03 April 2010

The Gumboot Gambit

IIII ) llllllllllll Flotilla Nest (29Mar10)

1843 Sspopiikimi - under threatening rain-clouds, Mahoney and I have come for a short visit. We walk from our truck to the ksisskstakioyis, listening to a chickadee singing its "here sweetie" song from the forest behind the wet meadows, and passing only the midpond mi'ksikatsi couple

1846 The aapsspini have been feeding up on the greens of the neighboring golf course. Territories seem to have shifted slightly south, so that the midpond couple now have control of the ksisskstakioyis, while the "lodge" couple (which I'll have to rename the canal geese) are from the subpond canal back partially into the south pool. However, they're not allowed to drift too far in that direction before the south pond couple themselves start complaining. No sight or sound of the subpond couple, but I suspect they're still around

1855 There are pairs of magpie foraging right along the water's edge by the wet meadows, and from off the side of the beaver lodge. I wonder what they're eating. Mahoney suggests they're after the snails I started seeing last week, which makes sense. It's good to have her back out here with me

1907 We decide to take a walk down to the peninsula to look out over the south pool. On our way over, the aapsspini came back to the golf course. The south, canal, and (likely) subpond couples were there first, with the two former staying oddly close together. When the midpond couple then came up as well, it started a big fight. The canal gander wound-up chasing off both the midpond and southpond pairs, clearing the way for his wife to eat in peace. The subpond couple was still on the greens, but staying far off to themselves, just as they do on the pond. I took some photos of the canal couple. We're hoping the patterns of their white cheek patches confirm our suspicions that they are the same successful parents from last summer

1919 There's a pair of mi'ksikatsi down in the pool beside the peninsula. Mahoney sends me down that way to check things out. Of course, the mallards quickly fly away, circling back overhead several times. I then make my way into the bulberry brush just above, hoping this will coax their return

1931 Since I'm already in the brush, I figure it's a good opportunity to check in on the magpie nest. So onto my hands and knees, through the rabbit trails, and up the trunk of the torny bush I go. Again the nest is empty. I know these birds have been repairing their old nests. Perhaps they're waiting for the buds to open before they deposit their eggs

1938 My stint in the brush does not coax the mallards back. We're determined to learn of their nest locations here this year BEFORE the ducklings hatch. Not an easy challenge when working with such elusive birds

1943 When I go back up the cutbank, Mahoney informs me that the ksisskstaki have awoken. She'd seen some walk up the side of the lodge. We picked-up to head in that direction and didn't have to go far before we came across one of the beavers grazing on bulrush roots along the shoreline. We sit and watch as it pulls a root out, washes it off, and crunches on it for several minutes before pulling another root. It takes four or five in the time we sit with it, before entering the water again and moving to another shore

2006 The whole time we watched the beaver feeding, the midpond goose could be seen working on a nest atop the bulrush flotilla remains of this winter's food cache that drifted just north of the beaver lodge to form an island off-shore. We moved over to film her work. As we watched, two ksisskstaki came out of their lodge and swam to her. One dove under the flotilla, came out on the other side, and climbed on the flotilla to watch the goose. Soon the second beaver had swam an arch around the flotilla, and then then two together made a simultaneous diving splash. This did not bother the goose much. She looked up from her work of gathering and placing sticks around her body, then after a few seconds stood up, stomped the material down, sat again and went back to it

2016 We were able to catch a glimpse of this year's ksisskstaki pup before it got too dark. It swam typically close to the lodge, and was attended to by an older relative.. As we walked away, one of the beavers swam toward us along the shoreline. When it got close, Mahoney said, "Hello. Are you going to just watch us, or are you going to come on shore?" So at that the beaver came onto shore. It climbed right out on the bank below us, looked at us, grabbed something amidst the tall grass, then casually returned to the water and swam away

IIII ) lllllllllllll Ksiistssikomm (30Mar10)

1633 Some amazing clouds pushing through kainaissksaahko, looks like ksiistsikomm is migrating in just a little bit earlier this year. Caw, caw, caw!!

IIII ) llllllllllllll Gum-Boot Gambit (31Mar10)

1726 Sspopiikimi - just arrived, on my lonesome for the evening, and pulling into the gravel parking lot I can already see there's been an important change since yesterday's hint of an electrical storm. The bulberry brush has gone to flower

1730 When I reach the pond, I can see two mi'ksikatsi couples. There's the usual midpond pair, and another on the north end. The absinthe, nebraska sedge, and other grasses along the cutbank are all exhibiting a lot of new, green growth

1740 Walking south along the cutbank, I expect to find the midpond goose sitting on her flotilla nest, but she's not yet. In fact, I don't see her or her gander anywhere. The subpond and canal couples are within view in their respective territories. There's also a single southpond goose standing out in the shallows. This makes me suspect it is the gander, and that his goose is nested nearby. I'll have to round the pond and go on the wet meadows to investigate. It appears, though, that we're all going to be rained on tonight. Heavy clouds are moving in from the north, and have already blocked the Sun

1748 Looking out over the wide pool from a bench above the peninsula, I've spotted the southpond goose. She appears to be nested on a tuft of sneeze-weed on the big island. There are also two mi'ksikatsi couples here, keeping some distance between each other, but otherwise moving fairly freely about the waters, and I can hear a house finch calling from the lone westen cottonwood in the bulberry and currant patch

1816 Testing out the smaller (pocket-sized) of my new plant presses, I went into the brush and collected leaves of absinthe and mullein, as well as small stems of bulberry and currant. Here, the bulberry have not flowered, but one of the currant plants has opened its buds to begin releasing leaves

1837 Somehow, amazingly, I've avoided being rained on. The heavy clouds with grey drapery touching down to the ground have been parting and moving around my flanks. But as I wade through the shallows, amidst the reeds and canals of the wide south pool, looking for that perfect example of beaver-chewed bulrush root, no end to the oncoming clouds has appeared in sight

1859 I turn over a few boards and logs as I move around the south bend to the wet meadows, finding only wolf spiders of various size, one sow bug and a meadow slug. Soon I'm on the wet meadow and fairly close to the goose on the big island. I don't think I can get out there with just gum-boots, I need my waders. But from the looks of it, she's not incubating yet. As I walked around the south bend, she took a brief paddle to the shore to eat, and has since returned and been standing at the nest site. There is what appears to be one egg beside her. Three magpies just came to bother her, and her gander came right away to chase them off

1904 Mahoney and I have never witnessed magpies raiding the goose nests, but it's entirely possible. We have seen ring-billed gulls open and feed on the eggs, and on one occasion last year a gander gave chase to a pelican who we suspect was after the eggs

1925 Though tempted to go out in the water, I walk instead over to the subpond, where I thought there would almost certainly be another nest. There wasn't, at least not that I could find. The subpond pair had gone over to feed at the golf greens and I circled the entire perimeter of their water in search of a hidden cache. Nothing. I hope it will be soon to come

1927 On my way around the subpond, I again turn over wood looking for insects. Beneath the mouse-skull beam I find the usual meadow slugs and night-crawlers. Then, at another board, I find a wonderful beetle with ridges and lines along its back that remind me of scarification tattoos. I take the beetle for later identification (note: granulated carabid)

1929 Having gone all the way around the subpond, I've decided that I really do need to wade out to the big island, despite knowing that I'll get wet. The goose is now sitting her nest again, and I want to know a) if she's incubating, and b) how many eggs she has. My plan is to hike my pant legs up as high as they'll go, and remove my socks and the felt-liners from my gum-boots. This way, hopefully, I'll avoid leaches in the mud, and be able to drain out my boots after, put the liners back in, and walk away with dry feet

1952 My boot gambit worked, for the most part... I won't be sloshing my way home. Unfortunately though, what I found was an empty nest. The goose evacuated right away as I started toward her. She'd made her nest as a platform of sneeze-weed stems and a few down feathers. But there are no eggs yet. No doubt she will be laying them throughout the next week. I suspect we'll have a full clutch in the next eight or nine days

2007 It's getting dark now. The ksisskstaki are out, the kakanottsstookii of the south forest is hoo-hoo-hoo-ing, and the coyote songs just started up from the coulee slope. Still, I make sure to check the subpond canal entrance and the flotilla for more newly established goose nests. Nothing yet by the canal, but the flotilla has a bulrush platform, the same one we witnessed the goose constructing there two night ago

2020 I made just one more stop on the way out of the wet meadows, to turn over a log where I found another beetle. I don't know how I saw it, with the closing darkness. It was a smaller, black carabid, its back lined and dimpled. Again, I took it along to identify, and from there made a straight walk up through the forest, where the robins were singing to sleep, and then along the path circling the north end of the pond, back to the truck

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Coyote Kill (1Apr10)

1756 Sspopiikimi - Out for our evening stroll around the pond. Mahoney's feeling good and wants to do the whole loop

1758 Taking a counter-sunwise route, we follow the west cutbank the length of the water to the wide south pool. All four aapsspini couples are here, and were feeding on the golf course when we arrived. The big island nest couple (previously referred to as the southpond pair) made their way to the island as we approached. Sometime in the next few days I'll wade out there again to monitor their progress

1801 Also present are three mi'ksikatsi couples, one at midpond and two in the southern shallows. Mahoney and I have a goal this season to locate at least one of their nests before the incubation, something we've never been able to do with these elusive ducks, and which will require we spend some days observing them in the near future as their nesting will follow immediately and overlap that of the geese

1855 After surveying the pond, we walk the levee path between Sspopiikimi and the south woods, to Oldman River. Along the way, we saw a pair of magpies picking off the ground in the forest. This made us curious as to whether they are nest-building in the little bulberry patch in the forest. We also wanted to check on the kakanottsstookii. So after a brief rest on the cutbank above the river, where the first growth of leafy spurge is coming up, we walked down into the forest and began searching. The kakanottsstookii was nowhere in sight. But as we looked around we noticed there were not just one pair of magpies, but several moving around through the trees. Following them, we soon saw that they were congregating at something large and dead. From a distance, we could only see that they were feeding off a carcass, the exposed rib-cage and body cavity were facing us. Our first concern was that it could be human, given our proximity to Sikoohkotoki and the size of the body. But moving closer the head and legs of a mule deer soon came into view. It was a classic coyote kill, the deer had been eaten from the hind-quarters forward, its guts almost all removed

1939 From the kill site, we take another little break and then hike downstream to the big river island to see what's happening there. It looks like there are three aapsspini couples established here. None of them are sitting nests yet, but they may have eggs cached on the island. I will have to wade out there in the next day or two to check

1945 Just across from the big river island, along the steep cutbank on our side, we've spotted a new shoreline ksisskstakioyis. These may be the beavers who moved out of the north-shore ksisskstakioyis in the pond last summer

1955 Moving from the river back to the north end of the pond, we heard and then saw a beaver munching bulrush roots near the wet meadows on the far north end. It must have noticed us too, because it soon paddled out into the water and began making its way south. For a few minutes, we thought perhaps it had become the new resident of the north-shore lodge. The beaver followed a muskrat resident right up to the lodge entry, but when the latter dove to go in, the beaver turned sharp and continued to follow the underwater canal south. With the new pup at the main lodge though, we'd be surprised if none of the older siblings move out to the north-shore

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Islands of Oldman River, Sikoohkotoki (2Apr10)

1109 Oldman River, Sikoohkotoki - Mahoney and I are down at the river proper today, searching for aapsspini eggs. There are two sizeable islands along the route we intend to travel, both of which are always home to multiple nests. And even as we walk in this morning, we can already see there's a goose laying low on the first island, no doubt covering her nest platform

1139 The first island is defined by a canal on one side and the river on the other. This canal serves as a route for migrating fish passage around an otherwise difficult to ascend weir that crosses the width of the river. On the upstream end of the canal, there's a small piece of land connecting the main shore to the island, and this is how we get across

1156 We take our first break on some rocks just across this little connecting bridge. We have to take it easy today so Mahoney doesn't over-work herself, since she's only been out of surgery one week. There, we see a small-ish, black ground beetle crossing our path and, lifting a couple rocks, we also find an isocapnia stone fly. The first bee or wasp of the season does a fly-by. I think it was a hornet. And there are several ring-billed gulls calling from the river

1222 After our break, we start a counter-sunwise route around the island. The goose we thought was surely sitting on at least a nest platform, judging by her prone-hiding behavior, was not. And when we came into the thicker sweetclover and licorice root stands, Mahoney thought it best she turn back and look for a seat on the main shore while I continued to search the perimeter and thick brush alone

1251 My hunt was in vain, with the exception of learning that there will be at least two couples making attempts here. It seems these river geese are not quite as far along as those at the pond, two of whom have built platforms already and will be laying their eggs over the next several days. Still, we have one more island out here to check

1255 While I found no nests on the first island, I did get an opportunity to turn a few logs on one of the more sandy beaches. Underneath, I saw stone centipedes, meadow slugs and ants (of course), but also a couple crickets and two new ground beetles to try and identify

1306 Walking upstream through the forest, the only bird calls we hear are the stuccato sound of a northern flicker. The bulberries here are not opening their buds yet. In fact, the saskatoons appear to be closer to doing so

1348 In order to get out to the second island, we have to walk across a beaver dam. There are two ksisskstakioyiistsi out this way. One is on the river main, the other in the backwater behind the dam. Both are shore lodges

1351 The nesting situation is much the same on the second island as on the first. The aapsspini couples here - three that we saw - are sticking close to the territories they'll attempt at. None, so far as we could find, had constructed their platforms yet

1414 Hungry for lunch, we began hiking the return trail through the forest. Several times our path was crossed by various wolf spiders and seven-spot ladybugs. Stopping off at one of the benches beside the river, we find six mallard males all together in a cohort. This is interesting, because it may mean their lady friends are sitting on nests somewhere nearby in the coulee

1433 The last we heard as we came out of the woods at the truck were two niipomakii singing their "here sweetie" songs back and forth from across opposite sides of the canal