Spirits were high this year at the National Bobwhite Technical Committee meeting in Tallahassee, Fla. While planning my trip to this year’s meeting, I dreaded Florida in August. I mean, really? Who would volunteer to visit (in August) this gator-infested, mosquito-plagued country full of natives who appear to be marinated in suntan lotion? It turns out the weather is a lot nicer than it was in Missouri when I left in the middle of the heat wave. And the natives have turned out to be almost as crazy for quail as I am. Some might even argue that they’re just as crazy for quail as we are in the Show-Me State.
We were in the heart of southern quail country at Tall Timbers Research Station working on issues like prescribed fire, grazing for bobwhite benefit, long-term conservation success stories and plenty more. We struggle with quail recovery issues from Kansas to Georgia and everywhere in between. But we do this as a group, a community you might say, of quailophiles who want nothing more than to see our covey numbers double and triple from year to year … until quail are considered a nuisance on the landscape. Ha! Like that would ever happen--who doesn’t love a quail?
The NBTC meeting is a “meeting of the minds” for quail biologists across the historic range of the bobwhite quail. There is no special handshake that gets you into the club, but, as one researcher proclaimed during his talk on quail recovery today, “You can’t be a real quail biologist until you have a bird dog.” Well, I’ve got four of those, a master’s degree in wildlife and 11 years of experience as a biologist, and I still feel like I’m learning more about quail biology with each passing day. The exciting thing about this meeting is that you learn something new each year, though it can be a lot like drinking from a firehose-–a lot of information coming at you really fast! This year, it was a great quote by Herbert Stoddard that got me thinking, “The bobwhite might probably be called the Fire Bird.” In Missouri, I feel like we’re already ahead of the curve on quail management both on private lands and public lands-–we like fire for quail, and we know quail need the kind of habitat that well-planned and executed prescribed burns create. But be assured (like Scarlett says, “as God is my witness”) if there is a better, faster, cheaper way to create quail successes, this group will find it.
A field tour of the Tall Timbers Research Station showed biologists the Red Hills area that has been producing record numbers of quail in the past decade. Since 1996, the bobwhite population has increased tenfold, reaching as high as two bobwhites per acre in the fall! Bill Palmer with Tall Timbers says you wouldn’t see successes in the area without the dedicated private landowners who support (fund) both management and research on the plantations in the area. This long-term conservation success story could be a model to emulate in other states. Though Missouri doesn’t have the same traditions as in the South (no Moonpies, no RC Cola and no SE Conference football), we do have excellent potential for bobwhite recovery in our state, good barbecue and one good football team. One speaker ended her talk with this advice to biologists in the audience, and I think it will resonate with landowners in Missouri: “Be innovative, look for new solutions and continue the momentum.” Missouri is well on the path to restoring our bobwhite population-–and we won’t quit until we’ve had success.
This was my 10th year attending the NBTC meeting, the first being in 2001, my first year as a private land conservationist with MDC. My career has taken some interesting twists and turns in this time, but thankfully I am still fully engaged in quail recovery efforts in Missouri. I just do it now as a Quail Forever biologist. I wish those of you reading this blog could come along on the tour of Tall Timbers on Friday; it’s going to be a good one. Be sure to check out the Tall Timbers website (listed below) for some great quail information. Thanks for letting me be a guest blogger and share some of what we biologists are up to this time of the year!