Ohhhhh! Momma Quail had been so clever at hiding tiny clutch of eggs they almost escaped my eye. Here at Smiling Dog Ranch we have two greenhouses, a plant “hospital” and a cactus nursery that need tending. The cactus nursery contains row after row of five gallon and larger pots with every sort of cactus, yucca, agave and palm. Weeds find their way into the pots so I’ve made it my job to pick my way through the golden barrels, prickly pears, and opuntia, cleaning the pots and making them customer ready. It is tedious work avoiding the stickers and thorns except for the row of totem poles, tall mild green cactus that are smooth to the touch. The largest totem pole is a beautiful plant with an arm growing out of its side very near to the soil. Nestled in the crook of that arm were the eggs, an even dozen. Later in the day I peeked in to find Momma Quail tending to her duties, eyeing me over her shoulder. With a wave and a whispered “I’ll leave you alone” I walked away.
At least once a day I wandered over to check on Momma. Most times she was there and although wary, she seemed to understand I wouldn’t hurt her or her nest. One day I managed to recount the eggs….sixteen in all! Such a small space for so many babies had me worried. Worried she would have too many mouths to feed; worried the dogs might find her and the chicks. The next day Momma was in place keeping her eggs warm. I’ve heard that Quail Moms and Pops take turns sitting on the nest but the female was the only adult bird I saw. Perhaps Papa had the night shift.
A week later the dogs woke us in the middle of the night with restless barking and whining. This happens anytime they hear coyotes yip or sense javelinas on the prowl. When we let them out to investigate they run at full tilt barking ferociously, something we are sure the neighbors do not appreciate, so instead we shushed them until they resettled for the night. The next morning Tom went out with the dogs to make the morning rounds.
“The javelinas were partying last night. I found a big waller in the nursery.”
Those words were a knife to my heart! I rushed out to the cactus nursery only to find pots of cactus upturned including the one with the nest. Momma Quail and her eggs were nowhere to be found, not even a feather or an egg shell. Perhaps Momma escaped but I imagined her eggs were swallowed whole by the pigs.
It’s tough sometimes to live in harmony with nature. Should I have cordoned off the cactus to ward off attack? An attack I didn’t see coming? Or should I let nature take its course? I like eggs for breakfast sometimes; I even eat my share of chicken. Shouldn’t the javelinas be afforded the same consideration?
The other evening we sat outside on the front patio watching the sunset illuminate the mountains. A Momma Quail appeared on top of the rock wall, looked around then peeped out marching orders before flying gracefully to the ground. As we watched, one by one, tiny quail chicks popped up on the wall then hopped down to scurry across the drive, tiny legs skittering as fast as hummingbird wings. Papa brought up the rear. I knew these were not the babies I had peeked at daily but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to pretend. I started counting them. Sixteen in all.