Species spotlight: four hummingbirds occasionally found in Michigan

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

When Michigan residents hang their hummingbird feeders, the most common species they see is ruby-throated hummingbird. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only regularly occurring hummingbird in Michigan, but four other species have been spotted in the state: rufous, broad-billed, green violet-ear and white-eared hummingbirds.

Anna’s hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Anna’s hummingbirds are among the most common hummingbirds along the Pacific coast—but with their emerald feather and rose-pink throats, they are anything but the most common in appearance. Anna’s hummingbirds make a strong impression with their courtship displays: males will climb 130 feet into the air, then swoop to the ground, using their tail feathers to make a burst of noise. Anna’s hummingbirds are accidental in Michigan, which means they have been recorded in the state fewer than three times in the past decade. Two Anna’s hummingbirds were recorded in Michigan in 2010.

Female rufous hummingbird. Photo by Brendan Lally. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The rufous hummingbird has been called the “feistiest hummingbird in North America.” Normally found in California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains, these tiny birds are relentless at flowers and feeders and will often attack even large hummingbirds that may double them in weight. Male rufous hummingbirds have bright orange backs and bellies and a vivid red throat, while females are mostly green with a spot of orange on the throat. The rufous hummingbird is the most common hummingbird in Michigan aside from the ruby-throated hummingbird, and has been recorded 20 times in the past 10 years. In the last decade, rufous hummingbirds were recorded in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Green violet-ear. Photo by Joseph C. Boone. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Green violet-ear are casual in Michigan, meaning they have been recorded more than three times but fewer than 30 times in the past decade, and were recorded in fewer than nine of the last 10 years. Green violet-ears have a green throat, chest, belly and back, with a violet ear-patch on the side of their necks. They are typically found in southern Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, western Panama, northern Venezuela, western Venezuela and western Bolivia, but have been recorded in Michigan seven times. Green violet-ears have been spotted in Michigan in 1996, 2002, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

White-eared hummingbird. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

White-eared hummingbirds are green on their upperparts and breast and white on their undertail coverts. The most predominant feature on both males and females is the white eyestripe, which is more boldly colored for males. Males are more brightly-colored than females, with a turquoise-green throat and violet and black crown. The white-eared hummingbird is found from northern Mexico through New Mexico to Texas. It is accidental in Michigan and was recorded in 2005.

Broad-billed hummingbird. Photo by Dick Daniels. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Male broad-billed hummingbirds are strikingly colorful, with a green back, blue throat and green chest, and a long, red bill with a dark tip. Females have a dark ear-patch, gray underparts and a white line over the eye. The broad-billed hummingbird typically lives in southern Arizona and Mexico and has only been recorded in Michigan in 1996 and 2000.

Michigan residents will most likely see a ruby-throated hummingbird at their feeders this spring and summer, but if you spot another type of hummingbird, take a picture (if possible!) and submit a Rare Bird Report Form to the Michigan Audubon.

MNA has a series of videos of ruby-throated hummingbirds on our YouTube channel for a closer look at Michigan’s only regularly occurring hummingbird species. A DVD of those videos can be purchased on our website.

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Parking lots, 20-pound fish and a Michigan trailblazer: This week in environmental news

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Each Friday, MNA highlights environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here are five of this week’s stories on nature and the environment:

Renovations to a parking lot near Lake St. Clair will help cut down on pollution in the lake. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Huge ‘green’ parking lot will reduce Lake St. Clair pollution (Macomb Daily): Macomb County officials have wrestled with the pollution problems in Lake St. Clair for 20 years and concluded that a major cause of this pollution is rainwater that runs off streets and parking lots into the lake. A $3.3 million project to substantially alter a 42-acre parking lot, located within 100 feet of Lake St. Clair, will break ground on May 9 and make the parking lot more environmentally friendly. Half of the parking lot will be reconstructed and will combine parking spaces with ponds, swales, grassy areas, trees and shrubs. Stormwater will be diverted into those areas, rather than into the lake. The other half of the lot will receive a new “seal coat” on the asphalt.

20 Pounds? Not Too Bad, for an Extinct Fish (The New York Times): Last year, fisherman Matt Ceccarelli caught and released a 24-pound Lahontan cutthroat trout—a trout once believed to have gone extinct. The Lahontan cutthroat trout has been the focus of an “intense and improbable” federal and tribal effort to restore it to its home waters at Pyramid Lake in Nevada after the lake’s strain was declared extinct in the mid-1940s. In 2006, federal officials began stocking Pyramid Lake with Pilot Peak cutthroats, which have an exact DNA match to the cutthroats once found in Pyramid Lake. The fish is making an apparent comeback—since November, dozens of anglers have reported catching cutthroats.

Wet spring offers some relief for low Great Lakes levels, experts say (The Detroit News): The wet weather Michigan’s been having may boost water levels in the Great Lakes, but experts are uncertain by how much the levels will rise or how long it will last. Runoff from melting snow and rain showers typically causes the lake levels to rise in the spring, and Lakes Michigan and Huron have risen 6 inches this month. However, Keith Kompoltowicz from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that the lakes need several more wet winters and springs to return to their normal levels.

Veteran hopes to boost economy, fitness by blazing Michigan trail (Great Lakes Echo): Chris Hillier of Taylor, Mich., was recognized Thursday as a nominee for the Governor’s Fitness Award for Veteran of the Year. This award honors a military veteran who goes “above and beyond” to promote healthy lifestyles in the state. Hillier has hiked more than 6,000 miles since 2011, mostly across Michigan, and is starting a 924-mile hike that will take him from Belle Isle in Southeast Michigan to Ironwood in the Western Upper Peninsula. This route was proposed by Gov. Snyder last November and “connects existing pathways with new trails to showcase Michigan’s waterways, diverse forests, and unique animals.” This new trail could boost local economies and establish Michigan as the top trail state in the country.

Earth Month: 12 intriguing environmental books (USA TODAY): Wendy Koch, USA TODAY’s environment and energy reporter, shares 12 new books about the environment in celebration of Earth Month.

Meet the MNA Staff: Matt Schultz

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

MNA’s staff is full of people committed to protecting Michigan’s natural habitats. In addition to stewards and volunteers that help manage the sanctuaries, MNA has a group of regional stewardship organizers that oversee the volunteers and organize stewardship projects. Our three regional stewardship organizers are Adrienne Bozic, Katherine Hollins and Matt Schultz.

Matt S. 2 - 2011 Spring Adventure - Kurt Jung

Matt Schultz, regional stewardship organizer for the western Lower Peninsula. Photo by Kurt Jung.

Matt became an MNA steward in 2007. After finishing his master’s degree in sustainable development and conservation biology, Matt moved to Michigan with his girlfriend (now wife), who was completing a Ph.D. at Michigan State University. He looked for organizations to volunteer or work with, and found MNA. Matt joined the staff after serving as a volunteer and steward for three years.

Matt is now the regional stewardship organizer for the western Lower Peninsula and works with 58 sanctuaries in the western Lower Peninsula and Lenawee, Hillsdale and Jackson Counties. His duties involve engaging MNA volunteers, managing restoration activities at the sanctuaries, monitoring the sanctuaries and overseeing stewards. In addition, he does a bit of grant writing and is on the burn crew.

We sent Matt a few questions to learn a little more about himself and his experiences at MNA. Check out his responses below!

Q: What is your favorite part about being a regional stewardship organizer?
A: I like to be out in the field, but not every day. I’m happy to engage in conservation work and to be doing hands-on things to protect rare species and natural communities.

Q: What is your favorite Michigan species?
A: I like the Pitcher’s thistle. It’s pretty and not spiny for a thistle. Plus it’s a Great Lakes endemic and while not very common, not so rare that you never see it.

Q: If you could be any species, what would you be?
A: I’d like to be a tree. I’d live a long time and see the same place change slowly over time. Maybe burr oak because the acorns are cool.

Spot wildflowers in bloom at MNA’s spring events

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

White trillium at Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Grogan.

White trillium. Photo by Ron Grogan.

Throughout spring and summer, many of MNA’s sanctuaries are covered with abundant, colorful wildflowers. This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of wildflower-focused events, including a hike at Trillium Ravine Nature Sanctuary on May 1 that will give visitors a chance to check out the sanctuary’s three rare trillium species, which should be blooming throughout the sanctuary at the time of the hike.

Trilliums are spring ephemerals, or wildflowers that bloom in early spring and die after a short growth and reproduction phase. They appear to be plants with unbranched stems, but they actually produce no true leaves or stems above ground; the “stem” is really an extension of the horizontal rhizome (a stem that grows continuously underground and puts out shoots and roots) and produces small, scale-like bracts that look like leaves.

Red trillium at Jasper Woods Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Al Menk.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Trilliums are divided into two major groups: pedicellate and sessile.  Pedicellate trilliums have flowers on stalks, while sessile flowers have no stalks and sit directly on the plant’s bracts. In all, there are 38 species of trillium, four subspecies and seven varieties.

Four trillium species are protected in Michigan. The state lists toadshade, prairie trillium and snow trillium as threatened and painted trillium as endangered. MNA sanctuaries protect several trillium species, such as red trillium, drooping trillium, painted trillium, prairie trillium and toadshade, among others. Trillium Ravine has three trillium species, but Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary, Jasper Woods Nature Sanctuary, Joan Rodman Memorial Plant Preserve and other sanctuaries protect a few species, as well.

Visitors have more opportunities to see the spectacular wildflower displays in MNA sanctuaries throughout the summer at the 2013 Wildflower Walkabout. The Wildflower Walkabout is a series of guided tours through our nature sanctuaries from May to September. Each sanctuary was picked for its unique wildflowers, and each trip is planned during the time when those wildflowers are best for viewing and photographing. For more information on these tours, visit the MNA website.

Sand dunes, storms, and lots of fish: This week in environmental news

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA highlights recent environmental news stories from the past week. Here’s what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A public hearing was held Monday for a request from Bro G Land Company, who wants to build a 1,200-foot driveway on Lake Michigan dunes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Michigan sand dunes development controversy rages over 1,200-foot driveway (Huffington Post): Last August, Gov. Snyder signed legislation that changed development standards for landowners on privately-owned sections of the state’s sand dunes. Since then, around 50 applications have been submitted that request permission to develop on the dunes. Monday was the first public hearing for one of these requests, a request from Bro G Land Company, who wants to build a 1,200-foot driveway to a private residence. This driveway would stretch across a critical dune habitat on Lake Michigan. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality hopes to reach a decision regarding the driveway by May 13.

Fracking opponents can start gathering signatures for a 2014 ballot proposal (Detroit Free Press): Supporters of a ban on fracking in Michigan can begin collecting petition signatures after the Board of State Canvassers approved the petition language Tuesday morning. This proposal would ban using horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to access pools of natural gas and oil underground across the state. Oil and gas companies have used fracking in Michigan since the 1960s and say that the fracking is well-regulated and not harming the state’s environment. Gov. Snyder, who supports fracking, commissioned the University of Michigan to complete a study on the practice. A report on the study is supposed to be released later this year.

Storms contribute to debris in Michigan waterways (The Detroit News): A huge pile of tree limbs, brush, marsh vegetation and garbage is clogging part of the Saginaw River after the recent storms that brought flooding to Michigan. Officials are urging caution to recreational boaters and anglers, as this debris can be a water hazard for boaters when it moves into the rivers.

Once too polluted, Lansing’s Red Cedar River is once again open to anglers (Michigan Radio): For the first time since the 1960s, people will be encouraged to fish along a portion of the Red Cedar River at Michigan State University, after the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and various MSU dignitaries (including Sparty) dumped buckets of Steelhead trout into the river. Forty years ago, the Red Cedar River suffered water quality issue, primarily from non-source point runoff and agricultural drainage, but the river has been cleaned drastically since enactment of the Clean Water Act and supports a diverse fishery today. The DNR plans to continue stocking the Red Cedar River on MSU’s campus for the next five years.

Let the river run: Dam removal accelerates across Michigan (MLive): A growing number of communities across Michigan are removing obsolete dams, restoring fisheries and developing riverside parks and trails. Big Rapids built a 2.6-mile Riverwalk trail along the Muskegon River after the city removed remnants of the Big Rapids Dam in 2001, and other cities, such as Detroit and Lansing, are working to improve water quality in their long-abused rivers by developing riverfront parks and trails. Gov. Snyder’s 2013 budget included $2.5 million for dam removals or repairs, and the DNR recently announced $2.35 million in grants to support dam removals or repairs in six communities. Four of these grants will help fund dam removals in Traverse City, Lyons, Shiawassee and Vassar.

Do soil microbes help plants to adapt to their local environment?

MNA’s mission includes studying Michigan’s natural history. While every visit to a sanctuary brings a chance of expanding your knowledge and appreciation of nature, MNA also seeks to support dedicated scientists who try to understand our world and its fascinating flora and fauna. When done in a way that is compatible with conservation, MNA encourages scientific research on sanctuaries.

This post, which will be first in a series, was written by Tomomi Suwa, who is a graduate student in Dr. Jen Lau’s lab at Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station. She is studying hog peanut, a wildflower native to Michigan that occurs on Palmer Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Southwest Kalamazoo County. To learn more about her research, visit tomomisuwa.com or Dr. Jen Lau’s website

Tomomi Suwa. Photo: Kate Webbink

Tomomi Suwa. Photo: Kate Webbink

Plants have developed many great ways to cope with harsh environmental stresses such as drought, heat and salinity. Because plants can’t move, one coping strategy is to produce a lot of seeds that can disperse far and hope that at least few of them will land on a suitable spot. A second strategy is to evolve traits that help plants deal with the stressful environment over time. This is called adaptation. Evolution of adaptive traits, however, may take a long time, as you can imagine. So the third strategy is to get “help” from other organisms. For example, if plants end up on a poor nutrient soil, they might be able to associate with fungi and bacteria that can facilitate finding nutrients.

My research focuses on how soil bacteria make it possible for plants to live in different habitats. Rhizobia, a type of soil bacteria, live inside the roots of some plants and act like natural fertilizer. Rhizobia can convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia, a form of nitrogen plants can use. In turn, plants can provide sugar to the rhizobia. This beneficial interaction is called mutualism. Rhizobia can help plants grow in areas where they might not live otherwise. Just like human relationships though, plants and rhizobia may not be compatible, or one of the partners may not even be available! For example, rhizobia may not survive or convert nitrogen effectively in certain environmental conditions, like in shade or areas that have high nitrogen in the soil.

flowering hog peanut

Flowering hog peanut. Photo: Tomomi Suwa

Using a native plant called the hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata), I am looking at how the rhizobia in its roots can make it possible for plants to live in different habitats. Hog peanut is an annual legume species, closely related to soybean. What’s neat about hog peanut is that the plants can set seeds aboveground and belowground!

Hog peanut tends to grow in small patches in the forest and wetlands but it’s unclear why they grow in certain microhabitats. Is it because rhizobia are distributed in a patchy way, or is it because rhizobia benefit plants differently in various environmental conditions? I am currently doing field and greenhouse experiments to test this hypothesis. I started this project about two years ago and so far, I conducted some field observational studies in southwest Michigan, including at Kalamazoo Nature Center, Pierce Cedar Creek and MNA’s Palmer Memorial Nature Sanctuary. I don’t have answers to these questions yet, but I should be able to tell you more about it in a couple more years… so stay tuned!

April 22 marks Earth Day’s 43rd anniversary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Western hemisphere of globe

On April 22, more than one billion people around the world will participate in the 43rd Earth Day. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons and NASA.

What are you doing April 22?

Will you be at work? At school? Running errands? Helping the planet?

If you plan to volunteer and help the environment, you’re not alone—April  22 is the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, a day where more than one billion people around the globe celebrate the earth and take action to protect it.

Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the severe damage caused by the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969. Nelson was inspired by the student movement opposing the war in Vietnam and believed he could put environmental protection on the national political agenda by taking that type of energy and coupling it with the emerging public awareness about air and water pollution. He built a staff of 85 people to promote events across the country, and on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans participated in organized protests and rallies for a healthy, sustainable environment.

Earth Day in 1970 brought together all types of Americans—Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, urban and rural—and was part of the spark that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. In 1990, Earth Day went global, putting environmental protection on the world stage and gathering support from 200 million people in 141 countries. For its 40th anniversary in 2010, Earth Day Network launched its A Billion Acts of Green campaign, which “inspires and rewards both simple individual acts and larger organizational initiatives that reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability.” Today, Earth Day Network has recorded more than 1.01 billion acts of green.

The 2013 Earth Day campaign, called The Face of Climate Change, seeks to capture the many faces of climate change: those affected by climate change and those working to fix the problem. Until April 22, the Earth Day Network is collecting pictures of people, animals and places that are directly affected or threatened by climate change, as well as images of people who are attempting to do something about it. On and around Earth Day, the Earth Day Network will show an interactive digital display of these images at thousand of events throughout the world—including next to federal government buildings in the countries that produce the most carbon pollution. In addition to showing the effects of climate change, this campaign will highlight the power of individuals that come together and take action across the world. The team hopes to inspire leaders and citizens to act and fight against climate change.

This Earth Day, you can help the planet and volunteer in your own backyard! MNA has volunteer days on April 22 at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary in Cass County, Powell Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County and Big Valley Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County. Check out our events calendar for more details.