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Eastern Shore Quail Restoration Project

As a result of Tall Timbers’ seminal work on revising the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a national strategic plan for recovering bobwhites and grassland songbirds, Tall Timbers was invited by Maryland Department of Natural Resources to collaborate on a cooperative Northern Bobwhite research project in the Eastern Shore region of Maryland.  The focus of the research project at this time was to investigate the impact of habitat restoration efforts among agriculture-dominated landscapes with an emphasis on evaluating the effect of the Conservation Reserve Program native warm season grass plantings. The study site, Chino Farms (~4500 acres), is typical of the Eastern Shore (ES) region of Maryland in that it is largely comprised of large-scale agriculture crop rotation with interspersed hardwood hammocks (often Delmarva Bays), some small dry corners, interspersed grasslands,  and a few scattered pine woodlots.

The cooperative research project was launched in the Fall of 2009 with radio-transmitters being placed on 35 bobwhites and the goal of maintaining a sample of 30-35 tagged bobwhites year-round for 3 years.  However, during the first year of the project in Winter 2009-2010, a series of severe winter storms dramatically altered our ability to study bobwhites in the Eastern Shore region. Following these winter storms prolonged snow cover blanketed the region for more than 3 weeks; as such, bobwhites were nearly extirpated from the region in less than a month with bobwhite mortality on the study site being greater than 97%!! This catastrophic event opened our eyes to the gravity of inclement winter weather on the vulnerability of bobwhite populations in the northernmost portions of their range. Despite this rather short stint of radio-telemetry information we were able to glean some important observations relative to bobwhites movements and predation which will help to develop a strategy to for restore bobwhites to the region.

Heavy snows require specific habitat conditions to protect bobwhites.

Heavy snows require specific habitat conditions to protect bobwhites.

Realizing that restoration of bobwhites is a regional issue, we are working with MD-DNR and numerous private landowners in the ES region to build habitat cooperatives, comprised of both public and private lands, from which core bobwhite management units can serve as both source populations for recovery and bobwhite demonstration areas for landowners interested in managing their property for bobwhites in the region. At present, we are taking some of the valuable concepts learned in the Red Hills region and adapting them for effective habitat management application in the ES region – this adaptation often translates into timing of habitat implementation and augmenting of certain habitat components (e.g., overwinter cover). Although our primary goal is to produce quality habitat to hasten bobwhite recovery in the ES region, our intent is to conduct research in the following areas: geospatial analysis of range contraction germane to inclement weather events; increasing overwinter survival through construction of quality woody cover; and the impact of supplemental feeding to mitigate the impact of prolonged snow cover on bobwhite bioenergetics and survival.