Saw-Whet Owl Banding at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

The Michigan Nature Association recently hosted a project to track saw-whet owl migration at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. The project leader and head owl bander was Selena Creed, who has years of experience banding raptors in the Mackinac Straits.

Saw-whet owl migration routes are well-documented along the Great Lakes shoreline, but the routes they take through inland Michigan are less understood. Given that the Sharonville State Game Area and surrounding wooded complex (which includes Lefglen) represents one of the largest contiguous habitat blocks in southeast Michigan, researchers believe it was likely they would be moving through here if they travel inland.

This year a total of 13 saw-whet owls were captured across five nights using mist nets and an audio lure. This is more than enough to prove that saw-whets are using Lefglen Nature Sanctuary and the larger surrounding habitat complex as an inland migration route through Michigan!

Selena and the team examined mostly female and hatch year owls, but were treated to a couple second year/after second year/male owls as well. One owl was a recapture that had been banded earlier this fall at Hillardton Marsh, Ontario – Selena states that recaptures are somewhat rare.

Thank you to Gary Hofing for taking very high-quality photos that provide great documentation of the banding process and measurements/data collected from each bird, including how they are aged using a blacklight to see wing molt pattern.

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Species Spotlight: Sandhill Crane

By Allison Raeck, MNA Intern

Birdwatchers often pay close attention to detail. Usually, a keen sense of hearing and a good pair of binoculars are a necessity for spotting birds in the wild. Finding the Sandhill crane, however, is a different story.

Image

An adult Sandhill crane in flight.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Considering its size alone, the Sandhill crane is not subtle. On average, males weigh about ten pounds, with females around eight pounds. Though adult birds are gray overall, their distinguishing features are their red featherless foreheads, white cheeks and long black bills. The birds stand on long, dark legs and are about two to four feet tall. Despite their size, Sandhill cranes are very skilled soaring birds, with a flight style similar to eagles and hawks. Unlike herons, which bend their necks in flight, Sandhill cranes keep their necks straight when flying.

Sandhill cranes are migratory birds, breeding in Canada and areas of the northern United States (Michigan included) in the summer and retreating to Texas, Florida and Mexico for the winter. The birds sometimes travel south in flocks of over 10,000 birds in concentrated areas, creating a spectacular sight for migratory areas in late fall. Most breeding pairs in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are found in a six county area near Jackson and Ann Arbor, with highest Upper Peninsula concentrations in eastern counties. Some MNA sanctuaries are home Sandhill cranes, as these interesting birds nest at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County and have been spotted at Goose Creek Grasslands in Lenawee County.

Because Sandhill cranes are ground-nesters, building their solitary nests in or near shallow water, they are often found near marshes or bogs. The bird’s eggs are pale brown and relatively large, and its chicks are dark orange and fluffy. Offspring begin breeding when they are 2-7 years old, and sometimes live for roughly 20 years. The cranes can also be found feeding in corn and upland grain fields, as their diet mainly consists of grains and seeds, with a few insects and invertebrates added to the mix.

A Sandhill crane chick. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A Sandhill crane chick.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The call of the Sandhill crane allows birdwatchers to identify the species without even seeing it. Frequently, the bird gives off a loud trumpeting sound, which can be heard from a far distance. The Sandhill crane’s unique sound resembles a French-style “r,” rolled in the animal’s throat. Intensifying the noise, mated pairs often participate in an act known as “unison calling,” where the two stand close together and call in a synchronized manner.

Regarding conservation, the Sandhill crane is not considered threatened as a species and is one of the few crane species that are still common. With a population of over 400,000, the Lesser Sandhill crane is the most plentiful crane alive today. Still, its three southernmost subspecies, the Florida, Mississippi and Cuban Sandhill cranes, are rare and face multiple population threats. Habitat destruction has had an especially negative effect on Florida Sandhill cranes, though it is expected that management strategies will keep the species from becoming critically threatened. In Michigan, Sandhill crane numbers were reduced by shooting and habitat destruction in the late 20th century but have grown in recent decades.

An excellent opportunity to see Sandhill cranes in the wild is MNA’s 2013 Fall Adventure, September 20-22. The weekend of guided tours will explore Michigan’s Irish Hills area, which is home to many of the Lower Peninsula’s Sandhill cranes. For more information on the trip or to reserve your spot, contact Danielle Cooke at (517) 655-5655 or dcooke@michigannature.org.

The Odyssey Explores Lefglen’s Prairie Fen

By Tina Patterson and Dave Wendling

Goldenrod at Lefglen

Goldenrod throughout the sanctuary. Photo by Dave Wendling

A hot and sunny Sunday, August 26 found 18 avid hikers congregating at the Wolf Lake Community Park in Jackson County before heading out to Lefglen Nature Sanctuary.  Many of the hikers were people who cared deeply for this sanctuary; some were neighbors like Sue Miller, who donated an easement to MNA on the north part of the sanctuary. One of the hikers, Val Vance, grew up here and used the sanctuary as her playground as a child.  Stewards Julia Van Aken, Craig Robson, and Heidi Doman, who have worked to make both the north and south trails welcoming, determined the longer south trail, which included a fen, would be of more interest as more would be seen after the hot dry summer we have experienced.

As we ducked and weaved to avoid the poison sumac, we were awed by the beauty of the prairie fen. This time of year is a great time to visit a prairie fen since many of the wildflowers are in bloom.  Shrubby cinquefoil with its beautiful yellow flowers loves calcified sites like this. Two special species of goldenrod thrive here – the Riddles goldenrod and the flat-topped Ohio goldenrod, and to our delight, both were in full bloom. Craig pointed out the dainty flowers of the Kalm’s lobelia. Special treats were finding grass-of-Parnassus and a lone fringed gentian.

Hikers at Lefglen

Hikers along the trail at Lefglen. Photo by Tina Patterson

After the fen some hikers decided they had had enough for the day and headed back for cold drinks and cookies while the rest of us then explored the upland oak hickory forest with its pockets of wet marshes.  The jewel-weed was spectacular along the edges of many of the wet areas. Craig, whose passion is birds, stated that the threatened Cerulean warbler is found here, along with many other birds like the scarlet tanager, pileated woodpecker, and many migrating warblers. Someone spotted a black and white warbler. Val showed us an artesian well that was drilled by her father, Fred Hurford, years ago that is still flowing into one of the marshes on the sanctuary.  We were thrilled to find the interrupted fern growing among cinnamon ferns in one of the marshes.

Our two mile hike allowed us to only see a small part of the 208-acre Lefglen Nature Sanctuary. Hikers were on the lookout for some of the 690 native plant species that thrive here as well as 50 species of birds, eight species of salamanders, ten species of mammals, and seven kinds of reptiles that make the sanctuary their home. One can only imagine how happy Lefty and Glenna Levengood would be to hear people share their personal stories about the Lefglen Nature Sanctuary and that will be cared for and protected for a long time.

We hope you’ll be able to join us on the remaining four Odyssey Tours in the Upper Peninsula  September 23-30! Details are on the MNA website.

Starting Forest Fires: The Logic Behind Prescribed Burns

By Megan Clute

Imagine driving along the highway, watching the landscape pass you by, when all of a sudden you spot smoke billowing from the treetops. The flames weave in and out of the surrounding brush until the blackened soil is the only thing remaining. To most people, the thought of wildfires and burning forests is quite daunting. The image of trees and brush falling victim to a wall of flames does not typically carry a positive connotation; however, fires of this sort are continuously being started across the state – on purpose.

Burn at Karner Blue Sanctuary in 2008. Photo courtesy of Chris Hoving.

The logic behind this lies within the concept of prescribed/controlled burning. Prescribed burning is a technique used to manage prairie and savanna habitats. In other words, controlled fires are used to stimulate germination and refresh the understory in the designated area. They can also be used to reduce invasive species. This method has been used since the pre-agricultural era to replicate the fires that would naturally occur in the forest to regulate plant and animal life.

Prescribed burns are closely planned and implemented by specially trained individuals, including MNA staff. Local fire departments are notified prior to each burn to promote safety, ensure coordination, and complete local permitting requirements. Temperature, wind speeds, direction, and humidity are some factors that are taken into consideration when choosing to perform a burn, as the wrong combination of weather and fire can prove to be very dangerous and destructive.

Big Valley burn March 22, 2012. Photo courtesy of Eugene Lidster.

The MNA conducts prescribed burns at its sanctuaries on a regular basis to manage woody encroachment and promote native plant growth. Recently, there have been burns at Butternut Creek, Big Valley, Sand Creek Prairie, Campbell Memorial, and Lefglen nature sanctuaries. For more information on prescribed burns and how to participate in one, please contact the MNA office at (517) 655-5655.