Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar
Plenty of Turkey; Too Little Quail
My truck rumbled down the long drive lined with big hardwoods toward the big farmhouse set atop a soft rolling knoll off a small feeder creek along the Chester River. A gaggle of turkeys, mostly hens and a perhaps a few jakes, strutted across the gravel road, then made a mad dash into the cover of the under story when startled by a churning diesel. The young ones darted in the wrong way and in a comical about-face scampered back across when they realized their error.
The timing of the encounter was ironic considering the assessment of the states turkey population made just a few days earlier by Jim Gilford of Marylands Wild Turkey Advisory Committee. His comments jibed with what Ive seen around Queen Annes, Dorchester and Somerset counties, which is that Marylands wild turkey population is extremely fit.
Hunters after a gobbler get their chance October 25 through November 1 in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties. The bag limit is one bird per season per day, either sex.
In June, Marylands Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service reported that hunters harvested 3,120 wild turkeys, which was only slightly lower than the 2002 record harvest of 3,127.
At the time, DNRs wildlife and heritage director said, Marylands wild turkey population is at or near all-time highs, but the cold, rainy weather hampered many hunters this year.
Looking back over an old DNR press release, I noted with interest that the five counties with the highest harvest were Garrett (431), Allegany (332), Washington (325), Dorchester (325) and Worcester (304).
These numbers support DNRs position that after a 20-year restoration effort, the wild turkey population has stabilized throughout much of the state. Increases in counties such as Somerset, Talbot and Worcester continue, thus providing more turkey-hunting opportunities for Marylands sportsmen and women.
Critical to all wildlife gamebirds, mammals or songbirds is proper habitat. The turkeys on that farm have plenty of it and the state turkey program is clearly working.
But other bird species arent doing so well. According DNR biologist Bob Long, bobwhite quail, once abundant on Marylands farms and natural areas, are in serious decline. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife breeding survey from 1966 to 2001 shows a 90 percent decline in the last four decades.
This free-fall isnt limited to game birds like quail and pheasant. In fact, eight of nine species with similar habitat requirements shrubby hedgerows, grasslands and thinned forests for timber industry such as the Eastern meadowlark, prairie warbler and Eastern towhee, are also in dire straits.
The main reason is the same that is also strangling the Bay: the swallowing up of land by development. But initiatives like The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program can help restore the habitat of native species while improving water quality.
The program has been effective in buffer establishment; as of June of this year, more than 63,000 acres are enrolled in the program statewide. More than half are grass buffers.
But the bottom line is that without the land, no species stands a chance against the crush of humanity despite our best intentions.
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