The Quail Diaries, El Segundo, 4

The story has not ended. (It always goes on, even behind the closed doors of the chaparral–we just miss it all).

Yesterday we stumbled upon what I believe to be O/R B/K’s remains (the location indicates this at any rate). These remains were his feathers, and guts—things left by hawks when they consume their prey.

guts

And his bands. I could not have removed them all without cutting off his legs, and I just could not bring myself to do that. The hawk dropped his mangled bands on the ground in the middle of the feathers.

bands

Today, I saw a Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) sitting very close to where his corpse and then his putative remains were discovered. Here is where the constraint of “science” forbids me from saying I actually saw the hawk that ate him.
coopers
The Cooper’s hawks I have encountered working with the quail have always seemed a bit nutty to me. They are like cats attracted to a moving string. I’ve been dived bombed many a time by a hawk attracted by the movement of the quail. Once, I pulled a quail out of a trap and sat up just in time to see a Cooper’s veer just slightly off the path that would have taken him/her straight into my head. I like them quite a bit, although, if I may confess, I am more interested in the quail.

Yesterday I trapped two quail in the morning, including one new male (his head is a bit wet so his feathers look odd)

2
This morning I took my first set of observations—more for practice, since I was trapping at the same location which confounds the observations (I caught 2 females including R K/K, who I’ve trapped nearly ever time I’ve set traps—).  There were five quail wandering about, along with mourning doves,  a California towhee (Pipilo crissalis), a rufous sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) and white crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys).

I am still working out how it will be possible to investigate the issues I am interested in these birds—taking observations this morning re-emphasized for me the difficulty of getting repeated observations of social interactions except with an intensive time commitment in the field and a better site from which to take observations from (I could barely see today what with all of the obstacles. Unfortunately, I have not found a better place to watch the birds, yet…).

I am telling myself to go slowly—that unlike my Ph. D., there is no rush with this work. My primary goal is to get this group of birds banded and to start to get a sense of where they are moving.

Do you know why I stopped working with this population? Well…yes, I had finished my Ph. D. and was in Ithaca, NY and then Riverside, CA and then Seattle, WA. But, these birds were always here, just outside my parent’s back door and I’ve been back several times over the last 8 years. Of course having 2 children in as many years and living through the young ages as well as carrying a job made things more complicated. And that is of course one reason.

But another reason is because this is a urban habitat patch and during and after my Ph. D. research this tract of land was cut up and developed and for many years, to be honest, it hurt too damn much. roadshop I seem to have gotten over that pain…perhaps I’ve forgotten what it was like before when there were farms around the site rather than a shopping center (w/ Target! Starbucks! Barnes and Nobles! Borders! Sports Authority! Albertson’s! etc. etc.) on one side and a McMansion housing development and golf course on the other side. Walking paths have been developed along the farm access roads I used to drive to observe my birds. Now there are a lot of people on the paths—before it was me, my field assistants, a security guy, and some farm workers.

I do not think the people walking through know what they are passing. None of them pay attention to the birds calling all around them. It is a weird paucity of experience, with the richness right next to them…
But you who know me, know I am inclined to be critical, so perhaps I am wrong and they are absorbing all that is going on around them. I can only hope.

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