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Lake Effect... Rain??

Posted on July 31, 2020

You've heard of lake-effect snow, that quirky winter phenomenon that occurs on our side of Lake Michigan... but did you know that lake-effect rain is a thing too? In fact, we just experienced some on Wednesday of this week. So what exactly is it, and what makes it happen? 

Lake-effect precipitation—whether we are talking snow or rain—is formed when the water temperature of the lake on its surface is significantly warmer than that of the air at about 5,000 feet up. Much like the steam coming off a pot of boiling water on your stove, this temperature difference causes surface water to evaporate and rise forming a cloud, which following usual weather patterns, moves over the water from west to east. When this cloud hits the eastern shore, the precipitation gets released… in cold weather, it appears as snow, in warmer weather, it’s rain.

So for lake-effect rain to happen we need pretty warm lake water relative to the air. And boy howdy, do we have warm water temperatures this year! In fact, the temperatures in the Great Lakes are breaking records. Lake Michigan’s average water temp hit 75.1 degrees F on July 8. It’s typically averaging around 64 degrees at this point in the summer. Lake Erie’s average water temp reached a stunning 79.6 degrees F on July 10! 

Why is the water so abnormally warm this summer? Because it has been so abnormally hot, with very little rain. And while the warmer water is pretty nice to swim in, it’s not so great for water quality and aquatic life, creating conditions ripe for blue-green algae blooms that can harm fish and make people exposed to it sick.

So we’ve got the warm water part of the lake-effect equation, and mid-week, we had much cooler weather roll in. Meteorologists have determined that there needs to be around 25-degree temperature difference between the water surface and the air at 5,000 feet for the lake-effect to occur. With the water temp at about 75 degrees, on Wednesday, the air temp at that height was about 51 degrees… viola! Lake-effect rain. This is why we had those weird rain showers pop up out of nowhere late Wednesday afternoon.

You don’t really hear about lake-effect rain as much, because the conditions necessary to create it rarely occur in the summer. When the air is consistently warm, it’s pretty hard to reach that 25-degree temperature differential. But with water temps so unusually warm right now, it’s far more likely to happen. Because in 2020, nothing can just be normal, can it?

Opossum: Pest or Pal?

Posted on July 24, 2020

Answer: PAL! No really. The opossum is one of the more maligned creatures living among us, at least here in the Americas. They are thought of as nasty, pesty animals with few redeeming qualities. Well, we’re here to dispel those myths! Opossum are some of the smarter animals out there, and they are actually quite beneficial to humans. Let’s dig in!

Wait: first, is it Opossum or Possum?

1. Well, here in the U.S., the two terms are used interchangeably in reference to the same animal. But in Australia, a possum is a totally different animal that looks like a cross between and squirrel and a small lemur. 

Ok great, now that THAT’s out of the way…

2. Opossum are pretty smart! They have impressive recall, at least where food is concerned. They perform better remembering which way to go to find a snack than rats, cats, dogs and even pigs (which are considered to be one of the most intelligent animals). They can also remember the smell of toxic substances up to a year after having had a bad experience with one. 

Wow, those smarts must factor into that cool “playing dead” thing they do when predators approach!

3. Sadly, no, that’s not a conscious thing they are doing. In fact, when they experience intense fear, like when a predator is nearby, they simply seize up, flop over, and fall into a comatose state. They have no control over when and for how long this state persists (sometimes hours!).

Oh. So it’s involuntary. Well, it’s still cool how well it works to keep predators away!
 
4. Yes, especially because when this “freeze up” happens, they also secrete a truly icky decomposing animal odor, which really helps to sell the “Yeaaahh, I’m dead, move along, mmm-kay?” messaging.

Gross. So they are kind of smelly?

5. No! When they aren’t lying prone from fear, they are actually very clean animals, grooming themselves often much like cats do. They lack sweat glands, so this helps keep them cool, and also odorless (again, when they are not doing the "play dead" thing), much to their benefit.

Hey, you said they were beneficial to humans earlier?

6. Yes! And your pets too- why? They eat ticks, and lots of them. A single opossum eats about 5,000 ticks per season! Moreover, they aren't likely to bother your garden; instead, they may actually help by eating slugs and rodents that do come for your veggies.

So there you have it. Far from being pests, opossum actually should be a welcome addition to your backyard! 

Comet NEOWISE

Posted on July 17, 2020

Photo: Maxime Storn / CC BY-SA

This summer, lots of things we look forward to for entertainment have been canceled... baseball, Fourth of July Fireworks, concerts... but right now, the natural world is putting on a pretty cool show for you, free of charge, every night. Yes, if you haven't heard, there’s a comet to look at! Comet NEOWISE, to be exact, the brightest comet to streak across the sky in 23 years.

NEOWISE is named for the mission that discovered it back in March (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer... yeah, we'll stick to NEOWISE, we think), and it is due to make its closest pass by Earth on July 22. It is bright enough that it can be seen with the naked eye, though a telescope or even just regular binoculars will help you see it better. Up until this past week, it could only be seen just before dawn, but now for those of us who like to sleep in a little, it's visible in the evening after sunset too! And now's the time to go see it. By late July, it will no longer be visible to the naked eye, and it's not expected to make another appearance for 6,800 years!

What is a comet, anyways? It's a big ball of frozen gases, rock and dust leftover from the formation of the solar system that orbits the sun. As it get closer to the sun, it heats up and spews dust and gases, forming a big, glowing head that can be as big as a planet, and trailing a tail that can extend millions of miles. According to NASA, NEOWISE is one of 3,650 known comets currently zipping around the sun.

Here's how to see it: On a clear night (like tonight!) find some unobstructed sky away from light pollution. Just after sunset, look below the Big Dipper in the northwest sky. If you are looking without the aid of a telescope or binoculars, it will look like a fuzzy star with a little bit of a tail behind it. Each night, it will appear a little higher over the horizon, as shown in this graphic created by NASA:

And here's a cool website that lets you plug in your location, and will tell you specifically where and when you'll be able to see it.

So get outside in the next couple of nights, and check it out before it's gone!


June Operations Update

Posted on June 16, 2020

June 16, 2020: An Update on Operations

Dear members and friends,

As Michigan enters Phase 4 of the Governor's re-opening plan and restrictions begin to loosen, I wanted to provide an update on our operations here at Chikaming Open Lands (COL). Our office is now being staffed on a limited basis, and we are open to the public by appointment only. 

Our nature preserves remain open and available for all to enjoy. We are very pleased to report that though we have seen increased traffic in our preserves over the last few months, we have not had any issues with over-use or vandalism, and users are being smart, safe and respectful during their visits. As always, we encourage you to contact us to report any issues you may encounter while out in one of our preserves.

While we are not currently holding volunteer stewardship days, in recent weeks our staff members have constructed new hiking trail networks in the Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve on Warren Woods Road and in the newly expanded Burns Prairie Preserve on Mt. Zion Road in Galien Township. Limited off-road parking is available at both preserves and trail markers and signage will be going in at both locations within the next few weeks. Work has also resumed on construction of improvements at Flynn Woods Preserve, across East Road from Robinson Woods. A new parking area, a picnic shelter, and other amenities are expected to be completed this summer. 

Though many of our summer events and programs are cancelled for the time being, we are excited to announce that the #10Trail Challenge, the popular hiking challenge we’ve hosted in partnership with Rotary for the past two years, will go on as scheduled this July. Visit our website or follow us on social media for more details about this fun way to discover all the wonderful hiking trails our area has to offer.

Unfortunately, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the annual Barn Benefit this year. While the Benefit raises a significant amount of income each year which allows us to carry out our conservation mission, the health and safety of our staff, our supporters, and our community are our highest priority. As such, we do not believe it will be feasible or prudent to gather in person this September given the likelihood that COVID-19 will persist at some level into the fall.

The disruptions caused by the pandemic present challenges for us all. But we will continue our work to protect the natural open spaces that make our region such a desirable place to live, work, and visit. I hope you will consider partnering with us in that endeavor by making a donation to COL today.

During this fraught time, getting outdoors has been an essential way for many of us to achieve some balance and maintain our peace of mind. COL remains committed to providing opportunities for everyone to connect with nature. Now more than ever, your support is critical to sustaining that work. Thank you.

Stay safe and be well.

Sincerely,

Ryan J. Postema
Executive Director


Bug O' the Month Club: Ticks

Posted on May 29, 2020

Wow! It’s finally been feeling like summer this past week. It seems like we’ve been waiting for warm, sunny days for a long, long time. But as with almost all good things, there are downsides. Here in Michigan, a big one that comes along with summertime is bugs. Oh, so many buuuuuugggggs. So let’s talk about them… what they do, where and when they can be found, and how to protect yourself and/or your garden from them. We’ll pick a different bug every few weeks to discuss. This week, it’s Tick Time!

Due to the unseasonably mild and wet winter, experts predicted that we would have a bad tick season this year. Of particular concern is the black-legged (deer) tick, which has seen a population increase in western Michigan over the last several years. Unfortunately, the deer tick is the type that carries Lyme Disease.

There are five different kinds of ticks found in Michigan. Here’s a good resource from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to help identify them. As you can see, the tick you’ll most want to avoid latching onto you, the black-legged tick, is also the smallest… smaller than a sesame seed. For an idea of just how small these guys can be, check out this horrifying 2018 tweet from the CDC. Lemon poppyseed muffin, anyone?

So what should we do to protect ourselves? Use bug repellent that contains at least 20% DEET on any exposed skin and around your pant legs when you go outside. Make sure your pets have been treated with the appropriate flea and tick preventative as well. There is also a Lyme vaccine available for dogs that you can discuss with your veterinarian… but this should not be considered a replacement for preventative applications, just an additional layer of protection.

Though tick habitat is generally in brushy and wooded areas, you’ll find them in your backyard too. If you have been out in an area where you think there are ticks, do a thorough check of yourself, your kids and your pets when you come inside. The sooner the better, so you can get them while they are still crawling around and not yet attached. Ticks will ride along on clothing and gear too. Toss your clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour to ensure you've killed them. If you do find one that has attached, remove it with a pair of tweezers, grasping it near the head and GENTLY pulling it off. Finally, if you notice signs of Lyme Disease, which include flu-like symptoms and the tell-tale “bulls-eye” rash at the bite site, see your doctor right away.

All this said, ticks should not keep you from getting outside and hiking all the lovely trails found in the area! Just be sure you are taking the appropriate precautions.