26 April 2010

Black Widow And Owlets

IIII ) lllllllll Black Widow And Owlets (25Apr10)

1115 Might as well begin the countdown. The two main goose nests on the big river island each have 7-8 days left to hatching. The subpond and big island nests of Sspopiikimi both have 8-9 days, and the small island nest has 24-25. We could see goslings next Sunday!!

1235 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - off for my weekly visit to the coulee where the rivers conjoin. Not as much wind today, but still plenty cold and wet, the skies thick with dark cumulous clouds. Not likely to see any of my slithering friends above ground today, given the temperature, but I do hope to relocate the mystery ant nest that I failed to find last week

1241 When I walked out to the garage to climb in the truck, there was a sulphur-colored butterfly waiting on the concrete floor for me. No idea where it came from, or if it was just trying to avoid the chill, but I'm hoping it's the precursor of an eventful afternoon

1318 Starting my way down the coulee slope, I set myself a goal of digging at least twelve musineon roots. It's not a heck of a lot, but it's better than nothing, which is what I've come back with on my last two visits here, and I can't let the opportunity pass completely. At the same time, twelve roots could take me anywhere from forty minutes to an hour to acquire, using a small crowbar as a digging stick. It's not easy work

1328 I pull just two roots by the time I reach the rattlesnake hibernaculum, although I pass by dozens. Another, very similar, plant has bloomed in the past week, which is also described as musineon in various field guides. The two plants grow side by side, both are very close to the ground and have similar flowers. But the leaves of one are much more finely divided and parsley-like, and that’s the one I’m familiar with eating, though apparently the other is useful as well. I guess the only way I’ll get to the bottom of the mystery of the “real” musineon is to consult Budd’s Flora

1336 At the hibernaculum, there are meadowlarks singing, and I see two more plants are coming into bloom. One is the tiny, edible yellow prairie violet that grows all over these slopes each summer. The other is a ground-hugging, white-blooming, cushion milkvetch

1352 Since I'm already here, I can't help but at least check on the rattlers. And it's a good thing I do, because to my surprise, one of them is out. It's a bit smaller than the snake I saw last week, but it's at the same den entrance. Like its relative, it had not come all the way out to bask. In order to see it, I had to look down into the den. And like last week, none of the snakes using the neighboring holes had emerged yet. However, at the farthest den entrance, which I know to be the long-time home of two fair-sized snakes and their babies, I was greeted by a beautiful, female black widow. She’s built her odd geometric webbing across part of the den opening, and is sitting out on the silk, displaying a classic red hour-glass on her abdomen. How intense to be kneeled down beside a rattlesnake den photographing a black widow! Maybe next week I'll be able to get snake and spider in the same shot

1413 So far, so good. Now I'm hoping the luck holds as I climb up the adjacent ridge to have a sit-down break before searching for my lost ant colony

1435 I don't have to look very fall at all to find the ants. After lifting about ten small rocks, almost all of which had black field crickets under them (oddly enough), I found the white slab I'd originally looked under weeks ago. And sure enough, there were the little ants - black abdomens with red legs and no obvious striping. That's what I was hoping for. I gathered about twenty of them up to ship to the specialist, and now I can move on down the ridge and into the forest to check on the kestrel and the owl nest

1512 My nest stop-off point is at the riverbank, where I get a brief glimpse of the kestrel flying above one of the coulee cliffs just upstream. The water is high today, owing to recent rains. Before I head into the woods, I'm going to take a brief walk along the cobbled shore. I didn't see any tiger beetles on the path on my way down, and I'm not sure where they go when the ground is so moist and the wind brings a chill. But I figure if I'm to see them anywhere today, it will be among or under these cobbles

1530 Unfortunately, the riverfront is exceedingly quiet today. I walk down the shore about a hundred meters, loop around and return, all under protest of a lone, resident killdeer. Along the way, I turn several cobbles with my boots. But there seem to be very, very few insects or arachnids around. The only encounter I have is with a tiny, sand-colored spider

1604 Leaving the river behind, I enter the forest and make a straight course for the owl nest. After so much waiting, I don't have my hopes up. But when I finally get within view, I'm pleasantly surprised. Mama kakanottsstookii is sitting on the nest, and right beside her are two fluffy, white owlets. Papa is here too, in a tree not far away. He’s slender and dignified

1610 In celebration of the owl nest success, I decide to throw a few new logs on the survival shelter I've been building at the edge of this meadow. What's the connection? I don't know, make-shift field station so that next year I can maybe spend more time watching the owl babies develop? Doesn't really matter, I feel strong enough to lift logs, and I do so. I notice that someone else has taken an interest in the shelter too, and that they've hung a deer skull as decor inside. I don't mind a bit, but it would be better if they contributed to finishing off the outer shell

1632 It's now time to start making my way back up the slope, but I figure I'll take a different route for my return today. I walk from the owl nest toward the downstream end of the forest, purposely winding through the trees in such a way that I'll eventually enter the old oxbow corridor where the large diamond willow clumps reside. There, I hope to possibly find the yellow-bellied sapsuckers who mark the willows each summer. But alas, they've still not returned. Those I do encounter are the usuals: flickers, chickadees, robins, and starlings. The latter are mixing some great hawk impressions with their other chatter, and they’re chasing one another in pairs around the canopy. Their mating rituals must be intensifying

1654 To ascend the coulee slope, I start off following a narrow drainage vein that passes between two badland cliffs. I know that these cliffs hold the fossils of alligators and turtles up above, and I'm always on the lookout for long-life iinisskimm, a certain ammonite-like shell, but smaller and more round. It doesn't take me long, as I make my way up, to start finding fossils. But what I see are small white snails with cone-shaped shells. Not what I'm looking for

1657 Soon I'm passing over the first ledge, about half-way to the coulee rim. Here, at the cut of the erosion that defines the drainage vein I've just climbed, there's a beautiful musineon plant. All I have to do to uproot it is pry an inch or two into the soft soil below the ledge. In the end, I come out with the longest root yet, about sixteen inches. It's a good reminder that long taproots are best collected at the edge of steep erosion

1729 The rest of my hike up is fairly uneventful. I gather more of the yellow violets and their greens as I climb. I notice the first yellow blooms of ponokaowahsin (elk-food), otherwise known as wooly gromwell. I see flickers scouring the slopes for ants, and meadowlarks singing from atop tufts of skunkbrush. At one point, I find a girl's insulated toque, right beside a hollow where someone has obviously collected a concretion. I take the hat up with me to the coulee rim and hang it on a fencepost by where visitors park, in case they return