Great Lakes ice, climate change, and a snowy owl: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment. Here is a some of what happened this week in environmental news:

A snowy owl has been spotted near Chrysler Beach in Marysville. (Photo: Tim Buelow / Submitted to The Times Herald)

Great Lakes ice breaking all the rules (Great Lakes Echo): Ice is forming on the Great Lakes this year faster than ever. Lake Superior had areas freezing on Nov. 15, the earliest in over 40 years. Due to last winter’s harsh cold temperatures, ice remained on Lake Superior from November until June. With such a short time without ice, the Great Lakes remained unusually cold and had higher-than-normal water levels.

Secretary General Expresses Optimism About Climate Meeting (The New York Times): The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said he was optimistic that progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions would be made during a conference he will attend next week in Lima, Peru. Delegates from more than 190 countries will be working on a new agreement to contain global warming.

Snowy owl spotted in Blue Water Area (The Times Herald): Earlier this week, a resident spotted a snowy owl near Chrysler Beach in Marysville, Michigan. According to the Michigan Audubon Society, snowy owls typically only come that far south when the food supply is low in the arctic. The high survival rate of last year’s snowy owl offspring is likely the cause of the lower food supply. The owl appears to be staying around Chrysler Beach for the winter.

DNR Advises not to move firewood between state parks to prevent spread of oak wilt (Michigan DNR): Oak wilt, a deadly tree infection spread by the transport of firewood, has been increasing in Michigan. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has conducted treatment at several state parks to halt the spread of the disease, which has already destroyed more than 100 large red oaks. The DNR asks that no one transport firewood between campgrounds in order to keep the disease from spreading further.

Video: Swimming owl in Lake Michigan, footage captured by Chicago photographer (MLive): A Chicago photographer captured video footage of a great horned owl swimming the butterfly in Lake Michigan. Sources say the owl had been forced down into the lake by two peregrine falcons, swam to shore, and rested on the beach until he could fly. The video appears below:

Why are there so many snowy owls in Michigan this winter?

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There have been an abundance of snowy owl sightings in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

The snowy owl is a majestic bird that is native to the polar regions around the globe. During the shortest days of the year, the white owls of the Arctic have flown south to the Northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region in record numbers, making this a winter to remember for avid bird watchers and Harry Potter fans. While it is common to see sighting of the owl every year, there has been an increased number of them that indicates a higher population is migrating south. The movement to southern regions is thought to be the cause of an increase in the bird’s food supply in the Arctic. The frigid weather and early deep snow cover that Michigan has experienced this winter has also been a contributor to the early December migration of the snowy owls.

The snowy owl, which can be distinguished by it’s piercing yellow eyes that pop from it’s frosted white feathers, is protected in the United States as a migratory bird.  They display a population pattern that correlates with the abundance of their main source of food, the lemming. An increase in the lemming population in the Arctic caused a huge increase in the number of owls, which migrate south in search of more food during the winter. The snowy owl serves as a huge attraction to bird watchers and also benefits Western Michigan’s ecosystem. They control lower level populations of animals, such as rodents and other small birds. One owl may kill more than 1,600 lemmings in one year. Their main food sources are lemmings and mice, but they also eat rabbits, other birds and fish. They hunt by perching above the ground and watching their prey, where they swoop down from above and snatch them with their powerful legs and long talons.

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Snowy owls are known for their intense yellow eyes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Snowy owls can be seen all over Western Michigan in areas like Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and around the Great lakes area.  They are commonly found in open spaces, fields and farmlands perched on light posts or fences. They are also popular at airports because the open and expansive runways are similar to the tundra habitats where the birds breed. While this is exciting for people who want to see these birds of prey, there have been many casualties with owls running into airplanes and getting severely injured or dying.  These birds are also dinural, which means they are active both during the day and night. This distinguishes the snowy owl from most other owls, which are nocturnal, so sightings during the day will be common. Be on the lookout for a snowy owl in your area or at an MNA sanctuary this winter!

Climate change, monarch butterflies and a snowy owl invasion: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA Intern

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

A monarch butterfly feeding on swamp milkweed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A Monarch butterfly feeding on swamp milkweed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Michigan cities brace for a changing climate (Great Lakes Echo): Several cities across Michigan are preparing for climate trends that are already apparent in our state. Flooding, intense storms, extreme heat and falling water levels are all impacts that have developed in recent years. Some preparation plans include planting trees, putting solar panels on 360 state-owned buildings and setting a 100 percent renewable energy goal by the year 2020.

Possibility of oil fracking in Genesee County stokes environmental fears (mlive): Employees from the Western Land Services in the area are offering deals to people to sell the oil and minerals off their land, but the use of fracking is controversial. Environmental groups claim the process of oil fracking can harm groundwater and cause seismic disturbances, but supporters say it is done too far down below the aquifer to do damage. If there is enough interest to drill in the area, a permit would have to be granted in order to do so.

Asian carp issue seen as not stopping river barge concept for Muskegon Lake (mlive): The Army Corps of Engineers released a report to congress outlining eight possible approaches to stopping Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through barges. Some solutions include separating the river system from the Great Lakes, but that would cost an estimated $18 billion. Many people fear the carp will threaten the Great Lakes fishing industry and are concerned about the river barge operation.

North American Leaders Urged to Restore Monarch Butterfly’s Habitat (New York Times): The leaders of Mexico, the United States and Canada have been urged to commit to restore habitat that supports the Monarch butterfly and its migration. A proposal to plant milkweed along its migratory route was issued, as milkweed has been disappearing over the past decade in America.

Snowy owls invade ‘south’; cold affects waterfowl (Associated Press): This winter has shown an invasion of snowy owls in 25 states. More than 2,500 snowy owls were reported in the U.S. and Canada this winter. The frigid cold is also causing unusual movements of waterfowl.  Due to the Great Lakes being almost entirely frozen over, some species of waterfowl are moving closer inland where they are not usually found.