Tag Archives: Advocacy

My Statement on LD1262 “An Act to Protect Monhegan Island by Limiting Wind Turbines”

On Tuesday, May 2nd, I -and many, many others – spoke to the Energy Utilities and Technology Joint Committee of the Maine State Legislature. I was duly impressed by the resolve of the committee to listen to both sides – and listen for nearly 4 hours of testimony. Below is the extended version of my comments (trimmed for the hearing to just barely fit into the three minute time allowance). For information on LD1262 and the fight to protect Monhegan, and the birds that pass through it, I’d recommend following Protect Monhegan via Facebook.

Hello. My name is Derek Lovitch. My wife and I are Pownal residents, owners of Freeport Wild Bird Supply, and field biologists in our previous lives. I am currently also a tour guide, author, and advocate for birds and birders.
I am here today to voice my strong support for LD1262. Unfortunately, I – and many other concerned citizens – are here today to support this legislation because a place we love and a way of life is under threat. While I believe the residents of Monhegan Island are the ones who should speak about the sense of place, quality of life, and socioeconomic impacts of this project, I do feel qualified – both from a degree in Environmental Policy to a career spent sharing the wonders of bird migration with the public – to speak about the threat this project poses to one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds – and birders – in the Northeast.
I personally bring dozens of clients to Monhegan Island each year, often with at least three tours per year a amounting to a minimum of 10-15 days spent on the island each spring and fall enjoying birds, contributing to the economy, and studying the wonders of bird migration.
This year alone, I expect to bring a minimum of 30-35 birders to the island for 3-6 days each, spending money on food, lodging, and let’s be honest: the brewery. I have spent over a decade visiting the island, both personally and professionally. Over that period, I have gotten to know many of the year-round and summer residents of the island, developed friendships, and learned about the trials and tribulations of Monhegan Island life. I am not naïve to the issues beyond birds and birding, nor am I ignorant of the fact that many of the supporters of this project have genuinely good intentions.
Unfortunately, while on Monhegan Island, I, and my clients, are hoping for the conditions that bring migratory birds that are crossing the Gulf of Maine in a broad front to seek shelter on Monhegan Island. Storms, wind shifts with the passage of cold fronts, low clouds and fog, and many other meteorological conditions can force exhausted migrants who find themselves out over open water to seek the nearest piece of land – the proverbial any port in a storm – to rest, refuel, and eventually continue along their epic journey.
However, these conditions also impact a bird’s ability to navigate and lead to disorientation. For reasons we still don’t full understand, when birds lose the ability to navigate by stars, they can become confused by artificial light. Perhaps in an attempt to reorient using the North Star, lights in the sky cause a bird to become confused, circling and circling, after a long flight, metabolizing their very own muscles in an attempt to reach safety and recharge. Unfortunately, countless others keep going until they drop from exhaustion or slam SMACK into a tower or turbine blade.
Think about it: a Blackpoll Warbler winging its way from Alaska sets off from the coast of Maine for an unfathomable 2 ½ day non-stop journey over the open ocean to reach the Lesser Antillies only to become disoriented by a fog bank – an all-to-common feature of the Maine Coast and spends its entire fuel load circling a silly little light placed atop a tower stuck smack dab in the middle of one of the densest concentrations of migratory birds in the region. Or, perhaps it’s even worse to think of a Magnolia Warbler born and raised in Baxter State Park who was one of the lucky ones to survive its winter in a shade-grown coffee plantation in Central America only to start the amazing journey north again a few months later.
Fighting cold fronts, avoiding predators, finding food, avoiding skyscrapers and communication towers, it finds itself drifting over the Gulf of Maine when a rapid-moving cold front exits the Maine coast and suddenly switches that favorable tailwind to a gusting headwind. Exhausted from flying through the night, the sun begins to rise, and the bird begins to desperately look for a place to land.
It descends into the low clouds to find an island, but instead sees a blinking light several hundred feet in the air, and, with the last of its fuel reserves used up, it circles and circles until it drops dead. After all that. It didn’t make it to Monhegan and the birders waiting, binoculars pointed south, anxiously awaiting a fallout on the shores of Lobster Cove.
Birding can be a paradox – we often hope for conditions that are not great for birds, but are good for our chances to see them. Many birders go to bed at night in their lodge on Monhegan hoping for those conditions. I for one, will no longer be able to sleep knowing that the conditions I am waiting for will put the critters we care passionately about at even graver risk because of a boondoggle, a cash-grab of federal subsidies, and a half-baked idea about how to maximize profit while not doing a darn thing to combat the very real and very problematic issue of Climate Change.
Wind power will be part of our energy solution. But it doesn’t work everywhere. In some places, such as Monhegan Island, the costs will far outweigh the promised benefits. This isn’t about solving Climate Change, it’s not about helping the people of Monhegan, and it’s certainly not about minimizing risks. This is about the worst place you can put such a project, from environmental to socio-economic reasons.
Conservation organizations such as the American Bird Conservancy are opposed to this project due to the threat it poses to migratory birds and Federal Endangered species such as the Roseate Tern. I am opposed to this project because it puts the place I love and the birds that find respite here at grave risk.
I for one, and the clients I travel with, will no longer visit the island if this project is built. I cannot fathom going to bed knowing that the conditions I need for a successful birding tour could result in the death of hundreds or thousands of migratory birds that night. No, I will not be able to sleep just so some wealthy family in Connecticut can sleep better with their air conditioner running and their mythological “green energy” credits making them feel OK.
I am not opposed to wind power, but I am opposed to bad ideas. This is a bad idea. The risks are too great, the rewards are too few, and migratory birds will not be saved with free internet. Therefore, I urge the committee to support this bill and let’s develop new energy technologies that will really combat climate change and do them based on sound science, solid math, and in places that minimize risk while maximizing benefits.
I sincerely thank you for your time.

Taking Action to Save the Birds of Monhegan Island

As many of you know by now, Monhegan Island has become near and dear to our hearts. It is an iconic birding destination in spring and fall which we, and many other birders, enjoy frequenting on our own as well as while leading tours. Unfortunately, the construction of wind power turbines within 3 miles of the island is closer to becoming a reality, and now more than ever requires action!

Hiking_East_Side,5-19-15

We are not opposed to wind power. But we are opposed to poorly-sited projects that put inordinate numbers of birds at risk. This is quite possibly the worst place in the state of Maine for such a wind power project due to its concentrations of migratory birds. And therefore we feel personally and professionally obligated to do whatever we can to defeat the plan, change the design and lighting to minimize impacts, or, if all else fails, mitigate the potential consequences.

Our most recent statement was posted to the blog this past December, as this misguided project was resurrected from the dead.

Our initial concern about the project was described in this letter and press release from 2013. The link includes our letter, as well as some links to press coverage of our concerns.

In the case of Monhegan, aesthetic concerns are directly tied to not just a sense of place, but the tourism economy. Jobs and livelihoods are put at risk – along with property values – if there is an outsized visual or auditory impact. The visual impact on some of the best views from the island – many of which have been made famous by some of the region’s most famous artists – will be negatively impacted by the placement of this project.

Additionally, while I will not speak for others, suffice it to say that birding tourism will decline. In addition to the direct mortality of birds that is likely, especially under the weather circumstances that cause “fallouts” that are the thing Monhegan birding legends are made of, there are no small number of birders who simply won’t want to look at those blinking lights atop the turbine towers (the biggest direct threat to migratory birds as it will attract and disorient already stressed and confused migrants). I for one will be forgoing my 2-3 tours annually to the island – I simply cannot imagine looking out at those blinking lights knowing the conditions that we are hoping for to bring countless birds on the island for our enjoyment will result in the death of countless birds as they collide with the turbines or simply drop dead of exhaustion. I’ll have to go somewhere else.

Instead of addressing the impacts that such projects cause, the wind industry simply denies the problem exists, suppressing data that proves otherwise, and hiding the facts behind a cloak of “proprietary information.” We know what they are hiding, and they are hiding the massive destruction of birds and bats from poorly sited projects (not all projects, if sited correctly and operated accordingly, will have a sizeable impact). We have the knowledge and expertise to reduce, if not eliminate, much of the direct threat that lighted structures of all kinds have on birds. But instead of addressing lighting color, intensity, and flash interval, the wind industry (unlike the communications industry), simply denies the problem exists.  Just like Big Tobacco and Bog Oil, it’s cheaper (or something) to deny, deny, deny than do anything at all.

Unfortunately, due to false pretenses and false promises, the project was approved and is once again on its way to becoming a dreadful reality. Luckily, people who believe in the island – its people, its birds, its economy, and everything that makes Monhegan, Monhegan, are not lying down as the University of Maine and Aqua Ventus clearly hoped. They are not willing to give up everything that makes this place so special for some free electricity and internet (maybe).

Below, I have copied the statement released on July 5, 2016 by the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition. Jeannette and I, and our business, Freeport Wild Bird Supply are fundamentally opposed to the construction of industrial wind turbines and towers in close proximity to Monhegan Island. Therefore, we are willing to put our money where our mouth is (this gets expensive; I have a big mouth!) and we will be supporting the campaign to raise money for the defense of the birds that pass through Monhegan Island.

First of all, Freeport Wild Bird Supply will be donating $500 to the fight. We urge you to consider a donation, of any size, to protect the birds and the way of life on Monhegan Island (see the letter below for instructions).

Additionally, we will donate 100% of the proceeds of EVERY optics sale in July to the cause. In other words, every cent we would earn from selling any pair of binoculars, spotting scope, phone-scoping adapter, or tripod through the end of the month will go to the fight. So if you have been thinking of a new pair of bins, do it this month, and help us save the migrants of Monhegan in the process.

We will also, personally, and professionally, be continuing to support the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition in any way we can, and we urge you to join us. Please, for the sake of the birds and birding on Monhegan, read the following statement that was released yesterday by Travis Dow for the Monhegan Energy Action Coalition, and we encourage you to add to the support.

“Hello Everyone…Travis, here. A new group is forming. Here is a statement (and a plea for donations) that we put out today. We have yet to have a name, but here is our intent:

A group of concerned Monhegan community members have sought legal advice concerning the Maine Aqua Ventus wind turbine project. This project would place two 585 foot wind turbines 2.7 miles off the southern coast of Monhegan. The information about potential impacts from the project on our unique and iconic island has been contradictory and incomplete. Given the possibility of too many unknowns and unintended consequences, we are compelled to protest the siting of this experiment.

Our objective is to uphold and protect Monhegan’s environmental, historical, and social legacy:

* In 1954, a Certificate of Organization was issued to the Monhegan Associates and was registered with the State of Maine. The Associates have been charged with a mission to preserve Monhegan’s environs, “as well as the simple, friendly way of life that has existed on Monhegan as a whole.” The Associates own approximately 380 acres of land, comprising about two-thirds of the island;

* In 1966, Monhegan was designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.

* In 1997, the waters around Monhegan were designated a Lobster Conservation Area by the State of Maine, and have had a regulated fishing season since the early 1900’s;

* Monhegan is an important landfall for migrating birds along the North Atlantic flyway;

* Monhegan is home to the highest ocean-side cliffs on the eastern seaboard. The island’s iconic vistas have been recorded by some of the most important artists and writers of our time, including, George Bellows, Edward Hooper, N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and many others;

* Monhegan is one of the last year-round island communities in Maine and is heavily supported by an active tourism economy.

* Monhegan is home to many of us.

It must be emphasized that we are not against the wind turbine project itself, just the siting of the project. We are not willing to risk Monhegan’s extraordinary legacy for an experimental wind project. The project can move. Monhegan’s character is irreplaceable.

Legal counsel has informed us that Monhegan may not have been afforded due process and that there is likely a case to be made that a variety of legal procedures were not properly followed. It is also clear that we cannot delay.

We are in the process of raising $25,000 to retain Doyle & Nelson as legal counsel. Jon Doyle is the attorney that helped Monhegan establish the Lobster Conservation Area. We have already raised over $13,000.00, from a large number of people, and your contribution will help reach this goal. Any amount will help. Checks can be made out to Doyle & Nelson, and sent to Travis Dow at P.O. Box 132, Monhegan, Maine 04852. Checks will not be cashed until reaching this funding goal. For more information, contact Travis at tgdow@hotmail.com, .”

surf at Lobster Cove

Portland Eviscerates Capisic Pond Park

Several years ago, I joined a group of concerned residents in working for substantial restoration of Capisic Pond Park following the necessary – and federally mandated – replacement of the sewer line that runs the length of the park. The post-construction restoration plan was essentially “spread some grass seed.”

After countless meetings, public hearings, and workshops, a plan was implemented that not only limited damage from the construction process, but improved it. Over $150,000 was spent on restoration, including extensive planting of native plants to not only beautify the park, but improve biodiversity. Birds, and the many birders who frequent this little treasure of an urban park, would benefit.

Over the years, as those plantings have slowly come into their own, and began to bear fruit (literally!), bird diversity has only continued to increase. From the continued presences of Orchard Orioles – the only breeding pair known in the state, to a wealth of migrant sparrows, to rarities (including just last month, one of only 6 or so Ash-throated Flycatchers to ever be seen in Maine) have attracted birders from far and wide.

On Monday, Jeannette and I headed to Portland to work the productive micro-habitats and micro-climates in urban areas to search for rarities, and “lingering” migrants. We began our day at Capisic Pond Park.

And we were greeted by this:
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We were appalled. We were horrified. We were saddened.

What the hell has happened?

According to the Facebook page for the Friends of Capisic Pond Park, posted on October 31st:
“Don’t be alarmed by the mowing and cutting that will be done in the first week or so of November. It is important to mow the park for several reason. First, and most important, if the small trees and brush aren’t mowed and cut periodically the meadow environment will transform (in time) into a forest. Just like the open farm fields of the 19th century that covered virtually all of Maine are now woods, Capisic Pond Park will move from field to brush to forest unless it is mown and tended. Second, regular cutting will spread seeds and improve the habitat overall. Lastly, we will again be able to see the pond (what’s left of it, anyway) and access the ice (!) during the months before everything regrows next Spring and Summer. FOCP members Donna and Steve Williams and Andy Graham met with Jeff Tarling of Public Services on Friday October 30th to walk the park and talk about what should and should not be cut – we are fortunate to have Jeff as a knowledgeable and caring partner.

“Also – if you were wondering about the trees being cut on Capisic St near the pond, this is the first preparation for the pond restoration work to be done next year. Apparently this will be an access point for the equipment needed to dredge and remove the spoils next August and September.”

This wasn’t a “haircut.” This was a clear-cut.

Quite frankly, I am left to question either the motives or the expertise behind the decisions that were made – at least beyond the third rationales listed: “…we will again be able to see the pond.” And the reason I question whether that clear-cutting had anything to do with anything other than what site-lines some people preferred seems simple as the other reasons given are complete B.S.

1) Cutting is not necessary to spread seeds. Plants are built to do that on their own, either through wind, animals, or gravity.
2) Improve habitat? Granted this depends on what habitat you are trying to improve, but I would argue that this type of mechanized treatment did not in any way improve habitat for much of anything at Capisic. In fact, it damaged or even ruined the habitat for most of the species that frequent the park.
3) Selective cutting, girdling, or other low-impact methods are widely available to eliminate forest succession, especially on a scale as small as Capisic. Almost any other treatment would substantially improve and augment habitat, not ravage it. And that goes for the aesthetics, too – the place is a mess right now.

So I fail to see what was accomplished here, other than opening up some views or fitting in with some outdated philosophy that parks should be open. Actually, what was accomplished was that the value of Capisic Pond Park to most migratory (just about all passage warblers), breeding (including both Baltimore and the famous Orchard Orioles) and year-round resident species (i.e. Northern Cardinals) was severely, and very negatively, impacted.

The significant improvement in food source diversity (especially for frugivores) from the park’s restoration was set back by a decade – or permanently if native plants are not replaced and restored. This heavy-handed, unselective approach favors invasive species, as they out-compete regenerating natives. If left alone, Capisic will end up with significantly more Asiatic Bittersweet, bush honeysuckle, and Multiflora Rose after this misguided effort. Limited biodiversity begets limited biodiversity.

And we’ve seen this throughout the city, for example, the Eastern Promenade, where – despite the efforts of a handful of local residents attempting to stem the tide of invasives – city mismanagement continues to accelerate their spread and the degradation of the habitat. Portland has already ruined (for birds and birders) the “Dragon Field” (behind the Quarry Run Dogpark), annihilated critical migratory bird habitat along West Commercial Street and wiped out any shelter of any sort along the Fore River Parkway Trail, and continues to assault any sort of cover in roadside edges and overgrown lots (all critical for disoriented and exhausted migrants, and “pioneers” that are attempting to overwinter after possibly becoming “stuck” in the city. Portland stood by as Evergreen Cemetery had a road plowed through it and neglect continues to degrade the pond areas – despite being the most-visited birding location in that state. See a pattern here?

And through all this, little ol’ Capisic Pond Park stood as the lone bastion of hope. Residents, birders, engineers, and city officials came together to not only restore the park after the sewer reconstruction, but actually improve the habitat for migratory and resident birds. And birders have been reaping those dividends, as improved plant diversity continues to provide a greater array of native foodstuffs as the replanted vegetation matures. And that has meant more birds.

I was proud of what was accomplished at Capisic Pond Park. I – and many others – worked tireless to make that happen. A lot of time, effort, dedication – and yes, a substantial amount of money – was invested.

And then, with a few passes of a brush-hog mower, it was gone. All of that time, effort, dedication, money, and concern, wasted. Just like that. Poof.

I’m sickened by what I saw at Capisic Pond Park on Monday. And personally, it will be hard for me to go back. There will always be birds in the park – it’s truly an urban oasis, and some migrants will have no choice but to search for food here. However, the knowledge of how much better the bird habitat, and therefore the birding, should be will forever be a reminded to me about how much time and energy I have wasted fighting for birds in the City of Portland.

But at least I can simply go somewhere else. If you’re a bird in Portland, you’re running out of choices.

Birding and Conserving Sandy Point and Knight’s Pond-Blueberry Hill

Warbler migration is in full swing right now, with at least 10 or more species easily found on most mornings at most productive patches. Nonetheless, I really hate to say it, but in less than 3 months, some of these birds will already be returning home to the Neotropics. In fact, in a little more than three months, I’ll be back at “my office” at the base of the bridge at Sandy Point on Yarmouth’s Cousin’s Island to count southbound migrants!

It’s true: the birds we think of as “our” birds that spend the winters in the tropics are actually tropical birds that spend a few months of the year taking advantage of the bounty of insects in the northern forests in the short summer. While it may feel like fall today (after yesterday’s 80-degre temps!), I only bring this up because the Morning Flight at Sandy Point was on my mind this morning, as I met with Central Maine Power and Lucas Tree.

As many of you will remember from the fall of 2011, enhanced maintenance (Federally required) of the high-tension powerline corridor through Sandy Point significantly impacted the most critical migratory bird habitat here. With the help of many of you also calling CMP and sending letters, the clear-cutting was stopped, but much to my chagrin, was resumed in the spring of 2012 without notice. To make a long story short, after several months, an agreement was reached. The agreement and essentially an apology from CMP has been posted on our website ever since.

The trees were planted, and the River Birch is doing well. While the Red Oak didn’t make it through last summer, a cherry has naturally resprouted nearby and is currently outperforming the other trees at the base of the bridge – the most critical trees for reorienting migrants. These trees are outside of the critical clearance area under the lines (one of my biggest arguments in the first place) and will continue to grow (excuse the pun) in importance to birds seeking shelter or rest before making the crossing to the mainland.Sandy Point1,5-8-15

An early spring view from “My Office.”

Knowing that Sandy Point was due for the three-year maintenance schedule, I sent a email to CMP this winter, just to check in. I was assured that someone would be in touch this year when this stretch of corridor was due to be cut. And sure enough, last week, Nicholas Hahn of the Vegetation Management division of CMP got in touch, and I met with him and a crew from Lucas Tree this morning to discuss the current cutting regime.

First, let me say that I am very happy that CMP honored their commitment to notifying me about upcoming maintenance, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to offer input. We all agree it’s easier to get on the same page before any work is done. I’m not unreasonable, and I don’t need to get upset any more than I have to.

We walked through the site and the trees that needed to be removed or pruned (fast-growing trees that could get too tall before the next scheduled maintenance in three years, aka “capable”) were identified. It all seemed very reasonable to me, and I had no objections. I did make sure the cutting of the Staghorn Sumac patch was kept to a minimum, and Lucas Tree agreed to take out a few bush honeysuckles before they got any bigger and further impacted the valuable Arrowwood Viburnum stands.SandyPoint2,5-8-15

So all in all, it went very well, in my opinion. There wasn’t much that needed to be done, and this small stretch of corridor will continue to be maintained with the lightest hand possible, offering safety and refuge for tired birds, and exceptional opportunities for us birders.

After the meeting, I finally got over to the Knight’s Pond – Blueberry Hill property on the Cumberland/North Yarmouth border that the Royal River Conservation Trust and other organizations have been diligently working to preserve. It’s only my affinities for my local patches at this time of year that has kept me from checking out the preserve sooner.  But I am glad I finally did.

It was already 8:20am by the time I arrived, and therefore the sunny edges were less busy. And since the deeper woods are not yet too active, the overall birding was a little slow today. However, there’s clearly a lot of potential for birding opportunities here.

KnightsPond1,5-8-15

10 species of warblers were present this morning, including my first Chestnut-sided and, in the powerline corridor, my first Prairie of the season. My “FOY” Great Crested Flycatcher sounded off, and I was rather surprised to encounter a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a state Threatened (and proposed for upgrading to Endangered species). The pond is big enough to be worth a check in waterfowl migration, and I bet it can host a lot of swallows in early spring.  And there’s likely a lot more breeding around its edges and deeper in the woods than what I detected this (still) early spring day.

In other words, I will be back, and don’t be surprised to end up here on a future Saturday Morning Birdwalk. This property is a great addition to our local birding patches. Unfortunately, politics has put the purchase at risk. This is one of 30 projects at risk thanks to the Governor’s refusal to release voter-approved bond money for the Lands For Maine’s Future Program.

Voter-approved bonds are not political bargaining chips. These have been approved by voters and are not subject to the Governor’s personal approval – he’s not a king, although sometime he tries to act like it. The protection of Knight’s Pond has no relation at all to increased timber harvesting on state land (don’t get me started on that one…deer yard “thinning” anyone?). Hey, I get politics – things are negotiated and compromised. In theory. But as usual, with this “Governor,” it’s not about compromise – it’s about getting his way.

We all know how kids change the rules of the game when they’re not winning. I probably did, and you probably did too. And every neighborhood had that kid who, upon not getting his way, took his ball and went home. To me, this is akin to what the Governor is attempting to do – except this is not a child’s playground. There’s a reason it’s called the “Land for Maine’s Future” program. And the time is now for the Governor to grow up, act like a Governor and not a spoiled child, and release these bonds so this property and other valuable parcels can be conserved for all Mainers – forever – before it’s too late.

The Minnesota Vikings Want to Kill Birds

The National Football League has gotten a lot of bad press recently – and deservedly so. But this blog is not about the wife-beaters, the child abuser, concussions, performance-enhancing drugs, or any other topics that are being discussed ad nauseam on sports stations – and just about everywhere else. It’s also not about the NFL’s mishandling (I’m trying to be polite) of these recent issues, nor is it about how I believe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to lose his job.

I’m not even remotely attempting to downplay the current troubles in America’s most popular sport. They are many, and they are trying – especially to fans with a conscience. See, I like NFL football (a lot), but I also am finding it harder and harder to support a league in which so much is so very wrong. I am definitely a fan (Go Pats!), but in the recent weeks rooting for anything related to the NFL has been a real challenge.

There’s enough discussion about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, among others, elsewhere and nearly everywhere. No, this is a birding blog, and this blog is about birds.

And the death thereof.

And it’s completely preventable.

The Minnesota Vikings are building a state-of-the-art new stadium in Minneapolis. It’s going to be beautiful, and no doubt it is going to offer an amazing fan experience. And, most likely, it is going to kill thousands of birds every year.

The volume of reflective glass and the stadium’s location near the Mississippi River will combine to make it a deathtrap for migratory birds. Collisions with glass are estimated to kill up to ONE BILLION BIRDS a year, and while the majority of them will occur one at a time at windows in residential homes, large commercial buildings can kill shocking numbers of birds. And the Viking’s stadium is destined to do so.

First, for those of you unfamiliar with the issue, let me send you to Sharon Stiteler’s excellent blog entry and this informative page from Minnesota Audubon. And for background on the bird collision issue, check out the American Bird Conservancy’s page on collisions and the Birds and Windows page from the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College.

So yeah, this thing is bad news, but its impact could be drastically reduced by using different glass. One option is a fritted glass that was used in the Dallas Cowboy’s gargantuan new stadium. It would add a little cost to the overall project, but we’re talking an estimated 1.1 million dollars to a 1 BILLION dollar project. Oh, and for the record, almost half of that is coming from the taxpayers of Minnesota.

But let’s forget this pittance of a cost for the time being. When a dysfunctional commissioner receives $20million a year to destroy the reputation of the league and tarnish its brand repeatedly, what’s another 1.1 million to save countless birds’ lives?

Despite public outcry (granted nothing compared to the public outcry about the Vikings’ plan to suit-up a child-abuser for the next game), including a widely signed petition circulated by Minnesota Audubon

It seems so simple, as the petition says, “Change Glass, Save Birds.” But the Minnesota Vikings have refused. First it was because it was too expensive. Now, it is about the “aesthetics.” Apparently, a pile of dead birds in front of windows is more aesthetically-pleasing to the Minnesota Vikings.

A recent article in Wired by Gwen Pearson did a good job of summarizing the current situation. I urge you to give it a read.

To some it up, the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority and the Minnesota Vikings have refused to act, and have basically said that they don’t care. They expect their fans to come anyway, and pay for the tickets, and buy the beer and Adrian Peterson jerseys Matt Cassell jerseys(?)…and they probably will.

And there are unlikely to be enough people signing enough petitions to get them to change their mind. But back to Adrian Peterson for a moment. After the Vikings “activated” him for the coming weekend (I was so happy to watch my Pats crush the Minnesota Bird-Killers without Peterson last weekend!), public outcry rightly ensued. Yet little changed.

But then sponsors noticed, and some were not happy. Radisson hotels led the way, completely pulling their sponsorship of the Vikings. (Good job, Radisson!). And other sponsors are not happy either, including league-wide sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch.

And what happens? Adrian Peterson is suspended. Coincidence? No. Lesson to be learned? Most definitely.

Listen, the NFL doesn’t care what you or I think. They care about money. They care about corporate money in particular. So what does this horrific Adrian Peterson mess have to teach us? It’s time those who care about birds go after the sponsors of the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL. Money is the only language that the NFL understands.

First, there are the current sponsors. I found this site called “SponsorPitch” which is the largest list of corporate sponsors that I could find. Let them know what you think about their possible association with a bird death trap. And here are some of the companies the Vikings are offering promotions with. (Yet another reason for me to never give a cent to Verizon!)

And the big deal now – and perhaps a major contributing factor to the Peterson suspension – is that the Vikings are looking to sell the lucrative and prestigious naming rights to their new stadium, which could bring in tens of millions of dollars a year.

Few companies want to be associated with teams that employ a child-abuser. Do you think many companies want to spend a hundred million dollars to be associated with piles of dead birds? Probably not (OK, maybe the likes of ExxonMobil or First Wind don’t care). But they probably don’t even know about the controversey. Let’s change that.

First, start with signing the petition. It can’t hurt.

Secondly, let’s keep an eye on the efforts of Minnesota Audubon, and what they recommend.

Meanwhile, I think we need to get this out in more “mainstream” media. ESPN is perhaps the single biggest director of sports discourse in the country, for better or for worse. Their show “Outside the Lines” can bring incredible attention to the events and issues away from the playing field. I propose we begin a campaign to encourage them to do a story on the new stadium and its bird-killing glass. They show even makes it easy, with a simple online suggestion form. Fill it out. I did.

Next, we need to use the power of social media. Besides sharing this blog, links to Minnesota Audubon, and other articles and essays about the stadium, could you image the attention that would be brought if “Minnesota Vikings Kill Birds” showed up in that little “trending” topics box on your web browser? I am probably preaching to the choir here on a birding blog, but this needs wider attention. Therefore, next time(s) you have a moment, type “Minnesota Vikings Kill Birds” into your web browser and click on some links. If enough people do this, search engine algorithms will notice. I have no delusions of grandeur about the influence (or number of readers!) of my blog and my musings, but just for a moment imagine if every birder in the US searched for this phrase – and the attention that would receive as it snowballed with more and more people clicking on it as a trending topic. It has to start somewhere. #MNVikingsKillBirds

And most importantly, if rumors begin to swirl about what company is going to slap its name on this stadium, they need to hear from people immediately. “Company X Bird-Killing Stadium” won’t sound appealing.

This is what it comes down to: the NFL and the Minnesota Vikings have made some abhorrent mistakes lately. They need to correct this. The courts and the court of public opinion will deal with Adrian Peterson (and dealt with he should be, in my opinion). But at such a dark time in America’s favorite sport, a little good PR is needed. And action to save the lives of thousands of birds a year would provide just one glimmer of hope that the NFL actually cares about something more than just the bottom line. Let’s start here: “Change Glass, Save Birds.”

I thank you for your time and consideration.

The Decline of Barrow’s Goldeneyes in Freeport and Beyond.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneyes! And I like getting to see them every winter, and sometimes in numbers…and only a few miles away from home. But I wish I could see more of them.

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Unfortunately, with each passing year, I am seeing fewer and fewer. My local Barrow’s Goldeneye (BAGO) “patch” is the Lower Harraseeket River here in South Freeport. A couple of miles of river between Winslow Park and Bartol Island hosts the southernmost wintering flock on the East Coast…or at least what nowadays passes for a flock.

One of just a handful of locales in the state that regularly hosts more than one or two birds, this once-impressive flock has declined dramatically in the past ten years that I have been watching them. Scanning the river once a week, from early December through the middle of April from a variety of locations (Sand Beach, the Town Wharf, the Harraseeket Yacht Club, Winslow Park, and/or Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park) I have kept track of arrival and departure dates, and perhaps most importantly, overall numbers.

“High counts” are the maximum number of birds seen at one time in a given time period. While some individuals come and go over the course of the winter, it seems to me that the seasonal high count is a reasonable way of estimating the local population (as keeping track of individual birds is impossible). And my high counts for each of the last nine winters show an alarming pattern:

2004-2005: 23
2005-2006: 15
2006-2007: 10
2007-2008: 2
2008-2009: 9
2009-2010: 2
2010-2011: 6
2011-2012: 3
2012-2013: 2

It has become readily obvious that the less ice there is, the fewer Barrow’s concentrate in the Lower Harraseeket. A deep channel and strong tide combine to keep at least a stretch of the gut at the mouth of the river (between Winslow and tiny Pound of Tea Island) open in the coldest winters. Back in 2004-2005, the river was almost completely frozen, and the narrow strip of open water was so thick with ducks, especially Common Eiders, that it looked as if you could almost walk across the river on their backs!

We also know that the climate, and the temperature of Casco Bay, is getting warmer (yes, that is fact, and yes, this year’s cold winter/spring weather does nothing to disprove this – note that “climate” and “weather” are actually different words that describe different things!). Therefore, I optimistically wondered if the apparent decline in the population of BAGO was nothing more than a lack of ice-caused concentration. The less ice, the fewer BAGO I see.

Therefore, when about 90-95% of the Harraseeket froze this winter (the most extensive coverage since 2004-2005) and ducks concentrated in numbers not seen since then, I was cautiously optimistic that BAGO number would spike:

2013-2014: 5

Not the spike I was hoping for. I searched long and hard to find BAGO elsewhere in the vicinity, but I did not see any (the closest was an overwintering bird in South Portland that has returned to the Fore River for the last two or three years now). That’s a 78% decline from the 2004-2005 high.

Unfortunately, Christmas Bird Counts occur too early in the winter to adequately gauge seasonal high counts of BAGO, although the graph does reflect a decrease in the past ten years (the long-term data set is clouded by low birds-per-party-hour totals as a whole, along with misconceptions about identification in the past).

But this decline is not just apparent in the Harraseeket. Birders have detected a decline in all other known wintering concentrations, especially in Belfast Bay. They are now longer seen on most visits in mid-winter there and it’s been a long time since I have seen a report from Bucksport. However, according to the 1996 A Birder’s Guide to Maine, *1 aggregations of 15+ birds are “regular features in most winters” at these two sites.

In other words, at least in Maine, the decline is real. And it’s time for the Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife to do something about it. No more half-assed, non-action policies that bow to the hunting lobby. No more “please tell us if you shoot one and then say you’re sorry and it will be OK” (with only a disincentive to do so) state policy. *2

In 2009 IF&W listed the Barrow’s Goldeneye as “Threatened.” …And has done almost nothing since, other than set up surveys that are conducted every four years. Oh, and they hung up some posters at boat launches asking people to not shoot them (might as well put a target on them, in my mind).

Let me be clear, there is no evidence to suggest that hunting is causing a decline in BAGO. I think much larger factors are at play. There’s acidification and warming of the ponds and lakes in their limited and narrow eastern Quebec breeding range to changes in winter food sources. Forestry practices could be reducing the availability of suitable nesting cavities as well. There’s lead ingestion and heavy metal bioaccumulation. Then there’s reduced ice in most winters in their primary wintering areas of the St. Lawrence estuary (thereby reducing how many birds come further south) to competition with other native and non-native species (BAGO eat small mollusks, especially mussels – could invasive Green Crabs be impacting the food supply for ducks here, too?). In other words, there are a lot of possible proximate and ultimate causes to the species’ decline. But if hunters shoot one or two (by accident, of course) of the remaining 5, well then the decline becomes even quicker. Even repeated disturbance from concentrated hunting pressure on other species could be impacting where the birds tarry, where they feed, and how much energy they waste fleeing boats and shots.

I am not opposed to waterfowl hunting. But I am opposed to hunting that impacts an endangered species (see, for example: Conservation and Management/Effects of Human Activity in the Birds of North America entry referenced below). The closure of a handful of tiny areas will affect very few hunters, and with more than 99% of the state still available to them, this rates as a minor inconvenience at most. However, this fraction of a percent of water closed to hunting could protect a significant majority of the wintering population – or at least what’s left of it. At the very least, this could buy us some time to find out what the root of the problem is.

I like Barrow’s Goldeneye, and if you do too, it’s time to pressure IF&W and politicians to act. Otherwise, there is a very legitimate chance that this bird will no longer be a part of Maine’s winter avifauna.

Notes:

*1 = Pierson, Elizabeth C., Jan Erik Pierson, and Peter D. Vickery. A Birder’s Guide to Maine. 1996. Down East Books: Camden, ME.

*2 = https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting_trapping/hunting/alert_waterfowl_hunters.htm

For more information on the status of BAGO in Maine, see:
https://www.maine.gov/ifw/pdfs/species_planning/birds/barrowsgoldeneye/speciesassessment.pdf

Additional Reference:
Eadie, John M., Jean-Pierre L. Savard and Mark L. Mallory. 2000. Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/548 doi:10.2173/bna.548

On Sandy Point, Winter Finches, and Portland’s Congress Square Park

I’ve spent each of the last three mornings at Sandy Point, and it is a rare treat indeed (but not for my neck!) that the winds tonight will likely be conducive to yet another morning in my “other office.”  Yesterday’s moderate flight produced two Patch Birds: Western Kingbird and Gray-cheeked Thrush while today’s better than expected flight yielded 15 species of warblers.  (Tallies from both days are on our store’s Facebook Page as always).

While I can’t believe there are more Northern Parulas left to migrate through, I am optimistic about tomorrow morning.  The upper-level low spinning over Atlantic Canada that has produced rain to our northeast and the clouds overhead that have reduced the flight – and my ability to identify it! – is expected to move out, and I wonder if that will open up another wave of birds to head south from that region.  It is exceedingly rare for me to have four days in a row of good Morning Flights at Sandy Point, so I look forward to another early start tomorrow.

With each passing flight, the changing season is becoming more obvious.  Fewer early warblers and growing numbers of Yellow-rumps and sparrows, for example.  And of course, as a season progresses, we birders often think ahead to the next season.  The near-complete dearth of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Purple Finches, and Pine Siskins (zero) that have passed SandyPoint is an early indicator that it will be an “off” winter for northern finches as expected.  Few Blue Jays and Black-capped Chickadees passing through also suggest an abundance of food to our north.

These observations reflect what I am seeing elsewhere in Maine, and reflect the information contained in this year’s “Winter Finch Forecast” by Ron Pittaway that just came out this week.  This venerable resource is posted each fall, and reflects a lot of effort by the author to bring together various tidbits of information.  Its arrival each fall is highly anticipated – even if it does not portend the arrival of lots of highly anticipated finches.

But today, I wanted to take a moment to discuss one of the local issues that we have decided to wade into.  As most Portland – at least – residents may know, there is a proposal to transfer a portion of Congress Square Park to private development for a conference center.  The city needs a conference center, and the park needs some attention.  I’ll leave it to the residents of Portland to weigh the costs and benefits of this particular plan, but one aspect that concerns me greatly is the current blueprints that show a massive glass wall facing a smaller park with limited vegetation.

Here’s a link to what I believe to be the most recent development proposal; I don’t think any significant updates have been made.  Jeannette and I believe that we can use our store as a vehicle to promote bird conservation, and although we certainly don’t stick our nose into every project, sometimes we feel that we need to be the voice for birds, birding, and bird conservation.  Capisic Pond Park, the Eastern Promenade, Sandy Point, and now development at the fringes of Florida Lake have been projects we have worked on.  While we may not go too much further with our efforts in this case, we thought it was best to offer expertise to point out a potential issue with this projects design.  I have sent this letter to city officials and the new group, Friends of Congress Square Park.  I post it here for your information, and if anyone has suggestions on whom else to send this to, don’t hesitate to let us know.

September 18, 2013

RE: Congress Square Redevelopment plans

To whom it may concern:

I am writing you today not to take a stand for or against the current proposal at this time, but instead to bring to your attention a couple of aspects of urban parks, construction, and wildlife interactions that has raised a significant amount of concern with me.

First, a little bit of background.  Migrating birds that stream over Portland every spring and fall face a myriad of risks.  Many of our favorite songbirds, such as warblers, orioles, and tanagers all fly at night.  For reasons unknown – likely due to the use of stars for navigation – birds can become disoriented by lights.  Lights on communication towers, lights on buildings, lights at stadiums, lights left on in office buildings, and even lights in people’s homes.  Especially on cloudy and foggy nights, birds will be drawn to this artificial lighting, and many will meet an untimely death as they collide with structures or even drop dead from exhaustion as their bodies metabolize their muscles in order to fuel the last gasps of flight as the bird circles, and circles, and circles, confused by the light, drawn in by its grasp.  The cumulative light pollution of cities, towns, and even single-family homes, results in perhaps hundreds of millions of deaths of migrating birds each year.

However, not every bird disoriented by city lights will die.  Some find refuge in a well-landscaped park and find enough food to survive, refuel, and eventually move on. Most others find just enough refuge to move on come sunrise, when the direction of the sunrise and visual landmarks can usher a bird in the right direction.  In order to avoid predators, many of these birds will fly low through the city streets, dropping in to the next tree, the next park, or even the next garden as these birds – in what is termed “redetermined migration” attempt to correct for the errors of their ways overnight.  These errors could result from disorientation from lights, “groundings” from severe weather, or even from drifting too far on strong winds behind a cold front.

Especially for those birds exhausted from their travels or their disorientation, every single tree in an urban environment can be a life-saver.  A place to rest, a place to forage for just a little food or at the very least a place to avoid predators.  Working from some part of the city, the birds will work their way inland (in the case of a coastal city such as Portland) looking for more extensive habitat where they can refuel.

I have watched flocks of White-throated Sparrows winging it down side streets, landing in potted plants at the first sight of a possible threat.  I’ve seen an American Woodcock walking down a sidewalk near Monument Square.  I have seen waves of Blackpoll Warblers streaking by just over the treetops of Deering Oaks Park.

As the birds work their way to quality habitat, such as Evergreen Cemetery, many of these birds are more than strong enough to avoid predators, avoid traffic, and fly at full speed over the course of the first couple of hours of daylight.

Thud.

The migrant lays still on the sidewalk; dead.    It has hit a window.

It has flown hundreds of miles from the forests of Canada.  It has survived ever-changing weather, dodged hawks at every turn, and found enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel an epic journey to the rainforests of South America for the winter.   A shift in the wind the prior night resulted in foggy conditions as it arrived in the airspace over Portland.  Attempting to orient itself, it circles the red blinking light on the top of a building until it is too tired.  But this bird is lucky.  Below this building there is a small park with a handful of trees.  Good enough, and the bird alights.  The sun rises, and the bird, not finding much food in a few ornamental plantings, decides to head further inland.

Flying from tree to tree, the bird sees the next tree just ahead.  But that tree was only a reflection in glass.  Its journey ends.

Glass kills as many as 1 billion birds per year in North America. Urban light pollution may kill as many as 31 million birds per year.  Lighted communication towers may kill upwards of 100 million.  Only free-roaming cats are estimated to kill more birds per year than any of these other anthropogenic causes.  You can see why glass in lighted urban areas is such a problem.

The current proposal for a new Event Center in what is now Congress Square Park includes a massive glass façade, with “doors” that open, putting glass walls out at multiple angles.  All of this glass will be reflective.  Architects and admirers like that about glass.  But whatever trees remain will be reflected by that glass.

Thud.  Another migrant is dead.  How many dead birds will people pick up on the sidewalk before anyone takes notice?  Or will the rats clean up the mess before the morning rush?

Is the new CongressSquareEventCenter going to be a death trap for exhausted and confused migrants?  Probably.  Can this risk be minimized or avoided?  Yes.  Does anyone care?  That, to me, is always the toughest question.

But there are solutions out there.  There are treatments that make glass less-reflective, or ways to break up the reflection so birds will not be drawn to it.  Glass can be positioned to reflect the ground, and trees can be positioned to minimize reflection.  There are certainly plenty of materials that don’t cast a reflection as well.  There are even city-wide efforts to reduce bird collisions that range from lighting standards to simple programs to get people to turn off the lights as they leave their office for the night.

My only goal with this letter is to raise awareness about a significant problem, but one that might well be avoided.

For the sake of brevity – I think you will agree that this letter is long enough already – I will simply point you towards two sources for more information, from background to solutions.  The first is the “Birds and Collisions” page from the American Bird Conservancy: http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/glass.html

The second is the home page of the Fatal Light Awareness Program: http://www.flap.org/

I sincerely hope that you will recognize my concerns and take them under consideration.  I would be happy to offer more first-hand observations to describe why this issue is real in Portland, and why a glass façade facing some of the few trees that exist in the center of an urban area could result in significant avian mortality.

I thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Derek Lovitch
Freeport Wild Bird Supply