Mystery and Adventure at Site 38

From guest blogger Karen Schaefer

(With apologies to real mystery writers everywhere)

The day began as any other for our Norton Creak Road Stream Crossing team—a 9:30 a.m. rendezvous at Dunkin’ Donuts to plot the day’s strategy. Sitting at our usual table, Larry unfurled The Map, revealing twelve sites still unexplored. Sites 37 and 38 lay in a residential area. Typically, this means easy parking followed by a fairly straightforward study. A tempting target, perfect for three of us!

Little did we know, Site 38 had other plans.

Our drive to the site was uneventful. We found the cross streets within minutes of leaving our rendezvous location. Jumping out of the car, Ryan’s sharp eyes scouted for a culvert. He quickly identified a cement structure surrounded by trees and brush, well below road grade. So this was the much sought-after Site 38! We donned our sturdiest waders to tackle the 6-foot culvert (and to avoid the clearly visible poison ivy).

Ryan and Karen disappeared into the culvert. Amid the piles of cobble in the creek bed, they quickly determined this was Site 38’s outlet. Larry went on a search for the other end. Surely, a 6-foot cement pipe would be easy to find!

Alas, no. Foiling Larry’s best “Lewis and Clark” maneuvers, Site 38’s inlet remained shrouded in mystery.

Larry returned with a proposal to the team: Were we up for risking an in-culvert search to solve the mystery of the missing inlet? The response was unanimous.

Larry broke out the “really serious gear”: hard hats for everyone, and a light. Larry and Ryan grabbed the trusty multi-purpose poles (aka specially modified 8-foot tomato stakes). Karen held onto the data sheet and her phone (because every adventure needs pictures). She added the tape measure at the last minute; you never know what might need measuring!

Bravely, we entered the gaping mouth of the culvert outlet.

We were quickly outnumbered—and surrounded on all sides—by very large, unhappy spiders! Larry led the way, fending them off right and left. The trusty pole even worked its magic by clearing the webs. Still, despite our best efforts, some spiders managed to hitch a ride and enjoyed the trek alongside of (and on top of) us.

We made our way carefully, uncertain of what lay beyond. We were shrouded in complete darkness. Zero cell phone reception. Only the occasional drain cover provided a tiny glimpse of daylight.

The depth and muckiness of the substrate varied, fortunately never deeper than our calves. Ryan attempted to open a drain cover to get our position and determine whether escape (if necessary) would be possible; it was locked tight.

Onward we trudged. For hours, it seemed. Around a slight curve. Then two bends, each approximately 45 degrees. At one point, Karen asked Larry if he had checked the weather forecast for any flash floods. Larry assured us that he had, indeed; the forecast was perfect.

Suddenly, after what was certainly hours, substantial daylight appeared in the distance. Eureka!

Our relief at seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” quickly turned to dismay…as a trash rack covering the inlet came into view. Yes, we had found the inlet! Only to be thwarted by a grate covering the entire inlet. Except….

At the bottom was a very small opening. Narrow, with metal grate spikes projecting both top and bottom. Ryan examined it and commented he just might be able to get through. Suddenly, hope! We might discover the location of the hidden inlet after all! If only Ryan could manage to escape…

Sloooowly, carefully, Ryan slid himself over the grate….and out to safety! Well, except that he popped out into the backyard of a private residence. Karen gave Ryan her phone, knowing he’d be able to call for help should the situation turn dire.

Using his backpacking orienteering skills (and making his way carefully along property lines), Ryan located the street on which the adventure had begun. He set out on the long journey back.

Trapped inside the culvert, with no hope of escaping through the inlet, Larry and Karen determined the only way out was the same as the way in…back through spiders, webs, muck, and darkness. Realizing this was an opportunity to assess the actual culvert length (albeit from the inside rather than out), they began measuring with the tape, stepping through in increments. Holding the tape’s end, Larry walked 75 feet. Then Karen reeled in in the tape while walking toward him. They repeated this…75 feet, 30 feet….

Suddenly, Larry proposed measuring a length of culvert pipe and counting the sections. Brilliant! and much quicker.

Eventually, many 8-foot culvert sections later, Larry and Karen emerged from the darkness. They were greeted by Ryan at the culvert outlet. He had found his way back from the mysterious inlet down the street—previously hidden, but no longer a secret!

A quick nose count revealed the only casualty of the day: one trusty, multi-purpose pole (aka, the pink tomato stake). It will be greatly missed.

Success was enjoyed by all as we filled in key sections of the data form: inlet data with pics, actual culvert length (928 feet!), and even a somewhat representative site drawing. The thrill of completing the NCRSC data sheet was more than ample reward to the team who bravely faced the risks at mysterious Site 38.

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.

News to Us


Volunteers collecting water quality data in Swift Run

Read articles on issues with water infrastructure in our watershed and Michigan-wide. Earlier this month the US Federal Court of Appeals made a ruling on a pesticide known to kill pollinators. Our water trail continues to make headlines. And the Swift Run creekshed is getting some special attention these days.

Ten surprising facts in Michigan’s new water strategy
In July, Michigan released a draft 30-year water strategy.  Much public discussion on the strategy has occurred since then. This is a blog written by Brad Garmon at the Michigan Environmental Commission that takes a little different look at the strategy.  Brad captures some startling statistics on the water assets Michigan owns and must steward.

Supervisor: Overuse causing discolored water in system
Lyon Township residents have been experiencing trouble with their drinking water. While the water remains safe to drink, some people are finding their water discolored. The township Supervisor attributes the color to iron in the water that occurs when backup wells are used to meet increased demand. The article highlights the issue of aging infrastructure with population growth and increasing water demand common throughout our watershed.

Michigan’s top 11 water trails named
The Huron River Water Trail was named one of the top water trails in Michigan by a public vote conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. But we knew that already didn’t we? Click through to see other awesome river destinations throughout the state.

Court: EPA Should Not Have Approved Bee-Killing Pesticide
A step in the right direction for the honeybee crisis. Bees and other pollinators have be in rapid decline. An agricultural chemical, sulfoxaflor, has been found to be one contributor to these declines. The lawsuit shines a spotlight on the role of federal regulators in this complex problem and will hopefully encourage more extensive testing of new chemicals before receiving EPA approval.

Swift Creek Improvements
HRWC’s Ric Lawson talks about a project we have underway to improve stormwater management and water quality in the Swift Run tributary of the Huron River.   Learn about the problems in Swift Run and the solutions HRWC, Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor are supporting to improve the river.

Autumn Roundup: October 3

Find insects, 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, 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 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.

Paddlers: Tell us what you want, what you really, really want

Attention ALL PADDLERS!logo-hrwt

If you paddle the waters of the Huron, please share your preferences by taking our 11-question survey about water trail amenities to help HRWC and the Water Trail partners plan our programs.

The partners have identified the need for a secure canoe and kayak locker system to store boats, paddles, and gear when stopping to explore the sights along the Huron River Water Trail and its Trail Towns, or for longer-term storage. The Huron River Water Trail Partners are creating a design for a locker system that would be available in multiple river towns on the Huron River, such the Trail Towns of Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Flat Rock.


MA1405-ElevationsThe Huron River Water Trail partners provide amenities to trail users such as signage, safe, public access for launching and landing canoes and kayaks, and the interactive online trip planner at www.huronriverwatertrail.org.

The Huron River Water Trail is recognized as a National Water Trail, and is a project of RiverUp! — leading river corridor revitalization with the goal of making the Huron River the new “Main Street” where residents and tourists recreate, live, gather, commute, and do business.

 Images from MAde Studio

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.


Osprey Return to the Huron

Enjoy the most recent video produced by the Huron River Watershed Council that displays the benefits of a unique partnership!

“Osprey Return to the Huron” details the Huron River Watershed Council’s efforts to increase osprey populations in Southeast Michigan by installing two nesting platforms along the Huron River. The video features the Osprey history in Michigan, how diverse groups came together to support this project, footage from the actual construction, and a successful Osprey family on the river.

Early in the 20th century, osprey – a fish-eating bird of prey – lived throughout Michigan. The osprey population was depleted during the mid-20th Century due to overuse of harmful pesticides. Over the last 30 years, organizations have worked to re-establish the osprey population in Michigan. The number has risen from 81 pairs in 1975 to 166 by 1988, and has been on the rise ever since.

The Huron River Watershed Council worked in concert with ITC Holdings Corp, the nation’s largest independent electricity transmission company, Osprey Watch, the Audubon Society, and the City of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Department.

Thanks to Jennifer Poteat, Mike Staebler, and Jon and Kathy Bowdler for their support.

Hungry for more? You’re in luck! HRWC has produced three other RiverUp! videos featuring stunning aerial and underwater footage of the river, transformation of Dexter’s waterfront, and fly fishing with local expert Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti. You can view them all on HRWC’s Youtube Channel here.

Assessing and Enjoying the Huron’s Natural Areas

Open grown oak, Northfield Township

Open grown oak, Northfield Township

From Guest Blogger Kate Chapel

I’ve had the opportunity to coordinate the Bioreserve Project this summer as an intern for HRWC. During that time, I’ve travelled three counties including nine different townships in the watershed in over a dozen different Bioreserve sites. The sites are tracks of natural area that still remain in our watershed, helping to filter rain water, offer protection and food to wildlife, and serve humans as green infrastructure. You can check out the Bioreserve Map and learn more about how it was created here.

Robin's nest in a buttonbush swamp

Robin’s nest in a buttonbush swamp

I’ve been to just under 30 different properties this summer, which has allowed me to see some of the most diverse and beautiful land in our watershed. Many of these properties are neighboring, which has resulted in being able to see almost the entirety of three Bioreserve sites, 91, 195, 216. While much of the time I have only been able to see glimpses of a larger forest/wetland complex, I’ve been able to see the whole of these sites, right to their edges. The sites are 778, 213 and 96 acres, respectively, totaling 1,087 acres. Site 91 is Lyon Oaks County Park in Wixom.

In addition to feeling like I’m just playing in the woods, I’ve been fortunate enough to see these places with over 20 different and amazing volunteers. I’m very grateful to these dedicated people for taking time to come out with me and for teaching me so much. Interested in volunteering next year?  Check out our web page for volunteers.

Kate Chapel

Kate Chapel

The data collected this summer acts as a record for HRWC about the quality of the natural areas in the watershed. It is used by local governments and land conservancies to prioritize and purchase high quality land.  The data also is combined into a report for the property owners and local land conservancies as a tool for land use planning and management. If you’re interested in an ecological assessment of your land, please check out our our web page for property owners, or contact Kris Olsson at kolsson@HRWC.org.

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.


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