Bird Brained


OPINION — Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson enjoyed a stellar Hall of Fame baseball career. He won the Cy Young Award five times, made ten All-Star teams, and was named Most Valuable Player of the 2001 World Series, when the Diamondbacks whipped the Yankees to clinch the pennant. Which is all fine and good, but what he’s most remembered for is a monumental fluke of a pitch in 2001 during a Cactus League game between Arizona and the San Francisco Giants. The ball collided with a dove that happened to be passing between the mound and home plate, sending feathers flying and giving new meaning to the term ‘foul ball.’ You’ve probably seen the video, which is epic, and has been viewed over a billion times, as far as you know.

Randy Johnson, consequently, has killed more doves than a lot of dove hunters I’ve known, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the Ivanpah Solar Plant in California’s Mojave Desert, which wipes out up to 6,000 birds every year, and doesn’t even need baseballs to do it. It uses mirrors instead which, as it turns out, are far more effective. Plus it’s doubtful the technicians that run the plant could sling a ball as fast as Randy, anyway.

Ivanpah Solar Plant in California

Ivanpah Solar Plant in California

Solar plants are nothing new, but most of them use an array of photovoltaic panels to collet sunlight and convert it to energy. Ivanpah is different. It uses mirrors the size of garage doors to reflect light from the sun and redirect it at three big towers, which do the converting. Ivanpah has 170,000 of the huge mirrors, which are called heliostats, because they needed a cool sounding name for them.

The problem is that the light attracts bugs, and the bugs attract birds that eat bugs, and when the birds fly through the light beams between the mirrors and the towers, they pretty much spontaneously combust. The beams of light are basically laser beams of heat, sort of like the ones Luke Skywalker shot out of his X-Wing Starfighter in Star Wars. They can reach temperatures of up to 900 degrees, and when the birds fly through the beams their wings catch fire. Workers at Ivanpah call them Streamers, because of the smoke trails they leave as they fall to the ground.

The Desert Tortoise

The Desert Tortoise

This situation is a major dilemma for the environmentalists, who want the world to stop using fossil fuel so badly they just about wet their environmentally friendly pants every time they see a Chevy Suburban. But life is full of tradeoffs, and one of those is that there’s really no form of energy, no matter how clean, that doesn’t cost the planet something. In this case, it’s birds.

It doesn’t help that the birds being incinerated by the flockfuls are not just your average, garden variety starlings and grackles, for the most part. Ivanpah Solar Plant is built smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, which is a major migratory route for a lot of birds, including many protected species. Ivanpah may have killed Toucan Sam, for all we know. You never see him around anymore, after all.

Not that this is really anything new, of course. Those huge windmills that were supposed to be another glorious source of clean power are deadly on the avian world. And a lot of the 100,000 birds killed annually by the windmills are eagles and other protected species. The only thing that kills more birds than windmills is domestic cats, which is one of the many reasons all cats should be kept in cages. Or at least kept out of my wife’s flowerbeds. Cages would be better.

But it gets even worse at Ivanpah, for the bunny huggers. In an effort to keep the endangered desert tortoises from wandering, slowly, into the facility and being harmed, a fence was built all the way around the plant. I’m vague on what harm could come to the tortoises from crawling around underneath the mirrors, but I guess we don’t have to worry about that anymore. Except the fence makes it a lot easier for coyotes to kill roadrunners. They run into the fence and, beep beep, ol’ Wile E. has them for lunch.

And that’s always been the problem behind saving the world, I guess. Which world deserves to be saved? If you prevent the coyote from getting the rabbit, the bunny is saved but the yote goes hungry, and may die. You can’t win without losing.

To help out the roadrunners, Ivanpah plans to install ‘roadrunner doors’ in the fence, so they can escape when they’re chased. I guess they’ll put up signs to show the roadrunners where the holes are, or something. Maybe a bowl of birdseed would help. With a little sign that says ‘bird seed.’ Beep beep.

Either that, or they could hire Randy Johnson to throw baseballs at the coyotes. If they do that, someone please send me a video . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who doesn’t like your cat. No offense. Write to him at [email protected]

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