Under the clear West Virginia sky, a distinctive bird call rolled out across the landscape.
Bob … white!
It was a sound that hadn’t been heard in Logan County for close to 50 years — the song of a wild bobwhite quail. Now it’s being heard again.
Four months ago, state wildlife officials stocked 48 of the chunky little gamebirds on the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area near Holden. Logan Klingler, the area’s manager, said they’re still there.
“Last week, while I was working out near the [elk-release] pens, I heard four separate ones,” Klingler said. “Later, I [flushed] two that were dusting in the road. We know they’re around, but we don’t know how many.”
That uncertainty stems from a mistake Klingler and other biologists made when they fitted the birds with tiny electronic tracking collars.
“We hadn’t worked with these collars before,” Klingler said. “There’s a wire you’re supposed to crimp a certain way, and we put the wrong bend in it. A lot of the collars fell off.”
Thirty-five of the 48 birds received collars. Klingler said more than half of the devices dropped off almost immediately, and several more have dropped off since then.
“The first morning I went out to track them, I picked up a mortality sensor,” he continued. “I marked that bird as dead. Then I picked up another mortality signal, and another, and another.”
As it turned out, all the signals were coming from the box the quail were released from.
“We had a ‘soft release,’ where we put the quail in a box and then opened the box so they could leave whenever they wanted,” Klingler explained. “We looked in the box. The collars were there, but the quail weren’t.”
The loss of the collars will affect the amount of data biologists can collect, not only about the birds’ comings and goings, but also on the number killed by hawks, owls, bobcats, coyotes and other predators.
“We’ve had some predation already,” Klingler said. “We can usually tell what the predator was by the evidence they leave behind.