Comeback Year for Texas Quail

L ike waterfowl hunting, 

quail hunting has a long tradition in Texas, but in recent seasons drought and other factors have combined to make the pursuit extremely tough, based solely on bird numbers. 

Last year was fantastic in terms of production, and just like in 2015, there have been exceptional moisture levels at the right time.

“You look at what happened last year with such excellent rainfall and moisture levels, quail numbers just shot through the roof. And then we’re looking forward to another extraordinary season this year,” said Dave Morrison, small game program leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

“The benefit of all that rainfall depends where it occurs. You look at the Gulf Coast prairies and in regard to quail it’s an inverse relationship,” he said. “The more rain, the worse off it is for quail. But when you look at South Texas, the Rolling Plains and the Panhandle, that timely rain has them doing well, especially since we’ve had a mild spring. I suspect that in many of the quail strongholds the birds are going to respond nicely.”

Quail hunting has been labeled as a boom-or-bust proposition with the greatest strongholds occurring on the western edge of key bobwhite habitat, but with good rainfall producing excellent nesting cover and abundant forbs and insects, Texas as a whole is set up for another bumper crop of birds.

“A friend of mine was spring turkey hunting this year up in the Panhandle and he said he couldn’t kill a turkey because the quail wouldn’t be quiet,” Morrison said. “It’s been unbelievable the number of birds they’re seeing in some places like the Rolling Plains and South Texas. What we’re seeing now is just a continued building on what we did last year when it was excellent.

“Nothing can fix problems like a good rain, especially when it comes to ground-nesting birds like turkey and quail.”

Texas quail surveys in 2015 showed phenomenal numbers of birds in traditional hot spots as well as in other noted strongholds. The prime example is the Rolling Plains, the area of the state that includes a variety of excellent habitat and spanning from Lubbock and San Angelo on the western edge to the Red River basin in the east.

The average number of bobwhite quail observed per survey route was 38.3 compared with 7.5 in 2014 and representing the highest figure since 1992-93, another boom year for birds, according to TPWD data. In fact, the 2015 count is the only one since 2008 that reached into double digits in the Rolling Plains.

South Texas, another bastion for bobwhites, also saw phenomenal bird numbers. The 2015 survey showed 21.1 birds per route, a substantial increase over the previous 11.6. The larger count was the highest in 15 years, with the 2005-13 surveys all ending in the single digits.

Although bobwhites dominate the quail hunting landscape in Texas, another species out west also has benefited from better habitat conditions. Scaled quail, like bobwhites, can rebound quickly under optimum conditions, something they had in 2015.

Like the bobwhite counts, scaled quail figures in the Trans-Pecos region were off the charts last year, rising from six birds per route in 2014 to 28.4. That represents the highest scaled quail figure in that hunting hot bed since 2007. It also is the first year in five that the count hit double figures.

The agency designed the roadside quail survey in 1976 to track quail production trends at the statewide and regional levels. The 20-mile routes are randomly assigned and many counties might only have one route. Biologists record the number of singles, pairs, coveys and number of quail within coveys for each quail species by one-mile increments. The relative age of broods also is recorded.

It should be noted that the counts are not replicated within a given year. For this reason, the number of quail observed during any single observation is not necessarily indicative of quail abundance in the general area of the route, according to TPWD. Essentially, it provides a good baseline for biologists to estimate how many quail may be on the range. Observing a few quail along a route one year and a huge number the next doesn’t necessarily mean there are more quail in that particular area, biologists noted.


—BY Will Leschper 



Waterfowel Get Another Advance

The Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush announced the names of inaugural members of the Commissioner’s Coastal Resiliency Advisory Group (CCRAG) in July. The 15-member group will provide local input and leadership to the GLO on coastal issues and consists of representatives from local government, business and industry leaders, each serving two-year terms.

“This coalition of regional leaders is an important element of my plan to make coastal protection a priority both during the upcoming legislative session and for the long-term,” Commissioner Bush said in a press release. “Texas’s beaches, marshes and islands are a symbol of Texas’s rich heritage, and ensuring that we build, maintain and protect our coast is one of my top priorities. With input from those who live and work in Texas’s coastal community, we will be better equipped to make decisions regarding both economic activity and wildlife preservation.”

Appointees from Texas coastal areas include three each from the Coastal Bend, South East Texas, Houston/Galveston, Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Golden Crescent areas. Of the three regional members, one is an elected or government official from a county or municipality. The second is a representative from a coastal conservation or regional planning organization. The third is a representative from a regional port or member of the coastal business community. 

South East Texas coastal area appointees include two extremely dedicated coastal conservation advocates, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick and Ducks Unlimited’s Texas Chenier Plain Conservation Specialist Jim Sutherlin. Both have numerous years’ experience developing and implementing coastal restoration efforts and emphatically support the use of the best available science to identify restoration projects that can have the most impact for fish, wildlife and people.

After helping guide Jefferson County through the aftermath of Hurricane Ike as County Attorney in 2008, Branick was elected County Judge in 2010 in the shadow of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Since then, he has strongly advocated using Deepwater Horizon restoration funds to restore and conserve the largest coastal marsh in Texas to benefit fish and wildlife populations and people. 

“Judge Branick fully understands, appreciates and shares with others the interconnected nature of a healthy coastal ecosystem and our nation’s economic and defense systems,” said Todd Merendino, DU Manager of Conservation Programs for Texas. “In this way, he has been integral in bringing diverse stakeholders together to raise a unified voice in support of important restoration projects,”

“Furthermore,” Merindino said, “his devotion to the wise use of restoration funds does not end at the Jefferson County line. He also supports coastal restoration efforts and collaboration across the Chenier Plain—one of the most important wintering areas for North America’s waterfowl.” 

Sutherlin spent 25 years with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as the Project Leader for the Upper Coast Wetland Ecosystem Project where he managed the state-owned wildlife management areas in Jefferson, Orange and Chambers counties. He now works part time for DU to ensure investments made in coastal restoration in the Chenier Plain of Texas are most beneficial for the ecosystem and waterfowl. 

“In a place like coastal Texas, where there’s a resource-based economy, investments in ecosystem restoration are investments in economic development and recovery,” Sutherlin said.

Meetings of the Coastal Resiliency Advisory Group will be held quarterly at a location in a different coastal region on a rotating basis. The first meeting in Corpus Christi in mid-August provided a general overview of coastal protection. Moving forward, the group will review and evaluate the effect of state policies and programs and make recommendations to the Commissioner on matters relating to coastal resiliency and recovery. The group will also consider evaluation criteria for providing financial assistance and recommend special studies and projects to the Commissioner to further the effectiveness of coastal resiliency and recovery.

“The Commissioner made a sound choice in including Judge Branick and Jim Sutherlin in his advisory group,” Merendino said. “Both of them have years of experience with coastal restoration, a deep and complete understanding of the connections between our coastal ecosystem and economies, and the common sense and real-life experience to know that diverse partners must come to the table for the greater good of coastal Texas, regardless of their different motivations for doing so.”

For a complete list of appointees http://www.glo.texas.gov/the-glo/news/press-releases/2016/february/commissioner-george-p-bush-announces-coastal-resiliency-advisory-group.htm

—BY Andi Cooper


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