Thank the Quails

Today I watched a Subway employee sort cheese. Actually, sorting might be the wrong word since that it implies there were multitudes of different cheeses thrown in a giant pile that needed to be properly organized. Yep, wrong word. Let’s go with “aligning” cheese. I was in somewhat of a hurry thanks to having recently injured my lower back during a run (interesting story, will save for another lead in). It basically hurt to stand (…or sit… or lie down) and therefore wanted to get back to the car and home before someone saw tears welling up. The Subway employee was standing at the counter directly in front of the lady ahead of me. There she proceeded to align the pepper jack cheese. One by one down the foot long stack of triangles. Ever find yourself staring at something and too mesmerized to look away? One eye was on the cheese dance, the other was on the lady ahead of me trying to predict her breaking point. Word to the wise, psych classes are NOT healthy for you. To her credit, she waited until the cheese was sorted and properly stored in the container at which point she gave her order and asked for .. wait for it ..wait for it .. Swiss. The Swiss bin was empty forcing her to go back and get new packages. To her credit, she just took 4 pieces and finished her sandwich. With that done, she came back in front of me to get my order .. umm no, she opted to take the rest of the Swiss triangles out of the bag, align and put in the bin not looking at me once. “Rest” is somewhat of a guess since I turned and hobbled out the store. Nothing like having a direct reminder not to leave my customers hanging … especially my loyal readers. So, without delay, I give you the first +1 of the year.

Abet's Towhee found at Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, Nevada November, 2018

This would be the very rare Headstick Sparrow. These brown jobbers develop antler like protrusions in the middle of their head providing a built in defense against aggressive Owls and the ability meld into underbrush when land predators come calling. Don’t worry, Linda isn’t buying it either. I think the words “crappy photographer” just rang out from her den. Sigh, okay, this is not a Headstick Sparrow, but it is from the Sparrow family – the Abert’s Towhee. Here is a better shot sans stick.

Abet's Towhee found at Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, Nevada November, 2018

Hit the jump to read a bit more about this secluded Sparrow.

This is definitely not one of flashier birds I’ve featured on the blog. However, the intriguing element is just how localized this particular species is. The Abert’s spends the year within a tiny cross section of Arizona with a bleed into the southern tip of Nevada with a small jog into New Mexico. It is the Nevada area where we found this one – in particular, the Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, NV. Linda and I took a quick trip out to Vegas last November to do a little birding and gambling over the Thanksgiving break.

Abet's Towhee found at Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, Nevada November, 2018

I am really starting to warm up to the Wetlands Park Preserve. Henderson Bird Viewing Center will always be my go to spot when in the area, however, since this place is only 10 minutes or so away, recommend checking it out if you have extra time. Wetlands has a nice mixture of paved and chipped paths winding through the area. On our way out, I spotted a Gambel Quail sprinting out across a thicket opening. That, of course, resulted in a quest to get it in the tin. Not sure what your familiarity is with Quails, but they are pretty fast and prefer not to be seen. The previous encounters that week came up empty as each Quail specimen would pop out, stick its tongue out at me, turn, moon me and then dive back into the thicket before the shutter raised – the degrading life of birders! Ended up there were 4 Quails in the thicket opening all scattering when spotted revealing our Abert’s foraging the area. Had to kick up the ISO to even have a chance of cutting through the low light provided in the brush. Managed to get the critical angles that lead to the ID (which was made once we returned home – was not familiar with this bird until the encounter). Those dark eyes and the reddish undertail are the dead giveaways.

Abet's Towhee found at Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, Nevada November, 2018

As mentioned earlier, the Abert’s is a member of the Sparrow family. Definitely on the larger end of their size scale both in stockiness and tail length. They sport the thick bill and a coloring that helps conceal them in their preferred desert habitat. To be perfectly honest, if it was not for the Quails, this +1 would have never happened (that was Ron you heard crying out “Damn Quails!!”). He will need to put some effort in to make up this increment (payback for the Kittywake he scored over me last week).

Abet's Towhee found at Wetlands Park Preserve in Henderson, Nevada November, 2018

Not much to really provide in the way of cool facts. According to Cornell, It was named after Lt. Col. James Abert, a Topographical Engineer for the US Army, considered to be the first person to obtain a specimen from New Mexico. Pairs bond for life and often photographed with sticks coming out of their head.

I’ll leave it there, Linda is upping her verbal assault on my photography “skilz”. Your harshest critics are always the ones that know you the best. Stay tuned, more on the way from Sin City.

6 thoughts on “Thank the Quails”

  1. Sigh, that Kittywake is a rarity for us and I MISSED IT! Sounds like a quick trip to the UK is in order. To be honest, it isn’t that exciting of a bird – Gull with black feet was the description I was given to locate it. That left me scanning the multitude of common Gulls that flew by … it wasn’t until Ron showed up that I learned they flap their wings faster. Closed the day without the Kitty, but did get a couple shots of an Eagle in the tin. Wait…. any chance you can mail me one of those Kitty’s – it does have to be alive for us to count it, but a few air holes should do the trick! Thanks for dropping by!

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  2. NO, NO, a mailed bird is not allowed in our rules of birding! No way. It’s a shame, really, but those are the rules. Critically, I _did_ get shots of it (a Black-legged Kittiwake) in my home town west of Chicago. It really didn’t occur to me to ask if someone mailed it to a local birder to release and “find”. As Brian implied, he drove 2.5 hours at my urging to get shots of this bird that had been in the small lake for four days and which left 1 hour before he arrived. Then he drove 2.5 hours back without pics of that bird. Second time that sort of thing has happened. As Brian said, it’s not that exciting looking because, after all, it’s a gull, but here’s one of my pics of it on the forest preserve page: https://www.reconnectwithnature.org/news-events/the-buzz/rare-sighting-black-legged-kittiwake-whalon-lake

    Anyway, it looks like I’m going to have to get to Henderson and that Wetlands Park Preserve sometime! Nice shots of the Abert’s Towhee. Here’s some more tidbits I found:

    Recent analysis of mitochondrial genes suggests that the predominantly brown towhees—California, Abert’s, Canyon, and White-throated—are more closely related to the Melozone ground-sparrows than they are to the predominantly black or green towhees. As a result, “brown towhees” are now placed in the genus Melozone.

    Unlike the song of Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), the song of this towhee is rarely heard. The species’ most characteristic vocalization is the squeal duet given simultaneously by both sexes upon reunion—a call used most often during the long breeding season to promote and maintain a close pair bond.

    Cowbird parasitism reduces towhee reproductive success, but few young cowbirds are raised because some towhees abandon nests with cowbird eggs and because cowbird nestlings are generally much smaller then their towhee nestmates.

    Nice find–I’ll need to head west sometime…

    Ron

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    1. Bad news, I heard all the cool birds left the West for better climate down in South America. Quite a shame, but luckily I was able to warn you before you wasted money on flights etc. Word on the net is someone (described as a photographer, not a birder) was at lake (where the Kittywake was found) shouting and screaming at all the birds in the area, taunting them and threatening with unspeakable insults mere hours before my arrival – happen to know anything about that!?!

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