No this has nothing to do with Dr. Richard Kimble, The One-Armed Man or Tommy Lee Jones’ famous dragnet speech. Although I did paraphrase it when I gave Camera Girl instructions during our manhunt (er… quail-hunt). “Now listen up, Camera Girl, our fugitives have been on the run for a month. Average foot speed over uneven ground, barring injuries, is 4 miles-an-hour. That gives us a radius of 3,000 miles. What I want out of you is a hard-target search of every henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Your fugitive’s name is anonymous semi-domesticated quail. Go get them.” She shook her head derisively and went back to her mystery novel. So, I was on my own.
Two years ago, I received a game camera as a present. I decided to set it up near where the feeder/lure station is located. I left it for a week. When I recovered it, I had some very exciting shots of me on my riding lawnmower. There were also a couple of clear night vision shots depicting some grass moving right underneath the camera location. I’m guessing a field mouse.
Things were looking pretty bleak for the quail project. No sightings for a week or two. And only that stupid lure to provide any quail related phenomena. But then on Wednesday afternoon during a walk around the property with Camera Girl we both heard it. The unmistakable annoying call of the bob white quail. It was on the other side of the property close to a small pond that we heard it. I tend to avoid that area because it’s quite swampy around the pond. A grown man can sink up to his knees in mud pretty easily. But I have decided to set out the camera somewhere near the pond and see what shows up. I’ve captured shots of deer, coyotes, turkey and fishers (or fisher cats as they are called locally) in that area but with any luck I’ll photograph the fugitive quail gang.
In retrospect, I feel that releasing the quail without first acclimating and imprinting them on my property was a mistake. Next year when (or if) I try again I’ll set up a quail house in the back field and allow them to become established and used to finding food there before giving them some freedom. But even though releasing them wasn’t optimal, it has given me a chance to see if quail can fend for themselves around my area. If this group survives the winter even marginally that will make it much more likely that a long-term presence is not an unreasonable expectation. Plus, they are kind of interesting looking little buggers. I’m really hoping I’ll have the chance to see them foraging on their own in the area. And sure, I’ll even enjoy hearing their pathetic wimpy call.
Every henhouse, outhouse and doghouse… Boy that was a fun speech. Too bad Tommy Lee Jones was a friend of Al Gore. That really kind of ruins it.
About 10 minutes down the road from me is a field that is surrounded by corn fields, dairy farms and suburban neighborhoods. This sizable tract of land is covered by a patchwork of hayfields, grain patches, high grass and brush, small stands of trees, puddles and even a streamlet. The owner stocks this area with game birds. It provides hunters with access to pheasant, quail and partridge. Where I live there is an abundance of turkey and duck that move respectively through wood and pond at will. With respect to other bird life, the air is full of hawks and even bald eagle. At night, a particularly annoying Barred Owl often serenades me and Camera Girl at about 1:45 a.m. from a perch seemingly right outside my bedroom window. Only state firearm ordinances and my inherent laziness has saved this avian jerk from reaping the large caliber comeuppance he so richly deserves. During the day the bird song is much more melodious. Finches, robins, sparrows, titmice, jays, catbirds, cardinals and orioles abound. And for viewing interest there are the fascinating hummingbirds. Basically we’re flush with feathered friends.
So why would I be looking to add to their numbers? The answer is ticks. Connecticut is the Lyme disease capitol of the Universe. Apparently scenic Lyme Connecticut was so inviting that even the lowly spirochete responsible for this malady heard how great it is there and decided to immigrate. Having been blessed once with the honor of sharing my bloodstream with these delightful one celled creatures I have made it a high priority to pass on a second such honor. To this end I have devoted a certain amount of thought to lowering the local tick population. One thing the long-time inhabitants of the area told me was that chickens eat ticks. That pecking action they’re so famous for allows them to systematically ingest enormous numbers of small creatures including ticks. This seemed to me a great idea. Chickens! I mean, I like chicken. Fried, baked, souped, casseroled. I even like them before they are hatched. Why not bring them in and let them solve my problem. I did some research.
They need a house. Well, okay, why not. I’ll buy them a house.
They need to be fed and watered. Hmmm, that’s a lot of doing stuff.
They get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. On Saturday? What the hell is wrong with them. They sounded a lot like that jerk the Barred Owl.
Their house has to be cleaned a lot. Okay, that’s enough.
The cure was worse than the disease.
I returned to my research and looked into what else eats ticks. Other birds eat ticks. Yeah, well we’re flush with birds already and they’re not getting the job done. It turns out that some birds are better at it than others. And even if chickens were too much trouble there are birds sort of like chickens that also eat a lot of ticks. I went through the options and the one with the least maintenance was quail. They’re smaller than pheasants and guinea fowl and peacocks and with just a little help from me they might successfully acclimate to my property and be fruitful and multiply. This all sounded really good. Next step get quail. I went out next day intending to stop by the local quail store and pick up a couple of dozen before heading to the town apothecary and pick up my monthly assortment of leeches. One solid month of following up leads and I found a friendly regional quail guy. Negotiations were negotiated and basically, I acceded to all terms. Which unfortunately meant that the quails would arrive on a day that I was at work (Friday). No need for panic. Camera Girl would carry out the transaction and the quails would become part of Orion’s Cold Fire Enterprises with all the rights and responsibilities that entails (eat ticks). When the appointed hour arrived, I sat at work waiting with bated breath to get the victory message. “Houston, the Eagle has landed.”
The actual call went slightly differently. When Camera Girl called up I could tell there had been a hitch. Quail come packed in a plastic box that basically keeps them in a standing room only enclosure. Apparently packing them cheek to jowl keeps them from getting too stirred up. But it also means they are anxious to spread out. When Camera Girl opened the box door the quail flew out in much the way shaken soda escapes from a bottle, rapidly and straight up. After the mass of panicked birds departed into the stratosphere and she had stopped blinking in amazement Camera Girl noticed that one bird had remained. This was the silver lining that was presented to me at the end of the story. Being a glass half empty kind of guy, I speculated that it probably broke a wing during the melee. But, being a fair and even-tempered individual, I thanked her for her help in the event told her I’d be following this lone bird’s future career with great interest. At that point I wrote off the whole thing as a good learning experience, namely that I’d learned that all birds are jerks.
On Saturday morning during our weekly inspection tour of the south forty, Camera Girl was excited to point out that there were now at least two quail skulking around the perimeter of the property. I should explain that part of the preparations for “Operation Shoot a Bunch of Money into the Sky” was the purchase of what is called a quail field base which consists of a device that provides food and water to quails in your field along with a battery powered electronic quail call that summons the quail to the base. Even though we only knew of one quail remaining in the immediate neighborhood of the base I activated the quail call. Every thirty minutes during daylight hours, this call produces a really goofy sounding bird noise which is supposed to lead the quails home to the base.
Well I guess it works. At least one and possibly several quails are now roaming around my fields and the surrounding woods. As the kids would say I’m mightily chuffed. So, Saturday as I was taking close up shots of caterpillars and plants I was able to get close enough to one quail ambling around in the brush to take his photo that I’ve attached above. The jury is of course still out but it’s entirely possible that maybe not all birds are jerks.