Avian Botulism Takes its Toll: Scientists Continue to Look for Clues

Common Loons were hit the hardest during the 2012 avian botulism outbreak. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Common Loons were hit the hardest during the 2012 avian botulism outbreak. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

By Howard Meyerson

Joe Kaplan didn’t have to look far to find dead birds in 2007. Thousands had washed up on the northern Lake Michigan shoreline, from Sleeping Bear Dunes north across the Upper Peninsula. Carcasses littered the light-colored sands. It was a big year for avian mortality due to botulism, a potent toxin that causes paralysis and death.

“We wouldn’t know about these botulism outbreaks if it weren’t for birds washing up on the shore,” said Kaplan, a Michigan Audubon field representative and co-founder of Common Coast Research and Conservation, a Hancock-based nonprofit that studies Common Loons and helps in the cooperative effort to tally dead birds.

A lesser outbreak occurred in 2006, an incident that signaled significant change: botulism had not been seen on Lake Michigan since the 1980s, though outbreaks had occurred on Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Huron. The toxin has surfaced annually on Lake Michigan since then to greater or lesser extents. And scientists with the U.S. Department of Interior are now diligently working to locate the source and identify the chain of events that kills off birds by the thousands.

The 2007 toll was high. Staff and volunteers at Sleeping Bear discovered 1,135 dead birds along the park’s shoreline; there were 63 Common Loons. The lake-wide toll was 4,158 birds. Five years later, in 2012, the death toll was even higher. Beach monitors around Lake Michigan reported 4,386 dead birds, according to National Park Service regional staff in Ashland Wisconsin. At Sleeping Bear that year, 580 dead loons were collected.

“That was awful. It was devastating,” laments Sue Jennings, a wildlife biologist for the

Endangered Piping Plovers have been affected by avian botulism. Photo. USFWS.

Endangered Piping Plovers have been affected by avian botulism. Photo. USFWS.

national lakeshore. “We have 64 breeding pair of (endangered) Piping Plovers here. We provide nesting habitat for one-third of the entire population. So far, we know six chicks or adults have succumbed to botulism. It may be as high as eight. That’s a huge concern.”

Infected birds that die and wash up on a beach present a danger to other birds and animals that may feed upon their carcasses. National lakeshore volunteers that monitor beaches and collect carcasses wear protective clothing and gloves when handling them. Continue reading

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New stream fish trend viewer let’s Michigan anglers find wild trout

Wild trout populations can be identified in rivers around the state along with other wild trout species. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Wild trout populations can be identified in rivers by using the new web application. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

I’ve lost track of how often I have wondered trout fishing on this or that river, how big they are, and how to access the water. Perhaps you too keep a dog-eared copy of Gerth Hendrickson’s original “The Angler’s Guide to Ten Classic Trout Streams in Michigan” near, or the revised version by Jim DuFresne, with 12 streams listed.

I have stacks of references, including faded copies of the Michigan Blue-Ribbon Trout Streams list, assorted river guidebooks by authors like Tom Huggler, Janet Mehl and Bob Linsenman and Steve Nevala – and odd lists collected over the years. There’s little that’s more fun than pouring over a topographic map and putting the pieces together, plotting a strategy and hitting the river, however old the information may be.

While older references don’t tell me about fish populations today, they do help with narrowing down where to go. I’m not a big fan of online fishing boards and forums. Too much junk passes as truth on them. But, as someone who uses digital media and the Internet all the time, I do appreciate a credible source for information.

That’s why I am impressed with the Michigan DNR’s new Stream Fish Population Trend Viewer, an interactive web page recently unveiled on the agency website. It allows trout anglers, in particular, to see where wild brook trout, brown trout and rainbows were found by DNR fisheries surveys along with coho salmon and smallmouth bass. Users are able sort the locations by abundance, length and size and other measures. Continue reading

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Banding Loons

Originally posted on LOON NETWORK:

Loon banding has only occurred for the past 25 years so there is much we do not know about these majestic birds. However, with continued research we can start to understand the Common Loon better and discover more effective ways to increase its survival. To learn more about loon banding visit the Studying Loons page.

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Lake Michigan’s charter-fishing catch rate slips in 2013

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, MI – Lake Michigan anglers complained in 2013 about catching fewer though bigger chinook salmon than prior years, but charter fishing captains had a pretty good year. They logged 11,875 fishing trips, the second highest number since 2009; the highest being 2012 when they reported 12,236 charter trips.

Those 2013 findings were released in May by the Michigan DNR and can be found in the latest report about charter fishing catch and effort on the agency website.

Last year’s catch went down following several years of way above-average catch-rates,” notes Dan O’Keefe, Michigan Sea Grant southwest district educator. “But the fish were bigger – and that helped the number of trips that were taken.”

Charter captains are required to report their catches each year, along with the number of hours they spend fishing, or what is called “charter effort.” Lake Michigan fishing charters targeted, caught and kept 35,218 chinook salmon in 2013. They released 904 according to the report. That translated to a catch-rate of .132 chinook salmon per hour fishing and 3.184 chinooks per excursion. Continue reading

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Newaygo fishing guide, author breaks new ground about fussy trout in book

 Matt Supinski fishes Nelson's Spring Creek in Montana while shooting the Selectivity DVD. Photo by: Tom Harman

Matt Supinski fishes Nelson’s Spring Creek in Montana while shooting the Selectivity DVD. Photo by: Tom Harman

By Howard Meyerson

Perhaps you’ve cast to a trout or steelhead only to find yourself snubbed. It approaches, looks, and backs away. Was it the motor oil on your hands, the color of the fly, the pattern chosen, or its presentation?

Or maybe it was a “fussy” trout.

Author and fly fishing guide, Matt Supinski, has a behavioral theory about feeding fish – when they take and why they don’t – borne of decades of observation, years of watching and fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead on rivers all over the world.

The 56-year-old owner of the Gray Drake and Trout and Eagle Lodges on the banks of the Muskegon River draws it all together in an eye-catching book called “Selectivity, The Theory & Method of Fly Fishing for Fussy Trout, Salmon & Steelhead.”

The 260-page, hard-cover book is creating a stir in fly fishing circles, drawing wide Adobe Photoshop PDFacclaim from top names in the field and rave reviews for its gorgeous color plates, fascinating fishing stories and core ideas which center around three feeding phases Supinski calls: Aggressive/Active, Selective/Reflective and Passive/Dormant.

“My notion of ‘selectivity’ attempts to address what I call the fish’s “split-personality,” Supinski writes. “Why at times they can be ferocious predators and kill artists exercising extreme precision, but with selective and precise demeanor. Or why they can be downright impossible to catch, either being extremely fussy and elusive or despondent.
“These bipolar behavioral phases of selectivity have taunted anglers for a long as people have been fly fishing…” Continue reading

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A Story of Recovery: Boardman River restoration looks better all the time

Frank Dituri (left) and Bret Fessell kneel in Grasshopper Creek where they find signs of aquatic insect life that was not there before the Brown Bridge Dam was removed. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Frank Dituri (left) and Bret Fessell kneel in Grasshopper Creek where they find signs of aquatic insect life that was not there before the Brown Bridge Dam was removed. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

While picking through the natural debris on the bottom of Grasshopper Creek, a tiny stream feeding the upper Boardman River, two scientists with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians began to get excited.

Brett Fessell and Frank Dituri both noted things that made them hopeful. Fessell is the tribe’s fish and wildlife coordinator. Dituri is their wetland ecologist. He is also chairman of the multi-jurisdiction implementation team guiding the Boardman River restoration. The multi-million dollar project involves removing three dams and modifying a fourth over the next several years. Brown Bridge Dam, most upstream, was the first to go in 2013.

Boardman Watershed Map and Dams

Source: The Boardman River Dams Project.

The three of us were canoeing though the 2.8 mile restoration area, the zone that was underwater prior to removing the dam. The former pond and backwaters, where paddling was once slow and laborious, had reverted to being a quick-moving river – today a joy to paddle.

What these scientists had discovered in streambed, set in a wild tangle of forest, were the empty cases of caddisfly larvae that had emerged, tiny conical structures made of fine gravel, found only in running water. Trout food, essentially; at very least, an indication of bugs that trout love.

“This place (the creek bottom) was all filled with mud,” Fessell explained, admiring the fresh gravel bed that was uncovered once the muck washed out, pushed by faster stream velocities made possible after pond waters went down.

“Now you have all these little pockets and pools – same as a larger river – and just as important for fisheries. This is going to be better spawning and nursery habitat. I am confident we will see more brook trout.” Continue reading

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Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery: What Now?

Kirtland's Warblers are at their all-time high in Michigan. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Kirtland’s Warblers are well above recovery goals in Michigan. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s endangered Kirtland’s Warbler appears to be well down the road to recovery. More than 2,000 singing males were reported in Michigan’s 2013 Kirtland’s Warbler census. That was the second consecutive year that the population was double the federal recovery goal of 1,000 singing males (breeding pairs)—a world away from 1967 when the bird was added to the federal Endangered Species List, or when its populations reached record lows in 1974 and 1987 and only 167 were found.

While the warbler’s rebound is reason for celebration, federal and state wildlife officials and Michigan’s conservation community remain concerned about its future. Successful recovery brings talk of removing it from the Endangered Species list, a decision that places the gray-blue and yellow warbler at a crossroad with respect to its future survival.

“This is a conservation-reliant species that continues to depend on our future action,” says Dan Kennedy the endangered-species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “That’s why having a plan is so important.”

Kennedy is one of several who are working on a Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Plan. He is coordinating that cooperative effort between his agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Huron-Manistee National Forest. The plan is to be released for public review this summer. It will guide future management and replace the federal recovery plan once the bird is delisted.

Delisting, however, is not an automatic step, according to federal officials. Known threats have to be addressed before that will be proposed. “We have two issues ahead,” notes Scott Hicks, the USFWS field supervisor in the East Lansing field office. “One is to assure an adequate supply of appropriate-aged habitat, and making sure there are commitments to manage for that. The second is cowbird control.”

The USFWS pays for cowbird control, an annual effort to trap thousands of the parasitic birds that threaten the warblers by laying eggs in their nests. Studies show the presence of cowbird chicks, which are larger, more aggressive, and outcompete for food, results in poorer warbler survival. The cost for trapping is approximately $100,000 a year. “It is paid for by endangered species recovery funding,” Hicks said. “If we delist the Kirtland’s Warbler, that funding will be redirected to other species. We will need another way to cover the costs.” Continue reading

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Grand Rapids couple to paddle the Mississippi for clean water

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling a tandem kayak on their journey down the Mississippi River. Photo:  Howard Meyerson

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling their tandem kayak on their 10-week journey down the Mississippi River. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Every now and then we get an opportunity to express in life those things we hold dear – a point where we live our ideals. Gary and Linda DeKock are two such people who do that regularly, but on July 19, when they launch their tandem kayak on Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, they will be challenged to do that daily.

The Grand Rapids couple plans to paddle 2,291 miles down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The trip is a fund-raiser for “Water for People (WFP), a Denver Colorado nonprofit that provides safe, clean water to villages in nine third-world countries. The DeKocks hope to raise at least $11,455, using a crowd-sourcing website called Crowdrise. That translates to $5 for each mile paddled.

“The cool thing about Water for People is they work on sustainable solutions,” exclaims 63-year-old Linda DeKock, a self-employed vocational rehabilitation consultant. “First-world people usually go and put in a well – then stand back and say: ‘There! Everyone is happy.’ And five years later the well doesn’t work – and the women are still walking five miles to get water. Water for People tries to go beyond that and have local communities invested in the outcome.

“Gary wanted to do a bike trip from Chicago to New Orleans, but I didn’t want to; I don’t like being on highways. So I said: ‘Why don’t we paddle from Chicago to New Orleans?’ He got a look on his face and said. ‘If we’re going to be on the Mississippi, we should do the whole thing.’” Continue reading

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North Country Trail: Fife Lake loop trail now open

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

FIFE LAKE, MI — The cool of early morning clung to the forest landscape and highway sounds carried through the trees, but Marilyn Hoodstraten and Deena Barshney were busy at their tasks, paint brushes in hand. Each was clad in warm clothes and they went about the job of painting a new kiosk for the 4,600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail. Arlen Matson stood by, ready with a map to be installed.

All three are members of the Grand Traverse Hiking Club (GTHC), a chapter of the North Country Trail Association. And this wasn’t just any trailhead sign.

Prominently displayed at the U.S. 131 Roadside Park, immediately north of the Manistee River, it directs hikers onto a newly opened 13-mile reroute located on the east side of the river. More importantly, it offers hikers and backpackers an alternative to the complexities of organizing a point-to-point hike.

The new trail connects in two places with the abandoned segment on the west side of the river, creating a 21-mile loop that allows backpackers to return to their cars – eliminating the need to spot a vehicle at the other end of a hike.

“This is exciting. The loop is perfect for a weekend of backpacking,” said

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Dick Naperala,a retired school teacher and GTHC member. He is the North Country Trail Association volunteer who conceived of the reroute and loop trail. Naperala bushwhacked 13 miles to establish its route. Then he worked with the Village of Fife Lake to get it to adopt the abandoned route. That segment is now called The Fife Lake Trail. It took two to three years and numerous meetings with village leaders, the Michigan DNR and Department of Transportation.

Camping is allowed on state lands all along the route as well as in two rustic campgrounds: the Old U.S. 131 State Forest Campground to the south; and the Spring Lake State Forest Campground to the north, near Fife Lake. The new trail starts out along Manistee River then heads north through the woods along the very scenic Fife Lake Creek, eventually entering lake country where the route passes by Headquarters Lake and Spring Lake.

“This new portion of the North Country Trail is so much more scenic with its overlooks, lakes and fast-moving creeks. The new trail also comes close to the Village of Fife Lake and this has become a win-win for everyone,” Naperala said, adding that Fife Lake Trail will have orange-colored blazes while the new NCT segment will have its traditional blue blazes on trees. Continue reading

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Brookie survey continues in Upper Peninsula

By Howard Meyerson

MARQUETTE, MICH. – Upper Peninsula fisheries managers are collecting data from b6ac3c1202c15e5fdfc0bdbe8d3dfb55five U.P. brook trout streams this season with the intent of adding three of those to the state’s experimental brook trout stream category in 2015. Five streams were designated as experimental in 2012 after months of public debate following a DNR proposal to double the daily creel limit to 10 trout per day all across the Upper Peninsula.

The blanket recommendation proved controversial and was met by opposition from a cross-section of anglers, as well as expressed concerns from academics and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who were working to protect coaster brook trout streams. DNR fisheries biologists said then that computer modeling showed brook trout populations would not be adversely impacted by the proposed change.

The experimental category was established as a compromise. It went into effect in 2013 with a promise that studies would be conducted to determine the impact of increasing the creel limit.

“We’re adding three more streams because it was the NRC’s and public desire to have that from the start,” said Phil Schneeberger, the DNR’s Lake Superior basin coordinator. “We’re gathering information on five candidate streams and will make a decision in fall about which three to add.” Continue reading

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