The instructions that follow will direct you along a self-guided tour of the central area of Chesapeake Farms® (a word of caution: due to poor road conditions or various activities the tour may be closed during dates that are listed as open. To check on status of the tour stop at the office or call (410) 778-8400 before starting).
There are 14 stops on the tour. Each stop is marked by a sign bearing a number (1, 2, etc.). Refer to the matching number in the instructions for a description of what to see.
Useful brochures about Chesapeake Farms®, Kent County and wildlife can be found at the Chesapeake Farms office.
The tour begins at the Farms’ main waterfowl rest area across from the headquarters building. Please stay in your car while visiting Chesapeake Farms®.
This pond is Chesapeake Farms® main waterfowl rest area, one of several areas on the Farms where waterfowl are not disturbed. Here you may sit in your car and, during October through early March, observe a variety of migratory waterfowl including up to 10,000 Canada geese and just as many ducks including mallards, pintails, green-wing teal, shovelers and other species.
Because waterfowl concentrate in such large numbers on their wintering grounds, undisturbed rest areas, such as this one, which has been in existence since 1940, are essential to good management. Providing a rest area holds waterfowl in the general area, distributes hunting opportunity over the season, and makes the birds readily visible for the enjoyment of hunters, birders, photographers and all other nature lovers.
To reduce the possibility of a waterfowl disease outbreak, this rest pond is drained during the summer months, and then repeatedly disked to aerate the soil.
Make a U-turn and proceed back toward the Main Entrance 0.4 miles.
All agricultural activities at Chesapeake Farms® adhere to Best Management Practices. Thus, nutrient management plans are followed to ensure that the proper amount of fertilizer is added to the soil to produce abundant crops while eliminating nutrient enrichment of Chesapeake Bay. Pesticides are applied on a prescription basis, i.e., integrated pest management principles are used so that only those crop protection chemicals needed to control pest infestations are applied. The most technologically advanced crop protection products developed by Corteva Agriscience the Ag Division of DowDuPont are used to control pests in these crops. In addition, winter cover crops such as wheat are planted to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These crops absorb fertilizer which may not have been used by cash grains planted the previous spring. By converting the fertilizer into plant biomass, the cover crops keep nitrogen out of ground water and prevent it from being transported to Chesapeake Bay.
In the United States, production agriculture provides the least expensive and safest food supply in the world.
Continue to end of drive, turn left, proceed to Rt. 20, turn right onto tour road and proceed 0.2 miles past the gate to the next stop.
Hedges and fence rows provide travel lanes, food, cover, and nesting sites for many species of wildlife. Bobwhite quail, song birds, rabbits, deer, raccoons, opossums, and foxes all benefit from hedgerows. Hedges and fencerows also protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Hedges are maintained by plowing, burning, or mowing adjacent to the hedge to keep it from spreading. Control of trees within the hedge is essential to prevent shading out of the desirable hedge plants that require full sun. Trees within the hedge are controlled mechanically or with herbicides. We trim the hedge periodically with a boom mower which keeps the hedge from spreading and promotes new growth of the plants.
The Wildlife Research Project at Chesapeake Farms®, which is conducted in cooperation with several universities, has discovered that rabbits prefer dense hedges that are bordered by strips of mowed grass. Songbirds are most plentiful along the edges of woods that are bordered by a hedge.
This hedge contains multiflora rose, which is considered an invasive exotic species. In other words, multiflora rose was introduced from another country and can be detrimental to native ecosystems by invading and dominating areas where it was not planted. In many states, but not Maryland, multiflora rose is considered a noxious weed and landowners are required to control or eliminate it. At Chesapeake Farms®, we control multiflora rose through mowing, burning, tillage and herbicides. Because of its value to wildlife, especially nesting and wintering songbirds, we do not try to eliminate multiflora rose. To learn more about invasive plant species such as tree of heaven, mile-a-minute weed and Japanese stilt grass visit the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States web site at https://www.invasiveplantatlas.org/ or the National Invasive Species Information Center web site at www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/ .
Continue 0.2 miles.
Grassed waterways and grassed filter strips along farm roads and ditches move water gently down slopes and help keep streams, ponds, and duck marshes free of sediments. Mowing or burning on a two to three year rotation controls the invasion of unwanted trees. This waterway is planted to tall fescue. This deep-rooted perennial bunch grass is an excellent soil binder that is used to stabilize soil on waterways, banks and ditches. By itself it has low value to wildlife as food or cover.
Grassed waterways and road sides can provide nesting sites for bluebirds if nesting boxes are provided. Note the nest boxes on the right and in the waterway to your left. If large grassed areas are present, kestrels, our smallest hawk, may be attracted to nest boxes like the one on the utility pole ahead of you on your right.
Continue 0.2 miles.
Farm ponds provide water for livestock and upland and woodland wildlife. In addition they provide habitat for many aquatic species such as fish, frogs and other amphibians, turtles and waterfowl. The wide variety of animal life that is found in wetland habitats attract other species such as ospreys, great blue herons, and raccoons.
Continue 0.1 mile.
In this area you will see plantings for white-tailed deer. Clover, a high protein and highly digestible food, is one of the primary food plots we plant for deer. However, these food plots can be overtaken by weeds that cannot be controlled without eliminating the clover. Consequently, we convert weedy clover fields to soybeans, which are also high in protein and easily digested by deer, so that we can use herbicides to control weeds like Canada thistle. Once the weeds are under control, we plant winter wheat in the fall, seed clover by broadcasting in the winter and mow the wheat in early summer. This process re-establishes an excellent stand of clover which can be used by deer for several years. Clover is less expensive to establish and maintain than soybeans so it is a preferred planting for deer. Clover should be mowed at least once each summer and the soil should be limed and fertilized according to soil test results.
In addition to providing food and cover for deer, at Chesapeake Farms® we actively manage the deer herd through hunting. By following a quality deer management program, the herd is maintained in balance with the habitat, there are approximately equal numbers of bucks and does in the herd and there are many adult males. To achieve a quality deer herd requires harvest of an adequate number of females and restraint in harvesting young males. To learn more about quality deer management visit the Quality Deer Management Association web site www.qdma.com.
Continue 0.1 miles.
The margins of many of our ponds are planted with annual and perennial food plants. In addition to food, these plantings provide nesting cover for many species of birds. One-half of the pond margin is burned or mowed every 2 or 3 years to control the hedge and invading woody plants and to maintain the grassy-weedy nature of the pond margin.
The border of this pond is planted with bicolor lespedeza. This legume is a perennial semi-woody plant that will grow up to 10 feet tall. Mowing will keep the plants at about 6 feet tall. The pink to purple flowers, which are produced during late summer are attractive to honey bees. Bicolor lespedeza provides food, in the form of seed, and cover for a variety of wildlife species including bobwhite quail, turkey and ring-neck pheasant. Before planting bicolor lespedeza, a species that is native to Japan, consult with your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service office or state natural resources agency to check the status of this plant in your area. In some regions, bicolor is considered an invasive species.
Continue 0.6 miles.
Visible here to the right and left is a series of shallow ponds (depth 1 foot or less) serving as feeding areas for waterfowl. These ponds are drained each summer, plowed and planted to various strains of millet, corn, and/or sorghum. When the grain matures in the fall, the ponds are flooded providing watery duck pastures. When flooded, these ponds provide habitat for several species of turtles including Eastern painted and snapping turtles. Dr. Aaron Krochmal (Washington College, Chestertown, MD) and Dr. Timothy Roth (Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA) have studied the ecology of these turtles, specifically, how they respond to the loss of habitat when the ponds are drained for planting. They have found that turtles use specific, repeated migration routes to move between ponds annually, and that these routes are learned and maintained with complex cognitive and behavioral patterns. Because they are so shallow, ponds designed for annual drawdown and planting normally require minimal construction. On a relatively level site with suitable soil, such as this one, they are not expensive to create. Note the simple concrete and drop-board structures which permit easy manipulation of water levels.
Before constructing any pond, make sure you comply with all applicable wetlands regulations by consulting with state and federal natural resources agencies in your area.
In this area, you may also observe single-strand electric fences. These fences effectively limit access by deer so that corn planted as a winter food for waterfowl can achieve maximum yield. Although the deer could easily jump the fence or crawl under it, the shock they receive on their first encounter with the fence appears to make them avoid the area. Electric fences like these can help farmers protect valuable crops on a small scale and at a reasonable price. You may see this type of fence elsewhere on Chesapeake Farms® where we wish to exclude deer from crops planted for research purposes or to provide food for waterfowl in the fall and winter.
Continue 0.5 miles, turning left at the intersection.
Between this point and the next stop, is a marsh covering some 40 acres to the right of the road. Before flooding in the 1960s, this marsh was similar to the woods on your left. The woods were flooded, and the trees killed by flooding, to create a large body of open marsh for waterfowl and other species that use marsh habitat. Besides serving as wildlife habitat, this area is the water-storage area for flooding the shallow ponds viewed at Stop 8. Note the outlet structure, culvert, and ditch leading to these ponds. The beaver on this marsh do their best to plug this outlet structure, but its special design effectively fools them.
Generally, marshes can be burned every three years to prevent encroachment of hardwoods and promote growth of marsh plants. Marsh plants that have been burned are more nutritious for wildlife and produce more seeds than those that are not burned.
Continue 0.2 miles.
At this point you can see artificial nesting structures for waterfowl, primarily wood ducks. You may notice these structures in other wooded or water areas along the tour. These nest boxes substitute for natural cavities found only in large old trees. Due to extensive logging of old growth forests, wood ducks were pushed to the edge of extinction in the early 1900s. However, nest box programs like the one here and closely regulated hunting have helped make the wood duck the most common nesting duck in the U.S. east of the Mississippi and Maryland’s most abundant native waterfowl species.
Note the metal cone predator guard below the nest box. Predators, primarily raccoons and snakes, will readily destroy nests without such guards. Natural cavities do not have such protection which partially explains why artificial nesting structures located in good habitat can contribute substantially to production of wood duck nestlings.
Many other bird species such as screech owls and woodpeckers require a tree cavity for nesting but will accept a man-made substitute. Squirrels like them if overhanging branches allow access. On the tour you have also seen nest boxes for bluebirds, tree swallows, and kestrels. The starling and English or house sparrow, both introduced from Europe, have become pests and are aggressive competitors for nest boxes, presenting an ongoing challenge to resource management of our native species.
In late 2004, we helped launch the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative http://dnr.maryland.gov/wildlife/Pages/MWDI/index.aspx by entering into a collaborative agreement to re-develop our wood duck program into one of MWDI’s “best practice” project areas. An inventory of existing boxes, their condition and placement, as well as an estimate of prior hatch results was first obtained. A phased expansion and replacement / relocation of old boxes and predator guards occurred increasing our total box count to 73 from 50. Use of these sites now averages about 70% with a successful hatch occurring in more than 70% of those utilized. Production has grown from an estimated 159 ducklings in 2004 to a range of 450-480 annually with a peak year of 583! More than 4,300 ducklings have fledged over the past 10 years. These gains have been accomplished by minimizing nest strife, reducing starling competition and increasing nesting capacity. Generally by visually hiding and placing more boxes in the woods’ margin (look for boxes along in the woods along the tour) nest dumping and competition with starlings are reduced. Nest use occurs during the March -July period and nest monitoring typically begins in late April through August. Banding of fledged wood ducks periodically occurs in September. Details of our wood duck program can be found on MWDI’s website in the annual public survey report. We appreciate the financial support for the wood duck program which was provided primarily by the Chesapeake Wildlife Exhibition & Sale in memory of Shirley B. Susen.
Ospreys also use artificial structures for nesting. In this marsh, they nest on towers built for observing wood duck nesting as part of our Wildlife Research Project. Since the banning of DDT, which limited many bird populations through thinning of egg shells, ospreys have become common throughout coastal areas of the United States. They prefer nesting over water and will readily adapt to a variety of nest structures.
Our national symbol, the bald eagle, can be seen regularly at this stop. These majestic birds were once endangered, but are now common enough to be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. Their recovery is symbolic of the effectiveness of modern wildlife management and man’s efforts to provide clean air and water, and to use environmentally safe pesticides. Look for these birds in dead trees both in the marsh and along the back edge of the marsh. Juvenile eagles, which have brown heads and tails rather than the characteristic white, are seen more commonly here than adults.
Continue 0.6 miles.
On your left is a demonstration of an upland wildlife management design for small “odd-corner” areas found on most farms. Food, and nesting, loafing and escape cover for rabbits, quail, and songbirds are all provided here by alternating strips of shrubs with mowed and unmowed grass.
In the field to your right, is a stand of native warm season grasses including switch grass, big blue stem, little blue stem, Indian grass and side-oats gramma grass. To provide nesting cover for birds and hiding cover for deer and other mammals this area is burned periodically in late winter. Native warm season grasses are very deep rooted which increases stress tolerance, soil organic matter and infiltration rates. Because these species are native to our area there is no concern about them becoming invasive.
Turn around just ahead and return 1 mile to continue tour, turning left at junction with main road.
On your right is an area that is being managed for cottontail rabbits. Rabbits prefer habitat that provides an interspersion of thick brushy areas that provide escape cover and winter foods and grassy areas that provide nesting cover and spring and summer foods. Other species such as bobwhite quail, bluebirds and indigo buntings also benefit from this type of management. Prescribed burning, mowing and herbicides are used to keep the area from reverting to woodlands. Typically, each area is mowed or burned every three years and herbicides are used as needed to control undesirable vegetation such as saplings of sweetgum and black locust.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Our woodlands are managed to provide income, firewood, and wildlife habitat and to be aesthetically pleasing. Woodlots are thinned by herbicide treatment or by cutting for firewood. The trees left are those with the greatest potential for lumber or as food and cover producers for wildlife. Special care is taken to leave trees with cavities to serve as nesting and/or den sites for wildlife. In some areas, a technique known to foresters as a seed tree cut is applied. In a seed tree cut, all trees are removed except those which are left to produce seeds that will regenerate the forest. At Chesapeake Farms®, we also leave mast producing trees such as oak and cherry and den trees in our seed tree cuts. Wildlife habitat is enhanced by leaving these additional trees.
Young stands of pole-sized trees (5-10 inches in diameter) are generally poor wildlife habitat. Their value to wildlife can be increased by thinning to allow more sunlight to reach the forest floor and by erecting nest boxes to substitute for the absence of cavities.
Gypsy moth caterpillars defoliated and killed hundreds of acres of our oak forest in 1983-1986. Where practical, we salvage logged the merchantable trees and used part of the income to replant the cutover areas to pines and hardwoods less susceptible to gypsy moths. At the present time gypsy moth populations are low and are not causing a problem in our woodlands.
Continue 0.1 mile.
Windbreaks of conifers and shrubs prevent soil from blowing, protect buildings, reduce fuel costs, and provide food and shelter for wildlife.
You can create wildlife habitat in your own back yard by planting appropriate trees and shrubs, erecting nesting and roosting structures, and providing bird feeders. Two excellent sources of information for homeowners or small landowners who wish to develop wildlife habitat on their land are websites of the National Wildlife Federation https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/. Under Topics click on Plants and Animals.
We hope you enjoyed the tour. Please contact us if we can provide additional details.