Great Lakes ice, climate change, and a snowy owl: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment. Here is a some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A snowy owl has been spotted near Chrysler Beach in Marysville. (Photo: Tim Buelow / Submitted to The Times Herald)

Great Lakes ice breaking all the rules (Great Lakes Echo): Ice is forming on the Great Lakes this year faster than ever. Lake Superior had areas freezing on Nov. 15, the earliest in over 40 years. Due to last winter’s harsh cold temperatures, ice remained on Lake Superior from November until June. With such a short time without ice, the Great Lakes remained unusually cold and had higher-than-normal water levels.

Secretary General Expresses Optimism About Climate Meeting (The New York Times): The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was optimistic that progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions would be made during a conference he will attend next week in Lima, Peru. Delegates from more than 190 countries will be working on a new agreement to contain global warming.

Snowy owl spotted in Blue Water Area (The Times Herald): Earlier this week, a resident spotted a snowy owl near Chrysler Beach in Marysville, Michigan. According to the Michigan Audubon Society, snowy owls typically only come that far south when the food supply is low in the arctic. The high survival rate of last year’s snowy owl offspring is likely the cause of the lower food supply. The owl appears to be staying around Chrysler Beach for the winter.

DNR Advises not to move firewood between state parks to prevent spread of oak wilt (Michigan DNR): Oak wilt, a deadly tree infection spread by the transport of firewood, has been increasing in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has conducted treatment at several state parks to halt the spread of the disease, which has already destroyed more than 100 large red oaks. The DNR asks that no one transport firewood between campgrounds in order to keep the disease from spreading further.

Video: Swimming owl in Lake Michigan, footage captured by Chicago photographer (MLive): A Chicago photographer captured video footage of a great horned owl swimming the butterfly in Lake Michigan. Sources say the owl had been forced down into the lake by two peregrine falcons, swam to shore, and rested on the beach until he could fly. The video appears below:

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Species spotlight: the Peregrine Falcon

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

In a story by the Great Lakes Echo, a Peregrine Falcon was found outside the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s electrical generation plant creating a nest.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Although the thought of a bird nesting and laying eggs doesn’t come as a surprise to many Michiganders this time of year, the Peregrine Falcon is a rare bird to the state, making the news more fascinating than usual and piquing the interest of environmentalists.

The Peregrine Falcon, about the size of a crow, boasts a wingspan of 44 inches at the maximum. The Peregrine is not usually found in wooded areas because of its need to hunt from the air in open spaces. The falcon mainly feeds on small birds — sometimes small ducks, giving it a misleading nickname of “duck hawk.” When the Peregrine hunts, it swoops down from high above to snatch its prey which is called stooping. During their stoops, the falcon can reach up to 180 miles per hour.

Peregrines mate for life and establish nesting areas called “eyries” which the falcons revisit annually.  The usual nesting sites for the falcons were in the cliffs of the Upper Peninsula prior to the decline. The recovery team released birds in the Upper Peninsula as well as urban areas including Detroit and Grand Rapids. The falcons would have the opportunity to feed on smaller birds in these areas and not be threatened by the Great Horned Owl.

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of larkwire.com

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of larkwire.com

There Peregrine Falcon was considered a national endangered species until 1999, but is still classified as an endangered species in Michigan today. A major decline in falcons started in the 1950s, when harmful pesticides and chemicals were used, killing many birds by affecting eggshells during the incubation period. The chemicals made the falcons lay eggs with extremely fragile shells, which broke and cracked easily causing several fewer chicks to hatch.

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of lpfw.org

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of lpfw.org

The Eastern Peregrine Recovery Team was formed in 1975, in order to help restore the lost bird in the Eastern U.S., five years after the harsh chemicals used were banned due to negative effects on the environment. At the time the team was formed, the falcons had shrunk to 10 percent of their original size. The recovery was found extremely successful as 400 falcons were released in the upper Midwest. Prior to the decline, there had been 109 pairs recorded nesting Peregrine Falcons in the state of Michigan.

For more information on the Peregrine Falcon visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.