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 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.


Beaverpalooza in Ghost Bay

beavertail_lowresThe big lodge in Ghost Bay is home to a bunch of hyperactive beavers. Really. There have been mornings this summer when they just won’t leave us alone. Or so it seems. They must have not gotten the message that they are supposed to be crepuscular critters–active at dawn and dusk. Because we’ve not been there quite so early, or late, but sometimes as many as three beavers have been circling Ghost Bay at the same time.

They don’t seem to be eating anything. No new birch trees have bit the dust. On only one occasion did we see the beavers obviously interacting. Two swam toward each other, seemed to touch noses, and then dove away.

But my my, what a bunch of alarm slaps we’ve been treated to. If you look closely you can make out the beaver’s nose, his right ear, and his tail.

beaversplash_lowresWhen critters signal that our presence is alarming, we keep our distance. But these guys can be on the other side of Ghost Bay from our kayaks, when we aren’t even near the lodge or near them, and they will send out the alarm. We are not alarming folks. Ghost Bay is where we quietly paddle in, drink our morning coffee, and drink in the natural drama that unfolds.

Tons of fish swim by. A few bluegills will be on their nests. We see pike–but only rarely. Lots of large and small-mouth bass. More perch than in the past. Rockbass. There are some small fry that I’ve taken to calling happy fish because they flip on the surface. We think they are munching water skimmers. As for the skimmers, sometimes it’s like we are herding them. As we move in the bay they seem to group in front of our kayaks. Dragonflies are abundant this year too.

This weekend while three beavers were swimming around and delivering a series of tail-slap alarm calls, we also watched a blue heron hunting. And there was a good-sized doe who continued to drink at the water’s edge even though she noticed us and eyed us warily. I guess when a body’s thirsty, a body needs to drink.

So, beaver, we are not worth your alarm.


We are going to continue to quietly float around. And if it turns out that we also get to witness your antics–all the better!


Ice out 2013

beaver1_lowresTwo weeks ago Long Lake was totally frozen and this beaver would have been sticking pretty close to his lodge. But this weekend, there’s no ice anywhere on the lake. We spotted this beaver paddling on the west side of the lake, north of Belly Button Island. He seemed headed for Ghost Bay.

This guy was kind of small. Small, for the largest rodent in North America. Maybe that means he didn’t eat too much birch tree underbark this winter. The tree damage isn’t as bad as last year, though one area in the narrows near the biggest lodge was fairly hard hit. That lodge saw some major construction over the winter. It’s noticeably taller and bigger. And there is a lot of gnawed debris littering the lake bottom.

We were paddling in the kayaks in the early evening, headed back from Ghost Bay, when we saw this beaver paddling around. We got a good look at how he uses his broad, flat tail to help him change direction in the water.


This weekend, we also saw a humungous school of largemouth bass headed through the narrows into the lower part of the lake. There were about 40 fish all about 12 to 15 inches long.

Long Lake is waterfowl central at the moment. There are flocks of buffleheads and mergansers. A loon pair followed our kayaks for awhile. A pair of white swans visited for a bit. The presence of at least three pair of noisy Canada Geese is not particularly welcome, given the mess they and their goslings will soon be making on our lawns. It looks like one pair is already building a nest on the island near the public access.

Beavers in Ghost Bay

It wouldn’t be half so horrible if they’d learned what we two-legged mammals teach our young’ns: “Finish the one you have before you take another.”

They are eating the living part of the tree. And they are only eating birch trees. I get it that beaver think birch is especially tasty. The Girl Scout Mint Cookie of the tree world, apparently. But this is so so disturbing.

That’s me near the entrance to Ghost Bay, inspecting the damage.

I do not find this even one bit of engineering clever.

We lost count of the number of birch trees toppled and munched all around the perimeter of Ghost Bay. And, as you can see by the lodge, the beaver aren’t even using much of the downed timber to reinforce their home.

These critters have made a royal mess of a place that means a lot to all of us on the lake. In the past, when I caught a glimpse of them swimming, I’d feel quite privileged to share the lake with them. For now, I’m just overcome by the wastefulness of their feeding habits.