Washington Planning Board to take up special permit for radio tower to track bird migration

WASHINGTON — The Planning Board will hold a public hearing Tuesday on plans to site a 30-foot radio tower on a field on Washington Mountain Road in order to capture information on migration of birds, bats and insects.

Radio tower location

Neighbor Kent Lew, whose property abuts the field where a radio tower might be located in Washington, points to the proposed location at a meeting in June. 

Todd Alleger, on behalf of Northeast Motus Collaboration and the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, is requesting permission to install the antenna near a stand of birch trees, which will partially screen the tower from some vantage points.

Alleger adjusted the proposed location of the tower following a meeting with neighbors in June and he said in the application that the location “satisfies the criteria for an ideal site.” 

The field is owned by the state as part of October Mountain State Forest. Three guy lines will support the tower extending out 23 feet from the tower.

Alleger adjusted the proposed location of the tower following a meeting with neighbors in June.

It would be the 11th and final tower installed in Massachusetts under a competitive state wildlife grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The concept was to site towers in a roughly east-west line across Massachusetts in order to capture north-south migration patterns.

Todd Alleger

Todd Alleger is the applicant for a 30-foot tower that will hold a radio receiver to capture data on migrating birds.

Kenneth Rosenberg was the lead author in a September 2019 article in the journal Science noting the “staggering” loss of migratory birds over the previous 50 years. The article noted a “net loss approaching 3 billion birds, or 29 percent of 1970 abundance.”

Since then, ornithologists have been studying the causes and trying to determine what, if anything, can stop the loss.

The tower’s receiving station would track morse code-like radio transmission from tagged birds, bats and insects as they fly by.

In Massachusetts, “These receiving stations have made a total of 1,446 detections of 78 species, supporting 34 separate research projects in the past year,” according to Alleger’s permit application. “The proposed receiving station would partially fill a current coverage gap in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, contributing to understanding of migratory patterns in the region. In addition to providing data to multiple research projects in the Americas and the Caribbean, this station would support a local, long-term research study on the migratory behavior of Dark-eyed Juncos, a species that has experienced a 30 percent population decline since 1970.”

Dan Shustack, a professor of environmental studies at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, submitted a letter of support with Alleger’s application.

In it he explained that juncos in this region can be found as both migrants and all year long and that his study hopes to determine which is the case for the birds he has been tagging.

“Despite being a common bird, migration behavior in juncos remains understudied. However, with help from the Motus network, my students and I are starting to gather this valuable information,” he wrote.

Data captured from the receiving stations, such as the one proposed in Washington, is publicly available here.

The hearing takes place at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall.

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