The annual journey of millions of migratory birds has begun in the central flyway zone that leads to the Gulf of Mexico. This year, migratory waterfowl and shorebirds are finding expanded habitat for feeding, resting and roosting in Texas' Gulf region due to the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service's (NRCS) Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative.
The initiative utilizes NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), which are 2008 Farm Bill conservation programs. Under EQIP, farmers in eligible counties are paid to flood fallow rice fields to provide suitable habitat for migratory birds. Under WHIP, landowners are paid to flood non agriculture land to attract migratory birds.
"Exceptional" is the word Taylor Wilcox of Chambers County, Texas, used to describe initial waterfowl populations on flooded rice fields.
Teal, Mottled ducks, Pintails, Spoonbills, Ibis and Herons could be seen blanketing the fields within hours of the water being released.
"It's like the food came right up," Wilcox said. "The Ibis and Spoonbills were all over it."
Wilcox, along with his brother and father, farm an estimated 3,900 acres of owned and leased land. Wilcox said he has flooded about 1,600 acres.
The migratory bird initiative has proven to be a good fit for rice farmers because of their existing fields and levy structures, he said. In a business where profit margins can be slim, the initiative also has helped Wilcox with input costs related to water through EQIP's cost share program.
Diversification has been a key management practice in the family's farming operations. Their farming operation also includes leasing land to duck and dove hunters, a commercial cattle and hay operation, along with raising crawfish.
"To be a successful rice farmer, you have to be diversified,' Wilcox said.
Chambers County, Texas acreage enrolled in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative is home to numerous species of waterfowl and shorebirds. These birds created circles as they landed to feed in Taylor Wilcox's flooded MBHI rice fields.
Taylor Wilcox has more than 1,000 acres of land in Chambers County, Texas enrolled in MBHI. These flooded fallow rice fields provide the habitat necessary for waterfowl and shorebirds to feed, roost and rest.
Whether feeding or flying, Black-necked Stilts have found welcome habitat in Chambers County, Texas on MBHI enrolled acreage.
A Great Egret soars across coastal marshes in Chambers County, Texas, which hugs the Gulf of Mexico and lies in the central flyway zone. (Image courtesy of Beverly Moseley, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas)
A Curlew Sandpiper stands reflected off the shallow waters of a MBHI flooded rice field in Chambers County, Texas.
White-faced Ibis can be found in abundance feeding and resting on fallow rice fields in Chambers County, Texas.
Blue-winged Teal are just one of the species of waterfowl and shorebirds finding welcome habitat in Chambers County, Texas on MBHI enrolled acreage.
A Black-necked Stilt slowly walks through a fallow flooded rice field in Chambers County, Texas. (Image courtesy of Beverly Moseley, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas)
Ducks and Ibis take off over a MBHI fallow flooded rice field in Chambers County, Texas. (Image courtesy of Beverly Moseley, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas)