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Prescribed Burning in Full Swing at Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative Site

prescribed buring in NJ pinelandsAs part of forest stewardship activities at the site of the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, prescribed fires are being implemented this winter as a tool to maintain forest health, habitat and to ensure public safety. Fire in the NJ Pinelands plays a vital role in the ecology of the region’s natural system, resetting the ecological clock, ensuring that early stages of succession are occurring and creating opportunities for new plant growth.

In the Pinelands, pines and other native vegetation typically cannot regeneratepinelands forest under a closed canopy, where the forest floor doesn’t receive enough light to stimulate growth. The closed canopy and buildup of pine needles and dead vegetation (duff) both obscure the forest floor from light and cover waiting seeds, preventing them from germinating. Forest fires, whether they are managed prescribed burns or wildfires, help stimulate new plant growth and reduce competition among existing trees and plants, allowing those that persist to grow bigger.

As with anything, different conditions dictate different conservation practices to maintain forest health and habitat. In the Pinelands, a lack of forest management and fire suppression has often contributed to excessive fuel loads and a thick forest overstory. Fire can’t just be reintroduced to the landscape without careful planning by experienced professionals, other conservation practices also need to be considered. In many instances the land needs to be pretreated before fire can be returned. Pretreating can mean the cutting of trees or removal of underbrush to create safe burning conditions, and, in many cases, this action helps to accelerate desired forest management outcomes.

Fire is a natural process that is as important to the forest as rain, sunshine or water is,” says Certified Forester and owner of Pine Creek Forestry, Bob Williams. “However, fires and their results are extremely variable – time of year, time of day, fuel moisture, temperature, humidity, wind speed and fuel types all impact how a fire burns and behaves,” added Williams. “Yet all of these things change over time, as does the results of a given fire. One size does not fit all forests.”

new growth after a burnAs seen at the site of the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative, many of the burns and other forestry practices implemented under the guidance of the Forest Stewardship Plan, written by Williams, have significant benefits for wildlife as well. For example, controlled burns and the associated forest thinning promote the growth of young forest and new annual plants that are potential forage and cover for wildlife. This new growth attracts a multitude of insects that are also food for wildlife and plant pollinators. Additionally, not as evident to the casual observer, but extremely important to the survival of the Northern Bobwhite (also known as “The Firebird”), the burning Quail Chicksremoves accumulated duff which then provides quail bare ground for brood-rearing habitat. The removal of this debris allows for quail chicks to move with ease through an area to feed or escape predation.

According to Quail Unlimited, “The greatest mortality of quail occurs in the first few weeks after hatch. Adequate brood rearing cover is critical. Soon after hatching, broods leave the nest and are cared for by one or both adults. The ground cover must be very open with only 30% to 50% vegetative coverage on the ground. This means that, as much as 70% can be bare ground, but still must possess overhead protection.”

Studies have shown that freedom of movement at ground level with overhead concealment is essential for quail chick survival. Additionally they must have access to a diverse mixture of plants that are within feeding height (about 2-3 inches high). It’s these fresh grasses, forbs, and hard-seeded legumes that, stimulated by the burning, increase their production of seeds and attract insects like beetles, leafhoppers, ants and other arthropods that for a quail chick, compose almost its entire diet for the first few weeks. Additional research is also indicating that burned woodlands rival fallow fields for insect production, and quail cannot be raised without good quality brood rearing habitat containing high insect densities.

research area summer 2015[8]after burn in winter[7]wild turkey foraging in post prescribed buring area in research fieldresearch area in fall burn site

Sequence of Photos: Before and after burning a field, new growth in spring and use by wildlife and plant diversity from spring through fall

Photos by Brittany Dobrzynski, Gylla MacGregor and John Parke

Bird Diversity Flourishes in Forest Regeneration Areas

According to the Golden-winged Warbler Project (GWWP), a conservation initiative coordinated by Indiana University of PA- Research Institute, Bluewing Warbler with caterpillar and Prairie warbler in Sparta cut (PARKE)Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), “since 2012, over 500 private landowners in 5 different states have created 8,800 acres of young forest habitat through various NRCS conservation projects…” as part of a regional initiative called the Young Forest Initiative. This multi-state conservation effort is focused on creating habitat necessary to meet the critical needs of a multitude of at-risk species.

In New Jersey, several properties, both publicly and privately owned, are participating in the initiative. The majority of these NJ properties are located in the northern portion of the state, with several sites concentrated on or near Sparta Mountain in the New Jersey Highlands region. Sparta Mountain is of particular importance because of the area’s use by various resident and migratory wildlife species, including many at-risk species. In fact, the Sparta Mountain region also contains some of the last known populations of the State Endangered Golden-winged Warbler, which has suffered one of the sharpest population declines of any bird species across its entire range since the 1960s.

sparta mt forest regeneration area  (PARKE)Indiana University of PA recently released results from the Golden-winged Warbler Project’s 2017 bird monitoring of project sites in NJ. Monitoring was conducted by biologists from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, the American Bird Conservancy, and NRCS. The forest treatment areas underwent science based planning to harvest trees, stimulate new growth and forest succession and create patches of young forest; providing the diversity and structure of vegetation that is needed as critical habitat components for the initiative’s target at-risk species. According to NRCS’s Working Lands for Wildlife Song Bird study, “Healthy forest interior nesting species, scarlet tananger, foraging in forest treatment area at sparta cut site(parke)forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages. Each group has their own role to play in maintaining the whole community over the long term.” These areas of young forest embedded in older aged forest are not only important to target at-risk species, but are also vital to life cycles of many other species, including forest breeding interior birds.

Results from the 2017 Golden-winged Warbler Project’s survey revealed that 33 bird species were detected in the treatment areas, with 13 of the species detected considered at-risk species. Of the 33 species, several are considered forest interior species. Similarly, ongoing surveys conducted at the same sites by biologists from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife found that bird species diversity doubled, and at-risk species diversity doubled in less than 3 years as a result of the creation of young forest habitat.

Photos (all taken at Sparta Mountain Forest Treatment-Regeneration Areas) by John Parke

Bobwhite in Winter in the Pinelands

On Wednesday January 10, 2018, after a week of record below freezing temperatures and the largest snow event of the season soquail covey winter far in the NJ Pinelands, NJ Audubon staff and research partners, University of Delaware, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, were able to verify only one weather related mortality of the remaining radio collared Northern Bobwhite at the Pine Island Cranberry study site. All other radio collared birds being tracked were alive.

Using telemetry, the radio collared birds were tracked and found to be together and alive as part of coveys. Tracks in the snow also verified that the quail utilize cover provided by young pines in areas where forestry had occurred, which was observed in prior years as well. The lower branches of the young pines were bent and bowed by the snow creating a patchwork of quail tracks at study stite 1-10-18evergreen “lean-tos” with the pine needles blocking out snow drifts and providing cover from wind.

Recent research has found that a severe winter weather event can have long-lasting impacts on Northern Bobwhite populations. In winter during periods of low temperatures, and ice and snow cover, Bobwhite face three significant challenges to their survival: thermo-regulation, food availability and predators. These three challenges can be overcome - provided the Bobwhite has suitable habitat.

Like many species, Northern Bobwhite need to burn more energy to stay warm in winter. However, they are unable to dig through the snow like deer or turkey to get to food sources buried beneath. Thus, quail may have to venture out into the open to look for food, which makes them more vulnerable to predation.

One way quail combat the cold and overcome these challenges is by grouping together in coveys. A covey functions as a unit: birds forage in the same area, rest together in the same cover, and roost together at night. As a covey, the birds seek out areas that provide the best cover and forage availability. These areas typically provide thick cover adjacent Answer the callto reliable food sources. The conservation group Quail Forever has found that typically “the temperature inside a high-quality shelterbelt (area of trees and shrubs that provide thick cover) – ideal cover from the cold – can be 5°F warmer.” This is consistent with observations of quail at the Pine Island study site as the quail are utilizing young pine stands for cover and are foraging in adjacent fields and forest.

Acting as a covey also provides the quail with ‘more eyes’ to detect predators, and when roosting, helps each individual maintain body heat throughout the night. When roosting, the covey forms a circle, their tails together and their heads pointing outward like spokes from a wheel hub. If disturbed, the birds flush in all directions.

ANSWER THE CALL and be part of this historic reintroduction and recovery of this beloved iconic species and support the Northern Bobwhite Restoration Initiative! Go to NJ Audubon's Northern Bobwhite webpage: https://community.njaudubon.org/pages/quail-restoration-initiative-donation-page

Photos Courtesy of TWildlife and John Parke

NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council Member Pine Island Cranberry Company Recognized with Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

a model of Healthy Ecosystems -PICCNew Jersey Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council member Pine Island Cranberry Company, Inc. has won the prestigious Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for the Healthy Ecosystem category. This marks the third NJ Audubon Corporate Stewardship Council member to have won the award in the Council’s 10-year history.

The Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards are the State's premier environmental awards for recognizing outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects. These awards honor and recognize individuals, businesses, nonprofits, educators, institutions, communities, youth and others who have made significant contributions to environmental protection throughout the state.

For the Healthy Ecosystems category, Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) demonstrated a commitment to and experience in programs and techniques that have resulted in the restoration, protection and enhancement of the State's ecological resources.

Specifically, Pine Island Cranberry Company, working with New Jersey Audubon and other collaborators, have been addressing the loss of critical habitat needed to support Northern Bobwhite (a bird native to the eastern United States) and other wildlife and to bring attention to the need for active forest management in New Jersey’s Pinelands. NJ Audubon nominated Pine Island Cranberry Company for the award having seen first-hand how PICC has undertaken active habitat management, producing numerous benefits for wildlife and water quality. For more than a decade PICC has been managing their forest lands under the guidance of a forest stewardship plan created Certified Forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry. Integrating forest stewardship with their agricultural activities, Pine Island Cranberry Company has created a model site that embodies how healthy ecosystems should function and is providing an example of what forest stewardship coupled with agricultural productions looks like.

Earlier this year Pine Island Cranberry Company became the first recipient in NJ of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Firebird Award, which recognizes contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild quail. Pine Island Cranberry Company has been participating over the last 3 years in a multiyear and multistate study lead in NJ by New Jersey Audubon, with project collaborators including: Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, University of Delaware, Pine Creek Forestry, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife. This research is evaluating translocation of wild Northern Bobwhite as a viable method of creating a sustainable wild population of quail, positioning New Jersey for a significant effort to restore quail back to its historic range.

Commish Martin, B Williams, S Haines, J Parke, D ZimmerPine Island Cranberry, encompassing over 14,000 acres, was selected for this quail research in large part due to its undertaking of forest stewardship actions since 2001 following a state approved Forest Stewardship Plan. This forest management and habitat stewardship work was already creating areas of young forest habitat that would be suitable for quail, and many other species of plants and animals. These stewardship actions include several hundred acres of forest stand thinning and prescribed burning that have created a mosaic of healthy ecosystems. The areas that have undergone active management and stewardship are helping to establish quality 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 in the NJ Pinelands.

NJ Audubon congratulates Pine Island Cranberry Company, Inc. and would like to extend our congratulations to the rest of the 2017 Environmental Excellence Award winners and commend them for their efforts to make New Jersey a better place for people and wildlife!

Praying Mantis - Indiscriminate Predator

Hiking in a meadow in Sussex County over the weekend, I came upon a small semi-hard grayish-yellow mass attached to a goldenrod stem. This “foam-like” cube was an egg case of a praying mantis.  However, I was not as excited as some may think, because the majority of mantids in New Jersey are invasive species, specifically the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera aridifolia subspecies sinensis) mantis eats monarch(Parke)and the European Mantis (Mantis religiosa).

As with most invasive species, these two non-native insects pose an interesting threat to some of our most important pollinators, because of their indiscriminate predatory behavior and voracious appetite!

According to The Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America, "The Chinese Mantis entered the U.S. as early as 1896. It is still deliberately introduced to many areas as a (pest)control agent. Its efficacy is questionable, as it is an indiscriminate predator, taking beneficial insects as well as pests." A much larger mantid (nearly twice the length of the European and Carolina Mantis) the Chinese mantis has a vertically striped face, bold green stripe along the edge of the forewing and a yellow spot between the arms.

Another introduced species in NJ is the European mantis. This mantis species was first brought here, accidentally, in 1899 on nursery stock from southern Europe, but was latter imported to the US in the 1930’s in commercially sold egg cases for garden insect control, as well as, later used as a biological control for Gypsy Moth in the eastern US. This species can be recognized by a black-ringed white spot on the inside of the front legs near the head and thin red and white “racing-strip” along the forewing.

praying mantis egg caseA native mantis of NJ is the Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), which can be identified by its small size (2-3 inches), mottled green or brown color and small wings, which when folded only cover about half of its abdomen.

Aside from their physical attributes, the shape of the mantis egg case (called the ootheca) can also be used to identify each species. The ootheca of the Chinese mantis are “cube-ish” and are as long as chinese mantis eating catapillerthey are wide. Where the native Carolina mantis’ ootheca is elongated and slender.

Born from egg cases, and as ravenous as their parents, the young mantises’ first meal is often their siblings! As they grow, shedding their skin 5 to 6 times, they use their strong front legs to capture not only spiders and insects (including butterflies, moths, and bees), but larger mantises such as the Chinese mantis have been observed to catch and devour small vertebrates including, amphibians, lizards, snakes, mice and small birds!

Reports of mantises preying on birds dates back to 1864, however more recent studies conducted between 2000 and 2015 that appeared in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, indicated that in total, about 24 species of birds chinese mantis eating hummingbirdwere identified as mantis prey. This group included hummingbirds and small passerines — perching birds such as sparrows and finches.  The study indicated that “once a bird was caught, its fate was as good as sealed, with only 2 percent able to free themselves from the insect's clutches without human intervention.” Most notable in the study was that the birds most often captured and eaten by mantises in North America were the ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Although both native and non-native mantids are deadly predators that will use hummingbird feeders and wildflower gardens as their personal buffets, it is good to realize that the predator prey relationships are complex and can have strong indirect and cascading effects on ecosystem functions.

Additionally, contrary to popular belief, mantises are not protected by any state or federal laws.

Photos by John Parke

Photo of Mantis Eating Hummingbird by Kathy Cantafio

References:

Eaton, E., Kauffman, K., 2007, Kauffman Guide to Insects of North America,

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects & Spiders (1989)

Nyffeler, M., Maxwell, M., Remsen, Jr., J.V., 2016, Bird Predation by Praying Mantises: A Global Perceptive, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 129(2):331-344. 2017

New Jersey Audubon Receives Two Awards for Delaware River Watershed Initiative Efforts

For the third time in four years, the New Jersey Audubon Stewardship Department has won the prestigious “Firman E. Bear Ecological Excellence Award,” given by the New Jersey Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society in partnership with Pinelands Nursery. The award recognizes excellence in an ecological restoration project that implements unique soil and water conservation practices with innovative habitat enhancements.

In addition, the same project has been awarded the “Excellence Water Resources Award” given by the New Jersey Section of the American Water Resources Association (NJ-AWRA). The Excellence Award recognizes projects that advance water resources research, planning, development, clip_image001management and education.

New Jersey Audubon’s use of bulrush on the project to address both a water resource concern and a critical habitat concern is a great example of efficient collaborative conservation intervention that is part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, an unprecedented collaboration supported by the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Working together, New Jersey Audubon, the Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority/Wallkill River Watershed Management Group (SCMUA-WRWMG) and the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg planted more than 10,000 native plants along a tributary of the Paulin’s Kill River that runs through an active farm pasture in the Delaware River Watershed.

The choice of plants is a careful balance. The plantings must help improve water quality and control soil erosion, but also must be compatible with the needs of native species and their habitats. For example, the use of trees and other woody vegetation, which would typically be used for bank stabilization, are not always compatible with some native species habitats, such as that of the federally-listed bog turtle.

clip_image002“Trees and other woody vegetation are not always the answer for riparian restorations, you have to consider the habitat needs of the species living there, so for this project the type of plant we used at the site was dark green bulrush,” explained John Parke, Stewardship Project Director of New Jersey Audubon. “Bulrush is a native plant that is commonly found in bog turtle habitat in this region.  By planting it along the banks of the stream it not only helps stabilize the stream banks and prevent soil erosion but it also provides important food and cover for wildlife.  Although bulrush can be grazed and is not harmful for livestock, it is not preferred by livestock.  Thus livestock tend to leave it alone and in doing so, the area that was planted with bulrush allowed the native seed bank to grow naturally which improved biodiversity, habitat and general wetland function on site.  Additionally, bulrush naturally removes excess phosphorus from water, through its root system. This use of a plant to remove the excess nutrient pollution is termed phytoremediation.”

Excess phosphorus is a major part of nutrient pollution, which according to the US EPA, is “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.”  Although, phosphorous is a natural and essential part of ecosystems, too much can pollute the water by leading algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle.  Excess algae can harm water quality by decreasing the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.  Additionally, significant increases of algae in our water can also impact human health, food resources, and thus impact a region’s economy.

“New Jersey Audubon has a long history of doing good ecological work, in partnership with other organizations, that encourages similar projects elsewhere,” added Tom Drewes, retired former State Conservationist of New Jersey for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and coordinator of the Firman award judging. “Our Soil and Water Conservation Society Chapter, in collaboration with Pinelands Nursery, is happy to provide this award in recognition of their accomplishment.”

“Not only did NJ Audubon’s project address phosphorous loading in the bog turtle habitat, which in itself is an important water quality improvement,” says Rebecca Traylor, Secretary of the NJ-AWRA and an award judge, “it exposed young adults to water resources careers and practical science with hands-on experience by engaging the New Jersey Youth Corps. The project truly epitomizes our mission.”

New Jersey Audubon would like to express sincere gratitude and appreciation to the New Jersey chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society and NJ Section of the American Water Resources Association and their respective committees for selecting the project for the awards and their support to encourage science-based conservation practices, programs, and policy.

NJA also would like to thank the project property owner the Joritsma family and the other organizations and agencies, that also played an important role on implementing various conservation practices on the project site to improve water quality and critical habitat for a rare species, they include the New Jersey Youth Corps of Phillipsburg, the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and USDA-NRCS. Finally we would like to thank our grant funders the William Penn Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their financial support for the project as part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.”

NJ Audubon is looking to engage more landowners for enrollment into the various federal conservation cost share programs for conducting conservation practices on their land, as well as distribute more free native plant materials. However to be eligible to receive free pant materials properties must be located in the following sub-watersheds of the Highlands region (the Musconetcong, Lopatcong and the Paulin's Kill sub-watersheds) and must exhibit a degree of ecological impairment. For more information please contact NJA Stewardship Project Director, John Parke at john.parke@njaudubon.org.

Photos by John Parke

clip_image003Project Site during bulrush install spring 2016 (top photo)

clip_image004Project Site now in summer 2017 (bottom photo)

Shortleaf Pine an Important Component to NJ’s Forests

This past week NJ Audubon’s Stewardship Department presented an overview of the Bobwhite Quail Restoration InitiativePA060002 and the project’s tie in with the National Shortleaf Pine Initiative at the 4th Biennial Shortleaf Pine Conference in Galloway, NJ.

According to the 2016 Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan, “Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinate) has the largest geographic extent of the southern yellow pines, occurring in 22 states in the US.  However, extensive logging, subsistence farming, the loss of open range grazing of livestock, and a lack of appropriate disturbance for subsequent regeneration have contributed to a 53% decline in its range since 1980.

In New Jersey, which is its most northern and eastern limits of its range, shortleaf pine does occur in 13 of the 21 counties, but it is a more a common component in the NJ Pine Barrens region in the southern part of the state. Making up only 2% of all pines in NJ (2015 FIA Data), the “two-needle pine” or “smooth-bark pine” defines the shortleaf’ s physical characteristics from its more common associate in the Pinelands, the pitch pine (Pinus rigida).

P3300084As fire plays a key role in the Pinelands ecosystem, helping to maintaining forest structure and diversity, the shortleaf benefits from this periodic disturbance because of its fire-adapted traits.   These traits include seedlings and saplings having the capacity to re-sprout when top-killed by fire due to axillary buds located in a basal J-shaped crook near the ground surface, a unique feature of the species (Mattoon 1915a).  Shortleaf pine also has a thick platy bark and minimal quantities of resin protect older trees from fire, as well as the tree produces abundant seed crops and persistent cones allowing for regeneration soon after fire (Mattoon 1915a). 

The open woodland structure of shortleaf pine ecosystems provides important habitat for wildlife, including Northern Bobwhite.  Since shortleaf pine woodlands typically have a lower canopy cover and a more diverse understory dominated by grasses and forbs, a greater numbers of bird and animal species are found within them (Masters 2007) as compared to pine-oak forests.

For more information about shortleaf pine and Forest Stewardship in NJ see the New Jersey Forest Service.

Photo by John Parke

References:

Anderson, M., Hayes, L., Keyser, P., Lituma, C., Sutter, R., Zollner, D., 2016. Shortleaf Pine Restoration Plan: Restoring an American Forest Legacy. Shortleaf Pine Initiative

Masters, R.E. 2007. The importance of shortleaf pine for wildlife and diversity in mixed oak-pine forests and in pine-grassland woodlands.  In J.M. Kabrick, D.C. Dey, and D. Gwaze, editors. Shortleaf pine restoration and ecology in the Ozarks: proceeding of a symposium. Gen Tech. rep. NRS-P-15. Newton square, PA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern research station. 2155 p.

Mattoon, W.R. 1915a. Life history of the shortleaf pine. Bulletin of the US Department of Agriculture. No 244, 46 p.

NJ Forest Service, 2015, Shortleaf Pine Initiative Fact Sheet

The Tale of two fields: Building Soil Health & Improving Water Quality with Cover Crops and No-Till

Photos & Text by Kristen Meistrell

Every season, farmers across the Garden State tend to their crops while preparing for next season’s harvest. For some, part of this process involves turning the soil over to incorporate old crop residue, such as corn stalks, into the soil. This method is called conventional tillage and is often used to reduce weed pressure and to loosen the soil to prepare for planting.

Convential versus No-TillTilling and turning the soil over is a practice that is as old as agricultural itself, but there can be some side effects. This method can be an intensive practice and involves multiple passes with equipment. It exposes the soil to the elements, which can reduce soil moisture, increase compaction, and reduce organic material – all of which can increase water and fertilizer usage, decrease drainage, and increase erosion and runoff.

In Cumberland County, a farmer who has practiced conventional tillage for decades recognized some of these downfalls and decided to try a different approach called the no-till system. This method involves very little soil disturbance and only creates a narrow and shallow indentation in the soil where the seed will be placed. To help address potential weed pressure, he also decided to incorporate a winter cover crop, which is a plant that is grown between harvesting and planting of different commodity crops. This field was planted with the no-till system and mutli-species cover crops

Switching to a no-till system can be intimidating and expensive. It requires new equipment and materials, and can have some level of uncertainty surrounding crop yields and long-term economic benefits. Because of the inherent risk, the farmer in Cumberland County tested out this new method on a few small soybean fields. After just one year, the difference is remarkable.

 

In the photo above, the farmer planted both fields with soybeans. Both fields have similar soil types and were planted only days apart. After a full growing season, the field on the left is riddled with weeds, and the soybeans are already beginning to drop their leaves. On the right, there is very little weed pressure and the soybeans grew vigorously and tall. The difference between these fields was not additional fertilizers and soil amendments, but rather the method of planting the soybeans. To the farmer’s surprise, the field on the right used the no-till system while the field on the left used conventional tillage.

After one growing season, it is easy to see the yield benefits to a no-till system, but how does it benefit soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat? Using a no-till system with cover crops reduces soil disturbance while keeping the ground covered for much of the year. This helps to retain soil moisture, promotes infiltration, reduces soil erosion, and increases organic matter. No-till systems also require fewer passes with equipment, reducing fuel consumption and soil compaction. Cover crops can have added benefits as well. Legumes (peas, clovers) add nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen, brassicas (radishes) increase infiltration through deep taproots, and grasses (rye, wheat, barley) can help suppress weeds. Many of these cover crops can further provide shelter for wildlife during the winter months. In early spring, some cover crop species will flower, providing much needed nectar to native pollinators.

Multi-species Cover CropsWith so many benefits to the environment and to the community, a no-till system with cover crops can be a great alternative and option for many farms. Through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, New Jersey Audubon is committed to working with farmers and producers to improve water quality, build soil health, and increase wildlife habitat on working lands through these practices and others, such as stream buffers. The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a long-term, multi-state program that is supported by the William Penn Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and NJ DEP’s Water Quality Restoration Grants.

Pine Island Cranberry Co. Receives NJ’s First NBCI Firebird Award

Bill Haines, Jr. owner and CEO of Pine Island Cranberry Company (PICC) of Chatsworth, NJ was the recipient of New Jersey’s first ever jim sloan, stef haines, john parke, firebird awardNational Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s (NBCI) National Fire Bird Conservation Award. The award, presented at the NJ Fish and Game Council Meeting by James Sloan, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) Upland Habitat/Game Biologist and NJ Coordinator of NBCI, recognizes entities and/or an individual’s contributions to that state’s efforts toward habitat-based restoration of wild bobwhite.

“The work done at Pine Island Cranberry Company over the years through active forest stewardship, combined with their participation in the national Bobwhite Quail recovery initiative could very well change the reintroduction effort in the Mid-Atlantic region for the species,” said Sloan.

According to NBCI, the award’s name, “Fire Bird”, symbolizes the historic reliance of Bobwhites on fire in much of its range to maintain the landscape in an “early successional” stage, that is, in the native grasses, wildflowers and young forest providing bobwhites with suitable habitat. The term “Fire Bird” in relation to Bobwhites was first coined by naturalist Herbert Stoddard, who researched bobwhites and worked to restore bobwhite habitat in the early 20th Century.

“PICC’s landscape characteristics, achieved by meticulously performing the conservation practices and prescriptions in their NJDEP approved Forest Stewardship Plan, are a natural match for the Bobwhite. The actions that Bill Haines Jr. and the PICC have taken will continue to create and enhance high quality habitat for the species in the years ahead as plan implementation progresses,” said John Parke, NJ Audubon Stewardship Project Director. “NJ Audubon congratulates Bill Haines, Jr and the staff at Pine Island Cranberry Company, on receiving this well-deserved award and commends PICC and PICC’s forester Bob Williams of Pine Creek Forestry, for their efforts to establish quality 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,” Parke added.

One of the translocated Bobwhite with radio collar at Pine Island CranberryBeginning in 2015, PICC, along with project partners NJ Audubon, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, the University of Delaware and Pine Creek Forestry conducted the first release of wild Northern Bobwhite translocated from Georgia to the PICC study site. To date, a total of 240 wild birds have been released and radio tracked via telemetry at the PICC site. This has resulted in 39 nests (1st confirmed nesting of wild Northern Bobwhite in the Pinelands since the 1980s), and 117 confirmed chicks. The project also demonstrated that translocated quail can over-winter from year to year. Additionally, researchers documented double-clutching nesting, where the male bird incubates while the female goes on to lay a second nest. These successes reflect the quality of habitat on the PICC site brought about through thoughtful and active land management and stewardship. By performing active management on the land, a balance of different cover types for nesting, brood rearing, and foraging were created, allowing for the translocated Bobwhite to take advantage of their naturally high reproductive potential.

“We are honored to receive this recognition, but it is an even greater honor to participate in the project with partners like NJ Audubon, the University of Delaware, Tall Timbers, and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife,” said Stefanie Haines of Pine Island Cranberry, receiving the award on behalf of her father. “We are proud that our stewardship practices benefit not only our business and our home, but the wildlife which surrounds us as well,” added Haines.

Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative

Photos Courtesy of NJ Audubon

First Bobwhite Quail Nests of 2017 Discovered at Pine Barrens Study Site

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.

1st hatched quail nest of 2017Today, with researchers at the Pine Island Cranberry Bobwhite Quail Translocation Study Site in Chatsworth, New Jersey Audubon has confirmed the hatching of two Bobwhite Quail nests.  

Twenty chicks were confirmed to have left the nest and were seen with adults. bobwhite quail chicks 

More exciting news came from the field today, as three more active nests (i.e. quail incubating eggs) were discovered at the study site, bringing the total nests for the season to 11.  

One of the hatchings was a milestone for the project; it marked the first double clutch of a translocated bird in New Jersey over the three-year project. 

Answer the callIt also marked the first time for the project in which a male successfully incubated the clutch to fruition. This particular nest had an unfortunate situation where the female was depredated during her second clutch egg laying – hence only 9 eggs were laid (typically Bobwhite typically lay between 12 and 16 eggs).  However the male finished out the incubation and successfully hatched 8 of the 9 eggs. 

Reproductive success is a critical component of the translocation project,” said John Parke, NJA Stewardship Project Director. “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.”

Click here to support the NJ Audubon Bobwhite Quail Restoration Initiative 

Photos by Phil Coppola and Gylla MacGregor