Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

HRWC gets help from the dogs!

Kenna

Kenna

Investigating Honey Creek

HRWC, with funding from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, is working to identify and control or eliminate bacteria and other pathogen sources in Honey Creek. We are currently implementing  projects within critical areas of the watershed that will address the sources of the contamination. One project is investigating areas that were identified during the watershed management planning process as having human-sourced bacteria.

In 2013 HRWC conducted Bacterial Source Tracking (BST) on water samples from Honey Creek locations that we found to exceed the Total Body Contact standard for E. coli. A laboratory analyzed the E. coli DNA material for the presence of five markers which identify its source as human, cow, dog, horse, or goose. Samples from two target critical areas were identified as having strong indication of human-sourced bacteria.

Kenna alerting at creek.

Kenna alerting at creek.

Enter the Dog Detectives

To confirm the lab results and determine where this bacteria was coming from, HRWC took an innovative approach. We enlisted the help of a couple of dog detectives! These are not just any dogs, they are trained specifically to detect human sewage in surface water and storm water systems caused by failing septic systems, leaking sewer lines or illicit discharges. Environmental Canine Services, LLC (ECS), helped us investigate the two branches of Honey Creek identified during the BST process. We were also joined by staff from the Washtenaw Water Resources Commissioners Office, and Washtenaw County Public Health. Dogs, Kenna and Abbey, were diligent workers and a delight to watch.

Abbey alerting at creek.

Abbey alerting at creek.

Great Lakes Now recently reported on this innovative approach, interviewing Karen Reynolds, President of ECS, during her visit to Michigan.

There is still more to do. HRWC will further analyze the results from this latest investigation, and determine next steps with project partners.

More information about our work in Honey Creek

And remember, you can help keep bacteria out of our streams by maintaining your septic system.

 

Fishing with a Little Help from our Friends AC/DC

A smallmouth bass with bright markings.

A smallmouth bass with bright markings.

When scientists want to sample a fish population, they don’t rely on a rod and bait. Under certain circumstances they will use nets, and often in streams and rivers they will use electrofishing. HRWC got the chance to do a little electrofishing this past week.

To electrofish in a shallow river, a gasoline generator is put into a light boat. The generator is hooked to two long poles, called booms, that are placed into the water and create an electric field between themselves and the bottom of the boat.  The electric field does not kill fish but temporarily stuns those that get within a few feet of the booms.  While stunned, workers with nets scoop up the fish and put them in tubs filled with water. The fish are then identified and sorted, and eventually released back to the river safe and sound.

Last Wednesday, several HRWC staff went out with our partners from Environmental Consulting Technology (ECT) to sample the Huron River along Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.  We saw plenty of fish in this stretch, including several big smallmouth bass and one big walleye.  While we still need to officially work up the results, our initial observations were that the fish are indeed using the cover and deep water habitat that HRWC  installed two years ago, and the fish were bigger and more numerous than when we electrofished the same reach before the habitat was installed.

We will report back when the final results are in. Until then, enjoy some fish pictures!

pulling a eletrofishing barge at River side Park, Ypsi

ECT staff pull an eletrofishing barge at Riverside Park, Ypsilanti

watch for those teeth!

We caught a walleye at Riverside Park. Watch out for those teeth!

The fish are measured before we let them go.

The fish are measured before we let them go.

2015-16 Snapshot

We often write about our projects and give updates on how we are achieving our goals.  Today, we are sharing a quick, at-a-glance summary of what we accomplished from 2015-2016.

You can also learn about our 2016 accomplishments at our upcoming Annual Meeting on April 27, 5:30-7:30 pm at the Ann Arbor District Library, Traverwood Branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive (at Huron Parkway). Program staff will present results and answer questions. And we will celebrate some very special HRWC contributors with Stewardship Awards. This event is open and free to all, refreshments included.  Please join us!

2015-2016 Annual Report Infographic

Want more details now? Check out our 2015-2016 Annual Report.

 

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 . . .

Try Fishing a Stretch of the Huron’s Productive Waters

logo-hrwt

I love to explore the watershed and hunt for fish habitat. The Huron River watershed is full of great habitat for a variety of species including sport fishes like small and large-mouth bass, rock bass, perch, steelhead, walleye and pike, and many other unique and diverse species. I like to fly fish the river and some of the larger tributaries for bass because bass are aggressive predators and strong fighters and I enjoy trying to mimic their prey. I am getting better at actually catching them, and our productive river is a good teacher with its wide gentle flow and lots of good hidey holes for big and small fish alike. Mostly, I just like the peaceful time to stand in the flow and take in the sights and sounds of life along the river.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Fly fish the Huron River.

Now that my kids are bigger, I have started taking each of them along with me. Both enjoy different aspects of the experience. Foster likes to think like a fish, while Ally likes being in the water and perfecting her casting skill.

One of our favorite places to fish is along Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. The river is wide there and fairly easy to navigate. We usually start by paying a visit to Schultz Outfitters to get the low down on river conditions and what the fish are feeding on. They have lots of great flies to fill our bait boxes as well. This stretch of the river has LOTS of bass! Most of them are on the small side, but since the RiverUp! restoration project was completed, the guides have been seeing some larger catch.

Ally with her first lake fish

Ally with her first lake fish

There are other great places to fish along the river. There is really good lake fishing in many of the in-line lakes throughout the watershed, and many river runs near Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, and Flat Rock. One of our most memorable times was when my wife caught her first fish while we were canoeing upstream of Barton Pond. She was so excited that she screamed and frightened then 2-year-old Ally.

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_logo
Huron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.

Follow the Huron Water Trail to adventure…

Fish, paddle, or play at the Bell Road access point

Located slightly north of the intersection of Huron River Drive and North Territorial, this Huron River access site has it all. The river is absolutely lovely here, with lush forested riparian zones, shallow rocky riffles, deep pools, and a path that stretches upstream and downstream along the river.

The parking area is a little confusing. It is at the end of a dead-end road and there is no parking lot and you can’t see the river.  The site is officially a DNR access point though, so parking is allowed here.  Park at the end of the road and walk fifty yards down the path to get to the river.

I now call this location my “swimming hole” and regularly take my six year old son to play in the river, tube up and down the small rapids, throw rocks, and jump off logs and the small rock dam. It is also on a section of the river known for a superb smallmouth bass population (please catch and release!), and many people use it as a starting point for paddling instead of the busier Hudson-Mills Metropark slightly downstream.

An early spring shot of the Huron River at Bell Road.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Birds, Bat, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 3

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part three of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: butterflies!

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Monarch. credit: USFWS

The Impressive Migrating Monarch

Most butterflies do not migrate.  They have the ability to overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even adults depending on the species.  Only one species is known to migrate like birds: the Monarch.

The beautiful orange and black Monarch Butterfly makes a very impressive journey every year.  The Huron River Watershed and the rest of Michigan play an important role in that migration, having prime summer weather conditions for butterfly breeding.  Come fall, the Monarch is headed south– about 3000 miles south.  In fact, the migration path is so long that it outlasts any individual butterfly’s life span.  One Monarch generation migrates south, the next generation migrates north, breeds two or three short-lived generations in the summer, the latest of which continues the cycle by heading south.

The trip south

In late August, Monarchs in Michigan begin their trip south, traveling along the Great Lakes coastline, though the Great Plains States, and eventually reaching their winter breeding grounds in southern Mexico and Central America.  The Great Lakes are important features in the flight of the monarch– the insects use the winds over the lakes to speed them along on their journey. Monarch’s can not do this migration without proper rest and relaxation though. Shoreline habitats are important for feeding and recovering energy.

At the date this blog is being written (September 30), Monarchs are well out of Michigan.  They should be flying through Oklahoma and crossing the Texas border!

Once the butterflies reach Mexico in November, they congregate into huge populations on the highlands and mountains of Mexico and Central America. There are only 12 traditional wintering sites, which means the species is susceptible to habitat changes and bad weather.  In 2012 and 2013, bad weather conditions during the winter breeding season led to a Monarch population crash.  In 2014, weather conditions were ideal and the population rebounded slightly, but the population is still 80% below the 20 year average.

monarch_ElRosario0087

They may be in Mexico, but cold weather can still reach the high elevations of the Monarchs’ winter breeding grounds. credit: El Rosario Sanctuary

The trip back north

In the spring, Monarchs slowly move their way back north.  States on the Gulf Coast will see Monarchs return by early April, and by mid April the butterflies will have reached Kentucky and Tennesee.  By early May, the first Monarchs can be in south Michigan and they will reach the Upper Penninsula by the end of May. Monarchs do continue into southern Canada as well, though for many individuals, Michigan is their final destination.

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn't raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

The Monarch caterpillar: loved by elementary students everywhere! Who hasn’t raised one of these in a classroom? credit: USFWS

Give me more details!

Annenberg Learner hosts a terrific website giving photos and the migration timing for the Monarch. They keep an up-to-date blog on where the butterfly currently is found!

 

Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 2

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part two of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: bats!

Michigan Bats

Michigan is home to nine bat species.  Some of these bats are year long residents, while others have to head south for warmer climates in the fall and winter.  Bats in Michigan are solely insect eaters, and as such, during the colder months of the year when insects are not outside, bats must either hibernate or head south to survive.

The Big Brown Bat is the most common bat species in southeast Michigan.  This bat typically does not migrate, but instead hibernates in the winter in houses and caves. They may move from a summer roost to a winter home, but the move is usually less than 30 miles as they are just searching for a suitable hibernation location. This usually happens in mid-September and is triggered by cold nights and low insect activity.  They prefer attics that are around 35-40 degrees. So, if you hear a scratching above your head in the middle of winter, you may very well be hearing Big Brown Bats re-positioning themselves during their hibernation slumber.  Hibernating bats can survive low temperatures with reduced heartbeats, respiration, and body heat. They will reemerge from your attic in spring when the weather warms up enough for the insects to come out again.

bigbrownbat1_indianaDNR

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

800px-Red_bat_(4a)

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.


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