Wednesday morning I went down the Laguna Madre to the Land Cut with a colleague, doing some monitoring of breeding skimmers and terns, and foraging egrets. In the Land Cut area, we observed a flock of around fifteen American White Pelicans kettling from some wetlands west of the brushy edge of the Kenedy Ranch shoreline. After a couple minutes they turned and headed on a northerly trajectory. We watched as the pelicans continued soaring between us and the turbines. It appeared that they were getting closer and closer to the next turbine, but it was hard to get a handle on how close they actually were. Finally, they were approaching one of the most easterly turbines in that particular string, and we watched as the last bird in the group was struck and literally "erased" from the air (a blade is about the width of a city bus, and moving about 180 mph). It was flying at or just below hub height, and was hit on the downstroke.
Federal law enforcement was notified, and we were told they were going to be sending somebody out, hopefully to recover a carcass if there is anything left, or if it hasn't been removed by a scavenger (human or otherwise).
I do not spend a great deal of time down that way, perhaps 12 -15 times/year I do some work in that area. We were watching for about ten minutes when this happened. Was this an isolated incident, and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time? It would be about the same chance as winning the lottery (I'm buying two tickets tonight).
Or, can we extrapolate that since I saw one pelican collision in ten minutes, then the total number of pelicans killed there would be 52,560 per year? Probably somewhere in between. . .
This strike is a reminder of what these companies were warned about all along:
* This would not occur only during migration, as some suggested.
* This would not occur only at night or during periods of inclement weather (bright sunny breezy day).
This raises some very serious questions about the "radar shutdown" system which is so highly touted by Iberdrola and Pattern Energy as state of the art. The American White Pelican is one of the largest birds in North America, weighing nearly twenty pounds and with a nearly nine foot wingspan. The turbines obviously did not shut down when this flock approached.
It is commonly asserted by representatives from these companies that the high-tech Merlin SCADA system can shut down turbines when birds are approaching. The question though, is not CAN they, but WILL they? This morning, apparently, no.
This is what happens when wind farms are placed in the middle of what is likely the continent's busiest migratory corridor, adjacent to one of the entire hemisphere's most important wetland sites.
The American White Pelican is typically known as a bird that breeds in freshwater lakes and ponds in the northern part of the US and into Canada, with the exception of a highly unique population that has nested in the Upper Laguna Madre for at least the last 75 years or so (that we know of). They have nested on one of several islands within the jurisdiction of Padre Island National Seashore, and their population has fluctuated somewhat over the years, but is generally consistent between 300-500 breeding pairs. It is mid-June now, and most of the northern breeders have probably migrated north by the middle of May. The bird struck was likely one of the rare Texas breeding birds.