Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Whitefish Point IBA Recognition Ceremony Held

On Saturday April 26 Whitefish Point was ceremonially-recognized as an IBA at the annual Spring Fling banquet. This site and the surrounding waters of Whitefish Bay are home to a vast number of migrant waterbirds, including approximately 25-45% of the North American population of Red-necked Grebes annually. Common Terns, and many species of waterfowl and waterbirds depend on this corridor for successfully completing their annual cycles, and for these reasons the site was named an IBA.

Thanks to Mike Sefton for sending us the following photos (and giving us permission to post them here!)IBA Coordinator Caleb Putnam addresses the crowd. ©Mike Sefton 2008
Left to right: Tracy Casselman (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service), Terry Begnoche (Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society), Caleb Putnam, Marc Snyder (WPBO board), Jack Lapinski (MI Audubon president), Les Homan (Michigan Department of Natural Resources) ©Mike Sefton 2008

Friday, April 11, 2008

26 April Whitefish Point IBA Recognition Ceremony

On Saturday April 26, 2008, Whitefish Point will be recognized as an Important Bird Area for its significant concentrations of migrant waterbirds. This event will take place at the annual Spring Fling banquet at 4:45 PM at the Paradise Community Center. Tickets, which cost $35/adult and $15/child, are required and limited in number, so please sign up soon. Visit wpbo.org for the sign up form. Several dignitaries have been invited, and there will be a short ceremony highlighting the IBA and its birds, followed by a ribbon-cutting and photo op.

Huge numbers of Red-necked Grebes fly by the point into Whitefish Bay each fall, using the open waters of Lake Superior as a migration corridor during this part of their journey. This represents as much as 25-45% of the estimated North American population, a huge concentration by any measure. Other significant species include Common Tern, loons, waterfowl of many species, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Whitefish Point is not currently recognized as an IBA for its migrant songbirds and raptors, because these criteria have not yet been finalized. Whether the point meets thresholds for any of these species will be announced at a later date.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wind power is up and running in Michigan!

As I have stated before, Audubon wholeheartedly supports alternative energy as a means of preventing the long-term effects of global warming on birds and other wildlife. That said, one promising form of alternative energy, wind energy, is not without its harmful effects, particularly bird and bat mortality.

Audubon was recently contacted by the clerk of Lake Township, Huron County, to advise its planning commission on how to write a good ordinance for the siting of wind turbines. On March 26, 2008, Tom Funke (director of conservation for Michigan Audubon Society) and I presented at a publicly-attended planning commission meeting which was attended by DTE Energy officials and elected officials of the township. On the way, we decided to stop at Michigan's first large wind farm, the Harvest Wind Farm, operated by John Deere, Inc. This windfarm, we had heard, was located between the small towns of Pigeon and Elkton in Huron County near the tip of the thumb:
We had asked for directions for finding the windfarm, so imagine our surprise when we saw this from a distance of 8 miles:
There would be no problem locating this windfarm. From 3 miles away it was becoming apparent how large these turbines were:
Up close, these machines were huge and impressive. There was a strange sensation of near awe at the spectacle of it. There are 32 turbines spread out over an area of perhaps 10 square miles, each approximately 350-400 feet tall at the highest, with deceivingly fast blades which appeared to be spinning rather slowly at first glance.

The size of the housing was nearly that of a small bus:
It may not yet be widely known, but wind power is no longer a thing of the future. It is a force of the present. Indeed, Governor Granholm's strong push for increased alternative energy in Michigan is well underway, with several more projects in the planning stages. The challenge as we move forward, including potential projects such as this one by DTE Energy in the thumb, is to do our best to prevent large mortality events at all wind farm sites. There are very few data to tell us how many birds will be affected by any given windfarm, so it is essential that sites be monitored for at least 3 years in advance of construction, and several years following construction. If large mortality events are noted, some effort must be put forth to mitigate the problem. The details of such mitigation are, in part, what local officials can consider as part of their ordinance.

Existing voluntary guidelines have already been put forth by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth, the American Wind Energy Association, and the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative. The Fish and Wildlife Service calls for no turbines within 3 miles of the lakeshore and at least 5 miles from any known active Bald Eagle nest. Although the numbers may be somewhat arbitrary, we do agree that shorelines often attract large concentrations of migrant and wintering waterbirds, raptors, songbirds, and other species, and should be avoided where possible.

In the case of Lake Township, the entire township is located within 3 miles of the shoreline, which borders the Coastal Saginaw Bay IBA. This IBA supports up to 4% of the known population of the Tundra Swan during spring and fall migration, as well as large numbers of ducks and migrating raptors. We simply do not yet know how vulnerable these groups of birds would be to wind development at this location. To follow this developing story check the Lake Township wind page.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On bird data and the DNR

Most birders collect data, at least at a basic level. It may be limited to a daily checklist, or it may consists of counts of each species organized by location, weather, viewing conditions, other observers, and other details. This information, particularly that in the latter category, has great value beyond just calculating life lists, and many of us don't fully appreciate this fact.

The IBA program requires solid bird data for the identification of all IBAs, for example. This information comes from all kinds of sources (scientific literature, publications, birder data, eBird, etc.) and requires lots of time and effort to locate and compile. This time commitment is a limiting feature for many conservation organizations, including government agencies.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, for example, relies on the Natural Heritage Database maintained by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) for guiding its management decisions. If they are going to know about a rare species they need to protect, this is where they'll find out about it. As it turns out, they just do not have time to query other sources of information. You may assume that because you entered your observations into eBird and the Michigan Audubon Seasonal Survey compiler that the DNR would have full access to it, but it's not currently true!

There are many reasons why these and other biological databases do not share data freely. But my point here is that we really need to make sure our observations of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern species (and not just birds!) are submitted to the right places and are thus utilized to the fullest extent. In the case of the DNR, please download the appropriate MNFI form and see to it that it is submitted. It may be extra work on our part, but this will go a long way to guiding good conservation in our state!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Lake Michigan IBA?

The process of defining an IBA requires solid data and approval by the Michigan IBA Technical Committee. There are many examples of suspected IBAs for which we don't have enough data to make a decision. One example is of the massive concentrations of Long-tailed Ducks seen by birders during late winter and spring along the lower peninsula's Lake Michigan shoreline. Usually, these birds are one mile or more out from shore, and form dark clouds of birds when they take flight.

This Saturday Jan 5, a committed group of birders will attempt the first-ever organized count of these birds, standing guard at six locations including Manistee, Ludington, Little Sable Pt (Oceana County), Muskegon, Grand Haven, Saugatuck, and South Haven. Coordinated by Chip Francke (Grand Haven Parks) and Kip Miller (leader of the Berrien Birding Club), the January 5 count will involve the first known attempt at quantifying these large flocks. If enough birds are found, this information could be used to help delineate an Important Bird Area.

We plan to attempt a second, follow-up, count in March. If you would like to join the efforts, or start a similar effort at a local site, please email the Michigan IBA Coordinator, Caleb Putnam.