Sanctuary Spotlight: Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Those familiar with Michigan history will know of the bootlegging activities that took place on the shores of Lake Huron between Michigan and Canada during the Prohibition Era. Local Huron County lore tells of a place along this shore that was popular with bootleggers due to its limestone shoreline – ideal for speedboats looking to drop their loads quickly. This place was called Whiskey Harbor. Three miles to the north, the Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse may have aided these bootleggers in locating Whiskey Harbor. Though not all completed their journey, as evidenced by several shipwrecks offshore, and neighbors having reported finding whiskey bottles washed up on shore.

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Leopard Frog at Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Jeff Ganley.

Though a cabin once dotted the landscape, this piece of land has never been developed; bypassed by major roadways like M-25, a dirt road was only extended near this property in 1957. Then, in October of 1989, MNA purchased the lot with a bequest of Mr. William J. Kernan, Jr.’s estate. The more than 45 acre Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary has protected critical wetland and shoreline habitat since that day, as well as protecting a piece of Michigan’s rich history.

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A group of visitors peer across Whiskey Harbor at the Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Katherine Hollins

Birders know the property as a great place to spot migratory and shore birds, as the mud flats provide ideal habitat for frogs, which some birds can feed on as they pass through. There is also an incredible amount of plant diversity between limestone cobble shore, the uplands of the southern mesic forest, and varying riparian land from a creek that runs through the sanctuary to Lake Huron.

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An 1837 Government Surveyor’s map of the area around Whiskey Harbor.

The Kernan Memorial Nature Sanctuary also offers researchers the opportunity to study how land use within a watershed affects coastal wetlands. MNA is proud to protect Michigan’s natural heritage with unique lands such as those found at Whiskey Harbor. You can learn more about this work, and find a sanctuary near you at michigannature.org.

Celebrating Bat Week 2019

by Sarah Royalty Pinkelman & Michigan Nature Association

Word has spread about the essential pollinating behavior of bees and the seed-spreading habit of birds, but the bat, the only flying mammal, is also a significant player in the ecology of animal and plant mutualism. In warmer climates, bats play a similar role as bees and hummingbirds, drinking nectar and pollinating blooms that produce fruits like the banana and agave. Colder climates like Michigan provide a home for insectivorous bat species that consume a significant number of insects that harm humans and plants alike.

Michigan has nine different bat species, but Michiganders most often encounter the little and big brown bats. We see them at dusk gulping insects at a voracious pace, eating from 600 to 1,000 per hour. A mother supporting her young can eat more than her body weight in insects in a single night.

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A big brown bat at the Leslie Science & Nature Center. Photo courtesy Sarah Royalty Pinkelman

In fact, bats such as big browns feed on specific mosquito species that are vectors for many diseases, including Eastern equine encephalitis. Michigan’s bats also help clear the air of corn and soybean crop–eating insects. While healthy bat populations save the farming industry billions of dollars a year in pesticide use, their benefit to Michigan’s ecology is priceless; by reducing the need for agricultural pesticides, eating disease-carrying insects, and holding a key spot in the nocturnal food web as predator and prey, they’re an integral part of a healthy ecosystem.

Like many species across the globe, bat numbers are declining. Two Michigan species are endangered (the northern long-eared and Indiana bat) and others may follow. A top threat is White-nose Syndrome (WNS), or Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Dr. Allen Kurta, an Eastern Michigan University researcher, has called it the most devastating wildlife disease North America has faced since European arrival. More than 6.7 million bats have been lost to the disease continent-wide since its arrival in New York in 2006. The disease repeatedly wakens hibernating bats, draining their energy in winter when there’s no food available. Most infected bats die from starvation. Dr. Kurta cites an 83% decline in bats since the arrival of WNS.

There are several ways to support our bat populations, and habitat protection is primary. For example, in winter bats hibernate in caves, structures, and abandoned mines, and it is vital to respect the signage at these sights. There are a number of steps you can take at home to help bats, learn more about these and International Bat Week at batweek.org.

The Michigan Nature Association works to protect habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species across the state. By protecting habitat for target species, we are benefiting the broader population of plants and animals that call Michigan home. Join us on October 24th, 2019 at the Red Cedar River Plant Preserve in Williamston, Michigan with a bat expert from the Bat Association of MSU for our Bat Week Walk, exploring what makes a good bat habitat, and learning more about this ecologically important species. For more information about this event, contact us at michigannature@michigannature.org or 866-223-2231.

bat week walk photo by Keith Saylor

The Michigan Nature Association & Bat Association of MSU will be holding a Bat Week Walk at MNA’s Red Cedar River Plant Preserve on Thursday, October 24th, 2019.