Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quest for the Mountain Quail

clear cut

My boss, Sarah, expressed a desire to see Mountain Quail. A few days later we had a field trip set up through Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. A week later we had enough participants signed up for the van trip.

Mountain Quail are sneaky and very difficult to observe generally, and rather uncommon in NW Oregon. Some people who live in forested areas told me "they come to my feeder fairly regularly." However these persons live quite far from Hillsboro, Oregon, our base of operations.

Quail seekersI contacted Lars Norgren who has Mountain Quail near his home at Hayward. He went out one morning to look for quail but did not hear any.

On April 1st I spent a couple of hours hiking a logging road west of Forest Grove where I saw Mountain Quail "dust baths" in the road... last fall. It was very scenic, but the road was as steep as I remembered. I got drenched in a sudden rain from a black cloud that appeared over the Coast Range while the towns below enjoyed sunny weather. Most importantly, I found no sign of quail.

Thus, we remained true to our original intent of visiting Johnson Road near Vernonia. This area is not somewhere I would send people on their own. Target shooters, illegal trash dumpers, and noisy ATV'ers are possible. On our visit today, however, all seemed pristine and quiet. The road was recently graveled and in good condition.

The forecast was horrible, though, with rain and wind predicted. As typcial for Oregon weather forecasts, such conditions did not appear. There was no wind and the showers in the valley below turned to a light dusting of snow, interspersed with brief periods of sun in the hills, much to our delight... and relief.

searching for Mountain QuailWe walked a side road up a hill where I had seen Mountain Quail in previous years (see photo below). However, the re-growing trees are now 12-15 years old. They are perhaps too large now for Mountain Quail.

We did find Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, American Robins, and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Even though it was fairly cold with a bit of off-and-on sleet or hail here, there were several Orange-crowned Warblers and Rufous Hummingbirds on our hike. Spotted Towhees, Bewick's Wrens, Song Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos filled out the rest of the bird species detected.

We drove up a mile to where a new logging road skirted the ridgetop between two valleys. We got out and walked again. We had not gotten far when a a startling flurry of wings errupted along side us. A Mountain Quail burst into flight from under a small fir tree about 4 feet tall! I got a decent view as it flew away, with all blue-gray back, wings, and tail. Jeremy saw the chestnut undertail as he had a view a bit more from the side. Sarah and Diana heard, but did not see, the bird as it rocketed low down the hill and out of sight.

Mountain Quail
A long time ago and from a camera far, far away.... Mountain Quail in May 2005 near Vernonia, Oregon. Digiscoped by Greg Gillson.
We continued walking another mile of muddy logging roads but did not see or hear any more Mountain Quail. But now each member of the group knows how and where to search for this elusive species.

We saw or heard additional birds, including Steller's Jay, Common Raven, American Crow, Northern Flicker, and Red-breasted Sapsucker. Oddly, a pair of Northern Harriers were acting very territorial in the Douglas-fir and western hemlock woods, screaming and circling and landing, miles from any marshes or meadows.

A bonus bird was a huge Northern Goshawk that winged slowly up the valley providing good views for all.

So, success, but still room for better future sightings....

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the good trip Greg, I'm going to go back soon for hopefully better views!! JEREMY