Celebrate Earth Day with MNA

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Before Earth Day, protecting the planet’s natural resources and the environment was not part of the national agenda. Factories spewed pollutants into the air and dumped toxins into lakes and rivers without any ramifications. Something had to be done to protect the environment and the inhabitants that rely on it.

Earth Day is on Tuesday, April 22. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Earth Day is on Tuesday, April 22. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues, which Americans had become more aware of since the 1960s. The idea came to the founder of the movement, Gaylord Nelson, who was a Senator from Wisconsin at the time. He had witnessed the detrimental effects of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969, which inspired him to do something. After seeing an anti-Vietnam war movement by college students, he realized that he could use that passion and energy that students had to bring public awareness to air and water pollution. He hoped that bringing these two things together would push environmental protection on to the national political agenda.

As a result, on April 22, millions of Americans banned together coast to coast in rallies to demonstrate for a clean and healthy environment. Public opinion polls indicate that there was a permanent change in national priorities following the first Earth Day. it was seen as an important goal to protect the environment. During the 1970s, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act, the Surface Mining Control Act and Reclamation Act were all passed. The Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting the human health and the environment, was also created.

Helping to clean trash from lakes and rivers will help the wildlife that live there and can be harmed by trash. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Helping to clean trash from lakes and rivers will help the wildlife that live there and can be harmed by trash. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Today, Earth Day is a globally celebrated event and is even sometimes extended to Earth Week. Earth Day was successful because it organized itself. There was a huge response that led to millions of people organizing and participating in a short amount of time with little direction. The fight for a clean environment continues year to year to help protect our environment to keep it beautiful and healthy for generations to come.

There are many things that we can do to help celebrate Earth Day and better the environment. By planting trees, recycling and cleaning up trash from lakes, rivers and parks, we are protecting the plants and animals that thrive on a clean environment. MNA has many opportunities to get involved so be sure to check out their volunteer days!

  • Tuesday, April 22: Celebrate Earth Day at Powell Memorial Nature Sanctuary (near Hudson, Lenawee County) to help pull invasive garlic mustard from this wooded paradise!
  • Wednesday, April 23: Help pull invasive garlic at Phillips Family Memorial Nature Sanctuary (near Decatur, Van Buren County) to help keep these woods beautiful and thriving.
  • Friday, April 25: Help pull invasive garlic mustard and dame’s rocket in the floodplain forest at Joan Rodman Memorial Plant Preserve (near Saline, Washtenaw County).

Get involved! Visit www.michigannature.org/events for a complete list of events and details. If you’d like more information about volunteer opportunities at MNA, call (866) 223-2231.

Oil Spill Effects, Michigan Trail Networks and a Deadly Bat Fungus: This Week in Environmental News

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to conservation and the environment that has happened throughout the state and country. Here are a few highlights of what happened this week in environmental news:

Little brown bats have been found to carry white-nose syndrome in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Little brown bats have been found to carry white-nose syndrome in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Deadly bat fungus found in Michigan may lead to mass die-off, crop damage and mosquito bites (mlive): A deadly bat fungus has been identified for the first time in Michigan. It could dramatically reduce the state’s bat population and have an effect on the agricultural industry. The fungus, called white-nose syndrome, causes skin lesions that can interrupt hibernation patterns. Scientists have predicted up to 90 percent of the bats susceptible to the disease may die off in the next three to five years. A large bat die-off could lead to more mosquito bites for Michigan residents and the loss of a natural pesticide service for farmers.

State officials launch tourism initiative to promote trail network (Great Lakes Echo): In order to make trails in Michigan easier to find for tourists, the Department of Natural Resources wants to provide information for all trails in Michigan at the click of a button. A package of five bills was introduced that would label all trails as Pure Michigan trails. Cities hope that this will help increase tourism in their towns.

Michigan Mercury Collection Program keeps potentially hazardous mercury from reaching Michigan landfills and waterways (mlive): The Environmental Quality Company and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Mercury Collection project have teamed together to provide free mercury collection services to residents and businesses in Michigan. If the mercury enters landfills, it can reach the water and the air and cause mercury pollution.

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still affects marine life living there. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico still has detrimental effects marine life living there. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Wildlife in Gulf of Mexico still suffering four years after BP oil spill: report (the guardian): Four years after the oil spill, the report from the National Wildlife Federation found that some 14 species still showed symptoms of oil exposure. The oil is sitting at the bottom of the gulf and washes up on the beaches. There is also some oil still residing in marshes. There has been a high report of animal deaths, with more than 900 bottlenose dolphins being found dead or stranded in the oil spill area since April 2010. NWF scientists said it could take years before the full effects of the oil spill were understood.

Salamander’s Hefty Role in the Forest (The New York Times): Woodland salamanders are a large asset to forests; on an average day, a single salamander eats 20 ants, two fly or beetle larvae, one adult beetle and half of an insect. Collectively, salamanders affect the course of life in the forests in which they live. They play a significant role in the global carbon cycle by eating the invertebrates that spend their lives ripping leaves to bits and eating them, which consists of about 47.5 percent carbon.

How Will This Harsh Winter Affect Wildlife?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA  intern

The polar vortex may be finally past us, but cold temperatures are still prevalent throughout Michigan. We all know it made for a miserable winter for us, but how was wildlife affected?

Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner blue butterfly lays it’s eggs near the ground so the snow can help insulate them through the winter. Photo from MNA Archives.

Many wildlife species are well adapted to thrive in cold temperatures. This winter proved to be beneficial for some endangered species here in Michigan. The Karner blue butterfly will hopefully see a spike in population from the excessive amounts of snow this winter brought. The butterfly’s eggs, which are laid on leaf litter near the ground over the winter, do best when there is deep snow cover on the ground over the course of the entire winter. The snow keeps them from drying out and provides extra insulation from air temperatures which can be colder than the ground temperatures.

Cisco fish are another endangered species that will benefit from the cold. They lay their eggs under the ice of the Great Lakes which protects them from getting thrashed around too much by waves. When there is little to no ice coverage, the waves cause the eggs to break. The heavy and vast ice coverage that the Great Lakes has had this winter will help provide a great barrier for the eggs and hopefully lead to more of them surviving.

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Honeybees continue to thrive in the hive during extreme cold streaks. They gather in massive amounts to form a dense cluster around the outside of the hive when the temperature drops. As it gets colder, the cluster of bees becomes tighter and they move closer inside the hive. In order to stay warm and keep the queen warm, they exercise by rapidly vibrating their wings. It also creates air currents that expel carbon dioxide and moisture.

Not every species benefits from the extreme cold. Many invasive species are unable to handle the sub zero temperatures. Although it is unfortunate for the insects, it is good news for the plants affected by them and it could help solve issues with some invasive species in Michigan.

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Temperatures were cold enough in certain areas to freeze and kill many invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer. They are able to withstand several degrees below zero, but if temperatures hit 20 or 30 degrees below zero, they may not be able to survive.

Other invasive species do not fair as well as the emerald ash borer. The gypsy moth begins to freeze when temperatures hit below 17 degrees and the wooly adelgis, which has killed thousands of hemlock trees in the Northwest, dies when temperatures fall just below zero.

 

 

Chemicals in the Great Lakes, starving waterfowl and sand dune development: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news stories relating to conservation and the environment from around the state and country. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

Common mergansers are just one species of waterfowl that have been found dead due to starvation from the harsh winter. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons

Common mergansers are just one species of waterfowl that have been found dead due to starvation from the harsh winter. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons

DNR: Harsh winter leads to starvation, death for waterfowl (mlive): A large number of waterfowl have been found dead across the state due to harsh winter conditions. The die off can be attributed to the large amount of ice coverage on lakes throughout Michigan, preventing the birds from getting food.

Chemicals take various routes to Great Lakes (Environmental Health News): Flame retardants and combustion pollutants from PCBs that Toranto exports to Lake Ontario reach the lake even though they is transported by air. The routes that these chemicals take are important to understand in order to help regulators determine where specific chemicals come from.

Michigan’s DEQ issues permit in controversial dune project near Saugatuck (The Detroit News): Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit to allow the company Singapore Dunes LLC to build a road and 18 housing sites through a sand dune that lies near Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. They are avoiding the steep slopes, internal wetlands and endangered species. Those opposed to the project are concerned that this could destroy features of Michigan that make it stand apart from other states.

Extreme precipitation closes beaches, may endanger human health (Great Lakes Echo): Due to runoff from agriculture caused by intense precipitation, officials may close beaches due to E. Coli and other bacteria in the water. Due to high levels of snow and a potentially warmer spring, there could be implications of increased runoff and overflow sewer systems, increasing the transport of bacterium, viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms.

Rattlesnake hunters commonly use the controversial method of gassing rattlesnakes out of their holes. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnake hunters commonly use the controversial method of gassing rattlesnakes out of their holes. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnake Wranglers, Armed With Gasoline (The New York Times): To encourage rattlesnakes to come out, gasoline is often used to pump fumes into their hole to draw them out. The state of Texas’s wildlife agency is considering banning the use of gas fumes to capture rattlesnakes, adding Texas to the list of more than two dozen states that have outlawed the practice.

Michigan’s Spring Wildflowers

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

After a long, cold winter in Michigan, nothing is more refreshing and exciting than seeing the first buds of flowers peeking from the newly thawed ground. The spring and summer months are full of intense beauty and color when all of the wildflowers are in bloom, showing off their amazing color displays. Michigan offers a wide variety of spring wildflowers, many of which are located only in specific regions. MNA sanctuaries protect many of these rare and beautiful flowers, preserving their beauty for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Trillium

The trillium has been used to symbolize purity, simplicity, elegance and beauty for years. Every spring, the woods of Michigan are filled with the beauty that the trillium has to offer. Trillium typically thrives in moist, woodland settings where rich, acidic soil is present. At first glance trillium appear to have unbranched stems, but they actually produce no true leaves or stems above ground. Instead, the stem is an extension of the horizontal rhizome (a stem that grows underground continuously and sends out shoots and roots above the ground) and produces small bracts that look like leaves. These flowers have three large petals that can be found in a variety of colors. Their seeds are distributed by ants that feed on the oil-rich structure, called elaiosome, that is found on the seeds.

Four trillium species are protected in Michigan. The state lists toadshade, prairie trillium and snow trillium as threatened and painted trillium as endangered. MNA sanctuaries protect several trillium species, such as drooping trillium, red trillium, painted trillium, prairie trillium and toadshade. The biggest sources of threat are animal grazing and urban development. Deer are known to feed on the flower which leads to diminishing populations. Several MNA sanctuaries are home to this striking flower.

Dwarf lake iris

Dwarf lake iris. Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

Dwarf lake iris. Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

This beautiful flower grows nowhere else in the world but in the Great Lakes Region, making it a rare sight to see and a favorite among visitors. This unique flower is also Michigan’s state wildflower. Most of the population lies within Michigan and is heavily concentrated along the northern Great Lakes shoreline, but they are also found in Wisconsin and Ontario. They grow on sand or thin soil over limestone rich gravel or bedrock. The dwarf lake iris tolerates the full sun to near complete shade, but flowers mostly in semi open habitat. These plants bloom from Mid-May to early June and are threatened in the state of Michigan.

The dwarf lake iris can be distinguished by its tiny size and thin, yellow rhizomes or underground stems. The slender rhizomes produce fans of flattened leaves that can reach a height of six inches. The light green leaves are no more than half an inch wide. The flowers of the dwarf lake iris are a deep, dark blue that are produced singly on short stems. These flowers grow in dense bunches that form a brilliant blue carpet.

Ram’s head orchid

Ram's head orchid. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Ram’s head orchid. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

The ram’s head orchid, or ram’s head lady’s slipper, is a species of special concern in the state of Michigan. They can be found through northern lower Michigan and across the Upper Peninsula. These plants can be characterized by three to five bluish-green elliptic leaves that sprout along the stem of the flower in a spiral arrangement. They produce a small, terminal flower that has a pouched lower lip. The petals of the flower are similar to the leaves in shape, but are wavy. The flower has purple or brown sepals, which are often streaked with green. The pouch of the lip is white and marked with purple, crimson or green net-like veins and the mouth of the pouch is hairy. These flowers only grow to be about 30 centimeters tall. The ram’s head orchid is appreciated for its delicate beauty and pleasant fragrance. It is also one of the most distinctive of the lady’s slipper orchids.

The ram’s head orchid grows in confined cool, moist wetlands and coniferous forests. They also have a preference for moist, mossy bogs. They are very long-lived and can take 10 to 16 years to reach maturity. Flowering occurs from mid-May to mid-June when the flowers are pollinated by bees, insects and birds that aid in transporting the seeds to various locations.

Virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Virginia bluebells. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Virginia bluebells are ephemeral wildflowers; the blooming period occurs from mid-to late spring and lasts about three weeks. The central stem, which can reach a height up to three feet, is hairless and usually light green in color. The leaves can reach seven inches in length and are light green with a soft, floppy texture. The Virginia bluebell flowers are arranged in clusters and the tubular baby blue flowers flare at the mouth, displaying their bright yellow stamen. The flower clusters hang from arching stalks at the tips of the branches. The flower is tubular at the base and forms a bell shape towards the outer rim. They bloom from pink bulbs and when the flowers are ready for pollination, the plant increases its alkalinity to change the pink pigmentation to blue, which is a much more attractive color to various pollinators, such as butterflies and bees.This striking spring flower is a very popular species to be seen at MNA sanctuaries.

In Michigan, bluebells grow in southern floodplain forests and rich ravines. Just over ten state localities for them have been documented in Michigan. The vast majority occur in Kent and Ottawa counties.

Evening primrose

Evening primrose. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Evening primrose. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

The evening primrose is a vivid flower when it blooms in late spring. This species is a perennial with quite a short bloom period. Its flowers can be seen in May and June.

These plants produce stunning bright yellow blossoms that stand out among others. Evening primrose flowers open in clusters at the top of the plant. each flower has four petals and a slightly glossy look. The flowers themselves only last for a day when they first open in the evening. After they dazzle viewers with their brilliant yellow petals, they turn a salmon color before they die and fall off the plant. The flowers of the evening primrose have a large X- shaped pistil which projects beyond the stamens. The leaves of this plant are narrow and lance-shaped. They can reach up to six inches in length and have a silvery sheen on the surface of their petals due to short hairs that cover them. This wildflower grows close to the ground and sprawls out in areas of full sun.

Visitors will have the opportunity to see some of these spectacular species of wildflowers throughout the spring at MNA sanctuaries, so be on the lookout for some of these brilliant flowers! You can enjoy a whole weekend of wildflowers on our Wildflower Weekend Getaway, or take a guided hike during the Wildflower Walkabout series.

Lake Michigan oil spill, Asian Carp, and the Washington landslide: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from all over the state and country. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental news:

BP more than doubles estimate of Lake Michigan oil spill (Chicago Tribune): On Monday, oil leaked from BP Plc’s Whiting refinery in Indiana into Lake Michigan. The latest estimate says that 1,638 gallons of oil spilled into the lake, more than double the estimate given immediately following the spill. Officials from the EPA say the spill likely poses no long-term risks to the lake.

St. Louis River Estuary restoration: Cleaning up the past (Great Lakes Echo): Local, state, federal and non-governmental organizations are banding together to help restore the St. Louis River Estuary. It has suffered major environmental problems since the 1800s when people began destroying and shaping the landscape to make way for shipping traffic. Collaborative efforts are being made to clean up the mess.

Experts say that hydrological separation is the best way at keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Experts say that hydrological separation is the best way at keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Roger Germann: Working to keep the Asian carp out of our Great Lakes (mlive): most experts agree that hydrological separation is the best way to keep the Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes. Roger Germann, executive vice president for Great Lakes and sustainability at the Shedd Aquarium, stated the long term key is prevention and that he thinks the invasive species issues should be looked at as a national issue.

Flood insurance rates rising: Database shows impact on Michigan communities (mlive):  At least 1.1 million policy holders nationwide and more than 14,000 in Michigan with government-subsidized insurance are expected to experience steadily rising rates in the coming years as the NFIP struggles with debt created by a series of storms. Exactly how high the rates will go is undetermined.

Elusive Whale Sets New Record for Depth and Length of Dives Among Mammals (National Geographic): A new study of Curvier’s beaked whales shows that they can dive to nearly 10,000 feet. Scientists are interested in these whales because sonar activity had stranded individuals on beaches. They studied them by attaching trackers to eight whales in southern California and followed them for several months.

Danger Lingers After Landslide Kills 8 in Washington State (New York Times): A landslide that slid down from a rain-saturated mountain slope left eight people dead and at least 18 missing in Washington State. The slide reduced homes to shattered fragments and buried a state highway. Many people spent Saturday night in an emergency shelter for those who had to evacuate their homes.

 

Springtime Brings Bird Watching

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Now that spring is finally here and signs of warmer weather are in the air, birds will soon return north. We thought we would feature a few birds that can be seen throughout Michigan this spring. Keep a sharp eye out for them this season!

American Bittern

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

This well-camouflaged heron is difficult to see amongst the dense reed beds, but its distinct booming call carries far and can be heard throughout the marsh at dawn and dusk. This stocky heron is streaked with tan, brown and white over its body. Accentuating the plumage are darker wings and flight feathers, a black face and long neck streaks. The American Bittern has a three foot wingspan, but it only weighs about one pound.

The American Bittern breeds in wetlands across much of Canada and the northern half of the United States. They inhabit large, reedy wetlands and shallow freshwater marshes. Their camouflage makes the bird extremely difficult to see as it wades and stalks through the cattails and reeds. When alarmed, the bittern freezes with its head, neck and bill pointing straight up, making it become one with the reeds and almost impossible to see.

Pied-billed Grebe

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

The Pied-billed Grebe is a small, stocky and short-necked waterbird that measures only 11 to 15 inches in total length. They are dark brown with a black throat patch and the sides of their necks and flanks are grayish. Their tail is a tuft of sort wispy feathers of white. Their name comes from their pied, or two-colored, bill which is bluish-white with a distinct black vertical bar on either side. The bill is short, laterally compressed and slightly hooked downwards.

The Pied-billed Grebe is the most widely distributed grebe in the Americas. They breed in permanent ponds and marshes and require dense stands of deep water vegetation, such as cattail, for nesting and cover.  This bird is very secretive and is generally heard more than it is seen. they are most vocal during breeding season in late April and May. Their vocal array consists of a repeated series of soft and slow to start caow caow notes that build in volume and speed, followed by a series of long, wining kaooo notes.

Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

A Cooper’s Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The Cooper’s Hawk is a crow sized raptor that is found across the United States. This raptor is the scourger of the backyard bird feeder. They are 14 to 21 inches in length and have a wingspan from 27 to 36 inches. The eyes of the Cooper’s Hawk are large and yellow and a deep red. They have a black cap and a hooked bill that is well adapted for tearing flesh from their prey. Their tail is a distinct part of the breed, which can be identified by several dark bands and a white band at its tip. The white breast and belly of the hawk are crossed with reddish bars.

The Cooper’s Hawk is seen mostly flying with quick, consecutive wing beats and a short glide, though they may also soar. they occur in various types of mixed deciduous forests and open woodland throughout Michigan.

 

 Red-winged Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird perches in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via WIkimedia Commons

A male red-winged blackbird perched in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most abundant birds across North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight sitting atop cattails and reeds. This stocky bird has broad shoulders with a slender, conical bill. Red-winged Blackbirds often show a hump-backed silhouette while perched and males often sit with their tail slightly flared. They can be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses and drier meadows.

These birds are often hard to mistake if you are looking at a male. They have a jet black glossy coat with scarlet and yellow shoulder patches that they puff up or hide depending on the situation. They do everything they can to gain attention; they sit on high perches and belt their song all day. Females, which are subdued in color and are streaky brown with a paler breast and whitish eyebrow, stay lower and hidden through the vegetation while weaving their nests.

This spring, MNA is hosting a number of birding events for members and guests to enjoy. Be sure to check out some some out this season! For more information about these events, visit www.michigannature.org/events.

April 21 - Exploration Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary

April 25 - Whitefish Point Spring Fling

April 27 - Birding Hike at Columbia Nature Sanctuary