Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thermal Solar Plant Burning Birds in Flight

Birds catching fire in flight sounds like science fiction. The type of solar plant in question is different than common photovoltaics and concentrates reflect sunlight into powerful beams. The beams generate steam to run turbines. This impact wasn't adequately identified and addressed before the Ivanpah solar plant was built. The light generated may attract insects and draw in birds with a resulting greater impact. More consideration needs to be given to address the problem at the existing facility before allowing any further plants to be developed. This type of issue is difficult for state and federal agencies to manage given the political nature of the projects. Adequate monitoring is typically not built into the ongoing operation of energy facilities and the data generated is not often published. More on that later... Read on!

Ivanpah thermal solar power plant produces “death rays” torching many birds

The Wildlife News, Aug 24, 2014 2:43 PM by Ralph Maughan

Roast bird record at Mojave solar plant even worse than predicted?
Plant workers call them “streamers.” Birds that fly through the beams of concentrated sunlight at the massive Ivanpah solar plant near Primm, Nevada catch fire and fall from the sky, leaving a smoky trail as they burn and die.
This solar plant is not the typical solar plant made of photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaics are thought usually harmless to wildlife except for the cleared land. Photovoltaics are very scalable — they can be built in all sizes, shapes, and put on the ground, rooftops, parking lots, platforms at sea, etc.  The Ivanpah style plant instead uses many thousands of large mirrors (300,000 at Ivanpah). They concentrate reflected sunlight into powerful beams aimed at “power towers” — boilers that use the steam to turn turbines and generate electricity in the old fashioned way. Photovoltaics produce electricity directly.
The Ivanpah plant has been controversial from the start. At first it was because the land selected in the Ivanpah Valley was splendid habitat for many hundreds of desert tortoises. The land was also very near to the Mojave National Preserve. It is also on public (BLM) lands covering about 6 square miles from which all vegetation has been removed and the desert soil covered over.
As time went by it occurred to people that the solar beams with their temperatures up to 800ยบ F would be dangerous to anything that passed through them. In addition the flashes from the mirrors could carry a long way and be a danger to pilots. Now it is thought that the rows of mirrors reflecting light look like desert lakes to birds.  Moreover, the light from the mirrors attracts insects too, further attracting birds.
One formally reported incident of “flash glare” was reported in March this year. Extremely bright flash-glare from the mirror fields around the towers briefly blinded the pilots flying a corporate light 2 turbojet. It had passengers aboard.
There is no agreement how many birds are roasted, but a recent study made public by the California Energy Commission by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) indicates that the number is high. The report says “It appears that   Ivanpah may act as a “mega-trap,” attracting insects which in turn attract insect-eating birds, which are   incapacitated by solar flux injury, thus attracting predators and creating an entire food chain vulnerable to   injury and death.”
Unlike wind farms which seem to preferentially kill certain kind of birds, Ivanpah was “equal opportunity.”
The remains of 71 species were identified, representing a broad range of ecological types. In body size, these ranged from hummingbirds to pelicans; in ecological type from strictly aerial feeders (swallows) to strictly aquatic feeders (grebes) to ground feeders (roadrunners) to raptors (hawks and owls). The species identified were equally divided among resident and non-resident species, and nocturnal as well as diurnal species were represented. Although not analyzed in detail, there was also significant bat and insect mortality at the Ivanpah site, including monarch butterflies.
Collecting birds on the ground does not give a full accounting of bird death because not all “streamers” fall and die on sight. Birds were observed to fly through, catch fire and then perch, only to make a erratic flight off to die somewhere else.  CBD estimated that perhaps 28,000 birds die from what happens at the site each year.
BrightSource Energy runs the place. They estimate about a thousand birds a year dead, but last year federal investigators report they saw “streamers” about every 2 minutes during their visit to Ivanpah.
Right wing fossil fuel advocates are criticizing environmentalists using Ivanpah as an example of what alternative energy, which they misleadingly call “green energy,” is like. It is not green, and Ivanpah was opposed by a number of environmental groups from the start, including CBD and Western Watersheds Project, who sued to try to stop it. Back in 2011, we ran a number of stories in the Wildlife News about WWPs efforts to stop it. Excellent updates with photos on the project and other controversial solar projects can be found at Below are select articles from the News.
Despite the controversy over Ivanpah, BrightSource has applied to build another such plant in the middle of an important flyway where much larger birds, and larger numbers of birds are at risk. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reported to be trying to stop this project. This would be a 75-story power tower and mirrors. The tower would rise above the sand dunes and creek washes the run between Joshua Tree National Park and the California-Arizona border. The flyway is between the Colorado River and the Salton Sea.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tracking Opossums in California and Beyond

I recently came across an April 10, 1915 reprint “The Tennessee Possum Has Arrived in California” from the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game. This caused me to wonder how well the introduction into California of the only marsupial found in North America was known? The paper documented 2 live opossums captured in the wild on 2/25/1914 near San Jose. CDFG staff found that there had been several cases of importation and release of the species about 4 years before. At the time of the report, about 200 opossums had been documented as killed or captured and that the species was spreading and multiplying at a rapid rate. The author went on to say that trapping could be used to control its over-abundance and that it was not likely that the opossum would spread far beyond the thickly settled parts of the state where it can find a living around orchards, gardens and barns. How well did that forecast hold up?

A thoughtful discussion about the history of the opossum in California as well as some interesting documentation showing that the species isn’t limited to urban areas can be found in this Camera Codger post

More information is available in this paper on “The Opossum: Its Amazing Story” including more details on the introduction and status of the species in the western US. 

An article about the species in the LA Times a few years ago indicates it was first trapped in the Los Angeles area in 1906 and that about 600/year are treated by one wildlife rehab staff person there. The most common mammal brought into wildlife rehab facilities in California is the opossum and that has been the case for at least the last ten years. That gives some indication to the large numbers of opossums now found in at least urban parts of the state. As a non-native species, it seems inappropriate to use scarce wildlife rehab resources for the care of injured or found opossums. It is also inappropriate to move these animals around as they may carry diseases, parasites, or cause other problems with native wildlife. What types of issues are common with this species?

Managing Opossum Problems published in Santa Barbara County gives an idea of the type of conflicts that result from the presence of the species. Another example is seen in “Living with Wildlife: Opossums” from Washington state. The opossum is now known to have spread as far as southwestern British Columbia. The introduction and expansion of the opossum into other areas has increased the number of conflicts reported.  

Some legal considerations in California? “Outlawed Opossums Lack Legal Protection”.

The species does have fans as seen by the existence of the Opossum Society of the United States

Apparently some don’t think one species of Opossum in California is enough? “Legalize short tailed opossums in california”.

Opossums are commonly seen as roadkill and this is likely a substantial source of mortality for the species with the increase in vehicles, speed and paved roads. Opossums also commonly feed on roadkill carrion at night and provide a service by removing this source of disease. Feral dogs and cats and other predators are also reported to kill large numbers of opossums annually.  Large and frequent litters compensate for a high mortality rate and it’s estimated that only a small percent of weaned opossums survive more than one year.

The possible role of the opossum in reducing or diluting human infection from Lyme disease is an ongoing debate (“The Lyme Disease Debate”). Some work showed that opossums may reduce the presence and risk from the tick vector for this disease. These findings have been used by some to promote providing more protection for opossums. Meanwhile, there is still controversy with the Lyme disease dilution hypothesis and whether there is a benefit to having opossums in the environment and if forest fragmentation plays an important role in facilitating the spread of Lyme disease.

What does the future hold for the opossum in California and beyond? It seems that further expansion is likely with development and climate change. Elsewhere, climate change has been documented to facilitate dramatic northward movement of opossums in Michigan and “Opossums on the move: Climate change could be luring critters north”. This trend seems likely on the west coast too where it might include more movement inland and into higher elevations?

I may add or update this when I have more thoughts or information.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Garden Highway Scooting Again

I filled my nearly empty tank & rode up the Garden Highway with a strong tailwind today and continued on beyond East Nicolas. I hadn't been able to ride since last month and was ready to blow the cobwebs out. The wind and rough ride took care of that soon.

I returned into the wind and rough pavement section to explore the North Bayou route to the airport and took a short break under the freeway before returning to Sacramento where I did some local exploring around Sutter's Landing Park and east Sac.142 km or nearly 90 mile ride today.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Burning Matters

Like many other open space and natural areas, the wonderful American River Parkway is suffering from larger and more frequent fires as well as increased impacts from fire response and other human activities. With shrinking local government budgets and the prolonged drought in California and climate change in general, these conditions can only get worse. 

Much work needs to be done on this issue. A number of local groups are working with the cities, county, and various fire departments to have an appropriate and effective management strategy to insure that this jewel continues to provide high quality recreation and habitat within the region. It is staggering to realize that there are more annual visits to the Parkway than Yosemite.


Pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Woah Nellie! "The Camino Diaries" are coming

This trek should be a fun one to follow & give ideas for the future too.

Sent from Mailbox

Monday, June 30, 2014

Maacama Tracks?

I came across this term today from someone I've worked withI like the way he mixed art and photos to tell a story.  I was surprised to find that it wasn't far from a recent trip I made. Maacama - Land of Salmon Pools” describes an area of the inner coast range similar to where I grew up and some place I’m familiar with without knowing it. 

I recently made a hurried scooter trip to the town of St. Helena that wasn't long enough to enjoy much of the open space there and beyond. Now I see that the Mayacamas Mountains are a short range that spans parts of Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake counties. The name came from a local tribe with a village, Maiya’kama, near where Calistoga is now. The spelling points to the confusion that persists. Within this range, the Geysers include the most developed geothermal field as well as many other geological and natural history resources calling for further examination. 

For example, Audubon Canyon Ranch recently acquired by transfer the 1620 acre Mayacamas Mountains Audubon Sanctuary near Healdsburg and part of 12,000 acres of habitat in the Mayacamas Mountains protected under conservation easements with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The new property was merged with another to form the Modini Mayacamas Preserves totaling 3,370 acres above highway 128 in Alexander Valley.

I'm filing all this away for more exploring later.

NOTE: Shortly after I posted this a wildfire broke out in the same general areaproviding a reminder of the current high threat from the drought conditions present.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Point 2 View Camera by IPEVO MacNexus Review

I hit the jackpot at the last MacNexus meeting and won Point 2 View Camera by IPEVO as one of two main prizes. When I bought my tickets the IPEVO camera caught my eye although I'd never heard of it before. I have a 2013 iMac and a 2010 MacBook Air. Both have built in cameras for FaceTime and similar applications but I have some need to be able to share information between remote users that these cameras don't handle easily. This type of activity seems easier using AirPlay with my early iPad Mini or iPhone 5S. I wasn't in the market for a new camera or even know this one existed but thought I'd take advantage of this happy development to give it an evaluation.

Installation is simple. Just pop in the CD and install a zipped file. The hardware supports Macs from 10.5 up as well as "Windoze" and such. I plugged the camera in after connecting it to the weighted stand.The stand is solid with several connections to orient the camera which also has several buttons for focus, single photo and a switch for autofocus behavior well as a 3 or 4 foot cable. Quite a few accessories are also available online as well as a number of other camera models and similar tools. 

I had an application crash when I started the P2V software. It turns out there is an update on the IPEVO website. I downloaded it and was in business although the app has closed several times in the middle of taking another photo. I also noted that the company has many other devices and accessories and seems to focus on the education market. There were lots of testimonials indicating a happy user base. I plan to go back to review the site in more detail later for further ideas and such. 

For now, the camera is easy to use and can focus as close as 2" from an object. They promote using it to show iPad/iPhone screens but I'm still working that out as the lighting seems sensitive as you would imagine. IPEVO has some templates available online to aid in device placement for sharing. There are online video tips for use including lighting, complex objects and much more. Clearly this is a full time undertaking. I have taken a few snapshots for examination and found that the software allows for digital zooming, rotation, flipping and more. Sharing opportunities are present as well. I also found that FaceTime and Skype can select between this camera and the built-in one for web conferencing and it appears to work fine with either. I assume that would be true for other webcam apps such as Yahoo, etc. This should be handy when trying to share information or bring others into view. 

From IPEVO: "Along with your PC or Mac computer and a digital projector, the Point 2 View can be used to project sharp, clear video for teaching or presentations. Resolution is adjustable up to high-definition 1600 x 1200. Additionally, the Point 2 View is ready for your video conferencing and remote learning needs, and is compatible with a wide variety of Instant Messaging applications, including Skype, Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, and AOL.

The Point 2 View (P2V) USB Document Camera provides real-time video capture for documents, pictures, and three-dimensional objects — all at hundreds or even thousands less than conventional document cameras and overhead projectors. With its ultra-portable size and featherlight weight, the Point 2 View is a perfect mobile solution for teaching, presentations, distance learning, and video communication of all types."

Following are a few photos I took with natural lighting. Resolution was 1280b1024 with a higher setting possible. Autofocus was on. I didn't use the Zoom, Mirror, Timer, or Exposure settings.

iPhone screen washed out unless brightness minimal

Minimal brightness


Autofocus on postcard

Two objects with different height close up

Simple document  with irregular height photo


  • True 2.0-megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Full autofocus lens
  • Up to 2" (5cm) macro focus
  • 6x digital zoom
  • Up to 30 fps live video capture (at 640 x 480)
  • USB 2.0 Video Class (UVC) interface
  • Mac, Windows & Chrome OS compatible
  • Max shooting area: 9.4" x 7.2" (240mm x 182mm)
  • Max shooting area with extension stand: 17.17" x 13.4" (450 x 340mm)
  • L x W x H: 3.8" x 0.9" x 1.1" (96 x 24 x 30 mm)
  • USB cable length: 4.9ft (150cm)
  • Color: Silver camera, white stand
  • p2v_dimension.png

Package Content

  • Point 2 View USB Document Camera
  • Weighted stand with adjustable arm
  • CD with P2V software and user manual
  • Quick Start Guide

I have more testing to do but am quite happy with the device. I expect to use it to share hardcopy information and objects and more without needing to scan, attach and email. I'm sure other applications will become clear too. Who knows, maybe one can be connected with a 3D Printer for purposes beyond my imagination? It seems to fit a niche in education either when AirPlay isn't available or in combination with it. I'm sure others will think of many more applications as well or have additional experience with it.

Thanks MacNexus!


Pay attention to the open skies, you never know what will be coming down.