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Knox Co. Quail Focus Area Annual Cookout and Habitat Tour

By Crystal Howerton

Storms swept through the surrounding area late on Wednesday afternoon, August 8, 2007 providing the county with some much-needed rain prior to the Knox County Quail Focus Area (QFA) Annual Cookout and Habitat Tour.  However, weather was sunny and clear as approximately twenty Knox County residents gathered at Mike Peters’ residence that evening.
Following an informal meal of barbequed hamburgers, cole slaw, chips, and cookies provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation, Private Land Conservationist John Pinkowski reviewed information from the advisory committee meeting held on February 27, 2007.  Advisory committee members Kirk Strange, Joe Pipta, Daryl Huchteman and Mike McGinnis met and identified four areas of interest – participation, implementation, monitoring and organization, then issued work items under each category. 
Pinkowski discussed each of the work items and asked for volunteers to keep a hunting journal reporting quail harvest and sightings, as well as naming advisory committee members and inviting others to join the committee.  There were no new volunteers therefore the existing committee will proceed with the above members for another year.
He mentioned several updates pertinent to the quail focus area.  Landowners in the quail focus area may benefit from 90% cost-share through the Missouri Department of Conservation for quail friendly practices.  Those who have at least a minimum of three years left on their CRP contracts can submit an application to possibly receive cost share to do burning, disking or spraying of their grasses.  Pinkowski reported that CRP soil rental rates are about to be changed and landowners bringing CRP fields back into production may want to consider signing in a portion of their acreage back into CRP utilizing the Bobwhite Buffers CP-33 practices.  The MDC is considering the study quail populations in the Knox County QFA as they relate to CP-33 buffers. However, if approved studies will not begin until 2009.  He also mentioned that roadside quail surveys by the department have commenced and will be performed three times in August.
Mike Peters was presented an attractive quail picture by Pinkowski for his generosity in hosting the annual cookout for the past two years.  Then guests posed for a photo before setting out on the tour.
Guests visited two locations in the 12,000-acre focus area owned by Tom Ahonen/Kevin Strange and Ray Prebe.  At the first location Pinkowski requested that two gentlemen sweep for insects using nets to determine the amount of bugs in a particular area. He explained that for the first ten weeks of life juvenile birds thrive on insects alone, which is required for the rapid sixteen-week growth span of the quail.  Pinkowski then played the breaking roost call that quail make throughout the fall and winter seasons for the group to assist landowners in determining the number of coveys located on their property.
The tour continued on to Prebe’s location where food plots were observed.  Prebe mentioned the possibility of planting warm season grasses to provide additional cover and the group discussed quail management options on CRP land prior to adjourning. 
The 12,000-acre quail focus area is one of two focus areas in Knox County.  Located in the Bee Ridge vicinity, it has been in existence for three years and is one of 12 focus areas statewide.  (The other QFA in Knox County is located between Hurdland and Novelty and is approximately one year old.) There are 31 landowners within the 12,000-acre quail focus area, 12 of whom are active members, including approximately one-third of the total acreage. 
The QFA’s objective is to concentrate good quail habitat in one area.  "The department is on hand to assist all local landowners in increasing their quail populations but these quail focus areas are receiving special attention." Pinkowski explained that these private landowners are trying to create three aspects of good habitat: nesting cover, brood cover and low, woody cover to ensure that the birds have a habitat conducive to repopulation. 
Edge feathering (dropping trees to create low cover) has been completed at 120 sites, approximately 12 acres in the focus area.  In addition, prescribed burning, disking and the spraying of herbicide to control grasses to improve brood rearing have been performed.   Approximately 45 acres are participating in the federal program, CP-33 Bob White Buffers, planting native grasses at field borders to create nesting and brood rearing cover.
"Because the quail population is on the decline, we have tried to create large areas of high quality habitat in which the quail population will thrive" Pinkowski said.  "As the birds will disperse up to six miles in early spring, we hope that our successes will have a positive effect on quail numbers countywide. The local Quail Forever Chapter has also been an important partner in these efforts," added Pinkowski.