The MKO Ornithology team is the largest, full-time professional ornithology team on the island of Ireland. We have a staff capability above and beyond any other equivalent organisation, allowing us to undertake and deliver large-scale and complex bird survey projects that require large numbers of personnel or survey effort. Led by senior ornithologists with international experience, our people are deployed around the country, keeping them close to the sites they regularly work on. Our Ornithology team works on large-scale industrial and infrastructure projects and regularly undertakes scientific and research bird surveying projects whenever the opportunity arises.
Breeding bird surveys
Our breeding season surveys use a number of methods to survey bird distribution and abundance, depending on the species or species group of interest. We tailor the survey requirements for the site and type of project, with the most common survey methods employed being O’Brien & Smith (1992) surveys for lowland waders, Adapted Brown & Shepherd (1993) surveys for upland waders, Common Birds Census (Marchant,1983) for all commonly recorded species, Breeding raptor surveys (Hardey et al., 2009), Red Grouse surveys (NPWS, 2010) and Breeding Woodcock surveys (Gilbert et al, 1998). Our pre-survey site reconnaissance is invaluable for refining survey scope and requirements, to maximise survey coverage in the most effective way possible.
Winter bird surveys
We tailor our winter season surveys to the species likely to be observed around or in flight through a location during the October-March time period. The most appropriate methods are selected to survey bird distribution and abundance, informed by the project type and best practice requirements. Typical winter bird surveys include
- Winter Walkover Surveys across and 500-metres outwith a site ensure that any assemblages of waders, wildfowl, gulls and other species are identified that may not be visible from vantage point surveys due to topography or other visual barriers.
- Hen Harrier Winter Roost Surveys following the methodology described in Gilbert et al (1998) and SNH guidance for bird surveys for onshore wind farms (SNH, 2014)
- Vantage Point Surveys from specified fixed vantage point (VP) locations
Vantage point surveys
We use vantage point surveys to record flight activity from specified fixed locations or Vantage Points (VPs) overlooking any particular site. This survey method is often undertaken at proposed wind farm sites to provide data for Collision Risk Models (CRM), which estimate the likely number of bird fatalities resulting from collisions with turbines. We follow the method described by Scottish Natural Heritage in its guidance document Recommended bird survey methods to inform impact assessment of onshore wind farms and are very familiar with the complex requirements of this method and its application in the field. All field survey data and associated digitised flightlines are reviewed by our experienced ornithology team staff before being compiled into a comprehensive dataset reports.
Waterfowl and migratory surveys
We strictly adhere to SNH guidelines when conducting foraging distribution surveys for migratory/wintering waterfowl, particularly swan and geese species. We conduct surveys fortnightly at a minimum, from August until May to ensure that both spring and autumn migration periods are captured. We conduct feeding distribution surveys using a combination of driven transects and walkovers, depending on the survey landscape. On proposed wind farm sites, we conduct surveys to a distance of 500m from the site boundary, with surveys targeting the distribution of roosts extending to a 1km radius from sites. We often survey over wider areas where the qualifying interest of a local SPA or other significant flocks are concerned.
Bird survey design and scoping
We have the technical expertise, industry experience and scientific knowledge to provide expert, reliable advice on the most appropriate design and scope for bird surveys. Our clients benefit from our experience in successfully designing and delivering surveys, particular in the wind energy sector, that successfully satisfy the full rigors of the planning process, in addition to scientific surveys undertaken for conservation planning purposes for public sector clients such as the NPWS, and Local/Regional Authorities. We ensure our advice to clients on survey design reflects the latest and most progressive approaches based on available ornithological research, and meets all relevant industry guidance, while ensuring that the surveys are targeted to the relevant issues likely to arise.
Large-scale bird surveys
We have a strong track record in undertaking complex and large-scale bird survey programmes in a variety of habitats, using multiple surveyors over single or multi-season durations. We have the largest private-sector ornithology survey team in Ireland, capable of being deployed on large-scale surveys along with dedicated support staff based at the Galway office, who manage, resource and coordinate the company’s bird survey programme and the management of the GIS and survey data. Our work on large-scale surveys has included nature conservation planning, such as waterbird surveys of the entire surface area and shoreline of Lough Derg and a similar multi-year survey of waterbirds on the Shannon and Fergus Estuaries. Our large-scale survey efforts for private sector projects have been concentrated in the energy and infrastructure sector.
Collision risk modelling
We use a Collision Risk Modelling (CRM) in wind farm projects to predict bird mortality that may occur through the collision with wind turbines. We use the observed flight data collected during Vantage Point (VP) surveys from a subject site, and predict bird collisions and fatalities at the proposed wind farm development. We have been successfully using and refining the modelling approach for over a decade, and it forms a key component of any bird impact assessment we undertake for a wind farm. Our modelling method follows Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) guidance, referred to as the Band Model (Band et al. (2007) and our staff have undergone extensive training in this method from expert practitioners in Scotland.
Foraging habitat enhancement plans
We prepare Foraging Habitat Enhancement Plans for certain wind farm projects, where potential for the displacement of certain bird species from areas of suitable foraging habitat has been identified during the assessment process. We have refined the process of designing and preparing enhancement plans for replacement or additional bird foraging habitat, on over a half dozen wind farm projects, typically for Hen Harrier. We quantify the area of habitat that birds may be potentially displaced from, and identify a suitable area or replacement or additional habitat that can be made available for Hen Harrier through effective management, to ensure there is no net reduction in the area of suitable foraging habitat available to birds. Our plans take account for forestry rotation, habitat suitability and availability and are developed to account for every year of a proposed long-term wind farm’s operational phase.
Our Ornithology Team regularly undertake more specialist surveys, either due to the confirmed current or historic presence of a particular species of conservation interest at a site or habitat suitability. We have experience in designing and undertaking surveys for a wide variety of avian species and can provide more detailed, specialist surveys for species such as: Red-throated Diver, White-tailed Eagle, Merlin, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Whooper Swan, Kingfisher, Breeding Curlew, Owls including Barn Owls and Long-eared Owls, Dipper, and Chough.
We use viewshed analysis to quantify the precise number of vantage points required to ensure full survey coverage of a site and to assist in the selection of optimal locations for VPs, thus ensuring the most efficient approach to achieving the level of coverage required by industry best practice guidance. We analyse viewsheds using ZTV (Zone of Theoretical Visibility) and GIS software, taking account of on-site forestry and other landcover features that might impede visibility. We aim to maximise visibility of the ‘collision risk volume’ where resulting bird flight data is to be used to estimate the risk of collision by birds with wind turbines. The resulting mapped outputs provide clear evidence of the suitability of the VP locations and objective confirmation of site coverage from these locations to support the rationale underpinning the survey approach.
Coastal Bird Surveys
We undertake surveys of any coastal areas from wintering birds of estuarine habitats to populations of breeding seabirds and waders. During the winter and migratory seasons, we use methodologies that ensure data can be captured on bird usage and distributions across large areas. In relation to renewable energy developments, populations and movements of waterbirds such as swans, geese, ducks and waders can be studied to identify constraints relating to birds and ensure that any development proposal is designed to avoid significant impacts on these species.