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    Michigan Cougar Controversy Over? Three more cougar photos verified in UP

Michigan Cougar Controversy Over? Three more cougar photos verified in UP

Michigan Department of Natural Resources News Release – November 28, 2012

Three recent trail camera photos of cougars in the Upper Peninsula have been verified by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Two of the photos, both of a cougar with a radio collar, were taken in October in Menominee County – one near Cedar River and one near Menominee just north of the Wisconsin border.

The third photo was taken in northern Marquette County in November. The cougar in the Marquette County photo is not wearing a radio collar.

The DNR does not place radio collars on cougars; North Dakota and South Dakota are the nearest states where wildlife researchers have placed radio collars on cougars to track their movement. The DNR has not yet been able to determine the origin of the radio-collared cougar that is in Michigan.

In the fall of 2011, a radio-collared cougar was photographed in Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw counties. Although the cougar recently photographed in Menominee County is wearing the same type of radio collar, DNR wildlife biologists are currently unable to determine whether this is the same animal or another transient that has dispersed from western states.

All three photos were taken by trail cameras located on private property and the landowners have asked to remain anonymous. DNR Wildlife Division staff were able to visit each location to confirm the authenticity of the photos.

Michigan Cougar Captured on Film

This story has become the most popular ever on the Absolute Michigan Facebook with almost 200 “likes”, 75+ comments and a whopping 254 shares. The photo was taken with a locked trail cam situated along a well-used wildlife trail in southern Marquette county. When you read the comments on the Facebook link you’ll see that folks all across the state believe they’ve seen cougars.

Marquette County Cougar, photo by Michigan Wildlife Conservancy

A trail cam in southern Marquette County operated by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC) recently captured the above photo of a cougar. Dr. Patrick Rusz, Director of Wildlife Programs for the MWC and retired DNR forester Michael Zuidema verified the trail camera’s location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge. The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four year period.

The MWC is publicizing this photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken. It is also unusually interesting because Mr. Zuidema has recorded over twenty credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s. These include several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.

Dr. Rusz stated that “the long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state.” Dr. Rusz has studied cougars for the Conservancy for 14 years and is co-author of a peer-reviewed study that confirmed cougars in both peninsulas of Michigan by analyses of DNA in droppings. He has also identified a long list of additional physical evidence dating back to 1966, and notes that Michigan State College zoologist Richard Manville documented several cougar sightings or incidents when he inventoried the fauna of Marquette County’s Huron Mountains from 1939 to 1942.

“The MDNR cougar team should now look at the very good evidence of a remnant cougar population collected before 2008,” said Bill Taylor, President of the Conservancy. “They could still easily verify cougar photos taken in the 1990’s in Alcona and Oscoda Counties in the Lower Peninsula and some others. The vegetation and other landmarks needed to confirm the photos are still there.”

You can compare the photograph above with photos of a wolf, coyote, raccoon, and porcupine taken by the same camera in the same location at the MWC website at

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy is a non-profit citizens group established to restore Michigan’s wildlife legacy. They have restored more than 8,200 acres of wetlands, 2,500 acres of prairies and grasslands, and hundreds of miles of trout streams, and helped with several rare species recoveries and the creation of many backyard habitats.

More about cougars in Michigan on Michigan in Pictures and weigh in with your comments below or on the Absolute Michigan Facebook!

The Michigan Pages: Spring Peepers

Mike aka Mr. Toad shot the video above and wrote to us: I am glad you enjoyed my video of spring peepers. It is worth noting that video was taken at the University of Michigan’s ES George Reserve. There are several other frogs that begin calling very early in Michigan, including the wood frog and the chorus frog. A few videos and more information on these frogs can be found at my blog.

Peeper on a Leaf by Jamuudsen

There are few more signature sounds in Michigan than a chorus of spring peepers calling. While the peepers fired up early and then stopped during our incredible heatwave, they are back out in force as temps have become more normal. Regarding pseudacris crucifer (Northern Spring Peeper), the Michigan DNR begins:

Spring peepers are one of the earliest callers among the dozen frog species found in Michigan. During the first warm evenings of spring in late March or early April through May, their distinctive single note, high pitched “peep” is considered a harbinger of spring. The intensity of calling increases and can become a deafening chorus during humid evenings or just after a warm spring rain when many males congregate.

Only the male frogs call. They establish territories near the edge of permanent or ephemeral wetlands. They may call from elevated perches of submerged grass or shrubs near the water. The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. (sort of like American Idol I guess)

Spring Peeperpedia


Get ready for the UP 200 Sled Dog Races!

The annual U.P. 200 sled dog race along with two other races, the Midnight Run and the Jackpine 30 take place February 16-20, 2012. These three UP sled dog races draw 15,000 fans to the Upper Peninsula and provide a variety of challenges for mushers.

Jackpine 30, photo by Paul R. Nelson

The UP 200 is a qualifying race for the Iditarod and draws mushers from around the United States and Canada for one of America’s premier 12-dog, mid-distance sled dog races. The first UP200 was run in February, 1990, and the race covers approximately 240 miles from Marquette to Grand Marais, with a return to Marquette along the same trail. The terrain includes stretches of near-wilderness, creek crossings, hills and valleys, and heavily forested land. Mushers say this is one of their favorite races, not only because of the challenging race, but because of the cheering crowds and warm welcome they receive in the Upper Peninsula.

Coinciding with the UP200 is the eight-dog Midnight Run, a race from Marquette to Munising with a checkpoint in Chatham. This year the Midnight Run has a new, improved trail and will start in downtown Marquette approximately 30 minutes after the last UP200 musher has left the starting gate on Friday.

The JackPine 30 rounds out the weekend’s fun with a six-dog, 30-mile sprint from Gwinn, Michigan to Marquette. The JP30 will start on Saturday morning, February 18, 2012 in Gwinn. From there, it’s a race to the finish with teams expected in Marquette late morning or early afternoon on Saturday.

While the dogs and mushers are front and center, the races couldn’t happen without a dedicated group of over 500 volunteers from the U.P. and the midwest region who come together to stage this great event each year. Check out the great video below from our friends at Under the Radar Michigan and also a more in-depth video about volunteers and the race, and see a whole ton of photos from all three races in the UP 200 photo galleries!

Invasive Species in the National Parks

Goby by swatzo
Goby by swatzo

Last year the National Park Service produced a series of short documentaries exploring invasive species in the Great Lakes. The series was funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative showing how invaders are changing the ecosystems in national parks and what’s being done to stop them.

All four of them are available through the Great Lakes Echo. Part 1: Aquatic Invasives is below and it explores how zebra mussel, quagga mussel, round goby and other invasive species are creating havoc in Lake Michigan, causing the food web to tilt out of balance. People can help, clean drain and dry all boating and fishing gear to stop aquatic hitch hikers. here’s Part 2: Invasive Plants in our Parks, Part 3: Spotted Knapweed, and Part 4: Emerald Ash Borer!

Weird Wednesday: Michigan Sea Monsters

The last Wednesday of every month is a “Weird Wednesday” on Absolute Michigan. Usually we get a feature from Linda S. Godfrey, the author that fascinating tome of Michigan mysteries: Weird Michigan. Linda is hard at work on her latest book so we’ve gone down to the vault and pulled out some watery weirdness! Stay up-to-date with the uncanny at and on Linda’s twitter.

at Mackinac
at Mackinac
:: a composite from -3 and -43 by Emery Co Photo

Sea Monster of the Straits

The authorities tried hard to convince the public what they saw were only giant catfish, but even the oldest, orneriest cats would be hard-pressed to attain a length of forty-five feet! The owner of a resort along the Cheboygan lakefront reported seeing something of just that size, and two of them, frolicking in the Mackinac Straits on Lake Huron in front of his property, about 600 feet from shore, according to an article in the June 25, 1976 Grand Rapids Press. The day after the resort owner called authorities about it, Cheboygan County Sheriff Stanley McKervey stopped by to have a look for himself. To his surprise, he also was able to observe one of the creatures. “I went down to the beach, and sure enough, I’m looking at something 20, maybe 30 feet long, swimming just below the surface,” he said in the article. “I was amazed. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure wasn’t a publicity stunt.”

The sheriff continued watching the creature through binoculars. It only rose about an inch above water level, he said, but any disturbance on shore would cause it to dive deeper again. And that’s exactly what happened when the sheriff ordered a couple of deputies to surveil the thing in a canoe. It was gone long before the pair got there. Unfortunately, rough water conditions set in the next few days and no one could go out for another look. It wasn’t observed again, and other experts theorized that perhaps it was a giant eel or carp. But neither of those sound like what the sheriff and the resort owner saw!

Lake Leelanau Monster

The story of an early 20th Century sea monster sighting was sent to The Shadowlands Web site by a reader whose great-grandfather was the witness. The boy was fishing for perch one day in 1910 in the shallows of Lake Leelanau in Leelanau County. The lake had been dammed in the late 1800′s to provide water power for the local mill and to enable logging. The dam also flooded much surrounding area, turning it into swamps and bogs punctuated by dead, standing trees.

On that particular day, the young great-grandfather, William Gauthier, rowed out to a new fishing spot near the town of Lake Leelanau. Looking for good perch habitat, he paddled up close to a tree that he estimated to stand about five feet tall above the water, with a six-inch trunk. He was in about seven feet of water, and after deciding this would be a good place to stop and cast a line, began tying the boat to the tree.

That’s when young William discovered the tree had eyes. They were staring him dead in the face at about four feet above water level. The boy and serpent exchanged a long gaze, then the creature went, “Bloop” into the water. Gauthier said later that the creature’s head passed one end of the boat while the tail was still at the other end, though it was undulating very quickly through the water. Uncanny RadioThe writer noted that Gauthier always admitted to having been thoroughly frightened by his encounter, and that the event caused him to stay off that lake for many years.

The writer added that his great-grandfather came from a prominent area family and was very well-educated, and that he knew others who would admit privately but not publicly that they, too, had seen the creature. No sightings have been reported in recent times, but who knows how many people have believed they were passing by a rotting old cedar when in fact they had just grazed the Leelanau lake monster?

Urban Birding: Touring the Rouge River

rouge river channel constructionAlthough most folks think of birding as something done “out in nature,” Bootstrap Analysisa great site for information about Michigan birds & birding – has an interesting feature about the Rouge River in Detroit. She begins:

The Rouge River is an urban river, and its urban character is nowhere better reflected than in its last few miles, after it passes through the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and the Henry Ford Estate. As it approaches Michigan Avenue all sense of riverness ends: this is where the Rouge gets harnessed into its concrete straitjacket, and it remains shackled down to where it empties into the Detroit River.

The channel was built in the mid-1970s by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control.

Click through for her photos & tour of the river bank and also for photos of the construction of the channel like the one attached from Wayne State University’s Virtual Motor City project. If you’re interested in the preservation efforts on the river, check out Friends of the Rouge River.

Here’s a neat video of a kayak tour of the Rouge and also a map.

View Larger Map

Michigan Books: A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach

1000 mile walk on the beachNext Friday (March 11, 2011) at Brilliant Books in Suttons Bay, Loreen Niewenhuis will release her book, A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach. The book chronicles her walk around the shoreline of Lake Michigan and her observations along the way.

ABSOLUTE MICHIGAN: What prompted you to do this?

LOREEN NIEWENHUIS: I’ve always felt connected to Lake Michigan.   It has always been the place where I relax, walk, and recenter myself.   When I turned 45, I wanted to take on something large, something that would challenge me on many levels.   So, I pulled out my maps of Lake Michigan and plotted a 1000-mile route around it.

ABSOLUTE MICHIGAN: What was your favorite stretch of Michigan beach?

LOREEN NIEWENHUIS: I fell in love with the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Leelanau Peninsula all over again.   The natural beauty is amazing, the towns are very connected to the lake along this stretch, and there are several excellent independent bookstores along the way.

You can read what Loreen has to say about the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore on her blog, and here’s a brief excerpt from the book.

Lake Michigan Shoreline North of Portage LakeBobcat, dead deer, and cougars, OH MY!

North of Portage Lake, it soon gets rather remote and the shoreline becomes rugged with high, wooded dunes flanking me to my right, with the expanse of calm lake to my left. There are miles without any signs of civilization, and I pass curious tracks along a small stream that look like a bobcat made them. Not a mile from the stream, a severed foreleg of a deer rests, bloody, on the shore.

A bobcat couldn’t take down a full-sized deer. To forestall the obvious conclusion that something even larger had killed it, I think up a “Clumsy Deer Scenario” where the deer trips, conks its head on a rock, and is eaten by the bobcat.

Oh, clumsy, clumsy deer!

Then I think about all the times that I have stumbled on the trek so far, over icy rocks, through roots grabbing at my feet, over piles of driftwood. I begin to feel little ravenous cat eyes on me, waiting for me to blunder, stumble, and conk my head. At home, I have a 15-pound housecat who has some rather feral moments, so I am sure I can fend off a bobcat – as long as I have my walking stick and my wits about me.

bobcatTo allay my fears, though, I yell, “Venison is DELICIOUS!”

There are wild cats bigger than bobcats in Michigan: cougars. And I don’t mean the Demi Moore type. These big carnivores – over 100 pounds – have been seen all over the state. Cougars are genetically programmed to jump on the back of their prey and clamp their jaws on the neck, working their incisors between the vertebrae to sever the spinal cord so their prey will stop struggling. Then: dinnertime.

My main consolation was that I’d probably not see a cougar come at me. It would be over before I had time to say, “Venison is DELICIOUS!” I hope that my larger pack would protect me, or somehow make me seem less of an option for a cougar dinner.

Or, maybe, the cougar would knock me over, pack and all, but I’d have time to pull out my pepper spray and spray the cat and not myself. And I wished for a big cat that did not think pepper spray would make me taste even more delicious.

Visit Loreen’s website A 1,000-Mile Walk on the Beach for more including photos, excerpts, book signings and ordering information.

Avian botulism: Invasive species double team?

Today’s post comes via the Grand Vision in northwest Michigan, but through an odd coincidence, we’ve been allowed to use video & photos of dead & dying birds that many may find shocking. They were gathered by filmmaker George Desort on the north shore of Lake Michigan and you are encouraged to click to see the direct impact of invasive species upon our wildlife.

Round GobyThis Chicago Tribune feature Lake invaders may be killing birds comes to us by way of The Chicagoist. It posits that the interactions of two invasive species are behind this year’s record avian die-off numbers:

Zebra mussels and quagga mussels filter naturally occurring botulism and other toxins from the water. Round gobies, another problematic invasive species, eat the mussels, and birds, in turn, eat the gobies.

“The evidence is there to suggest this is happening, but it’s circumstantial evidence because we haven’t found any proof of it,” said Tom Cooley, a biologist at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “All we can really do at this point is to continue to monitor what’s happening and maybe something in the lakes will turn around.”

Michigan’s DNR and the Common Coast Research & Conservation are among the organizations, including the USGS and the National Wildlife Health Center, studying the deadly phenomena that this year is expected to kill as many or more birds than died in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

Scientists don’t know how long botulism or similar toxins have been killing birds in the Great Lakes, but the first sizable counting came in 1999, when researchers recorded 311 birds off the shores of Lake Erie. The following year, they found 8,000 around the Great Lakes and the death counts have remained in the thousands every year since.

Thanks to for the tip! Speaking of the Chicagoist, earlier this summer they reported that there are now an estimated 4 quadrillion quagga mussels in Lake Michigan alone, more that the number of fish in all the world’s seas! Here’s a video of round gobies feeding on invasive zebra mussels in Lake Michigan.

Photo credit: Round Goby from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo credit: Round Goby from Wikimedia Commons.

Dead Birds by George Desort

WARNING: Viewers may find the following video & images gathered by filmmaker George Desort on the north shore of Lake Michigan to be deeply disturbing. It is our hope that they are disturbing enough to motivate people to work hard to protect our water & wildlife from the tremendous threat posed by invasive species and other dangers. Read more about invasive species and avian botulism.

Long tailed duck from george desort on Vimeo.