Spring and summer brought welcomed change in quail nesting conditions throughout much of the country. As the saying goes; when it rains, it pours. The rains have fallen in overabundance for some, but many states have found refuge from drought stricken habitat in the form of these rain clouds.
A significant amount of upland habitat continues to be lost countrywide, and the bleeding has not stopped. The Conservation Reserve Program enrolled only 1.7 million acres in most recent general sign-up, bringing this critical wildlife habitat program down to a 26-year low.
However, in the face of this habitat loss, literally thousands of concerned hunter-conservationists have picked up the upland conservation banner and joined Quail Forever as new members and volunteers. This year, Quail Forever reached an all-time “covey” record of more than 11,000 members with new chapters forming from California to Florida.
Enjoy these habitat reports and as hunting season approaches, consider lending a hand with your local Quail Forever chapter.
Mild winter a boon for bobs
Alabama has had an abnormally wet spring/summer, with only a handful of central and southeastern counties experiencing an abnormally dry season – a drastic change from the recent severe summer droughts. Across the state, there’s been anywhere from 17-40” of rainfall reported for the year (as of the end of July) with temperatures remaining relatively low all the way through the summer months.
“On our public lands that are managed for quail we have seen more birds this spring/summer than in past years and heard from several hunters who were pleased with bird numbers,” says Carrie Johnson, wildlife biologist for Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. “Also, I have had reports from landowners who say they have been hearing birds on their property for the first time in 10-15 years.”
This past winter Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries acquired new acreages on several management areas including Lauderdale, Lowndes, Barbour, and James D. Martin Wildlife Management Areas. Additionally, the Forever Wild program bought property that ties into James D. Martin WMA and Lauderdale WMA.
A season worth gearing up for
It can be said even mediocre quail hunting years in Arizona are better than the best years in other areas of the country. “This year will be one worth getting out and hunting quail, but not one to write the relatives about,” says Johnathan O’Dell, small game biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
According to O’Dell, the state received better amounts of winter rains this year, but it has been a particularly dry spring that started early. However, the summer monsoons did make a timely return. O’Dell also noted quail in southern Arizona started hatching on time, but birds in central Arizona were late.
The big three in Arizona (Gambel’s, scaled, and Mearns’ quail) all require precipitation at different times for nesting success. Gambel’s need winter precipitation, scaled spring precipitation, and Mearns’ the summer monsoonal rains.
O’Dell also noted spring call counts came in at 20% below last year’s numbers and below the 10-year average. The early, dry spring didn’t help scaled quail due to their typical nesting 2 to 3 weeks behind Gambel’s; however, on the upside, lots of habitat improvements have been made in southeastern Arizona to restore the native grasslands which are important to the scaled quail. Expect to see more Gambel’s quail than scaled quail in those areas this year for a below average season. Mearns’, hunters should be cautiously optimistic. It will take more than 2 good years in a row to bring numbers up, but the state is headed in the right directions. Expect a slightly below average season for Mearns’.
Read the full survey here: http://www.azgfd.gov/h_f/small_game.shtml
Excellent spring/summer production of food and nesting cover
Georgia received above average rainfall during late spring and early summer. This has resulted in excellent production of food and nesting cover on most quail managed landscapes. This rainfall doesn’t appear to have resulted in significant reductions in nesting success and brood production, particularly on the more well-drained sandy or loamy soils, says Reggie Thackston, program manager for Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Through the Farm Bill, Georgia has about 200,000 acres in CRP CP3A & CP 36 longleaf pine practices; 2,200 acres in CRP CP 33native field buffers; and 8,000 acres in the CP 38 SAFE Pine Savanna practice. Bobwhites and other grassland species benefit where these practices are appropriately maintained through mid-contract management, such as frequent prescribed fire or rotational winter disking.
Additionally, Georgia landowners may be eligible for practice cost share to enhance bobwhite habitat through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife, Environmental Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. Within all of these programs, landowners may receive funding for practices that can be value added for quail if appropriately applied and maintained in the proper landscape context. Through the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division Private Lands Program, which includes the Bobwhite Quail Initiative, wildlife biologists are available to assist landowners with development of bobwhite management plans and details on habitat practice cost share availability.
In recent years in southwest Georgia, approximately 35,000 acres of new and intensively managed wild quail lands have been successfully established on private property through the technical guidance efforts of Tall Timbers Research Station.
Georgia WRD is in the process of finalizing the revision of the state’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative under the umbrella of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. This plan targets bobwhite restoration into strategic focal landscapes that often include a mix of both private and public lands.
Georgia’s BQI is funded primarily through the sale of a vehicle license plate along with direct donations and grants.
Quail population strong heading into breeding season
Idaho experienced a very mild winter that was drier than average, so overwinter survival is expected to be high, reports Jeff Knetter, upland game and waterfowl staff biologist for Idaho Fish and Game.
While overwinter survival may be high, much of southern Idaho has been very dry during the spring/summer nesting season, so there are some concerns regarding brood survival. Unofficial reports have broods being observed thus far, so state biologists remain cautiously optimistic about another good year.
In terms of habitat, Idaho has been holding steady at approximately 670,000 acres enrolled in CRP/SAFE and has not seen a significant decline of acres like many other states.
Through state and local efforts, Idaho continues to promote the CP-33 buffers practice, as well as a new CRP SAFE practice in western Idaho focused on upland game birds. USDA and the Department of Wildlife are putting effort into promoting mid-contract management which will result in better game bird habitat on these acres.
Reports of increased calling and broods observed
According to Beth Emmerich, agricultural wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, it appears quail came through the drought of 2012 and the lingering winter of 2012-13 in good shape. “Initial nesting ran a bit later than normal this year due to an extremely cool, wet spring, but early indications are that we are seeing an increase over previous years,” Emmerich says.
Nesting and brood-rearing habitat should be in good shape this year after being knocked back by last year’s drought. Quail numbers on the state’s larger grasslands in western and southwest Missouri seem especially good this year. In addition, staff members and cooperators north of the Missouri River also report an increase in calling males and brood observations.
Population increase expected compared to 2012
Although more rainfall is definitely needed across the core bobwhite range in Texas, enough rainfall events occurred over a large enough area to produce conditions favorable for reproductive efforts. Spring and summer rains occurred in almost every region offering some relief from drought and the following green-up provided bugs and limited nesting cover. “We expect populations to increase compared to last year but remain below the long-term average,” states Robert Perez, upland game bird program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Winter conditions in north Texas did not present any challenges for quail. The region was, however, very dry up until spring and summer when many areas received enough rain to spur male bobwhite calling activity and subsequent nesting activity.
Most of the state has experienced long-term drought (2-3 years) and populations have been declining each year of drought; although, there have been some areas of the state that have fared better than others.
Texas’ quail roadside surveys are ongoing and preliminary information suggests production is up in many areas of the state.
Nesting and brood success high
“Utah is home to California and Gambel’s quail populations. Gambel’s quail were in fair condition heading into the breeding season; however, California quail were below average ,” says Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “Early indications are that nesting and brood success have been high,” Robinson says.
The winter in Utah was cold and longer than average with snow and cold temps persisting longer than expected, which likely affected California quail populations, but had limited effects on Gambel’s quail. Early spring precipitation was good, especially in May, with June extremely hot and dry, near record dry and hot. July precipitation was higher than average, with average temperatures.
The 2013 Quail Habitat Conditions Report was complied by Rehan Nana, Quail Forever public relations specialist, with special thanks given to participating state agencies.
For the following states and the complete Quail Forever article click here