27 July 2009

Beaver Watch

IIII ) ll Beaver Watch (26Jul09)

1437 Sspopiikimi, a nice overcast afternoon. We've moved south, past the sleeping coot families and the bathing gosling couple, setting our video camera recording one of the pools near the peninsula, in hopes of getting footage of a kingfisher hunting. Meanwhile, Dani and I walk away to gather more delicious currants

1510 Plenty of kingfishers around, but not a one elects to hunt for the camera. On the islands in the middle of the pond, I can see goldenrod in bloom. There are bluets, variable darners, pale snaketails, and cherry-faced meadowhawks galore, as well as clouded sulphurs and a monarch-like butterfly I can’t identify. I have to fight wood ant colonies for access to the currants

1546 I am in the zone, that berry picking mode when nothing else matters in the world. A goldfinch perched beside me sings the soundtrack to this experience

1615 Thunder's not far away, somewhere just over the rim of the coulee, rumbling. The swainson hawk babies are making little calls as one of their parents swoop in with a meal

1632 I follow a fat garter snake into a thick patch of berries, where a couple catbirds are calling in alarm

1647 There are no doubt catbird nests nearby, but following the calls and slithering snake I fail to find them. What I do come across, however, are the remnants of those nests from prior seasons, hidden deep underbrush, above a labrynth tunnel system not nearly large enough to host a human traveler. My movement through this system is awkward. Still, I could not help but to continue through. It brings back childhood memories of worming through small mammal tunnels in the blackberry thickets of the valley Willamma

1725 Piipiiaakii and I make a quick run back to the house to drop-off our berries, before heading down again for dusk with the beavers

1803 Back to the pond, in drizzly rain, video camera set up to monitor the main beaver lodge. Tonight, hopefully, we'll move a bit closer toward learning to recognize the individual members of this family

1808 The scabby redhead is drifting along midpond, not doing anything in particular, perhaps experiencing a bit of shock as we see she only has two ducklings left. But this may be a projection on my part, because the gosling family are also sitting in the water a little south of us, not paddling anywhere, not eating, just floating in place

1813 One of the parent sikohpoyitaipanikimmiksi (black-greasy-hawks or swainson’s) is up at the nest, occasionally giving calls that I suspect are its alarm at our presence. Beside us, I notice a dozen stalks of curled dock, ten of which have seed heads that are already turning red

1818 Hundreds of bank swallows who have taken to roosting high in one particular poplar overlooking the pond suddenly soar down in a scattered pattern over the water, apparently feeding on the diving beetles who’re making ripples on the surface like raindrops. And a few goldfinches land on the beaver lodge, none of whose occupants have awoken yet

1829 I take a quick walk to the south end of the pond. There are several cedar waxwings sitting along the chain-link fence delineating golf course property. I watch one of these birds flying in tight figure-eights above the ground and returning to the fence with a mouth full of gold-colored dragonfly, which it shares with one of its fellows

1836 On my way back to Piipiiaakii and the beaver lodge, I passed the gosling family, who are now feeding up on the bank. We have learned to recognize the gosling couples and one of their young by the distinct, individual patterns of their white cheek markings. As I walked by, papa and mama both hissed at me

1900 For the past fifteen minutes or so, we've been watching a kingfisher who landed on an aberrant stick jutting out from the beaver lodge. An eastern kingbird came to join it, or I should say foul-up its plans, for the kingbird began picking insects off the pond surface right where the kingfisher intended to hunt. After four or five mouth-fulls though, the kingbird departed, and the kingfisher got an opportunity to dive, coming up empty of beak and flying away

1911 One of the hawks came in to drop off food for its mate and the chicks at their nest. Even shooting from where we sit across the pond and wet meadows, a distance of about a hundred and fifty meters, we can see that there are at least two hawk babies

1914 It just occurred to me that we haven't heard or seen a northern flicker for some time now, perhaps a few weeks

1920 A goldfinch flies circles above the pond, alternately flapping and swooping with closed wings, singing a little four or five note song, and eventually landing in the grass lining the opposite shore, where a second goldfinch suddenly appears. I mean to watch what happens, when Piipiiaakii notices bubbles rising near to where we sit. The first beaver of the night emerges and swims north to climb a distant bank

1928 A couple minutes later, a second beaver surfaces, this one swimming south, then noticing us, wheeling about, and passing to sniff the air and inspect. Just as it got completely past us, this second beaver slipped silently underwater and re-emerged near the north bank, where I assume it joined the first beaver (we can't see them from our vantage point)

1937 At some point when we weren't watching south, the gosling family returned to the pond and swam out to rest on the small island that had once housed their nest. Painted turtles keep popping their heads up out of the water for a breath of air just in front of us, then diving again quickly. Several more kingfishers have flown past, including a couple with the male following the female

1952 Both beavers just returned from the north. One was carrying a long stem of rabbit willow, which it brought into the lodge. The other swam right on past and continues south

1957 After just a minute or two, the beaver who had gathered willow came out of the lodge again and swam back to its north shore. The bank swallows are suddenly swarming the water, practically diving to grab insects off the surface

2002 The parent swainson who'd been sitting at the nest all along made an attempt to fly away, but was immediately mobbed by at least a dozen small birds, so it turned right around and went back to the nest, where it's now crying loudly

2022 I saw a ripple at the edge of the lodge, making me think that there might be a beaver in the water. Several minutes later, bursts of air bubbles in front of us suggested that it was watching us from underwater. Then the bubbles went away and I just caught sight of a beaver's back slipping into the lodge

2032 Right away, after the one had dove under, a beaver came out of the lodge and began swimming back and forth in front of us, slapping its tail twice. At the same time, two more emerged and preened beside the lodge. Then one dove back into the lodge while the other, followed by the tail-slapper, swam south

2035 Perhaps having heard the alarm, the beaver who’d been out in the north end of the pond came back. It went up and took a look at the lodge, but didn't bother going in. Instead, it too decided to swim south

2038 This meant there were four out south, and at least one still in the lodge. That latter beaver, or a sixth family member, made an appearance a few minutes later, pushing some mixed mud and grass up onto the south side of the lodge

2046 We are headed home now, although there's probably an hour of daylight left. But from what we saw tonight, there are at least five beavers living in the main lodge (we'd thought perhaps six from previous attempts to count). It may be that from a study of our photos, we'll be able to start distinguishing them as individuals. Looking at them afterward, it appears that the tail-slapper (fairly orange in color) may have some kind of little mole-like growth on its left ear. The one who went north and brought back a piece of willow is older, more orange perhaps than the others, with a well-worn nose and light patch on the left side of its face going from the nose up toward its eye. And one of the beavers who came out of the lodge as a couple and then swam south is darker in fur, with an orange patch in front of the right ear

2124 Damn skeetoes got me itching all over