Wednesday, November 28, 2007

hoots, mon

Chinggis was a Scotsman! Or at least maybe an honorary one. Post facto.

Annie just sent the announcement that there will be a St. Andrews Night Celebration on Friday at the Steppe Inne, Ulaan Baatar's coolest, diminutive nightspot. As Paul Bacon writes on iExplore: "Whereas most embassies around the world are more renowed for diplomacy and issuing visas, the British Embassy in Mongolia is famed for the pub that sits in its grounds."

Alexa, a former NGO worker in UB, has a little of the history of the Steppe Inne here from her 2006/2007 blog, AYearinMongolia.

Andrew McLaughlin of mentions the Steppe Inne in a longer journal entry about the non-Mongolian food selections in UB. He wrote his piece in 2003: I enjoyed a Millie's cappucino when we were there in December 2004 -- and while we did enjoy the food at Taj Mahal, if you're looking for Indian food in the capital, we heartily recommend the restaurant at the Puma International Hotel just off Sukhbaatar Square.

And here's Dan Murdoch's very recent post about passing through UB in a mini-convoy of Trabants. Not so much about the Steppe Inne, but a fun, funky, and random travelogue entry on their way through UB last week: "The Mongolian version of Vodka Red Bull. I'll have a double Genghis with Genghis."

But here's an encylopaedic entry on St. Andrew from Wikipedia: incidentally, Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, and Russia. But they don't have bars in Mongolia.

Monday, November 26, 2007

update from Team-Vizsla: eastern MA chapter

Here's a couple of great pictures from Rich and Adrian. Here's their junior majesty, Khumbu, the 85ft Vizsla pup. (Great low-angle pic!) He's just shy of 4mos old and already 27lbs -- and a looker just like his sister. He's already has his first points on training birds. Good luck with that little firecracker!

And here's a nice B&W pic of Ella taken back in late September. Rich had better take a few shooting lessons so he doesn't let his, now, two beautiful bird-dogs down.

Thanks for the pics, Rich.


Ingredient #1: Kudos to Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles. I actually stayed up past my bedtime to see if they would pull off an upset to equal Arkansas's recent win over #1 ranked LSU. They didn't, but they sure as heck made the Pats work for every point.

Randy Moss was shut down, Tom Brady was harried by an endless series of blitzes, the Pats running game looked imminently fallible. By contrast, AJ Feeley looked more like the starting QB than the back-up and Brian Westbrook took every yard he could possibly get. And, at least in my opinion, the guy who really showed up out of relative obscurity to help win the game wasn't Asante Samuel (with his 2 interceptions), but Jabar Gaffney.

Ingredient #2: I heard the first few bars of the State of Maine's official Christmas song on the radio. It makes sense that the Pine Tree State would stake a claim to an official Tannenbaum ode -- but I had no idea it had such a history. Or an authorized CD.

Ingredient #3: It's deer season in NY. The boys and I are limiting our time in the woods between now and December 10th to minimize the possibility of an accident. Hopefully we'll get to chase some pheasant at a friend's club in ten days or so.

In the meantime here's a phone photo of Vizslas at speed here in the Bronx. It's a nice blend of 'wild' and 'urban tough'... maybe that's a gangsta log... we're especially fond of the graffiti on downed trees around here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

bits and bobs

1) Jozsi continues to grow. He must be about 85% the size of his brother, Momo, but is about a gajillion feet longer. Whenever it gets to the end of the day, trying to get him off his chair and out to the bathroom nearly always takes picking him up. At which point, he extends himself to his fullest... which seems to be about 19ft.

We sent in his AKC papers today. We've decided to stick with the simple -- but wanted to honor both his mother's owners by including both their kennel names. His Junior Majesty will henceforth be known as Widdershins Upwind Jozsi. Here's a picture of all three of the boys relaxing in front of the Patriots vs. the Bills. Momo is a diver: his butt can just barely be seen under my right shoulder.

2) I have no idea which depth of my ever-fogging brain I pulled this out of, but somehow the name Nogbad the Bad kept coming in my mind. Maybe it was something to do with officially 'christening' His Junior Majesty. Dredging further, I extracted the children's series Noggin the Nog. As you can see, Noggin's trip to the moon inspired the cult-classic The Clangers.

3) Lloyd Carr has officially retired. He was a good coach, but seemed to lack that edge that makes a good coach genuinely great. Somehow I had missed this headline in September from The Onion about U.Michigan being dropped to NCAA Division III. That should make some of the interdivisional play in the MIAA conference a little easier -- although since their National Championship glory days of 1994, Albion College (just down the road) also seems to have been struggling.

4) Annie-bagsh has a great post on her blog about getting back to eastern Mongolia and visiting the monastery in Choibalsan for the Shiini Nam celebration. It's almost three years to the day since we were in Choibalsan. There are rumors of a Super Walmart opening up -- but those may just be vicious rumors spread by her brother.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

grouse fans + fans grousing

1) Grouse fans:
Based on my examination of the tail-fan and feathers of the grouse we took in Maine, I think it's most likely a male. Michael Furtman's recent book, Ruffed Grouse: Woodland Drummer, has what seems to be the best summary of the research on grouse sexing. He also has some incredible photographs that are well worth the asking price of the book.

As he relays, regional variations in grouse size affect how long the tail feathers are and, therefore, in the absence of sample data from your particular area, mere measurement of an individual bird's tail-feathers isn't a very reliable indicator of sex. By the same token, just looking at the butt feathers or the banding on the tail feathers isn't entirely reliable either. In Furtman's opinion, a combination of the latter two factors should give a high degree of certainty.

Because our grouse had an unbroken dark band across the base of its tail and a single white spot on the butt feathers immediately above the tail, I'm figuring this was a male, grey-phase grouse.

2) Fans grousing:
Michigan plays Ohio State in college football in a little under an hour. Both teams are coming off a loss the previous week -- UM to the Badgers of Wisconsin, OSU to Badger-slayers Illinois. ESPN thinks this might be Lloyd Carr's last game against Jim Tressel... I think more than a few of us UM alums wish it might have been sooner.

In any case, UM is playing for bragging rights and OSU to have even a possibility of staying in a national title race. But this is arguably the greatest sports rivalry of all time, certainly in college sports.

We'll see if Dan at shotonsite is right -- that OSU is overrated because of its weak schedule -- or whether my thoughts about UM's slow starts in games will be its undoing against the machine known as jim Tressel.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

a grouse equation

I prepared Momo's first grouse this morning, saving the wings for training and the tail-fan to commemorate His Senior Majesty's achievement, and of course the breast meat (which I will most likely eat at Thanksgiving). I will do my best to sex the bird once I get home this evening and can take a little time to examine the tail-fan.

Ruffed grouse being opportunistic feeders, they adapt what they eat as seasons, cover, and appetite change. While many authors point to the frequent overlap between alder trees (which provide moisture- and nutrient-rich buds) and grouse populations, their research over time and place invariably notes the diversity of grouse food. Being a curious type, I was interested to examine the crop contents of the bird we had taken. The crop is the sac-like container in the espohagus prior to the digestive tract -- and at least for the Spruce Grouse can hold up to 10% of the bird's body weight for digestion at night (while predators are also asleep). Grouse, like many other gallinaceous birds, will also consume a significant amount of gravel to help in breaking down and digesting plant cellulose. We didn't find any in the crop of this bird -- but did find clover and small fern leaves that, perhaps not surprisingly because they hadn't entered the digestive tract, still smelled wonderfully fresh (despite being frozen and defrosted).

(Here's a nice outline from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for a Wildlife Management Activity Guide for teachers to use in their biology classes and then share their data with the NPS. And here's a nice reference article from 1928 of what grouse were eating up around Syracuse, NY.)

My friend, Dudley, has a nice simple equation for finding grouse: gravel, water, greenery, and cedar = grouse. The greenery largely offer food, while the cedar could most likely be subsituted for other evergreens because it provides good roosting cover above ground predators and visual coverage from raptors flying above.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

big game season...

I forgot to mention that Jozsi's half-birthday was yesterday. He is therefore six-months old and a whopping 41lbs. And in a pleasant personality development, he's become quite snuggly. Until a couple of weeks ago he was stridently independent, although clearly devoted to us. Now... he's a big softy-pants. But still quite vicious and manly, of course.

However the highlight of this post is really to flag that The Redgirls have a fabulous post on their site about the Opening Day of their game season. I am very impressed at their prowess on H. vulgaris... although it looks like they had the wee beasties on flat ground and therefore at a significant disadvantage.

Not sure if they were pen-reared or genuinely wild haggis, but it's great to see the girls using their genetic abilities to the full.

It inspired me to see whether our two monsters had any latent skill on the wee beasties. As you can tell, Momo couldn't quite his snout around it, but Jozsi being the wee tanker was all over the two specimens we had kept for just this purpose.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

the way life ought to be

We miss Maine. New York has been better than I thought it would be, but after our roadtrip this past weekend we got the hankerings to go back. Whether we can act on those hankerings is another thing altogether.

So we drove up through western MA and met up with Rich and Ella, and Mike, Cedar and Kyler, up in Bernardston, MA for an afternoon of dog training. It was mostly successful. I don't know that the dogs learned anything new, but they did have fun. Here's a nice pic of Cedar pointing a chukar... what may not be obvious is that Cedar is a relatively big (63lb), darker Vizsla from lines out in Iowa. He's a beautiful boy and, at five years old, a big sweetheart. His sister, Kyler, is a half-sister to Jozsi. She is a petite firecracker (43lbs) who was taking no guff from either of our two boys... although she seemed to be flirting with Momo half the time.

We spent the night with Mike and Kim -- and Rich came over for dinner, as well. It was a five Vizsla house for several hours! They all had a great time together -- and our two certainly slept like babies. On Sunday morning, we scooted over to Hedgerow Hunt Club for the 2nd Annual VCCNE Pheasant Hunt -- mostly to meet other members and support the club's activities. As has been mentioned before, the folks at VCCNE have been very friendly and supportive towards us and we appreciate being part of that group.

My impression was that the 'hunt' was mostly for club members who'd maybe done a few hunt tests, were thinking about starting hunting, or simply wanted to give their dog some exposure to other birds besides bird-field quail. Essentially, each dog and handler got led out into one of two areas and then had either an hour or two pheasant and a chukar... whichever came first. And the hunt areas had a nice mixture of taller grasses and smaller pines for the birds to hunker down in. I took Momo and despite some evasive avian manouveurs, we were out for a swift 33mins! Stephanie's husband, Mannie, had gone out with us to show us the field -- and got to witness Momo's point on the chukar (and my successful pirouetting shot). When we wandered back in he said 'You couldn't get anything else to pop up?' I guess they couldn't hear my two other shots. I told them I just didn't want everyone eating all the donuts.

Anyways, thanks to Stephanie Gutierrez for putting together another nice event. It was a shame we had to bug out quickly so we could get to Rangeley before nightfall.

This pic was taken with my phone and shows us coming around Height of Land on Route 17N, looking down onto Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Beautiful. And a surprisingly good picture. (I'm not going to post the picture of the large moose we came upon driving the same way back this afternoon. While this one is nice and clear, the moose picture looks more like a Bigfoot or Nessie picture from 1970.)

It's always nice to see Dudley and Susan -- and Lida, their GSP. They are also looking after their son's Golden, Baxter, while he is in London for a year. Needless to say after several hours of cavorting, all four of them slept well.

Momo and I had come on a mission though. I haven't seen more than two grouse in a single day in lower New York State, and those were clearly yearlings who didn't deserve to get shot at in the final weeks of last year's season. However, Maine is rumored to have more than two grouse. The first two spots Dudley and I tried seemed to underline the mythical nature of the ruffed grouse. A single wild flush. After lunch, though, we tried a third spot on the west side of Mooselookmeguntic and found a nice pocket of them -- although all single birds.

The box-score for the two hours we were out in the afternoon was: 4 wild flushes, 5 productive points, 1 Hail Mary shot for psychological purposes, and no birds. In much the same way that there seems to be an exponential step from planted, bird-field birds to stocked birds in wildlife areas, there is a mammoth step to actual wild birds. Momo and I have experienced it with woodcock. But thinking that a pointing dog will give you anything other than a second's warning on a ruffed grouse or that it will fly in any kind of direction to give you a straight shot is hubris. Now I know why folks will refer to them as the King of the Forest. In most cases, all we got was a flash of grey and the occasional glimpse of a tail-fan before it turned a corner and left you ga ga. For his first real exposure to grouse, Momo did really well. Here he is looking pensive.

We did have a lovely dinner here. I'll admit surprise that there is a restaurant serving good quality, Southwestern food in Rangeley -- but it was tasty, relatively inexpensive, and they had Dogfish Head 60Minute IPA on draft! If you're in the area, check them out. I think it's a relatively new business and they deserve to stick around.

Momo and I went back this morning to see if we could find anything. As opposed to the afternoon before, the weather was now cool, misting rain, and blustery. We'd had four flushes as we decided to head back, but nipped down a skidder trail that Dudley and I had avoided the day before. Momo got a point into some dense, mostly evergreens -- and I sent him in. He stopped again and a bird flushed up through the tall 30' trees. It sat on a branch. And so being a sportsmanly type and I sent Momo in again and whooped loudly. The bird lifted off and I took him down cleanly. It might not have been the most challenging of shots, but seeing Momo's excitement at the bird on the ground after hours of chasing shadows was worth it. The box-score for today was therefore: 2 wild flushes, 3 productive points, and 1 grouse in hand.

Here's a self-timer shot off the back of my truck. Sorry it's a little dark. But you get a sense of the weather and the bird. If it was just a yearling it must have been from the early hatch -- and we'll find out what it was eating when we clean it. In the meantime, Momo is now a grouse-dog. Bravo, Momo!

Incidentally, if the weather is around or below freezing and and/or the cover is really rough, Momo does wear a special chest protector vest. Maybe a 3/4 sleeve vest doesn't look too virile to some folks, but even in our limited experience, the sleeves really save their armpits and upper legs from all the sharp nasties that lives in the woods.

Friday, November 9, 2007


We are about to head out on a wee road-trip ultimately ending up in western Maine to visit our old friends from Maine, Susan and Dudley. The last time I was up there I was on the way to Widdershins to pick up His Junior Majesty -- so this will be the first time they get to meet the Boy Genius. I feel sorry for them... actually I feel sorry for their German Shorthair, Lida.

But first of all, we're going to meet up with Ella, Cedar, and Kyler tomorrow afternoon up at our favorite game farm in western MA. (Rich and Mike will be there, too, but as ever, it's all about Team Vizsla.) We're going to do a bunch of drills to get the dogs dialed in again. For example, encountering so many birds in the bird-fields at his hunt tests, Momo is no longer steady-to-shot because he was so eager to get the next bird. And having a couple of extra hands to steady dogs and flush birds will help make it explicit to the dogs what's expected of them.

Then, after spending the night at Forest King Vizslas, we're going to meet up with other folks from the VCCNE at their pheasant hunt at Hedgerow Hunt Club just down the road in Royalston. And then we zip up north to end up on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. And then the chaos begins.

Properly speaking, Sunday is Veterans Day -- the origins of which in the United States can be found here. As we know it in Britain, the origins of Rememberance Day can be found here while the particular efforts of PoppyScotland can be found here. Please take a moment this weekend to remember someone's service.

Hopefully we can also get the boys on some ruffed grouse on Monday and Tuesday. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, here's a fun 15secs of video from our up to Newburgh 10days ago -- the highlights of which can be found here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

in honor of dogs and birds...

So we checked out a new location in Sterling Forest this morning and, I'm guessing, must have found a pocket of relatively freshly released pheasant. As you can see, it was a nice frosty morning and while I will use a different exposure setting in my camera next time, you can get a nice idea of the contrast between frosty grasses and the oranges, greens, and reds of the fall trees in the background. We were initially working around a swampy area with tall cat-tails and Momo managed to flush a rooster... which then sat in a tree. I'd like to think I'm more sporting and so, while this particular bird was not protected by law, it was flaunting the limits of my ethical hunting code. Ditch-chickens 4 Team Vizsla 2.

Momo then got into a bunch of brambles and out pops a pheasant which seemed underpowered and/or caught. It barely got a head of steam up and had its flight plan amended. (When I was cleaning the bird later, I found maybe two-dozen small (#8?) shot across its back that had obviously limited its flight power. So, don't presume because it's a pen-raised bird that you can use woodcock-sized shot and expect to cleanly kill it.) Ditch-chickens 4 Team Vizsla 3.

As I was getting this one out of the brambles, another flushed about three feet away and headed off towards what turned out to be a nice pond. We couldn't really mark it down because of the undergrowth, but headed in the general direction.

About three-quarters of the way round the pond, Jozsi locks up like the Evil Boy Genius he can be and I see a rooster trying to make like a pancake in the leaves. I flush him and he flies directly into the sun. I shoot and hit him, but know I've hit him low down on his body. He manages to flap a few more times, clears the trees and glides off. I apologize to the Monster and we head off again to find a bird I know is probably not going very far. (And to be fair, as it turned out when I cleaned him, I had hit him more squarely than I thought, but the goal as ever should be a clean and instant kill.)

Jozsi locks up again about 400yds further up. And then Momo comes in. I have no idea what will happen because we've never really worked on backing or honoring drills. And I don't know if Momo saw that Jozsi had a real point going or if he smelled the bird, too, but he locked up behind the Boy Genius. Seeing poetry in static motion, I had to call 'whoa' on them to try and get this picture. You can't see the bird, but seeing those two locked up, intent on game, was worth every second for me. Pictorially speaking, though, this is one of those times that having russet-gold dogs doesn't work so well.

The bird was nested down behind a downed tree bole and, once I've worked around, is now pinned on all four sides. So I called Momo to go in and flush it. And perhaps, just perhaps, because he really is honoring his brother's point, he stays still. The Little One, however, takes matters into his own hands (or mouth), flies the roughly 10ft and pins the bird by the neck, leaving me to go in and dispatch it by hand. Ditch-chickens 4 Team Vizsla 4.

His Junior Majesty is looking like a heck of a bird-dog. While he has pointed pheasant before, this was his first complete performance. And so, in his honor and that of the beautiful rooster that christened him (and inspired by the folks at HHD), here's a haiku for them both:

hunkered down in leaves
then a flash of emerald
-- Jozsi's first pheasant.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

new venue... new boots...

Here's an ugly sight. These are my old hunting boots on the left and the same model brand-new on the right. They're Red Wing Irish Setter boots -- and the pair on the left are 2yrs old. They held up pretty well through a very, very wet Maine winter -- but have just been getting scuffed, slashed and sliced to bits in the undergrowth we've been beating through over the last six weeks.

So we're going to inaugurate the new boots with our first trip to Sterling Forest. Both the State and Orange County Sportsmen's Federation release pheasant in there, too, and we'll see if they're using the same locations they have in the past. And hopefully we'll see if I'm able to make a decent shot.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

nice day out in the woods

We had a nice day out today up at Stewart. It looked like Bob was going to bring a friend -- and my friend, William, asked if he could come along and get his first exposure to some fine New York hunting -- so Bob and I made our own ways up there and figured we'd just flip-flop parking posts as we skipped from field to field.

We finally got there after a few technical hitches, mostly to do with why William's hunting license was green and mine was yellow, the Davis Sporting Goods store changing its fall hours, and a guy in the sporting goods section at the New Windsor Walmart sleeping in due to the time-change. But we met Bob and a bloody Belle. She'd managed to cut herself somewhere around her head, and being a beautiful white English setter, her neck and face were now pink. Happily nothing serious, but a little freaky. Bob ended up taking her home because she kept opening up the cut, so it was a shame not to be able to hang out with them.

The short version of the story was that, in fitting with it being the last day of the woodcock season, Momo got four flushes on timberdoodles. I took one shot on one of the dodging little mudbats and got a clean hit on a tree. William got a shot off on a bird Momo had made a statuesque point on -- and succeeded in merely trimming some foliage as well. This picture is by Nancy Whitehead and is readily for sale. I should e-mail her to find out how she got this pic... with what kind of lens... or flash... or however. The one thing this beautifully clear picture can't capture is that caramel-colored blur a timberdoodle makes as it takes evasive action.

In honor of Momo's point (which I wish I had taken a picture of), here's the picture that used to grace the 'Dogs' frontpage at Widdershins. He was this handsome -- and it was his most spectacular point on woodcock to date.

Both boys got really birdy and agitated in a couple of different spots -- which sure looked like they were trying to keep tabs on a running pheasant. And in fact, the one pheasant that did flush for us flushed about 20ft behind Momo's point and just off William's left shoulder. We watched it go and tried unsuccessfully to mark it down.

Jozsi did manage to point a rabbit in a thicket, and then a quail... which was in so deep that as we tried to get to it and flush it it managed to somehow scurry off someplace never to be found again.

I think William got an accurate sense of why hunting in the northeast can be both a) frustrating and b) pretty hard work.

PS: On an odd sidenote, I did find this unusual blog: Hunting Haiku Daily. I liked Jim Tantillo's mudbat poem from January 19th, 2006, and so now need to check out the rest.