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.


Young Northern Water Snake

We spotted this shy Northern Water Snake as he was swimming near the kayak put-in. He startled me, for sure. We don’t see many snakes swimming in the lake. In fact, in four years on the lake, this is only the third one we’ve seen. He swam very fluidly. Clearly the little guy is comfortable in water. He was only about two feet long and, at his thickest, he was about one and one-half inches in diameter. These snakes grow to about four feet, so this was probably a young one. You can also tell that because he is more distinctly patterned than an adult would be.

The Northern Water Snake is harmless. The worst they will do is release a foul-smelling anal secretion if you handle them. They are nervous snakes and if handled they will try to bite, but they don’t have any venom. Sometimes these snakes are misindentified as “water moccasins.” We don’t have water moccasins in Michigan. Maybe on account of that misidentification, or possibly just because lots of humans fear snakes enough to want to kill them, Northern Water Snakes have been wiped out in some areas of Michigan. Long Lake is fortunate to have some left.

In the lower peninsula, the only snake with a poisonous venom is the very very shy Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. They aren’t anywhere near as dangerous as their southern and western cousins. Pretty much Michigan’s rattlesnake only bites silly people who are trying to handle them. A bite means a trip to the hospital rather than a trip to the morgue (except for the extremely fragile). Michigan’s upper peninsula has absolutely no snakes that harm humans. 

So, another good reason to live in Michigan: only one of our snakes can be harassed into trying to kill you. And they aren’t very good at it.