22 March 2010

Wigeons, Worms, And Physa Snails

IIII ) ll Wigeons Return (19Mar10)

0855 Many goldeneyes at the wetlands by Bingo Bridge, large flocks of mallard and pintails at Innokimi, I love the migration season

1723 Sspopiikimi - walking in, we're greeted by the staccato calls of mi'kaniki'soyii, and arrive on the north end to see the whole of the pond is still ice-free despite a sharp drop in temperature since yesterday

1726 At first appearance, all the aapsspini couples are here - midpond, beaver lodge, subpond, and south pond pairs. Those at midpond have been joined by three mi'ksikatsi, two males and one female. Mahoney and I are walking the length of the cutbank to see who we might be missing in the far south

1739 When we near the peninsula, we hear a sound we've been waiting for, the three-toned call of the wigeons, finally returned to Sspopiikimi. There are fourteen of them, including the single eurasian pair we see each year

1800 As we round the levee-walk toward the river, we hear an unsuspected sound, soft hoots of a kakanottsstookii. The couple who we'd hope would nest here again departed, no doubt to a new nest site nearby, about a month ago. So who was this? Mahoney and I stalked into the upstream forest to find out. When we did eventually search the bird out, it was alone, and our immediate suspicion was that this is the yearling who grew up here last summer. But just to be sure, we checked throughout the forest for a new nest or another bird. Neither appeared

1826 Back at the river, there's all kinds of goose and duck activity. Most of it centers on the concrete anchors of the high-level bridge, but there are also geese on the big island downriver. We find the goldeneye pair diving here as well, but they soon whistle-wing their way back to the pond, shy birds that they are

1835 Following the levee downstream, looking out across the main forest, we listen to a flicker calling. Then one of the robins chimes in, also giving a staccato call. It almost seems to be mimicking the flicker

1857 The rest of our walk along the river and down past the north pond, through the absinthe field, was quiet, uneventful. Mahoney's leg is sore, and with some busy days ahead in the next week, we don't want to push it. Instead, I've decided that if I wake up early enough, I'll come in the morning for another visit

IIII ) lll Worms (20Mar10)

0845 Well, not exactly the crack of dawn, but I am awake and headed to the pond. Hopefully get in at least a short visit before the business of this ceremony-filled weekend begins

0905 Sspopiikimi - the cold temperatures overnight have left a very thin film of ice over most of the pond, save for the area around the ksisskstakioyis and a few other small patches. I arrive to find either the lodge or midpond aapsspini couple feeding on the cutbank, with no others immediately in sight

0912 My main interest this morning is in searching for signs of new goose nests on the wet meadows, and to that effect I set out sunwise around the north end of the pond. On the way, I stop at an older asparagus plant to see whether any new shoots are breaking ground. They're not. It's still too cold

0943 Out on the wet meadows, I walk toward the ksisskstakioyis, following the perimeter of the water, and lifting any logs I could find along the way in search of insects, though coming up always empty. As I near the area I'd seen the lodge couple defending the other day, I encounter a pair of mallards. They're concealing themselves between the drifted bulrush flotilla and the shoreline. Soon they depart, and so do the goldeneye pair who I hadn't noticed on the other side of the ksisskstakioyis

0948 The aapsspini reaction to my presence here was entirely different than that of the ducks. Rather than flee, the lodge couple appeared at the edge of the cutbank on the opposite shore and the goose entered the water and approached me. As she did, the midpond couple who'd been watching me the whole while became agitated. Their gander flew down to attack the lodge goose. Her husband, in turn, flew down to trounce the midpond gander. And all the excitement even got the subpond couple going, so that before long their gander flew over and joined the fray. The flare-up was short lived, mostly just chasing back and forth, and ended with the lodge couple taking their place atop the ksisskstakioyis while the others went their own ways to give them distance... a distance that, at least with the midpond gander, was then repeatedly tested by paddling first far, then near again, and so forth. When he'd get too close, the lodge couple would gripe, and he would soon turn away again

0958 The territorial boundary that sets apart the midpond from the lodge couple seems, at least for the moment, to be the position of the bulrush flotilla. Though both couples are interested in me and established enough not to fly away, neither is exhibiting the protective behavior that would indicate they'd started caching their eggs nearby

1012 Similarly, when I approached the subpond, the couple residing there made a lot of noise and were not anywhere near ready to fly off, yet they were willing to give way when I came too close, suggesting they've not begun to hide their eggs either

1026 My next stop is in the big bulberry thicket in the wet meadows. I'm curious as to whether any magpies are nesting here. There are two old nests, complete with hood, and a third that just has the lower platform and mud bowl. But winding my way through this thorny labyrinth, I'm once again disappointed. The magpies are not using these nests, nor building new ones in this thicket. Their activities are being carried out elsewhere

1030 While braving the bulberry, which notably has yet to flower, I can hear house finches singing from the canopy of the main forest, and flicker chants as well. Perhaps they're calling me to the trees

1038 As I walk up toward the forest, the finches and flickers go quiet and I begin to hear magpie chatter. It leads me to a single bird who, when watched, flies a ways along the tree-line at the edge of the wet meadows, then cuts back to the bulrush from which I've just come. Now I have to go back. One of the hooded nests was too difficult to peek inside, and could very easily have hidden a mate

1101 Walking back again to the bulrush, I can see that the magpie is hopping around in branches beside one of the complete nests. When I'm too near though, it flies away, and though I wait quietly it does not return. Stretching on my tip-toes and reaching through the briars with a small Elph camera, I'm able to confirm that the nest is empty of all but the leaves of last fall

1104 Moving on, I then travel along the edge of the wet meadows toward south pond. I stop at an old wooden beam immediately behind the subpond, one that I check periodically. As always, there are meadow slugs beneath it, our region's only indigenous slug. There's also the familiar stone centipedes and mouse skull. But there is something new today as well. Worms. The first I've seen this season. Not night-crawlers, but one of their smaller cousins. There's also some pink, pimple-looking egg sacks on the wood. These are not new, they've been here all winter. But today I'm curious to learn who they belong to, so I'm taking one home in a film canister to see what will later emerge

1134 After turning several other old beams in the wet meadows, finding other unidentified insect eggs and a small metallic-green ground beetle, I reach the south pond and its wide, island-studded shallows. Here I'm surprised to learn that all the wigeons from yesterday evening are gone. In their place are seventeen fairly-skittish mi'ksikatsi

1208 By the time I make my way around the south bend of the pond, to the peninsula and its bulberry and currant thickets, I've seen many more worms, slugs, and now spiders, the latter seeming to have just emerged at a certain heat cue in every imaginable micro-environment. I'm curious as to why I find never find wintering chorus frogs. This end of the pond will be alive with their mating songs fairly soon. If they did not winter under logs and forest debris, they must be completely dug-in

1221 Looking closely at the emerging mullein rosettes near the peninsula, I can see that something (I suspect deer or rabbit) has been feeding on the outer leaves

1234 On the peninsula itself there is not too much news. A very small and deceased northern pike floats silver beside the shore. The water itself has warmed and opened since this morning, so that now the only remaining ice appears to be that which borders this little intrusion of land. There are old magpie nests in the bulberry thickets above, as well as in the chokecherries that grow in the crevasses of the coulee slope beyond that. I would like to climb around and see if any are being revamped, but my energy level is starting to wane. I need sustenance and, because I will have to stay up all night in a kano'tsisis ceremony, I need rest this afternoon as well. For these reasons, I begin my trek back toward the truck

1252 The trail takes me along the cutbank that lines the west side of the pond. All but the subpond couple are found plucking new grass shoots from the neighboring golf course, which is surprisingly empty of drunk people chasing little white balls with clubs. Hopefully I'll have enough energy tomorrow evening to return again

IIII ) llll Physa Snails (21Mar10)

1419 Sspopiikimi - despite high winds and lack of sleep, I feel completely energized and decide it's time to finally check the brush of the coulee slopes above the pond for the active magpie nests I know to be here somewhere

1423 Walking in, I note the presence of five aapsspini couples. The midpond, beaver lodge, and south pond pairs are on the water, in their respective territories, while the subpond couple and one other graze the empty neighboring golf course

1426 Passing opposite the entrance to the subpond canal, I catch a glimpse of mi'sohpsski moving through the reeds. Suspecting that it is a resident of the large burrow I know to be at the base of the cutbank I'm standing on, I go to sit by the water's edge. I don't have to wait long at all when the muskrat comes motoring straight across the pond, its mouth full of aquatic plants, including scouring rush. It swims to within a meter of my seat and dives with its wad of plant stems into the lodge

1435 Meanwhile, the aapsspini couples that were on the golf course return to the pond, splashing down one after the other near the canal. This raises some fuss with the lodge couple who are here by the canal as well, but everything is resolved quickly, the pairs each distancing themselves from one another before any physical fights break out

1450 I wait about twenty minutes or so to see if the muskrat will re-emerge, and when it doesn't I pick up and move to the south pond. Here there are far fewer sa'aiksi than there were the last couple days. From my count, just five mi'ksikatsi and the goldeneye couple. There's also a house finch singing its familiar song from somewhere in the bulberry and currant thickets above the peninsula, and very little ice remaining on the water below

1508 Walking the cutbank above the bulberry and currant brush, several house finches scatter, as well as another small bird that moves silently in and out of my frame of sight so fast that I can't identify it. Just one nervous male house finch remains, and after a few minutes he departs as well. I was not able to discern what their interest was here. As I continue along, looking down into the brush for magpie activity, I see there is one particularly nice nest. Due to the quality of its thick hood, I can't tell if there are any birds inside. I'll need to go through the briars to find out

1528 In order to access the magpie nest, I first have to scurry on hands and knees along the trails sikaaattsistaa has woven beneath the bulberries. Then, because the magpies tend to situate their domes just out of reach of humans and coyotes, I had to climb the spindly and thorny tree that held it. This ordeal was not without reward. What I found was a very well-constructed sphere of sticks that was lacking only its earthen bowl. If the nest had been used before, no doubt the bowl would be there. I can only guess that this abode is still under construction by residents who plan to utilize it this year

1554 Taking a break from the magpie search, I pass the next half hour out on the peninsula, poking around in the shallows off-shore, amidst the new green shoots of nebraska sedge. There I find the predictable six-spotted fishing spider, as well as some small diving beetles and snails with ovate, cone-shaped shells. I pick up one of these physa snails and sit it in my palm, waiting for it to fully extend for a photograph. This requires significant patience, and in the end the snail is only half cooperative

1619 From the peninsula, I decided it was time to head uphill, following a chokecherry stand up a draw of the coulee. To my surprise, it was a complete dead-end, no magpie nests at all. I did, however, flush a couple grey partridge, the seemingly eternal residents of this particular slope

1429 Making my way back down, I got a text from Mahoney, wanting me to come home. So with the wind at my back I ambled off toward the truck, looking forward to another visit tomorrow