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Stonefly Search: Lots of searching, not so many stoneflies

January 23rd was a beautiful day for the annual Stonefly event.  The weather hovered around 30 degrees and the sun shone nicely throughout the volunteers’ time outside.  They were searching for stoneflies, an insect that only lives in the healthiest creeks and rivers. The absence and presence of stoneflies, and the trends in their population that we see after visiting a location over and over again, give us clues as to how the water is changing over time.

stonefly_jackie Richards

The beautiful Fleming Creek at Parker Mill County Park. credit: Jackie Richards

Strange Weather

Unfortunately for the purposes of data analysis and clear-cut answers, stoneflies are affected by more than water quality, however.  Strange weather can also play havok on their ecosystems, causing populations to drop off. Our volunteers came back with very low amounts of stoneflies this year, and while we can’t be certain, it is possible that our variable Michigan weather is to blame.  You may recall that December was unseasonably warm in 2015, and wonder how that might affect the insects.   However, in this case, it wasn’t a warm December that hurt the stoneflies, but instead February 2015, a month that was extremely cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest February’s on record.  When streams and rivers are covered by thick ice, oxygen levels decline, which is bad for all aquatic life but particularly bad for stoneflies, who have high oxygen requirements.  Also, February and early March are when winter stonefly adults are emerging, mating, and depositing eggs; all activities hampered by extreme cold and ice cover. In summary, the cold 2015 winter had direct consequences for the stoneflies in 2016.

Volunteers did not find stoneflies at many places this year, but five locations in particular were interesting as all of them have a long (10+ years) history of always holding stoneflies.  In addition, all of these locations have great insect populations at our other events and there are no indications of water quality issues, further strengthening the argument that this year was a weather-related population decline. These five locations were three places on the main branch of the Huron (White Lake, Zeeb, and Bell Roads), Arms Creek at Walsh Road, and Boyden Creek at Delhi Road. Many other locations had reduced numbers or family counts.

Those interested in all results can see them here: PDF report.

A spud is an essential tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

A spud is an essential ice-smashing tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

Other Results:

Prior to the event, I laid out several examples of things that we would watch for this year:

Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail:  Stoneflies have been dropping off here for the past decade.  Volunteers did come back with stoneflies this year, though not the winter stoneflies but rather a family that is more widely available.  Still, this is good news.

Honey Creek at Wagner Road: Stoneflies were missing here in 2014 for the first time, and unfortunately volunteers did not find them this year either.

Woods Creek at Lower Huron Metropark: Just like Honey Creek at Wagner Road, stoneflies were not found here for the second year in a row.

Insect populations are resilient and can bounce back with good water quality and suitable weather conditions.  While this year was disappointing, the mild winter we are experiencing right now may result in a bumper crop in 2017. Come next January, HRWC and its volunteers will be ready to check it out!

 

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

The slender winter stonefly, Capniidae.  Credit: www.troutnut.com

The slender winter stonefly, Family Capniidae. Credit: www.troutnut.com

It is January, which means that one of HRWC’s favorite events, the Stonefly Search, is right around the corner.

Stoneflies are interesting because they are the most pollution intolerant group of aquatic insects that we have in Michigan.  They can only thrive in the cleanest water with high levels of dissolved oxygen.  When they are found at a location it is a confirmation of high water quality, and when they disappear from a stream it is a warning sign that water quality has degraded.

It might seem strange to many that we hunt for stoneflies in the winter.  This is because two of the stonefly families, the Capniidae and the Taeniopterygidae, change from aquatic nymphs to terrestrial adults in the late winter and early spring.  This means that we can’t find them during the normal April River Roundup, and so we have to look for them earlier in the year!

The Stonefly Search always produces interesting results.  Let’s take a look at some of the findings in recent years.

Stonefly Successes!

Reported in 2013: Four sites had the best stonefly samples that had ever been seen at those locations: Chilson Creek at Chilson Road, Fleming Creek at Galpin Road, the Huron River at Flat Rock, and Woodruff Creek at Buno Road.  At each of these sites, the stoneflies normally found at the location were there, but also new stonefly families were found that had never been seen there before! A greater diversity of stoneflies indicates greater stream health.  These are promising results and hopefully it will continue into longer term trends.

Reported in 2011: Since 2007 and up through last year, our volunteers have found 4 families of stoneflies in Mann Creek. This includes 2 stonefly families that can be found in creeks year round (Perlidae & Perlodidae), and the 2 stonefly families that are only found in the winter (Capniidae & Taeniopterygidae). Even in the Huron’s healthiest streams, it is unusual to find more than 2 families of stoneflies during the Stonefly Search.  So, Mann Creek is special indeed. Mann Creek flows through a residential neighborhood- but one really interesting thing about Mann Creek is that there is a very wide natural riparian zone surrounding the creek.  This riparian area provides habitat and food for stoneflies as branches and leaves fall into the creek. To see Mann Creek and its impressive riparian zone, click here.

Stonefly Failures!

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Reported in 2015: Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail (near South Lyon) is a location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

Reported in 2015:  The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner Road (Ann Arbor) were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

Reported in 2013: The team searching for stoneflies in Woods Creek in Belleville came back disappointed.  Wood’s Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark has been sampled 12 times since 1997, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. The problem likely comes from the thick ice and difficult conditions rather than pollution or disturbed stream habitat, but we will keep an eye on Wood’s Creek next year.

What will we find in 2016?

Will Mann Creek continue to reign as the king of Huron River stoneflies?  Will we find stoneflies where they have never been before?

Will we find stoneflies this year at Davis, Honey, and Woods Creek, or has the water quality there continued to decline?

We will see you on January 23 and we will answer these questions together!

Click here for registration and more information.

What will this Search find this year? credit: Dan Myer

What will HRWC volunteers find this year? credit: Dan Myer

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

Family Taeniopeterygidae, a "winter stonefly". credit: John Lloyd

Family Taeniopeterygidae, a “winter stonefly”. credit: John Lloyd

We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice

In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice

We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize

Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stoneflies

 

Winter stones are quite the thing

Though one surely might be wondering

How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold

As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold

 

Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive

Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive

And winter is helpful in another major way

The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away

 

Quite sensitive to any water pollution,

Winter stones provide a quick solution

If we find ‘em we can be sure

That the stream is sweet and pure

 

The critters are small and rather dark

In this frigid weather they have a lark

Scamper about in the ice and snow

There’s no other place for them to go

 

To ID them here’s what you do

Look for wingpads four and cerci two

Along the flanks no gills are found

And on each leg two claws astound

 

The ice is thick, the water chills,

With cold I’m fed up to the gills

But none could say that we are quitters

We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters

 

Believe me, I know whereof I speak

You’ll find out fast if your waders leak

One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks

When that icy water hits their socks

 

Collectors and runners can stay in motion

Stay warmer thus, I have a notion

But picking requires that one stand still

Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill

 

Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear

If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear

If you should venture this dumb thing to do

I guarantee you’ll surely break through

 

Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed

Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need

That usually turns out to be about right

So that you are not left in a piteous plight

 

A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing

Helps to keep that D-net from freezing

And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry

Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh

 

On these trips a truly most gracious amenity

May help the participants keep some of their sanity

A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot

Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.

Stonefly Search is coming January 23! Registration and info here.

About the author:

Dave Wilson is a HRWC volunteer and trained collector who has attended 9 Stonefly Searches and countless other HRWC events.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)

Excellent

1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)

Good

5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)

Fair

13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)

Poor

19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.

 

Bird, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 4

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is done, the days are getting shorter, and the air is a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is the 4th part of a short series on migrating animals. The final topic: dragonflies!

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The Commond Green Darner is the most abundant migrating dragonfly in the U.S. credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife

Dragonflies

Of all four topics I am covering in this series, scientists seem to understand dragonfly migration the least.  This is likely because not much effort has been put into the subject: dragonflies are of not great economic importance, and the best known species that migrates, Common Green Darner, is widespread and abundant and so there is little concern about its future. In general, dragonflies are not very sensitive to water pollution, and can thrive in man-made or naturals wetlands. This is in contrast to some bat species and the Monarch butterfly, which are very specific in their over-wintering habitat selection.

Of the 326 species of dragonflies in North America, about 18 are regular migrants. Besides the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), other migrating dragonflies include the Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens), Spot-winged glider (Pantala hymenaea), Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) and Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum).

The dragonfly life cycle

Dragonflies are fascinating creatures, with strange mating, flying, and territorial behaviors.  This complexity applies to migration as well, which certainly contributes to the sense that scientists have yet to unravel dragonfly migration.

For example, work done by entomologist R. Trottier in 1971 revealed Common Green Darner could adopt two distinct life-cycles.  One group of darners had the standard dragonfly life-cycle: nymphs emerged as adults in June, laid eggs in the summer, and died by late August.  The eggs would hatch into nymphs that would overwinter locally in the bottom of streams and ponds and then emerge again the next June. (Side note: Dragonflies spend 1-3 years in the nymph stage, depending on the species).

The other group of the darners did not emerge until late-August, and rapidly disappeared from local ponds and wetlands as they began a migration south. Their children would be the ones to return in early April and continue the generational cycle. In this population, migration is a normal part of the life cycle. In other words, just like the Monarch butterflies, dragonfly migration is a one-way ticket for any given individual. The first generation will travel south, reproduce and die, and the children will head north. They will reproduce and die and their children will go south.

However, not all dragonflies migrate, even within the same species. This is a complication that is not well understood.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Dragonfly swarming behavior. Photo copyright Steven Young and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/steven-young/2893876500/.

Timing and Destination

In 2006, researchers attached micro-radio transmitters to Green Darners and followed them along their migration for 12 days. On average, they traveled 30-40 miles in a 5-7 day period, eventually going an average of 400 miles. Another study recorded a maximum observed distance of 2200 miles.

Like the other animals we have studied, dragonflies rest for several days at a time while on the migration route, so the total migration time can last many weeks.  From the Mid-West and Northeast United States, they are able to reach the Gulf Coast states and occasionally Mexico.

Cold nights seems to trigger dragonfly migration, just like with birds. Dragonflies will began their journey south in mid-August, and will continue through the end of October.  The dragonflies use northerly winds that follow from cold fronts to speed them on their way, and can be seen traveling in swarms of hundreds of thousands, though they also travel as individuals and small groups.

Like birds and butterflies, it seems like they navigate using some type of internal magnetic compass and using topographic features like lakeshores and coastlines. Another interesting observation in the 2006 study is that dragonflies can alter their migration route considerably (in this case, by 120 degrees) in order to avoid flying over large bodies of water.

Learn more!

Check out this webpage: Migratory Dragonfly Partnership.  This partnership is a collaborative effort between universities, dragonfly experts, the federal government, and nongovernmental programs with the goal of learning more about dragonfly migration.

The Partnership welcomes dragonfly observations from citizen scientists!

Thanks for reading!

It has been great fun for me to research these migrations and learn about new things (for me) that I had been wondering about for some time.  I hope you enjoyed the series too!

-Paul Steen, HRWC Aquatic Ecologist.

 

 

 

Birds, Bat, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 3

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part three of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: butterflies!

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Impressive Migrating Monarch

Most butterflies do not migrate.  They have the ability to overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even adults depending on the species.  Only one species is known to migrate like birds: the Monarch.

The beautiful orange and black Monarch Butterfly makes a very impressive journey every year.  The Huron River Watershed and the rest of Michigan play an important role in that migration, having prime summer weather conditions for butterfly breeding.  Come fall, the Monarch is headed south– about 3000 miles south.  In fact, the migration path is so long that it outlasts any individual butterfly’s life span.  One Monarch generation migrates south, the next generation migrates north, breeds two or three short-lived generations in the summer, the latest of which continues the cycle by heading south.

The trip south

In late August, Monarchs in Michigan begin their trip south, traveling along the Great Lakes coastline, though the Great Plains States, and eventually reaching their winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico and Central America.  The Great Lakes are important features in the flight of the monarch– the insects use the winds over the lakes to speed them along on their journey. Monarch’s can not do this migration without proper rest and relaxation though. Shoreline habitats are important for feeding and recovering energy.

At the date this blog is being written (September 30), Monarchs are well out of Michigan.  They should be flying through Oklahoma and crossing the Texas border!

Once the butterflies reach Mexico in November, they congregate into huge populations on the highlands and mountains of Mexico and Central America. There are only 12 traditional wintering sites, which means the species is susceptible to habitat changes and bad weather.  In 2012 and 2013, bad weather conditions during the winter breeding season led to a Monarch population crash.  In 2014, weather conditions were ideal and the population rebounded slightly, but the population is still 80% below the 20 year average.

monarch_ElRosario0087

They may be in Mexico, but cold weather can still reach the high elevations of the Monarchs’ winter breeding grounds. credit: El Rosario Sanctuary

The trip back north

In the spring, Monarchs slowly move their way back north.  States on the Gulf Coast will see Monarchs return by early April, and by mid April the butterflies will have reached Kentucky and Tennesee.  By early May, the first Monarchs can be in south Michigan and they will reach the Upper Penninsula by the end of May. Monarchs do continue into southern Canada as well, though for many individuals, Michigan is their final destination.

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn't raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn’t raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

Give me more details!

Annenberg Learner hosts a terrific website giving photos and the migration timing for the Monarch. They keep an up-to-date blog on where the butterfly currently is found!

 

Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 2

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part two of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: bats!

Michigan Bats

Michigan is home to nine bat species.  Some of these bats are year long residents, while others have to head south for warmer climates in the fall and winter.  Bats in Michigan are solely insect eaters, and as such, during the colder months of the year when insects are not outside, bats must either hibernate or head south to survive.

The Big Brown Bat is the most common bat species in southeast Michigan.  This bat typically does not migrate, but instead hibernates in the winter in houses and caves. They may move from a summer roost to a winter home, but the move is usually less than 30 miles as they are just searching for a suitable hibernation location. This usually happens in mid-September and is triggered by cold nights and low insect activity.  They prefer attics that are around 35-40 degrees. So, if you hear a scratching above your head in the middle of winter, you may very well be hearing Big Brown Bats re-positioning themselves during their hibernation slumber.  Hibernating bats can survive low temperatures with reduced heartbeats, respiration, and body heat. They will reemerge from your attic in spring when the weather warms up enough for the insects to come out again.

bigbrownbat1_indianaDNR

The Big Brown Bat. credit: Indiana DNR

The Little Brown Bat is also a common bat in Michigan, but they are more numerous in the northern parts of the State. This bat will migrate longer distances than the Big Brown Bat as their preferred overwintering sites are in caves to Michigan’s south like the plentiful limestone caves of Kentucky and Tennessee.  The Indiana Bat is similar in that it migrates a moderate distance, except that it prefers the caves in southern Indiana as its migratory location. Indiana Bats are an endangered species; they hibernate in huge numbers but only in a small number of caves, which makes them very vulnerable to any habitat disturbances in these locations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Federally listed endangered Indiana Bat. credit: USFWS

The Eastern Red Bat, the Hoary Bat, the Silver Haired Bat, and the Northern Long-eared Bat prefer to roost in trees and not in houses or caves. As such, they must migrate a substantial distance to reach a climate warm enough to survive the outdoors in the winter. Their exact destinations are generally unknown as these species tend to be solitary creatures rather than communal, which makes finding them harder. However, they are known to be found in Texas, Florida, and northern Mexico during the winter months.

800px-Red_bat_(4a)

The Eastern Red Bat (shown here), and several other bat species prefer to roost and hibernate in trees rather than caves and attics. credit: Chris Harshaw

Many bats species are facing an uncertain future thanks to a disease spreading in caves while the bats hibernate.  The White nose syndrome was first reported in 2007 and is caused by a fungus that colonizes the bats skin and eventually kills them.  The species of bats that hibernate in caves in huge numbers are most at risk (like the Indiana Bat).  As of 2014, the fungus has been spread throughout 25 States and is found in five Canadian provinces.  Thankfully awareness of the disease has also spread.  A consortium of partners including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy are intensively studying and managing the problem.  Certain caves have been closed to human excess entirely, and in others (such as at Mammoth Caves National Park), visitors are required  to disinfect their clothing and shoes after leaving the caves.

Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 1

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part one of a short series on migrating animals. First topic: birds!

Migrating Birds

In southeast Michigan, August marks the beginning of the migration season and migrations continue throughout the fall. Summer residents leaving our area soon will be the Green Herons, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers, flycatchers, Chimney Swifts, and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (along with many others).

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird credit: Flickr user Senapa

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird credit: Flickr user Senapa

Obviously not every bird species leaves for warmer weather.  Mourning Doves,  Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and the Tufted Titmouse (along many others) are found in southeast Michigan year round. Great Blue Herons stay as long as there is open water.

The Great Blue Heron in flight. credit: John Lloyd

The Great Blue Heron in flight. credit: John Lloyd

For other species, Michigan is a warm winter destination, as long as they can find open water. Without open water, they keep on heading south.  Several water fowl species like the Ring-necked Duck, Common Merganser, and the Common Goldeneye are found in Michigan during the fall, winter, and spring but migrate north in the summer. The Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow also fit in this category.

The Common Goldeneye. Credit: USFWS

The Common Goldeneye. Credit: USFWS

And finally, other species only use Michigan as a stop along their migration path. Warblers in particular are known for this; examples include the Cape May Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the Canada Warbler, and the Palm Warbler.

The Cape May Warbler. credit: USFWS

The Cape May Warbler. credit: USFWS

Ebird.org is a great website for tracking what bird species come and go throughout many areas of the world. To find out more about a specific species mentioned in this post, see allaboutbirds.org.

For tips on identifying birds, where to look for birds in the watershed, how to make bird migration easier and some great local resources, see Bird Migration, Finding feathered friends in the watershed, Huron River Report, Spring 2014.

 

My Huron River (Arms Creek)

One of the perks of my job as a co-director of the Adopt-a-Stream program at HRWC is that I get to see places that many others miss out on.  And so while I love the main branch of the Huron River and spend many hours at our metroparks, I decided to focus on a small creek in Webster township– Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

An HRWC volunteer explores Arms Creek.

Arms Creek at the intersection of Walsh Road is known internally here at HRWC as “Adopt-a-Stream Site Number 1″, meaning that it was the first site to be picked as a part of the program way back in 1992.  The watershed council and our many volunteers have been visiting this location and collecting information on this creek for 23 years! The creek contains many insect families that are sensitive to pollution and their presence tells us that the creek has good water quality.  In fact, the insect population has been getting better over time, so conditions here have improved over the past 20 years.  A thick riparian zone of trees and shrubs provides ample shade for the creek and plentiful groundwater inputs keep the water quite cold.  Many decades ago, the DNR actually stocked Arms Creek with trout, which is very rare for the Huron Watershed, but not enough fisherman utilized the creek to make this worth the cost. Last year HRWC staff wrote a creekshed report for Arms Creek, which can be found here along with a clickable and zoomable map.

 

independence150

The shores of Independence Lake

The Arms creekshed also contains Independence Lake, a beautiful county park located only a few miles from my
house and a spot that my family visits many times during the year. In the summer it is our go-to spot for swimming and waterslides, and in the other seasons we play on the playground and take walks through wetlands and fields. Winter is a great time to visit as the park is all but deserted.  Last winter we spent a long time throwing rocks onto the lake and listening to the musical “plunk-plink-plunk-pppppppp” of the rocks echoing and reverberating against the ice.

independence151

“More rocks, Daddy. More rocks!”

Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.

Highlight

Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.

Lowlight

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.

 

What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.


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