BIRD KILL AT LAUREL MOUNTAIN INDUSTRIAL WIND FACILITY
By Peter Shoenfeld, The Highlands Voice,
SOURCE West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, wvhighlands.org
November 7, 2011
On October 1st and 2d, approximately 500 birds were killed in an accident at the new Laurel Mountain industrial wind facility, according to Division of Natural Resources Ornithologist Rich Bailey. The fatalities occurred by collision and exhaustion at the Laurel Mountain substation, where the lights were left on during foggy weather. Over thirty species of mixed migratory songbirds were included, primarily blackpoll warblers. A Green Heron was also a victim and is mentioned here to emphasize the general nature of this avian threat. DNR may recommend that lights be turned off there in the time period August 1 through November 1, or an even broader length of time.
The birds were found October 3 by AES staff and reported to contractor Stantec, who took main responsibility going forward, including notification of Division of Natural Resources and United States Fish and Wildlife Service that day.
DNR expects to have a press release on this matter in early November, five weeks or more after the actual event. A detailed report from Stantec to USFWS is available on the incident, subsequent recoveries, and mortality from the USFWS field office in Elkins as we go to press November 1. This is the most thorough narrative currently available. Developer/Operator AES has chosen to remain directly silent about the event, as has the Elkins Intermountain who was notified weeks ago. The story was covered by the Charleston Gazette.
A similar event occurred at the nearby Mountaineer Wind Facility on May 22-23, 2003. Unusually heavy fog enshrouded the region the night of the 22d and persisted until the afternoon of the 23d. Bright sodium vapor lights were left on at a substation and an estimated 33 songbirds were killed by collisions.
There was also a major bird kill due to excess lighting in fog at Tucker County High School, just down the road from Mountaineer on September 29, 2008. About 500 birds were killed, most of them warblers.
Other similar events have been documented in West Virginia at least twice in the not too distant past.
Through their short collective memory and other failings, the wind facility operators are fast earning a reputation as unfit stewards of the little bit of nature left after their developments are complete.
Early on the morning of September 29, 2008, a large bird kill at the Tucker County High School near Hambleton, West Virginia, was reported to Division of Natural Resources personnel. DNR Wildlife Resources Section (WRS) biologists, along with conservation officers, representatives from the Tucker County Health Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the U.S. Forest Service responded to the report and found evidence of a large bird strike at the school.
Officials recovered 501 birds representing 31 species at the site. Seven birds recovered and were released alive. The remaining 494 specimens were collected and identified by WRS biologists. More than 80 percent of the birds were warblers. Bird banders from the Allegheny Front Migratory Observatory and Powdermill Nature Reserve verified the identifications.
Officials collected the majority of the birds along or near the outside walls of the school and from the school roof. Some specimens were also collected from the adjacent parking areas and athletic field. All evidence was consistent with a large scale collision event. Initial speculation suggested that disease and/or poisoning caused the deaths, but no evidence supports this claim.
Additionally, as part of standard procedure, officials from the West Virginia Department of Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture tested sample specimens for both West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza. All samples tested negative for both diseases. An additional sample was sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, for necropsy. All specimens examined at this facility exhibited trauma consistent with a bird strike, including extensive hemorrhage, and fractured skulls, wings and legs.
Officials from the WRS and the USFWS are working with the Tucker County School Board of Education and Allegheny Power to remedy the situation at the Tucker County High School. They will modify existing lighting to make the site less attractive to migratory birds. The site will be monitored for additional mortality for the remaining 2008 migratory period and this monitoring effort is planned to continue into future years.
In the case of bird kill at Laurel Mountain industrial wind facility it is unclear what the response will be. Because of the public silence of the Developer/Operator AES it is unclear what steps it has taken or will take to investigate the kill as well as what steps it plans to prevent future incidents.
The peak of neotropical songbird migration occurs in late September and early October and is concentrated along mountain ridges. Large bird strikes like the Tucker County High School event are not uncommon throughout North America during this time frame.
Events like these occur when several environmental conditions occur simultaneously in proximity to a lighted man-made structure. These conditions typically include dense fog, southerly winds and a dome of artificial light surrounding a structure. The event can be further amplified by a period of rain prior to the event that concentrates birds by delaying migration.
This was the case with the Tucker County event. Three days of rain prior to September 29 were followed by a passing cold front that generated southerly winds and ideal migration conditions. These birds headed south, encountered dense fog along Backbone Mountain, were attracted by the dome of light surrounding the school, became disoriented, and began to circle the structure, crashing into windows and the outside walls. Some birds may have died from exhaustion from constant circling.
Similar events have been documented in West Virginiain the past. Forty birds of 14 species died on October 5, 1999, in Monterville in Randolph County; and at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County on October 15, 1985, officials collected 1,336 birds of 30 species.