Early morning, 5:30 am. After a coffee in front of the small chalets, we will start for the first full day Malawi expedition. The typical east-african birds are our main interest. At 4:30 we have got up already. The starry sky promise a nice day. Great atmosphere. In the background the last lights of stars and to the east the very first morning light. Still in almost dark we walk to the car. And right in the beginning: the Birds are good. I start the engine of the Landrover, switch on the headlight and… startle a bird in headlight cone right in front of the car surrounded by pitch-black darkness. The bird stands still, obviously dazzled with our headlamps. A small, grey-brown Quail (or something like this) just sits on the ground. We get out of the car and try to dazzle the bird additionally with a hunting spotlight. But this is too much. The bird flies away. But we find it back. The students are very excited and try to encircle the bird. I follow them with the camera and a flash. Yes, the images reveal a male Small Buttonquail of the sub-Saharan African subspecies epurana. It is called Kurrichane Buttonquail in English. It is really tiny. Roughly 15 cm in length and largely brown-chestnut on the back. On the back scalloped, too. The image shows the rusty-yellow breast very well.
Of the 15 Turnix species, Common Buttonquail is the one with the widest distribution. It is closely related to and may form a superspecies with Red-backed Buttonquail, Turnix maculosa, with which it has sometimes been considered conspecific. These two species, together with Barred Buttonquail Turnix suscitator, have the largest subspecific variation.
Globally, up to nine subspecies of Common Buttonquail are recognized. Small Buttonquail was formerly known as Turnix sylvatica. In the past, the species had various English vernacular names: Andalusian Buttonquail, Andalusian Hemipode, Kurrichane Buttonquail, Common Buttonquail and Striped Buttonquail. The nominate subspecies (Andalusian Buttonquail) is an endemic of the western Mediterranean. As a subspecies, Andalusian Buttonquail is surprisingly close related to the sub-Saharan subspecies Turnix sylvaticus lepurana with its English name Kurrichane Buttonquail. Andalusian and Kurrichane Buttonquails mainly differ in size and color of nape and back.
In the article “History, status and distribution of Andalusian Buttonquail in the WP” by Carlos Gutiérrez Expósito et. al the authors describe five different methods to search for Small (Andalusian) Buttonquail: 1 searching for singing females (with and without tape luring); 2 field searches with volunteers (using binoculars); 3 monitoring with ground bird traps; 4 track searching (foot prints, droppings, feathers, scratchings and nests); and 5 use of hunting dogs, especially trained to find Common Quails Coturnix coturnix and Eurasian Woodcocks (Scolopax rusticola). All (not only Andalusian) Buttonquails are very difficult birds to find and observe but it cannot be noted enough, that observers will stress the birds extremely – especially if using hunting dogs trained to find Quails. So be aware that the conservation of the tiny populations in North Africa and Spain are extremely important; therefore, one should never disturb the breeding process. It is noteworthy, that the authors give some helpful tips.
The authors found out, it is easier to detect the birds’ presence by searching tracks than by trying to find them on sight or even by call. These tracks (green-colored droppings, feathers and footprints) can be found at the edge of cultivations or on narrow footpaths. Droppings are very small cylindrical excrements. Buttonquail feathers are well patterned and easily identifiable, and it is even possible to separate those of adults from well-grown chick feathers. Buttonquails are three-toed species lacking a hind toe. Hence, footprints are identifiable because they show only three toes and are much smaller than those of a Common Quail.
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