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Birds of the Western Slope November 4, 2015

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Photo from Dollar Photo Male quail

Quail

I'm driving along this county road that I've dubbed the "low road." It runs down this valley, paralleling Highway 65 that goes from Cedaredge to Delta. I like this back road because I avoid the heavy traffic on 65, and I often get to see wildlife.

On this sunny autumn day, I've seen Magpies, four deer, a soaring Turkey Vulture, Rabbit Brush in full bloom, a small unidentifiable animal scurrying into the irrigation ditch and two cottontail rabbits. I always drive slowly to enjoy these brief moments.

I sense movement along the roadside ahead ... I check the rearview mirror for traffic ... the road's empty. I come to a quiet stop. A handsome male quail appears from the right side of the road. He walks very slowly, watching intently in every direction. My, but he is a pretty bird! They're best known for the "top knot" or feathered appendage on top of the head. I admire the white outlines between the red head-patch and the black chin. The wings look russet with white barring. The breast is light colored with a black belly patch. He moves two steps out onto a sandy stretch of ground.

Quail are usually found in groups (called a "covey"), so if I'm quiet maybe more birds will appear. No traffic -- how fortunate am I! There's movement behind my bird ... there's another quail! It's crouched down, mincing forward toward my male quail. Watch ... it's a female! No red crown and no black belly patch.

These native eight-inch-long birds are the most adapted to desert conditions of all the quail. Their ground nest is situated to be shaded by vegetation at midday, and they forage in the cool of morning and evening. They walk or scurry through the brush rather than fly when frightened. There's greater safety in being gregarious: a covey of running quail would confuse predators.

My time's suddenly up! Both birds dash across the road and vanish into the weeds on the other side. I don't see what the danger is ... but I've had my fun!

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Surface Creek
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Evelyn Horn
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