Four years of drought have reduced the quail population on the ranch by at least half, but the covey around the house has fared much better than most. There’s ample cover here from bobcats and Cooper’s Hawks, and they don’t seem concerned with our strain of half-feral cats. But it’s been the regular irrigation of the garden that holds them here most summers.
The Valley Oak that we planted years ago and a resident Blue Oak have also benefited from the regular irrigation, both with good crops of acorns, most of which have fallen to the ground now. Whether crushed underfoot or decayed and rotting, they attract the quail, much to the displeasure of the woodpeckers who dive and try to drive them away from the Valley Oak, their tree of choice.
For the past month or so, the morning routine of the covey is to leave the Palo Verde tree where they spent the night, to go through the garden and stop beneath the Blue Oak for a snack, then parade across the yard to the Valley Oak, their tree of choice, for their main course. They seem to be coming to breakfast earlier, or perhaps the woodpeckers are sleeping in, but they haven’t been harassed lately as our temperatures drop to around 40°.
A little cold now for coffee outside, I finally went for the camera yesterday, having chastised myself for weeks for too many missed opportunities. Overcast after a light rain overnight, photographing quail and maintaining any depth of field was a challenge. Constantly moving and pecking, manual focus was out of the question and auto focus limited me to a single bird or two. My philosophy is to shoot lots of photos, especially with a digital camera, to sort out later. The photo above has survived some severe cropping yet maintained its unique feeling thanks to a good lens.
Trivia: Quail were among the messengers in native Yokuts folklore.