Ten MNA sanctuaries to visit this fall

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

As the season changes, so do the leaves. Well, at least in Michigan! Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons to experience in Michigan as fall colors surround beautiful landscapes. MNA’s nature sanctuaries are home to a variety of habitats offering breathtaking colors perfect for a fall hike. We had a hard time narrowing the list down, but here are a few sanctuaries to check out if you’d like to experience Michigan this fall.

For a complete list of upcoming guided fall hikes, download the Fall 2014 edition of Discover Michigan Nature or check out the online calendar of events. Click here to access a map of MNA’s nature sanctuaries in Michigan.

Ten MNA Nature Sanctuaries to Visit this Fall:

1. Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County

Autumn hardwoods

Photo by Mark Carlson.

This 245-acre sanctuary offers guests the chance to explore the wonders of the woods. This sanctuary contains hardwood swamp and second hardwood growth. Visitors are welcome to explore on a 2-mile loop trail, but be sure to pack proper footwear as the sanctuary can be wet and swampy (as the name implies).

2. Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary in Newaygo County

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Photo by Matt Schultz.

 

This 210-acre sanctuary is made up of oak and pine barrens. Despite having no trails, the terrain makes it easy for visitors to explore. In this sanctuary, the fall is prime time for the blooming of sunflowers, goldenrod and asters.

3. Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary in Macomb County

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Photo by Jeff Ganley.

 

Visitors can take a hike on a mile-long loop through this sanctuary. The 44-acre sanctuary is home to an array of different plant species including tulip trees and round-leaved orchids and parts both mature and mesic forest.

4. Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary in Keweenaw County

Photo by Marianne Glosenger

This 510-acre sanctuary offers two loop trails, each about a mile long, that intersect offering a 2.5-mile challenge for visitors’ hiking pleasure. The giant white pines have an awe-inspiring height of up to 125 feet, which surround guests with beautiful color as they make their way through the trails. There are also many bird species to watch out for at Estivant Pines.

5. Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary  in Presque Isle County

Photo by Katherine Hollins

Photo by Katherine Hollins

Mystery Valley is home to one of the largest karst “collapse valleys” in the Great Lakes region. On the 1-mile Earthcrack Trail, visitors can explore the incredible earth cracks and valley formed by the erosion of limestone beneath the earth’s surface. The half-mile Valley Trail passes fossils of marine life embedded in the rock. In addition to the sanctuary’s interesting geology, the slightly acidic soil supports a northern-mesic forest, dominated by sugar maple, beech and hemlock trees. In the fall, the trees change and beautifully highlight the landscape.

6. Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary in Cass County

Autumn in the woods

Photo by Sherri Laier.

This sanctuary offers a 1.5-mile loop as well as boardwalks over naturally wet areas and some benches to take a rest. Even if visitors are just sitting for a moment, they still have a great opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the nature around them in this “crown jewel” nature sanctuary. The sanctuary is a mixture of floodpain, southern mesic forest and hardwood swamp, a home for several different bird and reptile species. The Dowagiac River also flows through this sanctuary.

7. Columbia Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County

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Photo by Jeff Ganley.

A beautiful array of colors can be seen in this 40-acre sanctuary consisting of southern hardwood swamp, emergent marsh and southern hardwood forest. It is in this sanctuary where over 150 plant species can be found. Some notable plants are Michigan holly, several types of bedstraws and sedges.

8. Twin Waterfalls Plant Preserve in Alger County

Photo by Mike Zajczenko

Twin Waterfalls boasts great beauty in its falls themselves, as well as unique plants. Some plants found in this sanctuary are twisted stalk and American milletgrass. The milletgrass is known for being 5 feet in height and a foot-long panicle. The Munising Formation is also an interesting sight — a large sandstone wall made of a variety of colors.

9. Phillips Family Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Van Buren County

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Photo by Nancy Goodrich.

This sanctuary is unique because of its coastal marsh habitat. Along with coastal marsh, it is also composed of southern mesic forest. Some trees to look out for are hardwoods, red maple, pin oak and black cherry.

 10. Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary in Genesee County

Photo via MNA archives.

Photo via MNA archives.

This nature sanctuary is an interweb of pine groves and hardwood forests. Visitors can choose between several different trails to discover the variety of trees in the sanctuary. Some trees to look out for are oak, elm and ash.

 

We want to explore Michigan with you! Download the Fall 2014 edition of Discover Michigan Nature or check out the online calendar of events and join us in the field!

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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.

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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!

The Upper Peninsula’s abundance of waterfalls

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Olson Falls. Photo by Mike Zajczenko.

Besides being the Great Lakes State, another unique thing that attracts people to Michigan is the hundreds of waterfalls all around the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the fact that there are so many waterfalls in the UP, surprisingly there are only a few in the Lower Peninsula.

Most Michiganders know the story of how the Great Lakes were created; after an ice age, the melting process began, with some glaciers being extremely dense and thick, gouging holes into the earth. These gouges formed the Great Lakes as they are today after the glaciers finally melted away and the land became populated with plants, animals and people.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

Memorial falls. Photo via MNA archives.

The Upper Peninsula’s waterfalls are made up of sandstone and were formed over thousands of years. Much of the formation is due to how water falls over or on top of the rock that makes it up. Water erodes the rock over time and can create ridges and falls and a water basin by wearing down soft rock. The water basin at the bottom of the falls where water is collected.

Some waterfalls are more cascading, others have more of a sharp drop-off and some are considered rapids because of their location and how water flows.

MNA boasts the Twin Waterfalls Plant Preserve Nature Sanctuary in Alger County. The sanctuary was acquired in 1986 in honor of MNA member Rudy Olson. The Munising Formation is also an exquisite part of the sanctuary, making up the vertical walls of the waterfalls. This formation is made of 550-million year old sandstone which is soft and erodes more quickly. The sandstone of the upper-rock which caps the formation is made of harder sandstone, which takes much longer to erode and makes up the Au Train Formation. This slower rate of erosion results in the shelf over which the water drops.

Click here to see a map of all Upper Peninsula waterfalls.

 

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.

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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.