Road Photo Friday: Arizona Mearns Quail, A Photo Essay
One could make a convincing argument that Mearns quail are nicknamed "Fool's Quail" for a number of good reasons. One glance at these little birds explains at least part of the moniker. They look like they were cobbled together by God's Spare Parts Department -- particularly the cockbirds. A ruddy, toupee-looking crest, a stubby beak, a polka-dotted breast, and a sawed-off tail. Yet without a doubt, the birds are some of the most beautiful birds an upland hunter can hope to pursue.
Their uniqueness extends to their feet -- long toes and toenails further distinguish this bird from his other quail cousins. The funky-looking appendages are perfectly suited though for the Mearns' primary means of eating -- digging at small roots and tubers found just below the surface of the arid, scrub oak dotted hills that they inhabit.
The birds are best found at 5,000 feet (give or take) above sea level. They can be found in feeder canyons, feeding and loafing in grassy meadows. The scenery is beautiful, and much of it is spent walking up-and-down, or at least traversing loose rock hillsides.
Those lacking healthy hearts or good boot leather need not apply.
We hunted public lands within a mile or so of the Mexican border, and saw numerous instances of illegal border crossings and makeshift camps. Water jugs, empty backpacks, tin cans, and small campfires dotted the landscape wherever we went. Border Patrol jeeps, planes, and helicopters showed themselves from time to time, on a far more important hunt of their own. I never felt in danger, but I did feel on more than one occasion like I was being watched... friend or foe I'm not certain.
Jim's string of shorthairs were Mearns marvels. They'd lock on point, and relocate as the covey moved, never bumping a bird. Once the dogs corner them, the guns move in. These quail hold tightly -- so much so that you'd think you were chasing preserve birds.
On a Mearns rise, I quickly learned that two shots are too many, but three shots are never enough. Invariably, I'd unload my gun on the one or two initial birds to take wing, only to have an unloaded gun when the larger covey flushed, right at my feet.