My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Loda Lake, one of a kind

With three days off from work for the 4th of July holiday, and a good weather forecast, I decided to spend my first day off, July 4th, at Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary.

I’ll start with a few nuts and bolts, a link to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service web site which has some information, including good directions, on the sanctuary. Michigan Garden Clubs, Inc. is a management partner for Loda Lake, and here’s more about the sanctuary from their website.

Loda Lake is an area that includes a small spring-fed lake, a bog-like wetland area, a creek and riparian marshy areas, oak forest, pine plantations, and an early successional old farm site. Botanist Clayton Bazuin noted, “Loda Lake is ideally suited as a wildflower sanctuary and although near one of Michigan’s busy highways, can still be a natural reservoir of wild plants. This is due to the large number of ecological associations it affords in which they may survive”. Loda Lake is the only Wildflower sanctuary in the National Forest System, a project supported both financially and botanically by the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan for over seventy years. Informational signs are located at several locations throughout the area, including several around the remains of the structures. A resurgence in restoring the area has led to several new native plant restoration efforts, along with the development of educational and information tools, including trail guides, maps and a teacher’s guide. With the assistance of the Garden Clubs, the Forest Service has been able to identify over 500 plant species within the Wildflower Sanctuary, as well as identifying several cultural sites and historic trails.”

And, here’s how the sanctuary came into being.

Loda Lake was once a virgin pine forest. In the late 1890’s the Pere Marquette Railroad harvested the timber before selling the land to the Hansons, railroad stockholders. Full of stumps and
logging debris, Mr. Hanson felt the land was worthless. Thomas Hunt, a family friend, convinced him that it could be successfully farmed using scientific methods.

The Hunt family farmed the area for several years. Mr. Hanson later built a substantial summer home with several outbuildings on the other side of the lake. The remains of the farm buildings and the Hanson dwellings are highlighted on the Cultural trail.

The land was declared “sub-marginal” in 1937 and sold to the U.S. Forest Service. At that time, the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan, now Michigan Garden Clubs, were looking to establish a wildflower sanctuary in the state. A cooperative agreement was signed in 1949, a partnership that continues to this day.”

Before I get to my day there, and the photos, I have a few other things to touch on, the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary is the perfect tie in for this.

The State of Michigan has more public land than any other state east of the Mississippi River, and in a way, Loda Lake is a great example of why that is.

When the first Europeans got to what is now Michigan, they found it covered in great forests, but considered the land too marshy or poor for farming. However, the population of the United States was growing at a rapid rate, and that required housing for the people coming here from Europe. The forests of Michigan supplied much of the timber for the new houses. Michigan led the nation in lumber production from the 1850s to the 1880s. Since Michigan is rather flat, it was relatively easy to cut down the trees, and float them down the nearest river to sawmills that lined the shores of the Great Lakes. The lumber from the sawmills could be loaded onto ships and transported to booming cities that ringed the Great Lakes, such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, to name a few.

In less than half a century, most of Michigan’s great forests had been cut, and most of what trees that were left burned in a series of massive wildfires fueled by the debris left from the logging. Some of the fires were so hot and intense that the soil was destroyed, and to this day, very little will grow in these places. The rivers had been all but destroyed by floating millions of logs down them. Michigan was left an environmental disaster.

After the logging and fires, most of Michigan became farmland, but the majority of the farms failed, due to the poor soil here, and that’s not just because of the fires. Michigan is a product of the glaciers during the last ice age, at least the Lower Peninsula is. For the most part, Lower Michigan is a pile of sand and gravel left here as the glaciers melted, so the soil isn’t suitable for growing farm crops. There isn’t much topsoil here.

So in many respects, the history of the Loda Lake Wildflower Sanctuary represents the history of lower Michigan. The land was logged, some one attempted to farm it, the farming failed, so the land was sold in this case, but simply abandoned in other cases, and became the property of the United States Government. Again, in other cases, the land became the property of the State of Michigan.

That’s part of the legacy of Michigan’s history, another part is this. So many people witnessed the destruction of an entire state’s environment as quickly as it happened here, that conservation efforts took hold here as they have in few other places. Many groups sprang up to preserve what little was left of nature here in Michigan, and/or to rehabilitate what had been destroyed. You know the old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, comes to mind. Most of what had been here had been destroyed in less than a person’s lifetime. That’s one of the many reasons that Michigan has the largest system of State Parks, Recreation Areas, and State Forests of any state in the US, and more land open to the public than any state east of the Mississippi River.

So, with that part done, it’s time for me to get going on my day there at Loda Lake. I’ve seen it featured in many blogs, and in articles in the newspapers, but had never been there until this day. Unfortunately, my timing was off, and there weren’t many of the flowers that it’s known for in bloom at the time. That’s okay, for it’s a popular place in the early spring, and I’d rather scope out a place when there are fewer people around. That gives me the chance to get a true feel of a place, and the feeling that I got at Loda Lake is that it is truly a magical place. I could understand why so many people worked to preserve it for future generations. What makes it so special is that there are a number of different types of habitat coming together in one extended area. Or as the botanist said in the quote from earlier in this post, “This is due to the large number of ecological associations it affords in which they may survive”.

Well, guess what besides flowers love that type of area? Birds, and I saw a good number of both species and overall number of birds there. In fact, I think that I’ll have to make this one of my regular birding stops since it isn’t much farther from home than Muskegon is. I even got another lifer there, with the possibility of several more.

But, since this is about a wildflower sanctuary, I should begin the photos with a few of the flowers that I found, even though I shot most of these during my second walk through. I had arrived at sunrise, and many of the flowers hadn’t opened for the day during my first lap, I shot mostly birds then. Since the trail is only 1 and 1/2 miles long, it was easy enough to do two full laps, with lunch in between. So, here are the flowers, in no particular order.

Beard's tongue

Beard’s tongue

Unidentified small white flowers

Enchanter’s Nightshade

Phlox

Phlox

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Woodland sunflower

Horsemint?

Horsemint?

Horsemint?

Horsemint?

Partridge berry

Partridge berry

Swamp rose

Swamp rose

Heal-all

Heal-all

Heal-all

Heal-all

Another unidentified small white flower

Another unidentified small white flower

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Seeing the bee on the indian pipes surprised me, I didn’t think that they were true flowers since the plants lack chlorophyll. The bee didn’t hang around long, so here’s a better shot of the indian pipes.

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Later, I found one of the indian pipes pointed up, and saw that they are indeed true flowers.

Indian pipe flower

Indian pipe flower

While my timing as far as time of the year for the most flowers was off, my timing for the weather couldn’t have been better! Good light and almost no wind made it easy to get the photos that I did, and it was a great way to test out the new Canon 100 mm L series macro lens.

In addition to the flowers there were plenty of fungi and a few lichens to be seen there.

Assorted lichens and mosses

Assorted lichens and mosses

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

Unidentified fungal object

I’m not sure if this next one was a fern or a sensitive fern, which isn’t a true fern. I was a bit busy shooting birds at the time, which you’ll see shortly.

Fern "flowers"?

Fern “flowers”?

I think that this next photo will get Allen’s interest, I believe that it’s a slime mold, but I have no idea which species.

Slime mold?

Slime mold?

To give you an idea of the size, the two horizontal lines of the stuff in the center and rear of the frame are on pine needles, and the wet bit of plant towards the foreground is a blade of dead grass, with another pine needle cutting the lower left of the frame.

Okay then, now for the birds, and these are only the ones that I tracked down for good photos, except for this first one. It’s a female least flycatcher running across the forest floor collecting feathers to line her nest.

Female least flycatcher

Female least flycatcher

How she could see where she was going as fast as she was moving, I have no idea, but she sure was in a hurry and never stopped moving.

These are much better, and I’ll start with the lifer, a veery.

Male veery singing

Male veery singing

Male veery singing

Male veery singing

It was mighty nice of him to perch out in the open like that to sing, as usually they stay well hidden in the leaves, like this one tried to do.

Veery

Veery

In fact, most of the birds that I did get photos of typically stay hidden in the leaves, but getting there early had its advantages.

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

Male American redstart

Female American redstart

Female American redstart

Female American redstart

Female American redstart

Female common yellowthroat

Female common yellowthroat

JVIS8223

Great crested flycatcher

These are the ones that make me smile the most though, as I walked out onto the boardwalk over the bog, I found a family of blue-grey gnatcatchers looking for breakfast.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Any one who has tried to photograph small birds can relate to this next series. The smaller birds never really stop moving, these are from a series shot in slow burst mode with the 7D and took less than three seconds to shoot, and I deleted the blurry ones in the series.

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

It took you longer to scroll through those than it did for me to shoot them, and you can see that this was a hungry little thing, very intent on finding insects hidden in the leaves.

Anyway, I have a few more photos to share, a mother mallard and her brood crossing the lake, as it reminds me of the serenity of the place.

Mother mallard and brood

Mother mallard and brood

Mother mallard and brood

Mother mallard and brood

The one “landscape” type photo that I shot there. There’s really nothing special about it, but I like it, it shows the way that the forests in northern Michigan look in most places.

The woods at Loda Lake

The woods at Loda Lake

And finally, one that I forgot to insert earlier in this post, a prickly pear cactus.

Prickly pear cactus

Prickly pear cactus

So, that’s all the photos, and all that I’m going to ramble on about this trip to Loda Lake, as I’m certain that I’ll being going back many times in the future. It really is a one of a kind place.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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25 responses

  1. What a very interesting post, I loved all the history of what happened to the landscape. Your photographs really did the place justice and I particularly enjoyed the three landscapes you finished up with.

    July 13, 2015 at 10:23 am

    • Thank you very much Susan! I was afraid that I’d bore every one with my history lecture.

      July 13, 2015 at 3:52 pm

  2. It occurred to me this morning that one of the more amazing things about your ability to capture this wide range of birds is that they are *not* feeder birds. That is to say, you are not getting them when they come to a feeder but they are out doing their thing in some pretty tough circumstances for shooting– light/trees/shrubs/weather, etc. You don’t have to share your secret but I’m guessing some of it comes down to knowing the characteristics of the bird–what they do, where they live, etc. Sort of like a good sports photographer needs to know how the game is played so they can anticipate the movements. Am I close at all? 🙂

    July 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

    • Thank you very, very much Lori! You’re very close, those things are required. I think that the biggest keys are my great eyesight that allow me to see the birds at a distance. Then, patience, finding a place to stand so that the birds will come to me, and waiting where I think that I have the best chance of a good photo. Then, it’s persistence, trying time after time when in most cases I don’t even get the camera to my eye before the bird is gone.

      July 13, 2015 at 3:57 pm

  3. Lovely flower shots and very nice shot of the male redstart!

    July 13, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      July 13, 2015 at 3:52 pm

  4. Been on that Trail a couple of times, but have never seen the variety of flowers that you captured. Your first shot of the Woodland Sunflower is a stunner. If you have a few days, and are thinking of camping, the Diamond Lake Campground (Newaygo County Park) is interesting, and within walking distance down the North Country Trail to the Sanctuary.

    Also loved thr rearview shot of the gnatcatcher. That’s not a view that you’ve shown in many if your photos. The spindly legs and narrow profile were interesting.

    Hope you go back to Loda Lake soon. Can’t wait to see what you’ll find.

    PS. I thought your slime mold was actually next year’s hatch of some crawly thing.

    July 13, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    • Thank you very much Judy! I’ll be going back to Loda Lake many times, but I think that I have a different definition of walking distance than you do while I’m carrying all my camera gear. The more gear that I carry, the better my photos become, but the distance I travel goes down. 😉 But, thanks for the suggested campground, it would be a good idea to camp close to there and spend more time at Loda Lake.

      As my photos of birds have gotten better, I usually go for a portrait of them, but the series shot in burst mode was too good not to include, even the gnatcatcher’s butt. 😉

      I would have thought the same thing that you did about the slime mold, but I’m finding that as I learn more about nature, it is even more astonishing than we can imagine at times.

      July 13, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      • Guess I did kinda forget about you carrying gear. BUT, the campground is pretty close. 😉

        July 14, 2015 at 7:53 am

      • I’ll have to check out the campground the next time I’m up there. There are no state forest campgrounds close by, and one or two national forest campgrounds, but the national ones are way overpriced for a single person like me. Maybe in two years when I qualify for the geezer pass. 😉

        July 14, 2015 at 3:39 pm

  5. That’s a sad story of how your state was almost destroyed by greed, but it seems to have paid off in the end. From what I’ve seen it is certainly a beautiful place now. You’re lucky to have so much public space.
    Your first shot of the small white flowers are enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana.) It’s an import from Europe and Asia.
    The second unidentified white flower I’m not sure of but it looks to be in the pea / clover family.
    The yellow, red and white bracket fungus is a young hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae.) As it ages it will turn brick red.
    That’s a great shot of the slime mold. You can tell that it’s been raining there!
    This is a place I’d go back to again and again!

    July 13, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Allen! I was thinking about you and how much you’d love this place the entire time that I was there. There are sedges and grasses there that I’ve never seen before, but I was too busy with the birds and flowers to spend any time photographing them. It really is one of those special places, I fell in love with it before it was light enough to see most of it. 😉

      Yes, it’s been raining here, it rained overnight before I got there in the morning. So, I was keeping one eye peeled for fungi and slime molds and it paid off. I’m surprised that I didn’t see more lichens, but I think that here in Michigan, they are more noticeable in early spring and late fall. Maybe that’s because I’m not distracted by other things. 😉

      July 13, 2015 at 11:45 pm

  6. You are certainly getting good value out of your equipment and we are lucky to be able to see the results of your hard work. The beard’s tongue shot at the head of the post was a treat. As always I am impressed by your patience but it certainly pays off.

    July 13, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I’m lucky, good eyesight and patience I have in spades.

      July 13, 2015 at 11:38 pm

      • I have neither.

        July 14, 2015 at 4:20 pm

  7. I photographed Enchanter’s Nightshade yesterday so recognised it straight-away. I enjoyed reading about the history of land-use (and mis-use) in Michigan and the shots are top-rate as always.

    July 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I lost my guide to the plants before the third “stop” on the trail, so I was on my own identifying most of the flowers, which I’m not good at.

      July 13, 2015 at 11:37 pm

  8. Wow, this looks like a really awesome place to visit! We really are blessed here in Michigan with the large number of parks and outdoor areas in our state. I’m glad some of our forebears learned a lesson from the logging era. The local paper in Atlanta posts a photo every week from back then and I have also bought a book they put together, of old photos from that era, and you can’t even recognize the area, the way it looked after they destroyed all the forests.

    I was really surprised to see the bee on the Indian pipes, that was pretty cool! And congrats on the photos of the veery. We saw one at our place this spring but I wasn’t able to get photos. I do love the photo of the mallard and her brood. You are right, it is a perfect depiction of peace and tranquility!

    July 14, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    • Thank you very much Amy! I’ve seen a few photos of northern Michigan after the logging and fires, I’d love to see more of them though.

      I’m sure that the 4th of July isn’t the most popular day for people to go to Loda Lake, I saw two or three couples, and one lone woman in the little over half a day I spent there. Peace and tranquility were there in abundance!

      July 14, 2015 at 3:43 pm

  9. I’ve been away from Internet for a few days and have only just had time to start catching up so sorry this comment is late. Thank you for telling us about the history of the Michigan area’s environmental changes. I found it very interesting as in many parts of Australia the destruction of an environment has come about within one lifetime. Many of the extremely old stands of rainforest trees – cedars, hoop pine etc were felled within a few short years for timber. In other areas, trees were poisoned and removed to make way for grazing and farming. Whenever I visit national parks I am amazed to think that the surrounding areas could have ever looked like that. Just yesterday I took a photo of a and old large stump from a >1000 year old tree that was felled as it was a danger to small building next to it. Thankfully, like in Michigan we also have environmental groups working hard to protect areas now. It is so sad to think of how much damage can be done in such a short time. The soil is irreparably damaged from intense fires. That is amazing. What does the country look like there?
    Loda Lake is indeed a magical place if your pictures are anything to go by. Beautiful flowers, fungi and birds shots, Jerry. I’m very happy for you that you found another lifer too. What a great shot of the slime mould thingy! It must be tiny if on a pine needle. Thank you for another wonderful tour from Michigan. 🙂

    July 16, 2015 at 4:36 am

    • Thank you very much Jane! It’s sad to hear that people continue to do the same environmental damage that occurred here in other parts of the world, you’d think that they’d learn from our mistakes.

      The areas where the soil was left unable to support plant life is just now improving some. There were areas in northern Michigan that looked like sand dunes, but the dirt was very dark from all the charcoal in it from the burned wood. Eventually, dune grasses and other very hardy plants became established, and over the last century, they have improved the soil enough for a few other plants to begin growing in those areas also. But, I can still remember as a kid seeing hillsides of sand and sparse grasses along with the burned out stumps of the trees that had been there before the fires. A few of those burned out stumps still remain to remind us of what happened.

      July 16, 2015 at 11:45 pm

  10. I can’t believe that this is the first time I’ve heard of this place. I grew up in Michigan, not so far from this area, and I really spent a lot of time exploring on my time off. Anyway, the photos are great. Love the Indian Pipes.

    July 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

  11. ‘Unidentified fungal objects’ along with all the pics look very beautiful 😀

    July 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

    • Thank you very much, glad that you enjoyed them!

      July 21, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      • You are welcome!

        July 21, 2015 at 3:00 pm