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.

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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.

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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.

 

MNA turns 65!

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.

Red Wing Acres

Red Wing Acres

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.

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Julius C. and Marie Moran Peter Memorial Nature Sanctuary

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.

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Roach Point. Photo: Jeff Ganley.

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.

Twin Waterfalls

Twin Waterfalls Memorial. Photo: Charles Eshbach

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.

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Bertha receiving her honorary Grinnell degree

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.

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MNA Founder, Bertha Daubendiek

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.

Brockway Mountain

Brockway Mountain. Photo: J. Haara

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.

Kids Day

Kids Day in Newaygo

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!

Bee Restoration, Lake Trout, and Birding Apps: this week in environmental news

To save bees, city plans 1,000 acres of prairie (mother nature network): It’s generally a bad time to be a bee in the United States. Populations of the pollinating insects have been declining for more than a decade, including managed honeybee colonies as well as various species of native wild bees. Of course, this isn’t just bad news for bees. Not only do honeybees give us honey and wax, but bees of all stripes play a pivotal role in our food supply. This spring, the city of Cedar Rapids will seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, part of a broader plan to create a diffuse, 1,000-acre haven for bees and other pollinators. This should help local ecosystems as well as local farms, and if it works as intended, it could become a model for similar projects elsewhere. The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative in Cedar Rapids is hoping to create a movement to build oases for pollinators across the country.

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A bee forages among purple flowers near Iowa City. Photo: Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr.

Searching for bee veterinarians (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan State University is searching for veterinarians willing to treat bees. The Pollinator Initiative at Michigan State launched the search after a recent FDA decision outlawed over-the-counter antibiotics for all food-producing animals. That means a veterinarian has to give beekeepers a prescription for antibiotics. Meghan Milbrath, a beekeeper of 23 years, has a list of 22 Michigan veterinarians who are willing to work with beekeepers, and it is online for beekeepers to find and pick from, depending on their location. In the meantime, Milbrath will train the veterinarians on how to write bee prescriptions. She is teaching online courses and hosting monthly webinars. Eventually, she hopes to create a bee health elective in the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU.

Unique lake trout could help restore Lake Michigan population (Great Lakes Echo): Scientists have found a potential new ally in the fight to restore lake trout in Lake Michigan. Elk Lake in Northwest Michigan is home to a strain of that fish that researchers believe can contribute uniquely to restoring it. Elk Lake trout have been self-sustaining and reproducing for years. Scientists have been attempting for decades to reintroduce strains from Lake Superior and other areas in the basin–with mixed success. Stocking from Elk Lake may be more successful. Diversity benefits reintroduction efforts because different strains survive in different habitats. Improving lake trout stocking has broad public support.

It’s like Shazam for birds: Song Sleuth app IDs birds by their song (treehugger): The Song Sleuth app was just released for iOS, with an Android version in the works for this fall, and it not only helps people become better birders by helping them identify birds by their songs, but it also includes access to The David Sibley Bird Reference, which offers additional details about the birds, including the birds’ seasonal range maps, song samples, and illustrations of their appearance. Song Sleuth users need merely open the app, push the record button, and allow the app to listen in and record the bird’s song, after which the users are presented with the three most probable birds that the song belongs to. Users can geotag their recordings, add custom notes to them, download the audio files for future reference, or even send their recordings to others via email of messaging apps, further adding to the social nature of the birding community (or used to attract more people to the art and science of birding).

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Song Sleuth App. © Wildlife Acoustics.

Lake Erie, Birds, and Earthworms: this week in environmental news

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Lake Erie algal bloom in 2015. Image: NASA

Michigan declares Lake Erie impaired (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder designated that state’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired on November 10. Lake Erie has been threatened by toxic algae blooms for several years, threatening drinking water quality in Toledo and limiting recreational uses. Within the past year, the governors of Michigan and Ohio and the premier of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the threat of toxic algae. They set a goal to reduce phosphorous loading up to 40 percent by 2025.

Toxins kill thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore (Great Lakes Echo): Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches. But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore. Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions. Botulism forms when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. Even as botulism begins to form, it’s down near toxic valleys that many small fish continue to eat, consuming the poison as they feed. Local and migratory birds that land on Lake Michigan, tired and famished from their journey, consume small fish like the invasive Round Goby. Having eaten the infected fish, the birds become sick and die out on the lake due to paralyzing effects.

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Restoration projects have made it possible for safe water recreational use in the Sarnia region of the St. Clair River. Image: Megan McDonnell

U.S., Canada battle St. Clair River’s polluted legacy (Great Lakes Echo): The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems. They are challen­­­­­­­­­­ges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish. In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again. There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects.

Sea lamprey, Asian carp, zebra mussels and earthworms? (Great Lakes Echo): The wriggly soil-dwellers may not have the bad rep of some of their invasive counterparts, but they do have the power to change entire ecosystems. Now a recent study has found that an abundance of earthworms causes a decrease in the small plant matter scattered on the forest floor. By eating away at what scientists call “fine root biomass” worms can significantly change the forest. Worms start a bottom-up chain reaction that can bring about fundamental environmental changes. They affect what plants are able to root and grow in the soil. The kinds of plants that grow affect which species of animals can live in a forest.

Migratory Birds, Invasive Plants, and Citizen Science Projects: this week in environmental news

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A radar image shows a large migration event that occurred recently. Bubble size indicates the relative bird density; arrow direction and length indicate the migration direction and speed. This image represents about 25-50 million birds aloft. Image: Birdcast

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds (Interlochen Public Radio): 2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south? Andrew Farnsworth, research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says how weather patterns affect birds varies by species. Some birds are dramatically affected. Some species may stay around for quite a lot longer than they might otherwise if temperatures are warmer. This effects waterfall: common loon and ducks on the Great Lakes, for example. On the other hand, some species are less affected by temperature, and instead time their trips south based on changes in the amount of daylight, such as warblers known as calendar migrants. Farnsworth says that while in general, birds are able to respond quickly to changes, they might not be able to keep up with the pace of human-caused climate change.

New research shows invasive plants can feed farms, power homes (Interlochen Public Radio): Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes. Scientists are working in the middle of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which has 10,000 acres of marshes and bogs, forest and farmland. Their team is removing invasive cattails from the area. Once these nutrients have been harvested, they are then put to good use. Working with local farmers, the harvested cattails are shredded and applied directly to crop fields where the biomass breaks down, providing organic material, as well as recycled chemical fertilizer. The invasive plants may have other economic uses as well.

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Scientists are experimenting with new uses for invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Image: Sam Corden

Interactive map helps bridge science-citizen divide (Great Lakes Echo): People can help keep their local lakes, rivers and streams healthier with a new app. The non-profit Ontario Water Rangers won the event put on by the Great Lakes Observing System to encourage the use of open source data either from GLOS or other water data collection services. The app functions like a Google Map. Clicking on a dot zooms in to display small magnifying glasses. Users can then contribute observations including but not limited to wind speed, algae growth or invasive species and read a summary of past observations.

Lake Superior gates to be automated, improving fish spawning (Newstimes): A set of gates that helps control water flow out of Lake Superior is being automated. An 80-acre area of rapids just downstream is one of the Great Lakes’ most productive fish spawning areas. Officials say the project will give the Corps more flexibility to operate the gates in ways that will improve conditions for fish.

Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

Forest Birds, Fish Slides, and Rare Butterflies: this week in environmental news

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Magnolia Warbler. Image: Jon Swanson.

Great Lakes forest birds mostly stable or increasing (Great Lakes Echo): A record study that took 25 years and 700 birdwatchers and researchers has found that most birds at three different national forests in the Great Lakes region are either increasing or stable. The study is another great example of the important role volunteer bird watchers can play in tracking populations of the birds they love. The count became an annual tradition for many bird enthusiasts. The study is cause for guarded optimism about the state of forest birds in the Northwestern Great Lakes Basin.

Fish slides, anyone? (Great Lakes Echo): Sturgeon go back to the river to spawn safely. But hydroelectric dams often block rivers, forcing fish to spawn in more dangerous spaces. Listen to this podcast to learn more about how the River Alliance of Wisconsin is giving fish a little boost.

Healthy ravines for healthy watersheds (Great Lakes Echo): Created by the same retreating glaciers that carved and filled the Great Lakes, you could say lakeshore ravines are the lakes’ blood relatives. Great lakes ravines face deterioration at the hands of invasive species and pollution. Conservationists are working to address this issue.

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The Poweshiek Skipperling is an endangered butterfly that lives mainly in prairie fen wetlands in southeast Michigan. Image: Dave Cuthrell, MSU Extension.

Rare butterfly rests its wings in unique SE Michigan ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Listen to WKAR’s radio story about Kevin Lavery’s expedition to find the endangered Poweshiek Skipperling. It’s only found in a half a dozen places on Earth, and two-thirds of them are in Michigan. The rare butterfly once thrived on the Great Plains is now fighting for its survival in Michigan.