The Connecting Terminal Light Show on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.
The Connecting Terminal Light Show on Buffalo's Outer Harbor.

GW Science Sunday: A new film about bird decline and more

by / Apr. 1, 2016 1pm EST

More About Bird Decline and a Local Opportunity to Learn and Act

This past January we published a piece about a new movie about bird decline called  “The Messenger.”

In that article we noted that no local showings of the film had been scheduled and that if and when a showing could be organized we would let you know. Now a viewing has been scheduled and we encourage you to buy tickets and go and see this important movie.

The Buffalo Audubon Society will be hosting a one-time screening of THE MESSENGER at Regal Quaker Crossing Stadium 18 on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 7:30PM.

For Tickets Click Here: Tickets must be purchased in advance in order to ensure that the screening takes place.

This is the full Buffalo Audubon Press Release about this event:

THE MESSENGER, a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Su Rynard (Dream Machine, Kardia) chronicles the struggle of songbirds worldwide to survive in turbulent environmental conditions brought about by humans and argues that their demise could signify the crash of the ecosystems globally, akin to the disappearance of honey bees and the melting of the glaciers.

For thousands of years, songbirds were regarded by mankind as messengers from the gods.  Today, these creatures – woven inextricably into the fabric of our environment – are vanishing at an alarming rate.  Under threat from climate change, pesticides and more, populations of hundreds of species have dipped dramatically.  As scientists, activists and bird enthusiasts investigate this phenomenon, amazing secrets of the bird world come to light for the first time in this acclaimed and visually thrilling documentary.  Beautiful slow motion photography illustrates the power and beauty of these delicate winged creatures that have been praised and eulogized across cultures and throughout time. 

Find out what’s killing our songbirds, and what can be done about it.  As in ancient times, songbirds may once again be carrying a message to humans – one that we ignore at our own peril.

The film is being screened through, a platform that helps individuals and organizations to host screenings in their local theaters.  Tickets must be purchased in advance in order to ensure that the screening takes place at

“We are excited to be bringing this pivotal film to the Buffalo area on the birth date of American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon,” said Loren Smith, Buffalo Audubon Society Executive Director.”


Critical Bird Conservation Issues in WNY

This spring the story that this movie brings is especially important. Not only are we about to enter into one of the more critical times of the year for bird migration as neotropical birds (including warblers) come through our area in spectacular numbers, but destructive development especially on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor waterfront, continues to threaten these birds that depend on places such as Times Beach Nature Preserve and Tifft Nature Preserve. Both places are known as migrant bird  “traps.” Migrant traps are places that contain remnant habitat, -increasingly isolated fragments of habitat where birds that are migrating find places to rest, feed, and nourish themselves on the long flights from South and Central America to their far northern breeding areas.  Because of our unique location on the Great Lakes and on the Niagara River Corridor Globally Significant Bird Area  (NRCIBA), our remnant habitat fragments are increasingly critical to migrating birds. Habitat destruction is considered to be the lead cause of bird mortality. Right behind that is the development of tall buildings with glass windows, towers of all sorts,  and bright lights that attract migrating birds. Resulting collisions kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

We have written about bird friendly development and design issues that include programs such as the Fatal Light Attraction Program which cities like Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and New York have incorporated into building and design codes. Last year Governor Cuomo initiated a program, Lights Out New York, in coordination with New York State Audubon under which non essential lights at state facilities would be turned out during peak bird migration times, identified as April 15-May 30 an August 16- November 15.  We have greatly applauded Governor Cuomo’s initiative.

We continue to encourage the City of Buffalo and Erie County to adopt “Lights Out” policies that reflect and build upon the Governor’s important bird and energy conserving program. In addition we have asked that the program be more adaptive to the significance of the Buffalo Outer Harbor area, because of its location as the gateway to the NRCIBA. Specifically we have asked that local policies reflect the reality that we have tremendous flights of migrating birds here-starting at dusk. The Governor’s and Audubon’s program initiates at 11 pm. We would like to see our lights out program start at dusk in order to protect the 10’s of thousands of local migrating birds that depend upon our waterfront. This video of local radar  from last spring, demonstrates the incredible numbers of birds in our area that are taking to the air from dusk until 11 pm, when the state “lights” out program begins. 

Last fall the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) launched a $5 million night lighting program on the approximately 5 story Connecting Terminal which is located just across the Buffalo River from Canalside, and just adjacent to the Times Beach Nature Preserve.

In letters to the ECHDC, The Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve expressed deep concerns about these Connecting Terminal lights that literally illuminate the Nature Preserve. The letters asked that the ECHDC adopt the Governor’s program and adapt to the location by turning out these lights from dusk to dawn during the migration periods reflected by the Governor’s and Audubon’s program. Tom Dee, the President of ECHDC, responded in writing by saying that ECHDC had conducted an “environmental assessment” of the project and that it indicates that there is “no impact” of this project on the environment.  Presumably this includes a declaration of “no impact” on migrating and breeding birds that depend on both the Outer Harbor and the Nature Preserve.  Dee also said that the ECHDC would follow the Governor’s Lights Out program and turn off the light show at the Connecting Terminal at 11pm from April 15- May 30, and August 16- November 15. We will find out in a few weeks. While I and the Friends of Times Beach Nature Preserve appreciate both the investment in public art reflected by the Connecting Terminal lighting project, and thank the ECHDC for announcing support of the Governor’s Lights Out program, we have asked to see the ECHDC’s “Environmental Assessment” that shows that there is no impact. We have not seen, nor has anyone seen, this environmental assessment. We conclude it does not exist. Just turn the damned lights out.

More Here: Buffalo’s Dark Sky The Public May 5, 2015 


Gerald Buchheit’s Glass Tower – Another Mistake by the Lake?

The Buffalo /Lackawanna Outer Harbor, the western gateway to the NRIBA, has been targeted for various forms of development almost since the white man first laid eyes upon it.  For generations to come we will continue to suffer with contamination issues that are the legacy of industrial pollution and urban waste streams,  We all pay for this directly with health issues, clean water issues, and access to the water including swimming in what once were considered the bucolic sweetwater seas. Our lower income and minority communites are always the most effected.  We will not be doing much swimming, perhaps forever, at Gallagher Beach. And swimming at Woodlawn Beach, next to the Erie County Sewer Authority’s outflows, is a risky proposition at best.

While the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation and the governor have backed away from what some call the “highest use” of the land, -developing a curtain of high rise condos and mixed use surrounding Times Beach and throughout the Outer Harbor, which was a plan widely criticized by the public, we are still struggling to connect the fundamental values of ecology, nature, avian, pollinator, wildlife and native plant conservation, to and into the hearts and minds of the development community.

Now we have this very nature and bird unfriendly proposal for a 23-story residential and mixed use “glass tower” to be located at the former Freezer Queen building right next to the Outer Boat Harbor. The proposal for 975 Furhmann Blvd, was unveiled in mid March, by developer Gerald Buchheit. In what seems to be a fast tracking of the approval of the project, the Planning Board has scheduled a Public Hearing for this project on Monday April 4 (tomorrow), at 4p.m., in Room 901 of Buffalo’s City Hall

We know that this location is an important part of the avian flyway which connects the Tifft Nature Preserve Important Bird Area, to Times Beach and the NRCIBA. We are concerned. We also have little to no faith that any kind of environmental study will be undertaken, including a more comprehensive study about the impact on birds and other wildlife in this critical corridor.  In additon we are pretty sure that the location is inside a Coastal Special Review District (CSRD), which among other things should trigger the need for a restricted use permit from the Common Council, who can then determine the height of the building(s). Not that the rule of law actually protects wildlife in these kinds of situations. But the will of the Common Council, may.

We cannot keep making these stupid proposals if we are going to have a sustainable planet. We can do better, and we can as a culture and society, reap great economic benefits and a more sustainable city and region, if we think this through better.  We cannot continue to treat the environment as an external cost, to be paid for on the backs of taxpayers and future generations, and minority communities that are in the oncoming headlights of a changing planet which may be on its last legs. We owe it to future generations to do better. 

Our colleague and friend Art Giacalone has created a critical analysis of the project and process at his blog “” including his revelation of an unsure zoning status for the site.  Consequently, the Planning Board, through the offices of South District Councilmember Chris Scanlon have announced that while the April 4 public hearing will go forward, “no action will be taken at this time and further public hearings will be scheduled”. To read Giacalone’s critical analysis of this project go here:

Councilmember Chris Scanlon’s call for a slow, careful Outer harbor development should be heeded 

and here: Cancel the April 4th Planning Board hearing on the 23 Story Outer Harbor Tower. 

Certainly Giacalone will keep us informed of future actions at his blog. Stay tuned for important updates. The public is welcome to the April 4 Public Hearing.


Lake Ontario Apex Wind Turbine Project Condemned by the American Bird Conservancy

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) released a significant report on March 24 though its Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. This report lists the proposed Lake Ontario/Town of Somerset/Apex Wind Farm proposal, also known as the Lighthouse Project, as one of the 10 worst-sited Wind Energy Projects in the United States, for birds. ABC has very reliable and well thought out bird conservation programs that address a number of threats to birds including habitat loss, pesticides, development, climate change, cats, glass, and building collisions. We need to pay attention to this report. Unlike many bird conservation organizations, ABC keeps it’s eye on a variety of energy related developments, including important renewable energy projects, just to make sure that the threats are understood and that real science is involved in environmental risk assessments. The ABC report says in part about the APEX project:

“This proposed location on the southern shore of Lake Ontario boasts one of the greatest bird migrations in North America. Up to 71 turbines are planned for an area along the south shore of Lake Ontario. These 570-foot-tall turbines will extend 4.5 miles inland from the lake along a 12-mile stretch. Vast numbers of songbirds and raptors concentrate within six miles of the shoreline during spring and fall of each year. This area also has pockets of key habitat for sensitive grassland birds, which could be displaced by the wind turbines. Federally protected Bald Eagles from a nearby wildlife refuge are also at risk.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed serious concern about this project, warning the developer that this is an area of extremely high avian use. However, the developer appears to be going ahead with its plans, conducting its own studies, disputing previous work done by other researchers, and ignoring the concerns of local residents.”


A recent report called Lake Ontario Migratory Bird Stopover Project conducted by the Central and Western New York Chapter of The Nature Conservancy based in Rochester, and done in affiliation with Audubon New York, and New York Natural Heritage Program, is an excellent and timely example of science-based understanding of migratory bird patterns. The study clearly shows a number of stopover sites along the Land Ontario shoreline. Stopover sites are generally considered to be remnant habitat fragments that act as what are called migrant bird traps and hotspots for birds. These are places that migratory birds including the neotropical songbirds that migrate in spring and fall, use to rest and recover and nourish during their long journeys to and from the far north and Central and South America. Times Beach, Tifft Farm, and Forest Lawn Cemetery are Buffalo-centric migratory “traps”. These small fragments represent what was once an undisturbed habitat that supported the many species of birds, other wildlife, and plants that now run the risk of extinction.  

Apex LightHouse supporters have tried to use this report, which shows only scattered hot spots along the Lake Ontario shoreline as proof that the proposed wind farm site is in fact “well sited” and away from birds.  This is a false and misleading argument. The identified hotspots along the Lake Ontario shoreline represent remnant fragments of lost habit and a deteriorated ecosystem.

This report clearly states:

“Migrants are using almost the entire landscape.” It also states that “Importantly, these “hotspot” maps are only suggestions of places that conservation action might be focused.   They only “capture” approximately 22% of the spring migrants using the study region, and only 7% of the fall migrants.”

The ABC study is right to characterize the Apex Windmill site as a poorly sited bird killer. While it is critical to find ways to generate and deliver energy, and while wind is an important source, it is important to protect birds, biodiversity and to promote habitat conservation. Loss of habitat, caused not by climate change by but instead of human values that see the costs of exploitation of habitat and nature as an externality to profit and growth, is the leading cost of habitat loss across the planet. We must have zero tolerance of habitat loss and we must reverse course if there is to be any future for humans, wildlife, and the planet. Birds are the messengers. We must value them if we have any chance.


Oceans to rise faster and further than predicted

Finally, if you are tired of Trump, Ted, Bernie, and Hillary, there is other news in the world.  It won’t cheer you up, but you should know about it. A new report  published in the Journal Nature on March 31 by climate scientists at UMASS and Pennsylvania State University,  makes the case that sea level rise as a result of climate change is vastly underestimated. The study predicts that a sea rise of up to 50 feet could occur by 2500, and we can expect a rise of at least 5 feet by 2100.  These new predictions are the result of new estimations of temperature rise, carbon and other climate gas emissions, and polar ice melt. These are all due to new and growing understanding of what are called “feedback loops”. Coastal cities across the globe, including US cities such as Miami, Boston, New York, New Orleans, and even Washington DC better start preparing or moving. Who will be left behind?  No suggestions as of yet as to what Great Lakes Cities can expect.


Today’s Sunday Morning Television

An aerial of the Outer Harbor, by James Grimaldi, March 29, 2016

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