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Former air base is for the birds

(motus.org) This illustration shows Motus tracking stations used to monitor the movements of migrating birds throughout the year.

EAGLE RIVER — The Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a motion allowing the Copper Country Audubon Society to mount a small, high-tech antenna at the top of Mount Horace Greeley.

David Flaspohler, professor of forestry at Michigan Technological University, requested the permission to install the system at the former Calumet air base. The system, he said, is to monitor movements of wildlife, and is relevant to Keweenaw County.

“This Motus Wildlife Tracking System is a nation-wide system that’s even in Europe for monitoring mobile wildlife, birds primarily, but also bats and even insects,” Flaspohler said, adding that it is a system that has grown rapidly in the last two decades.

It is a system that allows for the scientific monitoring of moving or organisms, Flaspholer explained. It allows scientists to track animals over continental distances, as well as between continents. The results of this type of data can help scientists to understand animal movements, as well has habitat use, particularly during migration.

The way the system works, Flaspholer explained, receiver antenna stations have their own power supply, and they automatically, constantly monitor transmissions from transmitters which are mounted on certain animals, which pass within range of the antenna.

The radio tags, which have a finite battery life, placed on birds, bats, or large insects are very lightweight, and have no negative impact on the animal’s survival.

“This system of tracking stations are set up in the blue dots (see illustration) are tracking stations,” said Flaspohler, “and each one of those is listening 24 hours a day for the movement of birds flying over.” The accompanying illustration also shows a nano-transmitter mounted on the rump of a bird, Flaspohler said.

Flaspohler used the illustration to point to the complete lack of tracking stations along the south shore of Lake Superior.

The best vantage point for such tracking stations, he said, is very high, wide-open spaces, such as the top of Mount Horace Greeley. The Audobon Society recently mounted one in the Calumet area, but would like to add two more to the region, one at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and another one down near Alberta, in Baraga County.

Among a potential increase in bird-related tourism, such as the Brockway Mountain Hawk Watch, and the annual bird festival, another potential benefit would build collaborations with other groups already supporting the Motus system, including Michigan Tech, and its Audubon Society, and some other local organizations.

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