2018-05-12 / Columnists

Nature Notes

Wildlife Provides Interesting Spring Sightings on Mackinac Island
By Patricia Martin

One of the joys of living in northern Michigan is that every day we come into contact with the natural world as we go about our lives. Over the last few months, there have been a series of interesting encounters or sightings of Mackinac’s wildlife, so I thought I would share a few with you.

A startling encounter occurred on the east side of the harbor beyond Mission Point. A friend of mine was out for a stroll enjoying the beauty and the breezes of Mackinac, when she heard a disturbance in the woods to her left. She turned toward the sound, and out came a doe onto the road. It looked at her and then ran across the road and jumped into the lake. It began to swim out away from shore. She watched for quite a while as it headed out away from the Island. Its destination was presumably Round Island or Bois Blanc Island about a mile away. Now for you and me, that would be a long swim, but deer are quite good in the water. They have some adaptations that help keep them afloat. One of them is that their hair or fur is hollow and has air in the center, which helps them stay buoyant and perhaps warmer in the cold water of the Straits. Deer can swim up to five miles, which I have to say is pretty impressive. You have to remember that the deer population that we have on the Island now began with three does swimming over here in the fall five or so years ago, so perhaps this one had done the swim before.

Even in the “downtown” of Mackinac, one can encounter wildlife, and I don’t mean what happens on Saturday night. Some of you may have seen the video of a barred owl online a month or so ago. Apparently the owl flew down to the Mustang and perched on one of the horse head hitching posts out front. It remained there for quite a while (long enough for someone to take out their phone and video it). It looked around as it clung to the post, as owls do, rotating its head up to 270 degrees (they really can’t turn their heads all the way around, although sometimes it seems that way). The reason that they can do this is that their head attaches to their neck, rotating on only one occipital condyle instead of the two that humans have. If you are not familiar with the barred owl, they are the most commonly seen owl on the Island, as they are much more active in the day than many of our other owls. They are a good-sized owl, up to two feet in length, with a wingspan of up to 60 inches. They have a large, round head with dark eyes and no ear tuffs. They have horizontal barring on the upper chest and vertical stripes against paler feathers on the lower chest and belly. They feed on a wide variety of animals, such as small mammals, reptiles, fish, insects, and crayfish. I don’t know if the owl seen downtown was waiting for a Mustang burger to take out, but apparently it heard that the Mustang was the place to be.

One of the sightings occurred in my own backyard. I, like many of you, have bird feeders in my yard that I can see from my kitchen window. It’s not just the birds that enjoy the feed. Cottontails, chipmunks, squirrels, not to mention my dog, seem to relish the seeds and suet that I put out. As many of you have observed, the gray squirrel population (both the black and the gray color phase) has been doing very well this year. As I was looking out at the garden, I noticed a gray squirrel on the bird feeder hanging upside down trying to get a cake of suet out of the end of the feeder. He worked and worked pulling with his paws and his teeth (eating some of it in the process), cutting it down until he could wiggle it out. He then put the cake in his mouth and began running up the apple tree. I watched him scurry up the branches to see if he would drop the suet and I could collect it so my dog wouldn’t eat it. As I said, the squirrel ran up one apple tree, he then jumped from that one to the second apple tree, all with the large suet cake, made it to the top of that tree, and then jumped to one of the damson plums and over to the pear tree in my neighbor’s yard, whereupon I lost sight of him. I think that carrying that whole cake all that way over and around all those obstacles might be akin to something out of “American Ninja Warriors” for squirrels. What good free entertainment!

Just as I was writing this column, I again looked out my window at the feeder. There was my “resident” pair of northern cardinals in the apple tree, and challenging the male cardinal at the feeder was a male rosebreasted grosbeak. The two males went pecking back and forth at each other for a while, with the bright red cardinal retreating to an adjacent branch, and then the grosbeak hopped over to the other suet feeder and the male cardinal returned to the original one. Throughout this encounter the female cardinal and grosbeak stayed above in the tree out of the disagreement until it was over. Likewise, the mourning doves stayed below, cleaning up seeds that had been scattered on the ground. I saw one other bird in the tree as all this was going on, and it was a much smaller, yellowy pine siskin that was probably just waiting for his turn. I think bird feeders are a great investment for entertainment.

Anyway, the point of all these stories is to keep your eyes open as you’re out and about, because you never know what you might see.

Trish Martin is a year-around resident of Mackinac Island, has earned a master’s degree in botany from Central Michigan University, and owns Bogan Lane Inn.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2018-05-12 digital edition