Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Geomorphologists Assemble!

HRWC recently hosted the first Michigan Aquatic Restoration Conference (MARC) with partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, Michigan Departments of Environmental Quality and Natural Resources, as well as business sponsors Stantec, North State Environmental, Inter-Fluve, and Spicer Group. Located at the retreat setting of the Kettunen Center, the MARC brought together over 120 agency and academic scientists and engineers and industry professionals from all over Michigan as well as several other Great Lakes states. Much of the conference focused on geomorphology, or the study of the processes that shape a river channel and produce the habitat that exists in its present state.

Studying the Pine River

Participants visited the Pine River to study a recent restoration effort.

The MARC was led off with a workshop on “Woody Debris Management” by one of the founding fathers of geomorphology, Dr. David Rosgen from Wildland Hydrology. He also provided a keynote presentation on lessons he has learned from more than two decades of stream restoration work. National restoration expert Will Harman from Stream Mechanics discussed a popular conceptual framework he developed — the “Functional Pyramid” — and discussed how restoration practitioners should seek to provide rivers and streams with “functional lift.”

Other presentations and discussions focused on the various and sundry nuances of stream restoration in practice throughout Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and parts south and west. There was a genuine excitement in the air throughout the conference as participants engaged in vibrant discussion about how to apply principles (some theoretical at this point) to stream restoration, in what is a relatively new applied science.

Local TV news coverage of the MARC

If you missed the conference this year, check out the MARC website for a sampling of the presentations and discussions, and keep your eye out for an announcement of the next iteration.

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


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.




Getting the Word Out

HuronAutumnIt is not enough to protect the Huron River watershed. There is a whole world of watersheds and citizens reliant on plentiful clean water. So sometimes we step outside of our watershed boundaries to share with others what we are doing and how it is going. In return we learn from others making a difference in their watershed.  In the last month I have hit the road to talk with a few new audiences about some of the work of HRWC.

The Great Lakes Restoration Conference took place in the Windy City (it certainly lived up to this moniker while I was there) last month. Along with Alister Innes from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Cheryl Kallio from Freshwater Future, I spoke to an audience of Great Lakes restoration professionals about the impacts of coaltar sealcoat and the PAHs it contains, on lakes, rivers and human health. Minnesota is the only Great Lakes state that has achieved a ban of this product that is commonly used to maintain asphalt driveways and parking lots. We are hoping to grow the buzz on this topic within our region to help get PAH contamination (the compounds of concern in coaltar sealcoat) out of Great Lakes waters.

Next, I was off to Detroit to the Michigan Association of Planners Conference.  Here I participated in a panel sharing stories of how communities throughout Michigan are incorporating climate change into municipal planning and trying to build resilience in natural, social and economic systems so that when more extreme events hit our cities and towns we can bounce back quickly and sustain less damage.

Finally, the 3rd annual Stormwater Summit was held at Lawrence Technological University. What a diverse group of professionals we have doing seriously good work right here in southeast Michigan!  The audience received a brief on the Lake Erie algal bloom that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and what is happening in Michigan and Ohio to prevent a similar event in the future.  I presented our work within the Huron to adopt better rainfall data to create stormwater systems that can accommodate the heavier rains climate change brings to our area. We also heard about some very cool green infrastructure and urban conservation projects. Summit presentations will be available soon on the Pure Oakland Water website.

These types of exchanges ensure HRWC staff are aware of innovations occurring elsewhere that inspire our future work and give back to the community by sharing innovations of our own.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Master Composter Class offered this fall

Wednesday evenings in Ann Arbor.

Transform yard debris and kitchen scraps into a nutrient-rich, natural soil amendment. Learn to compost with red worms, compost tea and other agents. This program is coordinated by Project Grow and is designed for the general public, for Master Gardeners to continue their organic gardening education, and as a follow-up to the Project Grow’s Organic Gardener Certificate series.

Michigan Master Composter certification is available if you pass the take-home exam and volunteer ten hours in the community.

Instructors include the following certified Master Composters: Erica Kempter, Nature and Nurture; Lisa Perschke, Advanced Master Gardener; Joet Roema, Master Gardener, Master Rain Gardener; Jesse Raudenbush, Starr Valley Farms, Master Gardener; Chris Simmons and Nancy Stone.

Sign Up!
Ann Arbor Public Schools, Community Recreation & Education, ID# 1640.101.
7 weeks, Wednesdays Sep 30 — Nov 11, 6:30-8:30pm
Pioneer High School, Room E107
FEE $49

 Fall Rec&Ed 2015 catalog PDF posting, class is on page 9, ID# 1640.101.

To learn more:  The Dirt on Soil, A bustling ecosystem beneath your feet, Huron River Report, Summer 2008.


Art along the Huron

Enjoy trail-side masterpieces in Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Flat Rock.

Art along the Huron River!

Portrait of Postman Roulin, Vincent van Gogh at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor.

August through October, the Water Trail’s five Trail Towns are exhibiting high-quality reproductions of masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Arts at riverside venues. Brought to you by the Huron River Water Trail and the DIA’s Inside|Out program. Each community will feature the installations at their local events. You can view many of the artworks as you paddle! And most (there are three pieces in each community) are within easy walking or bike-riding distance. MAP/EVENT DETAILS. #huronriver #DIAInsideOut

Canoe Imagine Art LogoIn Ann Arbor, Canoe Imagine Art (CIA) is a public art project that re-purposes canoes retired by the City to celebrate the history and attributes of the Huron River and/or the City’s park system. Four works of art were selected through a juried and public voting process for temporary installations along the Huron River. Check them out at Broadway, Island, Bandamer and Gallup Parks! They are stunning. #huronriver #a2riverart

Art along the Huron!

Conservation Stewards Leadership Training

indian springsLooking for a way to expand your knowledge about ecosystems, invasives, and the history of conservation in Michigan?

The Michigan Conservation Stewards program has been brought back to Washtenaw County by a collaboration of HRWC and peer organizations. We hope you, as a supporter of the Huron, will take the opportunity to strengthen your knowledge and thus ability to advocate for our natural resources. This 6-week course covers all the basics of conservation, introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.


Click here for details and to register.



News to Us


Volunteers installing an osprey nesting platform in the Huron River. Photo credit: 7 Cylinders Studio

Local osprey are being outfitted with tracking devices so you and researches can monitor their travels, a new online learning opportunity will improve your knowledge of lakes, and researchers are predicting another severe algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer.  Oil and gas pipeline accountability has been in the news a lot lately.  Here we pulled together three articles that will catch you up on the latest happenings.  And that is what is News to Us.

DNR monitoring osprey chick migration with GPS. Several osprey chicks have been outfitted with backpacks to help monitor the bird’s movements and growth. Two of the four chicks that will be monitored are from a nest in Kensington Metropark in Milford. There is a site where you can track the birds too at michiganosprey.org.

Introduction to Lakes course coming soon to a computer near you. With over 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is home to many lake enthusiasts. If that describes you and you have always wanted to know more, Michigan State University Extension is now offering an online course providing in introduction to lakes.

‘Severe’ algal blooms forecast this summer on Lake Erie. Researchers are predicting a more significant algal bloom this year than the one last summer that shutdown Toledo’s water supply for several days. The bloom won’t necessarily lead to issues with drinking water but will certainly impact recreation on Lake Erie and the organisms that live in the lake.  Phosphorus runoff and heavy rains in June are two major contributors to the severity of the bloom. Conservationists are targeting large livestock operations for phosphorus reduction.

July has been a big month for news on oil and gas pipelines in Michigan.  Here is a sampling of articles sharing pieces of the larger issue of moving oil through our state’s waterways.

  • Life 5 years after the nation’s worst inland oil spill – NPR’s Environment Report revisits the Kalamazoo River oil spill which is the largest inland oil spill in US history caused by a break in an Enbridge pipeline that traversed this waterway.
  • Report calls for heavy crude oil ban in Straits of Mackinac pipeline – The Michigan DEQ led a special task force that released a report last week on the status and future of pipelines in the state. Of particular focus is the Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Some say the recommendations are a big step in the right direction for safety and accountability. Others assert it does not go far enough to protect our freshwater resources.
  • National Wildlife Federation to Sue Dept. of Transportation over Oil Pipeline Oversight Failures  — On the heels of this report, the NWF announced they plan to sue the federal government for failing to uphold the Oil Pollution Act which requires approval of a safety plan for pipelines which travel in, on or under inland waters. This lawsuit comes after much scrutiny and investigation into the safety of the Enbridge pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

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