Did that bitter cold week we endured last February have any “lingering effects?” It seems to have — on some plants, and bobwhite and scaled quail too.
Seems to me that plant phenology (the sequence of growth and reproduction) was delayed by three weeks (at least). Take for example western ragweed. Normally, seeds of western ragweed are abundantly evident by late-October, but my recent spot-checks at several locations in TX and OK have perplexed me. I studied our ragweed plants pretty closely this past few weeks—in most years I’d “assumed” all was well. I even noticed a flower on one specimen . . . something that I’d never noticed before.
The “anther stalks” (the male flowers that produce the pollen; most people mistakenly think these are the seeds but not so) are no more than half their “normal” length. And the most endowed seed producer I found only had three seeds.
Broomweed plants were still flowering as of last week (not unusual for our latitude) and can make seeds depending on the timing of the first freeze.
Woody plants like hackberry, catclaws, chittam (pictured here) and tickletongue all produce good seeds for bobwhites. I didn’t see any chittam at RPQRR with seeds but did find two trees at my place in southwestern OK that had a “moderate” yield. But I have yet to see a hackberry with seeds. Other woody plants (e.g., tickletongue) and prickly pear produced a prolific crop of seeds.
Plant phenology is impacted by soil temperatures, rainfall, and daylength (photoperiod) to name a few. I’ll pay closer attention to such botanical happenings next summer for sure and encourage you to do the same.
Is the Grocery Store Open?
Have you checked your quail’s pantry for the upcoming winter? Will your property provide quail with a Thanksgiving feast or will it be a hard candy Christmas? Now is a good time to inventory some of your common seed producers, e.g., western ragweed, doveweed, sunflowers and others. My last check (last week) of western ragweed was disconcerting, but it may still have time depending on when we get a killing frost. Annual sunflowers, cowpen daisy, and American basketflower seemed to have relatively good seed production.
As you shoot quail this year, break open the crop to get a sense of foods used by quails in your area. Spread the seeds on a white background (a Styrofoam plate works well) and snap a close-up photograph with your smartphone. E-mail them to me and I’ll help you get them identified for future reference.
Per the Quails
I believe we may have underestimated the impacts of the “snowpocalypse” on our quails. Perhaps not acutely (i.e., finding birds frozen to the ground; I only had one such report) but in a chronic sense (i.e., lingering effects on survival) both directly and indirectly.
When we flew our helicopter counts last March I remarked to the crew “you can see why a hawk would have an easy time of preying on quail.” Our grass cover was “marginal”) even though the bulk of the Ranch hadn’t been grazed in the past ten years. And I suspect grass cover conditions were poor on most sites.
In the March issue of e-Quail, Becky Ruzicka analyzed data from radio-collared quail (primarily bobwhites) on the RPQRR from 1 October 2020 to 15 March 2021. She estimated daily survival of quail during 4 time intervals using multistate mark-recapture models and found no acute (i.e., day of) nor chronic effects (i.e., up to 10 day lag) of the October ice storm when compared to periods of time with no freezing precipitation. However, the December/January complex and February snowstorms were correlated with a chronic decrease in survival. On average, a quail was 2.5 times more likely to die during the December/January complex. Following the mid-February “snowpocalypse” event, a quail was 4.5 times more likely to die. Interestingly, acute effects of any storm were undetectable. This indicates that quail did not die directly from exposure in cold and wet weather, but rather from predation in the weeks following the storm.
This is an excerpt from the Nov. 1 edition of Rolling Plains Quail Research Foundation e-Quail Newsletter.