Tag Archives: Wetland

THIS WEEK IN STEWARDSHIP: Wetland Grass Identification is Fun!

While the crew was hard at work, one of the members, Grant, attended a wetland grass identification workshop through Michigan Wetlands Association. Dr. Tony Reznicek from the University of Michigan taught the class – he is widely considered a sedge expert (and a good teacher!), so it was quite a treat to learn from him. Over the two days of the workshop the group visited several wetland habitats to examine the wetland grasses occurring there. The class members were from different parts of the state, different organizations, and different stages in their careers, which made the workshop a great place to learn.

The first day the class visited a fen wetland where they identified a rich diversity of grasses. At this particular fen they found little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), marsh wild-timothy (Muhlenbergia glomerata), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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At the Bakertown Fen the class found little bluestem, bluejoint grass, and Indian grass. Too bad that wall of glossy buckthorn is creeping in!

The next stop that day was a bog, where they saw a different set of grasses that grow in a bog compared to a fen. At this bog some of the highlight species were cotton grass (Eriphorum virginicum) and wool grass (Scripus cyperinus), as well as other species of plants like poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

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Entering the Buchanan Bog. Cotton grass (Eriophorum virginicum) and wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) were highlights here, while avoiding poison sumac!

The final stop for the day was on the St. Joseph river, where they not only found an abundance of wetland grasses, but also the biggest ragweed (Ambrosia) field anyone in the class had ever seen!

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Ahhhh-choo! The biggest giant ragweed patch ever 😦

The second day started at Warren Dunes State Park where the class got to see the many different grass species found in forested wetlands. During this stop, they saw rice cutgrass (Leersia oryzoides), deer tongue (Dicanthelium clandestinum), wood reed (Cinna arundinecea), and fox grape (Vitis labrusca, a rare viney species).

Then the group hiked through the dunes to an interdunal wetland, where one of the smallest bladderwort species in Michigan lives (Utricularia subulata), as well as Lindheimer panic grass (Dichanthelium lindheimeri), and Tickle grass (Agrostis hyemalis).

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Checking out the interdunal wetlands at Warren Dunes State Park

The final stop for the workshop was one of the best tamarack fens in Michigan. At this spot we saw many tamarack trees (Larix laricina). This stop has many species we had previous seen at different stops like Big blue-stem (Andropogon gerardii), Marsh wild-timothy (Muhlenbergia glomerata), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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Unfortunately many of our wetlands are being degraded by invasive species like invasive Phragmites. Dr. Reznicek is holding a stem of this large wetland grass here.

Through this workshop, Grant got hands-on experience with many species of grasses. He also got to practice his grass ID skills – grasses can be some of the most difficult plants to identify! We continually improve our land stewardship skills so that we care for the natural areas in Oakland Township’s parks.

Protecting Gallagher Creek and its Brook Trout

Last Friday we conducted a prescribed burn at Gallagher Creek Park. Located near the headwaters of Gallagher Creek, this park protects our important water resources in our township. Notably, Gallagher Creek is home to a remnant population of native brook trout. In addition to stimulating the native plant communities at this park, the prescribed burn was part of our Phragmites control program (along with appropriate Michigan DEQ approved chemical control). We hope that managing for healthy native plant communities in the wetlands around the creek will help keep Gallagher Creek itself healthy.

The wetlands at Gallagher Creek Park filter runoff from our roads, lawns, and parking lots before it reaches Gallagher Creek. Natural water filters!
The wetlands at Gallagher Creek Park filter pollutants from runoff leaving our roads, lawns, and parking lots before it reaches Gallagher Creek. We are working to control the Phragmites (tall plumed grass in these pictures). Wetlands are natural water filters!

Surveys of the brook trout have been done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR, formerly DNRE) in 1990, 1998, and 2010. The Southeast Michigan DNR Fisheries Newsletter from January 2011 provides this summary of what we know about the brook trout in Gallagher Creek:

Gallagher Creek is a small, coldwater stream originating just south of the Bald Mountain Recreation Area in central portion of eastern Oakland County. It flows in a northeasterly direction and empties into Paint Creek at Orion Road in the Village of Goodison. The creek flows through private land; there is no public access. This stream is home to one of the few remaining self-sustaining brook trout populations in southern Michigan. There were concerns that habitat quality had degraded due to sediment and nutrient inputs from erosion and runoff associated with development in the watershed. A survey in 1998 indicated that runoff from construction sites in the area was responsible for depositing sediment in the gravel riffles and natural pools formerly present in the stream. Previous surveys of this stream in 1990 and 1998 produced brook trout densities of 300 trout per mile. In 1992, mottled sculpin were trapped and transferred from Johnson Creek in Wayne County to Paint Creek as a prey item for trout. The sculpin had managed to expand their populations into the lower stretches of Gallagher Creek by 1998. This survey was conducted to evaluate the status of brook trout in Gallagher Creek. We captured a total of 7 brook trout from 6 to 7 inches and 1 brown trout at 3 inches. The brook trout density found in this survey was about 50 per mile, down from 300 per mile in 1990 and 1998. This decline in abundance is likely due to siltation of the stream from the development along the creek. Mottled sculpin have expanded their range even further upstream from 1998. We also captured blacknose dace during the survey. The presence of these two species indicates that the water quality is still good, but the heavy siltation is hampering the brook trout’s ability to reproduce.

Does our natural heritage, a special population of brook trout in this case, need to be sacrificed for the sake development? Or can we be smart with our development, designing systems that protect the stream by filtering runoff to capture silt and other pollutants?

Be part of the solution! Install a rain garden with native plants to capture the runoff from your roof and driveway before it enters our wetlands and streams. Plant a native plant buffer next to the wetland or stream that runs through your property. We have very special natural features in our township, and we all need to pitch in so that future generations can enjoy more than just stories about “the way it used to be.”

Gallagher Creek Park after the controlled burn on March 20, 2015. Visit the park later this spring to watch the green return.
Panoramic photo of Gallagher Creek Park after the controlled burn on March 20, 2015. Visit the park later this spring to watch the green return!

Check out the Marsh Skullcap at O’Connor Nature Park

As Stewardship Manager, I need to know which plants are growing in our parks. This summer, I’m doing a botanical inventory of the flora (plants) at O’Connor Nature Park, on the corner of Mead and Rochester. This park is fairly small and has no trails for access, so here is a rare glimpse into the interior of the park!

The emergent marsh in the center of the park has a floating mat. Yup, it is just what it sounds like… a mat of sedges, cattail, and other plants floating on the water. When you gently bounce on it, the whole mat ripples. It is not safe to walk on the mat, so please don’t try!

The emergent marsh in the center of O'Connor Nature Park has a floating mat. I found two types of cattail (Typha latifolia and angustifolia), tussock sedge (Carex stricta), lake sedge (Carex lacustris), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), and a few other plants out on the mat.
The emergent marsh in the center of O’Connor Nature Park has a floating mat. I found two types of cattail (Typha latifolia and angustifolia), tussock sedge (Carex stricta), lake sedge (Carex lacustris), marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris), and a few other plants out on the mat.

There was a lot of green out in the middle of the marsh, so this splash of purple caught my eye.

Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) on the floating mat at O'Connor Nature Park. It was very small and hidden among the other plants.
Marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata) on the floating mat at O’Connor Nature Park. It was very small and hidden among the other plants.

I also found a huge mushroom growing at the base of a tree. Any idea what it is?

Mushroom at O'Connor Nature Park. The tree behind it is at least three feet in diameter, for scale.
Mushroom at O’Connor Nature Park. The tree behind it is at least three feet in diameter, for scale.

I also found some problems at O’Connor, primarily a growing infestation of Phragmites, or common reed (the scientific name is Phragmites australis). We plan to treat the Phragmites later this summer when in is flowering. If we don’t wait until it is flowering, the herbicides won’t be transported to the rhizomes of the plant, and the problem will be just as bad next year. In addition to the really obvious huge plants along Mead Road and Rochester Road, there are several small pockets of this tall grass scattered along the edge of the marsh in the middle of the park. If we don’t begin to control the Phragmites this year, it will be increasingly expensive and difficult to control in the future, and the damage to our native wetland plant communities will be greater.

Phragmites at O'Connor Nature Park.
Phragmites at O’Connor Nature Park.