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Archive for the ‘Study Nature’ Category

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to adventure . . .

Tubing on the Huron River

My tubing buddies

Explore tubing on the river between Dexter and Ann Arbor

If you’ve never tubed on the river you should try it.  At first I was intimidated by the young, more rowdy crowds of tubers but found quickly that tubing can be a quiet, cooling, and beautiful way to experience the river. The tubes are relatively inexpensive.  Grab a pump that can run off your power outlet in your car.  Pick a hot day and leave a bike or car at the Washtenaw County Stokes-Burns Park on Zeeb Road and then head to Dexter-Huron Metropark.

The rest is easy.  Relax into your tube (wear a bathing suit or shorts that can get wet) and the steady current will take you gently down the river.  The mile-long trip takes about an hour and a half and takes you through a beautiful stretch of the river where you catch glimpses of fish, very large and colorful dragonflies, indian paintbrush plants, herons, osprey, and other plants and animals I can’t name. On a hot day, its just about perfect!  We do try to avoid the weekend river rush-hour and usually have a very relaxing experience.

If you are looking for a more lively adventure with lots of people and action, check out Tube the River from the City of Ann Arbor for info on trips through the Argo Cascades.

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron with Motor City Canoe Rental, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket in Milford or Dexter, learn the history of the Huron or take a fly fishing lesson in Ypsilanti! Sponsored by TOYOTA.

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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 that did not have stoneflies were noteworthy 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!

 

Happy World Wetlands Day!

In honor of World Wetlands Day today, we at HRWC thought we’d share a little bit of info about our wetlands here in the Huron watershed.

Huron River wetland in Ann Arbor Township.

Wetlands – Nature’s Kidneys

Wetlands, along with floodplains and shorelines, are critical environmental areas. Wetlands are saturated lowland areas (e.g. marshes and swamps) that have distinctive soils and ecology. Wetland areas filter flowing water, hold flood water, and release water slowly into surrounding drier land. These functions are critical to keeping the Huron River clean and safe for wildlife, drinking, paddling, fishing, and swimming. See our Wetland Page for more details.

The Huron Watershed’s Wetlands

The Huron watershed is home to many kinds of wetlands (the Michigan Natural Features Inventory lists 26 different kinds of wetlands that exist in our watershed!); including wet prairies, hardwood swamps, and bogs. Unfortunately, due to agricultural drainage and development, only about half of our wetlands remain.

Wetland Protection

With all the ecological services that wetlands provide to the River, it is important to keep our wetlands healthy and restore wetlands when we can. HRWC highly recommends local communities enact wetland ordinances, along with building setback requirements from wetlands, to protect our remaining wetlands.

HRWC’s Bioreserve Project is mapping and assessing wetlands and other natural areas to help target conservation efforts (come to our Field Assessment Training to learn how you can assess wetlands and other natural areas), and our Green Infrastructure programs are  working with communities to protect existing and create new wetland areas, to restore the landscape’s ability to filter and control stormwater runoff.

What You Can Do

Volunteer with HRWC, learning to evaluate wetlands (their special features and plants) on May 14 at our Field Assessment Training and then join us this summer for some field assessments!

 

 

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

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.

 

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

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.

 

 

 

Using road stream crossing surveys to understand creek health

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Advanced volunteer Larry Sheer led our pilot Road Stream Crossing this year. This project is helping us in numerous ways: developing our Norton Creek Management Plan, expanding our data collection options, expanding our volunteer opportunities, and creating more leadership in our organization. Kudos to Larry!

See Larry’s article on the Road Stream Crossing program, published as part of his participation in MSUE’s Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute.

Autumn Roundup: October 3

Find insects, buy crayfish and other small river creatures as a part of the River Roundup!

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Join a small team with your friends and family for a unique activity and (hopefully) some time in gorgeous spring weather! Collect a sample of the bugs and other creatures that live in our streams.  Like canaries in a coal mine, clinic these creatures indicate the health of our creeks and rivers.  In healthy places, the amount of life  in these fresh water systems is amazing!

All volunteers first meet in Ann Arbor, and then trained volunteer leaders take you to two stream sites, where you help them search through stones, leaves, and sediment.  Only trained volunteers have to go in the water.  Dress to be in the field for a couple hours.   Please register.

Children are welcome to attend with an adult.

WHERE: Meet at the HRWC office in Ann Arbor.  Then car pool to two streams in Livingston, Oakland, Wayne and/or Washtenaw Counties.

WHEN: Two times: October 3, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM, or 10:30 AM to 5 PM

DEADLINE: Registration closes on September 30, 2015.

NEXT STEPS: Fill out the registration page for the time and general area that you desire to work in.

1. 9 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

2. 9 AM. Belleville and Flat Rock

3. 9 AM. Western Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

4. 9 AM. Oakland County

5. 10:30 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

MORE INFO: Please email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

PHOTOS and STORY: Get a sense of what this event is like from a HRWC volunteer here.

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.

 


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