Nature Trivia: Miscellaneous

Weather Lore

In the fine words of weather guru Eric Sloane, “The weather is with us wherever we are, yet nothing is more taken for granted than the daily drama of the sky.”  Sailors, paddlers and boaters know well the need to keep a “weather eye”! Becoming more weather-wise can be more fun (and more accurate) than keeping an eye on weather apps.

Some old-time weather sayings:

  • Dew indicates a good day ahead: a dry morning is sign of showers.
  • Large halo around the moon indicates cirrus cloudform and warm front rain.
  • Higher the clouds, finer the weather. Lowering ceilings foretell a rain.
  • Thinning air is harder to fly in. Birds “sit it out” before a storm.
  • Distant shores loom up “nearer” before rain because of thinning of the air.

The Ottawa

Here’s to the oldest workboat in the harbor!  The Ottawa is 99 years old this year and a local landmark on Walstrom’s dock. Over the years she has done many a job:

  • ferried passengers on Lake Macatawa from the train depot to the Victorian style Ottawa Hotel
  • ferried people, freight, mail and baggage from Munising to Grand Island
  • worked as an Arnold Line Mackinac ferry
  • tugged in the Straits of Mackinac
  • pushed barges, installed docks, built sea walls and dredged channels in Little Traverse Bay for Walstrom Marine

TUGBOAT OTTAWA a single Motor Vessel offered daily excursions between Mackinac Island and The Snows In the 50’s even this service was discontinued and the OTTAWA became a workboat for Walstrom’s Marina at Harbor Springs MI.

Lumber Camps

Did you know 75% of Harbor  Springs’ economy was supported by the logging industry in the early 1900s?

Next time you’re in the woods, imagine life as a lumberjack…

  • A quota of 60 trees per day felled with a double crosscut saw
  • $1.08 pay per day
  • “Soo” underwear and wool pants for months at a time
  • Evening entertainment of stories, fiddle and harmonica
  • A hearty breakfast of eggs, steak, potatoes, oatmeal, and pancakes

The Snowflake Man

In 1885, Wilson Bentley made a scientific discovery that is known and celebrated the world over: no two snowflakes are alike! A self-educated farmer from VT, Bentley was the first person to photograph a single snow crystal by jerry-riging a microscope to his bellows camera. More important, perhaps, than his photomicography was how he shared his sense of wonder for these tiny miracles!

The Snowflake Thermometer

Did you know that -40 degrees F is the lowest temp it can snow? Snowflake formation changes relative to the temperature and humidity. Below is a range of snow crystal formations and temps (approximate):

  • Sleet – high 30’s
  • Graupel (soft hail/snow pellets) – mid 30’s
  • Stellars (dendrites) – from 30 to 10 degrees
  • Hexagonal Plates – from 10 to -15 degrees
  • Hexagonal Columns – from -15 to -25 degrees
  • Triangles – from -25 to -35 degrees
  • Pyramids – from -35 to -40 degrees

The largest snowflake ever recorded fell on January 28, 1887, at Ft Keough, MT. It was reportedly 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter.

Gales of November

“Gales” and “November” became ever-linked through the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. A top 10 hit released in 1976, it was written as a commemoration to the wreck and the men who lost their lives. Lightfoot still performs it at every concert, consider it his finest work, and is in contact with many of the victims’ families.

Technically speaking, gales run a range from moderate (“heaping sea” with 32 mph) to whole (“sea churns white” with 63 mph winds).

Practically speaking, sailors know the combination of a fast approaching winter and warm Great Lakes waters means very unpredictable weather in November: gales come up quickly and violently. In fact, most yacht insurance policies fro the Great lakes specify that boats be out of the water by November 1. Even regulations for Great Lakes freighters change in the fall; they have to carry less cargo so they have more freeboard and ride higher and safer. To be sure, November is the toughest month to be out on the Great Lakes!

Sit for Just a Minute

Somehow the lazy days of summer can become crazy and hectic! Try making time everyday to slow down and just sit- outside. It’s amazing what you can discover by lying down in the grass or leaning against a tree. There’s a whole world of small-scale wonder if we only take time to see it.

Try Ant Watching!

Ants are among the strongest, most intelligent, and sociable insects on Earth! Some ant facts:

  • Ants have a highly developed sense of smell- at least as keen as a dog’s and far better than ours.
  • Ants can lift and carry things weighing 50 times their own body weight.
  • Ants stretch and yawn.
  • Ants can survive for days underwater- as long as 2 weeks.
  • Worker ants can mix between different nests without showing aggression. a phenomenon known as unicoloniality.

Ode to the Lake

How lucky we are to live so near this amazing body of water! Here are some interesting tidbits on Lake Michigan…

  • Grand Lac: No Wonder Champlain called it “Le Grand Lac”- it’s the 6th largest freshwater lake in the world: 307 miles long x 118 miles wide. 1,638 miles of shoreline (including islands). 925 ft. at its deepest. It’s the only Great Lake to be contained entirely within the U.S. borders- making it the largest body of freshwater in America.
  • Dunes: The world’s largest ‘collection’ of freshwater dunes lines its shores- formed by glacial drift left after glacial ice melted some 16,000 years ago.
  • Carp Wars: Arguably the biggest threat to Lake Michigan, the invasive Asian carp has the potential to destroy the lake’s ecosystem and fishing industry. 5 midwestern states have filed suit to keep 2 locks in Chicago closed to prevent the invasive species from entering the lake.

Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Looking to learn more about our local watershed? Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council is a great resource- you can learn, protect, restore and/or support our inland lakes, streams and waterways through its programs, events, and outings.

Get ‘Em Outside

How are kids spending their free time outside of school? Americans ages 8-18 years spend on average 7.5 hours per day using some sort of entertainment media- that’s over 53 hours per week (more than a full time job!) And only 4-7 minutes outside each day.

Take a child outside today! Enjoy the simple pleasures that kids may be missing out on- jump in a puddle, throw leaves in the air or climb a tree. Some great resources for info, ideas, and inspiration: Getting Kids Outdoors in Emmet County, Children and Nature Network, and Be Out There- National Wildlife Federation.

Snowshoe Trivia

As early as 4000 BC, evidence of snowshoes was found in central Asia- solid slabs of wood used as foot extenders for easier snow travel. These may have been brought across the Aleutian land bridge by migrants to North America.

City Dock

Walk down the city dock and imagine 1 single boat running the entire length from The Pier to the Harbor Master… The 272 ft. steamship Manitou was a sight to see! The elegant “floating palace” carried passengers in style from Chicago to Harbor Springs. The 24 passage cost $5, meals and berth extra.

Our city dock is a treasure both then and now:

  • It has a story to tell!
  • It’s green- a certified Michigan Clean Marina
  • It’s public- dock your boat for just $27 per night
  • It’s deep- the deepest municipal marina in the state!


Late October is time to honor the amazing bat! Micro-bats (not mega-bats) are the ones we find in America roosting upside down in colonies. In fact, they can’t stand up- their pelvis is too small. Think large ears, small eyes, and small bodies. All they need is 1/2″ space to squeeze into a building!

Micro-bats use echolocation to learn the size, texture, direction, and distance of nearby objects. The upshot: 2,000-6,000 insects for dinner each night!


Agile and quick?! Deer can out-sprint their predators at speeds of 30 mph with 10 ft. vertical jumps and single bounds of up to 30 ft. Contrary to popular myth, deer are aged not by the points on their rack, but by their molars. After their “big teeth” come in (around 18 months), they lose about 1mm of molar height each year.


Walk the beach and loos for this rare beauty formed 443 million years ago during the Silurian era!

Halysite- chain coral- was a living coral that formed colonies of elliptical tubes. These white “chain links” were 2-10 cm long. During fossilization, the actual coral links were replaced by quartz, creating raised white lines on the filler rock. Hard to find, but worth the search!

Hibernate vs. Torpor

To survive winter, many northern MI animals hibernate by going into a deep sleep with lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. They don’t drink water or eat food.

Bats, frogs, turtles, and snakes are all true hibernators. Woodchucks are the best at it, lowering their body temperature from 98 to 40 and their heartbeat from 80 to 4!

Other mammals go into a deep sleep-aka torpor- that lasts for days or weeks. Bears, raccoons, some mice and skunks spend the winter in torpor. They will awaken periodically and in case of danger. Skunks will even go out of their burrow at least 1x a winter to empty their scent glands!


One of winter’s best offerings…behind every set of animal tracks, there’s a story to discover-what animal? How fast? Which way? Why?
Rabbits (and squirrels) first put down their small, front paws (rabbits’ are offset whereas squirrels’ are side-by-side) and then bring their big, hind paws around to land in front.


To know that we are within minutes of the big lake is one thing, but to actively consider our relationship to it is another… To be “lakeful” is to be consciously aware of our personal connection to this Great Lake, bay, and harbor:

  • How has it shaped our collective heritage?
  • Why do we feel drawn to be by it, on it, and in it?
  • What can we do to nurture our connection year-round?

How can we protect it?

  • Photos: For amazing shots of the lake, visit Third Coast Images
  • Books: To browse, buy, and order books on Lake Michigan- like Jerry Dennis’ The Living Great Lakes- visit Between the Covers on Main St.
  • Protection: Learn about the Little Traverse Bay Protection and Restoration Fund from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Stormwater Runoff

We’ve got snow. A lot of snow. Believe it or not, spring will come one of these days and the ice will thaw and the snow will melt. Take a moment to consider where all of that runoff will go. Take another moment to consider the kinds of “stuff” that will be washed along with the runoff. Of course there will be the random wrapper and bottle cap, but don’t forget about the stuff that isn’t always so obvious-nutrients, sediments, bacteria, chemicals, and other non-point source pollutants. Yuck! Now consider the fact that there are ways we can keep these pollutants from entering our streams, lakes, and Little Traverse Bay. They are called stormwater best management practices. Sounds technical, but they are really quite simple. Come listen and learn how we can all do our part to help protect water quality- it’s simple!

Courtesy of Jennifer Buchanan Gelb of Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council

Spring has Sprung

Ever wonder where the water in the downtown drinking fountain comes from?

All of the City’s bubblers are fed by springs (with the exception of the one in front of Graham Real Estate) that run year-round. Completely independent of the City’s water distribution system, each fountain is “fed” by its own pipe that runs straight down to “tap” an underground spring; the spring water naturally bubbles back up the pipe. The drain in each fountain hooks up to the City’s storm sewer system; these pipes run directly back to the lake via a storm water outlet. So next time you’re downtown, drink from one of the many bubblers and celebrate both the springs and the harbor of Harbor Springs.

Thanks to Tom Richards, City Manager of Harbor Springs, for this data on our water supply

Midge Madness

If you haven’t swallowed one, chances are you’ve been swatting madly at midges. But before you curse those lil’ buggers, take pause…they play an important role in the Lake Michigan ecosystem.

  • Non-biting midges (aka, gnats) are in the same order as mosquitoes, but a different family- Chironomidae
  • Up to 10,000 eggs are laid in gelatinous clumps on the water surface
  • After hatching, larvae drop to the bottom of the water to feed on algae and the form cocoons in the sediment of the lake bottom to survive the cold winters
  • When the water temperature is right, usually early June in northern Michigan, the larvae emerge and rise through the water to the surface where they fly off as adults, living only 2-3 days
  • Swarms of adult midges found near the shoreline are males performing a mating dance to attract female mates
  • Fishes eat midges as they rise to the surface of the lake and birds and insects feed on the flying adult midges

Courtesy of Captain Scott Carbeck of the Edith Opal who has been catching Lake Trout full of midges!

Tribute to the NM

A point of pride in Harbor Springs is celebrating it’s 80 year legacy…hear, hear to the NM! First sketched by Roy Kramer in 1934, the Northern Michigan (NM) racing sloop is a sight to behold for its shear beauty. This one-design boat (i.e., hull shape and sail size are frozen) handles wonderfully and is a joy to sail whether racing or pleasure sailing. It’s unique design features:

  • Single open cockpit makes for easier crewing
  • Long overhangs at both bow and stern
  • Single layer cedar planking
  • Small jib
  • Tall mast with short boom
  • Only 27 boats (NM 1-27) were ever built- in wood from 1934-1970 and in fiberglass from 1971-1982. So next time you’re by the harbor, raise a toast to the 80-year old NM!

For an in-depth history of the NM by D.W. Barton, visit Little Traverse Yacht Club.


Abundant on the Lake Superior shoreline, Unakite can be found along our Lake Michigan beaches too. This eye-catching rock, usually a golf-ball sized pebble or smaller, is considered a gemstone and just the right hardness for jewelry design.

  • It’s granite composed of 3 minerals; pink feldspar, quartz, and green epidote, aka “epidotized granite”
  • Unlike most granites, it lacks dark minerals, such as mica or pyroxene
  • During the Ice Age, it was carried south by glaciers from Canada and named for the Unaka Range in TN where it was first discovered
  • Worn by pregnant women to promote health of both mother and baby
  • Used as a healing stone to promote weight gain and as a balancing stone to release repressed feelings

More info in Michigan Rocks and Minerals available at Meyer’s Ace Hardware