Due to the large scale of this wetland complex and its location within the migratory flyway between the Straits of Mackinac and mainland Canada, a great diversity of birds have been seen using this sanctuary. This addition provides significant wetland habitat utilized by secretive marsh birds and flocks of migratory waterfowl, including black tern, sedge wren, blackburnian warbler, and spotted sandpiper. The Carlton Lake Wetlands Nature Sanctuary addition also hosts beaver, bear, large canids, deer, and grouse populations.
This year the Michigan Nature Association celebrates its 65th year of operation. What was started by Bertha Daubendiek as a bird study group in 1951 has grown to now over 170 nature sanctuaries throughout Michigan.
The bird study group was incorporated in 1952 as the St. Clair Metropolitan Beach Sanctuary Association. Two years later, the name became Macomb Nature Association, as volunteers joined and the focus of the group shifted. The Junior Nature Patrol, a club for school children, was established in 1955, and its ranks swelled to 5,000 by 1957. However, we soon realized that educational study of natural habitats was not enough; we then sought to actually purchase natural areas to protect them for future generations to enjoy. Red Wing Acres (now Louis G. Senghas Memorial) became MNA’s first sanctuary in 1960, beginning a long tradition of preservation. In 1962, we celebrated 10 years by helping bring about the banning of any drilling in all state game areas.
MNA continued to grow as we acquired more sanctuaries, including the first outside of St. Clair County in 1963. MNA morphed into the Eastern Michigan Nature Association in 1965. The name finally settled on what it is today in 1970, the same year we proposed and campaigned for the Natural Beauty Roads Act in Michigan, which was enacted by the Michigan Legislature. The Act, which now goes by Michigan’s Natural Beauty Roads Act of 1970, allows citizens to request protection of stretches of roads or streets that are examples of rural and community character. A four-mile stretch of Hamilton Road, near the entrance of MNA’s Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Sanctuary, became the first Natural Beauty Road in 1971.
The three-year-long “Save the Pines” campaign celebrated success in 1973 by purchasing the first 160 acres of what would become Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Fueled by volunteers’ indignation at Universal Oil cutting down acres of this old growth white pine forest, the campaign furiously began fundraising and letter-writing in 1970 to save the forest. Also in 1973, Detroit Edison Co. proposed building two nuclear plants near Red Wings Acres, including 765,000-volt transmission lines that would run through Red Wings; after MNA objected, DTE chose to locate their plants elsewhere. Accolades for our organization came in, with Bertha receiving Michigan’s 1974 Volunteer of the Year and Detroit News’s 1979 Michiganian of the Year for her work with MNA, and the organization receiving an achievement award from the US Department of the Interior in 1980. We reached our personal goal of 50 sanctuaries in 1979. We closed out the decade by acquiring our largest property, Roach Point Nature Sanctuary, a peninsula which now boasts a whopping 763 acres of forest and Munuscong Lake shoreline. It was renamed the Schafer Family Nature Sanctuary at Roach Point in 2011 to honor the donation of time and land by the Schafer brothers, Melvin and Mason.
1984 saw an exciting goal achieved – every type of Michigan native tree species was now included on MNA preserves. Our 100th project, Twin Waterfalls, was initiated in 1986, and the following year, Bertha received an honorary Doctorate of Science from Adrian College.
Big changes came in our next decade. Bertha was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994 and received an honorary degree from Grinnell College in 1997. Pat Grogan Orchid Bog (now Pat Grogan Shelldrake Nature Sanctuary) became our 150th sanctuary in 2000. The next year, Bertha retired from her 49-year position as a volunteer Executive Secretary, and an executive director position was created. Jeremy Emmi was hired in late 2001 and oversaw MNA for the next ten years, until Garret Johnson came in 2011. In 2002, Bertha received a lifetime achievement award from the Wildlife Habitat Council.
As our organization and the number of sanctuaries we maintained grew, we discovered we needed more help. Sherri Laier was hired in 2004 as our first stewardship director, fueled by this new level of commitment to land preservation and giving local volunteer stewards the resources needed to better protect land. One of Sherri’s most important contributions was her management of Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary, which had been overrun by invasive species. Sherri coordinated a 5 year plan to burn and spray the glossy buckthorn growing in Goose Creek, allowing endangered and rare species to grow in place of it.
Sadly, 2005 saw Bertha’s passing, marking the end of an era. We still think of her when we visit our favorite sanctuaries. On a happier note, we hit a special milestone in 2011, as we surpassed a total of 10,000 protected acres.
2014 marked a big year as we received national recognition by meeting the highest standards in land conservation when we were accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, a mark of distinction that only a select group of land trusts has achieved. In 2015, the support of MNA’s members and donors allowed MNA to acquire additional land on Brockway Mountain on the Keweenaw Peninsula. It’s one of Michigan’s most iconic landscapes, and many vacationing families from across the state (and beyond) pause at the summit and gaze in wonder at the breathtaking view of Lake Superior – the largest freshwater lake on earth. Working together, MNA and the local township have now protected roughly 600 acres of contiguous land around the summit of Brockway Mountain.
Coming full circle in 2016, MNA created additional initiatives to focus on education and connecting children with nature, just like our early leaders in 1952. MNA worked with school teachers across the state to inspire children to become Michigan’s next generation of conservation leaders. Our exciting schools-to-sanctuaries initiative is one where we connect our conservation work at specific nature sanctuaries with nearby schools. MNA also launched the Environmental Education Fund to provide financial assistance to teachers across the state to help them provide school kids with first-hand opportunities to experience nature. To continue our conservation education, MNA hosted the Race for Michigan Nature, a statewide series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretching from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P. Each race spotlights one of Michigan’s rarest species and helps promote the importance of protecting Michigan’s remaining natural areas.
February 21st, 2017, was our official 65th birthday, but we are extending the party throughout the rest of the year. Join MNA at upcoming volunteer workdays, nature hikes, the Race for Michigan Nature Series, Members’ Meetings, and other events to celebrate our 65th anniversary!
By Jonathan Schechter – he is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.
“I enter the swamp as a sacred place”— Henry David Thoreau.
Cedar swamp habitat takes on a special beauty that is mysterious, captivating and full of wonder in winter. It’s also a vital place of survival for rare species of flora and fauna, functions as a water storage location, and often as an aquifer recharging site. The Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary, managed by the Michigan Nature Association, is one the highest quality wetland complexes found on the Wilder Side of Oakland County. One week has passed since I trekked into that swamp under a light drizzle laced with wet snow flakes. I emerged with mud caking my boots, ankles, knees and backside. I was a bit bruised and slightly scratched, rather wet and tired, yet exceedingly happy and eager to return on a day when the sun shines.
A northern white cedar swamp is a nature-lover’s dream, no matter the season. The scent of cedar on a moist wintery day is exquisite. However if you want to hike on a well-marked paved trail, or if you worry about hiking over extremely slippery planks and boardwalks, this swamp trail is not the place for you. Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary is also an excellent eastern massasauga rattlesnake habitat, but a few more months will slip by before these reclusive reptiles, our only venomous snake, will emerge from the moist crayfish burrows where they now hibernate. Poison sumac is present and remains volatile in winter.
The trail is a narrow and primitive twisting footpath. Colorful and slippery exposed roots of cedar and birch trees grow across the trail – seemingly waiting to trip the unwary. Small diamond-shaped trail markers can be found along the route, but it’s easy to make a wrong turn. I did, but another hiker, the only other hiker I encountered, quickly ‘turned me around’ and my exploration continued. Off-trail hiking at this sanctuary is difficult to say the least, especially when entering thickets of white cedar, some standing, some bent low from storms, and others in their final resting places after succumbing to storms. Stepping around the blowdowns brings another challenge, mucky soil that struggles to suck hiking boots off feet. It also brings discoveries.
I hiked slowly, stopping often to look and listen. The rewards were endless. Turkey tail fungus edged many of the fallen trees. Lichens clung to the trunks of standing trees along the banks of a tributary of Stony Creek. Owl pellets, most likely from the swamp loving barred owl, were under one tree, and another tree was the obvious roost for wild turkeys. How do I know that? A mat of turkey poo covered decaying leaves confirmed their night roost. Soft, green, moisture-holding sphagnum moss grew on sedge hummocks, and I suspect wood frogs and salamanders hibernated underneath the adjacent decaying trees.
Exposed tree roots were a special attraction. The presence of the sphagnum moss facilities, the formation of adventitious roots and “branch layering.” When a cedar tree falls, the lateral branches often take over and grow upright as new trees. The result gives the impression of cedar trees locked in romantic trailside embraces, sometimes being joined by nearby yellow birch trees.
It’s a site worthy of being protected, and it is. The Michigan Nature Association, established in 1952, is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect Michigan’s rare, threatened and endangered species by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary is one of their sanctuaries, and is located on Rochester Road just south of Lakeville Road in Addison Township. The pamphlet at the small kiosk at the Rochester Road trailhead states, “MNA’s members, donors, and volunteers have built a remarkable network of more than 170 nature sanctuaries across the state – the largest network of natural areas established and maintained by a nonprofit conservation organization in Michigan.”
The section I explored is on the west side of Rochester Road, and has a very small roadside parking area. A flatter, more open swampy area with no trails is on the east side of Rochester Road. In addition to the cedar swamp, a magical wild kingdom for those that appreciate its wonder, the 76 acre preserve, one of the most biologically diverse sanctuaries in Oakland County, also has prairie fen, southern wet meadow habitat, and a small area of oak barrens.
The sanctuary is open to the public without fees or vehicle permits. The trailhead and informational kiosk is located on the west side of Rochester Road. No facilities are present. Stewardship and maintenance at the site is supported in part by REI Outfitters. For information on all Michigan Nature Association Sanctuaries, including six in Oakland County visit michigannature.org.
By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern
Inspiring both our fear and fascination, snakes have long been subjects of lore and objects of persecution, and more recently, household adornments for reptile enthusiasts. Less appreciated about these legless creatures is the ecological role they play as middle-order predators. They serve as a food source for other wildlife, but also help to control small mammal populations – chiefly that of rodents. As such they act as indicator species, which from an ecological standpoint means their conservation also entails the conservation of entire natural systems which support an array of plants and animals.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, sometimes called the Michigan Rattlesnake, Prairie Massasauga, or Swamp Massasauga, is one of several Michigan-native snakes, but is Michigan’s only venomous snake. Still, it poses little to no threat to humans. This timid species is extremely reclusive and avoids humans as best it can, preferring to remain camouflaged or leave the area when disturbed. Despite a somewhat fearsome reputation, rattlesnakes strike in defense only as a last resort.
Grown adults are of modest proportions, reaching only 2-3 feet in length. They are characterized by a light grey or tan base color with rows of large, dark brown circles and the hallmark triangular or heart-shaped head. The young are paler, but no less brightly-patterned. It ranges throughout the entire lower peninsula in swamps and wet lowlands. Occasionally it can also be found sunning in drier uplands.
Like many others of its kind, this once-common species has been driven to decline largely due to the loss of wetland habitats from urban and agricultural development, needless persecution and snake fungal disease, and is now classified as threatened or endangered in every state across its American range spanning from Pennsylvania to Missouri and Minnesota. MNA is a key stakeholder in the conservation of the Eastern Massasauga and currently protects several Eastern Massasauga habitats in Oakland, Berrien, Van Buren and Mackinac counties.
Education and awareness can play an important role in the future of this species. If trekking through areas of possible rattlesnake habitation, be sure to wear thick shoes and pants or socks that reach past your ankles. Though sightings are rare, if you see a snake which you suspect to be a rattler, keep a respectful distance and restrain pets to prevent them from agitating the snake. Much has yet to be learned about these reclusive creatures, but perhaps with a trained eye, visitors to MNA sanctuaries can observe them in their natural element.
MNA also educates the public about the species at the Annual Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K in Rochester. This year the race will take place on Sunday, September 17 along the Paint Creek Trail. The 5K will promote efforts to preserve habitat for the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake.
By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern
Since its establishment as a Michigan Nature Association sanctuary in 1983, Dowagiac Woods has become renowned for its dazzling, weeks-long display of spring wildflowers. In fact, this in part is what inspired the Michigan Nature Association’s interest; shortly after a member visited the woods in 1975 and noted the abundance of Blue-eyed Mary on a 220-acre forest lot that was for sale, an appeal was made for funding to purchase it. The original purchase has since been expanded to encompass an additional 164 acres.
Every year visitors walk the trails meandering through the diverse blooms, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in the state. However, Dowagiac Woods is a unique example of the value of Michigan’s natural heritage, not just for its famed spring wildflowers, but because it’s a largely undisturbed 384-acre block of high-quality forest habitat with ample biodiversity to support a variety of Michigan-native wildlife, including many rare and some endangered species. Nearly 50 kinds of trees and hundreds of various other plant species, as well as close to 50 kinds of birds, have been catalogued by MNA. These include the Yellow-throated warbler whose clear songs grace visitors with joyful notes, the notorious Pileated woodpecker, and the rare and lovely Cerulean warbler.
Large, intact forest blocks like Dowagiac Woods are vital to the composition of habitats that support an array of wildlife, yet are becoming increasingly rare in southern Michigan as landscapes are fragmented by industry and human use. Additionally, the majority of Michigan’s intact forests reside in the upper half of the state. Thus, as the largest MNA sanctuary in the southern Lower Peninsula and a rare, high-quality example of the natural state of Michigan’s mesic southern and southern floodplain forests, Dowagiac Woods is truly a state treasure.
The ecological importance of biologically diverse plant communities can’t be overstated. Plants form the basis of habitats and aid in performing various hydrological functions not limited to natural flood control, water purification, and the cycling of water. They anchor and enrich the soil, cycle important nutrients, and convert carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen. Forests also act as important carbon sinks by storing large amounts of carbon dioxide. The more diverse the community of plants that make up a community, the more efficiently it can function as a whole and perform these essential services. When biodiversity drops, ecosystems become less resilient against disturbances like disease or fire, because a single species comprises a much greater proportion of the plant community and its decline takes a greater toll.
With the exception of a section of woods that was selectively cut in the 1960s, the majority of Dowagiac Woods has thankfully remained undisturbed. The Michigan Nature Association’s mission is to preserve and maintain pristine areas like Dowagiac Woods. With soil that has never been plowed and trees that have never been clear-cut, it is the closest illustration of how Michigan’s forests may have looked prior to settlement. Visitors are encouraged to walk the trails and take in the rare sights and sounds of the many unique species found there. With careful management, what remains of Michigan’s natural heritage may yet be enjoyed for generations to come.
The Michigan Nature Association recently hosted a project to track saw-whet owl migration at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. The project leader and head owl bander was Selena Creed, who has years of experience banding raptors in the Mackinac Straits.
Saw-whet owl migration routes are well-documented along the Great Lakes shoreline, but the routes they take through inland Michigan are less understood. Given that the Sharonville State Game Area and surrounding wooded complex (which includes Lefglen) represents one of the largest contiguous habitat blocks in southeast Michigan, researchers believe it was likely they would be moving through here if they travel inland.
This year a total of 13 saw-whet owls were captured across five nights using mist nets and an audio lure. This is more than enough to prove that saw-whets are using Lefglen Nature Sanctuary and the larger surrounding habitat complex as an inland migration route through Michigan!
Selena and the team examined mostly female and hatch year owls, but were treated to a couple second year/after second year/male owls as well. One owl was a recapture that had been banded earlier this fall at Hillardton Marsh, Ontario – Selena states that recaptures are somewhat rare.
Thank you to Gary Hofing for taking very high-quality photos that provide great documentation of the banding process and measurements/data collected from each bird, including how they are aged using a blacklight to see wing molt pattern.
Looking to get more involved? The Michigan State University Extension offers many workshops, volunteer, and educational opportunities in spring to make a difference in your community. Sign up today! Then bring those new skills to Michigan Nature Association as a volunteer!
Free Saginaw Bay Phragmites workshop series set (MSU Extension): A new series of free public workshops planned in the region will provide information on current efforts to control Phragmites across Saginaw Bay, as well as give practical information for landowners on how to treat Phragmites on their property and how to enroll in larger group treatment programs. The workshops are free and no registration is required.
Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch helps volunteers detect invasive species in Michigan inland lakes (MSU Extension): Recently, during National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant featured aquatic invasive plants of special interest to Michigan. If you want to help detect invasive plants in your favorite lake, enroll in the Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch by April 1.
Register now to get students on board with the Great Lakes Education Program (MSU Extension): An excellent way for teachers to introduce their students to the Great Lakes is by participating in the Great Lakes Education Program, which will soon begin its 26th year of classroom and vessel-based education in southeast Michigan. Registration is now open for the spring 2016 season, which runs from mid-April through mid-June. The program allows students to understand the value of combined classroom and out-of-classroom learning, while understanding the shared ownership and stewardship responsibility we all have for the Great Lakes.