico that everything else now seems tame by comparison. I was traveling through the high country of the Sierra Madre, interviewing people in remote villages who might have seen the bird or remembered it from when they were young. So little is known about the species that anything I can find out about it adds significantly to the scientific record. And, of course, if I did happen to find a living one, it would be one of the most incredible ornithological discoveries I can think of. But the danger level is very high. An incredible wave of violence and lawlessness has been sweeping across Mexico, and it’s now reaching well into the mountains. The last time I was in the Sierra, it seemed more like Afghanistan than Mexico. A couple of people in a nearby Tepehuan village had been murdered, another had been abducted for ransom, and three houses had been deliberately burned. People were walking around with AK-47s. The villagers were fleeing into the woods. And the “friendly” drug lord who had gotten us up there and was supposed to escort us out didn’t show up at our rendezvous point, so we had to drive out alone and unarmed on a dirt road that was in such bad shape you could only drive three or four miles an hour in some places—a perfect situation for an ambush. Anyway, there’s no way I would get into a situation like that just for the thrill of it. I’d like nothing more than for the Sierra Madre to be as safe to travel in as the Adirondacks, so I could do my research in peace.

Macduff

3)  Cornell University, where you work, is where the Peregrine Fund was born. (Literally. Initially it was a fund, money set aside for peregrine research in the dismal years of DDT.) Falconers played a huge role in that success story. Where do you see the importance of the “passionate few” in modern conservation?

Well, the passionate few are always the ones that make things happen. They’re like society’s conscience. Most people go along day by day, earning a living, trying to get by, and not paying attention to what’s going on outside them. You need to have passionate people raising their voices and pointing out the problems affecting the world environment. I’m so glad that falconers did so much to help the peregrine falcon—writing to congressmen, contributing money, and sometimes giving their birds to captive-breeding projects to help the species. These are things I always point out emphatically whenever someone says anything negative about falconry. We have paid our dues for raptor conservation.

4) You are also, of course, an avid bird watcher. While all falconers are “bird watchers” most don’t take it to the level of say, pursuing a “big year”. What are the parallels and differences between the rabid bird watcher and life-long falconer? 

Well, that’s an interesting question, because most hard-core falconers and rabid birders probably see themselves as polar opposites, but it’s just not true. They are very much cut from the same cloth. I’ve been involved with both falconers and birders for decades, and I think I have a unique perspective on this. I don’t, however, consider myself at all a typical birder. I think most birders are primarily interested in the outer bird—they are masters at learning how to identify as many birds as possible through visual characteristics, behavior, and sound. It’s what they live for. Avid birders also love to amass lists of what they see, and seeing species new to them is one of their greatest joys. I’m not like that. I’d say I’m much more interested in the inner bird—I want to know everything about the natural history and behavior of the birds that interest me. I guess I really want to know them—and I also at some level want them to know me, hence the falconry. I’m very interested in individual birds, the differences that exist between them in terms of intelligence and adaptability, and yes—though it’s anthropomorphic—their personalities. There are huge differences between individuals of a single species. 

1964

But to go back to your question, the similarity between hard-core falconers and birders is that they share the same level of intensity about their given passions. I guess the difference between them is that birders are lookers and falconers are doers.

5) You have travelled just about everywhere between your job and your joys. Let’s say you have to settle down in one place for the rest of your life to fly hawks and enjoy the view. Where am I sending you?                                                     

You know, I spent so many of my early years moving to different places, always being the new kid in school and having to make new friends and build a new life for myself, that I never felt like I had a home. I used to envy people who still had friends they’d met in kindergarten. Now I’ve been living in the Ithaca area for 20 years, and I think for the first time in my life I feel rooted, in a good way. I like the fact that my wife and all of my children were born in Ithaca. Although it may not be as great for longwing falconry as many other places in North America, it’s definitely a nice place to live. I think the ideal setup for me if I ever get to retire—and that’s a big if; I’ve got one daughter starting at Cornell next year and a couple more kids waiting in the wings—would be to migrate to Nebraska and other parts west for a few months a year with a cadgeful of falcons and get my falconry fix that way. Then, like Odysseus, I’d come home to Ithaca.

This was great, Tim! I love the idea of the “inner bird” and “outer bird” obsession. I think from now on in a varied group of bird lovers I’m going to start conversations asking, “Are you an inny or an outty?”

In all seriousness, thank you for such thoughtful and interesting answers. I’m really looking forward to next spring’s release of your book documenting your search through Mexico for the imperial woodpecker! Let us know when Simon & Schuster has decided on a title and a release date.

Monday Morning Falconry Fix (with accipiter)

Looking at the Dog

A week ago Saturday I had a fantastic reading/presention of LIFT in Southern California. It had everything a reading should have: old friends, family, falconers, a Brittany as chaperon…and Cooper’s hawks. It wasn’t my plan to do hawk transport, but a seven hour drive back home  just sounded better with a hawk in the back of the truck. Honestly, just the thought of it made me a little giddy. So I agreed to chauffeur and when I joked about keeping the hawk myself, I found myself transporting two hawks.

I haven’t flown an accipiter since I was in Australia. I did pretty well with my Aussie brown gos. We took a decent amount of game considering we only had  three months before I released her. That was 12 years ago now, though.

I read back through my notes to see what I could recall. I wondered a little bit how much could be relevant, really, when passages read like this:

 

Notes

 “Caught huge blue-tongued skink (but only until it bit her). Good chases on a couple of bunnies….Found a nest of butcher birds and ate all the nestlings (4?). Took quite a while to get her down…” 

What I did remember in the reading was her tendency to grab first, think second, the amazing speed at which she could change her mind about direction and how much I loved her, even if she was nothing but amygdala.

The notes are wonderful to have as sparse as they are, but it’s the hawk in my living room that is bringing the experience back in a flood. I’m surprised how much a remember. A chitter and sideways look and I’m standing in the bush, praying that the displaying emu won’t charge me when the hawk bates. A bath and a pulled up foot and I’m remembering sitting in the ferns, tucking a rabbit into my vest while the goshawk feaks and balances. I know a tiercel Cooper’s hawk is different, but I’m not exactly the same myself. And then again so much of everything is the same.

Chicken hawk?

There have been days lately when I wonder if there is anything new and blissfully startling left for me. Finding a “first” anything that I would love to risk failing at isn’t as easy as it used to be. 

So I’ve stopped looking.

I’ve gotten lazy. 

I didn’t think I wanted a hawk this summer and this little hawk has questionable history. A brancher kicked from the nest with a brief stint in rehab, he might be a little too fearful. I might be a little too rusty at training a new hawk. I might just end up giving him a chance to learn his footing and send him on his way. Or I might be about to have more fun hunting quail than I’ve had in years. Hell, who am I kidding. I’m already in love. I’m probably in it until the bitter end.

What I do know for certain is that I have wasted more time thinking about falconry, spent more money on falconry equipment and experienced more adulterated falconry glee than I have in years these last 8 days.  

And I’m grateful for that.

embedded by Embedded Video

PS– Is there anything more wonderful than watching an accipiter take its first bath….?

Five on Falconry: Matt Mullenix

 

Matt, Ernie and a Pheasant

Matt Mullenix has been a falconer for 27 years. His first falconry bird, Savannah, was a broad-winged hawk he flew in Panama. Although he had been rehabbing screech owls for a local facility, it was the hawk that set him on the path to a lifelong engagement with falconry. His list of falconry mentors is long, but forced to choose, he cites Harry McElroy as an inspiration, noting that although it is too late for any of us to be Harry, we can aspire to be like him and Matt does. Matt works as a VP in Public Relations for the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. He passes the time during the moult sipping IPAs, eating game and garden vegetables while sharing stories with friends and neighbors about books or football or kids or marriage and often, even in mixed company, falconry.

1) First question includes partial disclosure… we met online back in the days when the kids were just getting online. Then down the road I convinced you to almost bust a lung flushing ducks for my falcon. (Got a spoonie!) You paid me back by telling the whole Internet about my (slightly drunken) assertion that the guest house next to the Bodio’s is haunted. (It is!) I think it’s safe to say we’re friends. How has falconry influenced, shaped and shaken up your friendships over the years?

First, more disclosure: The little house next to Steve’s is definitely haunted. That’s a documented fact, since you and I both documented it. Also, I was glad for your spoonbill, but I vowed never again to run so hard or so far for anyone else’s bird. It gets easier to stick to that promise ever year.

Friendships? Outside immediate family, virtually all my friends and mentors are falconers.

One of my best friends, Eric Edwards of Florida, is an outstanding falconer and my partner in so many small crimes we will never run out of things to talk about over beer. My wedding to Shelly was like a tri-state falconry club summer picnic. My funeral, I hope, will be also.

The power of falconry to shape and seal friendships is something I find myself extolling to new falconers, sometimes to their mild embarrassment or confusion. This is not an aspect of our sport often written about in manuals, but look closely and you will see it. Falconers rely on each other for instruction, aid, companionship, moral and morale support. Like war veterans, perhaps, falconers need one another to understand all the things that can then be left unsaid. This is a relief, and a blessing.

As a falconer who “grew up” in the sport, I can attest also that falconry can provide real job or even career opportunities: what we now call social networking—but through networks based in real-world, personal experience and not solely on internet profiles. Falconry has always been a guild sport.

Hawk and Dog

2) Most of us know you from your writings on falconry, especially American Kestrels in Modern Falconry, a much needed and influential book. Writing a how-to book on falconry has always been incredibly intimidating to me. In fact, I’ll never write one and have a great deal of admiration for yours. What did you learn from writing an informational book for the sport?

Thank you, Rebecca. In fact, I learned a great deal from writing American Kestrels, both about falconry and about publishing. Writing invites and demands close attention to detail, and this is essential to good falconry. Publishing, I learned, is very tedious and an ego-breaker as much as an ego boost. It is not for wimps. At best, being “a published author” in our small circle is a mixed bag.

On the other hand, I’ve met many wonderful people through the book, which still circulates thanks to continued investment and promotion from publisher David Frank at Western Sporting.

But I would say American Kestrels is less a How-To-Do-It book than a How-It-Can-Be-Done book. Kestrels are game and relatively hardy little falcons that have been flown successfully by hundreds of people, at least, and for decades. The techniques I used and wrote down were a mix of personal experience and borrowed wisdom from others. In falconry there are so many paths to success; I can’t say mine is the only or the best, but it is certainly one and well tested.

Will you never write a How-It-Can-Be-Done book? I wonder! I think you have already.

3) The Internet has really changed the way we information share. While I suspect we will all still collect physical books, we now live in a world where anyone can publish their experiences and “expertise” online. In fact, you have been a frequent blogger in the last decade. What sort of advice would you give to a falconer who wanted to share his or her experiences in writing?

Writing should be encouraged among falconers, not necessarily at length but regularly. Writing improves general awareness of the day-to-day, and it provides a valuable record for later weeks or years when past events tend to blur together or disappear. Trust me on this one.

I’ve written two falconry books and parts of others, plus a lot of blogging about falconry and a few other topics. I have been pleased with some of my writing and its effects but certainly not all. My writing benefits from revision and time for focus, and it often suffers from hasty delivery.

Therefore my one caution with the new media (online publication) is that it can be dangerously easy and quick for a thought to get from your mind to the masses. Writing, as I knew it growing up, was a slow process toward publication if it moved in that direction at all. Most of what anyone wrote prior to 1995 never saw the light of day, and that’s probably a good thing. I wonder now if any thought successfully escapes publication.

 

Maggie and Briana Mullenix

4) You have been a falconer for all of your adult life. I was trying to explain to a newbie falconer the other day about the ebb and flow of this obsession over the course of a few decades. I think even true love has its ups and downs –although it seems almost sacrilege to say such a thing. But the last few seasons have been tough, even lackluster, for me. Has falconry always been a steadfast passion for you?

Falconry has been a bright spot for me since the age of 14. It has dimmed recently, to be honest with you, but only relative to its earlier brilliance and to that of new lights—my children, marriage, career—that are almost blinding if taken in all at once. I often wonder how new falconers, adults already enthralled with family and work, can see enough daylight to make good on falconry’s promise. It might be impossible to expect any passion to burn undiminished for a lifetime. I shouldn’t expect that of falconry, but I admit I’m surprised to see other concerns eclipse it even a little.

In addition to a busy modern life, something happened this year to seriously complicate my falconry. I lost a large and fertile hawking spot, a cattle ranch near my home that featured prominently in my book In Season. This property was increasingly important to my falconry as more places fell to development year after year. It was, for one falconer with one hawk and one dog, almost all I needed for a full season’s hawking.

When its owners sold the cattle and turned the land to soybeans, they plowed every inch of pasture and briar and felled nearly every tree. I’m still welcome on the farm, but there’s nothing for me to do there.

Falconers will tell you this is commonplace experience. I could have seen it coming. But I realized only when this happened how leveraged my falconry had become and how vulnerable it was without this last retreat. I’m not sure how I’ll compensate in the coming season. It is frankly depressing.

Hunting Jackrabbits

5) Aliens abduct you and are going to suck away all of your falconry memories for the purposes of their “Experience the Universe — Just like you were there!” theme-park. They tell you can keep one memory. What will it be?

I think the aliens already came. I mentioned earlier about the importance of writing as a lasting record of one’s falconry, and to me this is now vital. With the exception of a few photo albums and ephemeral blog posts, my books contain my sharpest memories of anything specific in almost three decades of falconry.

I have numerous warm if general reflections of favorite hunting spots, friends, birds, dogs and even individual days in the field. But these are usually triggered by photos or by phone calls with friends. If I had just one shining memory to keep forever, I might first have to recover it (through hypnosis?) to make sure it was the best one. Thankfully, it could be one of many hundreds of good memories—any of them, probably.

Given my weakening grasp of specifics, what I want to remember for all time is this: That falconry made me feel whole. For at least a moment in every hunt, I was infused with the whole life of a place and the whole of my attention on it. And that I shared this state of full attention with good animals and good people who knew, instinctively or consciously—or both at once—that we were each connected, of a piece with that place and point in time.

I love this interview, Matt. When we talk about falconry it seems we never talk about simple challenges, like living a wonderful life in conjunction with the sport. It is easy to fly birds with abandon when you are a kid or retired, but there’s a life to live in between there. Thanks for the spoonie, for backing up my ghost story and for your friendship!

You can read more of Matt’s writing along with Steve Bodio’s over at Querencia.

Five on Falconry: Steve Olner

Steve with Shilo

Steve Olner is in his second year as a falconer, flying a red-tailed hawk his wife named Zoie. (They have a deal. She gets to name them. He gets to fly them.) Steve hunts in Colbert, Oklahoma and survived his first season thanks to his sponsor, Steve Armstrong. He is in awe of the falconers who came before us and had to go it alone with no telephones or Internet and had to somehow just figure it out on their own. Steve supports his falconry obsession as a photographer and a programmer. He spends the moult guzzling Dr. Pepper and reminiscing about the time he spent with Ted Nugent and 50 Cent while tending bees or loitering at the race track.

1)      So my trend is partial disclosure in the first question. We met on Twitter. I don’t know if we should admit that, but it did force you to read my memoir. Now that you’ve been sucked into the abyss of falconry, what do you think will be in your own memoir?

Actually I was sucked into reading your book by Stephen Bodio. And I think I added you to Facebook before Twitter. I had been reading your blog but not on a regular basis. If I were to write a book, I would hope I remember the frustrating times as well as the good times in falconry. It was cool to read your book and find someone being honest about their hunting experience. Before falconry I didn’t hunt. Not a lot of people hunt in the UK. Also the person I was married to wasn’t inductive to hunting or fishing. I did fish but had never shot a gun or bow. I had never dispatched or harvested game. Too many people talk about their falconry when they get it right, many never tell about getting it wrong and their screw ups. So I would want it to be honest and a true reflection of learning to hunt with a hawk by someone who didn’t know anything about hunting.

2)      Birds, bees and fast cars. I’m trying to see a connection here. Which came first and how do they

With Bees

all link together?

Falconry kind of came first and last. My parents used to take my sister and I to the public library in Bath, England. I am dyslexic so reading to me is something very special. One day I picked up a book, As the Falcon, Her Bells by Phillip Glasier. It was the most amazing book I had ever read. I was eleven at the time and I would have so loved to have taken up falconry then but that didn’t happen for another 30 years.

 

I have always been fascinated by birds of prey. Three years ago I was working for a local magazine and had seen some redtails on posts by the roadside. I thought falconry would be a cool thing to find out about and I ended up writing a photo story with my now sponsor about falconry. Whilst I was finding out about it I thought, why not just do this, so started working out how to become an apprentice.

 

Cars came second. I got a contract to photograph Porsche Racing in the UK. I fell in love with it. There is nothing like the noise and excitement from a race and it’s almost on the same level of the excitement you get when on a slip and catching game. I also like talking with the drivers. They come from all walks of life and it’s interesting to watch them in their jubilations as well as the lows.

Bee’s came about unexpectedly. When I first arrived in the USA I wasn’t allowed to work until my immigration status was finalized. After a while, cleaning the house and being a house-husband was driving me up the wall. So I started helping a friend clear some brush and cut some trees. We felled a black jack tree and in it were some bees. I had read about the issues that bees had (CCD) and decided there and then to try and save the ones we had chopped down. By that afternoon I had built a box to put the bees in and had moved them to the house. Bee keeping kind of went from there. It’s frustrating but fascinating all at the same time.

What links them all together is kind of abstract but it’s what I get out of them the feeling of achievement and excitement, learning about what works and what doesn’t. It’s that warm fuzzy feeling you get when something goes very right. It’s the YES factor.

Shilo in the air

3)      Has your photography changed at all since you became a falconer? How do you see it shaping your art in the future?

In the last two years not really. I still shoot Digital as well as Film. Stuff I want to keep I shoot with film. I haven’t mastered flying a hawk and taking pictures at the same time yet. I find I’m too busy worrying about the hawk and beating brush. My wife has taken some of me training and creance flying. She’s taken some great work of which I’m very proud of. The things I take photos of has changed its more portrait and weddings and less photojournalistic and motorsport. As for the future I find life changes all the time, something new or some opportunity always comes along, the trick is to be fluid with it. There are a lot of things I would like to get into like wildlife photography or some great landscapes photography.

4)      I drove through Oklahoma once a little too fast to stop. I saw a lot of pheasant hunting going on though and maybe I should have stopped. What is the best part of hawking Oklahoma?

That depends on where you live. I live in the south so there is a lot of squirrel hunting and a lot of small birds. In the north there is more quail and pheasants and a lot more rabbits. People like Jonathan Coleman and Ryan VanZant seem to be tearing it up, which is pretty cool. I hunt a lot of public land where the going is tough but all the sweeter when you do catch something. I think I may be one of the few falconers south of Oklahoma city, most are in the OKC or North Oklahoma. I don’t know anything about east of the state, something to work on in the future.

A Sweet Life

5)     In honor of Twitter. Describe a great day in the field in 140 characters.

To me it’s about the experience. Getting your bird on to a slip and increasing the odds of catching something.

Steve, it was really fun getting to know you better! We all seem to have so much in common and yet so many unique experiences. Someone should write a book… 😉

You can read more of Steve’s experiences over on his falconry blog and beekeeping blog. You can also find Steve and wife’s photography here. Check it out!

The Way of the eBook

I hope everyone is loving the Wednesday interviews as much as I’m enjoying writing the questions and getting the answers. I have several in the queue and quite a few other falconers who have agreed to be tormented. I’m hoping to keep this going throughout the moult!

Available Now!

In the meantime, as my July 1 release date approaches for the eBook RISE and debut of LIFT on Kindle, I’m honing my eBook creating and distribution skills. Check out my short story, available FOR FREE  here on Smashwords (use the coupon code FT48U when you check out if it’s no longer listed as free) or if you feel like throwing a little change for beer my way, get it on Amazon for .99.

Also, keep your eyes out for a give away of some of my favorite falconry things soon!

xxR

Five on Falconry: John Pittman

Luz, Shakin'

John Pittman has been a falconer for ten years and got his start in Madbury, Maine. His favorite falconry bird is Luz, a peregrine falcon and he cites Teddy Mortiz as a falconry muse. John works as a Director of Information Services although he dreams of retiring and someday being voted “great person to go for a walk with” by the New England Dogs ‘n Kids Association. He spends the moult avoiding washing the windows by nibbling on wasabi almonds while checking to make sure his telemetry receiver still works.

1) First question always involves partial disclosure about you and me. I’ve known you for quite some time, but only online. We have a ton of mutual friends that I’ve met in person though, so I think that’s close enough to make us friends IRL. Which is good, because I’m dying to tour your house. You are like the best kind of nature/scifi geek. Amphibians, carnivorous plants, funky cool books, dogs, falcons…. When did the falconry come in and how does this all fit together for you?

Nepenthes truncata Paisan Highlands (AKA Massive Pitcher Plant!)

I’ve been interested in falconry since I was a kid. Like, I suspect, quite a few American falconers, I read My Side of the Mountain; it sounded like heaven to me. I’d been berrying (with my mom) and chasing frogs, newts, lizards, etc. from the beginning, so the idea of pulling a Sam Gribley never seemed like a tall tale to me. When I was just starting Middle School, we moved to a town outside of Schenectady, NY and for some reason the Schenectady public library had quite a few falconry books. I mean, As The Falcon Her Bells AND Observations on Modern Falconry (the 2 I remember most clearly) in a public library? Go figure. I read ’em all. Then, about 15 years ago, I came across A Rage For Falcons and it became obvious to me that falconry was within the realm of possibility. I found a sponsor and…
Falconry fits me in so many ways. I am a bibliomane – falconry lit is extensive (to say the least). I like hunting and gathering. I like inter-species relationships (no, not that kind! sheesh) and establishing a working partnership with a raptor is as good as it gets.
Falconry lets me get involved in the non-made world (what some would call the natural world, but I maintain that it’s ALL natural – even the stuff we plains apes do) in a very direct, immediate way. I’m able to put things aside and concentrate on the job at hand – where’s the bird? where’s the prey? is this going to be a good slip? – and then, once things start to happen, to focus on the drama that I’ve set in motion and taken a small part in. When I’m gun hunting over the dogs the ‘in the moment’ concentration is there, but when the bird flushes things resolve very quickly. It’s difficult to identify with the cloud of shot or the grouse (just not enough time for the latter) – when I’m hawking I have the time and the inclination to identify with both predator and prey. The art and practice is simultaneously beautiful, terrifying and awe inspiring.
 
2) I know you teach dog training too and of course, training domestic animals is very different than training a wild one. All the same, I’m curious what training raptors has brought to your teaching style and philosophies on training.

More than anything else, it’s reinforced -incredibly strongly- the need to keep 3 things front and center in any training situation:
a) The animal you are trying to work with is not a little person in a fur or feather suit. It is a different species with a different sensorium and a different list of priorities. Dogs, because they are such amazingly co-evolved companions, will often let you BS yourself. A raptor won’t and both the dogs and the raptors benefit from the trainer being more clear-eyed.
b) The animal you are trying to work with is an individual. Obvious in the dog world and reinforced by finding that a creature with an even shorter to-do list, the raptor (eat, eat, eat, and if the season is right, mate), still has plenty of room for variation. Work with the critter in front of you, not the last one or the idealized one.
c) Succeed. Do whatever you need to do to move forward – put the critter in a situation where the response you want is the obvious and easy(er) one. Like points 1 & 2, sometimes easier said than done, but you have to try!
 
 

John and His Daughter Once Upon a Time....

3) I know there is a new Light-Of-Your-Life who is a wonderful tiny human addition (at least occasionally) to your awesome menagerie. What do you think is most important to share with the children in your life as far as the natural world and falconry?
She is wonderful – thanks for noticing ;-). The most important thing to share with her is time outside. Just that. I’d love it if she grows up to be a woodswoman but in any case I want her to be comfortable outside and nothing substitutes for modeling behavior. So – we’re going to continue to go for walks, pick blueberries, picnic, and eventually go fishing and hawking and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Other folks reading this – demonstrate what you’d like your kids to emulate. Be outside. Be calm (don’t freak out about minor things including creepy-crawlies). Go bird-watching. Gather stuff with your children and eat it. Eating raspberry pie/cobbler/jam made out of raspberries you picked together is about as good as life gets.
 
4) Being the serious techie that you are, I’m very curious to hear what you think is the future of falconry in an increasingly wireless world…

My big idea falconry tech-wise is integrating a GPS receiver on to the telemetry transmitter. We’re not there yet – size and power consumption haven’t come down enough – but I can envision a transmitter that encodes location data into each of its beeps.
Something that wouldn’t surprise me, but that I’m ambivalent about, is a video camera/transmitter backpack. I know NatGeo has done this already, but again, only a matter of time before the rigs are so small that it stops being a big operation. I’m not sure where I want my vantage point to be – I think I’d like my falcon to be an independent operator with me looking on, astonished.
 
5) I check your blog frequently to see your newest discoveries in creepy/cool nature models, mechanized animals and steampunk “artifacts”. If you and I went hawking in a Steam Punk universe, what would be your best falconry accessory(ies)?
It would probably be the zeppelin-built-for-two we’d use to follow the chase when we went crow-hawking. Envision a pumpkin-seed-shaped envelope of engineered carbon (diamondoid, if you will) surrounding a hard vacuum for lift; suspended below is a tube-frame gondola with 2 lovely leather seats, a pair of large propellers with integral electric motors and a brass and aluminium box containing Mr. Tesla’s finest super light, high capacity batacitors (to power the motors).
 
It was so much fun talking to you, John! We really have to do it in person over wasabi almonds sometime! Your insights on molding our youth and our animals should give everyone something to think about or at least reminds themselves to consider.
And I would love to write a short story about crow-hawking in your zeppelin-for-two only to stumble upon a murder, a mute goggle and empire boot-wearing witness and a strange clockwork box that is the key to solving the mystery…But only if someone will illustrate the zeppelin…

Five on Falconry: Katherine Browne

Katherine and Artemis

Katherine Browne has been a falconer for five years and started her falconry career flying a red-tailed hawk named Artemis in Klamath Falls, Oregon. She still enjoys the friendship and advice of her sponsor Donald Adams and now flies a goshawk. Katherine works as the Dealer Relations and Pro-Staff Coordinator for Prois Hunting Apparel and is a flyfishing guide for WillowFly Anglers. She is also a writer and frequently contributes to Women’s Outdoor News. Katherine spends the moult making jesses or finding just about anything to do outdoors so she doesn’t have to wash the dishes.

1)      First up, partial disclosure on how I know you. I actually don’t know you at all except for recently following you on Facebook, where I am enthralled with your adventures and photos. Can you talk about Prois and how you got involved with such a great company and landed such a kickass job?

I am so grateful for my job at Prois. I met Prois CEO Kirstie Pike after a mutual friend insisted that we meet.  Kirstie and Prois had been featured in our local paper a week before my women’s fly fishing club had been featured.  Neither of us really understood why he insisted until we met.  Prois is the finest most technical women’s hunting apparel available on the market.  At Prois we really believe in promoting women in the outdoors and in hunting.  Before Prois women had to settle for sub-par hunting apparel or for men’s or kids apparel.  I am so grateful to be a part of the Prois team and I am so excited about the future of the company.

2)      You aren’t just a falconer. You are definitely an outdoor “Jill of all trades”. What is it that falconry brings to your life that is different from other outdoor experiences?

Falconry was my first hunting experience and without falconry I may have never become a hunter.  No form of hunting is quite as spiritual for me as falconry.  Falconry is the oldest sport known to man and before there were firearms, humans, raptors, and dogs were working together to catch game.  The animals we pursue with our birds have had thousands of years to learn how to escape birds of prey and much less time to evolve to the advent of guns and bullets.  .  Falconry appeals to me in many ways.  It is such a fair chase method of hunting, the partnership you cultivate with a wild animal is incredible, and I have always loved training animals.  I was amazed that you could trap a wild raptor and train it to accept you as its hunting companion.  Falconry is not always romantic.  It requires an incredible amount of patience, dedication, and time but if you are passionate about the sport there is nothing like it.  For these reasons and many more falconry will always occupy a special place in my heart.

Ginormous Rainbow Trout

I am always annoyed people who eat meat and are anti-hunting.  I myself have given up meat before getting into hunting because I hated how animals are commercially kept.  There is nothing more free-range than an animal that has lived its life in the wild then is taken by a hunter.  I strive to use as much of each animal I kill as possible which is pretty easy as a falconer.  With falconry nothing goes to waste and it is the most fair chase method of hunting that I know of.  Every part of an animal can be eaten and is important to the health of a bird of prey including the fur and feather.  I also wish people knew that killing is not what hunting is all about.  I love the pursuit and I often have cause to cheer the animal that gets away just as much as I celebrate the animals I take.  I say a prayer for the animals I kill and thank them for giving their lives to feed me and my birds.  I also love seeing the sunrise and set, I love sitting still and watching animals behave naturally, and I love being a part of the drama that unfolds daily in nature.  I believe if more people really connected with nature as many hunters do we would treat this world a lot better than we do.    Hunting is a great way to connect with nature and hunters are some of the leading conservationists.

With her Goshawk, Hades

4)      We’ve really seen an upward trend in the number of women in falconry in the last ten years, which is fantastic. If this trend continues in falconry as well as other forms of hunting, what do you think the future of hunting and outdoor recreation will be?

I have been amazed while working at Prois at the number of women that are getting into hunting and falconry, I think it’s fantastic.  I am so impressed by the many women that are talented and successful hunters, falconers, fly fishers, and outdoors women, and I am gratefeul for all they have taught me and continue to teach me.  Women are the fastest growing demographic in both fly fishing and hunting.  Women really take the time to learn as much as possible and work very hard to perfect their skills in male dominated sports.  I believe women are the future of outdoors sports and I know the future of hunting is much more secure than it would be without women.  I believe more and more women with continue to learn and enjoy hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits and I am so excited to continue to be a part of this growing trend.

5)      So when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives I would like to know what you’ll wearing and carrying. (I’m definitely copying your gear.)

I have spent more time thinking about this than is probably healthy.  I love living in Gunnison in part because if anything happens I know Eric and I would be able to survive and thrive by heading for the mountains.  I will be wearing my Prois Hunting Apparel without question.  I have never been more comfortable in the field, hunting and fishing than I have been since owning Prois Apparel.  I would bring our fly fishing equipment, a few boxes of flys, and fly tying materials.  I would bring my goshawk Hades, our two dogs, camping equipment, and as many firearms and as much ammo as we could carry.  I would also bring a book about Colorado’s edible plants so we wouldn’t have to just eat meat and fish all the time.  I think we would do quite well.  Gunnison has a small population and it’s pretty isolated so the zombie threat would be pretty manageable. 🙂

Excellent! Thanks, Katherine I think I’m about set for the apocalypse now! And it was really great getting to know you better. I glad you’re out there getting more women involved in hunting and fishing and sharing the joy you find engaging with the natural world!

Be sure to friend Katherine on Facebook if you want to keep up with over her constant adventures – it’s almost as good as being out there yourself.

Five on Falconry: Steve Bodio

Steve Bodio

Steve Bodio has been a falconer for 48 years and started his falconry career flying a red-tailed hawk called Cinnamon in Boston, Massachusetts. He names John Loft: teacher, Classicist, scholar, translator, poet, master of the Merlin (E. B. Michell’s natural successor), and friend as a falconry inspiration.  Steve is a writer and perhaps best known in the falconry circle for

A Rage for Falcons and Querencia, although his publications are numerous. It isn’t just us falconers who love him either. Well known by gun aficionados and pigeon enthusiasts, he has also been included in the Best Travel Essay of 2003, edited by Frances Mayes. When Steve isn’t traveling he spends the moult with his longdogs, enviable library and gun collection. And occassionally he takes a bit of time to sip vodka at the Golden Spur and tell me stories of his encounters with the Craigheads —while I lament that I was born in the wrong decade to marry one of those rapscallions.

1)      So let’s begin with partial disclosure. A Rage for Falcons is completely responsible for my crazy desire to be a “literary falconer”. How has falconry influenced your writing and vice versa?

As Tom McGuane said of On The Road, it gave me the keys to the highway. Having such an exotic theme made it much easier to sell my first book, at least in those days (Rage came out in 1984). Falconry led me to the west, where I came to live, to Asia for eagles and to friends in England. Asian connections got me my hounds, which hunt with birds both in Asia and New Mexico. If I have a “meta-theme” to all my work, from pigeons to dogs to travel, it is the relation of humans to nature through their animal partners, and you could argue that I got this subject from my relationship with falconry.

Longdogs!

2)      It’s no secret that you have straightforward unflinching opinions. So, falconry today… Did we miss the “good old days” or are they in our future?

I think we’re living in a fortunate time because of the exchange of information that is possible. After the death of the grand tradition — after Col. Thornton and the Loo Club, around 1820 — English falconry and its American descendant became rather stodgy, despite the experiences of people like the Craigheads in India. The English and Americans flat- out lost gyr-saker pursuit flight skills, and stopped doing out-of-the hood flights, never mind chasing such quarry as hares or cranes with falcons. (A lot of lies circulated about the alleged cruelty of the hare flight for instance, spread by people who had never seen one– utter nonsense, to be as polite as I can!)

Americans began to shake things up in the 60s, starting with Harris hawks and telemetry, adding transmitters and hybrids to classical game hawking on the grouse fields of the west and so on. Nick Fox in England integrated what he learned from Arab falconry and began flying crows out of the hood on horseback. Now we have the internet and modern communications with old falconry traditions in Asia and the Middle East that were lost in the west. A perfect example is the archaic way my friends and I fly long-wings at hares with the aid of longdogs. All times and spaces are accessible — it’s a new golden age!

Which doesn’t mean not to keep a sanely paranoid eye looking over your shoulder…

Feed me!

3)      What is the single most important lesson that you have gleaned from a lifetime of falconry?

Number one: fly your bird. That one’s obvious. Number two, though most Americans won’t do it: keep your bird in the house with you and your dogs the way the Asians do. Behavior is SO much better. See photos (you know and have seen that we also raise quiet non- aggressive imprints).

4)      I know that you have had your fair share of rough times past and present. Yet, I deeply envy your relationships which seem balanced and rich.  How has falconry shaped your connection with people?

Well, I can’t count the number of friends I’ve made through falconry, among them some of my best. There are a few single-subject obsessive types among falconers, but the majority of the good ones are interested in practically anything and everything. They are naturalists, readers, and enthusiasts, and among my favorite people.

5)      Blog readers also know that you’re my gun tutor and my writing advisor. So I have to ask this. We’re crossing a post-apocalyptic wilderness. I’m letting you take one gun, one “hawk” and one dog. What are we taking?

For one gun: if it’s a rifle I’m going to do what we did before and end up with a good old cowboy .30-30 Winchester lever, perhaps with an after-market peep sight for accuracy. (Other favorites like 7 mm Mauser rejected as before as less available or “scavenge- able”). I was surprised after our last discussion how many people suggested .22s to me because of the portability of ammunition. Sure, Indians killed bears with them but the bears tended to be asleep — you certainly can’t stop a dangerous animal with them!

A Little Gun

I might make one more suggestion if you don’t mind carrying two kinds of ammo: a German “drilling” or three barreled gun with two shotgun barrels side-by-side and a rifle under. I have seen one in 16 x 16 with .30-30 underneath. That would do almost anything, and if you thought it too wimpy they come in larger gauges and calibers. With all you will end up with more ammo weight than with the Cowboy Gun and you may not need the shotgun– see next paragraph ( if you could get some weird bespoke German one- off with say .30- 30 above and .22 below I might be intrigued though…)

I don’t suggest a shotgun as some have done because the bird and dog will get you small game– you need to deal with big stuff, edible and dangerous, “there”.

The hawk has got to be a goshawk, probably a male because he is lighter to carry. I considered a Harris but you didn’t give me a climate, and while goshawks fly in the southwest corner of China and in India, you couldn’t fly a Harris in Mongolia. Either of the above will catch anything, and the gos will do it faster. Although the Harris has a nicer personality, Asian falconers seem to be able to get gosses to ride on the city busses unhooded while people blow smoke in their faces. That’s good enough for me.

No doubt at all for the dog. My SECOND choice would be a crossbred sighthound x herding dog, a classic lurcher, which some people think more obedient than my first choice: a tazi, obviously. For your readers that’s an eastern — mine are Kazakh — saluki of the kind that has been hunted with hawks for 6000 years. My best will bay big game, kill and retrieve hares or chase them into the hawks’ grasp, and work like a bird dog to the gun. My very best female and her nearest rival do all of this without any formal teaching. They THINK. (The girls think more than the boys though smaller, and will still tackle anything…)

To recap: Model 1894 .30- 30, pre- ‘64 if you can get one, with a Williams receiver sight; male (Eurasian for calm if available) gos; female working- strain “salukimorph”.

I wish I had done this years ago, Steve. You’ve reiterated things I’ve come to believe through you and offered some insights I wasn’t expecting. I’ll be out with my Henry lever action .22 and a hawk this fall for sure! And I can’t imagine everyone doesn’t already read your blog, but if you don’t you should read Querenecia regularly. Also, read Steve’s books and watch for new ones! It’s not easy making a living writing—but it’s a little easier if all your friends support your work!