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INTRODUCTION

Potentially excessive avian impacts may occur from wind energy structures sited in the coastal regions of the Great Lakes. This is a reason why, for example, the New York Guidelines for Wind Energy Development (2009-present) formally request extended research for commercial-scale wind projects proposed within 5 miles of Lake Erie & Ontario. To further understand this concern, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has carried out extensive radar and acoustic studies of bird and bat migration in coastal areas of the Great Lakes, sampling migration activity at dozens of sites. While a stated goal in the FWS initiative is the identification of locations where migrants concentrate in order to avoid wind energy development, a simpler question might be to determine what coastal areas in the Great Lakes do not concentrate migrant birds. Indeed, concentrations relative to proximal inland sites are likely to occur along most, if not all of the Great Lakes shore regions. The question really becomes what are the factors that cause shoreline concentrations and, therefore, why and to what extent the magnitude of concentrations varies between sites? This includes understanding to what degree concentrations may vary annually and how far the phenomenon extends inland.

 

The Lighthouse Wind Energy Project (LEWP), centered near Somerset, NY, is one of the first industrial-scale wind energy projects to be proposed for the coastal zone of the Great Lakes on the US side. No specific bird migration studies had been carried out at the project site prior to the project's conception. It appears the developer (Apex Clean Energy, Charlottesville, VA) either was not aware of potential bird & bat concentration dynamics at the site, or believed any such issues could be addressed. About the time the project was being proposed, FWS coincidentally carried out one of its first site studies in their aforementioned investigation, a short radar study, during spring migration (March 26 - May 8) in Niagara County near the LEWP (Rathbun et al. 2016). The study reported "high concentrations" in the coastal zone. The scale of these concentrations is best compared with similar style radar studies (e.g., other FWS studies using similar radar), and it has limited utility for comparison with such radar data that was not gathered at multiple regional sites concurrently. See a more recent FWS radar study on the north-south running eastern shore of Lake Michigan that was designed to gauge simultaneous coastal migration relative to sites ~20 km inland (Heist et al. 2018).

 

This acoustic study by Old Bird Inc. arose in response to the formal proposal of the LEWP by Apex Clean Energy, Inc. and specifically the avian and bat preconstruction study plan (rev. 1, May 22, 2015) in the projectís Preliminary Scoping Statement (PSS, November 23, 2015). No avian nocturnal migration study was included in the LEWP's PSS. Apparently the LEWP had a radar study in the works for 2016, which would provide some information on nocturnal migration, but it was not mentioned in the PSS nor made public until spring 2016. This led to a formal critical comment regarding the PSS noting this apparent deficiency January 7, 2016. But the perceived gap in research presented an opportunity for Old Bird Inc. to demonstrate the utility of avian acoustic monitoring - in this case for helping understand the possible nocturnal avian impacts of the proposed LWEP.

 

The use of avian acoustic monitoring at wind energy projects is discussed in New York State Research and Development Authority Report 12-23 (Evans 2012, see p. 2-4). Bat acoustic studies are more widespread in the wind industry because of the large number of fatalities that have been documented. But avian acoustic monitoring offers the same utility for documenting species and providing a vocal activity index. This demonstration study by Old Bird used an array of acoustic monitoring stations to sample avian species composition and nocturnal flight call activity across the proposed LEWP.