The wild wonders of the U.P. night

Karen Wils photo A very primitive flashlight photo of a flying squirrel.

ESCANABA — The black velvet beauty of Upper Michigan’s night time skies is breathtaking!

Sprinkled with sapphire bits of starlight, nothing is like the night time in the north woods.

Wildlife knows this too. So many of our animals, birds and insects come out only at dark.

When I was in my teens, my parents used to think I was a bit odd for wanting to stay at camp alone so that I could watch the nocturnal creatures come out.

Bow hunters and deer hunters know the excitement of watching the sunlight turn to dusk and hearing the swamp owl and coyotes call as the day draws to an end.

Bear hunters and raccoon hunters can tell you that the woods are a real hoot with wild critters in the autumn. For many years, most of us would see if wildlife in the evening hours was the deer in the headlights or the skunk by the road.

One of the little nocturnal creatures that fascinated me for so many years was the northern flying squirrel. For many years, I did not even believe that the animal existed in our neck of the woods, because, well, it was tucked away in a tree cavity all day long.

The guys at deer camp were the first to clue me in to their visits to our bird feeder. The saucer-eyed little cuties would glide on down from the tall maple trees to feast on sunflower seeds at the feeder.

Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I stayed overnight at camp with a lantern and a flashlight aimed at the feeder trying to get a good picture of my night visitor.

It is truly amazing how outdoor photography has improved over the last few decades. Now almost every camp and deer hunting blind has a trail camera or two clicking away nice pictures of anything that moves by.

A whole new level of knowledge is gleaned with the use of trail cameras: what time are the deer moving, when the big one comes around and what other animals are moving around out there in the darkness.

At this time of the year, everyone is sharing trail cam pictures on the computer.

It is interesting to note that the father of nighttime photography and one of the world’s most famous wildlife photographers lived and worked right here in Upper Michigan.

In 1891, a man named George Shiras invented the first camera trap where a wild animal walks by and sets off its own photograph. Shiras worked in the remote wilderness in the Whitefish Lake area trying to prefect flash photography.

Some of his wide-eyed deer by the water’s edge pictures are the first ever seen of wild animals at night. George Shiras would become famous not only for his photography but his bill to protect migratory birds, his views on conservation and his pictures in “National Geographic Magazine.”

If you love seeing what is on your trial camera and you love the beauty of Upper Michigan nights, take note: On Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m., James McCommons will be at the Escanaba Public Library talking about his book “Camera Hunter: George Shiras and the Birth of Wildlife Photography.”

It should be a fun time for all of us night owls.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.