Birds aplenty at annual bird watching festivals

Bird watchers gather to see migratory species each spring at the Festival of Birds held at Point Pelee National Park in Leamington Ontario. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Bird watchers gather to see migratory species each spring at the Festival of Birds held at Point Pelee National Park in Leamington Ontario. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

It is getting to be that time of year when migratory birds return to Michigan in abundance, a period when fields, forests and meadows are thawing, when early spring plants begin to show, and when breeding birds, just returning from the their winter travels, begin to look for suitable nesting sites and habitat.

More than 500 bird species return to the Upper Midwest each spring, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Great flocks pour into the region following historic flight paths, called flyways. They sweep in along the Great Lakes and Michigan shorelines, bound for points north, often stopping to rest on prominent points of land. Others arrive as a wide front spread over the landscape. They too will find respite in the forests, farm fields and marshes along the route.

Any and all of those locations can be a good for seeing birds. Michigan, and nearby states and provinces, offer numerous opportunities for excellent spring birdwatching. Allegan State Game Area alone is reported to have 136 different bird species, while Metro Beach Park, on Lake St Clair, has been reported by birdwatchers to have 227 species.

That says nothing of Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, in Monroe County which is considered one of the top birding spots in the state – or Whitefish Point Bird Observatory, near Paradise in the Upper Peninsula, which is known to be one of the best in the country. Tens of thousands of birds arrive at Whitefish Point every spring during their migration north. Continue reading

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Officials consider changes to lake trout regulations

Lake trout are becoming more abundant in southern Lake Michigan. Photo: US. Fish & Wildlife Service

Lake trout are becoming more abundant in southern Lake Michigan. Photo: US. Fish & Wildlife Service

By Howard Meyerson

Lake Michigan anglers can expect rule changes ahead for lake trout all along the Lower Peninsula shoreline. State fisheries managers want to liberalize fishing in the southern basin and reduce fishing pressure in northern waters.

“We’re interested in lowering the minimum size for lake trout from 20 inches to 15 inches,” said Jay Wesley, the southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor for Michigan DNR. “Lake Huron and other Lake Michigan states already have lower size limits. This will bring our regulations closer to theirs.”

The proposed change would affect Lake Trout Management Units MM 6, 7 and 8, meaning all Michigan waters south of a line between Arcadia and Frankfort. Lakes Huron and Superior already have 15 inch size minimums. Indiana has a 14 inch minimum and Illinois and Wisconsin have 10 inch minimums.

Lake trout have become increasingly abundant in southern Lake Michigan, due, in part, to near-shore stocking by the Michigan DNR, which stocks 80,000 lake trout annually.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also stocks them each year. The federal agency stocks approximately 2.7 million yearlings each season, lake-wide, along with 252,289 fall fingerlings.

Lowering the size limit would make them more available to southern lake anglers from Muskegon to New Buffalo, Wesley said.  A final decision on the rule would come from the Natural Resources Commission this fall and take effect in 2015. Continue reading

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Nongame Wildlife: State effort to be revised and focused

Barred owls are among the birds that will benefit from collaborative funding of grassland restoration in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Photo:  Wikimedia Commons

Barred owls are among the birds, animals and insects that benefit from nongame management. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Howard Meyerson

One of Michigan’s more important wildlife initiatives, Michigan’s Nongame Wildlife Program, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. It was a quiet celebration by all accounts, a contrast to its early years when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would have trumpeted its successes: reintroduction of peregrine falcons, creation of a statewide wildlife viewing guide, and construction of nesting platforms for ospreys, to name a few.

State wildlife officials contend that nongame work continues for a variety of species. The work is more diffuse and expensive than in the past. Some is focused habitat work for species such as the Kirtland’s Warbler. Some is broader grassland work for pheasant restoration, which helps both game and nongame species. Wildlife management, they say, is now accomplished using an eco-system approach, which benefits all species.

Critics, however, worry about the nongame program’s seemingly diminished capacity, the absence of dedicated staffing, a lack of research, and reduced visibility. “I get the sense that the DNR is challenged when talking about nongame species. They don’t have the support that game species do,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation and emerging issues for Michigan Environmental Council. “We want it to be an agency that appeals to birders and non-motorized users too. From our perspective those are things to celebrate, things that will attract people who come to do the Pure Michigan thing.” Continue reading

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Branching Out: Muskegon Conservation District is at the root of environmental health

Muskegon Conservation District works with school groups on reforestation projects. Photo: Courtesy MCD.

Muskegon Conservation District works with school groups on reforestation projects. Photo: Courtesy MCD.

By Howard Meyerson

Once the daffodils break ground and tiny, purple Hepaticas brighten forest floors, Jeff Auch’s phone will begin to ring in earnest. The callers may be gardeners or land owners seeking advice about woodlots or wildlife, but most will be looking to buy seedling trees – literally thousands – to plant in their yards and back forties.

Auch is the executive director for the Muskegon Conservation District (MCD), an organization that works to solve a myriad of local conservation problems. Tree planting and reforestation work are core parts of its mission. The organization’s spring tree sale has been popular for 75 years.

Planting trees helps to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations, one of the primary greenhouse gasses causing climate change. It helps birds and animals by restoring degraded habitat and controlling soil erosion.

“What’s funny is that forestry is a smaller part of what we do,” Auch says. “Shoreline habitat, wetland and lakeshore restoration are bigger program areas, but in terms of the acreage that is affected, it’s one of our largest projects.” Continue reading

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Come Spring: The walleye move out of Saginaw Bay sometimes traveling hundreds of miles

Acoustic telemetry transmitters (also called “tags’) are inserted into the body cavity of walleyes. If you catch a walleye with a transmitter, call the phone number on the tag to receive a $100 reward! (Courtesy | Sean Landsman)

Acoustic telemetry transmitters (also called “tags’) are inserted into the body cavity of walleyes. If you catch a walleye with a transmitter, call the phone number on the tag to receive a $100 reward! Photo: Courtesy | Sean Landsman, Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

By Howard Meyerson

Saginaw Bay is known as a walleye fishing haven. Literally millions of walleyes spawn there each year. State fisheries managers say the 1,143 square-mile bay is the single-most important place for walleye production on all of Lake Huron.

But every spring, just about now, many of those walleyes begin move out into Lake Huron on a journey, one that may take them hundreds of miles away. Researchers studying their whereabouts are increasingly coming to know that old “marble-eyes” is a true traveler.

“They move throughout Lake Huron,” explained Todd Hayden, a Great Lakes Fishery Commission researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station, on Lake Huron. “We find them as far north as the Straits, and have detected them under the Mackinac Bridge. We also find them south of Saginaw Bay near the Blue Water Bridge (at Port Huron).”

Just why they go remains a mystery, but Hayden and others hope soon to have more answers. Hayden is embarking on the third season of a three-year study. What has been learned so far, from one year of processed data, is 56 percent of the Saginaw Bay walleye moved out into the lake; six percent turned left and headed north to Thunder Bay and beyond.

Hayden’s research relies on radio-telemetry to track 245 radio-tagged walleye from the Tittabawassee River. Another 200 from the Maumee River on Lake Erie also have implanted radio-transmitters. Their travels are recorded by a network of submerged hydro-acoustic receivers. The devices pick up the transmitter signals. When Hayden and other researchers download the data, they get a clear picture of the route the fish are travelling. Continue reading

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Pure Michigan: On the way to becoming a trails state

Volunteers from the North Country Trail Association create a new section of the seven-state trail runs through Michigan and will become part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Showcase Trail. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan has had a number of nicknames: The Water Wonderland, The Great Lakes State, The Wolverine State, The Mitten State; and now it appears we may get another: The Pure Michigan Trails State.

A five-bill package introduced to the Michigan Senate March 20th seeks to establish that brand for Michigan. The bill sponsors are working together to amend the 1994 Michigan Trailways Act in an effort to provide an official boost to all things “Trail.”

The sponsors are: Sens. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, Arlan Meekhoff, R-Olive Twp., Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, Geoffrey Hansen, R-Hart, and Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. Their bills, SB 873-877, are tie-barred and have been sent to various committees.

What the package does is establish the Pure Michigan Trail Network by establishing designations for Pure Michigan Trail Towns, Pure Michigan Trails, and Pure Michigan Water Trails. Those designations would be made by the Michigan DNR director upon recommendation of the Natural Resources Commission.

Designated trails and towns would be eligible for funding from the Pure Michigan Trail Fund, the new name for the Michigan Trailways Fund. It was established to receive revenues from a variety of uses along the trails, from billboards and easements to concessions, which never really amounted to much money.

The bill sponsors are looking to celebrate Michigan’s prospective status as the top trail state in the nation.

“I represent districts in northern Michigan where recreational use of trails is of tremendous importance,” said Sen. John Moolenaar. “We wanted to celebrate the trails we have and resurrect the Trailways program. There is growing emphasis on developing a true, statewide integrated trails network.

“There is no question that the Pure Michigan campaign has been a huge success. And the governor has recognized goals with respect to trails so we felt this was a good opportunity.” Continue reading

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Alewife numbers remain low in Lake Michigan

State fisheries officials predict salmon will be hungry and bite lures more readily with fewer alewives in Lake Michigan.  Photo: Howard Meyerson

State fisheries officials predict salmon will be hungry and bite lures more readily with fewer alewives in Lake Michigan. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Grand Rapids, Mich. — Researchers studying prey fish populations in Lake Michigan have found that alewife populations continue to be at low ebb and may dip further before the 2014 fishing season is over.

Surveys conducted last August by state and federal agencies found little change from 2012, when prey fish numbers were reported at all-time lows.

“Things haven’t changed much. There continues to be a relatively limited age range, and we don’t have any that are over age five,” said Dave Warner, a fisheries research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. His crew, along with those from Michigan’s DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, conducted acoustic and mid-depth netting surveys on Lake Michigan.

What was found was a “very low abundance” of new alewives, referred to as “age zero,” while the volume of older fish was comparable to 2012. Continue reading

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Lake Michigan fishing forecast: Colder waters, smaller salmon and steelhead

Lake Michigan is expected to be colder throughout the summer fishing season. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Lake Michigan is expected to be colder throughout the summer fishing season. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

It’s not a stretch to say that lakes will be cold when the 2014 fishing season opens on April 1. And, given the volume of frigid runoff this spring, federal hydrologists predict Lake Michigan-Huron waters are likely to be colder than last year throughout the summer fishing season.

What Lake Michigan anglers can expect remains a question that will soon be answered – particularly when it comes to Chinook salmon. Anglers this year can once again catch and keep five salmon daily. Last summer was tops for 20 pound to 30 pound fish, very big salmon, but fewer were caught overall.

State fisheries officials will be watching the 2014 salmon catch closely. Concern remains about the forage base. The alewife population is still at low ebb, and they are the preferred food for Chinook salmon.

You may recall that Michigan and other bordering Lake Michigan states reduced Chinook stocking in the lake by 50 percent in 2013. That was done in an effort to conserve alewives and provide a sustainable salmon fishery going forward. The effects of that cut are not expected to show up until 2015.

“Last year we saw a surprising increase in the size of Chinooks,” notes Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources southern Lake Michigan management supervisor. “This year we expect the size will be down, but the catch rates will be higher. That’s what we see when the forage base declines.” Continue reading

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Cheboygan River system studied for landlocked lamprey

Landlocked sea lamprey are suspected of staying in the Cheboygan River system and feeding. Photo:  Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.

Landlocked sea lamprey are suspected of staying in the Cheboygan River system and feeding. Photo: Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.

By Howard Meyerson

CHEBOYGAN, MI – Researchers who are studying sea lampreys in the Cheboygan River system are looking for a little help from anglers over the next couple of years. Evidence is mounting that a landlocked population of lampreys exists in the Cheboygan River watershed, which includes the Maple, Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers, along with Burt and Mullet lakes.

Landlocked means the lampreys don’t migrate out to the Great Lakes to feed – in this case Lake Huron. Instead, they emerge from river bottoms where they live as larvae, make their way downstream during their metamorphosis to a blood-sucking parasite, and stop short of Lake Huron, feeding on fish Burt and Mullett lakes before eventually returning upstream to spawn and die.

Federal officials say that phenomenon not only has implications for sport fish that live in those waters, but for the agencies tasked with sea lamprey control. Until recent years it has been assumed that Cheboygan River lamprey migrate out to Lake Huron and return to spawn. The river system has been treated with lampricide for more than 50 years.

Now federal officials are considering other lamprey control options like sealing the Cheboygan dam and locks so lamprey cannot pass, then killing off any residual populations with chemical treatment. It is a move, they say, that could save a great deal of money for treatment, a cost estimated at $1.5 million every three years.

“Lampreys have traditionally lived in those streams and lakes,” said Nick Johnson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station in Millersburg. “What’s new is they may be stopping for a snack in Burt and Mullet Lake(s) without going out to Lake Huron.

“We want to learn the size and location of the potential landlocked population. If anglers notify us of any (lamprey) wounds they find on steelhead, northern pike, and musky, and send us any lampreys they capture while out fishing, that will help give us more information.” Continue reading

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Increasing white perch population affecting Lake Erie yellow perch

By Howard Meyerson

Lake Erie yellow perch fishing is being impacted by the non-native white perch that is eating up young yellow perch laravae. Photo: MDNR

Lake Erie yellow perch fishing is being impacted by the non-native white perch that is eating up young yellow perch laravae. Photo: MDNR

MONROE, MI — It’s no secret that the Lake Erie yellow perch fishery is not what it used to be. Only 10 million 2-year-olds now show up in the catch compared with peak years in the mid-1980s when 70 million to 80 million were caught.

Scientists studying the lake and fishery say there are numerous reasons why. They include changing water quality and clarity and the effects of recent warming trends. Yellow perch are a cool-water species.

Recent study findings, however, also suggest that Lake Erie’s booming white perch population has had more of an impact than previously thought. They prey voraciously on tiny yellow perch.

“The numbers are staggering,” said Stuart Ludsin, an associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University. Ludsin has been studying the lake and its fishery for 20 years.

“There are between 46 million and 106 million predators in the western basin of Lake Erie. In just 24 hours they can consume between 32 million and 189 million yellow perch larvae. That is an enormous number.

“We don’t have that broken down by how much each eats, but I can tell you that white perch make up 90 percent of the predators. It is the most abundant predator in the lake. Period.” Continue reading

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