Eagles

The U.P. is loaded with bald eagles. You’ll see them along the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan shorelines. As well as just about every inland lake, river, and throughout the woods. Their nests endure year after year of extreme storms and winter blizzards. So if you come across one during your travels, more than likely it will be there next year as well. 

Immature eagles are just as big as the adults, but they lack the white head and tail. They are brown with some white feathers scattered throughout. 

If you see a large bird gliding through the air, look to see if the wings are extended straight out like an airplane. Eagles ride the wind currents, unlike vulture’s that follow thermal currents. If you see a large bird circling with it’s wings in a V, it’s a vulture not an eagle. 

There are golden eagles in the UP. Golden's can look similar to immature bald eagles, so sometimes they are difficult to tell apart. Sometimes when the sun hits their feathers just right and you see a golden shine, chances are you're it's not an immature bald eagle.

Bobcat

If you see a smaller wild cat it’s most likely a bobcat, not a lynx. We have very few if any lynx left in Michigan. Although it wouldn’t surprise if some roam through from time to time. 

Both are fascinating animals. And, true to all cats, they are only seen when they want to be seen. Which means that you may never see one in your entire life. In fact, I’ve only seen a handful of bobcat. A couple while driving, couple in the woods and that’s about it. More often I see their sign, which reaffirms that they do exist. 

bobcat.jpg

A really large bobcat might be 40 pounds. Most are in the 20’s. Even still, it’s amazing what they can take down - including full grown deer. I’ve seen the after affects of fresh kills in the snow. 

I’ve never heard of an unpleasant encounter with a human though. If you see one consider yourself lucky and take a picture if you’re quick enough!

Coyote and Fox

It’s common for coyotes to pack up and a fox to run alone. A fox family often sticks together through the spring and summer. They care for their young, who might spend a good deal of time in and around their den. When you see a lone fox you are probably seeing one of the parents out hunting for the family food.

Coyotes often hunt larger animals including deer, and often travel in pairs or more. Last winter I tracked down three coyotes that attacked a bedded deer and completely devoured it within that morning. I’m not sure how they do it, but somehow they completely skin a deer. They were sleeping off their fill like a Thanksgiving Dinner when I got there and dispersed. I tracked one of them for another hour but never got a visual. 

The coyote's chorus is a frequent occurrence while camping. Their howls can be erie, and give the impression that there’s a hundred of them. Sometimes at night by the fire I’ve had them yipping and howling at what sounded like less than 100 feet away, but even with a bright flashlight I usually can’t  see them. 

They mate in the late winter often out on open ice. If you look out over a snowy lake you’ll often catch a glimpse of some coyotes way out out there doing their thing. I have no idea why they go out on the ice like that, but I suppose it’s their equivalent of a hot spot pick up bar.

Whitetail Deer

Michigan has a large whitetail deer population. They are one of the favorite quarry for hunters. And, contrary to what many would believe, that relationship is what has helped them thrive. Sportsmen and women are some of the best keepers of the natural habitat our animals need to survive. We are typically more active than most in ensuring good science based management is used to protect or nurture the animal and fish populations in our state.

Whitetail deer are very elusive animals with a great sense of smell, sight and sound. Now I know if you are from the suburbs in Lower Michigan and have them running around your yard, you might not think they would be all that difficult to get close to. But the urban animals are nothing like their backwoods cousins. 

Bucks and does mate in the fall. And that drive for reproduction puts them on the move all times of night and day. That, and when a tough winter drives them to roadside grass, is when you need to be especially careful while driving. The damage to a car is frustrating, but more than that I always feel it’s such a shame to see an animal like our majestic deer be killed in a car accident. 

Deer have neighborhoods and patterns. A doe and fawn will have a smaller home area than a buck will. Typically bedding down in the same general area each day. 

Moose

You don’t see them very often, but there is a growing population in the U.P. One thing is for sure, if you do see one you won’t mistake it for anything else. They are absolutely huge! 

They may come across as clumsy and slow, but they can move with great speed and are protective of their young. So give them a wide berth if you see one. 

They occasionally wander into towns and cause quite a stir. There were pictures of one giving birth on a front yard. I suppose the mother thought it was safer than among the wild animals in the woods. 

I have not seen one in a long time, and just missed one while hiking two years ago. I made my way to a pond and saw the tracks on the bank as it entered the water for food or drink. The ground was still wet from where it stood. Eventually I lost the tracks in the forest floor and I wasn’t able to spot him. 

Wolves

Wolves have been celebrated, revered and feared for centuries. There’s something magical about them, and I think they know it. That said, for those who experience wolf problems, they lose their luster pretty quick.  

Wolves eat meat, and a lot of it. The deer population in the U.P. has been decreasing significantly, and many believe the skyrocketing wolf population has much to do with that. Others say it’s due to tough winters,

I don’t know the scientific data on it. But I do know that a number of years ago I would occasionally cross a wolf track. And now I can’t go into the woods without seeing fresh sign. And it doesn’t take a scientist to determine what kind of fur is in their scat - deer. 

In the fall of 2010 reportedly a forester escaped to a tree to stay protected from wolves. That’s the first precarious encounter I’ve heard of in the U.P. 

wolf track unmistakably larger than a coyote track

wolf track unmistakably larger than a coyote track

I had some close encounters, but none that seemed too threatening. Once I took a German Exchange student, Alex, on a hiking trip through the woods one day. We were pretty deep in a swamp, and I was looking over the map to plot my course when he came running back toward me. There was a wolf hot behind him. When the wolf saw us both he turned and ran away. I don’t  think he was actually hunting Alex. I think more likely he was just hunting, and Alex started to run away from him. He was probably giving chase to determine exactly what he was, and I’m pretty sure would have turned away if there was only one of us there. Nonetheless, Alex was weak in the knees for a couple hours after the experience. But it was a thrill he sure remembered.

Scat is often white from the bone calcium they eat

Scat is often white from the bone calcium they eat

One evening I found myself surrounded by a pack of howling wolves. Night was quickly falling, and it was more than a little unsettling as their circle encroached ever tighter. I made my way out of the swamp and into a clear cut where I had parked my car. Now that I felt safe, it was pretty cool to lay on the ground beneath a full moon and blanket of stars listening to a pack of wild wolves in primitive pre-hunt ritual.

Black Bears

Since childhood bears have been my favorite animal. And for those of you who have not seen one in the wild yet, they look nothing like what you might have seen in the zoo. They are sleek, very black and quiet as a ghost. A close encounter will put chills up the spine of even the most experienced woodsman. 

You can often find bear claw marks in the smooth bark of beech nut trees

You can often find bear claw marks in the smooth bark of beech nut trees

I look for bears whenever I’m in the woods. It is easy to find their sign, but you rarely see one. 

While people have a pretty good fear of bears, there are very few reported incidents. I know of one in the fall of 2010 in the Northern Lower of Michigan when an archer had a confrontation with a bear in his tree stand. The published story is that two bears climbed up his tree whereupon he kicked and encouraged them back down. Then the largest of the group climbed up the tree and gave him a pretty good scratch in his leg. He was so excited that he didn’t even know he had been hurt. I didn’t see pictures of his wounds, but it was reported that he needed quite a few stitches. I could speculate as to why and how this happened, but I wasn’t able to reach the man in the attack so I won’t offer uninformed advice. But I will say this, if a guy took a swing at one of my little boys and my wife was there, you can be sure she’d do a little bit more than scratch him. Animals and humans, we’re protective of our kids! 

Especially in spring, look for secluded meadows for feeding bears

Especially in spring, look for secluded meadows for feeding bears

So keeping with the common sense of animal interaction and the rest of this site, respect wild animals and use your head when dealing with them in an uncomfortable situation. But respect doesn’t have to translate into fear. Bears are amazing animals. Sharing the woods with them is awesome and seeing one is a memory you will have for years. 

Look for deep scratches in trees, especially choke cherry trees

Look for deep scratches in trees, especially choke cherry trees

Most sightings are brief, measured in seconds. They hibernate from mid fall to spring. Their primary diet when they emerge is grass. So you can imagine how late they continue sleeping even as the snow melts, giving mother nature enough time to grow some fresh green stuff.

Bears do eat meat, but their primary diet is veggies and fruits. But they are opportunistic and have a diet that ranges from blueberries, choke cherries, all kinds of grass, especially marshy bright green stuff along the edges of ponds, skunk cabbage, other animals (when the situation presents itself), bird food and even human trash. 

Bears don't really use Charmin like the commercials would like you to believe. Pine trees are their paper of choice

Bears don't really use Charmin like the commercials would like you to believe. Pine trees are their paper of choice

Early summer is mating season and the big boars (males) are out looking for a female in heat. If he comes across a mother and cubs he will attempt to kill the cubs in an effort to bring the mother in heat so he can mate. Cubs typically stay with their mothers through one whole winter together. They are born in the den tiny and helpless. By the time they emerge they are rambunctious, and still pretty small. By that fall they may have reached close to 100 lbs, and will den up with their mother for the last time. 

That spring she will aggressively kick them away, chasing them from her area. The reason she chases them is twofold. First, she doesn’t want a large male to come and kill them. The second reason is for long term genetics. Bears need to disperse in order to help ensure they breed with other families. The males typically will wander the furthest from mom’s lair. During this time where they are looking for new homes they might travel to new reaches of the U.P., and encounter people and towns along the way. 

Bears have territories and leave signs to let others know about it. They bite branches off pine trees, straddle young christmas trees and like dogs - pee on stuff. There are areas where territories intersect, and this is where you might find “scratch” trees. These trees can have decades of marks from various bears over the years leaving their mark. I wonder whether a bear can tell who might have been in their family line.

Through the summer they feast on fresh berries and other foliage. In the fall they fatten up and get ready to hibernate. One of their favorite foods this time of year are choke cherries. It’s easy to tell if bears frequent them as they just about tear them apart to get at the berries.