Sunday, December 30, 2007
Tom Mackin's a good friend of a good friend, so we decided to check out the TMT Preserve up in Staatsburg. Tom also has a sporting clays course on his land which he operates when bird-season is all done -- and being old-school, the clays are all hand-thrown by a trapper who walks the course with each group of shooters. We got a good view of a lot of the terrain and that course should be a cracker.
While I waited for Bob to get there, I shot the breeze with Tom... a good egg who used to raise and train Springer spaniels, but one of whose first dogs was actually a Vizsla. But now, when a group of clients needs a dog, he calls in friends to guide. And I overheard that the other group's guide was to be a guy named Danny Cordero... and as soon as I saw Danny I knew I recognized him. Danny was one of the judges at the second set of hunt tests we took Momo to down at Flaherty Field in CT. While he didn't judge Momo, he was one of the two judges who politely removed the crazy dog that Rich and Adrian's Ella was braced with for her Sunday run allowing her to show what she was capable of. He brought his Brittany, Roscoe -- and it would have been fun to watch him hunt that dog.
Bob and I both liked TMT, if for no other reason than the terrain was a nice mixture of hardwoods, taller grasses (now flatter after the snow), swamp, and the occasional conifer or two. Not quite as beefy stalking as at Fullflight, but more challenging than Wing Pointe. We had asked for a mixed bag of pheasant and chukar... and the chukar were chukar... run, hop, fly... but his pheasant were beautiful. Big, flighty birds. Tom keep his birds in some big flight pens out back and you could tell. Jozsi got a beautiful point on a cockbird which corkscrewed around a pine and then took off. For miles. We abandoned hope of finding it again. But after needing an initial 'tuning,' Jozsi looked like a million dollars during his run. He's young and loves birds -- and so getting him to 'whoa' while you walk in and flush the bird is our work-in-progress. But as this picture shows, his first two points and 'whoas' were beautiful.
But here are a couple of pictorial highlights courtesy of Bob. (I was a little busy trying not to shoot like Roy Orbison with my 'new' 20ga side-by-side.) This one here is Momo backing Belle's point on a hen pheasant. Momo has really internalised this part of his style-manual -- in part it's his slightly deferential personality, but as you can see, he knows exactly what's going on.
The final pic is of His Junior Majesty looking like he's set to wrestle any bird, any time. We watch him stretch at home and just look at the muscles in his hind legs pop out like he's a track-sprinter. He really is looking like he's going to be a firecracker.
Thanks for the pictures and the company, Bob!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Dan reminded me that Matt Mullenix (of Querencia fame) had written a few words about the forced disjunction between 'sporting' and 'subsistence' hunting. These can be found here. Matt's basic point is this:
"To separate the acts of hunting birds and eating them is to establish a false dichotomy and, simultaneously, to weaken the strongest defense for all hunting. Most bird hunters (and all the ones I know) eat birds; whatever our motivations for doing so, however practical or aesthetic or spiritual, our sport is undeniably a form of subsistence hunting."
I have said it myself that not to eat the bird you have killed is to lessen its life. As Matt points out, most of us have a variety of choices about the food we eat and where we can acquire it. I was a vegetarian until I discovered small -scale, artisanal farms that supplied cruelty-free meat; and I only became a hunter after I watched my dog reach down into his genetic well. And so, for me, any hunt which understands that killing is a way to put meat on a plate which will hopefully be savored and appreciated for the life it embodied is a hunt worthy of the life taken.
But what does 'sporting' mean in such a context? Matt has said a few more words about this:
"The competition between predator and prey is not something that needs a point system to understand or appreciate. It is a hunt, the object of which is to catch, kill and eat the quarry, which for its sake seeks to avoid this long as possible."
That's a wonderfully succinct definition. It actually makes me realise that one of the reasons I hate shooting poorly is because if I do miss a bird, the dog will hunt it again. That repeated hunting may make the bird wilder, or it may make it weaker. But the fact remains that it is a competition -- and while folks like me may stack the odds slightly by having well-trained, experienced dogs, we are still in a competition, the outcomes of which are far from certain.
I leave you with a picture from a recent, and unsuccessful, trip to Sterling Forest. And yes, that bruiser on the right is His Junior Majesty... 7 1/2 months old and 45lbs.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
PetPAC is one of the organizations lined up squarely against AB 1634. And I leave these two pieces of evidence to demonstrate why, ultimately, I have to agree with Dan, Pat, and the folks at PetPAC: first, whether he uses this as an administrative or pedagogical technique for the future, I think Dave will get a kick out of 'how to make a phony graph'; second, myths and facts about spaying and neutering from the folks at the Humane Society of the United States (who endorse AB 1634 and appear to be perpetuating a few more of their own). Again, I think some of what these folks at HSUS are trying to do, ie. have folks be responsible owners, is well-intentioned and not all together incorrect. However, what I object to is:
* having statewide mandates to control the behavior of 5% of the human population
* mis-diagnosing either the problem or the root causes of the problem
* using bait-and-switch rhetorical techniques
But I didn't actually start this blog to add further to this particular debate. I actually wanted to say a few things about HSUS's wildlife programs. I hunt, I hunt with our dogs, and frankly only enjoy hunting with our dogs. I fully understand friends who hunt only with their dogs and a camera. And at least when I do take a gun with me, my blogs can adequately document that even with good dogs, hunting is still very much a 'sporting' activity for me -- even when going after stocked, preserve birds.
Wayne Pacelle at HSUS has written a piece about 'wasteful' pheasant stocking programs. He begins: "The pheasant hunt has, in many cases, devolved into a pathetic blend of factory farming and canned hunting: The birds are planted, the killing is all but guaranteed, and the "sport" is non-existent."
[The picture is courtesy of the Suisun Marsh Program in the San Francisco Bay-Delta.]
Again, Pacelle isn't entirely off-base: I have witnessed a preserve pheasant hunt where four guys, with a guide and a dog, essentially walked up a strip of managed bird-cover and beat birds into the air. Stacking the odds?... yes... 'sporting'?... not by my definition... Have I seen evidence of pick-up trucks lined up waiting for a State stocking truck to pull up to a Wilderness Management Area and heard stories of what is essentially a bi-weekly slaughter (because the stocking schedule is posted on the internet)? You betcha'. 'Sporting'?... again, not even close.
But my problems really begin here. "Wild pheasants aren't heading the way of the passenger pigeon, but their numbers are diminishing rapidly as chunks of farmland habitat are gobbled up by urban sprawl [and larger-scale mechanized farming etc.]." This is the kind of bait-and-switch that actually annoys me. As stated by Pacelle, this is the problem: a paucity of suitable habitat for wild pheasants to grow (and be hunted in a sporting fashion). And so the solution to decreasing wildlife habitat is to... stop pheasant stocking programs. Huh? And bearing in mind that pheasant are exotic to North America, when does a pheasant get to be 'wild'?
Again, do I find tower shoots or even traditional flighted bird shoots to be anywhere close to 'sporting'? or that live pigeon shoots are good 'sport'? No, I don't. This is not to claim a moral high-ground but simply to say that using these examples as typical of all (or even a majority) hunters is frankly insulting.
Pacelle goes on to say that: "A week after their release, according to Bird Dog & Retriever News, some 40% will have starved to death or been killed by predators. After a month, the mortality will reach 75%. By the end of the hunting season, only a small percentage will have fallen to a well-aimed wad of lead shot. By some estimates, only a scant 5% will make it through the winter." Hmmmm. Let's assume these numbers are correct -- although I suspect any language that relies on phrases like 'by some estimates'.
Using Michael Furtman's data from Ruffed Grouse: Woodland Drummer, he estimates that fewer than 40% make it from the egg to the first autumn, approximately 18% make it to the first winter, barely 8% make it to their second mating, and barely 4% make it to their third mating (pp. 71-2). So, an entirely native, wild bird has a maybe 8% chance of survival through the winter. And the impact of hunting by humans is "minimal, since to a large degree, this harvest is what biologists call 'compensatory' mortality -- a great portion of the birds taken by grouse hunters would have died anyway that fall or winter." (p. 79)
I realize I'm making a phony graph because I don't know what the mortality rates of farm-raised pheasants are from egg to field... although my inclination is that it's much higher than the 40% for ruffed grouse.
But my point is this: genuinely wild, native birds don't enjoy long lives. This is not to cheapen the lives of stocked pheasants, but it is to say that whether it's a ruffed grouse or a pen-raised pheasant, their first year is one rife with danger and likely death. The only real question to me is whether pen-raised pheasant suffer from non-compensatory mortality, ie. they die at a higher rate than if they were born and raised in the woods.
Pacelle says this about pen-raised birds: "Raised in intense confinement and habituated to humans who have fed them since hatching, the newly released pheasants can take up to three weeks to learn to forage—by which time they may have starved or become food for scavengers or predators such as foxes, raccoons, and raptors." Now, again, I have no inclination to even participate in a tower shoot, nor have I seen the kinds of game-farms that Pacelle actually describes. But I have been to several -- and I would make several observations -- that the pheasant I've seen were in far less intense confinement than any large-scale poultry farm operation and those birds were in fact protected from predators and were certainly wary of any human or canine proximity despite the presence of a real, physical barrier. (So now I doubt these mortality figures for grouse and pheasant are that far apart.) To be fair, HSUS is also sponsoring legislative action against factory-farms and large-scale poultry operations.
The challenge for me is that Pacelle seems ignorant as to where birds of most kinds fit on the food-chain and to how pheasants might actually become 'wild.' There's a reason that, with grouse, after the first year, the annual mortality rate drops by 50% per year. Because the birds learn more about avoiding predation, human and otherwise -- they get wilder. And so, in that regard, Pacelle does the very birds he thinks whose lives are being wasted a massive disservice.
Again, I have no problem with HSUS sponsoring anti-bear-baiting campaigns in Maine. But if, as National Geographic neatly equates -- "Human population grows. Habitat shrinks. -- the question is why is HSUS wasting legislative effort on mandatory spaying programs for pets when the much larger solution to the problem appears to be mandatory spaying programs for humans. And the HSUS has no apparent plans to pursue that particular line of humanity.
Because one can use numbers in a variety of ways to make any particular point, I understand that Pacelle's piece on what may be a somewhat sell-fulfilling financial prophecy -- on hunting licenses paying for the kinds of state stocking programs he abhors -- may have some accuracy. However, in that piece, he states:
"So while the financial contribution of hunters is hardly voluntary, the money still greases the engine of a circular system designed to ensure its perpetuation...The system must be changed to benefit wildlife rather than to promote its destruction, and to benefit the public, allowing people a meaningful voice in wildlife management and more than a fleeting glimpse of wildlife in nature."
Firstly, hunters do give money voluntarily to non-governmental organizations. Pheasants Forever has over 115,000 members, and an annual revenue of $26.8 million -- 89% of which is used directly to preserve habitat. What does political action by groups like Pheasants Forever translate into? As of last week, the US Senate passed its version of the Federal Farm Bill which contains several major conservation provisions that benefit farmers and wildlife alike. These include over 39 million acres of land set aside for wildlife habitat, 13.5 million additional pheasants, and over 170,000 miles stream habitats protected.
Secondly, what does 'wild' mean if people get "more than a fleeting glimpse in nature"? I find it ironic that Pacelle would seem to prefer mankind watching wolves or elk, or for that matter wolves killing elk, from discrete viewing platforms so that we can respect their lives rather than have us get used to the idea that 'wild' might actually mean something close to slippery, magical, and elusive.
Thirdly, a "circular system designed to ensure its perpetuation"? Hmmm. Sounds a lot like humane society shelter management to me. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.
Along the way of writing this I did discover a couple of great blogsaboutdogs I need to check out: Christie Keith's Dogged Blog and Vet Tech.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
And so, while Meg has been a real trooper taking Their Majesties out in the crappy weather, I decided to do my part to take some of their edge off. This is how we do it here in the Bronx... full on and no safety net!
Now all of this pales in comparison with the video-clips from Annie's jam session. I like #5 the best, mostly because I keep imagining the two dudes wearing knit-caps and singing khoomi-style throat-singing are going to break out into a Tom Araya impersonation.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
It would have been nice for them to have left either a message on their phone-system -- or even a note on the front gate. Who knows if this means they're now done for the season.
So we jetted back down to Stirling to see if there was any evidence of ditch-chickens. There was none. Lots of rabbit and deer tracks, but nothing resembling Big Bird (who we gather may be in Hovd, Mongolia). So, here's a little video of the two boys... grouse-bells, flapping ears and all.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Brian at MGoBlog has the whole rigmarole. The sad part is that I think both UM and West Virginia are going to lose in their bowl games. Nevertheless, GO BLUE!
Hiatus #2: I have been remiss in all things Central Asian again. And in the interests of full disclosure, the one thing I love but really don't write about on The Regal Vizsla is music. I love music. But I am a distinct amateur in the Victorian sense, one who loves music but has no professional ability, academic or performative. This is slightly embaressing for the son of a music teacher, but I think it makes my father chuckle when I try to get him to explain weird time signatures.
Nevertheless, as I went to work today on the subway, I was captivated by a song from Music of Central Asia Vol. 1: Tengir-Too Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan. The song -- Küidüm Chok (I Burn, I Smoulder Like Charcoal) -- was sung by Zainidin Imanaliev. You can find more info about Imanaliev here (although this is him on the album cover doing his Hendrix impersonation). I hadn't known of the Smithsonian Folkways collection till yesterday when I heard about the release of the second trilogy of CDs in the series on my National Geographic World Music Profiles podcast. So I surfed the iTunes store and, while I didn't find all the volumes, I did find volume 1.
There is something very simple about the two- and three-stringed 'lutes' of Central Asia, the komuz of Kyrgyzstan and the dombra of Kazakhstan. When we were in Almaty not only were we able to visit the National Museum of Musical Instruments in Panfilov Park, our friend Patrick Francis also recounted the myth that one of the reasons that the dombra was actually a difficult instrument to learn and play well was because it only had two strings... and so there was nothing to hide behind.
I normally listen to PRI's Global Hit podcast -- and there was a great back in January from Kazakhstan on the dombra. (If you click on this, you'll go directly to the mp3 download.) Anyways, sometimes you just find gems when you have no idea you'll find them. If you get a chance, even if you just listen to that one song, Küidüm Chok, you'll hear some incredible vocal technique, phrasing, and wonderful komuz playing.
Azamat: apologies for not visiting recently. If you have any other recommendations for Kyrgyz music, please post them here.
Hiatus #3: We've had a couple of icy days here which has been a pain for getting out and chasing birds, but it makes the boys even more snuggly. Here's a nice picture from the other day of all three of Meg's boys lying on the dog-bed in front of the radiator. Check out how big the Evil Boy Genius is! Zoiks!!
Friday, December 14, 2007
Needless to say, that with a paucity of current Red Sox players named in the report and an abundance of former and current Yankees in starring roles, there is some conspiracy-theorizing about George Mitchell's partiality (especially seeing as he serves as a Director of the Boston Red Sox). As Mitchell himself pointed out in his press conference (and documented here at MLB.com), the evidentiary epicenter of the report lay in Kirk Radomski's testimony. Living in New York and working for the Mets, Radomski's knowledge and testimony was therefore bound to be weighted.
As Josh Levin speculates at Slate.com: "I guarantee that Batboy: The Rise and Fall of Kirk Radomski (or maybe The Unnatural) will be a major motion picture in the next two years. It's like Blow meets Almost Famous meets Major League." I wonder who would play Radomski? Dolph Lundgren? Or Josh Hartnett?
Referring to each team's number of mentions in the Mitchell Report (with the Yankees earning a report-high 14 mentions and the White Sox the lowest at only 1), Josh Levin keeps it real by concluding: "If I'm a Chicago White Sox fan, I'm asking why our guys aren't willing to compete with the rest of the league."
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Alex references The Daily Telegraph's 'Call Yourself British' campaign -- which seems (not too) strangely reminiscent of Gordon Brown's repeated speeches on 'Britishness' (one of which can be found here). The Telegraph's announcement links to an essay by Brown championing Lord Baker's appeal for a National Museum of British History. Gordon Brown then goes on to suggest he would want to see an 'Institute of Britishness' as well -- presumably staffed by Bill Oddie, Ronnie Corbett, and Andrew Sachs.
Braveheart is perhaps not quite as wretched a movie as Alex would have us believe -- because arguably, it is still good messy fun. (I realize this comes close to saying Pearl Harbor wasn't a pile of dross and therefore improperly skewered by Team America World Police because it had incredible aerial dogfight footage.) Arguably, its biggest vice is that it can be anything to almost anyone -- but the weird affinity for Braveheart I discovered was in Yo'Av Karny's great book Highlanders: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory. As he puts it in his preface:
"It was no accident that soon after its release in 1995, one of the most popular foreign films in the North Caucasus was Braveheart... Many hundreds of pirated videocassettes of the film circulated in Caucasian markets, and it won fulsom praise from military heroes and tribal potentates. One of its greatest fans was Shamil Basayev, a daring Chechen rebel field commander who terrorized parts of southern Russia and led invasions of Daghestan in the summer and fall of 1999. By his own words, he was a William Wallace of the Caucasus." (p.xiv)
Karny's book is great in all kinds of ways. It makes some solid sense that you would have an Israeli journalist go to the Caucasus to try and decode the subtleties of national identity, homeland, faith, and ritual. And perhaps most importantly, while he begins with an archetype -- "an ancient saga of highlanders instinctively reaching for their swords in defense of the most basic liberty: not to answer to a foreigner" -- the book constantly resists falling back on that archetype. Which is why Braveheart may actually be wretched after all.
The other weird, and far more disturbing affinity for the mythos of Scottish identity can be found in Blood in the Face, a documentary about the KKK in Michigan. I was pleasantly surprised to find this NYT review by Vincent Canby still available on-line. While Canby mentions some of the ritual costumery to be seen in the film -- the Nazi regalia and biker/camo chic -- he doesn't mention that alongside the white hoods and jackboots are handfuls of folk standing around in full highland gear. Now, the history of the Klan (the "clan") is one sadly interconnected with Scots heritage -- having seemingly been formed by Confederate Scots cavalry officers.
(And while some have argued that the Klan's burning crosses and secret initiations have their origins in, respectively, the summoning of a clan to defend itself or the Society of the Horseman's Word, these seem historically tenuous. Here is an interesting and thorough explication on right-wing groups and ideology by Timothy Baysinger that makes some mention of Scottish origins.)
What is more disturbing is that, in the film, Pastor Bob Miles describes the Scots as one of the original Aryan nations... as if wearing three-feet of pleated tartan towards the end of the 20thC provides one with a 'Kilt of Genetic and Moral Supremacy'. There are any number of ways to take this: the hypnotic power of ritual, the need for collective membership, the ease in blaming and suppressing others instead of simply elevating oneself. But, and as much as I don't see the clowns in Blood in the Face as reflecting my Scotland, perhaps in hindsight it is as simple as Alex makes out: Braveheart is a wretched movie because it carefully chooses which bits of 'Scotland' and 'William Wallace' work for it and sidesteps anything potentially dangerous about the quest for self-rule or what happens in the vacuum once that basic liberty -- of not answering to a foreigner -- has been attained.
I leave you with these words from Hugh MacDiarmid.
“I suggest to you that we don't allow ourselves to be fobbed off with any talk about the problems and difficulties that varying degrees of devolution would present us with. We don't require to bother about that. We're going for devolution right to the end, that's to say for complete independence, and we rest our case on the virtue of our own personality and the strength of our own determination. Thank you.”
-- Hugh MacDiarmid, Speech at Glasgow University, 6 April 1968
The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet – and breaks the heart.
-- Hugh MacDiarmid, The Little White Rose
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Brian at MGoBlog has an amusing transcript from an alleged interview between U.Michigan and Les Miles of LSU. What I think he intends as spoof is sadly how I really read this sad state of affairs.
And I have to believe that Dan was right about Brian's commentary, that it really might be the best site for Michigan sports. I feel compelled to include it on my blog-roll, too. Especially after this nice spitting of Billy Martin.
Jerry Moore at Appalachian State looks pretty good to me. Seems like a nice guy, too. But he has no sailing experience. Nor jowls. As for Les Miles being done with UM: two words: Nick Saban. And I don't trust him much either now.
2) The Ice-Storm approacheth:
Just when I thought I might be able to get the boys out to chase some birds again, we go and get our first really crappy winter weather on the horizon. Meg's brother, legendary in most of Central Asia, and known simply as Johnny-bek, is frozen in in beautiful Kansas City. Happily his time spent living in former-Soviet apartment buildings has prepared him well for the joys of unreliable, intermittent electricity.
Need to head to bed. But hopefully we'll have some exciting technological updates from here at Team Vizsla -- NYC chapter.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
"Pheasants Forever was here this Sept. and prepared, along with my help, 20 acres of my 42. That entailed: removing volunteer trees/large bushes, marking off the area, which undulates around the interior of my land, bush hogging to a height of 10 inches with a "Rino" 3 blad/3 part bush hog drawn by a 150 hp John Deer tractor, spraying "Garlon" (a herbicide) with a ten man team, in an all day effort, to treat the cut stems of my red osier dogwood, and finally, for this year, the Co-op came in with a boom sprayer truck and treated all of my cool season grasses with 1.5 qt of 2-4-D/acre herbicide and 2qt of Roundup/acre, also a herbicide. That is it for this year.
Good on you, John. I need to do a little more research into Pheasants Forever. (I'll admit that while the Ruffed Grouse Society has a great national record for percentage of revenue dedicated to conservation (93% as opposed to PF's 89% or Duck's Unlimited's 82%), I haven't heard squat from any of the local chapters since we joined. I don't need a bunch of new friends, but it'd be nice to know that they need me for more than my annual membership fee.)
2) In cycling news: the Flying Kazakh has officially retired after receiving a one-year suspension for blood doping during the Tour. Perennial sponsor T-Mobile has also decided to end its relationship with professional cycling, leaving Gorgeous George Hincapie mildly high-and-dry. But with a revived team, now under the moniker Team High Road. But it does look like everyone may finally get paid at Team Astana.
In other news: it's the full-on cyclocross season and Sven Nys is riding like the beast he is. Here he is winning the World Cup race in Igorre, Spain. This nice picture is by Joel Roberts, poached from cyclingnews.com. For those that think cyclocross is for patsies... try this on your road bike. This is Bart Wellens riding through one of several sandpits at the World Cup race in Koksidje, Belgium. Tried it a couple of times... not fun... unless you like lactic acid. The pic is by Luc Claessen, also lifted from cyclingnews.com.
3) I'm sure Dan is lamenting, but the season is over for the Lakers of Grand Valley State. They were solidly beaten by NW Missouri State in the NCAA Division II Semifinal two days ago.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
I couldn't take deer season any longer. And so we splurged for the 'Quail Special' and headed out to Hamburg, PA, to Wing Pointe. Their website makes it sound really schwanky, but it wasn't... in a good way. This is not a Nemacolin or a Sandanona, but the facilities were well-laid out, modern, well-maintained and all the staff we met were really nice, down-to-earth, and helpful... although I introduced them to Ed's aphorism about my performance and imagine they'll be using that one themselves.
So here's a nice highlight picture of Momo in action. He really does rock. And I hate missing birds when he's done a great job to find and hold them. After the first couple of points and missed birds, I think he got 'hunt test madness' for a few moments... and wanted to run around and spook birds. But we got him re-calibrated and he did his business like a champ.
Jozsi had moments of brilliance. Getting him to hold is our current challenge. If the bird starts to run, his inclination is to charge it and pin it. Not terrible, especially for his age, but 'awfully poor form' in terms of good pointing style. But he does love to run and chase birds. A lot.
But we all looked like amateurs compared to this beautiful hawk. (I think it's a red-tail, but I'll take correct answers.) Click on the picture and you can actually make out some nice details on it. Now as cool as this bird is for hunting avian prey, it wins the award for stealing a bird I had already shot but left by one of the marker posts to be picked up and cleaned. Genius.
Hopefully we'll be able to get out after ditch-chickens next week, once the deer-hunters have left for the season. I'll make sure I have my white stick with me.