Wildfires, hound hunting and snake encounters: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Fire blazes in Marquette County. Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Fire blazes in Marquette County. Photo via Michigan Department of Natural Resources courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Above average number of wildfires predicted by summer’s end (Great Lakes Echo): Despite Michigan’s decline in wildfires down to 86 so far in 2014 from a record high of 315 in 2012. according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the latter half of the year may prove to have higher than average numbers of wildfires.

Hunting hounds attack a wounded coyote. Photo courtesy of MLive.

Hunting hounds attack a wounded coyote. Photo courtesy of MLive.

Video in coyote killing raises questions about ethics and the future of wolf hunting in Michigan (MLive): After the discovery of a brutal video of hound dogs attacking a wounded coyote in Gogebic County, policies on how hound dogs can be used during hunting come into question. Although using these hunting dogs are not allowed when pursuing wolves, they are still allowed for other animals, leaving them vulnerable to hunting hound attacks. Legislators are reviewing the film as evidence in a case to determine the legality of hound use in the particular situation.

John Kerry launches global effort to save world’s oceans ‘under siege’ (The Guardian): On Wednesday, John Kerry launched his new global effort to protect oceans from over-fishing and plastic pollution and climate change. Kerry plans to discuss the topic at the State Department two-day summit June 16 and 17. The State Department said Kerry’s conference will help global awareness of issues surrounding the earth’s oceans.

Road salt changes urban ecosystems in big ways (Conservation Magazine): During the winter, tons of salt is dumped along roads throughout the Midwest. Despite the usefulness of salt on icy roads to make it easier and safer for drivers, it ends up running off into soils on the side of the road and changing their chemical composition. The salt can also find its way to bodies of water, plants and animals, changing the way the ecosystem evolves.

DNR offers tips for residents encountering snakes (Michigan Department of Natural Resources): The DNR has released information to help residents who may encounter snakes this summer. Michigan has 17 species of snakes, 16 of which are completely harmless to humans. To avoid snake bites, the DNR suggests getting no closer than within 24 inches of a snake’s head. Residents are also asked to report any reptile or amphibian sightings to the Michigan Herp Atlas research project.



Northern Goshawk spotted at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

Northern Goshawk

Photo by Norbert Kenntner Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

On January 15, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer Matt Schultz led a group of 18 people on a hike at Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. While on the hike, the group spotted a juvenile northern goshawk, a bird typically found in northern North America and Eurasia.

None of the hikers were able to get a picture, but Schultz said in an email that several experienced birdwatchers were convinced it was a northern goshawk. They identified the bird by its white eye stripe, accipiter shape, large size, and its long, banded tail.

Though northern goshawks live farther north, finding them in Michigan isn’t entirely unusual. Northern goshawks will fly to the Great Plains and Midwest in the winter if prey levels fall in their native forests. They are an irruptive species—a species that irregularly migrates to another area for reasons including availability of food, suitability of climate and amount of predatory activity. Unlike traditional migrations, irruptive migrations may occur one year, then not again for many years.

MNA has other hikes and winter activities planned this season to help you keep winter restlessness at bay. Be sure to check out one of our upcoming events in your area, and maybe you’ll get lucky and see another neat species like the northern goshawk!

Keep checking MNA’s events calendar for an updated list of our winter events!

Hoo Goes There?

By Anna Graham

Not many of us think of Michigan as a winter destination. However, there are a number of species that flock to Michigan when the weather gets cold. Most notable of the migrants may be the various owls that spend winters in Michigan.

Both short-and long-eared owls seek refuge here from their summer range in Canada, generally migrating to the far southern part of the state. Long-eared owls bear a resemblance to the great horned owl and hunt primarily at night, while short-eared owls frequent open fields or marshes and can be seen hunting by day.

Snowy owls live in the extreme north during the summer months but migrate to areas throughout Michigan at the southern extreme of their range. These are the great white owls often featured in photos of the Arctic. They are liable to roam in open areas searching for rodents or other birds and can often be seen during the daytime. It is not uncommon to spot snowy owls by roadsides in the Upper Peninsula, near cow pastures or fields where livestock are kept and vermin feed on their grain.

Great grey owls may occasionally make it as far south as the U.P. during the winter, although they only migrate from their northern range when food is scarce. At more than two feet long with a wingspan up to 52 inches, they are the largest of the North American owl species and prefer to inhabit the edges of woods.

Boreal owls, a smaller, forest denizen, sometimes spend winter in the Upper Peninsula. The northern saw-whet will make it as far south as northern Indiana and Ohio. Both species prefer mixed conifer and deciduous woods and primarily eat rodents. A last occasional owl visitor to Michigan in the winter is the northern hawk owl, a medium-sized owl with a call similar to a snipe’s winnow call, or for that matter, the call of the boreal owl. Click here to hear the northern hawk’s call.

During especially harsh winters or when populations of small animals for food are scarce, any of these northern owl species may flock south in large numbers. Such migrations are called irruptions. Some owls will even remain at the southern extreme of their range to breed during the following season, and this is your best chance to spot them. Keep your eye on bird watching websites, like the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory website, for information on what species can be found when and where in the Upper Peninsula.

Visit one of MNA’s sanctuaries during the fall or winter if you want to add an owl to your must-see life list, and keep in mind that you will generally hear an owl before you see it. You will likely find the great horned owl and possibly the long-eared owl at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, James Dorian Rooks Memorial Nature Sanctuary at Garden Brook, Upson Lake Nature Sanctuary and Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Happy owl watching!

Animal Tracks to Spot in Winter

By Jake McCarthy

Many Michiganders hole up when the snow flies, barely going outside to shovel. Meanwhile, life goes on in the special natural areas throughout the state. A great thing about the fresh snow is that when we do venture outside, it can tell us a lot. Animal tracks, especially those left in fresh snow, can tell a story. They reveal that just because we do not spot many animals, doesn’t mean they are not nearby. There are countless species of animals that we might encounter in Michigan’s natural areas, but learning how to identify just a few of the most common tracks can reveal the secrets of the woods.

Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern cottontail rabbit is common throughout southern Michigan and leaves a distinctive track shape. Rabbits step with their front paws down first, and then their much longer hind feet in front of and outside the front paws. You’ll find cottontail tracks most commonly in brushy areas between woods and fields. In winter, when they’re roaming farther in search of food, you might see cottontail tracks just about anywhere.

Eastern cottontail


Ruffed grouse have three-pronged feet, but because they take small steps, their tracks often appear as one long and narrow trail. If the grouse takes flight, the walking tracks may end at a point where they are flanked by two fan-shaped imprints from the bird’s flapping wings. You are likely to see these tracks throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern lower Michigan, especially in stands of young aspen and brushy areas.

Ruffed grouse


Probably the most common animal found track in Michigan snow is the whitetail deer. The most distinctive part of the tracks is the two halves of the hoof. Some people say the hoof track looks like an upside down heart, but the hoof may be splayed out a bit if the deer is especially large. Deer tracks may also have deer claws, small indentations behind the hooves.


Because of their effective defense mechanism, porcupines can afford to move slowly, which is evident in the tracks they leave in snow. The porcupine waddles through deep snow, leaving behind a winding trough. Porcupines eat leaves, twigs and buds and, in the winter, they love to eat the inner bark of trees. For this reason, the deep trough the porcupine makes as it plows through the snow often pauses at tree trunks that have been noticeably gnawed upon.


Snow Shoe Hike Introduces Participants to Northern Michigan Geologic Wonder

By Angie Jackson

Nature enthusiasts from across the state gathered in Presque Isle County Feb. 5 for a breathtaking snowshoe hike.

“It’s interesting to see people coming from various areas to learn about a geologically-unique area in northern Michigan,” Michigan Nature Association Stewardship Coordinator Andrew Bacon said. “We had a lot of fun playing and falling in the snow.”

Bacon led the event at Mystery Valley Nature Sanctuary and Karst Preserve, which stretches 76 acres and is cooperatively owned and cared for by MNA and the Michigan Karst Conservancy.

The outing introduced participants to the special natural area and the trail system that was installed this past summer, and then afforded them their first look at the sanctuary in the winter.

MNA member Paul Petiprin and his wife Joyce made the trip from Bay City. They frequently travel to national parks across the country, and they said the outing opened their eyes to the natural beauty that is close to home.

“We’ve discovered that much of what we look for is here in Michigan,” Petiprin said. “There are a lot of different places we haven’t been to that now we can and will visit on our own.”

The group, ranging from beginners snowshoeing for the first time to advanced, trekked two miles and observed Mystery Valley’s stunning geologic formations. Petiprin said he enjoyed learning about the Thunder Bay River and the large sinkhole’s interesting history.

“It’s really astonishing how the hydrology of the site was altered about 100 years ago from the dam that shifted, and now most of the water flow goes out to Thunder Bay,” Bacon said. “It used to go out the sinkhole and then it just disappeared—which is how Mystery Valley got its name.”

After three hours of exploring the sanctuary, participants said they were cold, but thoroughly pleased.

“What we enjoyed the most was meeting other people with similar interests and being outside in the winter,” Petiprin said.

The next MNA winter hike is Saturday, Feb. 12 at Keweenaw Shore and Upson Lake Nature Sanctuary in Keweenaw County. RSVP with the MNA office at 517-655-5655 or by emailing michigannature@michigannature.org.

To find out more about MNA winter events and how to get involved, view our event calendar.

Winter Field Trip Reveals Greater-Than-Expected Animal Life in Shelby Township

By Yang Zhang

More than two dozen nature lovers took to the snowy trails Jan. 29, exploring the Wilcox-Warnes Nature Sanctuary in Shelby Township.

The field trip, organized by the Michigan Nature Association and Hiking Michigan, introduced participants to the beauty of nature at one of the only natural areas in an otherwise developed area.

The 45-acre land was purchased by MNA in 1977. Martha Wolfe, co-steward at the sanctuary, said the land provides habitat for wildlife including many endangered species.

“It’s like a little jewel in the middle of the suburbs here,” she said.

Wolfe has worked as a steward at the sanctuary for approximately six years. She frequently visits the woods and has spotted deer, wild turkeys and other animals.

Rob Golda, director of Hiking Michigan, a club that leads free hikes and outdoor activities, led the field trip along snow-covered winding trails and taught people how to identify animal tracks.

“We want to show people places to return to in the summer,” he said.

Golda noted that many participants came from the area but never knew there was such a natural place nearby.

Along the trails, Golda helped hikers identify different animal tracks, including deer and squirrels. Participants were thrilled when they found the tracks from a flock of turkeys numbering more than 20.

“It’s the fun of hiking in winter,” Golda said, referring to the tracks.

MNA has marked trails and built fences in the sanctuary to make it more accessible to the public. Volunteers help pick up trash and remove invasive species, such as glossy buckthorn.

“This place is beautiful and so close to home for me,” said field trip participant Kathy Larson. She lives two miles away from the sanctuary but had never visited it. She will definitely visit the natural area again in the summer, she said.

Katherine Hollins, MNA’s regional stewardship organizer, planned the event and was happy that so many people attended. It was a great opportunity to let people learn about MNA and the special natural areas the organization protects.

Many of the participants showed an interest in MNA, and said they intend to become members and volunteers.

If you would like to become a member, or get more information about the MNA Mission, please visit our website at http://www.michigannature.org.

Also, MNA is currently seeking volunteers for two events at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary; one Feb. 8 to manage invasive species and the other March 26 to promote natural awareness at a youth event. If you are interested in volunteering at the Wilcox Warnes Nature Sanctuary, contact Regional Stewardship Coordinator Katherine Hollins at 517-525-2627 or khollins@michigannature.org.

If you are interested in other events around the state of Michigan, please visit our event calendar.