Christmas Bird Count, rehabbing reefs, and piping plovers: this week in environmental news

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count takes off Dec. 14 (Mother Nature Network): The 116th annual Christmas Bird Count begins Dec. 14, and scientists are relying on more than 70,000 volunteers to help them gather data about birds across the Western Hemisphere. Information gathered from the CBC will help scientists pinpoint priority areas for conservation efforts.

christmas bird count

For the fourth season in a row, the 115th bird count documented a major flight of snowy owls southward. Photo: mO1229/flickr

Limestone dumped in Lake Michigan aims to rehab reef (Detroit Free Press): About 450 tons of limestone have been dumped into Lake Michigan as part of an effort to rehabilitate a northern Michigan reef and boost native fish populations. The limestone was put in a reef complex in Grand Traverse Bay near Elk Rapids where lake trout, lake whitefish, and lake herring are known to spawn. The fishes’ populations plummeted due to overfishing, degraded habitat, and invasive species, so the project team hopes rehabilitating the reef will help native fish keep eggs safe from predators and the harsh winter.

Smart Science: App Helps Protect Shorebirds (U.S. Department of the Interior Blog): Rob Thieler, U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, is combining science and smartphone technology to help study a threatened bird – the Atlantic Coast piping plover. Rising sea levels and storm surges associated with climate change, as well as increased development in their beach habitats, threaten the species. To help track changes in piping plover habitat, Thieler developed a free app called iPlover. All the information scientists and citizen scientists alike collect helps federal and state agencies create policy plans for addressing climate change impacts worldwide.

piping plover

A piping plover stands on a beach with three small chicks. Photo: USFWS

Tradition, science join to combat emerald ash borer (Great Lakes Echo): A new study shows how science and traditional Native American cultural traditions can combat emerald ash borer. The collaboration showed how the traditional practice of submerging black ash logs until they’re ready to use for basket-making can kill borer larvae and prevent adults from emerging. In their two-year study, they discovered that keeping logs in a stream for at least 14 weeks during the spring and for at least 18 weeks during the winter kills all the larvae and prevent adults from emerging. The study said the project illustrates the value of meshing scientific and traditional knowledge to seek solutions to environmental problems.


Piping plovers, Kirtland’s warblers, and the Great Lakes: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and country related to conservation and the environment. Here is what happened this week in environmental news:

Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS

Piping plovers make comeback in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The piping plover, a shorebird once nearly extinct, is on the rebound. There were once only 12 pairs left in the Great Lakes region, but thanks to conservation efforts. scientists are seeing an upswing in the population. The plovers should arrive on the shores of the Great Lakes in the next couple of weeks.

Judges skeptical of challenge to proposed EPA rule on climate change (The New York Times);  Lawyers for coal companies, two dozen states, and the Environmental Protection Agency argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals over a rule proposed by President Obama to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. The rule would require all states to draft plans to restructure their electricity sectors and transition from coal power to cleaner forms of energy. The plaintiffs say the rule is wreaking economic havoc and that the EPA lacks the authority to issue the regulation. They have petitioned the court to block it from finalizing the rule.

New mapping of Great Lakes’ wetlands released (The Swamp School): A new and comprehensive map of the Great Lakes region’s coastal wetlands was recently released by the Michigan Tech Research Institute. The map is the first of its kind, with fluorescent bands of color outlining the Great Lakes. It displays both Canadian and U.S. wetlands along more than 10,000 miles of shoreline. The new coastal map is the result of years of work expanding on previous maps from the Michigan Tech Research Institute.

Endangered Wisconsin Kirtland’s warbler found in the Bahamas (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): For the first time, scientists have found a Kirtland’s warbler from Wisconsin in the forests of the Bahamas. The bird was one of six warblers banded last summer in central Wisconsin. The state has a total population of fewer than 25 Kirtland’s warblers. It is estimated that there are about 4,000 total Kirtland’s warblers scattered in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario. The field crew in the Bahamas has found about two dozen total Kirtland’s warblers since mid-March.

Species spotlight: piping plover

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

As Michigan tourists pack up their bags and head for beaches in the north, they should keep an eye out this summer for the endangered piping plover.

The piping plover population has significantly declined in the Great Lakes areas because of recreational beach development and tourism.

piping plover

The piping plover stands atop shells in sand in shallow, flowing water.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

The piping plover is a sand bird which nests in North America in the Great Plains, along the coasts of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

The piping plover is sandy in color on top with a white underbelly. The plover also has a black band around its neck and a black crown on its head. Its legs are orange but fade to yellow in the winter.

Piping plovers prefer to make their habitat in sandy areas such as dunes, gravel beaches and sand bars.

Sites where the piping plover is most commonly found are Texas, Louisiana and Florida because of the high concentration recorded in those areas. Out of a total of 1,372 breeding pairs, only 32 have appeared in Michigan.

This bird has been classified as endangered since 1986 — it is endangered in the Great Lakes area and threatened in other North American regions.

The plover feeds on wet sand, in any nearby areas it can find: algal flats, shorelines of streams, ephemeral ponds and lagoons to name a few.

They utilize small sand dunes for protection from hot and stormy weather.

Breeding begins in March and extends through mid-May, with the piping plover laying three or four eggs in a shallow, camouflaged nest of pebbles and shells. Both parents are involved in prenatal care of the eggs, each sitting atop them to keep them warm. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the chicks until they are able to take flight.

The chicks will fly after 30 days and starting in July through October, they will take off on their journey.

An unscathed habitat is a necessity to ensure hatch-lings will be able to survive and make it to migrating season. Unfortunately, land development and tourism has deterred the piping plover population from using Michigan beaches as its habitat.


Endangered Piping Plover and Kirtland’s Warbler See Increases in Population

By Chelsea Richardson

In Michigan there are 12 endangered, nine threatened and one candidate species, as well as two species that have been proposed for listing as endangered.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover. Photo by Rick Baetsen

The term “endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a portion of its range, while the “threatened” designation means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

Endangered species in Michigan include the Michigan monkey-flower,  American burying beetle, Hungerford’s crawling water beetle, karner blue butterfly, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, clubshell, northern riffleshell, rayed bean, snuffbox, Kirtland’s warbler, piping plover, and the Indiana bat.

The State of Michigan has been taking action in helping populations of these endangered species increase. An active recovery program, aided by many volunteers, has helped the piping plover population. The piping plover is a small shorebird that nests on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and is listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.  In 2008, there were only 123 piping plovers, 63 breeding pairs. Of those, 53 pairs were found nesting in Michigan while 10 were found in surrounding states. In 2007, the first piping plover nest was discovered in the Great Lakes region of Canada, the first in 30 years. Since then the number of nesting pairs has increased to four. In 2009, a nest was found on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Illinois, also the first to be found in 30 years. Continue reading