About Michigan Nature Association

The Michigan Nature Association is a non-profit organization that has been dedicated to preserving Michigan’s natural heritage since 1952. MNA protects more than 10,000 acres of land in over 170 nature sanctuaries throughout the state of Michigan, from the tip of Keweenaw in the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana/Ohio border.

Species Spotlight: Eastern Box Turtle

As Michigan’s only true terrestrial turtle, the Eastern box turtle might often be mistaken for a small tortoise. It is one of four box turtle species native to the United States. Though an uncommon find, it ranges throughout Michigan’s lower peninsula. It spends its life in small patches of open woodlands, sometimes bordering open fields or wetland. Throughout its life, the Eastern box turtle remains small- to mid-size, growing between 4-8 inches in length. It can be extremely long-lived – occasionally over a century.

Their unique hinged shell Box Turtleallows them to retract their head, tail, legs and arms for full protection. Males and females can be most readily distinguished by the color of their eyes. While males often have red eyes, females have yellow to match the vivid markings on their dark carapaces and bodies. They reach sexual maturity at about 10 years of age. Mature females lay between 3-8 eggs per clutch, and breed at most once per year. During winter, they burrow into mud or bury themselves beneath leaf litter for warmth and camouflage.

Like most turtle species, the Eastern box is an opportunistic omnivore. This means it will eat just about anything food-like that it comes across, including insects, worms, grasses, fruit, mushrooms, flowers, and even carrion and garbage.

Because this species is long-lived and slow to breed, populations can be difficult to exact. However, the species has gained status as Special Concern in the state of Michigan. Habitat loss and fragmentation are primary concerns to populations, as urban and agricultural development extend further into their range and roads cut through much of what is left. If you winners.jpgcome across a turtle you suspect to be an Eastern box turtle, admire it from a comfortable distance. If the turtle is found on or near a road, escort it back to safety first!

MNA’s upcoming Turtle Trot Family Fun Run & 5K will promote efforts to preserve habitat for turtles throughout Michigan, among them the Eastern box turtle. Every runner receives a t-shirt and a medal for their contribution to the preservation of this unique Michigan native. Join us on Sunday, September 24 for a fun run / scenic walk along the Huron River in Ann Arbor! To learn more visit https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/AnnArbor/5KTurtleTrot.

Also join us for a Pizza Pre-Party at Blaze Pizza! On Friday, September 22 from 3-7pm you can present this flyer when you order your fast-fire’d creation and Blaze will donate a portion of their proceeds to MNA and protecting Michigan’s natural heritage!
Blaze Pizza is located at 3500 Washtenaw Ave, Suite D, Ann Arbor.
Bring this flyer: http://michigannature.iescentral.com/filelibrary/Blaze%20Pizza%20Fundraising%20Flyer%20Ann%20Arbor.pdf

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Fall 2017 Michigan Nature Magazine

Fall means back to school, and that new reality brings a seasonal change to the daily migration routes for many Michigan families.

Fall is an especially great time of year to connect kids to nature and the incredible changes that unfold. As students – and their parents – adjust their new clocks and adapt to a new school year, here at MNA we are working with teachers to enrich their student’s classroom learning by using MNA nature sanctuaries as living laboratories. Our schools-to-sanctuaries initiative is creating exciting new partnerships across the state, like the one described by Addison High School teacher Aaron Wesche in this issue’s Q&A (p.33).

Cooler temperatures and decreasing daylight are signals for migratory birds and insects that it is time to leave their northern breeding grounds for warmer winter climes. Some make extraordinary difficult journeys to do so. One of the most astonishing dramas in nature is the annual Monarch butterfly migration from the northern U.S. to a tiny strip of forest in Mexico. Take yourself to a Great Lakes beach or an MNA nature sanctuary with open fields this time of year and wait and watch. You’ll very likely see one of these stunning and fragile beauties flit by as they make their miraculous journey to Mexico.

Sadly, those who have spent a lifetime watching the Monarch migration for the sheer joy of it will tell you they don’t see as many butterflies anymore. Scientists who study the Monarch have confirmed this. In this issue, noted Michigan author Bill Rapai tells the story of how the Monarch migration is now in serious danger of disappearing (p. 18).

The good news is that we can play a role in helping this extraordinary migration (while also helping other declining pollinators). We know that many of our nature sanctuaries provide necessary places for fuel and rest for Monarchs on their journey, but we also know much more needs to be done.

With your continued support MNA will be working to create more Monarch-friendly habitat within our statewide network of sanctuaries; help inspire the next generation to care about Michigan’s natural wonders like the Monarch butterfly through our education programs; and coordinate our work on Monarch conservation with the work of like-minded groups in Michigan, across the Midwest, and Mexico.

Running for Michigan Moose

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By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is hosting the Moose on the Loose Family Fun and 5K this Saturday, August 26, 2017 in Marquette, MI. This event is a great way to show support for responsible conservation efforts and wildlife management in Michigan!

After European settlers arrived in Michigan, “moose were pretty much all over” the state, said Rachel Clark of the Michigan History Center to Michigan Radio. Following this, Michigan’s moose population declined as a result of overhunting and habitat destruction from human settlements and logging. Eventually, moose mostly disappeared from the Lower Peninsula.

Moose are currently found in two areas of the Upper Peninsula: the reintroduced population in Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties, and a smaller remnant population in the eastern UP, found primarily in Alger, Schoolcraft, Luce and Chippewa counties.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the most recent moose population survey of January 2011, an estimated 433 animals in the western Upper Peninsula were counted. No formal survey of the eastern U.P. moose population has been conducted, but estimated at about 100 animals from field observations and reports from the general public.

Moose populations in the Upper Peninsula have risen and fallen in recent years, and despite a rise in western UP populations, moose are still in need of habitat management and protection, including a balanced relationship with their natural predators, like wolves.

Populations have declined on Isle Royale, but dwindling wolf population to a single pair of adults has allowed moose to thrive, as considerations to import wolves to the island are being made to maintain predator-prey balance and vegetation growth for moose diet.

While currently listed as a “species of special concern,” the US Federal Government considered adding the moose back on the Endangered Species List last year, as this status does not afford the animals or their habitat any protections, and nearly 60% of Minnesota’s moose population has declined in the last decade.

Past attempts to repopulate the Upper Peninsula with moose, which involved shipping moose to the mainland from a large moose herd on Isle Royale, failed to restore previous numbers but succeeded in establishing a moose population, largely due to healthy habitats and increased poaching enforcement, even as poaching threats were low as citizens of the Upper Peninsula were involved with the repopulation project and had adopted the new moose population as their own.

In an interview for MLIVE, DNR Wildlife Division chief Russ Mason said moose populations are declining for a variety of reasons, which include habitat loss, predation and climate change, and because moose are conditioned to live in cold climates, warmer temperatures are putting all moose at risk of overheating, which leads to malnutrition and compromised immune systems.

This summer MNA celebrated Michigan Mammals Week by exploring interesting facts on native Michigan wildlife, including the moose!

For more info on Michigan moose, visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

Moose 5K logoThe Moose on the Loose Family Fun and 5K will be a must for moose and wildlife enthusiasts and families!

Participants will have the opportunity to run along the scenic roadway of Peter White Drive on Presque Isle, a 323 acre forested oval shaped headland/peninsula which juts into Lake Superior!

Proceeds promote efforts to protect the threatened Moose throughout Northern Michigan. For more information and to sign up for the challenge go to: https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Marquette/MooseontheLooseFamilyFunRunand5K

For questions, contact Jess Foxen: 866-223-2231 / jfoxen@michigannature.org

Working Together to Protect Michigan’s Species

DNR moose survey results estimate a population increase (Upper Peninsula DNR News): Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists estimate the number of moose in the western Upper Peninsula core population area at 378 animals, up from 285 in 2015.

Help continue to protect moose throughout Northern Michigan by participating in MNA’s Moose on the Loose Family Fun Run & 5K on Saturday, August 26 at Presque Isle Park in Marquette!

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Studying Michigan’s massasaugas, the state’s poisonous rattlers (Showcasing the DNR bulletin): Michigan has become an important laboratory for the study and preservation of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous viper that inhabits the state. Massasauga rattlesnakes were listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 and are thereby protected animals.

Help protect habitat for the threatened massasauga at the Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K on September 17 on the Paint Creek Trail in Rochester!

Massasauga rattlesnakes are found in wetland areas in Michigan.

Climb aboard as the DNR surveys lake sturgeon (Showcasing the DNR bulletin): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been monitoring sturgeon populations on the St. Clair River for the last 25 years with a technique that is as old as fishing itself. DNR crews use set lines that are anchored to the bottom of the river channel and sport numerous hooks to catch and tag the mysterious prehistoric fish.

Learn more about lake sturgeon on October 8 at the Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K on Belle Isle in Detroit!

Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries assistant Jason Pauken Jason Pauken shows off a St. Clair River sturgeon.

Tree Check Month, New Eyes in the Field App, and Invasive Crayfish: this week in environmental news

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Asian Longhorned Beetle. Photo: DNR.

August is Tree Check Month (Statewide DNR News): The U.S Department of Agriculture has declared August as national Tree Check Month – time to be on the lookout for invasive, destructive pests threatening Michigan’s urban and forest landscapes. Take 10 minutes this month to check trees around homes for Asian longhorned beetle or any signs of the damage it causes. Like the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle spends most of its life cycle eating its way through the insides of trees. What makes this beetle much more dangerous is that it feeds on a wide variety of tree species. Its first choice is maple, but it also will infest birch, elm, willow, buckeye, horse chestnut and other hardwoods. Trees infested with Asian longhorned beetle must be destroyed to prevent the insect from spreading.

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Massasauga rattlesnake. Photo: USFWS Midwest.

DNR calls on citizen scientists to report cougars, feral hogs, and other wildlife with new app (Michigan Radio): The Department of Natural Resources invites Michigan residents to contribute to conservation efforts by reporting their fish and wildlife observations with the new Eyes in the Field application. Available at michigan.gov/eyesinthefield, the application replaces 15 separate observation forms the DNR had been using to gather important information about the state’s fish and wildlife populations. Eyes in the Field includes forms for reporting observations of diseased wildlife, tagged fish, mammals such as cougars and feral swine, fish such as sturgeon, birds such as wild turkeys, and reptiles and amphibians such as eastern massasauga rattlesnakes. Additional observation forms will be added in the future.

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Crown Shyness. Photo: Dag Peak.

Trees are aware of their neighbors and give them room (Treehugger): In ‘crown shyness,’ some tree species respect those nearby and keep their leaves to themselves. The phenomenon has been studied since the 1920s, and is also known as canopy disengagement, canopy shyness, or intercrown spacing. It doesn’t happen in all tree species; some species that do it only do it with trees from the same species – some species do it with their own as well as other species.

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MDEQ Minute YouTube video. Photo: MDEQ.

New video gives tips on identifying red swamp crayfish (Statewide DNR News): Though they are native to southern states, red swamp crayfish are considered invasive in Michigan because they compete aggressively with native crayfish species for food and habitat. They feed on plants, insects, snails, juvenile fish and other crayfish, disrupting the food chain for many aquatic species. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has created a new video to help people identify and report red swamp crayfish. The video is the third in the department’s MDEQ Minute series, offering 60-second views on a broad range of topics including new and potential invasive species in Michigan.

Mammals in the Great Lakes State

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is recognizing 2017’s Michigan Mammals Week July 10-16 and wishes to highlight some of our favorite species living in the Great Lakes State.

Take a quick inventory and marvel at Michigan’s various mammals, from bats to bears! Summer is a great time to plan outdoor adventures in the state of Michigan and one of the best times to observe the abundance of mammals found at MNA sanctuaries! Will you encounter a great Michigan mammal this summer?

We encourage you to check out our list of MNA sanctuaries specially selected for their seasonal offerings to those looking to enjoy opportunities in Michigan’s great outdoors.

 

MICHIGAN BATS

Bat are as misunderstood as they are intriguing. They are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. A bat’s wing is unique because unlike wings of birds and insects, it’s actually skin stretched over long, thin fingers which can connect the arms and legs and even the tail.

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Michigan bat.  Photo: Bat Specialists of Michigan.

Adapted to flying at night, bats can navigate in total darkness, famous for their use of echolocation. By creating high-frequency sound pulses that bounce off nearby objects, bats use the returning echoes to determine an object’s size, shape and distance. This technique all but gives away the location of prey while guiding bats’ aerial movements.

Michigan bats diet consists of a variety of moths, flies, beetles and other insects, and can capture up to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour. Bats mostly live in forests that are situated near water, where insects thrive.

In winter months, bats have adapted to hibernate due to the lack of insects to hunt. Although some bats migrate to warmer regions, many can hibernate in the numerous caves and mines throughout Michigan.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-70016–,00.html

Explore the bats native to Michigan:


MICHIGAN BLACK BEARS

The only species of bear found in Michigan─the black bear─is mostly found in western North America. The black bear moniker is mostly deserved, with most sporting black or dark brown fur, but the black bear’s fur can actually vary from browns and blondes to gray-blues.

On all fours, adults reach nearly three feet tall, spanning 3-5 feet in length. Adult females average smaller than males, weighing up to 300 pounds with adult males weighing up to 500 pounds! Adult males and females share company during breeding seasons, but are otherwise solitary creatures after mothers have reared their cubs.

During their seasonal retirement, Michigan black bears drop their body temperature by just a few degrees, and because of this are not true hibernators, as a hibernating animal’s body temperature will level with the temperature of its environment. For this reason, bears can be awakened easily during their denning period and will flee right away when feeling threatened.

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Michigan black bear. Photo: James A. Galletto.

They typically enter their dens in December, emerging in early-to mid-spring. Dens are made in rock cavities, root masses, standing trees, openings under fallen trees or as excavated or constructed ground nests. Cubs are usually born in January and without their fur, relying heavily on their mother. Yet they grow quickly, reaching up to 60 pounds by the end of their first summer and staying with their mother until they’re about a year and a half old and may enjoy a lifespan of over 30 years.

Michigan’s black bears are often found in heavily forested areas, but also reside in deciduous lowlands, uplands, and coniferous swamps. They continue moving into the southern Lower Peninsula but inhabit a variety of landscapes, rotating habitats with seasonal availability of food.

The size of a bear’s “home-range” in which it resides varies with its sex and age. Mothers of newborn cubs stay within smaller home-ranges of about 50 square miles which gradually increase as their cubs grow up, while male home-ranges average 335 square miles, generally overlapping with other bears.

As omnivores, black bears are opportunistic feeders, using both plant and animal matter and feed heavily in the fall to store fat for winter. They feed on wetland vegetation in the spring and  fruits and berries in summer and fall, the majority of animal matter consumed consisting of insects and larvae. Yet bears are capable of preying on most small to medium-sized animals, and even acquire foods from humans, such as fruit and vegetable crops, apiaries, bird feed and garbage, with human activity factoring into a bear’s choice of home-range.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10363_10856_57530—,00.html

Explore more fascinating information on the black bears of Michigan:

 

MICHIGAN FLYING SQUIRRELS

Michigan’s most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel can be found throughout the state, yet few people have had the opportunity to view them. Entirely nocturnal, Michigan is home to two species of flying squirrels: the northern flying squirrel inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while the southern flying squirrel inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.

Flying squirrels inhabit forests, parks and other woodlands, nesting in summer and denning in winter in the cavities of mature trees.

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Michigan flying squirrel. Photo: Steve Gettle.

Although their aerial maneuverability is certainly impressive, unlike Michigan’s bats, flying squirrels are not actually capable of flight. Instead, they are equipped with loose, furry skin attached between their front and back legs, helping them glide between the trees of their wooded homes.

For a chance to see these creatures after dark, the Michigan DNR suggests using a red light to illuminate bird feeders. You may just spot a Michigan flying squirrel having a midnight meal! The red light won’t bother feeding squirrels, and allows you to see their activity after dark.

Although populations remain large, the northern flying squirrel is no longer being found in their historic ranges, while researchers record higher numbers in areas previously uninhabited by them. Researchers have found evidence suggesting the flying squirrel populations are at risk in the northern region of the Lower Peninsula, studying why flying squirrel populations in the north are decreasing while southern populations are increasing.

Michigan State University researchers are attempting to map the ranges of the two species for comparison to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-32998–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN WOLVES

The return of wolves in Michigan is a story of successful wildlife recovery. State and federal protection of wolves enabled the comeback of the species throughout the western Great Lakes Region. In Michigan, wolves eat deer, beaver, rodents and other small mammals, but also snack on insects, nuts, berries and grasses. They are the only Canid species in Michigan that hunts in a social unit (the pack) and although wolves can go for a week without eating, when they do eat, their meal may include 20 pounds of meat at a time.

The largest member of the Canid family (wild dogs), wolves are native to Michigan and were once present in all 83 counties. Yet persecution and active predator control programs throughout the 20th century virtually eliminated wolves from Michigan, and by 1840, they could no longer be found in the southern portion of the Lower Peninsula. By 1935, they had completely disappeared from the Lower Peninsula, and had nearly vanished from the Upper Peninsula by 1960, when a state-paid bounty on wolves was finally repealed.

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Michigan wolf. Photo: Monty Sloan.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was home to the last known pups born during this era, and the species remained unprotected in Michigan until the state Legislature granted full legal protection in 1965. It was then that the federal government listed the gray wolf as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, at a time when Michigan’s wolf population was estimated at only six animals in the U.P., along with an isolated population on Isle Royale.

And it just so happened then in the 1970s an increasing number of wolf sightings and occasional encounters with motorists in the U.P. were reported. An attempt at translocating four wolves from Minnesota to the U.P. was made in 1974, but all four animals were killed by humans within eight months, before any successful reproduction could occur. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) subsequently decided to let wolf recovery happen naturally without human intervention.

Natural emigration of wolves from Minnesota, Ontario and Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula was first documented in the 1980s, when a pair of wolves was discovered in the central U.P. The pair had pups in 1990, and by 1992, when the population numbered an estimated 21 animals, it was clear wolves were starting to successfully rebound in the state, particularly in the U.P. due to the availability of prey and timber harvesting practices that created a prime habitat for deer.

Through continued extensive conservation efforts over the following years, the Michigan/Wisconsin combined population currently numbers a more remarkable 1,000 wolves. In light of this significant recovery of the wolf population, the state Legislature removed wolves from the state list of endangered species in April 2009, and reclassified wolves as a protected, nongame species. But in January 2012, wolves were removed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the federal endangered species list and returned management authority to the state level. Yet in December of 2014, a federal court order returned wolves to the Federal Endangered Species list. An appeal of this decision is ongoing.

A large part of the recovery success story is also attributed to support from the public. Survey results from the mid-1990s, when wolves first began to rebound in the U.P., supported wolf recovery. Continued social acceptance of a self-sustaining wolf population is critical to maintaining the population’s “recovered” status and retaining state management authority.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-32569–,00.html

MICHIGAN RED FOX

Every county in Michigan is home to red foxes! They’re highly mobile mammals, hunting alone and making shelter in fields, meadows, streams, low bush, and shrub cover and along woods and beaches. Yet you may find a red fox in your backyard; or wherever it might look for an unwanted snack!

Red foxes are members of the Canidae (dog) family, are opportunistic eaters, making a meal out of nearly anything available. They will eat insects, plants, fruits, berries, seeds, or birds, frogs and even snakes. They may also eat small mammals such as mice, rabbits, and squirrels, but could grab a bite to eat in garden vegetables, garbage or pet foods. Some foxes may cause a problem if they lose their fear of humans and learn to kill small farm animals like chickens, and so steps should be taken to ensure foxes or other wild animals are not fed by humans.

A primarily nocturnal mammal, red foxes are most active at night, commonly spotted at early morning or late evening. However, you could stumble upon a red fox during the day, especially in open areas─but from a distance, their sleek physique may have you second guessing if you saw a cat!

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Michigan red fox. Photo: Koryos.

They may look familiar to your dog, but slender and smaller, with long, bushy tails over 2 feet long. Because their fur makes them look bigger, red foxes are lighter than they may appear. The titular red color accents their faces and tops of their heads, with orange or yellow fur on their necks. Their white-tipped tails are outlined with black fur, as well as their ear tips. A red fox is gloved with dark black or brown paws, while the insides of theirs ears, chest, and belly are creamy white.

A fox likes to make its shelter in well-drained, dry areas, and can be found in the middle of fields, on woodland edges, ridges, or any place which provides shelter. Fox families burrow in the ground to make a “den” with two entrances, usually by excavating old woodchuck or badger holes. This place is where they can safely raise their young, and if they wish, share their den with a second family.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-61328–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN COYOTE

Coyotes are found throughout Michigan and have dispersed into southern Michigan without assistance from the DNR. Coyotes are found in rural to urban areas and are quite common but extremely good at remaining unnoticed by humans, even while living in close proximity.

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Michigan coyote. Photo: Perry Backus.

Coyotes can be difficult to distinguish from a medium sized German shepherd dog from a distance. There is wide variation in the coyote’s color, but generally their upper body is yellowish gray, and the fur covering the throat and belly is white to cream color. The coyote’s ears are pointed and stand erect, unlike the ears of domestic dogs that often droop. When observed running, coyotes carry their bushy, black tipped tail below the level of their back, in comparison to wolves that carry their tail in a horizontal position while running.

This member of the dog family is extremely adaptable and survives in virtually all habitat types common in Michigan. They are most abundant in areas where adequate food, cover, and water are available. The size of a coyote’s home range depends on the food and cover resources available and on the number of other coyotes in an area, but it generally averages between 8 and 12 square miles. Mated pairs and 4 to 7 pups occupy the home range during the spring and summer seasons in Michigan.

People are most likely to see coyotes during their breeding period, which occurs in Michigan from mid-January into March. As fall approaches, pups begin dispersing from the den site to establish home ranges of their own. These young dispersing animals sometimes wander into urban areas. Coyotes are active day and night; however, peaks in activity occur at sunrise and sunset. Coyotes generally feed at night. They are opportunistic and will eat almost anything available. Small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, hares, and squirrels are preferred foods, but will also eat fruits, plants, birds, and snakes. In urban areas, coyotes are attracted to garbage, garden vegetables, and pet foods.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12205-60378–,00.html

 

MICHIGAN MOOSE

Moose are native to Michigan and occurred throughout nearly the entire state prior to European settlement. Moose disappeared from the Lower Peninsula in the 1890s, and only a few scattered individuals remain in the Upper Peninsula.

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Michigan moose. Photo: Al Hikes.

Moose are the largest members of the deer family and the tallest mammal in North America ranging from 5-7 feet. Their massive bodies can weigh up to 725 to 1,100 pounds! The moose’s coloration can vary from grayish- or reddish-brown to the occasional all-black individual.

Since moose prefer colder climates, they only live in areas that have seasonal snow cover. Boreal forests with shrubby growth and immature trees along the cedar swamps, marshes, and alder-willow thickets near waterways are popular places to find moose.

Moose is an Algonquin term that means “twig eater”. They tend to graze on leaves, bark, pine cones, twigs, and buds of aspen, maple, and birch trees and shrubs. They also eat aquatic plants like water lilies, rushes, arrowheads, and horsetails.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_58476—,00.html

 

MICHIGAN COUGAR

Michigan cougars, also called mountain lions, were originally native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. Over the past few years, numerous cougar sighting reports have been received from various locations throughout the state. Today the species in Michigan is listed as endangered and is protected under state law.

Cougars are the second largest cat in North America─they vary between 5-9 feet long and can weigh up to 150-200 pounds. Unlike other big cats, however, the cougar cannot roar. Instead, the large feline purrs like a house cat.

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Michigan cougar. Photo: Eric Pickhartz.

Inhabiting various ecosystems from mountains to deserts to sea-level, they make their home anywhere there is shelter and prey. Cougars are primarily nocturnal although they can be active during the day. They are solitary and secretive animals that prefer to hunt from cover. Generally they prey on deer but also feed on smaller animals if necessary, including domestic animals and livestock. Cougars have even been known to eat insects.

More info: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12145_43573—,00.html

Check out the Michigan DNR website to find programs near you celebrating and teaching about Michigan’s great mammals, with activities like hikes, animal tracking programs, and more.

 

Species Spotlight: the rufa red knot

By Susan Sorg, nature writer

Using its internal compass and the moon, stars, and sun, the rufa red knot makes one of the longest migrations on Earth, nearly a 20,000 mile round-trip flight from the southernmost tip of South America to its Arctic nesting grounds. Along the way, the red knot may face multiple risks—peregrine falcons, coastal development, and hurricanes. But since the overfishing of horseshoe crab in the 1990s, which caused a decline of the red knots’ critical food, the population has plummeted.

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The migration route of red knots from Tierra del Fuego in South America to their breeding grounds in Canada. Graphic: Guilbert Gates.

Rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) is a large sandpiper weighing an average 4.8 ounces with a 20-inch wingspan, about the size of an American robin. There are three subspecies in North America and six species worldwide; rufa red knot is the eastern North American species. Their characteristic rusty ‘rufous’ plumage is the perfect camouflage in the Arctic breeding grounds to blend with wild grasses and wildflowers. In the fall they molt to a bland grey and white coloring for protection on the beaches of their South American wintering grounds.

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Rufa red knot. Photo: Dick Daniels.

Red knots and horseshoe crabs share a long history of interconnection, a delicate synchronicity of nature—the spawning of millions of horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay each spring is precisely timed with the red knots’ arrival in May. On its northward migration, the red knots’ key stopover is Delaware Bay—roughly half-way from their wintering grounds, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina to the Arctic nesting grounds.

Nothing in nature exists alone. The fragile relationship of the rufa red knot and the ancient horseshoe crab is one of nature’s many delicate partnerships. With the decline of horseshoe crabs came the quick decline of the red knot—both populations have dropped about 75% since the 1990s. The rufa red knot is one of the most rapid and serious shorebird declines.

At Delaware Bay, the red knot must quickly refuel for energy to successfully complete the last leg of the long journey to the Arctic and breed. This event has been evolutionarily perfected over millions of years. When the red knots arrive, they are exhausted and starved after four or more days flying nonstop from South America and must refuel with horseshoe crab eggs which provide easily digested protein. They can double their weight during this 12-14 day stopover, and this body fat is necessary to reach the Arctic and successfully breed.

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The red knot survival is profoundly linked to the crabs, a species older than dinosaurs. Photo: Jan Van De Kam.

Almost the entire eastern North American population of red knots will congregate in Delaware Bay during spring migration. “Historically, more than 100,000 red knots stopped at Delaware Bay each spring. By 2004, this number had dropped to little more than 13,000” (American Bird Conservancy, February 2015). Although the horseshoe crab population is reported to have stabilized since improved protections restrict overfishing, concerns remain as to whether the crab population will recover fast enough for the red knot. Volunteers protect the Delaware Bay during spawning season, and horseshoe crabs used in medical research are also returned alive back to the ocean.

Climate change has now emerged as a greater threat. In 2014, the rufa red knot was listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is the “first bird listed explicitly because its existence is imperiled by global warming” (“Red Knots Are Battling Climate Change—On Both Ends of the Earth,” Deborah Cramer, Audubon Magazine; May/June 2016). Rising sea levels and storms may engulf the red knots’ coastal habitat, and erratic temperatures can cause timing ‘mismatches’ (asynchronies) in nesting. Chicks need to hatch simultaneously with the insects’ hatching to guarantee abundant food.

Coastal habitat conservation efforts in Michigan which benefit the endangered piping plover, pitcher’s thistle, Houghton’s goldenrod, and Lake Huron tansy also benefit the rufa red knot, as the species utilize similar habitat. Red knots are an uncommon migrant in Michigan and never abundant here, but could be spotted along Great Lakes shorelines heading north in late May or again in late July through September on their southern migration. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula it is possible to spot a red knot at MNA’s Lake Superior Nature Sanctuary or Whitefish Point, and in the Lower Peninsula, Point Mouillee State Game Area, Tawas Point State Park, and Lake Erie Metropark at the southeastern point of the state.

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Climate change may extensively reduce the red knot’s breeding and roosting habitats. Photo: Greg Breese.

Half the species of shorebirds in the United States and Canada are either endangered or of special concern, according to the U.S. and Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plans. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network has adopted a conservation strategy that is currently focusing on protecting 97 critical sites internationally, which includes Delaware Bay. For more information visit http://www.whsrn.org/western-hemisphere-shorebird-reserve-network and the USFWS at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/redknot/ to learn more.