Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Mearns Quail. Elusive, Unique, Beautiful. Harlequin Quail of The Border.

We moved from the cactus and crushed lava rock down to the southern border with Mexico and in to an altitude band of 4000-5800'. There we found the rarest of the quail in the United States, Mearns Quail.  It so happens, this was a tremendous year for the birds.  Through the grapevine of kindred bird hunters, we heard the population was up and, if we wanted to find a few, now was the time. 

Through friends of friends (of friends..) we found a retired military pilot living in the area who, it seems, prides himself on hunting this bird above all others.  He's an expert concerning them and his dogs (Brits) are top-notch and are Mearns-finding machines.  Aside from the fact that he's 69 years old and walked us in to the ground, he was a real pleasure to hunt with and a fount of knowledge about the birds.

Terry (right), a quail biologist himself, and Wally take a look at what the birds have been eating. This is an effort to learn what to look for when stumbling along, gasping for air, following these two.  Hopefully, if I see some of this type of seed, I'll get them to stop long enough, under the guise of looking for some feeding birds, to catch my breath and grab a drink of water!

My dog, Bandit, found the water trough quickly enough.  It was in the 70's the day we hunted.  We learned from the "old guys", if you have enough time, the best time to hunt is from sunup for a few hours and for a few hours prior to sun down.  The humidity increases enough to help the dogs scent the birds. 

Bandit pointed a covey along the way and we managed to drop a few birds.  These quail are bigger than the Gambels or Blue Quail....and they eat just fine. 

You would think with coloration like this, they would be easy to spot in the brown grass.  Not so!  I'm here to tell you, one can be absolutely LOOKING for these birds and walk right in to a covey unexpectedly.  They are perfectly camouflaged!

Along the way, we found some interesting things.  This is a water hole that comes right out of a rock.  Ace, my Brit, is coming out after getting a drink.  Interestingly, human tracks lead in to the waterhole and the trash around the area indicated perhaps human visitors were common here.  We were VERY close to the border  and Border Patrol trucks were a common sight.

This is one of the most beautiful areas I've seen in Arizona.  Much different than I expected.  I learned that Hollywood discovered this area many years ago, as well.  The Young Guns, The Big Valley, and may other westerns and movies were filmed here.  While much of this is public land, a huge chunk is in a conservancy and a lot is private, too.  No matter.  This is what most of Arizona looked like back in the day- prior to over-grazing (so I'm told).  When the cows eat everything that's edible, only cactus and junk is left.  This area has been preserved through luck and effort. It's truly a sight to see!

This is a part of Arizona I did not know existed. Very nice. The view makes for a pleasant hunt!