Each morning before work I take the dogs on a brief, morning constitutional. We don’t go far these days. Doll, at 12, doesn’t have the endurance she once did. Even a stroll to the end of the block can leave her huffing for breath.
There’s little excitement on these short walks, though you’d never know it based on the dog’s reaction when I head for the door. Jade makes like an acrobatic mule deer, stotting in whirling 180-degree turns, spinning so fast it looks like she’s turning 360s, which she keeps up until I get her leash attached.
Doll’s excitement is more restrained. She just stands in front of the door, wagging her tail with a fury that reverberates up her body almost to her nose.
We have a spot on one of the vacant lots in our subdivision where the girls do their business before we return home for their breakfast biscuit.
The morning before last was a bit more dramatic. Just as the girls were sniffing around for a likely spot, 20 feet off in a weedy patch where a home will soon grow, the whirling dervish of a quail covey flushed into the still morning air. It was a pretty fair covey, 12ish birds, big enough I wouldn’t hesitate to attempt a double if they’d instead exploded in season over the nose of one of my English setters.
Doll was oblivious. She’d begun showing signs she was no longer much concerned with game birds near the end of last season. Jade, however, came to full attention. My young dog seems to share with me the notion that there is no sound more riveting than a dozen mini-helicopters taking flight.
It was a typical bobwhite flush; the birds were so tightly bunched I could have thrown a hula hoop around them before they took flight. If these had been desert quail — say Gambel’s or scaled — they might have been strung out from one end of the lot to the other.
Bobs always stay tight.
The birds flew off into the brightening dawn, settling out in an alfalfa field that, after a withering summer, perked up into what looks like a cuttable crop of hay following a few late summer storms.
I walked Jade over to get a good sniff of the weeds where the birds had been. She sniffed about intent on collecting as much intel as possible and it took determined pulls on her leash to get her turned back toward the house. I had to ready for work, after all.
I’ve wondered how quail would fare this year. Last winter was mild, so mild I stayed in Nebraska to hunt through Christmas break rather than heading to the warmer desert southwest in January. Mild winters usually mean more quail in the spring, when the birds pair off and start making new coveys, like the one we flushed on our walk.
But if more birds survived winter — as it seemed the case in early spring based on the dueling young males I frequently heard calling on my walks — summer wasn’t so accommodating. Drought is a lousy incubator for turning chicks into adult birds.
Still, timely rain, like that which resurrected my neighbor’s alfalfa, offers hope. Maybe there was enough rain to get those birds to the other side of summer.
Much of the country assumes “bobwhite” when you say, “quail.” The bird’s range roughly extends from Cheyanne, Wyoming, south and east to encompass most of the country. But they are a perplexing, fragile bird, in steep decline over most of their range.
So far the alchemy of bobwhite recovery has eluded wildlife managers. It’s not so simple as it is with desert quail in the Southwest, where a wet winter or two can make wildlife managers look like geniuses.
My hope is that this year’s weather alchemy is exactly what bobwhite need.
Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.
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