Meeting chicks on the hiking trail

My friend Tami joined me yesterday evening for a hike at popular Rancho San Antonio OSP in the low hills above Cupertino, in the western portion of the Santa Clara Valley. The temperature was a bit warm in Rancho’s lower meadows – only about 93 degrees – in effect keeping the usual crowds away but also making for a wonderfully unique glimpse into the park’s local wildlife population.

Having visited Rancho many times over the years, in all seasons and weather, it was unusual, nearly surreal, to see this park almost devoid of people and families and tricycles and baby carriages and all-girl running teams. The daily flux of scores of people in this park, together with the park’s often-seen fauna, had previously caused me to observe how habituated the wildlife had become to passing hominidae like Tami and me.

Almost right away, we spotted a family of California quail along a single-track stretch of trail approaching Deer Hollow Farm. We stopped abruptly to admire their activity in the shade of a Coyote bush: Mama Quail scratched and bathed in the dirt while Proud Papa, wary of our approach, guarded seven little ones. Suddenly oblivious to all else, we were fascinated by the smallest quail chicks we had ever seen, scarcely (in my estimation) two weeks out of the egg.

It was palpably warm, and we were standing in the sunshine. So, after a moment, the two of us resumed our walk. Seeing our movement, Mama cluck-clucked to her brood, and six of her babies scampered into the trailside brush. While this sudden flurry brought smiles to our faces, we couldn’t escape noticing that Number 7, who had been off on his own, wasn’t quite getting the alarm message. Papa, his head down and concern showing, hustled after the little guy and, finally, after some confusion, Number 7 safely rejoined his kin. Papa then fluttered up into the lower branch of a nearby tree – right at eye level with me as I walked by – as if to warn us against any untoward depradation. I stopped again to regard him. What a beautiful creature! At a distance of less than four feet, this was the best look I had ever had of California’s official state bird.

Tami and I eventually complied with Proud Papa’s wishes and, smiling at our wonderful Nature moment, we ambled on.



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