Dominion Energy grant will aid installation of new wildlife tracking towers statewide

[Post and Courier] Dominion Energy grant will aid installation of new wildlife tracking towers statewide

A grant from Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation will soon make it easier for birders and scientists to track migratory species as they fly across the Palmetto State. 

The utility company's foundation granted $25,000 to the Nemours Wildlife Foundation last month to install five new Motus towers. 

These metal radio antennas are typically attached to poles about 50 feet high. They track the migratory patterns of birds, insects and other animals that are tagged with small radio transmitters, or "nanotags," by researchers. 

Eighteen additional towers are already installed in South Carolina, including at Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville and Silver Bluff in Aiken.

It hasn't been decided where each of the new tracking towers will go, but one has already been placed at a Wateree Generating station in Richland County. Others could be placed at schools and colleges, according to Heather Kraus, the education and outreach coordinator at Nemours Wildlife Foundation.

The organization, based in Beaufort County, is known for providing students with field experience to supplement their academics.

The goal is to create a digital chain of towers from Beaufort County to the Upstate. 

"So as birds fly during their migration routes, they will hopefully — if you have this fence line set up — no matter where they fly as they travel across South Carolina, they will be detected on a station," Kraus said. 

When the tagged animals come close enough to a tower, the device will ping and provide researchers with real-time information about their migrations. 

Audubon South Carolina has used Motus towers for a while now. Their towers in Harleyville and Aiken have picked up a number of animals that have also been tagged in places like New York and Canada. Species to ping the towers have included gray catbirds, Swainson's thrush and red-eyed vireos, among others. 

Data from each tower in the state is publicly accessible at motus.org, Kraus said. A map of all active stations can be found on the website.

Nemours' goal is to create a network of Motus tracking systems to help other agencies, organizations and universities that are conducting active research on bird migration and ecology.

"The main focus for us currently is to build that infrastructure so that in the future, as we put out these transmitters, we can get detailed information about these species as they're moving across the landscape and really help inform future management or future conservation efforts," Kraus said. 

Migratory bird species can experience a number of threats, including loss of habitat. These treats are accelerating during all stages of their annual cycle.

Crews with Dominion Energy erect power poles and other technology each day to energy to customers. But Matthew Long, a spokesman for the utility, said the company wants to do its part to help nonprofit organizations like Nemours, preserve and help the public learn more about natural resources here. 

"The work that Nemours and other organizations are doing to better learn about the migration habits and treks that a lot of these birds will take will help us learn more about them and give the public an opportunity to track some of this data as well," Long said.

To follow the activity of South Carolina stations and those around the world, go to motus.org and click "Explore Data."