28 April 2010

Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, And Gander Battle

IIII ) lllllllllll Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, And Gander Battle (27Apr10)

1829 Sspopiikimi – it’s been three sleeps since our last visit, which is too much. We know from experience that in this season a lot can change occur daily

1831 Walking in at midpond, we find the resident mallard couple, whose nest got eaten out, feeding just off-shore of the wet meadows. And with them is a new face, the first cinnamon teal to return to the pond

1842 We head north to check the oldest asparagus plant and find that it's sent up a lot of new shoots to replace those we collected. Some of this growth is probably also related to the fact that Mahoney generously cleared away all the tumbleweed stems from prior years

1848 Since we're moving in that direction anyway, we decide to hike a sunwise loop tonight. This brings us very quickly past the north end of the pond and up onto the steep cutbank overlooking Oldman River. Here we see that panicles of the cottonwood and poplar flowers have elongated, and that the chokecherry trees have raised their own flowering panicles from between their new leaves. I will have to watch for their pollinators over the next while

1853 The geese at the river island seem to be doing well, at least those on the two nests we can see from our shore. There should be two nests on the other side of the island as well, but I haven't dressed appropriately for wading out to check their status without making myself very uncomfortable for the next couple hours

1858 At the downstream end of the river island, where the flow spreads and shallows-out a bit, there's a congregation of twenty pelicans. They're not fishing at present, just sleeping and grooming, and looking as prehistoric as ever, but surely their presence is an indicator that the fish run which began last week is still on-going

1901 Standing beside the pelicans are two ring-billed gulls. Mahoney smartly points out that they're probably there to snag scraps of fish retrieved from the depths by the larger birds, although in that respect I’d be pretty surprised to learn that the pelicans ever spared much

1902 It feels warmer out here than we expected, so after surveying the river scene we turn around to make our circuit in the opposite direction again, bringing us back to midpond so we can stash our jackets in the truck. Though we've only been away a couple minutes, there are already additional faces. The first yellow-headed blackbird of the season is here, perched on a cattail, and our scabby redhead couple has just flown in. They paddle like an advanced guard in front of us as we head south, stopping for Scabby herself to dive for food in certain pools

1913 As we near the ksisskstakioyis, we overtake the redheads. Scabby is more interested in eating than she is in maintaining the distance between us. Her husband's not so sure, but there's nothing he can do... she's going to feast Right Now. At this point, we also pass a coot couple who are heading in the opposite direction

1920 With my head down, trying to keep up on these notes, I inadvertently pass right by two male yellow-rumped warblers who are sitting on a low branch of a cottonwood beside the trail. Mahoney is not so unaware though, and she’s able to take a nice picture to show me

1925 There’s no sign of the midpond aapsspini couple whose nest was recently destroyed, at least not in their territory. But when we get to the south-pond bench, we see both island nesters and their ganders, as well as the canal couple and sixth pair, the latter of whom are standing in the shallows. Also on this side we find the mallard pair of the peninsula, another coot couple and, surprisingly enough, a second redhead pair. One of the coots is giving its mating call, the kind of chuck-chuck-chuck that often incites an orgy

1937 Sitting on the bench, watching all the birds below, it seems the two island ganders are getting along pretty good, floating together in the space between their respective nests. The big island gander eventually drifts away, and the small island gander starts bathing. The splashing of the bathing bird is enough to upset the other, who flies back over. It looks like nothing is going to happen as it lands beside its neighbor, and I comment to Mahoney on how well they're getting along. Just then, almost as on cue, all hell breaks loose. The two go head to head, biting and locking on to one another's necks, clawing with their feet, and beating one another with their wings. It's the worst goose fight we've ever seen. The mama of the small island, nearest the fight, jumps off her nest to try and help her gander. Right away the couple of the shallows moves in to attempt a theft of the nesting site. But mama's too quick, she spots them and fights them off, continuing afterward to move between trying to help her husband and fending off the potential nest wreckers. The two ganders, for their part, remain locked. They wear each other down, their wing beats becoming very struggled. This has gone on too long, and I'm thinking that they're stuck and in danger of drowning. So while Mahoney continues to video-record the event, I dash off down the peninsula, prepared to hazard the muck and leaches to tear the suffering ganders apart. But I don't have to. When they see me coming, they break up on their own accord. Though I'm sure they're both hurt, the small island gander is definitely the victor. His opponent slinks off in the water, soon to be joined by its mate. Now both males are far apart from one another, tending their wounds. There’s a film of downy feathers floating on the water

2008 After the goose fight, I stroll into the bulrush thicket above the peninsula to check for more warblers. What I find instead are lots of the resident mountain cottontails. They’re eating grass and allowing me to come insanely close. After watching them a few minutes, I figure I'd better go get Mahoney. She wouldn't want to miss this

2016 Of course, when I get back to the bench, Mahoney has her own excitement underway. There's a muskrat cruising the shoreline just below her and a lone, male northern shoveler has just flown in

2020 The shoveler is feeding, and when the muskrat swims away we head back into the brush. The golden currants are flowering out now in yellow blooms, which will become the first berries we collect. This evokes another thought, why are the bulberry the first to bloom, but the last berries we gather? It takes them the entire summer season to produce the fruit we eat

2023 The cottontails are no longer being as careless in our presence. Though we spot a couple of them, they’re cowering in the dense buckbrush. Others we only hear move far into the bulberries

2030 With the entire coulee now in dusk's shadow, we start our walk back to the truck. Along the way, we see another two muskrats, each swimming independently along the shoreline, stopping to rub their bellies on all of the projecting rocks and logs. We also pass by the merganser couple, who are usually to be found only on the river. It's odd to see them here

2036 Directly across from the ksisskstakioyis, one of the residents is out on shore, eating absinthe greens. It casually returns to the water at our approach and swims back to the lodge. Then, a little further on, nearing midpond, two coot couples are engaged in an orgy. They move back and forth toward one another, heads low to the water, displaying the white spots on their bums. Occasionally one will make a dash toward a member of the opposite couple, sometimes mounting briefly. Then the couples separate and sing, and the whole routine starts over again

2040 The coots are such characters, we love watching them all summer - from these early orgy dances, to their nesting in the reeds, the dunking of defensive males by new mallard mothers, the eventual emergence of bald-headed babies, and the way the parents train them heavy-handedly to share food, and finally the period before they leave, when they're feeding the wigeons who pass through on their way south. Coot watching is never dull, and we're so glad the fun is just starting again

2131 The tick check pays off again, Mahoney got the one off the back of my leg tonight before it decided to sink in for a meal