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