The doldrums of summer

Birding slows way down in the summer… Not that there isn’t good stuff to see, but I relax for a couple of months waiting on fall migration… I have been having a good time over the last couple of years photographing butterflies and dragonflies… its keeps me busy and I love the challange… I visited Jeff Swider’s home yesterday and was photographing dragonflies in his pond… There were a few butterflies around also… The Kestrels have fledged, but I got a nice shot of the female hanging out in the top of one of the pines..

American Kestrel

Blue Damselfly

 

Huron-Clinton Metropark Authority vs Nature. Updated 6/25/17 (please scroll to bottom for recent update)

On the Website for Huron-Clinton Metroparks this statement can be found on the home page.

The Huron-Clinton Metroparks is a regional park system created in 1940 by the citizens of Southeast Michigan, providing excellent recreational and educational opportunities while serving as stewards of its natural resources.

As someone who spends at least 300 days a year visiting various parks under their authority, I can tell you this statement no longer holds true. The current board and Director George Phifer care nothing about the natural environment of the parks. Over the last couple of years I have seen acres of habitat destroyed at Stony Creek Metropark, Wolcott Mills Metropark and even Lk St. Clair Metropark for the pure purpose of making the park more aesthetically pleasing to the people who use it. The people who make the decisions to send in the bulldozers and chain saws do not take one moment to stop and think about what they are truly destroying. A dead log may look unappealing to some suit sitting in his office, but too those of us who love nature and enjoy spending time in the park understand that it holds food for the Pileated Woodpeckers. It is a wintering spot for Mourning Cloaks who will make there first flights in early spring when it begins to warm up… Chipmunks use it as there homes.. Eventually as the log ages and disintegrates, it becomes part of the land in which it first sprang up many years before..  The tall dead trees are so important for our cavity nesters… Pileated, Downy, Hairy, Red bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers nest in the parks as well as Northern Flickers. Eastern Screech Owls also nest in these cavities… The destruction of all the undergrowth and shrubs is destroying habitat for Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, Yellow Warblers, Eastern Towhees and a pluethra of other breeding species in the park. I understand removing invasive plant species, but they have removed all underbrush in some areas. During Spring and Fall these areas are very important for migrants.

This year the special concern is the decision of the park authority to mow all the tall grasses around the parks in early spring. They have killed new born fawns. They have destroyed the nests of breeding birds such as Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks. They mowed under the Great Horned Owl nest at Stony Creek and now the fledglings are no where to be found. This is the earliest I have seen them mow and It seems to me that they could have waited until these birds have nested and the Deer have had a chance to birth their fawns. Of course there are some areas that are mowed because they are in areas where people Picnic, Run or play Frisbee golf… It is understandable that these areas are going to be mowed.

Inwood area of Stony Creek has a Bald Eagles Nest. This year the Eaglets are not going to be banded. I was told it was blocked by the park. The blood samples taken from the Eaglets are used to look at toxins in our environment. The area from Inwood all the way over to the Landscape Trail behind Stony Creek Nature Center has some very uncommon and rare birds this year. In the grassy areas near Inwood Rd across from the parking lot with the cell tower, there are Grasshopper Sparrows nesting.. A little further down the trail there are Clay-colored Sparrows  breeding as well as Blue-winged Warblers. The area between the Habitat Trail and the Landscape Trail holds breeding pairs of Henslow’s Sparrows and a Yellow-breasted Chat. All these birds are very uncommon and rare for this area and are so susceptible to changes in there environment. The Red-headed Woodpecker is very rare to the park and for the last two years has shown up at Oakgrove Picnic Area.

I am asking the public who use these parks to please reach out to George Phifer the Director and let him know how you feel about the management of the natural resources.  george.phifer@metroparks.com. Administrative Office # (810) 227-2757.

The following is the contact info for commissioners representing the Huron-Clinton Metroparks. If you would like to help improve the parks please contact your representative.

Kurt Heise – Governor Appointee – supervisor@plymouthtwp.org

Timothy J. McCarthy – Governor Appointee – tjmccarthy3rd@gmail.com

Robert W. Marans – Washtenaw County – marans@umich.edu

Jaye Quadrozzi -Oakland County – quadrozzi@youngpc.com

Bernard Parker – Wayne County – bpogd1949@gmail.com

Steven E. Williams – Livingston County – willise79@gmail.com

John Paul Rea – Macomb County – JohnPaul.Rea@macombgov.org

East Region Park Manager is Mike Lyons Mike.Lyons@metroparks.com (covering Stony Creek, Wolcott and LSCMP

Stony Creek Operations Manager Gary Hopp  Gary.Hopp@metroparks.com

Head of Natural Resouces for the HCMA is Ryan Colliton. Ryan.Colliton@metroparks.com

For me personally this is not going to continue to happen with me standing quietly by without protesting the destruction of our natural resources in the park all for the purpose of making money. Greed should not be the answer to killing innocent animals and birds. Most of us pay $35/year to use the park and I am sure that fee will go up.. Out of county residents are paying $10/day. I don’t think the park realizes how much money they would lose if all of a sudden we all stand together as a community of nature lovers and activists and boycott their parks..  Unfortunately those who understand these issues and work for the park system are helpless to say anything in fear of losing their jobs, so we as the public need to speak up. Spread this around and please send emails to all involved. It is so important.

I do not have contact information for the board members and the heads of each park. If you know them please reply and I will add them to the list. I will keep updating this post as I get new information.

**UPDATE**

This article appeared in the Detroit Free Press today. http://www.freep.com/videos/news/local/michigan/macomb/2017/06/02/fawn-killed-metroparks-mower-horrifies-facebook-fans/102445730/

The infant deer’s death was was “an unfortunate accident,” said George Phifer, director of the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, which operates the 13 Metroparks.

“I met with staff today about it,” Phifer said Friday. “We are looking for new methods we can use to minimize damage to the wildlife.” He said his office had received calls this week about the fawn.

Grass mowing is one aspect of the park system’s need “to make sure there’s a balance between protecting wildlife and managing our park resources for recreation purposes,” Phifer said. Overall, he said, the parks have been a boon to wildlife, preserving unspoiled habitat for far more fish, birds and mammals than would otherwise exist at the perimeter of metro Detroit

These are just words of a Director trying to remove some heat off of the park.. Many of the areas that are being mowed do not need to be mowed in the spring and early summer.. Mr. Phifer mentions that the parks have been a boon to wildlife, but how long is that going to be if they keep destroying acres of woods and habitat to make the park aesthetically pleasing? What are the reasons that the park has for butchering the parks all over the HCMA?

I have been reading the comments left by people on the article in the Detroit Free Press… Its too bad that people are making this all about one dead fawn… People are so tunnel focused and for those who don’t like deer or who don’t care about nature, this is not big deal… what they fail to realize is that its a small part of a much larger problem.. the mismanagement of the natural resources of the park… Mow the common areas where people picnic, run, swim, play frisbee golf… leave the natural areas for what they were meant for…  for Birds, Animals and Reptiles to thrive in an enviorment where people can enjoy them.

**UPDATE 6/5/17** Response to my email from Ryan Colliton, Manager of Natural Resources at HCMA. This is a form letter he is sending out to all who contacted him. please feel free to contact him so he can answer your specific questions. 

Thank you for the correspondence regarding wildlife and mowing at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.  I would like to ensure you that we take our management of wildlife very serious, in fact, of the 25,000 acres that comprise the Metropark system 80% (19,000 acres) remain in a natural or undeveloped state.  Through our natural resources efforts many species have recolonize the parks including bald eagles, osprey, beavers, and otters, to name a few.  With that said the Metroparks does not function solely as a wildlife and conservation organization, and most of our visitors come to the Metroparks to recreate.  To offer suitable recreation facilities and maintain the professional appearance of the parks we maintain, through the use of mowing, road right of ways and recreation areas.  Unfortunately, regardless of when mowing occurs there will be collateral damage, it just a fact of management on the scale that the Metroparks operate.  In general, we try to maintain mowed areas throughout the year.   We do this not just to keep the parks professional in appearance but also as a method of natural resources management with the goal of keeping wildlife from colonizing areas that are not suitable as habitat.   This method is used by natural resources agencies at the local, state, and federal level. This year was a very wet spring which resulted in certain areas not being mowed until they dried out.  Had they been mowed at the beginning of the growing season this problem would not have occurred.  There are some grassland habitats that we do manage with mowing and this mowing would take place after July if not later.  However, areas of regular mow will be maintained throughout the year, to maintain a consistency between undeveloped and natural areas, and the more manicured mowed areas.  The Metroparks will continue to work with staff on the ground to help them identify potential options to avoid situations like the one addressed in your correspondence and will, on a case by case basis, work to avoid these issues in the future.  Thank you again for your interest in the management of the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

Ryan has a Master’s Degree in Forestry from MSU in 2013. Someone with this type of education surely has a plan in place for all the destruction of habitat in our parks. However, what is the plan? Don’t we as tax payers have a right to know why our natural areas are always being chopped down, cleared and mowed? Perhaps it is because Ryan fears his job like so many others in the HCMA that have told me that they are under a gag order from the Director George Phifer not to speak with anyone…

I received an email today from someone who had contacted Ryan Colliton, Manager of Natural Resources at HCMA.  This is the response that she received from him regarding some areas of mowing and habitat destruction at Kensington, specifically the Spring Hill area.

Thank you for your correspondence regarding natural resources management at Kensington Metropark, specifically the Spring Hill area.  While it is true that extensive work has been done in the Spring Hill area, the focus of this work is not to convert this area into mowed turf grass.  The majority of work in this area has been targeted toward the removal of invasive species.  At this location, the dominant invasive species are Asian bittersweet, Autumn olive and a several other invasive shrubs.  We are working diligently to remove these species from the Metroparks because they a recognized as a leading threat to biological diversity.  This is a two-step process:  First, we remove the invasive shrub and vines; second, we treat any regrowth.  Removal, depending on the site, is either done by hand or with a machine.  Treatment is always direct application to individuals and is not done indiscriminately.   The long-term goal is that by removing competition from invasive species native species will be allowed to recolonize the site.  The scientific community also agrees that in most cases a diverse and healthy native plant community results in more diversity at higher trophic levels, for example, native birds. Our nature center conducted their annual may bird count and the list contains all the species that you expressed concern about except for the bobwhite quail.  However, I would like to point out that that this bird is dependent on grasslands.  Unfortunately, it is also true that most occurrences of this species in Michigan are the result of escapes from game bird farms or hunting dog trials and not natural occurrences.  Lastly, I do understand that the scale of change can be striking to some patrons, but I would like to assure you for the reasons stated above that we are working in the best interest of the Metroparks natural resources.  I hope you will continue to utilize your Metroparks for recreating and wildlife viewing.

Best regards,

Ryan J. Colliton

Manager of Natural Resources and Environmental Compliance

So my response to this letter would be to ask Ryan Colliton if this is the reason that Stony Creek and Wolcott Mills Metroparks have been torn apart in certain areas? I would also like to know in advance what other areas they have targeted. I have seen some individual spraying at Wolcott of invasive species but I still don’t understand the total destruction of habitat with large machines that wipe out everything but the largest trees… I still don’t understand the mowing of the fields that border the road to the nature center.

I sent an email regarding this issues with direct questions related to the management of habitat at stony creek metropark. I will see if I get a response. My last email has gone unanswered. 6/7/2017. email remain unanswered… perhaps a gag order also on the Manager of Natural Resources from King George? 

There is meeting today in Brighton 6/8/2017 at the administrative offices with the board of commissioners for the HCMA. Several people plan to speak and although I won’t mention who or what until they have had that chance, I applaud them for going to the meeting. My work obligations have kept me from attending this meeting, but I will be attending the next one. However, please don’t feel like the only way to keep on the board and George Phifer is by attending the meeting… Emails, spreading the word, photographing areas of destruction and sending them to me at birdingmacomb@yahoo.com is also very helpful… We can not let up the heat… my complaints have gone unanswered but I am getting many emails from concerned ciitizens with great information… If you have good inside information send it to me and I will not post your name…. we have got to get changes done at these parks and if that is the removal of those in charge, then so be it…

This is an area of interest regarding a protected species of snake in the park and the blatant mowing of areas around there habitat. Did the Director violate the law by ordering such mowing? Will he stop this practice and inform his staff to protect our natural environment or ignore our community of nature enthusiasts who care about the wildlife in the park.

I find it odd that nobody has mentioned the fact that some tall grass areas mowed at Stony Creek are in managed Eastern massasauga rattlesnake habitat, a federally protected species.  There have been known sightings near areas that were recently mowed.  Director Phifer knows all about this, the Metroparks signed an agreement with the MDNR and USFWS last fall to help protect the snakes after they were listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Go here and start reading at page 181:

http://www.metroparks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/11-10-2016_November-Packet.web_.pdf .

The agreement covers mowing, you can read the details here, especially section 7.1:

https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/permits/enhancement/ccaa/eamaMI/pdf/MIEMRCCAAFinalDraft22Feb2016.pdf .

It states that “Mowing or hydro-axing of grasses over 6 inches will occur only during the inactive season, except to control non-native vegetation in degraded habitats.”  This is for “managed habitat”.  I wonder if any of this recent mowing of vegetation over 6” tall during the snakes active season was in managed habitat?  The pictures in the Facebook posting do not appear to show any invasive species and the habitat does not look degraded.  The Director did not mention invasive species or degraded habitat in the Free Press article.  A FOIA request of these managed habitat maps would be helpful.  If the mowing is in managed habitat, the USFWS needs to be contacted because this does not appear like an “unintentional” act.  People must have been told to mow the tall grass.  Why would they otherwise if there is plenty of other grass to cut and work to do and they don’t want a repeat of Lake St. Clair. 

Section 11 of the Endangered Species Act relates to penalties and enforcement.  Sub Section G has language on “Citizen Suits” and discusses “the taking of any resident endangered species or threatened species within any State”. 

https://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/section-11.html 

**UPDATE** 6/8/2017

There was a very large turnout at the HCMA meeting today in Brighton.. It was standing room only with almost 100 people there to complain about the mowing and handling of Natural Resources in the Park. I could not go but applaud all those who did… Real change is goiing to happen if we keep the pressure on!! I am taking the day off at the next meeting and I hope even more people come. I want to hear it straight from Mr. Phifer’s mouth that he is going to change his policies and the way he treats the natural areas in his park. I don’t want to hear false promises, I want to see it in writing…

Meeting at Kensington MP today where over 100 people turned up to give the board of commissioners and earful about the recent mowing and management of resources at the parks

Meeting at Kensington MP today where over 100 people turned up to give the board of commissioners an earful about the recent mowing and management of resources at the parks

 

 

*** Update 6/22/2017******

Here is a link to the newest article regarding the mismanagement of the Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority. http://www.macombdaily.com/environment-and-nature/20170621/metroparks-management-accused-of-destroying-habitats-via-mowing-tree-removal

The comments in this article from Ryan Coliton are ridiculous. He points the finger at the maintenance people and those who mow like it is there fault the acres of habitat are being destroyed. They get orders and they perform there job..  Is he trying to tell us there are rouge mowers going out of control in the whole HCMA? He should be fired along with George Phifer, the director of HCMA.  There is a rumor that King George is on Administrative Leave pending and investigation into how he manages the park system. I hope employees speak up and talk about the threats to their employment and how there voices are not heard, even when they have the background and expertise in our Natural Resources. There needs to be serious change in how the park is managed and a better forum where we as citizens and tax payers have a say in how it is managed… No one can tell me that removing a bunch of dead trees or mowing areas that are not near picnic areas increases profits for the park system. (we all know it comes down to the almighty dollar). Please continue to write letters and report on any areas that you see destroyed that are unnecessary. Please feel free to contact me at birdingmacomb@yahoo.com.

***** UPDATE 6/22/17 at 1900. *****

http://www.livingstondaily.com/story/news/local/community/livingston-county/2017/06/22/metroparks-board-places-director/420345001/

Looks like the rumor is true. George Phifer has been placed on administrative leave. I have received a few emails from people familiar with the HCMA and they are elated that he is being internally investigated. His management style according to these people is one of hostility and threats. I hope that the board and those who are in charge of looking into his transgressions do their due diligence so we can be rid of this person and start fresh with hopefully someone who knows and cares about our natural resources…  The HCMA tried to keep this a secret but the morale is so low and employees are so bitter, they probably are tired of living in world of secrecy… The acting director is Michael Reese according to Timothy McCarthy.

More Newspaper articles regarding the Administrative Leave of George Phifer from the HCMA. I hope they do the right thing and get rid of this guy…

http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/2017/06/23/huron-clinton-metroparks-director-placed-paid-leave-during-internal-investigation/423897001/

http://www.macombdaily.com/general-news/20170623/metroparks-director-suspended-pending-investigation

A Henslow’s Sparrow has been found at Willow MP that is part of the HCMA. It is in an unmowed area near the parking lot. I sent a letter to Ryan Colliton in regards to its location and not to mow in that area. Email I sent is below.

I received an email today to let me know that a nest of Henslow’s Sparrow were discovered at Willow MP. Here is a description of the nesting area by Jerry Jordan. Henslow’s Sparrow at Willow Metropark in Huron Twp., Wayne Co., MI. In unmowed field just west of Washago Pond parking lot. Look for it on the tallest milkweed near the picnic tables. 

 
This is an official endangered species for the state of Michigan. Please make sure that the park does not mow in that area until breeding season is over. 
 
Best Regards, 
Stony Creek Metropark

Stony Creek Metropark

White-tailed Deer fawn. Victim of early mowing.

White-tailed Deer fawn. Victim of early mowing.  photo Annie Grobbel

The destroyer of habitats

The destroyer of habitats    Photo Annie Grobbel

 

Dickcissels in Macomb County

During certain years, usually related to a drought or a loss of habitat, Dickcissels have an irruption year in Michigan. So I have been seeing multiple reports of them around the state and wondering if they were going to show up in Macomb County… today Brandon Aho and Beth Murphy both found Dickcissels within a couple miles of each other… I got to the location that Brandon found them and Diane Miller was on them and had been photographing them for awhile… Thanks you Diane for pointing them out… They were easy to find and offered some decent range photos… there song is so awesome!!  22 mi east of North Ave there is a sub being built south of 22 and they are in the fields near the dead end where the subdivison ends…

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel

Dickcissel