I have discussed your request for information with my colleagues and have read Nicloe Heck’s thesis on bird/transmission line collisions which you provided. While neither I nor my colleagues are experts on bird collisions we are able to make some generalizations. The site under discussion is where the Sturgeon River flows out from Big Lake. John Folinsbee, Wildlife Biologist for the Edmonton Area and I have done several bird counts on Big Lake over the past few years. It was not difficult to confirm what everybody in this field knows – Big Lake is a spectacular area for birds. Not only is it an important water bird production area where many species choose to nest and raise young, it is an important moulting and spring and fall staging area for migratory water birds. Over the years both Mr. Folinsbee and myself have observed dead birds below the power line and he actually saw a duck strike the line. This past April you and I were present with several prominent birders at the Big Lake BLESS viewing platform (that happens to be by the power line) to conduct annual bird species counts. This year winter weather stayed with us later that it has in recent years which led to only a small portion of the lake open near the viewing platform and open water on the river. The bird group, on April 27, counted 45 species and 4156 birds that morning. This late spring break up placed these birds immediately around the power line for several days. Some of those days poor visibility occurred to exacerbate the concern.
The orientation of the power line is unfortunate. The current crossing is probably the worst location as the mouth of the river serves to funnel the flight path of water birds from the lake into the river taking them right under or over (hopefully) the power line which is of course several individual lines. In addition the line crosses a swath of treeless marsh where I believe is used by several birds such as marsh harriers to breed and hunt. To the east the line continues between the Riel ponds which have been enhanced for birds and where a small group of pelicans have been hanging out this summer, and a marsh to the south. This line was built quite some time ago but were it to be proposed today we biologists at Fish and Wildlife would ask the company to look at alternative alignments/construction methods.
The other factor is the fact that the creation of Lois Hole Park, the proximity of the site to St. Albert, and the development of the area as a first class recreation area with many people cycling and walking to the bird observation platform puts this issue front and center to the public. Nicole Heck’s thesis made the point that “Transmission lines situated near this important (bird) habitat that are also near populated and recreational areas should be considered high-risk because of the potential for negative public response to observed mortality”.
I hope that the jurisdictions and players entrusted to make the decision to move the power line are able to arrive at a suitable solution to protect birds. Thank you for your interest in this matter.
Fish and Wildlife
250 Diamond Avenue
Spruce Grove, AB T7X 4C7