The flush of a covey of quail is an addictive adrenaline rush that unfortunately many hunters don’t get to experience. However, Di-Lane WMA is one of the few public places still holding on to the steeped tradition of quail hunting. Through 10 quota-only quail hunts, the area offers access to a resident population of wild Northern bobwhite, making it an ideal destination for quail hunters and their trusty canine companions.
Located near Waynesboro, just 45 minutes south of Augusta, the WMA encompasses 8,100 acres, over half of which are intensely managed for quail. The intensive management is necessary to support sufficient coveys of quail to keep hunters and dogs on their toes. However, notable regional declines and a dedication to maximizing hunter satisfaction inspired collaboration between the Georgia DNR and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia to create an expansive quail project at Di-Lane. The goal of this collective effort is to further understand quail ecology in the context of public land management that often entails multi-species objectives and users.
The inaugural bobwhite trapping season in the fall of 2016 was a monumental success, with about 500 unique birds captured and 160 radio-collars deployed. This was followed by a shorter spring 2017 trapping session, which included the capture of about 215 unique birds. Technicians and graduate students are currently hard at work for the fall 2017 trapping season. Trapping quail is an essential part of the research, as it provides an estimate of how many birds are on the property and their survival from year to year.
Another integral part of the research is tracking the bird’s movements through telemetry. During trapping seasons, a radio collar is affixed around the neck of the bird similar to a dog collar. This collar allows researchers to track the movements of individual birds. Thus far, researchers have recorded more than 12,000 quail locations on Di-Lane. This information assists in the determination of home-range sizes, habitat preference and allows them to collect nesting data.
In addition to the overarching quail research occurring, there are three graduate students from UGA researching different aspects of quail ecology under the advisement of Dr. James Martin. The first project, managed by Jessica Mohlman, relates to the indirect effects of rabbit hunting on bobwhite behavior and stress. Proper habitat management for bobwhite also benefits rabbits. The effect rabbit hunting has on bobwhite populations is currently unknown. This possible effect will be determined through examining stress hormones from fecal samples of bobwhite and analyzing their movements in response to rabbit hunting through radio-telemetry.
The second project, managed by Nathan Wilhite, is testing song-recording devices for estimating bobwhite abundance. Currently, abundance estimates are determined from fall covey call surveys that are conducted by the DNR and volunteers. This method could be troublesome because each surveyor may have a different level of hearing ability and experience affecting their accuracy. Stationary recording units that record calling coveys could help improve this process. This project will field test these devices and attempt to apply them to fall covey call surveys on Di-Lane and other WMAs.
The third project, managed by Rachel Gardner, is investigating interactions between bobwhite and their predators, a relationship possibly mediated by supplemental feeding. Supplemental feed attracts a variety of prey species and, in turn, their predators, some of which are also known bobwhite predators. Predators will be tracked via radio-telemetry or monitored through field cameras near feeding sites to determine if predators attracted to areas of supplemental feed are negatively affecting bobwhite survival.
Di-Lane WMA is one of the best public-land areas for quail in the Southeast. We want to help make it better. The ongoing quail research will provide a number of valuable insights into the management of the species allowing Di-Lane to continue boasting successful quail hunts for years to come.
Editor’s Note: Authors were Jessica Mohlman, Rachel Gardner and Nathan Wilhite, graduate students working for James A. Martin at UGA. Additional authors were Authors I. B. Parnell and Paul Grimes with WRD.
What If I Shoot A Di-Lane Research Quail?
You are not in trouble! If you harvest a banded or radio-collared bird during your hunt, please bring the bird back to the check station so the technicians or graduate researchers may record the information and reuse the radio-collars. Receiving harvest information is critical to the research, and your cooperation is greatly appreciated. As an incentive, reward bands have been placed on a percentage of the quail population. If you harvest a reward-banded bird, you will be entered into a drawing to win a new shotgun donated by Quail Forever.