The Charismatic Species on Maryland’s Eastern Shore
The River and Field Campus (RAFC, formerly Chino Farms), located on the Chester River in Queen Anne’s County Maryland is a 5,630 acre property. Three-fifths of the property are dedicated to large scale precision agriculture while the remaining two-fifths are natural lands consisting of grasslands, mature woods, many small streams, ponds and a large lake. Managers on RAFC have a long history of utilizing conservation practices such as installing buffers, large fields, wetlands creating habitat for a variety of 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.
RAFC is the only property 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 and predators, but the overall population has been on a downward trend for many decades. The quail population on RAFC shows variation from one year to the next, but in general is stable. The epicenter of quail activity on the farm is the 228-acre 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 their range, and this is true Maryland as well. Successes on RAFC highlight the need for more large scale habitat restoration projects geared towards grassland birds. Our efforts on RAFC 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, increased pesticide use have long been recognized as a part of the reason for loss of suitable quail habitat, another reason for their 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 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 native grasses and forbs, which make up low ground cover needed by quail for nesting and brooding. Time has destroyed the early successional habitat pushing it towards later serial habitat, less conducive for healthy quail populations.
In order for quail populations to exist on this modern landscape there needs to be a dedicated effort to create and maintain early successional habitat. No longer is suitable habitat created as a by-product of our farming techniques. Maintaining quail habitat is a lot of work, but the results are rewarding. In addition to quail, these habitats support countless other species that are in decline.
RAFC 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 Maryland’s Eastern Shore.