In August 2006 Heidi DeVos, Audubon’s director of production and operations, led an Audubon tour to Isle Royale. During her five days on the island, she took photographs of the island’s flora and fauna, as well as some its manmade sights.
Audubon Nature Odysseys is offering a trip this summer to Isle Royale and Lake Superior. The trip, which will run from July 6–13, will be led by Walt Pomeroy, a key player in getting most all of the island designated as wilderness. For information on this or other trips, call 800-967-7425 or 212-979-3066, or click here.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) can be seen along Isle Royale’s woodland paths. A relative of the better-known flowering dogwood tree, bunchberry has the reputation of being the fastest plant in the world—bunchberry flowers open their petals and fling out their pollen in less than 0.5 milliseconds. The minute flowers are greenish and surrounded by four white bracts—modified leaves growing at the base or the stalk of a flower—that are often mistaken for parts of the flower. Successful pollination results in a cluster of scarlet-colored berries that appeal to fruit-eating birds. If you want to watch a bunchberry flinging its pollen, better use a magnifying glass—and don’t blink.
It would be hard to miss seeing a red squirrel during a sojourn on Isle Royale—they’re very curious, highly energetic, and quite noisy residents of the island. Red squirrels, also commonly known as pine squirrels or chickarees, lead a solitary existence: The females are receptive to breeding for only one or two days out of the entire year. They’ll mate with multiple males on those days; afterward, the sexes separate and the female raises the young by herself. Red squirrels are extremely important as seed-dispersal agents in northern forests—they spend a lot of time caching seeds, nuts, and green pinecones for the winter, not all of which get found and eaten later on. Scientists have discovered that red squirrels are apparently able to predict mast years (years yielding a large quantity of cones) for spruce trees, and will produce a second litter in advance of a masting season.
Over the years Isle Royale’s moose population has learned that there is a degree of safety to be found near humans, as the wolves have historically maintained quite a distance from people. One of the results has been the occasional “up close and personal” photo opportunity, as moose graze along pathways not far from the dining room of the Rock Harbor Lodge, the island’s only hotel. Recently, however, hunger has spurred the island’s wolves to venture closer to campgrounds in their search for food.
Each year the National Park Service employs a commercial fisherman to run the Edisen Fishery, giving demonstrations of net fishing and speaking to visitors about the life of the island’s former commercial fisherman. Les Mattson, who first began fishing at the age of eight, keeps visitors highly entertained during his talks. Results of the fishing demonstrations often wind up on the menu at Rock Harbor Lodge.
This lighthouse was built in 1855 to protect ships servicing the copper mining industry that thrived on Isle Royale at that time. The lighthouse is now home to an exhibit on the various shipwrecks that have occurred off the island. The cold waters of Lake Superior preserve shipwrecks in excellent fashion, and commercial dive tours visit the wrecks surrounding the Isle Royale archipelago.
All of Isle Royale’s wolves are descended from a single pair, which arrived on the island in the winter of 1949–50. The spines of some wolf carcasses found on the island show an abnormal number of vertebrae, possibly the result of inbreeding.
Visitors to Isle Royale are unlikely to see a wolf, but by keeping their eyes peeled they can find an assortment of other spectacular creatures. The island is home to numerous unusual-looking caterpillars, including the rusty tussock moth caterpillar (top), the American dagger moth caterpillar (bottom left), and the spotted tussock moth caterpillar.
The backyard of Rolf and Candy Peterson’s cabin on Isle Royale is a veritable cemetery of moose skulls and antlers. Over the course of the moose–wolf study (see “The Long View”), moose teeth have shown a significant decline in lead concentration beginning in the 1970s, a testament to the efficacy of the Clean Air Act. On the downside, however, the teeth also show steadily rising levels of carbon, the result of ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels worldwide.
Spectacular views can be had from the overlook at Lookout Louise, from which even Canada, 20 miles away, can be seen. Despite being much closer to the Canadian mainland, Isle Royale is part of the United States thanks to Ben Franklin’s desire to obtain the island’s copper deposits for his fledgling country during boundary negotiations following the Revolutionary War.
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Read related Web Exclusives: "Eyeing Wolves" and "Superior Reading"
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