Tag Archives: oaks

San Joaquin Valley Quail




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.






While calving, our cows are well aware of the recent influx of bears, displaced in part by the 150,000 acre Rough Fire in Kings Canyon, but primarily due to the drought and the lack of anything to eat at the higher elevations. Furthermore, there’s not much here to eat either, as only one in three or four hundred oak trees has any acorns and the percentage of oak trees that have died because of the lack of rainfall the past four years continues to increase and probably approaches 40% now. The remainder have lost most of their leaves, but there’s bear sign everywhere we go.

On Monday on my way to pump water at the Paregien Ranch, I found the mothers of these two calves high in Ridenhour Canyon, taking turns going to water while the other babysat. Though I didn’t see the calves on the way up, I knew the cows had been sucked. When I came down a few hours later, I found the cows and calves had moved to the top of a ridge. Both were well hidden and only a day or so old.

Most cows sort themselves before calving, as the ones close to calving begin running together apart from the bunch as they prepare their nurseries ahead of time. We’ve lost calves to bears in the past, but usually those of first-calf mothers. Older cows, or cows together, can bluff most bears, but with so little to eat in the middle of calving there are no guarantees. Bears will eat anything, and older bears unable to rummage for food begin to acquire a taste for veal.

Yesterday, on my way up to work on a trough, I found the same two cows together higher yet in the pasture, making their steep round trip to water to close to a mile. Once again, I didn’t see the two calves until I came off the mountain.