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.

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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.

Lifesaving trees, storm recovery and fishers: this week in environmental news

Every week, 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:

Urban trees save lives by reducing pollution (Conservation Magazine): Researchers have found that trees not only bring a visual element to urban areas but, additionally, remove a significant amount of air pollution. According to a study in Environmental Pollution, trees in New York City reduce the risk of respiratory conditions, such as lung inflammation, saving the lives of about eight residents per year. The trees were found to remove roughly 4.7 to 64.5 tonnes of small microns from the air in one year, equivalent to a service worth $1.1 million to $60.1 million.

DNR says Genessee County family can keep its pet deer (Detroit Free Press): The Michigan DNR has decided to allow a Genessee County family to keep their unusual pet deer, Lily. The family took in the deer five years ago when its mother was hit by a car. Authorities first chose to send the illegal pet to a zoo but, instead, found that it would not transition well into a new environment after living with humans for so long. The family agreed to several strict rules in order to keep the pet in what the DNR calls “an extraordinary situation.”

Lake Superior fisheries OK a year after storm (JSOnline): One year after a major storm hit the Duluth, Minnesota area, fish populations in Lake Superior and surrounding facilities are exceeding recovery expectations. The storm rained ten inches onto Duluth, sending tons of sediment into the lake and streams. Though some fish species were permanently rearranged from the storm, researchers see no long-term impacts on the fish and do not expect to see any in the future.

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The fisher, Michigan’s recovering species.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Weasel-like mammal called ‘fisher’ returns to northern Michigan (Detroit Free Press): After fully recovering in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the fisher has returned to the tip of the Lower Peninsula, indicating positive habitat restoration. Though the weasel-like mammal once roamed all of Michigan, the fisher disappeared from the state in the 1930s. After roughly 50 years of restoration efforts, DNR officials are finally beginning to receive sighting reports in northern areas of the Lower Peninsula, a sign that things are going well for the species.

Asian carp, rising water levels, and a pet deer: this week in environmental news

By Allison Raeck, 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:

Great Lakes event seeks more data on Asian carp (Journal and Courier): Asian carp and other invasive species were one of the main topics of discussion last Monday at the Conference on Great Lakes Research at Purdue University. Presenters emphasized the Asian carp’s negative impact on the Great Lakes and focused on better understanding the species. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn also suggested a separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems as a possible solution to eliminate Asian carp.

Lake Superior level jumps 9 inches in May (The Daily News): Though Lake Superior usually only rises about four inches each May, its water level jumped nine inches last month. The rise is a result of cold spring temperatures and late snow, which held back runoff until melting. Lakes Michigan and Huron are also quickly rising from near record-setting low water levels last winter and these higher lake levels could have positive outcomes for both recreational boaters and the Great Lakes shipping industry.

Plastic bags harm Duluth streams, Lake Superior (Great Lakes Echo): Duluth city councilor Emily Larson has teamed up with the organization Bag It Duluth to decrease plastic bag use across Minnesota. Because they are unable to fully decompose, grocery store plastic bags often clog drainage pipes, causing backflows. Bag It Duluth hopes to combat this by spreading public awareness and encouraging shoppers to recycle or reuse bags. Though the project is still in its first stages of development, it has begun to generate community interest as both citizens and businesses are looking to get involved.

Belle Isle project improves fish habitat, opportunities for anglers (Detroit Free Press): The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has offered $2 million in grants to Belle Isle park in hopes of improving fish habitat in the area. The majority of this money supports the Blue Heron Lagoon, a 41-acre wetland on the east side of the island, in hopes of improving the fishing experience at the park. Workers are expanding fish spawning areas and planting both submerged and emerged plants to diversify the lagoon’s biosystem and promote a healthy community of wildlife.

ImageLake Erie’s Record Breaking Algae Bloom of 2011 May Be a Sign of Things to Come (Great Lakes Now): A recent study from the University of Michigan revealed what may have been the cause of the harmful algae bloom on Lake Erie that occurred in 2011. In October of that year, algae covered approximately 2,000 square miles of the lake, negatively impacting its water quality and biodiversity. By using computerized climate models, researchers found that high levels of spring precipitation combined with an abundance of dissolved phosphorus from no-till farming contributed to the bloom, and the team is looking into ways to avoid the issue in the future.

Pet Deer, Lilly, Sparks Legal Battle For Michigan Family (Huffington Post): A Genesee County couple is facing controversy over their pet deer, Lilly. The couple acquired Lilly when the deer’s mother was hit by a car five years ago, and they have kept her in their home ever since. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently notified the owners that the deer must be released into the wild, complying with laws regarding the use of wild animals as private property. The couple has hired a lawyer in an attempt to keep the deer.

Hummingbirds, black bears, warmer lakes: This week in environmental news

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

MNA is starting a new weekly blog series! Each Friday, we are going to highlight news stories from the week to help you stay up-to-date on environmental news around the state and country.

Here are six articles you might’ve missed this week:

A female ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A female ruby-throated hummingbird. Photo by Cindy Mead.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds arriving earlier (Michigan Radio): Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migrating north from Mexico earlier than ever. Last winter was one of the warmest in Michigan history, and hummingbirds arrived to the state as early as March 17—before a major cold stretch in April. Hummingbirds can survive in the cold for a day, but die quickly if the weather stays cold. The ruby-throated hummingbird population is stable for now, but Pamela Rasmussen, an associate zoology professor at Michigan State University, is concerned about what will happen if hummingbirds continue to migrate early.

From the Mouths of Babes (Conservation Magazine): Parents normally pass on knowledge to their children, but when it comes to the environment, it might be the other way around. Environmental education programs tend to be aimed at children because environmental attitudes are often formed at a young age, and a new study suggests that children can teach their parents about environmental issues and even influence their families to behave in “greener ways.”

Warming Lake Superior stresses wildlife, observers say (CBC News): Lake Superior broke its previous high-temperature records last year. This means bad news for the lake’s native trout, which thrives in cold water, as well as some of the lake’s other species. As water temperatures rise, sea lamprey are getting bigger, living longer, and having a negative impact on native fish. Increases in temperature don’t only harm fish—some land-based wildlife, like moose, are poorly suited to warmer climates. Wildlife Federation spokesperson Melinda Koslow said reducing greenhouse gases and protecting habitats will help prevent future harm to species.

Northern Michigan Outdoors: DNR Discusses the Latest on Black Bears (MyNorth): In February, Northern Michigan’s black bears are hibernating in their dens—except for new moms of the Ursus americanus variety. These bears are busy giving birth, nursing their young, and keeping the cubs and den clean. DNR wildlife biologist Mark Boersen has been checking up on bear families for more than 10 years and shared what he’s learned about the species.

West Michigan women come together to educate and inspire women to take action to protect our environment and natural resources (mlive): On February 15, the West Michigan Environmental Action Council met in Grand Rapids to honor women environmentalists at the second Women and the Environment Symposium. The symposium honored women who are inspiring others, protecting the environment and leading change.

Scientists seeks solutions to Lake Erie algae (mlive): Toxic algae blooms may form more often in Lake Erie unless farms and cities do a better job of controlling phosphorous runoff, scientists say. A team of 40 scientists met in Windsor, Ontario, this week to compare research findings about Lake Erie’s algae blooms and work on a report for government policymakers. The team is putting together a series of papers that study where the phosphorous comes from, which management practices best cut down on runoff, and how climate change affects algae blooms. A draft will be released for public comment in May.