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    Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation November 2020 Newsletter

    
With another quail season upon us, a good friend recently asked what RPQRF has done for quail since our founding in 2007—it’s a great question, the answer to which is worth sharing with you in the following bullet statements (read the following article for more details and visit quailresearch.org for more information about our comprehensive program). Over the last 12 years, RPQRF has:


    •    Investigated the influence of predators, pathogens, toxins, parasites, diseases, habitat loss, rodents, insects and weather on quail.
    •    Identified “best management practices” for creating quail habitat in the Rolling Plains ecoregion (and shared our findings with landowners and land managers).
    •    Leg-banded over 14,000 quail and intensively monitored quail populations as we seek to learn which factors cause increases and decreases in abundance.
    •    “Sounded the alarm” per importance of disease ecology in wild quails via our Operation Idiopathic Decline effort, which subsequently led to identification of two parasites (eyeworms and cecal worms) as “suspects of interest” in the decline of quail numbers.
    •    Advanced our knowledge of relationships between quail and various predator species, including some “myth busting” with respect to which species pose serious threats to quail and which simply get a “bad wrap” from quail hunters.
    •    Become a leader in the emerging science of translocating wild quail to jumpstart populations in areas where quail were previously abundant.
    •    Conducted the first-ever sequencing of the bobwhite genome in collaboration with Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine.
    •    Helped the folks who care about saving wild quail by (1) providing opportunities for young wildlife biologists to complete their fieldwork and residencies on quail research, and (2) educating our constituents of our findings via newsletters, annual reports, scientific papers, social media, podcasts and presentations.

     

    RPQRR’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

    I remember the first “greatest hits” cassette tape I ever bought— it was the Eagles’ 1971-75 collection released in 1976.  Take it easy. One of these nights. Witchy woman. You likely know the words as well as I do. The album has been certified “platinum” 38 different times—their legacy lives on and long may it reign.

Now that we’re completing our run of 12 years of e-Quail newsletters I thought it might be a good time to review our greatest hits. Not sure they’ll measure up to Hotel California but here are some memorable achievements to quail science and quail management.

       The Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch:  Acquired in 2007 with a gift from The Conservation Fund, this 4720-acre ranch in Fisher County serves as a laboratory, classroom, and launch-point for “off-campus” studies. This is the ONLY research property anywhere dedicated solely to quail research. At the RPQRR “everything points to quail.”

    2    Tales of the tape:  Aldo Leopold reasoned that “census is the yardstick of success.” Our early years were spent checking our “yardsticks.” We’ve tested every conceivable means for estimating quail abundance: spring cock call counts, fall covey counts, roadside counts, helicopter counts, and “mark-recapture” (from our annual trapping effort). We have leg-banded over 14,000 quail during that time, with populations estimated at about 8,500 birds in 2016 (almost 2 quail/acre). These efforts involved collaborations with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute and have produced a total of 3 Master’s students and one Ph.D.

    3    Operation Idiopathic Decline (OID): A common concern heard among west Texas quail-folk holds that “we had lots of birds come September, but then they’re gone come November.” With that as a backdrop, our Foundation spent $2 million in 2011 split among scientists at Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Texas A&M-Kingsville.  No stone was left unturned as we sought to identify what impacts various pathogens may be exacting on our quail. I remind you that “idiopathic” is medical jargon for “pathology of unknown origin” or in plain verbiage “the doctors don’t know.” Over the next 3 years our teams trapped and sampled over 2,000 quails (including blues) over a total of 35 sites scattered across the Rolling Plains of west Texas and western Oklahoma. After the dust settled, the crosshairs rested on 2 parasites: eyeworms and cecal worms. But other pathogens were also noted, e.g., coccidiosis and several species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This pioneering work is soon to culminate in the production of the first-ever medicated feed for wild birds, i.e., “QuailGuard.”  The OID collaboration has produced over 30 scientific articles and resulted in 4 Masters and 2 Ph.D. students.

    4    In the Year 2525 (now that’s a one-hit wonder from the sixties; can you name the duo?). When you hear the word “genomics” you may not think of a bobwhite, but yes, we’ve done that too.  A bobwhite hen from RPQRR (named Patty Marie as a tribute to Joe Crafton’s mother) opens the door for quail research topics and genetic understanding that couldn’t have been dreamed about just ten years ago.

    5    Coyotes: friend or foe of quail: Sounds like a no-brainer, eh? Not so fast Watson. We’ve had 2 MS students study the diet of coyotes during both La Nina (2011-12) and El Nino (2015-16) weather patterns. Quail were mired in a “bust” in 2011 but achieved a tremendous “boom” in 2016 (best I’ve ever seen). The percent of coyote scats that contained quail feathers averaged less than 1% regardless of quail abundance. They tended to eat more “enemies of quail” (feral pigs, raccoons, snakes . . . even a badger!) than they did quail. Measure twice and saw once if you’re contemplating concerted coyote control efforts in the name of quail management. We’ve also measured the overlap in home ranges among coyotes, bobcats, and raccoons using GPS collars to see how these species’ search patterns overlap preferred quail nesting areas.

    6    Take me back to Tulsa: We began studying translocation of wild quails (bobwhites and blues) to their former haunts in 2013. In this capacity the Ranch serves as “Mission Control” from which to launch such bold new missions (any Trekkies out there?). From these studies we seek to define “best management practices” to guide future translocation efforts. We’re making strides as evidenced by our Erath County Quail Restoration Initiative this past summer (stay up to date on this effort on our Facebook page). Our translocation research has produced 2 MS students and a Ph.D. with more to come.  We have 2 additional translocations slated to begin in the next 2 years.

       Burn baby burn. The RPQRR is a pretty (I think beautiful but of course I’m biased) ranch representative of thousands of acres in west Texas. We’ve re-introduced fire in the form of prescribed burning to enhance “huntability” via quail-friendly approaches to manage prickly pear, and “habitability” (improve species composition and vigor of grasses). We’ve conducted 76 burns to date without a mishap. And as witness to our record, the Fisher County Commissioners Court passed a resolution 4 years ago declaring the RPQRR exempt from burn bans—as far as I know a declaration unparalleled anywhere else. We’ve also served as a training ground for Rx burn schools, a proving ground for Texas Tech’s Prescribed Burning classes, and even hosted 2 “Fire Appreciation Days.”

    8    Habitat, habitat, habitat.  We began fine-tuning our habitat for bobwhites as soon as the Ranch was acquired. I currently rate it as 80% “useable space” for bobwhites. We’ve half-cut mesquites, strip-disced, evaluated food plots, installed spreader dams, and evaluated “patch-burn-grazing” as means for optimizing habitat.

    9    Brush sculpting works of art: We have 26 species of “brush” on the Ranch—only 2 of which cause me any angst (redberry juniper and some mesquites). We’ve used various combinations of Rx fire with and without herbicides to selectively manage brush as we deem appropriate. We selectively control regrowth mesquite on our 340 acres of former Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage to enhance its habitability for bobwhites. We’ve also tested for “collateral damage” to desirable shrubs when spraying for prickly pear.  

    10    The storms of life: We appreciate much of our brush for its role as “storm shelters” when quail are threatened by predators and drought. One of our most intriguing projects to date monitored how quail behave when faced with various threats, and especially raptors. Be thankful for catclaw thickets and large mottes of prickly pear if a Cooper’s hawk is on your tail.

    11    Teach your children well: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Our research team has involved 13 graduate students and 55 student interns or technicians. Hopefully, they will “go forth and multiply” to be evangelists for good quail management and keep quail at the forefront of their respective careers.

    12    Show me the way: Via collaborations with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service and Texas Wildlife Association you can learn the basics of quail management from your easy chair. We have served as the backdrop for 25+ “webisodes” (short videos on Youtube).. Our social media (Facebook page) has 9,000 followers. Our most recent adventure is the ”Dr. Dale on Quail” podcast series which has been downloaded 24,717 times and heard in 38 countries. Finally, your monthly e-Quail newsletter has graced your inbox a total of 143 times to keep you posted on quail happenings.  A newsletter tradition and legacy like that just doesn’t “happen.” Find these and more at quailresearch.org.

    13    On the cover of the Rolling Stone:  We’ve enjoyed some great recognition including being featured in several TV hunting shows, prominent newspapers (e.g., Wall Street Journal), and garnered several state-level awards for our conservation work on RPQRR.

    14    We’ve only just begun: Although our quail abundance (like everyone else’s in west Texas) has been disappointing since 2017, I believe we’re poised for a nice rebound within the next 2 years. Remember my adage that “drought cocks the hammer” and “rain pulls the trigger.” We are poised and waiting for the hammer to fall. Will you help us as we embark on the next 12 years?


    Tax Savings: More Reason to Help Us Help Wild Quail

    As a nonprofit organization, the Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation relies on gifts from supporters like you to continue our quail-saving research. Now, thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, there is even more incentive to help us help wild quail this year.
 
For the remainder of 2020, individuals may deduct monetary donations of up to 100% of their adjusted gross

    income (up from the previous limit of 60% of one’s AGI). This means your charitable gift to RPQRF can reduce your taxable income more than ever before! Corporations are similarly incentivized to donate to public charities, as they may deduct up to 25% of their taxable income, up from the previous limit of 10%.
 
This Temporary Suspension of Limits on Charitable Contributions only applies to cash gifts to public charities (like RPQRF). If you give cash gifts to a private foundation or a Donor Advised Fund, the old deduction limits apply. The new deduction limits are also not applicable to gifts of appreciated stock.
 
If you have questions or would like more information about making a charitable gift to RPQRF, please contact Phil Lamb at plamb@quailresearch.org.

Note: this information is not intended as legal or tax advice. For such advice, please consult an attorney or tax advisor.


    Freak Ice Storm Hits Rolling Plains

    What a novel way to “half-cut” mesquites, eh? Last Tuesday many of us awoke to an icy landscape. I was in SW OK and cannot remember such an ice storm before Halloween (shucks we rarely have a killing frost by then). My dogs enjoyed an opportunity to run against a frozen range, partly because the sandburs had a coat of ice on them too and thus weren’t a pain in the . . . paws!  Nothing sparks a feeding frenzy in quail like a sleet/ice storm. I did see one covey about mid-morning Wednesday.  The ice had melted in most places by Thursday noon, and likely didn’t have negative impacts on the quail (given its short duration). If you have observations to the contrary, please send me an e-mail with details (drollins@quailresearch.org).


    Opening Day:  Trick or Treat?

    
Did you have an opportunity to get out for opening weekend?  I’m headed to my lease in Crane County later this week to give the blues a run (or more likely vice versa!).  I invite your reports (good or bad). Please remember to save a head and wing from your birds if you’d like for us to screen them for eyeworms (see more info below).


    Plant spotlight:  Catclaw mimosa

    If I were a quail in west Texas, catclaw mimosa would perhaps be my favorite species of woody plant. You typically find it on gravelly ridges where it serves as excellent screening cover for bobwhites and blues. And in some years (like this one) it can be an important seed producer, especially given our depauperate seed yield from western ragweed. This photo was taken at RPQRR about ten days ago. Catclaw mimosa is one of several “catclaws” present in the Rolling Plains, and it’s the “catclaw” thorns that prompt a common name “wait-a-minute-bush.” If you’ve found yourself caught in a stand of catclaw mimosa, no explanation is necessary.


    Delkus and Morrow join RPQRF as New Directors

    
For us to make progress towards our mission statement “To preserve Texas’ wild quail hunting heritage for this, and future, generations” we need to engage young, hungry Directors on our Board of Directors. To that end, we’re proud to announce the addition of Pete Delkus and Raymond Morrow as such blue-chip recruits.


    Pete Delkus has been the Chief Meteorologist at WFAA-TV in Dallas, Texas since 2005. He has over two and half decades of meteorology experience which includes extensive work in severe weather, hurricane forecasting, wind analysis and winter storm prediction. Pete has won 16 Emmy Awards for weather anchoring and special show hosting. Delkus holds a Bachelor’s of Science from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) and is board certified by the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association.
 
Pete’s love for the outdoors began when he was a very young boy hunting alongside his father in the Midwest. Whether it was waterfowl, big game or upland birds, his fondest memories are of quail hunting, which is why he is so passionate about passing this legacy onto his son and others.
 
In 2005, Pete and his wife, Jacque, along with their kids, Emily and Peter, moved to Dallas and have loved everything about the great state of Texas. Pete serves as a Trustee at Dallas Baptist University, is a Director of Park Cities Quail Coalition and a Life Member of Quail Coalition.


    P. Raymond Morrow lives in Dallas with his wife, Maggie, and their three boys Brit, Doak and John Parker.  He is a graduate of Texas A&M University and earned an MBA from Southern Methodist University.   Raymond is a Partner at Coronado Resources. Coronado has acquired and manages over 200,000 mineral acres, primarily in Texas and Louisiana. 
 
Raymond was introduced to hunting by his father, who along with his brother, are his primary hunting partners.  Raymond has also served on the Board of Directors for Park Cities Quail for 5 years.  His interest in quail conservation has only grown over the years, especially the desire to preserve the quail hunting culture for his children to enjoy.  
 
Raymond is member of Highland Park United Methodist Church. In addition to quail hunting, he enjoys hot coffee, fishing, hiking and mountain biking, especially when he is able to go with Maggie and the boys.

     

    Quail Coalition supports RPQRF

    

I often tout Quail Coalition as the “wind under our research wings.” As testament to that compliment, we received gifts of $590 thousand from Park Cities Quail Coalition and $50 thousand from the newly formed Permian Basin Quail Coalition. The PCQC gift funds our operating expenses for the RPQRR. The PBQC grant will fund scaled quail research in the Permian Basin.
 
Given the Covid pandemic, the ability to meet and raise funds will be a challenge in 2021.  Please be mindful and support Quail Coalition and RPQRF when the opportunity presents itself, whether live or virtual.


    Word of the Month

    
repine (verb); (1) to feel dejection or discontent; complain; (2) to long for something.  Let’s remain optimistic and focus on No. 2! One can "repine over" something, or one can "pine for" something. The two words, used thus, mean close to the same thing, but not exactly. Pining refers to intense longing for what one once knew. Repine adds an element of discontent to any longing.


    Erath Co. Quail Restoration Effort “Moving the Needle” on Translocation by John Palarski

    We were pleased to find a late nest on October 5th at our Erath County translocation site, especially since we define the nesting season to be from May 1 – Sept 1. At RPQRR, we sometimes find late nests in September, but finding a nest in October is very unusual at this latitude. The hen that laid the nest was translocated this past year from south Texas. We suspect the latitudinal difference between source and release site may have played a role in this late attempt. Of note, this was the hen’s third nesting attempt. She hatched her first nest but failed on her second.

Fortunately, the hen hatched all her 6 eggs on October 18th, making this her second successful hatch of the year. Approximately one week after the hatch, I was able to get a video of her and her chicks. After reviewing the footage, I noticed that there were 9 individual chicks, not just 6. This means that we had TWO different hatches in the same general location around October 18th. This is a pretty remarkable feat, especially from translocated bobwhite!

During this past year’s translocation effort, we radiomarked the majority of the hens to monitor reproduction post-release. However, we still had a significant number of unmarked hens that we could not monitor.  Using our nesting data from this year, we estimate our translocated birds contributed 81 nests that put 417 chicks onto the landscape. As such, bird sightings have become frequent on the release site and preliminary covey counts reflect a population increase from last year! We look forward to a third year of translocation in March 2021.

(John presented his data last month (Oct. 7) to the TPWD Upland Game Bird Advisory Committee. I’m convinced his data have moved the needle on the topic of translocating wild quails in Texas. Please see our call for quail donors as we seek to maintain that momentum by documenting additional successes and compiling best management practices. – DR)

     

    Paying it forward: can you spare 2 bag limits of quail?

    Charity hurts, especially when one is asked to give of their quail in a “down” year. Bobwhites are needed for our ongoing (Year 3) restoration (translocation) research efforts in Erath County, and a new effort with blue quail in Fisher County. We have postponed the translocation project slated for Stephens County in 2021 until 2022. Specifically, we need 200 bobwhites from the Rolling Plains and 200 from South Texas.  Then we need 200 blue quail from west Texas. Our “ask” is for an opportunity (2-3 days) in February to trap a maximum of 25 birds from a site. To put that in perspective, that’s less than two daily bag limits.
 
The greatest “degree of difficulty” herein is the task of securing 200 bobwhites and 200 blues from west Texas. Good candidates are areas that are too thick (with brush) to be productive for quail hunting but are well stocked with deer feeders (a focal point for coveys). If you know of any such sites, please let me know (drollins@quailresearch.org), and forward along to any deer hunters you know who might be prospective donors. Baiting would begin in January and trapping would take place in March.


    Ragweed seed production 2020 by Andy Byers

    
Each October we measure impact on western ragweed production from prescribed burns done in the previous year. This year we compared two “plots” that were burned last March. We collect density data on a 600 meter transect, counting plants in a 1 X 1 meter square at 20-meter intervals. We randomly select a plant at each interval and count its seeds. We use the same methods to sample a nearby non-burned plot as a control. This year overall density and seed production were low due to dry conditions through August. Although low, we still recorded a little more than double the seed production in burned vs. non-burned plots. The photo on right shows a single seed on this plant. What does this mean? If your budget and inclination permits you to feed your quail make plans to do so now; otherwise it could be a hard-candy Christmas.



    Supplemental feeding evaluation by Daniel King

    In 2021 we will initiate a study on-site at RPQRR to quantify and compare the effects of three supplemental feeding programs: stationary “Currie” feeders, broadcast feed at a low-moderate rate, and broadcast at a moderate-high rate. We hope to measure the changes (if any) to survival and reproduction of bobwhite and scaled quail under both programs. In addition, we want to assess the cost effectiveness of each program relative to those changes. Accordingly, we are searching for a few items to complete this study; if you’d like to contribute feed, funds, or the following items it would be much appreciated:



    RPQRR offers free screening for eyeworms

    For the third year, we are soliciting heads of bobwhites and blue quail, especially from the Rolling Plains ecoregion. But we’ll take a sample of heads (perhaps 20 from anywhere else you may be hunting). By screening quail across the state (and throughout the bobwhite’s range) we hope to learn just how widespread (and severe) the problem is.  See our website for the protocol and data sheet for handling/shipping specimens to us for this free service. 
 
We need a wing enclosed with the head in order for use to age the bird; please put only one head/wing in a plastic sandwich bag then keep them in the freezer until its time to ship them. Ship them to us via overnight delivery. Specimens can also be dropped off at the Matador WMA (Paducah), Gene Howe WMA (Canadian), TPWD Inland Fisheries Office (Abilene), or Muse WMA (Brownwood).
 
Any questions, please call Daniel King (325-276-2187).  Instructions for submitting samples are found on our website (www.quailresearch.org).

     

    Dr. Dale on Quail podcast discusses translocation research

    
This month’s podcast features an interview with RPQRR research assistant Dr. Becky Ruzicka (congratulations; she just completed her requirements for her PhD at Colorado State University!) Becky will be discussing two topics of great interest to quail managers. First is her research on olfaction in nest-seeking predators and how to mitigate the threat. Then we’ll discuss her PhD research on translocating scaled (blue) quail and the issues surrounding translocation as a tool for quail management. Look for its release about 20 Nov.
 
The Dr. Dale on Quail podcast series was initiated two year ago, and it’s been really well received.  Co-host Gary Joiner (Communications Director for Texas Farm Bureau) serves as a great color commentator.  The monthly podcast lasts 30 minutes and addresses various quail-related topics.  To see the menu of topics, see www.quailresearch.org/resources  Thanks to Jonathan Vail (Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation) for his technical expertise, Phil Lamb with RPQRF for logistical assistance, and Gordy & Sons of Houston for funding the effort.


    BATR (Back at the Ranch)

    
Regular duties include telemetry and raptor surveys. We’ll be trapping quail at 244 locations across the Ranch and conducting our Fall helicopter count.


    RPQRR’s Wish List – Can you help?

    
Our support for quail research comes almost exclusively from private donors.  Perhaps you would like to help us help quail.  We have need for various pieces of equipment.  If you would like to donate, RPQRR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation, so your donations (cash or in-kind) are tax deductible.  Alternatively, if you’d like to make a cash donation and have it earmarked for one of these items that’s great too.  To find out more about how you can donate, visit our website at quailresearch.org/donate. 

Here’s our current list of needs:



     

    By the numbers

    
417; that’s the number of chicks we estimate were produced as a result of our translocation effort in Erath Co. this past summer.


    Technical publication of the month

    (Note: if you’ve never used Google Scholar to search technical literature of interest (i.e., quail), you should try it.  Just go to www.scholar.google.com , then search for key words of interest, e.g., “bobwhites Texas”; you can also specify a range of dates, i.e., since 2018. Often there will be a link to a free pdf copy of the article.) I wish this had been available when I was in grad school!


    
Predation Management and Spatial Structure Moderate Extirpation Risk and Harvest of Northern Bobwhite by J. Yeiser et al. 2020. Wildlife Society Bulletin:  https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21964
 


    Abstract: Density dependence, immigration, and emigration can considerably influence wildlife population demographics. Population models used to evaluate common actions like predator management and harvest in the absence of these processes may lead to poor management decisions. We built a novel population simulation model for the northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus; bobwhite) that included implicit spatial structure (ingress and egress of individuals), density dependence, and harvest. We used 42 years of data (1970–2012) from a relatively stable population to create and validate the simulation model. We then used this simulation model to predict the effect of meso‐mammal trap and removal, a management action that increases bobwhite fecundity, on population abundance, cumulative harvest through 50 years, and extirpation risk. We conducted a population sensitivity analysis to understand the implications of meso‐mammal trap and removal to populations with varying vital rates. Incorporating ingress and egress of individuals and density dependence improved the understanding of bobwhite population dynamics and reduced the uncertainty about the efficacy of predator management across a range of environmental conditions. Increased number of immigration sources decreased extirpation risk and increased bobwhite abundance. A key outcome of our modeling process was that density‐dependent processes did not fully compensate for harvest. Cumulative harvest through 50 years increased with increasing harvest rate but started to decline when harvest rate was >0.35 for populations with meso‐mammal removal and 0.25–0.30 for populations without meso‐mammal removal. Meso‐mammal removal increased the harvest capacity of populations and produced greater harvest opportunity over time. Meso‐mammal removal also buffered populations from extirpation risk resulting from too few immigration sources. Practitioners often ignore the contribution of immigration and emigration to local demographics or assume density‐independent vital rates; however, recent literature reviews and our study indicate that these processes are important to the understanding of animal ecology and management. In the interest of the conservation of species that are hunted and at risk of extirpation in some geographies, predator management may increase hunter success and be a tool to reduce extirpation risk, although the degree of effectiveness likely varies geographically. This manuscript could serve as a framework for predicting the effects of management on bobwhite at the population level.

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