Readers’ wildlife videos

February 23, 2020 • 7:45 am

Tara Tanaka (Vimeo page here, flickr page here) was so stimulated by some of the comments on her recent video—remarks about why a fishing egret would bob its head and neck—that she produced a new one, also showing a piscivorous bird (an American bittern) swaying its head and neck. I asked her how she thought this behavior was adaptive (if it is), and she replied: “I did some very minimal research, and it’s said to imitate grass swaying in the wind – which makes perfect sense for the Bittern; however, it seems to me that the Great Egret may be trying to distract the prey with the movement of its very visible neck, but that’s just my 2 cents.”

Here are the Vimeo notes; be sure to watch with sound on and the video enlarged:

I had so many comments on the way that the Great Egret moved its head and neck in the Great Backyard Bird Count video that I decided to reach back into some five-year old American Bittern footage that I’d been meaning to edit to show the master of bird swaying.

I regularly change the speed in my videos depending on what effect I’m trying to achieve, but I did want to mention that the flight scene at the very end was slowed down by 50 percent. The Little Blue Heron actually flies at the speed depicted in this clip, but the American Bittern has a very fast wing beat, twice as fast as in this video.

By the way, I’ve also discovered that Tara has a pair of cowboy boots, which are nice ones. Here they are, along with her omnipresent binoculars:

Steve Pinker’s new boots

February 21, 2020 • 10:30 am

A couple of years ago, Steve Pinker visited Austin, and I urged him to try to get Lee Miller—in my view the best custom bootmaker in America—to make him a pair of cowboy boots. Miller isn’t taking new customers because he has a backlog of several years, but he did take Pinker, perhaps because of his (metaphorical) stature. A few years before that, when the list was still closed, I got taken because I visited the shop just to meet the Master, and then sent Lee a copy of WEIT as a thank -you. Lee’s wife Carrlyn (who helps customers design the boots and runs the business side of the shop) told me that Lee would be glad to make boots for anybody who could write a book like that. I went back to Austin to get my feet measured (Matt Dillahunty was with me at the time) and waited about four years before I got the boots, which I show right below.

Mine are fancy, but made with a tough and not-too-expensive hide: Kangaroo. My name is stitched on them in “mirror writing” and there’s a pinched yellow rose—both specialities of Lee’s mentor Charlie Dunn. Lee and Carrlyn documented the making of my boots, an enormously laborious process requiring great skill, and I posted the process in a series of eleven reports called “My last pair of boots.” (I haven’t bought any since!).

Jerry’s boots, not Steve’s

Now as I’ve mentioned before, Steve is also a cowboy-boot aficionado, and always wears them to lecture or to teach. (He favors darker colors and simpler designs.) At times I’ve served as his informal boot consultant and helped him pick out some on eBay. But he wanted custom boots, and if you want the best, Lee Miller is the guy to see.

Yesterday Steve’s boots finally arrived, and I made him promise that I could post a picture of them. He actually sent two photos. The first shows the boots, which have black American alligator belly vamps and water buffalo tops. I asked him to explain the stitching, and he said this:

The stitching is red, green, and blue, which Carrlyn herself complimented. I like of the look of those three colors, especially against black; as you know, I prefer jewel colors to earth tones. Also, in color space those are the additive primaries, which harmonizes with my longstanding interest in human vision and with my major pastime, photography.

Without further ado:

On the feet. (He says they fit perfectly, as they should. Only a true boot lover knows the pleasure of slipping your metatarsals into a pair of boots made to measure.)

Note: do not carp about the use of animal skins, as both kangaroo and gator are farmed for meat and skins. Carping will lead to banning.

More boot weather

October 17, 2017 • 7:15 am

I rarely travel with cowboy boots as they’re a pain to take off at security and too large to fit into a small carry-on bag. So I wear them when I can, which is today. Here’s a pair of back cut American alligator boots (with calf shafts) by Lucchese. Note the alligator inlay on the shafts. These were also acquired on eBay.

To the right of the boot on the left (my right foot) you can see a copy of Eleven Days in AugustMatthew Cobb’s fine book on the liberation of Paris in 1944.

Boots and ducks

October 16, 2017 • 7:15 am

It’s finally boot weather, so I broke out one of my fanciest pairs: hand-tooled cowhide made by Falconhead of El Paso. Had I not found these on eBay, I couldn’t have afforded them: (I probably posted these before):

And the faux Honey and her boyfriend disappeared from the pond during our big thunderstorm. Before they left I got a decent photo, and could see her beak markings. They don’t seem to me to resemble the ones of the real Honey (at bottom). Or do they? See the enlargements at bottom. Readers, please help me out!

Real Honey:

COMPARISON:

New duck (greatly enlarged from above):

Honey. (The more I look at these, the more the bill stippling looks the same. But maybe it’s confirmation bias.)

Vote (once) in this poll:

Wet-weather boots

December 1, 2016 • 7:15 am

When it’s wet and slushy outside, as it promises to be today, I don’t wear fancy or expensive cowboy boots, for water (and, in winter, salt) is death on boots. But I have some well-made and sturdy boots that are my standbys for bad weather. Here’s a nice pair: Lucchese calf boots from the “San Antonio” days (, when these off-the-shelf boots were of a quality similar to custom boots.

Because they’re calf, they’re prone to cracking; this can’t be avoided even with good boot care. (This is why my new custom pair of boots is kangaroo, which doesn’t crack.) You can see the surface cracks in the picture below. But I love the color, and these things, even if worn in dire conditions, are sturdy enough to outlive me. 
lucchese-boots

The sign of a good handmade boot: wooden pegs used to hold the sole onto the boot. The pegs (traditionally lemonwood) are hammered in my by hand, and wooden pegs are better than the metal ones used in cheaper boots as wood swells when it’s wet, giving extra binding force hold on the sole. Lucchese “San Antonios” were all like this, but haven’t been made for years. Now the comparable boots are the top-of-the-line Lucchese “Classics,” which are quite pricey.

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These boots are made for walking, but no sane person would wear them

July 5, 2016 • 6:45 am

People keep sending me photos of cowboy boots that have been cut down into sandals with long tops, or “golf boots” with cleats on the bottom. No more! The only good cowboy boot is an old-style cowboy boot. Is there any reader who would wear these, which I saw on eBay?

s-l500

My custom boots (real boots) will probably come tomorrow. Stay tuned.

My last pair of boots. 10. Finishing the bottoms

July 2, 2016 • 8:45 am
 This is the next-to-last series of photos documenting the making of My Last Pair of Boots by Lee Miller of Austin Texas.  They’re actually done and have been shipped, but many bootmakers are superstitious and don’t like to show the finished product until they’re sure it fits, so I’ll put up the final series after I get them. Here we see the final bit of construction: putting on the outsoles, the heels (made from stacks of leather) and the heel caps. Note also the use of wooden pegs to fasten the outsole to everything else. (Wood rather than metal is used because wood, when wet, swells like the leather in which it’s embedded, keeping the fastening tight.) These are the sign of a good cowboy boot, for while they’re probably no longer required given the stitching and glue, they’re a tradition—one that involves a lot of hand work. The photos and notes (indented) are from Carrlyn Miller:
Lee is sanding the bottoms to prepare to put the outsoles on.
Jerry%27s Boots1
Lee takes another piece of leather and attaches it to the forepart of the boot. It will give you some cushioning.
Jerry%27s Boots2
Lee trims the excess away.
Jerry%27s Boots3
And, trims some more.
Jerry%27s Boots4
Cement is applied.
Jerry%27s Boots5
Everything is put outside to dry. The outsoles have also been cemented.
Jerry%27s Boots6
 Lee has laid the sole on and is now trimming it to the boot.
Jerry%27s Boots7
The boots are then wooden pegged. We use wooden pegs in the shank and around the heel.
Jerry%27s Boots8
Now it’s time to build the heels. The area is cemented and placed outside to dry. Nice to have such warm weather now 🙂 The pieces on the cardboard are the rand pieces.
Jerry%27s Boots9
The rand piece is the first piece to go on when building the heels. Here you can see Lee has put it on.
Jerry%27s Boots10
Again, he sands to shape it.
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Lee begins to build the heels layer by layer.
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The heels are built, and now it’s time to put the heel caps on.
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The heel caps are on, and it’s time to dye, ink and burnish the soles, heels and welt. Here Lee has taped off a section of the sole so that the wax and ink don’t get into the bottoms stain that he’ll apply to the forepart of the sole.
Jerry%27s Boots15
Everyone does it a little differently. Some people burnish the entire bottoms. Some people only use polish to finish up the soles. Here is the boot waiting to be dyed and inked.
Jerry%27s Boots16-1
In this last picture for today, you can see the bottoms have been inked and dyed. They are again outside drying.
Jerry%27s Boots17

My last pair of boots. 9. The shank and insoles

July 1, 2016 • 7:30 am
 My boots, made by the estimable Lee Miller of Austin, Texas, are supposed to be ready today, so I should get them in the mail next week. The pictures are a few days behind, but we’ll continue today with the “bottom work”: putting on the shank (a hammered nail to give support in the arch), the outsole, and stitching it all together. The notes and photos are, as always, by Carrlyn Miller.
Time to prepare the boots for inseaming and the laying of the shanks. You can see Lee is whip stitching in the shank area.
Jerry%27s Boots1
Around the heel as well.
Jerry%27s Boots2
Almost all the way around.
Jerry%27s Boots3
Lee inseaming.
Jerry%27s Boots4
And, here he has finished one.
Jerry%27s Boots5
He trims the welt with a lip knife.
Jerry%27s Boots6
Next come the outsoles.
Jerry%27s Boots7
He has marked the leather for the sole and is trimming the excess leather.
Jerry%27s Boots8
Checking to be sure he has the correct length.
Jerry%27s Boots9
Cutting the piece in half.
Jerry%27s Boots10
Now to make the shanks. Lee takes a “timber nail” and heats up both ends. [JAC: Note that in a real custom boot the shank isn’t a pre-ordered strip of metal, but is constructed from hammering flat a large nail.]
Jerry%27s Boots11
Once the nail is heated, he pounds both ends on an anvil.
Jerry%27s Boots12
And puts the nail in cold water to temper it.
Jerry%27s Boots13
In the meantime, the boots and different components are outside drying in the sun.
Jerry%27s Boots14
Now, he lays the shank in.
Jerry%27s Boots15
He hammers the nail in place.
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And, takes leather pieces and puts one on each side of the shank.
Jerry%27s Boots17
Trims the leather pieces.
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Hammers the leather pieces.
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Puts the shank cover on.
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 Hammers the shank cover down.
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 Sands the piece to shape it.
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 And, checks to see that it’s level. Tomorrow, the outsoles.
Look at that beautiful shape! You’ll see pretty much how the finished boots will look.
Jerry%27s Boots23

My last pair of boots. 8. Toe boxes

June 30, 2016 • 8:00 am
I’m told that my boots will in fact be done tomorrow, and shipped shortly thereafter. The pictures, however, are a few days behind. Today’s bit is largely about the “toe boxes,” the thick piece of leather that protects the toes and also gives them an attractive boxy shape.  Cowboy boot toes come in a number of styles, and of course when you order them you have to pick one. This is only a small sample of the choices, which range from very pointy (called “roach killers” because you can use the points to stomp a roach in a corner) to broad and round.  If you choose a box toe, as I did, then you also have to specify how wide it is across the top. In the following diagram, the box toes go from narrow (“Toe 1”) to a bit wider (“Toe AF”) to even wider (“Toe A” and “Toe K”). Mine will be, as I recall, about half an inch across (or maybe 5/8″), corresponding to something like AF:
Toes
Off-the-shelf boots have pre-bought toe boxes, sometimes made of plastic, but real custom ones require the construction by hand of a leather toebox that has been stiffened with hardeners and cement. Making one requires lots of experience. The following photos and captions (indented), all by Carrlyn Miller, show the process:
The boots have been lasted and are now ready to have the toe boxes put in.
Jerry%27s Boots1
The leather toe boxes have been cut out and are now soaking.
Jerry%27s Boots2
After a bit, the toe boxes are taken out and wrapped in newspaper to “mull.”
Jerry%27s Boots3
 Jerry%27s Boots4
Meanwhile, the leather is pulled back from around the toe.
Jerry%27s Boots5
The excess lining leather is cut away.
Jerry%27s Boots6
The area is now ready for sanding.
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Jerry%27s Boots8
And, the lining is painted with cement.
Jerry%27s Boots9
As well as the toe.
Jerry%27s Boots10
The boots sit to dry a bit.
Jerry%27s Boots11
The leather toe box has been wrapped around the toe and nailed on.
Jerry%27s Boots12-1
And the toe has been sanded and shaped. Left boot has not been sanded and shaped, but the right toe has.
Jerry%27s Boots13
The toe has been painted with hardener.
Jerry%27s Boots14
The toe is painted with cement.
Jerry%27s Boots15
Cement is also applied to the leather.
Jerry%27s Boots16
And, the leather is pulled around the toe.
Jerry%27s Boots17
As the leather is pulled over, it’s also nailed down.
Jerry%27s Boots18
A string is wrapped around the nails to help keep the leather pulled down.
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And, now it sits to dry.
Jerry%27s Boots20
The next set of photos will show how the bottoms are put on.