Karner blue butterflies, wolves, and climate change: this week in environmental news

Each week, MNA gathers news stories from around the state and the globe. Here is some of what happened this week in environmental news:

The Karner’s range extends from eastern Minnesota and eastward to the Atlantic seaboard. Image: USFWS Midwest

Imperiled butterfly leads way for conservation of climate sensitive species (Great Lakes Echo): The Karner blue butterfly population in Michigan is down, and experts say the state’s dry winters, hot summers, and inconsistent precipitation are to blame. Conservation strategies like oak savanna restoration have helped the Karner blues, as well as a number of state threatened and endangered plants. With additional pressure from climate change, scientists are seeking new approaches to protect the butterflies and other rare species.

There are now just three wolves left on Isle Royale (IFL Science): Wolves and moose have been observed for decades on Isle Royale National Park. Wolves access the remote island by walking over ice bridges from land near the Minnesota-Ontario border. Typically, between 18 and 27 wolves are seen each year and there may have been as many as 50 at one time. Last winter, there were nine wolves. The wolf population began declining in 2009, plummeting by 88 percent. The dwindling frequency of ice bridges means fewer new or visiting wolves can access Isle Royale.

Scientists and religious leaders discuss climate change at Vatican (The New York Times): Scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders gathered at the Vatican on Tuesday to discuss climate change and its impact on poverty. In September, the pope is expected to address Congress and a United Nations summit meeting on sustainable development to reiterate his environmental message. Following Tuesday’s symposium, the participants released a statement underscoring their environmental concerns.

Whooping crane, No. 27-14, that was spotted in Michigan. Photo courtesy of Rhoda Johnson.

Rare whooping crane spotted in Southwest Michigan land preserve (MLive): Local birdwatcher Rhoda Johnson reported seeing an endangered whooping crane at the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s Topinabee Preserve near Niles earlier this month. There are only about 600 whooping cranes in the world and the bird Johnson saw in Southwest Michigan was raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and has a tracking device. She was released in Wisconsin last September and has migrated from Kentucky to Wisconsin, Indiana, and now Southwest Michigan.

Whooping Crane in Michigan

by Tina Patterson
MNA Volunteer

In North America there are only two species of cranes that can be found. First, the sandhill is the most common of all cranes and is one the four crane species not to be considered endangered. The other crane found in North America and the most at risk of extinction, is the majestic whooping crane. Standing almost five and a half feet tall with a wing span of more than seven feet, the “whooper” is the tallest bird in North America. The sandhill crane has become a common sight in the Jackson and Chelsea (Michigan) area with approximately 17,000 counted this year at an Auduban sanctuary. While in comparison there are less than 300 whooping cranes found in the wild (the 2010 estimate was just 263).

whooping cranes flying

Whooping Cranes Flying

A wayward “whooper” has somehow found its way to the sandhill migratory resting place at the Phyllis Hanehnle Sanctuary just north of Chelsea, attracting birders from near and far. Standing among the sandhills the whooper is hard to miss with his distinctive coloration: bright white body, red crown, long dark legs and dark pointed bill standing out in contrast to the more subtle colored sandhills.

This bird is thought to be bird # 37-07 based upon the multiple leg bandings, meaning it was the 37th bird hatched in captivity in Wisconsin in 2007. At 3 years old he has reached maturity and with a lifespan of 22-24 years in the wild, scientists hope that he will mate and continue to help the endangered population grow.

The crane’s stop in Michigan is a pit stop en route from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin towards his winter home in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, a 1,200 mile journey.

Bird # 37-07 is part of “Operation Migration,” a non-profit group working with the Wildlife Service and other agencies to condition the young birds to fly behind ultra-light airplanes as they are lead from Wisconsin to their winter home in Florida. While it is a perilous journey for the chicks, with high rates of mortality in their first year of life, the project has brought back this magnificent bird from the edge of extinction in the 1940’s to a flock that is reproducing and growing in number. How fortunate we are to be able to see one right in our own backyard.

Due to the migration path of the whooping crane, it is unlikely that any MNA properties would act as host. If however their route would change or a lone crane would stray, Edwin and Margarita Palmer Memorial Nature Sanctuary in Kalamazoo County, Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary in Muskegon County and Hamilton Township Coastal Marsh Nature Sanctuary in Van Buren County are the properties with the greatest likelihood of hosting a whooping crane on their migration.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes can be seen throughout MNA Nature Sanctuary, including Martin Bay Nature Sanctuary in Delta County, Goose Creek Nature Sanctuary in Lenawee County, Big Valley Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County, Saginaw Wetlands Nature Sanctuary in Huron County and H.E. Hardy Memorial in Livingston County.

To learn more about the wildlife and habitats of MNA Nature Sanctuaries, click here.