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Purposeful habitat reduction?


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I spent an afternoon last week with Tall Timber's Clay Sisson, one of the editors of the Tall Timbers’ Bobwhite Quail Management Handbook, as we rode around the quail woods and discussed habitat management. Years ago I did something similar to this with Clay, but not nearly as focused as we did this time.  We covered a variety of management techniques, including a different approach to chemicals and hardwood management, the timing and methodology of discing and its effect on the predominant species of grasses in the spring, and new to me, but the intentional reduction of habitat before the season. 

 

I don't know about you, but I've always operated under the idea that the more ideal cover and habitat you have, the better off all aspects of quail life and hunting should be.  More habitat should provide more safety and survival for birds, which should always be a good thing, right? Well, apparently that's not always the case. 

 

Much of your summer nesting habitat, which is crucial for maintaining and/or growing bird numbers, turns into scrub and less desirable cover once you get into the fall. Others areas, particularly spots that are disced to create early successional nesting habitat, are simply hard to hunt through.  Well, the question is, why not mow them down, or ideally, go ahead and disc them under before hunting season, in preparation for the successional weedy patches of the future?   Could there be another benefit?  Seems in many places, the answer is "yes."  The benefit is to hunters. 

 

By reducing the amount of hiding places for birds, it stands to reason that the birds will be more concentrated and easier to find.  Seems that's the objective of many habitat managers.  A 20% reduction of available habitat, I learned, is common on many places, though there's one near me, Clay said, that does an annual reduction of 30%.  Here's the logic.... The desirable weed beds that are so great for nesting, after they're cut under, will then be reseeded. The birds still using those spots for routine living will be pushed to other areas, such as in the managed pines and other more desirable spots for hunting.   If you have a decent overall population of birds across the property, all of a sudden you'll have a dramatically higher population of birds in areas for the hunting party.  And since you pretty much have to feed year-round to have a decent bird population anyway, there will still be plenty of food for the birds in their now tighter living quarters. 

 

Ever wonder how some places can average 3 birds per acre during the hunting season?  This is how. 

 

Sort of makes sense to me.  Ever tried such an approach?

 

While riding around yesterday, I just had to stop and take a pic..... 😊

 

 

4A5FC241-AEDB-46F1-9BA9-7981C59645D0.jpeg

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Out here in Montana it's very difficult to manage habitat.  Primarily because of lack of water.  I would love to be a more active manager of the land but it is what it is.  I have put in shelter belts and converted fields of cheat grass to wheat grass and alfalfa.  I plant grain food plots for the birds and hope there is enough rain to grow it and if successful that the elk don't eat all of it.  Beyond that there isn't much that can be done.  

 

I commend you for your effort to improve habitat.  Your previous thread regarding that was very interesting.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Big Al said:

Out here in Montana it's very difficult to manage habitat.  Primarily because of lack of water.  I would love to be a more active manager of the land but it is what it is.  I have put in shelter belts and converted fields of cheat grass to wheat grass and alfalfa.  I plant grain food plots for the birds and hope there is enough rain to grow it and if successful that the elk don't eat all of it.  Beyond that there isn't much that can be done.  

 

I commend you for your effort to improve habitat.  Your previous thread regarding that was very interesting.

 

 

 

To a degree, not being able to manage habitat sometimes sounds kind of nice ! The problem with places on the east coast, is we generally get so much rain, that without management, things try to turn into a jungle.  Of course this is further accentuated by human intervention, not necessarily by proactive wildlife habitat management, but by stopping Mother Nature's natural influences, such as wild fires. It's not always what you make happen, but what you prevent from happening. 

 

In some parts of the country, rain amounts completely drive annual wildlife variations.  In others, absent some level of wildlife management, such as not developing an area into farms or shopping centers, allowing or instigating fires, or preventing human encroachment, you'll never have the wildlife that might otherwise be the landowner's preference. 

 

The more I think about it, your ability to take what comes and enjoy it is a pretty good deal ! 😉

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Spring, I certainly think I observed the "concentrating" or birds for hunting due to farming activities unrelated to wildlife management in the 1970 in north Arkansas.  This was the main period of transition from mostly non-mechanical cattle farming which involved burning low basal area woodlands (resulting from high-graded stands where stave bolts and railroad ties were cut) and grazing of mostly native grass stands to a cattle economy based on sod forming grasses where bushhogging (which showed up en masse about then) was used in late summer/early fall to reduce overhead grass/cover to stimulate cool season grasses (fescue).  This bushhogging activity concentrated good numbers of quail (although populations were starting to decline) in remaining native grass/shrubby areas.  In 1980, Dad and I opened the season on a 40 where we found 7 coveys (as best I could count 'em, as they started to mix together real fast!).  This was occurring in the 70s where there were still good quail populations, but actually continued to occur through the next several decades as quail populations declined, clean farming increased, etc.  In the 90s, one had to hunt the remaining good habitat patches where birds had been pushed due to intense farming activities.  No doubt, some had been hatched in brood habitat outside of these remaining winter habitats.

 

I realize this was a different situation as opposed to what is done on SE quail plantations, but the results were/are similar.

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On 10/20/2020 at 6:03 PM, 4setters said:

Spring, I certainly think I observed the "concentrating" or birds for hunting due to farming activities unrelated to wildlife management in the 1970 in north Arkansas.  This was the main period of transition from mostly non-mechanical cattle farming which involved burning low basal area woodlands (resulting from high-graded stands where stave bolts and railroad ties were cut) and grazing of mostly native grass stands to a cattle economy based on sod forming grasses where bushhogging (which showed up en masse about then) was used in late summer/early fall to reduce overhead grass/cover to stimulate cool season grasses (fescue).  This bushhogging activity concentrated good numbers of quail (although populations were starting to decline) in remaining native grass/shrubby areas.  In 1980, Dad and I opened the season on a 40 where we found 7 coveys (as best I could count 'em, as they started to mix together real fast!).  This was occurring in the 70s where there were still good quail populations, but actually continued to occur through the next several decades as quail populations declined, clean farming increased, etc.  In the 90s, one had to hunt the remaining good habitat patches where birds had been pushed due to intense farming activities.  No doubt, some had been hatched in brood habitat outside of these remaining winter habitats.

 

I realize this was a different situation as opposed to what is done on SE quail plantations, but the results were/are similar.

 

What you described is indeed a similar situation, though obviously experienced with long-term trends over years as compared to weeks. The biggest difference between the two, however, may be the difficulty you'd find in reversing the efforts. At least with an annual reduction, you can recover the removed habitat during the following season just by letting the weeds grow.  Reversing the habitat loss that you described, of course, has proven extremely difficult and has about created a new industry that examines and studies how to go back to what was before. A very difficult challenge, as you know. Many of those efforts are all around you in Arkansas, particularly in Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. There was an online webinar this week in Missouri on Bobwhite Quail Ecology and Management, and others that are similar are all regularly around. This 6 ounce bundle of energy is the most studied bird on the planet, yet remains one of the most challenging to manage.  

Had any luck improving your bird numbers?

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Not a great amount.  I am certainly aware so some efforts in AR and mid-America that have produced results, but they are pretty localized and a tiny fraction of available quail habitat from the mid-1900s (and far short of the goals of the NBCI).  I am also aware of a few privately-owned places where lots of money (think, Tall Timbers amounts!) is being spent to optimize quail recovery in AR and nearby states and results seem to be taking place, but even on 1,000+ acre sites, this is still a very small slice of the landscape.  In my opinion, quail have benefited more in terms of acreage from conservation tree-planting programs such as CRP and refuge acquisitions where row-crop land has been converted to hardwood tree plantations than any other technique in mid-America east of the Great Plains.  Note that most of these programs are not designed to benefit quail, but do so for the first ten years of so of their life.  I have continued to have relatively good hunting on many of these sites, but the hunting goes south after ten years or so.

 

In all truth, even with these efforts, conversion of areas to "clean" farming, both in pasture land and row crop areas,  dwarf's quail restoration efforts in my neck of the woods.  This trend has been going on for decades and doesn't seem to be slowing.  For every dime spent on government or private conservation efforts, such as 35 million acres of CRP in the mid-2000 years (less now), dollars and dollars were being spent on farm research on items like Round-up ready crops, soil and water conservation programs such as EQIP that usually also benefited farm production (an analysis of EQIP grass planting in AR showed around 3% was in native grass, about 97% in sod forming grasses such as fescue), farm subsidy programs, $7/bushel corn, tax laws that promoted re-investment in farming rather than paying taxes on profits, on and on, etc.

 

When I look at my quail situation over the past 6 decades, it is glaringly obvious that the destruction of quail habitats across this country far exceeds conservation of habitats, restoration, enhancement, etc.  My quail hunts in a variety of mid-western states over the last 4 decades makes that statement very apparent to me.  In almost all cases where I have hunted a particular area for a couple of decades, quail habitats and quail numbers have declined.

 

Fortunately, search efforts make it possible to find early successional areas with quail to hunt even today.  However, most of those quail are incidental to the land and land management practices (just as back in the heyday of quail!).  If I only was able to hunt in "quail restoration areas" in this state, I'd be hard pressed to find places to go.

 

Thank you for your efforts and dedication.

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