18 April 2010

The Mi'ksikatsi Nest

IIII ) l The Mi’ksikatsi Nest (17Apr10)

1305 Sspopiikimi - a nice warm day here, Mahoney and I plan to make the best of it. The turtles too are pleased. Dozens are basking on every conceivable island, sometimes piling on top of each other for a spot in the sunlight

1327 All the aapsspini couples are here, and then some. The midpond, subpond, island, and south (recently arrived) pairs are in their respective territories. There are also three additional pairs - two on the golf greens and one in the pool behind the peninsula. Likely one of these three pairs is the canal couple. But if it is either of the two pairs feeding on the golf greens, then we may have a sixth pair trying to establish themselves near the peninsula

1333 The mi'ksikatsi situation has definitely changed, as noted yesterday, and we suspect nesting is underway. On our walk along the length of the pond, we saw two drakes with the blue-winged teal beside the north-pond cattails. The midpond drake is alone today. Here at south pond now, we see only one couple, that of the shallows. This is far different than in the weeks leading up to makoyisttsomo'ki, the final winter storm

1347 The mi'ksikatsi couple of the shallows is being harassed by a lone drake. He gave chase to the hen, whose drake flew with her in loops around the south pool, and running on the wet meadows, trying to escape

1354 The mallard chase continued until the hen went to sit beside the nesting island goose. This must be a safe zone, because both of the drakes, her husband and the other one, are keeping their distance

1359 Finally, the mallard hen left to rejoin her husband. She having gone, the competing drake has now climbed up on the island to nap beside the nesting goose

1424 While sitting on the south bench, a small, seed-eating ground beetle walked up to visit. Th
en we noticed, down in the pool behind the peninsula, that there are actually three geese, rather than two. One of them is off by itself. While Mahoney's staying back on the bench, finishing some crochet work on a sock, I'm off to investigate

1432 Starting my way down in that direction, I notice that flower buds are beginning to appear amidst the new leaf clusters on the golden currant bushes. While I'm photographing these buds, I see what looks like a drab, off- white rock being carried by an ant. Looking closer though, the rock is moving on its own accord, propelled by eight tiny red legs. I kneel down and lean in close to get a better look, and then realize that it's actually a hyper-engorged wood tick, almost the size of a dime, it's body the soft yet plump feel of a grape that's starting to go bad

1439 I figure the tick was feeding off one of the mountain cottontails who inhabit this brush. We saw one that had grown pretty big behind a rabbit's ear last year. I've never seen one quite as large as this though, and it creeps me out a little. I start to feel itchy here and there, paranoid that others are upon me. At this point, a massive wolf spider, also with a swollen abdomen, happens by. This does not help relieve the sensation

1451 Next I have to face my greater fear as Mahoney joins me for a stroll through the flowering bulberries. If I thought there were a lot of bees here yesterday, it's nothing like this afternoon. The whole place is humming with the beat of their wings. For a guy who's been stung multiple times almost every year of his life, it's no easy matter to discipline myself to relax and enjoy being in their presence. My tenuous hope is that this season the bees and I will finally agree to peaceful coexistence

1539 Leaving the honeybees to their work, we set off across the marsh, searching the cattail and bulrush stands for potential mallard nests. Something tells me though, with the shift of the drakes to north-pond, we'd better also take a walk around the absinthe field. Certainly there are no nests in the reeds, as far as we can tell. The strange lone goose follows us all the way through the marsh. We wonder if it is one of the goslings from last year, perhaps the one who didn't learn to fly in time and was left with us an extra couple weeks while its family moved on

1547 When we reach the shallows below the blind, Mahoney and I sit at the water's edge, photographing spiders, kayak striders, and more of the seed-eating beetles. The island mama comes off to the wet meadows for a quick lunch. This of course causes her gander to act ultra-defensively, bickering and gesturing to the shallows couple, then giving chase to the lone goose, who flies even closer to us for escape. Soon mama is back at her island and the squabble quiets down

1551 There are a pair of sandpipers or snipes here, but they are being very quiet and cautious, always flying away before we can get anywhere near enough for an identification

1623 Trying to get closer, to have a good look at the peeps, we isolate one of them in the subpond. Mahoney stands to one side of the water while I walk slowly around to the other side. Our thinking is that I may get a picture of it in the shallows, but if it flies away Mahoney will be ready to snap some shots as it goes. One way or another we hoped to get at least an identification. But things don't work out. As expected, the shorebird takes flight, and we never do get a focused image. Nor does the bird make a sound

1629 Walking back to Mahoney, I have to cross the subpond beaver canal. Right on the edge of shore, I see a painted turtle go in the water. I try to reach in and grab it, but I'm not quick enough. I tell Mahoney it was close, but she disagrees. "Close," she tells me, "Is when you at least touch it." Not thirty seconds later, I see another one cruising through the canal. This time I reach deep and grab it up. It's an older animal, quite large as painted turtles go. We get out the video camera and ask the turtle to help us do a quick lecture on our relationship to them as Niitsitapi. Then we release it back into the canal

1633 All the while we're fiddling around the subpond with the peeps and turtle, the resident gander in the reeds and his mate on their nest in a nearby cottonwood quietly watch us

1656 After the turtle encounter, we walk past the ksisskstakioyis, where there are still more turtles basking, then cut across the wet meadow into the forest, to find a log in the shade, sit, and cool down. The place we choose is right in the middle of the trees where the starlings nest. I'm still listening for the catbird call I heard a few days ago, hoping to determine whether it was the real thing or just a starling in mimic. But oddly the birds are not here this late afternoon. The forest is quiet of all but the occasional flicker call

1716 Once I felt rested, I began walking back toward the wet meadows, leaving Mahoney to rest further and work her crochet in the forest. At the edge of the tree-line, my attention was attracted to a magpie, calling back and forth from one of the poplars to its mate down in the bulberry brush on the meadows. At the same time, I noticed a whole bunch of micro-moths stirred up around a nearby log. I stopped to take a few photographs of the moths, and while I was doing so the magpies quit talking and disappeared

1733 Continuing on, I move to explore the cattail stand beside the midpond goose nest. The mama incubating here is completely camouflaged, even at close range. I walk in the shallows of the pond, with small pike darting between my legs and male redwings calling from the tops of the reeds all around me

1736 Another couple peeps take wing just before I come within sight of them. They are hunting the damp, mossy land amidst the reeds, rather than the water itself. This time, one of them gives an alarm call as it flies away, so I should be able to identify it from our sound files back home

1808 After the midpond cattail patch, I go back up on the meadows to turn some logs. Here I find several small ant colonies, three ground beetles, and more of the almost microscopic, white springtails that I thought were mites last week. Soon, Mahoney comes to meet me, stopping far back on the meadow and hiding behind a burm to play peekaboo. She texts me, "I see you." And once I find her and text back her position, she gets up to start walking

1814 She hasn't gone fifty meters when I feel my pocket buzz again with another text. She's found an abandoned mallard nest with four broken eggs

1824 Now we know for sure that the mi'ksikatsi are caching their eggs, so without further ado we head straight up to the next most likely nesting location, the absinthe field. Along the way, Mahoney tells me she saw one of the peeps up close, and that it was a snipe

1846 With exception of eight fuzzy, dark-brown caterpillars with light lateral stripes (whose identification still eludes me), our search of the absinthe field is fruitless. Now the dusk is coming and we’re running low on energy. Since we're close to the truck, we've decided to call it a day, head out to get some dinner. But tomorrow we'll be back to survey the fields and wet meadows some more

1918 Damn good thing we do tick checks as soon as we get home from the pond. Mahoney just totally saved me from one on the little vampires on my back