Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hatch Watch

When we got back from Colorado 20 days ago we spotted a female Gambel's quail roosting in one of our flower pots out back.  We don't know when she finished laying her clutch of 10 eggs, but we do know that incubation is between 21 and 24 days, so we can't be too far away from a hatching.

Last night we noticed a male Gambel's quail lurking around the nest.  Suddenly he squatted down on a bare expanse of gravel.  Had he been on dirt we'd have been expecting to see him take a dust bath, but he hugged the stoney ground, looking over toward where the female sat on her eggs under a potted flowering euphorbia.  These quails are monogamous and both take an active role in raising the chicks, but we had to wonder if this was maternity ward waiting room behavior.

It didn't take long to get our answer.  After a couple of minutes the male rose and cautiously approached the pot with the nest and tentatively joined his mate, carefully settling on some of the eggs.  After doing some research we learned that the male incubating the eggs is not unheard of, but quite rare.

You can see the female in the above picture, her shiny eye just above the edge of the pot.  The male is behind her, his black and chestnut head facing the other direction.

I guess we're the ones waiting anxiously in that maternity ward waiting room.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sanctuary and Answered Prayers

Shortly after the official start of summer the Sonoran desert is well into its infamous heat, but the notorious dry heat is giving way to a steamier version.   When the weather pattern shifts, usually around the 4th of July, our desiccatingly low to nonexistent humidity gives way to an inflow of tropical moisture, bringing the novelty of clouds, and we wait anxiously for the first rain in months.

We like to help out our tough desert birds by providing fresh water, native food sources though habitat gardening (and the occasional handful of bird seed), shelter, and places to raise their young.  Our efforts are rewarded by the constant presence of some of the most fascinating and adaptive birds in the world.  In the middle of our hottest season we are seeing lots of fledgling birds -- slightly smaller than their parents, frequently seen harassing  them with begging behavior, and not quite as expert in the flying department.  We've had juvenile doves, cactus wrens, thrashers, gila woodpeckers, finches, and even a young pyrrhuloxia seeking the shade of the back porch.

While desert birds have strategies to deal with the long months without rain in a land of little standing ground water, an easy source of water for drinking and bathing is much appreciated.  This early clutch of Gambel quail are being shown the ropes by their parents, visiting the bird bath for a quick early morning drink.

While some quail families are just finishing up their parental duties with their fledglings, others are just beginning, or beginning again.  This clutch of ten eggs is usually hidden by a dedicated female quail, and is due to hatch any time now.  Seeing a string of puffball quail chicks obediently following their mother while papa quail stands guard duty on the garden wall is one of our favorite desert experiences.  A year with abundant (for us) rainfall insures the resources needed to raise more than one family a year, and we are witnessing a banner year for wildlife.

Late this afternoon, bolstered by adequate humidity and triple digit heat, we had our first brief rain of the monsoon.  There is nothing like the first rain after months without, months of searing heat.  The first drops steam off the hot flagstone, and the fragrance of creosote instantly fills the air.  The cool rain on hot parched skin is an exquisite study in contrasts.  And the breaking of the long absence of life-sustaining rain is an answered prayer.