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:

Advertisements

Butterflies to look for in Michigan

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

It’s almost hard to believe that a tiny, graceful creature could fly out of a cocoon. Yet every year, the butterfly continues its phenomenon, metamorphosing from a mere bumbling, crawling caterpillar into a sleek, graceful winged insect.

A butterfly’s life

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

A monarch butterfly emerges from its cocoon. Photo courtesy of kids.britannica.com.

The butterfly begins its life in a small ovoid-shaped egg, developing into a caterpillar. The caterpillar grows and hatches out of its egg and must start eating in order to grow. The caterpillar sheds its smaller skin a few times during growth before it begins the “pupa” stage.It forms the chrysalis, the cocoon formed around its body to undergo metamorphosis. The final stage is when the newly formed butterfly emerges from its cocoon, no longer a ground-anchored insect.

For more details about the butterfly’s life cycle click here.

Here are some butterflies common to Michigan, that can be spotted while enjoying Michigan’s nature.

White Admiral

The White Admiral has a 2.25-4 inch wingspan and has a white band in the middle of both wings. Hind-wings also may have a row of blue dashes or red dots toward the edges. The White Admiral is usually found in Northern deciduous evergreen forests. This butterfly likes to eat rotting fruit and nectar from small white flowers.

Giant Swallowtail

The Giant Swallowtail boasts a wingspan of up to 6 inches, making it one of the largest of its species. The swallowtail can be spotted as a black winged-insect with yellow spots on its edges creating a band across them. The Giant Swallowtail chooses rocky and sandy hillsides near bodies of water. This butterfly likes to get its nectar from several plants including goldenrod, azalea and swamp milkweed.

Monarch

The Monarch is a well-known butterfly with an interesting history. This butterfly is known to migrate from the north to the south including places in California and Mexico during the harsh, northern winter months. The Monarch has black and orange wings with white dots near the margins. The Queen butterfly who is a close relative is often mistaken for a Monarch but is also commonly spotted in Michigan. Monarchs are particular to milkweed plants.

Silver Spotted Skipper

The Silver Spotted Skipper has a small wingspan which can be up to about 2.5 inches. Its wings are a mixture of brown and black, with transparent gold spots and a metallic silver band. They reside in disturbed and open woods, streams and prairie waterways. This butterfly avoids feeding on any yellow flowers but instead eats plants like everlasting pea, common milkweed and thistles.

Little Glassywing

The little Glassywing has an even smaller wingspan than the Silver Spotted Skipper, which can be up to 1.5 inches. The wings are a combination of brown and black like the Skipper. These butterflies prefer to feed on white, pink and purple flowers including common milkweed and peppermint. These butterflies like to live near shaded wood edges.

Endangered butterflies

Two other butterflies that can be found in Michigan are the Karner Blue and the Mitchell’s Satyr. These butterflies are particularly noteworthy in the state because of their endangered status. MNA has profiled these butterflies in the past, bringing awareness to their endangered status in the U.S.

 

More on Lake Erie’s algae blooms, the Toledo water crisis and looming urban sprawl: this week in environmental news

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Toledo water crisis passes but long term threat looms (Great Lakes Echo): Despite the scare and being unable to drink water, residents still found themselves apprehensive to drink Toledo tap water — despite Mayor Michael Collins drinking the water in front of them. Although there is no longer a ban on drinking the water, a larger problem prevails not only in northern Ohio communities but those along the Great Lakes Basin.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

Behind Toledo’s water crisis: A long troubled Lake Erie (New York Times): Like the MNA post this past week about Lake Erie and damage of algal blooms, Michael Wines of the New York Times offers an in-depth look into the problem. The story tracks down the past of Lake Erie and discusses the trouble its faced in the past and how now scientists and government officials are taking serious concern to the issue due to the recent water crisis in Toledo.

6 Ways Nature is Inspiring Human Engineering (Forbes): Biomimetics, or the imitation of nature for the purpose of solving human problems, has led to new breakthroughs in technology. Researchers are looking at the eyes of moths to understand how their structure can be applied to solar technology as well as using spider silk for bulletproof vests.

Just how far will urban sprawl spread? (Conservation Magazine): The World Health Organization has predicted by 2050, 70 percent of the global population will reside in cities. This will inevitably increase urban sprawl — an issue that affects natural habitats and ecosystems worldwide.

 

DNR to celebrate 40 years of Endangered Species Act with week of events

Photo courtesy of the DNR.

Photo courtesy of the DNR.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The state of Michigan has hit a major milestone and the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, has decided to honor it in an extraordinary way: by hosting a week in honor of the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, from Aug. 4-10.

The ESA was signed into law on July 11, 1974 and came into effect on Sept. 1 of that year. The DNR invites Michiganders to join them at the nearest state park for an insightful lecture on what the ESA is and what it means for an animal to be classified as endangered or threatened.

Click here to find the schedule of events.

According to the DNR, one success that the ESA is the recovery of the rare Kirtland’s warbler. This bird has garnered attention from far and wide. In a release from the DNR, Specialist Dan Kenneday said “Michigan’s ESA has been pivotal in the recovery of the Kirtland’s warbler.”

A Kirtland's warbler in an MNA sanctuary. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A Kirtland’s warbler in an MNA sanctuary. Photo by Cindy Mead.

The ESA plays a large role in maintaining balance in Michigan’s wondrous natural habitats and ecosystems. Without laws protecting animals, habitat decline, pollution and other issues will continue to cause harm to animals and their homes throughout the state, which may compromise the health of Michigan’s invaluable natural scenery.

When a species is classified as endangered, it means that it is in danger of becoming extinct. There are also many other species listed as threatened and may be on the verge of being listed as endangered. The ESA is one step in finding methods to solve the problem of extinction and has already found success in the restoration of the Kirtland’s warbler.

MNA supports the efforts of the ESA and the DNR and congratulates them on the 40th anniversary of the act. Don’t miss a chance to celebrate the ESA! For more information about the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, click here.

 

Lake Erie’s algal blooms: a cause for concern

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

A view of algae-infested Lake Erie. Photo courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory.

In a story from the Great Lakes Echo, Lake Erie has yet again produced record-high algae blooms. In 2011, the amount was the worst ever recorded with 2013 coming in close.

Lake Erie has been used as a source of water for farming and drinking and the increasing toxicity poses harm to the environment.

According to Discovery News, algae blooms are a natural part in the life of an aging lake, but have been greatly increased due to human activity.

An explanation of algae

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer  courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Rick Stumpf, oceanographer from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration examines a water sample from Lake Erie. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Algae are common members of aquatic communities. Often in the form of green plants like seaweed, these plants grow and are green because they contain chlorophyll. Algae usually doesn’t pose problems in bodies of water, but algae blooms are of greater concern. These green-blue scum masses are full of harmful cyanobacteria, containing threatening cyanotoxins.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines cyanotoxins as “a diverse group of chemical substances that are categorized by their specific toxic effects. In humans, cyanotoxins can affect the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, liver and increase tumor growth.

Click here to read the fact sheet which includes symptoms of cyanotoxin consumption and contact and treatment.

The toxic dangers in Lake Erie

The problem facing Lake Erie is not only that it’s turning a pernicious green color, it’s under silent attack by toxins in water runoff making their way into the lake. Fertilizer from agricultural practices in recent years has contributed to this issue. Climate change may also be contributing to the issues surrounding Lake Erie, causing more storms, higher water temperatures and less control of fertilizer runoff.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

A boat speeds through algae blooms in Lake Erie, 2011. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Nutrients in the fertilizer runoff have contributed greatly to the growth of cyanobacteria, fertilizing the toxin rather than the intended on-land crops. Not only is this bacteria harmful for humans to consume in drinking water, it creates “dead zones” in different areas of lakes. A dead zone happens when the bacteria consumes most of the oxygen in a particular area of a lake, so that other organisms are deprived of that oxygen and die.

A plan of action 

In Michigan, scientists hope to continue monitoring the water, although the high amount of algae blooms has been a great cause of stress and concern. Recently, President Obama reauthorized a federal law which allocates $82 million for studying and monitoring algae blooms. This time, the Great Lakes were included.

 

Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.

 

School’s out for summer: fun activities for kids

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The final bell has rung and students of all ages have rushed out the door to greet the warm summer season.

There are plenty of fun outdoor activities to do while enjoying Michigan’s lush foliage from now through September that can be great for kids of all ages and their families.

Here are some entertaining activities to keep healthy and energized during summer break:

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

MNA members and stewards gather at the Fred Dye Nature Sanctuary in Mackinac County to take pictures. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

Plan your visit to an MNA sanctuary near you

MNA has over 170 nature sanctuaries in both peninsulas throughout the Great Lakes State. Each sanctuary is unique with its own type of habitat and fauna. Visiting a sanctuary is a great way to explore Michigan’s nature and learn about native plants and animals. There are also several opportunities to volunteer to preserve native plants and animals with the upcoming volunteer days in different sanctuaries.

When planning your visit to an MNA nature sanctuary remember that only foot travel is permitted so leave bikes and motorized vehicles at home. Remember to be respectful of the plants in the sanctuary and do not pull plants or collect seeds. Also remember to stay on trails and, if guided by a steward, remain close. More detailed information about sanctuary visitation policies can be found here.

Find out about upcoming events here. Visitors may also bring cameras and take photos but are asked to be aware to not accidentally harm plants or animals. Here’s your chance to showcase those photography skills and enter the MNA photo contest, submissions due August 1.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

A view of Kent Lake in Kensington Metropark.

Visit parks

Michigan has many local parks which can provide an array of fun activities. For those living in the metro-Detroit area, Huron-Clinton Metroparks offer several opportunities to get out and have fun. One notable park is Kensington Metropark, located in Milford Township. Kensington offers nature trails, a biking/walking 8-mile loop, play-scapes, a farm center, boating, golfing, swimming and water slides. Click here for more details on pricing and permit fees.

For a statewide searchable listing of parks across Michigan, check out the Pure Michigan website.

Join an outdoor recreational sports team

For something fun to commit to, joining a sports team can be fun and beneficial for health. Baseball, softball, soccer and other outdoor sports might be offered in summer leagues locally. Check local websites to find out more information. Arranging just-for-fun groups to play in parks or other public areas can be fun too.

Go for a swim

Sometimes the only way to beat the heat is to take a dip. Michigan offers many lakes and public pools for residents to cool off in the hot summer season. Making a visit to one of the Great Lakes is also fun for the whole family. Be sure you check for open public beach spots. Also take note of beaches with or without lifeguards. Make sure to take proper precautions like water-wings and supervision for small children. Check out Pure Michigan’s guide for the Great Lakes here.

Explore Michigan’s history

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

The coast of Mackinac Island, a motor-vehicle-free spot. Photo courtesy of missionpoint.com.

There are many different parts of Michigan with rich histories and stories behind them. Planning a visit to local areas or museums can be fun and educational. Here are some fun, popular places to check out:

On your visit to any lake, park or nature sanctuary make sure you abide by their individual rules and respect the nature around you.