As the largest island in Lake Michigan, Beaver is a
critical stopover site for migratory birds flying up the lake on their way north to breeding grounds. This island is especially important to those migrants that become exhausted by flying into unfavorable weather conditions such as fog, heavy precipitation or strong winds from the north. On this jewel of an island, birds find a diverse mix of habitats packed with a rich buffet of much needed insect food. Insects are crucial to Neotropical birds because they must regain resources lost during long flights over the Gulf of Mexico to be in prime condition for the rigors of breeding. Many of the insects eaten by migratory birds are hosted only by native plants, which are abundant on the Island.
The BIBT encompasses more than 12,000 acres of state and township lands and four Little Traverse Conservancy preserves. It includes examples of each of the Island’s diverse habitats along more than 100 miles of roads. Birding during spring migration (mid-to late-May) is excellent. During breeding season, nesting Osprey and Common Loon pairs can be observed easily without disturbing the birds. Many songbird species nest here, including a host of warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, tanagers and others. Fall migration is equally productive.
Native American History
“The archipelago of Beaver, High and Garden Islands in Lake Michigan has a long, deep history with the Odawa of Waganakisisng, or Odawa of the Land of the Crooked Tree. The Waganakising Odawa have traditionally called Emmet County home for centuries, but their home also included the Great Lakes themselves. Renowned for their skill at navigating the Great Lakes in trade and fishing and going on the war path, the Odawa counted thousands of islands in the Great Lakes as critical to their cultural, historical and economic identity. The Beaver Islands are very much related to the Odawa, past and present.
Beaver, High and Garden Islands were home to multiple Odawa villages, well into the 20th century. Fishing was a critical resource for these Odawa families because it provided food as well as income. Churches, schools and homes built by the Odawa were commonplace on these islands, just as they were on the mainland of Waganakising. The islands were so important to the Odawa at Waganakising that they requested the islands be included in the Washington D.C. treaty of 1836 as part of their homelands. This treaty was the first major treaty between the northern Michigan Odawa and the United States.”
-- Repatriation, Archives and Records Department for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
Back to the top
Beaver Island, part of the Beaver Island archipelago which includes High, Hog, Garden and other smaller islands, is the largest
island in Lake Michigan with a total area of approximately 56 square miles. The island is incredibly ecologically diverse. Sand dunes, sand beaches, cobble beaches, inland lakes, wetlands (including bogs with floating mats, Great Lakes marshes, and inland marshes), hardwood forests, conifer forests, old fields and other habitats support many plant and animal species. Compared to other Lake Michigan islands, and even other islands throughout the Great Lakes, Beaver Island is outstanding for its ecological richness.
The interior forests of Beaver Island include mixed hardwood forests dominated by sugar maple, dotted with wetlands and small lakes that are often ringed by tamarack, black spruce, white cedar and other conifers. Small pockets of red and white pine contribute to the diversity of the interior forests. Forests near the immediate shoreline are frequently dominated by spruces, balsam fir, white cedar, pines, and eastern hemlock. Openings, including old fields, pastures and clear-cuts, are scattered around the island. Shoreline exploration will find sandy beaches, especially along shorelines exposed to wave action. Dunes, constantly sculpted by wind, are best represented on the west side of Beaver Island. There are also a few bluffs, and coastal marshes in sheltered bays.
Species of plants found only in the Great Lakes basin, including the threatened Dwarf Lake Iris, Houghton’s Goldenrod, Pitcher’s Thistle, and Lake Huron Tansy, thrive along the shorelines while the endangered Michigan Monkey-flower persists in one public access stream. Hundreds of other plant species, such as the carnivorous pitcher plant and sundew, enrich the island. Animals abound from white-tailed deer to beaver. Some individuals of the federally endangered Great Lakes population of the Piping Plover occasionally nest on Beaver Island. Bald Eagles can be regularly found and Common Loons nest on inland lakes. Ring-billed and Herring Gulls and Common and Caspian Terns are often seen along the shoreline as some of their nesting islands are nearby. Many warbler and other songbird species breed on and migrate through Beaver Island.
There are many conservation opportunities on Beaver Island because of its large size and long history of settlement. The Beaver Island community has been at the forefront of innovative conservation work. For example, many Beaver Island organizations, such as the Beaver Island Association and Beaver Island Preservation Association, and other organizations, including Central Michigan University, The Nature Conservancy, Beaver Island Natural Resources and Ecotourism Steering Committee, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, have collaborated to eradicate or control invasive species that pose the greatest threat to Beaver Island’s natural heritage. Quarantines on the importation of hardwoods have been established to reduce the possibility of introducing emerald ash borer. Central Michigan University faculty are studying the distribution of migrating land birds, small mouth bass, and other flora and fauna to better develop management plans. Conservation organizations such as Little Traverse Conservancy and the Michigan DNR own and manage important wildlife habitat for multiple purposes. This birding trail is an outcome of their work, in addition to the Michigan Audubon Society and Saving Birds Thru Habitat. We hope the trail encourages you to become a better informed member of the Beaver Island conservation community.
-- Dr. Dave Ewert, Senior Scientist, The Nature Conservancy
Back to the top
Beaver Island’s 56 square miles encompass almost every type of habitat found on mainland
Northern Michigan. The ability to visit so many habitats in such a short distance is yet another reason to enjoy Beaver Island.
Ecologically, Beaver Island is classified as part of the Northern Hardwoods– Beech Present plant community. This means that many of the hardwood forests on the island consists of American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), and black cherry (Prunus serotina). An excellent example of this type of forest surrounds much of Fox Lake in the middle of the island.
A second forest type on Beaver Island is the Dry Mesic Northern Forest consisting of white pine (Pinus strobus), red pine (Pinus resinosa), red maple (Acer rubrum), northern red oak (Quercus rubra var.
borealis), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), and big-tooth aspen (Populus grandidentata). This forest composes the inland part of the Bill Wagner Campground on the east side of the island and is considered a threatened natural community by the DNR’s Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Another interesting forest community on the island is the Conifer (Cedar) Swamp, consisting of white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). A good example of this community can be seen at Little Traverse Conservancy’s Little Sand Bay Preserve on the east side of the island.
Other unique plant communities are found in Beaver’s bogs and on the island’s beautiful beaches. Many of the inland lakes are partially surrounded by bogs, which are defined as wetlands with little or no drainage and moisture provided by precipitation. The harsh environment of bogs has lead to the evolution of plants that can tolerate waterlogged roots, acid conditions, and low nitrogen in the substrate. Some of these plants are carnivorous, capturing insects by various means to provide needed nitrogen. Common carnivorous bog plants on Beaver are the northern pitcher plant (Sarracinea purpurea) and several species of sundews (Drosera). There are also orchids in the bogs that bloom throughout the spring and summer, including dragon’s mouth (Arethusa bulbosa), grass pink (Calopogon tuberosus), and rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides). These plants can be seen in the Fox Lake bog on the southeast side of the lake and in the fen (a slightly different type of wetland from a bog) on the southeast side of Barney’s Lake along Barney’s Lake Road.
Many Beaver Island beaches are sandy, or sand mixed with gravel and rocks deposited by the wave action of Lake Michigan. These habitats are generally dry and hot in the summertime, and the substrate contains few nutrients that support plant growth. These environmental features also lead to plants adapted to withstand harsh conditions, and some of these plants have a very limited distribution around the Great Lakes, including on Beaver Island. Because of their restricted occurrence, several of these species are listed as federally threatened and should not be disturbed. Two of these species very likely to be observed along Beaver’s sandy shorelines are Pitcher’s, or beach, thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) and Lake Huron tansy (Tanacetum huronensis). Excellent beaches for observing these plants are found at the Bill Wagner Campground on the east side, Little Traverse Conservancy’s Petritz Preserve on the northeast side, and McCauley’s Point (state land) on the northwest side of the island.
A federally endangered species with a limited distribution on Beaver Island is the Michigan monkey-flower (Mimulus michiganensis). This plant grows only on the wet banks and in the water of muddy or sandy free-flowing streams. When the Michigan monkey-flower is not in flower, it is difficult to distinguish from other aquatic plants with which it grows, but its bright yellow flowers are unmistakable when it flowers in late June and July. The Michigan monkey-flower can be observed in the stream at the end of the trail at Little Traverse Conservancy’s Little Sand Bay Preserve.
Other plants of interest on Beaver Island are more generalized in their habitat choice and can be found growing along roadsides, in ditches, and in open fields and woods on the island. In the spring and early summer, residents and visitors alike delight in the three species of lady’s slipper orchids that grow in various patches along the Kings Highway. Yellow lady’s slippers (Cypripedium calceolus), pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule), and showy lady’s slippers (Cypripedium reginae) may be visible from the road. Two other species that put on a colorful roadside display in early to mid-summer are oxeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) and the brilliant deep yellow Coreopsis lanceolata. A unique spring flower that grows in open wooded areas is the small, fuchsia-colored fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia), and a beach plant with the wonderful name of hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense) brightens the sand with clumps of intense yellow flowers in late May and throughout June.
All of the plants and habitats described are readily visible from different locations along the Beaver Island Birding Trail. So if your neck is getting tired and your eyes strained from looking up for birds, look down for a while at the interesting and unique natural plant communities under your feet or beside your tires.
--Dr. Edward Leuck, Professor of Biology, and Dr. Beth Leuck, Professor of Biology
Back to the top
Herpetology of the Beaver Archipelago:
Amphibians and Reptiles of the Beaver Archipelago
The Beaver Archipelago boasts a diversity of amphibians and reptiles (“herps”). Following the theory of “island biogeography,” the number of herp species on any given island varies with the island’s size and its distance from the mainland, with Beaver Island possessing more of these species than all the other islands in the archipelago. However, although the Beaver Archipelago has fewer herp species than the Michigan mainland the population densities for any given species are higher in the archipelago than on the mainland. It is therefore comparatively easier to observe these species within the archipelago than on the mainland. Of the amphibian and reptile species in the Beaver Archipelago, eleven are amphibians (7 frogs and toads and 4 salamanders) while the reptile species list consists of 2 turtles and 8 snakes.
The smallest frog is the Spring Peeper while the largest is the Bullfrog. The Spring Peeper is the first frog to be heard in the spring and is often heard in the fall as the photoperiod shortens. The Bullfrog is the rarest of the Beaver Archipelago frogs, and may even be extirpated from the islands at this time, partially due to their being sought after as a culinary delicacy. The Green Frog, often varying in color from brownish green to blue, is by far the most common frog in the archipelago. Leopard Frogs can be found in island wet meadows, Gray Tree Frogs are ubiquitous across the islands, Wood Frogs abound in and around the islands’ forests and the American Toad will show up almost anywhere.
The most common salamander is the Red-backed Salamander which can reach densities of over 1000 per acre in the moist forests that they inhabit. The Spotted Salamander and Blue-spotted Salamanders are much larger than the Red-backed Salamander . Because these two species are excellent burrowers, they are often known as mole salamanders. The last salamander found in the Beaver Archipelago is the Eastern Newt. It has a complicated life cycle where the larval form and adults are aquatic while an intermediate stage, the “red eft” is very terrestrial.
The Common Snapping Turtle is the larger of the two turtle species found in the archipelago, but is much less numerous than the second species, the Midland Painted Turtle. Painted Turtles on Beaver Island lay their eggs in the ground in June, and the young turtles hatch in early fall. However, these hatchlings remain in the shell in the nest, not emerging until the following spring. These nests may be as much as a half mile from their home pond or lake.
Of the eight species of snakes found in the archipelago, the largest by weight is the Northern Water Snake while the largest by length is the Eastern Milk Snake. The smallest is the Red-bellied Snake and its close relative, the Northern Brown Snake. The Smooth Green Snake is totally insectivorous and an egg-layer with one of the shortest incubation periods of any North American snake…nine days. The Eastern Ringneck Snake is very aptly named with a well-defined ring around its neck, and feeds on salamanders. The Eastern Garter Snake is the most abundant snake in the archipelago, and feeds on a wide variety of food, from earthworms to small mammals. The Eastern Ribbon Snake, very similar in appearance to the garter snake, is much more slender, with a longer tail. It feeds primarily on amphibians. There are no venomous snakes in the Beaver Archipelago.
--Dr. James Gillingham, Professor Emeritus, Herpetologist, and Past Director of CMU’s Beaver Island Biological Station
Back to the top
Butterflies of Beaver Island, Michigan
Species denoted with an asterisk (*) are unconfirmed or dubious records.
Back to the top
Shoreline and Wetland Projects
Right-click on these links to view or download these PDF files
Beaver Island Recreation Resource Project
Ecological Evaluation of Publically Accessible Wetlands
of Interest on Beaver Island, Michigan
Beaver Island Recreation Resource Project
Ecological Evaluation of State-owned Shoreline
Tracts on Beaver Island, Michigan
Back to the top