What’s Flying Over Bullards Bridge?


ODOT crew helps improve research on migratory animals along the coast on Bullards Bridge.

When ODOT’s Coos Bay Bridge crew was asked to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently, they jumped at the opportunity. Bridge crewmembers spend most of their days making sure a moveable drawbridge works the way it should, so why not try something different?

They did, and now researchers and educators are gathering critical information about migratory animals that was missing before.

“Our Coos Bay crew is fairly mechanical, so they were looking forward to doing something different,” said Bryan Mast, ODOT’s Southwest Oregon Bridge Maintenance manager. “They figured it all out, pre-built what they needed, and went out of their way to be ready when the Fish and Wildlife folks were ready.”

The historic Bullards Bridge, looking out over the Bandon National Wildlife Refuge, is now home to a tower that’s part of the USFWS’ Motus Wildlife Tracking System. The system uses automated radio telemetry to simultaneously track hundreds of individuals of numerous species of birds, bats, and insects. When compared to other technologies, automated radio telemetry currently allows researchers to track the smallest animals possible, with high temporal and geographic precision, over great distances.

Filling an important gap

According to Vanessa Loverti, Regional Shorebird coordinator in the USFWS’ Portland Office, there had been a gap in the ability to collect information about western birds. Along with the National Wildlife Refuges program, including Bandon Marsh Manager Kate Iaquinto, Loverti was successful in placing new towers in Bandon, as well as in Tokeland and Nahcotta, Washington.

“In addition to capturing important shorebird data, the towers for this project will benefit anyone tracking other species with nanotags or life tags, such as shorebirds, Brant, Monarch butterflies, seabirds, and bats,” Loverti explained. “This project aims to fill in the gap along the Oregon Coast and flyway. Additionally, planned Motus receiver stations will connect the Nisqually Delta, which is a major resting and feeding area for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.”

ODOT’s partnership with USFWS has been going on for decades and plays out all over the state, in many different ways. Deputy Chief Mike Green with the Migratory Birds and Habitat Program in the Portland USFWS office praised our cooperation once again.

“The Motus tower on Bullards Bridge is progressively aiding an international effort in bird conservation, mostly shorebirds in this case, that will help us track bird movements and make better population estimates of any bird carrying a Motus tag that flies within 9 miles or so of this tower,” Green said. “[The Bullards’ tower becomes a critical link in a growing network of similar towers across the western hemisphere, involving partners from Argentina to Alaska.”

Supporting environmental efforts like this aligns with ODOT’s Strategic Action Plan priority of building a modern transportation system, one that “…serves all Oregonians, addresses climate change, and helps Oregon communities and economies thrive.”

A flying success!

Loverti admitted she was a little nervous traveling to the top of the bridge to document the work, but she raved about the success afterward.

“Once I reached the motor tower (shaking a little bit), I realized how much prep work was completed for the install and was amazed,” she said. “It was a pleasure to work with the ODOT guys. They made me feel so safe, and it was great to work with people who know what they are doing, pay attention to every detail and do things right (while being safe). This experience will be hard to beat.”

Mast shared the praise with the team and added his own.

“Our crew really went above and beyond in being ready,” Mast said. “I think the job went well because of the crew’s pre-planning.”

Mast said the crew was happy working on something different for a change and they feel good about having helped out with such an important project.

“We look forward to hearing about what’s flying past Bullards Bridge!”

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About Author

Shelley Snow is the Strategic Communications Coordinator with Oregon Department of Transportation

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