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.

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Coastal Sanctuaries Protect Changing Shorelines

With ever-fluctuating weather conditions, and uncertainty in how climate change will affect water levels in the Great Lakes basin, the work that MNA is doing to protect habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species is now more important than ever.

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Volunteer Ashley Schilling uses her hand as a measurement for the dwarf lake iris.

One of several coastal sanctuaries that MNA currently maintains is the Spitler Shore Nature Sanctuary in Presque Isle County. This 50-acre sanctuary includes more than 1,500 feet of Lake Huron shoreline, and contains populations of the federally threatened dwarf lake iris. This sanctuary’s habitat, like much of the Great Lakes shoreline, is at risk from extreme and unpredictable fluctuations in water levels, affecting much more than just its magnificent sunrise views.

During the period between 1998 and 2012, Lakes Michigan and Huron experienced persistently low average water levels. This was due in large part to increased evaporation – to which the lakes are susceptible whenever they are not covered by ice. But the winter of 2013-14 brought extended periods of extreme cold, resulting in increased ice cover and protecting the lakes from the much of this evaporation. Since that time, all of the Great Lakes have risen to record-high average levels, the product of both limited evaporation, and heavy precipitation and runoff from the many rivers and streams that feed the lakes. Water levels in 2019 have proven to continue this trend of new record highs, with meteorologists having estimated a 10-inch rise on Lakes Michigan and Huron through July (representing 8 trillion gallons of water) – the lakes were recorded at 13 inches above their 2018 levels, by the end of June.

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Many shipwrecks and their associated debris were newly uncovered during this reduction and influx of water along the shorelines of Huron and Michigan. The photo here shows some of these shipwreck timbers which today rest peacefully once again underwater, discovered by a father and daughter from Camp Chickagami. Photo by John Porter.

These extremes have had profound effects on developed shoreline statewide, with much of Belle Isle being inundated with rising St. Clair River water, and roads in the Upper Peninsula at risk of eroding into Lake Superior. The impact on non-developed shoreline, like that found in Spitler Shore Nature Sanctuary, is yet to be realized, but it is now more clear than ever that these spaces need protecting, so that they can continue to support the diversity of plant and animal life required for a healthy ecosystem.

You can learn more about MNA’s statewide nature sanctuaries online at michigannature.org.

Estivant Pines 45th Anniversary Challenge

2018 marks the 45th anniversary of a remarkable example of what people can do when they join together to make a difference. In August of 1973, after a statewide campaign rallying the support of people across Michigan, MNA prevented Michigan’s largest remaining stand of old growth white pine forest from being destroyed forever. Because people across the state helped MNA purchase the land, nearly half-a-century later you can visit MNA’s Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary, walk its trails, and experience first-hand a majestic virgin forest that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years.

This year, MNA received a special challenge in honor of the 45th anniversary of the campaign to save Estivant Pines from logging. The grant will provide the $90,000 we need to purchase 60 acres along the southern border of Estivant Pines, but only if we show strong statewide support by raising an additional $90,000 for general stewardship.

Support Protecting Michigan Nature this #GivingTuesday

We need 45 individuals to give $100 between now and midnight Tuesday, November 27. As an added incentive, your $100 gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar. Donate to help save the Pines!

Expanding a 510-acre Living Museum of Michigan’s Old White Pine Forests

The majestic white pines at Estivant were once slated for logging and would have been lost were it not for MNA’s members, donors and volunteers who answered the call of concerned locals to save this Michigan natural treasure.

No single project has introduced more people across Michigan (and the nation) to the work of MNA and the importance of protecting Michigan’s natural heritage than Estivant Pines.

And there is no more inspiring example of what MNA can accomplish when we all pull together than the successful effort to protect Estivant Pines.

So much more than the white pines were saved! The dense, old growth forest canopy provides habitat for 85 species of birds, including 15 species of warblers. Many other animal species that prefer a mature forest habitat utilize these unique woods, including the pine marten. The pine marten was nearly eliminated from Michigan’s northern forests in the early 20th century.

Below the towering trunks of the pines live an astonishing array of wildflowers, such as asters, baneberry, pyrolas and twinflower. More than a dozen species of orchids and over 23 species of ferns, including spleenwort, maidenhair and holly fern, are also scattered across the forest floor.

Adding 60 Acres Near Where the Eight-Foot-Diameter “Leaning Giant” Once Stood

The additional 60 acres comes in two tracts, one on either side of the old growth white pine forest where the Leaning Giant was found years ago. Many of the more adventurous visitors to Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary take a rough and rugged hiking trail and cross the Montreal River to see the famous Leaning Giant, a celebrated white pine with a trunk eight feet in diameter. Named a Michigan champion white pine in 1971, the Leaning Giant was later brought down in 1987 by a fierce north wind but you can still see its massive trunk lying across the forest floor today.

With your support, we can meet this ambitious challenge and acquire this remarkable property. Along with old growth white pines, the 60 acre property contains large cedar and eastern hemlock trees and would serve as an important buffer to the heart of Estivant Pines. Wetlands found on the property are integral to the hydrology of an emergent wetland on the existing sanctuary that is regularly used by American bittern, a species of special concern in Michigan. Acquiring the 60 acres would also ensure the protection of a half mile of the Montreal River with frontage on both sides.

The Natural Fall Transition

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

As our summer slowly shifts into Michigan’s favorite season, the humidity will disappear into a brisk breeze and leaves will turn happy orange and red. You might partake in festive, nature oriented activities such as apple picking, birding, or fall color walks. Our reason for doing this is to enjoy some time with friends and family, but have you thought about the reason why nature acts as it does in the fall?

Migrating-Birds-Swans-Bill-and-Sharon-Draker-Rolfnp-comSince Autumn is a transitional season, often the plants and animals we see are in a transition period as they prepare for a long winter. For instance, birds are migrating back from their summer homes to somewhere less chilly for the winter. To many avid birders’ delights, we are lucky in Michigan to be able to see rare species such as warblers, vireos, and thrushes migrating. If you visit Whitefish Point, it is an excellent place to spot the migrating loons and, if you look towards the skies, you might also spot the soaring wingspans of sharp shinned hawks, bald eagles, and ospreys.

While the birds fly south, mammals take advantage of fall fruiting trees and plants. Species such as squirrels, chipmunks, and even bears might be more active as they prepare themselves for winter by gathering food and preparing nests or dens. Many types of berries and nuts ripen for consumption in the fall, and as the temperature cools, fungi also begin to sprout. The production of berries, nuts, and seeds this time of year cleverly coincides with the time that birds are stopping to snack during migration and when small mammals bury nuts for sparser months. These fruits and nuts are the structures that enable the dispersal of seeds, so these animals in transition are essential in the process of creating new plant life for some tree and shrub species such as red chokeberry, blackhaw viburnum, and common ninebark. Acorns from oak trees and hickory nuts serve the same purpose and are spread by small mammals in a process sometimes known as “scatter hoarding”.

lefglen nsWhile animals collect the nuts from trees for winter hibernation, the trees themselves have a very charismatic process that prepares them for their own kind of hibernation. During the winter months, deciduous trees go into a period of dormancy where they survive off the energy they stored during the sunny summer months, and they drop their leaves that contain chloroplasts (structures that turn light from the sun into plant food) to conserve energy. Leaves of trees can sense a shortening period of daylight, and eventually stop producing the chemical chlorophyll that make leaves green, and then we can see bright colored pigments such as orange and red that were previously masked by green all summer. We see the best fall colors when there is a wet growing season followed by a cool, frostless fall. Visit an MNA sanctuary to see this trees in action. Enjoy the colors!

Protecting Michigan Turtles

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

In the state of Michigan we are lucky to be the home of multiple turtle species, from the common snapping turtle to the red-eared slider. With such a diverse potential for habitat, turtles can live in woodlands, grasslands, lakes, rivers, wetlands, and even cities. Unfortunately, some turtles with more specific needs are suffering from habitat destruction and loss, making their survival a bit more difficult. Three of these critters are species of concern, which dictates that they are in need of specific conservation actions, and one species is currently threatened, which is a warning that it is on the brink of becoming endangered. An important way to help conserve these turtles is education, so let’s take a minute to learn how to identify these turtles and their habitat.

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Eastern box turtle

The first of the four is the eastern box turtle, one of the three species of special concern. Recognized by a helmet-shaped shell with yellow and orange blotches, the eastern box turtle prefers moist, deciduous woodlands with sandy soils and ravines or slopes. Historically, they have been common in eastern Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie woodlands but numbers are steadily decreasing.

 

 

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Blanding’s turtle

Blanding’s turtle, on the other hand, prefers more wetland habitat, a habitat itself that is in need of conservation effort. These turtles can be found in shallow weedy waters of wetlands, marshes, and swamps. Their shell is tall, domed, and of darker coloration. The rest of the skin is also darker, and the under part of its body and neck is a bright yellow color.

 

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Wood turtle

The Wood turtle prefers low disturbance, and because of that the species is now quite uncommon in the Great Lakes region. For most of the year, they reside in sandy bottom streams or rivers, but are terrestrial in the summer. Shells of wood turtles are brown or grayish brown, that sits low and central on their back. Their head, legs and tail are typically black while the softer parts of their body are a yellow color.

 

While the previous three turtles were species of special concern, the Spotted turtle is the one threatened turtle in Michigan. These turtles live in clear shallow water with mucky bottoms and much vegetation. Their populations are typically isolated and are found surrounded by areas of unsuitable habitat, and are unfortunately quite rare in the Great Lakes region. These turtles, like their name, are distinguished by small bright yellow spots on their dark colored shell.

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Spotted turtle

Many of the turtles mentioned above are threatened by wetland drainage and other types of disturbance such as pollution, nest predation, and over-harvest. One of the best ways you can help protect these species is by helping joining a conservation organization, such as the Michigan Nature Association, that supports efforts to protect their depleting habitat. Learn more about protecting and identifying your local turtles by visiting www.herpman.com.

Invasive Species Spotlight: Japanese Stiltgrass

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

Microstegium_viminium_specimenAt first glance, Japanese stiltgrass appears to be an innocent, pleasant-looking plant. Most wouldn’t even give the grass a single thought if they were to encounter it. In a sad reality, however, that “irreproachable” grass is quite the opposite. This invasive species chokes out the wildlife around it, and grows and spreads at an alarming rate. It decreases biodiversity and forces animals and plants alike out of their natural habitats. It is widely thought that this species is among one of the most dangerous invasives, as it has spread throughout the country very quickly in relatively little time.

The grass was introduced in Tennessee in the early 1900s through its use as a packing material. It is native to Japan, China, central Asia, and India. Since then, it has spread rapidly to the east, and has started to make its way into the Midwest.

Like other invasive plant species, Japanese stiltgrass is spread with the unintentional aid of humans and animals. The small seeds latch onto fur and clothing, or are carried by the wind. The seeds can survive for up to five years in the soil. The stiltgrass can cross and self fertilize, producing up to 1,000 seeds per individual plant. Most animals avoid eating the plant, leaving it to grow with little to no controlling factors.

The stiltgrass is most often found in shaded areas that are often subject to soil disturbances such as tilling or flooding. It is found along roadways, in floodplains, along hiking paths, as well as in damp woodlands. It’s not picky when it comes to the acidity of the soil it inhabits, though it prefers the soil to be fertile. When in direct sunlight, it doesn’t grow as quickly as it normally could. Its growth is also slowed when near stagnant bodies of water. The grass can also infiltrate residential areas, and is often found in flower beds, lawns, and parks.

JPSGrass identification is notoriously tricky, but thankfully, Japanese stiltgrass has a variety of distinct features for people to identify it by. First off, each plant can have multiple weak stems that branch near the base of the plant. The stems are smooth, and can be green, brown, or purple. The leaves are two to four inches long, and about half an inch in length. They’re pointed on both ends, and have off-centered, silver, ridges. They are widely spread out on the stem. The roots are thin, and weak. They are very easy to pull out of the ground because they do not grow very deep into the soil. Aerial rootlets are present along nodes near the base of the stem – these stilt-like features are what gives the plant its common name of “stiltgrass”. The plants grow flowers in late summer through early fall, and the flowers have a few spikes.

Japanese stiltgrass can get up to about six feet tall, though many plants tend to be between one to three feet in height. The taller plants usually prop themselves up on other plants or trees, or they lay flat against the ground. During the autumn, the tops of the plants turn purple or brown, and in the winter the thatch turns an orange color.

While keeping Japanese stiltgrass under control and preventing it from spreading further may seem like a daunting task, it is undoubtedly a necessary one for the well-being of many ecosystems. Within recent years this invasive has spread to northern Indiana, and last year it was found for the first time in Michigan, in Washtenaw County. Be sure not to get it confused with common look alikes such as Whitegrass, Nimblewill, Basketgrass, Deer tongue, Smartweed, or Crabgrass!

Eddmaps MV distribution as of July 2018

Walk to Big Valley

Walk to Big Valley
Thursday, July 26
6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Rose Township Hall
9080 Mason St, Holly, MI

Join the Rose Township Heritage Committee along with the Michigan Nature Association for a nature and historical walk from the Rose Township Hall to an overlook of the Big Valley Nature Sanctuary – home to a high quality prairie fen (a unique and rare type of wetland with an array of interesting native plants and animal species including a small butterfly that is federally listed as endangered).

The program is for all ages (and free) and will begin with a short presentation in the lower level of the Rose Township Hall located at 9080 Mason Street. Afterwards there will be about a 2 mile walk (round trip). While walking we will pass one of the township’s historical homes with a very interesting history and some interesting geological features. Refreshments will be served. Wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing.

Please RSVP to Dianne Scheib-Snider, dianne@rosetownship.com, 248-634-6889

Big Valley