24 November 2009


I Oyiiyiistsi (16Nov09)

1423 Spopiikimi - with just a couple hours of daylight to work with, I'm taking a break from lecture prep to visit the pond, intent on continuing my survey of bird nests, now that the leaves have fallen and everything is so exposed

1425 Unfortunately, I'm on my own for the afternoon. Piipiiaakii's under doctor's orders to rest up and stay out of direct sunlight for a few days. But since I'll be on the road teaching and presenting most the week, I wouldn't feel comfortable missing this opportunity to check in on what's happening out here

1427 I walk straight from the parking lot to where I can look out over the water midpond. Even though it's somewhat warmer now than it was when we visited two days ago, there's still a thin layer of ice over the surface. The only open pools are those in front of the entrances of the ksisskstakioyis, and the main mi'sohpsskioyiistsi

1431 Where I stand to look out over the pond, there is a wood ant nest at my feet. Like so many other such hives this time of year, it has been dug-out on one side. The wood ants and their carpenter ant slaves are hard at work fixing the damage. I still don't know who's responsible for this, but my strong suspicion is mi'kaniki'soyi (flicker)

1437 I know there are probably some kingbird nests in the trees overhanging the north end of the pond, not to mention the blackbird and coot nests amidst the reeds, but for all of these I will wait until the pond freezes solid enough to hold my weight. Today I'm going to start my survey of nests in the forest east of the wet meadows

1444 On my way there, I stop to look at the river. I'm expecting to see lots of geese and ducks, but the only one present is a single miisa'ai (common merganser). The others probably were chased off by someone with a dog earlier, no doubt they'll be back

1456 Once dropping down into the forest, I don't have to go far before I find my first nest. It's in a large bulberry plant, a cup-shaped nest woven of three distinct layers: grass and thin buckbrush stems on the outside, hair-like cream-colored roots on the inside, and a very nice plastering of old, weathered and lace-like cottonwood leaves in between. I don't know who made the nest, but since we dutifully recorded all the birds who lived here throughout the summer, I'm hoping it will be just a matter of elimination to find out. This nest, like others I've been surveying in the past week, has scat evidence of being used by a mouse, and is full of newly fallen cottonwood leaves

1508 The next nest I come to is set high in an extension of the same clump of bushes, except that these birds chose to place support it in the branches of one of the very few black birch trees at the pond. It too is a cup-shaped shelter, made almost entirely of grass, with what appears to be a few wide strips of both outer and inner willow bark woven in. This bark is part of the exterior of the nest, along with some cottony material (possibly milkweed) and a bit of stolen tissue paper. The cup has a layer of fallen birch leaves deep within, covered over with a secondary layer of narrow willow leaves. There is no sign of mouse use. Since I do not think I can place this nest back up at the height from which I took it down to examine, I'll bring it home with me for further study

1520 Moving still further around the same clump of brush, I find one more nest, this of obvious robin production. It is a classic grass and mud cup, and I don't even bother to pull it down. I do however peek inside, under the usual array of fallen leaves, to find that the mice have definitely been using it

1527 At the next patch of brush there are three more nests. One I recognize as having been here several years, a very low-set magpie fortification that, two seasons past, hosted the egg of an eastern kingbird. Another is a robin's deep cup set somewhat high in a clump of diamond willow. The last is another of the grass-woven, shallow cups, with cottony material and willow bark on the outside, set just below eye-level in bulberry. This nest looks older, like it may have remained from more than a year ago

1537 The next nest I find, moving over to another brushy patch, looks to be a variation of the one I found previously, the three-layered cup. This one has grass inside, and old leaves as the next layer, but rather than gathering woody material for the shell, these birds have made use of the very dense but thin bulberry branches within which the nest is situated. They've woven these branches around the nest as its final shield

1549 The next four nests I come across are of the same make as those I've already seen today: two robins nests, a grassy ones with exterior fiber and fluff, and another tri-layer. All of these are older nests, from a prior season. I don't find another nest made just this past summer until I come to a russian olive tree on the outskirts of the wet meadows. Here is a nest set in one of the lower branches, about eye-level, that is cup-shaped and grass woven. There are some strips of what appear to be poplar cambium material, the fibrous rotten inside bark that has the consistency of weak paper, wrapped here and there both inside and outside the grass. I do not think this is the same as the other three types I've seen today

1610 I feel like I have a lot to consider, with the three or four different nest designs I've come across today. That and my hands are now fairly bloody from reaching into the thorny bulberry thickets. So I wander down across the wet meadows to the ksisskstakioyis. It's very impressive now, easily standing six feet above the water. Their storage of bulrush stems is massive, weighed down on top with several hefty logs. I wish the family were out already this evening, but they're not, so I am on my way back to the forest

1616 As I move toward the forest, a flock of sixteen aapsspini come honking low overhead. I squat down in the grass right away. The geese circle around the pond's south pool and split into two factions. A group of nine wing away toward the river, but the four others make a wide round and come right overtop of me, very low, obviously checking me out. I must not be too big a threat, because they then continue their descent and land somewhere near the old natal island of the gosling family. I wonder, just a little, if they ARE the gosling family

1643 I've had my fun and gone back to the truck, picking up the grassy-woven nest with fluff and fiber exterior that I was unable to put back in the birch, and taking along one of the tri-layered nests as well. I've been thinking about it as I walked along, and it does little good to say a nest is made of "grass"... what kind may actually be important. This is what prompted me to collect the second nest as well. I'd like to have a really good look at them and see what they can teach me both about their designers and about the relationships these birds have with the different grass-like plants

III ) llll Big Rub (22Nov09)

1000 Akaiinissko - it's a cold but windless morning, the Sun hidden behind a blue veil of cloud cover. I've come with the intention of taking a long, sunwise walk around the forested floodplane here, to continue my nest survey, check in on the ksisskstaki, and perhaps add a few more logs to the aapi'maan I'm building

1028 As I walk along the coulee rim, I can see that the river is floating a film of slushy ice. The water looks green today, and the area immediately around the ksisskstakioyis is already frozen-over. I hear gunshots, hunters, somewhere upriver

1039 Almost as soon as I drop off the coulee rim, to begin making my way down one of the ravines, I stop on a high ledge to take some pictures. Here there are two grass species that I want to learn about. One is probably a canary grass. It's yellow in color and grows in clumps about five feet tall, seeming to prefer small dips along this high slope. The other may be a rice grass. It is low to the ground, no more than ten or twelve inches high, with thin stalks and white seed heads that look soft and feathery from a distance. Someone has recently brought a small couch out here. It makes for a nice place to sit and look out over the valley

1056 My next stop is just a bit further down the slope, where I notice a porcupine has been gnawing the bark off one of the sumac bushes. There's a number of these plants on this steep part of the slope, so I look around at a dozen or so and find no other porcupine evidence. I do, however, enjoy a few of the remaining berries - bland on the outside, with a citrus taste like sour candy around the pit

1113 As I walk down through the ravine, I find the tumbleweed stem of ma's (prairie turnip). Something small, I'm thinking mouse-size, has been chewing pieces off one side of the stem near the base, and I see that this is also where the plant has decided to drop some of its seeds. I take two of the seeds it’s deposited - one to try and grow at the house, another to just learn the appearance of, so that I might be able to recognize them among rodent food caches down the road. Right around the same area, I'm also seeing dry prickly-pear fruits that are dumping their seeds. I'll take one sample of this as well

1122 The prickly pear seeds are very interesting. Almost every seed that has dropped from the dried fruits have been eaten by what I assume are mice. A little hole is gnawed on the side of the casing, and the seed itself removed. Turning one of the fruits upsidedown in my palm, I manage to get a few seeds out. None of the ones from inside the thorned fruit have been touched, although it seems like they would be easy to access, given that the fruits are open at the bottom

1145 I take my time moving down the ravine, stopping to peek into any suspected rodent burrow, and to photograph the sandy mounds dug up by pocket gophers and the dry remains of eveningstars. Most of the seed pods of the latter are still sealed, with the exception of those located near the terminal end of the stalks. While I'm looking around here, aapsspini pass by low overhead, first a flock of twelve, then an other of ten, then a third group of twenty-three, all making their way off the coulee tops and moving downriver. From somewhere upriver, in the vicinity of where I'd heard the gunshots, there's an occasional odd trumpeting whistle, as unnatural as can be

1213 Coming onto the floodplain, I skirt around the edge of the forest downstream and enter into the willow thickets. Just at this transition, I find an area where the bucks have rubbed a substantial number of willows raw with their antlers. My count is thirty-five willow stems all in one tight group, about at third of which have been so abused that they're broken clean through. There are also many other willows rubbed along the paths through this grove, but no locale quite so thoroughly affected as that initial site

1229 I soon pass out of the first stand of willows, onto a grassy meadow. Another flock of thirty-three aapsspini pass over, followed by a smaller group of eleven, all moving along the same trajectory as those from earlier. I find, woven within the weeping branches of a small narrow-leaved cottonwood, a wonderful magpie nest, complete with a thick mud bowl

1235 As I enter another patch of willows, on my way to the ksisskstakioyis, I find a loosely-woven cup nest that appears to be made almost entirely of clematis vine and that grassy plant with the small aster-like flowers. There is just a small amount of yellow grass lining and softening the inside of this cup. Also within this growth, though still some distance from the ksisskstakioyis, is a massive series of well-trodden beaver trails lined with their cut willows

1253 Arriving at the ksisskstakioyis, I find that their winter food cache, which had been rising quite a ways out of the water during my last visit, is now pressed down, with some already bark-stripped logs thrown overtop. There is also plenty of evidence that they are still brining fresh mud up to reinforce the roof of their lodge, despite that its perimeter is now closed in ice. Using one of their sticks as a prod, I find that the ice is not so thick that they couldn't easily push through it at this point. I think perhaps I would like to bring a sketchbook down here, to map the drag-trails they've made in the willow thickets all along this riverfront

1319 A little ways upriver from the ksisskstakioyis, I cut in toward the forest, cross the thick sweetclover brambles, passed through the treeline, and arrived at the meadow housing my survival shelter. As usual, there are mule deer here. They stood up in caution at my approach, but have since laid back down. There's also a couple magpies in the trees here, watching me and giving their staccato five-tone call

1335 I promised myself I'd put at least a few more logs on the shelter each time I came down here, though for some reason today I'm not really into it. My attention is much more taken with the deer and the magpies. One of the large does is grazing not far from me, well aware of my presence but hardly concerned. The magpie seems to be picking something out of the trees, then gliding over to a particular snag poplar with a large horizontal branch, and there depositing whatever it is he's gathering. Unfortunately, I would not be able to climb up there safely to find out what the magpie's collecting

1358 Eventually the magpie, fed-up with my gazing, departed to the other side of the forest, and I was left with no option but to get to work gathering and placing a few logs. Four was all I added today, though two of them were of considerable size. The shelter's still a long way from what I'm envisioning, but its construction really gives me some respect for the labor necessary to put up something decent. I don't know that I'd be able to bother with something so large in a real survival situation, and the sweat the runs when building it would be very dangerous if I were not going home

1433 Before making my way out, I made one last stop to check on The Twin, who seemed to be asleep. Then I climbed almost straight up the coulee side, huffing and puffing to the truck. I really can't wait to get some snow days out here. I miss the opportunity to follow tracks