Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mammals of the North Woods

My recent NettieBay Lodge Expeditions in northern Michigan's Presque Isle County were mostly about birds, and we did well - 153 species in a week. We also learned a lot about plants, and I wouldn't even try to tot up that total list. In short, we look at anything and everything, but always prioritizing the birds. After all, a bird can fly off so it's always best to immediately avail one's self of a viewing opportunity before the bird in question decides to bail.

Another group that we did well with was mammals. I already blogged about the porcupines and their dens, but that prickly rodent was only one of seventeen mammal species that we observed. Followng are a few of the ones that I managed to turn into pixels.

There are scads of beaver up there, and we saw a few true jumbos. But none of the chunky tail-slappers came in range of my camera. Here's some big, in your face, evidence, though. The local beavers of this particular lake had recently dropped this bigtooth aspen, at least in part so they could get at the succulent upper branches. Note how they've stripped the bark from the upper part of the tree, down there at the far end.

A striped skunk waddling through a field and rooting about for grubs. I initially misidentified this one. How, you may ask, did our blogger manage to botch the identity of one of the most recognizable mammals in North America? Well, it was broad daylight, and this skunk was way off in a field of tall grass. I could only see little patches of it as it rustled about, and my first thought was, badger! After all, badgers are white and black on the face and probably more prone to be out and about during the day.

Anyway, I tossed the car to the roadside and ran towards the animal in the hopes of working my way closer. It didn't take but a few lopes in the beast's direction before I saw what it truly was. Oh well, it allowed me fairly close and I ws able to make a few photos. Skunks are actually fine-looking animals if one can get over their reputation.

Eastern chipmunks were everywhere. The cute little busybodies are generally in perpetual motion. One individual was making regular raids on the NettieBay Lodge feeders, stuffing his cheeks with peanuts. Once full of loot, he'd race off to a distant woodpile to cache them. Try as I might, I never managed a shot of the chippy with cheeks bulging out to nearly double the size of his head. HERE'S a piece I wrote a while back about chipmunks and the sounds that they produce.

There were also scads of eastern gray squirrels, but with a twist - most of them are melanistic; so-called "black" squirrels. Maybe because I am used to seeing the gray-colored gray squirrels, I can't get enough of these exotic beauties. There were normally colored individuals, but they were outnumbered by these dark versions, which also appeared to be more aggressive.

A genetic trait causes the dark coloration, and litters of squirrels can have both gray and black individuals. Black squirrels have long been known from scattererd locales in Ohio, but they appear to be becoming more frequent.

King of the squirrels, a red squirrel, sometimes known by the monikers chickaree or red jimmy. They are hyper aggressive and rule the roost. A red squirrel will easily drive off much larger gray or fox squirrels despite being dwarfed by these bigger species. Their loud shrill scolding notes are quickly learned by birders working the north woods.

We stopped at a convenient state park for a break, and noticed a thirteen-lined ground squirrel loitering about the mowed grassy lot in an uncharacteristically bold fashion. Sure enough, just like the chickadees at your feeder, this guy had been the recipient of handouts and had become acclimated to people.

I don't condone feeding ground squirrels picnic fare, but if others do I'll take the photo ops. Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are not exactly extroverts, but the lure of this chip was too much, and he slowly jigged and jagged nearer.

Finally, with a gentle tug he took the chip and raced to one of his holes to enjoy the spoils. I suppose the positive side of this unusual taming of a normally wary mammal is that people who would never otherwise see one of the handsome little ground squirrels get to admire one up close and personal, and hopefully become more interested in the natural world as a result. I made a more in depth post about ground squirrels HERE.

Finally, a life mammal for your blogger! A northern flying squirrel comes into the peanut feeder at NettieBay Lodge. I had heard these up here last year, but never laid eyes on one. This year, they had discovered the feeders and we noticed one gliding around one evening. So, we pulled up some chairs on the back patio and it wasn't long before one of the furry little fellows swooped in and lit on a feeder.

Just like the southern flying squirrels down here, this one was tame as a kitten and I was able to approach it within five feet. It cared not a whit, armed with the knowledge that it is probably 100 times faster and more agile than your camera-wielding blogger.

I love watching flying squirrels, and am delighted that the lodge setup is attracting them. These feeders are full of great birds during the day, and now at night we can watch these tiny squirrels. I don't know if you've ever seen one of these, but flyers are about the fastest arboreal mammals you'll ever want to see. They'd make Spiderman look like the clumsiest of oafs. It's as if they've got velcro for footpads, and an excited squirrel will roar up, down, and around the trees at astonishing speeds, occasionally launching into space and gliding to another tree. Quite a show.

We're doing two more of these forays at NettieBay in late May of next year, and attendees will get to see many of these mammals in addition to scores of birds, plants, and other interesting things not to mention beautiful landscapes at every turn. If you are interested, contact Jackie at NettieBay HERE. We keep the groups to ten people each, and I believe they're already over half full so let her know soon if you can make it.


Tom said...

Great stuff Jim! I've been enjoying you posts from the great state up north.

nina said...

Glad YOU weren't the one to feed the little ground squirrel!
An awesome close-up of the cute little critter, though.

Buckeyeherper said...

Great pictures! We saw most of those but decided to drink beers instead of going looking for porcupine at night. I only managed shots of the ground squirrels though unfortunately. We also turned up two mink along the Au Sable while kayaking which made my day. That area is fascinating in many ways.

flux biota. said...

gotta love the black squirrel. we've got an honest to goodness blonde squirrel living in Lovila, iowa. blonde like paris hilton.

flux biota. said...

i'm sure the squirrel is smarter, though.