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Tag Archive | "Lake Macatawa"

Kittiwake in flight


By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

This photo shows black-legged kittiwakes at nest on Staple Island, Farne Islands, Northumberland, UK. Photo from Wikipedia.

The search was on for a bird along Lake Michigan’s shoreline at Holland State Park and Lake Macatawa. A birder spotted it and posted the rare sighting on the ebird website. It drew bird watchers from great distances to see a bird in Michigan that normally is found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

This rare sighting of a black-legged kittiwake in Michigan was seen and photographed by Carl and Judi Manning, on February 2, 2018, on Lake Macatawa, in Ottawa County. Photo from ebird.

The Black-legged Kittiwake is a small gull that breeds in the far north where it nests on cliffs. It migrates south over the oceans where it commonly stays far out to sea and out of sight of shores. It flies over the oceans in search of small fish and squid near the surface and sleeps floating on the water. 

Sometimes a young bird will venture over land and ends up at the Great Lakes. This winter, one has been present at Lake Michigan where it was found among hundreds if not thousands of gulls. This juvenile bird, when found among the gulls, can be distinguished by having black feathers along the leading edge of the wing. 

When in flight, the dark feathers appear as a dark inverted V along the front wing edge. The bird’s wing bends in the middle causing the black band to make the V shape. If the wing were held straight the black band would be straight. When standing on ice, the gull’s dark line is straight on the folded wing from shoulder to wing tip. The young kittiwake has dark feathers on the back of the neck and a dark ear patch behind the eye. 

It is a distinctive pattern but finding the bird among massive numbers of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls is not an easy task. Three of us armed with spotting scopes were scanning through untold numbers of gulls at Lake Macatawa where this rare visitor to the Great Lakes was last seen. Other birders were present with scopes and binoculars hoping to see this individual without taking a boat trip into the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. 

While searching through the gulls, we were fortunate to find both the Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls that are uncommon birds here. A Bald Eagle flew through the area. Long-tailed Ducks and others were present.

Apparently, the kittiwake is finding adequate food to survive but the winter is not over. Will there be enough small fish near the water’s surface to meet its needs? At least near shore it can dive to find some mollusks or aquatic worms. The Great Lakes are probably not ideal habitat for its nature niche. No small squids or other oceanic species from its normal menu will be found. 

Perhaps the species rarely comes to the Great Lakes because of the long over land flight or maybe those coming do not survive to return to breeding grounds and their genes are removed from the gene pool.

We saw the Kittiwake flying back and forth with gulls on a cold, windy day, when the temperature was in the single digits. We were warmly bundled but our feet were chilled. We discussed why the birds were flying back and forth in what appeared to be a waste of energy. They were not feeding or even flying near the open water surface where they could find food. Burning energy for no useful purpose could be deadly.

When I got home I posed the question to Karen and she offered a reasonable answer that had not crossed my mind. She suggested the birds might have been chilled in the very low temperatures while standing still on the ice. Flying takes energy like any physical activity and warms the body. 

Flight will consume stored energy that might be needed later but for now the bird will not get hypothermia and die. Staying alive until tomorrow is a priority. Hopefully finding food will replenish consumed fat tissue. Gulls will visit garbage dumps or restaurants parking lots where people drop food. Kittiwakes do not. If they do not find enough food in the lake, they perish. 

It is fun to see an unusual bird visiting Michigan, but it is dangerous for it to be away from habitat for its adaptations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Posted in Featured, Ranger Steve's Nature NicheComments (0)

Invasive red swamp crayfish found in Michigan


Red swamp crayfish, like the one pictured here, recently were discovered in Sunset Lake in Vicksburg (Kalamazoo County) and a retention pond off Haggerty Road in Novi (Oakland County).

The crayfish were found in two different locations

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently confirmed the presence of invasive red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) in Sunset Lake in Vicksburg, south of Kalamazoo (Kalamazoo County), and in a retention pond off Haggerty Road in Novi (Oakland County).

Reports of the crayfish at Sunset Lake came to the DNR from two separate landowners Thursday, July 13. DNR staff verified the reports during a survey of the area July 14, finding several crayfish in the grass in a local park and in shallow areas on the lake’s west side.

A citizen reported possible red swamp crayfish in the Novi retention pond Monday, July 17, after a child captured one in a dip net. DNR staff responded that afternoon and removed 111 specimens from the pond.

These two reports represent the first live detections of red swamp crayfish in Michigan. In 2015, discovery of a pile of dead red swamp crayfish at Kollen Park in Holland (Allegan County) led to an intensive trapping effort by the DNR in Lake Macatawa and portions of the Grand River. No live crayfish were found at that time.

What are red swamp crayfish?

Red swamp crayfish, also known as Louisiana crayfish, are deep red in color with bright red, raised spots covering the body and claws. They have a black, wedge-shaped stripe on the top of the abdomen. Between 2 and 5 inches in length, these crayfish resemble miniature lobsters. They are native to the Mississippi River drainage and the Gulf Coast and are the popular “crawfish” or “crawdads” used in southern cooking.

Why are they a concern?

Red swamp crayfish are a serious concern because of their ability to damage earthen structures and the threats they pose to the environment.

“Eradicating red swamp crayfish is very difficult,” said Nick Popoff, aquatic species and regulatory affairs manager for the DNR. “They dig deep burrows near lakes and rivers and can spread quickly over land.” Popoff said that such burrows, which can be more than 3 feet deep, can cause damage (through bank destabilization) to infrastructure such as dams, levees, irrigation systems and personal property. In Wisconsin, the only solution for one instance of a red swamp crayfish invasion was an extreme measure to pave over a pond.

Red swamp crayfish are considered invasive in Michigan because they compete aggressively with native crayfish species for food and habitat. They feed on plants, insects, snails, juvenile fish and other crayfish, disrupting the food chain for many aquatic species.

Red swamp crayfish can survive drought conditions and are known to migrate as much as approximately 2 miles over land in search of habitat. They are very fertile, with females laying up to 600 eggs at a time and reproducing up to two times in a year.

How did red swamp crayfish get here?

Sources of the two infestations are not known, but according to Popoff, live crayfish may have been brought from southern states for use as bait or for human consumption. Red swamp crayfish also are sold in some states as personal or classroom aquarium pets, and release of those pets is one way invasive species are spread.

“Red swamp crayfish are a prohibited species in Michigan, which means it is unlawful to possess, introduce, import, sell or offer them for sale as a live organism, except in special circumstances, including providing specimens to the DNR for identification,” said Popoff.

What is being done?

Department staff will continue survey and removal efforts on Sunset Lake and its tributaries to determine the size and extent of the infestation. Staff will be out during the daytime and evening hours setting nets and crayfish traps and using electrofishing equipment to capture and remove the crayfish. Connecting water bodies including Austin, Barton and Howard lakes will be surveyed in the coming weeks. Survey and removal efforts are ongoing at the Novi location.

How can people help?

“These two cases show the importance of citizen involvement in the fight against invasive species,” said Popoff. “Alert citizens noticed something unusual and reported it to the DNR, allowing us to initiate a quick response to each situation.”

Residents and visitors to the Sunset Lake area are asked to try to capture any red swamp crayfish they find and place them in a container in the freezer, then report the location of the find to the DNR at 269-685-6851, ext. 0, or by email to herbsts1@michigan.gov.

Sightings of red swamp crayfish in the Novi area or elsewhere in Michigan should be photographed and reported with the date and location of the find to herbsts1@michigan.gov.

For more information about red swamp crayfish and other invasive species of concern in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/invasivespecies.

Posted in Featured, OutdoorsComments (0)


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