Walk to Big Valley

Walk to Big Valley
Thursday, July 26
6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Rose Township Hall
9080 Mason St, Holly, MI

Join the Rose Township Heritage Committee along with the Michigan Nature Association for a nature and historical walk from the Rose Township Hall to an overlook of the Big Valley Nature Sanctuary – home to a high quality prairie fen (a unique and rare type of wetland with an array of interesting native plants and animal species including a small butterfly that is federally listed as endangered).

The program is for all ages (and free) and will begin with a short presentation in the lower level of the Rose Township Hall located at 9080 Mason Street. Afterwards there will be about a 2 mile walk (round trip). While walking we will pass one of the township’s historical homes with a very interesting history and some interesting geological features. Refreshments will be served. Wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing.

Please RSVP to Dianne Scheib-Snider, dianne@rosetownship.com, 248-634-6889

Big Valley

Species Spotlight: The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

Michigan’s sole rattlesnake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, is a rare sight to see for residents of the Lower Peninsula. When compared to other rattlesnakes found throughout the United States, the Massasauga is the smallest and has the least toxic venom. These snakes are known as pit vipers, which means they are equipped with heat-sensing organs between their eyes and nose on either side of the head that serves as a set of infrared eyes that operate separately from the eyes and nose that allows the animal to see heat.

The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Historically, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake could be found in a variety of wetlands and upland woods all throughout the Lower Peninsula. They are becoming more rare in many areas they used to inhabit due to wetland loss and human interference. This species is listed in Michigan as a “species of special concern” and state law protects them.

People have come up with many misconceptions about snakes and often think they attack and bite if they are disturbed. Like many other species of snake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a very shy and sluggish reptile. They prefer to avoid confrontation with humans and are not prone to striking unless heavily provoked.  These reptiles have a thick body and a slender head and neck. They are painted with dark brown rectangular patches that are offset by light brown or grey background tones. Adults can reach between two and three feet in length.  Young baby snakes do not have rattles, but they have a single “button” on their tails, with a new segment added to their forming rattle after each shedding of their skin which happens several times per year. This snake is unique because they are the only species of snake with elliptical vertical pupils in their eyes, like a cat’s eye.

During the spring, the Massasaugas use open shallow wetlands and shrub swamps to thrive in. During the summer, they move upland to drier areas and can be found sunning themselves in open fields and grassy meadows. Populations of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake are typically found in prairie fens because they utilize the diversity of the fens and the unique habitats they provide. They use the land to forage, bask and conceive young.

Many sanctuaries protected by the Michigan Nature Association also protect the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, typically sanctuaries containing a prairie fen. MNA works hard to protect and restore the fens to benefit species that rely specifically on them. To find ways to get involved, visit www.michigananture.org.

Species Spotlight: The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly

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The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is considered one of the world’s rarest butterflies. Historically, it was found in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Maryland. Today, it is only found in 19 sites throughout Michigan and Indiana.

The Mitchell’s satyr butterfly is a dark brown, medium sized butterfly with a wingspan ranging from 1.5 to 1.75 inches. The undersides of their wings contain orange bands and a row of four to five black eyespots surrounded by yellow rings. The three spots in the center are always the largest.

In July, females lay their tiny eggs close to ground on young leaves of plants, usually on the undersides of the leaves or on the stems. The eggs hatch within seven to eleven days. The caterpillar feeds on sedges and hibernates under the snow during the winter months to later emerge and resume its development and form a cocoon. In late June and July, the butterfly emerges to live its adult life for about two weeks.

These butterflies are the most geographically restricted species of eastern butterfly. This is because they require a special type of wetland habitat to survive. These wetlands are only found in prairie fens, which globally rare and very vulnerable because they are only found in parts of the midwest that were carved by glaciers. Prairie fens are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in Michigan. They are low-nutrient grassy wetlands with peat soils that have a basic pH balance. They have a unique diversity of plants and animals specific to the fens due to their soil and alkaline groundwater that feeds into it from seeps and springs. Tamarack trees, poison sumac, sedges and a variety of wildflowers call the prairie fens their home.

This species was put on the endangered species list on June 25, 1991 for a number of reasons, but the main reason was loss of habitat and land modification. Many of the fens the butterflies are native to have been altered for agriculture and land development. This has also led to invasive species of plants that make the land unsuitable for the butterflies. Natural processes like wildfires, changes in water levels and flooding from beavers have been eliminated from the fens. A Federal Recovery Plan has been completed which guides conservation efforts for the butterfly and its habitat. The Department of Natural Resources also received a grant in 2006 that provides a framework for managing prairie fens for the butterflies.

The Michigan Nature Association currently has 14 sanctuaries that contain prairie fens. MNA began working to conserve Michigan’s prairie fens in 1961 and still continues efforts today in order to protect these habitats and the wildlife that depend on them. MNA’s efforts to benefit the fen and the butterflies include prescribed burns to help restore the habitat and the removal of invasive plants. To get involved, visit www.michigannature.org.

MSU Students Make a Difference at Goose Creek Grasslands

Eugene and Brockton hard at work at the sanctuary

Eugene and Brockton hard at work at the sanctuary

Where would you expect to find a group of about 30 college and graduate students on cold, snowy Saturday morning in mid-February? If the group is Dr. Emily Grman’s restoration ecology class, you might find them at MNA’s Goose Creek Grasslands Nature Sanctuary. While some of their classmates were still lying warmly in bed, Dr. Grman’s students were wielding loppers, pruning saws, and PVC herbicide applicators against glossy buckthorn to further the restoration of the prairie fen at Goose Creek.

Restoration at Goose Creek has been a lengthy progress. In 2003, MNA’s former stewardship director Sherri Laier began efforts by removing glossy buckthorn, an invasive shrub, from along the Cement City Highway. The shrub had colonized a spoil pile from a drainage improvement project and had already aggressively invaded portions of the fen. The shrub grows rapidly, produces many berries, and both shades out native vegetation as well as preventing the accumulation of enough fuel to carry a fire.

Fire is the main process by which prairie fens were maintained in earlier times. Fires set by Native Americans would spread from surrounding uplands (usually oak savanna) into the fen, and rejuvenate the rich layer of sedges, grasses, and wildflowers that make prairie fens both picturesque as well as biologically rich. Fire also sets back shrubs, both native and non-native, which, absent periodic disturbance, will tend to expand in fens.

MNA conducted the first prescribed burn at Goose Creek in 2004, after native vegetation bounced back in the space previously occupied by glossy buckthorn. Since then, nine additional prescribed burns have been conducted, covering most of the sanctuary.

In early April of this year, two more burns are planned at Goose Creek. One of those burns will take place where the MSU students were hard at work clearing buckthorn.

Students add to a pile of cut buckthorn.

Students add to a pile of cut buckthorn.

Glossy buckthorn is killed by cutting the shrub near to the ground, and then applying concentrated herbicide to the stem, which is taken to the roots. This is a precise method of delivering herbicide to the plant. The cut buckthorn branches are collected in piles which can be burned either separately or during a prescribed burn.

Students were rewarded with a nice harbinger of Spring – the cry of sandhill cranes – despite the cold temperatures. Students also saw bluebirds, horned larks, and abundant praying mantis egg cases. Several students expressed interest in helping with the prescribed burns.

MNA’s regional stewardship organizer Matt Schultz would like to thank the students for helping out at Goose Creek, Dr. Grman for organizing the trip, and regular volunteers Eugene Lidster, Ken Ross, Mike Roys and Heather Smith, who helped form the students into effective restoration strike teams.

The group after a hard day's work!

MNA expects to conduct prescribed burns at Goose Creek in early April. With usual weather conditions (rain in April) the process occurrs surprising rapidly, with the most obvious evidence of a prescribed burn gone just two weeks after the burn takes place. The sanctuary is worth a visit any time, but it is especially rewarding to observe the resurgence of native vegetation from a blackened landscape.

Dr. Emily Grman is a postdoctoral associate in Lars Brudvig’s lab at MSU, interested in the restoration of Michigan prairies. In an upcoming blog post, she will write about her research comparing the plant diversity at prairie remnants (some of which included MNA sanctuaries) to prairie reconstructions.