Bee Palooza at MSU!

By Chelsea Richardson

Blue-Eyed Mary and a Bee

Blue-Eyed Mary and a bee in Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marilyn Keigley

This past Saturday, Michigan State University hosted its Bee Palooza event, which marks the beginning of National Pollinator Week.

Honeybees and other pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat, but believe it or not, U.S. honeybee colonies are declining at a rate of 30% or more a year.

Late in 2006, U.S. beekeepers noticed that in certain colonies adult bees abruptly disappeared, leaving the queen and her brood alone in the hive. This syndrome is called “Colony Collapse Disorder” and is focused on honeybee pollinations which have steadily declined since the 1990s.

Honeybees are not native to Michigan, but there are 400 native bee species in the state that are pollinators; the health of these populations is yet unclear. Rufus Isaacs, an entomology professor at Michigan State University, studies pollination of berry crops. “To be honest, we don’t really know anything about long-term trends in their populations because there hasn’t been any careful monitoring of them over the years,” he said.

Isaacs and others in MSU’s entomology department put on the Bee Palooza event, in part as an opportunity to show people how to create their own “hotel” for native bees in their back yard. And if you are worried about getting stung, experts at the Palooza said that native bees are submissive, so they won’t hurt you.

Pollinator week is still going on. Visit the MSU Horticulture Garden or build your own bee hotel!

June 6: The Odyssey Visits Kernan Memorial

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Tina with Jericho Markel

Tina with Eagle Scout Jericho Markel. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

The Eagle has landed! In this case two Eagles have landed.  First, the Markel family landed with us at the remote Kernan Memorial. Jericho Markel and his mom in full Boy Scout regalia met up with MNA’s Regional Stewardship Organizer Katherine Hollins for our second stop on Segment # 3. Jericho’s Eagle Scout project has been the Kernan Memorial, and he, his fellow scouts, and their parents have made huge progress in clearing new trails and building a solid rock bridge across the intermittent stream flowing into Whiskey Harbor.  It was a pleasure to give Jericho one of our Odyssey t-shirts which he so deservedly had earned. Later, as we looked out into the Lake Huron at Whisky Harbor, a most welcome visitor was spotted in the distance to everyone’s delight, a Bald Eagle sitting on a large rock about 1/3 of a mile from where we gathered. While we all wished he was closer, we appreciated our good fortune of finding the first eagle of the Odyssey.

Following our journey down to the lake, we headed to the site of the original Kernan homestead where the old fireplace is laying on its side, and old kitchen implements can still be found. We can’t forget to mention the luscious wild strawberries we enjoyed picking and eating, too; on a perfect day at Kernan, this was the perfect unexpected treat. Kernan Memorial was a frog lover’s dream, as we saw many varieties of them throughout the sanctuary. We also were challenged to find out if the wild roses that were in glorious bloom were native or not, and some bright orange fungi also captured our attention.

A frog

One of the frogs we encountered in the sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

If you look at the photos of the sanctuary in MNA’s Sanctuary Guidebook, then visit the sanctuary today, you will see that the stunning images of the rocky shoreline and mud flats are now largely obstructed by Phragmites.  Not only do they spoil the view, they are also crowding out the natural communities that live here, decreasing the native biodiversity and quality of wetland habitat.  This is especially important since Whiskey Harbor is part of an area declared an “Environmental Area” that is protected under the Great Lakes Shore Lands Protection and Management Act.

Katherine explained that the problem is not just limited to the sanctuary; without the cooperation of all the people who have shoreline property, it will be impossible to control this rapidly expanding invasive.  MNA is hoping to accomplish just this. You can help here and at all the sanctuaries MNA is protecting by becoming a member, volunteering, and by donating to MNA’s mission.  Make a special Odyssey pledge today. All proceeds go to MNA’s conservation work. Those pledging $100 or more receive a limited-edition Odyssey t-shirt and photo book. Visit the MNA Crowdrise Page to contribute.

For more photos of our visit to Kernan Memorial, visit the MNA Flickr page.

We hope you’ll join us on the next leg of the Odyssey Tour beginning on July 15 at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary! Visit the MNA website for details.

Barn Owl Not Seen in Michigan Since 2000 Discovered in Grand Rapids Area

By Chelsea Richardson

Barn Owl

File Photo: Barn Owl. By Phil Haynes [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The Barn Owl is the most widely distributed species of owl and the most widespread. It is also referred to as the Common Barn Owl, but in Michigan, the Barn Owl is anything but “common”. The last pair of breeding barn owls was seen in the state in 1983 with the last single Barn Owl seen in 2000.

Barn Owls are medium sized owls with long legs that are sparsely feathered down to their black talons. They are grey, light brown and some are purer, darker brown and all have fine black-and-white speckles. The white face with its heart shape and its black eyes give the flying bird an odd and startling appearance, like a flat mask with oversized oblique black eyeslits, the ridge of feathers above the bill somewhat resemble a nose.

The Barn Owl does not hoot like most “typical” owls, instead it produces a rasping scream, ear-shattering at close range. When males are courting a female, they make a shrill repetitive twittering and a hiss like a snake to scare away intruders.

In late May, a Coopersville resident found an injured male Barn Owl on the floor of her barn. She brought it into the Blandford Nature Center where they noticed that he was unable to hold himself up or keep his eyes open; he was in bad shape.

Owls’ heart rates are faster than the human heart rate because they have a faster metabolism, but this Barn Owl’s heart rate was so low that wildlife program coordinator Lori Martin could count his heartbeats. Dr. Rebecca Vincent, Blandford’s resident veterinarian thought that this bird exhibited signs of neurological damage, possibly due to West Nile virus or poisoning. It was then found that rat poison was making this bird sick.

Throughout these past weeks, the owl has been recovering. He is on a fluid and feeding regimen and has physical therapy and has started regaining the use of his legs. He has also started to become more vocal. When the Blandford staff first took him in he barely made any noise.

It is now just a matter of time before anyone can tell if he can be released back into the wild. That is the ultimate goal for Blandford Nature Center, but if this ends up not being the case, they are going to be adding him to Blandford’s family of birds of prey and reptiles. He will either live among the center’s wildlife trails, or go to schools to educate kids about endangered species.

To keep up with the Barn Owl’s progress, visit the Blandford Nature Center’s blog.

July 14-15: Join MNA for an Exciting Weekend in Mackinac County

By Chelsea Richardson

Kayak the Les Cheneaux Islands

Join us for a kayak tour of the spectacular Les Cheneaux Islands

The second weekend in July will be a busy one in Mackinac County for MNA members.

On Saturday, July 14, the Michigan Nature Association is teaming up with Woods and Water Ecotours for a guided paddling excursion through the beautiful Les Cheneaux Islands.

The Les Cheneaux Islands lie east of the Mackinac Bridge along the northern shore of Lake Huron near Cedarville. The 36 island archipelago that makes up the Les Cheneaux Islands provides sheltered channels and bays within the straits of Mackinac.

Historically, these islands were used by Native Americans and French explorers to reach the straits of Mackinac. They have been designated by the Nature Conservancy as one of the last greatest places in the Western Hemisphere because of their pristine environment.

Participants will paddle the protected waters of this 36 island archipelago near Cedarville, exploring inner bays, beautiful boreal forests, wildflowers and freshwater marshes. The area has long been a popular summer escape for paddlers, with sailboats and summer cottages around the islands.

A certified kayak guide/instructor, all equipment and lunch are provided. No experience is necessary. For more information about the kayak trip, visit the MNA website.

Not too far from the Les Cheneaux Islands is MNA’s Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. On July 15 at 1 p.m., the Odyssey Tour will visit this this beautiful sanctuary and hike its easy terrain while taking in all that Northern Michigan has to offer.

Purple Coneflower

A purple coneflower at Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Aaron Strouse

This sanctuary, once called the Purple Coneflower Plant Preserve, is one of only two places in Michigan where the purple coneflower can be found.

In a single day’s trip to the sanctuary, visitors have reported seeing blue-eyed grass, violets, evening primrose, St. John’s wort, and a number of orchids in addition to coneflower.  Bald eagles have been spotted on occasion, as well as evening grosbeak, sandhill cranes, deer, a red fox, and a large black bear.

For more information about the Odyssey Tour, see the Odyssey page on the MNA website.

We hope you’ll join us in Mackinac County during this fun-filled weekend! Give us a call at (866) 223-2231 if you have any questions.

June 5: The Odyssey Tours Mystery Valley

By Dave Wendling and Tina Patterson

The giant earthcrack at Mystery Valley

The giant earthcrack at Mystery Valley. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

Anticipating 13 people joining us at Mystery Valley, we were slightly giddy to see car after truck arrive at this very special Odyssey stop. As our eighth sanctuary on the tour and kicking off point for Segment #3, the unique geological characteristics of Mystery Valley had been highly anticipated; what a pleasant surprise to get to welcome 27 hikers!

One of our Odyssey goals had been to introduce MNA to more local folks, and this was a huge success at Mystery Valley as we frequently heard, “I have lived here for years and always wondered what this place was like.” We also heard stories of local lore/history about the baseball teams that played on the valley floor and native Americans who once lived on the property, tractors disappearing into sink holes, and even the legend of a man who traveled underground for miles through the caverns and streams and came out in Lake Huron. It is also a treat to meet up with hikers who have joined us on previous hikes; we are beginning to feel like family! We are always happy to see our intrepid photographers and thank them for past work; we are receiving such great pictures from Marianne and Marilyn (thanks ladies).

We also were proud to share this special day with Aubrey Golden, MNA Board Member and President of the Michigan Karst Conservancy (MKC) and also Dave Luckins, whose knowledge of Mystery Valley and sense of humor was a highlight of the hike. Bob Preston, a retired professor, joined us on our hike and is doing a survey of the unique flora and fauna of the karst. What an amazing wealth of information he so generously shared with the group!  We won’t ever forget a perfect day with all the folks who learned about Mystery Valley, and we also recognize the importance of conservancies working together for the shared goal of saving these Michigan treasures. Continue reading

Do Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage?

By Chelsea Richardson

Woodpeckers hit their heads at a speed of six or seven meters per second, which is about 20 times per second, about 12,000 times a day. This is the equivalent of striking a wall at 16 mph headfirst every time.

Woodpeckers do this in order to find bugs in the wood when foods like fruit and nuts can’t be found. They also make their nests in trees by creating a hole

Pileated Woodpecker

A pileated woodpecker. Photo by Rick Baetsen

about eight inches wide and two feet deep. There are several factors and anatomical features that all come together to create a shock absorbent system for a woodpecker’s head.

Woodpeckers’ brains are fairly small and packed tightly in their skull, which helps prevent excessive movement of the brain. Their skull is also built to absorb shock and minimize damage with a bone that surrounds the brain that is thick and spongy. This thick, spongy material, called trabecula, is made of microscopic beam-like bits of tissue that give the bone a tightly woven “mesh” for support and protection. Researchers found that this “mesh” is located in greater amounts on the woodpecker’s forehead and at the back of the skull where it could act as a shock absorber. Their long tongue called the hyoid bone originates from the back of the jaw, passes through the right nostril, divides into two parts between the eyes, then arch over the upper portion of the skull and around the back of the head by passing on either side of the neck, coming forward through the lower jaw, and uniting into one again below the forehead.  This bizarre looking bone, researchers think, acts like a safety harness for the skull and brain, absorbing shock and stress as they peck. Continue reading

Dave Discovers Karst at Mystery Valley

Dave discovers karst!

More details and photos from our Odyssey visit to Mystery Valley are coming soon. Stay tuned!

If you’re looking to get out and explore nature this weekend, MNA is hosting two field trips on Saturday. Join us at Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary in Genesee County or Hiawatha Plant Preserve in Mackinac County!