2019 Quail Forecast Average, Weather And Vegetation Factors
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2019 Quail Forecast Average, Weather And Vegetation Factors by Dale Rollins | Sep 12, 2019 Livestock Weekly September 1st is much-heralded as the start of Texas’ dove season, but for “Students of Quail” it also marks the unveiling of the forecasts for the upcoming quail season. Across the board, it’s going to be an average year; some places considerably better, others considerably worse. There are several common denominators among the forecasts: weather conditions have been a “tale of two summers” one blessed by El Nino then, after July 1, dominated by hot, dry La Nina conditions. Habitat: across the Rolling Plains anyway, looks excellent courtesy of fall-winter precipitation; given these two factors, there’s a sense of disappointment, most of us had hoped for better recruitment, many cite low carryover of breeding birds as one reason for lower abundance despite good weather-habitat, abundant vegetation, i.e. more cover for quail, may impact visibility, several are hopeful this factor has “limited” their respective scores. Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch manager, Daniel King, called me in early July and suggested our food plots were looking good. I cautioned him that “the next 45 days can be brutal.” Boy, were they. I tasked my “quail trapline” from across the state for their prediction for the upcoming season on a scale from “one” (pitiful) to “10” (wow). Scores are perhaps a little lower this year because the memories of 2016-2017 are still fresh; i.e., a score of “four” this year might’ve been a “seven” prior to 2015. Keep in mind these predictions are anecdotal observations for the most part from various “Students of Quail.” There are a few reports herein from TPWD biologists, but TPWD’s official roadside counts won’t be posted for a couple of weeks, ODWC’s version of Oklahoma’s routes will be out in early Oct. I’ll be receiving additional reports over the next month from other landowners and deer managers, based on Sept. helicopter counts; stay tuned to our Facebook page for real-time updates.
Rolling Plains — I’ll set the stage with RPQRR’s report: disappointing, but not unexpected. I’ll give it a “three” and that may be gracious. Like many areas, we suffered from low breeding capital. As you recall, we suffered an “idiopathic” mortality event in mid-March. The birds we had alive during nesting season did “okay” on a per capita basis. I’ve been sidelined for the past six weeks but going into late July, the season outlook wasn’t attractive. We’ll be conducting our roadside counts immediately, four counts during September. and historically, the roadside counts are “spot on” relative to predicting our fall population. Stay tuned for those results. I have come to value the observations from area helicopter pilots as a “quick and dirty” estimate of quail abundance. Kyle Lange flies a lot of country around San Angelo and has an eye for quail, he’s our pilot for our official counts at RPQRR. His initial assessment was “bleak”. As of Monday, he was a bit more optimistic “whether it’s Coleman, San Angelo or Ozona my opinion is a “three to four,” perhaps “four to five” in quality country. The remainder of the forecast begins at the northeastern corner of bobwhite range, Archer County and moves southwestward across Rolling Plains from there, then south Texas and on to blue quail reports. George Allen reports from Archer County. “We had a bit over 14 inches of rain through May, so we have the best cover in years, lots of weeds and sunflower with lots of grasshoppers to boot. Spring call counts at 4.75 were up from last year. I have seen several broods of young birds that were hatched mostly in early July. If they survive this August heat it looks like we will have a decent quail population this fall. I am mildly optimistic but I wouldn’t rate this year at more than a “four” since we didn’t have many holdover birds to start 2019.” Steve Mayer weighs in on western Runnels County: “I’d rate our place a seven. I’ve been seeing a fair number of half-grown birds and still hearing calls, even in the hot, dry weather. We have lots of thick cover, which makes seeing birds a challenge. However, we did have a decent number of carryover birds from last season, which makes me think that I’m not seeing a representative sample of what we really have.” Rick Barnett manages property in Runnels County across the Colorado from Mayer’s property; “it’s an easy eight”, he said.
Stoney Newberry (QM ’17) is a new TPWD biologist stationed in Runnels County. He reports, “In the counties I cover, Runnels, Coke, Concho and Coleman, the quail numbers seemed great early on, but have kind of petered out over the last month or so. As a rating I would give the overall area a five to six.” Roy Wilson reports from Jones and Haskell counties, “I’m going with a four to five at this time with hopes of a six to seven come November.” Stan Kimbell (QM ’07) rates southwestern Stonewall County as a “six to seven.” “I’ve only done two roadside counts, but I do feel cautiously optimistic. Both drives were poor historically, but saw three large coveys of birds on one drive. One group had 21 birds! All had 15 or more.” Barrett Koennecke (QM ’10) is a TPWD biologist reporting from Snyder area, “Roadside counts for the Southwestern Rolling Plains averaged about 6.5 birds per 20-mile route with the long-term mean being 27 birds. Definitely seeing an improvement from last year but still lower than expected with the provided rainfall and vegetation growth. I would give a forecast of a “two” for the hunting season. Counties of Borden, Scurry, Fisher, Jones, Stonewall and Haskell. Just an interesting observation on the data, the long-term average comes out to 27 birds per 20-mile route. Since 1976, the yearly average has been below the long-term mean 28 times and only 17 years was it above the mean.” Dana Wright is a TPWD biologist stationed near Paducah, in Cottle Coounty. She reports “If you had asked me three weeks ago about my quail forecast, I would have given it a six in Cottle County. While trapping dove, one morning I trapped over 54 quail, and that didn’t include the ones that flushed. Broods were large, seeing 12-18 in a brood and ½ to ¾ grown birds the middle of July, then it got hot and dry. I just finished my quail roadside counts and they were very disappointing, hopefully all the birds were camped out in the shade somewhere. I’m going to give it a four to five. Looking at my roadside counts, they are better than last year, but below average.” Chip Ruthven reports from the Matador Wildlife Management Area north of Paducah, “Ran our first roadside counts last week. A bit disappointing but still double from 2018. Observations during normal work activity suggest better numbers; have seen several 18-20 bird coveys. Dense cover will likely make for hard hunting. Unless a hunter has an eight foot-tall pointer he might not
see him out beyond 10 yards or so. Mare’s tail is thick this year. Right now I’d rate the Matador at a “four or five.” Justin Trail (QM ’05) reports “I’m going with a five in Shackelford County. Seeing plenty of broods in the 10-15 bird range. It feels like a two to three covey per hour type of season for us if it holds up.” Alan Heirman also reports from Shackelford County, “A poor early hatch, so far. Late season birds look much better. Presently a “three” but might go on to a “four.” Rob Hailey’s forecast for southern Shackelford County is a “five.” I do believe there are more quail than have been observed.” Ryan Walser reports from northwestern Shackelford County, “our population appears to be on the upswing. Our spring call counts indicated average to slightly above average which is better than last year. We have seen multiple broods and they have ranged in size from four to 10 birds. I’d rate it a seven with optimism.” Annaliese Scoggin is a TPWD biologist working the Abilene area. She reports “Unfortunately, my quail surveys and quail forecast are not so heart-warming. I was skunked on two of my four lines with Mitchell County being the only bright spot. With the small breeding capital, we had low recruitment, I’d only rate this season a “two” with the exception of areas of stellar habitat that may be as high as a “four.” Dogs will have to hunt hard this year.” Joe Nixon reports from northern Fisher County, “Range conditions are very dry. Seeing a few birds, but not very promising. Score is probably “two or three.” Brandon Boehme (QM ’17) reports from southern Fisher Co, “I thought this year would have been a quail bonanza, weather and habitat-wise, but I have not seen much evidence of a better than usual hatch. I am rating our quail crop around a “three to four,” but it could be a “five” since the cover is so thick.” Paul Melton reports for central Fisher County, “Better than anticipated winter/spring carryover populations on the ranch provided a good potential nesting population here. Nesting activity began earlier than expected as evidenced by a late-May brood sighting. Personal observations, and those
reported by long time contractors/employees, have me confident that a much better than expected population bounce back has taken place. I am confident in saying that populations here closely mirror numbers present in 2015 at the same point in the year. The continued sightings of broods with a wide range of size/age of chicks make me feel this season will be a strong “six.” Rick Snipes reports from the shinnery country northwest of Aspermont, “I would say a “five,” here that translates to about 20 coveys/day. Some moderate weather in July and August would have bumped that to a “seven” and we still may hit six 25 to 30 coveys per day.” Brad Ribelin reports for his property near Aspermont, “I’d give it a “three” here in Stonewall County. Saw lots of broods early but chick survival was apparently awful.” Kegan Crouch works for NRCS in Stonewall County, he rates the area a “three to four” this year. “The habitat looks amazing, but I’m just not seeing and hearing enough birds to get excited.” Steve Estes is the county extension agent for Jones County. He reports, “I was seeing a decent number of birds, and hatches early in the summer. With all the rain early on, we also had high numbers of insects. The outlook was very good until it turned off hot and dry, I am still seeing some birds. Especially those from the early hatches, which is a good sign. As of today, I would forecast a “four to five” for this season.” Darrell Ueckert reports from southwestern Jones County, “I’ll give it a “four,” but it is hard to say because there is so much standing vegetation. Lots of grasshoppers, sunflowers and annual broomweed.” Bourke Harvey reports from northern Coleman County, “I’d have to rate the prospects for the coming season as a “three to four.” We had super spring rains and conditions were excellent through July. But I don’t think we had enough birds left over to rebuild populations in one season. We are seeing a few young birds but not as many as I’d like.” Hollis Farris reports from Coke County, “I think we are at an “eight,” seeing young birds all over the ranch. Most groups are eight to 15 birds. Buddy Baldridge (QM ’05) reports from southern Kent County, “We are about a “4.5 to five.”
Rod Hench reports from eastern Scurry County, “I am seeing coveys of eight to 10 birds driving the roads in the evening. Had an early hatch but stopped abruptly when rains stopped. Rate it a “three” but hopefully will find more birds when start running dogs this fall.” My hunting partner Steve Sherrod reports for northwestern Tom Green County, “broomweed and cover along with grasshoppers is a 10 but not seeing as many birds as would like, will give it a hopeful “four” based on how great it has looked from early spring until this long August heat wave hit.” Charley Christensen reports from several ranches north and west of San Angelo. “As for the upcoming season, I am still very optimistic. So far, I’m not seeing an abundance of coveys, but all the coveys are at least 15 birds. I had a covey or maybe it was two coveys together of blues at Water Valley that flushed in a countable fashion in front of my horse a few weeks ago. I clearly counted 47 birds in the air at once and there may have been a few more. Outstanding, haven’t seen that in a while. I’m sure, as an eternal quail optimist, that there are many more birds than I’m flushing under the fantastic quail canopy of broomweed. For that reason, I’m going to predict a “five or six” this year.” Cal Hendrick reports from his ranch just west of San Angelo, “better than last year, we have seen some exceptionally large hatches, (>15 chicks/young birds). I have not seen any Blue Quail hatches. I was optimistic in mid- July. So, as of right now, I am using the term “guarded optimism.” It looks good right now, and the quail that have survived appear to have had good hatches. But life is tough in West Texas, and only time will tell what we will have by November, I would rank western Tom Green County a solid “four, maybe a five.” Cody Webb reports for Irion County, “I give our place a conservative estimate of a “four to five.” The broomweed has made it very difficult to see birds. Given that, in the evenings you can find locally abundant familial groups of seven to 10 birds. While these groups may sometimes be found in rapid succession you may also drive a few miles before rising another. I’m hesitant to say it will be a good year, but it will be much better than last year but nowhere near as good as 2016.”
Stephen Howard (RPQRF’s newest Board member) reports from Glasscock County, “we’ve had at least two good hatches. We got so much rain in the spring we have great cover over most of the ranch so the sightings have been weighted towards blues, but I think we have a good number of bobs as well. If you don’t see them run across the road you don’t see them. My dogs have their work cut out for them this year. I give it a “six.” Tommy Holt reports from Reagan County, “going to give it a “three to four” seeing some birds but coveys are small.” Curtis Green (QM ’10) reports from northeastern Panhandle, “Decent carryover populations coming into a good spring and early summer has produced a decent crop for the year. We certainly got dry in July and early August which didn’t favor the biggest boom possible. I would say that we have a six out of 10. It is certainly patchy on numbers being high depending on what part of the counties you are in.” Ben Streetman reports for eastern Mitchell County, “I was at our ranch August 3. Had a covey of 18 bobwhites in my yard. Saw five coveys of blues and 10 coveys of bobs on the evening ride around. Saw one covey of small birds that looked about two weeks old. My ranch hand is reporting he is seeing a lot of quail. Hoping for an “eight or nine” season.” Bill Calton (QM ’10, ’13) reports from eastern New Mexico, “Despite terrible rainfall, only 5.95 inches through August 20, we have counted 12 coveys, about 70/30 blues and bobs, on about 800 acres of our 3400-acre place north of Portales in eastern New Mexico. It is not very good quail country because of a lack of quality cover, and I am surprised at the number of birds. The nesting success may be in part due to a huge crop of grasshoppers. It will provide several quality outings and I would rate the prospects on this place a five.” Jude Smith is manager of the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in Bailey County, “Spring counts were a little below average for bobwhite roosters calling compared to past years. We did get a pretty good hatch this year for both blues and bobs. Still going to be spotty out here this year as summer rains were not widespread. I would go with a “five,” probably a few more birds than last year.” South Texas, Kirk Fuehrbacher reports from the Coastal Prairie, “This year will probably be about a “five or six” for the Coastal Prairies and Marshes. We
carried a decent amount over with cock calls averaging about four per point. Some quite a bit higher. Production was good later and seeing good sized coveys. Should be getting seven to 15 coveys a day in mid-Jan. in decent habitat.” Brett Huegele reports from two ranches in the Coastal Prairie, “The Refugio and Bee County lease property covers a little over 85 square miles and quail scores range between “seven to nine.” Average covey size range between nine to 15 birds, starting to see pairs again the past few days as well. The Victoria County ranch is still slightly behind but rebounding. Currently rated a “four to six.” The heavy spring rains did have a negative impact during spring nesting and chick survival.” Aaron Foley reports for several properties near Kingsville, “Based on several windshield counts, covey numbers are decent, five to eight birds per covey, range equals one to 20, which suggests a good early hatch. But some areas have become very dry so a good rain ASAP would be needed for a good late hatch. Prospects for this fall is a “six” but will increase if we receive some rainfall. Averages that we observed from two to three windshield counts included: Brooks, six birds per covey, 0.15 coveys per mile; Kennedy, six birds per covey, 0.18 coveys per mile; Kleberg, eight birds per covey, 0.27 coveys per mile.” Dale Bush reports from Brooks County, “seeing good numbers, from ¾ grown to a few weeks old. I would say we are a “seven to eight.” Last year we averaged 16 coveys per day, and I would say we are at least that if not a little more.” Chase Currie reports from southwestern Dimmit County, “Rating: “two maybe three.” We have been extremely dry and as of the last two months, very hot. Since January 1, we have not crested “six” for the year. On another note, it does seem like the scaled quail had a very good, early hatch in April/May.” Bill Rauch reports from near Hebbronville, “Following a decent ‘late hatch’ last fall, we entered the nesting season with good carryover. The wet fall, winter and spring allowed for excellent conditions and an early start to nesting season. By the time the hot and dry months of July and August set in, most of the birds were old enough to survive a hot/dry period. I am encouraged by the number of broods and the covey sizes in the pastures. The average covey size is around 10 to 12, with some coveys of 20-plus birds. As of right now, I believe this year will be better than last year, which turned out to be an average year. I’d rate a “6.5 to seven.”
Andrea Bruno (QM ’13) reports, “I predict a “four to five” for this year on our property in western Jim Hogg county. Much of the ranch is currently in a moderate to severe drought and we did not receive the same uplifting May- June precipitation that we did last year but endured a similarly hot and dry July and August. Year to date precipitation, seven inches.” Israel Lira (QM ’16) reports from western Jim Hogg County, “With our year to date rainfall sitting at just over a whopping six inches, nature has provided an opportunity for landowners in our county to identify limiting factors across their respective properties. Current densities in favorable areas are being observed at an average of 10 coveys per mile during roadside counts. The slightly higher than expected amount of coveys observed are being complemented, with surprisingly large covey sizes regularly exceeding the 15 birds per covey mark. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we expect that the 2019-2020 quail season will be slightly above average at a “six.” Blue Quail prospects — Stan Smith rates northwest Upton Co. as a “six to seven.” Brad Bates rates Midland County as a “four.” Billy Cole ranches in Ector and Winkler counties. “I am pretty sure that we are seeing a third hatch! The hailstorm we had earlier in the year had little effect and as long as wildfires are kept under control. We should have a number “eight” season.” Jeff Wemmers reports from several counties south and west of Odessa, Ector, NW Crane, NE Ward and SE Winkler counties, “South Ector reporting a “six” which is less than last year. North Ector is an “eight.” The majority of rainfall was to the north of I-20, thus the variance. NW Crane is a “nine,” decent rainfall, at the right time. Same for NE Ward & SE Winkler.” Jesse Wood (QM ’16) reports for several properties in the Permian Basin, “We got off to a better start this year in Upton County with fair fall and winter precipitation, and had an excellent spring. Our collective prediction for the coming season is a “seven.” There may be spots that go as high as “eight to nine,” however these areas will not likely be widespread. Future roadside counts should give a better indication of what we have to work with this year, but I believe hunting will be fair to good in our area. For property in Lea and Eddy counties, Woods’ expectations are lower, “Our prediction in both Lea
and Eddy counties ranges from a “six to seven.” Areas that were spared by hailstorms, including southeast Lea County appear to have fared better than areas farther north and west.” George Strickhausen reports from Culberson County. “Remarkably, that spring moisture, most of it left over from late fall rain, gave us the best June hatch I have ever seen. Not the best hatch but the best June hatch, which was still a very strong hatch. Pretty remarkable recovery from last year if we can just get a little rain to sustain things, should be a very good quail season.” Ron Helms reports from Jeff Davis County, “We did not have the spring and early summer rains that much of Texas received. With the early spring green up, I thought we were in for a banner quail year, then it stopped. All the early pairs I had been so excited about back in May seemed to vanish. Now I am seeing some with juvenile birds, but the hatch numbers are small, four to six birds per pair. I’m at a loss as to why so many birds ‘disappeared’ over a three-month period. We live in the desert and these birds know what hot and dry is. I’m going to give our fall prospect a “four.” Not a disaster, but certainly not ‘good.’ Again, had you asked my prediction back in May, I’d have given it a “nine” according to the conventional signs, prospects. Now, August and September a “four.”
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