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Monarchs on the Move!

Posted on September 23, 2022

…and although they’ve been in the news a lot lately, no, we don’t mean the crown-wearing folks across the pond. We are talking about monarch butterflies… and they are currently migrating! Each fall, scores of monarch butterflies here in Michigan and other points north sense the cooler temperatures and shorter days, and think, “Time to go to Mexico!” (We are guessing that many of you can relate). Of course, it’s not quite that simple… the monarchs that migrate south in the fall are actually not the same ones that came north this spring and summer. These butterflies belong to what is known as the super generation. So what does that mean?

Well, let’s zoom out and look at the entire migratory cycle. Each spring, thousands of miles from here in the mountain ranges of Central Mexico, a typical (AKA, not “super”) generation of monarchs hatch and begin to make the journey north. But, these regular generations only live 2-6 weeks, so this becomes a multi-generational journey. It’s actually the great-great grandchildren of the butterflies that started the migration who complete the epic journey and arrive in the northern U.S. and southern Canada. Fast-forward a few weeks, and the “Time to go to Mexico!” instinct kicks in. This triggers the female monarch to lay a special egg… an egg that will produce a butterfly that is very different from its predecessors. It lacks an age-inducing hormone that will allow it to live 8 times longer and fly 10 times farther than the previous typical generations. The super-generation!

So it’s this generation that makes the journey south, and overwinters in Central Mexico, where they live off stored energy in the fir forests for the next several months. Then, in the spring, their internal clock triggers a hormone that makes them become reproductive, they lay their eggs, and die. Those eggs hatch into a typical monarch generation, and the cycle begins again.

The super generation’s journey itself is pretty amazing. These feather-light creatures, with just a 3-4 inch wingspan, can cover up to 50 miles a day, flying as high as a mile up in the sky. They tend to travel migratory flyways along the shores of the Great Lakes, taking advantage of the winds and weather patterns for an extra push. Head out to the beaches right now, and you’ll see them! At night, and in bad weather, they will roost in trees along the way, which can make for a pretty awesome sight.

Monarch migration in Michigan lasts from late August through early October, peaking in September. You can find real-time migration maps, and submit your own monarch sightings to help researchers track migration patterns at JourneyNorth.org/monarchs. Seen any migrating monarchs? Snap a picture, post it on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us! #chikamingopenlands.

Grand Beach Marsh

Posted on August 8, 2022

by Isaac Smith

Eighteen thousand years ago glaciers–slowly moving mass ice formation which shape the land through freezing and melting–covered Michigan. During this era called the Pleistocene epoch, glaciers, similar to waves on the beach, slowly stretched south and then receded to the north. This process took thousands of years. At their peak the North American glaciers reached as far south as Cleveland. As these glaciers move, they can transform the landscape massively through erosion. Impressively, glaciers are responsible for the creation of all of the Great Lakes. 

As the glaciers receded for the last time they left a few highly acidic and nutrient poor sand deposits. Thus, upon them only a very specific kind of ecosystem could thrive: a coastal plain marsh. These marshes are characterized by their unique soil and frequent, dramatic shifts in the water level. They might not be as epic as other glacier leftovers like the Great Lakes or Yosemite, but costal plain marshes are a very unique and increasingly rare ecosystem. In fact, they are considered imperiled both on a global level and state level according to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory

Fortunately, one of these gems is here in Berrien County. Grand Beach Marsh Nature Preserve is nestled in the Village of Grand Beach. The 11 acre property, owned and managed by Chikaming Open Lands, contains a coastal plain marsh along with an oak forest, wet prairie, and sand prairie. The property is home to an impressive twenty-one rare species and features a hiking trail for visitors to access the preserve. 

Turtle Creek

Posted on August 8, 2022

by Isaac Smith

Backing up to New Buffalo Elementary School, Turtle Creek is perfect for outreach and education. In 2016, New Buffalo Elementary School joined Chikaming Open Lands’ Mighty Acorns program. Mighty Acorns is an environmental education program that gives students hands-on lessons about local ecosystems. The program is geared toward 3rd through 5th graders and the curriculum is provided by the Field Museum in Chicago. Being so close to New Buffalo Elementary School, Turtle Creek is a great location for students in the Mighty Acorns program to learn. Furthermore, the trails at Turtle Creek intertwined with the Nature Study Trails, giving students more space to explore the natural environment. Ultimately, nature conservation is only as effective as the people who care about it. The best way to ensure the next generation of conservationists is through education. Chikaming Open Lands dedication to educating future nature enthusiasts through their outreach programs is one of its foremost endeavors.

A Fabulous Fall Forecast?

Posted on August 26, 2022

...it depends on what kind of weather you like.

Ok, ok, we know it’s still August, and that there’s a lot of summer left. But as we creep closer and closer to Labor Day, we can’t help but daydream about pulling out our hoodies and wool socks for the cool, crisp temperatures that autumn brings.

Well, we’re here to tell you that you might have to wait a little longer than normal for sweater weather. According to NOAA’s Seasonal Temperature Outlook released last week, we could be in for a warmer than normal September, October and November. Why? A strengthening La Niña in the Pacific.

A La Niña is a naturally-occurring climate phenomenon linked to colder than average surface water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. This affects tropical rainfall patterns and atmospheric winds over the Pacific. For us in the Midwest, that typically means a warmer than average fall, and, at least towards February and March, a colder and snowier than normal winter. So for this fall, that can mean we will be enjoying daytime temps in the upper 60s and even occasionally hitting 70 degrees into October. NOAA is also predicting drier conditions this autumn, which means we could be in for some sunny, pleasant fall days this year. Frankly, we are not sad about this. Hoodies, we’ll check back in with you in November.

Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve

Posted on August 8, 2022

by Isaac Smith

Chris Thompson Memorial Preserve (CTMP) is named in memory of Chris Thompson, Chikaming Open Lands’ late executive director who passed away unexpectedly in June 2016. Thompson was a firm believer that creating access to nature through preservation helps form a bond between people and the natural world. This reconnection to nature makes people happier and healthier, and it impresses the importance of conservation upon the community. As such, this preserve has been created with the hope of achieving these goals. 

The entire property was once all beech-maple forest like much of Michigan before European settlement. When they did arrive most of the Preserve was logged and cleared for agriculture, with the exception of the area along the river bank. The property was in agricultural production until 2008 and ten years later acquired by Chikaming Open Lands. Chikaming Open Lands is now working to restore the agricultural field to native forest, savanna, and prairie habitats. 

When condensed into one sentence this endeavor sounds straightforward, but it is in fact a massive undertaking. To restore the forest, the ecological process of succession must take place. Succession is when the mixture of species in an area shifts. This can take decades. In fact, it might not be until the next century that mature hardwoods develop in this area. Savannas were once prevalent in Michigan; since then, they have all but vanished. They have become so rare most Americans strictly associate savannas with Africa when, in fact, they have existed here for centuries. Their disappearance has largely been the result of clearing for agriculture and a lack of fire. Fire may sound counter intuitive but it is very important in controlling invasive species, improving biodiversity, and eliminating middle story species not present in savanna ecosystems. The restored savanna would feature a few trees and shrubs with lots of prairie grasses and wildflowers. The final piece of the CTMP restoration puzzle is the prairie. Prairies, like savannas, were once common in Michigan and now are barely surviving. In fact, the Michigan Natural Features Inventory estimates that no original mesic (moist) prairies exist on land available to the public. Thus, restoration is incredibly important. COL will be reseeding the prairie with prairie seed from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and reintroducing fire at the preserve.