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Drones, remote-controlled boat used to scare birds out of Berkeley Pit

Posted at 3:09 PM, Nov 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-12 17:09:36-05

BUTTE – By air and water, officials are using any means to avoid what happened at the Berkeley Pit in November of 2016 when more than 10,000 migrating snow geese landed on the toxic water, leaving thousands to die.

Montana Resources hired a drone operator to try to haze birds out of the water.

“We’ve made some significant modifications to it for hazing of waterfowl at the Berkeley Pit. We’ve added extra radio antennas to it, we’ve added flashing strobe lights with visibility of three nautical miles, and loud, audible piezoelectric sirens that produce an ear-piercing sound that the birds are uncomfortable with,” said drone operator Ian Fairweather.

MR also hired a contractor from Atlantic Richfield who built a remote-controlled boat that can quickly get to waterfowl in the pit.

“The intent is to get up close enough that they can hear it, show the size, let them hear the sound and start to get them agitated, then maneuver to try to get them to lift up off the water,” said Jim Jonas with Atlantic Richfield.

During this demonstration, they actually had some waterfowl land in the pit. There were two snow geese and a couple of common goldeneye. Now, they used the drones to chase these birds around, which proved to be a bit stubborn, but they eventually were able to get one of the snow geese to fly out of the contaminated water.

“They’re very tired. They’re a night migrater; we harassed them a little bit, we didn’t get a result, so we just need to back off and let them rest,” said bird expert Gary Swant.

But they will keep trying so they don’t have a repeat of 2016.

Reporting by John Emeigh for MTN News