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The Canadian Peregrine Foundation - Endangered Species Bulletin

The Canadian Peregrine Foundation

Giant wind towers worry bird lovers
Monday, February 27, 2006
By Paul Legall
From The Hamilton Spectator


Norfolk residents are sounding alarm bells over the future of a bald eagle’s nest threatened by a wind power generation project.

Ulrich Watermann has been keeping his high-resolution binoculars trained on the bald eagles since they returned to their old home atop the white pine a few weeks ago.

He can tell from recent changes to the massive platform of twigs and sticks the courting ritual is in full bloom and the lady of the house is about to lay her eggs.

It's a rite of spring that Watermann, who breeds bald eagles on his farm, has been watching almost every year since the pair first established the nest at the edge of the Jackson-Dunn old growth forest 12 years ago.

But there's an undertone of anxiety in his voice as he studies the nest through the thick stands of beech and sugar maple that cover the 10-hectare tract west of Long Point.

Ron Pozzer, the Hamilton Spectator

Giant windmills will tower over farms
and fields from Port Rowan to Aylmer
as part of a $185-million electricity project.

The eagles are nowhere in sight and Watermann is concerned they may have suddenly fled the nest after being spooked by the giant construction equipment that recently moved into an adjacent field.

The AIM PowerGen Corporation has been erecting a string of 66 wind turbines over a 30-kilometre stretch along the north shore of Lake Erie from Port Rowan to Aylmer.

With 35-metre blades, the windmills are almost 91 metres high and are being installed as part of a $185-million project expected to generate enough electricity for 30,000 homes.

Naturalists like Watermann, who lives in Turkey Point, say the windmills will change the rural character of the farming community forever and could have a devastating effect on the Long Point Conservation area. A world biosphere, the massive wetland covers a 40-kilometre, hook-shaped spit of land that juts into Lake Erie.

The Long Point area, with its unique thermal currents, is a major migratory path for a rare species of bat, Monarch butterflies and birds such as peregrine falcons, which like bald eagles, are on the endangered list.

In Europe, where wind farms are more common, they've been described in the media as "bird mincers" because of the large number of raptors, shore and sea birds and bats they've shredded with their blades.

Watermann considers his beloved pair of bald eagles, which normally produce two or three fledglings a year, to be under the most immediate threat because of their proximity to two windmills under construction. Other eagle nests along the lake are at least a kilometre away.

Mark Nash, president of the Peregrine Foundation, says he's been inundated with calls from birders since the towers starting popping up this winter.

He said he was "awed" and "left speechless" by their sheer size as they loom over the countryside, dwarfing decaying tobacco kilns, barns and silos.

As a supporter of alternative energy sources, he doesn't oppose wind farms as such and has no illusion about shutting down the Lake Erie project.

But he's asked AIM to delay construction of the turbines near the Jackson-Dunn tract for a few months until the mating season is over and the fledglings have safely left the nest. As of Saturday, he hadn't heard back.

Dan Elliot, area supervisor for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), said he made a similar request to AIM. He said the company has a person monitoring the situation but is under no obligation to comply. He added AIM met all environmental requirements for the project and "bent over backwards to comply."

Meanwhile, Watermann's worries have been allayed for the time being. Less than 15 minutes after inspecting the nest, he caught a glimpse of a large raptor flying overhead. A few minutes later, he spied its mate in a pine grove near the construction site.

Soon after, a convoy of flatbed trucks with more equipment and construction material was lumbering onto the field.

In moments like this, Watermann said he feels like the legendary Spanish knight Don Quixote who became famous for tilting at windmills.

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