Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

Sometimes things just click.

While researching this week’s story on invasive species control at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge I spent some time visiting with Rick Speer, refuge manager. We spoke about efforts to remove and control autumn olive, but we also spoke about the re-introduction of prairie grasses at various locations on the refuge.

Speer talked about standing on the viewing platform at the south end of Wolf Creek Causeway, near the bass rearing ponds, and hearing the calls of three separate bobwhite quail.

His statement struck a chord.

During frequent drives through the refuge, the fields surrounding the viewing platform have become a favorite venue. It’s a great place to view bluebirds, tree swallows, common yellowthroats, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks and even an eastern meadowlark or two.

And, this spring I’ve been struck by the frequently of bobwhite sightings.

Like most kids growing up on a farm, the bobwhite was one of the earliest birds I learned to identify – at least by sound. It’s not like it’s difficult. The “Bob White” call is a dead giveaway.

But, what really makes the bird special to me is memories of my dad conversing with the quail. As a youngster I was so impressed that my dad could talk to the birds. Dad would walk through the pasture with me, whistle “Bob White” and the birds actually talked back.

Because of that skill I looked at my dad as a real Daniel Boone for several years. Eventually, I learned to whistle myself, and was totally amazed the first time a quail answered.

So, quail and I have some history.

Unfortunately, quail have suffered greatly from agricultural practices in Southern Illinois. Pasture land has virtually been eliminated as cattle farmers now use confinement buildings. At the same time, fence rows have disappeared as farmers till land from county road to county road.

I spend considerable time photographing wildlife in the region, and there have been a couple years where I’ve spotted just a handful of quail.

That’s why I was particularly happy earlier this spring that the familiar “Bob White” call rang out loud and clear while driving Wolf Creek Causeway.

I stopped the car quickly and threw it in reverse. It was obvious the bird was close, possibly well within camera range.

Spotting a lone quail hunkered down in the underbrush isn’t easy. And, I was just about to drive off when “Bob White” sounded once again. Just 10-15 yards away, the quail sat beneath a low-hanging branch.

He called once more, just to make sure he didn’t go unnoticed.

Now, I pay particular attention for quail on each visit to the viewing platform. And, more often than not that vigilance is rewarded.

It’s gratifying to see, but mostly hear, the quail on a regular basis. It’s equally gratifying to know the natural grassland restoration at Crab Orchard is paying dividends.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 6l18-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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