Sanctuary Spotlight: Thornapple Lake

Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary is one of MNA’s many inland-lake sanctuaries, protecting roughly 60 acres of lakeshore where the Thornapple River enters the Thornapple Lake in Barry County. The densely forested sanctuary would be a tempting destination for hiking and exploration if not for the wet terrain making trails impractical. This type of habitat, which floods every spring, is known as a floodplain forest.

The low banks along the Thornapple River allow for the natural fluctuations in water levels.

The Thornapple River, a major tributary of the Grand River which drains into Lake Michigan, travels nearly 90 miles through primarily agricultural land, and is disrupted at several points by man-made dams built to control its frequent flooding. From the tributary east of Charlotte until it joins Thornapple Lake the river flows freely, though with the appearance of a creek.

This floodplain forest area is therefore an important part of the landscape. Floodplain forests serve an important role in increasing natural water quality as pollutants get filtered out of the floodwaters through the soil. They also provide critical habitat for several rare birds, such as Baltimore Oriole, Cerulean Warbler and American Woodcock. The saturated soils of floodplain forests thaw earlier in the spring than surrounding soils, creating critical opportunities for early migratory birds to find food on their way to summer breeding grounds.

A great blue heron hunts along the shoreline at Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary.

The area around Thornapple Lake, however, has become heavily developed over the years with waterfront homes and neighborhoods which intersect the shoreline. The development impacts the ability of waterfowl and other species to use the lake for feeding and breeding. Concerned with the overdevelopment of the lakeshore, Richard and Rosemary Shuster donated the land that has become Thornapple Lake Nature Sanctuary in 2009.

Many of MNA’s Nature Sanctuaries are known for being incredible destinations for hiking with spectacular overlooks, abundant spring wildflowers, and more. But sanctuaries like Thornapple Lake are a reminder that prioritizing the protection of Michigan’s rich natural heritage for wildlife and not just human enjoyment, is just as worthwhile.

Interacting Safely with Michigan Wildlife

by Jayli Husband, MNA Communications Intern

Michigan is filled with many interesting landscapes such as lakes, forests, marshes, prairies, as well as a popular destination for sand dunes and beaches. With this diversity of natural areas to explore, there are many different species that can be spotted throughout Michigan. With spring in full bloom throughout the state, it is important to be conscious of the native wildlife that may soon be emerging within our forests and neighborhoods and how to properly interact with them. Each spring, there are a number of wildlife encounters throughout Michigan that should be taken with caution.

As temperatures rise, reptiles such as snakes will become more prevalent because they hibernate during the cooler months. After a snake has been clearly seen, it is important to keep a safe distance so that the snake does not feel threatened, this way, they will not react. Snakes will most often avoid humans, in fact, 17 of 18 Michigan snake species are harmless to people. However, if you happen to encounter the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Michigan’s only venomous snake), it is best to back away, and if it is staying in a community setting such as a park or backyard have it removed by a professional.

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake photo by Zach Pacana.

Unfortunately, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is now a threatened species because of the loss of habitat, thus, it is important to report any sightings to help conservation and DNR tracking efforts in Michigan. Snakes are very important in their ecosystem; they maintain balance in by eating pests such as mice and rats, and are also important prey for hawks, and other larger carnivores.

In addition to reptiles and amphibians popping back up, coyotes are also a common sight in the spring throughout Michigan. Coyotes can be spotted throughout the year, but it is important to know how to handle monitoring them due to increased activity during mating season. Like many animals, coyotes tend to avoid humans, but it is important to keep watch on small pets and make sure that they are supervised when outdoors if a coyote is spotted nearby. Additionally, coyotes have a great sense of smell, so it is helpful to keep food or smelly garbage contained when it is placed outdoors. To prevent a coyote from moving closer, they can often be deterred by scaring them through loud noises and aggressive hand waving. Coyotes are important for ecosystems as well because they are a keystone species. As a keystone species, coyotes help control the populations of prey species such as rabbits, rodents, deer, snakes, and many more animals which regulates the ecosystem.

Similarly, if a black bear is nearby, it is best to move and give the bear space or scare it off by making loud noises and looking as big as possible. Additionally, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MIDNR), people should follow the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines with black bears:

  • Stand your ground
  • Make loud noises
    • Always provide a clear escape route for the bear
    • Rarely do bears attack, but fight back if they do
    • Treat bears with respect and observe from a distance.
A black bear with several cubs. Photo by Thomas Wiensch

Black bears are the only bear species that reside in Michigan and only roam in hardwood and conifer forests. Overall, they tend to avoid humans like most animals, but it is best to take caution. Like snakes, bears also appear in the warmer months due to hibernation during cooler months. Bears also play an important role in the environment; like coyotes, bears help maintain the population of their prey including deer, elk, insects, and plants. Uniquely, because bears eat lots of berries, their scat turns into the perfect fertilizer for plants and bushes!

Any direct encounter with these animals are pretty rare. Keep in mind that biting insects such as ticks and mosquitoes pose a more serious threat when out and about this summer. Take common sense precautions with long pants, long sleeves, and repellant while enjoying any lucky wildlife sightings.

It is so important to maintain healthy relationships our wildlife because each animal helps maintain balance in the ecosystem. You can report wildlife sightings to the MIDNR using the Eyes in the Field website, where you can select a category and report your observation. And you can help protect natural areas for all of Michigan’s many species by supporting the Michigan Nature Association.

MNA’s Guide to Gifts for Nature – Part II

Give the Gift of Nature

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Give to nature and know you are making a real and lasting impact for Michigan’s rare, threatened and endangered species and imperiled natural communities.
 
Your contribution will be put to work immediately to safeguard important natural areas, restore critical habitat, and connect young people to nature.
 
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An easy and convenient way to help protect our natural heritage and spread your gift out over a period of time.
 
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Check with your tax advisor about potential tax savings with a gift of appreciated stocks, bond or other securities to MNA.
 
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If your New Year’s resolution includes estate planning and a desire to leave a lasting legacy for nature, contact Garret Johnson, (866) 223-2231 or gjohnson@michigannature.org, for a confidential conversation about becoming an MNA Guardian of the Future.
 
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Watch for more giving ideas throughout the month!
Donate today at michigannature.org!

Species Spotlight: Lake Sturgeon

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

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Though Lake Sturgeon make look intimidating with their armored, angular bodies, it may be fair to classify them as gentle giants of the Great Lakes. They have lived in this region for around 10,000 years – and have existed for around 136 million. Capable of living for 150 years or longer, these ancient freshwater behemoths are the longest-lived of Michigan’s fish species, as well as the largest, having been known to reach lengths of 8 feet and weigh several hundred pounds. It may technically be female sturgeon which are the longest-lived Great Lakes fish, though, as they can outlive males by as much as a century!

Sturgeon are cartilaginous (non-bony) fish with torpedo-shaped bodies. Instead of scales, they have a kind of armor in the form of bony scutes that cover their bodies. Juveniles may be gray or brown, and appear more angular, while adults tend to be lighter in color and may be gray or olive. The growth rates of Sturgeon are highly variable, but cleaner, more temperate waters and greater food availability offer ideal conditions for these fish to grow large.

Sexual maturity in males is reached anywhere from 8 to 22 years for males and 14 to 26 years for females. Spawning occurs in early spring, usually from April to June, when water temperatures warm to 53-64° F in clean, shallow waters and fast-moving stream rapids. Though they accomplish this impressive feat on average only once every 6-7 years, females lay millions of eggs when spawning – that’s an average of 5,500 eggs per pound of fish!

Once, the range of lake sturgeon extended from parts of Canada down to Alabama, and populations in the Great Lakes region were estimated to have numbered in the millions. However, only remnant populations remain. Historic overfishing in the 19th and 20th centuries nearly led to the extinction of lake sturgeon, as well as pollution and habitat loss from dams and deforestation. They are now listed as Endangered, Threatened, or Special Concern in all but one of the states throughout their range.

Thankfully, Michigan sponsors efforts to protect sturgeon and restore parts of their habitat. Their spawning period is an especially crucial one, as their preferences for shallow waters make them vulnerable. If you happen to come across sturgeon in the wild, count yourself fortunate to have witnessed these living fossils. Learn more about this iconic Great Lakes species from the DNR website.

Join MNA on Sunday, October 8 for our annual Sturgeon Sprint Family Fun Run & 5K in Detroit! Run along the scenic roadway of Belle Isle State Park. The fee for adults is $25, and $10 for kids. As always, a t-shirt is included and all runners receive a participatory medal! Proceeds will promote efforts to protect the Lake Sturgeon. Register online or contact Jess Foxen at jfoxen@michigannature.org for more information.

A pre-party will be held at Blaze Pizza, located at 3129 Fairlane Drive, Allen Park, from 3-7 pm. Present this flyer with your fast-fire’d creation and Blaze will donate 20% of their proceeds to MNA! Happy running!

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