Monarchs, American Wetlands Month, and Migratory Bird Festival: this week in environmental news

Monarch butterflies winging their way north to Michigan (MDNR): With spring now sprung in Michigan, soon we’ll be welcoming back to the state one of the most distinctive signs that summer is on its way – the brightly colored monarch butterfly. Monarchs are on their way north from Mexico, where they spend the winter months. While National Start Seeing Monarchs Day is observed annually on the first Saturday in May, it may be a few more weeks before they make their way across Michigan. One of the most well-known and beloved butterfly species in North America, with their easily recognized orange and black wing pattern, monarchs have become a much less common sight in recent decades. The eastern monarch butterfly population has declined by 90 percent over the last 20 years due mainly to habitat loss, both in their summer range – including Michigan – and in Mexico, where they overwinter. The alarming declines in monarchs and other pollinators have sparked conservation programs across the nation. There are many ways that Michigan residents can contribute to ongoing monarch conservation efforts as well. Creating habitat for monarchs and other pollinators, whether it’s in your backyard or a large field, is a great place to start. Other resources include the Create Habitat for Monarchs web page from Monarch Joint Venture and “How to build a butterfly and pollinator garden in seven steps” from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Another way you can contribute to monarch butterfly conservation efforts is to monitor monarch populations by reporting any sightings at Journey North or getting involved in other monarch citizen science opportunities.

Celebrate American Wetlands Month by exploring Michigan’s wetlands (TV6): May is American Wetlands Month – a month to appreciate and enjoy the wonders of wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources encourages Michigan residents to get out and enjoy some of the outstanding wetlands the state has to offer. Try visiting one of Michigan’s Wetland Wonders for a day of hiking, birding, kayaking or fishing.

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The Keweenaw’s Migratory Bird Festival (Copper Harbor Birding): Join the Copper Harbor Birding group in celebrating the spring bird migration by offering a season full of bird and other nature related activities. The birds are the main focus, so get out there! Guided bird and nature walks are offered throughout the season.

Making your native plant choices for Michigan inland lake shorelines (MSU Extension): Michigan’s inland lakes draw many people for a variety of reasons. Being close to nature and being a part of a relaxing natural environment are not the least among them. However, the reality of owning a lake home often is at odds with what nature provides. When choosing native plants for your shoreline you should have a landscape design plan and know the Lake fetch or prevailing wind direction on your lake in relationship to your property. Then go about choosing what plants will serve your needs and aesthetic. The important thing to remember is to choose the right plant for the right place.

Small snail, big problems: Researchers track invasive New Zealand mudsnail in Michigan rivers (MDNR): A tiny invader is threatening prized trout streams in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.  A mere 1/8-inch long, the New Zealand mudsnail is barely distinguishable from a grain of sand, but over time its invasive habits can affect the quality and quantity of trout and other fish in the Au Sable, Pere Marquette and Boardman rivers where it has been found. The Department of Environmental Quality recently released a new video providing an overview of New Zealand mudsnail identification. The video is the premiere in the “MDEQ Minute” series, offering 60-second views on a broad range of topics including new and potential invasive species in Michigan. If you think you have found a New Zealand mudsnail in a waterway outside of the Pere Marquette, Boardman or Au Sable rivers, report your finding using the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website, www.misin.msu.edu, or download the MISIN app to your smartphone.

Migratory Birds, Invasive Plants, and Citizen Science Projects: this week in environmental news

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A radar image shows a large migration event that occurred recently. Bubble size indicates the relative bird density; arrow direction and length indicate the migration direction and speed. This image represents about 25-50 million birds aloft. Image: Birdcast

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds (Interlochen Public Radio): 2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south? Andrew Farnsworth, research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says how weather patterns affect birds varies by species. Some birds are dramatically affected. Some species may stay around for quite a lot longer than they might otherwise if temperatures are warmer. This effects waterfall: common loon and ducks on the Great Lakes, for example. On the other hand, some species are less affected by temperature, and instead time their trips south based on changes in the amount of daylight, such as warblers known as calendar migrants. Farnsworth says that while in general, birds are able to respond quickly to changes, they might not be able to keep up with the pace of human-caused climate change.

New research shows invasive plants can feed farms, power homes (Interlochen Public Radio): Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes. Scientists are working in the middle of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which has 10,000 acres of marshes and bogs, forest and farmland. Their team is removing invasive cattails from the area. Once these nutrients have been harvested, they are then put to good use. Working with local farmers, the harvested cattails are shredded and applied directly to crop fields where the biomass breaks down, providing organic material, as well as recycled chemical fertilizer. The invasive plants may have other economic uses as well.

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Scientists are experimenting with new uses for invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Image: Sam Corden

Interactive map helps bridge science-citizen divide (Great Lakes Echo): People can help keep their local lakes, rivers and streams healthier with a new app. The non-profit Ontario Water Rangers won the event put on by the Great Lakes Observing System to encourage the use of open source data either from GLOS or other water data collection services. The app functions like a Google Map. Clicking on a dot zooms in to display small magnifying glasses. Users can then contribute observations including but not limited to wind speed, algae growth or invasive species and read a summary of past observations.

Lake Superior gates to be automated, improving fish spawning (Newstimes): A set of gates that helps control water flow out of Lake Superior is being automated. An 80-acre area of rapids just downstream is one of the Great Lakes’ most productive fish spawning areas. Officials say the project will give the Corps more flexibility to operate the gates in ways that will improve conditions for fish.

CISMAs, Migratory Bird Treaty, and Sea Lampreys: this week in environmental news

Collaboration key to stopping spread of invasive species across southeast Michigan (Metromode): Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) are a new model of collaborative management unfolding across the state. They are designed to get people working together to address the threats posed by invasive species. The Michigan Nature Association is a partner to both the Oakland County CISMA and the St. Clair CISMA in southeast Michigan and MNA is included in both funded grants. The two CISMAs will work with the Stewardship Council and each other to mobilize new areas for collaboration and care for their shared land and water. Their ultimate goal: bringing people together.

Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial 1916-2016 (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service): The Migratory Bird Treaty and Act is commemorating its Centennial this year. These efforts have helped manage and conserve millions of acres of wildlife habitat benefiting migratory birds. Congress passed the Migratory Bird Act in 1918 to formally implement the provisions of the 1916 Treaty. Specifically, the Act prohibited the hunting, killing, capturing, possession, sale, transportation, and exportation of birds, feathers, eggs, and nests. It also provided for the establishment of protected refuges to give birds safe habitats and it encouraged sharing of data between nations to monitor bird populations.

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Odes to the Great Lakes: GVSU exhibition showcases collaborative pieces (Great Lakes Echo): Two department chairs at Grand Valley State University have curated an exhibition with collaborative works that showcase the Great Lakes region.  The exhibit is called Great Lakes: Image & Word, which is now open until April 1 at the GVSU Performing Arts Center.

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Sea lamprey mouth. Photo: T. Lawrence, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Siren song for lamprey closer to Great Lakes use (Great Lakes Echo): Sea lampreys are one of the most costly and destructive invaders in the Great Lakes region. But new understandings of the functions and behaviors of these animals has given researchers a new way to try to combat this invasion, including the first vertebrate biopesticide ever discovered. The biopesticide is registered as a lamprey pheromone – a pheromone is an odor that is intentionally released as the purpose of communicating with another individual. It could take several more years of research to make sure the biopesticide does not have unintended consequences and is ready for use. But registration gives the compound the legal foundation needed for eventual mass production.

What are migratory bird stopover sites?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A flock of migrating birds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When birds migrate to warmer climates, their long distance travel requires them to take frequent breaks to rest and refuel in order to complete their long journey. Just like people need to make pit stops for food and rest during long car rides, birds need places along the way that provide areas with food, water and shelter from the weather and predators. These sites are known as stopovers and they are essential for bird migrations. Areas like woods, wetlands and beaches with an adequate amount of food and shelter help the species survive and migrate from year to year. The Great Lakes area provide important stopover sites for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors and owls.

There are three types of stopover sites for birds and each one serves an important purpose for migration. They are fire escapes, convenience stores and full-service hotels.

Fire escapes

Fire escape stopovers sites that receive less use because they are lacking in food and other resources but they are essential during high stress situations. These areas are typically small isolated patches of habitat. They can be a city park, a small island on the Great Lakes, a freighter, a docked boat or a lighthouse. Birds use these fire escapes when they need a short term break break from flying due to bad weather or predators.

Convenience stores

Convenience stores sites that are larger than fire escapes, such as a county park and forested patches in cities. They provide a limited source of shelter and food, but enough for birds to take a short rest and eat enough to gain energy to continue their migration.

Full-service hotels

Full-service hotels are sites where migrating birds can rest fully for several days and load up on food without a risk of predators. They are extensive, intact areas that are rich in resources with a diverse array of habitats that can house a large number of birds. Examples of full-service hotels are state or national parks, expansive forests, national wildlife refuges or state wildlife areas.

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? 

Michigan bird guide, financial case for carbon rule presented and the social network of prairie dogs: this week in environmental news

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham 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:

Winged Wednesday: A Great Lakes summer bird guide (Great Lakes Echo): There are 47 million bird watchers in the nation over the age of 16, according to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey. With this nationwide trend, the Great Lakes State offers diverse habitats throughout both peninsulas, making it difficult for birdwatchers to pick a favorite location.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86 (New York Times): Basic animal science in the 1950s made the claim that animals made noises very unlike human conversation. Yet, when Peter Marler, an animal behaviorist born in Britian, came along, he showed that songbirds learned to sign in varieties or dialects of their region.

White House pushes financial case for carbon rule (New York Times): According to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday, carbon emissions causing climate change could cost $150 billion per year. The report serves as another way to further Obama’s plan of cutting carbon emissions and reducing climate change.

Vicious cycle: Air conditioning is making your city even hotter (Conservation Magazine): Rising temperatures start creating a cycle of turning on the air conditioning, emitting carbon into the air and causing temperatures to continue to rise in the long run. Yet recent research has shown that air conditioners are also making temperatures hotter just through the absorption of hot air in a room and its emission outdoors.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Creating a prairie dog “Facebook” to aid conservation (Conservation Magazine): In recent studies, researchers have attempted to gain more insight into the social world of animals via “social network analysis.” This method in research has helped scientists to take a closer look into the complex social networks, hubs and connections of prairie dogs.

MNA and The Nature Conservancy to host hikes at Echo Lake

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of Echo Lake. Photo by Andrew Bacon via MNA archives.

A view of Echo Lake. Photo by Andrew Bacon via MNA archives.

MNA in coordination with The Nature Conservancy will be hosting themed hikes throughout the summer at the Echo Lake Nature Preserve.

The hikes will be a series of events throughout the summer called Saturdays at Echo Lake. The events are free and open to the public.

Echo Lake Nature Preserve is a 480-acre sanctuary located in Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula.  The preserve is home to several diverse habitats. It is known for its 20-acre lake which is surrounded by mountains, bedrocks, wetlands, three small high-rock ponds, creeks and mix of deciduous and coniferous forest.

While there, visitors can expect to see incredible views while hiking on rocks and bluffs from the highest points of the bedrock areas. Some sights include: Hogsback Mountain, Little Presque Isle and Lake Superior. There will also be several migratory birds to look out for who only appear for the warm seasons in Michigan. The preserve has been relatively untouched for most its existence, boasting a high water quality and dense wooded areas which provide protection for large mammals in the winter season.

MNA has worked with The Nature Conservancy for several years helping with stewardship services to help maintain the land and preserve its natural heritage. MNA has a conservation easement over the property which helps provide it with more levels of conservation protection. The Nature Conservancy has also partnered with several other organizations and departments on the conservation of the preservation.

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Guests will meet at Moosewood Nature Center to carpool to the hikes. For more information and to RSVP, please contact Andrea at (906) 225-0399 ext. 4019 or echolake@tnc.org.