Quail who?
May 31, 2022

The fog swept through the valley, obscuring everything in its path. I followed the winding road as it snaked seemingly endlessly through the billowing amorphous blanket of gray and white, until suddenly I emerged above the clouds to see the sun crest the horizon. The warm sunshine would soon repaint the world with its caring light in such brilliant colors.

I stepped out onto the trail, looking ahead toward the pond and the tree-lined valley beyond. Bullfrogs croaked incessantly, only to be matched by the two-note shrill red-winged blackbirds calls amongst the reeds. Navigating the narrow path, I spotted a mallard and her two ducklings, dabbling in the mossy greenery beneath the pond's surface, nearly masked in the darkness except for the glistening bills illuminated by the early light.

Wispy clouds raced by over the peaks, constantly changing the shape of the mountains. I stood for a minute to enjoy the blue morning glow; before long, the sun had decidedly rolled out of bed to herald the start of the day. Beyond the more regularly trafficked paths grew the taller plants; at times, I had to progress with waist-high brush as they clung to me, the only one of real concern being the poison oak which sporadically dotted the trail's edge.

Chattering birds languidly awoke in the canopy above, and I was soon greeted by inquisitive dark-eyed juncos. Perhaps they were laughing at me for having inadvertently spooked a skunk and nearly getting a full reminder of its defensive strategy, which in hindsight would have been a huge waste given that I didn't even procure a worthy photograph from that encounter. I made my way from the valley into the tree line where the tall grass gave way to soft moist undergrowth. Rapid (and notably ungraceful) flapping caught my attention, and I recognize it from beyond the foliage as a band-tailed dove, a commonly occurring bird, but still new for me. As I stood there taking a short break, I noticed two birds of apparently opposing lifestyles: one very raucous mountain chickadee ferrying to its hungry chicks, and far behind it, one very silent olive-sided flycatcher that I may not have noticed had my lens not serendipitously racked focus to infinity and back.

The trail turned to the north, and with it, the slope steepened to meet the mountain and its sleepy inhabitants. California wildroses slumbered in the shadowed mountainside with the delicate velvety textures extending through its voluminous petals. As I climbed higher, the stalky trunks of the forest thinned to yield fewer lengthy shadows, and colorful wildflowers, including groves of scarlet buglers, sprung up to soak in the streams of sunlight piercing through upper canopy.

At the peak was a paddock, and I found myself here at a trail junction wondering which way to go. As I basked in the morning sunshine, I could hear the multitude of birds singing all around. Violet-green swallows soared care-free, occasionally demonstrating the Doppler-effect with pulsed chirps as they swiftly navigated the invisible course with tight banking turns about the treetops. The grassy meadow below was similarly abuzz with activity. Fully plumaged western bluebirds were seen hopping and hovering in the thick brush to pluck insects as juveniles perched closely, observing techniques and patiently awaiting the food delivery.

The morning was in full swing as I ambled along the carriage road. Squirrels and chipmunks frequented the tree trunks, running about to forage before promptly returning to their homes. It wasn't my human presence that alarmed them, but rather, it was that of a red-tailed hawk, stretching out its wings upon a tree which housed acorn woodpecker food stores. The acorn woodpeckers, however, didn't seem to mind as much, perching on neighboring trees with a close eye on their acorn investments.

The true highlight of the hike was to be found on the return trip. While I had seen quail before, I hadn't ever successfully photographed them; usually I happen upon them on the trail, and my sudden appearance would invoke a flighty response, leaving me with a photograph of their stout tail feathers. This day, however, I caught a glimpse of a youngling trying to dig up the side of the trail in search of a tasty morsel. As I approached, five quail scurried along quickly before turning around to look at me. Unlike the California quail, these mountain quail expressed themselves with two lengthy feathers sprouting high above their curious eyes.

It was already a very eventful birding day, but there were just a few more photographs to procure. First, smartly dressed western bluebird, as inquisitive as it was photogenic, it approached to see what I was all about. And then a few steps later, a starburst-colored western tanager caught my eye, perched on a lone branch under a lofty canopy. As with the bluebird, the tanager sat pensively and still before fluttering off into the distance.

It had been a while since I found time to go birding, but worry not, I do have plenty of photographs to post in the near future. Additionally, I'm still very much backlogged in publishing projects from years past, but perhaps soon, I'll have yet another project ready. Stay tuned!

Here's the bird list from the day:

Acorn woodpeckerRed-breasted nuthatch
American cootRed-tailed hawk
Band-tailed doveRed-winged blackbird
Brown thrasherSpotted towhee
Dark-eyed juncoStellar's jay
MallardViolet-green swallow
Mountain chickadeeWestern bluebird
Mountain quailWestern tanager
Olive-sided flycatcher