Journal Friday 30th October, 2020 at 7:40 a.m.
Looking West from my window at nautical dawn I saw four birds resting on a roof ridge at the end of the street. The sun was still several degrees below the horizon and there was very little light illumination of the lower atmosphere from the scattering sunlight. Street lamps were still needed. I tried to identify those birds silhouetted against the sky because I had to paint them and write my observations in my Sun Journal. I looked in my Guide to Birds of Ireland and Britain but couldn’t find a likeness. I stared at the roof ridge for a while and it came to me that they looked like California Valley Quail. I was excited but a bit puzzled.
I sketched the scene and noted the colours of dawn to paint later. I selected my paints also to paint the real life colours of the California Quail: rich grey and brown with a black face outlined with bold white stripes and a pattern of white, creamy and chestnut feathers on the belly. Their legs are grey, short, sometimes thick for scratching the ground.
The California Quail is a handsome bird with a curving crest made of six feathers drooping forward on the top of it’s head. I first saw them when visiting Nora and Russ, my friends in Roseville, Sacramento. They lived on a golf course and often a family of quail paraded past at the end of the patio, their heads nodding at each step. It was a lovely sight, more pleasant by far than the occasional errant golf ball that hit the house.
They are a different species to the Common Quail that have now become uncommon visitors to Ireland from their wintering ground in Africa. The Common Quail species originated in North America but can be found across most of the world at this time.
Climate change will reshape the range of the California Quail. Their range will expand and contract under increased global temperatures. I suppose it is not preposterous to think those four were an advance party casing the joint for its appropriateness as a habitat. Their diet is seeds, leaves, berries and various insects. They hide their nests on the ground amid grasses at base of shrubs and trees. Their clutch size is 12 – 16 eggs and they form flocks that contain family groups that number 75 or more individuals.
I was painting my composition but at the same time wondered if the California Quail were a phenomenon that should be investigated. Perhaps there was a scientific explanation.
If not a phenomenon what could it be, a coincidence, or an optical illusion. I did have difficulty making out what was on the roof ridge. Our visual perceptual processing is complex. The system puts many elements including proximity and past experience into patterns and you see what you think you see.
Stars, for example, are a multicoloured bunch; red, blue, white, yellow which is not easy to see with the naked eye. Above the atmosphere wavelengths of temperature and chemical composition of each star can be measured using modern technology enabling scientists to view the stars’ colours.
Taking a break I went upstairs, opened the curtains and viewed the roof ridge from my upstairs window. I could hardly believe what I saw, the tips of tree branches popping up from the far side.
I’m greatly relieved to be reconnected with the real world and not have to worry about an episode of derealisation brought on by Covid lockdown.