Species Spotlight: Kirtland’s Warbler

By Ally Brown, MNA Intern

In some instances, the occurrence of a wildfire can mean devastation for species with restricted ranges and population; however, for one of Michigan’s rarest warblers, fires are crucial for building its niche habitat and sustaining the population. The Kirtland’s warbler is a member of the Parulidae or New World warbler family which measures about six inches in length and is distinguishable by the striking yellow plumage on its throat and breast and split white eye rings. As is the case with many of Michigan’s bird species, the Kirtland’s warbler nests in parts of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas during the summer months and makes the long journey to the south for the winter months – in this case a 1400 mile trip to the Bahamas. While it may seem as though this long-distance flight would be the toughest part of life as a Kirtland’s warbler, the largest challenge this population faces comes from its time up north.


Photo: Ron Austing

Although not immediately obvious by the forested landscapes known today, Michigan’s history is one of expansive barrens and frequent fires. Many grassland and barren species adapted to this cycle of burnings, one of which is the fire dependent jack pine tree. Heat is necessary to the lifecycle of the jack pine, as it promotes the tree’s cones to fully open and successfully germinate. With the suppression of fire, young stands of jack pine become less and less common and old stands grow dense and tall, losing their lower branches due to lack of sunlight. The degradation and succession of the jack pine ecosystem reasonably follows this lack of fire, but what was not suspected was the subsequent decline in the Kirtland warbler population.

According to the DNR, Kirtland’s warblers nest in young jack pines on branches that essentially touch the ground, where they can hide their nests among dense thickets of pine and grasses. In order for these conditions to occur, the pines must be young and small so that sunlight can reach the ground and keep the lower branches of the trees alive. This also requires the occurrence of frequent fires to remove older trees in exchange for the germination of their cones. Without these fires, the selective female warblers will refuse to nest and, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, only single male warblers will continue to live in the old, successional stands. Another major benefit of hiding nests in the lower branches of young jack pines is protection from the parasitic brown headed cowbird, which will remove warbler eggs from the nest and replace them with eggs of its own.

Today, with the importance of fire and the jack pine to Kirtland’s warbler populations known, effort is being placed to conserve this habitat and the warbler population. Several of MNA’s sanctuaries house populations of jack pine, including Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary, and today birders can view this rare bird through tours given by the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team. According to the DNR, the best way to support this endangered species is to educate yourself and those around you through research or attending birding tours, as well as to donate to local organizations, like the Michigan Nature Association, dedicated to protecting and rebuilding the warbler population.


Species Spotlight: Lake Sturgeon

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

lake sturgeon

Though Lake Sturgeon make look intimidating with their armored, angular bodies, it may be fair to classify them as gentle giants of the Great Lakes. They have lived in this region for around 10,000 years – and have existed for around 136 million. Capable of living for 150 years or longer, these ancient freshwater behemoths are the longest-lived of Michigan’s fish species, as well as the largest, having been known to reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh several hundred pounds. It may technically be female sturgeon which are the longest-lived Great Lakes fish, though, as they can outlive males by as much as a century!

Sturgeon are cartilaginous (non-bony) fish with torpedo-shaped bodies. Instead of scales, they have a kind of armor in the form of bony scutes that cover their bodies. Juveniles may be gray or brown, and appear more angular, while adults tend to be lighter in color and may be gray or olive. The growth rates of Sturgeon are highly variable, but cleaner, more temperate waters and greater food availability offer ideal conditions for these fish to grow large.

Sexual maturity in males is reached anywhere from 8 to 22 years for males and 14 to 26 years for females. Spawning occurs in early spring, usually from April to June, when water temperatures warm to 53-64° F in clean, shallow waters and fast-moving stream rapids. Though they accomplish this impressive feat on average only once every 6-7 years, females lay millions of eggs when spawning – that’s an average of 5,500 eggs per pound of fish!

Once, the range of lake sturgeon extended from parts of Canada down to Alabama, and populations in the Great Lakes region were estimated to have numbered in the millions. However, only remnant populations remain. Historic overfishing in the 19th and 20th centuries nearly led to the extinction of lake sturgeon, as well as pollution and habitat loss from dams and deforestation. They are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern in all but one of the states throughout their range.

Thankfully, Michigan sponsors efforts to protect sturgeon and restore parts of their habitat. Their spawning period is an especially crucial one, as their preferences for shallow waters make them vulnerable. If you happen to come across sturgeon in the wild, count yourself fortunate to have witnessed these living fossils. Learn more about this iconic Great Lakes species from the DNR website.

Join MNA on Sunday, October 8 for our annual Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K in Detroit! Run along the scenic roadway of Belle Isle State Park. The fee for adults is $25, and $10 for kids. As always, a t-shirt is included and all runners receive a participatory medal! Proceeds will promote efforts to protect the Lake Sturgeon. Register online or contact Jess Foxen at jfoxen@michigannature.org for more information.

A pre-party will be held at Blaze Pizza, located at 3129 Fairlane Drive, Allen Park, from 3-7 pm. Present this flyer with your fast-fire’d creation and Blaze will donate 20% of their proceeds to MNA! Happy running!

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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.

Endangered Species Day – A Celebration of Species Protection and a Day of Action

Image result for endangered species day

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

An exciting day for species conservation, the 12th annual Endangered Species Day is today, May 19. This day provides an opportunity for people to learn everyday actions they can take to help protect our nation’s endangered species. Today will facilitate recognition of the extensive efforts currently in place to protect our nation’s endangered and threatened species and their habitats.

Michigan is home to fourteen endangered and twelve threatened species, comprised of eight plant species (seven threatened, one endangered) and nineteen animals (six threatened, thirteen endangered). Of these lists, two species, the piping plover and the Poweshiek skipperling, have been designated with habitats in critical condition. For a list of all Michigan Federally-listed Threatened, Endangered, Proposed, and Candidate Species, follow the link to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/lists/michigan-spp.html

Spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation, the Endangered Species Day was established in 2006 after the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution designating a day to encourage the public to become educated about, and aware of, the current threats to species and the success stories in species recovery.

Plants and animals near extinction were first provided security in the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by Congress in 1973. In a conservation win, only 9 of out of 1,800 species listed as endangered were declared extinct since the implementation of the Act. Having paved the road for the Endangered Species Day, the Act declared the importance of protecting endangered species and containing extinction prevention for hundreds of species, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear and the Florida panther.

Now Endangered Species Day is recognized across the nation and in events at schools, libraries, museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, businesses and community groups alike. It also provides the opportunity for promoting all worldwide species conservation efforts.

Butterfly Run logoThis Saturday, May 20, join the Michigan Nature Association for its third annual Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids, as part of 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. This event will help raise awareness for endangered species and habitat conservation efforts. Sign up at https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Walker/KarnerBlueButterflyRun.

2017 Race for Michigan Nature to Benefit Endangered Species

5K Race Banner for social media

Sign up today! 
Join MNA in the Race for Michigan Nature series across the state

Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and run, walk, or jog along the park trails in select cities across Michigan with the Michigan Nature Association!

MNA’s statewide Race for Michigan Nature series of Family Fun Runs & 5Ks stretches from Belle Isle in Detroit to Marquette in the U.P. The races are  endorsed by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports and qualify for the Pure Michigan Challenge.

The Family Fun Runs & 5Ks will promote efforts to preserve habitat for threatened and endangered species throughout Michigan.

Register Today

Bring the whole family! The Kids Fun Run will be a 1 mile race 30 minutes prior to the 5K.

Kids 1 Mile Fun Run: $10
5K Run/Walk: Early registration is just $25 ($30 day-of).

Participants will receive a commemorative Run t-shirt and a finisher medal!
Prizes for the top male and female runners.

If you have any questions please call Jess at
866-223-2231 or email her at jfoxen@michigannature.org.

We hope to see you there!

Find a race in your area!

​Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, May 20
Millennium Park, Grand Rapids

Karner Blue 5K logo - 300 dpi 2

Moose on the Loose Family Fun Run & 5K
Saturday, August 26
Presque Isle Park, Marquette

Moose 5K logo

Rattlesnake Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 17
Paint Creek Trail, Rochester

Rattlesnake Run 5K logo - 300 dpi

Turtle Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, September 24
Gallup Park, Ann Arbor

Turtle Run 5K logo - 300 dpi

Monarch March Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 1
Mayor’s Riverfront Park, Kalamazoo

Monarch March 5K logo - 300 dpi

Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K
Sunday, October 8
Belle Isle Park, Detroit

Sturgeon Logo

Species Spotlight: Karner Blue Butterfly

Karner blue butterfly

Photo: Marilyn Keigley

By Eugene Kutz, MNA Intern

Butterflies embody the transcendent journey of nature. Fascinated with their metamorphic abilities, many harbor a love for the butterfly’s diverse incarnations. Sadly, there are ongoing threats to the habitats of many of these butterfly species. One such species is the Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis), which according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declined by 99% over the past 100 years, 90% of which occurred in the past 15 years.


Photo: Animals Time

Found near the Great Lakes and the northeast United States, this subspecies of the Melissa blue butterfly have a wingspan of about one inch. Individual adults usually live only five days or so, with females living up to two weeks. They are identified as male and female from telling characteristics. Males have a silvery or dark blue topside with narrow black margins—whereas female wings are gray-brown with a blue topside, featuring orange bands inside a black border. Both males and females sport the same gray underside with beautiful orange crescents along the edge of the wings, with scattered black spots circled with white.

In Michigan, Karner blues have historically lived in the western and southern Lower Peninsula. The amount of available habitat for Karners has reduced, causing a significant population decline. The Karner blue suffered extreme habitat loss and degradation, causing a massive population drop from 1970 to 1980, becoming federally listed as endangered by 1992. It has since been listed as a Michigan threatened species (plants and animals likely to become endangered). The species is currently surviving in at least 10 southern Michigan counties.

Karners prefer to live in oak savannas and pine barrens, and are found inhabiting areas that are partially shady with sandy soil. Previously living in a range from Maine to Minnesota, the Karner blue butterfly now exists only in smaller populations in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York and Minnesota and is believed to have disappeared permanently in Illinois, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire and Ontario.

Lupine By USFWS Joel Trick

Lupine By USFWS; Joel Trick

The wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) is the only food source for the Karner caterpillar larvae, and adults feed on the flowering plant nectar. Yet the habitats do not completely overlap, the Karner population range occupying only the north-most growth extent of the lupine. These factors greatly restrict where the Karner can live, endangering the species. Habitats are also lost when plants like the lupine lose in competition with other vegetation in these habitat ranges, like pine and oak trees.

Other primary causes of Karner blue habitat destruction are land development and a lack of natural disturbance, such as wildfire and grazing by large mammals. Without fire, the kind of open-canopy habitats lupine plants require become overgrown into closed-canopies. These events maintain their habitat by keeping forests from encroaching and adding in the growth of plants like the lupine. Now the Karner blue mostly survives in degraded openings, old fields, and utility and highway rights-of-way.

Researchers continue to search for the best way to manage their population. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have created and implanted a Recover Plan for protecting and restoring the Karner blue. Many butterfly collectors may wish to have a Karner blue for its rarity, but due to their low numbers even collecting a few individuals could harm their survival, and to legally collect one must obtain a permit from the FWS. In some places, the butterfly’s habitats are managed and protected. Wisconsin has implemented a statewide Habitat Conservation Plan that permits human activities in areas that support the species and its habitat. Zoos have reintroduced Karner blues by propagating them in new suitable habitats in Ohio, Indiana and New Hampshire in areas where the Karner has previously been extirpated.

At MNA sanctuaries, visitors can observe these beautiful butterflies. MNA is fighting for the conservation of the Karner blue butterfly, restoring critical habitat in several counties. MNA is protecting these “conservation-reliant” species through active restoration and stewardship, using techniques like prescribed fire, to maintain their habitat.

There are many ways people can play a critical role in protecting the future of this species by supporting local conservation efforts. In addition, help protect the Karner blue butterfly by conserving or managing your property for Karner blue and other rare species, contacting local Landowner Incentives Program (LIP) Biologists, learning more about federal programs available to landowners, supporting the use of prescribed fire to maintain prairies and savannas, and limiting or avoiding the use of pesticides near Karner blue butterfly habitats.

Learn more about this unique endangered butterfly at the Michigan Nature Association’s third annual Karner Blue Butterfly Family Fun Run & 5K on May 20 at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids. This event will help to raise awareness for endangered species and habitat conservation efforts. Sign up at https://runsignup.com/Race/MI/Walker/KarnerBlueButterflyRun.


Karner Blue Butterfly Run in Grand Rapids. Photo: Pamela Ferris


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 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.