One such human-modified spot popular among birders is the Montlake Landfill in Seattle. The landfill is no longer active; several years ago, it was covered with a thin layer of top soil and officially renamed the Union Bay Natural Area. Although it now looks and functions like an average city park, Schaffner said the fill "poses significant dangers to the environment of (the adjacent) Lake Washington in the form of lateral peat movement, and toxic leachate has surfaced as an ongoing concern."
Sewage ponds, another frequent birding destination, also tend to be saturated with toxins.
"Sludge at sewage treatment plants is a problem that not many people know about," Schaffner said. "It seems like a really great solution. We used to dump our sewage in lakes and rivers. Now we treat it and put it on our fields and use it to grow food. It sounds perfect, but unfortunately, a lot of that sludge has residues from industrial sites and hospitals."
As a result, the recycled waste is laced with toxic chemicals and heavy metals, he said.
Because many of the birds found at these sites may appear to be unaffected by the toxins in part, Schaffner believes, because some may just be passing through on migration routes birders obsessed with tracking and listing tend to ignore the darker side of those environments that lurk below the surface.
"So, these forms of competitive birding have this way, I think, of keeping the whole system moving and helping us to think, "Oh, you know what The EPA is doing a great job, and sewage treatment is better than what we used to have. And I'm glad this landfill is covered over and it looks like a park now.'
"But by going there, it's a way of making light of what are some serious environmental concerns."
In addition, he said, activities such as the World Series of Birding come across as envir
|Contact: Melissa Mitchell|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign