Quail initiative: publication

Long time readers of this blog will remember that Pine Island was chosen as a site for the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative back in 2013. Over the course of four years (from 2014 to 2018), over 300 wild birds were captured on private land in Georgia, then transferred to our farm, where they were fitted with radio collars, released, and monitored, with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining population.

Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region.

While the translocation program was finished in 2018 (an additional year after the initial three year program was completed), the researchers have spent that time evaluating the data, and John Parke of NJ Audubon says that “the first of several research papers associated with the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative will be published in the February 2021 Journal of Wildlife Management.” Lead author Dr. Philip M. Coppola and co-authors Dr. Chris Williams, Dr. Theron Terhune, John Parke, and John Cecil “discuss results of the 5-year study focused on using translocation of Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) as an important component of Bobwhite population recovery in the Mid-Atlantic.”

From the NJ Audubon website:

Specifically, the research project evaluated “The Landscape Connectivity Hypothesis” which included, exploring the Bobwhite’s site fidelity, survival, including winter survival, reproduction, and resource selection following long-distance translocation. In addition to the Pinelands research site, a second research area was also included in the study to allow for comparison of a variety of factors involving the landscape, habitat and life cycle factors of quail. The second research area was in Kent County Maryland. . . results support the landscape connectivity hypothesis such that reduced connectivity in our study decreased site fidelity and survival. Temporal variation in survival was potentially an artifact of translocation stress or maladaptive behavior during initial acclimation to the release sites, indicating that higher stocking rates may be needed to provide adequate founder abundance for translocation success. Northern bobwhites used early-successional cover at all sites, though selection varied based on scale of analysis and landscape context. These vital rate estimates and resource use patterns should be used to guide future translocations within the Mid-Atlantic, provide perspective for this population restoration technique range wide, and stimulate further investigation into limiting factors.

We look forward to hearing more about this in future months!

New Jersey Audubon visit

This week we had a visit from John Parke of New Jersey Audubon, who brought a group of avid birders to Sim Place to see some bobwhite quail!

After driving out to Sim Place, John gave a brief talk, explaining what the project was about and how Pine Island came to be the survey site. Our site was chosen for several reasons, among them a state-approved Forest Stewardship Plan outlining long-term management goals as well as the extent of existing quality habitat already onsite from years of active forestry work, prescribed burning and agricultural best management practices that made it stand out above other sites in the region. Caring for the place where we live, work, and grow is one of our core values, and this project is a unique opportunity to give back to the land which sustains us.

University of Delaware student Mike Adams then demonstrated how he uses telemetry to track the quail, and in the process managed to flush an entire covey! An absolutely spectacular sight, and one we’re hoping will become more frequent.

Of course, no stop at Pine Island would be complete without seeing why we’re managing the land in the first place, so they finished the tour with a quick stop to visit one of our gathering teams and learn a bit more about the harvest process.

John is a great friend to Pine Island, and he always brings visitors who love the pines as much as we do! They were delighted to see so many different species in their natural habitat, and it was truly a pleasure to take them around.

Ted Gordon – summer 2018

This week we had the opportunity to take another ride around the property with Ted Gordon, a research specialist with more than 35 years experience in botanical studies, including contributions to major plant studies of endangered species in the Pinelands. A former Pinelands Commissioner, Ted primarily conducts rare species surveys and research, monitors habitats, and designs management plans for the conservation and enhancement of rare plants, and we are very fortunate to have access to his knowledge and experience.

Ted comes out to visit the Sim Place property every year to give suggestions on how to manage areas with certain floral species, such as when it might be time to mow or if a recent prescribed burn has had any effect. “There is a significant patch that has been visited by botanists from all over the world for nearly a century,” he says. “I’ve seen hundreds of species in there. Letting it go probably helped for a bit, but not doing anything at all encourages grasses to overwhelm flowering plants. Many rare species are still here. It’s definitely worth the effort to try and bring them back.”

This year, though, was a little different: some New Jersey Audubon staffers came along for the ride. “I was doing a presentation on the quail project and met Ted,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Good stewardship practices work for species recovery for wildlife as well as plant life, so it was great to make that connection with someone who understands the native plants. It was a good mesh; this project isn’t just about the quail, it’s about how good management practices affect and impact other species as well. Ted wanted to come out to see the project and managed to time it with his annual visit to see how the native plant life is doing. The Pinelands are unique, and this is an opportunity for us to see how we can all work together.”

John took Ted and the staff out to watch Phil Coppola and Mike Adams do some telemetry and to look at the nesting areas, while Ted pointed out various plant species along the way. Ted was highly pleased to see some quail as well as how some of the plant species are doing, pointing out the high count on some rare summer species as well as the one getting ready for their autumn debut! “I find all kinds of plants growing near cultivated beds, more so than anywhere else,” he says. “Cranberry properties have the most diversity thanks to common forestry practices.”

Quail release – 2018

Exciting stuff: this week, New Jersey Audubon, in partnership with the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, released another 80 translocated bobwhite quail on our Sim Place property!

This year, a “bonus” year for the study, has a slightly different focus. Per the NJA:

This year’s release has a particular focus on population survival and breeding dynamics in a concentrated area. Unlike previous years of the study (2015-2017), where translocated birds were split into coveys and spread out over the 14,000-acre study site and tracked, all 2018 translocated birds were released in one area to help “boost” the population density in a concentrated area of optimal habitat. This area of optimal habitat has supported quail and their offspring from prior years, releasing all birds into a focal area produces a higher density of birds. That higher density of birds should help overall survival by increasing covey size, mating opportunities, nesting and hatching.

“There is so much underlying variability inherent in biological systems, which often makes their study difficult through short-term “snapshot” research projects,” said Philip Coppola, University of Delaware Graduate Research Assistant. “This fourth consecutive year of translocations will add essential data to the project, allowing us to more accurately describe the population dynamics of Bobwhite in New Jersey. Increasing our knowledge and understanding of all the elements influencing quail survival and success will increase effectiveness and efficiency during large-scale reintroduction efforts in the future. We will gain perspective on what truly are the limiting factors in bobwhite reintroduction and address the probable causes of their initial functional extirpation within the state; thus, this research also has implications for their national conservation and recovery. Additionally, this fourth year provides field training and development for even more entry-level wildlife biologists in the Mid-Atlantic, who will be instrumental in regional wildlife conservation efforts in the future.”

For our part, as always, we’re pleased to see this fantastic project carry on for another year and are glad our forest stewardship and habitat practices continue to benefit the woods, water, and wildlife!

* Photos courtesy of John Parke.

MFS Intensive Learning 2017

Yesterday we had our annual visit from the Moorestown Friends School Intensive Learning Pine Barrens program. From the MFS website:

For one week each March, regular classes are suspended for “Intensive Learning,” when Middle and Upper School students and teachers engage in an in-depth study of a specific subject, often involving off-campus research. This long-standing MFS tradition – which dates to the mid 1970s – allows teachers and students to break out of the structure of formal class periods and traditional study by subject disciplines (math, English, history) for a time of experiential learning in out-of-classroom settings.

The students in the Pine Barrens group spent some time learning about the history of the pines, and finished up their week by coming to visit us and see what people are doing in the present.

Mike Haines and Matt Giberson opened with an overview of Pine Island and our various tasks throughout the year, followed up by the always-lively John Parke, Stewardship Project Director for New Jersey Audubon. Afterward, we took the students out to walk through a young bog and then out to one of our forestry sites.

“I thought the kids asked some great questions,” says Mike. “It was cool this year we were not only able to tell them about our operation, but also they got to hear from John about the quail release project. Cranberry farming is part of the history of the pines as well as a continuing industry, so I really liked being able to add to the breadth of the topics they’ve been covering all week.” Matt agrees: “It was a lot of fun seeing the kids get into the tour this year, especially with John being there. It was a good opportunity to see how Pine Island’s growing season works, but also how our other projects are not only beneficial to our operation but to the community as well.”

“It was an absolute pleasure to present information about the quail translocation project to the students,” says John Parke. “It’s great to see kids getting out to the farm and learning in the field about the importance of agriculture, land management and how it ties to natural resource protection,” Parke added, “because children who are connected to the land and understand value of nature and agriculture, can positively shape the future as good stewards.”

New Jersey Audubon Quail Restoration Initiative

Last week, Pine Island Cranberry was proud to welcome some of the members and staff of New Jersey Audubon for a tour of the harvest and some of the selected sites for one of our favorite projects: the quail restoration initiative. Bobwhite quail have almost vanished from the Pine Barrens, and Pine Island, along with NJ Audubon and Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, hope to bring them back. According to NJ Audubon: “Northern Bobwhite, once a staple of the New Jersey countryside and common enough to be a game bird in the state, has all but disappeared. According to the Christmas Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey data, the bird has suffered one of the most severe population declines of any North American bird: a population decline of 82% in the last forty years. This is primarily due to a loss of habitat from development, change in farming practices, change in habitat due to a lack of disturbance, and an overall loss of young forest habitat.” Over the course of three years, they say, “…approximately 240 wild birds will be captured on private land in Georgia, and transferred to the core of the pinelands where they will be fitted with radio collars, released, and monitored. The goal is to establish a self-sustaining population on this magnificent property.”

Eric Stiles, President/CEO of NJ Audubon, and John Parke, his Stewardship Project Director, are both very excited: “This project makes us feel that we’ve been bringing everything we’ve been promoting: sustainability, agriculture, habitat. This is all about the private sector taking it upon themselves to do great work and show how it’s supposed to be done out there on the landscape. This is all being done by agriculture: how they deal with water and disease and production, straight up to how they’re dealing with the forest. We need to take into account the cultural, social, and economic aspect; if we don’t, we miss a lot of useful info from people who have been out there working on the land, and they’re the ones leading the charge. Pine Island Cranberry, and what they do, is such a big component of how this state is going to be able to proceed as far as sustainability and natural resource protection.”

The first item of business, of course, was going out to see the harvest on a picture-perfect day.

CEO Bill Haines was glad as always to explain the importance of water to our industry. “The key to this business is water,” he said. “The protection of our water supply has protected this business from the beginning. We have 1400 producing acres, but about 14,000 acres of land to protect our water supply, which sounds more impressive than it really is. Back in the day, no one wanted it, so if it was upstream, we bought it. And because we have all this land, we’ve always done prescribed burning. This is where we grew up; this is where we do business. It’s important to us in a business sense, yes, but it’s also important because it’s our home. That’s how this family was raised: if you have a resource, it’s your responsibility to take care of it.”

The group was off to Sim Place to see the targeted habitat and how Pine Island’s forestry and stewardship practices are helping make this happen. While seeing the harvest always has an impact, it was even better to see the reactions to some of the native plant growth flourishing on the land.

Ultimately, it’s not just about restoration or protection; it’s about doing the stewardship work for the long term. “It’s not only good work,” says Bill. “It’s also fun. This will show that you can successfully manage a business in the Pines that not only doesn’t damage the environment but enhances it. It’s good for business, but it’s also the right thing to do.”