Each year, birders from across the U.S. and around the World come to northwest Ohio to go birding. Spring in particular is a great time when visitors come by the tens of thousands and spend millions of dollars in the area. I do not have the exact numbers, but I am sure others do.
I am one of the throngs of birders that come to this area each year. In fact, I have visited this area for 31 of the last 33 years. I have been birding for over 50 years. I have no formal training in birds. I don't have degrees in conservation or biology from any University. I am just a computer programmer who loves the hobby of birding.
In fact, some say I am obsessed. In 1998, I did a Big Year. I tried to see as many species of birds as I could in one calendar year. I saw 715 species that year. That year two other birders did a Big Year, too. Our stories are recounted in the book, The Big Year, penned by Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Mark Obmascik. The book was made into a Hollywood movie, The Big Year, released in October, 2011. It starred Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. I was the Bird Consultant for the movie. And Jack Black played my character in the movie.
I have birded in all 50 States and much of Canada. Northwest Ohio is my very favorite place to visit on the continent in the middle of May. The experience of seeing birds here—many of which have migrated 2,000 miles from South America—is an extraordinary event. It is awe-inspiring to me. In this age of high stress and insane schedules, I find watching birds to be a soul satisfying experience. It is my quiet place in the midst of all the hubbub of activity that most folks count as everyday life.
Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie Counties in northwest Ohio represent just 0.02% of the land area of North America. But more than 5% of all the sightings of 37 species of warblers were recorded in this small area in May, 2013. Any disruption to this important migration stop over could impact the North American population of these 37 species of warblers.
There are over 50 species of the family of Wood Warblers that regularly occur in North America. These birds are tiny birds ranging in size from 0.3 to 0.5 ounces—roughly the equivalent weight of 2 to 3 pages of copier paper. Each year many of these warblers travel 4,000 miles per year. They are part of a group of birds called neotropical migrants. They breed here in the U.S. and Canada and make the 2,000-mile one-way trip to Central and South America in the winter months. They return again in spring. It is a perilous trip for these little birds.
A majority of these birds (38 species) are found east of the Mississippi River. Of those 38 species, 37 species were sighted in northwest Ohio in May, 2013, according to eBird (data collected from eBird as of 11/29/2013). Ebird is a huge Citizen Science project with an online database of bird sightings from around the World. (see http://ebird.org).
In May, 2013, over 200,000 checklists were submitted to eBird in North America. A total of 1.4million sightings of these 37 species of Eastern warblers were recorded. The counties of Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie in northwest Ohio comprise only 0.02% of the land area of North America (the Lower 48 States, Canada, and Alaska). Yet from this tiny area a total of over 70,000 sightings of 37 species of warblers were seen in May of 2013. This is more than 5% of all the sightings for these birds in all of North America! One out of every 20 sightings for all of North America were recorded in Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie Counties in Ohio in 2013.
In fact, for 5 species (Mourning Warbler – 14.4%; the endangered Kirtland's Warbler – 10.4%; Cape May Warbler – 11.2%; Bay-breasted Warbler – 18.9%; Blackburnian Warbler – 11.4%) over 10% of the sightings for all of North America were recorded in eBird in May, 2013, in Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie Counties in northwest Ohio.
As you can see, the concentration of these birds in northwest Ohio is extremely high. Any disruption in this important location could be very problematic for the total North American populations of these species of birds.
This is the third letter I've written. The other two I have scrapped. The first one was an angry one. I was shocked. It was my first reaction. But I waited and wrote a second one. But that one I wrote out of deep emotion as well. It was written with tears and a big lump in my throat. I ditched that one, too. I cannot expect you to feel as strongly as I do. So this third attempt has more of what I do know. And all I do know is about the birds themselves.
The birds do not vote. They do not have a say where construction goes, or where skyscrapers are built, or housing developments occur. They have no vote about wood lots are destroyed or grasslands or marshes are replaced. They do not have the benefits of new restaurants or hotels or malls. Each year they keep returning with less and less habitat. And less fuel to replenish themselves to continue their daunting trip to their breeding grounds. Yet each year they return. And they bring a smile to my face. And joy to my life. I feel as though my life has been enriched to experience this encounter with these tiny travelers from a far away place. This is why I am speaking for them. They need our help now before there is a crisis. It would be much easier to not make a mistake now by erecting wind turbines here rather than trying to remove them later and spending huge amounts of money trying to bring back populations of birds we could have saved had we just taken the time to do some research before doing anything erratic.
I believe in alternate, green solutions that are efficient and favorable for a sustainable environment. And wind is certainly one of those viable technologies. So I applaud your continued efforts to push wind as one of several important alternatives. But I believe building wind turbines in these three counties would be detrimental to the safe passage of these birds. These birds use the few remaining wooded areas in northwest Ohio as a stop over. These birds are not flying at high altitudes where turbines would not be a problem. They spend time at ground level. They need our help now.
I know America has a wind mandate. And I figure Ohio is probably getting a lot of money to erect wind turbines to help meet that quota. And the windiest area I can think of is probably along the shores of Lake Erie. So that would probably be the most efficient place to put turbines. I understand that.
But that is also the most important area for birds winging their way northward toward their breeding grounds. Think about it. These warblers weigh no more than 0.3-0.5 ounces. Crumple up a wad of 2 or 3 pieces of paper and toss it up into a 20mph wind. What happens? Yes, the birds are hugely affected by wind. Nights with winds from the South in spring can bring in spectacular numbers of birds to northwest Ohio. And I have only had time here to do a little research on 37 species of warblers. In all, about 300 species of birds have been recorded in eBird in these three counties in northwest Ohio. It represents over 70% of all the species in the State of Ohio.
So do we save the birds or not support wind turbines? For me, I vote for the birds, at the very least in these three counties: Lucas, Ottawa, and Erie Counties. I realize that most people do not know the importance of this region to birds. And even if they did, would they care? I would hope so. But I cannot make people look at the world as I see it. It is up to them. It is their choice.
I realize I am just one voice. But I still believe this is America. A place where a few folks still believe in things that are more important than money. I recall a man by the name of John Muir. His influence was great enough on Teddy Roosevelt that we now have many great National Parks. I believe we have a National Treasure in northwest Ohio. No, it is not a National Park. And it may never be. But we should do all we can to save what we have now while we still have a chance.
If you are reading this and you want to make a difference, join me by reading more at Black Swamp Bird Observatory's website at http://www.bsbo.org/conservation/windenergyaction.aspx .
Thank you for you time and concern,
December 6, 2013