About Dave Wheelan

Back home on their Range: Quail find Refuge on Restored Grassland by Tim Wheeler

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Dan Small, field ecologist for Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society, coordinates the Natural Lands Project, which works with private landowners to re-create Eastern Shore grassland habitat. (Dave Harp)

It’s a little past dawn on a foggy spring morning, but already the field on Maryland’s Upper Eastern Shore is wide awake. From the cover of tall grass and a few shrubs, a multilingual chorus of birds greets the new day with a cacophony of chirps, warbles and whistles, like a symphony tuning up before the concert.

Then, amid the familiar trills of red-winged blackbirds and other feathered regulars, comes a call rarely heard any more in these parts — bob-white! Down a lane across the field, the black-and-white striped head of a Northern bobwhite quail pokes out of some short grass.

Once commonly heard, if not seen, in brushy meadows and hedgerows, quail have become scarce in Maryland and elsewhere as farming practices have changed, eliminating much of the ground-dwelling birds’ habitat. This 228-acre prairie along the Chester River — part of sprawling Chino Farms in Queen Anne’s County — has become a refuge for quail since it was converted from cropland nearly 20 years ago.

“You really can’t go many places on the Shore and hear this many [quail],” said Daniel Small, an ecologist with Washington College, the private liberal arts college in Chestertown that uses the tract as a research station and outdoor classroom.

Bill Harvey, game bird section leader for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, agrees, calling the number of quail there “unbelievable.”

“It used to be that just about everywhere was quail habitat,” Harvey said. But in the interests of cultivating crops more efficiently, modern farming has removed the fencerows that once segmented the land into small fields, along with shrubbery and weeds along the edge of croplands — all of which provided shelter for grassland birds.

“As time has gone on,” Harvey added, “the acreage has shrunk to the point where a lot of [the habitat’s that’s left] is not connected in a way that quail can use it.”

But at the college’s Chester River Field Station, switchgrass and waist-high bunches of broomsedge bluestem wave in the gentle breeze, an uncommon sight in a rural landscape dominated by vast uninterrupted fields of corn and soybeans, the staples of Shore agriculture.

A quail takes flight from the grasslands at Washington College’s Chester River Field Research Station on Chino Farms. (Dave Harp)

Quail use the cover of the tall grass and occasional shrubs to forage on the ground for seeds, leaves and insects. During mating season in spring, they call to one another with their trademark whistle and a series of other sounds. In the winter, the birds huddle together for shelter in groups called coveys.

Small, who lives in a house on the tract, said it’s not clear just how many quail inhabit the grassland, which occupies just a sliver of the 5,000-acre Chino Farms — owned by Dr. Harry Sears, a retired physician who’s on the college’s governing board. But “calling counts” conducted on a portion of the tract have tallied about 35 male birds in that immediate area.

Though the grassland looks wild and even a tad unkempt to the untrained eye, it’s actually managed to stay that way. In a rotation intended to sustain the grasses but vary their height across the tract, blocks of land are periodically mowed, sprayed with herbicide and set ablaze with controlled burns. Otherwise, shrubs and eventually trees would take over. While that would be a natural succession, the aim in this case is to retain a haven for wildlife that thrive only in prairie-type landscapes.

Though quail — a once-popular game bird — may be the most charismatic denizen of the Chester River tract, they’re not the only avian species that have a stake in the success of the grassland restoration. In essence, according to Small, they’re an “umbrella” species for lots of other birds that need similar habitat, such as the grasshopper sparrow and field sparrow.

Like quail, a number of other grassland birds are in decline across Maryland, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. At one time, as many as 80 nesting grasshopper sparrow pairs were spotted on the Chester River tract, Small said, but their numbers have slowly dropped over the years. On that spring morning, he said, he hadn’t heard a single call.

For the past few years, the college, through its Center for Environment & Society, has been working to persuade other Shore landowners to follow suit and re-establish some of the grassland habitat that’s been lost over the decades, in hopes of reversing those declines.
In 2015, the school teamed up with Shore Rivers, a nonprofit advocacy group, to launch the Natural Lands Project, a bid to make some of the region’s farmland more wildlife friendly while also enhancing water quality by establishing grassy runoff buffers and wetlands along streams and rivers.

With the help of a $700,000 grant from the state DNR, the project team has enlisted 27 landowners in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. By the end of the year, it hopes to have converted 375 acres into grasslands, as well as another 36 acres into wetlands. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has kicked in $499,000 to create another 275 acres of upland habitat and 27 acres of wetlands, extending farther south into Talbot County.

“It’s not going to be for everyone, and we’re not trying to twist landowners’ or farmers’ arms to do this,” Small explained. “They have to want to create that change on the property.” But if someone has marginal cropland they’re willing to convert, he said, they can be compensated for taking the land out of production by signing up for one of the federal farmland conservation programs, with the project’s grant funding to help make up any difference.

Small said the team is most interested in working with landowners willing to convert at least 40–50 acres at a time, otherwise the habitat isn’t large enough to be really helpful. “You can’t expect to make a change in quail populations by doing five or 10 acres at a time,” he said. The project further attempts to create habitat on adjoining or at least nearby tracts, to create a corridor where quail can spread. The birds do not migrate or fly long distances.

Small said hunters are among the most receptive audience for the project’s habitat restoration pitch. They’d like to see Maryland’s small quail population grow and become more sustainable for hunting. New Jersey has banned quail hunting except on private game reserves, but it’s still legal to shoot wild quail in Maryland — if you can find them.

Harvey, the DNR game bird leader, said that while quail hunting has been restricted on public lands, wildlife managers have been reluctant to do likewise on private property because they believe it would undercut efforts to preserve and restore habitat.

“Just like Chino Farms and Dr. Sears,” Harvey pointed out, “a lot of the people interested and willing to take land out of production and spend the money it takes to manage for quail [are] at least somewhat interested in hunting for quail.”

Rob Leigh said that he and his wife Linda are still waiting to hear that distinctive “bob-white!” call on the 35 acres of farmland in Betterton that they turned into grassland and wildflowers 2.5 years ago.

Leigh, a retired dentist, recalls hearing the birds all the time when he was growing up on the Shore, and it’s what prompted him to place a portion of their 114-acre farm in the Natural Lands Project. He believes it’s only a matter of time until the birds take up residence there, as quail have been sighted just a few miles away.

Leigh said he was a little nervous at first about converting the cropland, which they’d been renting to a neighboring farmer to grow corn and soybeans. But the farmer found other land not far away, and Leigh said the lost rental income is covered by federal and grant funds.

Even without any quail yet, he added, they’re enjoying the sights and sounds of other wildlife on the converted cropland. “We see an immense array of different birds, of a variety I’ve never seen before,” he said. “The swallows and bluebirds, they just swoop up and down, they’re so fun to watch.” The patch of wildflowers planted in the center of the grassland has proven to be an insect magnet — drawing butterflies and so many bees that Leigh said they generate an audible buzz that carries across the field.

“I feel like we planted a prairie almost, it’s very lovely,” he said, calling the field “a kaleidoscope of color” in spring, first awash in yellow blooms and then hues of purple. “My wife loves it. She thinks it’s the best thing going.”

Timothy B. Wheeler is associate editor and senior writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Grants in Action: St. Martin’s Ministries and Women & Girls Fund Getting Women in the Saddle

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Over the last several decades, there have been countless studies done on the positive impact of teaching horseback riding skills to a full range of emotionally or intellectually challenged children. From those who have Down’s Syndrome, autism, or physical disabilities, these young people have shown extraordinary improvements in confidence, patience, and personal self-esteem after working with horses for even a short period.

St. Martin’s Ministries in Ridgely, who provides families, and particularly women and children, with the basic needs of food, clothing, and housing for the Mid-Shore region, wanted to use this technique to accomplish similar results for their residents and have been able to recently team up with Talbot Special Riders with a grant from the Women & Girls Fund this summer to make that happen.

The Spy sat down with Beth Spurry, who has served on the Women & Girls Fund Board of Directors for more than a decade, and who currently co-chairs the Fund’s grant committee, to talk about how such a small investment can yield such positive results.

We also talk to the St. Martin’s new executive director, Deborah Vornbrock, about the organization’s mission, and its partnership with Women & Girls Fund, to provide this unique opportunity for women at risk.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about St. Martin’s Ministries please go here

This is the eighth in a series of stories focused on the work of the Women & Girls Fund of the Mid-Shore. Since 2002, the Fund has channeled its pooled resources to organizations that serve the needs and quality of life for women and girls in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot Counties. The Spy, in partnership with the Women & Girls Fund, are working collaboratively to put the spotlight on twelve of these remarkable agencies to promote their success and inspire other women and men to support the Fund’s critical role in the future.

Dennis Powell and his Cast Iron Pans: ​A Manufacturer Comes to the AAM Craft Show​

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While the Mid-Shore’s Dennis Powell has agreed (and is honored) to be one of the featured artists at the Academy Art Museum’s famed Crafts Show this coming October, he still recoils slightly at being called an artist or even a craftsman.

That’s because his product, the simple American cast iron pan, is the result of an intensive manufacturing process that involves approximately 180 workers in a Pennsylvania foundry to produce his small run of some of the most remarkable cooking skillets in the world.

It also might be due to the fact that Powell started his company as the result of trying to solve an engineering problem rather than one of aesthetics. When his grandmother’s skillet from the 19th century finally cracked in 2013, his journey began to recreate somehow an ancient process in manufacturing cast iron pans that would have a surface similar to his grandmother’s; so smooth that scallops could be sautéed without seasonings or oil.

Dennis Powell has taken several years of study, and more than a few bucks, to follow this passion. With the support of an encouraging spouse, he started a project that would eventually bring a product of near perfection to market in 2016  as Butter Pat Industries, which offers for skillet sizes for some of the best-known chefs in America as well as “in the know” home cooks.

The Spy sat down with Dennis near his Easton Airport office to talk about cast iron, engineering, and the distinctive art and craft (Sorry Dennis) that comes with pan manufacturing.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum’s Crafts Show for 2018 please go here

A Lineman for the Country: Delmarva’s Bradley Hughes on Working on Puerto Rico’s Power Lines

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While Bradley Hughes calls Easton home, and his job is with Delmarva Power’s regional office in Centreville, it’s entirely accurate, with a few apologies to Glenn Campbell, to call him a power linesman for the country rather than a county.

With almost no notice, Bradley and his fellow linesmen can be assigned to any part of the United States for weeks at a time after a significant storm to help repair power lines. And for Hughes, that has meant long-term projects in Florida, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, and most recently, Puerto Rico.

Hughes calls this just part of his job, but very few make a career of working at very high heights, under hostile weather conditions, and for very long hours. It takes a unique calling and skill set to not only tolerate the work but enjoy it.

In fact, when talking to the Spy after he arrived back for three weeks in Puerto Rico about the horrific power shortages that island is facing, he referred to that challenge as the equivalent of being the Super Bowl of sorts for professional linesmen. It’s on these occasions for someone like Bradley to use all his skills, physical strength, and problem-solving skills to extreme levels while also returning power to 12,000 families during that time.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Delmarva Power’s efforts to help Puerto Rico please go here.

The Spy Columnists: David Montgomery

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There have been more than a few lucky moments in the Spy’s nine years of existence but none more so than the serendipitous formation of a unique team of volunteer public affairs columnists who grace its pages every week. These highly respected leaders in their lifetime careers, gifted with intellect, imagination and passion, spanning from the political left to right, has been one of the most significant assets of our hyper-local and education-based news portals.

The commentaries of Howard Freedlander, Craig Fuller, George Merrill, David Montgomery, and Al Sikes have considerably enhanced our community’s civil debates on the most pressing issues of our times. And while the written word is their chosen medium, the Spy, a great believer in multimedia with now over 2,000 video productions, has been grateful that they have agreed to be interviewed as our country enters into one of its most important elections in recent memory.

We begin this series with economist David Montgomery. During his career, which ranged from being a lead economist at the Office of Management and Budget to the Resources for the Future, David has framed his conservative, faith-based and free-market philosophy into some of the country’s most successful policy initiatives.

A case in point is Montgomery’s leading role in the creation of the highly innovative “cap and trade,” otherwise known as emissions trading, of the late 1970s and 1980s which became California’s most successful tool in controlling air pollution.

While David covered a multitude of issues in our interview with him at Bullitt House last week, his opinions on the timely topic of immigration and border control were so intriguing that we made it the central focus of this edited version.

This video is approximately ten minutes in length.

 

 

Senior Nation: Technology and America’s Elders with Leslie Walker

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Typically, when modern technology is discussed concerning those over 65 years old, the general narrative is that many senior Americans are suffering from a significant disadvantage or gap, if you will, in their inability to access the internet.

Retired before the frequent use of email, web research, or enterprise-related software had entered the lives of the professional classes, these elders, the story goes, have been marginalized due to their lack of computer skills in a world that continues to find new uses for the world wide web.

In some ways, that impression is correct. Over one-third of Americans over 65 years old do not use the internet at all in their daily lives while 90% of all Americans find themselves online almost every day. But when you look more in-depth in the numbers, as the University of Maryland’s Leslie Walker has done over the last few years, those statistics can be misleading.

Walker, who recently spoke at the 3rd annual Senior Summit at the Talbot County Community Center, counters that this age gap is dramatically narrowing. Indeed, the rate of adoption to the internet is increasing every year with seniors.

That is just one of the many subjects that Professor Walker shares after a remarkable career in the development of online news at the Washington Post (she was the first editor of washingtonpost.com) and now teaches at the Merrill School of Journalism at College Park.

The Spy sat down with Leslie for a quick interview after her formal presentation to talk about the revolutionary use of technology for those in their senior years, ranging from telemedicine to voice recognition, which has the potential to radically improve the quality of life for millions as they grow older.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. 

Maryland 3.0: The Long View from Main Street Cambridge

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From a variety of perspectives, the growing awareness on the Mid-Shore that Cambridge has become a hot foodie destination should make anyone involved in improving town’s economic development pretty happy.

From the urban sophistication of Poplar Bistro to chef Patrick Fleming’s growing collection of eateries, Cambridge’s downtown is slowly but surely working its way out of the dark days of economic recession.

That change of events has undoubtedly made many in that town feel a sense of optimism that a robust and thriving downtown is just around the corner for a community that has taken some pretty hard knocks for many years.

But as Katie Clendaniel, director of Downtown Cambridge noted in her interview with the Spy at Bullitt House a few weeks ago, the road back to full recovery is a long and complex one.

While the hospitality sector is a critical factor in making that happen, the less noticeable work of improving walkability, adding traffic calming infrastructure and the expansion of high-quality residential housing all are part of a much larger plan that may take many more years to achieve the maximum impact of the economic life of downtown Cambridge.

For Clendaniel, who was part of the original team of Easton’s successful Main Street program several years ago, this kind of incremental change is the reality of almost any serious revitalization program. While frustrating for those seeking easy and quick answers, this slow process requires equal amounts of long-range strategic planning and the collective patience of the community.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about Downtown Cambridge please go here

 

Mid-Shore History: Frederick Douglass and Wye House with Richard Tilghman

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It is impossible to go through the bicentennial year of Frederick Douglass and not talk about Wye House. And that is particularly the case with those who live on the Mid-Shore where one of America’s greatest heroes was born and raised.

While Douglass is only on record of having lived at Wye from approximately age six to nine, it is remarkable how much recollection he had of the place when he began writing his memories some decades later in 1845.

In fact, his memory of Wye was so indelibly fixed that he could recall in precise detail the physical location of almost every part of the estate including its smokehouse, kitchens, stables and slave quarters that archaeologists were returning to Wye more than hundred years later they were shocked to discover how accurate Douglass had been.

Wye is also the place that Douglass returned to at the very end of his life to reconcile those memories and formally forgive the the man who had beaten him while being a slave, the notorious slave driver Edward Covey in St. Michaels in 1891.  On that trip, he also decided to return to Wye House to meet with the descendant of Edward Lloyd, the original owner of the Wye plantation.

The Spy travelled to Wye House a few months ago to talk with the current owner, Richard Tilghman, who is also a direct descendant of the Lloyd family, to talk about the remarkable relationship of his family’s property with Douglass.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial on the Mid-Shore please go here

Election 2018: A Spy goes to Queen Anne’s County to Meet Barry Donadio

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This Election 2018 profile is the first of a six-part series on the intricate makeup and character of the 1st Congressional District of Maryland. Each month, the Spy will be interviewing different 1st District residents from Carroll County to the Lower Shore, both Democrats and Republicans, to discuss their unique sub-region of one of the largest congressional districts in the country, and the issues and political climate of those communities.

The Spy continues with a conversation with Republican Barry Donadio from Queen Anne’s County. Like many residents of western Queen Anne’s, Barry commuted across the Bay Bridge from his home in Chester for more than a decade as part of the Secret Service assigned to protect both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. After retiring in 2013, he quickly signed up as a volunteer for the GOP in QAC and eventually ran and won a seat on the county’s Republican Central Committee the following year.

In his Spy interest, Barry talks about his conservative positions, his support of both President Trump and Congressman Andy Harris, as well as his political analysis that the factors that drove many Queen Anne’s Democrats to vote Republican in 2016 still holds true in 2018.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. Barry Donadio is currently running for a seat on the Queen Anne’s County Commission.