SOMERSET CO., Maine — The generosity and conservation ethic of the following farmers, landowners, and land trusts has saved over 400 acres of productive bobolink habitat for the 2017 field season:
Marilyn and Peter Barlow, landowners, Union
Damariscotta River Association, Damariscotta
Mabel Doyle, landowner, Montville
Paul Frederic, Frederic Farm, Starks
Ron Frederick, Frederick Farm, Norridgewock
Georges River Land Trust, Brent West, Stewardship Program Manager, Rockland
Gwen and Ernie Hilton, Hyl-Tun Farm, Starks
Lee Kinney, Knox Ridge Farm, Knox
David and Billie Jo Krebs, Krebs Dairy Farm, Starks
Delia and Ted Mohlie, landowners, Waldoboro with Travis Reed, Reed Farm, Waldoboro and Medomak Valley Land Trust
Dean Paine, Paine Farm, Madison
Andy and Sue Sevey, Broadcrest Farm, Ripley
Raivo Vihman, landowner, Freedom
In a tremendous and enormously successful conservation effort, all of the above farms, landowners and land trusts collaborated with the Somerset, Knox-Lincoln and Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation Districts this summer to conserve grassland bird habitat, resulting in the fledging of hundreds of bobolink youngsters this month. Bobolink family groups were up and about by July 10, gliding over grasslands, hunting for insects and making their joyous calls. In addition to hosting bobolinks, many of the fields in the program were also nesting grounds for savannah sparrows and possibly meadowlarks.
Funds were provided by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund (www.maine.gov/IFW/MOHF.html) for the Somerset County District’s Agricultural Allies program, an outreach and education project intended to encourage safe nesting habitat for grassland birds.
Bobolinks are an iconic sight and sound each spring in the fields and meadows of Maine. In addition to being a delight to see and hear, bobolinks and other grassland birds are true agricultural allies to central Maine farmers as these birds consume large quantities of both insect pests and weed seeds each growing season. Sadly, the population of these beneficial birds has been in a steady and precipitous decline since the 1960s. The bobolink appears on the State of the Birds 2014 Watchlist of bird species most in need of conservation action (www.stateofthebirds.org). Here in Maine, according to Dr. Noah Perlut, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of New England, Maine is losing its bobolink population at a rate of more than 3 percent each year for the past 15 years. The reason we have habitat for these birds at all is because of our agricultural landscape. Unfortunately, however, most hayfields are cut at least once during the nesting timeframe (end of May – mid July), which results in total nestling mortality, a pattern that plays out across the state each summer.
The willingness of these farmers and landowners to delay mowing on their fields was the key to survival for a large number of bobolink nestlings, providing a significant benefit to the grassland birds of Maine. For these farmers to make room in their already complex forage management programs is truly inspirational. We as a society need to recognize and support these local farmers who are not only providing us with quality food and fiber, but also with conservation and maintenance of critical habitat for our wildlife.
It is not only farmers who can help grassland birds, however. “Everyone can have a hand in helping these birds,” says Laura Suomi-Lecker, manager of the Ag Allies program. “If we as the general public could leave grass areas un-mowed until August 1 or into the fall, including letting some lawn area ‘go natural’, we could help create non-competitive grasslands for birds, pollinators and other wildlife.” Reducing manicured lawn in favor of meadow creation not only benefits wildlife, but it saves time, fuel and money for landowners, making it a true win-win situation.
We encourage people to contact the Somerset County SWCD (http://somersetswcd.org/ag-allies/) to find out more about the Ag Allies program and get involved with this critical conservation effort.
A big thank you to our producers of “Bobolink Friendly” hay!!!!
—Somerset County Soil and Water Conservation District
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