Habitat & Conservation  |  11/03/2022

Private Lands Conservation Spotlight: Albert Wachtmeister and Black Marsh Farm

Staff Photo

“October is for quail”

By Celia Vuocolo, Quail Forever Private Lands Biologist

When I recently asked Albert Wachtmeister what he’s been up to lately, his response wasn’t at all surprising. “October is for quail” perfectly encapsulates his intense dedication to the species and passion for managing his land for bobwhite quail.

Albert manages 118 of Black Marsh Farm’s total 541 acres for bobwhite quail, but you can find them pretty much anywhere on his Caroline County property in Virginia’s Northern Coastal Plain. The sandy soils of what we call the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck regions have long supported a strong agricultural community built on annual crop production and loblolly pine plantations. Both of these activities have helped create a patchwork of early successional habitat across a still rural area that keeps this species holding on strong.

Originally from Sweden, Albert splits his time between his home country and beloved Virginia farm. The property is unique in that it boasts the typical old farmhouse, outbuildings and crop fields as well as an abandoned plant nursery. It’s not uncommon to find old rows of arbor vitae and other landscape plants peppered in around the crop fields where quail are known to scuttle in and out of the evergreens.

Albert’s quail management areas include a mix of annual food plot strips, a pine savanna project with young loblolly plants and a handful of small fallow fields for restoration of native warm-season grasses. As his regional Quail Forever biologist, I work closely with Albert and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) local district conservationist to increase these grassed areas and thicket cover on his property for more diversified habitat.

These plantings will contain wildflowers and flowering shrubs for thicket cover that will provide nectar and pollen sources for a variety of native insect pollinators on the farm. We’re also incorporating native partridge pea and ragweed into his annual food plots and field edges to complement more traditional cover crops. What isn’t in habitat is leased to a local farmer who uses cover crops in his corn and soybean production to build soil health, reduce erosion and create more breeding and nesting areas.

Albert has actively used prescribed fire in a fallow field behind his house that has a healthy mix of native weedy forbs and grasses and added invasive species control to his ever-growing list of habitat work. He is also working with NRCS to develop a forest management plan that will include recommended practices to help him better maintain his pine savanna and other forested areas with financial assistance available through Farm Bill programs.

Albert’s river frontage rolls along the Rappahannock, a state Scenic River that empties into the Chesapeake Bay and is a prime location for bald eagle sightings. The Bay was long ago recognized as a national treasure and historically supported a booming fishing industry. Now, 82 percent of its tidal region is polluted with a “dead zone” of roughly 1.5 cubic miles, so everything Albert is doing for wildlife and conservation is positively impacting the Bay. He has teamed up with the Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District and Friends of the Rappahannock to restore some river frontage via the Living Shoreline practice available through the Virginia Conservation Assistance Program.

The Quail Forever life member does a lot of the management work himself and finds satisfaction in knowing his hard work will create more quail habitat. While his property supports a variety of other wildlife, it is home to multiple coveys! October may be for quail, but they have made a home for themselves year-round at Black Marsh Farm.

By Celia Vuocolo a Quail Forever Private Lands Biologist

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Fall Issue of the Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a member today!