Birding Trails, Fungi, and Protecting Native Species: this week in environmental news

Birdwatchers celebrate two new birding trails in Michigan (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan’s Northwest Lower Peninsula is a paradise for birdwatchers. Piping plovers, on the endangered species list, and the snowy owl nest there in the winter. The region is a stopover for thousands of birds on their way to breeding grounds. The Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, in partnership with local conservancies, plans to celebrate the launch of the Sunset Coast Birding Trail later this year. The trail will start in Mackinaw City and follow a coastal corridor through Emmet, Charlevoix and Antrim counties. According to a report of the Mackinac Straits Raptor Watch, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the birds and their migration, 47,090 birds migrated through the straits in 2016. Another new trail, The Blue Water Birding Trail in St. Clair County, is also expected to launch this year. Michigan has six birding trails already – North Huron Birding Trail and Superior Birding Trail in the Upper Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Birding Trail, Beaver Island Birding Trail, Sunrise Coast Birding Trail and Saginaw Bay Birding Trail in the Lower Peninsula.

piping plover

The piping plover. Image: United States Fish and Wildlife Service Mountain Prairie

Fantastic Fungi in Michigan (Oakland County Times): “Fantastic Fungi in Michigan: You don’t have to go to the rain forest to see amazing mushrooms” speaker program is being held on Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 beginning 7:30 pm at the Royal Oak Middle School (709 N. Washington). Join Mary Fredricks, Nature Society mycologist, and learn about mushrooms tiny enough to grow on oak leaves, beautiful mushrooms that are among the most poisonous known, mushrooms that are easy to overlook during the day but glow at night, and more, all growing right here in Michigan. There is no preregistration or cost for this program.

Usually the villain, invasive species odd hero for native fish (Great Lakes Echo): A native fish may be poised for a comeback in the Great Lakes with the help of an invasive species. Great Lakes cisco, also known as lake herring, typically grow about 12 to 15 inches long and at one point supported one of the largest commercial fisheries in the region. They disappeared from much of the basin around the 1950s. Now it looks like the stage has been set for their return–by an unlikely ally. Invasive quagga mussels have depleted nutrients in the lakes. Cisco do well in low-nutrient environments, unlike competing species like the invasive alewife. That gives cisco space to thrive.

cisco

Cisco caught in Lake Michigan. Image: Katie Steiger-Meister/USFWS.

Trump admin delays listing bumblebee as endangered (The Detroit News): The Trump administration delayed what would be the first endangered designation for a bee species in the continental U.S., one day before it was to take effect. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a rule Jan. 11 extending federal protection to the rusty patched bumblebee, one of many types of bees that play a vital role in pollinating crops and wild plants. It once was common across the East Coast and much of the Midwest, but its numbers have plummeted since the late 1990s.

 

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Michigan bird guide, financial case for carbon rule presented and the social network of prairie dogs: this week in environmental news

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Winged Wednesday: A Great Lakes summer bird guide (Great Lakes Echo): There are 47 million bird watchers in the nation over the age of 16, according to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey. With this nationwide trend, the Great Lakes State offers diverse habitats throughout both peninsulas, making it difficult for birdwatchers to pick a favorite location.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86 (New York Times): Basic animal science in the 1950s made the claim that animals made noises very unlike human conversation. Yet, when Peter Marler, an animal behaviorist born in Britian, came along, he showed that songbirds learned to sign in varieties or dialects of their region.

White House pushes financial case for carbon rule (New York Times): According to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday, carbon emissions causing climate change could cost $150 billion per year. The report serves as another way to further Obama’s plan of cutting carbon emissions and reducing climate change.

Vicious cycle: Air conditioning is making your city even hotter (Conservation Magazine): Rising temperatures start creating a cycle of turning on the air conditioning, emitting carbon into the air and causing temperatures to continue to rise in the long run. Yet recent research has shown that air conditioners are also making temperatures hotter just through the absorption of hot air in a room and its emission outdoors.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Creating a prairie dog “Facebook” to aid conservation (Conservation Magazine): In recent studies, researchers have attempted to gain more insight into the social world of animals via “social network analysis.” This method in research has helped scientists to take a closer look into the complex social networks, hubs and connections of prairie dogs.

Birds Aplenty, EPA Emission Standards and a ‘State of Disaster’: This Week in Environmental News

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Each week, MNA gathers some of the top news stories related to the environment from around the state and country. Take a look at what happened this week in environmental news:

Michigan offers numerous opportunities for excellent spring birdwatching. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Michigan offers numerous opportunities for excellent spring birdwatching. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Birds aplenty at annual bird watching festival (mlive): Migratory birds are beginning to return to Michigan, and more than 500 bird species will return to the Upper Midwest this spring. Michigan offers numerous opportunities for spring birdwatching, with many spring birdwatching festivals. Many events offer guided tours, group socials, workshops and speakers on various topics.

Southwest Michigan wildfire danger will be high—when the snow’s gone (mlive): Wildfire season is here for Southwest Michigan, and there is already an increased risk of fire spreading out of control. DNR firefighters are conducting several prescribed burns to remove dry grasses, leaf litter and invasive plants, but homeowners should be cautious about using fire to burn leaves until they get full grass green-up.

Court Upholds EPA Emission Standards (ABC News): A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s first emission standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal and oil fired power plants. The court rejected state and industry challenges to rules designed to clean up dangerous toxins. The ruling is a giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air.

Gov. Rick Snyder seeks to double Michigan recycling rate in next two years (mlive): Gov. Rick Snyder released a plan to boost recycling of household solid waste in Michigan. Our state lags behind other states in this field. The initiative calls for doubling within two years the rate at which Michigan recycles cans, newspapers, bottles and other household refuse. The plan would take a four-pronged approach.

Governor declares ‘state of disaster’ for Osceola, Newaygo counties (Up North Live): After severe storms, melting snow and heavy rain that caused severe flooding and wind damage, the Governor for Newaygo and Osceola counties declared a state of disaster. This will allow the state to make resources available to help with local response and recovery efforts. Both counties were severely affected by flooding and it forced many to evacuate their homes.

Springtime Brings Bird Watching

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Now that spring is finally here and signs of warmer weather are in the air, birds will soon return north. We thought we would feature a few birds that can be seen throughout Michigan this spring. Keep a sharp eye out for them this season!

American Bittern

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

The American Bittern. Photo by Jerry Segraves via Wikimedia Commons

This well-camouflaged heron is difficult to see amongst the dense reed beds, but its distinct booming call carries far and can be heard throughout the marsh at dawn and dusk. This stocky heron is streaked with tan, brown and white over its body. Accentuating the plumage are darker wings and flight feathers, a black face and long neck streaks. The American Bittern has a three foot wingspan, but it only weighs about one pound.

The American Bittern breeds in wetlands across much of Canada and the northern half of the United States. They inhabit large, reedy wetlands and shallow freshwater marshes. Their camouflage makes the bird extremely difficult to see as it wades and stalks through the cattails and reeds. When alarmed, the bittern freezes with its head, neck and bill pointing straight up, making it become one with the reeds and almost impossible to see.

Pied-billed Grebe

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

A pied-billed grebe. Photo by Linda Tanner via Wikimedia Commons

The Pied-billed Grebe is a small, stocky and short-necked waterbird that measures only 11 to 15 inches in total length. They are dark brown with a black throat patch and the sides of their necks and flanks are grayish. Their tail is a tuft of sort wispy feathers of white. Their name comes from their pied, or two-colored, bill which is bluish-white with a distinct black vertical bar on either side. The bill is short, laterally compressed and slightly hooked downwards.

The Pied-billed Grebe is the most widely distributed grebe in the Americas. They breed in permanent ponds and marshes and require dense stands of deep water vegetation, such as cattail, for nesting and cover.  This bird is very secretive and is generally heard more than it is seen. they are most vocal during breeding season in late April and May. Their vocal array consists of a repeated series of soft and slow to start caow caow notes that build in volume and speed, followed by a series of long, wining kaooo notes.

Cooper’s Hawk

A Cooper's Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

A Cooper’s Hawk. Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons

The Cooper’s Hawk is a crow sized raptor that is found across the United States. This raptor is the scourger of the backyard bird feeder. They are 14 to 21 inches in length and have a wingspan from 27 to 36 inches. The eyes of the Cooper’s Hawk are large and yellow and a deep red. They have a black cap and a hooked bill that is well adapted for tearing flesh from their prey. Their tail is a distinct part of the breed, which can be identified by several dark bands and a white band at its tip. The white breast and belly of the hawk are crossed with reddish bars.

The Cooper’s Hawk is seen mostly flying with quick, consecutive wing beats and a short glide, though they may also soar. they occur in various types of mixed deciduous forests and open woodland throughout Michigan.

 

 Red-winged Blackbird

A male red-winged blackbird perches in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via WIkimedia Commons

A male red-winged blackbird perched in a tree. Photo by Geoff Gallice via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most abundant birds across North America, the Red-winged Blackbird is a familiar sight sitting atop cattails and reeds. This stocky bird has broad shoulders with a slender, conical bill. Red-winged Blackbirds often show a hump-backed silhouette while perched and males often sit with their tail slightly flared. They can be found in fresh and saltwater marshes, along watercourses and drier meadows.

These birds are often hard to mistake if you are looking at a male. They have a jet black glossy coat with scarlet and yellow shoulder patches that they puff up or hide depending on the situation. They do everything they can to gain attention; they sit on high perches and belt their song all day. Females, which are subdued in color and are streaky brown with a paler breast and whitish eyebrow, stay lower and hidden through the vegetation while weaving their nests.

This spring, MNA is hosting a number of birding events for members and guests to enjoy. Be sure to check out some some out this season! For more information about these events, visit www.michigannature.org/events.

April 21 – Exploration Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary

April 25 – Whitefish Point Spring Fling

April 27 – Birding Hike at Columbia Nature Sanctuary

An endangered butterfly, emerald ash borers and a new dinosaur: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, 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:

In Great Lakes, Reports Offer Reassurance and Warnings About Oil Pipeline Safety (Circle of Blue): Recent studies from the National Research Council contradict the previously-believed corrosive nature of some oil compounds. The three studies focused on diluted bitumen, a heavy oil mined in Alberta. Recent ruptures and leaks in U.S. pipelines transporting diluted bitumen from Canada have raised concern that the compound may be more corrosive and difficult to move than conventional crude oil. Though researchers have found bitumen to have no unique corrosive properties or greater spill risk than crude oil, the compound continues testing.

Image

The poweshiek skipperling.
Photo courtesy of Dwayne Bagdero.

Researchers work to save endangered prairie butterfly (Toronto Star): Researchers in the U.S. and Canada are searching for ways to stop a rapid population decline among the poweshiek skipperling, a once-common prairie butterfly. The brown, moth-like insect was once common in areas of Canada and the Midwest but, as prairie habitats began to diminish, the species’ population suddenly shrunk to alarmingly low numbers. Researchers are cautious yet optimistic about the poweshiek skipperling’s rehabilitation and are working to prevent some wildfires and farming practices that are currently devastating to the species.

Michigan’s native plants are essential in preserving the state’s ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Detroit native Cheryl English maintains an extensive home garden not only to add beauty to her neighborhood, but also to share the necessity of Michigan’s native plants. English’s yard stands out among the rest on her East English Village block, as her front and back lawns are covered with Michigan-native plants, including various bushes, shrubs, cacti and wildflowers. One of the main lessons English hopes people will learn from her garden is the environmental significance of native plant life and how every species plays an important role in its ecosystem.

Image

The emerald ash borer.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Little Things, Big Problems: Emerald Ash Borer (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is producing a series of educational videos on the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle species that originated from Asia and eastern Russia. The series emphasizes the harmful effects of the beetle, which lays its larva in ash trees and has killed a total of 40 million of these trees in the United States. It is critical that people know their role in the spreading of emerald ash borer and that they prevent the spread of the insect by never moving firewood to or from other areas.

Conservationists are peeping mad about birdsong apps (Mother Nature Network): Smartphone apps that play audio of bird calls have drawn attention from conservationists in England, as many park visitors are using the sounds to draw birds from their nests in order to photograph them. Conservationists argue that this distraction prevents birds from performing necessary duties, such as protecting their young. Still, some enthusiasts believe that bird watching apps help draw a wider audience to the hobby, allowing more people to better understand and enjoy nature.

New Big-Nosed Horned Dinosaur Found in Utah (National Geographic News): Paleontologists in Utah have discovered a new dinosaur, Nasutoceratops titusi. The dinosaur, a Triceratops relative, is a member of a group of horned, four-legged herbivores called ceratopsids. This newly discovered species is especially interesting to researchers because, though most known ceratopsids resemble the Triceratops, the new dinosaur looks quite different, with a large nose and curved horns over its eyes.

Lake symposium, Muskegon bear, and carp testing: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, 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:

Students, Teachers Gather at Tech to Learn About Lake Superior (Michigan Tech News): Michigan Technological University will hold its 10th Biennial Lake Superior Symposium this weekend, drawing an expected 200 students and teachers in grades 7-12. The gathering will feature 50 presenters, covering topics such as student stewardship initiatives and conservation issues in the Lake Superior area. The goal of the four-day event is to teach attendees about the Great Lakes watersheds, inspiring them to apply this knowledge in their various communities. The program is made possible by the work of Joan Chadde, longtime MNA steward and volunteer, as well as input from other MTU staff members and Great Lakes organizations.

Muskegon bear may have found his way home, spotted swimming north (mlive): A young black bear seen around Muskegon appears to be headed home, according to DNR officials. After swimming south across Muskegon Lake, “Muskegon bear” was first spotted around Great Lakes Marina early Monday morning and later settled near the Muskegon Lakeshore Trail. Officials closed the bike trail, avoided the use of tranquilizers, and advised onlookers to leave the bear alone. After a day of attention from media representatives and local spectators, the bear reportedly returned to the lake and swam back northward.

Great Lakes Water quality improved but there are still issues, report says (JSOnline): Rapid ice cover reduction and excessive nutrients are growing problems in the Great Lakes, even in the midst of a federal restoration program. Though assessments of the water’s chemical health show mostly positive results, some data reveals an increase in toxic chemicals over the past decade. This could be caused by ballast water discharges from foreign freighters, which were not addressed in the Clean Water Act of 1972. The International Joint Commission suggests that both U.S. and Canadian governments look into creating a structure to reduce the flow of the St. Clair River as a possible solution.

Blind birdwatchers learn to see by hearing sounds (CBS News): Donna Posont, field director for Opportunities for the Blind in Dearborn, has developed a new approach to bird identification: “birding by ear.” Posont teaches blind students to memorize various bird calls in the classroom, which they are later able to identify in the wild. Bird watching becomes bird listening, allowing the blind to recognize birds without seeing them at all. Posont hopes the activity will not only connect the students to the outdoors but also provide them with a sense of confidence.

Grand tested for Asian carp (Grand Haven Tribune): A portable lab was established on the Odawa/Battle Point Launch in Grand Haven Township on Wednesday as part of a federal invasive species monitoring program. Officials took water samples from the Grand River, searching for environmental Asian carp DNA. Though there is currently no indication of the species in Lake Michigan, Asian carp pose a large threat to the Great Lakes. The purpose of the monitoring program is to gather baseline data, hoping to remain one step ahead of a potential invasion.

April’s heavy rains pushed billions of gallons of sewage into Michigan waterways (mlive): Recent heavy rains have revealed that Michigan’s sewage system may be a larger issue than expected. April rains overwhelmed sewer systems, releasing approximately 1.5 billion gallons of partially treated and raw sewage into lakes and streams. The leakage was likely a result of Michigan’s “combined” sewage systems, which carry both sewage and stormwater to treatment plants. This issue has led to a call for increased state funding for sanitary and storm sewers.

Join MNA for the 25th annual WPBO Spring Fling

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Just as birds migrate north when winter becomes spring, so will Whitefish Point Observatory members, MNA members and their guests—although their migration only lasts a weekend—as they head to Whitefish Point for the 25th annual WPBO Spring Fling. This weekend of birding activities from April 26-28 gives attendees a chance to learn more about avian migration and conservation in the Great Lakes from fellow birders, field trip leaders and guest speakers.

A Great Gray Owl. Photo by Marian Szengel. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Spring Fling features two main workshops on Saturday that teach participants about Great Gray Owls and some local bird species in the Whitefish Point area. Other special events include a talk on piping plover monitoring, bird walks around the point, and owl viewings at dusk and dawn. There are also optional pre- and post-Fling field trips: Birding in Paradise on April 26 and Searching for Spruce Grouse on April 28. Visit the WPBO website for a detailed events schedule.

This year’s banquet speaker is Alicia King, communications coordinator and Urban Bird Treaty coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Program. Alicia was the director of the Bird Conservation Alliance at American Bird Conservatory before joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, served as a host on the “BirdWatch” T.V. program for PBS and hosted the Bird Feature segment on “Discover the Wild” for Wyoming PBS. She is the author of the Orvis Beginners Guide to Birdwatching and has written several book chapters, educational brochures and magazine articles. And, to add to her avian experience, she currently serves on the board for the American Ornithologists Union Committee on Conservation.

Always something new

Spring Fling Chair Mary Wise’s favorite part of the event is that you never know what you’re going to get from the weather or the birds.

“It can be anything from freezing cold to 70s and sunny, and the birds just don’t care,” she said.

Spring Fling birdwatchers a few years ago saw a snowy owl—a species that only visits Michigan in the winter—and an avocet—a southern and western shorebird that doesn’t regularly appear in Michigan, especially in April—on the same stretch of beach in the same day. They didn’t see any incredibly rare birds two years ago, but they did have a strong hawk migration all weekend and witnessed a flight on Sunday with at least 13 hawk species.

Mary added that there’s something for everyone, whether they’re experienced birders or just beginning.

“If people are already into birdwatching, it’s a great place to hang out and see some really good birds,” she said. “If they are new, well, it’s a great place to hang out and learn birds! There’s always something to look at there.”

Registration is $25 for adults and $12.50 for children for Saturday workshops only. All participants must be registered by April 16. Contact Adrienne Bozic for more information at abozic@michigannature.org.