Friday, August 10, 2012

2012 Quail Nesting Habitat Conditions Report

Quail hunters and biologists’ hopes were high for quail nesting conditions coming into the spring of 2012. A combination of increased population carryover from a mild 2011 winter and productive nesting conditions in early spring across the country gave quail managers hope of a more productive year. But as temperatures increased, rains decreased and now most of quail country is locked in drought. This will inevitably lead to a decrease in quality habitat due to lack of forb activity, abnormally high temperature pressures, and with emergency grazing on Wildlife Management Areas and Waterfowl Production Areas in many states, reductions of critical habitat.

Most of the quail biologists are still optimistic that the early 2012 nesting start may have given the birds a few extra weeks to gain a wing up on the summer heat. Should the heat break and rains increase through the rest of the summer, populations could even see late breeding season growth in some places.
Quail are resourceful and will make use of what they can, so the full story remains to be written for this year. Quail Forever’s complete quail hunting forecast will be released in September.

Good news for The Heart of Dixie as Carry Johnson, Wildlife Biologist and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Quail Coordinator, reports a slight increase for whistle counts when conducting this year’s spring songbird surveys. With the mild winter, Alabama bobs had a head start on nesting, which started in April -a few weeks earlier than normal. Like most of the country, however, Alabama has been suffering from drought conditions with only sporadic rains through July.
Johnson also noted that acreage has been consistently added through Alabama’s Forever Wild Program since its start in 1992.

This year marks a new formal Fall Covey Count Survey on most of state owned land. Find more details at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website.

For quail in Arizona, the most important thing to remember is “rain.” The three main species – of the five found in Arizona – all have different requirements of precipitation for successful breeding and hatching. Gambel’s quail rely on winter rain, scaled (or blue) quail require spring rains, and Mearns’ quail need summer rains. Gambel’s quail are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert, so there is no shortage of quality habitat for them. However, winter precipitation has been in short supply for an extended number of years, and thus lower than average food crops to produce large broods. They do respond well to localized rains, so pockets of average to above average habitats do exist.

Scaled quail look to spring rains in the desert grasslands of southeastern Arizona, where precipitation has been limited due to many years of drought conditions. Efforts are underway to restore these areas after unregulated livestock grazing practices of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s converted native vegetation to non-native invasive ones.

The Mearns’ quail is a neotropical species evolving in the oak savannahs and Madrean forests of the Sky Island region of North America. They are well-suited to the seasonal summer monsoon pattern in southwestern Arizona. Changes by the U.S. Forest Service in 2003 to grazing practices on leased lands have led to substantially better cover and nesting habitat for Mearns’, but El Niño/La Niña patterns in the Pacific Ocean have diminished the quality of monsoons in recent years.

“Reports in general indicate that areas with large blocks of high quality habitat seemed to have a reasonably good carryover of birds into the nesting season, which bodes well if we get an adequate abundance and distribution of rainfall through the summer months,” says Reggie Thackston, Program Manager for the Georgia DNR Private Lands Program. Unfortunately as of July 24th, Georgia was still locked in an exceptional drought through much of the state. The upside is that winter weather was not an issue and generally the spring and early summer weather has resulted in adequate nesting and brood rearing cover.

Since 2009, Georgia landowners have or will have received over $11 million through the USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program for the planting and/or prescribed burning of over 40 thousand acres of longleaf pine (source Keith Wooster Georgia NRCS). When this occurs in the appropriate landscapes and at the appropriate management intensity it has the potential to be value added for bobwhites and numerous other wildlife species of concern.

Kansas had a relatively mild winter, and it seems to have improved production last year in many areas of the northern-central and eastern regions, according to David Dahlgren, PhD, Small Game Specialist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The exception to this would be southwest Kansas, where last year’s drought hurt populations, and the below average production in south-central Kansas.
Early nesting conditions in the Sunflower State were favorable to quail throughout much of its quail range; however, drier conditions have dominated summer which could put the quail population at a loss if there is not an increase in precipitation.

Habitat acreage has stayed the same or slightly decreased. Kansas had a “relatively good sign up for general CRP,” Dahlgren said, though it did lose acres. Of the 500,000 acres expiring in Kansas, 375,000 acres were reenrolled.

“We currently have the Bobwhite Quail Initiative that started this year in Kansas,” added Dahlgren, “We have two focus areas in eastern Kansas where we will be focusing quail habitat ‘tools’ and monitoring population response over the next few years. We look forward to seeing positive results and being able to expand the success to other areas of the state.”

Elsa Gallagher, Quail Forever’s Regional Wildlife Biologist in Missouri, notes favorable early conditions had quail poised for a good nesting season; however, a significant drought statewide starting in the end of June has caused uncertain conditions for the state. With drought conditions continuing throughout the summer, Gallagher thinks there will be adverse effects for nesting and brood rearing conditions due to decreased forb and insect production.
“We’re not sure right now how the dry weather is going to affect the birds,” stated Gallagher, “That said, prior to the drought conditions, the nesting should have been good with plenty of critical early insects for broods.”

Nebraska’s quail population seems to be on the uptick according to Dr. Jeffery Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. There was no significant late winter weather that would have adversely effected the quail population. However, the Cornhusker State did see an abnormally warm spring and continues to be in severe to extreme drought conditions.
Lusk went on to report that if the quail were able to get an early start, there should have been a decent nesting success rate and that a good number of the routes of the Department’s summer whistle counts were up from previous years.

Regionally, the state’s acreage loss/gain was varied from 2011. The eastern region of the state lost habitat to crop production, while the western part of the state did not lose as many acres by comparison. Lusk also notes the quail population is shifting to the western part of the state after the 2009 winter. The full forecast for the state will be available later this month.

New Mexico
“Quail populations in New Mexico are on the low end of the boom and bust dynamic, characteristic of quail populations in arid landscapes,” says Dr. Joseph Sands, Migratory Bird, Wild Turkey, and Small Game Program Coordinator with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The prolonged drought conditions in New Mexico are likely having a negative impact on quail habitat as these conditions result in reduced nesting and brood rearing habitat, including an overall reduction of insects that are critical to breeding females and chick development.

A positive sign for New Mexico quail hunters is that the state received snowfall over the winter in quail habitats throughout the state. Despite potential isolated mortality events, this moisture will likely be beneficial to quail over the long-term.

“There were no significant mortality events during the 2011-12 winter, and we expect a good number of California quail to enter the breeding season,” reports David Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Oregon’s spring was generally wet, but California quail are known for their later nesting, hopefully negating any negative impact. California quail numbers have been improving each year in Oregon since the population low in 2007. Another positive sign for this West Coast quail state is that the 2011-12 harvest was up 31 percent over the previous year.

In the drier part of the state, the wet spring resulted in excellent habitat conditions which should improve brood survival. The wet spring on the west side of the state will likely negatively impact mountain quail production for the third year in a row. However, mountain quail hatches are also late, so the actual impact of the wet weather won’t be known until brood surveys are conducted in late July and early August.

There was no significant impact on habitat in Oregon as most expiring 2012 CRP acreage was re-enrolled.

“This year appears to be one of recovery for Texas quail, although it will take one or two more consecutive years of favorable conditions to get the state up above average,” notes Robert Perez of the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, “Prior to the breeding season, numbers were down from the previous year’s poor conditions in the two major quail hunting regions of the state, south Texas and the Rolling Plains.” Pockets in south Texas and in the central coastal prairies held fairly good carry over, but the many parts of Texas remain in drought conditions.

Intermittent spring and summer rains, while behind for yearly averages, have been seen throughout the state. Quail do not need as much rain as crops of corn, so there was strong breeding activity in response to the rain events early and a lot of calling activity that began as early as April in some places, continued Perez. Brood reports began in late May.

Due to long term drought conditions, much of the state’s rangelands could not handle the grazing pressure from cattle and other livestock. For this reason, suitable nesting cover is somewhat limited, but quail are noted for making the best of what is available. The TPWD quail forecast will be available mid-September.

California - Colorado - Illinois - Indiana - Iowa - Kentucky - Louisiana - Ohio - Oklahoma -  South Carolina - Tennessee - Virginia - Utah Nesting Reports

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