LCBAS Position: Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center

March 2021

 

The Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society been reviewing the development of 244 wind turbine towers on 67,000 acres in the Horse Heaven Hills ridge line from Interstate 182 to south of Benton City. The development will also contain a solar array.

 

LCBAS is concerned about the potential impacts to birds and wildlife including deaths, displacement and habitat loss.

 

Due to the negative impacts to migratory and resident birds, the National Audubon Society has proposed a set of siting criteria for wind turbines (PDF Download: Responsible Wind Power and Wildlife). An excerpt from this publication is copied below. Wind energy information is also available on the Audubon website (Wind Power and Birds).

 

National Audubon has issued the following statement on wind energy:

“Audubon strongly supports wind energy that is sited and operated properly to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effectively for the impacts on birds, other wildlife, and the places they need now and in the future. To that end, we support the development of wind energy to achieve 100% clean electricity.”

 

LCBAS Decision Options

  • Oppose the project due to bird and wildlife impacts.

  • Support the project due to the low impacts to birds and wildlife and the need to switch to non-carbon based energy production. This would be a national perspective.

  • Take no position and send a request to Scout Energy that they need to institute bird deterrent systems such as a lighting warning system, radar detection that stop blades from rotating, painting one blade a different color, “dying bird’’ vocal system, raptor vocal systems and any newly developed deterrent technologies.

  • Take no action

Excerpt below from National Audubon, “Responsible Wind Power and Wildlife, January 2019.”

 

"What risk does wind energy pose to birds? While wind energy helps birds on a global scale by curbing climate change, wind power facilities can harm birds through direct collisions with turbines and other structures, including power lines. Wind power facilities can also degrade or destroy habitat, cause disturbance and displacement, and disrupt important ecological links. Placing wind projects in the path of migratory routes makes this problem worse, especially for larger turbine blades that may reach up into the average flight zone of birds that migrate at night. An estimated 140,000 to 500,000 bird deaths (USFWS Wind Turbines) occur per year due to turbine collisions, which is substantial, but significantly less than deaths caused by outdoor cats and building collisions. Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes that it will not be without some impact; however, harmful effects to birds and other wildlife can be avoided or significantly reduced in the following ways."

  • Federal, state or local planning for wind energy in “low impact” areas where permitting can be more efficient

  • Proper siting and operation of wind farms and equipment through federal (USFWS Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines) and state guidelines

  • Development of new technologies that help minimize harm to birds and other wildlife

  • Mitigation of habitat and wildlife impacts through conservation measures

  • Strong enforcement of existing laws that protect wildlife, including the Endangered Species Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the (Audubon.org) Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  • Encouragement of wind developers and permitting agencies to consult with wildlife experts, including Audubon staff and chapters, to help inform study and siting decisions and to support efforts to improve wind siting and technological solutions to reduce harm to birds.

Waxwings: Is That a Bohemian?

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing by LUmthun

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing by LUmthun
Cedar Waxwing by LUmthun

CEDAR WAXWING

7.25”, petite, slender  shape

  • Lemon yellow lower belly.​

  • Whitish undertail coverts.

  • Warm orange-brown breast, head, crest and back. No variation in this color on the face.

  • When perched, the folded wings form two white vertical lines on the back.

  • May or may not have bright red appendages on tips of secondary flight feathers. These are usually age-dependent. Young birds in adult plumage might have none. Same for BOWA.

Cedar Waxwings (CEWA) live year around in the Lower Columbia Basin. They breed in small numbers, and in winter, large flocks roam neighborhoods in search of fruit from Mt. Ash, Dogwood, Juniper, Holly and Crabapple trees.

 

A coveted prize for many birders in winter is to spot a Bohemian Waxwing (BOWA) among its CEWA cousins. Most of us have spent plenty of time scanning a flock of CEWAs, trying to figure out if this bird or that bird is a BOWA. The two species are, in fact, quite distinguishable from each other.

 

Usually, if you can’t decide if the bird is a BOWA, it’s probably not a BOWA. If any yellow is visible on the belly or flanks, it is a CEWA for sure. The dark gray and complete lack of yellow of a BOWA is quite noticeable, as is the larger size. If the undertail is visible, the very dark rust color of the BOWA is the opposite of the nearly white coverts of the CEWA.

Cedar Waxwings by LUmthun
Bohemian Waxwing by LUmthun

BOHEMIAN WAXWING

8.25”, larger than CEWA with more rounded, robust shape

  • Dark gray breast, belly, flanks and back. No yellow on body.

  • Dark rufous undertail coverts.

  • Reddish-brown  head and crest.

 

  • Slightly rufous face.

 

  • Wingtips have white and yellow markings. CEWA has no markings.

 

  • Tips of the tail feathers are yellow. Same for CEWA.

Cedar Waxwings by Elke Davis

All other photos by Larry Umthun

Small Grebes in Winter Plumage
Horned Grebe by LUmthun

Horned Grebe

HORNED GREBE (HOGR)  14”

  • Strong demarcation between white cheek and black head.

  • Front of neck white and back of neck black, usually with strong demarcation.

  • Forehead sloped about 45 degrees.

  • Bill thicker than Eared Grebe (EAGR).

  • Dark red eye.

  • Overall stockier than EAGR.

  • Can appear as miniature version of Western Grebe when neck is stretched out although the bill is quite different.

Eared Grebe by LUmthun

Eared Grebe

EARED GREBE  (EAGR) 13”

  • Vague dusky gray ear patch.

  • Thin neck is grayish front and back with little or no demarcation.

  • Forehead sloped very little – nearly vertical.

  • Bill slimmer than HOGR.

  • Yellowish orange eye.

  • Rear of the bird often fluffed out and appears puffier than HOGR.

  • Overall  more delicate appearance than Horned Grebe.

Pied-billed Grebe by LUmthun

Pied-billed Grebe

All photos by Larry Umthun

PIED-BILLED GREBE (PBGR) 13”

  • No discernable white on the head or neck.

  • Overall a warm brown with paler feathers on flanks and rear.

  • Forehead sloped about 45 degrees.

  • Bill very thick and short with a dark ring near the center of upper and lower billmaking a “pied” or two-colored bill, unlike HOGR or EAGR.

  • Black eye with white eye ring.

  • Overall squat, big-headed appearance.

Identifying Winter Sparrows

Fox Sparrow

FOX SPARROW – 7”

Winter resident in low numbers.

Differentiating  Fox Sparrow (FOSP) from Song Sparrow (SOSP) in the field can be tough.  Viewed side by side in photos, the unique characteristics are easily seen, but from a distance or in dense brush, it can be tricky to ID a FOSP.

Look for these field marks:

  • Inverted V shapes on breast, belly and flanks that coalesce into a breast spot. The shapes do not form vertical streaks.

  • Vague facial patterns with no distinct head stripes, eye line, cheek patch or malar stripe.

  • Bi-colored bill. Upper mandible is dark brown, lower mandible is yellow/orange.

  • In our area, we see two subspecies:  “Slate-colored” with dark gray head and back with reddish brown wings and tail, and “Sooty” with dark brown head, back, wings and tail.

 

  Pictured is “Slate-colored” FOSP.

Song Sparrow

SONG SPARROW – 6.25”

Year-around resident in high numbers.

 

Song Sparrows can be found anywhere there are small trees and plenty of underbrush. Of the three birds, it is the only one that nests in our area. As a result, its melodious song is heard from March through October.

Look for these field marks:

  • Blurry dark brown markings form vertical streaks on the breast and flanks. Dark central breast spot and a clean, pale gray belly.

  • Dark brown central head stripe and eye line with pale gray brow. Pale (sometimes buffy) malar stripe with dark brown margin.

  • Back, tail and wings are dark brown to reddish-brown.

  • Bill is uniformly gray.

  • Tail is often held upright in a wren-like position.

Lincoln's Sparrow

LINCOLN’S  SPARROW – 5.75" Spring/autumn migrant in low numbers.

Lincoln’s Sparrow (LISP) is the smallest of the three birds. Secretive like FOSP, it may unexpectedly pop out from a low shrub for a few seconds which makes the ID difficult.

Look for these field marks:

 

  • Very fine-textured markings on the breast and flanks. A few merge into narrow vertical streaks and there is a small central breast spot.

 

  • Chest has a warm, buffy “bib” underlying the streaks. The color extends to the flanks. FOSP and SOSP never have buffy plumage on the breast.

  • A long curving malar stripe is identical in color to the bib. The head and nape are gray with a reddish-brown central head stripe and eye line.

  • Back is dark gray with dark brown streaks. Wings are reddish-brown.

All photos by Larry Umthun