The Upper Peninsula’s abundance of waterfalls

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Besides being the Great Lakes State, another unique thing that attracts people to Michigan is the hundreds of waterfalls all around the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the fact that there are so many waterfalls in the UP, surprisingly there are only a few in the Lower Peninsula.

Most Michiganders know the story of how the Great Lakes were created; after an ice age, the melting process began, with some glaciers being extremely dense and thick, gouging holes into the earth. These gouges formed the Great Lakes as they are today after the glaciers finally melted away and the land became populated with plants, animals and people.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

The Upper Peninsula’s waterfalls are made up of sandstone and were formed over thousands of years. Much of the formation is due to how water falls over or on top of the rock that makes it up. Water erodes the rock over time and can create ridges and falls and a water basin by wearing down soft rock. The water basin at the bottom of the falls where water is collected.

Some waterfalls are more cascading, others have more of a sharp drop-off and some are considered rapids because of their location and how water flows.

MNA boasts the Twin Waterfalls Plant Preserve Nature Sanctuary in Alger County. The sanctuary was acquired in 1986 in honor of MNA member Rudy Olson. The Munising Formation is also an exquisite part of the sanctuary, making up the vertical walls of the waterfalls. This formation is made of 550-million year old sandstone which is soft and erodes more quickly. The sandstone of the upper-rock which caps the formation is made of harder sandstone, which takes much longer to erode and makes up the Au Train Formation. This slower rate of erosion results in the shelf over which the water drops.

Click here to see a map of all Upper Peninsula waterfalls.

 

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.

Bee colony collapse disorder affecting Michigan

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

A bee pollinates a peach flower. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

With summer in Michigan comes the hot sun along with plenty of critters coming out of their habitats. Among animals and insects that emerge, the honey bee is one of them, essential to maintain life of plants in ecosystems and the creator of sweet, gooey, golden honey.

The importance of bees

Bees are one of the main pollinators for several plants including flowers, fruits and vegetables. Bees have a hand in much of the produce Americans eat. Pollination is the process of moving pollen from one part of flowers to another, causing fertilization. This contributes to growth and production of flowers, fruits and vegetables. This process is important to maintaining ecosystems and natural plant communities.  Without insects like bees to pollinate flowers and other crops, the entire ecosystem is affected, causing a decline in natural flora in Michigan, an issue that has already arisen due to many other factors. Click here for more facts about bees.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

A large honeycomb. Photo by Julie Grant courtesy of Michiganradio.org.

Colony collapse disorder

Colony collapse disorder, or CCD, is a disorder in bee colonies connected to their decline in recent years. Scientists have not pinpointed a specific cause of this decrease but infer that climate change, pesticides, mite infestations and bee disease have all contributed to CCD, according to an article in the Washington Post. Hives have been dying each year, and it’s not uncommon to lose at least five percent of colonies in a winter, said a 2011 article from Michiganradio.org. According to the article, there was an overall 30 percent nation-wide decline at the time.

Repercussions in Michigan

With CCD on the rise, the amount of crops produced annually falls. This affects the entire U.S. but is a large problem in Michigan because of the state’s agricultural industry. Farmers have seen a decline in their crops. Michigan fell in pollen production in 2013, to ninth in the nation from seventh. Not only is CCD bad for crops and honey production, it can cost beekeepers thousands of dollars.

Restoration programs

President Obama showed his support for stopping CCD in his launch of a task force related to this specific issue on June 23, according to CNN.  $50 million will be allocated for the purpose of research to stop CCD and help restore bee colonies and the economy. According to a statement from the White House, bees contribute “more than $15 billion through their vital role in keeping fruits, nuts and vegetables in our diets.” Programs like this will help the overall nation to try and stop the decline of bees and boost the economy.

Back in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the allocation of $3 million to Midwestern states including Michigan for the assistance of farmers who would participate in projects aimed at improving pollinator health.  “The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an MLive article.

Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.

 

School’s out for summer: fun activities for kids

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The final bell has rung and students of all ages have rushed out the door to greet the warm summer season.

There are plenty of fun outdoor activities to do while enjoying Michigan’s lush foliage from now through September that can be great for kids of all ages and their families.

Here are some entertaining activities to keep healthy and energized during summer break:

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

Plan your visit to an MNA sanctuary near you

MNA has over 170 nature sanctuaries in both peninsulas throughout the Great Lakes State. Each sanctuary is unique with its own type of habitat and fauna. Visiting a sanctuary is a great way to explore Michigan’s nature and learn about native plants and animals. There are also several opportunities to volunteer to preserve native plants and animals with the upcoming volunteer days in different sanctuaries.

When planning your visit to an MNA nature sanctuary remember that only foot travel is permitted so leave bikes and motorized vehicles at home. Remember to be respectful of the plants in the sanctuary and do not pull plants or collect seeds. Also remember to stay on trails and, if guided by a steward, remain close. More detailed information about sanctuary visitation policies can be found here.

Find out about upcoming events here. Visitors may also bring cameras and take photos but are asked to be aware to not accidentally harm plants or animals. Here’s your chance to showcase those photography skills and enter the MNA photo contest, submissions due August 1.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

Visit parks

Michigan has many local parks which can provide an array of fun activities. For those living in the metro-Detroit area, Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer several opportunities to get out and have fun. One notable park is Kensington Metropark, located in Milford Township. Kensington offers nature trails, a biking/walking 8-mile loop, play-scapes, a farm center, boating, golfing, swimming and water slides. Click here for more details on pricing and permit fees.

For a statewide searchable listing of parks across Michigan, check out the Pure Michigan website.

Join an outdoor recreational sports team

For something fun to commit to, joining a sports team can be fun and beneficial for health. Baseball, softball, soccer and other outdoor sports might be offered in summer leagues locally. Check local websites to find out more information. Arranging just-for-fun groups to play in parks or other public areas can be fun too.

Go for a swim

Sometimes the only way to beat the heat is to take a dip. Michigan offers many lakes and public pools for residents to cool off in the hot summer season. Making a visit to one of the Great Lakes is also fun for the whole family. Be sure you check for open public beach spots. Also take note of beaches with or without lifeguards. Make sure to take proper precautions like water-wings and supervision for small children. Check out Pure Michigan’s guide for the Great Lakes here.

Explore Michigan’s history

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

There are many different parts of Michigan with rich histories and stories behind them. Planning a visit to local areas or museums can be fun and educational. Here are some fun, popular places to check out:

On your visit to any lake, park or nature sanctuary make sure you abide by their individual rules and respect the nature around you.

 

MNA Volunteer Days: Red Cedar River Plant Preserve

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Part of the boardwalk at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

Part of the boardwalk at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve Sanctuary. Photo via MNA archives.

The Red Cedar River Plant Preserve is more than just a 10-acre sanctuary in Williamston, Michigan, and the only one in Ingham County. This sanctuary is one of five MNA sanctuaries within the boundaries of a city and is close to the MNA’s former headquarters.

Usually land within cities has been far too degraded for MNA to claim as a sanctuary, but because of the floodplains within the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve, this area has surprisingly maintained its natural character so close to an urban area. This sanctuary was historically known as the Williamston Floodplain.

The sanctuary consists of floodplains and wetlands because it is so close to the Red Cedar River. There are also marshy and swamp-like areas as well.

These habitats are home to plant-life like marsh marigold, skunk cabbage and jewelweed. Some types of trees that grow on the floodplain ridge are black cherry and red oak. The ridge is welcoming to visitors, giving them a place to walk and explore during spring flooding season.

Volunteers at the boardwalk. Photo via MNA archives.

Volunteers at the boardwalk. Photo via MNA archives.

This sanctuary is one of the few that MNA has built a boardwalk on and it is one of the longest and the only with an observation deck included in its design.

The area was donated in 2005 by Doug and Darlene Price, who with the help of engineer David Geyer have worked on protecting important parts of the habitat. MNA collaborated with them to change the future plans of the development of uplands in order to preserve the area within the sanctuary.

The redevelopment of the sanctuary’s boardwalk will help protect the floodplain. The old design could not withstand the severe flooding so MNA has organized volunteer days to rebuild the boardwalk with a design engineered to allow it to be more stable and provide more access to the sanctuary. About 40 feet of the boardwalk must be built this year of a total of 150 feet, and MNA is enlisting all the help it can get.

MNA extends its gratitude to engineers Jim Rossman  and Paul Rice for volunteering their time to develop the design, cost estimates and construction phases, and stewards Jim and Besty Pifer who assisted in the planning process.

Upcoming Volunteer Days:

  • Thursday, July 10 at 9 a.m.
  • Thursday, July 24 at 9 a.m.
  • Wednesday, August 20 at 9 a.m.
  • Thursday, September 11 at 10 a.m.
  • Thursday, September 18 at 10 a.m.

Please contact Rachel Maranto for more information about the project and volunteer days at rmaranto@michigannature.org.

Species spotlight: piping plover

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

As Michigan tourists pack up their bags and head for beaches in the north, they should keep an eye out this summer for the endangered piping plover.

The piping plover population has significantly declined in the Great Lakes areas because of recreational beach development and tourism.

piping plover

The piping plover stands atop shells in sand in shallow, flowing water.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

The piping plover is a sand bird which nests in North America in the Great Plains, along the coasts of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

The piping plover is sandy in color on top with a white underbelly. The plover also has a black band around its neck and a black crown on its head. Its legs are orange but fade to yellow in the winter.

Piping plovers prefer to make their habitat in sandy areas such as dunes, gravel beaches and sand bars.

Sites where the piping plover is most commonly found are Texas, Louisiana and Florida because of the high concentration recorded in those areas. Out of a total of 1,372 breeding pairs, only 32 have appeared in Michigan.

This bird has been classified as endangered since 1986 — it is endangered in the Great Lakes area and threatened in other North American regions.

The plover feeds on wet sand, in any nearby areas it can find: algal flats, shorelines of streams, ephemeral ponds and lagoons to name a few.

They utilize small sand dunes for protection from hot and stormy weather.

Breeding begins in March and extends through mid-May, with the piping plover laying three or four eggs in a shallow, camouflaged nest of pebbles and shells. Both parents are involved in prenatal care of the eggs, each sitting atop them to keep them warm. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks until they are able to take flight.

The chicks will fly after 30 days and starting in July through October, they will take off on their journey.

An unscathed habitat is a necessity to ensure hatch-lings will be able to survive and make it to migrating season. Unfortunately, land development and tourism has deterred the piping plover population from using Michigan beaches as its habitat.