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North Woods Adventuring

This is a discussion on North Woods Adventuring within the Field Herping Accounts forums, part of the Fieldwork / Fieldherping category; In the dog days of summer, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Northern Michigan, or as we Michiganders call it, ...

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Old 25th August 2017   #1 (permalink)
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In the dog days of summer, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Northern Michigan, or as we Michiganders call it, “up north,” a region that I roughly define as everything north of a line that runs through Standish and Mecosta. Compared to metropolitan Detroit and the rest of downstate, the north country is a different world entirely. The population density in most of “up north” is lower than the population density of Appalachia, and the landscape changes from deep loamy soils that support farming aplenty*and deciduous forests to sandy, bad farming soil that supports only jack and white pines, snow-white-trunked birches and grayish-tan aspens fluttering vibrantly in the breeze. The noises of the city are replaced with the calls of Kirtland’s Warblers and the sloshing*of*waves against the sandy shores of Lake Huron and Michigan. National Rifle Association stickers adorn the back windows of nearly every truck and aged SUV on the two-lanes that cut through the piney hills, and the temperature during the peak heat of summer stays consistently below eighty degrees with a slight breeze off the lakes.

So, when my girlfriend from Tennessee said she wanted to come visit me in Michigan this summer, I couldn’t bear the thought of her only seeing the I-94 corridor and metro Detroit in our state. We had to go up north, I told her, and that we did, loading up the fishing poles, cameras, and guitars for a four-day trip to the land of sand dunes and fishing. On the way up, we stopped in Lapeer County to get a blue-spotted salamander, seeing a spotted salamander and some red-backs and newts in the process (my girlfriend is also a field herpetologist). From there, we ventured up interstate 75 through the hollowed-out manufacturing country of Saginaw and Flint toward the north woods, passing one of my favorite landmarks, the Standish A & W restaurant, in the process (Standish is home to a state prison that was briefly considered for housing Guantanamo Bay inmates). Standish is where interstate 75 and US route 23 split of from one another, with US 23 following the shore of Lake Huron and interstate 75 tracking through the middle of the mitten to the Mackinac Bridge (which is pronounced “Mack-eh-NAW”). We took US 23 amid a drizzle, which broke by the time the shoreline of Lake Huron came into sight in Alabaster Township, where the forest turned to birch and aspen with swampy sections. A quick post-dinner road cruise that night turned up nothing, and a driving rain made any snake cruising after twilight impracticable anyhow. But the next day, our herping luck turned around rapidly.

Early in the morning, we left for points further north along the lakeshore and rapidly turned up a DOR (dead on road) garter snake and wood frog in Alcona county, possibly the most beautiful county in our state. A forest further north reputed to have Massasauga Rattlers didn’t turn up anything, and I’ll be the first to admit that I felt trepidation hiking there. The underbrush was so lush and thick, the aspen leaves rustling so loudly, that we wouldn’t have heard or seen a bear or cougar until it was right on top of us, so we stuck to road cruising through the verdant forest of bright green leaves and reddish shrubbery, stopping at the lakeshore to look for water and green snakes. No such luck. Back in Alpena County, a burned-out section of pine forest with charred logs downed everywhere in waist-high grass*yielded a*leopard frog and a couple of garter snakes. We headed back along sandy roads for lunch at our motel, and hit a spot right along the beach for salamanders, finding only a few red-backs under birch bark. That’s where I realized that I had left my*camera back on a stump in Alpena, fully forty-five miles*north. This was the low point of the*trip: a bad day of herping so far,*and I*feared that my camera would have been taken in the last three or four hours, possibly by the bears, possibly by an intrigued passer-by. But it*wasn’t. It was still on the stump, and as soon as we picked the camera up, our luck improved.

At the very next bend in the road, and I mean the very next bend,*a black bear cub ran off the side of the road as it saw us approaching. Then, in Montmorency county to the west, we drove though some of the most isolated terrain in Michigan, endless swampy forests that harbor some of our largest deer herds, getting only green frogs on the herp front but some beautiful terrain. On our way back down into Iosco County, we saw ten or twelve sticks*on the roadside, and I turned around for every one, thinking it was a snake. Finally, one of the sticks turned out to be a snake, and as we exited the car to photograph it,*we couldn’t believe*our eyes: it was a pristine Hognose snake! Bethany’s most-coveted lifer of the trip.*Except that it had been killed by a passing car……but it still looked pristine, which led to a sort of “glass half-full/half-empty” debate between Bethany and I at the roadside. We stopped in Glennie, a quaint little town nestled in the Huron National Forest, to refuel and prepare to continue road cruising, and shortly thereafter, wrapped the night up not with another snake, but with a live porcupine!!!! I couldn’t believe it! Being from Tennessee, Bethany really wanted to see a porcupine, but I told her the chances were nearly nothing. My parents and I lived up north for four whole years, and we never saw one, but only a day after Bethany came up north, there sat a plump porcupine at roadside just posing for pictures before ambling into the fern-covered understory! Unbelievable.

The next day saw us finally nab a painted turtle in a pond near Mio, hike Iargo Springs (one of the only hemlock ravines in Michigan), wade*shallow, frigid*branch of the Au Sable, and cruise up a juvenile Hognose snake before heading further west to watch the sunset over Sleeping Bear Dunes, which overlook Lake Michigan by some 400 feet,*where we found a couple of frogs*(the featured picture for this post is sunset on the dunes). From there, we road cruised unsuccessfully to a campground along the Betsie River, a stream rumored to have Wood Turtles. The next day of herping proved uneventful and rainy, but we did get a gorgeous spotted salamander at our first stop and do some fishing, where I got my line stuck in a tree and nearly got stuck in the mud trying to retrieve it, a sequence of events that left Bethany nearly in tears with laughter. After playing guitar and dobro at the campground that night, we hit a lighthouse in the morning to high surf on Lake Michigan and headed downstate.

Back downstate near Lansing, and in the islands of Ohio, we got a Ribbon Snake, some unique hybrid salamanders, and a Lake Erie Water Snake, a federally-listed species that lives only on a few islands in Lake Erie, like Kelley’s and Catawba Islands. The trip ended with seven new species for Bethany and two for me, but the most valuable thing about the trip was our jaunt into Northern Michigan, which Bethany absolutely loved. If anyone reading this blog finds themselves passing through Michigan and wondering what there is to do in our state, take a little jaunt up north and smell the hog-noses (and the roses if you can find any). You won’t be sorry. Happy herpin' you all! Pictures available on fieldherpforum and naherp.com (it won't let me attach pics for some reason).
Jefferson



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Old 27th August 2017   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: North Woods Adventuring

Well, the pictures seem to be working now!! Attached pics include: Hognose, Kelley's Island Salamander, Blue-spot, Spotted from both up north and my usual metro Detroit spot, and porcupine. Enjoy!
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Old 27th August 2017   #3 (permalink)
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Wink Re: North Woods Adventuring

Nice finds, as per usual. I have to update my birding thread one day, maybe when we're back in the states



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Old 27th August 2017   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: North Woods Adventuring

Nice. Love spotted sallies. The only ones I ever seen in person in the wild was when I lived in upstate NY at night in early march.



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Old 28th August 2017   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: North Woods Adventuring

Thank you guys! Spotted sallies seem to stay above ground during the summer here in Michigan for whatever reason, especially as you go further north in the state. Can't say I've ever herped the Empire State, but I'm sure I will one day. If you ever pass through Ohio and Michigan, shoot me a message.



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Old 31st August 2017   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: North Woods Adventuring

Nice photos. Makes me want to head out into the field.



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