Thursday, June 28, 2012


After a few gorgeous days' worth of backpacking at Pictured Rocks, Steph and I headed out to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge. Before driving the several-mile loop through the refuge's marshland, we stopped at the visitors center – and it's one of the best I've visited! For starters, there is an abundance of taxidermy, and I do mean everywhere. Most of it is at eye-level and is extraordinarily well-done. The mounts represent the native mammals, birds, and fish that call the refuge their home.

One display has an assortment of the owl species that live in Michigan. Barring a natural history museum, I'm not sure I've seen so many taxidermy owls in one place!

Seney is famous for its loons. There's a wonderful taxidermy exhibit that shows an adult loon swimming with its young on its back, as well as a loon diving underwater. It's a display that you have to see firsthand to truly appreciate, because the amount of detail involved is pretty stunning. Amazing, too, is the center's wolf mount. Set in a natural, nonthreatening pose, the wolf stands in a realistic habitat at the edge of recreated water. Beaver tracks are visible in the mud.

Next to the wolf mount is another excellent exhibit at the visitors center: a side-by-side comparison of wolves and coyotes. The display contains photographs of the two canids, as well as tanned pelts and replica skulls, and illustrates well the incredible size difference between them. It's a great hands-on feature that is especially important, as around here, coyotes are constantly mistaken for wolves, and vice-versa.

Perhaps the best part of the Seney visitors center is the "touch table." A common feature of nature centers, this one is likely the best I've seen. 

Touch tables are generally low-to-the-floor and easily accessible by both children and adults alike. They allow visitors to handle objects from nature – things they wouldn't usually find or see – such as animal skulls and bones, antlers, feathers, turtle shells, pelts, and so on. Being able to not only see but touch these items – to feel an otter's dense fur or a raccoon's sharp teeth – opens the door to endless learning.

Touch Table

Accompanied by an extensive collection of furbearer pelts, this touch table even has several older taxidermy mounts. Despite being within reach of young children, they were all in pretty decent shape!

If you're ever passing through the Upper Peninsula and are about to embark on the 25-mile "Seney Stretch" – or, if you have already, and want to stretch your legs – I highly recommend a stop at the Seney visitors center. It's both kid- and adult-friendly, there's a great shop full of amazing nature books and field guides, and while you're there, you can take a drive through the refuge. Chances are, you'll see trumpeter swans, loons, ospreys, and bald eagles!


  1. "It's a great hands-on feature that is especially important, as around here, coyotes are constantly mistaken for wolves, and vice-versa."

    That's such a great point - on LI and in NYC there are a lot of misconceptions about coyotes, and unwarranted fears. I don't know if you ever followed the story, but in NYC residents were panicking about the reappearance of coyotes in Central Park.

    Most Long Islanders (and suburbanites in general) I've spoken to think that coyotes are very large and dangerous!

    1. People hate, hate, hate coyotes and wolves – they picture them as slavering, dangerous beasts that are out to snap up children and kill livestock. It's extremely unfortunate, and wolves are such a controversial topic in the Upper Peninsula.

      I think Steph did some research and (don't quote me on this!) she found that while there have been no human deaths caused by wolves in the U.S., there have been a few deaths and injuries caused by coyotes. Mostly by sick or injured animals, of course, usually inflicted on people either a) too close to the coyote or b) trying to separate the coyote from their pet.

      As we both know, coyotes are usually pretty shy and want nothing to do with people!

  2. I couldn't agree with you more. Kids need to touch and get up close and personal with these things. I haul my bucket of biofacts wherever I go and have kids feel them, count teeth and draw them. They love it. Kids have been separated from the beauty of nature its design and of death itself. They are curious and innocent. It makes me giddy when a lil girl exclaims that she never touched a bat before. Anyway, yes Seney rocks. My daughter had bad taxidermy on display at her wedding. I giggle. Really baaaad, oooold stuff, yet cool. She keeps a baaaaad raccoon mount on display at home. What is that about the apple, tree thing? Good work girl...

    1. Ha! You should see the taxidermy we've got at our place, some of it is preeeetty bad...

      What's interesting is that young kids seem to really love to see and touch dead stuff, but teenagers (more often than not) want nothing to do with it.

  3. Thats one cool Touch Table! :D