Friday, October 19, 2007

Bells and whistles, Scales and Gambels

Well, I finally broke down and updated our blog format. It took some work because the new version of this nice antique-looking template wouldn't display our title and header image properly, so I had to do a little work on Photoshop. The new features are worth it, especially the Topics sidebar. Now you can filter out all those posts that lack bird content and cut straight to the core material.

About those birds: Our yard's been crowded with quail this week--mostly Gambel's, but there was a lone Scaled in the bunch a couple of days ago. Here's the cottontop bellying up to the bar with a trio of male question marks:

Scaled were the common quail in our yard ten years ago, and we adored them. They were lovely, charming, and relatively tame, coming inside our picket fence for food and water. One day as I was talking on the phone, I looked out the kitchen door to see one perched on the porch rail less than eight feet away. There was a bit of a lull in the conversation as I picked my jaw up off the floor.

Sadly, the drought soon took its toll on these grassland lovers, and the more aggressive and desert-adapted Gambel's filled in the gap, eventually becoming brave (or desperate) enough to venture inside the fence. Now they dominate even when a few Scaled come around, often chasing them away from the food and water. Having a single Scaled in this winter flock is a prime setup for hybridization, which produces what we call "Scrambled" Quail. It's a common enough combo that it's illustrated in Sibzilla

Harbingers of winter in our yard this week were both "Gambel's" and "Mountain" White-crowned Sparrows, a small flock of Pine Siskins, and a lone Brewer's Sparrow. The first few Sandhill Cranes are back in the Sulphur Springs Valley along with flocks of Lark Buntings already in their drab off-season plumage, and a pair of Lawrence's Goldfinches visited the water feature at Banning Creek Field Station two weeks ago. Still, the migration is far from over. A sad little Rufous Hummingbird is still hanging around our flowers and feeders, a lone Turkey Vulture cruised overhead this afternoon, and I caught sight of a female Hooded Oriole skulking through the shrubbery. Though nights are decidedly chilly now, and the flowers are fading, I'm sure we'll see a few more of our summer friends before the seasons fully turn.

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