I have written before in this space about the many cyclical events that mark the changing seasons in the Tehachapi Mountains: California Poppies bloom, Painted Lady butterflies migrate north, Bullocks Orioles and Cliff Swallows return, California Mule Deer give birth to fawns, acorns fall, Turkey Vultures migrate south, Rabbitbrush blooms, and many other annual occurrences.
One of the favorites for many of us who live outside of town is the yearly arrival of baby California Quail (Callipepla californica). These iconic quail are the state bird, and the Tehachapi Mountains are home to hundreds of quail coveys. Each spring and summer the first appearance of quail chicks is a welcome and joyous sight.
Like all precocial birds — those who hatch in a more advanced state, alert, bright-eyed and covered with soft down — quail chicks are immediately adorable. They don't go through the awkward, eyes closed, bare skin stage that altricial birds do.
When you're lucky enough to spot newly-hatched quail chicks, within a day or three of them emerging from their small speckled shells, you see cute little well-patterned babies the size of fuzzy ping pong balls with faintly orange legs.
As the chicks grow, following their attentive parents everywhere, their mottled, camouflage appearance gradually shifts to the more overall gray aspect of the adults. But even the slightly plainer hens have very fine patterns, with brown-edged white filigree feathers on their bellies. California Quail are beautiful birds from the day they hatch to their last day on Earth.
My friend Toshimi Kristof lives in Bear Valley Springs and frequently contributes her beautiful photos of wildlife and natural phenomena to the Tehachapi News. For several years now, she has rounded up some of her best images of each year's new batch of quail chicks and sent them to me. This year's Class of 2018 California Quail doesn't disappoint, and the photos on this page were taken at Toshimi and her husband Les Kristof's home in BVS.
Les and Toshimi keep water available for wildlife, and this attracts all manner of creatures onto their property, including lots of baby quail, whose parents bring them to the water feature and watch over them while the chicks drink.
Like the rest of us, Toshimi and Les get lots of enjoyment from watching the baby quail grow up, visibly changing and growing from week to week.
The quail have many predators, and Toshimi said she witnessed several chicks fall prey to a Cooper's Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk this year. It is sad for the quail but a bounty for predators. Pressure from predators is the reason quail must have large broods, and double-clutch when possible (produce a second or even third batch of chicks in a summer). The original brood size generally dwindles as they mature and individuals fall prey to the many hazards young quail face.
Enjoy this year's crop of photos from Toshimi, and be cheered to know that 2018 seemed to be a pretty good year for quail in the Tehachapi Mountains, despite our intermittent, perpetual drought.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.