Tag Archives: Maryland

15 year-old Georgia Roberts takes a bow as a national qualifier

One day of practice at the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge led to a year of success for 15 year-old Georgia Roberts, a White Knoll High School athlete and qualifier for archery National’s. Roberts began shooting with the Refuge Complex Administrative Support Assistant Stacie Allison four years ago, justifying that one day at a National Wildlife Refuge can spark genuine interest and passion in the life of a teenager.


“I had always seen the movies and the cool archers on tv and thought, ‘oh that looks pretty cool,’” Roberts began to tell me, “but I never actually tried it until that day.”

It was 2010 and Roberts was staying with her grandparents during a hot, summer month close to the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge. Beverley, Georgia’s grandmother, had a close relationship to Stacie Allison at the complex, and asked if Allison would be willing to give Georgia and her cousin Tessa a lesson, too. “Georgia was a natural and caught on right away” said Allison, “An impressive display of caring from someone that young.”

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This September, Roberts will be going into her Sophomore year of high school and into her second year on the high school archery team. In March, the Archery team at White Knoll High School qualified as the only public school to compete in Nationals this year.

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Unfortunately, due to large transportation costs and rising scheduling issues, the team was unable to compete. “We have to raise money on our own. To do that, we’ve hosted tournaments.” Most of the financial success from the fundraisers come from parents, family, and friends.

Roberts has not since visited the Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge, but still recalls that first day of practice perfectly. Roberts is the epitome of how just one day, one session, and one hit can spark an uncharted passion in people of all ages.

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“I guess I haven’t seen [the Hunger Games] in a while, but I bet I could critique everything she was doing wrong if I watched it again” said Roberts about The Hunger Games series’ protagonist Katniss Everdeen. She continued, “I do like Hawkeye though, he’s pretty cool.”

The Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge consists of three refuges: The Refuge Complex is located at the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck refuge, while the Occoquan Bay refuge and the Featherstone refuge complete the remainder. To get involved with a National Wildlife Refuge complex program click here.

Enticing the “prince of game birds” back to a Maryland farm

Northern bobwhite were once common in the eastern U.S., but experienced a sharp decline in population in the second half of the 20th century. Photo from Chesapeake Bay Program/Will Parson (Creative Commons).

Northern bobwhite were once common in the eastern U.S., but experienced a sharp decline in population in the second half of the 20th century.
Photo of bobwhite quail in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, from Chesapeake Bay Program/Will Parson (Creative Commons).

As a young mechanic just out of the Air Force, Bob Spiering said the whistling call of the bobwhite quail went silent.

It was the early 1980s in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and the decades of disappearing quail populations had finally hit Caroline County. The years where he and a buddy could sustainably harvest the iconic game bird appeared to be over.

It was a loss—in many ways. Spiering grew up quail hunting with his dad and grandfather. “My grandfather was the biggest quail hunter in the world,” he said. “I was probably 10 years old when I started walking along with him, watching the setters get the birds.”

Bob Spiering on his farm in Greensboro, Maryland. That IS indeed a raptor on his arm. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering on his farm in Greensboro, Maryland. That IS indeed a raptor on his arm.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

Could they help bring the quail back? Spiering’s family gave it a shot.

Bob Spiering's dog races through a field of soybean. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering’s dog races through a field of soybean.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

His dad owned a farm—which has since been bought by Spiering—where he farmed every bit of tillable land and harvested all the crops. What they could leave for wildlife were the ditch banks, the sloped land alongside the ditches that drained the fields and made them usable. He started working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which could cover the costs of planting those ditch banks with native grasses. The grasses provide cover for quail to travel the field edges, to nest and to raise young.

But the quail didn’t come.

Time passed, and Spiering picked up the baton when he bought the farm in the headwaters of the Choptank River watershed. As his wife, Judy, said, “Bob was interested in hunting, in establishing it back to the kind of environment that was good for birds, deer and different wildlife.” With the income from his automotive garage downtown, Spiering would be able to leave more of the land for wildlife. Of the 175 acres of forests, meadows and fields, he tills 50 acres and manages the rest for wildlife.

Bob and Judy Spiering on their farm in Greensboro, Maryland. Bob got into falconry after a falconer came by his farm with a red-tailed hawk. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob and Judy Spiering on their farm in Greensboro, Maryland. Bob got into falconry after a falconer came by his farm with a red-tailed hawk.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

He brought in an expert from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to guide him. Turned out that Spiering needed to do more than just grasses, the expert suggesting he restore weedy areas, stubby cover and other habitats needed by the birds. He enrolled the farm in a federal program to manage for wildlife, created hedgerows to add more cover and food, and disked fallow areas so that the disturbance would promote certain types of plants. He grew corn, soybeans, alfalfa and clover, leaving some of it for the animals.

Work at the Spiering farm. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Work at the Spiering farm.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

The rabbits started to show up like crazy, Spiering said. But he kept waiting.

One day, he finally heard the call. The quail had returned.

“I turned the farm into a place for rabbits, deer and a few quail. I see one almost every day now,” Spiering said, noting he has two quail coveys—families—on the farm, and room for one more.

The work didn’t end there. Spiering turned to waterfowl.

With over 60 acres of upland and wetland forest enrolled in the USDA-NRCS Wetland Reserve Program, Spiering set out with NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore a 10-acre freshwater wetland (see before/after below).

“The goal of the most recent project was to restore hydrology to a forested wetland and to create an open emergent wetland,” said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Rich Mason. “The wetlands will provide habitat for ducks, geese, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. Turtles, frogs, toads, and salamanders will also live in the restored wetlands.”

“The wetland buffers and grasslands will provide excellent areas for pollinators, too,” he said.

CBFO Partners biologist Rich Mason with landowner Bob Spiering Credit USFWS

Chesapeake Bay biologist Rich Mason and landowner Bob Spiering stand by the new 10-acre wetland.
Credit: USFWS

Three intense rain events occurred after the wetland was finished last October. Within days, shorebirds showed up in the shallow water. Shortly after, the couple was excited to see ducks and geese arrive in their wetland sanctuary. During daily walks, their dogs love to romp through the shallow water.

In the spring, a Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer secured the assistance of a Girl Scout troop to build and install wood duck boxes by the wetlands. This year, Spiering saw at least five families of wood ducks.


Landowner Bob Spiering checks his wood duck box.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering opened Spiering's Auto Service Center as a young mechanic in Greensboro, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering opened Spiering’s Auto Service Center as a young mechanic in Greensboro, Maryland. He and his wife run the shop.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

“The ground was mostly wet anyway, and a pain to farm,” he said. “I’m way happier having ducks in there. If I was relying on the farm for income it’d be different. Now it’s a place to relax.”

His wife likes the comfort of knowing the area around their farmhouse won’t be developed. “My goal is to not have a bunch of houses around me,” she said. “I take hikes and take my grandchildren on walks. They see the ducks and the different animals, a snake or two every once in awhile, turtles.”

Partnering with the government worked out just fine for him, Spiering said. What’s next? A pond, maybe, and retirement from the automotive business. “I’m just the supervisor these days, and I sneak off as much as possible,” he joked.

To enjoy the call of the bobwhite, perhaps.

Taking marsh restoration to a new level

The author at the project site. Credit: Dagny Leonard

As part of “Building a Stronger Coast” month, we’ve asked Erik Meyers, with The Conservation Fund, to share his thoughts on a marsh restoration project that the Fund is leading at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland. Erik is vice president for climate and water sustainability at the Fund.

“But it’s not Yosemite!” friends sometimes blurt out when I speak glowingly of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. “No,” I respond, “it’s better.”

Few places on Earth better convey nature’s timeless beauty, productivity … and fragility. Here at Blackwater, soft green marsh grasses spread toward a distant horizon; small salt-marsh birds dart in and out of view; tree islands and forest fringe frame views of the marsh and coastal rivers — all competing for attention with majestic eagles soaring in dramatic Chesapeake skyscapes. Not for nothing is Blackwater frequently called the “Everglades of the North.”

Seaside sparrows nest in the salt marsh at Blackwater Refuge. Credit: USFWS

I’ve learned to look closer, however, and see what’s changing as well. Sometimes the change comes gradually—a ghost forest where there was a healthy stand of pines five years ago. Sometimes change comes suddenly—last year’s solid salt marsh now pocked with small pools of open water. The evolution of this landscape, formed after the retreat of the last major glacier in North America some 10,000 years ago, is accelerating due to the rising level of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.

Sea-level rise models predict that Blackwater will be dramatically altered over this century, much more than at any point in recent history. An assessment by The Conservation Fund and others signaled the need to act now to hold onto these marshes, including ensuring space for the marsh to relocate, or “migrate,” inland as sea level rises. As important as they are to wildlife, salt marshes also serve people, buffering storm surge and wave action and absorbing flood waters.

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Maryland. Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to offering important wildlife habitat, salt marshes like the one at Blackwater absorb floodwaters and storm surge, protecting coastal property. Credit: Whitney Flanagan

A core project team of staff from the refuge, Audubon Maryland-DC, and The Conservation Fund, along with strong technical and citizens advisory groups, developed science-based, comprehensive strategies to help the marsh adapt. There were three objectives:

  • Hold the most-promising marsh-migration corridors in open-space uses.
  • Help former upland areas become new, high-quality marsh.
  • Slow the loss of existing high-quality salt marsh in strategically targeted areas.

A grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, supported by federal funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience, provided an unprecedented opportunity to apply and evaluate these strategies. The centerpiece of our project, completed in 2016, involved using Blackwater River sediment, which is mostly disintegrated upstream marsh, to raise the surface level of 40 acres of strategically located Refuge salt marsh.


Depositing Blackwater River sediment on the marsh to raise its elevation. Credit: Dave Harp, Chesapeake Photos

Pioneering scientific research suggests that native marsh grasses are most productive at a higher point in the tide range. With the elevation of the marsh surface, we expect native grasses to increase root growth, or “biomass,” and “lift” themselves higher over time. Maintaining productive native marsh plants is key to helping marshes rise along with future sea level.

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While we will continue to monitor and evaluate the project, to date, the results have exceeded our expectations. Added sediment settled out to target levels. Existing native grasses have flourished, and new plants added over the summer have taken root. Breeding pairs of seaside sparrows are already back using the site.

These outcomes are due to incredible partners at the refuge, the Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast office, Audubon Maryland-DC, and other federal and state agencies — a social ecosystem nearly as vital as the natural system we’re all trying to conserve, enhance, and adapt.

So, no, it’s not Yosemite; it’s better.