28 September 2009

Nitoy'sspinnaan Pakkii'p

IIII ) lll Yellowlegs (23Sept09)

1743 Sspopiikimi - Unfortunately, tonight I am here alone. Dani needed rest of a different sort, and stayed back at the house. It always feels weird here without her, my companion in this pond learning

1747 Walking in along the trail from the parking area, I'm again surprised at how many more leaves have turned gold on the poplar trees since our last visit. There are red-winged clickhoppers and two-striped grasshoppers on my path, and I pause twice to watch stink beetles scouring the earth along this mowed strip, heads dipping to the ground and tails aimed high as they poke at what seem to be individual ant holes

1755 Just as I reach the pond, there is a growing accute burning sensation on my left knee. It takes a few seconds to register that it is the all-too-familiar pain of bee venom being injected into my flesh. This is my curse, the vengence of bees, still holding a grudge over something I tried to do to a hive of their kind more than three decades past. I long ago lost count of the number of stings I've received each year since as a result. This is my third sting this summer

1810 The waters are quiet mid-pond, five mallards (females and sub-adults) and a pair of coots. The action is at the large pool in the south, I can hear the female mallards' quacking laughs from that direction already

1813 The start of what may perhaps become a bulrush flotilla is set on top the water right outside the beaver lodge. They are not fresh reeds, but old and brown, perhaps some of this summer's bedding from within the lodge

1820 I want to sit at the ksisskstakioyis tonight, but they're not awake yet, and I'm drawn to the south where I can take count of the mallards, see if the goose couple are still around from the other day, and try to figure out who it is that I hear peeping out there

1829 When I get to the south end, I find most of the mallards congregated around a single island. I cound sixty-two of them, male and female. As I try to make my way slowly down to sit on a nearby peninsula, several of ducks frighten and fly away. One small group after another. Perhaps by the time I get to where I want to sit, they'll all have gone. But then, maybe if I sit still there, they'll return

1840 I walk down to the end of the peninsula and cross the beaver canal there, to sit on an island that's surrounded by water to the north and bulrush marsh to the south. Here I can see that the water level has decreased significantly in these shallow flats. This has brought in lots of peeps (or shorebirds). There are at least two dozen, probably more, along with two great blue herons who have just landed in the reeds

1853 Most of the peeps here are lesser yellowlegs, with (from what I can tell) one oddball killdeer amongst them. Twice now since I've been sitting here, one of the redhead subadults has come plunging into this side of the pond from the north, then given several awkward squawks as it swam back in the direction from which it had come. I haven't a clue what that's about. I can't remember ever having heard the redheads making any sounds at all, and I wonder why this one is without its mom and sibling. All new behavior, and it makes me want to go investigate. But at the same time, I'm waiting to see if the herons will emerge from the reeds

1901 The shadow of dusk is being cast far differently than before, when we'd noticed it closed last on the main ksisskstakioyis. Now the shadow of a more southerly setting Sun grows from one of the highest coulee hills to engulf the pond from south to north. Presently, the only sunlit areas are high on the cliffs on the east side of the river

1906 I can hear a pheasant chucking from somewhere in the wet meadows, and all around where I sit there are little cone-shaped orange galerina mushrooms

1914 These galerinas are growing out from a bed of moss hidden beneath the grass on this island. Their stem is the same color orange as their crown, except at the base, where it is yellow like their gills. These gills are attached to the edge of the crown, but not the stalk

1919 Sitting still has its rewards. The longer I'm here, the more comfortable the yellowlegs get, advancing until they are just a couple meters away. Yet there's still no sign of the herons I know to be nearby

1927 The yellowlegs started to chatter and then flew as a group over to the opposite shore of the flats. Since they're at a little distance now, I’m standing up to move a further out on the island and see if I can locate the herons. It's getting dark

1931 I'm walking soggily through what had up to recently been pond. I can see by their footprints that the deer have recently been here too. And when I look up, there they are on the wet-meadows right in front of me, a doe and two fawns. The doe is curious, because I squat down and sit still. I think they meant to come down to the water. She switches her tail a few times, then chases her fawns into the meadows away from my sight, and returns on her own to investigate

1938 She must not be sure that there even is a person sitting here. She thinks she sees something, staring toward me through the dim light of dusk, but then begins to feed. I put my own head down to hastily type these notes, and when I look up again from my squatting position she's gone

1944 I slowly stand up and get a glimpse of the heron, motionless between two tufts of bulrush. The white-tails have disappeared. They must be laying down in the wet meadows. Now it's my turn to stare in their direction and see nothing

1948 I make my way back across the muck to my gear, then up the peninsula to the main shore, passing by the hard-sand and gravel bank beneath which I know there are now baby turtles, here in their nests, prepared to wait-out the winter

2001 The night drone of the male crickets has begun in earnest, and the waxing moon watches me from just over the coulee rim as I return to the truck

IIII ) llll Mallard Night Commune (24Sept09)

0716 I was in the middle of a dream where Dani and I were driving along on these deep ruts. We'd just started through one that had a puddle, and for some reason there were dozens of beavers living in there. They were coming out and climbing all over us. The older ones had sharp-toothed grins like the Humble Bumble on that old Rudolf stop-animation Christmas show. One was about to talk to me when Sheen woke me up cuz she needed a ride

1802 Sspopiikimi - A calm evening with a warm breeze. We've gone from the parking lot directly south to sit on the high bank overlooking the shallow flats which yesterday were filled with mallards and lesser yellowlegs. Both are here again tonight, though the latter in smaller numbers (about a dozen flew off downriver as we made our approach)

1808 The water level of the pond is definitely decreasing, and on our walk south we observed that there’s a new island emerging at the entrance to the subpond canal. It's composed of muddy earth piled up in a long strip beside the ksisskstaki trench. We remember the water dropping like this last year too, a combined effect of evaporation in the late summer heat and over-utilization by the neighboring golf course to irrigate their greens

1823 We continue our way around the south pool toward the river. Dani wants some chokecherries and that's where we'll find them. On the way, we see one of the great blue herons standing beside the shore near the duck blind. The heron spots us too, and although we're plenty far away it isn't going to take any chances. It hauls its massive frame off the ground and wings slowly toward the north end of the pond

1846 After munching a handful of chokecherries, we backtrack to the subpond canal, intent tonight on getting an update from the ksisskstakiiksi. There are a few mi'ksikatsiiksi lingering around the canal entrance, making use already of the emerging island

1852 Just as we settle in, a muskrat comes swimming from the ksisskstakioyis, diving twice on its way to the subpond canal. At the same time, a redtail hawk flies low directly over head, moving from somewhere near the river, up toward the western coulee tops

1903 No sign of the beavers yet, although the entire coulee is already cast in shadow. The common spreadwings and cherry-faced meadowhawks are coming to land on some of the grass stalks around us. Somewhere amidst the buckbrush below I can occasionally hear the rustle of voles. And the nearby absinthe plants are dripping with seven-spot ladybugs (and no doubt aphids)

1929 There are more mi'ksikatsiiksi coming to feed in the water between the ksisskstakioyis and the canal. When in groups, they arrive paddling in single file. Another muskrat made its way to the subpond as well. Where are the beavers? Have their internal clocks just not adapted yet to the shorter daylight hours?

1937 Suddenly there is a bunch of activity among the ducks. Most of the mallards who were feeding in front of us move quickly up the canal to the subpond. Moments later they are joined by mallards flying in from both the south and north pools. The subpond must be one of their main communal night roosts. The scabby redhead family flies in too, landing near the ksisskstakioyis and squawking several times

1944 Across the wet meadows, in the poplar forest, we can hear the juvenile great horned owl giving its begging call. As Dani mimics its call back at it, the first ksisskstaki surfaces. It leads another assemblage of mallards up the subpond canal. I'd hazard to say most of the ducks from the pond are now amassed there

IIII ) llllll Pakkii'p (26Sept09)

1749 Sspopiikimi - Warm wind gusts tonight making the water choppy wherever the milfoil's not touching the surface. Surprisingly, these winds don't seem to be putting a damper on dragonfly activity. There's lots of cherry-faced meadowhawks along the path (including some that are still breeding), and another drab-colored species of similar size we hadn't noticed before

1759 There are thirty-eight mi'ksikatsi north of the main ksisskstakioyis. Most of them are in two feeding groups of mixed male and female composition, though there are still a few small families of three or four ducks (mothers and their offspring)

1804 The first significant drop of poplar leaves seems to be underway in this wind, but there's still plenty of green on most of the trees

1821 Moving up to the ksisskstakioyis, we can see a great blue heron hunting in the subpond, its presence revealed even at this distance by the white of its cheeks

1828 Far fewer sa'aiksi in the wide south pool than there has been lately. I count twenty-five mi'ksikatsi in small groups spread out, as well as the scabby redhead family. Cusiously absent this evening, but perhaps sheltered in the reeds somewhere, are the coots. One large painted turtle's still basking, though the pond's already completely shaded

1839 We sit up on the high south bank, where just below us the scabby redhead and her two grown ducklings are diving for food in the deep pool. A number of new pocket gopher mounds have recently developed here on the bank. Further out in the pond, among a group of eight mallards, they begin to make chucking noises and harassing one of the females. She's not entirely chased off, but just chastised for a couple minutes over some discrepancy we failed to see

1850 The redheads eventually depart, flying a short distance north just over the surface of the water, before splashing back down beside some mallards. We can hear a killdeer somewhere out on the mud flats, but I don't hear or see the yellowlegs. A flock of perhaps fifty or more small birds (about waxwing size) pass by following the coulee rim, too far away for me to identify

1857 No sooner do I note the absence of yellowlegs than two of them chime up. Scanning for them in the dimming light of dusk, we eventually spot the pair, and just as we do they take wing and fly away downriver

1916 As we continue along, I cut off the path to gather Dani's regular chokecherry snack. But after I strip off the first handful, a feeling comes over me that this bush expects me to take more, that it's offering them to me. So I take a cotton book-bag out of my pack and begin picking in earnest. I say a few words of gratitude to the pakkii'p as I do, and it seems to respond in kind, as if it's just happy to be fulfilling this part of its life purpose

1938 I continue to pick chokecherries, and the bush continues to deliver, until a small bird begins twittering at me from nearby. I don't see the bird. I only know that it's in the adjacent brush, and I take its chatter as a message to leave some berries there for others

1943 I catch up with Dani again back at the steep south bank to which she's returned. There are now beavers in the water, and we can hear yellowlegs calling again from somewhere on the mudflats (though it's far too dark to see them). I know Dani would like to pick berries too. She's had a rough week with her illness, forced to spend a few days in her wheelchair, and this evening with her walker. For the time being she has to stick to the smooth public trails. But in my absence she has other encounters

2003 It's dark as we walk out, the half waxing moon watching us from over-top the railroad tressle, the beavers watching us from the just off-shore below. All the mi'ksikatsiiksi have returned to the subpond for the night

IIII ) lllllll The Blind (27Sept09)

1726 Sspopiikimi - Here this evening to gather more pakkii'p. With Dani back in her chair to give her legs a rest, we'd first visited Indian Battle Park in hopes of locating bushes nearer the main trails. Unfortunately, those we found were either picked clean already, or full of small, partially sun-shrivelled berries that clung to their stems. Moreover, the heavy traffic of recreating people made us feel uncomfortable. Soon we longed to be back at our pond. I guess it's true, what we tell our students about learning from place - your places pick you

1735 Since we've arrived somewhat late in the day, and parts of the pond are already becoming shadowed-over by the setting sun, we make haste to the wide southern pools, where we know there is pakkii'p. Along the route, I count twenty-four mi'ksikatsi north of the main ksisskstakioyis, and another thirty-eight south, plus the scabby redheads. Again, there are no aiksikksksisiiksi in sight

1820 We pick for a bit and then head down to sit on the high bank in front of the duck blind. From here we have a good vantage point overlooking the shallow flats and can clearly see how drastically the level of the pond has been reduced. The yellowlegs, who flew past us just before we walked down here, are gone, and there is no sign of the herons. But one of the larger groups of mi'ksikatsiiksi are huddled together on an island down below, and it's nice to visit here again (something we haven't done for a while)

23 September 2009

Odd Owl And More Rattlers Return

III Odd Owl (19Sept09)

1801 Sspopiikimi - It's a windy evening, which is fine by us because we know mosquitoes won't be a bother. We've arrived somewhat later than I'd hoped, so our goal is just to do one round of the pond while there's still enough light to see by, surveying in preparation for a longer and more concentrated visit tomorrow

1806 It's been four or five days since we were here last, ample time for lots of change to occur. The first thing that grabs my attention as we walk in are the colors. Reds and yellows and oranges on the wet meadows, the poplars now speckled gold

1813 Walking counter-sunwise, between the north end and the main ksisskstakioyis, we pass twenty-one mallards feeding, most of them in a central group midpond. At the same time, we in turn are passed by a body of thirteen mallards, flying low out of the pond and upriver

1817 The beavers have apparently been working nights in the forest. Just near the south

entrance of their lodge they've made a stack of debarked logs, seven or eight of them, each about six inches in diameter and averaging maybe a foot in length

1827 When we arrive at the south pool, we find it full of mallards - fifty birds by my count, and among these a flock of ten adult males (the first we've seen here since their ducklings arrived about three moons past). There are also four or five painted turtles out, sitting atop their usual basking logs

1836 We sit down for a break on the high bank above the south pool. From here Dani notes that three of the ducks I'd counted as mallards near one of the islands are actually the scabby redhead family. Below us, a young box elder has already lost almost all its leaves. And all the waters of the pond are in shadow

1842 We've seen no butterflies or moths this evening, no road dusters either. There

are still quite a few cherry-faced meadowhawks about, as well as some red-winged clickhoppers in the grass

1853 I take a few minutes to film the redheads diving for their evening meal. They've swum to a position right below us. Just when I finish and sit back down, a ring-necked pheasant gobbler starts chucking from half-way up the coulee behind us. We watch him walk along through the brush and then vanish again in hiding

1909 Getting up to round the south end and move toward the river, we find that the currant bushes have lost almost all their leaves. The flowers of the hairy golden aster and gumweed have played-out, but the showy and white-tufted prairie asters remain yet

1947 As we head around toward the river, Dani stops to take some notes and I

make my way into the chokecherry brush to gather what I can briefly. It's clear we need to get our year's supply of these berries soon. They say you should wait until the first frost, then the berries will be sweeter. But anyone who waits that long this year will likely be out of luck, at least in the river coulees. Perhaps that technique would work in the mountains. But down here they're already drying out and shriveling

1952 While I pick, there's a repetitive bird call coming from the nearby forest, a kind of "Su-eet... Su-eet" squawk that sounded to me a little like a magpie. When she's finished her notes, Dani begins calling back to it, and I can see her taking pictures into the forest. For my part, I just continue picking. Soon my phone is vibrating in my pocket, but I don't tend to it, figuring it can wait... I'm busy. Unfortunately, what I missed was Dani texting me to bring the video camera. The sound we were hearing was coming from a great horned owl who sat on the ground and continued to call back and forth with Dani for several minutes before flying deeper into the poplars

1957 Before the owl flew, I finally clued-in that Dani was trying to get my attention. I began walking over to her, but about half-way there got sidetracked by a yearling garter snake. I paused there, and a moment later the owl departed. I received a little bit of scolding for the missed opportunity, but the issue was just as quickly put away so we could look at the snake

2004 After taking a few pictures, we started walking north again, through the forest between the pond and the river. We hadn't gone far when a second yearling garter snake crossed our path. Could they be heading for a nearby hibernaculum?

2015 The rest of the walk back is done in the dark, and fairly uneventful. We talk about the strange behavior of the owl. We've never heard one make that call. On the other hand, we have seen them roosting on the ground, particularly on windy days like this one, so perhaps it was not that unusual after all

IIII Rain and Cold (20Sept09)

1527 Sspopiikimi - The rain we woke up to this morning has finally let up, and despite the cold Dani and I are making a careful round of the pond

1537 Today I am a documentary photographer. Beautiful gold colors on the wet meadows, click. Milkweed seed pods open and releasing cottony cargo, right next door to other milkweed pods that have been eaten away on top, click. Yellow narrow-leaved bur-reed flattened against the pond surface, click. A muskrat canal leading to a shore den with an entry stuffed full of vegetation, click

1547 Midpond there are sixteen mallards and two coots, a male and female mix, all feeding and preening

1552 The main ksisskstakioyis has grown in height overnight, as well as the earthen island with scent mounds directly west of it. This afternoon, the round lodge and elongated island remind me of the sun and moon

1556 A kingfisher flies chattering past as we take our notes

1606 Nearing the south end, there is an absinthe plant just full of ladybugs - seven spotted and others I don't recognize. On the water this side of the pond there are thirty-three mallards of mixed sex, the scabby redhead family, and (most surprisingly) a pair of aapsspiniiksi

1612 These geese are not of the gosling family, or at least not mama and papa. But after such a long absence of aapsspiniiksi on the pond (a whole moon cycle), their presence is most welcome. They apparently don't feel the same about us. When we sit down on the steep south bank, they are with mallards on the island below - the female sleeping, the male standing guard. A few minutes later though, our presence provokes them to enter the water and swim to the old nest island of the gosling couple, some distance away

1624 It is my hope to take photographs of Sspopiikimi from above at the new and full moons for the next year. While Dani stays back at the south end of the pond watching the ducks, I climb the coulee west of us. There are lots of chokecherries and still-green nettle along the draw I follow. And at the first shelf,

about half-way up, I come across flattened grass where the deer have recently bedded

1642 I am surprised, upon reaching the coulee top, to have encountered no otsstatsimaan (ball cactus). I was looking forward to eating a few berries, but they're just not around. I take my photos and head down another draw, stopping in attempts to shoot different grass species on the way, but the wind refuses to cooperate

1653 While I descend, Dani is on the move herself, continuing our route counter-sunwise around the pond. When I catch-up again, she's at the river. On its banks, the wild licorice have taken-on their classic appearance - dark green foliage with rusty burrs. I suspect the immature great horned owl from last night is roosted somewhere quietly in the forest behind us

1706 We sit by the river eating choke cherries and bullberries. There are some squawks coming from the forest. Again I think immediately of magpies, but then begin to wonder…. Dani, painfully aware of my thought processes, insists that the next time I go down for berries I should just go ahead and do a s

earch for the owl

1714 It takes no time at all. I've barely entered the forest when I see the great horned owl fly from the ground, to land on a limb about half-way up a poplar tree

1721 Curious about this young one, I move deeper into the poplars and soon find a nice platform nest in the lower canopy. I can’t believe we’ve been through here all summer and not noticed. It looks a little smaller than some of the great-horned nests I've seen before. But then I realize they are thieves and that this could have been a large magpie nest at one time, that the owls just co-opted and flattened. Though I find no pellets around the base of the tree, it's likely that their actual roosts would have been elsewhere

1732 The owl, for its part, moved still deeper into the forest, away from my prying eyes. I made my way back out again, stopping to take pictures of new goldenrod galls and, of course, to grab another handful of berries for Dani

1744 In my absence, Dani spotted a sandpiper of some sort. It was feeding along the opposite shore of the river. A medium-sized peep with a speckled grey back, straight black-tipped bill, and yellow stilts. Me thinks a lesser yellowlegs

1801 We walk north parallel to the river, on the way back to the truck. I miss all the bird songs in the forest. Now we hear the magpies, flickers, the occasional kingfisher. We enjoy them all, but it seems lonely here without the chorus of others

1809 For most of the way back to the truck, I am troubled by the sense, once again, that we have been moving too fast lately, always walking, that we need to sit still again soon, perhaps with the beavers, and let some of the learning come to us rather than chasing it

IIII ) l More Rattlers Return (21Sept09)

0741 Yep, first little bit of frost this morning. Could my scaley friends see this coming? Did they slither on back to the hibernacula? We shall find out this afternoon

1220 Now that we've had a decent shot of chilly weather, I figure either the rattlers will have predicted it and made their way to the hibernaculum, or they'll be coming in this afternoon (a migration event I was lucky enough to see last year). So it's down to the coulee for this non-cowboy, to see how many tails are shakin’

1335 Presently standing between two of the rattler hibernaculum den holes. There are three snakes basking beside one of these entrances, about a meter from me. Two are young, probably yearlings. The other might be a three year old. A moment ago there was a much larger snake surveilling me from the second entrance. I'm waiting for that one to re-emerge

1341 The main den, two holes away, is still empty. Not nearly all the snakes have returned, but I can see the faint trails in the grass of those who have. It appears they've entered the hibernaculum area from below. Either that or these are their hunting trails

1359 I've now shifted to an angle where I can see four snakes at the one hole, rather than three. With one of them, only the head is showing, and it seems large. Perhaps this is the same snake who was earlier spying on me from the second den, and the holes are just connected

1416 I've reached the good place in my visit with these snakes. There's an initial period where both I and the rattlers are overly cautious. They try to get a fix on what I'm doing here, while I try to figure out where they're all positioned so I don't step too close. It's like greeting anyone after a long absence, you wait to get a sense of each other before you open up. Now both I and the snakes are totally calm. We've established our meter distance boundary and are comfortable

1443 Just on my way out of the hibernacula, to return home and go with Dani to the river or pond, when I came across another snake basking beside a very small individual den hole. This rattler was of decent size, I'm guessing at least three years old. It went into the hole right away. So I'm waiting just a few more minutes to see if it re-emerges

1452 While I wait for this rattler to come back out, I wander slowly around between the den holes picking otsstatsimaan, the ball cactus berries. They're sweet and juicy like ripe tomatoes. I'm eating some and pocketing the rest for Dani

1506 Well, this one's being stubborn. It's not coming back out. So I'm heading out. Will return by next weekend to see if the others have arrived

14 September 2009

First Rattler

IIII ) llllllllllllllll First Rattler (7Sept09)

1101 Three days of somewhat chilly winds, I think it's time to go check on my slithering friends

1432 First attempt to film a tutorial for the virtual classroom was foiled by computer problems. I'll get back to it tonight. In the mean time, I'm off to the coulees to film part of the intro lecture and check on my scaley friends

1457 Just released "Bernard" - the somewhat poisonous funnel weaving hobo spider - to his new coulee home. Don't cry nemesis, you'll always have the memories

1552 First rattler has returned to the hibernaculum - it is a dark brown yearling, obviously jumping the gun (as none of his elders have come home yet). But this is the start. Giv'er a couple weeks and I bet the whole extended family'll be slithering in. Anyway, I'll post this cute baby's pic tonight

1711 Sspopiikimi - filming a bit for the introductory online phenology lecture. Arriving midpond, there are twenty-nine mi'ksikatsiiksi and seven aiksikksksisiiksi, all intermingled in delicate friendship (again we're seeing a few instances where mallard couples or small groups give chase to others)

1718 Lots of cherry-faced meadowhawks still out, often landing right on the path. There's also a few clouded sulphurs

1748 Twenty-four mallards in the southern pool, most of them resting or preening on the islands

1922 Thanks Nemesis. Before you brought "Bernard" over, we weren't really paying much attention to the funnel spiders. Now we're seeing their webs all over at the pond

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll New Mudworks (10Sept09)

0901 Off to the coulees to retape the intro lecture, do a bit of research, and perhaps visit my slithering friends

0931 Sspopiikimi - Just setting up to do some filming, waiting for the lawnmower on the neighboring golf course to go away. Since our last visit, the city has seen to mowing a meter-wide strip along the sides of the path, leaving partially mulched clickhoppers in the wake, food now to ants and beetles

0936 Midpond there's the usual mallard and coot conglomerate. Many of the mallards are feeding and moving around as individuals today, rather than pairs, but the coots are all bunched-up

1949 Sspopiikimi - the coulees are already completely shadowed, the sun already setting, and there's a damp but fresh chill in the air as all the plants exhail the day's oxygen production

1957 Midpond, most of the mallards are conspicuously paired and feeding, while three beavers and a muskrat swim purposefully north toward the shore lodge. A second muskrat sits atop the water, loosely supported by the exposed tops of milfoil, munching perhaps on the same

2005 The hemp is decidedly more yellow now than the surrounding reeds and grasses of the wet meadows, and the cottonwoods are not far behind, each tree bearing a gold branch or two already

2011 At the main ksisskstakioyis, it's aparent that new mud-works have begun in maintenance of the north side of the lodge, the south entrance having been taken care of earlier in the season. While we stand across from the lodge, one of the residents goes ashore into the wet meadows to collect some non-woody plant material (grass? mint?) and bring it back home

2025 Sitting on the back above the oddly duck-absent broad south pool, where we catch glimpses of beaver and muskrat activity in the darkness, a large flock of geese passes overhead. This makes me curious as to whether they've already established their some communal roost sites along the river where they'll pass the winter nights

2038 There's mallard chatter coming from the subpond, and at one point we hear the drawn-out cry of a killdeer somewhere below. It's fairly dark now. Two mainlodge beavers swimming to the southernmost bulrush stands are barely discernable as small, moving islands of darkness on the grey reflective pond-surface

2108 Walking out, we encounter a beaver beside the trail. I get the night-vision video camera out, but when I look back it's gone, vanished into a meadow. Our eyes try to adjust, to search it out in the darkness, but the orange glare of distant overpass lights keep us out of focus, and we eventually just move on

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Geese At Innokimi (11Sept09)

0852 Surveying the BTAP canal on the way to Mi'kai'sto this morning

0908 Driving the canal toward the hidden part of Innokimi we encounter solitary female mallards, redheads, and goldeneyes. The mallard picking off plants on shore (perhaps insects?). After these ducks we find a harrier sitting on the levy slopes, where I suspect she's gathering grasshoppers

0924 No big flocks in the lake yet, but in the canal above we pass by a juvenile black-capped night-heron, and a couple more mallards picking off shore plants. A coyote darts out and runs in front of the truck for a distance before cutting down to elude us in the sweetclover that lines the canal

0930 Many savannah sparrows still, no doubt feasting on all the insects that abound in the white sweetclover. We come across a few more mallards, these ones sitting on shore. One of them makes a concealed run through the grass rather then flying away

0942 Next to appear are the horned larks, both on the road and fenceposts, along with three whitetail does feeding on cut alfalfa. The deer break into a run, one of them (perhaps the mother) splitting off to cross our path and lead our attention in the opposite direction of the others

1000 There's a sizeable flock of aapsspiniiksi at Mookoan Reservoir, numbering at least a few hundred. When I walked out on the bank to photograph them, I noticed a solitary common loon. It dove and surfaced again only after swimming half the width of the lake

1017 The rest of the canal to the 509 is predominately sweetclover and horned larks. We did encounter two more whitetail does just before hitting the highway

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Duck Watch (12Sept09)

1807 Sspopiikimi - winding down after a difficult day. Dani and I are sitting midpond, with mi'ksikatsiiksi off to either side of us, and a flock of nineteen aapsspiniiksi just now passing on their way downriver

1811 The golden coloration of the hemp patches on the wet meadows is so striking now, it seems to turn more every day. And the narrow-leaf bur-reed is on its way to doing the same

1831 We pick up and move about fifty meters south, where the main duck conglomerate are. Here we count twenty-eight mi'ksikatsiiksi, three aiksikksksisiiksi, and the scabby redhead family, all feeding in proximity of one another

1835 The feeding techniques of the three duck species are quite different. While the mallards merely turn on-end, rump in the air, the pull at what's beneath them, the redheads prefer shallow dives. The coots' method is something in between. Their prefered method seems to be to swim along until spotting something as they pass, making a back-glance and then diving for it. Yet, they might also set themselves in one spot, diving or dunking, depending on how far down the plant material is that they're after

1846 Some kind of shorebird flies over the pond, singing a repetitive call. It is too high up and fast for us to get a visual identification, but from its call our bet is that it's a short-billed dowitcher

1854 Just north of the large bullberry patch on the wet meadows, at the forest's edge, there are two whitetail doe grazing. Somewhere in that same direction, I can hear the chatter of a kingfisher in flight

1913 There's a mallard communication I don't understand. One solitary duck from the far north end begins swimming south in the middle of the pond. Then one from a group of four in front of us makes that quacking laugh and begins swimming north toward the approaching duck. Before they actually meet, the one that had been in front of us gives the quacking laugh call twice more. When they come together, they slowly pass one another, and the one who had been in the north leads the other one back

1922 At some point we didn't notice, a change occurred in the movement of both the mallards and redheads. When the ducklings were young, the mothers tended to follow, while they fed in a wide arch in front. Now, when I see three and four-member family units, the mother tends to be leading the sub-adults through the pond

1930 One of the mainlodge ksisskstakiiksi swims along a trench off the east shore until it is directly in front of us. There, it stops to eat water milfoil

1938 A second mainlodger swims the same route, past its feasting kin, and continues far to the north end of the pond. A few minutes later, the first beaver follows. They swim so far north, I lose track of them. They're definitely crossing into shorelodge territory, and it makes me wonder if that family has now moved away

1943 Just before we stand-up to depart, mi'sohpsski makes an appearance, floating on top the milfoil growth off our side of the shore. The mosquitoes are still out, but they're far more tolerable than they were a few weeks ago

05 September 2009

Lonesome Waters

IIII ) l No Gosling (23Aug09)

1914 Sspopiikimi – it’s been too long since our last visit, and of course everything has changed. Midpond we find a growing collective of female and immature mallards. It looks like about five families, I assume those who were born here, nineteen ducks by my count. They all gather together and move single-file up a canal when we approach, but soon re-emerge to feed again

1920 In amongst the mallards are some of the coots - one parent and at least three adolescents. Unlike the ducks, they don't rush to conceal themselves when we first arrive. Although, when we sit to watch, they purposefully take their business further north, away from us

1931 The fledgling swainson hawks are in full flight practice now, the two calling loudly to one another and moving from tree to tree along the outskirts of the forest. As we find our seat near the trail the gosling uses to climb up for a grassy feed, the hawklings follow one another back to the nest. Then the parents swoop in to check on them and are just as quickly off again

1939 I count nine more mallards in three distinct, but associating, groups around the southern islands. There is no gosling in sight. And even though the coulee shadows are about to close over the ksisskstakioyis, no beavers or muskrats have come out yet this evening

1953 One of the beavers finally came out, and silently slipped along the subpond canal. A few minutes later, a ring-necked pheasant began chuck-chucking from that direction. Then the beaver came back out onto the pond with a sizeable bunch of rabbit willow in tow. Two other beavers came out as it approached the lodge with this haul. And when it dove with its willow through the south entrance, the other two made their way toward the subpond

2000 One of the two beavers who went toward the subpond split off and cut across the pond. As it neared our position, I could see it was Patches. She dove to swim underwater as she passed us, heading to some destination along the south bank

2005 There's a peculiar absence of kingfishers and kingbirds here tonight. For several weeks, they have been the most visible birds on the pond, but this evening we haven't seen a one

2011 The other beaver who'd gone up to the subpond is swimming back to the lodge with nothing in tow. At the same time, a small muskrat just swam across the southern pools

2015 Now a kingfisher has begun to chatter from one of the cottonwood trees behind us, so at least they haven't left us. Can't say as much for the gosling though. I suspect it's gone, and that our visit last week was the last we'll see of it for the season

2038 As it grows dark and cool, and several more beavers move to and from the subpond, and we contemplate packing up for the night, a single whitetail doe emerges from the forest southeast, by the duck-blind, to sip from the pond and forage along that slope

IIII ) ll Siblings Return (24Aug09)

0855 Drove part of the canal past Mookoan Reservoir, thinking I might find the geese, but they're not there yet. Hundreds of sparrows and horned larks, along with a few hawks

1903 Sspopiikimi - Tonight we crash the midpond duck party, setting up our chairs on the grassy slope above the feeding grounds. There are at least fifteen female and immature mallards here who, like yesterday, go to hide as a group in the cattails at our arrival. There's also at least five immature coots, along with one adult, who don't behave as threatened

1925 The mallards, as usual, are elusive. Even when out in plain sight, they don't betray much about themselves. Among those here at midpond, there seems to be one group of nine or ten who are particularly close, traveling tight together and close to the reeds. They are the most guarded. There are others though, in groups of just two or three, who have come out to bob and feed in the open water

1930 The coots, for no apparent reason, have gone to hide in the cattails now, though we still hear and catch glimpses of them. The adult among them has been calling to its partner, who is in the bulrushes to the north. These chucking calls are returned as well. Neither bird is moving toward the other, so my take is that they are merely checking in with one another's location

1945 A pair of aapsspiniiksi have just come honking in to land on the pond just south of us, by the main lodge. I'm on my way over to get some photographs, hoping to learn if this is the gosling couple returned, or just passers-through

1959 It's definitely not the gosling couple, but it could be the two goslings they'd departed with a few weeks ago. They're now standing on top of the beaver lodge giving honking calls, and Piipiiaakii has suggested the possibility that they're searching for their lost sibling. A bit of photo-comparison at home with images of the goslings from last month should help us sort this out

2030 After a half-hour of intermittent calling, the two geese depart, moving off downriver, the same direction they'd come from. This makes us suspect all the more that they were here attempting to locate their sibling

IIII ) llll Lonesome Waters (26Aug09)

1811 Sspopiikimi - sitting in front of the ksisskstakioyis, waiting for this evening's lessons to unfold. The water is calm, still but for the raindrop-like ripple effects of the diving beetles, surfacing and submerging

1814 On our walk in, we noticed some yellow cottonwood leaves fallen to the ground. Almost each one had a spherical gall on its stem, near the leaf-base. Though it’s been hot, the mosquitoes are still a bother. The open ground of the trail serves as a bed for large clickhoppers, and the tall grass and sweetclover at its edges host bluets and pale snakeskins

1819 The fledgling swainsons are either bedded down or away from the nest. We've not heard any of their calls. Midpond there's the same congregation of female and immature mallards, along with some of the coots

1822 Looking over at the forest, I can see other small patches of yellow leaves among the cottonwoods and poplars. I wonder if these too are turning because of the parasite

1855 It's so quiet here, now that mating season's over and most of the birds have fledged out of their nests. While we hear the occasional kingfisher in the trees, they're not coming down to hunt from the lodge perch. Nor are we seeing any of the kingbirds, or goldfinch, or waxwings

1911 A trio of immature mallard females swim past us and the lodge just before the first ksisskstaki wakes up. We can see the wake of its dive out the south entrance, but it swims underwater almost all the way to the subpond canal before surfacing

1916 Next out of the lodge is Patches, who pauses to look at us for a minute before swimming out to the far south end of the pond

1932 Neither of the beavers have returned, and none of the other four have immerged from the lodge. A mallard mother with three of her children passed us on the way to the south end. And one of the swainsons just soared down from the western coulee-tops to land quietly on an upper branch of the nest tree... the fledgers are hunting for themselves now

1938 The ksisskstaki who'd originally swam to the subpond canal just came back out and swam across the pond to the grassy bank. Just before, Lefty and another of the family members each brought bundles of dark, used grass and sticks out of the lodge. After dropping these bundles away from the south entrance, they each swam toward the subpond

1945 The hawk in its nest tree called several times to another who was responding from some trees back by the coulee cliff. Then the former flew off to meet its partner, and as it passed overhead we could see that it was one of the parents. While this was happening, the last two members of the ksisskstaki family came out of their lodge. One swam north toward some of the canals that enter the wet meadows. The other dove to the pond bottom in front of the west door, snatched-up a poplar branch that had half the bark already chewed off, and brought this into the lodge from the north side

1956 There is some comical confusion for a few minutes - a pair of immature coots were sitting by the south entrance, and the family of four mallards was feeding in the water nearby. The beaver who'd brought the branch inside came back out, surfacing suddenly beside the coots. The latter panicked, split, and ran in two different directions on the water's surface (later reuniting). At the same time, a single rock dove flew down to sit in the water at the edge of the beaver lodge. It sat still there for a minute or two and has now walked up on top of the lodge. The beaver who started this stir, for its part, has paddled toward the subpond

2014 Just before we packed up to leave, one of the beavers came home from the subcanal towing a sizeable piece of diamond willow, and three members of the swainson family came soaring overhead

IIII ) llllll Sunwise Stroll (28Aug09)

1902 Sspopiikimi - tonight I'm making a sunwise circuit alone (to my misfortune). As I enter at midpond, I see the mallard congregation has grown. There are now eighteen gathered here, and three more a little further north. As usual, they file-up at my approach and move in formation toward the reeds. The northern coot family's also dining here this evening, all seven present

1911 Walking along, I take a few pictures of click-hoppers and try to open my awareness to the other presences or absences around me. The wandering garter snakes, who were so numerous along the north banks not long ago, seem to be gone. Still flowering are the gumweed, hairy golden asters, some of the sweetclover, absynthe and alfalfa. Clematis and knapweed are in cottony seed. And by evidence of their droppings, the coyotes have been feasting on the newly ripened chokecherries

1920 Rounding the north end, there's a kingfisher hunting from a snag perch above the log jam. A family of eastern kingbirds twitters from the upper heights of a western cottonwood. And a large painted turtle's basking on the old coot sentry station in front of the bulrush that not so long ago concealed a nest

1924 Dropping down into the poplar forest on the east side, I see that most of the goldenrod has already gone to seed, and that the flowers of wild licorice have been replaced by the green burrs we call aahsowa

1933 There's a lot of loud rustling coming from a patch of brush in front of me, and a black-capped chickadee tattling from above. Closing in, I expect to see a whitetail deer leap out at any moment. Instead, I'm surprised by the sudden flush of a pheasant family. Perhaps the rooster we'd come across here on so many other occasions this summer was not a bachelor after all

1948 Walking a path through the forest, all is quiet save for the buzz of crickets and high-pitched hum of mosquitoes. The only birds I hear are chickadees. At my feet there are still-flowering purple showy asters, crimson berries between the leaves of solomon's seal, and tight clusters of greenish-white berries on the buckbrush

1952 I stop briefly at the duckblind to survey the wide, southern end of the pond. There are seven mallards here, dipping to feed, white rumps in the air. It's been at least ten days since we've seen the scabby redhead mama and her two children. I think they may have flown away

2009 Rounding the south end to walk back along the steep west bank, the mosquitoes finally decide to descend on me full force. The sun has passed beyond the coulee rim, leaving the entire pond in shadow. The waxing moon, pakkii'pistsi otsitai'tsspi, looks down at me from just above North America's longest railroad tressle. And I am headed home

IIII ) lllllll Return of the Redhead (29Aug09)

1858 Sspopiikimi - tonight we're sitting with the midpond congregation, nine coots and eight mallards feeding together in a cluster. Unlike previous evenings, the mallards did not separate and move into the reeds at our approach. Rather, they continue eating and then a faction of the group (both coots and mallards) begin to slowly work their way south

1906 A single adult coot, who had been outside the main body of ducks when we arrived, is paddling to the north end of the pond. Down that way, across from the shore beaver lodge, there are at least seven more mallards feeding, and one big painted turtle basking atop a log

1932 Fairly quiet evening here, with a little breeze from the north rippling the water. Both duck congregations continue their feeding. The only change has been that two mallards from the midpond group split off and joined those in the north. We decide to get up and walk a little

1936 I've never looked closely at alfalfa seed casings before. They are like tiny bean pods, tightly curled into a little ball, and growing in clusters at the ends of stems, making it appear as though the plants have an infestation of little green caterpillars

1944 As we pass the main ksisskstakioyis, one of the family members is headed north to the midpond wet meadows, another is moving south toward the subpond canal, and a third tows a sprig of diamond willow and brings it into the lodge. We sit down to take a break here

1952 We catch sight briefly of the swainson hawk family, soaring high above the railroad tressle and drifting downriver, toward the waxing moon

2016 We get up again to walk a little further south, and as we do I notice a merlin swoop down from the coulee cliffs and land on a power pole behind us. Oddly enough, it stands their calmly as we take a few pictures. I wonder if it's here to eat dragonflies. Several times this evening we've been stirred to attention by the rattlesnake-sound of mating darners beating their wings against the grass

2022 Seems like every day the mallard population on the pond is growing by a few more bodies. Looking out over the southern pools in the fading light, I count at least twenty ducks feeding together here

2033 Across the way, below the duck blind, a whitetail doe and her fawn have come out to graze. Among the mallards at this end, we find also the scabby redhead mama and her two maturing babes. I'd almost given up hope that we'd see them again this season. As we get up to make our return trip north along the bank, the redhead family follows, swimming beside us the whole way

IIII ) llllllll Flashback (30Aug09)

1850 Sspopiikimi - walking our usual route along the south bank, we stop midpond across from the mallard and coot congregation to photograph butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and wasps. Then one of the latter, a yellow-jacket, decides to fly on up and bite me on the elbow. Damn, I thought their grievance with me had been settled

1927 Relaxed night at the pond. Not taking too many notes. Busy collecting photos of some of the plants in their current state of seeding. Another round of phenology's coming up, and bound to be a good crew of new students joining the more advanced cohort. Gonna have to get them up to speed on species recognition

1943 Whitetail buck with an eight-point rack just crossed our path, mouth agape and tongue sticking out

IIII ) llllllllllll Mallard Partnering (3Sept09)

1839 Sspopiikimi - walking in at midpond we find nine coots and eleven mallards loosely congregated

1844 There's a nice warm wind tonight, making the water choppy, and we can see under these conditions that most of the mallards (although all female or juvenile) are associated as pairs. These bonds may not be really tight though, because one pair takes flight as we approach, and this provokes a single duck to break away from its partner and follow

1846 There are six mallards by the ksisskstakioyis when we get to that point, four of whom head north as a group, while the other two take flight to the south (more wind-sheltered) end of the pond

1855 When we get to that end, our count is thirty-seven mallards spread out among the islands, and the scabby redhead family

1857 Total count for the pond tonight (keeping in mind there are no doubt a handful passing unseen in the reeds): fifty-four mi'ksikatsiiksi, nine aiksikksksisiiksi, and three redheads. Enough counting now, on to other things

1901 The mallards in this south pool also seem to be grouped loosely in pairs. And around the islands, where several of these pairs may group together, we're seeing an occasional squabble. Hard to discern what the trouble might be, but in the water I do see one member of a pair fend-off a third-wheel interloper. It makes me wonder if these juvenile mallards are already pairing off as male and female couples

1910 Plant and insect life seems largely as it was during our last few visits. Still lots of dragonflies and little moths. The tufted white prairie asters and hairy golden asters are still in bloom. There's a cricket drone in the air, and many click-hoppers of various sorts along the trail. Notably absent, however, are the butterflies and (yay) mosquitoes. This is the first evening in several weeks that we haven't needed to wear repellant

1924 Rounding the south end, there's a catbird calling from the fruited bullberry brush. Along the side of the trail, there's still goldenrod, purple showy asters, and even prairie onion in bloom

1933 When we come to the east side of the pond, we see three mergansers drifting with the current of the Old Man River, diving and fishing as they go

1947 Just about every cottonwood and poplar tree has patches of yellow leaves now. It won't be long before we have a golden forest

1952 As we're coming out of the trees, one of the swainson's soars above, moving in tight circles and drifting downriver. There's also a cedar waxwing sitting oddly alone atop the snag where we've recently seen merlins perched

1958 The hemp is starting to turn yellow as well, giving nice color to the wet meadows