Predicting spatial patterns of eagle migration using a mesoscale atmospheric model: a case study associated with a mountain-ridge wind development
High resolution numerical atmospheric modeling around a mountain ridge in Northeastern British Columbia (BC), Canada was performed in order to examine the influence of meteorology and topography on Golden Eagle migration pathways at the meso-scale (tens of km). During three eagle fall migration periods (2007-2009), local meteorological conditions on the day of peak bird counts were modeled using the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System (RAMS) mesoscale model. Hourly local surface wind speed, wind direction, temperature, pressure and relative humidity were also monitored during these migration periods. Eagle migration flight paths were observed from the ground and converted to three-dimensional tracks using ArcGIS. The observed eagle migration flight paths were compared with the modeled vertical velocity wind fields. Flight tracks across the study area were also simulated using the modeled vertical velocity field in a migration model based on a fluid-flow analogy. It was found that both the large-scale weather conditions and the horizontal wind fields across the study area were broadly similar on each of the modeled migration days. Nonetheless, the location and density of flight tracks across the domain varied between days, with the 2007 event producing more tracks to the southwest of the observation location than the other 2 days. The modeled wind fields suggest that it is not possible for the eagles to traverse the study area without leaving updraft regions, but birds do converge on the locations of updrafts as they move through the area. Statistical associations between observed eagles positions and the vertical velocity field suggest that to the northwest (and to a lesser extent the southwest) of the main study ridge (Johnson col), eagles can always find updrafts but that they must pass through downdraft regions in the NE and SE as they make their way across the study area. Finally, the simulated flight tracks based on the fluid-flow model and the vertical velocity fields are in general agreement with the observed flight track patterns. Our results suggest that use of high resolution meteorological fields to locate the occurrence of updrafts in proposed ridge-line wind installations could aid in predicting, and mitigating for, convergence points in raptor migrations.