Monday, November 29, 2010

Birding hotspots to ice over

Warm water releases from Cleveland's Lakefront Power Plant prevents winter ice-up in a localized area, attracting scads of birds within a stone's throw of birders. This plant, at East 72nd Street in Cleveland, has long attracted birders from all over Ohio and even beyond.

As a byproduct of plant operations, hot water is released into Lake Erie, and in winters when Lake Erie glazes over, this open lead is an oasis for gulls and ducks. This made for an excellent opportunity to study interesting gulls such as Thayer's, Iceland, Glaucous and others at nearly arm's length.

A similar situation occurs a bit further east along Lake Erie, at the Eastlake Power Plant.

But no more, at least for this winter and probably several to come. Citing lessened demand for power and a slow economy, FirstEnergy Corps - owner of the plants - has opted to shut them down for the winter. Some birders are irked, and I suppose that's understandable, as birding these places was a highlight of the winter season for many.

The reality is that these situations are entirely unnatural, and gulls and ducks certainly don't depend on power plant warm water releases as oases in which to ride out the winter. Even when Lake Erie appears utterly frozen from shore, it isn't. There are always open leads out there, and many are packed with birds. We just can't see them from shore.

So, while these shutdowns may remove some good birding opportunities, in the bigger picture it's better to, if only temporarily, shut off a couple of sources of airborn toxins and the need for the massive amounts of coal to run these plants.

And, as far as I know, the Avon Lake Power Plant to the west of Cleveland will still be turned on and discharging warm water. So birders still have an ice-free place to bird, should the lake freeze this winter.

I wish I had known about these closures before I submitted an article on birding East 72nd Street in Cleveland in the dead of winter to Birder's World magazine. But that's an utterly inconsequential thing in comparison to the break that our environment will get as a result of these closures, and that's far better for birds in the long run.

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