Category Archives: Education

Welcome Back! A Returning Stewardship Veteran

Hello, I am Alexander Kriebel and I have been working at Oakland Township as a year-round part-time Stewardship Specialist since spring of 2017. Although I started last spring with this position, I also worked as a Seasonal Stewardship Technician for Oakland Township for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

After I graduated from Madonna University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science in 2014, I joined up with the Oakland County Park’s Natural Resource Division and worked seasonally on enhancing the ecosystems in the county parks for 2 years. Not long after I finished up my second part-time season with the County, the Stewardship Specialist position opened up with Oakland Township Parks. I got a crazy idea in my head that I would work for both Oakland County and Oakland Township, basically creating a full-time position between the two jobs. Sure enough, 9 months later I am here working for both Oakland County and Oakland Township.

Despite having to keep 20 something parks and operating procedures separate between the two park systems, things have been going well at both jobs. I have been able to combine the knowledge and lessons from each organization to sharpen my skills, while also providing insight into ways that they can better interact and operate. Both park systems benefit from having an experienced ecological restoration professional by essentially cost sharing the different training opportunities I am getting through each organization. My hope is that by working as a type of mediator that I will help share information and improve both park systems, and ultimately the environment. With the beginning of the new year, I am excited about the possibilities that this year has in store and what we can accomplish in our parks.20582_361391524045708_2612144070447033310_n

Phragmites, Knotweed, and Swallow-wort: Workshop TOMORROW to learn to ID and manage high-priority invasive plants!

Phragmites, Japanese Knotweed, and Swallow-wort can push out all other plants and ruin habitat for wildlife. Don’t let these invasive plants get a foothold on your property! Learn more about how to recognize and control these plants so that you can act quickly if you find them.

When: TOMORROW, June 27 at 6:30 pm

Where: Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Rd, Rochester, MI 48306

We will walk through the basics of identifying, controlling, and reporting high priority invasive species. These invasive plants are known to reduce property values, degrade natural areas, and impair wildlife habitat.

PhragmitesText
Phragmites does not recognize property boundaries! Catch your Phragmites while it is small and easy to control for the best results.

 

TREES AND US: More in Common Than You Might Think!

The Schuette Oak may be 500 years old. It was named to the Champion Trees National Register in 1973.

The Schuette Oak has been living at the corner of Letts Road and Rush Road for probably 500 years. In 1973, it was recognized in the Champion Trees National Register.   I spent many of my childhood summers sitting in a huge, very old tree – in my case, a sugar maple –   in the field next to my parent’s house on Lake George Road. Held in its woody embrace,  I read books, ate snacks, sang and watched tall field grasses dance in the wind.

Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

So when I came across The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, I grabbed it and have enjoyed what this German forester had to teach me.   So here’s a baker’s dozen of interesting facts about these giants of the plant world.  Here’s hoping that you’re as surprised and delighted by some of them as I was.

MOST TREES ARE UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS.  

Like us humans, trees mostly reproduce sexually through sperm and egg – carried in the pollen and and ovary of plants (one exception is vegetative reproduction through suckering in trees like aspens and black locust,  a kind of cloning to make offspring that have the same genes as the parent). Each of those trees,  like each of us, have a unique set of chromosomes. The pollen of oaks, for instance,  is carried on the wind, bringing sperm to fertilize the eggs of other oaks.

The catkins on this Black Oak (Quercus velutina) are releasing their pollen. (Ah-choo!)

One advantage of reproducing sexually with pollen from another plant is greater genetic diversity of offspring. Differences in genetic makeup may help some individual trees better resist the challenges of plant life – disease, insects, drought or a warming climate. That creates a greater likelihood the at least some individuals of a species will survive even if the rest of the forest doesn’t.  A hopeful thought.

TREES BREATHE.   

Trees, like all plants, have pores, not visible to the naked eye, on the underside of their leaves called “stomata.” Trees breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2) and breathe out (“transpire”) oxygen gas and water vapor through these pores.  In pine trees, stomata are on the underside of their needles and sunken below the surface of the needle, helping reduce water loss when the air is very dry in the winter. Thanks goodness trees and plants do this! We need that oxygen and of course, we return the favor by taking in oxygen and transpiring CO2.

Tiny holes on the bottom of leaves, not seen by the naked eye,  are the “mouths” of the trees, called “stomata.”  All plants have them.
Stomata on the cuticle of a leaf. By Tyanna – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45217985

TREES FEED THEIR YOUNG AND OTHER NEEDY TREES  

As explained in a February “Photo of the the Week,” mychorrhizal fungi wrap around tree roots creating a “wood-wide web” of amazing density beneath the forest floor. According to Wohlleben, “One teaspoon of forest soil contains many miles of … ‘hyphae’ ” – the microscopically thin filaments of fungi in the web. This fungal network provides a way for trees to feed sugars to their young, which we call saplings. Occasionally large trees feed other needy trees in the forest, those in too much shade, for example – thereby creating a healthier tree community.

This mature oak is probably feeding the four little saplings around it through the “wood-wide web” of mychorrhizal fungi at its roots.

WHEN ATTACKED BY INSECTS, SOME TREES WARN THEIR FELLOW TREES.

Using  chemicals released through the “wood-wide web,” trees notify other trees when under attack. This allows their tree neighbors to increase the chemicals in their leaves to repel the invading insects. An oak, for example can increase the tannin levels in its leaves.   Scientist have found that the tannin is either toxic to insects or perhaps just makes the leaves taste bad. Some trees can also release a scent that attracts the specific predator that preys on that particular insect.  Clever, eh?

This maze of tunnels is the result of an attack of bark beetles (subfamily Scolytinae), which tend to attack weak trees, but luckily, mostly dead ones.

SOME TREES SYNCHRONIZE THEIR NUT PRODUCTION…SOMEHOW.  

Oaks and Beeches, for instance, somehow coordinate the years in which they will produce a huge number of fruits (acorns for oaks and beech nuts for beeches). These are called “mast years.”  In normal years oaks will only produce a few acorns, limiting the populations of deer, blue jays, squirrels, mice and other animals who love the fatty oil in acorns. Animals will eat most of the acorns in the off years, limiting establishment of new saplings. In mast years, however, the volume of acorns is so high that these animals can’t  eat them all. So inevitably more survive to grow into saplings. It’s a nifty way to insure that at least some of your offspring survive in a world where, on average, each tree only has one “child” that reaches adulthood! Scientists don’t seem to know exactly how trees synchronize for mast years, although weather and seed production in previous years probably play a role.

Acorns in the White Oak family – Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), I believe.

TREES DON’T MOVE (OF COURSE) –  BUT FORESTS DO.

As glaciers advanced and retreated during ice ages, forests had to adapt. Trees like Maples (genus Acer) sent their seeds flying on little wings, called “samaras,” or what children call “helicopters.” If the climate warmed, the samaras that flew north were more likely to thrive and start new forests,  while the ones that flew south did better as the glaciers advanced. In this way, over thousands of years, whole forests migrated.  Jays and their relatives, fond of nutritious acorns, are credited with helping oaks in southern Europe rapidly re-populate after the ice age. Today, the roads, houses, and lawns of human development have fragmented forests, limiting their movement and potentially hurting their ability to respond and move in response to changing climate.

The samaras, flying seeds, of a Box Elder (Acer negundo), a member of the Maple family.

TREES “HIBERNATE” LIKE MANY ANIMALS

We all know bears, raccoons, woodchucks etc., fatten themselves up before winter hibernation. Trees do something similar. Leaves use photosynthesis to capture the light energy from the sun and convert it to chemical energy stored in sugars. Throughout the summer trees store these sugars in their branches, trunk, and roots. As days get shorter and colder, trees begin to move nutrients out of their leaves in preparation for winter,  breaking down the chlorophyll (which makes them green) into its components so it can be sent back out in the spring to the new leaves. Once these green pigments are gone, the leaves turn the color of the remaining yellow and red pigments. As a final step before dropping their leaves, trees produce a layer of cells that seal off the connection between the  leaves and twigs – and the leaves ride the next breeze to the ground. Trees are finally ready for winter. The next spring the stored nutrients and sugars will power the burst of new leaves and branches!

This non-native Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) is extracting the green chlorophyll from its leaves and storing it in the roots for next spring’s leaves.

SOME ADULT TREES KEEP A CHECK ON THE YOUNG.   

Older oaks and beeches create a lot of shade that inhibits the rapid growth of younger trees. You’d think that would be a problem for the little trees, but at least for oaks and beeches, it isn’t. The older tree is still feeding the younger through the underground web,  so the sapling can survive without as much sunlight and its wood. According to Wohlleben, this slower, denser growth makes saplings more resistant to fungi and insects. The adult’s canopy may also protect the saplings from heavy spring frosts. When a gap develops in the canopy, the sapling is ready to grow. Biological child care, you might say.

Large trees shade saplings. That way they grow more slowly but have denser wood to resist disease and insects.

SOME YOUNG TREES TAKE ADVANTAGE OF “SLEEPING” ADULTS.  

Once  larger trees shed their autumn leaves and “sleep” for the winter, the youngsters seize the moment! Many keep their leaves later into the fall so they can make more sugars from the autumn sunlight available under the bare adult trees. Young trees also “wake” on average about two weeks earlier than older trees.  That gives them a little extra spring sunlight for growth. The youngsters can get caught, though, by an early freeze, preventing them from shedding their leaves. That’s not a huge problem for little trees in the winter, which are more flexible in winter wind and snow.  Smaller trees may also keep their leaves to discourage deer and other herbivores from nibbling their twigs and bark – who wants a mouthful of lifeless leaves?

This old White Oak (Quercus alba) lost its leaves in the fall but the sapling nearby kept its leaves to take advantage of late fall light.

TREES  NEED THEIR “SLEEP.”

 Wohlleben reports that tree lovers experimented with taking tiny oaks inside in pots on windowsills during the winter. The result was that the seedlings, taking advantage of the heat and light, continued to grow all winter. But without a rest from all that growing, most of them died during their first year. Trees may need rest at night too, when the air cools and their metabolism slows.  Sleep deprivation – evidently it’s a problem for both humans and trees!

Trees may benefit from a bit of a rest at night and during the winter  just as we do.

CONIFERS “BUNDLE UP” TO COPE WITH WINTER  

Needles are actually the leaves of conifers. Their leaves survive short summers and harsh winters by being tightly rolled  into needles and by “bundling up” with a waxy coating on their bark and needles that acts like anti-freeze and helps retains moisture. Green needles allow conifers to start photosynthesizing as soon as the weather warms.  Like us human Michiganders, they soak up as much sunshine as possible when spring arrives.

In a bog near Lost Lake Nature Park is a remnant stand of Black Spruce (Picea mariana). These trees typically grow in colder environments and would have populated large areas of Michigan as the glaciers retreated. The cool bog microclimate provides a southern refuge for black spruce. Their sparse, pointed tops and flexible branches, which layer downward when snow-laden, shed snow nicely too, an important survival strategy in snowy climes.

A remnant stand of Black Spruce near Lost Lake Park, trees that thrived in the cool climate as the glaciers receded.

AGE AFFECTS TREES IN WAYS SIMILAR TO AGE IN HUMANS.

Bark is essentially the skin of a tree. It holds in and releases moisture, protects a tree’s “insides” and is a barrier against pathogens that seek their way into the circulatory system. According to Wohlleben, “In young trees of all species, the outer bark is smooth as a baby’s bottom. As trees age, wrinkles gradually appear (beginning from below) –  and they steadily deepen as the years progress.” Their girth, of course, increases, too. The crowns of trees thin out with age, just like the locks of aging humans. So we’re not the only ones who get stouter, balder and more wrinkled with age!

The young White Pine (Pinus strobus)  has smooth skin, or bark, like all saplings, whereas the adult pine behind has “wrinkled” bark.

TREES CONTINUE TO AFFECT THE LIVES OF OTHERS LONG AFTER DEATH  

Wohlleben says that “In total, a fifth of all animal and plant species  – that’s about six thousand of the species we know about – depend on dead wood.” Insect and fungus specialists process a fallen log over many years, and woodpeckers, salamanders, and other critters find food and refuge in the rotting wood. Nutrients stored in bark and wood for perhaps hundreds of years are slowly returned to the forest floor. In some cases, young trees even sprout in the fallen bodies of their elders, creating “nurse-logs.”  Trees, like humans, leave a legacy for future generations.

Insects and fungi will gradually process this fallen tree, returning nutrients that will feed the whole forest, including new saplings. A tree legacy.

Trees as Living Beings

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) on a foggy autumn morning at Bear Creek.

Without faces, it’s easy to see trees as “things” instead of living, breathing beings.  They can become just a backdrop to our lives. But trees communicate with each other, feed their young, breathe – do so many of things that we do.  Wohlleben’s book helped me see trees in a new and more complex light, even though I’ve always loved trees. I hope this brief taste of what the book has to offer does the same for you.

Footnote: The main source for this blog was The Hidden Life of Trees:  What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Copyright 2015 by Ludwig Verlag, Munich, part of Random House GmbH publishing group.  English translation copyright 2016 by Jane Billinghurst .  Other sources include Wikipedia, www.Michiganflora.net, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich (Cliff Street Books, 1997) and Dr. Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Townships Park and Recreation. 

Sign up for Volunteer Burn Crew Training – February 25

If you are interested in joining our volunteer burn crew, join us for our training workshop on Saturday, February 25, 9 am – 2:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill (4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306). We will cover reasons for using prescribed fire, preparations for conducting a fire, necessary tools, roles of each burn crew member, and ignition patterns. Training is required for new crew members, and a great refresher if you’re returning. Weather permitting we will do a small demonstration or mock burn after lunch. Snacks will be provided, but please bring your own lunch.

RSVP required to bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org or 248-651-7810 ext. 401 by Thursday, February 23 or sooner.

This could be you! Trained and ready to help restore our natural areas with prescribed fire.
This could be you! Trained and ready to help restore our natural areas with prescribed fire.

Don’t miss it tonight! Botanist’s Perspective on Public Lands in Southern Michigan

TONIGHT, February 9  at 6:30 pm we are excited to host botanist and ecologist Jesse Lincoln for our next Stewardship Talk. While documenting natural communities for Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Jesse has walked rarely seen corners of public land in southern Michigan. Join us to learn about his discoveries, and threats to public land. Don’t miss this great opportunity to learn about our Michigan natural heritage!

Presentations starts at 6:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Rd, Rochester, MI 48306. Hope to see you there!protectpublicland_presentation2017_flyer

Natural Areas Stewardship 2016 Annual Report

It was our privilege to again steward the natural areas of Oakland Township’s beautiful parks in 2016. 2017 is shaping up to be another exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2016 Annual Stewardship Report (click link to view).

Seasonal Technicians

We had two technicians return for 2016, Andrea Nadjarian and Zach Peklo. Andrea Nadjarian came to us from Grand Valley State University where she is pursuing a degree in natural resources management and minor in biology. Zach Peklo also comes to us from Grand Valley State University studying natural resources management with an emphasis on Geographic Information Systems. New to our crew this year was Heather Herndon, from New Mexico State where she completed her bachelor’s degree in wildlife science and a minor in range science in May 2016.

2016 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben, Heather, Zach, and Andrea
2016 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben, Heather, Zach, and Andrea

Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

Using our second Partners grant we planted 15 acres of native prairie plants at Charles Ilsley Park and 2 acres at Gallagher Creek Park in 2016. Planting an additional 15 acres at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park is scheduled for 2017, with preparation beginning in 2016. After planting 20 acres of native prairie species at Draper Twin Lake Park and 18 acres at Charles Ilsley Park in 2015, we completed two maintenance mows to control annual weeds.cip_beforeaugmow

USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant

Work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, controlling woody invasives on 33 acres of oak forest, prairie, and wetland between Gunn Rd and Adams Rd on the Paint Creek Trail.

Prairie buttercup found in restoration area along the Paint Creek Trail.
Prairie buttercup found in restoration area along the Paint Creek Trail.

Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (OC CISMA)

Oakland Township Parks and Recreation officially joined the OC CISMA. We participated in the Michigan Invasive Species Grant awarded to the OC CISMA and were able to complete treatment of approximately 42,000 linear feet of Phragmites, Japanese knotweed, and swallow-wort infestations in the right-of-way of major roads in Oakland Township.

The OC CISMA is a partnership-based management structure that coordinates the invasive species control activities of its members within the geographic boundaries of Oakland County.
The OC CISMA is a partnership-based management structure that coordinates the invasive species control activities of its members within the geographic boundaries of Oakland County.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Gallagher Creek Park, Nicholson Prairie, Kamin Easement, Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie, Paint Creek Heritage Area Fen, and some Paint Creek Trail right-of-way. We contracted with Mike Appel Environmental Designs for a burn at Lost Lake Nature Park. After years of planning, we held volunteer prescribed burn crew training in February and completed burns at Bear Creek Nature Park, Blue Heron Environmental Area, Marsh View Park, and the Art Project prairie at the Gallagher Road parking lot along the Paint Creek Trail.

Volunteer fire crew preparing to burn, March 2016.
Volunteer fire crew preparing to burn, March 2016.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive with regular posts from Cam Mannino. She continued her “This Week at Bear Creek” posts and added posts about other parks in the system, all with excellent writing and photographs. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 43 posts and had 4542 visitors, with 9400 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 747 hours in 2016! Weekly bird walks continued, gathering useful data about avian life in the park and engaging residents. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October).

Removing garlic mustard at Bear Creek Nature Park, May 2016.
Removing garlic mustard at Bear Creek Nature Park, May 2016.

Education Events

Stewardship hosted education events in early 2016. Topics included presentations on coyotes, the Oak Openings region in northwest Ohio, and prescribed fire in Oakland Township parks.

A coyote at Yosemite National Park, California. By Christopher Bruno [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A coyote at Yosemite National Park, California. By Christopher Bruno [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 21 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 15 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

Using controlled burning to remove dead Phragmites that was treated in fall 2014. Burning will not kill Phragmites! We removed the dead thatch to allow native plants to grow again.
Using controlled burning to remove dead Phragmites that was treated in fall 2014. Burning will not kill Phragmites! We removed the dead thatch to allow native plants to grow again.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.

Enjoying an Evening of Turtles, Salamanders, Frogs and, oh yeah, a Rattlesnake!

Last Thursday, Ben VanderWeide, our township stewardship manager, hosted a well-attended event on rare/endangered “herps” (Herpetofauna), that is, amphibians and reptiles.

Blog and photos by Cam Mannino
Blog and photos by
Cam Mannino

At this time of year, talking about snakes, turtles, salamanders and frogs may seem a bit odd to you.  Actually though,  the Herpetology expert and presenter, David Mifsud of Herpetological Resource Management (HRM), told us that he sees Spring Peepers, Eastern Garter Snakes and Red-backed Salamanders moving around in Michigan winters when temperatures warm up as they have lately.    So for starters, here are three that he says we might look for during this winter thaw:

 

Garter snake closeup GC
Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) may be moving on warm winter days.
red-backed-salamander-1
You could see a Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus) in a vernal pool created by snow melt.
Spring Peeper largest size
Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) can occasionally be heard/seen on a warm winter day.

And even if you don’t see one of these herps “in person” this winter, it’s just pleasant to think about springtime creatures in the dead of winter, right?  So here’s a brief trip through some of the important and lively information that David shared with about 30 of us last Thursday night.

Note:  Because some of these creatures are rare, some of the photos this week are courtesy of photographers at iNaturalist.org.  Please check the captions for names of these gifted people and many thanks to Creative Commons, iNaturalist and these photographers for sharing their work!

How Important are Amphibians and Reptiles?  Let Me Count the Ways…

  • Canaries in the coal mine. Amphibians and reptiles accumulate toxins and other contaminates in their bodies and most live both in water and on land.  So they are effective gauges (bio-indicators) of what’s getting into both environments.
  • Many eat invasive species.  For example,  the very homely Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus), an aquatic salamander, favors eating invasive Zebra Mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) and  invasive Brown Gobies (Neogobius melanostomus), both huge problems in the Great Lakes. I grant you  this much-maligned aquatic salamander is not pretty. But it’s eating these invasive species, crayfish, worms,  and insect larvae! There’s no evidence that they reduce game fish populations (see Harding 1997). So please!  Return them with care to the water if you catch them on your hooks winter or summer.
original
Mudpuppies eat invasive species not game fish. Photo by Marcus Rosten CC-BY. I lightened and cropped slightly.
  • Predator and Prey. Herps can be both predator and prey, meaning they’re important in nature’s food web.  For example, dragonflies, like the Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) on the left below,  lay eggs in vernal pools.  The  nymphs that hatch feed on the eggs of salamanders who deposit their eggs on sticks in vernal pools, as seen in the center photo.  But when the Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) on the right – an inhabitant mostly of western and southern Michigan –  reaches adulthood,  it in turn eats dragonflies.  This kind of food cycle helps keep a healthy balance between predator and prey in the ecosystem and builds the ladder system of the food web.
  • Our natural heritage. And of course, these creatures deserve our care because they are native to the habitats which are our natural heritage. And just as we preserve historic homes, we need to preserve the habitats for plants and animals that share our natural inheritance.
  • Just because. These beautiful creatures deserve a place to call home too!

And the Prognosis for Michigan Herps?  Uh, Not So Good…

Unfortunately, in Michigan and the Great Lakes Region, more than half of our species of amphibians and reptiles are declining. Why?

  • Amphibians and reptiles spend time on land and in the water. So those pollutants and contaminants that they accumulate, making them bio-indicators, can also kill them. Plastic beads in beauty products, pesticides from lawns and agriculture, hormones from our medicines in waste water, and agricultural run-off can affect these creatures.
  • Many reptiles have to live a long time in order to mature and reproduce.  The Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii), found in our township,  is listed as a Species of Special Concern in Michigan. It takes up to 20 years for these yellow-chinned turtles to mature enough to produce young and they can live up to 90 years! This one on a road near Draper Twin Lake Park is demonstrating one of the hazards – habitat loss or disruption.  In this case, a road cut through its habitat. If you see a turtle on the road and can safely do so, be sure to move it gently in the direction it was going or it will turn head right back the way it came. Turtles are very focused on getting to and from their breeding grounds!

    Blandings Turtle near Draper
    A Blanding’s Turtle has to survive up to 20 years before it produces young!
  • Creatures with long lives like turtles especially need connected habitat corridors since they require both water and dry land, where they lay their eggs. Here a Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) is laying her eggs high on a sunny slope in Bear Creek before she returns to the pond. She demonstrates a common natural hazard. A female Snapper has a strong scent from living in marshes so it’s easy for predators – like foxes, coyotes, or raccoons – to track down her nest of eggs. And the mounds of earth she leaves behind are a big clue too!
snapper laying eggs
A Snapping Turtle leaves a strong marsh scent on her trail that lead predators, like raccoons, to her nest of eggs.
  • As cute, and as pesky,  as raccoons can be, they are serious predators of amphibians and reptiles and over-populated in some parks. Their numbers are often higher in urban areas than they would be naturally because they are “subsidized” by the food we provide unwittingly, such as our trash and the dog food we leave outside. After racoons leave the feast in your backyard, they return to a local natural area to snack on amphibian and reptile eggs, often causing over 90% nest failure. To keep park environments in balance between predators and prey, please remove food sources from around your home, and don’t transport trapped raccoons or other animals to our parks! 

 

raccoon in hole
Raccoons are efficient predators of “herp” eggs and young. So please don’t transport yours to the parks or we’ll have too many! This one peeked from a tree at Bear Creek.

Of course,  birds and other creatures prey on amphibians and reptiles as well.  This Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is heading for quite a feast!

cr cooper's hawk with snake
A Cooper’s Hawk prepares to dine on a snake.
  • Unfortunately, salamanders and turtles are sometimes poached from the wild for pets, both by wildlife traffickers and uninformed parents and children. This has had a devastating effect, for instance,  on the very cute and tiny Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) who’s only 3-5 inches long! And the same thing has happened to Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina) and even Common Snappers, which are sold overseas as well as domestically for supposed “medicinal” purposes.
spotted-turtle-cc-no-my-photo
Photo of the tiny Spotted Turtle by Todd Pierson (CC BY-NC-SA) whose numbers have declined due to treating them as pets.

The Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens), which appears in our parks, is also a Species of Special Concern in Michigan due to its declining numbers. This lovely frog with its emerald body and oval spots has unfortunately been poorly studied. So researchers still need to find the reasons for its distress.

leopard frog
The Leopard Frog’s numbers are declining and no one yet knows exactly why.

OK, but what about that Michigan rattlesnake???

emr_andrewhoffman2008_cc-by-nc-nd-3
Photo by Andrew Hoffman CC BY-NA-ND 4.0. No changes were made to the photo.

Most of us have heard of, but never seen, Michigan’s most venomous snake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) (a couple other snakes have weak venom that only causes irritation). This very shy, low-key snake only grows to about 2 feet long. According to Michigan DNR, it has one set of rattles at birth and develops more as it sheds its skin several times each year.  Its head is triangular like most rattlesnakes, though it is the smallest and least venomous rattler in the U.S.  Look also for a vertical eye slit and saddle-shaped spots.

The likelihood of you being bothered by this snake is low.  In 2016 it was listed as a Federally Threatened Species, which means its numbers are becoming drastically low.  And these snakes just want to avoid you. David reports having searched for this snake with a tracking device and after hearing a loud “beep” from his device, found it under the grass between his feet!  As he moved the grass aside, the snake silently slid over his shoe and away. That’s a conflict-avoiding snake! And a herpetologist with nerves of steel, I might add.

So if you do get to see one, consider yourself lucky. Don’t hurt or handle these docile snakes, since folks most often get bitten when harassing a snake that just wants to get away. Many bites are “dry,” meaning no venom. It takes lots of energy for the snake to produce the venom, and it doesn’t want to waste it! But if you get any kind of bite from this snake, see a doctor right away. Luckily, Dave informed us that no one in the US has died from such a bite in 100 years.

In spring, when these snakes are most active, they’re seen near wetlands, but they are likely to move to drier, upland areas in the summer. While they been seen recently at Stony Creek Metro Park in our area, we have no recent sighting in our township parks. Let us know if you see one!

Massasaugas overwinter for up to six months under logs, in small animal burrows and often in the “chimneys” created by crayfish, like this one.

A recently refreshed Crayfish hole among the detritus
A recently refreshed crayfish hole can hold many creatures over the winter, occasionally including Massasauga rattlesnakes.

Evidently, these burrows fill with ground water which maintains a more constant temperature in the winter than above ground – and that’s what important to an animal that can’t control its body temperature internally.  What’s amazing is that they often share these chimneys with other small creatures during the winter when all of them are in hibernation mode.  A kind of winter “condo” as David described it.  Imagine that!

Befriending Our Local Amphibians and Reptiles

Five turtles line up on a log at Bear Creek Nature Park.
The “Von Trapp Family”  Painted Turtles line up on a log at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Our parks are great places to see all kinds of “herps.”  Snappers and painted turtles cruise Bear Creek’s ponds and marshes.  Our wetlands in every park fill with a chorus of frog song every spring.  Snakes bask in sunny spots and quickly disappear into tall grass.  And in moist woodland uplands, salamanders emerge on the first warm night to make their way to vernal pools to mate and lay their eggs.  We need to care for these interesting creatures and their habitats  to be sure that they still thrive in our world when our children or grandchildren go looking for them.

Footnote:  My sources for information, besides Oakland Township's Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: 
Harding, James H. (1997) Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. iNaturalist.org for periodic photos;Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991); Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for insect info; http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman and the website www.illinoiswildflowers.info; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification; Birds of North America Online; Audubon.org; Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, Savannah River Ecology Lab (Univ of Georgia); Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org;  An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown; The Ecology of Plants by Gurevitch, Scheiner and Fox; other sites as cited in the text.

Protecting Michigan’s Rare Amphibians and Reptiles: Saving the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Protecting Michigan’s Rare Amphibians and Reptiles: Saving the Eastern  Massasauga Rattlesnake

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  • When: 6:30 pm Thursday, January 19, 2017
  • Where: Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Rd, Rochester, MI 48306

Join us as David Mifsud with Herpetological Resource Management shares his wealth of knowledge about reptiles and amphibians in our great state. Michigan is home to over 60 species of reptiles and amphibians (called “herpetofauna”). More than half are designated as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). In 2016 the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake was elevated to Federally Threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This designation has significant impacts on the conservation and management of these snakes in Michigan. This presentation will focus on rare amphibians and reptiles in Michigan, with emphasis on the Massasauga Rattlesnake, and discuss the basic natural history, threats, and conservation needs for these species.

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Watch Woodcock Dance on Earth Day!

Join us to eat s’mores and watch woodcock do their cool aerial mating dance! Woodcock begin dancing just after sunset, which is at 8:22 pm on Earth Day 2016. While we wait for sunset we will enjoy snacks, a spring evening, and a brief intro to woodcock biology. As the light fades we will quiet down so that we can enjoy this avian spectacle. Bring a comfortable lawn chair, binoculars, and layers to add as the night cools down.

Where: Predmore Road parking lot at Cranberry Lake Park, 388 W. Predmore Rd., Rochester, MI 48306. Click to view a map: https://goo.gl/maps/QJrJLaT2kfr

When: Tomorrow, April 22. We’ll have a campfire and snacks starting around 7:30 pm. If the weather is good the birds should start dancing around 8:30 pm.

American Woodcock. Who wouldn't want to see a cool bird like this? Photo by Flickr user guizmo_68. Used under Creative Commons License cc-by-2.0
American Woodcock. Who wouldn’t want to see a cool bird like this? Photo by Flickr user guizmo_68. Used under Creative Commons License cc-by-2.0

We got a lot done together last year: Natural Areas Stewardship 2015 Annual Report

As we look forward to our natural areas stewardship goals for 2016, we look back at what we accomplished in 2015. It was an exciting year! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2015 Annual Stewardship Report (click the link).

  1. Seasonal Technicians: We had another outstanding crew in 2015. David Vecellio was just finishing his degree at Oakland University and used the position as his required internship. Andrea Nadjarian came to us from Grand Valley State University where she is pursuing a degree in natural resources. Weston Hillier graduated from Western Michigan University in 2014. He has interests in pollinators. We also shared Zach Peklo with Six Rivers Land Conservancy to implement outreach activities for neighbors of parks with conservation easements.

    Andrea, Weston, Zach, David, and Ben.
    Andrea, Weston, Zach, David, and Ben.
  2. US Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants: We completed site preparation and planting for the 20 acres at Draper Twin Lake Park and 18 acres at Charles Ilsley Park. Jerry Stewart with Native Connections did the planting. We also obtained a second Partners grant to continue restoration on 30 additional acres at Charles Ilsley Park and begin restoration on 5 acres of Gallagher Creek Park uplands.

    The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
    The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
  3. USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) grant: Work continued on the 2008 WHIP grant, controlling woody invasives on a 5 acre area adjacent to the Gallagher Road parking lot along the Paint Creek Trail. A nice prairie remnant is located at this parking lot, so restoration on adjacent private lands should provide a nice buffer.
  4. Prescribed Burns: We completed spring burns at Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, Lost Lake Nature Park, Gallagher Creek Park, O’Connor Nature Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area—Fen and Watershed Ridge Park. A primary objective of burns was removal of Phragmites thatch from areas treated in 2014. After years of planning, we also began implementation of the volunteer prescribed burn crew. We met with folks at Ann Arbor Natural Areas Preservation to learn about their program. We also held our first volunteer training on December 12.IMG_0406
  5. Stewardship Blog: The stewardship blog took a big leap forward when Cam Mannino came on board in February. She regularly contributed her “This Week at Bear Creek” posts, with excellent writing and photographs – check out the slideshow of her pictures below. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 76 posts and had 3747 visitors, with 7673 page views. Natural Areas Notebook, oaklandnaturalareas.com

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  6. Volunteer Program: The volunteer program continued to mature. Weekly bird walks allowed the Stewardship Manager to regularly meet interested residents and recruit volunteers. We began to implement the Park Stewards program to work with highly motivated volunteers who will help look after natural areas in parks. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October).IMG_1335
  7. Education Events: Stewardship hosted education events in early 2015. Topics included a presentation on the role of fire in natural communities, and a second presentation about prairies, oak barrens, and other grasslands in Oakland Township.
  8. Phragmites Outreach Program: We launched the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 20 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 12 properties with a contractor.

You can find this report and the 2014 report on the “About” page.