The Charismatic Species on Maryland’s Eastern Shore
Chino Farms, located on the Chester River in Queen Anne’s County Maryland is a 5,630 acre property. Three-fifths of it is a large scale precision agriculture operation while the remaining two-fifths is natural land consisting of grasslands, mature woods, many small streams, ponds and a large lake. Chino has a long history of utilizing conservation practices including setting aside and managing habitat specifically for wildlife. For the last several decades, Northern Bobwhite have been the driving force behind most of the habitat management that takes place on the property.
Chino is one of only a few places on the upper shore where quail are thriving. In the mid-Atlantic, quail populations fluctuate from one year to the next, mostly due to inclement winter weather, but when populations drop to low levels quail rebound amazing well on the property due to the abundance of habitat. The epicenter of quail activity on the farm is in the 228 acres of restored native warm season grassland established in 1999. In addition, there are quail found throughout the farm taking advantage of fallow fields and Conservation Reserve Program buffers surrounding farms fields.
Habitat loss continues to be a major factor in quail declines throughout its range, particularly in Maryland, efforts on Chino Farms highlight the need for more large scale habitat restoration projects geared towards grassland birds. Our efforts on Chino are a model for the grassland and early successional habitat that provide quail with the habitat they need to thrive.
While the modern agricultural practices of clean farming, huge irrigated fields, pesticides, and monoculture generally, have long been recognized as a part of the reason for loss of suitable quail habitat, another reason for its loss has been less recognized. This loss involves land that the owners believe is still good quail cover.
We hear frequently the statement that goes something like this, “We had quail there not so long ago and I have done nothing to that area, but they are all gone now”.
Therein lies another big problem of quality habitat loss, “Nothing has been done to it.” Yet that idle land has had years to grow into a completely different state. Trees have grown to shade out the needed grasses and forbs that supported the needed insect prey of brooding quail. Dense saplings and vines have destroyed that which quail must have for rearing young and surviving. Time has distorted the early successional character that had been perfect quail environment.
Before modern farming practices became universal, the small farm land was disturbed one way or another on a regular two or three year cycle and diversity ruled. With the loss of that kind of farming, the farmer stopped disturbing his land in such a way as to always have some areas that were prime habitat for both nesting and brooding as well as winter cover, and the quail lost the farmer as a friend.
Chino is the model farm where there is a good balance between for-profit modern agricultural farming and natural lands where rare and declining species thrive. We strive to create this sort of balance on other farm lands throughout the Chester River Watershed.