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Tag Archive | "Great Lakes"

Not everyone goes south for the winter


For some, the Great Lakes are a winter destination

Did you know the Great Lakes have thousands of feathered friends floating out there right now? Have you ever wondered how duck, geese and swan populations are tracked?

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with many other states in the nation, estimate duck, geese and swan populations (waterfowl) by looking at areas that traditionally hold birds in January—the open water.

“Anytime Mother Nature causes wildlife to naturally group together, surveying can be much more efficient,” said DNR wildlife biologist Mark Monroe. “Looking for birds by truck or plane at the same time across the nation gives agencies a great feel for populations and habitat trends.”

From Jan. 5-11, DNR staff visited (either by plane or truck) the same areas that have been surveyed in the past, not just to count waterfowl but also to identify the species. Mallards were the most common duck observed, although many “diving ducks” or sea ducks—such as canvasbacks and redheads—were counted.

“I’ve been flying this survey in the northern Lower Peninsula for quite a few years,” said Monroe, “and I have seen thousands of ducks every year out in the open water; it’s really neat to see.”

The northern Lower Peninsula area was flown by plane. One DNR pilot and two DNR observers spent the day traveling over 750 miles, searching out large groups of waterfowl in water that still remains open. The Manistee River, Lake Michigan from Pentwater to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the inlet at Elberta and the Grand Traverse Bay area are locations in Northern Michigan where large numbers of birds are traditionally found. The crew revisits other “hot spots” where they have found waterfowl populations in the past, conducting flyovers at elevations of 200 to 500 feet. The Great Lakes and large rivers hold thousands of ducks that will spend the winter here, either because they are resident birds and do not migrate or because they have migrated to the Great Lakes from farther north. That’s right—some waterfowl that breed near the Arctic will actually head south to the Great Lakes to winter!

“In the northern Lower Peninsula we counted just over 12,000 ducks, just under 100 geese and more than 300 mute swans,” said Monroe. “It’s amazing how many birds are out on the water that’s still open.”

Winter waterfowl surveys can help detect any significant changes in the populations as well as help determine results of recent waterfowl hunting seasons and help dictate further regulations for future seasons. The January waterfowl survey also provides the best information on the number of mute swans in Michigan so population trends can be established for yearly comparisons.

To learn more about the different wildlife surveys completed by the DNR, visit the Wildlife Surveys page on the DNR website or contact DNR wildlife outreach technician Katie Keen at 231-775-9727.

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Great Lakes piping plover struggling in Michigan


A male piping plover with four chicks. Photo by Roger Eriksson, Michigan Audubon Society.

A male piping plover with four chicks. Photo by Roger Eriksson, Michigan Audubon Society.

The Piping Plover is a small, stocky shorebird, similar in size to the American Robin that blends well with its beach habitat having a sandy colored body, white underside and distinct orange legs. During the breeding season the plover has a black forehead and breast band with an orange bill.

There are three geographical areas where Piping Plovers breed in North America—along the Atlantic Coast, throughout the Northern Great Plains and along the Great Lakes. Michigan is home to the vast majority of breeding plovers in the Great Lakes Region. Michigan plovers prefer wide, sandy, open beaches with little to no vegetation. In 1986, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Great Lakes Piping Plover population as an endangered species; that same year the other two populations were listed as a threatened species.

Historically, several hundred breeding pairs were observed in 20 counties throughout Michigan but by 1986 there were only 17 breeding pairs in nine counties. This initial decline was largely due to excess hunting in the 19th and early 20th century, until the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 stopped this activity. Population numbers began to slowly increase until the 1950s when the plovers saw another decline in numbers, this time due to increased habitat loss, recreational pressure, predation and habitat contamination. Additionally, high lake levels in the late 1970s and mid 1980s temporarily removed a vast amount of nesting area for the birds.

These deterrents have decreased the Great Lakes Piping Plover’s survival rates; fledging young report approximately a 30 percent survival rate while adults report about 70 percent. Longevity records indicate Michigan plovers have a difficult time reaching five years of age or older with only 13 percent of females and 28 percent of males surviving to five.

Since 1986, the number of nesting pairs has ranged from 12 to 32 with Michigan housing all of the nesting plover pairs in 2000.

Today, several federal, state and nonprofit agencies, universities and private research centers have conducted studies on the plover’s populations and are actively working to save the shorebird. Management techniques include controlling human access to nesting areas, closing off beaches during peak breeding season, monitoring and protecting nests, properly managing water flow and levels and limiting residential and industrial development in known plover breeding areas.

Michigan Audubon currently assists the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the recruitment, training and supervision of volunteers. These qualified volunteers monitor Piping Plover nesting sites in the Tawas area. Volunteers also search historical locations between Bay City and Mackinaw City on Lake Huron. If you are interested in volunteering visit: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/pipingplover/volunteers.html

Proper management techniques and dedicated volunteers have produced promising numbers for the Great Lakes Piping Plovers but the species is still extremely vulnerable to demographic or environmental events that have the potential to remove the population completely. The next decade of conservation will be critical to this species population and will hopefully lead to the removal of the plovers from the Endangered Species List.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Michigan Audubon Piping Plover conservation, visit www.michiganaudubon.org/donate.

 

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