Mammals in the Great Lakes State

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is recognizing 2017’s Michigan Mammals Week July 10-16 and wishes to highlight some of our favorite species living in the Great Lakes State.

Take a quick inventory and marvel at Michigan’s various mammals, from bats to bears! Summer is a great time to plan outdoor adventures in the state of Michigan and one of the best times to observe the abundance of mammals found at MNA sanctuaries! Will you encounter a great Michigan mammal this summer?

We encourage you to check out our list of MNA sanctuaries specially selected for their seasonal offerings to those looking to enjoy opportunities in Michigan’s great outdoors.

 

MICHIGAN BATS

Bat are as misunderstood as they are intriguing. They are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. A bat’s wing is unique because unlike wings of birds and insects, it’s actually skin stretched over long, thin fingers which can connect the arms and legs and even the tail.

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Michigan bat.  Photo: Bat Specialists of Michigan.

Adapted to flying at night, bats can navigate in total darkness, famous for their use of echolocation. By creating high-frequency sound pulses that bounce off nearby objects, bats use the returning echoes to determine an object’s size, shape and distance. This technique all but gives away the location of prey while guiding bats’ aerial movements.

Michigan bats diet consists of a variety of moths, flies, beetles and other insects, and can capture up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour. Bats mostly live in forests that are situated near water, where insects thrive.

In winter months, bats have adapted to hibernate due to the lack of insects to hunt. Although some bats migrate to warmer regions, many can hibernate in the numerous caves and mines throughout Michigan.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-70016–,00.html

Explore the bats native to Michigan:


MICHIGAN BLACK BEARS

The only species of bear found in Michigan─the black bear─is mostly found in western North America. The black bear moniker is mostly deserved, with most sporting black or dark brown fur, but the black bear’s fur can actually vary from browns and blondes to gray-blues.

On all fours, adults reach nearly three feet tall, spanning 3-5 feet in length. Adult females average smaller than males, weighing up to 300 pounds with adult males weighing up to 500 pounds! Adult males and females share company during breeding seasons, but are otherwise solitary creatures after mothers have reared their cubs.

During their seasonal retirement, Michigan black bears drop their body temperature by just a few degrees, and because of this are not true hibernators, as a hibernating animal’s body temperature will level with the temperature of its environment. For this reason, bears can be awakened easily during their denning period and will flee right away when feeling threatened.

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Michigan black bear. Photo: James A. Galletto.

They typically enter their dens in December, emerging in early-to mid-spring. Dens are made in rock cavities, root masses, standing trees, openings under fallen trees or as excavated or constructed ground nests. Cubs are usually born in January and without their fur, relying heavily on their mother. Yet they grow quickly, reaching up to 60 pounds by the end of their first summer and staying with their mother until they’re about a year and a half old and may enjoy a lifespan of over 30 years.

Michigan’s black bears are often found in heavily forested areas, but also reside in deciduous lowlands, uplands, and coniferous swamps. They continue moving into the southern Lower Peninsula but inhabit a variety of landscapes, rotating habitats with seasonal availability of food.

The size of a bear’s “home-range” in which it resides varies with its sex and age. Mothers of newborn cubs stay within smaller home-ranges of about 50 square miles which gradually increase as their cubs grow up, while male home-ranges average 335 square miles, generally overlapping with other bears.

As omnivores, black bears are opportunistic feeders, using both plant and animal matter and feed heavily in the fall to store fat for winter. They feed on wetland vegetation in the spring and  fruits and berries in summer and fall, the majority of animal matter consumed consisting of insects and larvae. Yet bears are capable of preying on most small to medium-sized animals, and even acquire foods from humans, such as fruit and vegetable crops, apiaries, bird feed and garbage, with human activity factoring into a bear’s choice of home-range.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10363_10856_57530—,00.html

Explore more fascinating information on the black bears of Michigan:

 

MICHIGAN FLYING SQUIRRELS

Michigan’s most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel can be found throughout the state, yet few people have had the opportunity to view them. Entirely nocturnal, Michigan is home to two species of flying squirrels: the northern flying squirrel inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while the southern flying squirrel inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.

Flying squirrels inhabit forests, parks and other woodlands, nesting in summer and denning in winter in the cavities of mature trees.

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Michigan flying squirrel. Photo: Steve Gettle.

Although their aerial maneuverability is certainly impressive, unlike Michigan’s bats, flying squirrels are not actually capable of flight. Instead, they are equipped with loose, furry skin attached between their front and back legs, helping them glide between the trees of their wooded homes.

For a chance to see these creatures after dark, the Michigan DNR suggests using a red light to illuminate bird feeders. You may just spot a Michigan flying squirrel having a midnight meal! The red light won’t bother feeding squirrels, and allows you to see their activity after dark.

Although populations remain large, the northern flying squirrel is no longer being found in their historic ranges, while researchers record higher numbers in areas previously uninhabited by them. Researchers have found evidence suggesting the flying squirrel populations are at risk in the northern region of the Lower Peninsula, studying why flying squirrel populations in the north are decreasing while southern populations are increasing.

Michigan State University researchers are attempting to map the ranges of the two species for comparison to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-32998–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN WOLVES

The return of wolves in Michigan is a story of successful wildlife recovery. State and federal protection of wolves enabled the comeback of the species throughout the western Great Lakes Region. In Michigan, wolves eat deer, beaver, rodents and other small mammals, but also snack on insects, nuts, berries and grasses. They are the only Canid species in Michigan that hunts in a social unit (the pack) and although wolves can go for a week without eating, when they do eat, their meal may include 20 pounds of meat at a time.

The largest member of the Canid family (wild dogs), wolves are native to Michigan and were once present in all 83 counties. Yet persecution and active predator control programs throughout the 20th century virtually eliminated wolves from Michigan, and by 1840, they could no longer be found in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula. By 1935, they had completely disappeared from the Lower Peninsula, and had nearly vanished from the Upper Peninsula by 1960, when a state-paid bounty on wolves was finally repealed.

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Michigan wolf. Photo: Monty Sloan.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was home to the last known pups born during this era, and the species remained unprotected in Michigan until the state Legislature granted full legal protection in 1965. It was then that the federal government listed the gray wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, at a time when Michigan’s wolf population was estimated at only six animals in the U.P., along with an isolated population on Isle Royale.

And it just so happened then in the 1970s an increasing number of wolf sightings and occasional encounters with motorists in the U.P. were reported. An attempt at translocating four wolves from Minnesota to the U.P. was made in 1974, but all four animals were killed by humans within eight months, before any successful reproduction could occur. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) subsequently decided to let wolf recovery happen naturally without human intervention.

Natural emigration of wolves from Minnesota, Ontario and Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula was first documented in the 1980s, when a pair of wolves was discovered in the central U.P. The pair had pups in 1990, and by 1992, when the population numbered an estimated 21 animals, it was clear wolves were starting to successfully rebound in the state, particularly in the U.P. due to the availability of prey and timber harvesting practices that created a prime habitat for deer.

Through continued extensive conservation efforts over the following years, the Michigan/Wisconsin combined population currently numbers a more remarkable 1,000 wolves. In light of this significant recovery of the wolf population, the state Legislature removed wolves from the state list of endangered species in April 2009, and reclassified wolves as a protected, nongame species. But in January 2012, wolves were removed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the federal endangered species list and returned management authority to the state level. Yet in December of 2014, a federal court order returned wolves to the Federal Endangered Species list. An appeal of this decision is ongoing.

A large part of the recovery success story is also attributed to support from the public. Survey results from the mid-1990s, when wolves first began to rebound in the U.P., supported wolf recovery. Continued social acceptance of a self-sustaining wolf population is critical to maintaining the population’s “recovered” status and retaining state management authority.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-32569–,00.html

MICHIGAN RED FOX

Every county in Michigan is home to red foxes! They’re highly mobile mammals, hunting alone and making shelter in fields, meadows, streams, low bush, and shrub cover and along woods and beaches. Yet you may find a red fox in your backyard; or wherever it might look for an unwanted snack!

Red foxes are members of the Canidae (dog) family, are opportunistic eaters, making a meal out of nearly anything available. They will eat insects, plants, fruits, berries, seeds, or birds, frogs and even snakes. They may also eat small mammals such as mice, rabbits, and squirrels, but could grab a bite to eat in garden vegetables, garbage or pet foods. Some foxes may cause a problem if they lose their fear of humans and learn to kill small farm animals like chickens, and so steps should be taken to ensure foxes or other wild animals are not fed by humans.

A primarily nocturnal mammal, red foxes are most active at night, commonly spotted at early morning or late evening. However, you could stumble upon a red fox during the day, especially in open areas─but from a distance, their sleek physique may have you second guessing if you saw a cat!

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Michigan red fox. Photo: Koryos.

They may look familiar to your dog, but slender and smaller, with long, bushy tails over 2 feet long. Because their fur makes them look bigger, red foxes are lighter than they may appear. The titular red color accents their faces and tops of their heads, with orange or yellow fur on their necks. Their white-tipped tails are outlined with black fur, as well as their ear tips. A red fox is gloved with dark black or brown paws, while the insides of theirs ears, chest, and belly are creamy white.

A fox likes to make its shelter in well-drained, dry areas, and can be found in the middle of fields, on woodland edges, ridges, or any place which provides shelter. Fox families burrow in the ground to make a “den” with two entrances, usually by excavating old woodchuck or badger holes. This place is where they can safely raise their young, and if they wish, share their den with a second family.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-61328–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN COYOTE

Coyotes are found throughout Michigan and have dispersed into southern Michigan without assistance from the DNR. Coyotes are found in rural to urban areas and are quite common but extremely good at remaining unnoticed by humans, even while living in close proximity.

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Michigan coyote. Photo: Perry Backus.

Coyotes can be difficult to distinguish from a medium sized German shepherd dog from a distance. There is wide variation in the coyote’s color, but generally their upper body is yellowish gray, and the fur covering the throat and belly is white to cream color. The coyote’s ears are pointed and stand erect, unlike the ears of domestic dogs that often droop. When observed running, coyotes carry their bushy, black tipped tail below the level of their back, in comparison to wolves that carry their tail in a horizontal position while running.

This member of the dog family is extremely adaptable and survives in virtually all habitat types common in Michigan. They are most abundant in areas where adequate food, cover, and water are available. The size of a coyote’s home range depends on the food and cover resources available and on the number of other coyotes in an area, but it generally averages between 8 and 12 square miles. Mated pairs and 4 to 7 pups occupy the home range during the spring and summer seasons in Michigan.

People are most likely to see coyotes during their breeding period, which occurs in Michigan from mid-January into March. As fall approaches, pups begin dispersing from the den site to establish home ranges of their own. These young dispersing animals sometimes wander into urban areas. Coyotes are active day and night; however, peaks in activity occur at sunrise and sunset. Coyotes generally feed at night. They are opportunistic and will eat almost anything available. Small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, hares, and squirrels are preferred foods, but will also eat fruits, plants, birds, and snakes. In urban areas, coyotes are attracted to garbage, garden vegetables, and pet foods.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-60378–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN MOOSE

Moose are native to Michigan and occurred throughout nearly the entire state prior to European settlement. Moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s, and only a few scattered individuals remain in the Upper Peninsula.

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Michigan moose. Photo: Al Hikes.

Moose are the largest members of the deer family and the tallest mammal in North America ranging from 5-7 feet. Their massive bodies can weigh up to 725 to 1,100 pounds! The moose’s coloration can vary from grayish- or reddish-brown to the occasional all-black individual.

Since moose prefer colder climates, they only live in areas that have seasonal snow cover. Boreal forests with shrubby growth and immature trees along the cedar swamps, marshes, and alder-willow thickets near waterways are popular places to find moose.

Moose is an Algonquin term that means “twig eater”. They tend to graze on leaves, bark, pine cones, twigs, and buds of aspen, maple, and birch trees and shrubs. They also eat aquatic plants like water lilies, rushes, arrowheads, and horsetails.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_58476—,00.html

 

MICHIGAN COUGAR

Michigan cougars, also called mountain lions, were originally native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. Over the past few years, numerous cougar sighting reports have been received from various locations throughout the state. Today the species in Michigan is listed as endangered and is protected under state law.

Cougars are the second largest cat in North America─they vary between 5-9 feet long and can weigh up to 150-200 pounds. Unlike other big cats, however, the cougar cannot roar. Instead, the large feline purrs like a house cat.

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Michigan cougar. Photo: Eric Pickhartz.

Inhabiting various ecosystems from mountains to deserts to sea-level, they make their home anywhere there is shelter and prey. Cougars are primarily nocturnal although they can be active during the day. They are solitary and secretive animals that prefer to hunt from cover. Generally they prey on deer but also feed on smaller animals if necessary, including domestic animals and livestock. Cougars have even been known to eat insects.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_43573—,00.html

Check out the Michigan DNR website to find programs near you celebrating and teaching about Michigan’s great mammals, with activities like hikes, animal tracking programs, and more.

 

Species Spotlight: the rufa red knot

By Susan Sorg, nature writer

Using its internal compass and the moon, stars, and sun, the rufa red knot makes one of the longest migrations on Earth, nearly a 20,000 mile round-trip flight from the southernmost tip of South America to its Arctic nesting grounds. Along the way, the red knot may face multiple risks—peregrine falcons, coastal development, and hurricanes. But since the overfishing of horseshoe crab in the 1990s, which caused a decline of the red knots’ critical food, the population has plummeted.

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The migration route of red knots from Tierra del Fuego in South America to their breeding grounds in Canada. Graphic: Guilbert Gates.

Rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is a large sandpiper weighing an average 4.8 ounces with a 20-inch wingspan, about the size of an American robin. There are three subspecies in North America and six species worldwide; rufa red knot is the eastern North American species. Their characteristic rusty ‘rufous’ plumage is the perfect camouflage in the Arctic breeding grounds to blend with wild grasses and wildflowers. In the fall they molt to a bland grey and white coloring for protection on the beaches of their South American wintering grounds.

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Rufa red knot. Photo: Dick Daniels.

Red knots and horseshoe crabs share a long history of interconnection, a delicate synchronicity of nature—the spawning of millions of horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay each spring is precisely timed with the red knots’ arrival in May. On its northward migration, the red knots’ key stopover is Delaware Bay—roughly half-way from their wintering grounds, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the Arctic nesting grounds.

Nothing in nature exists alone. The fragile relationship of the rufa red knot and the ancient horseshoe crab is one of nature’s many delicate partnerships. With the decline of horseshoe crabs came the quick decline of the red knot—both populations have dropped about 75% since the 1990s. The rufa red knot is one of the most rapid and serious shorebird declines.

At Delaware Bay, the red knot must quickly refuel for energy to successfully complete the last leg of the long journey to the Arctic and breed. This event has been evolutionarily perfected over millions of years. When the red knots arrive, they are exhausted and starved after four or more days flying nonstop from South America and must refuel with horseshoe crab eggs which provide easily digested protein. They can double their weight during this 12-14 day stopover, and this body fat is necessary to reach the Arctic and successfully breed.

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The red knot survival is profoundly linked to the crabs, a species older than dinosaurs. Photo: Jan Van De Kam.

Almost the entire eastern North American population of red knots will congregate in Delaware Bay during spring migration. “Historically, more than 100,000 red knots stopped at Delaware Bay each spring. By 2004, this number had dropped to little more than 13,000” (American Bird Conservancy, February 2015). Although the horseshoe crab population is reported to have stabilized since improved protections restrict overfishing, concerns remain as to whether the crab population will recover fast enough for the red knot. Volunteers protect the Delaware Bay during spawning season, and horseshoe crabs used in medical research are also returned alive back to the ocean.

Climate change has now emerged as a greater threat. In 2014, the rufa red knot was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is the “first bird listed explicitly because its existence is imperiled by global warming” (“Red Knots Are Battling Climate Change—On Both Ends of the Earth,” Deborah Cramer, Audubon Magazine; May/June 2016). Rising sea levels and storms may engulf the red knots’ coastal habitat, and erratic temperatures can cause timing ‘mismatches’ (asynchronies) in nesting. Chicks need to hatch simultaneously with the insects’ hatching to guarantee abundant food.

Coastal habitat conservation efforts in Michigan which benefit the endangered piping plover, pitcher’s thistle, Houghton’s goldenrod, and Lake Huron tansy also benefit the rufa red knot, as the species utilize similar habitat. Red knots are an uncommon migrant in Michigan and never abundant here, but could be spotted along Great Lakes shorelines heading north in late May or again in late July through September on their southern migration. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it is possible to spot a red knot at MNA’s Lake Superior Nature Sanctuary or Whitefish Point, and in the Lower Peninsula, Point Mouillee State Game Area, Tawas Point State Park, and Lake Erie Metropark at the southeastern point of the state.

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Climate change may extensively reduce the red knot’s breeding and roosting habitats. Photo: Greg Breese.

Half the species of shorebirds in the United States and Canada are either endangered or of special concern, according to the U.S. and Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plans. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network has adopted a conservation strategy that is currently focusing on protecting 97 critical sites internationally, which includes Delaware Bay. For more information visit http://www.whsrn.org/western-hemisphere-shorebird-reserve-network and the USFWS at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/redknot/ to learn more.

Happy National Pollinator Week

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

This year, the Michigan Nature Association is recognizing one decade of National Pollinator Week, put into place by the U.S. Senate to recognize the critical role pollinators have in ecosystem health and agriculture, and to recognize “the value of partnership efforts to increase awareness about pollinators and support for protecting and sustaining pollinators.”

pollinator weekThe U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior have designated June 19-25 as National Pollinator Week in 2017 ─ a statement on how critical pollinators are to food production and ecosystems.

National Pollinator Week is a time to share the news about the need for healthy pollinator populations (bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles) and what can be done to protect them. This important awareness week addresses the devastating effects that declining pollinator populations will continue to have on agriculture and ecosystems that we all rely on.

The National Pollinator Week is now celebrated and recognized by countries across the globe, where many are celebrating healthy ecosystems and the services provided by pollinators and their positive effect on all of our lives, from supporting wildlife to keeping watersheds healthy.

For more information, visit The Pollinator Partnership, the largest non-profit dedicated exclusively to promoting the health of pollinators through conservation, education, and research.

To see a list of events taking place in Michigan this week, check out http://www.pollinator.org/pollinatorweek/events#Michigan:

Michigan BeePalooza 2017 bumble
6/18/2017, 1:00 PM
1066 Bogue Street East Lansing, 48824
“A fun afternoon event on Father’s Day at the MSU Demonstration Gardens in East Lansing, with interactive educational displays about the Bees of Michigan, beekeeping, bee conservation for homeowners, bumble bee ecology, face painting, and more!”
https://www.facebook.com/events/712867558881877 ; http://www.beepalooza.org

Pollinator Day 2017
6/24/2017, 12:00 PM
34051 Ryan Road, Sterling Heights, 48310
“Eckert’s Greenhouse is hosting an Annual Pollinator Day! Go to three different stations to learn about the importance of Butterflies, Bees, Birds and Bats! Let us help you make a friendly pollinator garden from our wide variety of annuals and perennials.” http://www.eckertsgreenhouse.com/specials–events.html

Free Seminar: Create A Garden To Attract Pollinators
6/24/2017, 10:00 AM
English Gardens, West Bloomfield, 48322
“Our experts will share tips on creating a garden that pollinators will love to call home.” http://www.englishgardens.com/events/create-a-garden-to-attract-pollinators/
Contact information: ewinger@englishgardens.com

Stewardship Workday At Bluffs Nature Area
6/24/2017 9:00 AM
222 Sunset Rd, Ann Arbor, 48103
“Bluffs Nature Area offers trails for bikers, walkers and runners along with interesting views of the river and a small hidden prairie. Volunteers are needed to pull invasive plants that provide little food for wildlife and crowd out native wildflowers.”
www.a2gov.org/NAP; 734.794.6627; NAP@a2gov.org

For a complete look at all National Pollinator Week events in the U.S. this week take a look at this map: http://pollinator.org/npw_events.htm.

 

 

3rd Edition of Walking Paths Release

Order Now! 
3rd Edition of Walking Paths & Protected Areas of the Keweenaw

Walking Paths cover

Walking Paths & Protected Areas of the Keweenaw is a guide that features publicly accessible nature and wildlife sanctuaries, preserves, and parks located in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula that have been protected through citizen action and private initiative.

These special places provide both residents and visitors the opportunity to encounter a variety of native habitats, interesting plant species, and unique geological features in this nothernmost part of Michigan, as well as a glimpse of Michigan before European settlement and the nineteenth century copper boom. These are places where natural processes can unfold with minimal human interruption or alteration.

List of Sanctuaries in Walking Paths 3rd Ed. 2


Reserve Your Copy Before It’s Available In Stores!

Reserve your copy on our website,
calling 866-223-2231 or emailing
michigannature@michigannature.org.

Spring 2017 Michigan Nature Magazine

MNA is no stranger to the fight to protect vulnerable species. For 65 years MNA has worked hard to secure and restore habitat and manage lands so rare plants and animals have a chance. A new endangered species listing hits hard even when it comes with the good news that federal protections will be put in place to help recover the species.

It also hits hard because of the news from Washington D.C. and Lansing about proposed deep cuts to programs that protect these vulnerable species.

The current political climate underscores the foresight of MNA’s founders. 65 years ago, a small group of spirited individuals took matters into their own hands and established an organization to do what they felt government was ignoring. How many more endangered species listings would there be without groups like MNA?

So today when so many headlines bring dismay, you only need to open the pages of Michigan Nature to find some really terrific stories of great work to protect our natural heritage. Stories made possible by people who deeply care and give from the heart – landowners, members, donors, volunteers and you.

Partnerships and collaboration are key. If the last 65 years have taught us anything, they’ve taught us that we cannot do it alone.

MNA’s mission brings people together so we can build a brighter future. We have been doing so for 65 years and will continue to do so for the next 65 years and beyond. Thank you for doing your part.

Spring 17 magazine cover

7th Annual Photo Contest Now Open!

2017 Photo Contest - jpeg

Calling all nature enthusiasts! Do you love nature photography? Then the Michigan Nature Association is looking to showcase your photos in the 7th Annual Photo Contest!

Winners will be featured on the MNA website and will be used in upcoming issues of Michigan Nature magazine. Visit the Photo Contest Gallery to see last year’s winners.

Photos can be taken anywhere in the state of Michigan, and should 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 2017 Photo Contest Entry Form.
Photos and completed forms can be emailed to Jess at jfoxen@michigannature.org or mailed on a CD or flashdrive to the MNA office.

Entries must be received by September 1, 2017.

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 highly preferred).
  • received no later than September 1, 2017.

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

Go Birding on MNA Sanctuaries

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Bust out your binoculars and bring your field guides! Spring is one of the best times to observe the abundance of birds to be found in MNA sanctuaries, including vast raptor migrations in the Upper Peninsula and the nesting habitats of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, warblers and finches throughout the rest of the state. Below is a list of several such sanctuaries noted to be particularly good destinations for spring birding starting in the Keweenaw and moving down to the Indiana/Ohio border.

Many more opportunities are to be found, however, so we encourage you to check out our list of other MNA sanctuaries specially selected for their seasonal offerings to those looking to enjoy the great outdoors.

 

Keweenaw Peninsula – U.P.

James H. Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The drive along the mountain ridge top is often proclaimed to have the most outstanding scenery and provide the most dramatic in Michigan. A short 0.75 mile loop trail offers a breathtaking view of Lake Superior.

The outlook also provides an extraordinary opportunity to bird watch during their spring migration. Tens of thousands of hawks, eagles, vultures, falcons and other soaring birds funnel north onto narrowing landmasses, including the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Juvenile_Cooper's_hawk_(Accipiter_cooperii) Alan Vernon permission granted

Juvenile Cooper’s hawk. Photo: Alan Vernon.


Keweenaw Shores No 1 Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

Along the shore of Lake Superior, there is a spectacular array of rocks covered with colorful lichens ranging from pink to orange, yellow and green. A natural cove along the shore is one of the few places in Michigan where it is possible to see both a sunrise and sunset without visual distraction.

In late spring, the showy white blossoms of the serviceberry, the earliest blooming shrub in the Keweenaw, greets the hiker. The trail winds over several ridges of Copper Harbor Conglomerate and traverses four different plant communities.

Many bird species, including ruby-throated hummingbirds, boreal chickadees and American redstarts build their nests in the lichens.

The rocks of the northern shore are more than 1 billion years old.

The best time to visit the sanctuary is in the spring during migration.

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Boreal chickadee. Photo: Claude Nadeau.


John J. Helstrom Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The John J. Helstrom Nature Sanctuary is located high along Brockway Mountain Drive; in fact, 3/8 mile of the scenic drive passes through the sanctuary. It is located just east of MNA’s Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

Heart-leaved arnica, an endangered Michigan species, thrives in the dry, alkaline conditions.

This overlook provides an extraordinary opportunity to watch hawks and other birds during their spring migration. The birds use thermal updrafts created by topography and rising warm air. Thousands of raptors, owls, and other birds use this method of flying.

northern goshawk by kirk zulfelt

Northern goshawk. Photo: Kirk Zulfelt.


Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

Two loop trails bring visitors through the towering pines and forest. The 1 mile Cathedral Grove loop passes some of the largest and oldest giant white pines, growing more than 125 feet tall and dating back 300 years. The two trails intersect and can be completed as a 2.5 mile hike.

More than 85 bird species inhabit the old-growth forest, including woodpeckers, hawks, and red crossbills. Despite thin soil and boreal climate, several wildflowers grow, such as asters, clintonia, baneberry, and violets.

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Red crossbill. Photo: gbmcclure.

Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw County

The 36.37 acre sanctuary is located on Keweenaw County’s Great Sand Bay. The shoreline of Great Sand Bay receives the full force of the strong prevailing westerly winds off Lake Superior and the shoreline has sand dunes up to 100 feet in height above the shoreline.

The back inner dunes are vegetated by juniper clones as large as 15 square feet, and by wind-contorted red pines and aspen.

The sanctuary is a favorite resting spot for the migrating waterfowl in the wetlands along the back dunes. Beavers, killdeer and songbirds are also present among the varied plant life.

A one-mile trail passes interdunal ponds and leads down to the Lake Superior shoreline where feldspar pebbles are often found. In the winter, the trail can be used for cross-country skiing.

The gently rolling topography provides a pleasant hike for visitors of all ages during any time of the year.

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Purple finch. Photo: Robert Royse.

Upper Peninsula (outside of the Keweenaw)


Braastad Nature Sanctuary

Marquette County

Located in the north-central Upper Peninsula, the 238-acre Braastad Nature Sanctuary contains amazing diversity in landscape. Part of the sanctuary features an old bog, with other parts forested. There is even an old lakebed filled with leatherleaf.

Throughout, deer and songbirds are plentiful. You may even see an occasional black bear.

A number of orchids, trailing arbutus and gentians call this place home as well.

Image result for Black-backed woodpecker. Photo: Greg Schneider

Black-backed woodpecker. Photo: Greg Schneider.


Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary

Mackinac County

The 36-acre sanctuary has no trails, but is easily navigable due to its openness. The prairie seems somewhat out of place in the Upper Peninsula, and it is suspected to be a result of human activity. The dolomite bedrock and karst features scattered throughout the sanctuary contribute to the grass-dominated, open habitat. The shallow, exposed bedrock and thin soils make it difficult for hardwood forests to fully develop. The karst features found in the sanctuary today may eventually turn into caves or sinkholes after centuries because of the eroding bedrock.

Many bird species can be found year-round at Fred Dye. Visitors can see many breeding and migratory birds in the summer, as they thrive in the sanctuary’s prairie habitat. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be seen around the wildflowers.

The diversity of plant species at Fred Dye result in different sets of wildflowers blooming through all points of the growing season. In the spring, visitors are welcomed by round-lobed hepatica and wild columbine. In summer, pale purple coneflower, prairie cinquefoil, and toadflax are in bloom. The fall brings leathery grape fern, pale spike lobelia, and fringed gentian.

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Ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo: J.S. Jourdan.


Pat Grogan Shelldrake Nature Sanctuary

Chippewa County

Located about six miles northwest off Paradise of Vermillion Road, this sanctuary is home to numerous plant species, including pink moccasin flower, pitcher plants, small cranberry, and sundew.

A lucky visitor can also see sandhill cranes, gray jays, pine martins and American bittern.

Ancient lake levels created this beach bar, providing a narrow spit of pine-covered sand for the trail.

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Sandhill crane. Photo: MNA Archives.

Northern Lower Peninsula

Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Alpena County

The Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary is wild and remote. Those who walk on the old path to Grass Lake encounter many interesting plants, such as purple flowering raspberry, buffalo berry, columbine, and spurred gentians. In early June, the dwarf lake iris grows four to six inches tall, while the bird’s eye primrose flowers bloom beautifully. Both prefer this sanctuary’s alkaline soil.

The Grass Lake edge fluctuates from year to year and is home to sedges, pitcher plant, false asphodel, arrow grass, and sweet gale. The open sections are ideal for bird watching, as the lakeshore is home to ducks, shorebirds, hawks and warblers.

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Black-throated green warbler. Photo: Matthew Studebaker.

Southeast Michigan

Sharon Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Genesee County

Rolling hills and wetlands make it an attractive spot for songbirds. There is a nature trail that runs through the sanctuary, giving visitors spectacular views of the forest and creek.

The lower areas of the sanctuary are seasonally wet and include ephemeral ponds and Save It Creek. The sanctuary is in the Shiawassee River watershed, with the creek eventually joining the Shiawassee River and then the Saginaw River. The southern half of the Shiawassee River basin, where the sanctuary is located, consists of alternating east-west fine or medium-textured ground moraines, till plains and outwash plains.

The seasonal variation of the creek’s water level plays a vital role in this southern floodplain forest community, which is one of Michigan’s most endangered habitats. The sanctuary’s several wetlands make it an attractive spot for songbirds and other wildlife.

Skunk cabbage, scarlet oak and the Michigan lily are a few of the species that call Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary home. Spring visitors are greeted with a diverse wildflower display, including beautiful marsh marigolds.

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Black-capped chickadee. Photo: Rodney Campbell.


Elmer and Irene Jasper Woods Memorial Nature Sanctuary

St. Clair County

Red, white, and painted trillium all occur in Jasper Woods, each blooming at slightly different times of the season and in different habitats. Red trillium is earliest and can be found in the forest’s rich wet deciduous woods. It typically blooms in early May, depending upon spring weather conditions. White trillium begins to bloom a few days later and appears in drier woodlands, especially on the west side of the sand trail that ends at a private gate. Painted trillium appears latest, from mid- to late May.

Some of the sanctuary’s early flowering plants include wood anemone, blue cohosh, and saprophytes such Indian pipes.

Jasper Woods is an excellent place for bird watching and provides habitat for many species of nesting birds, including the wood duck, rose-breasted grosbeak, ruby-throated hummingbird and black-throated green warbler.

Jasper Woods has a short trail, but visitors are free to explore the sanctuary at their leisure.

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Rose-breasted grosbeak. Photo: Brian E. Small.


Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary

Lenawee County

Over 200 plant species have been identified at Goose Creek Grasslands, including seven types that are classified as rare. Sedges and rushes are found among many fen plants, including buckbean and pitcher plant. Aquatic plants, such as pickerelweed and pondweeds, take advantage of the wet prairie, along with various types of goldenrods and asters. Adding color to the landscape are Goose Creek’s dozens of prairie flowers, including culver’s root, Indian paintbrush, sunflowers and Joe-Pye weed.

Goose Creek Grasslands is also an excellent location for bird watching. Sound carries well across the flat landscape, and visitors may hear the calls of sandhill cranes, yellow warblers and willow flycatchers. Hawks are regularly observed in the skies, with eastern meadowlarks, common yellowthroat and red-winged blackbirds below.

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Red-winged blackbird. Photo: G. Lasley.


Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Macomb County

One mile of trail takes visitors through a forest that supports an array of trees and wildflowers. Massive tulip trees and bottle gentian highlight the diversity of vegetative species present within the sanctuary.

The clear stream that runs through the southern part of the forest is also home to inhabitants of the sanctuary; the brightly colored Laura’s clubtail dragonfly is one of the species that relies on the high-quality water that the stream provides. The monkeyflower, which requires moist soil or even shallow water, also thrive in the marsh habitat.

Many wild turkeys and the occasional great horned owl are seen throughout the sanctuary. Visitors with a keen eye may be able to spot warblers and finches.

The abundance of large tulip trees highlights the incredible habitat and wildlife diversity of Wilcox Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary.

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Great horned owl. Photo: Ellen Hodges.


Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary

Oakland County

Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary is the Michigan Nature Association’s largest sanctuary in southeast Michigan.

Visitors can get a firsthand look at the hardwood swamp and second-growth hardwood forest on the two-mile loop trail. The path is often swampy and wet, so it is recommended to bring proper footwear and stay on the trail. Despite recent impacts to the understory due to a high deer population, numerous wildflowers, including trillium, maiden-hair fern, and wild geranium are present. Acadian flycatcher, scarlet tanager, and red-eyed vireo are found throughout the swamp in the spring and summer.

The habitats of swamp and forest provide an ideal environment for birds, mammals, and amphibians. The great blue heron, great horned owls, and several species of hawks call the canopy of Timberland Swamp home.

With its diverse habitat and incredible beauty, visitors will get a true glimpse into the past when they visit Timberland Swamp.

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Blue heron. Photo: Mike Baird.

 

Southwest Michigan

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

Cass County

The 384-acre Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is considered a “crown jewel” of MNA’s sanctuaries.

The easily navigable 1.5 mile loop trail allows visitors to observe all the sights and sounds Dowagiac Woods has to offer. The path is complete with boardwalks over seasonally wet areas, as well as benches for visitors to relax and take in the beauty.

The larger size of the property is essential in maintaining the diversity of plant and animal life found here. A mixed matrix of floodplain, southern-mesic forest, and hardwood swamp allows for nearly 50 species of nesting birds and several reptiles, such as the black rat snake. Along with nesting birds like the barred owl and yellow-throated warbler, neo-tropical migrants use the river and forest habitat.

Spring in Dowagiac Woods offers an incredible wildflower display. More than 50 species of wildflowers carpet the forest floor, including the blue-eyed Mary, trillium, and dutchman’s breeches.

Both first-time guests and regular visitors to Dowagiac Woods will continue to find new discoveries in its impressive diversity.

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Yellow-throated warbler. Photo: Zak Pohlen.


Lawrence and Mary Bell Wade Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Allegan County

Wade Memorial is a fine example of a mesic-northern compound mix of deciduous trees with scattered hemlocks. The trails are flat and easy to navigate, consisting of a bisected rectangular loop, creating two square-shaped trails that total about one mile. The sanctuary is well-suited to the study of both terrestrial and aquatic plants. Flowering dogwood and trillium can be found in the wooded areas during the spring, while pickerelweed and bur-reed inhabit the shore and lake.

Waterfowl and other birds are a common sight throughout the sanctuary. Wood ducks, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers all inhabit the canopy and shoreline of Wade Memorial. Along with birds, various species of frogs and turtles also call the sanctuary home. Visitors are welcomed by an assortment of plant life, including skunk cabbage, marsh marigold, jack-in-the-pulpit, hepatica, blue flag iris, trailing arbutus, and dogwood, among others.

The beautiful lake views and varied plant life make Wade Memorial a destination for visitors looking to experience nature.

Image result for Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Ken Thomas.

Red-bellied woodpecker. Photo: Ken Thomas.


Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

Newaygo County

Prairies are one of the most endangered habitats in the state because many owners converted open acres to farmland in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Despite its size, Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary has no trails. However, the open landscape makes it easy for visitors to navigate and explore.

More than 100 prairie species survive here, including the porcupine grass, June grass, and Fall Witch grass. Prairie ragwort, rock spikemoss, goat’s rue, sand cherry, and prickly-pear cactus also contribute to the variety of plants.

Several species of birds rely on the open habitat at Newaygo Prairie for nesting and foraging. Bluebirds and grasshopper sparrows nest in the open areas of the prairie, while eastern towhees prefer the shaded areas near the wooded edges.

Image result for bluebird. Photo: Philip Schwarz.

Eastern bluebird. Photo: Philip Schwarz.


White Pigeon River Nature Sanctuary

St. Joseph County

Located just three miles southwest of White Pigeon off Burke Rd, White Pigeon River is a great place to go for a quick walk or spend all day. The sanctuary is home to more than 50 species of birds, snapping turtles, lizard’s tail, huge clumps of silver maple, green dragon, wild cucumber, and moonseed. The sanctuary contains floodplain forest with dry upland forest.

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Cerulean warbler. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.