Summer Birds of Mill Creek

Blackburnian Warbler, Alexander Wilson (1808)

  As spring turns to summer, the woods of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park are alive with birdsong. By mid-June, year-round residents of the park, such as black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, and tufted titmice, have been singing since winter snow gave way to spring wildflowers. Summer residents, many which migrated north for thousands of miles, arrive “finely tuned” and ready to put on a show as they attract mates and defend nesting territories.

  The official wildlife checklist of Mill Creek includes about 130 species of birds, while the list for Mackinac Island contains 190 varieties. Both parks consist of varied habitats, including Lake Huron shoreline, creeks and streams, swamps, open meadows, and forests of conifers and hardwoods.

Robert Ridgeway (1875)

  Finding birds at Mill Creek begins as soon as you step out of your car. Although the tree canopy is filled with green, listen closely for musical notes floating in the breeze. In the pines growing near the visitor’s center, you may hear a “shrill, thin song, which runs up the scale to end in a high z.” If so, pause and search for a blackburnian warbler hunting for insects among the branches. Catching a glimpse of a male’s flame-orange throat may just take your breath away! As they prefer evergreens for nesting, this species was once known as the “hemlock warbler.”

Ernest Thompson Seton (1901)

  Stop for a trail map as you make your way into the park. Next, follow the sound of rushing water and you’ll soon discover Mill Creek. Sitting near the mill pond, patient watchers may enjoy a visit from a belted kingfisher as it scans for brook trout. Kingfishers are memorable birds, with a dry, rattling call that announces their presence long before they fly into view. Occasionally, they even perch on the zip line, as if teasing participants while they glide over the creek. Unlike most birds, female kingfishers are more colorful than males, as they wear a chestnut-brown “necklace” while their mate sports a simple bluish band across their chest.

Thomas G. Gentry (1882)

  As you head into the woods, it’s nearly impossible to avoid an encounter with an American redstart. In 1893, Mackinac Island resident and researcher, Stewart E. White, wrote this was “the most characteristic bird of the island. It occurs in such amazing abundance that it seems as if every tree contained one of these birds.” Thankfully, such words still ring true today as this flashy black, orange and white warbler is still one of our most common summer residents. Plumage of females and immature males consists of light brown tones with yellow highlights.

  Relentlessly persistent, a restart’s repetitive, mellow song begins as soon as they arrive in May and lasts through August. This woodland songster sings for weeks on end, seemingly, as one early 20th century author noted, “to the accompaniment of his own echo.”

  As you continue down the trail, the species of birds you may encounter numbers in the dozens. Almost assuredly, you’ll hear the insistent, rambling song of the red-eyed vireo, the plaintive “peee-weee” call of the eastern wood peewee, and the rapid staccato of “teacher-teacher-TEACHER” from the tiny ovenbird, ringing through the forest. Venture out in the morning or evening for a chance to hear the ethereal, flute-like call of a wood thrush, perhaps the most magical song of the North Woods.

Mark Catesby (1754)

  If you don’t encounter one of our six resident woodpecker species, you’re almost certain to find evidence of their handiwork, hammering trees for insects beneath the bark. Especially watch for huge, rectangular cavities excavated by the crow-sized pileated woodpecker and small, regular rows of “sap wells” chiseled by yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Sapsuckers maintain wells to drink sap that drips out, but more importantly to capture insects that become trapped in sweet liquid that seeps from the tree. Sap wells in dead wood are evidence of a previous season’s efforts.

  No matter where you wander, watch and listen for birds all around you, each of which varies in color, shape, song, size, habits and habitats. Ancestors of many special species found homes in the forest of Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park long before people arrived on the scene. While some are suited to the creek or frequent the shore of a beaver pond, others prefer poking through leaf-litter on the forest floor. Some nearly never leave the tree canopy high above, while others may zip past you on their way to pick a sunflower seed from a bird feeder.

  During your visit, be sure to sit and scan the summer sky. Every day, someone spots a bald eagle floating effortlessly on the wind, high above the forest canopy. As you watch an eagle soar, consider it may also be watching you, with eyesight sharper than its talons. As it finally leaves your view, let your imagination follow into the unknown. At Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park, the feathered residents of Mackinac’s North Woods are waiting. Here you’ll discover ducks on the mill pond, friendly chickadees at the feeder, tiny hummingbirds sipping nectar, and the majestic symbol of our nation soaring over the Great Lakes. We all hope to see you soon.

Dive into the past at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and learn why ‘shipwrecks don’t just happen’

You may know the story of the Titanic, the luxury ocean liner that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage and quickly sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. But did you know that another large ship met a similar fate off Michigan’s coastline just three years earlier?

“We got around to the men struggling in the water as quickly as possible,” the surviving Capt. Timese Lemay reported in the days following the Eber Ward’s sinking. “Some had grabbed the wreckage. Others were holding fast to pieces of the ice floe. We pulled six into our boat. Then I looked for the others. They were gone. Nothing but pieces of wreckage, some ice and a few bubbles showed where they had been.” (Photo credit: Cliff Roberts, Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve)

  The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse tells the story:

It was April 1909 when the Eber Ward departed Chicago on its first trip of the spring. The wooden freighter picked up a load of corn in Milwaukee and then charted a course up and around Michigan’s Lower Peninsula toward Port Huron.

The day was calm and sunny as the ship neared the present-day location of the Mackinac Bridge. But as is often the case in early spring on the Straits of Mackinac, the thawing water still was quite slushy. And unfortunately, there were large chunks of solid ice, too.

Going too fast for the conditions, the Eber Ward slammed into an ice floe that ripped a hole in the ship’s bow, filling the peaceful morning with a surge of panic among the 16 crewmen. Within 10 minutes, the 213-foot-long freighter had disappeared.

One of two lifeboats safely launched, while the other was capsized by the sinking ship. Eleven men went into the water. Five were never found.

Shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac are ‘usually someone’s fault’

  The Eber Ward is one of more than 100 wrecks that remain on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow passage from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron between Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas. Each one has its own incredible story of human tragedy, from the “Sandusky,” an 1850s sailing vessel that was overwhelmed by waves and is the oldest-known shipwreck in the Straits of Mackinac, to the “Cedarville,” a 600-foot modern freighter that went down after a collision in heavy fog in 1965.

  Each of those three wrecks occurred for different reasons. Yet, they illustrate the museum’s overriding theme: “Shipwrecks don’t just happen,” says Craig P. Wilson, chief curator for Mackinac State Historic Parks. “It’s usually someone’s fault.”

  Museum visitors get to see exactly what caused the various shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac. And there are artifacts from the ships on display, including the original figurehead from the Sandusky, kitchenware from the galley of the Eber Ward and, ironically, a paper safety placard from the Cedarville. There’s even a revolver that was recovered from a wooden freighter that was cut by ice and sank in 1894.

  The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum also features dive footage from the wrecks. You can see the Eber Ward’s damaged hull, which sits upright and intact about 140 feet below the surface, as well as the damaged lifeboat that went down with the ship. And there are three sets of models that show the Sandusky, Eber Ward and Cedarville as they appeared while in service, and how they look now on the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac.

RELATED: See underwater footage of the Sandusky

Plan a visit to the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

  The “Titanic” movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio still ranks among the highest-grossing Hollywood features ever. And just like the Titanic, the shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac are fascinating, too.

  Yet, they’re also sobering. In many cases, people lost their lives. As Wilson notes, “there is a real human cost to these events” as people suffered the consequences of their own or other people’s decisions.

  Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum are open daily through Oct. 10 this year. In addition to the museum, the historic site at the southern end of the Mackinac Bridge in Mackinaw City features a “Shipwrecks of the Straits” movie, daily demonstrations of a fog signal whistle and a lighthouse keeper’s quarters with period settings and exhibits about the science of lighthouses and what life was like for the people who lived there.

  The lighthouse tower itself is currently closed.

SS Minneapolis Revolver

On April 4, 1894, the bulk steam freighter Minneapolis sank in the Straits of Mackinac after taking on water due to ice damage. On board the ship was a Smith and Wesson Model No. 1, Second Issue revolver manufactured in 1864. It is a bottom-break revolver that holds seven brass .22 caliber short rimfire cartridges. It was one of the first handguns produced by Smith and Wesson and one of the first to use self-contained brass cartridges. The revolver belonged to one of the 14 crewmembers aboard the ship who may have carried it for numerous reasons.

Firearms were not uncommon amongst Great Lakes sailors. Revolvers provided a form of protection against unwelcome guests aboard a ship and assisted in protection of valuable cargo. Pursers aboard passenger ships were known to carry weapons to protect items entrusted to them by their guests. Officers carried them to protect monies carried on board for payroll and other business. In an emergency, firearms could be used to keep order and act as a signaling device to attract the attention of other vessels and searchers.

The crew of the Minneapolis survived the wreck, being picked up by the San Diego, a consort barge the ship was towing along with the Red Wing. The wreck was located in 1963 and today is approximately 500 feet from the South Tower of the Mackinac Bridge. The revolver was recovered from the shipwreck prior to the 1983 creation of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve, which makes it illegal to remove items from shipwrecks today. Along with several other objects, the revolver was donated to the Mackinac Island State Park Commission in 2013.

Conservation work was done in the winter of 2014 by Inland Seas Institute (ISI) for inclusion of the revolver in the new Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum. The revolver was placed into electrolysis, which is the process of using electricity, an electrolyte, and anodes to remove corrosion from metal objects. After just a few hours of treatment, it was noticed that the gun still contained cartridges. Treatment of the revolver continued with the awareness that the gun could still contain black powder and lead bullets.

The revolver is composed of a silver-plated brass frame with a steel barrel, cylinder, cylinder rotating mechanisms, screws, springs and pins and brass cartridges with lead bullets which over time interact with one another causing deterioration via bi-metallic corrosion. Even though the revolver was treated, contact between these metals would continue to cause corrosion over time especially during environmental changes. During a cleaning of the exhibits in 2020, recent corrosion was noticed on the revolver. It was removed from display, examined, and photographed. ISI was contacted and a new proposal was developed to treat the corrosion and attempt to disarm the revolver by removing the cartridges and their bullets.

Electrolysis was performed again to halt the corrosion and once stabilized, the revolver was taken to a gunsmith. The cylinder was removed revealing that the gun had 6 loaded cartridges and an empty cartridge under the hammer possibly to act as a safety. Corrosion in the cylinder prevented the gun from being unloaded once the cylinder was removed, so a plan was developed to melt out the lead bullets, remove the powder, and have safe access to the cartridges for their removal. The cylinder was positioned in a way to safely do this in case the powder was still active after 60+ years underwater.

The lead bullets were melted using a propane torch, which upon contact caused three of the cartridges to go off in a controlled manner for safety. The cartridges were then removed using a specially made brass punch. The screws and pins holding the revolver together were removed so complete treatment of each piece could be performed. Upon completion of conservation the revolver parts will be coated with microcrystalline wax prior to reassembly to prevent future corrosion of the barrel, cylinder and cylinder works. The revolver will be reassembled using carbon fiber screws and Delrin (polymer) pins to minimize future bi-metallic corrosion. The cartridges, screws, and pins will be returned and the revolver will be placed back on display inside the shipwreck museum. We hope you’ll join us at Old Mackinac Point in the near future to see the Minneapolis revolver on display once again.

Gardens and Good Things to Eat

Everyone loves a good meal, including the historic residents of Michilimackinac! Join historic interpreters to tour and help maintain the fort’s gardens, assist with running the outdoor bread oven (and taste the results!), watch meals cooked over an open fire, and learn more about the unique food cultures of Michilimackinac’s French, British, and Native American residents. All special programs included with regular admission to Colonial Michilimackinac. #thisismackinac

Schedule of Events:

9:00 a.m. – Colonial Michilimackinac Open for the Day
9:30 a.m. – Musket Firing Demonstration followed by Military Food Program
10:00 a.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
11:00 a.m. – Breadmaking and Oven Demonstration
12:00 p.m. – Indigenous Food and the Fur Trade Program
12:30 p.m. – Artillery Demonstration
1:0o p.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
2:00 p.m. – Artillery Demonstration
3:00 p.m. – 18th Century Botany and Art
4:00 p.m. – Breadmaking and Oven Demonstration
5:00 p.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
6:00 p.m. – Musket Firing Demonstration followed by Military Food Program
7:00 p.m. – Colonial Michilimackinac Closed for the Day

Gardens and Good Things to Eat

Everyone loves a good meal, including the historic residents of Michilimackinac! Join historic interpreters to tour and help maintain the fort’s gardens, assist with running the outdoor bread oven (and taste the results!), watch meals cooked over an open fire, and learn more about the unique food cultures of Michilimackinac’s French, British, and Native American residents. All special programs included with regular admission to Colonial Michilimackinac. #thisismackinac

Schedule of Events:

9:00 a.m. – Colonial Michilimackinac Open for the Day
9:30 a.m. – Musket Firing Demonstration followed by Military Food Program
10:00 a.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
11:00 a.m. – Breadmaking and Oven Demonstration
12:00 p.m. – Indigenous Food and the Fur Trade Program
12:30 p.m. – Artillery Demonstration
1:0o p.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
2:00 p.m. – Artillery Demonstration
3:00 p.m. – 18th Century Botany and Art
4:00 p.m. – Breadmaking and Oven Demonstration
5:00 p.m. – Gardens of Michilimackinac Tour
6:00 p.m. – Musket Firing Demonstration followed by Military Food Program
7:00 p.m. – Colonial Michilimackinac Closed for the Day

The King’s Birth-day Celebration

An annual highlight for the British soldiers and civilians at Michilimackinac, King George III’s official birthday on June 4 was marked by toasts, dinners and salutes. Join the interpretive staff at Michilimackinac as they celebrate this most British of holidays with artillery fire, drinks and treats, and other special programs. Included with regular Colonial Michilimackinac admission. #thisismackinac

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

9:00 a.m. – Colonial Michilimackinac Open for the Day
10:00 a.m. – Musket Firing
10:30 a.m. – Artillery Demonstration
11:00 a.m. – Michilimackinac: 1778 Program
12:00 p.m. – Artillery Salute
1:00 p.m. – Musket Firing and Michilimackinac: 1778 Program
2:00 p.m. – Patriotic Songs and Toasts at the Commanding Officer’s House
3:00 p.m. – Michilimackinac: 1778 Program
4:00 p.m. – Musket Firing
4:30 p.m. – Artillery Firing

Michilimackinac Archaeology 2021 Has Begun

The archaeology crew at work on opening day.

  The 63rd archaeological field season at Michilimackinac got underway on June 1. This will be our 14th season on our current project, the excavation of House E of the Southeast Rowhouse. The rowhouse was built in the 1730s, rebuilt in the 1760s, and demolished in 1781 when the community moved to Mackinac Island. The house was always occupied by fur trading households, first the household of French Canadian trader Charles Gonneville, and later the household of an as-yet-unknown English trader.

  Despite not knowing his name, we have learned quite a bit about the English trader through the artifacts we have recovered. He supplemented the fish diet everyone ate with pigs and other domestic animals. He owned up-to-date ceramics, including styles developed in the 1770s. He was a snazzy dresser, with ornate buttons, buckles, and linked button fasteners. His trade goods likely included hawk bells and fishhooks.

  Although only half of the houses at Michilimackinac had a cellar, this house had two. We will excavate both of them this summer. At the very end of last season, we got a glimpse of the north wall trench of the house, and we hope to expose more of it this season.

  This house has had many surprises and we are excited to see what this season has in store. Interesting discoveries will be posted on MSHP’s social channels and this blog. Better yet, come visit us in person. We will be excavating every day through August 21 (weather permitting). This year the archaeological field season is sponsored by Mackinac Associates and we are grateful for their support.

Mackinac’s Wildflowers

May is the month for wildflowers in forests of northern Michigan. At Mackinac State Historic Parks, both Mackinac Island State Park and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park are perfect places to wander miles of trails and find yourself amidst blankets of colorful blossoms. Spring woodland wildflowers are ephemeral, or short-lived, with their plants working hard to use energy from the sun before leaves of the tree canopy, high above, cast deep shadows across the forest floor.

  The photos that follow are just a few examples of many wildflower species you can discover each May at Mackinac. Although disagreement occurs about which flowering plants should officially be considered “wildflowers” the MSHP checklist includes 270 species. Scientists have identified, cataloged, and studied Mackinac Island’s plant life for more than 200 years, starting with English botanist Thomas Nuttall in 1810. Our current checklist is based on a 1995 study by Mackinac Island resident and botanist Patricia Martin. For trail maps and information, visit www.mackinacparks.com.

  Whether you dig deep into taxonomy or simply enjoy their subtle shapes and colors, the blossoms of Mackinac’s forests put on a show to be cherished during this special season. Miles of footpaths invite you to slow your pace, pay attention, and let nature’s beauty refresh your mind and spirit.

  Welcome to the North Woods. This is Mackinac.

Yellow trout lily

  A flower named after a fish? Thankfully, the trout lily was named after the speckled pattern of its leaves rather than a fishy smell. Small, yellow and rust-orange blossoms nod downward before maturing. When open, they feature backward-curving petals which reveal six reddish brown anthers, containing pollen. Growing in large colonies, many plants are sterile, consisting of leaves without a blossom.

Large-flowered trillium

  Named for their sets of three leaves and three petals, blankets of trillium are hard to miss in Mackinac’s forests. This slow-growing plant has large white blossoms which bloom before leaves of nearby maple and beech trees emerge. As they take two years to fully germinate, trillium populations can be endangered by illegal wildflower collecting. All species of trillium are protected by law in Michigan.

Marsh Marigold

  Growing in colonies along the shore of Mill Creek, marsh marigold has shiny and smooth heart-shaped leaves, nearly as large as a person’s hand. Stout, hollow stems support bright yellow blossoms. What look like petals are actually yellow “sepals” a part of flowering plants that often support delicate petals.

Forget-me-not

  Native to Europe, several species of forget-me-not have been common additions to gardens for centuries. These tiny sky-blue blossoms can be found blooming with early native wildlflowers of Mackinac Island. The hardy plants readily self-seed, often spreading far from their original plantings. Look for them along trails adjacent to Mackinac Island cemeteries.

Spring Beauty

  One of the earliest flowers to bloom in the North Woods, spring beauty deserve the reputation their name implies. Light pink or white flowers are veined with darker pink, inviting insects to stop and pollinate. With narrow, grass-like leaves these small plants seemingly disappear after their short-lived blossoms fall to the forest floor.

Trousers, Overalls or Gaitered Trousers? A new Look at Michilimackinac

  In the 1770s, the common uniform of the British soldiers stationed at Michilimackinac and elsewhere around the world included a shirt, a waistcoat, a pair of breeches, a regimental coat, and a hat, along with accoutrements and accessories including stockings, shoes, and gaiters. The waistcoat, breeches, and regimental coat were all made of wool cloth, while shirts were linen. This uniform, broadly governed by regulations introduced in 1768, was comfortable and functional for the soldiers to wear while they performed guard duty, fatigue work, drill, and any other tasks that may have been assigned. In theory, it also served as the combat and campaign uniform.

  As the American Revolution intensified in the mid- to late 1770s, and increasing numbers of British soldiers deployed to North America to fight the rebels, soldiers began receiving a new type of uniform legwear. Alternately called trousers, gaitered trousers, or overalls, these garments were constructed like breeches at the top but extended all the way down the leg, ending in a fitted ankle that covered the top of a soldier’s shoes. Trousers were usually constructed of linen, but also occasionally of cloth- one 1779 letter to an artillery soldier based at Detroit noted that blue cloth was being used for trousers, while brown was issued in other theaters. Button on the lower seams allowed the trousers to be well-fitted, especially through the calves, creating a look not unlike a modern pair of skinny jeans. Trousers such as these were not unique to the military in the 1770s, but they were a newer type of garment in British fashion. As a single piece of clothing, they eliminated the need for separate breeches, gaiters and stockings to cover the leg and consolidated the soldier’s legwear into one garment.

  Due to the complexities of how the British army supplied and dressed soldiers in the 18th century, trousers were never truly uniform in the sense that they were issued to every soldier on a regular basis. However, records from individual regiments show that they were part of the uniform for most soldiers fighting in North America. Already a practical garment, in some instances trousers were an expedient when normal sources of uniform clothing became unavailable. In early 1777, for example, a Royal Artillery officer in Montreal ordered “all the old tents” to be “cut up into Trowsers for the Men.” The tents, made of sturdy linen, provided the raw materials for soldier-tailors to transform into trousers at a time when American naval activity had disrupted the normal flow of supplies to the British army in Canada.

  From about 1777 onward, trousers were an increasingly common part of the uniform worn by British soldiers in North America. Although breeches also remained in use (several regimental orderly books note tailors sewing both trousers and breeches for the men), trousers were regularly worn on campaign, in warm climates, or simply as part of the everyday uniform. This year at Colonial Michilimackinac, we continue our extended look at the Revolutionary era at Mackinac by focusing specifically on 1778. To help convey the passage of time, our military interpreters will be donning trousers this summer. We hope you can visit us at Michilimackinac this season to see these new uniform parts in action and learn more about 1778 at the Straits of Mackinac. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

Editors note: Thanks to Mark Canady for providing some of the historic resources used for this post.