1978 Ecological Inventory

Flycatcher perched on a tree branch.


The following report was written in 1978, prior to the establishment of the Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge:


For The Nature Conservancy 
Midwest Regional Office
William C. Scharf
Northwestern Michigan College 
Traverse City, Michigan
Michael L. Chamberlin
Interlochen Arts Academy
Interlochen, Michigan
September 1978

Statement of Ecological Significance of Harbor Island  

Harbor Island is located at latitude 46 degrees 03' and longitude 083 degrees 46' in Potagannissing Bay north of Drummond Island, Chippewa County, Michigan. With approximately 300 ha (750 A) of land mass it is the largest of some 50+ islands in the bay, and as such is a significant reservoir for wildlife in the area (it is the only island known to support a deer population throughout the winter) and is most representative of the habitats indigenous to the islands in this region of the U.S. Great Lakes. Harbor Island supports the major regional habitat types mixed upland forest (oak-maple), mid-seral stage forest (aspen-ash-birch), boreal forest (cedar-balsam fir), old field (grass-herb) and marsh (rush-pondweed). Excluded on Harbor Island are the sand beaches and low dunes found on the north shores of Lake Huron along Michigan's upper peninsula. Having the highest elevation (680' above sea level) of all the islands in the bay, Harbor Island supports the greatest growths of deciduous species such as oak and maple, thus providing another niche, exploitable by both breeding and migrating avian species, not available on many of the smaller adjacent islands.

Harbor Island almost completely landlocked the 60 ha (150 A) harbor which so appropriately is the island's namesake. The unique harbor is relatively immune from winds, except when out of a couple of degrees SSW. The marshy shoreline of the harbor provides nesting habitat for the Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Black Tern, Long-billed Marsh Wren and Red-winged Blackbird and rearing habitat for broods of Mallards, Black Ducks, Wood Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, and Red-breasted Mergansers. The sheltered harbor and calm waters are important as a refuge and feeding ground for the waders (e.g. herons) and the Ospreys, which need shallow water and clear visibility for fishing. Four Great Blue Heron colonies are located within 18 km of the island. Thus the harbor is within foraging distances for some 242 herons, from U.S. waters alone (1977 data -see W.C. Scharf, M.L. Chaiviberlin & G.W. Shugart. 1978. Colonial Birds Nesting On Man-made And Natural Sites In The U.S. Great Lakes. U.S. Army Engineers Waterways Experiment Station. Vicksburg, Miss.). The significance of this uniquely protected marsh is greater due to the fact that all of the adjacent islands within a two-mile radius have rocky and deep shorelines essentially devoid of marsh vegetation. The east shore of the bay along Drummond lsland is also marshy however here the presence of resort complexes and fishermen is a continual source of disturbance and recreational and residential development is increasing. Currently all of the adjacent islands are privately owned. Many have a summer residence on them or, given the current trend, in all probability soon will. The significance of Harbor Island as a reserve of the flora (1, 23 species) and fauna (146 species) indigenous to this region will of course take on an ever increasing significance as the other islands are developed.

Bald Eagles, Osprey and Great Blue Herons have traditionally nested in the bay. Harbor Island offers suitable habitat for these breeding species. Mrs. Ken Payment of Drummond located a large raptor nest "two years ago" which she believed to be an eagle's nest (although it was more likely an Osprey nest). We were unable to relocate the nest during either our ground searches or an aerial search by helicopter. The continuous presence of Black-crowned Night Herons on the island for the past several summers suggests a possible northern extension of this species' breeding range. Colonization by this species may well occur in the region within the near future and the Harbor Island habitat would be a very likely location. If this occurs it will become the northernmost Black-crowned Night Heron colony in the U.S. Great Lakes. Goose Island, Mackinaw County, Michigan (latitude 45 degrees 45') is currently the northernmost colony (Scharf, Chamberlin & Shugart 1978).

Harbor Island, and the entirety of Potagannissing Bay, is an important stop-over for migrating waterfowl, hawks, shorebirds and passerines traveling in a southeasterly or northwesterly direction. During migration White-winged Scoters, even Surf Scoters, Bald Eagles, Whimbrels, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Sanderlings, White-rumped Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Bonaparte's Gulls and 17 species of the northern warblers have been observed to utilize the area.

The island is botanically and zoologically rich. Of special botanical value are the orchids, gentians and lobelias. The daily utilization of the island's habitats by Osprey, Harriers and Cooper's Hawks (all on Michigan's threatened species list) and the recurring presence of Michigan's largest carnivores (coyote, red fox, black bear, bobcat, lynx -the latter three observed by Benua) are of ecological importance to the maintenance of a healthy, complex food web in the region. The accompanying species lists speak for themselves.  

Harbor Island, Chippewa County, Michigan:
Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge Land Cover Map

Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge Land Cover Map - 1978
Stippled area= Mixed upland forest (oak, maple, pine)
Dashed line= Old field (grass herb)
Symbols =Marsh ( rush-pondweed)
Open= Boreal forest (cedar-balsam) 
intergrading with Mid Seral forest (birch, ash, aspen)
Numbers= Small mammal trap lines

Topography Map of Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge

Topography Map of Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge 
1 cm=200m contours = 20 ft.
Harbor Island, Chippewa County, Michigan

Bird List 

The following species list was compiled from observations during intensive ground searches throughout the island's habitats and from banding operations conducted during 1-3 and 10-13 September 1978. Four standard 1, 2-foot, 4-panel nylon mist nets were set on the island (locations are given on the map). A total of 51 inpiduals of 26 species were banded. Also included in the inventory are species observed on the island by Chamberlin during annual spring/summer visits from 1972-78. During 1976-77 the island was visited by Chamberlin as part of a colonial bird survey of the U.S. Great Lakes (Scharf, Chamberlin & Shugart 1978). Additional observations during 1965-78 made by Louis Benua, seasonal resident on adjacent Bald Island, have also been incorporated. This inventory sets Harbor Island's avifauna at a minimum of 123 species.

B- Known Breeder
b- Probable Breeder
P- Potential Breeder
M - Migrant
X - Status Uncertain
* On Michigan Threatened Species List
** On U.S. Endangered Species List
+ Being considered for Michigan & U.S. Endangered Species Lists
1- Observed 1-3 & 10-13 Sept. 1978
2- Observed by Chamberlin 1972-78
3- Observed by Benua 1965-78

Common Loonb2
Red-necked GrebeM1
Horned Grebe   M3
Pied-billed GrebeB1, 2
Great Blue HeronP1, 2, 3
Black-crowned Night Heron   P3
American Bittern   B2
Canada Goose   b1, 2
Mallard   B1, 2
Black Duck   B2
Green-winged Teal   x3
Blue-winged Teal   x3
Wood Duck   B1, 2
Lesser ScaupM2
Greater ScaupM3
Common GoldeneyeB1, 2
White-winged ScoterM2
Surf ScoterM3
Hooded Merganserx3
Common Merganserx3
Red-breasted MerganserB1, 2
*Cooper's Hawkb1, 2
Sharp-shinned Hawkb1, 2
Broad-winged Hawkb1, 2
**Bald EagleP3
Northern Harrierx1, 2
*Osprey P1, 2, 3
Ruffed Grouse B1, 2
Sandhill Crane  M1
American Coot   b2
Spotted Sandpiperb1, 2
Greater Yellowlegs  M2
Short-billed Dowitcher M2
Ruddy Turnstone M2
White-rumped Sandpiper   M2
Least Sandpiper M2
Semi-palmated Sandpiper M1, 2
Herring Gull    x1, 2
Ring-billed Gull  x1, 2
Bonaparte's Gull M2
Common Tern x1, 2
+ Caspian Tern x1, 2
Black Tern B2
Woodcock B1
Black -billed Cuckoo   B2
Great Horned Owl   b1
Barred Owl  b2
Hawk Owl M3
Whip-poor-will   b2
Common Night Hawk   x1
Ruby-throated Humming-bird   b1, 2
Belted Kingfisher  x1, 2
Common Flicker   b1, 2
Pileated Woodpecker    B1, 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker b3
Yellow -bellied Sapsucker   b1, 2
Hairy Woodpeckerb1, 2
Downy Woodpecker b1, 2
Northern Three-toed WoodpeckerX3
Great Crested Flycatcherb2
Eastern Wood Peweeb2
Tree Swallowb2
Barn SwallowX2
Cliff SwallowX3
Purple MartinX3
Blue Jayb1, 2
Raven  b1, 2
Common Crowb1, 2
Black-capped Chickadee   b1, 2
Red-breasted Nuthatchb1, 2
Brown Creeperb1, 2
House Wren  b1
Winter Wren B2
Long-billed Marsh Wren B2
Robin  B1, 2
Hermit Thrushb1
Swainson's Thrush   B2
Gray-cheeked Thrush b1
Cedar Waxwing  b1, 2
Solitary Vireob1
Red-eyed Vireo B1, 2
Black-and-white Warbler b1, 2
Tennessee Warbler   b1
Nashville Warbler b1, 2
Parula Warbler   b2
Yellow Warbler  b1, 2
Magnolia Warbler b1, 2
Black-throated Blue Warbler    b1, 2
Yellow-rumped Warblerb1, 2
Black-throated Green Warbler    b1, 2
Blackburnian Warbler   b1, 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler  b1, 2
Bay-breasted Warbler b1, 2
Blackpoll Warbler   b1
OvenbirdB1, 2
Common Yellowthroat B1, 2
Wilson's WarblerX1
American Redstart B1, 2
Scarlet TanagerX1
Red-winged Blackbird   B2
Brown-headed Cowbird   b2
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   X1
Evening GrosbeakX3
Purple FinchX3
Pine Grosbeak        X2
Vesper Sparrow     X1
Dark-eyed Junco b2
Tree SparrowX2
Chipping SparrowX3
White -crowned Sparrowb2
White -throated Sparrow     b1, 2
Fox Sparrow     X3
Swamp Sparrowb1
Song Sparrow b1, 2

Plant List

Searches of the various vegetational habitats of Harbor Island were conducted on 1-3 September and 10-13 September, 1978 during which the following list of plant species was identified. It is likely that spring-flowering species were missed because they are inconspicuous at that time of year. In most cases the taxonomy of the plant species refers to Helen V. Smith, Michigan Wildflowers , 1961, Cranbrook Inst. Sci., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. 465 p. for herbaceous terrestrial species; N. C. Fassett, A Manual of Aquatic Plants , 1957, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 405 p. for aquatic species; C. Billington, Ferns of Michigan , C~anbrook Inst-. Sci., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. 240p. for ferns; C. Billington, Shrubs of Michigan,1949 Cranbrook Inst. Sci.,Bloornfield Hills, Mich., 339p.for shrubs;.and C. H. Otis, Michigan Trees , 1913, Univ. Mich. Press, Ann Arbor, 362p. for trees.

* protected species


  • N. Oak Fern (Dryopteris robertiana)
  • Long Beech Fern (Dryopteris phegopteris) 
  • Oak Fern (Dryopteris disjuncta) 
  • Cut-leaved Rattlesnake Fern (Botrichium virginianum) 
  • Dry Spinulosa (Dryopteris spinulosa) 
  • Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) 
  • Oak Bracken (Pteridium aquilinium) 
  • Polpody (Polypodium virginianum) 
  • Lycopodium (Lycopodium companulatum)  
  • Dwarf Scouring Rush (Equisetum scirpoides)  


  • Black Spruce (Picea mariana) 
  • White Spruce (P. canadensis) 
  • Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) 
  • White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)  
  • White Pine (Pinus strobus) 
  • Red Pine (P. resinosa) 
  • Tamarack (Larix larcina) 
  • Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) 
  • Red Oak (Quercus rubra) 
  • Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)  
  • Trembling Aspen (P. tremuliodes) 
  • Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) 
  • Red Maple (A. rubrum) 
  • Moosewood (A. pennsylvanicum) 
  • White Ash (Fraxinus americana) 
  • Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) 
  • Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) 
  • Elm (Ulmus americana) 
  • Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasi) 
  • Apple (Pyrus malvus) 
  • White Birch (Betula papyrifera) 
  • Choke Chrrry (Prunus virginiana) 


  • Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)  
  • Horizontal Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)  
  • Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia canadensis) 
  • Sweet Gale (Myrica gale) 
  • Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) 
  • Poison Ivy (Rhus radicans) 
  • Alder - probably (Alnus rugosa) 
  • Red Elder (Sambucus pubens)  
  • Wild Grape (Vitis riparia) 


  • Cattails
  • Wide Cattail (Typha latifolia)  

Pond Weeds

  • Potamogeton natans 
  • P. zosteriformis 
  • P. pectinatus 


  • Three-square Rush (Scirpus fluviatilis) 
  • Bull Rush (S. acutus) 
  • Several Scirpus species


  • Canada Bluegrass (Poa canadensis) 
  • Marsh Grass (Glyceria grandis) 
  • Quack Grass (Agropyron repens) 
  • Timothy (Phleum praetense) 
  • Giant Reed (Phragmites corninunis)  


  • Sweetflag (Acorus calamus) 


  • Pickerelweed (Pontedaria cordata) 


  • Canada Lily (Mianthemum canadense) 
  • Rosy Twisted-stalk (Streptopus roseus)  


  • *Giant Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) 
  • *Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (G. tesselata) 
  • *Striped Coral Root (Corallorhiza striata) 
  • *Ramshead Orchid (Cypridedium arietinum) found on Bald Island by Louis Benua


  • Long-headed Thimbleweed (Anenome cylindrica)  
  • Gold Thread (Coptis groenlandica) 
  • Early Meadow Rue (Thallictrum dioicum) 
  • Kidney Leaf Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus) 


  • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 
  • Brook Lobelia (L. Kalmii) 
  • Pale Spike Lobelia (L. spicata)  


  • Figwort (Scrophularia lanceolata) 
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) 
  • Purple Gerardia (Gerardia paupercula) 


  • Sweet-scented Bedstraw (Galium triflorum)  
  • Northern Bedstraw (G. boreale) 
  • Rough Bedstraw (G. asperelle) 


  • Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) 
  • Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) 
  • Rough Cinquefoil (P. norvegica) 
  • Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) 
  • Wood Strawberry (F. vesca) 
  • Swamp rose (Rosa palustris) 


  • Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytoni)  
  • no common (Cicuta bulbifera) 


  • Swamp Milkweed (Asciepias incarnata) 
  • Common Milkweed (A. syriaca) 


  • Common Nettle (Urtica dioica)  
  • no common ( Ptlea fontana) 


  • Wild Basil (Satureja vulgaris) 
  • Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) 
  • Catnip (Nepeta catgria) 
  • Waterhorehound (Lycopis virginicus) 


  • Gooseberry (Ribes sp.) 
  • Naked miterwort (Mitella nuda) 


  • Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosylla) 
  • Water Dock (R. orbiculatus) 


  • Northern white violet (Viola palens) 
  • Dog Violet (V. conspersa) 
  • Downy Yellow Violet (V. pubescens)  
  • Large Leaf Violet (V. incognita) 


  • Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)  
  • Ox Eye Daisy (Heliopsis helianthoides) 
  • Yarrow Goats Beard (Tragopogon major) 
  • King Devil (Hieracium florentinum) 
  • Orange Hawkweed (H. aurentiacum) 
  • Flea Bane (Erigeron philadelphicus) 
  • Huron Tansy (Tanacetum huronense) 
  • Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) 
  • Bidens (Bidens cernua) 
  • Burdock (Arctium minus)  
  • Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) 
  • Bull Thistle (C. vulgare) 
  • Spotted Starthistle (Centaurea maculosa) 
  • Red Seeded Dandelion (Taraxacum etrythrospermum)  
  • Common Dandelion (T. officinale)  
  • Cats Ear (Hypochoeris radicata)  
  • New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)  
  • Willow Aster (A. prealtus) 
  • Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) 
  • Goldenrod (S. erecta)  


  • *Fringe Gentian (Gentian crinita)  
  • Herb Robert ( Geranium robertianum)  
  • Hounds Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale)  
  • Twin Flower (Linnea borealis) 
  • Ground Cherry (Physalis heterophylla) 
  • Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)  
  • Ste John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum) 
  • Vervain (Verbena hastata) 
  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) 
  • Squaw Root (Conophilis americana) 

Mammal Species List

Eleven snap trapping lines (see map) were made of varying lengths for 5 nights (1,2 and 10,11,1, 2 September, 1978) in varying habitats for a total of 362 trap nights. Traps were spaced at 14 yard intervals according to the method described by R. L. Smith, Ecology and Field Biology, 1966, Harper and Row, New York, p. 653, and 66 traps sampled 1 acre. There were 34 Peromyscus maniculatus gracilis trapped and one Clethrionomys gapperi. Estimates of 6.5 Peromyscus per acre reveal a very high population of this species. This is especially surprising, because trapping conditions were sub-optimum due to heavy rain and wind each night we trapped.

Other inclusions on the mammal list come from the observations of tracks, scats, and capture of bats in mist nets. Some of the mammals are noted to be from the list of Mr. Louis Benua, Colombus Ohio from adjacent Bald Island.


  • Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus) caught in mist net.
  • Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis) seen flying 18:30 h, 1, 2 September, 1978.
  • Woodland Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus gracilis) 
  • Red-backed Vole (Clethrionomys gapperi) 
  • Beaver (Castor canadensis) a large population present many trees downed.
  • Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) several seen.
  • Varying Hare (Lepus americanus) many droppings seen.
  • White-tailed Deer (Odecoileus virginianus) heavy browsing, many droppings.
  • Coyote (Canis latrans) tracks seen on beaches.
  • Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) reported by Louis Benua, and seen by Chamberlin.
  • Bobcat (Lynx rufus) seen on Bald Island by Louis Benua.
  • Lynx (Lynx canadensis) reported from Bald Island 18 July 1975, Louis Benua.
  • Bear (Ursus americanus) reported from Bald Island, Seen svimming, Louis Benua.
  • Raccoon (Procyon lotor) one reported from Bald Island, Louis Benua.
  • Otter (Lutra canadensis) reportedly seen on Bald Island, Louis Benua.
  • Mink (Mustela vison) tracks seen on Harbor Island.

Reptile and Amphibian List

All appropriate hiding places and marshes were searched, and the following species were found on Harbor Island. 


  • Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) 
  • Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus) 
  • Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) 


  • Spring Peeper (Hyla crucifer) 
  • Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) 
  • American Toad (Bufo terrestris americanus)  
  • Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)