Celebrate Spring with MNA!

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Spring has sprung, and has already brought with it markedly warmer weather and the beginning buds of plants sprouting back to life. In addition to numerous sanctuaries ideal for Michiganders eager to invigorate their muscles and minds after another winter, MNA has several upcoming events and activities for nature enthusiasts to look forward to. It’s a great time to be outdoors and reconnect with nature and one another through seasonal family-friendly fun!

Participate in a 5K

The Karner Blue Butterfly and Family Fun Run & 5K will be hosted Saturday, May 20 at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids as part of the Pure Michigan™ FITness Series Challenge; in addition, there will be a Kids 1 Mile Fun Run as well. As if being active in the great outdoors and supporting a good cause isn’t motivation enough, participants who earn a mere 5 points will be entered for grand prize drawing for a trip up the Mackinac Bridge Tower! Proceeds from the race go to the protection of habitat for the endangered Karner blue. Read up on this small yet splashy species and its preferred habitat here.

Celebrate Earth Day

A fun and earth-friendly activity is planned for visitors to the MNA booth Sunday, April 23 during the Ann Arbor 46th annual Earth Day Festival, held from 12-4pm at the Leslie Science and Nature Center. The festival is a great opportunity to engage in activities that celebrate Earth and learn about environmental topics through live-animal presentations, naturalist-led hikes, informational presentations and discussions. You can even dress up as your favorite plant or animal! Nature lovers of all ages are welcome. No signup is necessary.

Earth Day - GVSU interns and Five Lakes steward

Visit a sanctuary

Many MNA sanctuaries that are open to the public are ideal destinations for visitors to enjoy and connect with nature through various outdoor activities like scenic hikes and peaceful walks, seasonal wildflower displays, birding and photography. Below is a list of MNA sanctuaries selected for these springtime activities, but a more comprehensive list allowing you to search for sanctuaries in your area can be viewed here.

Sharon Zahrfeld Memorial Nature Sanctuary

Zahrfeld

Keweenaw Shores No 1 Nature Sanctuary

Keweenaw Shores 1 - Charles Eshbach (2)

Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary

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Twin Waterfalls Plant Preserve

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Trillium Trail Nature Sanctuary

Prairie trillium at Trillium Ravine

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary

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Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary

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Become a volunteer

MNA coordinates numerous volunteer workdays throughout the year, providing participants with information and experience on the removal of invasive species for the preservation of native plant communities that form the basis of ecologically important habitats. Find a day to get involved with workdays in your area by keeping tabs on the MNA events calendar! Upcoming workdays include Dolan Nature Sanctuary, Dowagiac Woods, Mystery Valley Karst Preserve, Riley-Shurte Woods, Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, and Grinnell Nature Sanctuary. Also upcoming is a guided nature hike through Dorion Rooks Nature Sanctuary.

workday at Goose Creek

Become a steward

Those looking for additional involvement can become a steward for MNA. It is both easy and rewarding, with a minimum requirement of visiting a sanctuary once per year and completing a comprehensive monitor report. The ideal steward also leads field trips and educational events, marks boundaries and maintains trails at the sanctuary. If you are interested in becoming a steward, please contact MNA Stewardship Coordinator Andrew Bacon by email at abacon@michigannature.org or by calling the MNA office at (866) 223-2231.

Bill McEachern and David Mancini at Kernan - Rachel Maranto

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Signs of Spring: Amphibians Return to Vernal Pools

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

For many Michigan residents, there are a few tell-tale signs of spring: Springtime birds chirping after being gone for a long winter, green grass growing, flowers sprouting, and days getting longer. But MNA stewards have one more thing to tell them that spring is here: Salamanders and other amphibians migrating to vernal pools.

A salamander MNA steward Dave Richmond found in his yard in early April. Photo by Dave Richmond.

A salamander MNA steward Dave Richmond found in his yard in early April. Photo by Dave Richmond.

Each spring, amphibians make mass (well, mini) migrations to vernal pools and ponds, usually at night during or after the first warm rainstorm. Once at the vernal pools, these amphibians will mate and lay their eggs before returning to the forest. Dave Richmond, a steward at the Edna S. Newnan Nature Sanctuary in St. Clair County, spotted some of the first salamanders of the season early this month—which means spring must be here, after all.

Vernal pools are natural, temporary bodies of water that occur in a shallow depression. These pools typically fill during the spring or fall and may dry in the summer; have no viable populations of fish; and provide essential breeding and nursery habitat for several organisms, including amphibians. Many amphibian eggs have physical properties or toxic compounds that help deter predators, but amphibians that are dependent on vernal pools lack these protections. As a result, their eggs and young are vulnerable to both aquatic and terrestrial predators. Not all vernal pools dry up every year, but each pool has some feature that prevents fish from living there, such as low oxygen concentrations during the summer or shallow levels that allow the pool to freeze to the bottom during the winter.

The spring issue of Michigan Nature magazine includes a feature on vernal pools—keep an eye out to learn more about these unique and important habitats!

4 birds to watch for during springtime birding activities

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

As MNA gears up for some of its spring bird watching events, we thought we’d feature a few different birds that come back to Michigan in the spring. Keep an eye out for these four birds as you go birding this season!

Red-winged blackbirds can weigh roughly 3 ounces and can have a wingspan of nearly 14.5 inches. The male and female look strikingly different—the male is black with a large red spot on the shoulders, while females are brown and lack any red color. They prefer marsh habitats during the breeding season and open fields and croplands in the winter. While breeding, red-winged blackbirds can be found in cattail, tule, sedge and salt marshes, as well as wetlands. They begin building their nests between March and May.

Male indigo bunting

A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage. Photo by Kevin Bolton. Coutesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indigo bunting males are easy to spot during breeding season. The adult males are small—their bodies only range from 4.5 inches to 5 inches—but they are a brilliant blue with a purple crown. Females and young are brown and have a tinge of blue on their tail and shoulder. Indigo buntings are mainly found through eastern North America and south of the coniferous forest region, though some breeding populations exist in the western United States. They winter in the coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. Indigo buntings breed between May and September in brushy and weedy areas at the edge of openings, or in weedy open areas like old farm fields or swamps.

Green herons, unlike great blue herons and other herons, are small and stocky. The green heron has relatively short legs and a body length that ranges from 16 to 18 inches. Adults have a greenish-black cap, a greenish back, wings that are gray-black and fade into green or blue, and gray undersides. Young herons have a white and brown striped neck and chest, and their backs are brown with white and beige spots. Green herons have a wide range and are generally found near wetlands in North America. They spend their non-breeding season in Mexico and Central America, but some live year-round in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Green herons that do migrate travel north from March to April, which is earlier than most other herons.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny birds, with a body measuring between 3 and 3.5 inches long and weighing between 2 and 6 grams (0.071 to 0.21 ounces). Both males and females have an iridescent green back and head and a white belly. Males have a bright red, shiny throat and a forked tail, while females have a dull, grayish throat and a square, white-tipped tail. Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed throughout eastern United States and southern Canada and spend their winters in southern Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. These birds return to their breeding areas in April.

This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of birding events for members and guests. Be sure to check out one of MNA’s events this season!

For more information about MNA’s upcoming events, check out our website and events calendar.

The Dirt on Earthworms

By Tina Patterson

Like Rodney Dangerfield, the lowly earthworm gets no respect. Yet, this seemingly unimportant lumbricid is an indicator of soil health, and can dramatically impact soil structure, water movement, nutrient dynamics and plant growth. There are 21 different species of earthworms in Michigan, and 50-300 worms can be found in a square yard of cropland nutrient-rich soil.

Earthworms are made up of many small segments, each segment with many small hairs that assist the worm in movement, aided by a slimy mucus that it produces. Without a skeletal system, the worm is heavily muscled. The blood circulating through its system gives it a reddish color. Earthworms can live up to eight years, but most do not survive more than a year.

Moist soils are necessary for earthworms to thrive, and the majority of worms are found in the top meter of soil, most often just below the surface where there is plenty of decomposing plant material. Earthworms consume dead and decaying plant material and are prey to robins, red-winged blackbirds, crows and other ground-feeding birds as well as foxes, shrews, skunks, moles and garter snakes. During droughts or winter freeze, earthworms may go deeper than the top meter of soil. Worm tunnels have been found at depths of 16 feet.

Earthworms promote a healthy environment in the following ways:

• Worms eat microorganisms and produce organic matter in their feces or casts that becomes plant food.

• Casts help move large amounts of soil to the surface and carry organic matter to the lower strata.

• Earthworms help with soil drainage, acting as a conduit for rain, especially after a heavy downpour. These burrows minimize soil erosion and increase porosity and drainage.

• By fragmenting organic matter and increasing soil porosity, earthworms increase soil water retention ability.

• Channels made by earthworms are rich in nutrients and provide space for root growth. This makes it easier for plants to set a deep root base.

• As earthworms eat the plant and crop residue, the castings they leave behind provide nutrients to the upper soil levels and the surface residue is pulled into their burrows.

Earthworms are more than good fish bait; they play an integral part in keeping soil rich with nutrients and maintaining a healthy environment for farms, fields and forests. So the next time you see a worm crawling on the sidewalk after a heavy rain, give it some respect.