Wolfe Island Bird Report #3

Transalta has just released Report #3 (backup link) of their Post Construction Followup Plans, covering the first 6 months of 2010.  For some background you might want to look at my posting on Report #2, which covered the last 6 months of 2009.  For an overview of the regulatory and reporting framework you might want to look at my Report #3 Prelude.  We now have a full year’s worth of reporting from Stantec, the contractor hired to do the studies.  To sum it up, the destruction of the bird and bat habitat on Wolfe continues, albeit at a slower rate than before (it was the colder half of the year, after all).  Stantec’s executive summary tries to put a good face on the numbers, but buried in the details there are hints as to what is really going on there (aside from a curiously-convenient flat-out mistake/typo about the raptor mortality rate).  The most important single item to come out of this report is that Transalta and the MNR have “initiated discussions regarding adaptive management” due to the high raptor mortality rate.

As before, I am most concerned with the raptors, as Wolfe is noted as being one of the richest raptor environments in Canada, especially over the winter.  So the discussion below is mostly about them.  I am also more concerned with habitat disturbance (i.e. lower populations) than I am with carcasses found, even though the carcasses found may end up getting some action.


The numbers of bird and bat carcasses found decreased from the previous report.  57 birds were found which was adjusted to 540, compared to 100 found in report #2 adjusted to 600 (a number that made the papers).  For bats a total of 57 34 were found, which was adjusted to 540 449, compared to 180 adjusted to 1270 for the previous 6 months (a number that really made the papers).  For raptors, 10 were found adjusted to 11, compared to 12 adjusted to 13.  So for the past 12 month period we then have adjusted totals of 1140 birds, 1810 bats and 24 raptors.  To better understand these adjustments, see my prelude.

The authorities have established thresholds above which notifications must be made and at some point mitigative actions taken. For Wolfe the annual thresholds are:

  • Birds – 2315 (11.7 times 198)
  • Raptors – 18 (0.09 times 198)
  • Bats – 2475  (12.5 times 198)

These thresholds, you would think, should have been established with the goal of being low enough so that rate would be sustainable.  You would be wrong, as detailed in my prelude.  It turns out that the bird rate (11.7) was set at the highest existing mortality rate in North America, the raptor rate (0.09) at the highest rate outside of California in North America, and the bat rate (12.5) at three times the current MNR guidelines.  That way Stantec can say the mortality rates are “within the range” of rates at other projects.  But is this rate sustainable?  Curiously, there’s no discussion of that, especially in light of plans to increase the number of projects in this area by roughly a factor of 10 over the next few years.

Even with those high thresholds, during this 6 month period a total of 7 notifications were issued, 4 of them concerning high raptor mortality with the other three spread among: species of concern, waterfowl and bats.  This compares with 6 notifications during the previous 6 month period, 4 of them concerning raptors and the other two bats.

As you can see from the numbers, the raptor rate of 24 is clearly above the threshold of 18.  Stantec finally admits this (after denying the obvious in Report #2) and thus:

The raptor and vulture mortality rate is higher than the notification threshold of 0.09 raptors/MW identified in the Follow-up Plan. In accordance with the Follow-up Plan, TransAlta and the MNR have initiated discussions regarding adaptive management. Raptor behavioural studies are underway involving surveys during four peak mortality periods, and will continue across late summer and late fall, 2010 and spring, 2011.

Obviously I’ll be watching to see what, if anything, comes of this. If you want a real eye-opener, read about the possible mitigations in my prelude.

Habitat Disturbance

Of more concern to me than mortality (as bad as that is) is the loss of habitat, as measured by lower numbers of raptors being seen during the surveys, especially over the Winter.  Unfortunately the threshold for determining a decrease in population among raptors is so high (and prone to manipulation) that I think it unlikely it will ever be crossed – again, see my prelude.  Only one of the 13 notifications over the last 12 months involved habitat disturbance, and it wasn’t for raptors.

Stantec performed a pre-construction survey in 2006 to establish the “base” from which the declines would be measured.  And declines there are.  As noted in Section 4.2.1 the average density went from 0.72/sq km to 0.25, a 65% decrease.  That’s a pig that needs some lipstick, and Stantec goes into overtime to provide it.  Perhaps this is why Report #3 took 7 months following the period to publish, compared with 5 months for report #2.  Stantec maintains that the raptor numbers for the entire Kingston area, based on the annual Christmas Bird Count, decreased from 2006 to 2009.  They continue:

Overall, it is evident that low raptor abundance observed on Wolfe Island in the winter of 2009/2010 was observed throughout the Kingston area and across southern Ontario, and was likely attributed to low prey abundance. As such, low raptor density was not attributed to avoidance of potential project disturbances, such as WTGs.

I hope it comes as no surprise that the developer’s consultants are unwilling to blame the developer’s turbines for the decrease.  So how much of a raptor decrease did the CBC show between 2006 and 2009?  The answer is in table 3.11 and comes to about 15%.  Stantec apparently wants us to equate 15% to 65%.  Further, since Wolfe’s numbers are included in the Kingston CBC numbers and Wolfe is a particularly large and highly populated part of the Kingston survey, it is likely that Wolfe’s large decrease was a substantial part of Kingston’s smaller decrease.

Another indication of decreasing abundance is the measure of raptor “areas of concentration”.  The 2006 map (Figure 10(top), Appendix A) shows 11 such areas, while the 2009 map (Figure 10(bot)) shows just 4.  More lipstick needed:

The overall low raptor density in 2009/2010 was likely the major contributing factor to the lack of raptor and owl concentration areas. As such, trends in the distribution of raptor and owl concentration areas in the 2009/2010 season are not evident. However, it is noted that no raptor or owl concentration areas were recorded in the northwest end of Wolfe Island, an area of high WTG concentration. Although not occurring in concentrations of 5 or more raptors within 1 kilometer, raptors were regularly recorded in this area.


Stantec tries to put a positive face on the situation at Wolfe – after all, their paycheck comes from the developer.  But behind the rosiness, the numbers tell quite a different story.  The decreases in population densities are particularly telling, as is the admission that now they are in mitigation discussions. And how Wolfe’s bats could be expected to sustain an annual take of almost 2500 defies me.

Take a look at the picture of eastern Lake Ontario on amherstislandwindinfo.com.  Presently the circle around Wolfe is the only project in operation.  Now imagine what happens when all those other circles are also in operation.  What is it about humans that causes us to be so cavalier about others who share this world with us?  Especially for something so ineffective as wind energy?  The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…

One thought on “Wolfe Island Bird Report #3”

  1. I am not confident about the methodology that MNR has established for measuring the mortality of flying creatures as set out in, for example, the October 2010 report “BIRDS AND BIRD HABITATS: Guidelines for Wind Power Projects”. I wonder if an alternative methodology might be used to verify the effectiveness of the official program or at least to perform the searcher method numerical adjustment.

    When coyotes and raccoons discover an area where fresh meat regularly falls from the sky, they know to move in. The rate of scavenging needs to be included in the mortality measurement. Motion sensing game cameras could be used to count coyotes and scat analysis could determine the fraction of their diet that is birds. The amount of bird consumption per unit of land area would then be estimated and compared with a control area.

    I could be wrong but I have been told that the Wolfe Island wind farm was permitted by Ministry of Environment on the basis of incomplete data. To grant the permit on an accelerated basis, the qui pro quo from MOE was to grant the permit on the basis that it could be revoked at the 5 year mark, if significant impacts were identified. I don’t have independent verification for this story, but it sounds interesting.

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