For local birders trying to catch up with Quail it’s proving to be a tough year so far. Normally by late June they have been heard at up to half a dozen or so sites … but not this year. The only ‘reliable site’ – and I use the term loosely – has been the Blueberry Farm complex near Maidwell, where up to four sporadically singing males have been heard. There they are decidedly elusive, calling only very infrequently during the early mornings and late evenings and it’s possible to spend hours there without hearing even a snatch of song. Perhaps this year’s lower than average temperatures and poor weather have conspired to dampen singing males’ ardour. But are they being overlooked?
It took me four trips to Maidwell before I managed to catch up with one – albeit very briefly. On Wednesday evening I paid a late visit to the site, arriving at the complex’s southernmost setaside field (SP731745) at 22.25. Despite being almost dark, there was still some lingering brightness in the sky but this was quickly extinguished by thickening cloud backed by a light breeze. A Grasshopper Warbler started to sing and continued almost incessantly throughout the time I was there and then, at 22.40, something happened. It was a call I had never heard before – a single “whip” followed by a rasping “yow-yow” and then another “yow-yow”. Initially perplexed I eventually dismissed it. But I was intrigued. I didn’t hear it again and I left the site at 23.00, contemplating my next visit and feeling somewhat deflated.
It was not until I decided to follow up this rasping “yow-yow” call that I discovered that there is more to the vocabulary of Common Quail than I – and I suspect many birders – had realised. While most texts major on the diagnostic “quick-quick-quick” or “wet-my-lips” song of the male, BWP refers in more detail to a ‘pre-song growl call, an abrupt and nasal metallic grinding “mau-wau” often repeated and usually preliminary to’ [the diagnostic song outlined above].
A quick (no pun intended!) listen to the selection of Quail songs and calls on Xeno-Canto confirms this. However, out of the thirty recordings of Quail on this site, only a small minority reflect this “yow-yow” call, most being of the “quick-quick-quick” song normally associated with the species. You can listen to the “yow-yow” call here by clicking on catalogue number XC100988. This recording consists entirely of the rasping “yow-yow” call, which raises the question: is this also used as a general contact call, which also brings me back to my original question, are they being overlooked … ?