The Quail Diairies: Data

29 08 2008

I have been remiss in my posting. And more so with my attention to the quail, although, I have pulled out Leopold’s most excellent book, The California Quail, to reread. It has the nicest picture of a male quail with about 30 juveniles tagging behind him.

Today, Devlin and I extracted DNA from the blood we collected. Devlin got a little bored during the process (it’s mainly moving clear liquids around) and played with a bucket of ice during the second half of extraction. I have also compiled the mass and size data I gathered from the birds, summaries of which you will find below.

We trapped 3 females, 3 males and 7 juveniles (3 identified as female, 3 identified as male, and one who’s sex was not identified). One male was trapped 2 times total, I juvenile male was trapped 2 times total and one juvenile female was trapped 4 times total. This female, incidentally, twice gave a distress call; the first time she gave this call, an adult female burst out of the brush and hovered around until I released the juvenile.

The average mass, in g, of all trapped quail was 156; of females, was 154; of males, 173; and of juveniles, 149. The average size, in mm, of each individual’s right tarsus, was 32 for all quail; 31 for females; 32 for males and 32 for juveniles. These values are all within the range found by people measuring California quail in San Diego and elsewhere. I have not calculated the age of the juveniles, but, based on primary and secondary wing growth, they are all approximately the same age.

I did not have a chance to take observations, so at this point I do not know how these birds associate. That, of course, is my main interest–what is the pattern of association observed in wild California quail. I need more banded birds, but I also need to take a series of observations, where I note who is with whom and where. I am not sure when this will happen.

I also have had the crazy thought that I should try to survey the quail around here–try to get a sense of the numbers of quail locally, in Seattle, and on the islands. This has not been attempted to any depth in recent history, so it is hard to know whether population sizes have remained constant over the last 50 years or if they have changed.



24 08 2008

I will be taking a hiatus for a few days (camping in the rain). More posts up starting Wednesday/Thursday (Aug 27,28).

The Quail Diaries–Notebook Reflection

24 08 2008

The fire zone and the quail seem far away right now. I miss the quail. Pieces of the fire zone will be making their way up here. A coyote skull from inside the burn (though this coyote was not killed by the fire, it had died some time ago), a few burnt stones and the notebook.

I mentioned the notebook early on. It is a thing, like the coyote skull, revealed by the burn. The notebook was not in the burned area (it would have turned to ash if it was), but in an area near the firefighters cut which I would never have found without the cut itself giving me access.

The notebook itself is water-damaged, crusted with dirt and hard to open; pages stick together when I try to turn them, coming apart and destroying anything that might have been written upon them. But, at least before I left, I was able to read two intact pages. As I read them, as I touched the pages I had a strong curiosity but also a sense of decay, of voyeurism and of something else.

Here is what I remember from the first page:

[drawing of a map of SW USA and Mexico, with Nogales the only city marked in]
….[Illegible] in case mom dad have to go to Mexico

and on another page

statue[sic]of limitations

Is it real or an elaborate fantasy? And why does it make me feel very sad?

The Quail Diaries–Reflection, Part 3

22 08 2008

Some of you might be interested in what sort of measurements etc. I take when I’ve caught a quail. I’ve scaled the process way down from my Ph.D. work. I band them and then measure tarsus length, wing length at the first primary and mass. These measurements will give me a general idea of the size of the bird. For the juveniles, I also determine where they are in the primary and secondary moult which will give me some estimate of their age.

I also take a little bit of blood 10-100ug by clipping a toenail. This is not comfortable for the bird but is, according to some veterinarians, probably less stressful than wing venipuncture or through the jugular vein or carotid artery. I do not need a lot of blood to do a population genetic and kin relationship work up of the birds (using microsatellite markers).

Finally, I give them a little sip of water, make sure their toenail has stopped bleeding and send them on their way. i have not been taking measurements of secondary sexual characteristics (length of crest, size of chest and belly patches, size of black and white markings on face and neck, color of all of these patches). These are measurements I took during my Ph. D. because I was interested in mate choice for plumage characteristics. I am not interested in this anymore, at least not in quail–or rather, this question is a more intractable one at this point than I want to pursue. I realized, during my dissertation work, that yes, we can elicit a preference response (e.g. to elongated vs. normal length crests; females prefer the former) but figuring out what that response means evolutionarily, which is really the next step is extremely complicated.

I believe we need to understand a heck of a lot more what the bird is seeing when it looks at the plumage–we really do not know at this point. First, their eyes are different from ours, so we cannot assume they see what we see (they have 4 cones, we three, they have oil droplets, we don’t, etc). Second, we do not know how they process what they perceive–do they see multiple discrete patches, like a taxonomist, or do they integrate the patches somehow, seeing the gestalt individual. Do some aspects matter more than others depending upon the context? I saw hints of the latter in my analysis of the responses of the quail–gestalt and context dependent responses.

But getting at this stuff is very hard in any species (including our own) and getting at it in a bird in the field, when one is reluctant to do much that is invasive, is prohibitive. Furthemore, if one is interested in evolution, calculating the impact of responses on proportional representation in the next generation, which, after all, is the measure of the traits and the responses effect and affect evolutionary change, is near impossible in a field population of tasty critters such as quail.

My advisor, by the by, has had a lot more success with her captive zebra finches, so I have an idea what can be done….but not by me.

At any rate, it is also not a good time to measure plumage traits, when the birds are moulting, since their plumage is a mix of old ratty feathers, fresh new feathers, and pinfeathers.

I also have found that my interests lie much more in social and family behavior, than in mate choice per se, which is why I think the blood samples will be useful as well as the bands.

Interlude–new species of bird

22 08 2008

A beautiful robin in Gabon.

The Quail Diaries–Reflection 2

21 08 2008

Last night, while running in our Seattle neighborhood, I thought I smelled woodsmoke. I’m not sure where it came from, but it reminded me of the smell of the fire zone.

Devlin holding ash

Devlin holding ash

Is it about me or the birds?

I am taking a few days off from the lab because I am pretty exhausted and because I need to reflect. But when I get back into lab, the budgerigar and feral cat DNA will be waiting. I’ll purify my quail DNA and maybe even order up some primers to genotype these individuals. But then what?

At any rate, here are a couple of interesting things Devlin and I saw on that hike

The first is, of course, a pacific gopher snake (thanks to my mom for identifying it--my herp knowledge is as poor as my plant knowledge) <em>Pituophis catenifer catenifer</em>.  I knew it was not a rattlesnake and, as I love snakes, I was very happy to see it.

The first is, of course, a pacific gopher snake (thanks to my mom for identifying it--my herp knowledge is as poor as my plant knowledge) Pituophis catenifer catenifer. I knew it was not a rattlesnake and, as I love snakes, I was very happy to see it.

The second is one of several newly excavated holes that we saw in the fire zone.  I am not sure to whom they belong.   But they attest to the fact that, perhaps

The second is one of several newly excavated holes that we saw in the fire zone.

I am not sure to whom these new excavations belong. But I do know that they attest to the fact that, perhaps

departed, have left no address

my anxiety about the survival of the creatures on site
was overwrought

The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

italics are from T.S. Eliot’s The Fire Sermon

The Quail Diaries–Reflection, Part 1

20 08 2008

I caught no quail the morning of my last day (yesterday). I think that the squirrel digging into the trap had something to do with this.

While we let the traps sit, and the squirrel excavated, Devlin and I walked down into the fire zone.

I have been using the “Escape Route” cut by the fire fighters to get down to the burned area. During our hike we were surrounded by hummingbirds displaying like crazy with huge aerial drops. I am, embarrassingly enough, not sure what species. They are most likely to be Annas because these are widespread, and I saw a flash of red. I am a bit confused, though, as the red seemed only on the throat. I am no birder.

According to the Sand Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego County Bird Atlas Project website : “[m]ales display to other males and possibly to nothing at all.” At least, that is how it appears to us.

Devlin was less interested in the hummers–he wanted to make it to the top of Fire Mountain as he called it–the unburned hill just above the spot where the large fire started.

This spot was marked by two sticky notes attached to a branch. It can be seen from the side of my parent’s house.

We made it to the top of fire mountain and then walked down, towards where Devlin had spotted the smoke the night before. I looked around and found a path down towards the north. I headed down the path and found what looked to be the site of the campfire–ashes, a grill, cans and footprints.

I was nervous the entire time, and clearly displayed bad judgement in going down there while Devlin was out in the field with me. I did ask him to wait back, but still. Luckily, no one was around, and the footprints led off down the path, towards where I had seen what I suspected was the man who had lit this fire, walking up the street.