A grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation will soon make it easier for birdwatchers and scientists to track migratory species as they pass through Palmetto State.
The utility company’s foundation last month awarded $25,000 to the Nemours Wildlife Foundation to install five new Motus towers.
These metal radio antennas are usually attached to poles about 50 feet high. They follow the migratory patterns of birds, insects and other animals that are tagged with small radio transmitters, or “nanotags”, by researchers.
Eighteen additional towers have already been installed in South Carolina, including at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville and Silver Bluff in Aiken.
It has not been decided where each of the new tracking towers will go, but one has already been placed at a Wateree power station in Richland County. Others could be placed in schools and colleges, according to Heather Kraus, education and outreach coordinator at the Nemours Wildlife Foundation.
The organization, based in Beaufort County, is known for providing students with on-the-job experience to supplement their studies.
The goal is to create a digital chain of tours from Beaufort County upstate.
“So as the birds fly through their migration routes, they will hopefully – if you put up this fence – no matter where they fly when they cross South Carolina, they will be detected on a station” , said Kraus.
When tagged animals get close enough to a tower, the device pings and provides researchers with real-time information about their migrations.
Audubon South Carolina has been using Motus towers for quite some time. Their tours to Harleyville and Aiken captured a number of animals that were also tagged in places like New York and Canada. Species to ping towers have included gray thrashers, Swainson’s thrush, and red-eyed vireos, among others.
Data from every tower in the state is publicly available at motus.org, Kraus said. A map of all active stations is available on the website.
Nemours’ goal is to create a network of Motus tracking systems to help other agencies, organizations and universities that are actively researching bird migration and ecology.
“The main focus for us right now is to build this infrastructure so that in the future when we put these transmitters in place, we can get detailed information on these species as they move through the landscape and really help inform future management or future conservation efforts,” Kraus said.
Migratory bird species can experience a number of threats, including habitat loss. These treats accelerate through all stages of their annual cycle.
Dominion Energy crews erect utility poles and other technology every day to provide power to customers. But Matthew Long, a spokesman for the utility, said the company wanted to do its part to help nonprofits like Nemours preserve and help the public learn more about the natural resources here.
“The work that Nemours and other organizations are doing to better understand the migration habits and hikes that many of these birds will take will help us learn more about them and give the public the ability to track some of this data as well,” Long said.
To follow the activity of stations in South Carolina and those around the world, go to motus.org and click on “Explore the data”.
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