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)