"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!