A Late Hatch to Remember
The 2017 breeding season is in the books, but not without a dramatic late push to the finish line. Despite birds getting out of the gate quickly, with the first nest found on May 1 (about 1 week early than normal), bobwhite per capita production in the Red Hills remained low compared to long-term averages for much of the season. While dodging hurricanes, ample rainfall throughout the summer fueled vegetation growth, which produced above average adult survival, especially in the Albany region.
Good over-winter and breeding season adult survival set the stage for a profitable late hatch. We observed three distinct peaks in hatching this year: an early hatch in late-May to early-June; the primary hatch during July; and a brilliant late hatch in September and early-October (see Figure). For some in the region, the first hatch was poorly timed with a 4+ inch localized rainfall event, which impacted chick survival, whereas others received less than an inch of rainfall, and likely experienced minimal impact on chick survival. The primary hatch was decent, but below average in the Red Hills. The late hatch, however, was one of the strongest we have seen in over a decade!
On Dixie and Tall Timbers combined, 21 nests incubated in September/October resulted in 16 successful clutches (76%). And, on Tall Timbers, 26% of brood production for the entire season occurred in September (see Figure; late hatch circle), nearly double that of long-term averages. We also observed multiple nests hatching in early October, which can improve chances for fall recruitment, and is purportedly linked to some of the better hunting seasons in years past (such as 2003, 2008 and 2012). When combined with good clutch sizes and overall good chick survival this year through the summer, it seems as though production and fall recruitment is above average for most in the Red Hills, and one of the best observed in four years in the Albany region.
Preliminary reports of large covey sizes are also encouraging. Whereas the late hatch bailed out many this year from an at best pedestrian early and primary hatch, for some it may be a late hatch to remember such that the imminent threats of Irma were circumvented with a potential increase of 5-15% in bobwhite abundance this fall. Happy hunting and watch out for those squealers!