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Tag Archive | "Michigan Audubon"

Be on the lookout for sandhill cranes, elk and more

Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service 
The sandhill crane stops in lower Michigan
before heading to the southern states. 

Chilly October mornings are a great opportunity for wildlife viewing in Michigan. Walking through the dew-covered grasses toward a marsh edge, you might come across the prehistoric-looking sandhill crane. Or perhaps, just before dusk in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, you’ll hear the bellowing bugle of a bull elk.

Throughout the season, sandhill cranes migrate farther south for the winter but take respite in Michigan’s lower counties before the next leg of their journey to southern states. Standing 5 feet tall with 6-foot wingspans and unmistakable bright red heads, they are a stunning sight. Sandhill cranes can be found feeding on seeds and grains in agricultural fields or browsing on wetland plants, insects and amphibians in marshlands throughout Jackson and Washtenaw counties. For more on these birds and where to view them, visit this Michigan Audubon webpage at https://tinyurl.com/y5vw7jfr.

A wild elk herd resides in the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord, and they become more active as mating season nears. 
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In the depths of the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord resides Michigan’s wild elk herd. As the breeding season approaches, elk are more active and can be seen in forest openings, the males bugling for attention from females and working to establish dominance over other suitors. There are 13 elk viewing areas throughout the Pigeon, providing optimal opportunities to watch the herd. To find viewing areas and plan your trip, check out the elk viewing guide at https://tinyurl.com/y2yg9dvx.

Fall is breeding and migration season for many wildlife species, so animals are on the move. Make the most of it by visiting Michigan.gov/Wildlife for information on trails, times and areas to improve your chances for a successful viewing experience.

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Knee deep death trap

Rough waves on Lake Michigan. Photo from Wunderground.com by unobtrusive troll10.


By Ranger Steve Mueller

Enjoying the big waves has always been fun but poses life threatening challenges for many species. If you happen to be a duck you are probably safe. Big waves were rolling on shore at Traverse City State Park shortly after mallard ducklings hatched from eggs. The hen led fledglings to water. People concerned for the safety of the little ones approached and caused the mother to move away from young and shore.

She disappeared among the tall waves with most of the ducklings but a couple lost sight of her and became separated. The people that frightened the mother picked up two ducklings and brought them to me at the ranger station. They should have left them to the mother’s care. At the beach, we could not locate the mother or her other young.

One-fourth of a mile away, a stream entered Grant Traverse Bay and provided an inlet where water was calm. We took the two ducklings there and found several adult ducks with young. We released the ducklings with hope the mother was present in the protective cove. If not, the young should be safe and might join another family.

The big waves did not pose a death threat to them but people causing the mother to move away from young did.

When I was a “young duckling” so to speak, I had my own death threat among big waves. Our family was at a beach on a giant wave day. It was exciting and fun in the waves. I waded into the water and stood in knee deep water between waves. When a wave arrived, the water was over my head. I rode up on the wave and came back down when it passed to stand on the bottom again.

All was going well until one time when I rode high on the wave and came back down, the undertow of water returning along the bottom knocked my feet from under me. I thought no big deal and stood up. It happened that I stood up in middle of a tall wave. Almost immediately the undertow knocked my feet from under me again. Quickly I stood and found myself in the middle of another wave. This repeated.

By now I was out of air, frightened, and desperate to inhale.  A breath would flood my lungs with water and begin the drowning process. My folks had no idea I was in danger in knee high water. They hadn’t even noticed I had disappeared. I was only underwater a short time.

It seemed impossible to stand up between waves and I could not get my head into the air. Finally, I managed to get my head out of water but was knocked down by the undertow. A push off the bottom allowed me to ride up and down on a big wave. I discovered the danger of knee deep water between large waves and survived. Many people do not and several times each year, families lose a member to the power of water.

It is not just people whose lives get threatened by water. Fall bird migration season has arrived. Massive avian numbers from songbirds to hawks encounter the Great Lakes migration water barrier. They pile up on the north end of the lakes on their southbound journey and move along the shoreline searching for safe crossing sites. I’ve watched hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks move west along northern Lake Michigan to go around the lake. Others moved east towards Mackinaw Bridge where crossing the straits is shorter. Once there, they wait for proper weather and wind conditions to venture safely over water.

Migration over water is one of many life-threatening challenges for species in nature niches. Not all survive. I have found small birds washed dead to shore after being knocked into the water by storms or winds. People and wildlife lives depend on respect for the power of water. Have fun in turbulent water but remain safety conscious.

Consider a trip to Whitefish Point Bird Observatory north of Paradise on Lake Superior to witness bird migration from Canada to the US this fall. Michigan Audubon staff can assist with species identification.

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.

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Michigan Audubon blitzing for declining Rusty Blackbirds


Contest to raise awareness for Rusty Blackbird conservation

Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest to motivate volunteers to monitor a rapidly declining, yet poorly understood Michigan bird species, Rusty Blackbirds. Rusty Blackbirds, or “Rusties,” have endured a population decline more severe than that of any other once-common landbird. Michigan is an important migratory stopover for Rusties during their northward, Canada-bound journey in the spring, but scientists have yet to find specific stopover hotspots that can be protected to ensure this species has safe and productive refueling stations. Michigan Audubon hopes that Michigan birders will take part in a continent-wide effort to monitor Rusties and to sweeten the deal they’re offering rewards—the top birder will receive a pair of binoculars valued at $400.

The Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz (or “the Blitz”) is a continent-wide effort to engage citizen scientists in finding and counting these elusive blackbirds with the ultimate goal of creating well-informed conservation guidelines. This is a three-year program that began in 2014 and includes partners such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, eBird, and many other state, federal, and local partners. In 2014, 4,750 birders participated in the Blitz and researchers used those observations to learn about potential migratory hotspots, habitat use, and potential migratory pathways.

The 2015 Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz runs from March 1 to June 15 and it challenges birders from Alabama to Alberta to search for Rusties in their typical habitats: flooded forests, agricultural fields, and wetlands. Anyone can participate in the Blitz; just visit www.rustyblackbird.org/outreach/migration-blitz/ to learn how to identify Rusty Blackbirds, where to look, and how to submit your observations.

Volunteer citizen science efforts like the Blitz offer great opportunities for the public to significantly contribute to bird conservation in Michigan. To help kick off Michigan’s Blitz, Michigan Audubon is sponsoring a contest with several Rusty Blackbird-themed prizes and one grand prize: a pair of Atlas Optics Intrepid Binoculars. To sign up for the contest or to learn more about Michigan’s Blitz, email Rachelle Roake at RRoake@michiganaudubon.org. Michigan Audubon hopes to engage hundreds of birders across the state to Blitz for Blackbirds this spring!

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Sandhill Cranes in your Community

Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Beth Olson

Photo by Brian Stalter

Photo by Brian Stalter

Breeding season for Sandhill Cranes is well underway in Michigan and chances are you have observed these birds in your community. Standing almost four feet tall cranes are easy to notice and entertaining to observe, but Michigan Audubon wants to remind Michiganders to maintain a safe viewing distance and let wildlife be wild. Here are few tips to help you live comfortably together with the Sandhill Cranes in your community.

Give cranes ample space. Sandhill Cranes are large and require a big area in order to take flight. Many people have seen cranes walking across roads, through neighborhoods, and on golf courses. If you encounter cranes while driving a vehicle, garden tractor, or golf cart, make sure to give the birds a wide berth. Sandhill Cranes may not always take flight, especially if they are escorting juvenile cranes called “colts.” Please slow down and let the cranes get to a safe place.

Do not intentionally feed cranes. Michigan Audubon receives reports of Sandhill Cranes taking advantage of backyard bird feeding stations and even cases where cranes are pecking at patio windows. If cranes become regular visitors at a home feeding station, we encourage property owners to take down feeders for a few days and allow the cranes to find natural food on their own. Bringing cranes to your feeding station can put the birds in contact with more potential predators such as domestic dogs, raccoons, foxes and other urban wildlife.

Learn more about cranes. Sandhill Cranes have made a tremendous comeback in Michigan, thanks to a variety of conservation measures. Cranes are regularly observed during spring migration at places like Whitefish Point and Brockway Mountain in the Upper Peninsula. Breeding cranes and adults with young are widely observed throughout Michigan, and because of their size do not even require binoculars to be fully appreciated. This fall Michigan Audubon encourages Michiganders to visit one of the numerous sites in the southern Lower Peninsula where cranes will be staging for migration. The 20th Annual Sandhill Crane & Art Festival, also known simply as “CraneFest,” will take place October 11 and 12 in Calhoun County and includes crane-viewing, special presentations, 25 Michigan artists, and activities for kids. Visit www.cranefest.org for more information.

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Bird Opportunity

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Join others for a last bird watching opportunity in 2013. Experienced birders will help you identify about 60 species on December 28, during the Christmas Bird Count sponsored by National Audubon, Michigan Audubon, and Grand Rapids Audubon Club.

This is my 27th year coordinating the Kent County event. It’s a time people enjoy seeing birds in their winter nature niches and celebrate the diversity of life that abounds around us. About 60 people gather and divide into small groups that venture to various areas within the count circle. Birds are counted in an area with a 7.5-mile radius surrounding the Honey Creek and Two Mile Roads intersection.

Some are surprised we annually find American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds. They are birds that stay provided berries are found in wetlands. More exciting are winter bird visitors that consider this area a southern wintering ground. Included are the Snowy Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snow Bunting, Purple Finch, and Common Redpoll. Other remaining here in winter that most of us do not notice are Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Song Sparrow. I saw a kingfisher here at Ody Brook along Little Cedar Creek last week.

Some winter migrants from the north have arrived indicating count day should be great. A Rough-legged Hawk flew over Ody Brook and I observed a Snow Owl west of here. Two Snow Bunting flocks made an appearance in farm fields.

The local Audubon Club hopes you join the free family activity for part or all day. Previous bird knowledge or experience is not necessary. Join experienced birders and carpool for a great birding experience. Meet at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center (WWC) across the street from Lowell High School at 11715 Vergennes Rd on December 28. The WWC is a great facility to visit and see many live mounts of birds displayed or hike a trail. WWC is where I was director during the last years before retiring from fulltime work. I hold Federal and State permits to display birds through the Michigan Audubon Society at Howard Christensen Nature Center and WWC. Plan on visiting either facility if you want to learn identification, size, and postures for birds before count day.

We meet at 7:30 a.m. at WWC, organize into groups and are out birding by 8 a.m. Some people join for the morning and others stay for the day. A hot lunch will be provided for $5 or bring a brown bag lunch. Consider making a donation to support the National Christmas Bird Count. Money donated is sent to the National Audubon and is used to maintain the database for all bird sightings on the continent. Scientists as well as birders can view the data online. It is used to monitor population changes from year to year. This is the 116th year for the Audubon Count.

Come dressed in layers that can be removed or added as temperature changes. We are in and out of cars at many locations. Bring binoculars and bird books if you have them. People will share if you do not. It is best to call me ahead of time (616-696-1753) if you plan to participate but just showing up is fine. I can answer questions you might have about count day activities.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Young Birders Club


The interest of young bird enthusiast Sarah Toner helped initiate the 2013 establishment of the Michigan Young Birders Club. Wendy Tatar, program coordinator with the Michigan Audubon, had been working to bring life to the program in Michigan when Sarah’s interest in the program jelled with Audubon’s.

The program is led by young birders with a focus on inspiring and educating middle and high school ages 12–18 about birds and conservation. Adult sponsors help with program scheduling and division of tasks but youth direct activities toward their interests.

I just presented a lecture at a local university where a young freshman new to college talked with me about birds. He was well aware of e-bird and mich-listers and the ease of tracking bird sightings in real time so people can find unusual birds. Another young man from Sand Lake attended the lecture where he introduced himself and said he lives five miles from the Howard Christensen Nature Center. He explores the natural world there. This past weekend two friends contacted me for the purpose of taking a field trip to see species that are not commonly found in Michigan. We headed out to locate a Little Gull and a Red Phalarope.

We found the Red Phalarope but did not locate the Little Gull. Check your field guides or internet to learn about these two species. Of interest here is a young birder we found searching for the birds. He had seen internet postings and was searching on his own. I introduced myself and immediately he told me about a Sanderling searching for food among the rocks along the shoreline. I let him look through my spotting scope at a Great Black-backed Gull that was nestled among Ring-billed Gulls.

It would be nice to have a Young Birders Club in this area where youth of common interest could get together with peers. I suspect the Grand Rapids Audubon, Muskegon Nature Club, or other area Audubon clubs would be supportive and help youth with club activities. I was in tenth grade when I joined the Saginaw Audubon Club and began a life long journey of bird study for fun and fulfillment. Like the young man at the beach, I had not connected with others my age that shared a common interest.

Today connecting with others through the internet makes it easy to learn about birds and their locations. Adult supervision should assist to offer guidance and safety. Young people might gather with others of common interest as seen with flash mobs but it would be good to have club organization and adults from the community present for support and direction. Bird enthusiasts have their own flash mob gatherings at locations where interesting birds are reported. It is a new age for club gathering opportunities but interaction with knowledgeable mentors for youth is important. My life is better for the guidance offered by adults at youth organizations to support my development. Encourage youth to invest in their lives to make them rich in experience.

The Michigan Young Birders Club will help youth discover bird nature niches. Learn more at www.michiganaudubon.org/about/mybc.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Michigan Audubon helps conserve Cerulean Warblers

Habitat loss contributes to Cerulean Warbler decline in Michigan. Photo by Daniel Behm, courtesy of Michigan Audubon Society.

Habitat loss contributes to Cerulean Warbler decline in Michigan. Photo by Daniel Behm, courtesy of Michigan Audubon Society.

The Cerulean Warbler was once one of the most abundant breeding warblers in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys; now it is one of North America’s fastest declining songbirds. Since 1966, the Cerulean Warbler population has decreased by almost 70 percent.

Michigan is part of the warbler’s northernmost breeding range with the largest state numbers concentrated in the Allegan State Game Area. The annual decline in ceruleans in Michigan at 4.3 percent is higher than the range-wide decline of three percent. The culprit for such a severe Cerulean Warbler population decrease in Michigan is habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Cerulean Warbler prefers a breeding habitat of 3,000 hectares or greater of mature deciduous trees situated near a river system. The small warbler, which is colored sky blue with streaks of white and black, spends most of its time in the upper canopy foraging for insects. The Cerulean Warbler’s color and preference for breeding high in the forest canopy make it an elusive bird for birdwatchers and scientists. As of 2009, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources lists the Cerulean Warbler as a State Threatened species.

Current research lists six primary threats to the Cerulean Warbler’s breeding territory which includes: loss of mature deciduous forests, fragmentation of deciduous forests, emphasis on even-aged forest management and shorter harvest rotation periods, environmental degradation, loss of key tree species and nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. The United States Geological Survey indicates if nothing is done to protect the Cerulean Warbler by 2046, the Allegan State Game Area population could become ecologically extinct.

With that information in hand, Michigan Audubon set out to make a positive impact on this threatened warbler. In 2012, Michigan Audubon hired its first Cerulean Warbler monitor who surveyed Allegan, Barry, Jackson and Washtenaw counties. Now with the second year of monitoring complete, over 2,000 checklists have been submitted to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology via the citizen science tool, www.ebird.org, in association with the Cerulean Warbler monitoring project.

The checklists submitted have helped create a more accurate metric allowing the comparison of the number of birds heard per hour while birdwatching. For example, statewide, 9.6 Cerulean Warblers are heard per hour of birdwatching, compared to 6.5 Sandhill Cranes and 30.2 Canada Goose heard per hour.

“We are frequently asked ‘How many Cerulean Warblers are there at Location X?’” says Tom Funke, Michigan Audubon’s Conservation Director. “It is important to keep in mind that this monitoring project does not count each individual bird, but rather collects a sampling of the bird in a certain area year after year. This type of data collection will help identify trends over a long period of time and provide ornithologists and biologists better insights into Cerulean Warbler breeding populations.”

Conservation action plans have recently been implemented and include activities such as mapping wintering, migratory and breeding ranges, and preventing permanent loss of large forest habitats in the birds’ breeding range. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management states, “An over-riding need (…) is continued research to help fill critical information gaps in our knowledge of this species and monitoring of [the Cerulean Warbler’s] response to conservation actions.”

Although it is too early to distinguish any type of trend from Michigan Audubon’s Cerulean Warbler monitoring project, efforts are in line with all other conservation groups involved in the warbler’s survival, with a bottom line to permanently remove the bird from state and federal lists.

For additional information or photos to use with this announcement, contact Michigan Audubon’s, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Mallory King at mallory@michiganaudubon.org or 517-641-4277.




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