Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

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Brockway Mountain, Butterflies, and Natural Shorelines: this week in environmental news

Residents split over approved cell phone tower (ABC 10 News): The view of the majestic Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor will soon be changed forever. The FCC gave its stamp of approval for a new cell phone tower to be placed on top of the Mountain. Supporters say the 199 foot tower will provide Verizon customers in the area with cell phone service and most importantly, access to 911 service on a cell phone. Though the addition of cell service is welcomed by many residents of the area, a group opposed to the tower has been fighting to have it placed anywhere but on Brockway. They claim that Brockway Mountain belongs to everyone, and its purpose is to give people access to a beautiful, unspoiled view.

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A black swallowtail. Photo: Creative Commons

Buffs boost black swallowtail as best bet for state butterfly (Great Lakes Echo): The black swallowtail would flit over Michigan as the official butterfly of the state if recently proposed legislation is approved. The black swallowtail was picked since it is a fulltime Michigan resident. Designating the swallowtail as the state butterfly can lead to teaching opportunities. Butterflies are part of the nature food chain, they’re beautiful and pleasing to the eye, and they’re pollinators.

Workshop teaches about the importance of natural shorelines on inland lakes (MSU Extension): The Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP), a diverse group of statewide partners including MSU Extension, MDEQ, and Michigan Lake & Stream Associations whose goals are to train contractors and landscape professionals who work at the water’s edge and educate lake residents about the importance of natural shorelines. They also provide demonstrations of shoreline landscapes that people can visit and encourage local and state policies that continue to promote local natural shoreline management. The Protecting Your Shoreline: A Workshop for Inland Lakefront Property Owners offers three separate trainings in April and May.

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Monarch butterfly with the Minneapolis skyline in the background. Photo: Kyle Daly/USFWS.

The Twin Cities of Minnesota Pledge to Help Monarch Butterflies (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Newsroom): The Twin Cities of Minnesota, and its communities, have recognized the importance of the monarch butterfly and all it stands for. Mayor Chris Coleman, of St. Paul, and Mayor Betsy Hodges, of Minneapolis, have joined forces to sign the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, making the Twin Cities the 100th locale nationwide to take the Pledge. The Pledge is a National Wildlife Federation campaign working to empower mayors and local government chief executives to help save the declining monarch butterfly.

Eradicating Invasive Phragmites

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.

Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.

Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.

This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height.  Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.

Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.

Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.

MNA to recognize volunteers and conservationists at October 17 ceremony

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Don’t miss out on MNA’s annual Volunteer and Donor Recognition Dinner on Oct. 17 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.

Guests will enjoy a delicious meal, jazz music and the presentation of awards to hard-working, dedicated individuals who do so much to protect Michigan’s natural heritage.

Tickets are $30. You can purchase tickets online through the MNA website or by contacting Danielle Cooke at dcooke@michigannature.org or 866-223-2231.

The following awards will be presented during the celebration:

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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!

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.

 

Frogs and toads: environmentally beneficial creatures

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

A frog swimming. Photo by Cindy Mead.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

The warm Michigan weather brings about many different types of plants an animals, including amphibians like frogs and toads.

Often after a rain or in a wet, shaded area these critters can be found hopping around.

What’s the difference?

It might be surprising that all toads are considered frogs. Frogs and toads are both amphibians but it’s easy to tell the difference between them by a few key factors. The frog has more smooth, moist skin and longer legs. Toads are more bumpy and warty-looking. Frogs prefer to be around water and moist places whereas toads don’t require wet areas as much and can withstand drier habitats. Toads prefer to crawl rather than to hop from place to place.

Amphibians are defined by a life-cycle that begins underwater. Baby frogs and toads start off as eggs in the water and develop into tadpoles that have gills and can swim. These tadpoles develop lungs and other body parts and, once they have matured, can enjoy life on land.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

A green frog sitting. Photo by Jim Harding courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Toads and frogs breed during the spring and summer and find warm shelter to protect themselves during harsh winter months.

Where do they live?

Frogs and toads live in many places around the world including the rain forest. In Michigan they tend to live in wetlands, wooded areas, beaches and near streams or lakes.

What do they do?

Frogs consume thousands of bugs. This consumption is beneficial for people and the environment, protecting plants, getting rid of pests and maintaining a balance in the food chain and ecosystem. Frogs are also great indicators of changes in the environment as they are sensitive to even the slightest of changes. Their skin is thin and porous so any chemicals or other contaminants to the environment can be shown by a decrease of frogs in more frog-populated areas. Frogs also have provided scientists with compounds for different medicines.

A fowler's toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

A fowler’s toad creeps through plants. Photo by JD Wilson courtesy of herpsofnc.org

Threats to frogs and toads

Unfortunately there are many threats to frogs and toads throughout the world. Many of these are human-induced problems such as the use of harmful pesticides, habitat loss and pollution to name a few. These actions endanger frogs and toads and can be harmful for the environment which is why protecting them is important.

To learn more about frogs and toads click here. To learn about types of frogs and toads found in Michigan click here.