Because three things make a post, as the ancient wisdom says.
For anyone who follows me on Tumblr, it may be obvious that I really like birds. Like, a lot. I’ve had birds in my life, in close ways, for almost all my life: chickens for my childhood, and parrots as a teenager and adult. But I love birds of all kinds, I can easily spend hours watching them, and I have to regularly remind myself that trying to birdwatch while biking (or driving) is really NOT a safe thing to do – but I can’t NOT see them, and any flash of bird-shaped motion draws my eyes. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I am obsessed, but – well. I really like birds a lot okay. The only spiritual work I’ve done related to birds has been the tending of dead ones I started doing at Hela’s request, which I’ve written about briefly a few times.
1. The news
When I checked the Oregonian’s website this morning, I found this absolutely horrifying article.
Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the plant’s concentrated sun rays — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.
Federal wildlife investigators who visited the BrightSource Energy plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version. . .
The bird kills mark the latest instance in which the quest for clean energy sometimes has inadvertent environmental harm. Solar farms have been criticized for their impacts on desert tortoises, and wind farms have killed birds, including numerous raptors.
“We take this issue very seriously,” said Jeff Holland, a spokesman for NRG Solar of Carlsbad, California, the second of the three companies behind the plant. The third, Google, deferred comment to its partners. . .
The toll on birds has been surprising, said Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission. “We didn’t see a lot of impact” on birds at the first, smaller power towers in the U.S. and Europe, Weisenmiller said.
The commission is now considering the application from Oakland-based BrightSource to build a mirror field and a 75-story power tower that would reach above the sand dunes and creek washes between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border.
The proposed plant is on a flight path for birds between the Colorado River and California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea — an area, experts say, is richer in avian life than the Ivanpah plant, with protected golden eagles and peregrine falcons and more than 100 other species of birds recorded there.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials warned California this month that the power-tower style of solar technology holds “the highest lethality potential” of the many solar projects burgeoning in the deserts of California.
The commission’s staff estimates the proposed new tower would be almost four times as dangerous to birds as the Ivanpah plant. The agency is expected to decide this autumn on the proposal. . .
BrightSource also is offering $1.8 million in compensation for anticipated bird deaths at Palen, Desmond said.
The company is proposing the money for programs such as those to spay and neuter domestic cats, which a government study found kill over 1.4 billion birds a year. Opponents say that would do nothing to help the desert birds at the proposed site. . .
I want better power generation than burning fossil fuels. Continuing that the way we have been for far too long cannot go on if we want to avoid the worst possible outcomes of global warming – it may be too late for some of the “worst,” but far better to reduce the impacts as much as we can, and fossil fuels have plenty of other negative impacts on us beyond global warming. But I don’t want power generation that just replaces one set of horrible environmental costs with others. Electrical power generation that burns wildlife in the process is not “clean” energy.
2. The dream
I have dreams with birds in them an awful lot. Often chickens or parrots, especially one of the two parrots who kept me company over the past 18 years, now both deceased. But sometimes other birds. It’s not that uncommon, and the symbolism seems to vary depending on the additional context.
Yesterday morning, when I got up and wrote down what I remembered of my dreams, I wrote down this:
Then some other dream where we were out in the street, then taking shelter in doorways, and trying to avoid these birds that had been set on fire. It was horrible. They’d been hit w/electricity (I think) and the flames weren’t killing them very fast, so they were flying around, burning, and screaming, and nearly flying into us, and I just hoped they’d die quickly. I don’t know if we were told why they were being targeted like that.
My notes first thing in the morning are generally rough, and I often have a LOT to write, so I omit details at times. They were burning with a blue-white flame, all over, it was engulfing them. One of them (I think we only saw one) flew into the entry vestibule we were trying to shelter in, and it flew up towards my face at one point, just burning and screaming, and then flying around like wild things do when they get into an enclosure and can’t get out. We tried to just avoid it, or shoo it out, so we wouldn’t get set on fire.
I had forgotten about that until I read the news.
I had three dreams in the past week that had blatant “environmental concerns” themes that I recognized when I awoke, and spent yesterday feeling unnerved by that string: for all that I’ve been concerned about ecological damage since I was a child, paying a fair amount of attention to what’s going on, focused on first one career to aid those goals and now another (for the past 15 years now!) I do not recall having previous dreams about that topic.
I really do not know what to make of this dream. If it was just a dream, or . . . something else. Coincidence or contact, it’s kind of freaking me out.
3. The encounter
On Saturday, I went to the Oregon Zoo. I was most looking forward to all the bird exhibits, but especially the California condors. I haven’t paid close attention to the recovery program that’s been going since the 1980s, but I’ve been vaguely aware of it for a long time. I have never seen a condor in real life, so I thought it would be really neat. Well.
Long story short: In the mid-1980s, the last 22 California condors were captured, removed from the wild, and a captive-breeding program started. The species, which once ranged ALL OVER the west coast, inland as far as the Rocky Mountains, was nearly extinct. There are now over 200 birds living wild (though in a tiny fraction of their original range), which is . . . fantastic, though there’s still a very long way to go to anything like recovery, and they are at high risk of death from things like power lines (young birds are trained to recognize and avoid them, prior to being released; this knowledge is expected to be taught to wild-hatched birds by their parents – condors are very intelligent), eating carcasses of animals shot with bullets containing lead, and chicks are at risk of death from eating little broken bits of plastic, that the parents perceive as fragments of bone, which is a normal part of their diet.
I spent quite a lot of time watching birds in the aviary in the “Africa” section, and then a lot of time watching flamingos and ducks and ibises in the flamingo exhibit (I could have stayed there all day and been happy, the birds were /hilarious/, there was constant drama happening between some of the little brown ducks, and sometimes between flamingos and ducks and asdfj;lkj). I made it to the Pacific Northwest area pretty late in the day.
When I walked down the path and first laid eyes on the big condor in the enclosure, I choked up. The entire time I spent watching the condor (one of three), I felt like I needed to sit down and bawl. Which was totally unexpected. There were plenty of other highly-endangered animals in the zoo.
He was incredible.
I have never seen a big raptor that close before. Or any wild raptor, for that matter, and condors are BIG. He’d started out on a perch about 10 feet high, several feet from the netting, but he soon jumped down, and spent a lot of time right next to the netting, often putting his head through, then bending it back to bite at the netting, or biting at the ferns and vegetation outside the netting . . . which were just like the ferns inside the netting. He’d also lope, that’s the only way to put it, up and down alongside the netting, watching the people outside. I am sure that, if there wasn’t a handrail along the path, keeping people several feet back from the netting, he would have had no problem coming into actual contact with us, though how pleasant that would be for the human hands, I don’t know. Whether he’s just used to humans after a long life near them (he is 29), or just that unafraid, for other being-an-enormous-bird reasons, I don’t know. The other two birds remained in really high perches near the back of the enclosure the entire time.
After a while of the loping along the fence, finding a bit of rat carcass in the grass to play with, watching his admirers, and so on, he casually returned to his previous perch, which I noticed was perfectly positioned for viewing from one of the sheltered viewing areas. I don’t have any doubt he knew exactly how awesome he was. (I’m sure the “fallen tree” was placed there intentionally, but he was choosing to hang out there, not anywhere else.)
I probably first heard about the captive-breeding project when I was a child – I used to get a subscription to Ranger Rick, and I ran across other similar publications – and I’ve periodically heard brief updates, so I knew, in vague terms, it was ongoing, with some pretty significant success. Well. Compared to 22 birds, total, 30 years ago, ~230 in the wild, and dozens in the breeding program, seems pretty remarkable.
More is an incredible hope to keep aiming for.
The hilarious post-script
The condor I photographed, and saw close-up, has wing tag #42. This is my 42nd post on this blog.