10 November 2008


IIII ) ll Iitao’tsstoyii (2 Nov 08)

I’m crouched, squatting behind a thin veil of aahsowa. Not ten meters from me, slightly further up the bank from her watering hole, is awatoyi. She had been casually eating when I walked up on her. And although she didn’t notice me then, she knows there’s something there, a shadow in the burr thicket. She’s facing me, ears forward. I stoop my head lower, she raises hers. As quiet as possible, I ready the arrow - a thin carbon rod, tipped with razors. From my position, so near the ground, all I can see is her head stretched high above the grass, eyes and ears alert. If I were to suddenly stand up, could I hit her in the chest before she turned tail? I wait, hoping she’ll go back to eating, give me that split-second advantage I’ll need. But she doesn’t. She knows something’s wrong. She makes a quick shuffle forward, just her forelegs, and whistles. I keep absolutely still. She lifts her head a little higher and whistles again. I know that if I don’t draw down soon, she’s going to run. And she knows that if she doesn’t turn soon, whatever the shadow is will pounce. We move at the same time. I stand and draw while she bolts. Three leaps it will take her to move through the bullberry bushes and out of sight. Somewhere near her second leap, I have my chance to release. No doubt the arrow would make contact. But it is not the target I want. Not the absolute kill shot. And so I hesitate and she’s gone. Nothing but a crashing forest sound growing more distant.

This awatoyi was not the only I’ve seen today. From dawn to dusk I move around an island of poplar forest on the north end of kainaissksaahko - sometimes with stealth, at other moments carelessly stomping through the brush and fall leaves. Many times I see the white tails, flickering as they bound away. There are no issikotoyiiksi in this stretch, as far as I can tell. No bucks either. Just awatoyi females, moving cautiously between beds, meadows, and watering holes. Twice I am near enough to warrant notching my arrow, but only the once in a position to draw. I wonder… if it were the past, and it meant the difference between eating and going hungry, would I have released anyway? Would I have dared ever move as carelessly?

The trees are all bare of leaves now, the songbirds gone. On a couple occasions, I startle large, grey sipisttooiksi from their roosts. But they see me before I see them, and so I get no clear identification. I also hear pairs of ringed-neck pheasants, flying away from me to keep their distance. The occasional flock of aapsspiniiksi passes overhead. And while I sit in a poplar, burning a cigarette and waiting for awatoyiiksi to pass below, a few niipomakiiksi come to inspect my circumstances. Dusk closes fast.

Although I go home empty-handed, for me it is a good day. Its times like these I really learn to appreciate aokakio’ssin, and how little I’m actually aware of in this place. But rather than taking such observation as a set-back, I receive it as a challenge and an opportunity. Every mistake carries within it the possibility for growth. Certainly now I have gained a sense of how different the odds are when hunting with a bow, as compared to a rifle. One needs to know the deer well if there’s any hope of ambushing them, and even better if there’s intent to stalk. I’ll have to experiment for a bit. I’ve determined that next time I come here, I’m going to set myself up comfortably in a brush blind overlooking the waterhole, and be patient. We’ll see what transpires then.

Itsiinohksikanikimmiksi Akaito’tooyaa

IIII ) lllll Iitao’tsstoyii (5 Nov 08)

A few short days can bring a lot of change. In the south, a new and hopeful president-elect. Here in kitawahsinnon, our first real wave of winter snow and an accompanying shift in avian phenology.

Miistapatonni, we awoke to strong, freezing winds coming from the northwest. For most of the morning, there was a well-defined arch of high clouds sculpted by these winds, and a more ominous dark curtain of low clouds peeking through the miistakiistsi. Driving along the canal, from BTAP through to Mookoan Reservoir, it was apparent that the animals were not overjoyed by this change after such a prolonged warm stretch. There were kakanottsstookiiksi sitting on gopher and badger mounds in the shelter of the canal’s levees, and awatoyiiksi as well. None of the usual aapi’siiksi were out. And the large flocks of mi’ksikatsiiksi were nowhere to be seen.

By the following morning, the wind had played out, and the low dark clouds that were previously lurking from behind the miistakiistsi had rolled down over the prairie, forming an even ceiling not much higher than Mookoanssin. It was still very cold, and apparently more so just below the clouds. Yet another wildfire was burning west of Levern, and it wound up testifying to the location of the cooler, more compact air. The smoke rose almost straight up, hit this wall, and spread out in a thin plane horizontal to the earth.

Along the canal again, the kakanottsstookiiksi were off the ground, onto the fenceposts. The awatoyiiksi were off somewhere doing their thing, no longer impeded by wind. The aapi’siiksi had come out of hiding. And all the sa’aiksi had returned. The hidden lake was covered in patches of mi’ksikatsiiksi, Mookoan Reservoir with flocks of aapsspiniiksi set right in the middle of the water, and a half-dozen stray buffleheads off the shoreline (all but one being female). On the fields between the two bodies of water were itsiinohksikanikimmiksi, feeding in a line. Although some of my earlier observations of ksikkomahkayiiksi on the lakes – a few of which remain, by the way – could have been itsiinohksikanikimmiksi, misidentified because of their distance from me, this sighting on the field was a sure thing. White goose bodies with black wing tips… as far as I’m concerned, the first I can confirm along my route this season.

Traveling the highways, ksikkapiitaipanikimmiksi and mamia’tsikimiiksi are the predominant sight. On my way home, as the inevitable snow finally began to fall, I counted seven ksikkapiitaipanikimmiksi between Mi’kai’sto and the turn-off to Mookoan Reservoir. Back along the canal, the aapsspiniiksi had moved to the shorelines, the itsiinohksikanikimmiksi had disbursed, and just a single patch of mi’ksikatsiiksi remained in the hidden lake.

What interested me most about these couple of days, besides the arrival of itsiinohksikanikimmiksi, was the number of kakanottsstookiiksi that are around. I wouldn’t be surprised if these were the sipisttooiksi I had been seeing while out deer hunting the other day. And it reminded me that, each winter, at Mi’kai’sto, we usually have a kakanottsstooki couple who live in one of the poplar trees lining the driveway. So this morning, when I went to work, I looked for them. They’ve not returned yet, but I would suspect it won’t be long.

The snow continued throughout the morning today, letting off finally by afternoon. It wasn’t cold enough to ice the streets, so it only stuck to the fields, but it was a respectable little storm. I’m still wondering whether the quick burst we had during the last moon was makoyisttsomo’kaan. On the drive home today, passing Innokimi, the waters were absolutely full of both mi’ksikatsiiksi and itsiinohksikanikimmiksi. Quite a sight. If it’s the same in the morning, I plan to take a few photos.


IIII ) lllllll Iitao’tsstoyii (7 Nov 08)

Matonni, the cloud cover was high and, just as predicted, the first of the kakanottsstooki couple who usually winter at Mi’kai’sto returned to the perch. At Innokimi, hundreds of mi’ksikatsiiksi covered at least a third of the lake’s surface, but no sign of the many itsiinohksikanikimmiksi.

Annohk ksiistsiko - which began with blue skies, but eventually gathered some high altitude clouds – nitsitapoo Siksika. As with my last trip up that way, there was no sign of wildlife (not even many ayinnimaiksi) during the drive, with the exception of my detour to Keho Lake. There, I found thousands of mi’ksikatsiiksi and hundreds of ksikkomahkayiiksi, the latter travelling in family groupings: mother, father, and an average of four juveniles. I noticed that some of the mi’ksikatsiiksi had black collars around the necks, and wonder what intrusive, so-called “environmentally-concerned” monitoring group is up to this? My thinking is, if you don’t want to take the time to get out there and look for yourself, get to know individual birds, and be a part of their lives, then you don’t deserve to know what’s going on with them. All these radio-based studies that involve chip insertion or collars seem wrong. Non-radio bands (bracelets) on the other hand, I don’t have such a problem with. In the past, niitsitapi would sometimes capture a juvenile bird, keep it for a short period in a willow cage, then put a bracelet on it and release it. They would tell these birds that they were empathizing with them, and this is why they were going to let them go, but that they hoped, in the future, those birds would return the favor, and come visit them again bringing a powerful gift. If the bird returned, it would be recognized by the bracelet.

Another recent arrival to the region this season, as far as I’m aware, were the kiihtsipimisa’aiksi swimming in the canal that drains from Keho. I’m going to be watching them this winter. I want to get a photo of one of the males in display, rearing his head back until it almost touches his tail. The image I’ve inserted here is of one of the females, just stretching her wings.

Outwitted, Outsmarted, Outlasted

IIII ) lllllllll Iitao’tsstoyii (9 Nov 08)

I have a newfound respect of awatoyiiksi. Over the last couple of days, they’ve completely skunked me. Miistapatonni, I returned before dawn to the north-end hunting grounds. After my prior failure to even line-up a good shot, I decided that rather than stalking I would sit still and wait for the awatoyiiksi to come to me. I found a good position between a bush and an embankment, where I could hide and look out over a watering hole on one side, and across a brushy feeding area on the other.

I brought a cushion to sit on, my bow and morning coffee, and just sat still for about an hour. A little ways off, down by omi niitahtaa, there was a flock of aapsspiniiksi, and I considered going after them. But I’d made up my mind whether to make the shift in intent, the aapsspiniiksi flew away. At that point, I decided to stalk a couple hundred meters into the brush, just to stretch my legs. I hadn’t gone more than a quarter this distance when I came head-on toward an awatoyi. She almost saw me before I crouched below her line of vision. But she knew something was amiss ahead, and so casually turned and began walking through some thick pa’kiipistsi. I got an arrow ready, and even though I didn’t have the perfect shot I went ahead and loosed it. At the sound of my bowstring, the awatoyi ran straight through the pakkii’pistsi and part-way up the side of the coulee. At first, I thought there was a good chance I had hit her. But when I moved forward, I found my arrow stuck neatly in the ground.

Walking back to my natural blind, I thought to myself that if I’d just stayed still another ten or fifteen minutes, that awatoyi would have walked right up to my ambush. I sat down again and waited. A heavy cumulous cloud moved overhead, drizzling rain. The rest of the morning passed with no activity. Eventually I got hungry and drove to town to pick-up lunch.

Returning about an hour later, I moved back into the blind again. Soon a flock of simitsiimiksi came over, alighting on a nearby a’siitsiksimm. I had expected them earlier in the season, when there were more mi’ksinittsiimiksi, and I’d even wondered if they’d passed through especially early and unnoticed, which might have accounted for the general lack of these miinistsi when we began picking. But here they were now, colorful and happy as usual. From the hight of their chosen tree, they would send out a few scouts in different directions, to find the choice miinistsi. Then parts of the flock would join the scouts, clean the bushes of their remaining fruit, and go back up the a’siitsiksimm. Never does the entire flock abandon the anchor tree until either they’ve had their fill or there’s a danger that provokes them to fly away. The simitsiimiksi remained near me for at least an hour, chattering away and eating mi’ksinittsiimiksi in this manner. When they finally left, I decided my legs were overdue for another stretch.

This time, I walked past the water hole, along the opposite embankment, toward omi niitahtaa. Out that way, there were some thick patches of kinii and mi’kapikssoyiis, and there I just saw white tails wagging into the woods as one after another awatoyi made easy escape.

Returning again to my blind, there was an awatoyi standing right in the open by the water hole, where I could have shot had I just remained in hiding. As it was though, she spotted me coming, and made her way quickly into some brush. I hunkered back down, watching the bush she entered, waiting for her to re-emerge. Eventually, she did, but not completely. She’d just put her head out every few minutes, and I got the sense that she was monitoring me, and would never come fully into view as long as I sat there.

By this time, dusk was coming. I hatched a final plan to circle wide around, out of sight, and stalk up on the bush with the doe. I took my time getting around to come at her from the opposite side. Walking the woods was a far different experience than it had been a few days prior. The snow had dampened and flattened most of the poplar leaves, making it a much more quiet experience. When I eventually got within decent range, I heard the awatoyi whistle twice. She’d spotted me. I crouched down and sat still. Then a pheasant, apparently also hidden in the same cluster of brush, began gobbling. When it finished its protest, I took four or five steps and hunkered back down. Again the awatoyi whistled. And then the pheasant picked up its gobbling. When it finished, I took a few more steps, sat down. The deer whistled. The pheasant gobbled. Now it felt like some kind of twisted game. Like we were all toying with each other. Our sequence went on another couple of rounds. By then, I’d moved too close and the awatoyi emerged, well within range and right in the open woods. My arrow was ready. I went to draw, using my trigger device, and I must have done something awkward in the excitement because, before I had drawn half-way, my arrow released. With the unexpected break in tension, I ended up slapping myself in the mouth. And of course the arrow fell far short. The awatoyi took off.

As I moved forward to retrieve my arrow, three other awatoyiiksi emerged from the same clump of brush, one of them a big buck. He stopped about where the first doe had, and so I quickly notched my arrow again, and this time drew back perfect. The buck jumped at my release, ran just a little ways, and stopped to look at me again. I wasn’t sure if I had hit him or not, so I got a second arrow out of my quiver, aimed and shot. This time, the buck bolted far into the bush.

I wasn’t completely confident that I’d hit him. Walking out to where he had stood, I began searching the grass and leaves for any sign of blood. It was getting quite dark, and after about fifteen minutes of search, I realized that I would not be able to see the signs if there were any, and that by the time I found him the woods would be black. So I gave up and resigned myself to go home (minus my two arrows) and return at first light.

This morning at dawn, I went back to the site. There was my first arrow, its yellow fletching bright against the brown leaves. I began walking switchbacks in the area of the second shot, finding neither my other arrow, nor blood traces. I continued switching-back into the woods, where the buck had run. Nothing. Half the day I wandered around the area. Nothing. I'd been skunked again.