I am often asked, “Can you count a bird if you only hear it?”. Technically, the answer is yes but my answer has always been “NO”. Birders will debate the pros and cons…but for me it is really clear – seeing is believing. The Mountain Quail is one of those birds that is heard sometimes but seen infrequently. I have attempted to locate this secretive western quail several times but to no avail…..until today.
Accompanied by an experienced guide (Rich Cimino), we traveled 80 miles north of San Francisco to prime Mountain Quail habitat. A steep canyon at 2,000 feet elevation, lined with a mixture of oaks and conifers interspersed around chaparral grasses, presents the perfect spot to hear a male Mountain Quail call from his customary sentry position – a rocky outcrop or tree snag. Within seconds of Rich’s order to stop the car, we could hear the unmistakable “quee-ark” crowing call quite easily. But where was the bird? Thirty minutes elapsed and we still had not located the persistently calling quail. Desperate to SEE this guy, I began climbing up the hillside on all fours…much to Rich’s amusement. Of course, by the time I had reached its presumed location, the calling came from an entirely different direction. So frustrating!
Probably holding back laughter, Rich politely suggested driving up the canyon. Sometimes these elusive creatures will forage along the shady side of the road. Admittedly, I thought we had missed our chance of actually seeing #699. I started driving up the very windy road, my mind still on the hillside envisioning what should have been. Suddenly, a dark hen-like figure flashed in front of me and darted around the corner. If Rich hadn’t put the car in park after my quick exit….well, I don’t want to contemplate the consequences. Anyhow, I hoped for the best and in seconds was rewarded. #699!