Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary: A Sacred Place of Cedars

From the Wilder Side of Oakland County on the Oakland County Blog

By Jonathan Schechter – he is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

img_6460

“I enter the swamp as a sacred place”— Henry David Thoreau.

img_6488       img_6464

Cedar swamp habitat takes on a special beauty that is mysterious, captivating and full of wonder in winter. It’s also a vital place of survival for rare species of flora and fauna, functions as a water storage location, and often as an aquifer recharging site. The Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary, managed by the Michigan Nature Association, is one the highest quality wetland complexes found on the Wilder Side of Oakland County. One week has passed since I trekked into that swamp under a light drizzle laced with wet snow flakes. I emerged with mud caking my boots, ankles, knees and backside. I was a bit bruised and slightly scratched, rather wet and tired, yet exceedingly happy and eager to return on a day when the sun shines.

img_6563      img_6569

A northern white cedar swamp is a nature-lover’s dream, no matter the season. The scent of cedar on a moist wintery day is exquisite. However if you want to hike on a well-marked paved trail, or if you worry about hiking over extremely slippery planks and boardwalks, this swamp trail is not the place for you. Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary is also an excellent eastern massasauga rattlesnake habitat, but a few more months will slip by before these reclusive reptiles, our only venomous snake, will emerge from the moist crayfish burrows where they now hibernate. Poison sumac is present and remains volatile in winter.

img_6478 img_6505 img_6523

The trail is a narrow and primitive twisting footpath. Colorful and slippery exposed roots of cedar and birch trees grow across the trail – seemingly waiting to trip the unwary. Small diamond-shaped trail markers can be found along the route, but it’s easy to make a wrong turn. I did, but another hiker, the only other hiker I encountered, quickly ‘turned me around’ and my exploration continued. Off-trail hiking at this sanctuary is difficult to say the least, especially when entering thickets of white cedar, some standing, some bent low from storms, and others in their final resting places after succumbing to storms. Stepping around the blowdowns brings another challenge, mucky soil that struggles to suck hiking boots off feet. It also brings discoveries.

img_6500 img_6532 img_6525

I hiked slowly, stopping often to look and listen. The rewards were endless. Turkey tail fungus edged many of the fallen trees. Lichens clung to the trunks of standing trees along the banks of a tributary of Stony Creek. Owl pellets, most likely from the swamp loving barred owl, were under one tree, and another tree was the obvious roost for wild turkeys. How do I know that? A mat of turkey poo covered decaying leaves confirmed their night roost. Soft, green, moisture-holding sphagnum moss grew on sedge hummocks, and I suspect wood frogs and salamanders hibernated underneath the adjacent decaying trees.

img_6507

Exposed tree roots were a special attraction. The presence of the sphagnum moss facilities, the formation of adventitious roots and “branch layering.” When a cedar tree falls, the lateral branches often take over and grow upright as new trees. The result gives the impression of cedar trees locked in romantic trailside embraces, sometimes being joined by nearby yellow birch trees.

img_6538

It’s a site worthy of being protected, and it is. The Michigan Nature Association, established in 1952, is a nonprofit conservation organization working to protect Michigan’s rare, threatened and endangered species by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The Lakeville Swamp Sanctuary is one of their sanctuaries, and is located on Rochester Road just south of Lakeville Road in Addison Township. The pamphlet at the small kiosk at the Rochester Road trailhead states, “MNA’s members, donors, and volunteers have built a remarkable network of more than 170 nature sanctuaries across the state – the largest network of natural areas established and maintained by a nonprofit conservation organization in Michigan.”

img_6560

The section I explored is on the west side of Rochester Road, and has a very small roadside parking area. A flatter, more open swampy area with no trails is on the east side of Rochester Road. In addition to the cedar swamp, a magical wild kingdom for those that appreciate its wonder, the 76 acre preserve, one of the most biologically diverse sanctuaries in Oakland County, also has prairie fen, southern wet meadow habitat, and a small area of oak barrens.

img_6458

The sanctuary is open to the public without fees or vehicle permits. The trailhead and informational kiosk is located on the west side of Rochester Road. No facilities are present.  Stewardship and maintenance at the site is supported in part by REI Outfitters. For information on all Michigan Nature Association Sanctuaries, including six in Oakland County visit michigannature.org.

For more about the Oakland County Blog, find the latest county news and events, visit their website and use #OaklandCounty on their FacebookTwitterInstagram and LinkedIn pages.

Advertisements

Don’t miss a chance for a Wildflower Walkabout this fall

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Summer has come and gone in what seems to be the blink of an eye — yet it’s not too late to enjoy an educational and aesthetically pleasing Wildflower Walkabout at an MNA nature sanctuary.

Upcoming dates:

  • Saturday, September 6 – 1 p.m. Saginaw Wetlands, Huron County
  • Saturday, September 6 – 11 a.m. Keweenaw Shores No. 1, Keweenaw County
  • Saturday, September 20 – 10 a.m. Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary, Lenawee County (rescheduled from August)
  • Saturday, October 4 – 1:30 p.m. Phillips Family Memorial, Van Buren County

Saginaw Wetlands Nature Sanctuary is a lakeplain prairie habitat. Historically, Michigan had nearly 160,000 acres of this type of ecosystem, yet today only 511 acres remain. Saginaw Wetlands preserves 155 acres of this rare habitat.

This sanctuary boasts an array of plant species within the lake plain oak opening, wet prairie and wet mesic prairie habitat, among others. The lake plain prairie is of critical concern due to land degradation. This habitat contains grasses as well as a beautiful variety of wildflowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Flowers found at Keweenaw Shores. Photo by Charlie Eshbach.

The Keweenaw Shores No. 1 Nature Sanctuary also boasts a beautiful array of flora during the fall season. The sanctuary is located in the Upper Peninsula and consists of an interesting geology, conifer swamp and boreal forest. Among wildflowers, another interesting plant to be found in this sanctuary are the colorful lichens which attach themselves to rocks and trees. Lichens are indicators of good air quality. This sanctuary boasts a beautiful array of colors in the fall season.

Virginia meadow beauty. Photo by Joshua Mayer.

Virginia meadow beauty. Photo by Joshua Mayer.

The Phillips Family Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Van Buren County is also unique as it is one of three sanctuaries to contain a coastal plain marsh community. This rarity allows for 40 different disjunct plant species to grow there. Some plants that grow in coastal plain marsh communities are bald-rush, seedbox and tall beak-rush.

Due to schedule changes, the Wildflower Walkabout hike at Goose Creek Grasslands was moved to September. This is a great opportunity to see the unusual plants that make their home in the sanctuary’s prairie fen!

Don’t miss a chance to experience the beauty of Michigan’s nature! Mark your calendar for the next Wildflower Walkabout.

Call the MNA office at (866) 223-2231 or visit the MNA website for more information. We hope to see you at a hike soon!

Spot wildflowers in bloom at MNA’s spring events

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

White trillium at Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Ron Grogan.

White trillium. Photo by Ron Grogan.

Throughout spring and summer, many of MNA’s sanctuaries are covered with abundant, colorful wildflowers. This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of wildflower-focused events, including a hike at Trillium Ravine Nature Sanctuary on May 1 that will give visitors a chance to check out the sanctuary’s three rare trillium species, which should be blooming throughout the sanctuary at the time of the hike.

Trilliums are spring ephemerals, or wildflowers that bloom in early spring and die after a short growth and reproduction phase. They appear to be plants with unbranched stems, but they actually produce no true leaves or stems above ground; the “stem” is really an extension of the horizontal rhizome (a stem that grows continuously underground and puts out shoots and roots) and produces small, scale-like bracts that look like leaves.

Red trillium at Jasper Woods Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Al Menk.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Trilliums are divided into two major groups: pedicellate and sessile.  Pedicellate trilliums have flowers on stalks, while sessile flowers have no stalks and sit directly on the plant’s bracts. In all, there are 38 species of trillium, four subspecies and seven varieties.

Four trillium species are protected in Michigan. The state lists toadshade, prairie trillium and snow trillium as threatened and painted trillium as endangered. MNA sanctuaries protect several trillium species, such as red trillium, drooping trillium, painted trillium, prairie trillium and toadshade, among others. Trillium Ravine has three trillium species, but Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary, Jasper Woods Nature Sanctuary, Joan Rodman Memorial Plant Preserve and other sanctuaries protect a few species, as well.

Visitors have more opportunities to see the spectacular wildflower displays in MNA sanctuaries throughout the summer at the 2013 Wildflower Walkabout. The Wildflower Walkabout is a series of guided tours through our nature sanctuaries from May to September. Each sanctuary was picked for its unique wildflowers, and each trip is planned during the time when those wildflowers are best for viewing and photographing. For more information on these tours, visit the MNA website.

MNA Study Sheds Light on Rare Species

Michigan monkey-flower

The Michigan monkey-flower. Photo by Al Menk

MNA’s stewardship team recently completed a federally-funded study of the impact of removal of sediment and accumulated biomass on a Michigan monkey-flower subpopulation. The conclusions of this study could help guide Michigan monkey-flower management in the future.

The Michigan monkey-flower is a federally endangered species known in only 15 locations on earth, with only 12 considered viable over the long-term. In 1981, MNA purchased a tract of land in the Upper Peninsula that contained a known sub-population of the Michigan monkey-flower.
 
The monkey-flower needs mucky soil and flowing springs near the shores of northeastern Lake Michigan and the Straits of Mackinac. The plant is susceptible to nearby disturbances that alter an area’s hydrology, like road construction or development, and can threaten the viability of the few monkey-flower populations remaining in Michigan.
 
MNA hopes to conduct additional research in the future to better understand the needs of this endangered species. To learn more about the Michigan monkey-flower, visit the Michigan Natural Features Inventory website

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Indiana Bat
By Brandon Grenier

While we do not often see bats, they play an active role in the environment. With an appetite for bugs such as mosquitoes, moths and other pests, bats help manage insect populations. They also aid in the pollination of plants and seed dispersal of fruits and nuts.

First listed as endangered in 1967, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is only found in the eastern United States and there are only about 400,000 individuals left in the world. It is believed that the population of bats is now less than half of what it was in 1967, according to 2009 estimates.


Physical Appearance:

The Indiana bat is incredibly light, weighing only seven-to-eight ounces, roughly the weight of two sugar packets. It has a wingspan of 9-to 11-inches and usually is about five inches long. It has dark, grayish brown fur, with pink undersides and a dark petagium (wing membrane). Its ears are short and rounded. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell it apart from its relative the little brown bat, the Indiana bat has tri-color hairs that make it easy to distinguish upon close inspection.

Preferred Habitat:
The Indiana bat has a very specific habitat, with 85 percent of the current population found in only seven caves. The largest caves support 20,000-50,000 bats. In Michigan at the northern end of their range, Indiana bats prefer savanna habitats with sun-exposed trees for maximum warmth. In the winter, bats hibernate in large caves in Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. However, a relatively new hibernacula (a cave where bats hibernate for the winter) has been found in northern Michigan at the Tippy Dam spillway. Because of their hibernation habits, Indiana bats are incredibly vulnerable to human disturbances.

Throughout the past decade, there have been reported occurrences of the bat in Calhoun, Cass, Washtenaw, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties.

Life Cycle:
In the spring, Indiana bats leave their hibernacula, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles. In early fall, Indiana bats flock the entrance of caves or mines and mating takes place. Sperm is stored in the female’s body until the eggs are fertilized in the spring. One bat is born to each female in late June, and it can fly within one month. Indiana bats generally live to be 14 years old.

List Status:

As human activity increases in the areas where Indiana bats hibernate, their delicate habitat shrinks. The bats are protected federally and are listed as endangered in Michigan. Commercialization of caves, the logging of dead trees and the use of pesticides and contaminants contribute to the decline of this species.

The Indiana bat is also threatened by a disease called white nose syndrome. More than one million bats have died from it since its discovery in 2006 in New York. The name refers to a white ring of fungus found on the faces of infected bats.

The presence of white nose syndrome has been found in more than 25 different caves and mines so far, and a moratorium has been placed on caving activities in those areas. Fortunately, the disease has not yet been found in Michigan.

Protection Efforts:
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is collaborating with state, federal and local government officials as well as university researchers and bat conservation groups to develop a response plan to white nose syndrome that prevents the disease and minimizes its impact on the species.

Indiana bat’s habitat can be protected by protecting mature forests, leaving dead trees standing to promote habitat and refraining from using insecticides.

How You Can Help:
To help protect this rare species, abstain from demolition and land clearing such as canopy removal and clearing snags. Cutting down trees significantly reduces bats’ habitat. However, if you must remove trees, you can build a bat house. Bat houses mimic the space between a tree trunk and bark and provide warmth. To learn how to build your own bat house, click here.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

ENDANGERED!

Photo by Susan R. Crispin, Michigan Natural Feature Inventory

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Wild Lilac
By Angie Jackson

Lilacs, known for their sweet and elegant aroma, are one of the most common garden shrubs in the country. Wild lilac (Ceanothus sanguineu) is a threatened species in Michigan that occurs in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

As a nitrogen-fixing shrub, wild lilac supports the growth and health of other plants. It is also an important browse species for animals such as white-tailed deer, mule deer and Rocky Mountain elk.

Physical Appearance:
Wild lilac is a perennial shrub with red or purple stems and white flowers. Its leaves are 4-7 cm long, oval shaped and green. Leaves are alternatively arranged, and sometimes the undersides are hairy. Lilacs will grow up to three meters tall in small bush arrangements, with clusters of flowers growing up to 12 cm long.

Preferred Habitat:
In Michigan, wild lilac prefers volcanic cliffs and volcanic conglomerate ridgetops characterized by scattered, shrubby tree areas, such as the northern Keweenaw Peninsula. In the western United States, wild lilac grows in canopy gaps, in mixed conifer forests and on slopes. It thrives in sunlight and hot, dry climates.

Life Cycle:
Wild lilacs flower in late May and June, and fruit in July. Seeds are covered with a water-resistant coat that only opens with exposure to heat. Fire, logging and other occurrences that expose the seeds to heat lead to rapid germination. Following this process, growth is rapid, but individual wild lilacs have relatively short life spans of 5-10 years.

Like other shrubs in the Ceanothus family, wild lilacs fix nitrogen through a symbiotic process with the bacteria of the genus Frankia. This process enhances the growth of nearby plants, restores soil and aids the repair of unhealthy land. Researchers say some forest ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest may rely on wild lilac as a main source of nitrogen input.

List Status:
Wild lilac populations are secure in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana. However, it is a threatened species in Michigan, with only five occurrences in Keweenaw County. Most Michigan occurrences have been near roads, making wild lilac populations in danger of road development and pesticides. Road use and foot traffic have also established the presence of several invasive plants such as Canada bluegrass and spotted knapweed in the shrub’s habitat, potentially inhibiting its survival.

Protection Efforts:
Currently, there is not a state-wide protection program in place for wild lilac. However, research suggests that controlled burns would help manage the plant and its habitat. Because wild lilac seeds require heat to open, fire would aid in spreading seeds and removing canopy-covering plants to provide sunlight.

At MNA, staff conduct routine controlled burns to manage natural areas and promote habitat health and diversity. Burns remove gaps from the forest canopy, allowing for the conservation of rare and endangered species such as wild lilac.

How You Can Help:
Help promote healthy natural communities by joining the MNA burn crew. Controlled burns are led by trained professionals who redo their training each year. During the training process, new MNA burn crew members are taught to handle the equipment, as well as methods for controlling fire like creating fire breaks and backfires. To learn more about prescribed burns, contact MNA Stewardship Coordinator Andrew Bacon by emailing abacon@michigannature.org or calling (517) 655-5655.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.