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GLC Members Meeting 2016
"The Birds of Gratiot Lake: Their Biology and Ecology"

Over 40 people attended this year's GLC Members Meeting.
Following the meeting, more than 60 people attended a presentation by Dr. David Flaspohler entitled "The Birds of Gratiot Lake: Their Biology and Ecology" which incorporated photos taken by Jim Hay.

David's Powerpoint presentation included more birds than time allowed him to cover.
To see what he covered and what he wasn't able to get to, check out the links below.

Download a PDF version of
David Flaspohler's PowerPoint Presentation

A Somewhat Stretched m4v Version

Short Movie Clips From David's Talk

Swainson's Thrush Segment of Talk

Common Merganser Segment

(36 sec - 14MP)
(7:47 - 180MB)

Redhead Duck Segment

Wood Duck Segment

(6:54 - 165MB)
(2:23 - 56MB)

Double Crested Cormorant Segment

Mute Swan Segment

(4:39 - 106MB)
(5:18 - 126MB)

Great Blue Heron Segment

Common Loon Segment

(3:03 - 71MB)
(3:39 - 88MB)

Grebe Segment

Northern Harrier Segment

(2:53 - 67MB)
(1:49 - 42MB)

Dr. Flaspohler is a professor at the
School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at MTU

Dr. David Flaspohler is an avian ecologist and professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University.  He received his M.S. in Conservation Biology and Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and came to MTU in 1998. He has taught Ornithology, Field Ornithology, and Conservation Biology for 18 years and won the University teaching award in 2002.  He has conducted research with birds in Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and in the U.S. Midwest and Hawaii.  He has published over 35 peer-reviewed papers, served on panels for the National Science Foundation and the USDA Forest Service, and has recently joined the board of the Copper Country Audubon Society.  A favorite birding spot is his family’s camp on Hermit’s Cove where he recently added a White-winged Scoter to his list for that spot.

As part of his GLC Members Meeting presentation Birds of Gratiot Lake, David Flaspohler highlighted three grebe species which Jim Hay has photographed at the lake. David noted grebes belong to the Order Podicipediformes, meaning “rear-footed.” This anatomical adaptation makes grebes strong divers and very awkward walkers. They evidently fall over a lot (think penguins). Grebes have lobed toes attached to blade-like ankles. When swimming, they rapidly paddle. At the top of the forward thrust the toe lobes begin to fan open, and as the foot is pulled back the grebe moves forward. David’s talk inspired me to find out more about grebes. Here are some grebe facts:

By varying the amount of air trapped in their feathers, grebes adjust the depth at which they float above the waterline.

They perform elaborate courtship “dances”… including skittering, breast held high, along the surface of the water and synchronized diving.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s allaboutbirds.org website, grebes “ingest large quantities of their own feathers… to form a sieve–like plug that prevents hard, potentially harmful prey parts from passing into the intestine.“ Like many other birds, grebes regurgitate indigestible pellets containing such things as fish bones and crayfish carapaces.

Common mergansers were also featured in David’s talk. These fish eating ducks have serrated bills that help them grasp their prey. A wood duck nest box installed on the lakefront by Ron Sibbald housed a clutch of 13 merganser eggs. Ron observed all 13 ducklings exit the box early one morning in June. David noted that mergansers are precocial… basically feathered and ready to swim as soon as they hatch. Their eggs have a greater proportion of yolk to white than chicken eggs do, which helps to facilitate prodigious development within the eggs before they hatch.

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Redefining what it means to be “bird brained”

In her new book, The Genius of Birds (Penguin Press 2016), Jennifer Ackerman asserts “The misguided use of ‘bird brain’ as a slur has finally come home to roost.” Recent research has revealed that many bird craniums pack more neurons per square centimeter than primate brains do, and a lot of those neurons are in parts of the brain reserved for perception, memory, and learning. Turns out that much of bird behavior isn’t just instinctual after all. Referencing current research at sites throughout the world and unearthing intriguing historical tidbits, Ackerman describes the brilliance of birds in a lively and engaging manner.

Their problem solving ability, communication sophistication, and memory prowess has made media stars of crows, ravens, jays, and parrots. This book broadens our sights beyond these stars and encompasses diverse species including chickadees, pigeons (a.k.a. rock doves), mockingbirds, and sparrows. Bird behaviors including nest building, bird song, food gathering and catching, and the intricacies of bird navigation are examined to highlight aspects of bird intelligence. For example, the black-capped chickadees flitting back and forth to the sunflower seed feeder hundreds of times a day are storing many seeds in multiple caches for future use. Each bird requires well-developed memory and mapping skills to retrieve its seeds from multiple locations weeks after the seeds are stored. The hippocampus is the region of the brain that stores spatial memory and maps. Chickadees in colder, snowier climates must cache more food for longer periods and have larger hippocampi than their relatives in milder climates (a graph detailing this can be seen in David Flaspholer’s Gratiot Lake Birds powerpoint).

Ackerman brings in fascinating historical highlights. She focuses for instance on the oft-maligned pigeon to uncover some details of avian navigational prowess. The domestication of homing pigeons to serve as message carriers goes back at least 8,000 years. More recently G.I. Joe, Caesar, and Jungle Joe served in the U.S. Pigeon Service as life-saving winged emissaries during WWII. Leaving no stone unturned, Ackerman even explores such questions as avian aesthetics, a topic of some recent research. Does the Australian bowerbird who carefully constructs a stage of sticks, colorful stones, glass, and found items for his courtship displays have an artistic sensibility? Maybe not all of our questions about birds can be fully answered by science! Ackerman has nearly three decades of nature and science writing under her belt including many books and articles in the New York Times, National Geographic, and Scientific American. Her ability to make science accessible is very evident in this book. Her book brings a greater appreciation for these dinosaur descendants and their mastery of the world we share.

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A few Photos from the Members Meeting are below.

How You Can Support GLC

Membership is $15 per year and runs from December 31st to December 31st.
Memberships make great gifts!

Contributions to the general operating budget, Education Fund,
or Land Acquisition Fund are always appreciated.

GLC is a 501(c)3 charitable organization and donations are tax deductible.

Please contact the GLC Director if you would like to make a gift of appreciated securities
or if you need information on how to make a memorial donation or gift in someone's honor.

Contact GLC Program Director: director@gratiotlakeconservancy.org
(Please put "Gratiot Lake" in subject line.)