Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Partridge in an oak tree

When I spotted the two birds, they were running alongside the chicken wire fence, hidden beneath the Brazilian pepper, the hedgerow, and the Spanish moss which draped from their lower branches.

When the birds saw me, a soft chortle started up in their throats, and they ran for a hole under the fence which led to their escape. They were so fast on their feet that I failed to capture the details necessary for identification.

Checking my Audubon Field Guide later, I tried to piece together my impressions: stocky round bird, reddish brown feathers, unique head markings or Mohawk haircut; a chipping or swamp sparrow I wondered? Naw, too small.

It was a year later in March before I saw another pair scurrying along the fence line. This time I got a good look before they slipped under the fence and disappeared in the dry pasture stubble. Turns out, they were northern bobwhites; members of the quail or partridge family and indigenous to Florida.

When the mating season begins each spring, coveys break up and mates build their own covered nests in the grass. In late summer, families join others to form a new covey until the next breeding season.

My husband and I saw the bobwhites almost every day for several weeks. One lusty fellow searching for a potential mate flew to the upper branches of a live oak and serenaded us with a “bob bob white.”

On days when we didn’t see the quails, my husband would whistle his own rendition of “bob bob white,” and we waited. Sure enough, an answering call told us where the bobwhites were located that day.

When the spring rains came early that year and flooded the grasslands, our bobwhites disappeared. My husband still whistled to see if they had returned, but there was no answering call. I hope we see them again this year.