by Rob Grainger | July 14, 2021
As a manager of ranches and wildlife habitats across South Texas, I must admit that I was not thrilled with the way we began our year, from a rainfall perspective that is. At one of our places, we had received less than 2” from January 1st to May 1st. We were well into a severe drought and the habitat was taking one heck of a blow. But, when May hit, the bubble burst and we began catching rainfall like we haven’t seen in years. Much of South Texas has received well over 20” of rain at the time of this writing in early July. What was beginning to look like an unproductive year flipped a 180 and it is now a beautiful jungle out there. Among other species, but the topic of this article, Quail will reap an amazing and abundant reward. Reaching a critical time limit for successful nesting, the habitat and the insects that come with the rainfall bounced back in incredible fashion.
The Goliad 3350, Shouse 1,000 and the Shouse River Ranch are all areas that used to be known as great quail areas south of Goliad in the coastal prairie. While the addition of improved grasses has hurt bird production in some parts of the prairie, these three ranches all have excellent native grasses and the quail population at these ranches is fantastic. You don’t have to drive all the way to the sand sheet to find excellent quail country, these ranches can be reached from Houston in two and a half hours:
At the Goliad 3550, we observed a beautiful stand of native grasses growing in the prairie habitat and amongst the oaks. Although the cattle are grazing the property at the moment, the nesting habitat is in great shape and will continue to thrive with the deep soil moisture that is building up with the daily rainfall. The Quail were all paired and in the nesting stages of their breeding cycles. Birds were quite active, and some males were still competing for a female mate. During the call counts, an average of 6 males were heard at each site. Given the time of day, mid afternoon, this was an exceptional survey. Check out Goliad 3550 Ranch here.
The Shouse 1,000 Ranch is always a site to behold as it is pristine native prairie habitat in an area that is losing the native pastures yearly to improved cattle grasses. The native species on this ranch are in fantastic shape and bustling with dense stands throughout. It is in prime condition to nest a plethora of birds this year. Although we did not see any prairie chickens on this trip, the Quail did not disappoint. With a late afternoon call count survey, each point averaged 9 different males calling. The sightings were great as well with pairs almost every 200 yards on the roads. No, we did not feed the roads! Check out Shouse 1,000 Ranch here.
Crossing the road over to the Shouse River Ranch for an evening observation and call counts, we drove into a dense stand of native grasses and forbs on the high country. The habitat, like the prairie ranch, was in excellent condition and lending itself to raise a great population of birds this year. As you traveled down into the river bottom, the forb production amongst the grasses was outstanding. With the ragweed, sunflowers and croton in full bloom and dense, it is a bird buffet on this ranch. Quail were observed all over the ranch, even in the yard at the house enjoying the short cover of the yard to court each other. During the call counts, an excellent average of 8 males calling was observed. I have no doubt this ranch will make for an excellent quail season in 2021 for the future owner. Check out Shouse River Ranch here.
When we pulled on to the Glick Ranch in the late morning, there was a light rain and it was bit overcast, so I was not optimistic for the call counts. Throughout the ranch though, we saw Quail all along the roads we were driving. The grass and forbs on this ranch are in great shape with a huge variety of species. Sunflowers and Croton were exceptionally thick and will help sustain mature birds while the insect production for the chicks was noticed to be abundant. The call counts on the property were quite strong given the conditions and timing averaging 7 males per site. These numbers bode well for the upcoming season as the quail are nesting and hatching chicks into some great habitat with all the food and cover they need. Check out Glick Ranch here.
Given the rainfall and the location of this ranch, you should not be surprised when you hear that the birds on the Cinco de Mayo are booming. The dense stands of native grasses have great composition and species variety. The bunch grasses are growing in the deep sands and are healthy as they can be. The forbs on the ranch are popping across the range and providing ample food for the birds. As I stopped to do a call count at a site, I noticed the grill guard of my truck was crawling with countless bugs brushed off from the plants I drove through. If seeing birds around every corner was not enough, the call counts were astounding. An average of 12 males were observed calling at each site making it very hard to distinguish what the actual number was. I have no doubt this ranch will be a top quail ranch in South Texas this year for someone. I hope it’s you! Check out Cinco de Mayo Ranch here.
The Cadena Ranch was the first stop of the morning giving us a prime time observation for call counts and the wildlife in general. The first thing I noticed was the tonnage of grasses and forbs on the ranch. Wow! The grass is chest high on most of the property. Even the brushier areas of the ranch have great nesting cover. Just about everywhere along the roads and scattered throughout the trees, Quail were observed doing their mating rituals. Males were chasing each other and females were waiting impatiently for the winner to court her. It was a pleasure to see a ranch teaming with so much wildlife, especially the Bobwhite Quail. Not surprisingly, the call counts were off the charts with an average of 10 males sounding off at each site. Given the state of the habitat and the numbers of birds observed, some lucky landowner will not be disappointed when they put their dogs down this winter. Check out the Cadena Ranch here. The ranch is also being offered in several breakouts: Galona Ranch, Triador Ranch, Macho Creek Ranch.
As I write this article, it is raining its tail off here in Corpus Christi, and looking at the radar, all of the ranches I wrote about are experiencing the same conditions. Quail are a boom and bust bird. It’s something that will never change but we must do our jobs to be ready for rainfall. As managers and landowners, it is our job to ready the garden for these cherished birds, but Gods job to turn on the faucet. He certainly has this year and at the perfect time for us upland enthusiasts. I typically hold my breath until July to begin to make a judgement call on the Quail population for the upcoming season and with a great sigh of relief, I can say that we should be in for an exciting year here in South Texas. With deep soil moisture holding firm and more rainfall in the forecast, the populations should see a strong upward trend from, what was an already strong season in 2020. May your bird dogs point true and your memories be great. Good luck this season!