01 November 2009

Milfoil Thief

IIII ) llllllll Vaccination (27Oct09)

0802 Makoyisttsomo'kaan - in the past, when this wet, sticky snow (Wolf Cap) arrived at the start of winter, Iiyaohkiimiksi would tell people to stay home, it's dangerous. Okay? So I'm telling you...

IIII ) lllllllllll Sweetclover Roots (30Oct09)

1011 Sspopiikimi - meant to get here for the dawn activities, but overslept. Walking in, the first thing I notice is that the leaves that were on the cottonwood stems that fell after our first good snow and freeze have now dropped off and blown away

1015 Arriving at the northwest bank, we find the waters on this side of the pond are much more quiet than they have been recently. I count twenty-three sa'aiksi in a mallard and wigeon feeding congregation (less than half of those we have been regularly encountering here), along with the three coots

1030 Passing the ksisskstakioyis, where the winter food cache continues to grow, and arriving at the wide south pool, I count at least eighty ducks on the water - probably the usual fifty-some we've been seeing on this side, plus the twenty-odd missing birds from the north end. It's difficult to get a really good take on who's here and what they're doing this morning. The sun is at just such a position on the southeast horizon that a large strip of the water is smeared with a blinding reflection. We do observe one heron flying in (perhaps from the subpond) and landing on the island where the spotted sandpiper nested earlier this year

1041 When we sit down on the high southwest cutbank, all the sa'aiksi move to the opposite side of the pond. Funny, I don't notice it myself, but Piipiiaakii observed that the water has risen considerably. Much of what had become mudflat during awakaasiki'somm is now submerged again

1048 There's one aiksikksksisi among these eighty sa'aiksi. It's arching and diving for milfoil

1055 While taking a picture of the buckbrush in its rusty-hued seasonal foliage, I spy a seven-spot ladybug on a nearby thistle. When I go to take a closer look, it appears to be sleeping, frozen, or dead. I move the thistle just a bit, and the ladybug falls seemingly lifeless into my hand. But no more than a second or two later, it becomes fully animate again and begins scouring my arm for non-existent aphids

1101 I'm still wondering over the whereabouts of the other prominent insects of late summer. What became of the thousands of dragonflies and grigs? One of my students, at her study site, reported finding lots of grasshopper carcasses that looked sun-dried. But breaking off the path to search the ground beneath the grass and brush, I find none of these. I do, however, find more ladybugs. Lots of them. And I notice that the absinthe plants are finally dropping their seeds, clouds of powder wafting away as I brush past them

1118 Walking down onto the peninsula, I spot a drone fly and several translucent snail shells. Piipiiaakii texts me from her seat on the cutbank to report a drone fly up her way as well. And it appears like someone has been digging near the turtle nests. At first I'm thinking coyotes, but on closer inspection it becomes apparent that it's not the baby turtles who are in danger. Rather, there's a small patch of sweetclover right here on the water's edge that's still fairly green (at least compared to the abundant, sun-dried yellow ones). The ksisskstaki have been digging from this patch, dragging the whole plants into the water, and assumedly eating the roots, because there are none left attached to any of the stems floating in the water

1131 Its getting so warm now, I need to return to the cutbank to strip off a layer - removing my toque and jacket. Now down to just a sweater, layered pants, long-johns and wool socks

1143 I return to the sweetclover dig-site with a shorter lens to photograph the event. While looking at the stems in the water, I notice that there are pieces of beaver-chewed sweetclover root on the rocks below. The roots sink, the stems float. I pick out a few of the roots and put them on a rock onshore to photograph, then return them to the water. As I do, there is a diving beetle paddling between the floating sweetclover stems

1149 Following the diving beetle into a stand of bulrush, I find two different kinds of translucent snail shells floating atop the water - one that is round like a nautilus, the other pointed, a tightly twirled cone. I know I've also seen black snail shells of the later shape, a bit smaller though, in other seasons

1159 Leaving the peninsula again, I pass through the bulberry thickets on my roundabout route back to the cutbank. It's strange, I'd say less than half of these trees produced fruit this year

1202 Amidst the bulberries and buckbrush, I find a large ant mound. It seems to be constructed primarily of muddy sand and grass stems. There's no visible activity. I snap off a dry twig and poke it into the mound. Nothing. I dig a little scoop out of the top, moving just a couple inches of sod. Nothing. I'll keep this ant hill in mind to check on again

1210 At this point, we had to conclude our visit and scramble off to attend to other appointments. But no doubt we'll return again tomorrow morning, if not later this evening

IIII ) llllllllllll Dawn Partridge (31Oct09)

0815 Dawn at Sspopiikimi - for some reason, the transition into daylight seems to happen much more rapidly than does the dusk turn to night

0823 We arrive to find just thirteen sa'aiksi, probably the mix of mi'ksikatsi and american wigeons, floating midpond. And just a bit closer to the ksisskstakioyis there are four aiksikksksisiiksi, making shallow dives to pluck the now re-immersed milfoil. The beaver family is out, making patchwork repairs to their home and hauling more bulrush stems from both ends of the pond to add to their heaping store of winter grub. My impression is that there's more of this work activity in the morning, while the early evenings are a feeding time. The ksisskstaki are a bit agitated by our presence today, several slapped their tails at us as we took our seats across from the lodge. The aapsspini flock who were in the south pool, sixty-one of them, began honking and soon lifted away

0844 As we sit and watch the lodge, one of the beavers swimming at its periphery seems to identify a trouble spot. There's a little hollow on the north side of the lodge where underlying wood is exposed. This beaver and another family member set to work patching it. They take turns bringing piles of mud to the spot, carrying it in their arms and walking up the side of the lodge on their hind legs to pack it in. Just after they finish, depositing at least a dozen such arm-fulls of mud, naato'si breaks blindingly over the coulee rim, and quickly removes most of the shadow of night

0857 In the glare of the Sun's eye, the ksisskstaki return to the comforting darkness of their lodge, and several small flocks of aapsspini take wing from somewhere along the river, flying west above the coulee top. We amble off ourselves toward the south end of the pond, where we find a fifth coot and a number of ducks. How many there are is impossible to tell at the moment, at least a couple dozen. From this side of the pond, much is obscured by the morning glare. As we take our seats on the cutbank, most of the ducks move to the shallows of the far opposite shore, and three or four more small flocks of geese pass by, moving downriver

0923 I feel like exploring the peninsula again, so I leave Piipiiaakii and begin walking in that direction. I don't have to go far when seven grey partridge come bursting out of the grass in front of me. I watch them fly half-way up the coulee side and land. Just like that, my plans change and I am on my way up the coulee to locate them. A big part of what's lacking in our society is our relationship to food. Whenever I see these partridges, for instance, I realize that I'm one heck of a long way removed from knowing how to successfully pursue them. It's one thing to go after a bird with a shotgun, another altogether to get back to the basics. I take the partridges' appearance as a challenge to learn... one I'm apparently not ready for. Climbing the coulee toward where they landed, I flush several ring-necked pheasants, the sudden appearance of each one surprising me just as much as the last. Eventually, I approach the site where I saw the partridges land, and they are gone. I can hear some, somewhere near the top of the coulee, and perhaps they are the same, perhaps not. In any case, I've failed royally at this test, and what's sad is that it's not at all surprising

0948 When I get back down to the cutbank, and Piipiiaakii, I see that the sa'aiksi have come out of hiding. There are now seventy-eight in this south pool, all seemingly mi'ksikatsi (save for the single coot). It's warming up now as well, looks like it'll be a nice day

1004 Sitting still for a bit, just enjoying the sunshine and absence of chinook winds. The turtles seem pleased as well. There's one below me right now, slowly surfacing and diving, surfacing and diving, in a milfoil patch

1022 I decide to take one more quick stroll before we leave, this time through the bulberry thickets above the peninsula. Along the way, I stop at yesterday's ant hill (still no sign of life), and shoot some photographs of the prickly rose hips, the polypores that grow on the bulberry trunks, canada goldenrod, burdock, and the now very animated seven-spot ladybugs. There are a lot of nice little animal trails under the dense bulberry stands. I may get down on my hands and knees to explore some of these soon, and will definitely be keeping an eye out once there's snow on the ground for tracks. I'm feeling somewhat played-out for the morning though, ready to go home and shower

IIII ) lllllllllllll Milfoil Thief (1Nov09)

0915 What would happen if there was no Safeway? No Save On Food? No rifle factories and no bullets? Would I have the skills necessary to procure my family's protein? Maybe not, so better get practiced... it's bow-hunting day

1002 The place I go is on the north end of kainaissksaahko along naapisisahtaa. Here there is a spring seeping out the side of the coulee, feeding into an oxbow meandering of the river. This oxbow defines a wide arch surrounding an island of mature riparian forest. This island is difficult to reach during the spring runoff, when the waters of the oxbow are high, but in the current season it's easily accessed using exposed mud crossings

1017 Oil and gas development in grassy sections of the floodplane had built a gravel access road that brings me right down to the coulee bottom. From there, I walk through a dense maze of tall chokecherry and saskatoon, cross the oxbow and enter the forest. I walk very slow all the way. The Sun has been up for a couple hours now, and no doubt most of the deer are bedded down. My best hope for a successful hunt this time of day will probably be to stalk quietly along various edge-zones, where forest meets meadow, or where the bulberry thickets grow between the poplars and the oxbow waters. In these places, if I'm moving slowly and quiet enough, I may get close to a bedded deer before it notices me and stands up to flee

1026 Of course, I could just sit myself down patiently in the camouflage of some brush beside a water source, or go up in a tree above a frequented trail. And I may use those approaches on other occasions this season. But today I feel like exploring as I hunt. My plan is therefore to move very slowly and alertly through this environment, and to alternate stalking with periods of sitting still to relax. I've come to appreciate that there's a fatigue factor to moving slowly on the hunt, and if one does not take occasional rests there's a risk of getting sloppy. Moreover, the forest floor is thick with crunchy fallen leaves, mostly balsam poplar, but some western cottonwood. I stay more alert and energetic, and the forest remains more quiet, if I shift back and forth between stalking and sitting

1039 Today, my first stop comes almost as soon as I enter the treeline. Here I can look out across one of the forest meadows. I take the opportunity to sit, look around, listen, and write these notes. I inspect a daddy longlegs spider in the furrowed bark of the tree beside me. I watch a small flock of perhaps twenty geese pass overhead, moving above the rim of the coulee. Soon two magpies come to scope me out, giving their double-cries. And then I begin hearing the gobble of a ring-necked pheasant off in the bulberries, somewhere by the oxbow. The pheasant may be an opportunity. I'll begin making my way in that direction

1115 There is a belt of dense bulberry, willow, and buckbrush at the edge of the treeline, and a little strip of meadow between that and the oxbow water. As I start my careful walk toward the direction from which I'd heard the pheasant, somewhere in the bulberries, the gobbling picks back up again. It is in an area where I know there to be many frequently-used deer beds, and the sound of the pheasant takes me back to an experience last year, when one of these birds seemed to be singing a duet with an aggitated and sneezing whitetail I was after. I'm creeping along one of the trails through the buckbrush, reflecting on that memory, when I hear the pheasant excitedly take wing. It was still out of view, which made me wonder whether it was fleeing because of its awareness of my approach, or because it was prompted by the movement of a deer (who in turn was fleeing my approach). Either way, I suspect the inhabitants here are much more aware of my presence than I am of theirs

1126 When the pheasant departs, I decide to continue working my way through these brambles anyway, hoping to scare-up a deer. I don't have to go far to do so. In fact, hardly had I taken ten steps when I heard a telltale rustle in the brush. I immediately duck down and notch an arrow in preparation. Then I stay down an extra minute or so, just to bring back the quiet. When I stand again, it is to move with an arrow notched and a ready stance toward where I had heard the deer. I knew it could make its run at any moment, but I hoped it would be curious enough to stand still for a moment before it bolted. No such luck. Before I even saw it, the deer was on the run. I caught just a glimpse as it leaped out of the brush onto the meadow strip beside the water, and used that space as a freeway to run. I wasn't about to chase it. I saw what direction in headed. My best hope was to sit down again for a few minutes and then move to a flanking position before starting after it. A whitetail can run quite a ways if its scared. But perhaps if I just sit still for ten minutes, it won't be prompted to go far, won't frighten othe deer along the way, and I'll get another shot at it

1136 So I find a log crossing one of the buckbrush trails, and I sit. As I give the deer time to relax, niipomakiiksi arrive to inspect me. Three of them stop in the poplars beside me, chirping and singing away. Their greeting probably does not help my prospects

1257 For the next hour I continue my slow movement, following one of the principal deer trails that runs parallel to the forest edge, about fifty meters inside the tree line. This takes me toward the river, through several waves of alternating saskatoon brush and small meadows. I'm surprised to see no recent deer sign here. Along the way, I come across a slightly mouse-chewed, three-point antler dropped by a young buck last year, and several piles of severely degraded old dung. Nothing new. About halfway to the river, I sit down on a log to eat a couple chips of jerky and consider whether perhaps I should just cross the oxbow again and work my way back through the brush on the other side

1350 I decided to go just a bit further, to a deer crossing that was heavily frequented last year, before moving to the other side of the water and heading back. Still there was no sign. Not until I made my way down into the oxbow and selected a path that ran through the tall rabbit willow did I see recent dung, and even at that very little. I followed the path back to the coulee edge, where the spring is situated, and there rested again in preparation of a last stretch of stalking that would hopefully scare up any awatoyi who might still be around

1417 I wind through stands of chokecherry and waist-high buckbrush along deer trails that show some sign of promise - a nibble here, a rub there. But deep down I sense nobody's home. Moving toward a cutbank above the water to inspect a massive magpie nest, I find evidence that the beavers - who had a shore-lodge here last year - are still around, having left a littering of chewed willow sticks above one of their slides. Eventually though, I am back at the truck, not a deer having been seen. Even for midday, it seems strange for this place. Has the smell of the surrounding gas operations provoked them to move? Or is it simply that there's easier fare above the coulees still, in this relatively warm early winter? I don't know. But as I drive out, there's a family pulling in to do a bit of fishing where the oxbow meets the river. I hope they're more successful than me

1614 Sspopiikimi at dusk - Piipiiaakii and I have hardly started down the trail from parking lot when our path crosses with that of a fuzzy, dark brown caterpillar. It's not the first of its kind I've seen recently. I'd also spotted one in the coulee last week and another in the Red Crow parking lot, but I've no idea who they are

1631 Midpond we find sixteen american wigeons (mostly female), three mi'ksikatsi, and four coots. One of the wigeons is taking advantage of the coots' shallow diving abilities. The wigeon will swim right beside a coot, waiting for the latter to dive for milfoil. When the coot surfaces again, the wigeon attempts to steal the foliage from its beak before it has the chance to swallow. Some of the other wigeons across the pond are giving their three tone call

1642 The coots seem to have a system for dealing with this wigeon. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But it's basically like keep-away. While the wigeon swims beside one coot, another nearby will dive, prompting the wigeon to hurriedly swim its way. Because of the distance, the wigeon arrives just a hair late. Then another coot will dive, and so on, causing the wigeon to swim fruitlessly back and forth between two or more coots

1654 A great blue heron passes overhead, and this provokes two of the coots to scurry for the cover of a bulrush tuft. We follow the heron toward the south side of the pond, passing a muskrat who's entering the ksisskstakioyis along the way. When we get to the south pool, we find just eight small sa'aiksi, probably wigeons, judging by size, but the light is dim. We don't see the heron right away, but it sees us. It had landed on the peninsula, and as we approach it flies off toward the river. Just after it leaves, a flock of sixty-seven aapsspini pass honking, high above, moving upstream

1659 The temperature has fallen quite a bit and there's a cold breeze. Still, we see painted turtles poking their heads up above the water, just below the south-end cutbank. The eight ducks out this way are mi'ksikatsi. A female just did quick series of their usual quacks. All the same, this is far fewer mallards than we're used to seeing, and I wonder if the others have now joined a larger flock

1718 We return to the north side to observe more of the interplay between coots and wigeons. Now a few of the latter are in on it, and the coots can no longer succeed at their keep-away strategy - each has a wigeon swimming right beside it. Now the coot's only chance to retain its food is to quickly turn away from the wigeon and gobble what it can, as fast as it can

1724 There's a full moon tonight, reflecting off the pond surface as we walk back to the truck. The beavers aren't out yet, surprisingly, and the geese haven't come in for the night. But we're cold and I've had a long day