The past week has been a little busy in Indian Hill so we finally got a chance to do our third and final covey call count today. It sounds like the coveys are located around one specific area so this time I didn’t want to take any chances and not hear them. Jennifer and I split up again but stayed within sight of one another (once the sun came up) so we were both in the area where the quail were heard the first and second time. Finally I heard it! The covey call that had been eluding me the first two trips was just south of where I was sitting. After the sun came up Jennifer and I both agreed on the direction that I heard the sound, however she also heard one to the northeast of where we were. We thought we would try flushing the birds to try to see if we could get a count so we headed toward the edges of the field. We had no luck getting the birds to flush out of their coveys but we both feel pretty confident that we at least have some quail walking about the Lewis Township property. Now the goal is to see if we can increase our quail populations through improved habitat establishment and quail-beneficial management practices. Call counts and quail monitoring will be an ongoing practice for our research team. We are already looking forward to some early chilly mornings next October.
There’s something about long, thin worms that puts people on edge. Even I hesitated to pick up this little guy because of the fear of parasitic worms. Don’t worry, these horsehair worms (Gordius robustus) are not some parasitic nematode ready to crawl up your nose and take over your body. Well actually, I should clarify. You’re safe if you are a human. Even your pets are safe. However, if you’re an arthropod, you might be in trouble. The mature adults (like you see in the picture) aren’t the ones causing problems. It’s the babies you have to look out for, and you won’t even see them coming!
Adult females lay MILLIONS of eggs in the water. The minuscule (~0.01 inches) larvae are ingested by certain bugs for food. A hard covering (cyst) protects the larva, then dissolves after entering the gut of its host. Many macroinvertebrates become hosts because they live in aquatic habitats. Other common hosts are crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles because they eat macroinvertebrates, thus becoming the new host to the horsehair worm. As a horsehair worm develops into an adult over a few weeks or months, the host becomes the ‘walking dead’. Because adult horsehair worms require water to leave their host, the zombie host bug is triggered to find water, where it meets its demise. Most of us have seen witches melting from water in the Wizard of Oz, but here’s a new visual for you: death by worm breaking through a body cavity. And if you really want a good visual, search for horsehair worms on youtube. You’ll find all sorts of videos of them crawling out of crickets, spiders, cockroaches, and other arthropods. Maybe save it for Halloween.
One legend behind their name is that people believed the hairs from a horse’s mane or tail would fall into the water bucket and come to life. In reality, a cricket or host had hopped up to the water bucket, prompting a horsehair worm to break free in the water source. They are also referred to as Gordian worms because they twist and squirm into ‘Gordian knots’. In addition to having a very remarkable life cycle, horsehair worms are important for keeping our pest population in check. I encourage you to go on a hike and keep an eye out for any strange behavior from arthropods around water.
Today Jennifer and I got another early start to do some covey call counts and hopefully hear the coveys that our resident bird expert Joe heard a couple of days ago. It was another clear and chilly morning and this time I was a little more prepared by bringing a fold up camp chair. I found out that standing still in the middle of a field in 20 degree weather can be hard on your back! With a head lamp, chair, and a thermos of hot tea, we walked back to the same location where Joe was situated on our previous visit. We still thought it would be a good idea to split up and go on opposite sides of the tree line, hoping we could better locate the direction in which the covey calls were coming from. I kept looking at my cell phone to be prepared for when 7:14am approached so I could be extra focused. 7:14am came and went, then 7:29am. Next thing I know, the sun is up. Maybe Joe didn’t hear them…or maybe it’s just me? When Jennifer and I met back at the tree line where we separated she excitedly said “did you hear them!?” Nope. Well…I guess it is me. Next time we go to Lewis Township I’m sitting right where Jennifer and Joe were located so I can get in on the action too! Good news is, Jennifer was pretty sure it was a covey call so we’re one step closer to confirming we have some quail populations. And once again, as you can see in the picture, it was another beautiful early morning – a great way to start the day.
Today we got an early (and cold) start to our morning so we could travel to our Lewis Township property to do covey call counts for quail. One of the many benefits of working at Greenacres is all of the incredible and passionate people that are employed here. It is often that the Research Department reaches out to one of our coworkers as a resource for topics that we could use a little more education on. Although I enjoy wildlife, identifying bird calls are not my forte. However, it just so happens that one of our Environmental Educators, Joe Phelps, has a good deal of knowledge in the area of ornithology, so of course I asked him if he wanted to get up at 4:00am and go listen for quail!
Although it was an early start, the sights and sounds of the pre-dawn morning were well worth it. The sky was clear and without all of the light from the city the stars were as bright as I’ve ever seen them. Walking in the dark to the location where we met with some quail experts a couple of weeks earlier, a large Great Horned Owl was extremely vocal just to the left of us, calling out its distinctive hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo several times in a short period. It was beautiful…and a little eerie all at the same time. Once back to the field, which is currently planted in cover crops, Joe and I headed in different directions to try to maximize our coverage. The frost was starting to nip the sorghum-sudan grass which was abundant in the diverse cover crop mix we had planted 2-months earlier. Underneath the sorghum there was a good stand of cool season annuals such as cereal rye, winter triticale, crimson clover, and brassicas thriving in the frosty air. These cool season grasses and forbs will provide food sources for wildlife throughout the winter, as evident by the four deer I saw munching away at sun up.
During the hour-plus standing in the field I heard deer blowing, coyotes howling, a couple of raccoons fighting, a neighbor’s dog barking, some crow’s cawing, and a few other bird’s songs as the sun was rising…but no covey calls. No luck, I thought. But Joe’s experience was a little different. He said he heard 3 distinguishable coveys! By his accounts the calls started at 7:14am and the last one was recorded at 7:24am. The sun rose at 7:49am (below is a picture pointing to a corn field east of where I was standing as the sun was just starting to rise). Joe pointed me in the directions that he heard the calls. Our next step is to do some follow up call counts to confirm!