Plant, Animal, Habitat or Person/Community of the Week!
Each week (internet connection and weather permitting) the expedition team will share the story of a plant, animal, or person/community we meet while on the trail as the team travels along the shore. Learn their stories and share in the adventure!
Today as I was driving the SAG Wagon to pick up Mike and Kate at the mouth of the Brule River, which has a wide wandering mouth and rip tides in the area, I encountered a group of Turkey Vultures that had discovered a dead deer (carrion) for their meal. They were soaring in the sky in a circle around their find. Turkey Vultures play an important role in the decomposition of the forest floor.
They are found all throughout the Lake Superior region in all of the habitats from forest to wetlands to fields and farmlands. They have up to a 6 ft wing span and are 31 inches from head to tail feathers. Do you know anyone who is 6 ft tall?
One way to spot them in the sky is by the V shape their wings make as they soar, rarely flapping their wings. Turkey vultures are communal and will often be found in a group. They nest in trees and on top of buildings. If you approach their nest watch out for turkey vulture vomit, they vomit on any invaders they find.
Marsh Marigolds , one of my favorite flowers
The stream banks are blooming with the bright yellow beauty of marsh marigolds. These marsh marigolds are from a wetland near the Sand River on the Red Cliff reservation in Wisconsin.
They are the heralds of spring time as one of the earliest flowers to bloom. They grow up to 2 ft tall with wide toothed heart shaped leaves and 5-9 sepals around the stamens of the flower which is a buttery yellow. Their petals also have special ultra-violet light patterns that guide insects to the center of the flower to feed. They are found in wet places such as bogs, fens, and swamps. Be on the look out for bright splashes of yellow along the roadside!
Yellow Trout Lily:
On the second day of our expedition I came across this beautiful little flower with no idea what it was. I got out my guidebook and found some interesting stuff. It is called a yellow trout lily and it blooms in the early spring in woodlands. It is the most common native lily in the region and is distinctive with its 2 spotted brown/purple and green leaves. They are often found in large colonies with only the adult flowers producing flowers. The yellow trout lily was traditionally an important source of food for the winter. The bulb is edible and were dried or cooked. Another important use of this plant was as a tea from the leaves that is shown to have anti-bacterial properties and was used as an antiseptic for wounds like cute and sores.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore:
The Apostle Islands are a treasure trove of human and natural beauty and importance. There are 22 islands in the group long the Wisconsin coast of Lake Superior and 21 islands included in the National Lakeshore. The Islands are an important part of the history and continued legacy of the Anishnaabe tribe. Madeline Island is one of the places they settled on in their journey from the west coast in search of a new home. In this history passed down from generation to generation the people were to look for a sign to tell them they had reached the right place. One of those signs was wild rice and the other was a shell that is found in this region around Lake Superior. Today both the Red Cliff and Bad River Reservations are found here and the traditions of the people are still practiced and passed to the next generation.
The Islands were important in the Lake Superior region during the fur trade, later fishing and logging were the driving forces of the area. Fishing is still a source of income for some, but the main source of living today comes from tourism and recreation that many businesses in the area focus on. The Apostle Island National Lakeshore is a beautiful place to visit from the sea caves to Madeline Island there are wonders around every corner and great people to meet!
On the way back from the mouth of the Amnicon River I had to stop for this rough grouse. It slowly walked in what looked like a zigzag line across the road stopping to look at me every other step until in walked slowly into the woods.
The rough grouse is a common chicken-like woodland bird. The males make a distinct drumming sound in the spring to attract females. So if you are ever hiking in the woods and hear a loud drumming noise it is from their cupped wings moving them up and down fast through the air.
They are brown in coloring with white markings. Their tail is long and square with a wide black band by the tip and they have a tuft of feathers on their head at the crown. Part of their name comes from the black “ruffs” on the sides of their neck.
Keep your eyes on the look out for a rough grouse eating tree buds in the tree you or passing or finding seeds, fruits and insects on the ground. They are often very well camouflage and you may not notice them until they fly away with their wings making a loud noise as they take off.
One of the highlights of the journey so far happened on May 12th, 2010. While hiking back uphill on the Lake Superior Trail after hiking a mile and a half with Mike and Kate in the Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park in Michigan my dog Sheena and I came across a porcupine in a tree munching on new green leaves. In the Anishinaabe language they are called gog. The trail went directly below where the porcupine was perched. It stayed there munching and letting me get pictures of it until we got to the point where we had to pass below it, then it moved up as high as it could go. I was so happy to see a porcupine in a land named for them.
Porcupines have around 30,000 quills (or specialized hairs) that cover their body for defense. They cannot throw them but they can swing their tail and get the quills, which easily detach from their body stuck in a predator. They can weigh up to 40lbs and can be up to 45 inches in length. They are slow moving on the ground and spend most of their time in trees where they are excellent climbers. Their brown color blends in with the trees around them, but if you look carefully up in the trees you might spot one.
Amincon River & Camp Amincon
The name Amnicon in Ojibwe means “where fish spawn”. This river’s banks touch the edge of camp Amincon where we spent our first night on the trail. Mike & Kate stayed in a wonderful hermitage cabin nestled in the woods off the river. While we were there Simon and Alana of camp Amnicon cooked us a beautiful breakfast and shared their time with us. It is located just outside of Superior, WI. While we were there I saw 6 deer, lots of robins, a hairy woodpecker, and heard a lot of other birds filling the forest with song. The shoreline that Mike & Kate hiked from the Amincon River to the Brule River presented a number of challenges including red clay bank extending into the lake that become like mud slides and wide rivers to cross with flows creating currents out into Lake Superior. This section of the shoreline is wild and beautiful.
In Michigan as we have neared Sault Ste Marie traveling along the shoreline by Tahquamenon Falls State Park heading through the Bay Mills & Brimley area wetlands have been the main feature along the shore, especially in areas where the water depth is shallow close to the shoreline. The shoreline where we are now is graced with bull rushes and other wonderful wetland plants. Wetlands provide important habitat for wildlife, but they are also an important part of the water cycle, filtering and cleaning water.
One day when Sheena and I walked with Mike & Kate a little ways into the shallows by the Taquomin River mouth where they would be walking we came across a pair of Killdeer and were able to witness their broken wing display. Killdeer do this display when they have a nest to draw possible threats away from the nest. They spread and drag their wing as though it is injured while making loud cries. Then when the predator is far enough away from the nest they will take off with no harm coming to them or their nest.
Killdeer are smaller birds ranging between 8 to 11 inches in length and with a wingspan of 23-24 inches. Their coloring in tan, black and white with a distinctive black band around their neck, a black band on their chest and one on their crown separated by white, with tan wings, back and crown. They have a white belly. Their chest, throat & face are white with tan & black markings. Killdeer live a wide range of habitats from lakeshores to open fields to mudflats, streambeds and parking lots.
Throughout the hike pairs of Mallards have ranged from the harbors of cities to the rivers flowing into the Lake to Superior’s wavy waters. These are one of the most seen and heard ducks distinguishable by the males deep green head and their quack which many duck calls imitate. They are especially visible during migration times. Right now in late June, early July we were able to see them with their babies.
They range from semi-tame urban birds to wilder birds who fly away at any sudden movement. Either way they are fascinating birds to watch. On our first trip into Canada we saw a mother protecting her babies from too close of scrutiny. Another pair I met where content to preen as I watch them as the sunset over the lake.
McCormac, James S. & Krista Kagume. Great Lakes Nature Guide. 2009. Lone Pine Publishing International. Auburn, WA.
Eds. Berg, Bob & Konnie LeMay. Lake Superior the Ultimate Guide to the Region (second edition). 2010. Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. Lake Superior Magazine. Duluth, MN.