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.