Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch

Nesting update from RPQRR

by Brad Kubecka

Thirty-six bobwhite and 21 scaled quail hens were alive and accountable on April 19 when nesting activity was first documented at RPQRR. Breeding season survival and nest success have been lower than average this year. As of May 25, only 27 bobwhite and 13 scaled quail hens remain. Eight bobwhites and 6 scaled quail have initiated nests. As of May 29, 11 nest fates have been recorded– and all but one were depredated.

March to August rainfall is extremely important for juvenile production of quails in Texas, but recent weather conditions at RPQRR are looking bleak. Though areas around the ranch are receiving amazing rainfall, the last few months are the driest we’ve been since the drought of 2011. Along with rain, heat is known it inhibit production of quail also. Fortunately, frequent cool-fronts have kept our noses just above water. We wait on pins and needles (anxiously optimistic) for what June and July have in store.

Nesting update from Knox County

by Becky Ruzicka

knoxnestWe documented our first nests initiated by the scaled quail we translocated this year to the Knox County study site in mid-May. It was slow going at first. We documented only two nests that first week and both were depredated almost immediately. The following week we saw a relative nest explosion: 13 newly-initiated nests. Given the behavior of the birds this year, I expected to see nests much earlier. Most of the quail we trapped later in the season were already paired and in fact they seemed to be paired almost immediately after release from their surrogators. That was in contrast to last year where the birds remained in coveys for 10-14 days post-release. As a side note, we have documented lower hen survival this year compared to last and I speculate that that may be due in part to differences in behavior. In any case, the earlier pairing did not result in earlier nesting.

Hens so far this year have followed the same general blueprint for nest site selection. Nests are placed in grass or even on bare ground with overhead shrub cover. The shrub cover is generally large, but not what I would call loafing cover, i.e., it is not open at the bottom. The most common species is juniper, although one hen this year has nested underneath a squat hackberry. The hens have also continued the trend of nesting on the edge of cliffs or very steep slopes. These nests pose a bit of challenge for us (to say the least) in terms of locating and monitoring, but I imagine that’s kind of the point. There are times when I wonder if I am studying cliff swallows rather than a quail species. The nest pictured was found in grass under the boughs of a juniper. So far, she has been successful, but she has a long way to go.

Who’s got the blues?

by Becky Ruzicka, Ph.D. candidate, Colorado State University

bluereleaseOn April 19th, we began releasing translocated scaled quail at our Knox County study site and will continue releasing through May 1st.  The birds we are releasing have been held on site from 1 to 9 weeks as part of our “soft release” treatments. We trapped a total of 525 scaled quail this year, bringing our two-year total to 913. As the summer progresses, we will be monitoring survival, reproduction, and dispersal of 113 radio-marked hens translocated this year to build on our dataset of 98 radio-marked hens from last year. This is without question the largest scaled quail translocation effort ever.  Thanks to our “quail donors” who continue to share their quail with others less fortunate.

One of the reasons we chose to translocate so many quail is that our study site is also very large – approximately 75,000 acres.  The two release sites are focused in the middle of the larger study area and on opposite ends of the South Fork Wichita River Drainage (see map).  All of the quail translocated were released from these two locations. We can monitor the spread of newly released individuals in the short-term using radio-telemetry. Last year, we documented scaled quail dispersing, surviving, and nesting over 35,000 acres. There is no substitute for radio-marking birds when the objective is to gather precise data on vital rates and individual movements. However, radio-marking and monitoring is incredibly work intensive and expensive. To document the long-term spread of the population within the drainage, we to need to employ a method that is less intensive but more easily applied to a large area. Consequently, we are complementing our radio-telemetry dataset with multi-year occupancy surveys.

blue_mapOccupancy analyses utilize a simple dataset, presence/absence over multiple visits to a single site over multiple years, to draw inference on where animals occur on the landscape and what the probability of detecting them is during a single visit to a site. Occupancy is well suited as a long-term monitoring option for this project because our release site is large and there were few scaled quail on site prior to release (we confirmed this during last year’s occupancy survey). We completed this year’s occupancy survey in April. In short, the survey didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know from our telemetry efforts, but the 2016 and 2017 surveys provide crucial baseline data going forward. Scaled quail occupy approximately 10% more of the study area than last year. We detected almost all the known coveys (missed one covey that we know of) during the course of the survey. This confirms the usefulness of the technique going forward into years where we will not have radio-collared birds and lends credence to our pre-release estimate of occupancy that was less than 1%.

This month we will be diving head-first into our telemetry monitoring efforts and looking forward to bringing on two new technicians to assist with these efforts. In addition to hen survival and nest survival, we will be testing a new technique for brood monitoring in scaled quail. I also wanted to recognize and express my gratitude for our volunteers from the Rolling Plains Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists who helped with occupancy surveys: Larry Snyder, Judy Snyder, Lynn Seman, and Kay Murphy. These surveys are no ‘walk in the park’ and we surely needed the assistance!  This research is sponsored by Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service’s Reversing the Decline of Quail Initiative, TPWD’s Upland Game Bird Stamp fund, along with contributions from private landowners, quail hunters, and several chapters of Quail Coalition (Big Covey, Cross Timbers, and Park Cities chapters).

Team Quail AgriLife Research AgriLife Extension Ceasar Klemerg Wildlife Research Park Cities Quail Unlimited

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