Lake Erie Wind Turbine Project Halted

In an earlier post I detailed the threat to migratory songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and bald eagles with the proposed wind turbine project planned for the shores of Lake Erie.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

In a recent development, one of several wind turbine projects planned for the shores of Lake Erie, in one of the greatest bird migration corridors in the Western Hemisphere, has been halted following submission of a letter of intent to sue from American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO), reports birdingwire.com.

The two groups had vigorously opposed the project due to its exceptionally high risk to federally protected wildlife.

The announcement formalizing the decision to halt the project was made via a letter from Air National Guard Headquarters-the National Guard Bureau, Department of Defense, in Andrews, Maryland-to the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal (MGC) of Washington, D.C, which represents ABC and BSBO.

The petition campaign and letter of intent to sue the Ohio National Guard (ONG)), along with an ongoing petition campaign that has acquired over 5,000 signatures, charged that efforts in connection with the wind project at Camp Perry Air National Guard Station west of Port Clinton, Ohio, violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other federal conservation and environmental laws.

The letter from the National Guard Bureau states: “After carefully considering your objections … I have decided to withdraw the FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) for the project effective immediately. … Since the FONSI has been withdrawn, the project will not go forward at this time.” The letter was dated Jan. 28 and was signed by Colonel Peter A. Sartori, Director, Installations and Mission Support.

Camp Perry is in the "red zone" of ABC's Wind Development Bird Risk Map, indicating an extreme risk to birds. The red area that crosses Lake Erie is a high-density migration corridor.
Camp Perry is in the “red zone” of ABC’s Wind Development Bird Risk Map, indicating an extreme risk to birds. The red area that crosses Lake Erie is a high-density migration corridor.

“The victory sends a strong message to other wind energy developers in this ecologically sensitive region that conservationists will be closely watching their actions. This is a heartening outcome for the environment and for birds,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.

“We are absolutely elated that the Air National Guard has halted this project, at least temporarily and possibly for good,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO.

“We certainly owe thanks to the thousands who voiced their opposition to the project via the petition.”

“This is a big win for the vast numbers of birds that migrate through the Camp Perry area, which have been using these routes and stopover habitats for centuries,” said Kenn Kaufman, internationally acclaimed author of bird field guides and a local resident.

“It’s also a win for the local economy and for the businesses that rely on tourism dollars from the tens of thousands of visiting birders. Let’s hope that the suspension is a permanent one.”

ABC and BSBO assert that the placement of the project at the Camp Perry facility—and those proposed for the surrounding areas—presents an extremely high risk to migrating songbirds, especially the federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. This imperiled species was nearly extinct less than 40 years ago and, while rebounding due to costly and intensive management efforts, still numbers only in the low thousands.

Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)
Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)

Additional birds at risk include other migrating songbirds, raptors, Bald Eagles, endangered Piping Plovers, and waterfowl. Also of concern to local residents is the possibility that projects like these may discourage birding tourism. Currently, visiting birders inject $37 million into the local economy every spring.

The two groups announced their intention to sue via a letter sent by MGC, stating that the environmental review process was unlawfully circumvented and that the development is taking place in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

They pointed out that the Camp Perry turbine would sit in the middle of a major bird migration corridor directly adjacent to a national wildlife refuge and that it was being constructed without regard for the many concerns expressed by wildlife professionals in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

According to Mark Shieldcastle, BSBO Research Director: “Long-term research indicates that some of the largest concentrations of migratory birds in North America occur in the Lake Erie coastal region, including around Camp Perry. These species, along with one of the highest concentrations of nesting Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states, use habitat precisely in the risk zone of turbines such as the one proposed. Long-term monitoring of the active eagle nest at the facility indicates extensive use of the area of the turbine by eagles.”

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

ABC has created a Wind Development Bird Risk Map that shows the Lake Erie shoreline in Ohio is among the worst possible locations for a wind power project. The configuration of water and land serves to “funnel” large numbers of protected migratory birds through a small area; the birds aim to avoid a long lake crossing by hugging the shoreline or following the shortest cross-water route to the Pelee Peninsula to the north. This is also major stopover habitat, where migrating birds are not merely flying over, but landing and taking off-often during poor weather conditions.

Worth Pondering…
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

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Top 3 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together.

Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Whitewater Draw, a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone, attracts many species of birds including snow geese and sandhill cranes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands” harboring rare species and communities of plants and animals.

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go. Birding enthusiast are attracted to this unique region with many arriving in recreational vehicles.

The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Generally, they are located along streams and rivers or in forested mountain canyons. Some will have nearby RV parks or forestry campgrounds but will require a drive in your toad/tow vehicle.

3. Whitewater Draw

The Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is in the southwestern part of Sulphur Springs Valley, west of the Chiricahua Mountains between Bisbee and Douglas to the south and Willcox to the north.

The valley’s highways and back roads offer access to a variety of habitats, including grassland, desert scrub, playa lake, and farm fields.

Nearly half of the Wildlife Area falls within a floodplain. Over 600 acres of the area is intermittently flooded wetland with two small patches of riparian habitat. The surrounding agricultural community of the valley enhances feeding opportunities for wintering birds.

This is a playa that fills with shallow water during the wet seasons and attracts many types of waterfowl, including migrating snow geese, sandhill cranes, and many kinds of ducks, herons, egrets, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Hunting in the grasslands or soaring overhead are prairie and peregrine falcons and wintering hawks. Spring and fall are good times to spot migratory birds. Surrounding grasslands nurture a wealth of quail, doves, sparrows, and songbirds throughout the year.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ramsey Canyon Preserve is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life, 15, species of humming birds, scrub jays, and acorn woodpeckers (pictured above). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While hardly luxurious, this area does have some useful amenities including restrooms, RV access and parking, walking trails and interpretive signs, and viewing platforms with binoculars.

In the wet season, the ground can be soft and muddy. Take precautions. If you will be exploring in a vehicle away from the parking area, a 4-wheel drive is recommended.

Whitewater Draw is a 1500-acre wildlife area about 28 miles southeast of Tombstone.

To read more on Whitewater Draw, click here.

2. Ramsey Canyon Preserve

Managed by the Nature Conservancy, 380-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve, located within the Upper San Pedro River Basin in southeastern Arizona, is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity of its plant and animal life.

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, it is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

The diverse wildlife and habitats of Ramsey Canyon may be viewed from the Hamburg Trail. This open-ended route parallels Ramsey Creek through the preserve before climbing 500 feet in a half-mile series of steep switchbacks. These lead to a scenic overlook in the Coronado National Forest one mile from the preserve headquarters. From the overlook, the trail continues upstream and enters the Miller Peak Wilderness Area where it joins other trails.

Ramsey Canyon Preserve is about six miles south of Sierra Vista.

To read more on Ramsey Canyon Preserve, click here.

1. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA) encompasses 56,000 acres and some 40 miles of the meandering Upper San Pedro River between the Mexican border and St. David.

The word riparian refers to an area where plants and animals thrive because of an availability of water, either at or near the soil surface. This riparian corridor supports one of the Southwest’s last remaining desert riparian ecosystems.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages this area. Designated a Globally Important Bird Area in 1996, this 56,000-acre preserve is home to over 100 species of breeding birds and invaluable habitat for over 250 migrant and wintering birds.

Designated a Globally Important Birding Area, San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Designated an Important Birding Area, San Pedro National Conservation Area, is home to over 250 species of birds including the lesser goldfinch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good way to visit is to go to San Pedro House, seven miles east of Sierra Vista off Route 90. Located on the site of an old cattle ranch, the visitor center is in the old ranch house beneath the umbrella of two gigantic cottonwood trees. One of these great patriarchs has lived over 130 years. This tree alone is worth a visit. Here you will find informative exhibits, numerous birds, a guided walk along the river, and a charming bookstore run by The Friends of the San Pedro River.

Adjacent to the San Pedro House are ramadas, interpretative exhibits, picnic tables, and bird feeders for close-up encounters with the tiny travelers.

Outside, you can nab a walking stick and explore several miles of trails that lead through sparrow-laden sacaton grasslands, along the cottonwood- and willow-strung riverbank, and beside cattail-lined ponds.

Other San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area access points include St. David Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David Cienega, Charleston, Hereford, and Fairbank Historic Townsite where you can peer into a restored schoolhouse, view an 1882 Mercantile building, and walk the trails to the river.

To read more about San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA), click here.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspots

Part 1: Top 6 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

Read More

Top 6 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is home to 260 species of birds including the vermilion flycatcher. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve is home to 260 species of birds including the vermilion flycatcher. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands” harboring rare species and communities of plants and animals.

If you are a birder, Southeastern Arizona is the place to go. Birding enthusiast are attracted to this unique region with many arriving in recreational vehicles.

The following are our suggestions for where to find the best birding spots. Generally, they are located along streams and rivers or in forested mountain canyons. Some will have nearby RV parks or forestry campgrounds but will require a drive in your toad/tow vehicle.

6. Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Between the majestic Santa Rita and beautiful red Patagonia mountains is the rustically charming town of Patagonia. Set among rich foothills and valley grasslands, towering cottonwoods, and the Sonita and Harshaw creeks, Patagonia has been called the “Jewel of the Sonoita Valley” due to its natural beauty and vitality.

Since early days, Patagonia’s oak grasslands, at over 4,000 feet have provided excellent climate and terrain for cattle ranching, and the Patagonia Mountains, filled with rich ore bodies, have attracted miners.

At first glance Patagonia is a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, a second glance will reveal some surprises about this historical former Spanish land grant. There is a growing community of artists and crafts people that have decided that this is a very desirable area to live and work.

And Patagonia is an internationally renowned bird-watching destination with visitors from around the world stopping here to see over 250 species of rare and exotic birds that migrate from Mexico to this southeastern tip of Arizona.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is 850 acres of cottonwood and willow forests with trees as old as 130 years and as tall as 100 feet. Well-marked trails take visitors along two miles of Creek and into undeveloped flood plains. More than 260 species of birds call the preserve home, including the gray hawk, green kingfisher, vermilion flycatcher, and violet-crowned hummingbird.

In Patagonia, drive north on 4th Avenue; turn left at the “T” onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Preserve closed Mondays and Tuesdays year-round.

5. Paton’s Hummingbirds

Paton’s Birder Haven is home to numerous species of hummingbirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Paton’s Birder Haven is home to numerous species of hummingbirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your way to the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, stop for a visit to Wally and Marion Patons’ home; it’s on the edge of town on your left.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

That’s when American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours stepped in to join forces in an effort to purchase the Paton property and together contributed about a third of the purchase amount and entered into a contract with the Paton family.

The remainder of the purchase price—around $200,000—was the goal of the fund-raising effort, which successfully ended October 15 (2013). Thanks to many hundreds of generous birders, the Paton property will now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—in keeping the tradition Wally and Marion Paton began.

The associated groups are scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once the sale is complete, Tucson Audubon will assume ownership and management responsibilities of the Paton property, and maintain an office there.

Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town. © Rex Vogel, all rights

4. Patagonia Lake State Park

Patagonia Lake State Park is a popular camping and birding site located 12 miles south of town.

The park’s campground offers 72 developed sites, 34 sites with hookups, and 12 boat access sites. Other park facilities include a beach, picnic area with Ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, marina and camp supply store, restrooms, showers, and a dump station.

Hikers can stroll along the beautiful creek trail and see a variety of birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, and elegant trogon.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspots

Part 2: Top 3 Birding Hotspots in Southeastern Arizona

The journey continues…

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

Worth Pondering…
Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds

A new study shows that in spite of updated designs, U.S. wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds annually—a number that may balloon to about 1.4 million per year by 2030, when the ongoing industry expansion being encouraged by the federal government is expected to be fully implemented.

Wind Power: It's not smart unless it's bird-smart (Credit: Joshua Winchell FWS)
Wind Power: It’s not smart unless it’s bird-smart (Credit: Joshua Winchell FWS)

The findings were issued in a new study by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Oklahoma State University (OSU), published in the December issue of the journal Biological Conservation and authored by Scott Loss (OSU), Tom Will (FWS), and Peter Marra (SMBC), reports The Birding Wire.

The study, “Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous United States,” was based on a review of 68 studies that met rigorous inclusion criteria and data derived from 58 bird mortality estimates contained in those studies. The studies represented both peer-reviewed and unpublished industry reports and extracted data to systematically estimate bird collision mortality and mortality correlates.

“The life expectancy for eagles and all raptors just took a big hit. Clearly, when you look at this study and you consider the new 30-year eagle take permits just announced by the Department of Interior, this is a bad month for this country’s iconic birds,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy campaign.

New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: earthtechling.com)
New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: earthtechling.com)

According to George Fenwick, President of ABC: “This study by top scientists says that hundreds of thousands of birds are being killed by the wind industry now, and that the number will escalate dramatically if we continue to do what we have been doing. The biggest impediment to reducing those impacts continues to be wind industry siting and operating guidelines that are only followed on a voluntary basis. No other energy industry gets to pick and choose where they put their facilities and decide how they are going to operate in a manner unconstrained by federal regulation.”

“The industry has been saying for some time that bird mortality would be reduced with the new turbines compared to the older, lattice structures. According to this study, that does not appear to be the case,” Hutchins pointed out, since the study excluded data from wind developments using older designs.

New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: antioligarch.wordpress.com)
New Study Confirms Wind Turbines Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds (Source: antioligarch.wordpress.com)

“The status quo is legally, as well as environmentally, unsustainable,” Hutchins said further. “The federal government is seeking to promote an energy sector in a manner that is in violation of one of the premier federal wildlife protection statutes. In December 2011, we formally petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop mandatory regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development. We continue to believe that is the solution.”

A coalition of more than 60 groups has called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind energy installations. The coalition represents a broad cross-section of respected national and local groups. In addition, 20,000 scientists, ornithologists, conservationists, and other concerned citizens have shown their support for mandatory standards for the wind industry.

According to ABC, poorly sited and operated wind projects pose a serious threat to birds, especially birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, hawks, and owls; endangered and threatened species such as California Condors and Whooping Cranes; and species of special conservation concern such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Tricolored Blackbird, Sprague’s Pipit, and Long-billed Curlew.

One particularly interesting finding of the new study concerned the height of turbines. The scientists found that bird collision mortality increased significantly with increasing hub height. Across a range of turbine heights from 118 to 262 feet, the study predicts a staggering tenfold increase in bird mortality. This is especially important because the study identifies an apparent trend toward increased turbine height.

Further, the study states: “This estimate (1.4 million) assumes that average wind turbine height will not increase. Installation of increasingly larger turbines could result in a greater amount of mortality.”

This kestrel died after colliding with a wind turbine at Altamont Pass, California (Credit: BioResource Consultants courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)
This kestrel died after colliding with a wind turbine at Altamont Pass, California (Credit: BioResource Consultants courtesy Center for Biological Diversity)

Such an eventuality may be likely given that a Department of Energy report found that the average turbine hub height of U.S. wind turbines has increased 50 percent between 1998 and 2012.

The report offered several additional key observations about wind energy and bird mortality:

The mortality rate at wind farms in California was dramatically higher than anywhere else. According to the study: “We estimate that 46.4% of total mortality at monopole wind turbines occurs in California, 23.1% occurs in the Great Plains, 18.8% occurs in the East, and 11.6% occurs in the West.”

Failure to consider species-specific risks may result in relatively high rates of mortality for some bird species even if total mortality is relatively low.

The fatality records in the study identified at least 218 species of birds killed at wind energy installations.

The new study comes just after the Department of Justice announced a settlement on the prosecution of Duke Energy’s wind developments in Wyoming in connection with the deaths of 14 Golden Eagles and 149 other protected birds. That first-ever settlement resulted in $1 million in fines and mitigation actions and was the first prosecution of a wind company in connection with bird mortality.

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The Wind Energy Threat to Birds Is NOT Overblown

Two environmental issues are at a crossroads on the shores of Lake Erie with two prominent natural resources on a collision course.

Kenn's Billboard Meme
Source: bsbobird.org

Birds and birders flock to the shores of Lake Erie. There is more of a concentration of bald eagle nests here than anywhere in the United States except Alaska. The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways converge near here. Each spring this area is the home of the largest birding event in the country, The Biggest Week in American Birding, which last year helped attract more than 70,000 birders from all over the world, reports thebeacon.net.

Economic impact studies conducted by Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) and Bowling Green State University show that visiting birders spend more than 30 million dollars in the area each spring. The internationally renowned Kaufman Birding Guides and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) have made this area their home.

Here where the water meets the shore, the winds are frequent and strong. Wind turbines are being constructed at schools and private industries all over the area. As a green, clean, renewable alternative to the fossil-fuel-fired plants, wind power is becoming a popular choice.

However, even with government subsidies, wind power is still an expensive alternative form of energy. The other significant negative with wind power is that birds, especially songbirds, eagles and other raptors, can be killed by wind turbines.

Source: bsbobird.org
Kim Kaufman and Mark Shieldcastle of Black Swamp Bird Observatory (Source: bsbobird.org)

In this area where birds migrate and converge, and where wind power is relatively new, the debate has risen to a crescendo, according to thebeacon.net.

Camp Perry, along the lakeshore west of Port Clinton, is in the process of erecting a wind turbine. Since 2007, The Black Swamp Bird Observatory, whose offices and bird banding station are a few miles down the shoreline at the entrance to Magee Marsh, has been expressing their concern that the Camp Perry wind turbine is at a location that endangers migrating birds, raptors and nesting eagles, including the eagles on the grounds of Camp Perry.

Recently Lake Erie Business Park, between Camp Perry and Magee Marsh, revealed plans for erecting six wind turbines.

Camp Perry has gone through regulatory steps and discussions and had an Environmental Assessment. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife (DOW) have found that study to be flawed, containing as many as 50 erroneous statements, according to Kim Kaufman of BSBO.

Traditional studies of avian mortality from wind turbines also have several difficulties, according to Mark Shieldcastle of BSBO. For one, once a songbird hits a wind turbine, not much is left of the songbird. Another is that scavengers often consume the evidence.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has warned that according to environmental impact analysis studies, some facilities in important bird areas could kill thousands of birds and bats per year, reports thebeacon.net.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

At Laurel Mountain, West Virginia, in October of 2011, wind turbines killed 500 birds in one night (to read earlier report, click here).

Meanwhile, Camp Perry has filed a “finding of no significant impact” and has begun construction of the wind turbine. The wildlife agencies, including the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the ODNR Division of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, BSBO and the National Audubon Society, have disagreed that there is no significant impact.

At Lake Erie Business Park, no environmental assessment studies and no wildlife review are required, since they are privately funded. Erie Township, where Camp Perry and the business park are located, has no zoning regulations. When asked about the wind turbine construction, James McKinney of Lake Erie Business Park had no comment.

“It seems that the government has failed us, that the protection that we thought we had, we don’t. It took thirty years for us to recover the bald eagle population in Ohio, and their population could go downhill very quickly since their reproductive rates are much lower than that of songbirds,” said Shieldcastle, a nationally recognized eagle expert and widely known as the eagle person for the state of Ohio.

Source: bsbobird.org
Source: bsbobird.org

He recalls that in 1979 there were four pairs of eagles in Ohio. Now there are 300 nesting pairs in Ohio, with more than 50 nests along the shoreline between Sandusky and Toledo.

“If we can’t protect birds here, with all we know, where can we protect them?” asks Kaufman.

When 200 birds were caught in a freak ice storm in northern Alberta, and landed on Syncrude’s oilsands tailing ponds, Greenpeace was all over the story calling the bird deaths reprehensible. When hundreds of birds are killed by wind farms, allegedly a more environmentally friendly source of energy, Greenpeace is conspicuously silent.

Is it okay to butcher countless birds, create noise pollution, and make beautiful scenic areas ugly—all for the sake of green energy?

You be the judge.

Worth Pondering…
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

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Southeastern Arizona Birding Jewel Saved

In mid-September (2013) I reported on the fund-raising effort that had been launched to purchase a landmark birding property located in bird-rich Southeastern Arizona.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

Anyone who has spent time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

The community of Patagonia (population 913), in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (4,050 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who traveled to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, and the surviving family members opted to liquidate the property.

That’s when American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours stepped in to join forces in an effort to purchase the Paton property and together contributed about a third of the purchase amount and entered into a contract with the Paton family.

The remainder of the purchase price—around $200,000—was the goal of the fund-raising effort, which successfully ended October 15. Thanks to many hundreds of generous birders, the Paton property will now be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—in keeping the tradition Wally and Marion Paton began.

Additional funds will continue to be accepted by Tucson Audubon for repairs to the building (including reroofing and rewiring) and the associated property (including much-needed landscaping with native vegetation).

To make a contribution for this additional work, click here.

The associated groups are scheduled to close on the property in early 2014. Once the sale is complete, Tucson Audubon will assume ownership and management responsibilities of the Paton property, and maintain an office there.

In addition to some of the Paton’s favorite hummingbird species like the Violet-crowned and Broad-tailed, along with the rarer Cinnamon hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat, the Patagonia region hosts thick-billed kingbirds, zone-tailed hawks, green kingfishers, black-bellied whistling ducks, northern beardless-tyrannulets, black-capped gnatcatchers, and rose-throated becards.

header_MOQUAnd of course, there’s the exclamation point on every Southern Arizona birding visitor’s list, the elegant trogon.

And thanks to generous birders, the Paton legacy will continue far into the future.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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Valley of Butterflies

The butterfly explosion was right on schedule.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Abundant September rain put blossoms on Rio Grande Valley plants and the result was an explosion of butterflies in October. It was only logical.

And just as the Rio Grande Valley is the number one birding destination in the United States, it’s also among the best places to view butterflies, including several species not seen anywhere else, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Some of the best local places to see birds double as great spots to view butterflies, but just about anywhere there are flowering plants can be a good place, including backyards, gardens, and even pastures.

Just a few great butterfly places include the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, plants at the SPI Convention Center, Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Resaca de la Palma State Park, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, Frontera Audubon Center in Weslaco, Ramsey Nature Park in Harlingen, and the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Local favorites include the diminutive blue metalmark and the Mexican blue wing. Both are drop-dead gorgeous. Other Valley beauties include the border patch, Gulf fritillary, queen, silver-banded hairstreak, orange julia, white peacock and, well, the list goes on and on.

The Valley has the distinction of being one of the better places to find the world’s smallest butterfly, the pygmy blue, which has a wingspan of half an inch, reports valleymorningstar.com.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Currently, American snouts are passing through the Valley by the millions and are undoubtedly the most numerous butterfly in Texas. By the way, snout butterflies similar to those passing through the Valley were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth 70 million years ago.

According to the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas, the Lone Star State has 495 species. The Butterfly Website estimates there are 28,000 species worldwide and 725 of those butterflies can be found in the United States. Moths are even more numerous than butterflies, but that’s a subject for another day.

Butterflies serve a useful purpose. They pollinate plants, provide food for many birds, and their beauty adds an exclamation point to our day. They also help us connect to nature.

Details

National Butterfly Center

Unlike various butterfly conservatories that have been built across the United States, the National Butterfly Center provides extensive outdoor gardens of native nectar plants and specific caterpillar host plants as well as natural habitat to attract large numbers of wild butterflies and to conserve rare native butterflies.

In the few short years since the National Butterfly Center opened, it has already been the site of a number of sightings of butterflies never before seen in the United States. The close proximity to Mexico and the Rio Grande gives ample opportunity for species to cross over into the United States.

More than 300 species of butterflies have been found in the Rio Grande Valley, and over 200 of these have been seen at the National Butterfly Center, including a number of rarities and U.S. Records.

In addition to the butterflies, the National Butterfly Center is revegetating its land with rare native plants, giving visitors the chance to experience and learn about the Rio Grande Valley’s native flora and fauna.

Source: valleymorningstar.com
Source: valleymorningstar.com

Incredibly, almost 40 percent of the 725 butterflies that can be found in the United States can be seen in this three-county area at the southernmost tip of Texas, where the subtropical climate makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors year ’round.

Address: 3333 Butterfly Park Drive, Mission, TX 78572

Phone: (956) 583-5400

Website: nationalbutterflycenter.org

Texas Butterfly Festival

The National Butterfly Center hosts the 18th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival from November 2 – 5, 2013. Attendees will spend 3 days exploring renowned public lands and private properties with world-class trip leaders and expert guides. The Festival is taking place during prime butterfly season, when you may reasonably expect to see 60 or more species in a day.

Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

The 20th Annual Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival will occur in Harlingen immediately following the Butterfly Festival from November 6-10, 2013.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is a butterfly which when pursued is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly may alight upon you.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Whooping Cranes Migration to Texas Underway

Endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile fall migration from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada to southern Texas.

Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)
Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)

As the rare birds approach the Lone Star State, a citizen science initiative is inviting Texas residents and visitors to report whooper sightings, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.

Texas Whooper Watch is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of TPWD’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.

Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in 1942, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas.

This year, some of the whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information about these birds to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

This year biologists expect Whooping Cranes to start arriving in Texas in late October or early November.

The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)
The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)

Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.

Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through North and Central Texas that includes cities such as Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria.

During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane.

Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.

Citizens can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes and by preventing disturbance of cranes when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations.

Sightings can be reported to whoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999). Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs. Volunteers interested in attending training sessions to become “Whooper Watchers” in order to collect more detailed data may also contact the TPWD atwhoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999).

Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)
Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)

Details

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of over 545 national wildlife refuges spanning the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aransas NWR was originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…”

The Refuge is world renowned for hosting the largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes each winter.

The 16 mile auto tour loop is open.

Phone: (361) 286-3559

Website: fws.gov

Worth Pondering…

It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.

—Tom Stehn

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Migrating Hummingbirds Face Drought Conditions

As the ongoing drought worsens, migrating hummingbirds may find little native vegetation to sustain them as they fly south for the winter.

Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year, local birding experts say, it’s essential that humans feed the tiny feathered travelers.

On a recent visit to Central Texas, Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society saw no native flowering plants on which the hummingbirds would rely as they pass through Texas, en route to Mexico and Central America. The migrating birds will be forced to rely almost entirely on humans for their food, Friedrich told the Valley Morning Star.

This year, more than ever, the hummingbirds will seek out flowering plants in gardens, as well as feeders in yards, on porches and patios.

The migration should start any day now, she said. The first to arrive will be the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The ruby-throats, which spend the summer in New England, the northeastern U.S., and southern Canada, will be followed by black-chinned hummingbirds that travel south from the western United States. Then the Rufous hummingbirds arrive, migrating from the western United States and as far north as Alaska.

Friedrich also reminds humans who feed any birds of a lesson many birders know: “You attract more birds with water than with seeds.” A water mister or a lawn sprinkler with a fine spray will attract many kinds of birds. The appreciative hummingbirds will give themselves showers by flying through the spray.

Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The regular and widespread practice of feeding hummingbirds in Rockport (Texas) resulted in the city’s annual hummingbird celebration, this year marked its 25th anniversary, September 12-15.

Feeding

Feeding hummingbirds requires a limited amount of paraphernalia, according to several specialized websites.

To begin, you need a hummingbird feeder, sugar, water, measuring cups, and a suitable place to hang the feeder. For feeder maintenance, you need a couple of brushes to clean the inside of the feeder and the little holes where the birds feed.

Boil water and measure one quart into a container. Let the water cool and add one cup of white granulated sugar. Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate unused sugar-water. Pour sugar-water into a hummingbird feeder. At first, fill the feeder with one to two cups of sugar-water.

If the feeder is empty in a day, it means you have hummingbirds feeding from it. At the peak of the migration, you may be filling it daily. If that’s the case, consider hanging a second feeder several feet away from the first one.

When the feeder is empty, wash it thoroughly using a bottle brush to remove any film on the inside of the feeder. Use a small brush to clean the holes where the hummingbirds feed.

Do not use artificial sweetener, corn syrup, or honey. Use only regular granulated sugar.

Do not use red dye. Some dyes can harm the birds, and it’s unnecessary anyway. Other useful information from the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society:

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang the feeder in a shady location, such as from a tree branch or along the eaves of a porch.

Some gardeners hang feeders on shepherd’s hooks staked among flowering shrubs, providing a bird buffet. It’s important, though, to hang the feeder where it’s easily accessible because you’ll need to regularly remove, wash, refill, and rehang it.

It’s also a good idea to hang the feeder outside a window, so you can watch the birds feeding.

Don’t hang the feeder where it will be accessible to neighborhood cats.

Turn on a lawn sprinkler or a mister. The hummingbirds — and all other birds — need water, especially in the current drought conditions. The hummingbirds will cool themselves when they fly through the spray.

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red or yellow flowers. Recommended native plants that attract hummingbirds include Sophora, bottle brush, esperanza, pride of Barbados, and native Turk’s cap. Hibiscus, although not a native plant, also attract hummingbirds.

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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Saving a Southeastern Arizona Birding Hotspot

Anyone who has spent any time carrying binoculars, camera, and a birding field guide though the mountains, canyons, and deserts of Southeastern Arizona knows the region as a premiere birding hotspots and a favorite for outdoor recreation and RVing.

Paton's Birder Haven
Paton’s Birder Haven

The many unique and special places in this region offer a spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds including species at their extreme northernmost migrating range.

These birding hotspots include Sabino Canyon, the Chiricahua and Huachuca mountains, Saguaro National Park, Madera Canyon, Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Coronado National Monument, Santa Catalina Mountains, San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area, Whitewater Draw, Muleshoe Ranch Preserve, Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Mountain Empire of Patagonia-Sonoita.

The Mountain Empire contains important conservation areas, including one of the only remaining high desert short-grass prairies in America, the San Rafael Valley.

Visitors come for the spectacular scenery of the valley in which Patagonia is nestled, and the clean air that beckons hikers into the surrounding canyons.

The community of Patagonia, in particular, is home to many talented artists, artisans, and writers. Here you’ll find potters, weavers, jewelry makers, painters, folk and avant garde artists, as well as many known and not so well-known writers.

The elevation (Patagonia is 4,050 feet, Sonoita is 4,885 feet) makes for milder summer temperatures than much of Arizona, plus there are a number of cooling lakes within the general area, but yet in winter the occasional dusting of snow usually melts by noon except in the shady crevices of the surrounding mountains.

Paton's Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton
Paton’s Birder Haven backyard with hummingbird feeders; Wally and Marion Paton

Patagonia is located in a lush riparian habitat where Sonoita Creek meanders year-round between the Patagonia and Santa Rita mountains, not far from the Arizona/Mexico border. The diversity of vegetation (riparian, desert, and mountain) provides sustenance for more than 300 bird species—including Mexican and Central American species that reach the extreme northern limit of their range here.

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are renowned for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways.

For many years, birders who came to Patagonia often visited the home of Wally and Marion Paton.

Paton’s Birder Haven had its start in 1974, when Wally and Marion—life-long bird-lovers—began to plant flowers and install water features on their property. They put up hummingbird feeders and had great success, attracting Violet-crowned Hummingbirds along with even rarer species like the Cinnamon Hummingbird and Plain-Capped Starthroat.

When the couple realized birders were crowding outside their fence to get a better view, the Patons opened the gate and welcomed them inside.

Over time the Patons provided a tent for visiting birders, installed benches, and provided bird guides. They placed a chalkboard in the yard so daily sightings could be noted. On the gate, they installed a tin can called the “sugar fund” for donations to help defray the cost feeding their beloved hummers.

In recent years, Wally and Marion both died, creating an uncertain future for this birding landmark as the remaining family has opted to liquidate the property.

With your help, the property can be maintained in perpetuity for birders and birds—a fitting tribute to the Paton’s legendary generosity. And you will be able to visit to see the birds too!

As a result, American Bird Conservancy, Tucson Audubon, and Victor Emanuel Nature Tours have joined forces in the effort to purchase Paton’s Patagonia Birder Haven and have jointly contributed about a third of the purchase amount and have entered into a contract with the Paton family.

Paton feeder
Paton feeder

It is hoped the remaining two-thirds—about $200,000—can be raised through contributions before October (2013).

Once the property is successfully procured, Tucson Audubon would assume long-term management, while maintaining the home and property as a public birding site.

Details

American Bird Conservancy

Website: abcbirds.org

Tucson Audubon Society

Website: tucsonaudubon.org

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

Website: ventbird.com

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Read More