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

bird-radar

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.

shiawassee

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.

Endangered butterflies, climate change, and robofish: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around Michigan and the globe related to conservation and nature. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

A poweshiek skipperling butterfly. Photo by Dwayne Badgero.

Two Prairie Butterflies Gain Endangered Species Act Protection in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Dakotas (Center for Biological Diversity): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday a settlement to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled plants and animals across the country. Among these are the Poweshiek skipperling butterfly, which survives in small numbers in Michigan.

Autumn anomaly: Deepest Great Lakes’ levels rising (Detroit Free Press): The brutal winter of 2012-2013 is still impacting the Great Lakes this fall, contributing to rising water levels in Lake Superior and connected Lakes Michigan and Huron. In the fall, the Great Lakes typically have a slow decline in water levels. Lake Superior’s depths, however, rose almost a half-inch from Aug. 1 to Oct. 1, and Lakes Michigan and Huron rose almost two full inches.

How climate change is transforming winter birds (Conservation Magazine): Data analyzed from the Project FeederWatch citizen science project as well as other bird survey and climate data indicate that bird species that prefer warmer weather are advancing north. Between 1989 and 2011, the average temperature index of species present at surveyed cites crept upward, meaning warm-adapted birds became more prominent.

University spawns robofish to monitor Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): For about 10 years, Michigan State University engineering professor Dr. Xiaobo Tan has been working on a robotic fish that can be used to monitor water quality.

Invasive species, a fishing boom and algae blooms: this week in environmental news

By Sally Zimmerman, 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:

An emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

An emerald ash borer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Invasive emerald ash borer hurts Michigan timber sales (Great Lakes Echo): The emerald ash borer first caused an infestation in Michigan in 2002. The beetle eats the layer below bark, causing a lack of nutrients and ultimately leads to the death of the tree. The Department of Natural Resources said timber sales are being hurt by the spread of the emerald ash borer. Not all timber is meant to be sold right away, but because of this insect, the process has to be sped up. The infestation is causing a decrease in salvage bid sales and there will be a noticeable decrease in timber sales next year, according to the DNR.

Climate change is making Lake Superior a fishing haven, for the moment (PRI): Lake Superior is warming faster than any other lake on the planet. Because of this, there has been a shift in the species that the lake supports. Lake trout are becoming rarer and are being joined by the walleye in Lake Superior. James Kitchell, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said there will be an economic boost in the short run from this change. However, it will cause problems in the long run. As fish population increases, the amount of food per fish decreases, causing overall growth rates to decline. The warmer temperature of the lake also reintroduces the sea lamprey, a major predator of lake trout.

Algae blooms on Lake Erie getting ‘difficult to control’ (CBC): Massive algae blooms on Lake Erie are becoming harder to control, according to a scientist at the International Joint Commission. The algae blooms are being caused by fertilizer runoff from nearby farms. Raj Bejankiwar of the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority correctly predicted that Lake Erie would see near-record algae levels because more intense storms cause more intense runoff. The algae is also causing a higher level of toxins in drinking water. This is causing both economic and environmental problems, as 20 percent of the world’s freshwater comes from the Great Lakes.

18-foot-long deep-sea creature found off California (LiveScience): Dive instructor Jasmine Santana found an oarfish carcass while swimming in about 20 feet of water. The animal is rare and serpent-like, and is usually found in much deeper waters. With the help of many others, Santana dragged the carcass onto land, where people took pictures and eventually put the oarfish on ice so it could be shown to students the next day.

Forget polar bears: Global warming will hit the tropics first (Mother Nature Network): Researchers at the University of Hawaii are saying the tropics will suffer “unprecedented” climate change effects in the next ten years. This is predicted to come long before the Arctic and polar bears see effects. Camilo Mora, lead study author and a geographer at the University of Hawaii, Manoa said, “The coldest year in the future will be hotter than the hottest year in the past [150 years].” The amber-eyed jaguar is near the top of the list to become extinct due to climate change.

Upcoming Wildflower Walkabout Tour: Black Creek Nature Sanctuary

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

With warm temperatures and wildflowers in bloom, late-summer is a great time to get outside. Explore what northern Michigan has to offer by joining Erika Vye, MTU Geology PhD student, for a hike through Black Creek Nature Sanctuary on August 3, at 11 a.m. The tour is part of MNA’s 2013 Wildflower Walkabout, a series of guided tours throughout spring and summer featuring the abundant plant life in many sanctuaries. In addition to its diverse summer flora, the sanctuary displays many of the Upper Peninsula’s iconic animal species as well as the picturesque shores of Lake Superior.

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Black Creek’s Lake Superior shoreline.
Photo courtesy of Sherri Laier.

Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is located near Calumet, Michigan in Keweenaw County, off of Cedar Bay Road. Visitors can follow the sanctuary’s marked trail, which is about five miles to the end and back. The trail begins in a sandy, backdune landscape, where visitors can expect to see a variety of blueberry, bearberry and trailing arbutus plants. Further along, the sanctuary is shaded by towering white birch, fir and sugar maple trees.

Many wildflowers are native to the area, including rattlesnake plantain, baneberry, and sarsaparilla. The flowers should be in full bloom this time of year, displaying spots of color along the trail, so visitors will want to bring their cameras along for the hike.

Visitors might also catch a glimpse of some wildlife along the trail, as Black Creek is home to many of northern Michigan’s animal species. Though wolves, black bears, and moose have all been reported in the sanctuary, a more common animal is the spruce grouse, a medium-size bird native to the area. The spruce grouse is known for its immobility, and it will only fly away other animals come closer than a few feet.

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A beaver dam in Black Creek’s lagoon.
Photo courtesy of Charlie Eshbach.

Near the end of the trail lies Black Creek’s picturesque and unique lagoon, located where Black Creek and Hills Creek converge before entering the lake. The lagoon provides a critical habitat for fish and surrounding wildlife, and it is an especially popular location for beaver dams. Depending on the weather, the lagoon’s size and shape is constantly changing, creating an ever-altering landscape.

Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is also known for its shoreline. The first 121 acres of the sanctuary were initially donated in 1991 by Calumet native Ruth Sablich, who hoped to create more public beaches along Lake Superior. A year later, the preserve expanded an additional 120 acres, making it the expansive 241-acre sanctuary it is today. Visitors can follow 1,300 feet of Lake Superior shores, which are angled and capable of producing 18-foot high waves during the most powerful storms.

With an abundance of natural photo opportunities and warm, summer air, Black Creek Nature Sanctuary is sure to satisfy any adventurous spirit. For more information on MNA’s August 3 hike or for directions to the sanctuary, email nancy@einerlei.com.