June 30, 2011
Killing at Arrastre Creek
There they were, a beautiful big family of Mountain Quail — adults and a dozen young 'uns, recent hatchlings — crossing the dry creek bed a few steps ahead of us, and the next thing we knew, one quail chick was down, doomed, kicking and thrashing in those remorseless jaws. Poor little tyke died before our eyes. Field trip leader Pamela Kling of Pomona Valley Audubon took the photos you see here, posted with her permission. Click on the photos to make them [very] big.
This is the deal about birding [and my friend and birding idol Gene Cardiff says it's the best thing about birding]: you get out into some beautiful country, and you see all kinds of things.
Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes are a common sight along Arrastre Creek. Mountain Quail, not so much. A rattlesnake killing a Mountain Quail is a rare sight indeed — and one of those events that might make you think a bit more carefully about where you put your feet for the rest of the hike. [Remember that as long as you don't pick one up, the odds of a rattler biting you are slim.]
I'm sure the rattlesnake at Arrastre was aware of our presence, though he never displayed any agitation that I could see. Once the quail chick stopped moving, though, the rattler worked his jaws around to the head and dragged the chick out of sight: a concession to us nosy humans.
For more about our local rattlesnakes, check out this post. And man, it was piteous listening to the quail babies calling from the shrubs next to the creek that whole time, let me tell you. [Mom was stuck on the other side.]
For more on California reptiles:
California Herps: A Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California
And at the link above, check out Rattlesnake Signs and Art for your rattler signage fix o' the day.