The cooler and wetter than usual year of 2019, which brought more May rain than ever recorded, delayed many natural events — fruit was late to ripen on trees, weeds stayed green and kept growing, and California Quail chicks were about a month late in appearing.
The annual arrival of baby quail is a welcome sight to Tehachapi residents in outlying areas. The little chicks in their striped pajamas can start following their parents from the day they hatch, and it is adorable to watch a clutch of eight to a dozen or more of these babies navigating through the countryside with their attentive parents trying to keep track of them.
The male quail most often serves as the sentry for his family, and he will fly up on a fence post, tree branch or other vantage point and do his best to spot potential danger and keep his chicks and mate from harm.
There is much to guard against, since many creatures like to prey on quail — especially the babies. Hawks, bobcats, snakes, foxes, coyotes, roadrunners, ravens and others will take the opportunity to make a meal of a quail chick. The babies are especially vulnerable in the first month since hatching, but they quickly grow into sturdy, alert birds able to escape most of the time.
My friend Toshimi Kristof, a talented wildlife photographer, is one of us locals who eagerly awaits the annual arrival of quail chicks. From their Bear Valley Springs home, Toshimi and her husband, Les, look for the first appearance of young quail, and she took the photos on this page.
"They were almost one month later than usual this year," Toshimi says. "Most years I started seeing them in late June, but I saw the first chick in late July this year, and I still saw chicks that were only a day or two old in early September."
"When the chicks are so young their parents are very careful about bringing them out," Toshimi continues. "Usually one of the parent birds comes out and looks around, especially the sky above the area, for 10 minutes or so, meanwhile the chicks and the other parent bird are hiding under the nearby vegetation, when they come out, they stay really close to their parents."
While she takes beautiful photos of baby quail each year, this season Toshimi happened to photograph some life or death drama: "I captured a California Scrub Jay attacking a young chick, but luckily the chick was OK. After that its parent birds started chasing the jay to drive it away," Toshimi explained. While quail aren't equipped with sharp talons or other weaponry, they will do their best to defend their young.
Toshimi tries to continue photographing young quail as they grow and change from their initial plumage. "Once the chicks become teenagers, they are brave, and come out before their parents and run all over the place, but when their parents start running or flying, they follow them," Toshimi says.
Watching the seasonal transitions and all the changes they bring is one of the joys of living in the Tehachapi Mountains. Plants and animals respond to the weather conditions, to sunlight, temperature and rainfall. 2019 was a little behind the typical schedule, but the added moisture and cooler temperatures were well worth waiting for — I think the California Quail, if asked, might agree. . .
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.