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Turbine site study surprises researchers

HARLINGEN – Ornithologist and birding guide Jim Sinclair didn’t go looking for the wind power industry, it found him.

Sinclair, a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, was approached to do a major pre-siting study for a wind farm project south of Corpus Christi.

The first project was a location just south of Baffin Bay in 2004. Sinclair was approached by American Shoreline, and company officials said they wanted an avian risk assessment.

“Although we didn’t voice it to them, we thought ‘you people are nuts,’” Sinclair recalled.

“That’s a chokepoint for three migratory flyways. They asked us to take a look at it anyway.”

Sinclair said he and his team at Texas Environmental Studies and Analysis went into the research as skeptics.

He said over three years he logged 60,000 miles of driving on ranch roads, and that didn’t include off-road travel on ATVs.

“We conducted the longest, most intense and most sophisticated pre-construction study that had been done anywhere in the world,” Sinclair said.

What they found, and what surprised them, was the area south of the long east-west arm of Baffin Bay was something of a dead zone when it came to migratory bird travel.

“One of the big concerns was the raptor migration,” he said, since a million hawks, kites, falcons and eagles use the Central Flyway each year.

“But what we discovered in this part of the project was that raptors don’t like migrating over water,” he said, saying in surveys of other bird species, numbers also were lower than expected.

The migratory routes of bird species are critical components of assessing wind farm locations in South Texas. The area sits smack on top of the Central Flyway, one of the three major migratory bird routes in North American.

Here in South Texas, there are three feeder routes that make up the Central Flyway:

– Trans-Gulf route crosses the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.

– Circum-Gulf route is right along the shoreline, near land.

– Overland route is west of both these routes, and keeps birds over land at all times.

“After this project, we went back and did a post-construction study there and the Texas Gulf Wind project immediately to the south,” Sinclair said. “It verified what we had discovered pre-construction that those two projects were a lot safer than any of us expected.”