Monday, December 28, 2009

Tips On Finding Montezuma Quail

Last year we made no special efforts to get Montezuma Quail, but we still set an all-time national high with 268. It must have been a year of spectacular breeding success.

I think Sara and I were the only team to not actually see a live Montezuma Quail, though we did hear a covey early in the morning in Peck Canyon. But in Pine Canyon a Cooper's Hawk dropped this at our feet as it flew right by us, startled at the first humans it must have seen in weeks.

There have been reports from birders in recent weeks to indicate that the population is still pretty high, but I'd be surprised if we saw as many as last year. The monsoon was not very good in most of Southeastern Arizona and plants (and the animals that eat them) have suffered.

So I thought a couple tips on finding them might be in order. Their preferred microhabitat seems to be open oak woodland with a grassy understory, especially on the slopes within 50-100 yards of the canyon bottoms. So walking along the slope parallel with a wash, but a 25-50 yards upslope will increase your chances of flushing a group.

Better yet, when you are near such likely looking habitat, whistle for them. The whistle to use is a series of 4-8 pure, downslurred whistles, which is the female's call. Interestingly, the males will respond to this with their single downslurred, buzzy whistle better than to their own song. A recording of this female call can be heard on the Keller SE Arizona CD. It's the first sound on the cut, the first time simultaneously with a male's song, the second time on its own. I usually hear the individual notes more spaced out, rather than in a stuttered pattern as on the CD.

We may do a quick count of numbers at the countdown of this and other target species to see if we've come close to previous highs.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

We missed them in Ruby (#7) last year - I thought we were the only ones to miss them!

Hiked up Pena Blanca Canyon in December and had 2-3 coveys, so hopefully it will be a good year again.