Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
After months of delays and political posturing, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committees began work on a new Farm Bill this week. As you’d expect, I was there along with QF’s Jim Inglis to make sure the voices of our members, bird hunters and conservationists were heard. The Farm Bill remains our single most important tool for wildlife, water and hunters.
In the Senate Committee
On Tuesday, May 14th, the Senate Agriculture Committee finished the Farm Bill markup in just three hours, which may be a record! Their efficiency stems from their pretty much sticking to last year’s template. There are, however, a few amendments deserving attention due to their value for wildlife.
First, it was clearly demonstrated the Senate supports linking crop insurance to conservation compliance. Second, we were very excited to see the important Sodsaver language make it into the bill. Third, there were amendments to help USDA distribute technical assistance funding, which would give NRCS more flexibility to enter into agreements with Quail Forever & Pheasants Forever to deliver conservation programs. And lastly, there was some interesting language on increasing habitat for pollinators, especially honey bees. As we have mentioned before, great pollinator habitat can be great for all wildlife, particularly pheasants and quail.
Ultimately, the Senate Committee version of the Farm Bill passed by a vote of 15 to 5. That bill is now headed to the full Senate floor for a vote. In fact, there is a chance the Senate’s vote may happen as early as next week.
In the House Committee
On Wednesday, May 15th, the House Ag committee began work on their Farm Bill mark. There was very little action on the Conservation Title during the session, and still no language to tie crop insurance to conservation compliance. We were certainly disappointed by that omission, but remain optimistic it can be remedied in conference committee. We are also hopeful to direct more EQIP/WHIP funding for wildlife priorities, however those amendments were withdrawn. At near midnight (14 hours after the start), the House passed their version of the Bill by a vote of 36-10.
House leadership is postulating a floor vote may occur sometime in June where we hope to strengthen some of the conservation language in the Conservation Title.
A group of Quail Forever & Pheasants Forever chapter leaders, farmers, landowners and staff will be in Washington, D.C. next week meeting with our elected officials as we work to strengthen the conservation components of the bill in preparation for floor votes.
Additionally, we were excited to see the USDA open Continuous CRP practices to landowners this week and are optimistic there will be strong demand for the general CRP signup that starts on Monday, May 20th. If you are a landowner interested in learning more about CRP, please check out one of our landowner meetings taking place in coordination with the signup. A full list of landowner workshops is available at www.CRPMeetings.org and as always, your local USDA Service Center is an excellent source of CRP information.
The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.
Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
Your autumn and winter food and cover plot starts in the spring. Now that planting season has arrived, you may haves questions about establishing your Quail Forever Signature Series Food and Cover mixes.
Why do I need food plots on my farm? High-quality grain food plots play a critical role in the relationship between food, cover, movement and winter bird mortality. The logic is simple. Locating well-planned food and cover plots adjacent to heavy roosting cover provides a dependable source of high-energy food. Having food right next door to winter cover helps establish safe foraging patterns, and minimizes movements – so predation and weather losses are reduced.
What makes PF food plot mixes special? Our biologists have developed Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever grain and forage mixes to provide the food and cover that the wildlife on your farm need. Through continual improvement of our products, we have formulated very specific blends that are adaptable to most growing conditions, and that maximize benefits for your wildlife.
Are specialized mixes worth the extra cost? Seed cost will likely be the smallest expense in your overall food plot spending, yet it is the foundation of your effort to improve food resources for wildlife. Buy the very best seed that you can for your food plots. Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever food plot products come to you after extensive development and research, and following years of successful establishment on farms across the country. And they come to you with the full backing of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, two of the most respected private conservation organizations in the nation.
Must I use herbicides? Weed competition is the most serious threat your food plot will face. Thus, we recommend some sort of herbicide treatment. Food plots planted without weed control will have highly variable results. Weed problems can be addressed by tillage, chemical suppression, or a combination of both. A few weeds in a food plot will actually improve the diversity of the area for wildlife. However, severe weed competition that causes the primary planting to fail can waste your food plot investment, and puts your wildlife in a bad position when winter arrives. Pay attention to weed control recommendations on the bag for best results for your planting.
Do I need fertilizer? Food plots are a crop, and you should fertilize just as you would your garden. Nutrients in your planting area are easily assessed before the planting season with a simple soil test (farm co-ops, and/or USDA offices routinely do this at low cost), and you should amend the soil accordingly before you plant. Rotating grain food plots into areas previously established in legume browse may save money on nitrogen, but nearly all food plots need some supplemental nutrients. Legume food plots do not need nitrogen, but normally require some soil supplements to optimize the stand. Several PF/QF mixes carry micronutrient seed coatings to help our seed to get a jump on early growth. Even so, primary fertilization is almost always a must-do operation.
How do I decide which mixes are right for my farm? Examine your habitat objectives for your farm, what you would like to accomplish for wildlife, and what your desires are for hunting and wildlife viewing. Look particularly at winter food and cover conditions. If this habitat is limited, you will need grain food plots to assist game birds, and may benefit other wildlife by establishing browse plots, as well.
When is the best time to plant? Take cues from agricultural operations occurring in your area. While this will give you a general idea when to plant, not all types of seed can be planted at the same time. Detailed planting instructions are on the back of each Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever food plot mix. Read those guidelines carefully and follow them exactly.
What about planting my plot? Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever grain and green browse food plot mixes can be established with standard planters, grain drills, or with broadcast seeders mounted on a tractor, ATV or pickup truck. Complete planting instructions are on each bag. If you do not have your own equipment, it can often be rented from USDA offices, local implement dealers, and wildlife agencies. Pheasants Forever habitat specialists, private contractors, or a neighbor also may be able to assist you in planting your food plot. For more information on food plot design and other considerations consult the Pheasants Forever Essential Habitat Guide.
What’s the best design for my winter food plots? Grain food plots should restrict unnecessary travel, and provide high quality food and supplemental winter cover. Birds crossing hostile territory for food invite losses from predation and weather, so two critical design factors include locating food plots next to winter cover, and adequate size (3-4 acres or larger is best). Blocks will be preferable to linear plantings, and placement on the windward side of winter cover improves that habitat. If winter cover is scarce, 10-acre plantings of grain mixes with heavy leaf structure can provide all the food and shelter that birds need. In general, green browse plots will provide no winter cover for most upland birds, but will provide foraging areas for deer.
How large should my food plot be? Unfortunately we cannot predict when wildlife will most need supplemental winter food resources, so plan grain food plots for the worst case weather scenario, each and every year. Don’t create a project that will be buried by the first blizzard. Your food plots will be used by many kinds of wildlife. Deer and turkeys consume a lot of grain and will exhaust small food patches well before winter ends. Thus, larger food plots (3-10 acres) are always most desirable. Select a food plot mix based on the cover and food values you need, and carefully assess the critical factors of size and location for your farm.
How long will my food plot last? In general, a grain based food plot will last only a single season (particularly if deer use it heavily) and almost without fail you will need to re-establish this kind of plot annually. In rare instances of low wildlife use, the grain from one year will carry over to the next on the stalks. Allowing a plot like this to grow up into annual weeds provides excellent brood habitat. Green browse food plots (blends of clovers, alfalfa, etc.) may last several years or may need to be re-planted each year (combination leafy forage/root crops like turnips).
What other factors should I consider? Food plots alone are not going to “bring back the birds.” Well-placed food patches can help bring more hens through winter in better condition. At that point, however, the other habitats you have established on your farm (nesting cover, brood rearing habitat, etc.) will play the leading role. Be sure you focus on establishing and managing those important areas for wildlife as well.
Jim Wooley is Quail Forever’s Director of Field Operations. Contact him with your food and cover plot questions at email@example.com.
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
Two factors are of critical importance to maintaining healthy quail populations: weather and available habitat. While these elements affect all quail species year-round, they’re highlighted every year as the harshest season comes to an end and the birds begin their next reproductive cycle. The following report examines these factors in various regions across quail country*.
*Additional state reports may be added as they become available.
While the harvest data for the 2011/12 season has not been determined at this time, reports from hunters from within areas containing Longleaf Pine Restoration were quite positive this year, notes Carrie Threadgill, wildlife biologist for Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
Populations on public lands that are being managed for quail looked good, continued Threadgill, with “more coveys seen this year by area managers than previous years on several of (the Department’s) management areas.”
Winter has had its ups and downs in the Heart of Dixie, staying somewhat mild with week long periods of wintery weather interspersed. In the last few months, rain events have increased enough that there are only a few southeastern counties in Alabama that are still seeing slight drought conditions.
Field Notes: Alabama is continuing to survey for quail and other bird species on Barbour Wildlife Management Area and is expanding to several other management areas in an ongoing bird monitoring project of longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, and native warm season grass restoration areas on public lands.
Severe drought and heat during most of the warmer months of 2012 likely caused a downturn in quail survival heading into the winter of 2012/13. However, “The Land of Opportunity” experienced a generally mild winter (with the exception for an unusual snow event in central Arkansas), which could lead to positive overwinter survival.
According to Clifton Jackson, “Current habitat conditions are growing increasingly favorable as the state is getting rain to rechange rivers, lakes and ponds. There have been several good days to execute prescribed fires February through March.” In addition, efforts to enhance quail habitat on several WMAs are progressing, and the state’s “Acres for Wildlife Program” is adding funding opportuntiies for additional quail friendly land practices.
Quail populations were average to below average across Colorado prior to the onset of winter, but fortunately for the state there haven’t been winter storms that would result in high quail mortality across the quail range, according to Ed Gorman of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Winter moisture, or lack thereof, could have an effect of quail populations heading into the breeding season. Without significant moisture this spring, quail nesting and brooding habitat will be reduced in both quality and quantity. Current habitat conditions are relatively poor across the range due to last summer’s drought.
“Nesting began early in 2012 and weather conditions were favorable during much of the nesting season, except in a few areas that received high amounts of rainfall from tropical systems. These factors, combined with quality habitat management and good adult survival, resulted in higher populations across the state heading into winter,” says Greg Hagan, northern bobwhite coordinator and upland ecosystem restoration project director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Winter weather (December and January) was warmer than average across the state. The benefit of this unseasonably warm winter has led to above average overwinter survival. Lower mortality and favorable habitat conditions should lead to good carry-over of birds, positioning the state well for the spring and summer nesting season.
The Upland Ecosystem Restoration Project (UERP), a multi-agency cooperative effort to increase populations of Northern bobwhites and other declining fire-dependent wildlife species on public lands throughout Florida, continues to enhance habitat conditions on roughly 100,000 acres of early successional habitat.
Currently, favorable habitat conditions exist across the state; however, there are significant uncertainties in the long-term weather forecast. If periods of drought occur across the state, it will impact habitat management activities such as prescribed burning. In Florida, prescribed fire is the key to quality quail habitat, including good summer brood habitat.
Transitioning into the winter of 2012/13, Georgia’s weather was mild during fall to early winter with abundant rain, which should mean a good carryover of birds into the spring breeding season, this according to Reggie Thackston, program manager for Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Habitat conditions are good across well-managed lands and landscapes, and with Georgia Wildlife Resources Division in the process of finalizing and releasing the state’s National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Implementation Plan, Georgia hunters have a more than one reason to keep the dogs ready and shotguns oiled. The plan will target effort and funding into spatially explicit landscapes identified to have the highest potential and lowest constraints to restoration and management.
In 2012, Illinois had good nesting conditions early but those gains were erased by the severe drought conditions in the quail range, notes Mike Wefer, field operations section head/acting ag and grassland wildlife program manager. “For the core winter months of December, January, and February, the statewide temperature was 31.8 degrees, which was 2.8 degrees above average. The statewide average precipitation was 9.1 inches, 2.2 inches above average. It was the 11th wettest winter on record for Illinois. Snowfall for those three months ranged from less than 10 inches in east-central Illinois to over 20 inches in parts of far western and northern Illinois, as well as in a band across southern Illinois.”
Besides an early snowstorm in southern Illinois which likely had a negative effect on quail populations, the winter has been fairly mild for bobs.
Current habitat conditions can be summed up with one word: shrinking. “High farm commodity prices have led to loss of grassland habitat in Illinois. Illinois experienced a net loss of 33, 899 CRP acres last year. An additional 186,549.9 acres of CRP is due to expire at the end of September. It is uncertain how many acres will be reenrolled. Also, there has been a long term loss of hay and small grains throughout the state,” continued Wefer.
Field notes: Illinois has additional CRPSAFE/Grassland Wildlife Focus Area acreage that will be available for signup when SAFE reopens this year.
The non-winter of 2011/12 help a bit to stabilize and, in some areas, raise local quail populations in Indiana. However, populations in the state were near record lows, but stable, heading into the winter of 2012/13.
“I think this winter (2012/13) may help the quail populations in some areas, but continued loss of habitat has essentially negated much of the benefits of a milder winter. (The state) continues to lose habitat, particularly linear features, in both areas where populations are higher and stable, and of more concern, in areas of the state where few quail remain. Mild winters and drier conditions seem to speed the habitat loss, as landowners have more time and quality conditions to manipulate their land,” notes Budd Veverka, farmland game research biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Indiana’s properties and game bird areas have been made a focus of an early successional habitat initiative where managers are changing the landscape to focus more on producing quality game bird habitat
After a series of hard winters, it seems Iowa caught a much needed reprieve in weather for at least part of the year. Quail roadside counts were the highest since 2009, and with the exception of the south-central region, the statewide snowfall has been around average.
Looking at past data with similar winters, Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa DNR, notes about half previous spring counts have increased, while the other half of counts have decreased. A lot of this may be riding on spring nesting conditions.
The south-central region of Iowa has received the most snowfall in the quail range, and it’s where Bogenschutz expects the winter to have the most impact. The east-central and southeast region seem to have had the easiest conditions thus far, so keep an eye on these regions as trip ideas start to formulate.
Like many other traditional quail states, Iowa is participating in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, ramping up the state’s habitat efforts on several public wildlife efforts. In addition, the state has also partnered with local PF/QF chapters to enhance management on the state’s wildlife areas.
Field Note: Iowa currently has approximately 10,000 acres of CP33 buffers it could enroll for quail.
Two years of severe drought in the central and western half of Kansas were a detriment to many upland species; however, preliminary info shows a statewide harvest likely between 200,000 to 250,000 bobwhite quail, keeping Kansas as one of the top producing quail states.
“The quail populations were spotty at best across the central portions of the state. Some areas of eastern and north eastern Kansas had increased populations following some very low years,” according to David Dahlgren, small game specialist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
“The winter has been very mild until late February, when severe winter storms affected most of Kansas. The winter storms with lots of snow cover that lasted multiple days could have negatively impacted quail, thus reducing breeding populations for 2013; however, the magnitude of this effect is unknown,” continued Dahlgren.
Field Notes: The state’s Quail Initiative and Focus Areas are ongoing, and will continue to be monitored those area again this spring. These are at minimum of five year projects, and the state is just entering its second year.
Ben Robinson, wildlife biologist-small game program with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, predicts the breeding season in far western Kentucky was not as good as the central and eastern parts of the state because of drought conditions, which likely meant fewer birds available heading into winter months.
Kentucky has experienced a relatively mild 2012/13 winter, and while the state has had periods of cold temperatures, snowfall accumulations have been low and the snow that has fallen has not stayed on the ground for long periods of time.
This is the second year in a row that Kentucky has experienced relatively mild winters, so Robinson anticipates a good carry-over of birds heading into the breeding season.
Unfortunately, the current habitat situation in Kentucky is similar to other states. High commodity prices make conservation delivery difficult. The state is making progress in several of its Quail Focus Areas, and birds are responding positively as a result.
Louisiana’s quail population has trended downward for several years, and no change in this trend was detected in the fall whistle surveys, according to Jimmy Swafford, small game & turkey program leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.
Habitat conditions remain generally poor across the state; however, the Department is in the planning state for a Quail Emphasis Area on Kisatchie National Forest.
Although populations were not very abundant at the statewide level, it is believed populations were relatively good where suitable, quality and quantity of habitat was available due to the previously mild winter, early spring and good to very good summer breeding season conditions.
Winter weather was mild through early winter, and the state had a relatively wet winter and early spring, especially in the northern part of the state. The later part of winter was colder, and thus the early spring period has remained cool.
Winters are generally mild compared to northern states, but the lingering cool weather could somewhat delay the start of the breeding season compared to last year. Lingering cold weather in the northern United States could also keep more migratory raptors (hawks, etc.) in Mississippi region as they are migrating north, which could slightly increase incidence of raptor predation on quail in the early spring, according to Rick Hamrick, small game biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Field Notes: This year, Mississippi will implement a State Wildlife grant for Blackland Prairie habitat restoration. In addition, the Fire on the Forty Initiative, which was started in 2011, allocated all of its 2012 funding for prescribed burning on private lands in priority counties in south and northeast Mississippi. Roughly 25,000 acres of prescribed burning were funded for these first program years. Other conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, continue to be used in accomplishing habitat objectives when available.
Quail populations will generally not be sufficiently abundant for hunting in most areas with a few localized exceptions, but there is still much potential for quail habitat improvement throughout the state. Habitat improvements are showing benefits in some areas, and we continue to try to increase landscape-level habitat in areas where multiple habitat management projects have potential to be tied together.
Missouri’s August Roadside Surveys showed half of the state’s regions were higher than the previous year, and the other half of them were lower, so it was a mixed bag statewide, according to Beth Emmerich, agricultural wildlife ecologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The state had a fairly mild winter with little snowfall, until mid-February. Two major snowstorms hit Missouri within a five day period. The first on 2/21 dropped 5-12 inches over the state, with the heaviest snows at 10 inches or more occurring along a 60-mile wide band along I-70 from Kansas City to Columbia. The second storm hit late on 2/25 and 2/26, dropping 5-10 inches, with North Missouri getting 12-plus inches. Following these two storms, temperatures stayed below freezing, leaving snow on the ground several inches deep for up to two weeks.
Emmerich continued, noting late winter snows can be very detrimental to quail, especially when the snow cover lasts for more than one week. Late February and early March are tough times for all species to find food, especially quail. Last year’s drought coupled with these snowfall events result in little food available for quail.
Fall surveys indicated populations lower than the previous year in the eastern third of Nebraska, probably the result of poor production due to statewide, exceptional drought conditions. Nebraska has experienced a number of heavy snow-fall events, but these were typically followed by warm periods and melt-offs, leading to a mixed winter for the Cornhusker state.
Over-winter survival should be good, in areas where sufficient cover is available. Habitat conditions across the state can be considered fair to poor, as all Nebraska counties were opened to emergency haying and grazing of CRP due to the drought emergency, reducing grassland habitat available for wintering and nesting, this according to Dr. Jeff Lusk, upland game program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The quail population heading into the winter of 2012/13 was similar to last year and a normal winter should not have a notable impact on quail heading into the spring breeding season, notes Mark Jones, supervising wildlife biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Field Notes: The Corporate CURE Project has shown positive results. One of the main goals of this project is to show that viable working farms can be very productive and provide small game habitat while also protecting and/or improving water quality. This goal is accomplished by creating field borders around row crops and pasture land. Most of these naturally vegetated borders are along ditches or woodland habitat and can trap sediment, absorb herbicides, and uptake nutrients.
While populations have been declining, especially due to the extreme droughts of 2011 and 2012, the fall and winter trapping suggested some hens were able to take advantage of late rainfall events and produced late broods.
Winter weather has been mild overall, with the exception of two major winter storms which occurred in February and may have impacted local populations. With mild winter weather, it’s expected quail will have relatively good overwinter carryover into spring breeding season.
Field Notes: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Commission has partnered with Oklahoma State University to conduct research on two Wildlife Management Unites, Beaver River and Packsaddle WMA’s. In addition to several other projects, researchers will be looking at weather and its impacts to quail and quail habitat. In addition, a quail habitat restoration initiative is available to select counties within Oklahoma. Please contact the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Commission for further details.
Much of Oregon encountered above average precipitation during autumn, but below average precipitation during February, with no abnormally long or unusually cold weather events. At the beginning of March, snow pack was at, or slightly below, average for most of the state. Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, predicts quail reproductive success will be contingent on amount and timing of spring precipitation.
Oregon reported 42,781 California quail; 13,514 Mountain quail; and 30,336 pheasants harvested during the 2012/13 hunting season.
Unlike states further north, winter mortality from weather conditions is not a big issue in South Carolina. Winter rains following several years of drought could lead to good soil moisture conditions heading into spring, which may result in improved nesting and brood habitat conditions, according to Billy Dukes, small game project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Winter cover has held up well, due to the mild conditions and no frozen precipitation; however land managers interested in managing for quail should pay close attention to size of burn blocks during prescribed burning operations and make sure to leave adequate escape cover.
According to Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah experienced average snowfall in the winter of 2012/13, but with colder temperatures and more persistent snow in the valleys – where Utah quail live there is a chance these weather patterns will have an effect on quail populations. This snow will affect California quail populations in huntable areas the most, while the Gambel’s quail in southern Utah should have high overwinter survival.
Habitat conditions in the state are good, with no valley snow and good mountain snow to help through the spring and summer.
While the 2012/13 quail harvest is yet to be determined, Marc Puckett of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, does not expect much change from the 2011/12 season. There are pockets where a modest recovery is being seen, but very isolated geographically.
Puckett went on to note that the state had a relatively good hatch based on weather conditions, and a mild 2011/12 winter, leading to a good breeding population last summer. As winter set in, weather started off mild and stayed mild through mid-January, but since then, the state has had a moderate winter. Most recently a heavy snowfall occurred in the northern part of the state, but the weather turned warm shortly after and conditions quickly improved. Puckett does not believe the winter has been severe enough to impact quail numbers, and “unless we see something unexpected in early spring, I think the winter moisture is actually setting us up for a good breeding season.”
Virginia remains committed to long-term quail restoration. There has never been a time in history when more is being done for bobwhites than now. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative is helping bring together all entities interested in early-successional habitat. Thickets, weeds, and native grasses equal wildlife and healthy ecosystems, not just for quail but for songbirds, pollinating insects and people.
Field Notes: Virginia’s quail plan is ongoing, and the state has five private lands wildlife biologists on staff and continue to fund the states quail recovery initiative. This winter, the state began a cooperative forestry related wildlife BMP program with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Read the story on the NBCI website.
The majority of areas typically hunted in Texas were below average in regard to quail numbers, still suffering from the effects of long-term drought. South Texas has experienced a relatively dry winter while north Texas has received some relief from drought in the form of both snow and precipitation.
Lack of moisture in south Texas may delay nest initiation, but birds there are very opportunistic and can take advantage of spring-summer rainfall anytime it occurs. The northern Rolling Plains (panhandle) will likely have some production especially if more precipitation is received. The southern Rolling Plains did not receive as much winter precipitation and nest initiation will likely be delayed.
Unfortunately, nesting cover is less than adequate over much of the core bobwhite range and spring rains are needed to produce cover and insects, according to Robert Perez, quail program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has begun development of three focus areas where resources, partnerships and monitoring are intensified in the hopes of eliciting a bobwhite population response. This approach is in line with protocols developed at the national level by the National Bobwhite Technical Committee as part of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Virginia is stepping up its part in the overall national wild bobwhite quail restoration effort with an agreement between two state agencies to target pine forests in the state’s six “bobwhite focus areas” to create habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife, while improving commercial timber value.
The Virginia Department of Forestry, an original member of the Virginia Quail Council, is assisting the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, a member of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), to identify interested private, non-industrial forest landowners in the 15 counties that comprise the state’s six quail focus areas to embrace forestry best management practices conducive to bobwhites. The practices include both pre-commercial and commercial thinning of pine stands, planting of shortleaf pine seedlings and the use of an approved herbicide in controlling hardwood undergrowth. Approved landowners can earn up to $10,000 in cost sharing for their participation.
While many think of bobwhite quail in an “agricultural” setting, open pine stands, or “savannahs,” have historically been productive locations for bobwhites — as well as rabbits, turkeys, deer and numerous other bird species. Thinning pine stands allows sunlight to reach the ground, which stimulates the growth of native vegetation quail need for food, raising their young and protection from predators. Shortleaf pine is a slow-growing species, so planting it helps keep the pine stand open longer, requiring less maintenance to preserve it as wildlife habitat.
Most farms in Virginia have more timberland than open farmland,” explained Marc Puckett, the state’s quail coordinator and chair of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee. “With commodity crop prices at all-time highs, landowners are now even less likely to devote that agricultural space to bobwhites. But their woodlands do provide a management option.
“In addition, the management practices we’re supporting for quail in this project are actually good for timber health. So it’s a win for the landowner, a win for the timber and a win for wildlife. We’re fortunate to have a state forestry agency that recognizes and promotes these ideas. We hope the program will prove successful and develop long term support.”
Mike Black, forestry coordinator for the NBCI, enthusiastically endorses the Virginia effort, saying “There is no greater opportunity in the historic range of bobwhite quail for habitat restoration than the forested landscape, and reconnecting forests with quail is one of NBCI’s top priorities. We encourage state forestry entities in all 25 NBCI states to join in examining opportunities for wildlife habitat creation on both public and private forestlands in their respective states.”
Virginia’s bobwhite focus area counties where the landowner offer is valid include Bland, Wythe, Greensville, Southampton, Sussex, Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock, Essex, King and Queen, King William, Halifax and Augusta.
The Virginia wildlife agency provides additional information about managing forests for wildlife:
Quail Forever is a conservation partner in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Read more NBCI blog posts here.
Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
I undertake this topic with some trepidation. We discussed quail population management two blog posts ago and I hope I gave everyone a basic understanding of the dynamics involved within different levels of quail populations.
Of course, it’s hard to know how to manage a quail population without some knowledge of just how many coveys you have, or to carry it even further – what your quail density in birds per acre is. This discussion can quickly devolve into one that’s like trying to talk about tree density versus trees per acre versus basal area with a forester – none of it means anything to a landowner unless they can visualize what is being said. I struggle with how to best convey a practical method of quail population estimation suitable for the average landowner.
Several levels of population estimation need to be addressed:
1) You simply want to know if you have quail at all
2) You don’t plan to hunt your quail, but you would like to know if the habitat work you are doing is leading to a trend of increasing quail numbers and quail use of your land
3) You own a relatively small property (250 acres or less) and you would like to hunt it occasionally
4) You own a larger property and want to have an idea how many coveys you have and how many quail to can harvest annually
5) You manage a large quail plantation and it is critical to have a pre-hunt fall density estimate for your population.
We could come up with many more variations of these scenarios, but these will address most of your needs.
Case 1 – You simply want to know if you have quail
For the complete bobwhite quail novice, you first have to become familiar with their songs and calls. Go to the Cornell University Ornithology Lab’s website. Familiarize yourself with each of their calls. They’ll come in handy regardless of how intensely you want to get into population estimation. In case 1, you can determine if you have quail by listening for singing male bobwhites during June. They call well between sunrise and about 9:00 a.m. typically. Listening on days with nice, clear, still mornings is best.
Case 2 – Is your quail population trending in the right direction?
First, face some cold hard facts. If you own a small piece of land, perhaps less than 50 acres, maybe even 100 acres, there are only so many quail coveys you can pack into that area. It can vary based on what type of landscape your property exists in, but by-and-large once you reach a covey per 25 to 50 acres, you’ve done about as good as you are going to do. So if you started off with no quail, and you now have 2 coveys on 50 acres, you’ve done well. Your goal now is to manage and maintain the coveys you’ve developed.
The “June Call Count” is one way state wildlife agencies keep track of quail population trends over large areas (such as entire states). A “trend” gives no true estimate of quail density (coveys per unit of area, or quail per acre, etc.). A trend is an indicator of whether a population is increasing, decreasing or stable. For example, you purchase 1,000 acres of land and want to manage it for quail and other early-succession species. You’d like to track the population trend through time. This is relatively easy to do by setting up a June whistling male bobwhite call count. Get a good aerial photo of your property and set up listening points periodically in easily accessible areas. Try to keep the points at least 600 yards apart to avoid double counting (generally during summer a bobwhite song can be heard up to 250 – 300 yards).
Begin your count at sunrise on a good, still, clear morning. Listen for 5 minutes at each stop. Record the number of different males heard making the “bob, bob, white” call at each stop. It is best to run the route several times each year and get an average of the number of bobwhite males heard at each stop. The first year serves as your baseline. It will take several years to establish a trend. Through time you will be able to tell if your population is increasing, decreasing or stable. Do not let one “bad” year throw you. Anomalies occur in nature. Plot your numbers through time and focus on the overall trend.
Case 3 – The owner of a small property who would like to hunt it occasionally
Some consider “small” properties for quail those being less than 2,000 acres. That is not practical for many. I use 250 acres as my criteria. On properties of this size, and maybe even up to 500 acres, I believe landowner “familiarity” is a relatively reliable way to track the number of quail coveys each year. By this I assume you are a landowner who spends a great deal of time on your land. You manage it, you know the cover, you develop a feel for what quail need and where they are and during any given year you have a good feel for productivity.
Was it a good hatching year? Did you receive good rainfall during June, July and August? Or did you suffer extreme drought? Did you experience any heavy flooding events during peak times when young broods would abound (late June, July and into August)?
By early fall, you probably have an idea about how many coveys are on your property and perhaps even have a feel for the size of those coveys. The one thing you have to use care to avoid is double counting coveys. Coveys do move around, so when you see coveys on different days in different locations that are relatively close to one another, you can’t be sure they are not the same covey. In your case, though, as long as you do not want to hunt frequently you can safely take some quail off your land during all but the worst years.
Estimate the number of coveys and use an average size for each, generally 12 to 15 birds, calculate the total and use 20% as a general guide on the number that can be safely harvested during all but the worst years. And by “worst years” I mean those summers during which you believe reproduction was slim to none.
Recent research suggests that harvest of adult bobwhites during seasons following years of poor productivity could slow population recovery (Miller et al. 2012). If you want to get any more precise than this, you might consider using the fall covey count method I will describe for Cases 4 and 5.
Cases 4 and 5 – Larger properties that will be hunted moderately or frequently
I lumped these two categories because they involve either large properties where intense familiarity with the entire property is unlikely, or larger properties which will be hunted moderately to frequently.
For my purposes I consider 1,000 – 3,000 acre properties as “large” relative to most others in the mid-South. But the fall covey count method I refer to can be applied to larger properties up to 15,000 or 20,000 acres if resources and time are available.
The fall covey count method was tested and perfected by researchers at Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida (Wellendorf et al. 2004). I will not try to describe it in detail here. But it basically involves assessing your property, developing a series of listening stations designed to cover as much of the property as possible without too much overlap, and then using them to listen for morning covey calls in early fall (mid to late October usually).
As with many surveys, it is best to run the survey at least 2 times and preferably more if resources allow it. In my opinion, the fall covey call count is the most reliable way to accurately assess fall pre-hunt quail populations on larger land holdings. If properly applied, it can allow a property owner to practice “adaptive harvest management,” meaning that harvest rates can be modified annually based on pre-hunt fall population levels. It is applied extensively on some of the premier quail plantations in the Deep South, and has been used to assess the effects of large scale government habitat cost-share programs across multiple states. The method is described in great detail on the Tall Timbers website.
I’ll wrap up by saying the more you know about the quail population on your land, the better you’ll be able to manage habitat and harvest. I hope this has at least provided you a place to start.
-Marc Puckett is the Small Game Project Co-Leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Quail Forever is a conservation partner in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Read more NBCI blog posts here.
Wednesday, October 24th, 2012
The historic drought of 2012 was tough on wildlife species that require abundant water. However, it was a welcome relief for quail and other ground-nesting animals after four wet summers.
“Quail are particularly sensitive to cool, wet conditions during their nesting and brood-rearing period,” says Max Alleger, a wildlife ecologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “Newly hatched bobwhites aren’t much bigger than bumblebees, and they are extremely vulnerable to getting wet and chilled for the first few weeks of their lives. Cool, wet weather can seriously hamper their nesting efforts.”
Alleger says Missouri’s quail population took a serious beating from record-breaking rainfall in 2008. The wet, cool springs of 2009 through 2011 weren’t much better for quail. However, the birds posted respectable gains once the summer of 2011 turned dry, and they built on those gains this year. That recovery got an early boost from an unusually mild winter.
“The winter of 2011-2012 was a non-event compared to what Missouri usually experiences,” says Alleger. “Unseasonably warm temperatures and scarce snowfall likely improved quail survival. The mild winter gave way to an early spring, with March 2012 being the warmest on record for Missouri. Plant emergence and development, covey breakup, and nesting all ran about three weeks ahead of normal by most accounts.”
That head start allowed quail to raise more chicks earlier. They also got a break in the form of dry weather. The period from March through August was the fourth-driest on record, exceeded only by the Dust Bowl years of 1934 and 1936 and by the drought year of 1988. MDC field staff throughout the state began reporting encouraging signs early in the summer, noting that the drought actually improved quail brood-rearing habitat. The lack of rain prevented the development of dense, matted grass that makes it hard for quail chicks to move around at ground level.
The drought also ensured the availability of areas of bare soil, another important component of quality quail habitat. However, it did not seriously reduce the supply of insects that provide protein-rich food for growing chicks.
Although row crops suffered terribly from lack of rain, Alleger says the effect on quail was minimal.
“Food plots are in poor condition, but scattered, late summer rains produced a flush of ragweed, foxtail and other native annuals, which will provide food resources into winter. And although conservation area managers were unable to conduct prescribed burns this summer, dry conditions allowed them to apply other management practices in areas that have been too wet during recent years.”
MDC field staff reported seeing sizeable quail broods early in the season, indicating that initial nesting attempts had succeeded. Later nests may have been more impacted by hot, dry conditions.
These encouraging anecdotal reports were verified by results from surveys MDC conducts each year to gauge quail nesting success. MDC collects information about trends in quail populations and habitat each year. Resource Scientist Beth Emmerich says the birds began nesting activity earlier than usual this year, giving them a running start. Surveys showed the highest number of quail in the western Ozark border and Ozark Plateau regions. The Mississippi Lowlands, which experienced the worst drought in Missouri last summer, had the next-highest quail counts. Northwestern Missouri had the lowest counts.
The full 2011-2002 quail-population status report is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3689.
A continuing concern to quail managers is habitat loss. High crop prices prompted Missouri farmers to take 154,855 acres out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) this year. If the same percentage of land with expiring CRP contracts is put back into row crops in 2013, the two-year loss of habitat will exceed 230,000 acres.
Congress created CRP to prevent erosion of cropland. The original legislation has been augmented to provide wildlife benefits. Withdrawal of land from CRP has direct negative effects on quail and other wildlife.
One bright spot is Missouri recently received an additional allocation of CRP acres. Landowners interested in improving their land for quail and other wildlife can contact any MDC or Natural Resource Conservation Service office. However, no new enrollments will occur until Congress approves a new farm bill.
MDC manages 19 conservation areas (CAs) specifically for quail. Managers rate quail brood-rearing habitat and this year’s nesting success as good on these quail emphasis areas (QEAs). However, they rate hunting prospects on QEAs as only fair, because of losses suffered in the previous four years. For a list of QEAs, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/node/3333.
Author: Jim Low, News Print Coordinator and Staff Writer for Missouri Conservationists Magazine.
Photo: Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation
Monday, October 1st, 2012
Although bobwhite quail populations are still declining, the good news is the momentum behind range-wide restoration efforts continues to strengthen, four more states have launched NBCI-based restoration initiatives and the conservation community has set its sights on a short-term objective that, when achieved, will have a near-immediate impact on quail and other grassland wildlife across hundreds of thousands of acres.
NBCI’s Bobwhite Almanac: State of the Bobwhite 2012 is the second annual report on the status of bobwhite conservation by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, the unified strategy of 25 state wildlife management agencies, an assortment of research institutions and private conservation groups to restore huntable populations of wild bobwhite quail.
The report asserts a change in USDA grazing lands policy to emphasize drought-tolerant, nutrient-rich and wildlife-friendly native grasses could have the largest near-term positive impact on public wildlife resources on private lands, while simultaneously insulating producers from the economic impacts of drought. USDA subsidies on millions of acres of pasturelands traditionally emphasize the planting of aggressive, non-native grasses that offer little habitat for wildlife and are vulnerable to drought.
“Working with USDA to show them native grasses are not only suitable for livestock operations but also soil and water conservation purposes, and grassland bird habitat, is a top priority over the next year,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie.
“We have assembled a coalition of 30 conservation groups, including the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and all of the quail groups (including Quail Forever), to help us push an agenda that is good for the agricultural community, good for taxpayers and good for wildlife.
“In fact, if native grasses had been a substantial part of the agricultural mix we wouldn’t have seen so many producers in trouble during this year’s drought,” said McKenzie, “… and we would have had more quail.”
State of the Bobwhite 2012 also highlights the new bobwhite restoration initiatives of four states – Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Texas – as well as Kentucky’s new interactive “bluegrass prairie” exhibit featuring a quail aviary, and the U.S. Forest Service’s ambitious new savannah/grassland ecosystem initiative at Land Between the Lakes in western Tennessee and Kentucky.
In addition, there are conservation reports from all 25 NBCI states, details about a new range-wide bobwhite habitat inventory project and a report on the economic impact of bobwhite hunting.
The printed report is also available in an electronic version, which features links to an assortment of additional information, at www.bringbackbobwhites.org.
Quail Forever is a conservation partner in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Read more NBCI blog posts here.
Wednesday, May 16th, 2012
COLUMBIA, Mo. – You can learn about the birds and the bees June 21 when University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Center hosts a field day on bobwhite quail and native pollinators. What do bobwhite quail and pollinators have to do with each other? Quite a bit, according to Bob Pierce, state fisheries and wildlife specialist for MU Extension.
“Bobwhite quail require early-successional plant communities – that means forbs and legumes – or weedy vegetation – for food and cover,” Pierce said.
The flowers of these native plants produce nectar that attracts pollinating insects, including certain bees, wasps, butterflies and moths. Others may serve as host plants that provide breeding and feeding areas, he said.
There will be quail management demonstrations from 1 to 3 p.m. on ATV sprayer and warm season grass, drill calibration, tree planting demonstration and bird dog training demonstrations from Perfection Kennels.
From 3-4 p.m Pete Berthelsen, Pheasants and Quail Forever Senior Field Coordinator, winner of the 2011 Farmer/Rancher Pollinator award from the North American Pollinator Protection campaign, will speak on why pollinator habitat and native pollinators can be the key to quail habitat management success.
There will also be a Quail Management 101 class on predator effects, prescribed burning and quail ecology from 4:15 to 7 p.m.
Six all new one hour wagon tours include:
- On the edge of ecnomics
- Field borders and edge feathering
- Creating quail and pollinator habitat
- Implementing wildlife practices: a private landowners perspective
- On the hour field tours
- Walking tour: landscaping and pollinators with native plants
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
The Summer issue of the Quail Forever Journal mails May 8. It includes a nice bit on pointing dogs in summer by QF’s Gun Dogs columnist, Tom Davis, as well as my adventure with a Quail Forever chapter in south Texas last month.
Here’re two snippets from my Texas visit, “Dean and I bid Brennan adieu and headed for Dean’s 1,550-acre lease, the Circle S Ranch, north of Kingsville in Live Oak County. To say Dean and his buddies have done a lot on this property to improve habitat for quail, deer and other wildlife would be an understatement.”
My Texas adventure also included a Rio Grande turkey hunt: “I glassed it and saw it was a large gobbler. The bird stopped beneath a lone tree some 100 yards out. I gave two soft yelps and it started right for the decoy. About 50 yards out, it began strutting…”
As the cover suggests, this issue also contains a story on western quail hunting – along Idaho’s Snake River to be exact – by Dave Brooks. “For the next hour I wandered through what can only be described as wing shooting nirvana: the cool, damp air provided perfect scenting conditions,” Brooks writes. We round this edition out with a beautiful photo essay on a Florida bobwhite hunt.
USDA and Arkansas Partners Announce Added Incentives on Conservation Program to Benefit Illinois River Watersheds
Thursday, April 26th, 2012
Farmers and ranchers will be able to apply for this program at their Farm Service Agency (FSA) Service Centers. FSA will administer the Illinois River Watershed CREP on behalf of CCC, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Arkansas’ Natural Resources Commission (ANRC), and with other state CREP partners.
The primary objectives of this agreement are to conserve, restore and protect water quality and other natural resources within the targeted area through the installation and maintenance of riparian buffers. The program will provide producers financial and technical assistance to protect water resources and curb development by entering into permanent or long-term easement agreements.
Revisions to the Agreement
Under the addendum to the Illinois River Watershed CREP in Arkansas, the following additional provisions were made:
• Enrollment revised to 10,000 acres. Riparian buffers (Cropland and Marginal Pastureland) , CP-22 – up to 6,700 acres and Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffers, CP-29 – up to 3,300 acres. • Maximum average buffer widths may include areas exceeding 300 feet, if overland out-of-bank flow shows evidence of scour erosion, sediment deposition or debris deposits. • Federal incentive payments are increased to 100 percent of base cropland soil rental rate or marginal pastureland rental rate. • The state will make a one-time, lump-sum payment of $400 per acre on the first 1,000 acres enrolled in the Illinois River Watershed CREP. • After the first 1,000 acres are enrolled, the state will make a one-time, lump-sum payment of $200 per acre for acres enrolled in the Illinois River Watershed CREP.
The CCC will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing conservation practices. CCC will also pay a 40 percent one-time Practice Incentive Payment of the total eligible cost of practice installation. Conservation practices for the Illinois River Watershed CREP are specialized to meet Arkansas’ unique natural resource conditions, and CREP goals. Federal annual rental payments are provided based on the cropland or marginal pastureland rental rates. Additionally, a CCC signing incentive payment equal to $100 per acre for 10 years will be paid.
The state of Arkansas will provide a one-time total of $400 per acre signing incentive payment on the first 1,000 acres enrolled in the Illinois River Watershed CREP project. After the first 1,000 acres have been enrolled, the state of Arkansas will provide a one-time $200 per acre signing incentive payment for participation in the CREP project. The state will allow eligible participants to utilize a riparian and wetland restoration state tax credit for out-of-pocket costs incurred as part of the CREP practice installation. CREP participants also will be provided, on a voluntary basis, an opportunity to enroll federal contract acres in a state permanent or long-term easement.
The total cost of the Illinois River Watershed CREP Program Agreement over the life of the project is estimated at $21.1 million for a total enrollment of 10,000 acres. The state of Arkansas will contribute $5.7 million to support the overall program cost.
For more information about Farm Service Agency (FSA) conservation programs visit www.fsa.usda.gov.