Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eagle Island

Since I had only seen Eagle Island from 3 or 4 miles away, or farther in the case of seeing it on the horizon while crossing from Little Sand Bay to Sand Island, I didn't think there was much out there. One fellow described it as looking like a green pancake floating on a big blue griddle. I was pleasantly surprised when we paddled out and found mini sea stacks, mini sandstone ledges, and some mini caves. There was also ample evidence that this was a bird rookery.

One of the reasons the impulse paddle was undertaken on Sunday was because the island is closed to humanoids between late May and mid September, the nesting season for gulls, Great Blue Herons, and my personal nemesis, the double crested cormorant. I think the official distance is 500 yards away from the island during the nesting season. That isn't far enough. I've paddled near Knife Island on the north shore and Manitou Rock, just off Manitou Island in the Apostles. I've heard stories of what medieval cities smelled like before sewage systems were invented and I think bird rookeries must replicate that fairly accurately, especially ones where the denizens live primarily on fish. When I think about it, one of the keys to the survival of these bird species is that they taste exactly like they smell, both to people and potential predators. When I was a young duck hunter, I begged my dad to let me shoot a coot. He agreed on the condition that I clean it and eat it. Bad, very bad, decision on my part. It was far worse than even lutefisk, up until then the most repulsive thing I'd ever put into my mouth. It was nice to visit the island when our olfactory senses weren't assaulted and grievously offended.

There were birds there however. A large flock of gulls was wheeling over the island and three bald eagles, two immature,were perched in tall trees on the west side. We saw a flock of ducks off in the distance but couldn't identify them. Things are coming back to life in the northland and the Great Blue Herons were spotted at least as far as the Twin Cities in their journey north. I was also impressed by the mini geology that you can see in the images. It has much of the same structure as many of the other islands in the archipelago, just in miniature. There is no sand to land on and we had to do the Devil's Island style rock ledge landing and haul the boats up. The island itself suffers from major bird overpopulation. Vegetation is sparse and denuded, tree limbs are busted off from roosting cormorants (in my analysis anyway), and I would guess that the heavily fertilized soil has some issues as well. Still this 28 acre island was a pretty cool spot, stuck out in the lake, all by its lonesome, as it is. ChrisG had been there before and informed us that another island had been there and had gotten erased one winter by the ice, wind, and waves.
There is a long, shallow approach from the south and at one point we paddled over major rocks and not just sand. This had to be Steamboat Island, pictured left. It shows up on maps and was apparently simply scraped away by one of the early 20th century storms.

It was a worthwhile and interesting paddle and I look forward to returning at some point. Now if I can just knock off North Twin and Gull this summer I'll have completed the 22 island set. Gull is another rookery though, and it seems unlikely that we'll get over that way, on the far east side of the park, before the nesting restrictions come into effect. Its good to have goals however, and if I can hit North Twin, my stick roll, and a decent static brace this summer, I'll be a happy paddler.


RoyM said...

I've been to both Gull and to North Twin. Gull is a waste of your time other than going by it as you paddle around Michigan.
Gull has a light on it like the Manitou shoals...otherwise it is only a few feet above water, flat and all guano.

North twin has really only one good landing for kayaks, and it's on the southern tip. The building that was on North Twin is gone. Just low juniper and that's about it.

there are cletes in the rock by where the cabin was, but they are way above the water and not a landing for a kayak. there are some high shelves on the east side I've landed on....but they are rather poor.

Best Wishes

Jeremiah Johnstone said...

Nice pics Dave. I experienced the same thing in Australia. I had just caught a shark while fishing off the coast of Caines. We had to ditch the shark adjacent to this island. The entire island that we landed on was all white. I did find some cool tiger eyes though. JJ

Nan said...

The thing that always amazed me about Gull was learning that fishermen lived on it during the summer. The park has photos from the 1930s with the buildings in place. Obviously, that was before the birds took over/came back. It is a rather boring place -- only a few feet above the water, and covered with gauno. The light is on a 50-ft black skeletal metal tower, functional but not much to look at. It was never a manned light station; it's basically a range light for Michigan Island, and the keepers there maintained it.

The cabin RoyM mentions as having been on North Twin was removed in 2002.

RoyM said...

Looking at the pictures...Looks like only Greenland paddles were allowed:>)

Best Wishes

John Lindquist said...

Fascinating photos of Eagle Island. I've been lusting for a visit for some time now but it appears the island is about as appealing as Gull. About the stack photo: Is that looking at the south tip of Eagle from the east? I can just barely make out details of that point with a telefoto lens from the dock at Little Sand Bay. That stack may go the way of the nearby swept away/submerged Steamboat Island eventually.

I would greatly appreciate your permission to link to this page from my Apostle Islands pages at

Ever hear any rumors about an island off Bark Point long ago? Schoolcraft drew a map with such a thing.

DaveO said...

John, no problem linking the page to your site. I visited it when researching the history of Eagle. The shot of the stack is taken south of the island looking roughly to the northwest. Never heard of another island off the tip of Bark Point. Coincidentally, I was out there last Sunday, playing in the waves.