Column by Dan Geddings: At the pea patch


When I stopped the truck, I could hear from my open window an old, familiar sound. It was the soft calls of quail. Not the loud bobwhite whistles that most people know, but the melodious alarm calls of anxious birds near one another. They were at the edge of the pea patch. When I opened the door and stepped out, the covey erupted in flight. I was delighted to see them.

We have been surprised to hear and see the quail on our land. They have been absent from most landscapes for some time. But, not on our place. The land was a cornfield that was plowed and has grown up in dog fennels. We've put in a road and established a couple of home sites, but most of the land has been undisturbed.

During the summer, we would see singles and pairs of birds run across the roads. And the bobwhite calls sounded in all directions during the day. I ran up two big coveys of young birds while running the tractor. These birds at the edge of the pea patch were mostly all grown. They flew over the peas and landed in an open strip that I had bush hogged several weeks before.

I plowed the area for the pea patch near our future home back in July. I looked around for seed and found a small bag of a summer mix at Tractor Supply. It contained cowpeas, soybeans and lablab. I had some brown top millet left over from another project that I added to the mix. We got a good rain shortly after I spread the seed, and in just a few days, I had green sprouts up through the soil.

There are plenty of deer in the area, and I figured they would browse the peas and beans heavily when they came up, but that really didn't happen. I've had deer bite the tender leaves off down to the stem and never got a stand in some food plots, but not here. Nowadays the deer don't know what peas are, and they are somewhat hesitant to eat them. I have seen deer tracks throughout the plot and a few soybean plants nibbled here and there but no sign of heavy browse pressure.

Quail love a pea patch, and back in the days when we had quail, we also had volunteer peas in most of the corn fields. There weren't many deer back then, and the peas would invade the corn stands mostly around the edges. Similar to what morning glories do now. We have so many deer now that the peas are gone. The deer browsed them down over the years before they could reseed.

Back in my youth when we hunted quail, we always checked the cut corn fields with volunteer pea patches. On one hunt our dog, Thomas, pointed a covey out in the edge of a cut cornfield. When the birds flew up, my dad, my brother, David, and I shot and knocked down several that Thomas retrieved. Daddy noticed one bird flopping in the pea vines and picked him up. The bird was alive but tangled in the vines, which he removed. When he loosened his grip on the bird, it flew out of his hands.

On another occasion, we had a covey rise on the edge of a woods near a pea patch. I couldn't pick out a bird and didn't shoot. David missed, but Daddy knocked one down in the timber. Thomas had been off chasing a rabbit but came back quickly when he heard the shots. Daddy sent Thomas into the brush to find the downed quail. He came back with a yellowhammer woodpecker that was very dead. The woodpecker had been on the ground near the quail and had flown up at the same time. I guess he looked too much like a quail.

There are some efforts now to increase quail populations on a landscape basis. I hope the work is successful. The birds on our land won't get hunted, and the woodpeckers are safe, too. I hope the birds continue to like the pea patch and our land, too.

We might get some peas later for ourselves, if the frost doesn't get them first. And I'll try to do more for the birds next year.

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