Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Holy Quail

On May 17th I was lucky enough to be walking the Liben Plains in southern Ethiopia doing habitat transects in the company of BirdLife International's venerable Dr Nigel Collar (google him as he's a Don) within the known range of the poorly known and severely threatened Liben Lark. We strolled through an area of slightly longer grassland which suddenly made me think about Quails. I was explaining to Nigel that despite having heard Quails singing for the past 25 years I had never actually seen one when I suddenly flushed a quail from underfoot. I got onto it as it sped away only to dump down a few yards away and realised that it wasn't a Common Quail but a close relative, the Harlequin Quail.

Although I was excited to see a quail of any description, especially a new one, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't my holy grail bird, my bogey bird, the only regular species on the British list that I was yet to see. To add insult to injury, an hour later a real Common Quail began to sing from an area of grassland literally yards from where I was standing on the plain. I didn't even attempt to kick it out because knowing my past track record for flushing these tiny gamebird my chances of seeing it would have been virtually nil.

It has always been a fantasy of mine to flush a Quail or Corncrake out from the grassland at my beloved Scrubs. Every autumn, I would religiously stride through the grass at Wormwood Scrubs ostensibly counting Meadow Pipits and secretly wishing for exotica. Imagine my horror a few hours after seeing a Harlequin Quail when I got a text from a fellow Scrubber informing me that he had just found a singing Quail on my patch! I throw my hands up in despair. Here I was some 5,000 miles away from home (or thereabouts) whilst a lifer was striding around on my patch in my absence!

I thought that the Scrubs Quail would be a one day bird but text updates kept arriving for a couple of days after it's initial discovery. When I got home a week later I didn't bother to hit The Scrubs thinking that it would be long gone. Last weekend I was on Alderney and I received a call from yet another Scrubber. He told me the news that I didn't want to hear. There was a Quail singing in the grassland again! That bird must have been there the whole time!

As soon as I got back to London, some three days later, I staked out the grassland for three days on the trot and for three days I heard nada. Sometimes things are just not meant to be. My search for the holy grail continues.

6 comments:

Neil Spiers said...

It's always the same story mate, happened to myself numerous times.

But when it eventually appears...imagine the joy!!! ;-)

firlebirds said...

I still haven't seen one either, after 25 years of birding.

Spending a lot of time at the moment walking along dusty tracks next to fields of hay and wheat, doing really poor Quail impressions.

Christopher Murphy said...

Hello urban birder! I’m in the middle of researching into people who keep quails as pets and came across your article. What a fascinating blog you have here…
Apparently some inner city ‘types’ are keeping the said birds as pets. I’m writing about it for a magazine article, but can’t seem to find any literature. Do you know anyone who keeps them par-chance? Or any other form of bird in an urban environment…
Any info would be greatly appreciated..

Chris

The Urban Birder said...

Have you checked the back pages of cage and aviary magazines Chris?

Christopher Murphy said...

Ohh no I haven't but I'll have a look thanks...

Christopher Murphy said...

Thanks for the advice, I never got to check out those magazines in the end but check out my article all the same if you fancy a read...

http://www.eatmemagazine.com/?p=744