What’s the Scoop with Michigan’s Soil?

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Though not always the most celebrated components of a landscape, soils are certainly one of the most important. While plants form the basis of habitats, soils are central in determining which plants can grow where. Consequently, the soil/s of an ecosystem can drastically affect wildlife communities. Soils also play a critical role in filtering fresh water, and have served as the very foundations of civilization. How much do you know about the marvel beneath your feet?

kalkaska sand

Kalkaska sand. Photo: Randall Schaetzl.

In 1990, Michigan declared Kalkaska sand as its official state soil. It’s relatively infertile owing to its acidic nature, but nonetheless abundant. Despite being one of over 500 soils present in Michigan, Kalkaska sand, so named for one of the 29 counties in which it is present, covers nearly 5% of the state. It can be found in the upper half of the lower peninsula, as well as most of the upper peninsula; but just how did it get there?

The movement of glaciers shaped Michigan’s soils over the course of hundreds of thousands of years into what is known as glacial till. Read more about the process here. In the time since, our soils have undergone many changes to provide support for forests, wetlands, prairies, dunes, swamps, and human agriculture alike. In fact, if not for Kalkaska sand, the coniferous forests of northern Michigan may not exist.

Many of the evergreens that grow in our northern forests, including our ever-important state tree (white pine), are adapted to highly acidic, dry, and nutrient-poor conditions. As such, they rely on otherwise infertile soils like Kalkaska sand. The rare Kirtland’s warbler breeds exclusively in jack pine, and many other well-known species depend upon plant communities derived from Kalkaska sand. In a very real way, we have this unique soil to thank for the natural landscape as we know it today.

kirtlands warbler - cindy mead

Kirtland’s warbler in a jack pine forest. Photo: Cindy Mead.

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Triple Your Impact

Hurry before the 2015 tax year is over!

There is still time to make your tax-deductible gift for 2015 and have your donation matched two-to-one.

Thanks to generous anonymous donors, all gifts to MNA of $35 or more will be matched, two-to-one, up to $5,000. That means your $35 gift generates $105 for the protection of Michigan’s natural heritage.

And, it gets better!

If you enroll in our Monthly Protector Program the match increases to three-to-one, up to $1,000, and you can quadruple your impact!

MNA’s Monthly Protector Program is a convenient way to help protect Michigan’s natural heritage and spread your gift out over a period of time. By authorizing MNA to automatically charge your credit card or checking account an amount of your choice ($10 minimum) every month, you provide sustainable support to help MNA acquire, protect, and maintain critical habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species throughout the year.

Send your year-end gift in the mail today, make a secure donation online, or give us a call at (866) 223-2231.

Thank you for all that you do to help MNA build a brighter future for Michigan!

Celebrate Earth Day with MNA

April 22, 2015 marks Earth Day’s 45th anniversary. To celebrate, MNA will be hosting special hikes! Join us for a guided nature hike or other activity to explore the best Michigan has to offer!

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Dick Glosenger.

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Dick Glosenger.

Join us for one of these special Earth Day hikes:

Monday, April 20: Earthweek Hike at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary (Muskegon County) 

In partnership with the Muskegon Area Earthweek group, MNA will host two hikes at Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary in Muskegon County. The hikes will begin at both 2:30 pm and 5 pm. All are welcome! For more information or to sing up, contact John Bagley at jbagley@michigannature.org

Wednesday, April 22: Earth Day Hike at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County)

Come celebrate Earth Day at the spring wildflower mecca of Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary! This event begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be a combination wildflower hike and stewardship opportunity. As we hike, we will pull invasive garlic mustard along the trail to help maintain the sanctuary. Contact John Bagley at jbagley@michigannature.org for details or to sign up.

Let Earth Day inspire you to make a difference in your community. Join MNA for one of these volunteer days that happen to fall right around Earth Day:

Saturday, April 18: Coldwater River Plant Preserve (Kent County) 

Help sanctuary steward Patricia Pennell keep this beautiful floodplain forest and the amazing wildflowers in good health by pitching in to control garlic mustard. The event starts at 9:30 a.m. For details, contact John Bagley at jbagley@michigannature.org.

Friday, April 24: Frances Broehl Memorial No. 1 (Lenawee County)

Enjoy the beautiful woods, Wolf Creek, and spring wildflowers as you help pull invasive garlic mustard. This event begins at 10 a.m. For details, contact Rachel Maranto at rmaranto@michigannature.org

If you can’t make it to any of these events, keep an eye on MNA’s calendar of events for additional volunteer opportunities and nature hikes. Happy Earth Day! 

Winter Lovers: Dark Eyed Junco

By Stephanie Bradshaw, MNA Volunteer

Dark-eyed Junco  © Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

Dark-eyed Junco
© Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

It might be surprising that anyone would love the cold and snow of a Michigan winter, but it is the perfect climate for the Dark Eyed Junco. As the Robin is a symbol of the coming Spring, the Dark Eyed Junco could be called a symbol of winter. A type of sparrow slightly bigger than the ordinary house finch, Michiganders will often see these gray birds with white undersides at their feeders but only with a backdrop of snow. The slate-colored breed is the type of Junco that people in the Eastern states see only in the winter months. Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout the United States and Canada at different seasons. They are one of the most common birds in North America with an estimated population of 630 million individuals.

Why does the Junco appear only in the winter?             

Juncos, like many other birds, migrate “South” for the winter months; however, lower Michigan is their South. These little birds live in Canada for the rest of the year and come down to lower parts of America only in the winter. Juncos are commonly found in coniferous and deciduous forests, but during winter migration they may journey to woodlands and fields.

Where do Juncos build their nests?

Juncos prefer their nests lower to the ground: in a depression, rock ledge, or roots of upturned trees. However, these birds easily adapt, and around people they may place their nest in or under buildings, in window ledges, flower pots, or light fixtures. The females weave the nests out of pine needles, grass, and sometimes small twigs. The birds may incorporate mosses, hairs, and leaves into the nests as well. They rarely reuse nests, so they will build a new nest at each of their destinations.

What do Juncos eat?

Seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, and sorrel are the Juncos’ favorites. At the feeders they will pick out the millet and leave the sunflower seeds. They also eat insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.

If you see a Junco, be sure to say hello and enjoy his presence because when it starts to warm up he will be heading North in search of cooler regions.

Did you see any Juncos this winter? 

Bird counts, trails, and air pollution studies: this week in environmental news

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

The proposed route of the Iron Belle Trail. Image: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Birders break records for Great Backyard Bird Count (Michigan Radio): Citizen scientists participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count logged 5,090 species this winter, about half the bird species in the world. The bitter cold this winter impacted the bird count, with fewer submissions this year, but still a record number of species were logged by those who did venture out.

Mich. Legislature approves $2M for Ironwood-Detroit trail, plus local projects (WDIO): The Michigan Legislature approved $24.7 million in spending on 69 recreational projects around Michigan, including funding for the Iron Belle Trail from Ironwood to Belle Isle in Detroit. This will connect several existing trails from Detroit to the western Upper Peninsula with two  distinct routes, one for bicycling and one for hiking.

Children’s lung health improves as air pollution is reduced, study says (The New York Times): A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that reducing air pollution leads to improved respiratory function in children ages 11 to 15. The study was conducted over 17 years by researchers at the University of Southern California, measuring air pollution levels as they declined in five regional communities and breathing capacity in 2,120 schoolchildren from those communities.

Several local sightings prove bald eagles making comeback (The Oakland Press): Residents in Oakland County have reported seeing bald eagles in their communities recently. Experts say the eagles may not be as rare as some people think; there are approximately 800 bald eagles in Michigan. At Stoney Creek Metropark, bald eagles have been nesting since early 2013, and residents have reported seeing eagles in Highland Township and Waterford Township.

MNA Looks Back on a Remarkable 2014

2014 has been an incredibly important and successful year for MNA! It’s impossible for one blog post to do justice to the amazing work of our staff and volunteers, but we’ve compiled a few highlights from throughout the year. Click on the images to enlarge and scroll through the gallery:

Check out out MNA’s 2014 Year in Review publication for more details about our progress in 2014. 

Thank you for making this a year to remember! If you’d like to support MNA, you can become a member or make a tax-deductible contribution.

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: