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