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Ecological Voyeurs, Huron Watershed Group Needs Your Peeping Skills

The presence of winter stoneflies walking along the snow and ice in search of mates is a key indicator of the overall health of the Huron River, regarded as the cleanest of Michigan’s urban rivers.

Volunteers will search for winter stoneflies on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 70 study sites along the Huron River. (Photo: Huron River Watershed Council)
Volunteers will search for winter stoneflies on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 70 study sites along the Huron River. (Photo: Huron River Watershed Council)

It’s the season of love for winter stoneflies, obscure aquatic insects that grow, feed and find their mates in the dead of winter when fish are too sluggish to gobble them up.

If you’re a bit of an ecological voyeur, the Huron River Watershed Council has an opportunity for you to use your peeping skills. On Saturday, Jan. 25, the annual winter stonefly search will take place at 70 study sites throughout the Hudson River system in Washtenaw, Oakland, Wayne and Livingston counties.

Like canaries in a coal mine, winter stoneflies can tell researchers a great deal about the overall health of the river. Because they are sensitive to changes in water quality and habitat, their presence – or absence – is a key indicator, according to the Huron River Watershed Council.

The deadline to register is Tuesday, Jan. 21. You can do that here if you’re a returning volunteer. If you’re a first-time volunteer, register here. Individuals or small teams of families and friends are encouraged to take part in the unique outdoor wintertime activity. Register early if you want to be part of a team, and children are welcome if accompanied by an adult.

On Jan. 25, the volunteers will gather in Ann Arbor and carpool to two streams in the four counties. There will be two starting times, 10:30 a.m. and noon, and the event will take 4-5 hours, only part of which will be outdoors. but be sure to dress for winter weather. But remember, you must register by Tuesday, Jan. 21.

Trained volunteer collectors take each team to two of HRWC’s 70 designated study sites throughout the Huron River system, where the group helps search through stones, leaves, and sediment taken from the river bottom. All equipment is provided. Participants are advised to dress for the weather.

The winter stonefly search is part of a long-term study of the Huron River, which is regarded as the cleanest urban river in Michigan. 

Much of that credit goes to the Watershed Council which, though it has no enforcement power, uses technical data, factual information and citizen stewardship to influence decisions made by various agencies, businesses and individuals that could affect the health of the river and its tributaries.

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