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Jewels of the North Woods

This is a discussion on Jewels of the North Woods within the Field Herping Accounts forums, part of the Fieldwork / Fieldherping category; The canine days of summer, sweltering in Michigan just like they were in Virginia, drove me and my brother to ...

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Old 19th August 2016   #1 (permalink)
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Default Jewels of the North Woods

The canine days of summer, sweltering in Michigan just like they were in Virginia, drove me and my brother to go "up north" as we call it up here in the mitten. Monday morning, we left the Detroit metro area for the North Woods in search of fish (my brother is becoming an avid fisherman) and, of course, herps. The terrain started to turn from oak-hickory to birch, ash, and pines in sandy soil as we trekked further toward Canada, ebbing and flowing with microhabitat. This time, however, we would be going all the way to the UP (Upper Peninsula for those who don't habla Michiganderese). Spot #1 was primarily a fishing spot (we caught a few perch and a shiner), but also yielded a lazy Snapping Turtle lounging on a log adjacent the swift waters and a garter snake. The rest of day one was spent admiring the shores of Lake Superior (the largest of the Great Lakes) and fishing for perch. After a very hairy-scary situation trying to find a motel room when half of the college students in the state were going back to school, we settled down for the night on the UP's southern shore after driving through some beautiful hill country.

Day #2 turned things around on a herping and fishing front. We saw the Big Spring at Palms Book SP (a beautiful little gem) and started our herping right with a Redbelly Snake (lifer and UP specialty) beside a sandy pond where I thought Central Newts were in the cards. They weren't. Fire ants also blocked the trail in a few places and forced an early departure, along with bear-like noises in the birch-tamarack woods. From there, we relaxed for a spell on the shores of Superior again and waited for the heat to die down before fishing in Pictured Rocks Natl' Lakeshore. Our fishing spot was absolutely picturesque. A slow-flowing, grassy-edged river as it bends its way past sand dunes into the mouth of Superior. Fishing was rather slow, but I observed a Mink Frog that I originally thought was just a Green on the edge of the water (Lifer #2)! Mink Frogs are rather interesting because they are known for inhabiting larger, colder bodies of water than their true frog relatives in their frigid northern range. On the way out of the park, I asked a ranger for any snake spots, and he told me that he used to see "Pine Snakes" in the southern UP. I was understandably perplexed, because Pine Snakes are southern serpents. I have never heard this term used for Fox Snakes, but I think that's what he must have been referring to.

That night, we road cruised ahead of a thunderstorm as the moon shone off the waters of Lake Michigan a pale light blue in search of "Pine Snakes" but only turned up some American Toads. The last one of the night, however, in an urban area adjacent our motel, was a monster! He had to be at least 5.5" in diameter and weighed a pound! That night, a steady rain fell on Yooper country as we prepared for our egress back south.

The drive past the sand dunes west of the Mackinac Bridge was beautiful but uneventful, and we found our way back on the other side of the bridge by one, where we were able to score my first Michigan lizards, some 5-lined skinks, and a few green frogs, at a debris site. No green snakes though. I figured that before our last stop in the Huron National Forest, we would try to hit one county that I've never seen anything in before. It was on a whim that we turned into a recreation area on the Lake Huron shore and began to drive the sandy roads through the shrubby jack pines. Just as the road was about to dead end into a trail parking lot, a serpentine figure came into sight a hundred feet before us. "Is that a snake?" my brother asked. I was incredulous at first, but as we neared the figure, it became clear that this was my first Eastern Massasauga! Unfortunately, this particular Michigan Rattler looked like fresh roadkill and was missing only its rattle and the tip of its tail. Curiously, the snake was fully upright and it looked perfectly healthy, as if it would come to life and tag me at any moment, but for its tail. I have never seen such a DOR in all my life. After taking in the snake, letting the adrenaline wash away, and showing the snake to a frustrated hiker, we drove south to a fast food joint for food and to re-charge our camera, talking about snakes the entire time, and undoubtedly confusing the patrons surrounding us.

Our last gas was in the Huron NF, a behemoth stretch of woods in Michigan's northeast. At our fishing spot, we got a largemouth but no trout, and we failed to cruise up a Hognose. But you can't complain with three lifers and a Massasauga under your belt! It was a sweet drive home!

Happy herpin'
Jefferson
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Old 19th August 2016   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Jewels of the North Woods

Super lovely pictures and fantastic finds !! Sounds like an amazing trip (:



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Old 24th August 2016   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Jewels of the North Woods

Thanks! My photography has been slowly improving with the years, I think. Good luck herping this year!
Jefferson



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