When Martha Johnson sent the results of the Conway area Christmas bird count, I quickly scanned the list for a favorite species.
Unhappily, I knew what to expect. But I went over the list again, slower and more thoroughly.
No, quail was not on it.
The bird folks usually list this species as northern bobwhite, but quail is what many of us grew up saying. The real, died-in-the-wool quail hunters of bygone times simply said “birds.” They went “bird hunting.” You automatically knew they were talking about quail, those esteemed and so tasty things that whistled “bobwhite, bobwhite.”
No quail were found by the 42 participants in the latest Conway count, which was done on Saturday, Jan. 2.
We still have some quail, but in greatly diminished numbers from a half-century and more back. Changing land use has meant much less quail habitat, the wildlife biologists tell us, and this is so regrettable.
Attempts have been made for several decades now to bring quail back. These efforts are still going on, but the success has been limited at best no matter how much we want it to succeed.
This recent Conway bird count turned up an even 100 different species, and this was pleasant to Martha Johnson, the long-time compiler for this Audubon Society project. These counts are indicators, tools used by the ornithologists in their research, planning and strategies.
The most numerous species found was the American robin, with 4,001 tallied. We always have a lot of robins, and they have not suffered like quail have. Next in numbers were the red-wing blackbirds, and this also is not a surprise.
Far down the list were house sparrows, also known as English sparrows, Just 85 we counted, and this may tell us that the searchers didn’t spend a lot of time in downtown or “old” Conway.
Far more numerous were yellow-rumped warblers, and less see a show of hands on who can identify these little birds.
Sixteen different species of ducks were counted with mallards at the head of the ranks with 632. Do you want to guess what the second and third most numerous ducks were? Lesser scaup and northern shoveler.
Seven species of woodpeckers were listed, and the most numerous were a virtual tie between red-bellied woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers. Just one red-headed woodpecker was seen, and this is another long decline similar to quail.
Birds in our area do change. An illustration is this count’s finding 593 ring-billed gulls. A few decades back it was rare to see any type of gull in Arkansas, not just around Conway. Now they are year-round residents in the Arkansas River country and along other waterways. One guess is the birds followed the boats and barges when commercial navigation on the river arrived in the 1960s and 1970s.
Some other random notes on the latest bird count — only three great egrets were seen. At other times, these birds are numerous all around our waters. But 206 double-crested cormorants were counted, and this is a species some call water turkeys.
A single peregrine falcon was seen. Also only one barred owl was listed, and this tells us the owls weren’t in plain view in daytime. One loggerhead shrike was counted; some folks call these butcher birds.
There will be another bird count in the Conway area. This will be the breeding bird survey, when resident birds are the focus. The migrants will have gone back north.