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Much Still Unknown About Gulf Spill Effects on Birds
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Much Still Unknown About Gulf Spill Effects on Birds

Yesterday I participated in a webinar put on by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service on the impacts of the Gulf oil spill on migratory birds. The presenter, a scientist from the fisheries and wildlife branch of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Department, described the complex assessment process and touched on some of the results of ongoing work. The bottom line is that there is still a considerable amount of oil not accounted for, and that beneath the silts and muds in many of the coastal wetlands in Louisiana, and beneath the sand of beaches, are several layers of oil and tar in the substrate. Some of the coastal mangrove islands with bird colonies have been impacted; mangroves have died and birds are forced to nest on the ground, only a metre of so above sea level, exposing their nests to inundation risk. There is still evidence of some light oiling of Pelicans. The impact on oiled birds, particularly migratory birds, appears less than it potentially was – about 8 thousand birds were observed/ recovered oiled or found dead, representing some fraction, perhaps 10%, of the total killed. Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, (Gulf Coast breeders), Northern Gannet (Canada – Atlantic coast), and Roseate Tern were the most affected species identified. It is common to see an oily sheen on the water, and there is concern of storms in the Gulf stirring up the sediment and exposing the oil again in the marshes. Information on toxicology is embargoed, as are many other specific details due to litigation around damages. This may be the case for many, many years. The last fisheries have opened recently, but there is still concern about what people are eating. Every type of study imaginable is underway, but again, with no information forthcoming (e.g. toxicology, ecology). Some partial payment from BP for damages has been made, and the Coastal states have each received large sums which are being dispersed to a range of organizations. Much more information is available on the NRDA website – though, as I mentioned, many details and results are embargoed. It's also worthwhile to check out the USFWS Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill website that keeps on tally of birds and wildlife impacted, which is revised from time to time. It breaks down the species found.

Sur la valeur du partage – Interview avec Marilyn Labrecque, Nature Quebec
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Sur la valeur du partage – Interview avec Marilyn Labrecque, Nature Quebec

Durant l’atelier à Port Rowan, Marilyn Labrecque, coordonnatrice du programme Zones importantes pour la conservation des oiseaux (ZICO) à Nature Québec, ainsi que moi-même, avons trouvé quelques minutes pour discuter dehors - malgré le froid - des bénéfices du partage d’expériences entre les partenaires canadiens. Cet événement annuel vise à réunir les représentants des organismes responsables de la mise en œuvre du programme ZICO dans leurs provinces respectives afin de favoriser le partage de connaissances et de planifier les actions pour l’année à venir. L’atelier a eu lieu entre le 18 et le 21 avril au siège social d’Études d’Oiseaux Canada, qui, avec Nature Canada, est responsable de la coordination du programme au niveau national

Birding in Gatineau on International Migratory Bird Day
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Birding in Gatineau on International Migratory Bird Day

Last weekend I went birding. Not for long as the weather in Gatineau was wet and cool. However, life outside goes on. Last weekend was also a celebration of migratory birds across the Americas - International Migratory Bird Day. I head out for a short walk in Gatineau Park to experience the birds and talk about how I feel as a birder. Join me on my walk, learn about "pishing," and see what happens.
International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) celebrates the 350 species that migrate between countries in the Americas. Canada likely holds the record for the country with the most migratory birds. It is estimated that every fall, 90% of our birds leave the country, the great majority heading south. Terns and shorebirds tend to go the farthest. The Hudsonian Godwit, for example, flies from its subarctic and arctic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in Chile. Many songbirds also fly long distances to South America. Purple Martins end up in Sao Paulo State in Brazil. Bobolink's non-breeding destination is the pampas of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uraguay and Brazil. Blackpoll Warblers and Common Nighthawks make it to Brazil, and Venezuala. Veery, Swainson's Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush also go to South America, as do several Flycatchers, Scarlet Tanager, and the iconic Canada Warbler. American Redstarts and Chestnut-sided Warblers spend their "winters" in Central America with many other Warbler species, Vireos, Yellow-bellied and Least Flycatchers, Orioles, and Whip-poor-will. Many species other than songbirds and shorebirds also have impressive migrations, including Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Swainson's Hawk, Blue-winged Teal and Green Heron. Over one billion Canadian-born birds over-winter in the continental United States, including some of our commonest species such as most blackbird and sparrows including the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, and most waterfowl. Take a moment to think about this. For some long-lived species, this migration would take them to the moon over the course of their lifetimes. In addition to the amazing ecological services that they provide to all of the countries of their passages, these birds wow people with their beauty and their song. Birds inspire me for all of these reasons. They bring me happiness, and make me feel connected to nature. So fellow Canadians, get out and enjoy these most inspiring members of creation in the next week or so, and always remember to respect their lives and the rest of nature in your daily decisions.

Gilead’s application for endangered species permit for Ostrander Point is posted for comment now
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Gilead’s application for endangered species permit for Ostrander Point is posted for comment now

Gilead Associates, the company that is applying for a Renewable Energy Approval to build and operate nine wind turbines within the Ostrander Point Crown Land Block, has applied to the Province of Ontario for a permit to “kill, harm and harass Blanding’s Turtle and Whip-poor-will as well as damage and destroy the habitat of Whip-poor-will for the purpose of the development and operation of Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park.” See the breaking CBC TV story that includes an interview of local naturalist Myrna Wood. This is an unusual step in Canada for a wind energy project, but one that appears to be an admission that the project will be impacting threatened species at the site where the turbines are to be built. The ESA permit which allows for the destruction of habitat and harm to the species, must also demonstrate the following: (i) the Minister is of the opinion that an overall benefit to the species will be achieved within a reasonable time through requirements imposed by conditions of the permit, and, (ii) the Minister is of the opinion that reasonable alternatives have been considered, including alternatives that would not adversely affect the species, and the best alternative has been adopted, and, (iii) the Minister is of the opinion that reasonable steps to minimize adverse effects on individual members of the species are required by conditions of the permit. On the posting, the proponent’s response to these requirements is provided. I’ll only include and comment on the first sentence of the first requirement related to overall benefit. Proponent to acquire and manage a property outside the project area (that meets appropriate criteria as defined by the Ministry of Natural Resources) for the habitat preservation, rehabilitation and/or improvement of both Blanding’s turtle and Whip-poor-will. Unfortunately, there are no reports or documents to inform us on what this actually means. This posting begs the question of how the public, can be expected to provide meaningful comment if there are no details about where the habitat is, or how protecting and managing it would benefit the species. For example, would the acquired property be an area already occupied with breeding Whip-poor-wills that is facing imminent destruction? If it is unoccupied habitat, is Gilead claiming that it can restore and manage the habitat to attract this rapidly declining species? Is this even possible? It is a fact is that Whip-poor-will no longer occupies much of the available habitat within its range. Both loss of habitat and declines in its food supply (mainly flying insects) are identified as the main reasons behind the species demise. This is where the ability of this permit to have an overall benefit for the species becomes dubious at best. If both the existing occupied site where the project is proposed, and the “new” site are occupied by Whip-poor-wills, and the intent is to protect one and damage the other so that it no longer supports the species, there is net harm. A possible and worse scenario is that if Ostrander Point becomes a functioning wind energy plant, it becomes an ecological trap for the species. This would occur if individuals were attracted to the area each year, but more prone to being killed. My conclusion is that the ESA posting is flawed as a consultation process in that it does not allow for meaningful public engagement. We simply need more detail. My hunch is that all it will contribute to the Whip-poor-will is more hardship. Wind energy projects should be about a good idea in a good place. Ostrander Point, in my view, is a terrible location for a wind project. Powers that be, please find an alternative location, that is not as risky to birds and other wildlife. Photo by Ted Cheskey - Whip-poor-will habitat on the upper Bruce Peninsula

Rio: Animated Film Sheds Light On Sad Truth of Spix’s Macaw
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Rio: Animated Film Sheds Light On Sad Truth of Spix’s Macaw




If you have not gone to see the 3-D Comedy Animation Rio, Produced by Blue Sky Studies and Directed by Brazilian Carlos Saldanha (previously directed Ice Age), you may wish to get to a theatre soon to enjoy this colourful and enjoyable film.

The basic story is about Blu, the last male Spix’s Macaw, which is captured as a baby in Rio de Janeiro by bird smugglers, and ends up through chance in the hands of Linda, a young bookish girl, in a small town in snow-bound Minnesota. Fifteen years later, Linda, now the owner of the Blue Macaw Bookstore is visited by Tulio, a Brazilian ornithologist, who informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his species, and that the last female is in an aviary in Rio. He asks Linda to bring Blu to the aviary to mate with the female, Jewel, in hope of bringing the species back. Eventually Linda is convinced to go, and the three of them return to Rio.

From that point on it's pretty much non-stop action, with a groups of bad-guy bird smugglers led by Nigel (a Cockatoo), and an interesting array of other characters determined to steal the Macaws for illicit purposes. The movie is filled with chase scenes, strange twists and the beautiful animated images of Rio during Carnaval – including great scenes in the favelas where some of the bad guys live.

My wife, who is Brazilian, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. If not for her, I would not have understood some of the subtle jokes. Just enough Portuguese was interspersed to given the animation more “credibility”, if animations can have credibility. The soundtrack, which featured a mixture of original music and some traditional Brazilian samba and bossa nova, was lively and enjoyable.

The film does present a very serious issue – the illegal trade in wildlife and at the heart of the story has some truth. For many species of bird, particularly members of the parrot family, there is a strong illegal market involved in the capture and international trading of many species. This is especially true for the species portrayed in Rio – Spix’s Macaw.

Spix’s Macaw is likely extinct in the wild – it's only been known to have inhabited the Bahia region of Brazil, to the north of Rio. Illegal capture and trade is the main reason for the demise of this spectacularly beautiful species. As many as 100 individual are believed to still be in captivity. Perhaps a glimmer of hope exists that the species will not be lost forever, if captive breeding can be successful. But the issue of illegal trade in wildlife still exists despite global efforts to stop it. In the movie, Tulio, the Brazilian ornithologist, does not mention that having a critically endangered species in one’s possession is a violation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). This omission is not surprising – Rio is an animated film aimed at both children and adults. But it's important to note that Canada and Brazil are signatories to CITES. While the capture and trade of wildlife is a serious threat to some species, loss of habitat due to human-related activities is by far the biggest problem facing endangered species.

Bird Monitoring at Long Point Bird Observatory
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Bird Monitoring at Long Point Bird Observatory



In this video clip, Stuart MacKenzie, the ornithologist who is in charge of the Old Cut Station of Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO), extracts a Northern Flicker from a mist net, and places it into a carrying bag while several members of the IBA Canada Committee, including Nature Canada’s Director of Conservation, Mara Kerry observe the procedure in fascination. As an experienced bird bander myself, I anticipate the Flicker to begin its loud scream-like call. Most bird banders are accustomed to this when handling Flickers, though this particular Flicker is rather subdued and quite.

After two days of indoor presentations and discussions during the National Important Bird Areas meeting in April, members of the IBA Canada Committee spent their last morning together in the field, at the LPBO, a branch of Bird Studies Canada. LPBO is the longest continuously operating bird observatory in North America. It recently celebrated its 50th year of data gathering, which includes the capture and banding of over 800,000 birds.

When we arrived at the station, it was already 8:30 am, and the station was buzzing with an impressive compliment of staff and volunteers. Within the banding lab, many cloth bags were pulsating in odd ways due to the birds within. The bander-in-charge took one of the bags off its hook, carefully opened it, slid his hand inside, and moments later retracted his hand with a bird in his firm but gentle grip.

The cloth bags are an important tool for banding stations everywhere. Typically, birds are stored in cloth bags, which provide a relatively dark, breathable and safe environment for temporary storage. They are placed in these bags after they've been extracted from the mist nets outside. Mist nest are typically about 10 to 12 metres long and about three metre high, and are comprised of fine mesh arranged on four or five horizontal panels. The extracted birds are transported in cloth bags to the banding lab, where they safely wait until processing (identification, measurement, ageing and determination of sex, and banding), before release back into the wild.

Canadian and American IBA Programs Have Much in Common – An Interview with John Cecil, National Audubon
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Canadian and American IBA Programs Have Much in Common – An Interview with John Cecil, National Audubon

As a follow-up to Mara Kerry's post on the National Important Bird Areas meeting in Port Rowan last week, Ted Cheskey, manager of bird conservation, shares his thoughts on the meeting and speaks with John Cecil of National Audubon about the Canadian and American IBA Programs. IBA Canada partners have been working hard to engage volunteers – called IBA Caretakers – to care for and be the "eyes, ears and feet on the ground" for Canada's IBAs. These volunteers were a focus of the National IBA meeting in Port Rowan last week. Between presentations on monitoring protocols for IBA Caretakers, and animated discussions on habitat definitions, John Cecil, Manager of the Important Bird Area Program with National Audubon sat down with me to discuss his impressions of the Canadian program and the potential of collaborating more closely on bird conservation. John was a very welcomed full participant in the two-day workshop, held at the spectacular Bird Studies Canada headquarters in Port Rowan, Ontario. He provided us with a good overview of the IBA program history in the USA. We compared notes on challenges and opportunties, and came away feeling motivated to share more – we have much in common with our American IBA colleagues. We had scheduled the workshop for late April, to avoid the "field season", for many of the participants from across Canada, but still take advantage of migration in this internationally famous World Biosphere Reserve and Globally significant IBA. I really wanted to interview John outside, but Mother Nature had the last word, throwing high winds and rain at us for most of the workshop, allowing us to happily toil inside without regrets. For the interview, we were able to find a quiet spot in the excellent BSC library to chat for a few minutes. There were some brief moments during the workshop when the weather was more accommodating. We went on a brief trip on the trail to a lookout over Long Point Bay, and saw thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of ducks, Ruddys, Scaup, Redheads, Canvasback, Buffleheads, Mergansers, Coots, and many more species, all milling about in the bay. The build up in late April was a sign that things were still frozen much further north, where most of these birds breed. Somehow they know this. . . . Moments like these - being fascinated and inspired by the birds and habitats like Long Point, or sharing and learning from colleagues - are what motivate us to protect our IBAs, and the birds that depend upon them and the surrounding landscapes and habitats.
Workshop attendees, including Ted Cheskey (front row, second from left), Ian Davidson, Nature Canada's executive director (front row, third from left), and Mara Kerry, Nature Canada's director of conservation (back row, 8th from left)

Opposition to Ostrander Point Wind Plant Continues to Build
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Opposition to Ostrander Point Wind Plant Continues to Build

On Tuesday, March 8, the Kingston Field Naturalists organized a special workshop on the significance of eastern Lake Ontario for birds in light of several proposals to build wind energy projects in the area, and the high number of bird casualties reported at Wolfe Island wind energy plant . Representing Nature Canada, I gave a presentation on the Important Bird Area Program, placing the Wolfe Island wind plant and the proposed Ostrander Point wind plant in the context of this program. Kingston Field Naturalists have a rich and long history of documenting birds within the Kingston area, which stretches from the west end of Prince Edward County to the Thousand Islands on the extreme east end of Lake Ontario. The workshop included a number of presentations by local naturalists and field ornithologists, who painted a picture of a part of Ontario with extremely high significance for breeding and migrating birds. Data presented on behalf of Ron Weir, local ornithologist and bird record keeper for the club for decades, described how monitoring night migrants by their call notes to each other has demonstrated that millions of birds pass over the area each fall and spring. David Okines, life-long field ornithologist and manager of the Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory, (PEPBO) described the nature of the migration in detail, from the streams of diurnal raptors that hug the coast and funnel into the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, to variations within the timing of migratory movements of individual species of songbirds. PEPBO is on the tip of the Long Point peninsula on the southern coast of Prince Edward County, about 10 kilometres east of Ostrander Point. Okine’s presentation of observatory data collected over dozens of years left little doubt that the area is truly a concentration point for land birds and waterfowl, and that wind plants built in the area would inflict a heavy toll on some species.  However, the question of whether nocturnal migrant birds migrate along broad fronts, or form distinct corridors of movement was never clearly resolved, with perhaps the best answer being “yes.” Valerie Wyatt of Stantec Inc., had a much greater challenge in presenting the methods and results of their study of bird deaths at the Wolfe Island wind plant, owned and operated by TransAlta Corp.  She explained, to a tough and cynical audience, that Stantec’s monitoring methods are considered the best in the business, while maintaining that the casualty rates at Wolfe Island are within the range of kill rates expected at wind farms, and below threshold levels of acceptable casualty rates set by the government regulators. Local naturalist Kurt Hennige’s presentation of monitoring efforts of the Short-eared Owl – carried out for decades by members of the Kingston Field Naturalists on Wolfe and Amherst Islands – reached a different conclusion about the impact of the Wolfe Island wind plant. Hennige’s findings strongly suggest that the distribution of Short-eared Owl on Wolfe Island has changed because of the wind plant – they  no longer occupy the area around the turbines that have been their core wintering grounds for decades. The Short-eared Owl, a species that has declined steadily over the past 40 years, is listed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as "Special Concern". Hennige also noted that the long-time resident Red-tailed Hawks were absent from their perches on the west side of Wolfe Island for the first time since observations were gathered dozens of years earlier. Observers who did the regular winter surveys became familiar with individual birds, recognizing their behaviour and consistent use of the same perches. Stantec’s monitoring crew had discovered 10 dead Red-tailed Hawk beneath the turbines, likely including the resident pairs. The spotlight gradually shifted from Wolfe Island to Ostrander Point, where Gilead Power Corporation, is planning to build nine turbines on the Ostrander Point Crown Land block. Local volunteer naturalists from the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists, Myrna Wood and Cheryl Anderson, described in cool, unemotional detail where the turbines are being proposed on this environmentally significant property. They pointed out that the specific locations of the nine turbines are within the provincially recommended 120 metre setback from provincially significant features, including provincially significant forest, wetland or habitat of species at risk, such as the Blanding’s Turtle.
Left to right: Cheryl Anderson and Myrna Wood
No matter where on the property the turbines are situated, the proposed wind plant would be only seven kilometres from the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, designated for its value to migratory landbirds, within a candidate Provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest, in the heart of a globally significant IBA, and in an area recognized by the Canadian Wildlife Service as one of the best locations for migrant birds in Southern Ontario. It boggles the mind to consider what provincial regulators were thinking when Ostrander Point was put on the table as a location for a potential wind energy plant. The meeting was closed by John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada. Bennett was invited by conference organizer Chris Hargreaves in response to an Action Alert released a few weeks earlier by the Sierra Club that included this statement:
There appears to be a backlash against wind energy across Ontario. Is it real? It looks suspiciously like a campaign sponsored by Ontario’s opposition Conservative Party and its backers. Using misinformation about costs and safety, it plays on people’s fears in order to destroy public support for Ontario’s Green Energy Act.
In an extraordinary and unanticipated reaction, and much to his credit, Bennett accepted the offer, and turned up for the last part of the workshop. He faced a hostile audience. Bennett did not apologize for Sierra Club’s position, emphasizing the overwhelming consensus that climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels like coal to generate electricity, is the issue that requires people’s attention and support, and that the attack on wind energy will put Ontario back 20 years in its campaign to get off coal. However, after taking in Myrna’s and Cheryl’s presentation, and describing Sierra Club’s position and reasons, he acknowledged that locating wind energy plants in areas of great significance for birds was both bad for biodiversity and bad for the wind energy industry, and that this element of rolling out wind energy will have to receive more consideration by Sierra Club .   In the end, Bennett agreed that Sierra Club would consider adding its voice to the growing opposition to the Ostrander Point wind project.

Wolfe Island Wind Plant Still Harming Birds in Important Bird Area
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Wolfe Island Wind Plant Still Harming Birds in Important Bird Area

Last May, I blogged about a report that described how birds and bats have been affected by the TransAlta wind plant on Wolfe Island, a globally significant Important Bird Area in southern Ontario known for its waterfowl, raptors and swallows. I called the numbers of birds and bats being killed by TransAlta’s turbines “shockingly high,” indeed the highest recorded in Canada and one of the highest in North America. However, since the report only studied a six month period, TransAlta’s spokespeople argued that it was premature to reach conclusions so soon, especially when comparing the Wolfe Island deaths to yearly casualty rates for other wind plants. Besides, TransAlta reasoned, the results appeared to be within the thresholds of acceptable limits set by provincial and federal government regulators. Then last month, Stantec Consulting, the firm that produced the original report, released its report on the second half of the year: January 1, 2010 to July 1, 2010. And the results for birds are troubling. (I’ll write about bats in a future post.) Though casualty numbers for birds did not skyrocket in the second sixth month period, a time that included the spring migration, they still were high enough to make the Wolfe Island wind plant the most deadly for birds in Canada. The 13.4 birds per turbine casualty rate is about 7 times the industry average in Canada according to Canadian Wind Energy Association (CANWEA) but below the so-called “adaptive management” threshold for TransAlta facility, as set by various government agencies. That level is 11.7 birds per MW which translates to 21 birds per turbine, which just happens to be the highest level ever recorded at any wind facility in North America (Buffalo Mountain, Tennessee). Using the highest level recorded as the threshold before which any mitigation is even considered seems a bit dubious to say the least. Estimated and actual numbers of birds killed, proportioned by the species actually found, over the entire 12 month period, paints a disturbing picture: Tree Swallow 218 (calculation based on 31 corpses) Purple Martin 49 (calculation based on 7 corpses) Bobolink 73 (calculation based on 9 corpses) Wilson’s Snipe 50 (calculation based on 7 corpses) Red-tailed Hawk 10 (actual count) It is important to note that the calculated numbers are arrived at using Stantec’s formula to calculate total casualty rates. A sample of turbines are visited either weekly or twice a week and a search for bird corpses on the ground beneath the blades is conducted. As the method is not intended as a comprehensive search, determining the casualty rate requires taking in factors like the ability of the search team to find carcasses, the percentage of the area searched and the rate of predation between searches. The 31 Tree Swallow corpses, in other words, represent about 15% of the calculated number of tree swallows killed, based on Stantec’s calculations and field testing. While the report and the research behind it appear to be quite solid, the authors contend that the casualty rates are quite sustainable and will not have any effect on the species populations. They do this by contrasting the kill numbers from the turbines with the estimated Ontario population of the most affected species – Tree Swallow, numbering about 400,000 and Bobolink, about 800,000. (They do not do this for Red-tailed Hawk, which in fact may not meet their sustainability criteria). They also contrasted the numbers with estimates of birds killed by other human activities or artifices such as tall buildings, vehicles, cell towers, and pets. While this argument has gained considerable traction among some in the wind industry and even the scientific community, it fails to consider that the turbines at Wolfe Island are killing different species than the tall buildings, cats and cars. Tree Swallow, Purple Martin, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture and Bobolink rarely if ever show up on lists of casualties from tall buildings, and are unlikely victims of cats, with the possible exception of the Bobolink. And vehicle collisions, well – while this is a legitimate concern, Turkey Vultures have arguably had a net benefit from the carnage caused by vehicles. But it is some of these very species – the ones most likely to be harmed by Wolfe Island’s turbines – that are already experiencing declines. Take swallows, for example. Most species of swallow have declined significantly in Canada over the past 20 years. Adding additional threats to already stressed populations is not prudent. According to trend data on this species from Breeding Bird Survey routes in Ontario, the Tree Swallow has declined by about 6% annually over the past 20 years, a cumulative decline of almost 80%! In other words, the current estimated population of 400,000, was 2 million only 20 years ago. Bobolink, recently added to COSEWIC’s list of threatened species, declined 4.1% over the same period. We should not trivialize the impact of removing dozens, or hundreds of individuals from a population of species that are clearly in trouble. In the meantime, good documentation of the impacts is essential. While TransAlta had to deliver these studies – they were a condition of the wind project’s approval – the company and Stantec should be recognized for doing good work. Once one takes the spin out of the document, the data and the methodologies are solid. The quality of the monitoring appears to be high, and some weaknesses, such as a potential bias to undercount the number of raptor fatalities, are recognized in the report. With regard to birds of prey, even if they were not undercounted, the number of casualties is excessively high at .27 per turbine. This was the highest recorded rate for raptor kills outside of California. The victims included: 10 Red-tailed Hawks, 1 Northern Harrier, 1 Osprey, 2 American Kestrel, 1 Merlin 8 Turkey Vulture This number crossed the “notification threshold” for the project, meaning that the CWS and MNR were notified about the high rates. The report states that TransAlta and MNR have initiated discussions regarding “adaptive management” in response to the raptor deaths. We look forward to hearing what the response might be. With the plant already in operation, the only option now is to mitigate the risk to wildlife perhaps by slowing down the blades of the turbines at hazardous moments of the year, or turning them off. However, unless the numbers of casualties increase even further in the next two years, it is unclear how far the threshold must be exceeded and how often, before mitigation is implemented. It is reported in the document that four notifications were made by the company to the government for raptors alone, yet none appears to have led to mitigation. As I write this, several wind farms are being proposed around the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the most worrying being Gilead’s Ostrander Point wind farm. Ostrander Point is an area that is arguably even more significant for birds than Wolfe Island, because of its specific geography. Ironically, the land on which the Gilead project is being proposed is owned by the Province of Ontario – a Crown forest block. Opposition to turbines in agricultural areas appears to have persuaded government officials to meet their renewable energy agenda by prioritizing "crown lands" as locations for wind energy plants. While this might be appropriate and acceptable for some properties, when a wind plant is located in an area of great significance to wildlife, as is the case with Ostrander Point, so-called green energy ceases to be green at all. The Ontario government needs to think more carefully about where they allow wind turbines. It is not too late for the Province to design a policy that promotes green energy and also protects key biodiversity sites including Important Bird Areas. Otherwise, as more of these facilities are built in bad places, wind energy will become a significant contributor to the declines of several species that are already in trouble, and the Green Energy Act will be recognized and remembered for all of the wrong reasons.

Birders want wind energy, but not in IBAs
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Birders want wind energy, but not in IBAs

Near Long Point, Lake Erie, Ontario
In September and early October 2009, Nature Canada carried out a survey to explore Ontario birders perceptions of modern wind energy projects, or “wind farms,” and the impact of these installations on birds. The findings of the survey were published in the December 2010 issue of Ontario Birds, the journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO).Two hundred and sixty four birders from across Ontario and a few beyond completed an online survey. We found that Ontario birders reflect a fairly wide spectrum of interests, income and education, yet share similar concerns about climate change and global warming, and generally see wind energy as an important industry to combat this threat.The vast majority of respondents (92%) consider it important to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. The concern for global warming appears to translate into strong support for wind energy from approximately 60% of respondents with only 20% not supporting wind energy. Despite the support for wind energy, approximately 60% of the respondents believe that wind energy impacts birds, and an even stronger proportion (70%) believe that wind projects have no place in Important Bird Areas or in avian migratory corridors. However, we also found that most birders recognize that wind energy in the wrong place can pose a threat to bird populations. The wrong place, in ranked order according to survey participants, includes Migratory Bird Sanctuaries (MBSs), Important Bird Areas (IBAs), National Wildlife Areas (NWAs) and parks. Some birders – over one-third of those sampled – also said they would be discouraged from visiting the iconic birding locations of Point Pelee or Prince Edward Point if wind farms were built near them.
Near Shelburne, Ontario
Nature Canada’s survey comes at a critical time for the future of wind energy in Ontario – with the recent passing of the Ontario Green Energy Act, the number of wind installations in the province will increase dramatically. Wind energy producers are eyeing any location with wind, which of course includes many areas that are well-known for the significance for birds. In June 2010, the province proposed draft regulations to open up the development of “off-shore” wind farms. The proposed regulations included a five kilometre buffer around all of the Great Lakes shorelines and major islands to protect water intakes as well as important cultural and natural features and functions. The province already has a mishmash of policies and regulations that can best be described as a “work in progress.” They reflect the conflicting priorities of government agencies, and a continual pressure to adapt to growing local opposition to wind plants, while supporting and promoting the tenets of the Green Energy Act. Once finalized, these regulations will be part of the approvals process of the Green Energy Act, and are designed to lift many of the bureaucratic barriers to developing green energy projects such as wind farms. Assessment of impacts of wind energy installations has focused on bird mortality, and more recently bat mortality, caused principally by collision with turbine blades. Concerns have also been raised about loss of habitat from installations, which could reduce breeding productivity or reduce survival if birds are displaced from habitat by the presence and construction of turbines, and by the movement of maintenance vehicles, and by the disruption of flight routes caused by avoidance of wind plants. Gilead Power Corporation, a privately owned wind energy developer, has proposed a wind energy installation, the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park, inside the globally significant Prince Edward County South Shore IBA near Kingston Ontario, and on provincial Crown land that is also a candidate Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. The wind park is only a few kilometers from the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife Area, the only NWA specifically recognized for its importance for migrating landbirds. Environment Canada has described the site where the turbines are proposed as “one of the best areas for birds in southern Ontario.” For us at Nature Canada, the Gilead project is a good example of a wind energy project that is being proposed in the wrong place – in fact the worst possible place in terms of risk to birds. If approved, we believe the project is likely to have significant impacts on a very rich breeding bird community and on migratory birds that depend on Ostrander Point’s natural habitats. Nature Canada, and our Provincial Partner Ontario Nature, strongly oppose the project and have urged the Province and Gilead to withdraw it, but so far to no avail. Across the country, Nature Canada is calling on federal and provincial governments to ensure wind energy projects do not come at the expense of this country’s birds and other wildlife. While it appears so far that most projects have a very minimal impact on bird populations, in the wrong place, projects could be disastrous.
We are already seeing evidence of this at TransAlta’s Wolf Island Turbines, where casualty rates as much as 10 times that of most other wind plants have been documented, with birds of prey such as the Red-tailed Hawk and aerial insectivores like swallows appearing to be particularly vulnerable.To get wind power right in Canada, we are urging governments to enact policies and regulations that ensure the following:
  • Wind turbines and wind farms should not be located in Important Bird Areas or other areas with particular significance to congregating, migrating or breeding birds.
  • All wind farm proposals should be subject to an environmental assessment prior to development to assess their impact on all wildlife, including birds and bats.
  • Any wind farms that already exist within migratory corridors or bottlenecks should be subject to the best practices for mitigating their impacts on birds, especially during migration season.
Join Nature Canada in calling on the Government of Canada to enact wildlife-friendly green energy policies – the petition to get wind power right!
Nature Canada would like to thank OFO for supporting and publishing “What birders in Ontario think about wind energy in relation to birds”, by Nature Canada’s Ted Cheskey and Ahmed Zedan.Our bird conservation efforts in the James Bay and Hudson Bay region are supported by The Ivey Foundation.

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