Briefly, of golden toads and other things

25 04 2009

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head!


or rather my other-colored head–for I am not going white just yet.

I can see two black and white cats walking through tall grass one just ahead and to the side of the other. They are not inherently evil–and are less verminous than are we, disgusting pollution spilling world exploiting primates that we are.

Ah…but not mykids…they are different.

Dost thou not know what thou saidst to me
Yesterday by the cool waters of the fountain?

This was and is the voice of the Frog Prince. Little toad, little frog. Disney’s long-overdue foray into the creation of an African-American Princess arises out of this fairy-tale. Undoubtedly it will be as sanitized as the rest. Her father will be jolly and she will not show the cruelty she shows in the tale.


Dost thou not know what thou saidst to me
Yesterday by the cool waters of the fountain?

No, actually I don’t, little toad. But I do know that you are gone gone gone away today. Little golden thing, little bo peep, creature of the earth.

In all accounts of you, little creature, they say the word was.


This is was the Golden toad of Costa Rica. Now extinct.

Like a painting we will be erased, no one can remain.

I’ve already written, already grieved, about the Golden toad (the G.W. Bush era essay is here: goldentoad). But for whatever reason I have been thinking about it again lately. It vanished just before I visited Costa Rica and I never met it. It is that feeling that I stepped into a space just vacated that haunts me.

Everywhere we move we are entering spaces just vacated–we are touching the dust of things gone before–consuming them even as we miss them and grieve for them.

nights exist, nightshade exists
the dark side, the cloak of namelessness exists

The toads and the cats–on other ends of some sort of spectrum–but I love them both. I cannot help but incorporate contradictions. I cannot but help it.

Oppressed nature sleeps.
This rest might yet have balmed thy broken senses,
Which, if convenience will not allow,
Stand in hard cure.
Come, help to bear thy master;
Thou must not stay behind.

quotes are by Shakespeare, Brother’s Grimm, Anne Carson, Inger Christensen, Shakespeare


23 04 2009

Our goal is complete objectivity.

I should not be doing this–I do not have time for this. There are things to be done.


What is the difference between this

cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum



[Śūnyatā is oft defined as the Buddhist idea of emptiness–but as many have said, that translation doesn’t quite get it–as so often do translations not get it.]

Is there a relationship between these things and what, what, what am I writing about?

Not about quail, I suppose, not yet at any rate.

I forgot to tell you (or did I?) about the three bald eagles circling the PCC (our local coop). I believe they were three bald eagles, one juvenile and two adults. They were accompanied by some very agitated crows and did not stay long.

I had trouble believing my eyes…but then bald eagles exist.

and the baiji? the ivory-billed woodpecker? the golden toad?


If I breathe correctly, if I reach the point of breath where it is no longer me breathing the world but the world breathing me, will they exist again?

The strange thing about other species is how they can exist outside of our perception. They really can. It is why I like to study quail, or anything really, as I have said, in it’s own habitat. The keep existing (if we are lucky) even when I am not there.

I want to intersect, just there, at that place where they and I are illumination.

Quotes are by Hannah Weiner and Inger Christensen

The Quail Diaries–Tercero, I do not seem quite finished

14 04 2009


I do not seem to be quite finished with Tercero.

Don’t you know how no one escapes the power of creatures reaching out
with breath alone?

I wanted to show you this


and this


and also this


The first is an entrance to the woodrat’s house, the second, the blooming of the sage and the third the ant on the monkeyflower. Just little bits of magic.

That’s how I soar up

And of course, the beetle below, in such a hurry it vanished.


with my eyes shut and mica round my mouth…


quotes are from Marina Tsvetaeva

The Quail Diaries, Tercero–Nest?

8 04 2009

I have a bit of poison oak, again.


I must say, the location is odd–a few lesions on the inside of my right knee. Why there and nowhere else I cannot say. It is not nearly as bad as the last time (for which I still have scars)–so that is good.


I had barely any time to work with the quail–but I do believe that the clump of brush pictured above is the location of at least one nest. This is the area with the nettles that I mentioned before, where the male quail with a blue band had been sitting up high–this male I suspect of being B/K B, a male I banded in August as a juvenile.

9 am on the day we left I trudged down to check the area after noting only a cow calling male near the traps, whose band combination I was unable, yet again, to determine. There, after climbing the white fence, clambering around the concertina wire and avoiding the bees buzzing around a water pipe, I encountered the soft alarm notes of quail that are unlikely (unwilling?) to flush…but appear rather to want to hunker down and wait.

I did not dig around–it is too thick and what purpose would it serve to make the place more available to predators? At this point I have not banded or observed enough to warrant digging around for nests. When I go up this summer I will hopefully see a blue banded male with some young and can suspect that this is the result of the nesting attempt. I can even extrapolate based on moulting patterns the hatch date of the young and count back to determine whether it is possible that those juveniles came from the supposed nest.

Of course, none of this will make it into any study as any sort of data point. It is just a filling in of a picture for me, so that I have that sense that is necessary for doing field work.


Where all of this is going I cannot say. It is a constant push to make working with the quail happen–I cannot catch hold of time…it runs and every little piece of my life seems to pass into a different place without my touching any of it the way I want to –my kids especially, but the field work as well–and the other thing, The Quail Diaries, whatever they are, are still struggling desperately to take shape.

Wonderful and Strange Green Porn

7 04 2009

Isabella Rossellini does the sex lives of various organisms and the evolutionary argument for the existence of the vagina and female reproductive tract.

The Quail Diaries, Tercero: The Last Evening

4 04 2009

We fly home tomorrow.

The coyotes are howling and yipping, just a bit.

And I expect the quail are tucked in tight–some sitting incubating their nests, hidden in plain sight, others roosting in trees.

Did you know that it is very very very difficult to find quail nests? This is one aspect of their biology that makes it difficult to study them. They are ground nesters–laying @20 eggs in scrapes in the dirt or brush. I have only ever found a very small number of nests–some already predated, with a pile of feathers scattered over the remains of eggs. Meaning, perhaps, that these nests were not the best hidden if a coyote or bobcat, squirrel or snake found them first.

The two recommended ways to find nests are to have a good tracking dog or to radio collar birds. I have done the latter and found a few nests this way. It is still hard, for the site is so brushy that I am loathe to tramp through following a signal because I might crush any number of nests on my way to find the location of my one collared bird.

And, of course, half the time they nest in poison oak–or so the signal suggested when I collared them.

I have a suspicion that some of the birds here are nesting in a big clump of nettles south of my traps. I walked down that way this afternoon and came across two males sitting high in the brush and vocalizing in very quiet little pips. One of the males had a Blue band (the other jumped down too fast for me to ID him). After blue banded male jumped down there were a few very muffled rally calls and then silence. No flushing.

As males often sit sentinel while the females incubate–perhaps there were nests down below, swaddled by the nests, surrounded by nearly impenetrable branches of the chaparral-scrub.

Or perhaps I’m full of it…who knows–I sure don’t since I did not see any nests. But, I know from sad experience that one can be staring full at a nest and not quite see it. And I saw no reason really to go digging around.

I did not trap anyone today. Both this morning and this evening the traps were monopolized by hungry rabbits and ground squirrels and no one else wants to go into a small space with one of these critters. I even saw a rabbit smack a ground squirrel on the rear with its two front paws in order to get it to move out of the way of the entrance to the trap. The squirrel moved on and the rabbit moved in.

I did take observations both times–not much joy this morning. The arrival of the (a) Cooper’s hawk on the scene, swooping over a feasting jay, missing, and flying to a nearby tree, made it certain the quail were not likely to show. It sat in the tree and made sweet little vocalizations, charming and annoying me alternatively.

I feel I do not quite have the quails’ schedule down. Things change during this period of nesting and they tend to be more sporadic rather than emerging to feed as a group in the am and pm. It was also cloudy in the morning and they tend to emerge later in the clouds.

There was someone (likely a male) “cow calling” from a tree in the east. Males cow calling are assumed to be soliciting mates/copulations. As there appears to be substantial extra pair copulation this is a possible explanation. I would like to know with more certainty…

Cow calling only ever happens during the breeding season and is related to increases in testosterone levels as is squill calling. Squills are aggressive calls made by males. One male yesterday seemed to make it in response to being alarmed. There is a substantial increase in intrasexual aggression during the breeding season–and I did see a lot of displacements yestarday and today, by males towards both males and females.

One thing about the squill call. They sometimes seem to use it to jam female communication–or perhaps coordinate. A female will rally (chi-ca-go) call (trying to contact other birds) and a male will squill after the first syllable, essentially overriding the female’s call. Is this mate guarding? or something else? I would like to know with more certainty….

I would like to know….

In the evening I saw male B/K B up by the traps with 5 other birds (2 other males and 3 females) most were, damnation, unbanded, although one female had either an orange or a red band (they were wandering around the grass and their legs were variously obscured. They came from the south and went back down, stopping for a group dustbath on the way, towards where my suspected nests were.

I wonder if that male is the same I saw near the nettles.

I do think this pattern is quite different from the pattern of the birds I trapped the last few times–coming up from the north in the morning, spending the day in the south, and returning to the north in the evening.


The monkeyflowers are quite cheerful, by the way


I did check out the fire zone. There is some green-up. Both in the cut made by the firefighters


and in the burned region itself


I wish I knew my plants. I am ashamed to say that I know very few–but I suspect…am concerned…that many of the plants coming up in the fire zone are non-natives. Certainly the Russian thistle I saw is an invasive. And the vines, perhaps.

Of course, I also saw my old friend, looking beautiful and healthy.


I have scars on my arm from my last encounter. I can only hope this time I have escaped…

At any rate, this is likely my last post of Tercero, at least from the study area. What I am doing here, I am not so sure…but it feels like one of the few things I am really supposed to be doing, watching these quail. Undoubtedly, it is a senseless pursuit, but it seems to be mine and I really love those quail, even when they are unbanded or walking through the tall grass.

The Quail Diaries, Tercero. First Evening

3 04 2009


It is the first evening…I saw at least 8 pairs of quail and there was certainly one male (or do I assume too much, might it have been a female?) quail “cow” calling from on high.

Today, the quail did as they are wont to do–walked in a field of short green-up, with new grown plants just high enough to conceal the bands. I did see male B/K B with an unbanded female, so that is nice…in its way. I also observed a female’s bands, R on the left, and perhaps K on the right. Maybe she was R K/O but I cannot be sure. And I saw an additional pair of unbanded individuals.


Clearly, I have a lot of work to do.

Oh I shall soone despaire, when I doe see

One problem, as you might gather from the discussion above, is the simple one of collecting observational data on a nonterritorial species that spends time wandering on the ground and hanging in the brush….Today I spent 2 hours watching, saw 8+quail and got one positive id. Granted, 2 hours is nothing (I spent thousands of hours observing quail for my dissertation) but they are difficult to observe, especially on a site as brushy as this one.


And of course, I need to band everyone if possible (it is probably not, but would be nice).

Nice, that is, for me, not for the quail themselves. They would, I am sure, prefer not to.

Oh my blacke Soule! now though art summoned

Lord above I love those little birds.

I cannot tell you the sort of joy it gives me to see a female’s head as she moves through the tall grasses, nibbling on green leaves and flowers.

But who shall give thee that grace to beginne?
Oh make thy selfe with holy

I cannot convince you…it is just there in the transcendence of that little bird and the male with her and the fact that I’ve only touched a piece of their existence–they are outside of me.

as thou art with sinne

Many things were happening while I was taking observations. Rally calls (chi-ca-go) and pits, cow calls (cow!) and squill calls. Birds were talking and following and moving and making decisions and attending to the location of the sun and the temperature and the state of their nests and with whom they traveled. All of this is still so opaque.

let myne amorous soule court thy mild Dove

But more, perhaps, on that later. This is a little peek. I am here until Saturday. We shall see.

You are that Alchimist which alwaies had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad


quotes are, happily enough, by John Donne