Beach cleanup, bald eagle cams and killer frog disease: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A lighthouse on Thunder Bay in Alpena. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A lighthouse on Thunder Bay in Alpena. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Beach cleanup on Thunder Bay (Alpena News): Thunder Bay Junior High sixth-graders cleaned up trash at Mich-e-ke-wis Park in Alpena as part of the Alliance for the Great Lakes Adopt-a-Beach program on Wednesday, September 25. The students also participated in environmental research. On the same day, high school students cleaned Bay View Park, and also conducted research of their own, testing the water and taking pH samples.

Georgia launches first streaming bald eagle cam (Mother Nature Network): Bald eagles first appeared in Georgia in 2012, building a nest near Berry College. The college recently installed cameras in the tree that the bald eagles built their nest in before they returned to lay their eggs. Live footage of the birds started on September 18 and can be seen at www.berry.edu/eaglecam.

Missouri ponds provide clue to killer frog disease (Science Daily): A skin fungus known as amphibian chytrid, first found in Australia in 1993, has made its way to ponds in east-central Missouri. Postdoctoral researcher Kevin Smith assembled a team of students who observed 29 different ponds. They found that ponds that contained chytrid were consistently similar to one another. The disease was found in one third of the ponds observed. This disease damages a frog’s skin, making it difficult to breathe or absorb water. It usually ends up being fatal.

Officials want Michigan to pay for wildfires (Great Lakes Echo): Representative Bob Genetski introduced a bill that requires the state of Michigan to reimburse local governments for fighting fires on state-owned land. Genetski said the bill won’t require extra money from the state. The bill would make the existing forest funds accessible. Michigan Townships Association Executive Director Larry Merrill says that compensating local governments would not be too expensive.

Global warming could increase storm risk over eastern U.S. (Mother Nature Network): A new study conducted in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, states that the risk for severe weather conditions is likely to increase in the eastern U.S. as global warming continues to increase. As more greenhouse gases are put into the atmosphere, there is the potential for more moisture to be held. Scientists discovered that even a slight increase in global warming caused a considerable increase in the type of atmospheric environment that is linked to severe weather conditions.

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Upcoming Fall Tour through Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary

The prairie. Photo courtesy of Chuck Vannette

The prairie. Photo by Chuck Vannette

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Visitors are invited to explore the Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary and observe the beautiful fall colors in full swing on Saturday, October 19. Steward Chuck Vannette will be leading a fall tour through the prairie, starting at 2 p.m. This will be a day filled with scenic views and the serenity of the open prairie at Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary. The sanctuary is located in Newaygo County and sits at the intersection of S. Poplar Ave. and E. 56th Street.

Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary protects one of the most endangered habitats in the state. Its sandy soils and raised hillsides prevented farmers from converting the prairie into farmland during the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the Michigan Nature Association purchased the prairie in 1969, it has worked on preserving this 110-acre spread, which is composed of prairie vegetation, dry prairie habitat and oak pine barren. Guests will get to experience what remains of the dry-sand prairie that once covered 19,000 acres in Michigan.

The sanctuary contains no trails, giving visitors the unique opportunity to navigate and explore the open landscape of the area and get up-close looks at the sanctuary’s abundant prairie species that survive in the habitat. More than 100 plant species, including porcupine’s grass, Fall Witch grass, prickly-pear cactus, and rock spikemoss contribute to the beauty of Newaygo Prairie.

Goldenrod in full bloom. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Goldenrod in full bloom. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

There is no one best time to visit Newaygo Prairie because its vast plant variety provides blooming vegetation throughout the year. During this fall tour on October 19, guests will witness the beautiful colors of sunflowers, goldenrods and asters blooming in the sanctuary. Several bird species, such as bluebirds and prairie warblers, also reside in the sanctuary, relying on the open prairie to gather food and build their nests. Other birds live near the wooded areas of the sanctuary, finding a comfortable home in the shade. Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary provides great opportunities for visitors throughout the year.

Take advantage of the chance to see this beautiful prairie exhibiting all of its fall colors on the fall tour on October 19. For more information about this field trip, see MNA’s online events calendar or contact Matt Schultz at mschultz@michigannature.org.

Legless lizards, outdoor classrooms and floods: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A legless lizard. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A legless lizard. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Legless lizard discovered near LAX (and no, it’s not a snake) (LA Times): A new species of lizard has been discovered in California. It does not have legs, and lives beneath sand dunes. Scientists discovered this legless lizard by spreading wet cardboard throughout California, and coming back months later to see if the lizards were hiding under the cardboard. There are five different legless lizards in California, and scientists are hoping to uncover even more species.

Blandford Nature Center launches program to help schools turn yards into outdoor classrooms (MLive): Blandford Nature Center introduced its new plan to turn outdoor areas into school classrooms. In Grand Rapids, West Side Christian School students experience the change as part of their educational program now involves outdoor science classes. The school is part of the year-long pilot of the program.

Colorado floods: What happens to all that water? (Mother Nature Network): Excess water from the severe flooding in Colorado is now threatening to cause flooding in Nebraska. The South Platte River in Colorado runs into Nebraska, and is carrying the majority of the water from the flood that has not already soaked into the ground. The flooding is expected to be less severe in Nebraska, but the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for southwest Nebraska.

Contaminants may cause birds to sing a different tune (Science Daily): Researchers at Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology have stated that inconsistency in songbird’s songs may be caused by contaminants in the Hudson River. This river is highly polluted as a result of years of electronics manufacturing nearby. The songbirds capture aquatic insects to feed their young. These insects are contaminated, and the birds will continue to eat these throughout their lives.

Tackling environmental issues crucial for Detroit’s success (Great Lakes Echo): The Detroit Environmental Agenda was released this summer and involves plans to improve the environment around Detroit. The agenda involves a two-year plan, as discussed by Guy Williams, president of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. This organization encourages Detroit residents to improve their quality of living and improve the environmental health of communities.

Rare Birds Call MNA Sanctuaries Home

A cerulean warbler.

A cerulean warbler.

This year, MNA’s stewardship team made an effort to determine the status of numerous rare species at MNA sanctuaries around the state.

They uncovered several interesting findings related to birds listed as rare, threatened or endangered in the state of Michigan.

A peregrine falcon high in a tree at an MNA sanctuary. Photo by Nancy  Leonard.

A peregrine falcon high in a tree at an MNA sanctuary. Photo by Nancy Leonard.

This year’s findings included:

  • Multiple bald eagle nests in the Upper Peninsula were verified as active, including one nest that was active again for the first time in several years.
  • A peregrine falcon nest in the Upper Peninsula fledged chicks again in 2013, the third successful nesting season for this pair.
  • Two black tern colonies which had not been confirmed as active in five to 15 years were found to still be active. Black tern colonies have been faring poorly across Michigan over the past decade and many have crashed during this timeframe.
  • Two black-crowned night heron colonies were confirmed to still be active.
  • Two sanctuaries had cerulean warbler sightings confirmed in June and nesting activity was documented at one sanctuary. These sightings were recorded along Michigan’s southern tier of counties in the Lower Peninsula.
  • A new nesting grasshopper sparrow record was recorded in one of MNA’s prairie sanctuaries in the Lower Peninsula.
  • Multiple sanctuaries had nesting season records for other listed species including the American bittern, marsh wren, and the black-backed woodpecker.

Keep an eye on the MNA blog for more updates about rare, threatened and endangered species at MNA sanctuaries across the state. To learn more, visit the MNA website.

Celebrate Michigan Trails Week with MNA

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Michigan Trails Week gives people the opportunity to explore Michigan’s natural beauty on motorized, non-motorized and water trails throughout the state. Michigan Trails Week is September 21-28 and celebrates different events and volunteer opportunities in communities all over Michigan.

Governor Rick Snyder made this week an official event in 2012. Over fifty organizations participated, hosting volunteer opportunities, events and activities on Michigan’s trails. The Michigan Nature Association will host multiple activities during the week, including an opportunity to volunteer and hikes through scenic sanctuaries.

boardwalk

The Red Cedar River Plant Preserve boardwalk. Photo from MNA archives.

On September 26, MNA is holding a volunteer day that includes conducting renovations on the boardwalk at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve near Williamston. Improvements to the boardwalk will provide visitors with year-round accessibility to the floodplain. Volunteers can enjoy the scenery of this floodplain while they work, as the area is home to species such as marsh marigold, blue beech and blue flag iris. The renovations go from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

MNA is also hosting two field trips to sanctuaries in the Upper Peninsula during Michigan Trails Week.

On September 28, guests can enjoy the beauty of Lake Perrault while also learning about mosses, epiphytes and liverworts in the fragile Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary in Houghton County, near Painesdale. The trip begins at 11 a.m. and is led by Janice Glime, researcher and retired professor. To RSVP for this trip, send an email to nancy@einerlei.com.

The Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko

The Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

MNA and the Falling Rock Café will also host a hike through Twin Waterfalls Memorial Nature Sanctuary on September 28* near Munising. Hikers will get the chance to see astounding views of the sanctuary’s natural waterfalls and sandstone cliffs. The hike begins at 10 a.m.

*[Ed. note: the Twin Waterfalls hike has been cancelled due to road construction. Keep an eye on the MNA event calendar for updates.]

For more information on the volunteer opportunity at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve and the trips to Robert T. Brown Nature Sanctuary and Twin Waterfalls Memorial Nature Sanctuary during Michigan Trails Week, visit the MNA website’s event calendar.

Bald eagles, decreasing lake levels and an illegal fire: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA shares recent environmental news stories from around the state and country. Here’s some of what happened this week in environmental and nature news:

A bald eagle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A bald eagle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Bald eagles: A conservation success story (Mother Nature Network): Bald eagles in the United States are making a recovery. A pesticide called Kepone nearly wiped out the species in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, the bald eagle has slowly been making a recovery, and was taken off the endangered list in 2007. Invasive species and other pesticides still threaten the bald eagle, but restoration efforts are ongoing. Bald eagles reside all across the United States, but are thriving the most along the James River in Virginia.

Great Lakes panel still waiting for legislative action on lake levels (Journal Sentinel): The Great Lakes Commission is still waiting on a request passed in 2007 to have the U.S. and Canadian governments figure out how to slow down the water flow in St. Clair River, which is heavily dredged. This would raise water levels on Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The water levels of these lakes today is almost two feet lower than they would be if not for human interaction in St. Clair River. Some officials suggest an adjustable system that would allow the water flow to open or slow down on the river.

USFS: Hunter caused huge wildfire near Yosemite (Detroit Free Press): An illegal fire set by a hunter in Yosemite National Park is what caused the massive wildfire that covered 371 square miles and cost $81 million to contain. The hunter has not yet been arrested, as investigations are still going on. The U.S. Forest Service had banned fires in Yosemite National Park outside of controlled camping areas because of the high risk of wildfire. Officials say the wildfire is now 80 percent contained, having destroyed 111 structures since it started.

Climate change may speed up forests’ life cycles (Science Daily): A study conducted by a Duke University team suggests that in response to global warming, the life cycles of tree species are speeding up. One professor at Duke University, James S. Clark, said because of climate change, there are longer growing seasons for the trees and hotter temperatures. Studies conducted on 65 tree species in the 31 eastern states of the U.S. suggest that there is a higher rate of turnover in warmer climates. There are more young trees. Scientists believe eventually trees will migrate to cooler climates by seed dispersal.

Pollution in Florida’s Lake Okeechobee swells to near-disaster levels (Mother Nature Network): Lake Okeechobee in south Florida is one of the largest lakes in the United States, and is also one of the shallowest. At nine feet deep on average, the lake is potentially an environmental disaster because of its rising water level. Heavy downpour has caused the lake to rise to 15.5 feet, which some fear is too high. Already, the inflated lake has sent polluted runoff into nearby water systems. The polluted runoff is assisting the growth of toxic algae, which can kill many freshwater organisms. The pollution in the lake is also hurting tourism to the area and real estate prices.

From The Archives: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

Prior to the publication of Michigan Nature magazine, MNA sent out quarterly newsletters to members and supporters. We will be taking a look at some of the newsletter’s feature stories in our new From the Archives series. 

Every Sanctuary Has a Story: Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary

by Katherine Hollins, Regional Stewardship Organizer

Published in the July 2011 edition of the MNA newsletter

Harol Warnes

Harold Warnes

The Anna Wilcox and Harold Warnes Memorial Nature Sanctuary is a wooded oasis amidst the suburban jungle and open agriculture in Macomb County. In addition to providing important habitat for various flora and fauna, the sanctuary serves as a wonderful spot for people to take their families out for recreation or for nature enthusiasts to study species amidst the hustle and bustle of Shelby Township.

The sanctuary was originally part of an 1833 land grant from President Andrew Jackson. It never left the possession of the Wilcox and Warnes families before being donated to the MNA in 1975 by Harold Warnes. Historically, the southern two-thirds of this 44.8 acre sanctuary were never grazed and only faced selective logging. The northern portion was last farmed in 1957, and now serves as a perfect example of a successional forest. As you walk the trails, you will notice the young forest, thick with undergrowth, gives way to a more open, mature forest to the south.

“It’s an exceptionally special place,” says Kurt Jung, an MNA Trustee and nature enthusiast. After he attended a recent Wilcox-Warnes volunteer day, Kurt encourages everyone to walk through the old woods of Wilcox-Warnes “with its commanding oak and tulip trees and quiet stream.”

Margaret Moran, long-time steward of the sanctuary, fondly remembers spending time there over the past decades. “The trees are gorgeous there, and I am thrilled with the birds. I once watched a turkey vulture stalk around picking up sticks and saw a great horned owl on a nest. I especially enjoy listening for the ethereal song of the wood thrush,” she says. “I hope those things will last in the sanctuary as they last in my memory.”

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Fall colors at Wilcox-Warnes. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Without Harold Warnes’ generous land donation, MNA may never have acquired a sanctuary in Macomb County.

And although the stately tulip poplars may first draw your attention, keep an eye out for American beech, red maple, white ash, various oaks, basswood, yellow birch, black cherry, shagbark hickory, sassafras, pin cherry, prickly ash, spicebush, serviceberry and flowering dogwood trees and saplings. Spring wildflowers including trillium, dwarf ginseng, foamflower, hepatica, may-apple, and showy orchis can also be found here, along with fringed and bottle gentians later in the year.

You can spend time here searching for frogs and salamanders that make their homes in the vernal pools throughout the sanctuary, or study creek ecology and rest near our excellent bridge. As our Trustees, stewards, staff and members urge, please come out to learn about this lovely forest sanctuary and the communities it supports.

For a schedule of upcoming events, visit the MNA website.