Thursday, January 19, 2017

Now in paperback . . .

I'm pleased to announce that Simon & Schuster has just released a new paperback edition of Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre, about my perilous travels in the drug lands of northern Mexico in search of the world's rarest bird. The Imperial Woodpecker is a giant—the largest woodpecker that ever lived—and the closest relative of the famed Ivory-billed Woodpecker of the American South. Many believe the Imperial Woodpecker is extinct, but I set out to see if any of them might yet exist in the remotest reaches of the high-mountain mesa pine forests of Mexico. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Remembering Jim Enderson

James H. Enderson

I was very sorry to hear about the death of falcon researcher Jim Enderson, who passed away on Tuesday, January 10. Jim was a Professor Emeritas of Biology at The Colorado College, where he taught for nearly 40 years, from 1962 to 2001. A key figure in raptor Conservation, he was one of the biologists who brought the desperate plight of the Peregrine Falcon to the attention of the scientific community at the landmark 1965 Madison Peregrine Conference. A few months after the conference, he and a fellow researcher floated the entire 1,000-mile length of Canada's Mackenzie River in a canoe, searching for nesting peregrines.

I first met Jim when I was 16, at a national falconry meet in South Dakota, and got to hear firsthand all about his adventures on the Mackenzie. He later was closely involved in the successful effort to breed peregrines in captivity and release them to the wild, and he served on the administrative board of The Peregrine Fund. Jim wrote a wonderful book about the decline and recovery of the species titled, Peregrine Falcon: Stories of the Blue Meanie (University of Texas Press, 2001).

I got to spend time with Jim again several years ago during a research trip to northern Greenland, where Peregrine Fund biologists were studying Gyrfalcons, tundrius peregrines, and their High Arctic prey species. Although I didn't see him again after that, we always kept in touch and hoped to get together to fly our falcons at game. He will be greatly missed. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Women in Falconry in the Medieval Age

I've always loved medieval illuminated manuscripts—particularly those depicting field sports, such as falconry, hence my lifelong fascination with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and his beautiful 13-century tome, De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (On the Art of Hunting with Birds). But another of my favorites is The Taymouth Hours—an illuminated book of hours created in England ca. 1325-40. What makes this manuscript truly unique is that it contains an entire section depicting young, upper-class women engaged in hunting sports. Besides falconry, some show women hunting with a sling, a bow and arrow, and coursing dogs at a variety of game, or using ferrets to flush rabbits from a hole. There's even one in which three women are field-dressing a stag. 

What's great is that not a single man is present in any of these illustrations. These women are self-sufficient and clearly don't need any help. None of them is wearing a wimple or a veil, so they are probably unmarried. 

I wish I knew more of the story behind these illustrations. I've never seen any others quite like them, focused entirely on women engaged in activities that were far more associated with men in that time period. Even in the falconry scenes, the women in The Taymouth Hours are not flying Merlins (the "Lady's Hawk") at Skylarks. They're flying what I assume are Goshawks at mallards and hares. (Although the wings are rather long and pointed for a Goshawk, the very long tail, the gray barring underneath, and the fact that the hawk is being flown at close range from the fist at large ducks and hares makes Goshawk seem most likely to me.)

Here are several more illustrations from the book, below:

A hawk sits on a screen perch as a hare looks on. 

A falconer slips her hawk at a Mallard she flushed from a pond or river.

Making in to the hawk on a duck kill. 

Hunting with a sling.

Coursing for hare.