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.

Lace Knitting

Is this like knitting on eight needles?  Talk about lace weight. 

This spider has been working on the outside of one of the great room cottage windows since I arrived on Friday. The farthest out part of the web gracefully drapes 51 inches from the top to the bottom. Measured across at the bottom of the window this triangular shaped web is 43 inches. The silk circles from a center spot, sort of. It’s kind of sloppy knitting though. And the threads are held together with crisscrossing strands. In this photo it seems to be doing some repair work on the web. I’ve watched it use a couple of those shorter legs in front to shovel little gnatty tidbits into its mouth.Very efficient. Its body is about half an inch long. Measured from longest leg to longest leg, it’s about 1.5 inches.

I’ve tried to find out what this spider is. We have the Audubon Society’s Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. But, I’m sorry, even touching the glossy color photos in that book long enough to turn the pages gives me the creeps. I thought maybe if I just steeled my resolve and got past the really ugly stuff and went straight to the spiders, I’d be OK. But even the spiders are more than my queasy me can manage. Back lit, the creature just sort of looks like a big spider. Photographed by Steve and his macro lens, it’s hideous, in an interesting way. The windows don’t open on this side of the room, so that’s good. Seeing the little hairs on its legs is more than I want to know about an arachnid dangling this close to my dinner table.

Are there any spider experts reading my blog?  I got through the Audubon book enough to decide that this might be a Mottled Orb Weaver.  Care to comment?  The only poisonous spider in Michigan is a Black Widow, and this isn’t that.  So, another good reason to live in Michigan.  Michigan bugs hardly ever kill you.

The Chicks Have Hatched!

In 2009, no Long Lake Loons nested successfully. At least one pair, and it seemed a few  unpaired adults, summered on the lake. But no chicks. Two couples got a bit of an early start this year on their nests. Male and female alternate sitting on the eggs.  By June 25th, this pair’s two chicks had hatched and they were off their parents’ backs. (They only get to hitch a ride for about a week.)  The chicks were already diving for food, though I didn’t see them catch anything. They were “viewing” just like their parents–putting their heads into the water and peering around looking for tasty bits. Their loony foot waggle is already perfected. This family group paddled by my kayak, accepting my presence without any sign of stress or agitation. They came so close I could hear the chicks cooing. There is something so compelling about these creatures.

A second pair seems to be sticking to the bigger north section of the lake. Their nest was probably the one on the west side of Belly Button Island. There were two eggs in that nest, but only one chick survived. Unlike the family group to the south, the pair with one chick is acting very wary. The mother and chick still came quite close to our dock, though. The  male is yodeling off intruders and repeatedly going into “vulture pose,” where he pulls himself up out of the water and makes himself look more fierce.

Good. They need to keep that one chick safe. There are big snapping turtles, pike, and hungry Bald Eagles on Long Lake.

We need to keep the loons safe too.  One easy thing we can do?  They all eat little rocks from the lake bottom to aid digestion. But if a loon eats a lead fishing sinker instead of a rock, they are toast.  They die of lead poisoning.  There can’t be a better reason to get the lead out, anglers!

May all three chicks make it to their October adolescence.