I had one of those “Kinship with All Life” moments the other day. Darleen had gone for a walk with Pete, our indefatigable Boxer, and I was at home with our elderly, stout, lame, gentle, neurotic Cardigan Welsh corgi, known as Belle. It was early morning and Belle and I went outside to enjoy our first cup of coffee on the front patio. It’s a lovely time of day to sit outside, cool and quiet, when the owls and coyotes have returned home from the night shift, and the hawks are just getting started with the day’s work.
Belle was at my feet, watching for Darleen and Pete. She has fantastic eyesight, and can see them (or bobcats or deer behind the house) at great distances, and is a remarkably alert early warning system. A covey of quail came feeding their way up from the barn. Valley quail, also known as California quail, are found from the southern tip of Baja all along the West coast up into Canada. They’re a gregarious bird, and coveys of fifty or more are not uncommon, scurrying around, constantly on the move, plump and elegant, with ridiculous little topknots that remind me of headdresses worn by ladies in certain eastern European cultures a century ago. The covey worked their way up onto the flat in front of the house, and just then Belle spotted Darleen and Pete, still close to a half mile away. She got up and moved out to the edge of the concrete patio.
Valley quail are about as spooky as any bird I know. Their vigilance, and reluctance to let anyone or anything get anywhere near them are what make them so challenging to hunt. It takes a well-trained and steady dog with a good nose to hold a covey. I don’t hunt any of the birds around my house—it would be like hunting one of the neighbors, only better eating, of course—so the home birds have gotten relatively used to us coming and going, but even so, I was stunned by what happened next. Belle waddled out and laid down at the very edge of the front walk. Seven or eight of the birds stopped feeding and looked at her. A few scampered a little bit away. Most ignored her. And then, the whole covey resumed feeding, moving closer and closer to her until there were some within three or four feet—at most—of her nose. It was as if they knew this gentle, elderly lady posed absolutely no threat to them, and for three or four minutes, until Pete saw me and came galloping up to say good morning, the whole covey and a grey-muzzled corgi and man with a cup of coffee were in happy communion with the morning.