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Archive | Outdoors

Giving lake sturgeon a lift

Up close view of Face of a lake sturgeon. Photo by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

by Jennifer Johnson and Darren Kramer, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Lake sturgeon are a long-lived fish species that were once common throughout the Great Lakes.

However, over the last two centuries, lake sturgeon populations have significantly declined due to several factors, including habitat loss from dam construction. Once numbering in the millions in the Great Lakes region, the lake sturgeon population has now been reduced to a few thousand fish. The lake sturgeon is currently listed as a threatened species in Michigan.  

The Menominee River, forming part of the border between Wisconsin and Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, is a large tributary to Green Bay on Lake Michigan and supports one of the largest remaining populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes. The sturgeon here number roughly 1,200 adult fish – compared to roughly 20,000 to 25,000 historically.

Several lake sturgeon are contained in water inside the hopper on the Menominee River. Photo by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Before construction of several hydroelectric dams throughout the Menominee River during the 19th century, lake sturgeon migrated upstream from Green Bay for approximately 70 miles to spawn, before encountering a natural barrier at Sturgeon Falls in Dickinson County.

Currently their access to the river is cut short by the Menominee Dam, which is located approximately 2.5 miles upstream from Green Bay. A second dam, Park Mill, is located only about 1 mile upstream of the Menominee Dam. 

Mature, adult lake sturgeon need specific spawning habitat typically found in rivers and are willing to make long migrations to reach those optimal spawning locations.

Several lake sturgeon are shown in the hold of a trailer, awaiting transport upstream, where they will be released into the Menominee River. Photo by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Dams are considered one of the greatest impediments to successful sturgeon recovery efforts in the Great Lakes because adult fish are unable to access river spawning habitat and critical habitat needed to support juvenile fish,” said John Bauman, fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  

The lack of suitable lake sturgeon spawning habitat and juvenile rearing habitat downstream of the Menominee Dam are likely key factors limiting the rehabilitation of the lake sturgeon population.

Luckily for the lake sturgeon, there is ample habitat for both adults and juveniles above the Park Mill Dam up to the Grand Rapids Dam, situated approximately 19 miles upstream.  

Given these facts, the question for fisheries managers was how to reconnect adult lake sturgeon from the lower Menominee River to the abundant spawning and rearing habitats upstream of the two dams?

In some situations, dam removal may be an option to restore river access if the dam has outlived its usefulness. However, Menominee and Park Mill hydroelectric dams are viable producers of renewable energy and not candidates for removal.

So, if the dams can’t be removed, how can lake sturgeon access be restored to upstream habitats in the Menominee River?

It took a creative and talented team to think of a novel, first-of-its-kind idea.

In the early 2000s, a collaborative partnership among Eagle Creek Renewable Energy (owner of Menominee and Park Mill dams), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin and Michigan departments of natural resources, and the River Alliance of Wisconsin formed the Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition to determine how to best address reconnecting adult lake sturgeon from the lower Menominee River with habitats upstream.

The overarching goal of the effort was to increase lake sturgeon recruitment – the process by which small, young fish survive to larger, older fish. It was presumed that these recruits would survive and contribute as adults to the overall sturgeon population in Green Bay and more broadly across Lake Michigan.

The work of the team led to the construction, in 2015, of a “fish elevator” located at the Menominee Dam. The elevator was designed to capture adult lake sturgeon for transfer upstream of the Menominee and Park Mill dams.  

The fish elevator was built in an empty bay at the Menominee Dam powerhouse. Within the bay is a rectangular metal hopper, measuring 10 feet by 15 feet. The hopper can be lowered to the bottom of the river.

Water from above the dam flows through the hopper area by opening an upstream gate, creating an “artificial river” to lead lake sturgeon into entering the hopper. A fixed gate at the head of the hopper restricts fish from traveling farther into the dam.

The downstream end of the hopper is open for fish to move in and out until a gate is lowered, trapping fish inside. The hopper is lifted approximately 30 feet to the upper floor of the powerhouse with an electric winch. A door on the side of the hopper opens, emptying water and the fish into a sorting tank.  

From there, fish species captured unintentionally are sorted out and sent back downstream via a pipe with water. Lake sturgeon are visually inspected for previous injuries or disease, measured and then tagged, if no previous tags are observed.

Sex and spawning condition are determined using an ultrasound unit like the ones found in veterinary clinics. Most male lake sturgeon spawn every one to two years, and females spawn every three to five years. Fish that are not ready to spawn during the next spawning period (late April to mid-May) are sent back downstream.

Fish that are ready to spawn are moved to an adjacent holding tank in the powerhouse to await transfer upstream. Minimum fish lengths required for transfer are 45 and 50 inches for males and females, respectively. 

When transferring lake sturgeon upstream, fish are loaded into a custom-built trailer and transported about 2 miles to a boat launch above the Park Mill Dam, located on the Michigan side of the Menominee River. There, the trailer is backed into the river and the adult sturgeon are released to continue their migration upstream. 

Since 2015, elevator and transfer operations at the Menominee Dam have occurred each year during the spring (mid-April to mid-May) and fall (late August to late September).

“Captures of lake sturgeon have been found to vary widely from year to year and between spring and fall seasons,” said Elle Gulotty, a DNR fisheries biologist. “As time goes on, we have learned more and more about efficiently operating the fish elevator.”

Over the past six years, the number of fish transferred upstream has ranged from a low of 25 in 2015 to a high of 147 in 2019.  

Lake sturgeon transferred during the spring will spawn during that period, while the fish transferred in the fall spend the winter in the river before spawning the following spring. Roughly 90% of the sturgeon transferred upstream stay there for at least one spawning period before migrating back downstream to Green Bay.

During this migration, lake sturgeon pass through the Menominee and Park Mill dams via open gates at the dams or by fish-bypass structures specifically built at each dam for lake sturgeon. 

Check out a a video showing time lapse construction of the Park Mill Dam downstream sturgeon structure at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1J4iDc55to.

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Summer Butterfly Counts 2021

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Four West Michigan Butterfly Association (WMBA) count summaries are posted in Table 1 for 2021. It shows species and individual numbers vary among count circles. Variance is due to count dates, weather, and varying habitats. We visit a good representation of habitats in each count circle. 

Fifty species were observed on the four counts. That is about 1/3 of all Michigan species. At the bottom of the Table, notice the species totals and individual numbers for each count. Included are the immature butterfly life cycle stages found as egg, larva, or chrysalis. Click here to download table

Of particular interest is number of individuals for the Federally Endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. West Michigan is one of richest remaining habitats for the species on Earth. It has been extirpated from nearly all previously known habitats. There is concerted effort to help this species survive. The process helps improve habitat for mammals and birds that people enjoy for watching and hunting. Habitat protection supports healthier water supplies. Federal laws protecting endangered species support healthier local economies and living conditions for people and wildlife.

Plan on participating in the 2022 WMBA counts. Club members are friendly and helpful. If interested in other Michigan or national counts contact me for information. You can contact me now and I will reach out to you next summer. 

Google the “West Michigan Butterfly Association” web site or contact me for club or butterfly information. 

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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Find new trails, challenge yourself during Michigan Trails Week

Whether you’re into hiking, biking, horseback riding, snowmobiling, off-roading or paddling, Michigan Trails Week, Sept. 19-26, is the right time to explore your options.

Michigan, with more than 13,000 miles of state-designated trails, makes it easy to find nearby or destination trails just right for you.

Though Trails Week is an effort to elevate Michigan’s reputation as the Trails State for eight full days, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources hopes people get outdoors and explore all year long.

“Trails Week encourages everyone to enjoy and discover Michigan’s extraordinary trails system that provides safe, outdoor space for recreation, exercise and fun,” said Dakota Hewlett, nonmotorized trails grant coordinator for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “To give Michiganders one more reason to explore trails during this tribute week, we’re holding Michigan Trails Week Challenge for the second year in a row.”

“State parks and trails are welcoming places with ample opportunity to improve your physical and mental health,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division. “Getting outside on a trail is an easy way to promote good health and take in the outdoors, and that’s the concept behind these resources that are part of ‘Michigan’s big green gym.’”

Every mile counts with the Michigan Trails Week Challenge

Van Buren State Park. Photo by Tyler Leipprandt (michiganskymedia.com) under contract with the MI DNR.
Credit goes to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Newcomers and veteran trail users are invited to team up and take part in the free 2021 Michigan Trails Week Challenge. No matter how you like to travel the trails, everyone’s invited to contribute their miles toward a statewide, collective goal of 100,000 miles.

Simply register online and log your miles spent on any local, county, state or federally managed trail to earn virtual badges and be entered in a drawing for cool outdoor gear and Michigan-branded prizes. Earn a virtual badge when you register for the challenge and log at least 1 mile, and then every time you:

• Bike 10 miles.

• Horseback ride 5 miles.

• Paddle 2 miles.

• Ride (ORV, ATV or motorcycle) 15 miles.

• Walk, run or hike 5 miles.

Visit Michigan.gov/TrailsWeek to register for the challenge and see additional trail resources, including links to trail maps, statistics, safety and etiquette information, an interactive map, and photos (plus hundreds of participant snapshots from the 2020 Trails Week Challenge).

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Tracks and gaits

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

Walking barefoot along sunlit beaches warms us. We enjoy making toe prints in firm damp quartz sand. Waves dampen the shore holding tracks firm. Farther inland, loose sand does not keep footprints well. 

Sanderling shorebirds leave tiny three-toed prints instead of four-toed depressions. The species lacks a hind toe to mark its steps. Some birds walk with one foot in front of the other making a straight row. Watch animal movements to notice their gait. Some birds hop with both feet landing next to the other. 

Photo of rabbit tracks in the snow. 
Photo from Wildlife Illinois.

Mammals such as rabbits and squirrels create similar footprint patterns. The imprint shows the track shape, but placement identifies their gait movement. Rabbits bound with their front feet landing with one foot forward of the other. Their hind feet land in front of the forefeet. The hind feet swing wide of front legs by going around them. Look at the imprint in a light fresh snow that will soon come our way. It appears two small feet are behind two large feet. When a rabbit is standing, we see small front feet ahead of the larger hind feet. When hopping, their gait is different than a standing rabbit by having hind feet landing in ahead the front feet. 

One would expect the front feet to be in front of the hind feet, but their gait creates a different pattern.  

Squirrels move in a similar manner and when the track cluster of four feet is observed, we see hind feet ahead of front feet. Squirrels and rabbits tracks can be difficult to separate when they are nearly the same size. Rather than look solely at the track shape or gait pattern, look where they travel. Squirrels frequently run to a tree and climb so their trail ends. Rabbits go around the tree and continue their trail. This is part of their nature niche movement.

Gait patterns change at different speeds, and feet hitting the ground make varying sounds. 

When horseback riding one hears a comforting clickity click of walking feet. Our hips sway forward and back with each step. On a trotting horse we tend to bounce rapidly, and this is usually the most uncomfortable riding gait. We can post up and down to avoid the pounding on our back or we can relax limply in the saddle to sit more tightly. This can be difficult at various trot speeds. With practice, I have learned to sit a trot, but I am far from an outstanding rider and bounce more than desired.

When the horse changes a gait to a canter, it becomes easier to avoid the jarring bounce but only with practice. At a slow canter one frequently separates from the saddle and lands with a repeated thud. Instead of the rapid pounding that occurs during a trot, a slower and larger pounding occurs. As the canter gait hastens, the rate of pounding accelerates. To eliminate the bounce, one may use leg movement in the stirrups to lift and settle one’s body in rhythm with the horse’s gait. This is the most frequent method used. 

I usually ride with pressure in the stirrups to adjust more easily to the canter bounce. When I do not use stirrups, I allow my body to relax and sit more tightly during the horse’s canter gait. This becomes more difficult when the horse changes canter speed or slows rapidly. I tend to slide forward onto the horse’s neck without stirrup aid. On some horses, it is essential to keep weight in stirrups because of their unpredictability. A favorite horse I rode in the park service would suddenly startle and shy to one side for no apparent reason. If no pressure was maintained in the stirrups, one would end on the ground. 

That horse’s gait provided a most comfortable ride and was always my choice of horses. Other rangers did not like its nervous shying, so they usually rode one the other horses. Getting to know an animal’s gait makes for a smoother ride. It is rare for a horse to break into a gallop. It is like a person running a 100-meter dash. One’s muscles and lungs exhaust quickly. The few times I have been on a galloping horse, the sound changes from the thumpity thump of a canter to the drum roll of the gallop gait. The ride also becomes smooth like a walking gait. It is both exhilarating and frightening to move at that speed. Enjoy observing wild animal tracks and gaits.

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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Katydid, grasshopper, and cricket songs

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller  

Night sounds abound in late summer through early fall. We can open windows now that excessive heat has waned, nights are less humid, and longer. Not long ago it was light until 10 p.m. and now the sky is darkening by 8:30. On September 22, the sun will reach the fall equinox creating 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark everywhere on the planet. Songs will fill the air before bedtime and let you know life abounds. 

Life’s activity is in high mode. Birds are migrating, deer are entering the rut, monarchs are migrating, and some mammals are busy getting ready for a long winter’s retreat. Some hibernate and are hurrying to add fat for a long sleep while others are gathering and storing food to sustain them through desolate winter months. 

Varied strategies are needed to survive the cold, but most insects enter diapause. Diapause is when life activities are on hold until temperatures become conducive for movement. A few like darner dragonflies migrate to warmer climates. Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico to spend the winter in cold mountains hibernating. 

Most insects overwinter as eggs, larva, or pupae but a few grasshoppers survive winter as partially developed nymphs. We can recognize grasshopper nymphs from adults by the lack of fully developed wings. They can jump but cannot fly. Most grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in the order Orthoptera survive the winter as eggs. In your home, an adult cricket might survive the winter in the warmth you provide. 

There are about 30 cricket species in Michigan. They produce some of the most beautiful music for the order. Songs are not produced by all cricket species. If you are trying to sleep, you might not appreciate cricket courtship songs. The song is produced by the insect moving a sharp edge of one wing against a file like ridge on a thickened leathery upper wing covering. They are mostly night active as are most katydids. Katydids produce sound in a similar manner to crickets but are not as musical. They do not find resources to survive indoors. 

Crickets eat insect eggs, fly pupae, aphids, soft bodied insects, soft fruit, and plant foliage. Some of those can be found in your home. Katydids look somewhat like grasshoppers but remain mostly hidden in vegetation and restrain activity until dark. The most telling difference between grasshoppers and katydids is the antennae length. Grasshoppers have short antennae and katydids have antennae that are longer than their body. They are often referred to as “long-horn grasshoppers.”  

Most of us are familiar with the appearance of “field crickets” but many crickets have unique appearances. Even for those that recognize the black field cricket, there are two species that cannot be told apart by appearance. The spring field cricket becomes active about May 20 and ends its season by July 6. The fall field cricket is active most years from July 15 to November 11. My college professor, Dr. Roger Bland, published the book Orthoptera of Michigan through MSU Extension. It is wonderfully illustrated and is the only book representing a state. Regional books are available, but his work can acquaint you with Michigan species.  

Go out in the evening to listen to some of Michigan’s 33 katydid species. They will be among the vegetation where they resemble living or dead leaves. Most in our region are green. Like crickets and grasshoppers, they have jumping hind legs. At this time of year, they can fly but rarely do unless disturbed. They eat leaves, flowers, and pollen but it is their sound that captures our attention. Like the crickets they produce sound by stridulation when they rub one wing against another. 

Sound attracts mates so katydids must hear. Both sexes have auditory organs found at the base of front leg tibia. Michigan’s 61 species of grasshoppers have hearing tympana located at the base of their abdomen. Crickets “ears” are located like those of katydids on the front legs. Begin exploring to find the state’s 124 Orthoptera.

Many have heard we can determine the temperature by counting Snowy Tree Cricket chirps for 15 seconds and then adding 40. The Orthoptera have fascinating nature niches and behaviors that will teach the observant. 

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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Invasive New Zealand mudsnails found in Shanty Creek in Antrim County

Anglers urged to step up prevention efforts during salmon season

Invaded river systems in Michigan, to date. Red dots indicate locations with confirmed presence of New Zealand mudsnails. Map courtesy of Jeremy Geist, Trout Unlimited.

Invasive New Zealand mudsnails have been detected at the mouth of Shanty Creek, a tributary of the Grass River in Antrim County. The snails were found during routine monitoring in May by the Grass River Natural Area Stream Watch project and confirmed through DNA analysis by Oakland University in August.

New Zealand mudsnails were first discovered in the United States in Idaho’s Snake River in 1987. Since then, the snails have spread throughout the western states and into areas of the Great Lakes by attaching themselves to boats, waders, and equipment.

The Grass River is now the sixth river system in Michigan known to be infested by the mudsnails. Their discovery in the Pere Marquette River in August 2015 signaled the first detection in a Michigan inland waterway. In 2016, populations were confirmed in the Boardman and Au Sable rivers. By 2017, the invasive snails were found in the Upper Manistee and Pine rivers.

Michigan’s salmon season, which peaks in September and October, draws thousands of anglers to Michigan’s premier rivers.

“This is a time when people are likely to visit multiple rivers and streams over a few days” said Lucas Nathan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources aquatic invasive species coordinator. “If they are not cleaning equipment thoroughly each time, there is a potential to introduce New Zealand mudsnails into new waters.”

What harm can a snail do?

A closer view of mudsnails is shown.

This brown to black, one-eighth-inch long mudsnail, a native of New Zealand, is considered invasive and is prohibited in Michigan due to the environmental harm it can cause to rivers, streams and lakes. Because the snail reproduces by cloning (females develop complete embryos without fertilization), a single snail can start an entire population.

One snail can produce over 200 young in a year. Since few natural predators or parasites of this species exist in North America, their numbers grow rapidly each year. In some locations in western states, researchers have documented snails reaching densities of 300,000 per square meter. With that many mudsnails, food for other stream invertebrate populations can become scarce.

Fish that feed on native invertebrates like mayflies and caddisflies may find it more difficult to forage in rivers invaded by New Zealand mudsnails. Fish will consume New Zealand mudsnails, but due to the snail’s thick shell, equipped with a tightly closing hatch called the operculum, they are difficult for fish to digest, offer the fish little nutritional value and can be excreted alive. Substituting mudsnails for native food sources can reduce the growth, condition and ultimately the abundance of key sport fish including trout.

What is being done?

Since the initial detection, the DNR and Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy have incorporated mudsnail monitoring into their standard sampling procedures, increasing the potential for early detection in several rivers and streams each year.

Volunteers across the state, like those with the Grass River Natural Area Stream Watch, conduct regular monitoring of streams and rivers through the Michigan Clean Water Corps, or MiCorps, to determine stream health and look for invasive species. Other partners, including universities and cooperative invasive species management areas also engage in annual monitoring.

Emily Burke, conservation and education specialist with Grass River Natural Area, Inc., said she was able to identify New Zealand mudsnails while sampling Shanty Creek thanks to invasive species identification training provided by the CAKE (Charlevoix, Antrim, Kalkaska and Emmett) CISMA in the spring.

“The Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program has been instrumental in fostering the development of CISMAs across the state, creating a network of local invasive species resources,” Nathan said. “At the same time, the grant program supports research efforts like Oakland University’s New Zealand mudsnail project, which has raised awareness among anglers, trained citizen scientists and developed an important partnership with Trout Unlimited, which helped to initiate the New Zealand Mudsnail Collaborative.”

Following Burke’s report, a team from Oakland University conducted monitoring on 15 sites in the Grass and Elk rivers but found no additional infestations. Local and state partners will continue to monitor the area and use outreach opportunities like Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week to educate the public about preventing the spread of New Zealand mudsnails and other harmful species.

What can you do?

New Zealand mudsnails are visible on this woody debris near the mouth of Shanty Creek. Photo courtesy of Emily Burke, Grass River Natural Area, Inc.

The most important means of prevention is practicing good recreational hygiene. After a visit to one of Michigan’s lakes, rivers or streams, be sure to clean, drain and dry your boat, trailer and equipment before heading to a new destination.

The New Zealand mudsnail’s small size requires careful examination and cleaning of places where plants, mud or debris can be found on poles, nets, waders, boots, buckets, kayaks, canoes and flotation devices. Anything that has been in the water or at the water’s edge should be inspected before it is packed or loaded.

The NZMS Collaborative offers these simple steps for cleaning boots and waders:

  • Stomp and inspect as soon as you leave the water to remove attached debris.
  • Brush waders, soles and laces to loosen remaining debris and mud.
  • Spray boots and waders thoroughly with a disinfecting agent.
  • Rinse after 20 minutes.
  • Dry waders thoroughly before next use.

The short video, New Zealand Mudsnail Ecology and Fishing Gear Decontamination in Michigan, available at NZMSCollaborative.org, provides a demonstration of this cleaning technique as well as information on how to identify the invasive snail.

Additional information on New Zealand mudsnail, including how to report a suspected discovery of the snail, can be found at Michigan.gov/Invasives.

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Lake Huron Red Tails

Recovering Michigan’s history of the Tuskegee airmen 

Moody: An image of 2nd Lt. Frank H. Moody from the headstone at his gravesite.

The first African American pilots trained by the United States Army Air Corps earned their wings at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama during World War II. Beginning in the spring of 1943, fighter pilots from Tuskegee received advanced training in Michigan.

The relative safety of Midwestern America, along with weather and geographical conditions that approximated what aviators could expect to encounter in Europe, encouraged the military to use airfields at Selfridge northeast of Detroit, and at Oscoda on the shores of Lake Huron.

Upon completion of training in Michigan, many Tuskegee airmen were immediately deployed to combat and bomber escort missions in Italy, North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, as with many similar training programs during World War II, dozens of accidents occurred in Michigan, resulting in the loss of both aircraft and crewmen. Fifteen Tuskegee airmen were killed while training in the state; five pilots were lost in Lake Huron, one in the St. Clair River, and nine as a result of land crashes or mid-air collisions.

Frank H. Moody was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Los Angeles. He earned his wings at Tuskegee in February 1944 and became part of an elite group of pilots belonging to the 332nd Fighter Group that would come to be known as “Red Tails.”

After being commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army, Moody was transferred to Selfridge Field for advanced training in the P-39 Airacobra.

Manufactured by Bell Aircraft Corporation, the Airacobra was 30 feet, 2 inches in length and had a wingspan of 34 feet. The single-seat airplane had a range of 650 miles, could reach speeds of 385 mph, and was armed with a 37-millimeter cannon, and four .50-caliber machine guns.

On April 11, 1944, Lt. Moody and three other pilots were conducting live-fire gunnery exercises over Lake Huron when his Airacobra gave off a trail of black smoke. Moody raised the nose of the aircraft slightly, then cartwheeled into the lake. He was killed instantly. His body was later found in the St. Clair River and was returned to Los Angeles for burial.

DCIM\100MICRO Windshield: Armored bulletproof windshield of Lt. Moody’s Bell P-39 Airacobra. Photo by W.R. Lusardi.

On April 11, 2014, exactly 70 years to the day after the crash, David Losinski and his son Drew discovered a wrecked airplane while diving in Lake Huron. They located the forward instrument panel that contained the airplane’s radio call sign, which positively identified the wreck as the Airacobra flown by Moody.

Losinski invited Michigan Department of Natural Resources state maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi to participate in reconnaissance dives of the site. Lusardi then led several expeditions to the wreck site to document the aircraft and its associated artifacts.

In 2015, Lusardi and volunteer divers from the National Association of Black Scuba Divers surveyed the aircraft wreckage. The following summer, the wreckage was inspected using a remotely operated vehicle, and Lusardi began the investigation of a second Tuskegee Airacobra that crashed in the St. Clair River with the loss of Flight Officer Nathanial Porter Rayburg.

In 2018, the State of Michigan issued an archaeological recovery permit for Moody’s aircraft to the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen in Detroit.

Wing: Michigan Department of Natural Resources maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi documents the portside wing of a Bell P-39 Airacobra wrecked in Lake Huron in 1944. Photo by Erik Denson.

A select group of artifacts was recovered from the site, including the 2-inch-thick bulletproof windshield, the starboard side door manufactured by Hudson Motor Company, the forward instrument panel containing 16 gauges, a wooden radio mast and two sections of steel drive shaft that connected the engine – that was placed behind the pilot – to the gear box and propeller in the forward fuselage.

The state renewed the archaeological recovery permit in 2021, and Lusardi, together with Dr. Brian Smith of the Tuskegee Airmen’s Museum, continued documentation of the wreckage and removal of artifacts from Lake Huron.

A crew of volunteer divers and archaeologists from across the country participated in the project. Dozens of artifacts were measured, photographed and precisely mapped on the lake floor, and many were retrieved and transported to Detroit for conservation. All materials need to go through a lengthy process to preserve the integrity of the artifacts and allow them to be dried out and exhibited.

Wreath: Michigan Department of Natural Resources maritime archaeologist Wayne Lusardi, left, and diver Ernie Franklin preparing to lay a wreath at the wreck site in honor of Lt. Frank Moody. Photo by Eric Denson.

At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, a memorial was dedicated at International Flag Plaza in Port Huron to honor the 15 Tuskegee airmen killed in training accidents in Michigan. The Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Dedication Ceremony was part of a series of events happening to honor the fliers.

The Tuskegee airmen’s impact on northeast Michigan, their contribution to the war effort and their ultimate sacrifice will long be remembered here and across the nation.

The documentation of Moody’s aircraft was much more than an archaeological investigation of a wrecked aircraft. It was a dive into history – and into a man’s life.

Only 22 years old when he was tragically killed in 1944, Moody was preparing to fight for his country. His death was not in vain.

The Tuskegee airmen overcame unimaginable obstacles. They learned to fly. They became officers and leaders of men.

They soared!

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Trees dancing in the wind

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Karen finds greater joy in watching violent storms than me. I am a nervous sort who worries about the dangers. Trees waving branches every which way with some cast away gives me safety concerns. 

Once when camping, we heard a train roaring straight down a stretch of river toward our camp in wild country. We were the only campers in that campground. Friends were meeting us there the next day. 

When the roaring train reached us, it ripped the rainfly from the tent and flattened the fiberglass poles against us in our sleeping bags momentarily pinning us to the ground. It was a thrilling experience for both Karen and me. Her thrill was positive and mine full of fear. We did not anticipate a violent wind or storm in the middle of the night. Before erecting the tent, I had not checked the area to make sure no trees were unstable that might fall on us. Having our friends find us squashed under a heavy tree was not how we wanted them to greet us. 

When the wind passed, I sprang from the tent and ran through the pouring rain to capture our rainfly that had blown into the woods. Though ripped, we were able to secure it over our tent. The sudden straight-line windstorm came and passed quickly. Afterwards, we laid wet visiting in our sleeping bags and soon drifted back to sleep. 

Morning brought calm with bright sun. The following nights were peacefully quiet with friends. Karen shared the joyous excitement about the storm, and I shared anxiety. Wildlife seek protection during storms and at times experience disaster. 

A friend rescued flying squirrels from a hollow tree that blew down and killed the mother. Another friend found a nest of dead Baltimore Orioles whose pendulous nest crashed to the ground in heavy wind. Many stories are told about the trial’s wildlife experience during storms. Most of us never learn about them. What we hear about are the impacts of storms and power outages affecting our lives. News broadcasters make sure we hear about homes being washed away in Tennessee floods, communities destroyed by hurricanes, and towns burned to the ground in western wildfires. 

It is no wonder I am fearful of storm violence. They can be beautiful to watch but are frightening. This week a brief storm disturbed our lives. Power was lost with refrigerator/freezer items put in danger. We prefer power outages in winter when we can maintain home heat with the fireplace and relocate refrigerator items outside. Freezer items are still in jeopardy because it rarely is cold enough outdoors to match freezer temperatures. 

Wildlife work their best to find adequate shelter to wait out a storm, fire, or flood. Survivors pick up where they left off and continue life. We are devastated by losing our past when possessions are destroyed. We have friends that lost all pictures and family heirlooms in fires. Thankfully, they lost no family members. 

The most recent storm toppled a dead ash tree in the back yard where a hummingbird maintained a favored perch. Eastern Wood Peewees used the bare tree branches as scouting roosts to fly from to capture insects. It has been several years since emerald ash borers killed the tree. A friend asked if I wanted him to cut it down. I said no because I knew it would become a wonderful place for birds to land and for me to easily observe them from the back porch. It was far enough from the house that I did not need to worry about it falling and damaging our residence. 

A dead black cherry served a similar purpose for almost twenty years before it fell. Living trees are flexible and dance in the wind. Listening to the breeze rustle leaves is stimulating. Even after death the trees continue to brighten our lives by providing places for wildlife on their branches or in hollow trunks. Not enough dead trees stand for cavity nesting animals. Hollow live trees generally provide greater tree strength and serve as neighborhood residences. Allow as many live and dead trees to stand as possible. 

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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The Sitting tree

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Where is your special place? It might be distant across the continent or perhaps in your backyard. Hopefully you have many in varied locations. For me I refer to Bryce Canyon National Park as my Eden of Earth. Alternately there are special locations in Northern Minnesota, Northern Michigan, and at Ody Brook. 

In our Old Fallow Field. the sitting tree is an apple tree that is perhaps as old as me. One branch that extends south from the trunk low above the ground has a waiting seat. About 15 feet from the stout trunk, the branch dips down and back up making a comfortable seat to ponder life’s important things.

What is important is the sky, breeze, shades of green in summer or grays and browns in winter. It is a place to avoid the troubles of the world. There are enough troubles right here to deal with. Will rabbits become too abundant and girdle trees and shrubs or are there enough coyotes to keep their numbers within ecological niche carrying capacity? Some people do not appreciate coyotes, but I like the work they do. 

Will any of the two dozen polyphemus silk moth caterpillars I released in early August survive to adulthood and show their beautiful wings next summer. Adults have about two weeks as adults to complete their mating and egg laying. Most silk moths have one brood annually. The egg hatches, caterpillars feed in summer, cocoons develop for overwintering, and in spring or early summer the adults emerge for important reproductive work. As adults, their mouth parts are non-functional. The adult life span is limited by how much fat has been stored. 

Other important things to contemplate are leaf arrangements. Some plants have leaves directly opposite one another with the set above diverging at a 180º angle from the twig. This allows sunlight to more easily reach the leaf set below. For many plants the leaves come off the stem at lesser angles beginning a spiral pattern for leaves directly above. It is a different way for leaves to allow sunlight to reach leaves lower on the stem. 

The sitting tree is one my grandson Walden likes to visit. The branch seat is still too high for him. The tree’s lower branches are at a good height for his climbing access. I can rest in the sitting tree and contemplate what might interest him in coming years while he is busy attending the important business of tree climbing.

Shel Silverstein wrote about an apple giving tree and throughout its life it gave all it could to a man from his boyhood to old age. Finally, when the man was old and needed little, the tree still gave him a place for sitting on its dead stump. I recommend parents read this book to their children. It is a great reason for a family adventure to the local library or a bookstore. Kids like stories read over and over. The Giving Tree is good for that purpose.

At Ody Brook two pines grew at the wood’s edge in the backyard. The deep shade under needled branches provided a great place for our girls to build a fort on a bed of thick needles. It was a special place for them and remains special in their memories even though the two trees no longer stand. In their place are two tall red oaks that have filled the space once occupied by pines.

Special places should be discovered by explorers, and they will be different for each person. One does not need to be young to discover a special place. When I was young a sitting tree was not important. Now with older age and cancer such a tree has gained significance. 

I tire quickly but at times have adequate energy to walk longer distances. Sometimes it is a struggle, so I have chairs, benches, and log seats for resting along Ody Brook’s trails. August has been a challenging month and I have not been able to walk to the sitting tree, but I know it is there waiting for me. You are welcome to come walk Ody Brook’s trails and find a special place. Interpretive signs line the trails.

Whether you wish to pursue fall warblers, trees, autumn flowers, or gloriously beautiful insects, come enjoy. 

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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Have a bushel of fun picking red pine cones

Ready-to-pick red pine cones have closed scales and often show a green or purple tint.

Looking for an outdoor side hustle? Collecting a bushel of pine cones next month will net you $75 and help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources plant trees in state forests.

Sept. 1 through Sept. 30, 2021, you can pick red pine cones and drop them off by appointment at six DNR locations: three in the Upper Peninsula and three in the Lower Peninsula.

Fresh cones can be found in felled treetops from recent timber sales, on state forestlands and in recently gathered squirrel caches (yes, you can steal from a squirrel). If picking from a recent timber sale, logger permission is necessary, and pickers must wear hardhats for safety. The simplest way, however, is to pick from living red pine trees where branches extend close to the ground.

Before you haul out your ladder, there are specific things foresters look for in a perfect, fresh seed pine cone, from a red pine. Commit the following criteria to memory, because old cones or the wrong species won’t be accepted. You’ll also need to complete a few steps to register as a vendor in our online system so you can get paid for your efforts.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • First, make sure you’re picking the right species. Red pines have craggy, reddish bark and 4- to 6-inch needles that grow in pairs. Scotch and Austrian pine cones will not be accepted.
  • Cones should be picked off the tree; fallen cones on the ground are likely to be too old or wet. No twigs, needles or debris, please!
  • Cone scales should be closed, with a little bit of green or purple tint; all brown and open, and they’re too far gone.

Store pine cones in a cool, dry place in mesh bags. Onion bags will be provided by the DNR at drop-off locations. Don’t use burlap or plastic bags, which can hold moisture and ruin the cones. Tag bags on the inside and outside with your name, county where you picked and if the cones are natural or from a plantation. Drop off cones by appointment at select DNR Customer Service Centers and Wyman Nursery:

  • Marquette – Bob Tylka, 906-250-9225
  • Newberry – Jason Tokar, 906-440-1348
  • Wyman Nursery (Manistique) – Sheila Clark, 906-341-2518
  • Gaylord – Tim Greco, 989-619-5519
  • Roscommon – Jason Hartman, 989-390-0279
  • Cadillac – Sue Sobieski, 231-775-9727, ext. 6904

What happens to the pine cones once they’re dropped off? They’re put into machines that gently warm them up and then shake them, allowing the seeds to drop out and be stored until planting time.

This process helps foresters replant the forest and replenishes the supply of red pine seed, which is in high demand.

Michigan’s forests provide clean air and water, renewable resources, homes for wildlife and places to explore nature. It’s the DNR’s commitment to make sure healthy forests are here for future generations by replanting what is cut and maintaining sustainable management practices.

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