Lookin’ lively

We’ve been seeing Bald Eagles regularly on the lake already this year. This one had been fishing. More likely scrounging.

A tasty morsel, for sure.

And there have been turkeys aplenty this year too. This tom was looking for a date and putting on quite a display.

Even though Bald Eagles may have untidy table manners, I am grateful that Ben Franklin didn’t win the argument about which bird should be our national symbol. Turkeys may be smarter in the bird IQ department. But there’s something about that head and beard that just don’t cut it for me.

A big snapper has been sunning on the small island just across from the public access dock in the lower lake.

If your small boat can make it through the narrow cut-through, watch for the trail of tamped down grass. Snapping turtles and turkeys. Two critters that remind that life is long on this planet earth.

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.

“…the voice of the turtle is heard in our land”

Ernie Harwell, the Detroit Tigers Baseball Hall of Fame announcer, began the first spring training broadcast of each season with a reading from the Song of Solomon, King James Version. “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” I have no idea why he did that.

I also have no idea about that voice of the turtle part. I’ve read that language scholars say that Old English “turtla” was a derivative of the Latin “turtur” and that the word that the King James translators read as turtle was really turtledove. So, maybe we have a mistake on that voice of the turtle part. Voice of the dove would make more sense. Some turtles hiss though.

Anyway, we’ve seen lots of turtles this year on Long Lake.


This Painted Turtle was sunning himself in the narrows. It is a very cold-tolerant turtle. It’s been reportedly seen swimming under the ice of lakes in late winter. It emerges early in April, sometimes before full ice-out. Still, basking in the sun is a favorite thing for these turtles. In 1995, the Painted Turtle was named Michigan’s state reptile. Since the critter has been honored with that title, I figure I’d feature it first. A sure-fire way of identifying a Painted Turtle is by the red markings on its plastron. The plastron is a turtle’s lower shell.

Painted turtles can live 15 to 25 years.The females mature in 6 to 10 years. Painted Turtles are Michigan’s most common turtle.


This ancient Snapping Turtle, complete with marine growth on his back, is the big guy that’s regularly spotted in Ghost Bay. If I am dangling my feet off the front of the pontoon boat and this guy surfaces, my toes will be out of there faster than two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Snapping Turtles are Michigan’s largest turtles.

Big head, long tail, and a thick neck so long that it extends half the length of its shell. So, watch out if you decide to help it cross a road because its beak has a very long reach. That upper shell, its carapace, is divided into scutes, like other shells in the hard-shelled turtle family. And along the edges of its carapace, the scutes have sort of a ruffled look. A Snapping Turtle usually feeds only underwater because it uses the water pressure to help swallow stuff.

Here’s another snapper, much smaller, but still a a substantial turtle.


In the water, these guys can move remarkably fast–at least in bursts.

Snapping turtles, like turtles everywhere, lay their eggs in sandy soil. They will sometimes travel a long way looking for the right spot to lay eggs. The eggs are buried. Then the mother turtle gets herself back to the water. Any hatchlings have to try to make it to water on their own.

Here’s something quite rare to see on the lake. It’s the first time we’ve seen this guy. Gal, I guess. Two nights in a row she hauled herself out of the lake and walked across our lawn. The first night, when Steve photographed her and then Wesley (our neighbor’s grandson) approached her to about ten feet, she turned around and returned to the water. This is a Blanding’s Turtle. In some states it’s an endangered species. Here in Michigan, it is considered threatened.


This was a very large Blanding’s Turtle. It’s shell was about 10 inches. These turtles can live for 50 years. Given her size, this one could be that old. The female will travel up to a mile to lay her eggs. And their nests are most successful in their fourth and fifth decades.

The evening after this photo was taken, she emerged again, from the same spot near our dock. She travelled hundreds of feet and headed into a wooded area behind our neighbor’s house. We figure she knew where she wanted to lay her eggs. Steve watched as long as she was visible, wanting to make sure that none of the dogs that might be about would mess with her. We didn’t see her return to the water.

Two features that help identify a Blanding’s Turtle are its high domed carapace and that big goofy grin on its face. blandings_wesley_lowres

One big snapping turtle

I spotted him first. In about 3 feet of water, on the west of the lake, north of Belly Button Island. He was moving pretty slow. I was in my kayak and also moving pretty slow. I stopped paddling. The big snapper paddled faster. Steve was nearby. He dunked his waterproof camera into the water and snapped photos while this big guy passed near him. There were empty frames and then this one.

Exciting encounter. No exaggeration this turtle was the size of a Thanksgiving turkey platter. Since Steve still has all his fingers, I declare that this photo was definitely worth the risk.