Scaled Quail — A First For Me

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I get a great deal of pleasure from photographing a species for the first time. Especially, when the species is some local creature.  I’ve photographed hundreds of species of local fauna but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There are always more to discover and to photograph.  Finding new ones (new to me) is part of the thrill for me of wildlife photography.

Scaled Quail aren’t exactly a new species to me.  I’ve seen them on a fair number of occasions but I’ve never been able to photograph one of these birds.  I don’t count it if I see but cannot photograph something, so my various sightings of this bird without being able to capture it digitally had left me a bit frustrated.  My frustration ended last Sunday.  My friend Ned Harris and I were driving down a back road in Sonoita, grasslands southeast of Tucson, when we saw and photographed not one, but two Scaled Quail.

Scaled Quail are one of three species of quail that live within relatively close proximity to Tucson.  Gambel’s Quail are ubiquitous, common desert birds whose range includes nearby grasslands as well.  Montezuma Quail, a/k/a Mearn’s Quail, are much rarer grasslands birds.  Scaled Quail are a second grasslands species.  One never sees these attractive birds in our local desert but they show up fairly often in adjacent grasslands at higher elevations.

To put it mildly, they are elusive.  Typically, these birds forage low, tending to hang out among grasses and low-growing vegetation.  Their reaction to being spotted is to melt into the brush, rendering themselves almost invisible instantly.

Photographing them is extremely difficult because of their tendency to seek shelter in the foliage.  On one or two occasions I’ve had the experience of standing within a dozen feet of a covey of five or more of these birds without being able to take a single photograph due to their concealment.

For whatever reason the birds that Ned and I photographed weren’t foraging on the ground when we found them but were resting on fences.  They sat still long enough for us to train our lenses on and to photograph them and for that I am enormously grateful.

Scaled Quail are extraordinarily beautiful.  The “fish scale” pattern of contrasting slate gray and copper colored feathers on their breasts and abdomens gives this species its name, but it also happens to be gorgeous.  The bird depicted in these images practically glowed in the early morning sunlight.

I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether this bird is a male or a female before giving up.  With Gambel’s Quail the gender distinctions are obvious.  Not so with Scaled Quail, the two sexes pretty much look alike.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f6.3 @ 1/2000.

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