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Outlook optimistic for birds statewide
Quail, pheasants and chukar are in good numbers this year after taking advantage of prime weather and habitat conditions

Thursday, September 15, 2005
ST. HELENS -- The dog came to a standstill, rigid, eyes on a patch of blackberry next to the fenceline.

But the quail didn't wait for the hunters, erupting one by one into the mid-morning air like popcorn.

Only two of the quail were large enough to shoot anyway; the rest were small, even by quail standards.

They flew slowly, almost indignantly into nearby trees -- chicks no bigger than sparrows with wings barely able to lift their chubby bodies into the air.

"California quail were hit by wet weather at first, but they're very good at re-nesting," said Dave Budeau, an upland bird biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "In fact, they've done very well statewide. We've got quail coming out of every nook and cranny."

And, Budeau added, for the first time in several years, Oregon's pheasant, chukar and quail have had good hatches in the same year.

"We just had the right weather and some very good habitat for the birds to take advantage of," Budeau said. "Actually, there was a lot of rain during some of the peak hatch periods, so we can't explain why they did that well. But we'll sure take it."

The penchant of many upland birds to re-nest will mean one of the best seasons in several years, Budeau said.

Chicks hatched late, in July and August, will provide good hunting early -- many hunters avoid shooting young birds in mid-October specifically to improve their success later -- and also during the tougher times in the lingering days of the season when older birds become wary.

Budeau's outlook for fall hunting:

Mountain quail: Still going strong enough in southern Oregon that the season in the west (and Hood River and Wasco counties) will last through January, along with grouse and California quail. Recent transplants into Eastern Oregon have done so well that limited hunting is open this year through December in Grant, Umatilla, Morrow, Wheeler, Gilliam, Klamath and Wallowa counties.

California quail: Nested late and well statewide. Oregon's excellent brush habitat, especially in the east, will be choked with quail throughout the season.

Pheasant: Finally, a decent hatch. Eastern Oregon feed corn wasn't harvested until nearly spring, and dry weather delayed haying. Both events helped pheasants, with food and brood areas. Columbia Basin counties had better than average production, with counts ranging to twice the recent 10-year average. Nyssa, Vale and Ontario also fared better, with the highest pheasant counts since 1987.

Chukar: Good production in all areas, with birds showing up throughout the popular John Day and Deschutes drainages and Crook and Jefferson counties. Owyhee hunters might smile as broadly as those in Hells Canyon.

Forest grouse: The single down side, with blue grouse numbers lagging last year's a little in northeast Oregon and ruffed grouse outlooks about the same as last year statewide.

A final note: All quail limits are aggregate. Hunters may not shoot separate limits of each.

Bill Monroe: 503-221-8231;

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