Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Greenwich Hawks

Audubon Greenwich says that more than 26,000 hawks, eagles and other raptors passed over its Quaker Ridge hawk watch this fall, which is 7,000 or 8,000 more than the last two years. On September 18 alone, they saw 13,000 broad-winged hawks. A Greenwich Time reporter named Colin Gustafson has a first-rate explanation today, here:

Several factors were at play on Sept. 18 when thousands of broad-wings suddenly began funneling through the roughly seven-mile stretch between Quaker Ridge and Long Island Sound, O'Toole said.

Like most hawks, broad-wings migrate across the ridge's southern edge to take advantage of the warm air currents, known as "thermals," that bounce off the ground and propel them to high altitudes, he said.

Once atop the thermals, the hawks can soar for miles on the tailwinds without having to expend energy by constantly flapping their wings, as lower-flying birds do, to stay aloft.

However, this advantage fades when the hawks begin flying over water, where the cooler air currents make it much harder to sustain long periods of soaring. As such, O'Toole said, hawks typically hug the shoreline when the wind pushes them close to the ocean.

On Sept. 18, after being grounded by a cold front along their migratory route for several days, the hawks began taking off in large flocks, known as "kettles," as soon as the ground started to warm up.

At the same time, a moderate northwestern wind began pushing them closer and closer to the cool waters of the Sound, creating a bottleneck of birds trying to ride out the warm thermals between the ridge and the coastline, he said.

"It was just the right combination of factors, where you had this gradual build-up of hawks" in the region waiting for the cold front to lift," O'Toole said. When the air warmed and the wind began blowing, there was "this explosion of huge numbers."

While the one-day numbers are impressive, O'Toole added, they are not unprecedented: On Sept. 15, 1995, there were 31,988 sightings of broad-winged hawks at the ridge, likely due to similar wind and weather patterns.

Regular readers may remember that we have our own (so to speak) broad-wings here, nesting at the bottom of our driveway and attacking us and others whenever we walk past in May and June. Gory details here.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Westchester Gets An Extension to Meets Its Sound Clean Up Goal

New York State environmental regulators have given Westchester County an additional three years, until 2017, to finish upgrading its Long Island Sound sewage treatment plants to meet state and federal nitrogen removal goals.

Westchester contributes only a small fraction of the nitrogen that causes the Sound's hypoxia problem, but it discharges that nitrogen directly into the part of the Sound that is most heavily effected. And conditions were bad last summer. (The maps that show the extent of hypoxia in 2008 are not up yet on the Connecticut DEP website but you can see maps from earlier years here. Click on any of the August maps and look for the black area, indicating the worst hypoxia conditions -- it's the area off Westchester, Nassau and part of Fairfield county.)

Connecticut, New York and the US EPA, with the support of local governments throughout the region, set the nitrogen reduction goal in 1998. The county was an enthusiastic supporter of the Sound cleanup, until it realized how much it was going to cost -- about $235 million. Here's what the Journal News reported:

To make the local improvements, the county would need to borrow the money over 30 years and charge higher rates for the 38,414 households and 6,804 businesses across the four districts.

The bulk of the new rates would go into effect in 2014, with incremental increases starting in 2010.

County officials note that it could have been worse: The state negotiated a smaller project and extended the deadline for completion three years to 2017.

Under earlier terms of the requirement, Westchester would have been required to spend an additional $100 million for the renovations.

New York State granted New York City a three-year extension three years ago. Connecticut seemed to falter on its way to meeting the 2014 goal when state legislators and the governor for years neglected the state's clean water fund (I'm not sure if they're back on track, but it's worth pointing out that Connecticut's clean water fund does provide state money to local governments for the Sound cleanup, something that New York State does not do).

If you need background, it's here, here and here. And there's plenty more here, at the Long Island Sound Study website.

The three-year extension for Westchester came after long negotiations between the county administration and the state. The county Board of Legislators still must approve it. There's a public hearing on Monday, December 8.

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