Notes on the River
Bobwhite Quail and Duvall Farm
Some might recall in times past that virtually any sojourn in the country would be
accompanied by the familiar clear rising whistle of the Bobwhite quail (Colinus
virginianus). Bob-white! or bob-bob-white! is the seductive call given by males in spring
and summer. These days, it is not commonly heard. The Bobwhite quail ranges up and
down the east coast and throughout the eastern portion of the country to Wisconsin and
Texas. Over the last thirty years, though, their populations have plummeted as
agricultural practices have intensified and taken over the grassy field buffers and woody
thickets that once provided ideal habitat for quail.
In Maryland, populations of these birds have declined ninety percent during the past
several decades. Such reductions are blamed on a loss of habitat combined with the short
life-span of the fowl. Out of every 100 Bobwhite that are alive in the fall following their
breeding season, typically 75-80 will perish over the next twelve months. When their
basic needs of cover, food, and shelter disappear, the birds are unable to reproduce. One
poor year can result in a large population decline. Several bad years in a row will
decimate their numbers.
Back in June we had the pleasure of visiting Duvall Farm, located between Easton and
Oxford, and it was unlike any farm either of us had toured. Instead of fields of beans or
corn stretching across the landscape, three large, stepped, shallow ponds fringed with
wetland plants and filled with ducks contour the land. Surrounding the ponds are
meadows of warm season grasses bordered by brush piles and thickets that provide
perfect habitat for Bobwhite. The wetlands and ponds are nature’s filters. The rainwater
that falls on the farm flows into each pond successively before entering Trippe’s Creek.
As we learned from Chip Akridge, the owner of Duvall, and as one might expect, the
water leaving the farm and running into the creek is clear and clean. Oysters are thriving
in the waterway near this flow. Wildlife and waterfowl are abundant. And numerous
coveys of Bobwhite explode from the bush.
Many of our conservancy members own acreage that borders the water, and several of
them have asked us to walk their property to assist them in finding ways to improve
natural habitat and become better river stewards. Over the past several months while
conducting these Stewardship Surveys we have helped owners with ways to address
issues such as shoreline erosion, the control of invasive species (such as Phragmites), the
overabundance of lawn grass, the need for natural buffers, and the possibilities for
restoring habitat. Tall grass and thickets are just the type of habitat that the Bobwhite
need and once established, these meadows require far less maintenance than turf grass.
With an interspersion of wildflowers and shrubs—an enticement for butterflies and
hummingbirds—these meadows provide a natural beauty that turf grass cannot approach.