Lake Erie, Birds, and Earthworms: this week in environmental news

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Lake Erie algal bloom in 2015. Image: NASA

Michigan declares Lake Erie impaired (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder designated that state’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired on November 10. Lake Erie has been threatened by toxic algae blooms for several years, threatening drinking water quality in Toledo and limiting recreational uses. Within the past year, the governors of Michigan and Ohio and the premier of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the threat of toxic algae. They set a goal to reduce phosphorous loading up to 40 percent by 2025.

Toxins kill thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore (Great Lakes Echo): Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches. But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore. Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions. Botulism forms when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. Even as botulism begins to form, it’s down near toxic valleys that many small fish continue to eat, consuming the poison as they feed. Local and migratory birds that land on Lake Michigan, tired and famished from their journey, consume small fish like the invasive Round Goby. Having eaten the infected fish, the birds become sick and die out on the lake due to paralyzing effects.

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Restoration projects have made it possible for safe water recreational use in the Sarnia region of the St. Clair River. Image: Megan McDonnell

U.S., Canada battle St. Clair River’s polluted legacy (Great Lakes Echo): The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems. They are challen­­­­­­­­­­ges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish. In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again. There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects.

Sea lamprey, Asian carp, zebra mussels and earthworms? (Great Lakes Echo): The wriggly soil-dwellers may not have the bad rep of some of their invasive counterparts, but they do have the power to change entire ecosystems. Now a recent study has found that an abundance of earthworms causes a decrease in the small plant matter scattered on the forest floor. By eating away at what scientists call “fine root biomass” worms can significantly change the forest. Worms start a bottom-up chain reaction that can bring about fundamental environmental changes. They affect what plants are able to root and grow in the soil. The kinds of plants that grow affect which species of animals can live in a forest.

2016 Photo Contest Winners Announced!

Congratulations to our 2016 Photo Contest winners! Thank you to everyone that submitted a photo – we had many great options to choose from! Photos were submitted in three categories: Flora & Fauna, Landscapes, and People in Nature in order to capture Michigan’s natural beauty.

Grand Prize Winner!
“In Flight” at MNA’s Karner Blue Nature Sanctuary in Newaygo County by Randy Butters.

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Flora & Fauna

First Place:
“White-lined Sphinx moth” by Mary Rasmussen.

Second Place:
“Northern saw-whet owl” by Patrick Wright.

Third Place:
“Virginia Bluebells” at MNA’s Coldwater River Nature Sanctuary in Kent County by Marilyn Keigley.

Honorable Mention:
“Egret in the mist” by Deb Traxinger.

Landscapes

First Place:
“Late autumn snowstorm” at MNA’s Wilcox Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Macomb County by Jason Steel.

Second Place:
“Tannery Falls” at MNA’s Twin Waterfalls Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Alger County by Shannon Hart.

Third Place:
“Menomonee River Sunrise” by Joy Ziemnick.

Honorable Mention:
“Heron and Deer in the Fog” by Byron Drachman.

People in Nature

First Place:
“Chance Encounter” at MNA’s Newaygo Prairie by Randy Butters.

Second Place:
“Kayaking at the Sloughs” by Nathan Miller.

Third Place:
“Hiking” by Patricia Pennell.

Honorable Mention:
“Bioblitz on Lake Perrault” by Nathan Miller.

Migratory Birds, Invasive Plants, and Citizen Science Projects: this week in environmental news

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A radar image shows a large migration event that occurred recently. Bubble size indicates the relative bird density; arrow direction and length indicate the migration direction and speed. This image represents about 25-50 million birds aloft. Image: Birdcast

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds (Interlochen Public Radio): 2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south? Andrew Farnsworth, research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says how weather patterns affect birds varies by species. Some birds are dramatically affected. Some species may stay around for quite a lot longer than they might otherwise if temperatures are warmer. This effects waterfall: common loon and ducks on the Great Lakes, for example. On the other hand, some species are less affected by temperature, and instead time their trips south based on changes in the amount of daylight, such as warblers known as calendar migrants. Farnsworth says that while in general, birds are able to respond quickly to changes, they might not be able to keep up with the pace of human-caused climate change.

New research shows invasive plants can feed farms, power homes (Interlochen Public Radio): Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes. Scientists are working in the middle of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which has 10,000 acres of marshes and bogs, forest and farmland. Their team is removing invasive cattails from the area. Once these nutrients have been harvested, they are then put to good use. Working with local farmers, the harvested cattails are shredded and applied directly to crop fields where the biomass breaks down, providing organic material, as well as recycled chemical fertilizer. The invasive plants may have other economic uses as well.

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Scientists are experimenting with new uses for invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Image: Sam Corden

Interactive map helps bridge science-citizen divide (Great Lakes Echo): People can help keep their local lakes, rivers and streams healthier with a new app. The non-profit Ontario Water Rangers won the event put on by the Great Lakes Observing System to encourage the use of open source data either from GLOS or other water data collection services. The app functions like a Google Map. Clicking on a dot zooms in to display small magnifying glasses. Users can then contribute observations including but not limited to wind speed, algae growth or invasive species and read a summary of past observations.

Lake Superior gates to be automated, improving fish spawning (Newstimes): A set of gates that helps control water flow out of Lake Superior is being automated. An 80-acre area of rapids just downstream is one of the Great Lakes’ most productive fish spawning areas. Officials say the project will give the Corps more flexibility to operate the gates in ways that will improve conditions for fish.

2016 Volunteer & Donor Recognition Dinner and Silent Auction

The Michigan Nature Association

cordially invites you to the:

2016 Volunteer & Donor Recognition Dinner
and Silent Auction

Friday, October 28 at 6:30 p.m.
Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center
Big Ten Room C (Lobby Level)
Michigan State University, East Lansing
219 South Harrison Road

Please join the Board of Trustees and staff for a night to honor dedicated volunteers and generous donors. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy a delicious meal and a chance to catch up with other MNA members and supporters.

Special Guest Speaker
Dr. John Hartig
Edward G. Voss Conservation Science Award recipient
John is the Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. He is a highly regarded Great Lakes scientist and author of Bringing Conservation to Cities.

Silent Auction
The dinner will feature a special silent auction to benefit MNA’s Environmental Fund!

RSVP by October 21
Contact Jess Foxen at (866) 223-2231 or email jfoxen@michigannature.org.

Tickets: $30 per person
Cash bar with dinner provided by MNA.

Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

Forest Birds, Fish Slides, and Rare Butterflies: this week in environmental news

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Magnolia Warbler. Image: Jon Swanson.

Great Lakes forest birds mostly stable or increasing (Great Lakes Echo): A record study that took 25 years and 700 birdwatchers and researchers has found that most birds at three different national forests in the Great Lakes region are either increasing or stable. The study is another great example of the important role volunteer bird watchers can play in tracking populations of the birds they love. The count became an annual tradition for many bird enthusiasts. The study is cause for guarded optimism about the state of forest birds in the Northwestern Great Lakes Basin.

Fish slides, anyone? (Great Lakes Echo): Sturgeon go back to the river to spawn safely. But hydroelectric dams often block rivers, forcing fish to spawn in more dangerous spaces. Listen to this podcast to learn more about how the River Alliance of Wisconsin is giving fish a little boost.

Healthy ravines for healthy watersheds (Great Lakes Echo): Created by the same retreating glaciers that carved and filled the Great Lakes, you could say lakeshore ravines are the lakes’ blood relatives. Great lakes ravines face deterioration at the hands of invasive species and pollution. Conservationists are working to address this issue.

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The Poweshiek Skipperling is an endangered butterfly that lives mainly in prairie fen wetlands in southeast Michigan. Image: Dave Cuthrell, MSU Extension.

Rare butterfly rests its wings in unique SE Michigan ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Listen to WKAR’s radio story about Kevin Lavery’s expedition to find the endangered Poweshiek Skipperling. It’s only found in a half a dozen places on Earth, and two-thirds of them are in Michigan. The rare butterfly once thrived on the Great Plains is now fighting for its survival in Michigan.

Enter in MNA’s 2016 Photo Contest!

Do you love nature photography? Then the Michigan Nature Association is looking to showcase your photos in the sixth annual MNA Photo Contest!

2016 Photo Contest

Winners will be featured in an upcoming issue of Michigan Nature magazine and will appear in a special gallery on the MNA website. Visit the Photo Contest Gallery to see last year’s winners.

Photos can be taken anywhere in the state of Michigan, and can highlight Michigan’s natural beauty in any way. Photos will be judged in three categories: Flora & Fauna, Landscapes, and People in Nature.

To enter, download and fill out the entry form. Photos and completed forms can be emailed to michigannature@michigannature.org or mailed on a CD or flashdrive to the MNA office.

Entries must be received by September 1, 2016. 

All photos must be:
• taken in the state of Michigan.
• in one of the three categories.
• submitted with a filled-out entry form.
• submitted as a jpg, tif or gif file (photo quality of 300 dpi is preferred).
• received no later than September 1, 2016.

We look forward to seeing your favorite parts of nature and some of Michigan’s best flora, fauna and landscapes through your lens!