Dear HLPOA and HLSIO Supporters,
Spring is the time of year we regularly get questions about our Swimmer’s Itch Control Program and what we are doing about all the common merganser sightings on the lake. To efficiently address these questions we have added this new section, “Your Itching Questions for Dr. Blankespoor.” This section will be updated whenever new questions/answers are received and answered.
A: Since we started working on the lake in 2015, we’ve conducted regular lake-wide bird surveys from ice-out until July 31. We go around the entire perimeter of the lake, which takes 3-4 hours, and we record the various birds and ducks we encounter. On May 18, 2018, we found16 common mergansers (4 males and 12 females) and a large mixed flock (50+) of common and red breasted mergansers near the island. Migrating individuals typically aggregate in large groups, so we believe the vast majority of the ducks we saw during this survey will not take residence on Higgins this summer. These ducks were spring fly throughs. The red breasted mergansers are protected, as our permit only allows trap and relocation of common mergansers.
On, May 26, we conducted our second lake-wide survey of 2018. As expected, the spring fly throughs had departed, including all of the red breasted mergansers. We found only 5 common mergansers (3 hens and 2 drakes) remaining on the lake.
2. Q: Do you have an estimate of the number of common merganser broods you expect to see on Higgins Lake this year?
A: That number is always difficult to predict, but the numbers should be low again this year. I’d estimate a maximum of 4.
3. Q: What do these surveys tell you about whether relocated common mergansers return to Higgins Lake.
A: We’ve always said that successfully breeding hens are expected to return to Higgins. However, if ducklings are relocated when they are less than 1 month old, we believe they won’t return to Higgins Lake. Instead, they return to the general area where they were relocated. For the third year in a row, our lake-wide bird surveys confirmed this — there are no second year birds (“teenagers”) on Higgins Lake. Once we trap and relocate any hens and their broods, the lake will essentially be free of any common mergansers again this summer. If the ducklings from last year, or from 2016, returned to Higgins Lake, they would stay the summer. The last time we saw a large number of 2nd year common mergansers staying on the lake during the summer was 2015.
4. Q: Did you band the chicks you relocated last year?
A: No. We tried to get a permit from the DNR to place plasticine bands on common merganser ducklings in 2016 but the DNR refused our permit request on the grounds that the plasticine leg bands would cause too much physical harm to the ducklings. Last year we were successful in getting a permit to use web tags (tiny self-piercing metal tags that are affixed to their toe webbing) instead of plasticine leg bands and all 55 common merganser ducklings trapped and relocated from Higgins Lake in 2017 were fitted with web tags.
5. Q: Tell how your research project to fit common mergansers with transmitters is progressing.
A: The custom made, miniature GPS units just arrived from the United Kingdom this past week. On Friday, we are making a special trip to Ohio to learn from waterfowl experts and be certifiedto fit common merganser hens with light-weight, specialized backpack harnesses that will carry the GPS units. We plan to outfit all the hens we trap on Higgins Lake this year with those GPS backpacks. They will be programmed to record GPS locations several times a day, so we hope to gain valuable information not only on common merganser nesting sites, but also on other aspects of common merganser behavior that might lead to effective long-term swimmer’s itch control strategies.
Your Itching Questions For Dr. Blankespoor – April, 2018:
A: Every spring, large numbers of common mergansers migrate north through the state on their way to their summer home, typically in Canada. The Michigan Swimmer’s Itch Partnership (MISIP) lakes throughout the state are reporting a similar large number of fly-throughs. Higgins Lake has always been a popular stop-over lake because our abundant minnow population provides easy food for hungry migrant ducks. We believe the science, data and experience demonstrate that we don’t need to be concerned about these spring fly-throughs so they don’t need to be reported. The late ice out may have compressed the fly-though time window making it seem like there are more common merganser this spring.
2. Q: Are all these common mergansers going to stay on Higgins Lake this summer?
A: No. Most of these common mergansers will leave the lake after staying only a few days. They will be replaced by new fly-throughs. A few will stay to breed. The males will leave shortly after the hens start incubating their eggs. The hens will stay on the lake to raise their broods. You have probably noticed the lake has been largely common merganser free the past three summers after the fly-throughs leave and all the broods have been captured and relocated.
3. Q: Won’t these fly-throughs infect our lake with swimmer’s itch?
A: The science, data and our past experience tell us that these common merganser fly-throughs present a very low risk of adding to the swimmer’s itch infection level in Higgins Lake. Necropsies of approximately 50 adult common mergansers lethally taken on Higgins Lake over the past 3 springs have shown about half were not infected with swimmer’s itch parasites and nearly all the rest were only lightly infected. In addition, the very cold spring waters make the snails largely inactive and not receptive to swimmer’s itch infection. In fact, after the Northpoint Fisheries spring harassment program from 2015 to 2017 chased large numbers of common mergansers into the Lyon Township section of Higgins Lake (where they were not allowed to shoot or harass common mergansers) the analysis of snails from both townships showed slightly lower infection levels in Lyon Township snails compared to those from Gerrish Township. And Lyon Township residents reported a similar significant reduction in swimmer’s itch cases as Gerrish Township. So we have strong evidence from Higgins Lake that spring harassment isn’t effective and spring fly-throughs don’t increase the risk of swimmer’s itch.
4. Q: How many broods are you projecting for Higgins Lake this year?
A: It’s always difficult to predict the number of broods on any lake in any given year. Our best guess is 6 or less in 2018.
5. Q: Why does your program focus on trap and relocation of common merganser broods?
A: Decades of research has shown that common merganser ducklings are the primary carriers of swimmer’s itch infection on northern Michigan lakes. They spend a flightless summer on the lake and become highly infected. In fact, research has shown their infection levels can be as much as 50 times higher than adults. The trap and relocation method of control targets the primary carriers of swimmer’s itch on Higgins Lake and it has a strong track record for success on other lakes. Brood ducks are relocated to waters that are free of the Stagnicola snails that are needed to cause swimmer’s itch. That’s why several other Michigan lakes are using common merganser trap and relocation as their swimmer’s itch control program of choice.
6. Q: Broods typically should start appearing on the lake beginning around June 1. If I see a common merganser hen fly into a tree, or a common merganser brood swimming on the lake, where should I report it?
The DNR has developed a new permit application process. Below is the link to the background and development which led to the adoption of the Roscommon County Resolution. Thanks to all who supported these efforts:
On October 19, 2017, Judge Robert Bennett granted the HLPOA request to dismiss all claims made against the HLPOA by Marv Bolton with prejudice. These claims related to changes made to 2014 financial statements by the HLPOA Treasurer. As noted in the HLPOA’s brief to the court, “Importantly, the Brick 2014 statements improved the financial strength of HLPOA. All members of HLPOA were better served by a net increase in value.” The judgement of dismissal preserved the right of the HLPOA to pursue taxable costs against Mr. Bolton incurred by the HLPOA in the course of the litigation. Taxable costs do not include the more than $15,000 in attorney fees paid by HLPOA members. On December 21, 2017, Judge Bennett allowed taxable costs of $1,434.91 which Mr. Bolton has paid. This matter is now closed.