sunrise for the nocturnal

We spend most of our summer nights racing sunsets in the forests, preparing for the bats to emerge; it becomes all too easy to forget the awe of a sunrise.

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For Julia’s birthday and our last full day working together after 4.5 months in the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we spent the morning on a ridge top watching the sun start the day over the Smoky Mountains.

Project Setup

I’ve watched the sunrise everyday this week.  The search crew has to get out to the site and start searching at sunrise.  Shortly after, the scavengers will be searching for their breakfast and we want to find what deceased animals we can before they do.  This makes it sound like we are fighting with crows every morning, but the nights have been too cold for much activity and the crows use their wits, not their strength.

So wait, all of this might sound confusing.  What are we doing out here? Scavengers? Carcasses? Sunrise? You may have gathered a few things from my previous posts, but I’ll explain more.  In case you forgot, I’m working on a bats & wind energy project.  Worldwide wind energy is becoming more common and I can support this, but wind energy companies and wildlife biologists need to work together to lessen and hopefully one day even prevent the negative impacts wind turbines have on wildlife- especially bats and birds.  Thankfully some companies are very willing to have this crucial partnership.

But back to the bats and birds.  Last week we all worked together to set up our transects.  We are searching the area under randomly selected wind turbines on the site.  Our particular wind farm is on ridge tops, so many of our transects are on slopes.  The searchers walk about 21 transect lines for each plot, but this can vary depending on the habitat and slope under the turbine.  We set up and labeled stakes and used flagging to define each transect line stretching north and south.  The searchers walk at a slow pace looking 3 meters out to each side in an attempt to find any bats or birds that were killed by the turbines.

So yes, we witness the direct impacts of wind energy and see dead bats and birds.  But when I compare wind energy to mountain top removal for coal and other coal energy sources, hydraulic energy and the impact of dams, oil drilling, and in general the use of these energy sources and their long term effects, their direct and indirect impacts on the environment- wind energy isn’t perfect, but in comparison I’d say it’s a much better option for the environment.  And if it’s something we are going to head towards and use less of these other options we need to do the research now and be sure to fully understand the impacts and what we can do to prevent or at least lessen them- and find ways to make it more efficient.

I’ve decided to not include images of fatalities, as many of my readers may not be comfortable with these images and also I can’t publicize a lot of this.  I’m ok with witnessing the fatalities, even as a vegan, and perhaps especially so.  I want to be aware and I want to help these animals.  (Duh! That’s why I’ve dedicated so much to conservation!)  The research will be published at some point though and previous project information can be found here.  I’ve included some photos of the turbines (they are HUGE- about the height of a 17-story building!) and our plots, that way you have a better idea of what these things look like.  Turbines are in restricted areas so most of you have probably never seen one up close, let alone stood directly underneath one.  It’s required that we wear hardhats, protective eyewear, orange vests and steel toed boots everyday.

When the field crew members find a bat or bird, I meet them at the location to identify the species and we collect all of the necessary data and photo documentation.  This week while they were searching I was recording habitat descriptions and collecting plot information using a Trimble GPS for the GIS analysis.  It’s a bit different to go from working with live bats to dead ones, but it feels good to be a part of such important research and too broaden my experience. And I LOVE working outdoors.  More to come soon, but I have the day off and I need to go out and enjoy it!

(Also, what I write in my blog expresses my personal views and may not represent those of the organization I work for.)