We departed Chippewa Harbor with Dogger. He headed north to catch his boat from Rock Harbor, and we headed south and west out of the mouth of the harbor to our destination at Attwood Beach. We wanted to cross the open water at Siskiwit Bay if the water was calm. Had there been a challenge, we planned a stop at Hay Bay, but the weather was great for the crossing, so we we deferred the stop for another year. The companion video is here: https://youtu.be/J_7xCs6wdZA.
About three miles out of Chippewa Harbor, we entered a group of small islands along the shore, sheltered from the brunt of any waves from the big lake, to the entry of Malone Bay. The shore at the Malone Bay campground is not friendly, though. It is a mix of rocks and gravel, and the water near shore is littered with underwater boulders.
Once we came into Malone Bay, took time to visit the campground. We met a single kayaker at the campground, his sit-on-top fishing kayak pulled up onto shore. He and his two brothers and a sister were on a sibling excursion. This guy was making thimbleberry jam while other three had paddled to Siskiwit Bay in hopes of catching dinner. Graciously, he asked us to join them for dinner, but we needed to get along if we planned to make Attwood Beach before nightfall. I can’t say how tempting the offer of pancakes with thimbleberry jam was!
From the shore, Duane used his telephoto lens to capture the image of the Menagerie Island lighthouse standing on the barrier island. This light is operational and mechanized to mark the chain of barrier islands spanning the opening to Malone bay.
Still, we took a quick walk through the campground with a stop off to eat raspberries and thimbleberries ripe from the bushes. The Voyageur II stops at Malone Bay dock for reserved passengers and scheduled deliveries..
We left Malone Bay headed toward Siskiwit Bay to make our way across to Houghton Point. We found calm paddling, so we cut across from Spruce Point. It took less than an hour to cross the open water to round Houghton Point and make our way into Fisherman’s Cove for another break to stand up and check out the shore. We hiked along the shore for a few minutes, just to move our legs, remarking on our good fortune to have had such a lovely afternoon. After a half hour, we pushed off to continue toward our destination.
Attwood Beach was perfect, just as we had heard. Not only was it lovely, we also experienced surprise guests. Once we landed, we took some time to have dinner, of course, a dehydrated meal and water. I marvel at how good water is when coupled with a warm meal on a cool evening. I thought I would want some flavor, but I soon found the flavor crystals cloying with their sweetness and drank my water straight.
After dinner, we spent quite awhile searching for a level camping spot away from the shore. The landscape is not very friendly for tents, for the first time making us wish we had hammocks. The trees just over the bank from the beach are designed perfectly for them, especially with the ruggedness of the ground. Eventually, we trudged partially up a hill to find a flattish area sheltered from the wind by the landscape and set up our tent.
After the day of paddling, we turned in early, watching the sun disappear and the sky darken. The quiet away from a campground was surprising pleasant, and it lulled me to sleep quickly. Around 4:00 AM, though, Duane touched my shoulder, waking me and alerting me, his finger sharing his silent shush. In the dim light I could see he gestured to his ear, indicating I should listen for what was in the night.
Straining, I heard a light swoosh against the tent followed by sniffing. Big-eyed, I stared outward into the dark, but of course one cannot see through the walls of a tent. Still, we lay silent for an hour, straining to hear more or anything, but after the initial brush and sniff, we heard nothing, eventually drifting off to sleep once again.
In the morning, we repacked our tent and came back to the shore where our kayaks were tied to make some coffee. At first, we did not notice the tracks. As I was restowing my gear, I noticed markings on the sand, and the swoosh and sniff was explained clearly. From what we could see of the markings, we were visited by several wolves in the night; we saw at least more than one set of adult wolf prints and, delightfully, smaller prints from a younger wolf.
The wolf visit reminded me of our stop off at the Peterson’s across from Daisy Farm and next to the Edison Fishery and our prior chats about the wolf-moose relationship on the island. The balance of wolves and moose is complex, but it is an important one to understand.
A variety of factors impacted the decline in the wolf population on the island, reducing it from 50 to 12 in two years, according to Isle Royale National Park (IRNP) (2022a). Factors included food shortages and canine parvovirus, among others (para. 13). By 2018, there were only two wolves on the island, according to IRNP (2022b). The imbalance of predator to prey resulted in predictable impacts on the moose an beaver population grew because of declined predation, on vegetation.
“Wolves have been the single island apex predator of moose and beaver” since the mid-1900s (IRNP, 2022a). Wolves are the only large predators on the island. In 2018, there was a decision to relocate additional wolves to the island, and within the next year the efforts were started with several from Minnesota, Michigan, and Ontario. The relocation protects the predator-prey balance, keeping in check extremes, such as over-grazing or starvation (IRNP, 2022b).
“The success of the reintroduction of wolves to the island rests on the reestablishment of family groups. IRNP (2022, Jan. 5) phrases it this way: “Tracking the wolf population and reproduction efforts helps evaluate the long-term success of the wolf introduction and the impact wolves have on Isle Royale’s ecosystem” (para. 17).
Apparently, a female wolf relocated from Michipicoten Island gave birth to two pups in 2019, but it seems that she was pregnant prior to coming to Isle Royale (IRNP, 2022, Jan. 5). Data from 2020 also suggests a potential denning up of another pair, but the results of the denning remain unknown. GPS collar failures have limited the verification of the development of family groups (para. 17).
When I snapped the photos of the small wolf tracks on Attwood Beach, I didn’t know they would be very important. Once we returned to Windigo, we shared our experience with the ranger on duty, and they were very excited to see the images of the small wolf tracks amidst our photos. They requested that I email the photos to them, which I did.
Given the limited data, the images were welcome evidence that perhaps a denning had been successful. In fact, only a few months after I shared my images, another hiker posted a video of a pup coming onto the beach at Rainbow Cove, drinking at the shore, and running back into the forest.
Each small piece of evidence sheds light on the restoration of the delicate and complex predator-prey relationship on Isle Royale. I imagine we will be seeing more data in summer 2022 as this is the third winter since the reintroduction began.
Isle Royale National Park. (2022, January 5). Isle Royale wolf relocation. https://www.nps.gov/isro/learn/nature/isle-royale-wolf-relocation.htm
Isle Royale National Park. (2022, January 6a). Predator-prey relationships on Isle Royale. https://www.nps.gov/isro/learn/predator-prey-relationships-on-isle-royale.htm?utm_source=article&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=experience_more&utm_content=large
Isle Royale National Park. (2022, January 6b). Why relocate wolves to Isle Royale? https://www.nps.gov/isro/learn/why-relocate-wolves-to-isle-royale.htm?utm_source=article&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=experience_more&utm_content=small