Friday, September 28, 2007

Last night I set up my chair at the edge of the porch, with the door open, hoping to be able to photograph the quails. But by the time they roosted it was way too dark and all I got was pictures of dark grainy things. I do, however, have a nice picture of the front yard of sunset (above).

When I closed the front screen I scared the pee-waddin' out of at least two quail, who exploded out of the tree. I hope they didn't hurt themselves. We are having a party tomorrow night beginning about roosting time. I'm a little worried that one of my babies will get run over, but probably they'll be okay.

The second photo is from this morning: it's two (well, really 1 1/2) of our cats enthralled by a very tiny collared lizard on the outside windowsill of our "cat window."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Okay, I promise I'll stop with the quail after this one last post. Last night I set up my chair on the porch to watch as usual. The three males plus one female came along and pretty quickly headed for the dorm tree. About five minutes later a lone male showed up... plunked himself down in the middle of the yard under a scrawny palo verde tree... and just sat there. Sitting, not standing. Not scratching for food. I began to wonder if he were sick or what. Also no sign of the family, and it was getting dark.

About ten minutes after the male showed up, two females arrived, then another male. The females, at least one of which was a juvenile, headed for the tree but didn't roost. The two males stayed in the yard till finally, the remaining female, I'm assuming Mama, showed up, and the whole family went to roost. So Daddy was simply waiting for Mama. I think that is very sweet.

Final note: today we saw a humongous crow standing by the side of the road. He did a knee bend before jumping into the air to fly away.

The picture above is a male verdin from the old house. These are very tiny birds--somewhat smaller even than goldfinches but bigger than hummers-- that build football-shaped nests, usually low enough in trees to see. They love sugar nectar and have a very loud voice for such a tiny bird.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bird and Ant update

I wish I could hide out in a quail costume and take pictures, as has been suggested, but they would never go for it. I will soon get another quail block, however, and may be able to take pix of quail at that. Stay tuned....

First, the ants. It has turned cold in the mornings, plus I have poisoned the heck out of several ant hills, so that crisis seems resolved. I feel a little guilty, but knowing they are like the Borg helps. Destroy one hive and ten other spring up to take its place. I've read that they form vast underground labyrinthal colonies, and I'm sure this is true. I'm sure they are underneath our entire property. Our next door neighbor also has problems with them. I don't actually mind that they do what they do. They help aerate the soil, and probably do other good things. They take the leaves they tear up back to the nest, where they chew them up and create a kind of mash for fungi that they tend, which I think they subsist on in the winter.

Anyway, birds: First, the whitewings have migrated for the winter. I didn't even notice, but a friend pointed it out, and it is true. It is much quieter without their constant calls of "Who cooks for YOU?"

Hummers: I've had a lot lately. I think mostly migrants, and mostly Anna's and Black-chinneds. The other day while sitting in the Jacuzzi we watched about six madly chase each other through the porch, around the house, into the trees. All of them swearing a blue streak in Hum-speak. It is amazing that any of them ever gets enough to eat. They look very like old movie scenes of airplane dogfights.

And the quail. My quail are all just fine. I am now certain that my young covey consists of two groups: the family of five, which is intact, and another probable family of four: three males and a female. The four-guys usually come to roost first, followed a few minutes later by the family of five. They are all roosting earlier and earlier. The dorm tree is full by about 6:30 now; just a few weeks ago they were coming home at around 8 PM.

Finally: while watching my quails, I've noticed that they move very slowly through regular desert (presumably so they can spot and eat anything yummy on the ground). But when they come to a bare patch, like the gravel driveway, they speed up and zip across. This, presumably, so predators won't spot them out in the open. I HEART QUAILS!!!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Quail in a moment, but first ants and snakes. The leaf-cutting ants are driving me insane. First they nearly stripped my pomegranate tree. I poisoned that nest, then noticed a few days later that they had completely stripped a climbing rose that I have been trying to grow for three years in the backyard. It's been attacked by rabbits, other bugs, and now the damned ants. I'm about ready to give up on the poor thing.

I couldn't find the ant nest, then noticed that they were also attacking the cape honeysuckle growing against the porch wall, and had spilled over into the carport. My husband found the nest the next morning, in the middle of a big patch of prickly pear, covered with old cactus pads. I poisoned it, but then this morning when I went out to check I almost tripped on another line of ants, marching toward a different cape honeysuckle in a different part of the yard, almost completely stripped. These guys joined the main column of ants from yesterday. So I went back and poured more poison on the nest. We'll see tomorrow if it did any good. It's too late for the rose now, and probably for the second cape honeysuckle.

Anyway, I can't help admire the ants. They remind me of the Borg, from Star Trek, and I do believe RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

My pictures today include one of the ant trails. I tried to get close enough to show the ants, but all you can see is the bits of leaf each one is carryig. I also posted a butterfly, because the ant trail is ugly.

Snakes: I saw another, this time medium-sized king snake when I was out looking for the ant nest.

Quail: the family is no longer together! But they may be okay, or they may not be. Night before last all the quail showed up together and went up in the tree almost simultaneously. But then a mature male and female repeatedly hopped out of the tree, squawking, ran around a bit, then went back into the tree, then out. I thought it might be the parents, looking for a missing child.

Last night, the quails showed up in groups. I counted five males and four females into the tree. At least one of the females was a juvenile (she showed up with an adult male, the last two to get into the tree). I'm pretty sure she is part of the family. I think I saw another juvenile female. All the males looked pretty big, but maybe one of them was the young male? I'm thinking that these guys have probably formed a flock and I may never again see the family as a unit again. But I'll check them out again tonight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Just to prove that this isn't the All Quail All the Time blog, I am going to talk about snakes today. But first a quail update! The days are getting shorter really fast. I'd estimate that night falls about five minutes earlier every evening now. The quail no long take their time pecking around the front yard before retiring to the dormitory tree; instead, they appear all at once in the dusk, and usually together, so it's pretty hard to count them or be sure who's who. But I'm keeping my eye on them.

Now, snakes...

A couple of evenings ago two of the cats didn't want to come in after the quails went to roost. I saw they were intently watching something
on the flagstones in front of the porch. Well, it took me a minute to see it in the near dark, but it was a little, teeny, tiny snakelet, striped (I couldn't tell what color) and wiggling frantically as it tried to get over the lip of the metal thingy that separates the front plant bed from the flagstone. It was about the size of a soda straw. It was adorable. I'm assuming it was a king snake, but don't know for sure.

Then, this morning as I was heading out to get the paper I nearly stepped on a quite large king snake on the flagstone. I guess it was warming itself to get ready to start the day. It moved off into the pyracantha, but really slowly, so I guess it wasn't very warm yet. I think it was probably the snake I saw in the back yard the other day. It was about three feet long and black, with broken pale-yellow stripes.

When I went out a bit later to see if the snake was still there, I saw a very small lizard trying to eat a pretty large caterpillar. I'm pretty sure the caterpillar was winning, but I didn't stick around to find out.

Last night there was some rain to the west, resulting in a beautiful sunset that I photographed from my garden. Pix are above.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Before I return to my obsession with quail, I must thank Aiyana, who posts as "no rain," and who pointed out that my hedgehog cactus blooms are actually pincushion cactus blooms; that is, from Mammillaria genus rather than from Echinocereus genus. I definitely need to learn my cacti better. I do, however, know that cholla and prickly pear are from the same genus, Opuntia.

Quail. I've been watching just about every night. The family of five is always the last group up in the tree. The children are now nearly full grown. I just love to watch any quail get ready to fly up to roost. First they gaze up at the tree as if gathering determination. Then they do a deep squat, and then they jump into the air with their little wings propellering. I could watch that for hours, but it actually only takes a few seconds.

Today's pictures: Some Opuntia blossoms, from this year's cholla crop. I have NO IDEA what kind of cholla this is, except it is not a teddy bear cholla. I think it might be staghorn. And a picture of one of our Texas Ranger shrubs, right after the rains made it bloom.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Am I obsessed with quail, or what? I have decided that Gambel's quail are my second favorite birds, after Hummers and Mockingbirds. (Still no mockingbirds here, alas, despite my best efforts to attract them.)

Last night all nine birds were around in the yard, though I didn't stay to watch them roost. This morning while watering the garden, I saw a large group of quail--I was able to count nine, though there may have been more. And I wondered if it might include the guys who roost in my tree, so I went online and found a site that told me quail form coveys in the winter, when family groups come together. Then they split apart in the spring for mating.

What constitutes winter? I'm thinking the guys I saw this morning might already be a covey, but maybe not. And probably all the guys who roost in my citrus tree will form a covey if they haven't already. I've got to do more observing and reading. Already I know that they have fourteen separate vocalizations.

I have no more quail pictures, so am posting a picture of our rose garden from last April. I have never seen a quail in the rose garden.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Good news! All my baby quails are fine. I have watched the family group the last two nights: Mom, Dad, and three college-age kids (two female, one male). There is also another group of four, all adults, three males and one female. I'm assuming they are also a family group.

They all sleep up in the tree, but when they try to go up there at the same time there's always a lot of squabbling both before and after. The father of three seems to be the alpha male.

Here's another quail picture, of a VERY YOUNG quail.