STANTON TOWNSHIP – Opponents of a proposed wind turbine farm heard about possible impacts on birds from a local birder Monday.
Joe Youngman helped found the Manitou Island Bird Survey, and helped to advance the Keweenaw Raptor Survey, the forerunner of the still-active Brockway Hawk Watch. He has also conducted counts at sites like Freda. Youngman described what he’d learned about the birds’ migratory paths at a meeting held by Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, a citizens group formed to stop the Scotia Wind project.
The bird issue is relevant for the project, which includes 12 turbines in Adams and Stanton Township. Circle Power’s wetland permits request was denied by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), primarily over concerns the location would disrupt the population of bald eagles and northern long-eared bats, the latter of which is a threatened species. Circle Power can appeal within 60 days of the decision.
An average of 800 bald eagles and 40 golden eagles are spotted at Brockway each spring, Youngman said.
“Sometimes I substitute count up there, and you know there’s a golden eagle around because the ravens that nest 100 yards down, you’ll hear them start making an ack-ack-ack sound,” he said.
The Brockway counts average about 13,000 raptors each spring, primarily broadwing hawks.
Based on his studies on Manitou Island and the mainland, there’s little evidence of raptors crossing Lake Superior from the Keweenaw.
“They’re not made to fly like that,” Youngman said. “They want to fly with thermals where they can just stick their wings out and glide.”
The migratory patterns have been consistent, Youngman said; some westbound traffic, but about a fifth of eastbound.
In a smaller four-day study, they looked to see where the birds went from there.
“We just wanted to see, if they’re not going back west at Brockway, is it possible they’re coming back in other parts of the peninsula, and we don’t see them?” Youngman said. “And that sure looks like the case.”
At Bete Grise Beach and the other sites, the westbound birds made up a much larger proportion than at Brockway; at Bete Grise, westbound was about four times higher than eastbound. A count from Ashland, Wisconsin, showed the biggest amount of raptors were coming from the northeast.
“So what’s northeast of Ashland?” he said. “The Porkies, and us.”
A 29-day count at the Porcupine Mountains yielded 875 westbound raptors, versus 1,000 at Brockway over the same span, Youngman said. Based on the known raptor flight ways at the top of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Youngman extrapolated the migratory paths below that point; scattered paths across the width of the peninsula as they fly up to the Keweenaw, then a more concentrated route along the west shoreline.
The Keweenaw Ridge, where the turbines would be located, would not have the same funneling effect as the tip of the Keweenaw, as it is on a wider spot, Youngman said.
Youngman also discussed the fall waterbird migration season, which includes ducks and loons.
A three-monthly count found more than 32,000 birds, most of which stayed offshore. Loons were more likely to fly over land, Youngman said.
“A modest number of loons do cross right there at Freda … so these loons would be in danger from any turbines in that area,” he said.
Youngman’s talk dealt only briefly with bats, which he freely admitted he had little information on. At every site he has conducted fall waterbird counts along the Keweenaw shore, he has seen bats flying in from Lake Superior, Youngman said. Since most of their migration is conducted at night, the ones he sees while birding are probably a small fraction, he said. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife study looked at six known former mines where bats have been known to hibernate. Youngman spoke with a DNR wildlife biologist who told him they had found bats in every mine they were able to get into. That means they’re probably at even more, Youngman said.
“They’re closed up, for at least the human, but if there’s a small hole … that doesn’t tell you they’re hibernating in these abandoned mines, but he said (people) couldn’t get into those mines,” he said.
Prior to Youngman’s talk, group members reviewed the history of the project and recent events, including the permit denial. Adams Township will hold a public meeting 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss enacting a moratorium on granting permits related to wind turbines. Stanton Township’s board approved a nine-month moratorium earlier this month.
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