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On both sides of the Bear Creek Valley the mountains were capped with fresh snow, bright in the morning sunlight that streamed through patchy cumulus clouds. Beyond the clouds the rain-washed sky was a brilliant blue.
"Mountain quail country," Dick said. "So this is where they hang out."
"Maybe," Bill said. "We'll find out. I'll believe it when I see it."
We parked, sloshed across a creek and climbed the bank of slippery mud, slithered under an old barbed-wire fence and started west over rolling hills. There were patches of poison oak and star thistle all along the way. The Brittany worked out ahead, quartering at a full run, checking every patch of buckbrush and manzanita, every willow thicket and rocky draw.
"What's the elevation?" Dick asked.
"Here? Around 2,000 feet."
"How high we going?"
"Sometimes the birds go a long way up. But maybe not in this weather."
Bill was serious, looking out over the country, carefully watching the dog. "Have you actually seen mountain quail around here?" he asked Rob.