Habitat maintenance

Pine Island Cranberry has been a long-time proponent of prescribed burning and works closely with the fire service and our forester when it comes to this crucial method of forest maintenance. “Pine Island has a very long history of using prescribed burns to protect life and property on their land as well as the surrounding area,” says Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. “In addition, it is used to sustain or enhance the overall ecological health of their forest. Fire is a critical component of sustaining this forest and used often in the farm’s forest management program. These forests need fire; it is as essential as rain or sunshine to the life of the forest. Native Americans used fire to sustain this forest as well as most forests across North America for millennia, and many plants and animals need fire to provide critical habitat components in their lives.”

One species who relies on critical forest maintenance is, of course, the bob white quail. According to the latest from New Jersey Audubon:

The use of prescribed burning on the landscape helps remove built up thatch, dead leaves, twigs, and accumulated plant and organic materials that can impede quail and wildlife movement. Prescribed burning also helps to increase the growth of new and existing plants, which can provide an important food source for wildlife in the form of seeds and insects that the plants may host or provide pollen for. This restoration action of performing prescribed burning is essential to the habitat needs of Northern Bobwhite, ensuring Bobwhite have enough resources come spring and the breeding season. Prescribed burning also helps many other wildlife species of the Pinelands that evolved in this disturbance and fire dependent landscape.

The article goes on to say:

Following this year’s prescribed burn at the Northern Bobwhite study site, NJ Audubon staff were on site and tracked, via telemetry, 12 radio-collared Northern Bobwhite adults, along with 20-25 juvenile birds that revealed themselves to be with the radio-collared quail. As found in previous years of the study, after burning, the birds move into denser cover along the edges of the burn areas.

“Restoration is continual,” said NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Project Director John Parke. “People often forget that you have to maintain an ecosystem, and think in the ‘long term’, and sometimes perform activities that may seem counterproductive in order to have the natural systems function properly for future generations. In a state like New Jersey that has significant pressures placed on an already limited land base it is important to realize that ‘restoration’ is not just a one or two time action, it is a series of science-based actions over a sustained period of time.”

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.”

June quail updates! – 2018

Back in March, New Jersey Audubon, in conjunction with quail project partners 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. We mentioned then that this additional year on the project has a slightly different focus:

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.

“We are pleased with the preliminary results of the study,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “But we are very curious how this release will influence the bird’s overall survival and breeding, considering the higher quail density in an area that continues to support Bobwhite from previous releases and the offspring of those translocated birds.”

The latest phase of this project seems to be right on track, as so far this month the team has found at least three nests.

But the best update of all came yesterday:

“The first Bobwhite Quail nests of the season hatched today at the Pine Island Cranberry study site,” John says. “A total of 29 new chicks successfully fledged the nests! Both parents will care for the young until their first flight which occurs 14-16 days after hatching. Quail chicks, about the size of a bumblebee when hatched, are dependent on insects and good habitat to survive until the fall. Once the insects disappear, the birds begin to feed on seeds.”

We look forward to further updates on the new babies as well as the remaining nest!

*Nest photos courtesy of John Parke

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.

A very exciting quail project update!

This week, Pine Island Cranberry was honored to receive a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the “Healthy Ecosystem” category! NJ Audubon nominated Pine Island earlier this year, “having seen first-hand how PICC has undertaken active habitat management, producing numerous benefits for wildlife and water quality.”

From the DEP website:

This award is presented to a nominee that demonstrates experience in programs or techniques that have resulted in the restoration, protection and enhancement of the State’s ecological resources. These resources include wetlands, estuaries and coastal areas, as well as non-game and/or threatened and endangered species.

Specifically, the award is related to our work maintaining our property via our own best agricultural practices as well as a good forest stewardship plan, which ended up being conducive to maintaining the critical habitat needed for the Northern bobwhite quail:

The Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) in Chatsworth, Burlington County, has had a DEP-approved Forest Stewardship Plan in place since 2001. This plan has produced successional habitat suitable for quail and other plant and animal species. Because of that success, PICC was chosen to be used as a study site for a multi-state Northern Bobwhite Quail Recovery Study, in hopes of restoring the Bobwhite population. This population had plummeted to levels of near-extinction in New Jersey and a more than 80 percent decline nationwide in the past 40 years, according to the National Audubon Society. Beginning in 2015, PICC, along with other study project partners, did the first release of wild Bobwhite brought from Georgia to PICC. Since then, 240 wild birds have been released and tracked at PICC, 39 nests have occurred, 116 confirmed chicks have hatched, birds were confirmed to over-winter from year to year, and confirmed nest successes occurred. The result of PICC’s successful land management methods led to the first-ever federal allocation this year for quail habitat restoration in New Jersey.

“We are proud to to receive this award, and are equally proud to be working with such great organizations as New Jersey Audubon, Pine Creek Forestry, and Tall Timbers,” says CEO Bill Haines. “We’ve always taken care of the resources we have, and we’ll continue to do it. It’s not only good for business; it’s also the right thing to do.”

Quail update – August 2017

In our last update from June on the quail translocation project, we were all very excited to hear about the first confirmed nest. Now there’s even better news from the forest – there are baby quail hatching again!

This may be the most successful stage yet for New Jersey Audubon’s Northern Bobwhite Restoration Project. A little background from the website:

New Jersey Audubon has been steadfastly working, with its project collaborators (Tall Timbers Research Station, the University of Delaware, Pine Island Cranberry Company, Pine Creek Forestry and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) over the past three years to study translocation as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of Bobwhite Quail back in New Jersey. In wildlife conservation, the term ‘Translocation’ means the capture, transport and release/introduce a species from one area to another with the ultimate goals of species population persistence and resilience at the release area. In New Jersey the Northern Bobwhite Quail was once a common species, however it is now believed to be functionally extinct in the state, thus translocation offers an option to “jump-start” the species on the road to recovery in its former home in NJ.

“We’ve found 12 nests this year,” says John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “Of those dozen nests, five were depredated and three have hatched, with a total of forty chicks hatched so far. There are four nests still active that could hatch any day now.”

Some other fun facts from the project: 240 wild birds have been released since 2015, with 38 nests confirmed to date and 97 chicks confirmed hatched. This year makes the first time a male has successfully incubated a nest all the way through, as well as the first year for a double clutch. Even better, NJA has received approval for a fourth year release!

“Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” John says. “We are very excited to confirm the successful hatching of a double clutch nest, and a male successfully incubating to completion, because it reflects the quality of habitat on site that was achieved through the management. By performing active management on the land a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging allows for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.”

* Photos courtesy Phil Coppola

Quail project update – June 2017

As you may remember, New Jersey Audubon was here this spring for the third-stage release in the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative.

The most exciting news from this month: the field researchers have discovered an active nest close to the Sim Place release site!

“We are working to create permanence with Northern Bobwhite in New Jersey,” said John Parke, Stewardship Project Director – North Region, NJA. “In reviewing the data collected over the last few years and seeing these wild birds adapt to their new surroundings and successfully nest is a testament to how important active management is to maintain forest health and wildlife diversity,” Parke said. “The Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative has implications for quail recovery in the Mid-Atlantic, is providing information on other species that use these same managed forest habitat, and is motivating others to implement forest management. We are excited by the progress of the project, the hard work of the project partners and collaborators and eager to see Bobwhite thrive again in New Jersey,” he added.

According to John, predator surveys have been fairly low, though snakes are always a concern. But Phil Coppola and the rest of the University of Delaware research team will continue tracking the birds and keeping tabs on the nest, and are hoping to bring us good news soon! In the meantime, though, we’re all enjoying the opportunity to once again hear the bobwhite quail once again calling in the pines.

This has been a great opportunity for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again.

*Photos courtesy of John Parke and Phil Coppola.

Third stage quail release

This month Pine Island Cranberry once again met with John Parke of New Jersey Audubon to release the final group of quail for the last stage of their translocation project!

Per the NJA release:

Led by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Delaware, 80 wild birds (40 males and 40 females) were captured in Georgia, translocated, and released, at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. The New Jersey portion of this project has the unique role of releasing only wild quail (translocation). Other partners to the multi-state project are evaluating methods of raising captive bred and parent reared quail, however no captive bred quail will be released in New Jersey. Ultimately, the results of the NJ study will be compared to findings from the other participating states in the initiative.

This year’s release was done over the course of a few days, and Pine Island team members have even spotted the birds out and about near some of the release sites! “I’ve never seen them that close out in the woods,” says Matt Giberson. “It was really cool to see them walking around!”

New Jersey Audubon says there’s even more good news:

The success of the project at Pine Island, combined with years of habitat restoration work lead by NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife in Cumberland County has, for the first time ever in New Jersey, lead to the allocation of federal funding through the USDA-NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Program specifically for quail habitat restoration.

“Landowners and farmers that take advantage of this cost share program will help establish habitat for quail and other species, while also helping to address forest health issues such as fuel load reduction, control of forest diseases and pests, and ultimately successful regeneration and forest function,” says John Parke.

This has been a great chance for Pine Island Cranberry to work with so many organizations who love the pines as much as we do, and it’s wonderful seeing the Bobwhite quail making themselves at home here once again!

Quail traps

The latest from the NJ Audubon Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative: trapping birds for collar and release! The quail in this project are tracked via radio telemetry in the field to determine movements, predation, site fidelity, habitat use and nesting by graduate students from the University of Delaware.

When the birds for this project are relocated from Georgia to New Jersey, they are fitted with radio collars for tracking. From the NJ Audubon website:

Each quail was outfitted with a radio transmitter fitted around their neck. The birds arrived in NJ with the transmitters attached, each broadcasting a unique radio frequency. Using a radio receiver and antenna each bird can be located and through the signal their location and status (alive or dead) can be determined. Tracking began immediately following the release and revealed the birds were sticking together in coveys and they remained within the general area of where they were released.

These collars last about ten to eleven months, per John Parke of NJ Audubon. But when cold weather sets in, it shortens the battery life. So the team has to catch the birds in order to replace their collars. This past Monday, John, along with fellow NJA staffers Lindsey Gafford and Ryan Hasko, came down to meet with Kaili Stevens to weigh any quail found in the traps and re-collar them with new transmitters.

The traps are carefully placed and baited (currently with cracked corn, but Kaili is looking for millet as well), then slightly camouflaged with tree branches. Each location is marked so that the researchers and staff can find it easily.

Kaili then demonstrated the best method for holding the birds while recollaring them before releasing them back into the wild.

NJ Audubon will be out in the field every week to check the traps and make sure the birds are thriving! They’ve already proven themselves to be tremendously resilient, and we hope to have more good news after the third and final release this spring!