Posts Tagged ‘Golden Eagles’

The Golden Eagles of Kazakhstan

January 16, 2010

The Altay Mountains from space

We complain from time to time about bird photography. So much of it looks like all the rest. Apparently the idea is to get a big telephoto lens, go outdoors, get as far away from the bird as you can, and snap a photo. In such photos, the bird is sharply focused and everything else is a blur. That is not the photographers’ fault either, the laws of physics allow nothing else. Due to the way light behaves as it passes through each successive layer of glass in telephoto lenses, the depth-of-field is so shallow that only things a precise distance from the lens can be in focus. Large telephoto lenses make composition more difficult too which is why, in most such photos, the bird is squarely in the middle of the frame, creating rather static compositions. The equipment limits what the photographer can do.

And, of course, you hardly ever see black and white photos of birds.

Photograph by John Delaney from his portfolio "Interior Exposures"

Which are reasons why photographer John Delaney’s new portfolio of photos of Kazakhs and their tame Golden Eagles refreshes.

According to Delaney, no one knows how long ago the Kazakhs began taming and hunting with Golden Eagles but it was a long time ago. Herodotus mentioned it in the 5th Century B.C.E., Marco Polo probably saw them in action, and Genghis Khan may have had as many as 5,000 “eagle riders” riding with him.

Many of the photos, like the one above, are technically portraits of Kazakhs holding their birds, but they are portraits of the eagles too. But two include landscapes of Kazakhstan, including my personal favorite, “Silent Watcher.”

We accept gifts here at the Fat Finch and a print of “Silent Watcher” is only $1,000.00. We’ll take care of the framing and send you a nice thank you note.

The photographs are for sale through and here is a link to the book which you can scroll through on your computer. “Silent Watcher” is the last photograph. We recommend a few minutes browsing. You’ll get a glimpse of a different culture and come away refreshed.


The MODIS satellite photo from NASA above includes the Altay Mountains which form the borders of Kazakhstan (left), Russia (top), Mongolia (right) and China (bottom). According to NASA’s caption, “In the north, the mountains are covered with deep green forest and capped with snow above the tree line. The mountains form a natural barrier between the four nations and between several different climate regions. Steppes, tundra, forest, and desert surround the mountains. Melting snow flows off the mountains into rivers, which feed several of the large lakes visible throughout the image. A web of green irrigated crop land surrounds many of the lakes, particularly in China and Kazakhstan.” The Kazakhs, a nomadic people, once roamed through much of the area in the photograph. Click on the photo for a larger version.

Displayers of the Purple Sage

October 6, 2008

The governor of Wyoming, unlike the federal government, is worried about the Greater Sage-grouse.  The mad dash to sell and lease the West to the oil and gas companies, frenetic for the last seven years, has reached an even more frenzied state as the Bush Administration winds down.

Lewis and Clark wrote about the Sage-grouse in 1805, back when it was abundant on western prairies.  That was before conversion of the prairie to agricultural uses and mineral extraction.  Millions of acres were stripped in order to grow wheat and potatoes. Millions more were stripped to make the land safe for cattle.  Sagebrush, almost as nutritious as alfalfa, contains toxins which kill bacteria in the stomachs of cows which can result in death. Cattle, unlike Pronghorn Antelope, did not co-evolve with sagebrush.  Antelope thrive on it.  Their ancestral range shrunk along with that of the Sage grouse and Native Americans who used sagebrush to stop internal bleeding and to rid themselves of internal parasites.

Cities required yet more sagebrush land.  As a result of all this human activity, sagebrush is dying and so is the Sage-grouse.  We’ve denuded an area the size of Europe of its natural cover.  If he were writing today Zane Grey would name his most famous novel, Riders of the Long Gone Sage.  What little sagebrush habitat is left overlies deposits of natural gas and oil.  Exploration, drilling and extraction disrupt the habitat and its occupants even more.



The Greater Sage-grouse is the largest North American grouse and is famous for the mating displays of the males.  When the spring mating season comes, their esophagi enlarge as much as 50 times, apparently the result of large doses of testosterone.  They expand and collapse their esophagi pouches making noise to attract females.  The males gather on breeding grounds known as leks to strut their stuff as you can see in this video.

The females wander through the leks and select males.  Actually they select very few males.  In one study two males copulated with 76% of the available females.  Because mating, a cloacal kiss, takes only few seconds, males may mate as many as 20 times a morning. One male was caught by a scientist copulating 169 times in one season.  Less successful males hang around, apparently hoping that the successful males will tire, leading other females to select them.  (“The spillover effect,” according to one scientist.)

Mostly this activity occurs around sunrise during springtime.  Golden Eagles learned about this.  Now they wait, up in the eastern sky for the strutting to begin then swoop down out of the sun attempting to grab a bird. The most successful males are in the most danger because they keep strutting after the other males and females have gone to ground.  A little testosterone is a good thing; a lot of it can get you in trouble.

The film and the photos, except for the last one, come from Dr. Gail Patricelli of UC Davis.  You can read more about Greater Sage-grouse at this Audubon site.  If you want to weigh in on habitat protection the Audubon Society has a form letter you can send to the BLM, although it is always better to write your own.

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