Mysterion of the Birding World

Good news for my readers, it’s dog show time – more specifically, the annual National Poodle Specialty Event being held at Purina Farms outside St. Louis. I simply refer to it as Wall to Wall Poodles – white ones, black ones, silver ones, apricot ones, small ones, medium ones, big ones, “foofy” ones, agile ones and every “oodle” in between. Imagine a cute bomb going off in a large convention center. We also get to see not only Raven’s breeder from Minnesota, but Ruger gets to see his breeder from New York, his full sister (Willow) from Michigan and his half brother (Riot). Should be a fun couple of days – let’s hope Raven is ready to kick some butt. The good news quip at the start wasn’t because I thought you would be super interested in our dogs, rather these events mean I have a lot of free time I find best spent on the keyboard.

To kick it off, I am delighted to introduce you to one of my absolute surprise +1’s from our Lake Tahoe trip back in May 2019.

California Quail found at outside Lake Tahoe in May 2019

While tracking down the White-Headed Woodpecker series from the previous post, I stumbled on a set of shots which piqued my interest. I made a note to remind myself to head back to that queue once the Woodpecker post was out the door. Apparently, I put that small piece of paper next to my Honey-Do list … naturally I didn’t notice it hehehe. instead I took on the surprisingly difficult task of updating my bird list count. As of that particular day at that particular second the count stood at 288. Updated my NA Bird Gallery (link here) and even updated the little counter on the left nav bar. Tied up the final steps in the process, clapped my hands in self-celebration and then let out a huge sigh as the breeze from the enthusiastic clap gently blew a small piece of paper right of the desk and into my lap. CRAP!

California Quail found at outside Lake Tahoe in May 2019

Hit the jump to learn about my pleasant surprise – A real life Mysterion (as in South Park).

Okay, so the count is already out of date thanks to today’s featured feathered friend with the goofy question mark headpiece. Quails are not new to the blog as I previously featured the Gambel’s Quail back in November 2013 (link here). That series came from a sighting at Henderson NV. When I first took the shots of today’s specimen, I assumed that it was just another Gambi and didn’t think too much about it. It also didn’t help I had exactly 10 seconds to get the Beast on target and squeeze out 4, 3 shot bursts before this specimen was lost in the rocks and brush. Only four of those captures are anywhere close to being worthy of a post.

California Quail found at outside Lake Tahoe in May 2019

As I usually do when processing bird shots, I jumped on Cornell’s site just to remind myself of the key characteristics, reinforce any knowledge I happened to remember about that species and hopefully add something new to the grey matter for future use in the field – using the Gambel’s entry of course. Goofy head ornamentation check, brown crown, check, grey/brown wash with white stripes, check, plump, check, ground hugging, check, region, ch…whoa. Houston, we have a problem, Gambies do not hang out around the Tahoe area. Checked out the listing of similar species and found out a very similar looking bird called the California Quail. Now that is intriguing. Did some digging to confirm that the California hangs out in the eastern California range where the images were taken. More important, noticed there was a visible field difference between the two species – the Gambel’s have a solid buff belly patch where the Cali’s maintain their grey shading. To the pictures…..CRAP! (yes, again). Notice anything consistent in this series?

California Quail found at outside Lake Tahoe in May 2019

Yep, this specimen made a point to purposely hide this feature from my glass. Pretty sure that was an evil smirk in the last shot. Decided to check the digital darkroom cutting room floor for the off chance there was something I could use as a secondary confirmation beyond the region. Super embarrassed to include this first shot in the burst, but it was the only one that shows the grey is indeed continued on throughout the breast – ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a new +1 (for 289 for those, like me, who enjoy officially scoring the ball game).

California Quail found at outside Lake Tahoe in May 2019

With the ID out of the way, let’s see what interesting tidbits I can leave you with. Referencing Cornell, similar to the Gambel’s these plump ground runners prefer dry environments with low vegetation. If you are having your morning coffee, you might want to skip this next factoid. The Cali’s are able to digest their food thanks to intestinal protozoans that are transferred to their young by their chicks pecking at the adult feces, eww. Cali’s are brood mixers – no, not bartenders, rather chicks are raised as a group by the adults in the community – definitely cuts down on babysitting expenses! Oh, and the California Quail is California’s state bird.

Will call it there. Guessing Ron isn’t going to be overjoyed knowing that, thanks to his son, I was able to claw away another bit of his ever-thinning lead.

Take care and Poodle on.

14 thoughts on “Mysterion of the Birding World”

  1. Fantastic ornamentation. Sort of reminded me of a 1970s musical TV family that drove around in a Pete Mondrian styled school bus. (queue the music)
    We thought we saw something similar in Valley of Fire State Park in NV. But since we could not get a photo, it didn’t happen.

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    1. Okay, not that was an obscure reference – had to think about it for a minute and then the school bus clicked. I’d blame it on being thrown off by Pete vs Piet, but that would be a lie as I never knew that guy by either name – learned something new! I can confirm there are Gambel’s at Valley of Fire SP and a bunch of them several miles away in Henderson, but you will need to keep your camera handy as these plump birds can move surprisingly fast! Thanks for checking in Brad.

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    1. I will have to get out in their region during the spring time – all my encounters so far have been in the dead of winter or as in this case closer to the summer months so I have not had the opportunity to witness their “quailettes”. I did go to Cornell to get a look at what those little ones look like so I’ll be ready – pretty cute – wonder when then grow their mystery hat?

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      1. When they acquire their mystery hat is a good question. I’ve heard great horned owls don’t learn to hoot until they a two years old. I know they still peep at 9 months.

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      2. The topknot question has been surprisingly hard to track down. The best I can tell is 21-23 weeks is when the chicks lose their juvenile plumage and get their first mature feathering which by deduction must imply they get their topknot then. Come on Cornell, that sounds like an easy factoid you can provide rather than force me to scour the Internet looking for something close to the answer.

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    1. Appreciate it Reed. I didn’t have a lot of time to get focused and the settings dialed in so pretty happy with what made it into the tin in spite of that. Next time I need to get a better shot of the front. Thank you for stopping by.

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  2. That quail is no dummy. I’ll bet he’s used that fence before to escape from large critters – it stops their advance, while providing the bird with excellent 360 visibility. My monitor wreath salutes your wafting reminder slip!

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    1. Good point, it seemed like it was well accustomed to that path through the fencing and pretty sure I heard some chuckling as it successfully evaded my advances. “Monitor wreath”, what a great term. brings me back to my work days but eventually transitioned to a stack of index cards thanks to being overwhelmed. Would simply pop the stack and if a boss wanted something quicker or someone finally remembered they asked me for something I could easily move that card up the stack – these days I just stare blankly and blink several times when someone asks me to do something hehehe. Thanks for coming by Sam – hey, just thought, if you used green Post-Its you can simply say it is a holiday decoration.

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    1. Thank you Lisa, I just wish I would have realized it was not a Gambel’s when I encountered it – would have definitely spent more time trying to get additional angles etc… granted if it would have let me ha! These Quails are rather secretive, but if you keep your eyes open in dry areas with low brush you might be able to see them dart out in the open before quickly diving back into cover – probably an evolved tactic being a designated game bird. Raven came through in his last run, took first place in his division and even earned a new title as a result so it turned out to be a good show – we shall not discuss the other two runs hehehe. Thanks for dropping in Lisa, always appreciate hearing from you and reading about your adventures and healthy living advice.

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