A bird’s eye view of conservation (Keeping the Farm)
(Editor’s note: John Markon is a public affairs technician with Virginia USDA-NRCS.)
The Delmarva Peninsula’s status as one of the world’s most utilized aerial thoroughfares for migrating birds isn’t very surprising when examined from the birds’ point of view.
Bounded by large expanses of water on both the east and west, the Delmarva’s topography makes avian navigation as straightforward as possible.
It’s also wide and wooded enough, even at its narrowest points in Virginia, to provide for a migrating flock’s spring and fall requirements for edibles (primarily seeds and insects), fresh water and temporary shelter.
It’s no small wonder that the peninsula has always been an area of high activity and high importance for Ducks Unlimited and other conservation-minded organizations.
This spring, Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory surveys identified 173 bird species on a monitored section of the Atlantic Flyway in Virginia.
“It’s a mistake to think only about ducks, which some people do,” said Julie Hawkins, the NRCS’ assistant state conservationist for financial assistance and easement programs in Virginia. “Millions of other birds migrate along the same Atlantic Flyway every year — songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl The migration includes the monarch butterfly, and the region is a critical stopover for all. Diverse wildlife habitats are needed to support these species, and the Eastern Shore has maritime forests, which are very rare, mature mixed hardwood forests, young forests, old fields, tidal wetlands, tidally influenced streams and riparian habitats, beaches, dunes and mud flats — plus all the marine habitats.”
Through habitat work under several conservation programs, NRCS makes life easier and safer for migratory populations.
Working Lands for Wildlife is a great example and opportunity for Virginia landowners.
The agency has identified the black duck as a target species for this collaborative approach to conserving habitat, focusing on the Atlantic Flyway in specific regions of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay watersheds in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.
Now in its third year, the American Black Duck Initiative seeks to enhance and restore waterfowl habitat as well as to control invasive species through a variety of conservation practices.
Some of the practices are designed to develop new sources of fresh water, particularly shallow-water impoundments where the ducks forage and refresh on their migratory route.
Working Lands for Wildlife is just one USDA program available to assist landowners considering conservation practices endorsed by Virginia’s state wildlife action plan.
The Conservation Stewardship Program and Conservation Reserve Program offer financial assistance for improving water quality and enhancing natural woodlands and/or wetlands on privately-owned land.
Landowners are also able to choose to ensure the long-term preservation of wetlands through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.
Wetland restoration is a popular practice also available through CSP and CRP, offering landowners an opportunity to rehabilitate parcels that may have been drained or degraded for crop or timber production.
Program activities return the wetlands to a natural state, so they can again provide food, water and sheltered protection to any number of species.
“Over the last few years, we’ve worked through the Farm Service Agency’s CRP program to plant more than 60 acres of pollinator habitat on the Eastern Shore in Virginia,” says Jane Corson-Lassiter, the NRCS’ district conservationist for Accomack and Northampton counties. “With an additional 30-plus acres planted under CSP, these wildflower meadows provide multiple blooms throughout the summer and early fall to attract pollinating insects.
“As the flowers bloom and then set seed, they can fuel the migrating songbirds with both seeds and insects. They literally produce billions of seeds.”
Landowners can take many measures to benefit wildlife habitat and to provide for both resident and migratory species.
NRCS offers free technical assistance to assess the current site conditions and then develop a conservation plan to boost wildlife habitat.
“Virginia’s part of the Delmarva is particularly crucial for birds because migrating flocks tend to gather and rest on the southern tip before they make the long flight over the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Corson-Lassiter. “Some of these birds are flying several thousand miles, and our unique area supports this special population.”
Landowners on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are invited to call 757-787-0918 or visit the NRCS office at 22545 Center Parkway in Accomac.
Jane Corson-Lassiter and Soil Conservationist Jenny Templeton will be available to share how these programs can help create or restore habitat for birds and other wildlife on your land.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925