By Audrey F. Baker, Trail Guide
With its distinctive, forward-positioned head plume, dramatic facial markings and multiple body colorations, spotting our state bird, the California Quail (Callipepla californica) in its natural setting is always a visual treat. Its small head, fast-moving legs and that quirky vocalization, “Chi-ca-go, Chi-ca-go,” just add to its charm.
Year-round residents, California Quail are found throughout the park. You might catch a covey (small flock) enjoying a dust bath on a sandy trail or a dried stream bed. Perhaps you’ll see one perching a fence post, acting as a sentinel, only to discover others nearby catching insects, foraging for seeds, nipping plants and acorns, or scratching the soil. No matter their activity, living and feeding on the ground, they are always safety minded, flying only to reach nearby cover.
Their crude nests, described as mere depressions on the ground, are sparsely lined with grass and weed stems. Rarely in trees or above ground level, well-hidden nests may also be located on rock piles, in gullies, or at the base of shrubs.
Egg laying in Southern California begins in early April. Five weeks after a clutch (averaging 12 eggs) is completed, hatching occurs. Pre-breeding males serve as “uncles,” assisting parents in the care and protection of the young.
Glimpsing a covey of bobbing heads strutting by makes clear why the California Quail was unanimously chosen in 1931 as a California symbol.
Our MTRP Trail Guide walks are an opportunity to learn more about natural Southern California, with its unique landscapes, habitats, local history, plant and animal life. The walks are free, interesting, fact-filled, and geared to all ages and interests. Grab sturdy shoes, that comfortable hat, water bottle and sunscreen and hit the trail!
Morning walks are offered every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. You’ll start from the park’s Visitor and Interpretive Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos. The walk beginning from the Kumeyaay Lake Campground Entry Station, Two Father Junipero Serra Trail, at the San Carlos-Santee border, gives a different perspective of the park and its diverse habitats. These walks are offered from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and take in historic Old Mission Dam. We meet by the flag poles.
Wildlife Tracking reveals the secret lives of animals and brings insight into their survival techniques and habits. Tracking Team members assist in identifying and interpreting tracks, scat and habitats. Join us at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Visitor Center, 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Carlos, for a two-hour tracking adventure.
Discovery Table: MTRP Rocks is the station for hands-on science fun as MTRP trail guides introduce you to common rocks found in the park and explain why, from pebble to boulder, geology rocks. Stop by the Visitor Center lobby on Saturday, Nov. 14 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Star Party Marvels invites you to join in solar exploration. MTRP resident star gazer George Varga tells us our “moonless” meeting time will reduce light pollution and enhance views of the distant Andromeda galaxy (M31) and companion (M32). Light from these celestial objects takes 2.5 to 2.9 million years to reach earth. Also view Perseus’ double cluster and more. We meet from 5 to to 8 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the far end of the Kumeyaay day-use parking lot.
La Mesa Walk ‘n Talk offers a morning walk along scenic shores with an MTRP trail guide as we chat up today’s topic in nature –– migratory birds. The lake and its environs are a welcoming beacon to avian visitors traveling the Pacific Flyway on their annual migrations. Join us Tuesday, Nov. 17, 9 to 10:30 a.m. We meet at the boat docks, Lake Murray, 5540 Kiowa Drive, La Mesa.
Bird the Grove with MTRP resident birders Jeanne Raimond and Millie Basden in search of hawks, migratory and local species amid the multiple habitats of Oak Grove Loop Trail. Binoculars and bird book recommended. Meet you on Saturday, Nov. 21, 8 a.m. in front of the Visitor Center.
Family Discovery Walk connects your little ones with nature through discovering its wonders, joys and beauty as a family experience. This interactive outing focuses on childhood enrichment and fun! We meet inside the Visitor Center. See you Sunday, Nov. 22, 3 to 4:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, come on out and enjoy the park!
Visit mtrp.org for more information and our events calendar, or call 619-668-3281. Special walks can be arranged for any club, group, business or school by contacting Ranger Chris Axtmann at 619-668-2746 or at email@example.com.
––Audrey F. Baker is a Trail Guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.