Olsson Associates


Monitoring for the birds

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Heather Beers, Environmental Assessmen

If you spend any time around the Olsson Environmental team, sooner or later, you are bound to hear terms like Hirundo rustica, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, Sternula antillarum, Buteo jamaicensis, or even Buteo lineatus. Translated, those terms name various birds like the barn swallow, the cliff swallow, the interior least tern, the red-tailed hawk, and the red-shouldered hawk. To the Olsson Environmental team, though, those scientific names reveal the breadth of experience and knowledge we are gaining as we serve clients through our avian monitoring projects.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) and cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) are plentiful in Oklahoma, and they are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. Because of this, construction must be completed around the boundaries of nesting season if these birds are present. In the past few years, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) identified approximately 140 bridges in 47 counties that required service or maintenance. Olsson biologists were hired to survey those bridges to determine the presence of barn or cliff swallows there. In 2012, Olsson biologists surveyed 50 bridges in eight trips. In 2013, 92 bridges were surveyed over nine trips.

All nests and birds present were counted, but some bridges housed thousands of nests; those numbers were estimated. Olsson biologists took photographs atop each bridge, underneath, and down each side, if access was available. Over the course of this ODOT project, Olsson biologists snapped approximately 1,400 photos in order to accurately capture the presence or absence of swallows at the designated sites.

The interior least tern (Sternula antillarum) is an endangered species, and their habitat includes open sand bars of shallow rivers, which are common throughout Plains states like Oklahoma. ODOT hired Olsson biologists to monitor bridge construction on the Canadian and Cimarron rivers to ensure that interior least tern habitat would not be disturbed during the mating and nesting season. Bridge construction—especially when large booms are used to place bridge spans—can substantially disrupt any tern nests within one-half mile of a construction site.

For the Cimarron River bridge project in northwest Oklahoma, our biologists monitored least tern activity daily during nesting season and observed their activity from a distance using binoculars and scouting scopes. We also coordinated with the contractor to minimize disruptive bridge construction activities. During 2014, least terns within one-half mile of the bridge construction site were sustained and several nests and new least tern hatchlings were successfully carried through the season.

In Kansas and Oklahoma, Olsson biologists monitored raptor nests along a 260-mile-long pipeline construction project. Olsson first completed a desktop review of the MBTA and raptor nest compliance. We followed up with field surveys and construction monitoring within up to half a mile of the construction alignment to make sure that construction activities would not disrupt nesting. Olsson biologists patiently monitored the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) nests to observe young hawk activity. Once the young were determined to be self-sufficient and could safely leave the nest on their own, construction was permitted to resume. In accomplishing these important tasks, Olsson helped the client comply with environmental regulations protecting sensitive species.

Monitoring avian species is not the only bird-related capability of Olsson. The Kansas Army National Guard (KSARNG) contracted Olsson’s avian specialists to develop avian species identification and monitoring plans. The plans are part of the requirements of their Installation Natural Resource Management Plan to protect the environment at their training facilities near Salina, Kansas. These plans allow the KSARNG to manage the natural resources at their 3,600-acre site and achieve their training mission while also maintaining and enhancing habitat for a wide variety of birds.

Olsson also performs avian studies for renewable energy projects. During project planning stages, avian studies such as those for grouse lek, raptor nests, eagle use, whooping crane, breeding bird, and other species of concern specific to the project area are common. When the studies are complete, Olsson helps clients evaluate the risk of their project and coordinates with state and federal regulatory agencies. During construction, Olsson supports clients with MBTA compliance, and after projects become operational, Olsson assists clients with mortality monitoring. Olsson has provided avian studies for 35 projects throughout the central and western United States.

So don’t panic if you hear an Olsson biologist muttering scientific jargon under his or her breath. In fact, rest easy: we are simply doing our jobs so our clients can do theirs.

Connect with us