Invasive Species Management and Climate Change

As I wind down the season this last week of September, my time working on the stewardship crew these past months sure seems to have flown by. Although this is not my first season in a position on a field crew, I’ve still learned a ton of new and insightful information relating to land management, ecosystem restoration, and Michigan’s natural features. The majority of the work I performed was helping to control invasive species populations throughout Oakland Township’s parks. While in our day to day tasks, it can be hard to look at the big picture of invasive species management and how to assess long-term goals. Though reflecting on our work and talking with the director of Oakland County’s Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, I hope to do just that.

What Makes a Plant “Invasive”?

Working throughout the season, I have seen firsthand the devastation that certain plants have caused in our parks. How is it that we label these havoc-wreaking species as “invasive”, and what makes them so detrimental? An invasive species can be defined as a non-native species (plant, animal, disease, etc.) with the ability to “invade” or “take over” an ecosystem in a way cause s a negative impact on the environment, human health, or the economy. In most cases, an invasive species’ introduction into an area is brought on by human activity, such as the purposeful or accidental transportation of the species from one part of the world to another. In their native ranges, these species have evolved to serve an important role in their ecosystems, and are kept in check by natural competitors. However, the same species can have catastrophic effects when transplanted to new environments that haven’t had thousands to millions of years to adapt to its presence. Because of this, they are able to outcompete native species and drive an overall biodiversity loss. For example, Oriental bittersweet is an ornamental plant brought over from Eastern Asia that has the capability to spread rampantly throughout our forests. Its vining growth habit leads it to grow around trees or shrubs and eventually strangle them to death, or cover a massive amount of area on the forest floor. Oriental bittersweet and other invasive plants disrupt an area’s native food web which limits resources critical for native birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals. These effects also work to destroy habitat for native wildlife.

A Changing Climate Creates New Challenges

Our earth is experiencing changes at an abnormally high rate as time progresses. Climate change news is always prevalent, but has had significant media attention especially recently as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its report highlighting the devastating consequences of our changing planet. I was curious to see how exactly increasing global temperatures and more extreme weather events would affect the prevalence of invasive plant species. In short, I found that longer summer growth seasons will allow for more vegetative growth of invaders, and overall warming will shift individual species ranges northward over generations.

I noticed firsthand this spring that there was the absence of water in a lot of areas that should have been seasonally wet, such as vernal pools and the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie. Although anecdotal, this observation may tie into the fact that we had less snowfall this past winter due to drier and warmer than average conditions. Fluctuations in temperature and precipitation are commonplace year to year, but climate change will make them more common and extreme. So, what does this mean for invasive species? Based on what I’ve learned about wet prairies this year, this habitat type relies on periodic wetness to help keep its native species dominant and drown out unwelcomed guests. However, certain invasive plants like purple loosestrife and narrow-leaf cattail may not be bothered, and in some cases may even thrive.

How the Oakland County CISMA is Helping

Since management of invasive species requires cooperation on a local scale, organizations known as Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMAs) are often established with the goal of uniting relevant agencies in their efforts to control unwanted species. I was interested in learning more about what kinds of problems climate change introduces for managing invasive species in my local area, so I got in touch with Erica Clites, Director of the Oakland County CISMA. I asked her questions regarding the nature of her work and what the CISMA is doing to prepare for changing climate variables.

What is the role of the Oakland County CISMA in combating invasive species?

The Oakland County CISMA mainly acts as the main information base regarding invasive species in the area. Expertise about species identification and management are offered to both partner organizations and the public. In addition to education, the CISMA is also involved in direct surveying and management of invasive species. Their efforts are often concerned with long-term management, which comes in the form of partnerships with organizations like the Oakland County road commission. Working with the road commission allows them to help manage the spread of invaders like Phragmites australis, a persistent weed that often grows in roadside ditches.

Phragmites australis, an invasive reed that the stewardship crew is well acquainted with, often gets established in the disturbed areas along the edges of roads

What does a changing climate mean for invasive species management in Oakland County?

I asked Erica about how she anticipates climate change will affect her work with the CISMA. Managing invasives is just as much about working in the present as it is looking towards the future. By being aware of the general trend of warmer global temperatures and increased intensity of weather events, Erica can anticipate how certain species will act and which ones to watch out for.

With higher average winter temperatures, more species will be able to live in Michigan than previously. Until recently, certain invasives have been prevented from becoming established here due to their inability to survive our cold winters. Water lettuce and water hyacinth are two non-native aquatic plants that fall under this category. Both species are legal for sale in the water garden trade, with the pretense that they should not be released into the environment. Unfortunately, these plants do eventually end up outside of their intended area, as is often the case with ornamental species. With the threat of warmer winters, water lettuce and water hyacinth have the potential to become invasive if left unchecked. The Oakland County CISMA is aware of the threat of these plants and other potential invasives and works towards removing what they can find as a preventative measure.

Temperature changes often shift the ranges of species over time, and invasive plants are no exception. According to Erica, certain species that are known to be established in the southern US are at risk of moving northward in response to increasing global temperatures. The CISMA remains vigilant and watches for certain species that are predicted to move northward in the future. The Michigan Invasive Species Watchlist is a great resource for those wanting to know which species may be moving into your neighborhood. Species that are expected to move up to Michigan from southward latitudes can be found on this list.

Climate change will create more variable conditions in weather patterns and increase stressors such as drought and extreme heat. I had initially thought that these changes would somewhat even the score since they affect both native and nonnative plant species. However, I was disappointed to learn that invasive species are often more flexible and better equipped to handle these changes than native plants are. Invasive plants are able to successfully populate an area because of their ability to tolerate a wider range of conditions, and this includes weather and climate. Think about an open field that has been turned into a neighborhood. Most species will not be able to tolerate such a dramatic change in their environment, but tenacious plants like dandelions will still pop up through cracks in the pavement.

How You Can Help

My goal in writing this blog post was not to instill you with a feeling of impending doom, but to ignite your motivation to help deal with the threat of invasive species. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help for those interested. The Oakland County CISMA’s website has plenty of resources available for identification and management of several of the most common and pervasive species in the county. Their YouTube channel and Facebook page have a lot of useful information as well.

I asked Erica what she would recommend for those wanting to be part of the invasive species mitigation solution, and she recommended a number of options:

If you want to maintain Michigan’s beautiful biodiversity, keep invaders away!

Draper Twin Lake Park – East: The Stage is Set for Another Gold and Purple Autumn

Follow the Goldenrod Road … er, path into Draper Twin Lake Park – East

Walking into Draper Twin Lake Park – East in September is almost like being Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road in The Wizard of Oz. The trails are lined with a wide variety of goldenrods and other sunny yellow wildflowers. Gold-and-black bees and beetles hum and scramble over them, making the most of late season nectar and pollen. Here and there the asters accent the gold with splashes of royal purple, lavender and white. Bronze and copper grasses dip and sway in the prairie, while summer birds finish their molts and prepare to move south or overwinter here.

Text and photos by Cam Mannino

So dodging between downpours and ensconced in my net anti-bug jacket, I ventured out into the thinning light of early autumn to enjoy early fall’s performance. Glad you’re here to join me.

Fall Flowers and Grasses Set the Stage in Early Autumn

Clouds above the golden prairie in the north of Draper Twin Lake Park – East

Here in Oakland Township, goldenrods and tall grasses create the early fall backdrop within which all the other creatures hunt, forage and fly. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to notice the variety of goldenrods that paint their particular yellow on early autumn’s canvas. So I think an introduction to just four of our most common goldenrods is called for, in case you think “you’ve seen one goldenrod, you’ve seen them all!” [Click on photos to enlarge.]

Giant Ragweed Photo
by Sam Kieschnik (CC BY)

A side note: Goldenrods do not cause “hay fever” as many fall allergy sufferers believe. Ragweed (genus Ambrosia) is the culprit! Its blooms are green and its light pollen is dispersed by the wind – right into people’s noses! Goldenrod flowers are yellow and their heavy pollen sticks to insects and can’t be carried by the wind. According to the Michigan Flora website, two kinds of ragweed grow in our county. So please let goldenrods off the hook for making you sneeze! A generous photographer from iNaturalist.org shared the ragweed photo on the left.

As the weather turns cooler, autumn adds in the late asters to complement the goldenrods. The name “aster” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “star,” so it’s wonderfully appropriate for this colorful family of star-shaped flowers to add sprays of contrasting color within the golden landscape.

Sprinkled here and there around the prairie and the marsh, other native wildflowers make an occasional appearance, adding more variety to the fall scenery. It always intrigues me that so many are yellow! It seems to be early autumn’s favorite color. The late season, many-stemmed Brown-eyed Susans and the Common Evening Primroses were plentiful this year. Maybe more rain helped?

And the tall, graceful, native grasses created a scrim along the trail, their dance moves providing the prairie’s choreography on a breezy September day.

Every performance needs a little drama, and the Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) with its pink stems and purple berries rises to the occasion near the marsh each year.

Pokeweed berries are beloved by birds, but beware! They are toxic for us mere humans.

The Backdrop in Place, Insects Take the Stage

Even as it fades, a Stiff Goldenrod simultaneously hosts 3 European Honeybees and two mating beetles!
Locust Borer beetles

Insects act as the “supporting actors” in any landscape, taking on the essential role of pollinating plants even as the days get colder and flowers begin to fade. I hope you spotted the five black-and-gold insects on the Stiff Goldenrod in the photo above. What a generous host that plant that is!

Two of those insects were mating – or rather, the larger female was busy foraging as the mating occurred. Not much romance among Locust Borer beetles (Megacyllene robiniae), I’m afraid.

In early September, the prairie still hummed with the buzz of hundreds of European Honeybees and native Bumblebees. Later in the month, their activity seem to drop a bit; perhaps that’s because flight is more difficult for bees when temperatures fall below 50 degrees. Let me show you a small sample of the work bees were performing in September.

Butterflies, though fewer in number, were also playing their part in pollination. We saw several large Monarchs (Danaus plexippus), members of the “super generation” hatched right here in Michigan which will take on the entire 2,500 mile journey to their wintering grounds in Mexico!

Smaller butterflies made appearances as well. Butterflies don’t do as much pollination as bees, but they certainly add some fluttering color to an early autumn walk!

Every drama needs a couple of questionable characters. I met up with two of them in September at Draper Park East. The first was a non-native, the European Praying Mantis (Mantis religiousa). It may look like it’s praying, but in reality, it’s actually preying on beneficial insects as well as others. It’s a master of camouflage when vertical in tall green grass. Its triangular head can turn 180 degrees and its raptor-like front legs shoot forward in an instant to ambush unsuspecting insects. Even after my husband spotted it, I had trouble finding it in my viewfinder until it climbed up on a dying goldenrod. Quite an elegant shape on this predatory character!

A European Praying Mantis pauses on the top of Canada Goldenrod to get a better view of possible prey.

Passing by some Big Bluestem that swayed above my head, I noticed an odd lump at the end of the seedhead. I’ve look closely at odd lumps in nature ever since I saw my first elusive Spring Peeper by getting curious about a lumpy leaf years ago. I was rewarded again this time with my second questionable insect at Draper East, a One-Spotted Stinkbug (Euschistus variolarius). Dr. Gary Parsons at Michigan State University’s Bug House helped me out again by identifying this one, partly from the red tips on its protothorax.
A One-Spotted Stinkbug on a seed head of Big Blue Stem. It’s probably heading to the stem for a drink!

Dr. Parsons informs me that the One-spotted is a native stinkbug that eats by piercing the leaves, stems, seeds and fruits of herbaceous (non-woody) plants in order to siphon out some liquid. Generally though, he says, this species isn’t considered a pest. However, the invasive, non-native Brown Marmorated Stinkbugs that I occasionally see at home can be a huge problem for orchards, and stinkbugs can be pests in years in which they are abundant. If they are crushed during the harvest, their scent is not a pleasant addition to the crop!

Birds, Our Usual “Main Characters” in the Landscape, are Busy Changing Costumes for Winter or Migration

The cast of characters in our parks diminishes in the autumn. Insects either hibernate or lay their eggs for next spring’s hatch and die. Cool weather means most birds have finished raising their young just about the time the insect population begins to plummet. They stay high in the trees, often hidden among the leaves, especially if they’re molting.

Fall is a quieter season than spring. Birdsong, after all, is part of spring courtship. This September some social birds, like the Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) did whistle their high contact calls to one another as they gathered fruits in a Wild Black Cherry tree (Prunus serotina) or sallied forth to hawk into a cloud of gnats.

Juveniles may try out bits and pieces of adult songs or call plaintively to be fed long after they can feed themselves. The young Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens) below, however, stared in silence out into the big, wide world. One of my fine birding mentors, Ruth Glass, pointed out that this bird had the buff wing bars of a “first fall juvenile,” rather than the adult’s white bars. That means that this little bird is about to experience its very first migration. Somehow it will have to find its way to its wintering grounds in Central America or even northern South America! Courage and bon voyage, my young friend!

According to website of the Cornell University Ornithology Lab, The Eastern Wood Pewee hawks for insects an average of 36 times per hour even now, in the non-breeding season!

A Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) surveyed the area from high on the tip of a snag. It may spend the winter here, though I see Flickers more often in the summer when they can drill the earth for their favorite food – ants! These birds used to be called “Yellow-Shafted Flickers,” because the undersides of their tail feathers (which can be seen below) as well as their wing feathers are bright yellow in flight.

The Northern Flicker can spend the winter here if it can find enough fruits – even frozen ones!

On the eastern edge of Draper Twin Lake Park – East, several summer visitors chirped and chatted in a tangle of vines and small trees. The warm yellow throat of a female Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) flashed in the greenery. She gave a sharp “chip” call as she moved restlessly from branch to branch. She’ll soon be riding a north wind during the night down to the southeastern states or on to the Caribbean.

A female Common Yellowthroat along the eastern side of the prairie at Draper Twin Lake Park

In the grass along the east path, a juvenile Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) hopped about, pecking in a desultory manner at bits of this and that. This little bird probably hatched in the boreal forests of Canada and is now headed for Florida or the Caribbean where the insects will be much more plentiful. Many thanks to expert birder Allen Chartier for an explanatory identification of this bird. Juveniles definitely challenge my developing knowledge of fall bird plumage.

Juvenile Palm Warblers are identified by yellow under-tail feathers (or coverts), the pale line above the eye (supercillium), brownish breast streaks and buff wing bars.

I was lucky to see another migrator heading south from the boreal forest, the Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii). This nattily dressed little bird with its fine stripes and buff mustache (malar) tends to scurry into tangles as soon as it lands. I’d seen one for only the first time a week before at Charles Ilsley Park, though others spotted it in the spring from its wren-like burbling, complicated song. So imagine my surprise and delight when it hopped up on a branch to preen and stayed long enough for a portrait!

A Lincoln’s Sparrow in one of its rare moments in the open!

A Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) suddenly popped into the open too. Its “bouncing ball” trill burbled up from the prairies all summer long. This particular one looked a bit frowzy around the edges because it hadn’t quite finished its molt. It was still growing fresh feathers for its relatively short flight to Ohio and points south.

A Field Sparrow not quite finished with its molt

Becoming an Attentive “Audience” in the Natural World

The trail that leads to the prairie along the marsh at Draper Twin Lake Park East.

In this piece, I’ve had fun imagining the prairie and its inhabitants as an early fall theatrical production – but that, of course, calls for the last element – the audience. Us! I find that paying as much attention to my natural surroundings as I would to a movie, a play or a concert reaps a similar kind of pleasure. I appreciate the color, the movement and the music of a prairie as much as I enjoy the scenery, the costumes and the gestures of a dance performance. A forest or a fen can be almost as mysterious and as filled with strange inhabitants as any sci-fi adventure. The care adult birds take with fragile nestlings is often as touching and as fraught as a family drama. And the ferocity of a large green insect’s ambush of its unsuspecting victim can be as creepy as the casual violence of an elegant but lethal villain in a murder mystery.

Stepping out into a natural environment is much like losing myself in a powerful story. I leave my ordinary life behind for a few hours and enter into lives much different than my own. Stories of life and death unfold. The sets and costumes change from scene to scene. The music, the dance, the voices, the behavior, the colors are not ones made by humans; I’m in a different reality. When I leave, I come back to myself refreshed, having learned something new, experienced something different than the everydayness of my life. And the only payment I’m required to make is paying attention. What a gift!

Little Wonders in Our Natural Areas

As my time at Oakland Township Parks comes to a close, I have been reflecting on all that I learned as a Land Stewardship Technician. Since I’ve always been on the research side of ecology, I learned a ton about what goes into the hands-on part of conservation and restoration. Through being in the field every day, I have had the opportunity to observe the natural world around me and all the little processes happening. I like to tell people this job has almost been meditative for me because every day, week, and month you notice something new in a landscape you have seen all the time. Having lived in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Minnesota for the past 5 years, I have never observed all the diversity that occurs in prairies. Every week I would discover a new wildflower blooming, and I would become in awe all over again. Therefore, I wanted to share with you some of the wonders in Oakland Township Parks’ natural areas that I had the delight of coming across during my time here as a Land Stewardship Technician.

April

The Land Stewardship Technicians and I started our journey at Oakland Township in mid-April. It was still chilly most days we worked in April (though not nearly as cold and snowy as April in the UP). When we started, the leaves on the trees were barely starting to bud, so we had the opportunity to view spring from almost the very beginning. April was burn season for us because most of the vegetation was still dormant. Prescribed burns were an awesome experience that I had never witnessed or participated in before.

In early spring, the first plants up and flowering are called spring ephemerals (plants that complete their entire growth cycle in the spring). Because of the lack of other vegetation, they are easy to observe and see on the forest floor. Spring ephemerals bloom early in spring, and by the time the other vegetation on the forest floor and canopy fills in their growing season is already done (think of daffodils or tulips).

My favorite plant of April was Jack-in-the-pulpit. I had never noticed these before in the spring, so they fascinated me. We found these everywhere in the forests throughout the Township. Each one was just a little bit different. Max did a whole blog post about Jack-in-the-Pulpit if you haven’t read it already!

May

May concluded burn season for us, and then we were on to garlic mustard removal throughout the parks. This meant we were walking every inch of the parks we manage throughout the Township looking for pesky garlic mustard. By covering so much ground every day (I was averaging between 15,000 and 20,000 steps per day in May), we had the opportunity to discover all sorts of little wonders in our parks. The days were getting longer, and the weather was getting very warm. If you remember back, May was a particularly hot and dry month in southern Michigan. Spring fully erupted in May, with the trees budding out and blossoming and the bird migration ramping up. Not only did we discover plants, but we also listened and watched all the birds migrating back or through to their summer residencies. We also started up our lake monitoring program in May to monitor the health of Lost Lake and Twin Lake.

My favorite plant I found in May was yellow the lady’s slipper. I have never found so many naturally growing, which was awing to see! I particularly enjoy lady’s slippers because the yellow lady’s slippers cousin, the pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule), is the state flower of Minnesota. Also, the yellow lady’s slipper rocks maroon and gold, which are the colors of the University of Minnesota.

Huge shout out to everyone that was able to come to help out and pull Garlic Mustard on our volunteer workdays! You guys are terrific and very helpful!

June

June wrapped up garlic mustard season for us, and then we were on to crown vetch (Securigera varia) and pale swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum) control. Both are very invasive and take over landscapes, so we are trying to keep them at bay in our parks. Max and I did a lot of surveying in our newly acquired parkland for crown vetch and pale swallow-wort, allowing us to continue to see many different parts of our natural areas. The start of June was unseasonably hot and dry and felt like we were already in the heat of the summer.

In June we also helped Ben with plant inventories in a few of our parks. This entails recording every species of plant in a specific habitat in a specific park, which means there are a ton of plants to be recorded! I thought I knew a few plant species, but by helping with those plant inventories, I was humbled at just how many plant species there are and just how many I don’t know at all. Hopefully, I at least retained a handful of plants from that survey.

June had some of my favorite plants I found of the season. The butterfly milkweed was blooming everywhere, and I could not get over its vibrant orange color. I could spot it from hundreds of yards away because color seemed to radiate from it! The pollinators loved it too, and I never saw butterfly milkweed without some kind of bee or butterfly. Wild ginger was also a cool find. They grow very low on the forest floor, and their flowers are hidden, so you have to look closely to see them. The flowers of wild ginger have an interesting adaptation in that they smell like dead carrion to attract gnats and flies to pollinate them. The purple pitcher plant is another amazing plant I found that grows in bogs. The purple pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant species (one of only a few in North America) that in early summer produces a fascinating flower (shown below).

July

In July, we started working on the control of invasive woody shrubs. This includes plants such as Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), common privet (Ligustrum vulgare), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). In very disturbed areas, these woody invasives create a thicket that is nearly impenetrable that chokes out anything native that is trying to grow. Most of the summer was spent trying to combat these invasives using different methods depending on the park and the habitat. We also spent a decent amount of time at Lost Lake girdling trees to let more sunlight down to the forest floor.

July was also hot (theme of the summer), and this is when we started receiving crazy amounts of rain. We spent more time at Charles Ilsley Park this month because we started to help monitor some nest boxes there. This allowed us to see the beautiful fields of wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), also commonly called bee balm. Hopefully, you had a chance to walk through Charles Ilsley Park in July because it was a fabulous sight to see!

Another interesting plant I found in July was the Michigan lily. It is a beautiful plant that is found in higher-quality natural areas. I also enjoyed seeing Culver’s root. It has such a unique flower that is quite gorgeous to see. It also is an indicator of higher-quality natural areas, so to be able to observe both of these flowers in the township was very exciting.

August

August tasks included continuing to control woody invasives in our natural areas. They are prolific and everywhere! One of my favorite days in August was when we attended the pollinator event at Gallagher Creek Park hosted by Dr. Mary Jamieson from Oakland University. She studies pollinators such as butterflies and bees and taught us how to begin to identify different butterflies and bees. It was awesome to learn how to identify some of the pollinators we see every day while out in our natural areas. August was very similar to July weather-wise: hot and rainy! We would walk through wetlands that were virtually dry in the spring but now were quite wet from all the rain. Even Paint Creek was fuller than it was in the spring.

One of my favorite processes to watch during August was how the fields of bee balm at Charles Ilsley Park slowly turned to fields of goldenrod. For about a week, the fields were a mix of the late bee balm and the early goldenrod plants, and then it all transitioned to a fiery sea of goldenrod.

September

September meant the start of controlling common reed or invasive Phragmites australis. Phragmites is an aquatic invasive plant that if left to its own devices will take over wetland habitats. I’m sure many people have seen dense stands of Phragmites, especially along roadsides. Since Phragmites is a wetland species, we have spent most of our time in wetland areas this September. Wetlands have many amazing plants and also some fine plants such as poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix), which are great for wildlife but can be unpleasant for us!

One of the cool parts about wetlands is they are much more complex than they originally appear. There are many different types of wetlands, including lesser-known examples like fens, bogs, and wet prairies. Oakland Township is lucky that it has several different wetland types within its natural areas. September, like July and August, has also been quite hot (with a few cooler days mixed in) and rainy (I thought I had moved to Michigan, not Seattle).

One of my favorite plants I found in September was closed bottle gentian. The flower looks like a bud about to open, but oddly enough it never opens. That is just the way the flower is. Therefore the only way it is pollinated is by pollinators (like bumblebees or hummingbirds) that are strong enough to force the flower open to get to its nectar.

Little Wonders Each Month

As you can see, every month brought a new little wonder. Each month I learned new flowers and what made them unique and special. To me, that was the most exciting part of this job. I was able to notice little changes taking place out in our natural areas since I was out in them every day for the last six months. I hope the next time you visit one of Oakland Townships parks, you too can notice something that you haven’t before, and that sparks your curiosity! The world is a glorious and mysterious place, and with lots to be discovered if we take the time to slow down and observe!

I also wanted to say thank you to all the marvelous people I have met while working for Oakland Township Parks & Recreation! I have greatly enjoyed getting to know you through working with you and through our outreach events such as the bird walks and volunteer days! Thank you so much for making my time here so enjoyable! 🙂

Pictures taken by Katri Studtmann, Parker Maynard, Max Dunn, and Cam Mannino.

My year of clicks at Bear Creek Nature Park

Meet my new photographer friend Paul Birtwhistle whose wonderful photos have appeared over the summer in my posts. We’re pleased today to share a photo essay that Paul created for us. You’ll get to meet Paul and his canine “photo assistant” Stanley, while scrolling through a glorious gallery of Paul’s photos that capture a wide range of the creatures that he’s met this year at Bear Creek Nature Park. Enjoy, my friends! – Cam Mannino

PaulBirtyPhotography

Hello everyone, my name is Paul Birtwhistle and I have been encouraged by Cam Mannino and Dr. Ben VanderWeide to write a blog and share some of the photographs I have captured over the past year or so whilst walking my English Labrador called Stanley around Bear Creek Nature Park in Oakland Township, Michigan.

For reference here’s Stanley and I on the marsh deck near Gunn Road.

I have been walking around Bear Creek Nature Park with my wife and both of our dogs for a few years now and we really appreciate the wonderful wildlife and flora that is on our doorstep but soon after the pandemic arrived I realized that we were going to have a lot more time available to spend outdoors so I decided to get back into photography and see if I could capture some of the beauty that we regularly observed.

I armed myself…

View original post 1,236 more words

Taking a Dip Into the Science of Lakes

Every month, I and the other land stewardship technicians take several measurements from Twin Lake and Lost Lake here in Oakland Township. These measurements are taken because we are a part of the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program (CLMP) ran by the Michigan Clean Water Corps. The CLMP is a citizen-based volunteer monitoring program that is widespread across Michigan. The program has been around in some fashion since 1974, which makes it the second oldest volunteer lake monitoring program in the nation. Lost Lake and Twin Lake have been monitored since 2018. The measurements we take are spring and fall total phosphorus, Secchi disk (water clarity), dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll.

A fall sunset illuminates the splendor of changing leaves at Draper Twin Lake Park. Photo by Cam Mannino.

Lake monitoring is one of my favorite tasks that we do as Land Stewardship Technicians. Not only is it fun to go out on the lakes, but I greatly enjoy this task because I think the data we collect from the lakes is fascinating. In college at Michigan Tech, I worked in an aquatic ecology lab. Therefore, I am very interested in what the data we gather from each lake can tell us about how healthy a lake is.

Growing up in Minnesota, lakes and rivers were all around me, and continue to be an integral part of our identity as a state. I grew up near the Minnesota River, which is one of many rivers that flows into the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River watershed is the fourth largest watershed in the world, eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Through my parents and in school, I learned about how water travels across the land and how we can affect the health of our watershed just in our backyard. My dad especially would stress the importance of keeping our water clean. He works for the City of Minneapolis mapping the sewage and stormwater systems, which gives him a great picture of how the waterways are connected. Therefore, because of my background, I like to “nerd out” about the data we collect from the Twin Lake and Lost Lake.

Twin Lake and Lost Lake

Twin Lake (at Draper Twin Lake Park) and Lost Lake (at Lost Lake Nature Park) are small glacial lakes in Oakland Township. We monitor Twin Lake East, which is about 12 acres with a maximum depth of 30 feet. Twin Lake East is connected to Twin Lake West by a small channel accessible by kayak or canoe. There is another small lake connected to Twin Lake West also by a small channel. Twin Lake East is the only lake monitored by Oakland Township.

Lost Lake is about 6 acres with a maximum depth of 17 feet. With the very dry spring this year the lake is only about 15 feet deep. Lost Lake is at the end of its life as a lake. This means within the next several decades it will likely become more of an emergent marsh than a lake because the vegetation will cover most of the surface area of the water. Because Lost Lake is so shallow, light can easily penetrate the water column, reaching the bottom of the lake bed where aquatic plants get enough energy to grow. Lost Lake is so “weedy” because the plants are receiving plenty of sunlight throughout most of the lake. In deeper lakes, you will only find plants growing and reaching the surface along the shoreline because in the center of the lake the plants receive less sunlight at the bottom.

A special thanks goes out to Maryann Whitman for taking Secchi Disk readings at Lost Lake since 2018! You have helped us immensely in monitoring our lakes!

Twin Lake is seen on the left from the dock. On the right is the view from the dock at Lost Lake.

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt into streams, creeks, and rivers that combine with other streams and rivers to progressively drain into a larger water area. A watershed often includes many counties and sometimes can encompass multiple states or countries depending on the location.

Why Monitor Water Quality?

Lost Lake and Twin Lake are part of the greater Clinton River Watershed that feeds into Lake St. Clair. Lost Lake and Twin Lake are both in the smaller subwatershed of Stony Creek, which flows into the Clinton River. Twin Lake is connected to Stony Creek Lake through the McClure Drain. The Clinton River flows into Lake St. Clair and on down to Lake Erie. The Paint Creek also runs through Oakland Township, connecting with the Clinton River in Rochester.

As water flows through a watershed, it often picks up pollutants which then can accumulate in Lake St. Clair where the water ends up. This can have many negative effects on the ecosystem and environment depending on which and how many pollutants end up in the watershed.

Clinton River Watershed Map. Oakland Township can be seen in the upper left corner of the map. Map taken from the Clinton Watershed River Council website (https://www.crwc.org/resources/resource-library/watershed-maps).

What Each Measurement Tells Us

Each summer, we take four different measurements numerous times at Lost and Twin Lakes. Some summers, we also do an exotic aquatic plant watch survey. These measurements, when compared to other data, can tell us different information about what is happening with the ecology of our lakes. The four measurements we take are phosphorous, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll.

Phosphorous

Phosphorous measurements are taken twice, once in the spring and once in the early fall. Because phosphorous is an essential limiting element for plant life, small changes in the amount of phosphorous can have drastic changes on what happens in a lake. Although phosphorous is an essential element for plant life, too much of it in the lake can cause accelerate plant growth, create algae blooms, decrease dissolved oxygen levels, and result in the die-off of some fish, invertebrates, and other aquatic creatures. Sources of increased phosphorous in waterways include run-off from lawns, agricultural fertilizers, manure and organic wastes in sewage, leaking septic tanks, industrial waste, and soil erosion.

Water Clarity/ Turbidity

Water clarity or turbidity is measured every 2 weeks with a Secchi disk. At its simplest, turbidity refers to how clear the water is in the lake. Water clarity determines how much and how far light penetrates the water. Water clarity is affected by several factors including algae, soil particles, and other materials suspended in the water. Therefore, Secchi disk readings are typically a good indicator of algal abundance and general lake productivity.

The Secchi disk is a very simple device to measure water clarity. The Secchi disk is lowered until it is no longer visible, and that depth is recorded. It then is raised until you can barely see the disk and that depth is also recorded. The average of the two depths is then taken. Above, Max is recording the Secchi depth for Twin Lake (Pictures taken by Grant Vanderlaan).

Dissolved Oxygen

Dissolved oxygen (commonly referred to as D.O.) is measured every 2 weeks using a D.O. meter. Dissolved oxygen is how much oxygen is in water. Oxygen is essential for supporting life in lakes. In the air we breathe, the oxygen concentration is about 21%, but in water oxygen concentrations are a tiny fraction of 1%. The temperature of the water determines how much oxygen the water can hold. Warm water holds less D.O. than cold water. In the summer, this is especially important because the top layer of the lake is heated by the abundant sun and is warmer than the lower part of the lake, with less dissolved oxygen. If you have ever jumped in a lake late in the summer, you will know what I mean. Therefore, in the hot summer, fish and other oxygen-dependent organisms will stay lower in the lake where it is cooler and there is more oxygen. One major concern with D.O. levels in lakes is a process called eutrophication. Eutrophication is where a lake or other body of water has excessive amounts of minerals and nutrients usually due to runoff. This leads to a depletion of oxygen in lakes and can cause a die-off of fish and other animals.

The D.O. meter is a very sensitive device used to measure the dissolved oxygen every 5ft until the depth of the lake is met. It also measures temperature at each depth. Above, Max is recording D.O. for Twin Lake (pictures taken by Grant Vanderlaan).

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is measured monthly in our lakes. If you remember back to high school biology class, chlorophyll is what makes plants green and is found in the chloroplasts of plant cells. Chlorophyll readings are a way to estimate algae biomass is in a lake. High chlorophyll readings indicate an abundance of algae, which is usually correlated to other processes happening in the lake such as decreased D.O. levels and decreased water clarity.

Measuring chlorophyll is a lot like conducting an experiment in college biology class. Because light and heat degrade the chlorophyll collected, the water samples are kept out of direct sunlight and placed in a cooler as soon they are as collected. First, the larger brown container is lowered into the lake at a predetermined depth and is then slowly raised, so water collects in the container. If it becomes adequately full then the two smaller containers are filled and a couple of drops of magnesium carbonate (MgCO3) are added to the smaller containers. The samples are then brought back to the Cider Mill to be further processed. Above, Grant is adding MgCO3 to one of the small container samples.

Chlorophyll Lab Processing:

Parker pushes a water sample through the paper filter to capture the chlorophyll/algae in the water. Photo by Grant Vander Laan

Back at the office, the samples are filtered through a tiny paper to collect the chlorophyll. The paper filters are then frozen until we drop them off for the CLMP to further process them. Two paper filters of chlorophyll are processed for each lake for better results. Parker is filtering one of the samples above through a syringe.

Actions Taken from Data Collected

At the end of the season, when the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program staff enters all the data into the giant database for the state, management plans for the lakes can be updated from that data. Currently, we do not have enough years of data from phosphorous, water clarity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll to make assumptions of what needs to be changed at that lake. That is because several years of data collection are needed to see trends happening at our lakes. The only measurement we were able to directly act on currently is the data from the exotic aquatic plant watch. During the exotic aquatic plant watch at Twin Lake, curly-leaf pondweed (an invasive species) was found. Since its discovery, we have been treating curly-leaf pondweed near our dock at Twin Lake. Hopefully, within the next couple of years, we can gain enough data from our other measurements to create management plans for both lakes.

How to Keep Our Watershed Clean from Your Own Backyard

Though you might not live on or near Twin Lake or Lost Lake, you can still help keep the Clinton River Watershed clean. Even actions you take in your backyard can have implications on the Clinton River Watershed. Below are some actions you can take to keep our watershed clean and healthy!

At Home Actions:

  • To avoid overapplying fertilizers, eliminate fertilizers in your yard or use organic or slow-release fertilizers instead.
  • Don’t treat with pesticides or fertilizers with 15 feet of a water source (creek, river, lake).
  • Don’t pour toxic household chemicals down the drain. Take them to a hazardous waste center or drop off site like NoHaz.
  • Consider putting in a rain garden to catch and filter runoff from your roof, driveway, or sidewalks.
  • When camping, use biodegradable soaps like Dr. Bronner’s and rinse dishes away from lakes and streams.
  • Pick up dog poop in your yard so that it doesn’t run into streams/ lakes and create bacterial problems.
  • Plant native plants that require fewer pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Wash cars on the lawn or at a carwash.

In your Community Actions:

  • Encourage your state and local governments to protect wetlands and protect water quality.
  • Consider volunteering with the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC) on one of their weekly cleanups.
  • Participate in the Clinton Cleanup 2021 on Sept 18th with the CRWC! (see link below)

If you want to learn more about volunteering with the CRWC please look at their website here: https://www.crwc.org/events/volunteer/keeping-it-clean

If you want to learn more about the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, check out their website here: https://micorps.net/lake-monitoring/

The shoreline of the eastern Twin Lake at Draper Twin Lake Park.