The distinctive two-note whistle of northern bobwhite quail - "bahhhhhb-wite!" - again could be heard in 35 western and southern Ohio counties, including three in northwest Ohio, under a new state-federal program to restore populations of this popular gamebird.
Known officially as the Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat/Upland Bird Initiative, the effort is sponsored by the federal Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program, commonly known as CRP. It aims to create 250,000 acres of essential upland bird habitat in 35 states, including 14,200 acres in Ohio.
The focus will be to create nesting and brood-rearing cover along cropland field borders and at the same time establish travel corridors between plots of cover.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for private landowners interested in attracting bobwhite quail," said Steve Gray, chief of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which is cooperating in the project. "Grassland buffers along crop fields enhance the movement of existing quail coveys and are a critical component of this restoration program."
Bobwhite numbers have declined nationally over the last 20 years, mainly because of loss of early successional grassland corridors and the transition of former grasslands into either woodlots or row crops.
In Ohio the infamous killer blizzards of 1977 and 1978 decimated bobwhite populations and they still have not recovered. Ohio lies at the upper edge of quail range, especially the northern half of the state. But decent habitat would help the birds weather the weather.
Quail currently thrive in huntable numbers only in a narrow band of 16 counties near the Ohio River. A limited quail hunting season again is proposed for 2005 by the state wildlife division, Nov. 4 through 27.
The initial target counties for quail restoration mostly are western and southern, but include Williams, Defiance, and Wyandot in the northwest region.
To be eligible, cropland to be enrolled must meet basic eligibility and crop-history criteria for CRP. Landowners should contact the local Farm Service Agency offices in their counties.
Payments for enrollment include a one-time incentive of up to $100 an acre, practice incentives of up to 40 percent of the cost of establishing cover, and annual rental payments for up to 10 years. When combined with cost-sharing assistance of 50 cents, up to 90 percent of reimbursable costs are covered, the wildlife division said.
If Ohio's program allotment of 14,200 acres is enrolled before the end of the program period, the end of 2007, the state should be able to receive an additional acreage allotment, said Luke Miller, quail project administrator for the wildlife division.
"We need to make that connecting [corridor] habitat part of the landscape. And stay off the mowers," Miller asserted. He was referring in the latter statement to the all-too-often practice known as recreational mowing, in which grasslands are cut for no good reason, at times in violation of CRP rules.
"Unfortunately, quail are an edge species. They really like an edge," Miller added, referring to grassy cover next to cropland. Landowners most avid about reestablishing local coveys also should consider leaving some plots of standing corn or sorghum for feed, said Miller.
He noted that quail are nonmigratory homebodies, a covey typically confining itself to less than a square mile of range. "Their whole life revolves around that area."
Bobwhites do not particularly like to fly, Miller added. "They like to move on their feet. That's why buffers are important." Anyone who has enjoyed watching a covey skittering under the protective canopy of a brushrow or fencerow can attest to that.
Benefits from quail habitat restoration would cascade upon other grasslands species, from ring-necked pheasants to such nongame songbirds as eastern meadowlark, dickcissel, field and Henslow's sparrows, and common yellowthroats. Many of the latter songbirds are in decline because of lost grasslands. Those losses are the results of changing agricultural practices and overzealous, often unnecessary roadside mowing.
Miller noted that a few coveys of quail are known in Michigan's southern tier counties of Hills-
dale and Lenawee, and the restoration program in Williams and Defiance counties could benefit from their dispersal. "And the only way they will disperse is by connecting the [habitat] dots."
A proposal to establish a limited trapping season for river otters is the only significant change proposed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife for the state's hunting and trapping regulations for 2005-2006
The otter season would run Dec. 26 through Feb. 28 in 43 counties under very conservative limits of just three a season in an eastern-southeastern zone, one in a central-southern zone. Western Ohio would be closed to otter trapping. A special permit would be required on state public hunting areas.
State wildlife biologists recently noted that the reintroduction of river otters has been so successful in some areas that the species could become overabundant without careful, limited population control.
In other proposals, Sept. 1 again would be the proposed kickoff date for hunting seasons for squirrel, dove, Canada goose, teal, moorhen, and snipe.
A complete listing of season dates is available on the state Web site, www.ohiodnr.com. Opening dates will closely parallel those of 2004, adjusted for the calendar.
A separate consideration of deer-hunting proposals is scheduled Feb. 9 by the Ohio Wildlife Council, which recently reviewed all other proposals. The later deer review is done because the current archery deer season does not end till Jan. 31, and biologists need time to assess 2004-2005 results before making final recommendations on zones and bags.
Public open houses on the proposals, to be held at each of five district wildlife offices, are set for March 6, noon to 3 p.m. Ohio Wildlife District 2 headquarters are at 952 Lima Ave., Findlay. The district telephone number is 419-424-5000. The toll-free statewide number is 1-800-WILDLIFE.