08 March 2010


IIII ) llllllllllllllll Return To Sspopiikimi (3Mar10)

1528 Sspopiikimi - we arrive to find the pond still almost completely covered in ice, though there are plenty of small open pockets within the bulrush tufts and over the areas where the milfoil comes close to the surface

1534 At little pockets of open water in front of two of the shoreline mi'sohpsski burrows just north of the main ksisskstakioyis, we find flotillas of green bulrush stems and roots. Atop these flotillas, the muskrats have placed small feeding pads of very old and dark aquatic plants, both milfoil and a grass-like species

1546 There’s also a decent amount of open water between the ksisskstakioyis and their mounded food cache, but not much floating in this pool that I can see from where we stand at the opposite shore

1550 Continuing our walk south along the west bank, I notice the new green absinthe leaves and hear mi’kaniki’soyii calling from the forest by the river. At ground-level on our path, we come across tiny puffball mushrooms, their heads no bigger than a chokecherry. They are partially collapsed, as if a little past their prime, which means they likely erupted within the subnivian zone, or just as the snow melted. I took pictures and samples for later identification

1605 I'm surprised there are no aapsspini here laying claim to the islands yet. We've seen them in pairs on other small, iced-over bodies of water during our drives through Kainaissksaahko the past couple of mornings. Here at Sspopiikimi, we’re seeing them pass overhead in pairs and quartets. Already there are golfers on the neighboring course

1627 We swing around the south end of the pond, along the levee-walk to the river. There we find a goose couple establishing themselves on a river island, and another couple beside one of the cement anchors of the high-level bridge

1647 We had expected to find the kakanottsstookii couple near last year's nest in the forest south of the levee. They had been down there a few weeks ago, before we left for Europe. But taking a careful walk through, we find no trace of them. This makes us wonder if they've perhaps decided to take over the old Swainson hawk nest in the forest north of the levee, behind the subpond. So we set off to find out

1707 As we start down into the north woods along an established and presently very muddy trail, we come across raccoon tracks moving in the opposite direction. These are the first such signs of a raccoon presence we've ever come across at Sspopiikimi

1717 A little further up the trail, we pass the empty hawk nest. Now we have no idea where the owls may have gone. There are, however, several starlings chattering from high in the canopy

1722 The starlings are working through a repertoire of mimicry. Among their songs are the calls of a red-tailed hawk and the hoo-Hoo-hoo of a mourning dove

1730 We’re almost to the end of the forest when we hear the tell-tale tap-tapping of a downy woodpecker. The male bird is about two-thirds of the way up the trunk of a young, but tall cottonwood. It thrumps its beak into the bark here and there as it climbs higher, and picks into crevasses of any small branches it passes

1737 Finally, at the edge of the forest, also high in the canopy, are two robins. They are too distant and silhouetted against the cloud-grey sky to identify them by gender. But we wonder if they could be the forerunners of the robin migration. We've not seen any overwintering at Sspopiikimi

1754 We left the pond amidst a chatter of niipomakii coming from the absinthe field. One lone magpie glided past, low overhead, probably heading to the bulberry thickets on the wet-meadow. We did not have a chance to check their old nests there this evening, to learn whether they are being revamped for another breeding season. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity to check on that area tomorrow or the day after

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll House Finch (5Mar10)

1020 Sspopiikimi - Alone at the pond today. Our bodies still haven't adjusted to being home, and as a result we were up half the night, Mahoney even longer than me. Now she's returned to bed, trying to recuperate, while I've come out to explore

1035 I set off on a sunwise course around the still-frozen pond, stopping first at last year's remains of a mature asparagus plant. The ground is clear of snow and it has been fairly warm, but there are no shoots pushing through yet. Nor have the goose couples returned, though there are plenty staking claims to the neighboring river islands

1041 While checking the asparagus, and turning over a few poplar logs nearby in search of insects, I hear a familiar song and look up to see a rosy-headed house finch fly past from out of the north woods. There’s also magpie chatter coming from that direction, and I'm hoping to check if these birds at Sspopiikimi have begun preparing and repairing nests like those at the college

1113 I climb over the levee and drop down into the north forest, an area we haven't paid much attention to in previous years. It’s a typical flood zone of a'siitsiksimm, with brome for ground cover. I find a few trees that have been ravaged by wood-boring insects and begin stripping off chunks of bark in search of cucujus. What I find instead is a silky chrysalis of sorts, like a sack of spider eggs, but with an elongated, dense core that I can only imagine holds some kind of sizeable larva. The silk on one end of this cocoon is a neon yellow color, almost the same hue as poplar sunburst lichen. I decide to take this little bundle home in a film canister and see if anything emerges from it

1127 There's an interesting fence-line or wooden wall in here, built of material as thick as railroad ties. It's old enough that mature trees have grown up beside it. Where these trees touch the beams, their bark spreads out and engulfs it, mouth-like, as if the trees are trying to eat the wall. The line of this wall continues to the north end of the pond, and it is the same material we see jutting out of the cutbanks there

1154 While checking out this wall, I notice that small birds are beginning to gather. First come the niipomakii, obviously curious of me, then the downy woodpecker, searching the bark just under the canopy, and finally I hear again the songs of the house finch. I follow their music to a clump of trees beside the river, where there are several birds singing. Even right amidst them, the house finches are difficult to spot. They're so small. Eventually my eyes catch a flitter of movement high above, and there I find one of the finches very actively weaving in and out of tunnels beneath some loose bark on an old poplar snag. The bird notes my presence, but doesn't seem too bothered by it. I wonder what it has going beneath this drooping bark, whether it is just feeding or building a nest. I stand there watching it through my big lens for close to twenty minutes before my neck starts to ache. Just when I'm about to leave, the finch flitters down on a low branch much closer to my position and sings the song that brought me to it

1224 Toward the bottom of the forest, on a dirt path running parallel to the river, I take out my macro lens in attempt to photograph a fly, the first I've seen this season. But when I crouch down near to the mud and leaf litter, I find a whole world of life erupting. There are grey wolf spiders, tiny red aphids, even the first baby grigs. All of them scurry, moving just out of range of each step I take, the spiders sometimes leaping to do so

1243 Walking along the edge of the river, I note that there is an aapsspini pair and one oddball (probably a first-year) inhabiting the north island right below the bridge of Hwy 3. Then upstream, at the big river-island, which now has open streams flowing around it, there are six couples, all bickering at one another's movements. Nesting is not far away

1250 Cutting back over the levee and dropping into the main forest and wet-meadows, I spot the first aapsspini couple of Sspopiikimi this season. They're standing atop a muskrat lodge on the north end. When I pause to write these notes, they begin honking and soon fly away

1305 I went to check the large bulberry patch and its magpie nests, and I could hear the birds calling as I approached. But when I finally arrived, the mamia'tsikimiiksi were nowhere to be seen or heard. There are two and a half nests in this patch, the half nest being a bowl only, with no hood. All are situated just high enough that they're impossible to see into from the ground. I was able to shinny a step up one of the larger trunks to peak into the nest that seemed to be in the best condition. There was no evidence, however, that the magpies had been renovating. The mud-lined bowl is still full of last-year's dry, shed leaves

1310 It's worth noting also that the bulberries have yet to flower, though I suspect they will do so soon, and the first honeybees of the season will be seen

1315 Moving on to the south end of the pond, I found three pairs of geese. One of these is likely the pair that was previously on the north end, and I suspect it is the couple who seem unestablished, walking on the ice. There is also a pair on the wet-meadows beside the subpond canal. This could be the successful gosling couple of last year, who nested not far from that position. They are aggressive, and are calling out and walking toward the pair on the ice. The latter got the message and have begun walking away. A third goose couple is standing on the end of the peninsula, again near nest sites of prior seasons

1330 Coming up on the duck blind, I find there are two more aapsspini couples hanging around the ever-open water in the far southeast. They are accompanied by dozens of mi'ksikatsi. As I watch, a third goose couple flies in from the river to land amidst these others, but they are quickly set upon and chased away

1340 I could easily stay out here all day, but Mahoney has a doctor's appointment this afternoon, so I decide to just check on one more thing before returning to the truck - the owl nest. Trying not to frighten the mi'ksikatsi, I moved past them out of sight, by the river. I then cut into the south forest, stopping partway in to lift a board under which we'd seen in our last visit that someone had cached some goods. Surprisingly, the stuff was still there. These goods consist of a blanket and a black fabric bag, the type they give out at conferences. In the bag is a beaded vest, an abolone shell, an otter skin, and a couple ziplocks - one full of sage, the other wild rice. These materials obviously belong to someone who attended the powwow in Sikoohkotoki last weekend. He probably stashed his stuff here because he's staying somewhere unsafe and doesn't want to get ripped off. So be it. But if he doesn't come back for it soon, the bugs and mice are going to have their way. And before they do, I’m going to take the otter skin

1352 I look around by the owl nest, but they're not here. That's two visits in a row they've been absent during the daytime, and it makes me doubt the kakanottsstookii will be nesting here again this year

1355 To get back to the parking lot, I follow the line of the west cutbank overlooking the pond. The three aapsspini couples who I'd seen here earlier have now quieted down. Those who had been on the peninsula now were relaxing on last-year's successful nesting island. The couple by the entrance to the subpond canal were sipping from a bit of open-water along that shore. And those who'd been walking on the ice were still doing so, but now they stood near the ksisskstakioyis. From the looks of it, things at Sspopiikimi are about to get very interesting again

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Ermine (6Mar10)

0657 Sspopiikimi - Rolled out here early this morning, before sunrise, after dreaming that a city crew had set up live traps at the open water holes, trying to catch and relocate the beavers

0705 As we walked from the parking lot, a pair of aapsspini flew right over us, honking, to land and sit on the ice midpond. Another couple are sitting on the ice beside the ksisskstakioyis

0713 It's cold and frosty out here this morning, and it must have been right freezing through the night, because the waters are all re-iced, save for the ever-open pool in the far southeast, where a mi'ksikatsi just landed. The flickers are out, perched high in the trees, singing their laughing song

0721 In the south end of the pond, there's a third aapsspini couple asleep on the big island, and we can hear a fourth back by the mi'ksikatsi in the bit of open water. There's also a huge goose raucous coming from the high-level trestle, where no doubt they're starting to fight over claims to the concrete islands in the river. I can hear the rattle of a downy woodpecker somewhere in the owl woods. More mi'ksikatsi are descending to the southwest pool, and Naato'si is just breaking the horizon

0738 We moved toward the woodpecker sound. Just at the edge of the owl wood, high on the snag where both the downy and tree swallows nest in later seasons, we find the source. It’s actually mi'kaniki'soyii, a flicker

0804 After the flicker took off, we cut down through the owl wood. Still no kakanottsstookii. This couple must have decided to nest elsewhere. The house finches have now begun to sing their morning round. And at the high level bridge there are a couple dozen aapsspini - some standing on the river ice, others perched on the steel of the bridge itself, all in an uproar

0825 Our next stop is the duck blind beside the open southeast pool. Here, like yesterday, there are dozens of mi'ksikatsi, though only a few females among them. The mallards are not yet accompanied by the wigeons we've come to recognize as early migratory fowl

0834 On the path leading to the duck blind, there are some tracks that I'm guessing belong to an ermine. Like the raccoon, it is another resident we've never encountered in-person at the pond

0849 Walking through the main wood, we came across four downy woodpeckers chasing one another from tree to tree. We also ran into the starlings, in the same general area we'd observed them the other day. This time, the only mimicked song I recognize among their electronic beeps and whirls is the flight call of a killdeer

0909 At one point, the trees immediately around us fill with small bird activity - the starlings, house finches, downy woodpeckers and flickers are all here at once. The only ones missing are the magpies and robins

0913 At the north end of the forest, we climb up on the levee-walk and sit for a rest on a bench overlooking the big island in the river. There are three pairs of aapsspini on the island, two of which are squabbling, the other far out on their own, just laying amidst the rocks. There's also a fourth couple up here on the walk with us, sunning themselves and occasionally picking something in the grass

0935 Our final encounter of the morning, as we made our way back to the truck, was a robin, feeding in the short-grass off the side of the trail that runs through the absinthe field

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Crawlies (7Mar10)

1150 Sspopiikimi - Where the path from the parking lot intersects with that which follows the cutbank along the west side of the pond, there's a giant wood ant mound. This afternoon, thousands of ants are busy shuffling the grass stems they've collected. Even watching them, it's difficult to understand the flow of their work

1155 Their mound is about two-feet in diameter, with a central pit of sorts, filled with the most in-tact grass stems. Around this central pit there are dozens of individual entryways into the hive. When we place grass stems upright into these entryways, the ants may move them or leave them alone

1158 About fifteen minutes ago we dropped a piece of cooked egg, one inch square, near the central pit. The immediate effect of this was, as one of my students noted performing the same experiment with a chip the other week, to draw a swarm of ants to the egg, followed quickly by exploration teams being sent off the mound and into the surrounding grass. When this was observed, we placed another similar-sized piece of egg about a foot away from the mound. It was located almost immediately, and has since had at least one to three ants attending to it. The egg on the nest had a long sliver chewed off and pulled into one of the entries. For the most part though, it appears as though the ants at that egg are taking individual bites rather than lopping off significant-sized pieces to cache away

1224 About twenty-five minutes after depositing our egg on the ant hill, we decided to walk away and check back on the situation when we return. Making our way then sunwise around the pond, I turn over a log at the north end and there find two dark, fuzzy caterpillars with lighter, almost yellow, lateral stripes. These may be the same I'd seen on the trails just as winter was approaching. Could they have overwintered in that fuzzy, larval form?

1246 After the caterpillar encounter, we cut around through the edge of the main forest and down onto the wet meadows. I wanted to take another peek into the large bulberry patch for magpie activity. There wasn't any. But we did find a sandbar willow with several unfamiliar galls. They weren't the usual flowery type made by cabbage willow midges. Rather, they were green and egg-shaped, formed at the end of twigs. I took a couple samples

1322 Walked down by the ksisskstakioyis, which is presently surrounded by open water. There are a lot of older-looking bulrush stem parts in this surrounding water, which Mahoney guessed, probably accurately, had been ejected as they cleaned out their lodge. The water table is higher in the pond than it was at this time last year

1332 Also in the wet-meadows, I turned over a log and found the mother-load of creepy crawlies: an epicoris thread-legged bug, a ghostly-white centipede, three kinds of wolf spider, many different egg sacks, and hundreds of slender, black and red striped rove beetles. Then, along the subpond canal, we were excited to find that the six-spotted fishing spiders are back in action, walking on water

1354 As we reached the south end of the wet meadows, and the cutbank above the always-open shallows here, we find sixteen aapsspini and twenty-three mallards, all grazing and soaking and grooming together. Although there's an occasional chase or squabble, and the birds are certainly organized as couples, these ones are not trying to establish territory here. It must be a neutral zone

1407 In contrast to this sa'ai assembly, there’s an aapsspini couple hunkered down on the big island. This, no doubt, is their chosen nesting site. We have only to wait now for the timing. It shouldn't be long before they start setting down eggs

1428 It's a spidery day, for sure. Crossing the levee-walk on the south end of the pond, our trail is crossed by three different arachnids, all but one heading away from the pond, with the oddball being a six-spot fishing spider, which makes sense

1439 Rounding back to the cutbank along the west side of the pond, I walk down to the water's edge to check on the turtle nests. The ground does not appear disturbed, and given that we really still have at least one full moon cycle of winter I'm not surprised. The temporary warmth is just making me over-excited for the big transformation to come

1454 Almost back to the parking lot, we stop to check the ant hill. The egg we'd left on top is completely gone, and the one down on the grass has been taken down quite a ways. I drop the remainder of the egg in my pocket upon the mound, where again it is rushed by thousands. While we watch the proceedings, Mahoney accidentally drops her buff for a second on the grass beside the hive. Snatching it back up, already there's an ant locked onto the material in full assault. I have a fairly difficult time wresting it off of the material