Archive for the ‘Study Nature’ Category

Make a Difference… Be a Scientist on Earth Day

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Join a team of kids, teens, adults, and retirees during the River Roundup as you explore creeks and rivers.

Earth Day falls on April 22 this year, and not accidentally, so does HRWC’s spring River Roundup.  Perhaps the idea of Earth Day may strike you as a little disheartening this year, in our current political climate of science and environmental budget cuts, and widespread doubt in scientific data.  Are we making a difference at all?  Or is our country reverting back to an era of rivers catching on fire?  What is so disheartening to me personally is not a looming Federal budget that will remove funding for the Great Lakes and environmental regulation (though that is terrible, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not surprised by this), but to see so many people who agree with this course of action. Still, there is room for hope in our future, and that hopes lies in you—the many people who want clean water and clean land and who stand strong with HRWC to work for it.

Consider volunteering with us. Every participant makes an immediate difference at our local level.  HRWC volunteers collect scientific data in southeast Michigan, primarily in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties. For the upcoming River Roundup on Earth Day, volunteers will be looking for aquatic insects that tell us about the health of the Huron River and its tributaries, and ultimately about the health of all the land that drains into the Huron.  This information gives HRWC the knowledge to conduct effective river management projects and the authority to speak  intelligently on water quality issues with local, state, and federal government, landowners, and  other decision-makers.

And in the process of collecting scientific data, HRWC volunteers are learning and teaching others.  It is always so exciting to see the adult HRWC volunteers interacting and teaching children, teens, and college students about river systems, insects, and the environment.  And in as many cases, to see the kids teaching the adults! This is the type of education that will create the long term cultural change needed in our country.

Make a difference locally by acting now to help HRWC collect scientific information that informs our management decisions and local policies; change the future by teaching the younger generation in the process. The River Roundup is on Earth Day, April 22.  Learn more about the River Roundup and register at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/roundup/

River Roundup Results Reviewed: October 2016

Credit: Ellen Rambo

Picking a huge log is always great for group bonding. Seriously! Credit: Ellen Rambo

Aquatic insect sampling on the Huron River and its creeks

Thanks to 154 volunteers who contributed approximately 600 volunteer hours, the October 2016 River Roundup was a great success!  As always, HRWC 100% guarantees good weather for its volunteer events or your money back.  We were once again able to fulfill that promise!

It was a very full house here in the HRWC conference rooms before the 18 teams split up and traveled to 36 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 understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the data collected at this semi-annual event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see a summary below, or detailed results in the October 10 River Roundup Report.

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

Site Conditions as of October 10, 2016

 Current Watershed Health

Status

HRWC gives a rating to each site that we monitor (Excellent, Good, Fair, or Poor). The graph above shows this breakdown for the 61 locations that HRWC considers representative for the watershed. The detailed River Roundup report gives the site condition for each location.

Trends

Overall, the health of the watershed as judged by our macroinvertebrate sampling is holding steady, though there are particular areas getting worse or better.  30 sites have had no statistically significant changes over time, and 4 sites are too new to make this judgment.

Fifteen sites are declining, and these include locations on Norton Creek, Horseshoe Creek, and Honey Creek (Washtenaw Co).  Ten of the declining sites are in Livingston County, 3 are in Washtenaw, 1 is in Oakland, and 1 is in Wayne.

Twelve sites are significantly improving.  Eleven of the improving sites are in Washtenaw County, including locations on Mill Creek, Malletts Creek, Fleming Creek, and the Huron River. One site is improving in Livingston County (Mann Creek at Van Amberg Road), and 1 site is improving in Wayne County (Woods Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark).

Highlight

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

Mark Schaller searches for bugs in the Huron River near Ypsilanti. Credit: Ellen Rambo

There were a lot of highly diverse samples collected this season.  The team at Pettibone Creek: Commerce Road in Milford collected the most diverse sample ever taken at the site (sampling started here in 2001).

Two sites on South Ore Creek were diverse enough to pull these creeks out of a statistically significant decline and into the “declining but not significantly so” range.

The sample taken at Davis Creek off of Silver Road was the best sample taken in about 8 years.

Lowlight

For some teams, sampling conditions were difficult.  The Huron River was running fast and deep after the area received heavy rain just a few days before the event started. The sample taken at the Huron River at Zeeb Road was particularly bad and far outside the range of normal variation.  Based on the volunteer’s feedback and the difficulty of sampling the river, this sample was marked as an outlier and will not be included in the long-term record for the site.

What’s next?

Want to learn more about the data that HRWC collected this past year? On January 19th at 6 pm at our office on 1100 N. Main Street, HRWC staff will present results and interpretation for all of the field projects conducted within the past year. Good indoor weather guaranteed!

Do you consider yourself a Michigander, or aspire to be one? Then you should brave the cold and join the Winter Stonefly Search on January 21.  It is like the River Roundup, only much snowier and usually colder. Good weather guaranteed or your money back… but of course these events are always free!  You can register for the event here.

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom! Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

This giant water bug makes a run for freedom!
Credit: Aiman Shahpurwala

Water Quality Monitoring Program Allows Active Involvement

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The 2016 Water Quality Monitoring Program season wrapped up at the end of September, and now I spend time compiling the data for analysis.  With the help of 60 volunteers between April and September, we gathered water samples for chemistry analysis at 37 sites throughout Washtenaw, Wayne, and Livingston Counties.  Flow measurements were also taken at several of those sites.  Monitoring sites are visited up to 12 times during the season, and it would be impossible to gather this much information, or visit as many sites, without the help of volunteers.  We are able to gather critical watershed data, as well as keep eyes on the Huron River and its tributaries for potential problems and risks such as erosion and pollution.  I am proud of this program, it allows citizens to become actively involved in protecting the Huron River watershed and the water we rely on for so much.  Thank you, volunteers, for helping us.

Mark your calendar for January 19, 2017 at 6:00pm and come to our Volunteer Appreciation and 2016 Field Season Results Presentation.

Find out more about the Water Quality Monitoring Program and sign up to volunteer in 2017.

Searching for European Water Clover

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

Graham Battersby, HRWC volunteer, surveyed Barton Pond for water clover in 2015. credit: G. Battersby

As mentioned in the Summer 2016 HRWC newsletter, both Barton and Argo Pond on the Huron River are home to a new exotic aquatic plant, the European Water-Clover (Marsilea quadrifolia). In 2015, Michigan DEQ alerted HRWC that this plant was only in two places in the state, Barton/Argo Ponds and a location in the Clinton River Watershed.  However, they were unaware of  how widespread this plant was in our system.  In 2015, HRWC volunteers searched those ponds and found many patches of the plant and reported their location back to DEQ.

The scientific community at large is generally ignorant about the European Water Clover; people do not know how it spreads, to what extent it can out-compete nearby native plants, and how it might change the ecology of the system.  This is often an issue with new exotic species; scientists often don’t know how damaging something will be until it becomes a problem. It is important to get a handle on these new plants, though, because you can’t predict when the next Phragmites will arrive- a plant that spreads very rapidly and changes its ecosystem. And any control methods have to be done very carefully, as so many plants (such as Eurasian Water Milfoil) can actually spread faster and further if they are carelessly ripped out.

This past spring, HRWC put a monitoring plan together with DEQ.  To determine when the plant first emerged, HRWC visited two known problem areas weekly in Argo and Barton Ponds through the late spring and early summer.  The water clover was first detected in early June.

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Not at bad day at the office. Paul Steen searches for water clover on the Huron River. credit: G. Battersby

To determine possible spread of the water clover, HRWC and DEQ waited until early August of this year, when the plant would be at its full summer growth, and surveyed upstream of Barton Pond, from Delhi Metropark to the Maple Street Bridge.  Thankfully, that section of the Huron River was clear of the plant.  It does seems that the plant strongly prefers very slow water, and the Huron upstream of Barton generally flows at a moderate to rapid rate.

HRWC is planning additional monitoring downstream, through Gallup Park and Superior Pond, which contains more promising habitat for the plant. DEQ is also planning to try out some control methods, conducting both herbicide treatments in a greenhouse and an exclusion method using a mat that covers the plants in the river.

HRWC will continue to watch this exotic plant and report out as more is learned about European Water Clover in the Huron River system.

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to adventure . . .

Explore the scenic Huron River in Milford

The natural beauty of the Upper Huron can be explored by kayak, canoe, paddle board, or tube, and the gentle flowing river can be enjoyed by beginners to advanced paddlers alike.

The Huron River at Norton Creek in Milford.

The Huron River at Norton Creek in Milford.

Milford is proud of its heritage and connection to the Huron River, and boasting two liveries plus being a designated Trail Town, Milford is a destination for paddling recreation.  Many times during the summer months I venture out to paddle, sometimes with my husband in our tandem kayak, and sometimes on my own in my single person kayak.

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A turtle enjoys the sunshine in the Huron River in Milford.

When I am with my husband in our tandem kayak, we usually start in Proud Lake Recreation Area, and finish at Kent Lake.  During the journey we are often greeted by many turtles sunning themselves on logs, swans, ducks, and herons.  Dragonflies land on our kayak to hitch a ride with us. Looking down into the clear water fish can be seen darting about.  Other paddlers pass and wave or smile with a friendly hello.  Tubers float without a care in the world, and anglers in boats or on the shore wait for their bait to be nabbed.  We pass by natural areas, and lovely waterfront homes in the Village of Milford. Central Park is a good place to take a break, or take a short stroll and visit downtown Milford.

Tunnel under railroad near Central Park in Milford.

Tunnel under railroad near Central Park in Milford.

If continuing on downstream, portaging over Hubbell Dam is simple enough, but helpful if there is a buddy or other kind paddler to assist in taking your vessel over.  After that you will be rewarded with seeing the part of the river that feels more like you are up north in a less populated area as you paddle through the wooded shorelines of Kensington Metropark. The river opens up to Kent Lake, where beautiful water lilies abound.

A beautiful water lily from Kent Lake decorates my kayak.

A beautiful water lily from Kent Lake decorates my kayak.

The Huron River in Milford is calm enough that one can paddle upstream, so you do not necessarily have to worry about where to park your car or drop off your kayak or canoe. Just park at a launch site, and you can paddle upstream and then back downstream, or vice versa.  There are many options for paddling short or long distances, from 0.9 river miles to 8+ river miles. You can opt to stay near the Trail Town, or venture out to see the river in the natural areas of Proud Lake Recreation Area or Kensington Metropark.

View an interactive map of the Huron River in Milford and plan your next paddle trip there.

Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! Sponsored by TOYOTA.
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Boating on the Huron’s Chain of Lakes

Evening on Little Portage Lake, on the Pinckney Chain of Lakes. Our favorite time to go boating and swimming.

Evening on Little Portage Lake, on the Pinckney Chain of Lakes. Our favorite time to go boating and swimming.

Things we wonder about . . .

I live in Pinckney, and we keep a boat on the Chain of Lakes there. We love everything about it from the serenity of some of the less-traveled spots, to the camaraderie found within the local boating crowd. And we also find ourselves musing on, for lack of a better description, natural history trivia. I took some time to write down the more pressing inquiries and thought “I am going to find an expert and get some answers!’

So, of course, the first thing I did was walk into the next office to chat with our very own Dr. Paul Steen, one of our two watershed ecologists on staff. The Question: What are the creepy spider things that scurry around after we uncover the boat?

Water_strider_G_remigisThe Answer: “They are water striders. Common in rivers, streams and ponds.” Also, bugs are not creepy to aquatic entomologists. AND “It’s not a spider, it’s an insect,” Dr. Steen nicely corrects me.

My next question was based on something that almost actually happened last summer. We were anchored on Little Portage Lake and an osprey flew low over the boat, with a fish in its talons. The load was clearly either larger than expected, or unbalanced, because the flight – and the grip – appeared to be extremely unsteady. The Question: If an osprey drops a fish in my boat, can I keep it? The Answer: I had to contact the DNR for this one. “In order to possess the fish all laws would still apply, so the person would need a fishing license, it would need to be the open season for that fish, the fish would need to be of legal length, and if the person was fishing for that fish they would need to include it in their daily catch. If any of these do not apply they would need to immediately toss it back in the water. And the question comes up “well what if it is already dead?” Again, I would say throw it back. I’m guessing the osprey will come back and grab it after the boat gets out of the area, otherwise it will feed other fish/crayfish/etc.”  And I was looking forward to serving pan-fried fish with puncture wounds…

Horseflies are one of the more awful boating companions, and I wanted to know why they have such a nasty bite. The Question: Why are horseflies always around water, and why is their bite so nasty? Dr. Steen had to turn to the internet for this one.  The Answer: They lay their eggs near water. And only the females bite, because they need blood for egg development. The bite is nasty because they have huge mandibles with jagged edges. And yes, the pictures are gruesome.

For my swan questions, I went to Dea Armstrong, former ornithologist for the City of Ann Arbor and an active member of HRWC. The Question: We see large swan families at the beginning of every summer, but sometimes the cygnet numbers go from five to one in a short amount of time. What’s going on? The Answer: “Predators or just unable to feed itself has always been my guess. Very few hatch year birds of any species make it past the first year.” Predators can range from eagles, foxes and raccoons, to turtles and even fish.

We also are amused at the cygnets hitching rides. The Question: Why do cygnets ride on the back of mom or dad? The Answer: “Cygnets can swim right away, but spend time riding on their parents’ backs probably (like loons and mergansers) to rest, conserve heat, and avoid predators such as large fish, snapping turtles, gulls and eagles.”

Speaking of snapping turtles, a common question when floating around on noodles or inner tubes with a group of friends is about snapping turtle hazards. Specifically, the possibility of turtles going after any dangly bits. The Question: If I am floating in the lake, minding my own business, will snapping turtles bite my toes? The Answer: “Is there beer involved in that conversation?” asks Dr. Steen. The rest of his answer is hardly reassuring. “Well, they are like sharks – it’s extremely rare, but they can mistake toes for fish or other prey. But they’re just looking for food, not targeting humans.” Well, I sure feel better now.

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! 

toyota_logoHuron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.

 

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to Adventure

Paddling and Biking Upstream of Dexter
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One of our family’s favoritePaddlerHudsonMills trips on the Huron takes us through the Huron’s Natural River District, a designation recognizing the natural and scenic beauty of the river as it flows between Kent Lake and the western boundary of Ann Arbor.

We like to load kayaks as well as bicycles for a “paddle-down-cycle-up trip,” but you can of course also use two cars for a shuttle trip.  We start just above Mile 69 on the Water Trail (page 10 on HRWC’s Paddler’s Companion) at the DNR launch site off McGregor Road in Dexter Township after dropping the bikes (or other car) off at Dexter-Huron Metropark (you will need a Metropark pass).

We launch the kayaks into Portage Lake, but quickly need to get out again to portage the Flook Dam.  After the portage, we float into a seeming wilderness, with crystal waters clear down to the sand and gravel bottom, where we can watch fish torpedo by.  My husband commences counting turtles sunning themselves on logs.  I zig-zag from shore to shore, doing some float-by botany of the cardinal flowers, bluebells, and other flora.

The 8 mile trip takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark as well as the City of Dexter, where you can take a short side trip up Mill Creek (if flow conditions permit), take out at Mill Creek Park, and enjoy the beautiful trails the city has constructed along the restored creek.  You can taste baked goods from the Dexter Bakery or have lunch at one of the many restaurants, or an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen.

Paddling under the B2B non-motorized bridge in Dexter-Huron Metropark

Paddling under the B2B non-motorized bridge in Dexter-Huron Metropark

We take out at Dexter-Huron Metropark, where we jump on our bikes and head back up to the car along the Border-to-Border Trail, a non-motorized pathway that, when completed, will run all the way from Washtenaw County’s border with Wayne County (down by Ford Lake)  to its border with Livingston County (back at Portage Lake). The B2B Trail takes us back upstream along asphalt and boardwalks along the river and through wooded swamps and wetlands.  We get another chance for a snack as we bike through Dexter and up to Mill Creek Park.  Then the B2B takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark, where it ends, and we need to complete the trip along North Territorial and up Dexter-Pinckney Road to get back to our car at the DNR boat launch.  The road is passable, but it will sure be nice when the county completes this section of the B2B, and we can make our entire trip free of auto traffic.

Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! 

toyota_logoHuron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.

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!

 

 


Dave Wilson
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