Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The North Woods

Michigan's new advertising campaign for tourism; Pure Michigan, may be a little bit over the top. But with to be fair, there is something about the northern lower peninsula that I love. As you progress further north in the state, the forests and rivers begin to change from the ones that exist in the southern reaches of the state. The woodland corridors that follow meandering rivers and streams become populated by northern boreal species like cedar, birch, and hemlock. Crystal clear streams with sandy bottoms hold multitudes of trout, smallmouth bass, and other game fish species. These rivers are a place I love to spend time at, and one afternoon this week I had the chance to get out for a few hours in hopes of seeing some wildlife. It didn't take long to get my first surprise of the day as I found this riverine Blanding's Turtle out for a bask.

Blanding's Turtle - Emydoidea blandingii

One of Michigan's larger turtle species, Blanding's Turtles generally inhabit marshy ponds and backwaters with lots of aquatic vegetation. But in the northern part of the state, they can often be found in larger rivers basking alongside map turtles and wood turtles. It was a nice way to start off my paddle and nearby I was able to sneak up on this little shorebird.

Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria
Sandpipers never far from a source of water where they move quietly along the shoreline amongst dense vegetation, I don't always get decent shots of birds so I was excited when this one let me get fairly close. The next hour of my paddle was quiet in terms of turtle diversity, though tons of Northern Map Tutles (Graptemys geographica) were seen. In need of some encouragement, I portaged at an area along the river I know of to look for a few snakes. A large sheet of tin revealed this absolute screamer of a milk snake.

Eastern Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum

A beautiful specimen, this large adult had recently shed and was exhibiting some brilliant orange and red coloration, the photo doesn't do it justice. Though they are not often seen out in the open, milk snakes are probably much more common in Michigan than most people think. They are rodent control specialists and can readily be found around human habitation, especially in rural areas like farms. After firing a few photos, I headed back to my kayak and was on my way once more. Generally wood turtles are a lock at this time of year on rivers in the northern reaches of the state, but as I was nearing the end of my route I was beginning to worry that I would strike out. About twenty minutes out from my pull out point, I spotted a flash of orange to my left.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

All I manged to get was this shot of the ass end of this wood turtle, soon after she slipped into the water before I could reposition my kayak for a better shot. Nonetheless I was happy because I had managed to not strike out on woods. Working on wood turtle research out east for the past two summers has given me such a greater appreciation for this species, especially in terms of its ecology. As much as I like the looks of the ones out east, Michigan wood tutles are much more attractive in my opinion and kayaking for them is a relaxing way to enjoy field time. My trip down the river had been nice, but as I was about to reach my portage I spotted this big boy from a long way off.

Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta

This big male was a real nice way to end my excursion and he was found in a section of the river that I have not seen a wood turtle before. After firing a few photos, I parted ways with me and got off the river for the day. It was a nice afternoon and I hope I can get a few other river systems this fall for this species before the cold begins to set in.

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