Archive for the ‘Study Nature’ Category

Where are the Mudpuppies?

mudpuppy2The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and the Herpetological Resource and Management are asking for help in collecting dead specimens of Mudpuppies. Due to the extreme weather conditions this year, herpetologists are anticipating a large winterkill, which provides a unique opportunity to assess population health.

What is a Mudpuppy?

• Michigan’s largest, fully aquatic salamander

Why Are They Important?

• “Bioindicator” species: Due to their sensitivity to pollutants and poor water quality, these salamanders act as an early warning system for environmental problems

• Are the only intermediate host to the Endangered Salamander Mussel

• Great Lakes populations are declining, and the true abundance is currently unknown

How Can I Help?

Place the whole Mudpuppy(s) in ziploc bag, seal, and freeze the bag. Tissue samples may be placed in storage tubes containing ethanol.

Include the following information on a 3×5 card placed within the bag (using pencil) and on the outside of the bag (using permanent marker). In the case of tissue samples, label outside of tube with permanent marker.

1.) Observer

2.) Date

3.) Precise Collection Location

Contact one of the following people:

1.) David Mifsud 517-522-3525 DMifsud@HerpRMan.com

2.) Maegan Stapleton 517-522-3525 Stapleton@HerpRMan.com

3.) Amber Stedman 815-761-8941  AStedman@EMich.edu

4.) Greg Schneider 734-647-1927, 734-763-0740 ES@UMich.edu


Fall Creek Monitoring: Beautiful colors and beautiful bugs

River and creek sampling

South Ore Creek at Bauer Road is shallow creek flowing through wetlands and forests.

South Ore Creek at Bauer Road is shallow creek flowing through wetlands and forests. credit: David Amamoto

Thanks to 137 volunteers who contributed a total of 548 volunteer hours, the 2013 Fall River Roundup was a great success!  Our volunteers split into 25 teams and traveled to 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed to assess the aquatic benthic macroinvertebrate community.

This study is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to keep its finger on the pulse of the stream. From the data collected from this semi-annual event, we get a better understanding of which creeks and rivers are getting better, which are getting worse, and how we can direct our management activities.

You can see all the results in Fall 2013 River Roundup Report.

Current Watershed Health

In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady. Of the 62 sites that we monitor to judge this, 30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.

12 sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek.  The majority of the declining sites are in Livingston County.  Eight of the declining sites are in Livingston, two are in Washtenaw, and three are in Oakland.

14 sites are significantly improving.  11 of improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek, Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and several places on Mill Creek. 2 sites are improving in Livingston County (Horseshoe Creek at Merrill Road and Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).



1. For many years HRWC has held up Millers Creek in Ann Arbor as an example of what can happen to an urban creek- the stream flow is flashy, the channel is incised, the riparian vegetation is shrubby invasive plants, and there is little life in the creek.  In 2009 HRWC finished up a green infrastructure project in the headwaters of Millers designed to reduce the amount of stormwater rushing into the creek, and at the same time the City of Ann Arbor finished a major streambank stabilization project where the creek crossed Glazier Way.

The efforts spent restoring Millers Creek seems to be paying off.  The sample taken in Millers Creek at Glazier Way contained the most insect families ever seen since sampling began in 1993. While the overall trend since 1993 is unchanged, from 2004 when the creek was at its worst (3 insect families), until now in 2013 (12 insect families), there is a statistically significant increase.  Insects that are particularly susceptible to pollution and disturbance have yet to be found here however, and we will continue monitoring in hopes that these insects will make their way back to the stream.

Fall sampling results for Millers Creek @ Glazier Way over the past 20 years.

Fall sampling results for Millers Creek @ Glazier Way over the past 20 years.


2. Starting in this past January, HRWC has been sending volunteers to two new stream sites on Portage Creek near Stockbridge.  This is a long drive from Ann Arbor and we appreciate the volunteers who have made this journey. This Roundup, volunteers in the Portage Creek at Rockwell site found a treasure trove of insect diversity.  Twenty insect families were found which puts this new site up there with the very best places we go.  We will look forward to visiting this site again in the future!

Portage Creek @ Beckwith Nature Preserve... a new sampling site!

Portage Creek @ Beckwith Nature Preserve… a new sampling site! Picture taken January 2013.



Norton Creek @ West Maple Road looks like it has nice habitat, but the water quality is very poor.

Norton Creek @ West Maple Road looks like it has nice habitat, but the water quality is very poor. credit: Ron Fadoir

Norton creekshed in Oakland County is a Detroit suburb and industrial hub. Historically, the creek has suffered from numerous impairments and has seen little improvement as the area has become increasingly suburbanized.

In terms of the macroinvertebrate community, samples taken here have always had terrible diversity and low abundance, but in recent years things have gotten worse.  When sampling started in Norton Creek at West Maple Road in 2000, it was normal to find between 8 and 10 insect families.  However, volunteers during the past four fall River Roundups have found 3, 4, 4, and 3 insect families.  Two of the insect families found are actually water striders, which are only semi-aquatic as they live on top of the rather than in the water.

These poor samples have made Norton Creek the worst location of all of those that HRWC monitors. For more information on Norton Creek, see our Norton Creek page and associated creekshed report.  http://www.hrwc.org/norton


What’s next?

On January 26th, HRWC staff and volunteers will gather for the 19th annual Stonefly Search.  This event is very similar to a River Roundup except that we are only looking for stoneflies.  Some of these little guys can be found year round, but there are a couple of stonefly families that are only reliably found in the winter months, and they are great indicators of healthy water.   We hope you and your family and friends will join us for this fun outdoor event!  Register here! http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/

Bids on the River Open Nov 25-Dec 2

HRWC’s holiday auction includes our largest collection of fabulous items for your bidding pleasure! This year we have over 40 items listed online at BiddingForGood and all proceeds benefit HRWC’s efforts to restore and protect the watershed.

Bids on the River is online now until December 2 and is the perfect shopping opportunity for the holidays or any occasion.

It’s a toss up between Paddle Board Lessons and Schultz Outfitters Fly Fishing Lessons or a Jolly Irish Christmas. Something for everyone. Outdoor recreation, birding, paddle boarding, baked goods, entertainment, unique experiences and cooking lessons.

Bid early and remember to check back for new items.

The auction closes on Dec 2 so start your bidding soon and check back often. You don’t want to miss this opportunity to purchase a beautiful gift for yourself or special someone and support HRWC with just a couple of clicks! Auction proceeds this year will support HRWC’s core programs, such as water quality monitoring.



Osprey to wear backpacks in Southeast Michigan


A female osprey brings a fish to her fledging at Kensington Metropark.

A female osprey brings a fish to her fledgling at Kensington Metro Park. Photo: Jane Purslow , used with permission

Nearly absent from much of Michigan due to the effects of DDT and other pesticide use, Michigan’s Osprey population continues to recover year by year.  In Southern Michigan, monitoring efforts are in place to track the revitalization of this species. (See the Fall 2012 issue of The Huron River Report to hear about HRWC’s staff outing to visit ospreys nesting at Kensington Metropark).  Historically, Osprey chicks have simply been banded each year as part of a National effort to monitor the species.

This year, in addition to banding, three osprey chicks from area nests will be outfitted with “Backpack” satellite telemetry units.  These units were funded by grants from DTE Energy and American Tower Corporation and will help scientists track the young birds’ daily movement and seasonal migration patterns.

The exciting part is that anyone can follow along and find out where the birds are at any time on the DNR’s website. The DNR plans to use this website for educating youth and bringing wildlife into the classroom.

Please contact Holly Vaughn to schedule an osprey education program in your classroom: (248) 359-9062.

See where Michigan’s Osprey population is currently located >>

Anyone who observes a nesting pair of osprey is asked to contact Osprey Watch of Southeast Michigan (OWSEM) or email osprey@owsem.org.



Reflections on the River

It’s the end of the first week of September, and, for many of us, the start of a new school year (at least for our kids). As the days start getting shorter, the leaves start falling and the nights begin to cool, this time of year often causes me to reflect on the past year or at least the past summer.

Big blue stem grass on prairie run along the Huron.

Big blue stem grass on prairie run along the Huron.

In particular, last night, as I ran along the river, I reflected on the many ways I’ve interacted with the Huron over the past summer and year. Like a number of us on staff, I like to run along the many trails that border the river. Last night, as sunset was approaching, the river and natural area views were particularly striking. It reminded me how hard many of us have worked to protect these important ecosystems and how lucky we are to have a high quality river because of it.

As I ran along the river, I observed some bikers out for a challenge among the riverside hills, a few paddlers out for a late afternoon float, two sets of high school seniors posing for their senior photos, and different sets of rowers perfecting their technique on the impounded quiet waters of Argo Pond. People experience the river in many different ways, and, for most of us, the relationship is a personal one. The river can be a source of challenge, a source of inspiration and energy, a muse, or a place of solitude. The river can provide provide physical, emotional and spiritual sustenance.

I personally have found myself in the Huron’s waters quite often this summer in many old and some surprisingly new ways. Each experience provided a slightly new perspective on this tremendous resource that I spend so much of my life working to maintain. I invite any of you reading this post to share your experiences with the Huron (or any other of Michigan’s many waters) this summer. We would love to read about them.

I hope your summer was as refreshing as mine and that you will continue to work with me and the rest of the staff here at HRWC to pass along this tremendous legacy to those who just embarked on a new year of learning and exploration. Roll on, sister Huron!

Thanks to HRWC Summer Staff

Summer is HRWC’s busiest season. Interns, summer staff, and advanced volunteers make so much possible.

Lauren Burns

Lauren Burns

Lauren Burns worked with Ric Lawson on the water quality monitoring program in Washtenaw County. She is a graduate of Ohio State University, where she studied Fisheries and Wildlife Management. Lauren shares, “my work with HRWC allows me to immerse myself in a field that I am passionate about, while promoting environmental education and awareness in the community.”

Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter found his being a Summer Field Intern for HRWC a great experience. Not only did he learn more about field work and what it involves, but he got to meet a lot of really nice people. Cam notes, “It is an opportunity that will help me take a step forward as an environmental engineer.”


Mike Kaminski

Mike Kaminski

Michael Kaminski is a landscape architecture graduate student at University of Michigan’s (U-M) School of Natural Resources and the Environment (SNRE).  He spent his summer working with Rebecca Esselman and Ric Lawson on the Climate-Resilient Communities and Green Infrastructure programs.  This included the production and dissemination of a toolkit for enhancing the climate resiliency of the watershed’s forest and tree resources, and the siting and design of green infrastructure projects for stormwater management in Washtenaw County.

Olivia Kincaid
is a biochemistry major at Earlham College. She loves nature, in particular, water ecosystems. Olivia is thinking about a career in water conservation and environmental science, where she can utilize her interest in the environment. Olivia walked numerous creeks with a team of interns this summer identifying potential water resource problems.

Emma Maack
is a graduate student in environmental policy at U-M’s SNRE and Ford School of Public Policy.  She worked with Kris Olsson on the Portage Creek Watershed Plan Implementation project, researching local ordinances that affect water quality and coordinating field assessments for the Bioreserve program.  Her internship was a great opportunity to work on local policy, understand watershed residents’ attitudes and concerns, and learn more about local ecology and the Huron River.

Josh Miller

Josh Miller

Josh Miller is a recent MS graduate in Environmental Policy and Planning from U-M. He worked this past year with Ric Lawson and others on the green infrastructure planning project in Washtenaw County. He is presently looking for work in Great Lakes or watershed policy and planning. He has “thoroughly enjoyed” his work with HRWC staff and is “grateful for the valuable experience.”

Kate Mlinarich

Kate Mlinarich

Kate Mlinarich is an Environmental Studies major at Schoolcraft College in Livonia.She worked with Jason Frenzel and Paul Steen on conducting stream walks to monitor the quality of different streams throughout Ann Arbor. She also helped develop a smart phone app to make gathering data in the field easier.  Her career goal is to become a water quality /environmental technician and hopes to move to and work in Ann Arbor after graduation. She plans on volunteering at HRWC in the future as much as she can!

Becca Myers is a senior at the U-M studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Program in the Environment. She worked on a variety of projects at HRWC this summer, including research and improvement of HRWC’s Vertical Response email marketing system, as well as a field project that assessed the water quality of various streams of the Huron River.

Robert Olsen is a junior at U-M studying environmental sustainability. He helped HRWC by assessing water quality of various tributaries around Ann Arbor, and he researched river clean-up issues.

Derek Schrader

Derek Schrader

Derek Schrader organized and executed the summer recreation events this year. A recent graduate from Eastern Michigan University, Derek came to HRWC with a degree in Geotourism and Recreation & Park Management. He has been able to foster his passion for the environment and the relationship the community has with it through his work as the Recreation Coordinator for HRWC.

Rob Selesky, from Brighton, MI, is an Environmental Studies undergraduate student at Michigan State University. He is interested in natural resource conservation, land use, and sustainability. In his second summer at HRWC, he managed and coordinated the Water Quality Monitoring Program in Washtenaw and Wayne Counties, as well as the E. coli monitoring project in Honey and Mill Creeks.

Jhena Vigrass is an environmental studies and viola performance student at U-M. She worked with Pam Labadie on marketing and outreach projects that concentrated on raising awareness about the watershed and teaching residents how to help protect it. Jhena notes that this was a valuable experience for her and she had a great time working with all the HRWC staff.

Zach Zeneberg, is an Alumni of UM’s Program in the Environment and recently completed a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management at EMU.  A professional bird trainer and environmental educator, Zach was excited to join HRWC as a management intern after researching the organization for a term paper, and has worked on a variety of projects including grant development, volunteer pool analysis, and HR policy evaluation.  His personal mission is to find creative and effective methods of connecting people to nature for the benefit of both, and to that end he recently co-founded a nonprofit organization, Feathers Found, which will provide Animal-Assisted Therapy programs utilizing injured, non-releasable birds of prey (owls, hawks, etc).


Thank you, all!

HRWC offers scholastically-relevant internships as well as resume-building volunteer projects ranging from field biology to non-profit management.

Emma Mack, Rob Olsen,  Jhena Vigrass

Emma Mack, Rob Selesky, Jhena Vigrass

Eager beavers on Portage Creek

This just in from the Portage Creek corner of the watershed:

A couple of beavers are building a dam on the creek, no permits required! The observant land owner who snapped this photo writes, “Depending on how much work [the beavers accomplish], the creek could be raised 3 to 4 feet. At this point, it looks like maybe one or two beavers can take the credit for this project that has been going on for the last two weeks.”

The presence of beaver on Portage Creek is a testament to the expansive natural areas of its drainage area, as well as to the stewardship of some waterside residents who keep the streambanks lush with trees, shrubs, and native grasses.

Huron River Portage Creek beaver dam



HRWC Kicks off Bioreserve Field Season

Emma Maack, Ingrid Weisz, Becky Gajewski, and Robert Finn enjoy a sunny day at Huron Meadows

Emma Maack, Ingrid Weisz, Becky Gajewski, and Robert Finn enjoy a sunny day at Huron Meadows

A team of volunteers and staff from HRWC and the Huron Clinton Metroparks found over 80 different species of wildflowers, trees, and grasses on just under a mile-long stretch through a 100-acre portion of Huron Meadows Metropark recently.  The metropark, one of 10 that run along the Huron River for much of its length, is home to 1,000 acres of upland forest, wooded swamp, grassland, fens, and wet meadows, as well as the Huron River itself, which makes it a great destination for hikers in the summer and cross country skiers in the winter.

This summer, HRWC’s bioreserve project is leading field assessments on Metropark properties, as well as properties local land conservancies are working on protecting, in order to provide the Metroparks and conservancies with detailed ecological information to aid in their management and preservation efforts.

The field assessment for Huron Meadows will help Metroparks staff target invasive control efforts in the natural areas within the parks.  For instance, the team found a large wetland complex on the west side of their survey area that flowed beyond the park to border Ore Lake.  While high quality, the wetland would benefit from a glossy buckthorn control effort on its southern side, but was mostly free of invasives to the north.  The team also discovered several vernal ponds pocketed in low lying areas within the oak-hickory forest hills that are most likely great habitat for frogs and salamanders.

Headwaters Field Trip for HRWC Staff

view indian springs

Our recent trip to Indian Springs Metropark was officially called a “staff outing,” which we all know is just grown-up-speak for a  field trip. What a gorgeous day for exploring the headwaters of the Huron River! I know this was the first time I had been to the area, and the origins of the Huron were not at all what I was expecting – somehow, in my head, I had a visual of  a large lake or significant bubbling spring (Ok, I admit it, the picture in my head was a dramatic geyser, but I knew that was not happening!).

The reality is that the headwaters are a series of ponds, wetlands and small streams making a joint effort to create the beautiful Huron.

shade indian springs

Shady pool, part of the headwaters of the Huron

Yuck! But that goopy orange stuff is normal - produced by bacteria in acidic soils.

Yuck! But that goopy orange stuff is normal – produced by bacteria in acidic soils.

stream indian springs

Sunny little creek, part of the headwaters of the Huron River.

One of several snakes we saw on our hike - possibly a Northern water snake?

One of several snakes we saw on our hike – possibly a Northern water snake?

Dealing with high water during macroinvertebrate sampling

2012 04 20 RU by John Lloyd (21)

Diane Martin braves the fast flowing water… and wisely wears a life jacket! credit: John Lloyd

A wet and wild spring

On April 20, teams of HRWC volunteers poured from our office and explored the Huron Watershed in search of aquatic insects, snails, clams, and crustaceans. The data that these volunteers collect enables HRWC to keep a finger on the pulse of the Huron River and it’s tributaries; to understand where streams are degrading and where they are getting better.

This year’s event was marked by very high water, just like our Spring Roundup in 2011. And just like in 2011, data interpretation has been difficult.  The data collected from a River Roundup are meant to show overall conditions across the watershed and be comparable to past year’s data in order to tell us how things are changing over time.  In flooded conditions, the stream systems are not comparable to past years, often because the volunteers are forced to sample in an unusual manner (like standing on the bank and reaching into the swollen river rather than entering it).

QAPPs are useful- yes, seriously!

HRWC follows a quality assurance project plan (QAPP) to make sure that we deal with the issue of bad samples in a consistent manner.


Fleming Creek along Galpin Road had overtopped the banks and flooded the neighboring yards. The team was not able to sample here and moved on to a different location. credit: Dick Chase

From the QAPP:

“The resulting measures of Total Insect Taxa for each site will be compared to the median from the site’s whole data record and there should be a relative percent difference of less than 40%.  The same comparison will be made for Total Abundance (for all taxa).

Sample results that exceed these standards will be noted as “outliers” and examined to determine if the results are likely due to sampling error or a true environmental variation.  If sampling error is determined or if the environmental variation is not reflective of normal conditions (ie extreme flooding), the data point shall be removed from the data record.”

13 samples were removed from the official data record for failing to meet these requirements. The rejected samples had on average total abundances 50% less than the median of past results, and coincidentally 50% less insect diversity than the median of past results. (We would expect these two numbers to be related but it is strange that they are exactly the same).

2 samples were at new sites where past data didn’t exist to test results against the QAPP

South Ore Creek flows fast and high! credit: John Lloyd

South Ore Creek flows fast and high! credit: John Lloyd

requirements, but volunteer descriptions make it plain that the sites could not be sampled properly. These samples were also rejected.

27 samples were accepted. For all accepted samples, total abundance was down 20%, and insect diversity was only down 14% from the median of past results. This amount of variation is normal even in unflooded conditions.

You can see all the results in the Spring 2013 River Roundup Report.

Current Watershed Health

In a nutshell, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady. Of the 59 sites that we monitor to judge this, 28 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 6 sites are too new to make this judgment.

13 sites are declining, and these include locations on Chilson Creek, Davis Creek, east branch of Fleming Creek, the Huron River at Flat Rock, Norton Creek, and South Ore Creek.  It should be pointed out, as it was after the 2012 Fall Roundup, that the majority (though not all) of the declining sites are in Livingston County.

12 sites are improving, including Boyden Creek, Horseshoe Creek, the main and west branches of Fleming Creek,  Huron Creek, the Huron River in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and several places on Mill Creek. The majority (though not all) of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County.

What’s next?

The rejected samples aren’t thrown away.  They are placed into a separate database and flagged with the reason for their exclusion.  Such data may prove useful in the future- for example, quantifying the effect of high flows on macroinvertebrate populations… as a way at getting at how climate change could be changing our watershed.

Let’s hope for a drier fall- but if it is wet and flooded again- we know how to deal with it!



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