A Pterodactyl in the Fireplace: Living with Wildlife in TC

"Our" bald eagle, on sentry duty Sunday morning
“Our” bald eagle, on sentry duty Sunday morning.

Every morning as we leave for work, Karen and I look up at the end of the driveway to see if our eagle is in his tree.

We’ve never had the heart to invest in another pet since the death of our beloved chocolate lab, Bessie, some years ago – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have lots of animal acquaintances up at Old Mission. When you live in the woods, after all, you live with animals.

There’s “Roscoe,” the feral black cat who keeps our yard and outbuildings free of mice and chipmunks, and who asks nothing more than a sheltered spot to curl up in when the weather turns too cold. The raccoons who visit at night and who left ashy handprints all over our burn barrel on Saturday. There are flocks of enormous crows, a plenitude of woodpeckers, and that majestic bald eagle (still unnamed) who perches in a tree across the road almost every morning to watch for unwary fish in the shallows off Haserot Beach.

Inevitably, a few of these visitors attempt to make the relationship more intimate than we’d like. Each year we have to live-trap a few intruders and help them find new homes in less populated areas. I’ll never forget the morning Karen announced that there was “a pterodactyl in the fireplace.” It turned out to be a large and very irritated merganser who had tumbled down the chimney and was trapped behind the glass doors of the hearth. We took down the screens and let him fly out through a living room window.

A grazing white-tail deer near the mouth of the Platte River.
A grazing white-tail deer near the mouth of the Platte River.

We purposely avoid feeding any of these critters, but it’s nice having them around. In fact, spotting some of these birds and mammals – whether it’s the white-tail deer who glided across the meadow in from of us on Saturday night as we were coming home from church or the coyote we surprised one evening, glittering with ice crystals, in the woods by Swaney Pond — is one of the thrills of living in this part of the world.

Because of its rich interplay of natural habitat of vast dunes, lakes, streams, hardwood forests and cedar swamps, the Traverse City area is home to many kinds of creatures, including a number of species that are threatened or endangered. It’s not at all uncommon to come face to face with them, and I think they’re actually more plentiful now than they were even a few years ago.

I remember back in the early 1908s, when photographer John Russell and I drove all the way to Mio to check out an eagle’s nest. Now there are eagles everywhere – even in my front yard. Bear are making a big comeback, and now there’s talk of cougars in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

In all, some 50 species of mammals can be found here. Most are small and numerous – like the eastern chipmunk, nicknamed the “timber tiger” because of its voracious appetite and fearlessness in stealing food from campsites and picnic tables – but there are much rarer predators like the bobcat, whose effective camouflage make it hard to see. Fox are a frequent and welcome sight, and the birds (as I’ve recounted in some earlier posts) are everywhere.

Best of all, you don’t have to live here to enjoy some time with the local wildlife. You just have to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time.

Coming around a bend in a trail to see a mother deer standing in the forest with her fawns, or gazing down the 400-foot face of the Sleeping Bear Dunes as a school of enormous lake trout glides through the blue water like a fleet of small submarines, is a truly unforgettable experience. I recommend it!


About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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2 Responses to A Pterodactyl in the Fireplace: Living with Wildlife in TC

  1. bjtetu says:

    Although I currently live in Daytona Beach Florida…my Home is Traverse City…The Peninsula ..,where I grew up. Remember how lucky you are to live there ,and see the Wildlife you see..,and some.., take for granted..northern Michigan is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. NEVER take that for granted….

  2. Heide says:

    What a great article…..makes my resolve to live up there with you lucky lucky people that much more serious……..thanks for sharing :-)………..your Eagle is beautiful by the way……..I didn’t know they eat fish.

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