We’re crawlin’ with critters


We spotted this spotted sandpiper in Ghost Bay. He was teeter-tottering along, like these petite (7-8 inches) shorebirds do, picking at stuff with his bill. He startled when we paddled into the Bay. But once he settled back down he actually landed closer to us than when we first saw him. He has a distinctive black line from his bill across his eye and a nice clear white eye-ring. It’s spring, so this spotted sandpiper is, well, spotted. Just before the fall migration, which extends as far south as Bolivia and Brazil, Spotted Sandpipers molt and that nice spotted belly becomes spotless.


This beaver was swimming in Ghost Bay recently. You might be able to spot him yourself. We’re hoping to get to know him, as an individual, because he has a very distinctive reddish coat. And he’s got almost a white patch on the lower half of his face. He didn’t issue any alarm call.

The beavers have been busy this year. Once the ice melted, we can see that each of the lodges on the lake experienced a building boom.

This next guy doesn’t quite rival the beaver in swimming ability, but he’s no slouch. It’s an adult Northern Water Snake. First is a view of his not so beautiful head. We can tell he was an adult because his banding was not as distinctive as a young snake would be. And he was pretty big.


These snakes can live from 10-15 years and grow to about 3 and one-half feet long.

Here’s a view of him where you can see his length.


This guy wasn’t cooperating with Steve’s photography efforts. Doesn’t it remind you of some of those Loch Ness monster photos you’ve seen?

Northern Water Snakes a/k/a Nerodia Sipedon aren’t venomous. They will bite if you mess with them. But you have to make a total pest of yourself before that will happen. And if they bite you you’ll need antiseptic and a band-aid, not an undertaker. Don’t handle them, though. What they mostly do is release a foul-smelling substance that apparently you will not want to smell twice in your life. Here’s a view of a younger snake that we saw on the lake a few years ago.

We don’t see many water snakes. They do no harm to humans. They do no harm to game fish populations. They are good snakes who’ve been preyed upon mercilessly by humans who don’t like snakes (by the way, they scare me too) and who think they may be deadly Water Moccasins (Cottonmouths). We don’t have any Water Moccasins in Michigan. Not even one. We do have Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes, but even our rattlesnakes haven’t killed anyone in a zillion years. “Welcome to Pure Michigan: our snakes won’t kill you.” So let’s count ourselves lucky to have a few Northern Water Snakes on Long Lake and just give them some elbow room.

And speaking of giving critters elbow room, the loon pair in the lower lake is nesting. If we and our dogs can all stay clear and let them nest in peace, by mid-July we might be meeting a chick or two.


Long Lake critters


Today’s a day for putting a not-so-beautiful critter in a prominent place. This big Snapping Turtle hauled herself, probably herself (we didn’t ask), out of the water onto the island at the south end of the lake. It’s near the time of the year when Michigan mother snappers will lay their eggs in sandy soil. That happens in late May to early June. We’re sort of there. It’s not easy to find sandy soil on Long Lake islands. So she probably has to start looking kind of early.

Snapping turtles aren’t attentive parents. Mother will lay the eggs. She buries them so hopefully they won’t all be eaten by the egg eaters and then leaves them. If they escape being somebody’s breakfast, a few months after the eggs were laid the hatchlings will, well, hatch. They head for the water. Eggs that were kept warmer turn out to be females. Eggs that were kept colder turn out to be males. Let’s not try to glean any greater truths from that.

A snapping turtle has a small shell relative to its overall size. It can’t pull all its vulnerable parts under its shell, so that may account for its aggressive temperament. On land, don’t mess with them. It’s not really a good idea to help snappers cross roads by picking them up. That bony beak has no teeth but steer clear or you may not be so accurate counting on your fingers anymore. But in the water these big guys are meek. They like to hide in the mud with just their heads sticking out. They aren’t likely to bite off your toes. Anyway, that’s what U of M BioKids tells kids. U of M wouldn’t fib. While a snapper is buried in mud, they will open their mouth, hoping to attract prey with a dangly part that looks a bit wormlike. If you don’t look too closely, I suppose.

Snappers are omnivores. We have two families of Canada Geese that are already hatched and pooping all over our lawns. There are five little goslings in one family and four in the other. They are small enough that a big snapper could…well…it would probably be very mean to hope for that.

And here is one of Long Lake’s loons doing that half-submerged thing that they do.


It looks like at least one pair and possibly one solo loon have joined us this year. It’s still hard to tell. Soon the pair should set to nesting. Hopefully they won’t nest where the careless will assemble, especially the careless who also travel about with dogs. If we and they are lucky, around the 4th of July we’ll see one or two chicks riding on their parent’s back.

We took pity on the Baltimore Oriole trying to feed at our hummingbird feeder. That didn’t work out well. Steve put out an orange. It can’t seem to get enough of it and keeps coming back for more.


And, speaking of the hummers, they are back and they are hungry.

Long Lake looks lively now


The beaver lodge on the west side of the narrows has spread out a lot this winter. It’s starting to rival the bigger lodge on the east side.

We can’t know what lodge this beady-eyed fellow calls home, though.


He’s not exactly looking his best in this photo. In fact, he kind of has a Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail thing going.


Steve snapped the closeup just as the beaver stepped out onto the bank. The beaver interrupted his meal to give Steve a dirty look and then continued munching.

At one point, Steve saw three beaver in the narrows. So, lots of activity. But, fortunately, we’re not seeing damage to trees. We’ve also checked out Ghost Bay. The birch tree carnage of 2012 hasn’t been repeated.

And the loons are back! There are at least three on the lake. These two chased each other around as if they were having a major tussle.


Is this territorial behavior? Competition for a mate? Or, for that matter, mating behavior? We don’t have a clue. But this pair definitely meant business. Some kind of business.


Close encounter


This pair of loons doesn’t seem to be nesting. They were in Ghost Bay with us for a good long while last weekend. They showed a lot of interest in the kayaks and approached us, rather than the other way around.These are two individuals.

loonlooking_lowresUp very close and personal.

Steve has a special lens that captures a lot of detail even at a distance. But this pair was within 15 feet of the kayaks much of the time. This view shows off one of the loon’s characteristics that make them so good at catching fish: their binocular vision.

We watched this pair fishing in Ghost Bay. We watched them swim by in shallow water several times. Talk about streamlined! And they are amazingly fast and powerful swimmers.

Sue had one of them dive near her and swim under her paddleboard!


Loons: bathing, preening, socializing


There’s a pair of loons in lower Long Lake. There’s another pair with some activity on the northwest side of Belly Button Island–where the loons have been nesting the last few years.

The pair in the lower lake were about 30 feet apart when Steve observed a lot of sprucing-up going on. They were nibbling at their feathers–which is a loon’s way of getting rid of any damaged ones. In between nibbling and preening, they would submerge and splash like crazy. That “bathing” activity gets rid of the preening debris.

Then some behavior started that seemed partly aimed at each other in addition to personal grooming. There was a good deal of shaking and stretching going on. Oh and, as above, imitating the Pillsbury Doughboy‘s belly.

loon_display2_lowresWhen a loon rises out of the water and shakes itself, it’s getting rid of trapped droplets and getting its feathers all nicely smoothed out. Wing stretching like this often ends a bath and preening session. This loon does look mighty fine.


With this loon’s mate so close by, we wondered if maybe this was also part of re-establishing the pair’s bond. Unless the nests repeatedly fail, loons keep the same mate for many years and sometimes for life. But there isn’t any evidence that they migrate or winter together. So it could be that it was the human equivalent of a long, lonely winter.



We’re so pleased that the loons have decided to live on Long Lake again this summer. One nest will likely be on the island across from the public access. The other looks like it will be on the northwest side of the big island a/k/a Belly Button. Our local Loon Ranger will have a sign up on the big island soon. Let’s be sure to respect the loons’ nesting area. If all goes well, by around Father’s Day we’ll see the loon chicks riding on their parents’ backs.