Where’s That Quail? By Stewart Betts

On the sunny morning of July 6th this year I was sitting in my Thorpe Marriott garden having
breakfast and reading the EDP, when the faint song of a Quail entered my consciousness.
During the ensuing 20 minutes or so I tried to work out the direction the song was coming from.
After breakfast I checked the OS map and set out on my bike to visit my best-guess possibility,
along School Road in Drayton. After an hour or so of no luck I returned home and added the
bird to the “heard” section of my garden list, but despite spending a fair amount of time in my
garden over the next few days I heard no more. It was interesting to learn subsequently that a
couple of local “noc-miggers” had logged overnight quail calls at around the same time.
I thought little more about it until the 16th of July, when yet again I had a breakfast quail
serenade. Once again, I set off for School Road and spent a forlorn hour or so with no success.
As I cycled morosely home I was about to swing into my road when I heard the Quail belting
out “wet my lips” for all it was worth from beyond the bordering trees just ahead of me – in
completely the opposite direction to School Road! I dumped my bike and hot-footed it to the
semi-harvested rape field from where the song was coming. With a bit of judicious positioning
I got a lengthy flight view of the bird over the unharvested rape.
I later realised, given the proximity and angles of nearby houses, that sound was bouncing off
brick walls and causing my confusion about directions (I find a similar problem with knowing
whether the planes I often hear are taking off or landing at Norwich airport!).
From then on, I heard the quail pretty much every day, and had flight views on a couple more
occasions when I visited the field. The field is much used by dog walkers, and I was surprised
that off-lead dogs hadn’t scared the bird off. Others had clearly heard it because it popped up
on one of the village Facebook groups. I know that local patch-birders heard and some saw the
bird during its stay too.
I last heard and saw the bird on the 8th of August. Not surprisingly I didn’t manage to photograph
the bird (I didn’t try!). The accompanying sketch was made by John Geeson, who was with me
when we last saw the bird on August 8th.

Having the bird within less than 100m of my house piqued my interest, and I came across the
following information on the Birdguides website:
Quail begin their northbound migration from Africa in late winter and cross the Mediterranean
between March and mid-May, and some of these birds will be heard calling in Britain and Ireland
from mid-April. Quail that wintered further north in Iberia or North Africa may begin calling there
in December and will nest from mid-February. Following the first breeding attempts in Europe,
there is a second migratory phase in April and May that may push birds to higher altitudes or
more northerly parts of Europe. It is this second wave that usually brings more birds into Britain
and Ireland from June onwards and these are likely to be the birds that we hear calling then.
Remarkably, some of the Quail arriving (in June/July) are likely to be birds born this year further
south in Europe or North Africa. First broods are capable of migrating just two months after
hatching and can be sexually mature at the age of 12–15 weeks. This incredible breeding
strategy is like those of some butterflies and moths, such as the Painted Lady.

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