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Talking Quail and Tall Timbers at Little Hobcaw Plantation

There has been a lot of talk about how bobwhite quail are largely absent from the Lowcountry landscape where they formerly were plentiful. Moving forward from simply talking about bringing bobwhites back from the brink, and actually improving wildlife habitat on the ground is slowly beginning to happen. Quail hunting enthusiasts are leading the way, but the Tall Timbers Research Station out of Florida is bringing its expertise to bear in the Carolinas. A Fall Field Day held on October 6 at Little Hobcaw Plantation in Williamsburg County gave attendees a chance to see up close the blueprint for a large-scale quail landscape.
Right now the primary focus for quail recovery is on large acreage habitats like found at the 3,680-acre Little Hobcaw Plantation. Filed Day attendees were able to learn about the rich hunting heritage of the property that was once owned by Bernard Baruch. This was Baruch’s upland hunting area, and separate from the famed Hobcaw Barony property in Georgetown. Little Hobcaw Plantation hosted an impressive list of guests including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This turn key quail hunting property is currently for sale by Southern Pine Plantations company out of Georgia, who hosted the field day.
The Carolina Regional Quail Project by Tall Timbers includes having project manager Reggie Thackston in S.C. as much as possible to grow the program. Thackston joined SCDNR director Alvin Taylor in September to sign a Memorandum Of Agreement that creates the S.C. Bobwhite Funding Partnership (SCBFP). To date the majority of funding for quail habitat work came from federal or state sources, and the SCBFP provides another tool for Tall Timbers to raise private funding for habitat work since they are a 501(C)3 organization. The work will be done in conjunction with the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative which was formed in 2015.
The battle to bring back the whistle of bobwhite quail to woodlands isn’t all about money though, and Tall Timber’s Bill Palmer spoke about new emphasis on the practice of prescribed fire. “We are planning to add 100,000-acres of quail habitat in the Southeast over the next ten years, and will rely on the commitment of private landowners to do so,” said Palmer. “So Tall Timbers is recommitting to the culture of prescribed fire, because it’s a practice that we don’t need to let go, and in fact it is a part of our Southern culture.”
A large property like Little Hobcaw allows adjacent properties to better manage for quail, in what is called the hub and spoke model. If a smaller property is too isolated from large scale quail woods then quail management is less realistic. But with enough hubs across the S.C. landscape, then meaningful quail recovery becomes more possible. Tall Timber’s Theron Terhune spoke about the importance of creating multiple hub and spoke habitat projects just to keep up with threats from predation or even something as unpredictable as a harsh winter. When it comes to quail populations, the more the better, and that ties directly to habitat acreage.
Terhune worked with SCDNR to produce a map of focal regions in South Carolina where these projects are most likely to succeed. The Indian Creek Project in the Sumter National Forest in the upstate is an example of a place where quail habitat restoration had already been in place for years. The South Lowcountry is represented on this map by the 25,000-acre corridor of Wildlife Management Area lands in Hampton County that comprises the Webb, Palachucola and Hamilton Ridge properties. But somehow the plantation belt of the ACE Basin and Colleton County did not make the grade as a S.C. Bobwhite Initiative Focal area. Nevertheless, Colletonians that practice controlled burns, manage timber thinning, and maintain Ag field borders will likely hear the call of bobwhite quail.
SCDNR’s Breck Carmichael is a longtime quail advocate and he shared that landowner workshops will commence around the state very soon. “I think it’s important to have a presence by Tall Timbers here in South Carolina,” said Carmichael. “Michael Hook is the tip of the spear for SCDNR when it comes to the S.C. Bobwhite Initiative, as we implement quail habitat work.” Working closely with SCDNR and the Farm Bill will reveal ways for landowners to apply for incentive payments for conservation management practices like planting longleaf pine trees.
When it comes to the grassland loving bobwhites, everything from the smallest insects they eat to the escape cover they require must exist. The forest of the South can still provide a place for quail to flourish, but more outreach like the Tall Timbers Field Day is required. Hearing the social whistle call of quail, joining up together in a covey, is missing from most landscapes today. Here’s hoping that the sound of the bobwhite whistle becomes much more common, with birddogs and hunting traditions on point right behind them.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (296 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com