31 January 2010

Trailing Aapi'si

III ) llllllllllll Trailing Aapi'si (27Jan10)

1415 Went down to the Old Man river-bottom with my camera bag and coffee for a phenology hike, heading upriver along the ice toward the confluence and my winter study site. Today's semi-agenda (always subject to change) was to look for the tracks of some of the residents down there and see if I could learn where more of their dens are located

1430 Right off the hop, my eyes drew me toward a wonderful example of a kinii or prickly rose that is harboring wintering insect larva in two different kinds of galls. One is a very attractive reaction by the plant, a winter flower of sorts, like a soft-petaled pine-cone that has swollen open. The other galls appear like a round, berry-like growths on the stem. In color and texture, they remind me of rabbit droppings

1449 Just down on the ice, beside the first open water crag, I could see a set of tracks crossing the river. My suspicion, even at a distance, but judging by how close together the tracks were laid, was that they belonged to aapi'si. So I moved down that way to confirm it, stopping off enroute to photograph siinikskaahko or buckbrush, and their dark-colored berries in this season. Once below the cutbank, my suspicions proved true. They were definitely coyote tracks and, on my side of the ice, they led upriver

1512 Following the tracks of aapi'si I was led along the ice, moving from single runs to trails where several runs converged, the most significant factor being a large piece of clay in the river that they're using as a scent mount to mark territory. From that mound, I began following a single animal's run, which soon led up a narrow drainage toward the coulee rim. But before I began my ascent in pursuit of a den location, I stopped among the aaattsistaotsipiiyis or sandbar willow at the shoreline, which harbors yet another pine-conish flowery gall that I wanted to collect and photograph

1544 Up, up the coyote led me, taking some slopes steeply, others along switchbacks. The trail I followed led past blue gramma, skunkbrush sumac, ootsstatsimaan or ball cactus, penstemon and others. It intersected on occasion with trails of the mule deer and runs of omahkaattsistaa, the white-tailed jackrabbit. And on it went, up and down the ridges moving upriver near the coulee rim

1605 As the setting sun began to create that brilliant contrast of shadow, snow and soil on the ridges of the coulee walls, the coyote led me on a sudden switchback arching over the rim and partially back down the slope above the floodplain of Popson Park. As I stopped to photograph the neon-yellow broomweed and glowing orange pincushion lichen on the skunkbrush, I could see the KIA awaiting my eventual return on the river-bottom below

1639 I lost my coyote lead when the prints led me into another steep drainage of the coulee. This time, the coyote's wanderings intersected with dozens, if not hundreds, of other trails and runs of the mule deer and white-tailed jackrabbit. I had to concede defeat, but thought I'd at least go to the bottom of this draw and walk out from there, checking amongst the saskatoon and chokecherry brush that lined the lower drainage to see if I could find the den or anything else interesting

1644 I was photographing the differentially-aged bark of saskatoon and chokecherry when I noticed a cup-shaped nest deep in the thicket. Though filled with snow so that I couldn't see the mud lining, I figured it right away for one of this year's robin nests. I almost left it at that and walked away, but something compelled me to take off my backpack and move into the brush, so I could scoop the snow out of the nest and see the walls for sure. It was indeed a robin nest. But there was something very, very unusual within. This nest held a golf ball. Or, to be more accurate, a golf ball casing, torn open on one side and rubber-band contents removed. I cannot imagine a person either coming up here with the golf-ball casing to deposit it in the nest, nor any miraculous, case-shedding stroke from above that just happened to sink a nest-in-one. My suspicion is that it was brought by a corvid - a magpie, or crow, or raven - ripped open, and its contents stolen away for some strange purpose

1712 With the Sun gone over the horizon, I left the bizarre cache and walked down the rest of the draw, leading almost straight to the truck. Soon the geese would be coming in to roost for the night, but I was tired and coyote-defeated, and ready to head home

III ) llllllllllllll Goose Couple (30Jan10)

1412 I've arrived at the Oldman coulee with a fresh haircut, a pocket full of beef liver, and a hot cup of coffee. The trimmings of hair are for the mice and voles, the liver goes to whichever magpies, coyotes, or eagles spot it first, and the coffee... well that's for me to sip as I visit this place for the afternoon

1426 As I walk down to the river from where I've parked the truck, a flock of nineteen aapsspini come honking from downstream. They're moving toward the St Mary's confluence, but something causes them to spin above the river, two-hundred and seventy degrees, and cut over the coulee rim instead

1455 Down at the first open water crag I find an aapsspini couple sitting out on the ice by themselves. Though it's still very early in the season, my first thought is that these two are forerunners of the movement that will soon be underway, as the larger goose families split up into couples and begin staking out their nesting grounds for sa'aiki'somm

1538 I decide to set my liver down along the edge of the second open water crag, right beside some coyote trails, so that I can survey from the cliff-top above and hopefully get a look at whoever takes it. The magpies are already well aware of what's going on, and they're chattering at me from the other side of the river

1553 Before climbing, in fact before even tossing the liver out on the ice, I stop on the riverbank to reacquaint myself with several of the plants living there - the awaanataapistsisskitsi (pretty flower or yellow primrose), the common plantain, one of the coneflowers and several examples of the same unidentified species I photographed on the coulee rim a few days ago

1637 Up atop the cliff, nisaamissapi, my look-out point, I've begun exploring the potential of my new macro lens to assist in helping me learn the lichen that color the surface of the rocks. So far, I've photographed oranges, blacks, greys, pinks, browns, and a white with black horns. I also found a nice little rodent burrow under a boulder in which to leave my hair clippings

1650 As I sit waiting, wondering why the magpies haven't gone to feed yet, a small flock of geese pass overhead. Though daylight has not faded out quite yet, Naato'si is entirely masked by cold, grey, cloudy skies. I'm expecting the aapsspiniiksi to land at one of the two open-water crags, but they continue their flight. Then I see why. Right on the tail of these eight or nine geese is ksikkihkini, a mature bald eagle. As the geese pass over the coulee rim, the eagle gives up the chase and soars off upriver. As it disappears into the distance, one of the kakanottsstooki begins his love song from the forest beyond the oxbow willows below

1713 Ksikkihkini just passed by again, this time with no aapsspiniiksi involved, and another great horned owl has begun to sing, this one from across the river downstream. The magpies are still near, and I am waiting to see if any geese come in for the night. But I may have to abandon soon. It seems I'm underdressed for the cold breeze that's starting to come in. My gloveless hands are freezing

1750 In an effort to get the blood pumping and my body warm, I decide to hike the rest of the way up to the coulee rim. It doesn't take me long, and is not enough to warm me. But the view is spectacular. From here, I watch several flocks of geese wing their way downriver. They're passing by these crags entirely, no doubt heading to the open waters by Paradise Canyon, where the adjacent human presence ensures them greater odds against the shy coyotes

1810 I've given up on seeing aapi'si today. Moving through the dark, with the songs of kakkanottsstooki now hoo-hoo-HOOing throughout the coulee from at least four owls, I make my way back to the truck and head home