The Quail Diaries: Day 4

This young female showed up in my trap again this evening (I caught her yesterday). She gave a juvenile alarm call which drew a female out of the brush. The adult female hovered around, not getting too close, as I took this picture. (the flash makes everything look black–it was not night).

One thing I’ve noticed, when bringing others, whether they be research assistants or not, is that a person doing the field work, knowing the site and the birds, is sensitive to things that others aren’t. I often expect that people with me know that the quail are in a particular place (from vocalizations, perhaps, or movement in the brush) and that being quiet is a good idea. But, generally, I have to remind myself to tell them that it is time to be quiet and alert. I feel the birds in the back of my head, it is a sensation back there.

Today, apart from the repeat catch juvenile female, I caught an adult male for the second time (he was in a nearby trap at the same time as the female). I also caught a male banded by someone else–he has a green band on his leg of a type I’ve never used. I suspect he is from Quail Botanical Gardens, where they are trying to breed and release quail so that it is more of a QUAIL Gardens rather than just a Botanical Gardens with the name quail stuck on.

And I caught 3 others. The kids have been acting as field hands (doing a pretty good job for a team made of a 4 and 6 year old). Devlin has come up with many suggestions for how I might better trap the birds (including digging a pit trap–I did point out that the fact they can fly made this a little less useful). He was impressed when I told him that by the end of my dissertation I had trapped, banded and sampled more than 300 birds.

I also wandered the site, across the road (cut while I was doing my dissertation). There are quail tracks there, but I neither saw nor heard the quail. I also saw bobcat and coyote scat and was severely scolded by a wren. And I saw my nemesis–an enormous patch of poison oak.

There was a cricket calling in the middle of the burnt earth, and a pair of phoebes catching bugs over the water running down the center.

Apart from the firefighters cut and the fire damaged area itself, I use paths made by the people that live in the brush. There have been, as long as I can remember, people living on parts of the site. When I first started working in 1994, before the construction of the two roads, shopping centers and houses, there were large camps and rodeos regularly in the field to the east of the bluffs. These areas were cleared of people before construction in 1995, and now there are fewer folks out there. But there are some, and there are well-trodden paths that I exploit for my work.

I have never been particularly nervous of these folks. Most of them were undocumented workers, focused on getting day jobs. I did have a bit of trouble with someone cutting the ropes for my net poles, but I stopped mistnetting early on because, as quail do not tend to fly much, they do not work very well.

The fire was apparently started by a hot pan. Not the pan below, although it is one I found near the fire, but a different pan, removed by the fire investigator.

When first told of this cause–I was told it was an undocumented worker that had been cooking a meal who started the fire. It turns out, it was probably a pair of caucasian homeless men. Does that change things? Does it change things to know that there were never any out of control fires when there was an enormous camp of undocumented workers living on the site?


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