15 April 2010

Makoyisttsomo'ki Brings Wood Duck

II Wood Duck (14Apr10)

1145 Sspopiikimi - it's the beginning of Matsiyikkapisaiki'somm, and makoyisttsomo'ki arrived yesterday afternoon, continuing to pack on heavy, wet snow through the night. Already this morning, the thaw has begun

1154 This is good news for the robins and starlings, dozens flocking together on the newly cleared patches of wet ground to take advantage of the rising worms

1201 We walk the length of the pond from north to south, hearing a few more redwings have arrived. With the snow, it's hard to tell whether the midpond and canal mamas are still sitting their nests in their respective parts of the wet meadows. I'm sure at least the midpond goose is, because her gander's in his usual on-guard position by the ksisskstakioyis. Never-the-less, we'll head down on the wet meadows soon to check

1207 The island goose is visible on her nest, with her gander patrolling south-pond. As for the goose in the hawk tree, we'll have to cross the wet meadows to check on her as well

1209 Mallard count so far is four couples - midpond, ksisskstakioyis, nest island, and south pool (who are sitting on the second largest island). Three ring-billed gulls are drifting noisily overhead, searching no doubt for abandoned nests

1232 Passing by the bulberry and currant brush above the peninsula, we start seeing pheasant tracks in the snow. Just then, the rooster lets out a call from somewhere in this brush, sending me on an expedition to find him. In order to do so, I have to hike down the cutbank, no easy feat in this wet-pack snow. Twice I fall down on my butt. I do catch a glimpse of the hen, and lots of tracks, but no contact with the colorful rooster who's more often heard than seen

1242 Aside from the pheasants, the bulberry and currant brush also held a new arrival today, a dark junco, or motoisisttsii, just a bit too skitterish to get a good picture of

1245 I catch up to Mahoney at the river bench below the high-level bridge. There are three aapsspini couples here, and a mi'ksikatsi pair. A gander from one of the aapsspini couples on the opposite side of the river flies over to attack one of the other couples who have strayed too far upstream. The goose he targets dives underwater at the last second and comes up beside him unscathed to swim away. We don't often see a diving escape among the geese

1249 After the skirmish, the would-be victims move downstream again while the attacker regroups with his wife. Then the latter take flight and head over to the wet meadows. This could be the canal couple, who are alpha geese prone to brawling. All the more reason we need to check in on their nest. The goose has been sitting on just two eggs, and we are wondering if she gave-up in the storm

1300 Heading now down toward the wet meadows, we're excited to learn of the return of Peekaboo, our favorite porcupine. He is in the same place, maybe even the very same tree, where we encountered him this time last year. And since we haven't seen him around since late summer, it makes me assume he has established summer and winter territories

1308 Yet another new face awaits us when we reach the blind above the shallows. Here we find that a male blue-winged teal has arrived

1329 The answer to our pressing question about the canal couple is soon resolved. For the second time in three years, their nest has failed. The couple are nowhere in sight, their nest is snow covered. And when we lift the snow and sift around in the composting grass of the nest, we find nothing of their eggs. Likely it was a coyote raid, rather than the storm, which did them in

1332 The loss of this nest beside the canal is tragic, but we hardly have time to grieve, because soon there is new excitement. In the subpond with the hawk-tree gander is yet another new arrival, and this one completely unexpected. It's a male wood duck. We've never seen them at Sspopiikimi, ever. It would be entirely wishful to hope that this one might stick around for the summer, given that it flew off right away at our approach

1355 Luckily, when we get over to the midpond nest on the wet meadows, we find that this goose, who we figure as a daughter of the canal couple, is still doing very well. Despite the fact that she has a cowardly, unattentive husband, she has retained all five of her eggs, and even managed to lay a sixth one post-incubation

1420 Our return route takes us south through the forest, to a crude stairway that's more easily ascended when the ground is wet than the steep slopes of north-pond. There are flickers chatting away as we pass. One of them is near when we stop to take a break on a log. It gives its staccato call, then picks at some insect at the top of the snag it's perched on

1535 Sspopiikimi - having brought Mahoney back home to rest up, I turn right back around to do a few more hours at the pond. There's just too much going on out here for me to stick around the house in daylight

1553 This time, I don't bother with a goose and mallard count as I hike the pond's length. I can see that there are roughly the same players here, save for a few additional drakes congregated on one of the islands. I'm more interested in finding out whether the some of the new faces are still around. So I walk straight to the bulberry and currant brush to sit down and wait for the junco

1619 After soaking up just about as much water into the seat of my pants as I could stand, waiting for the junco, I head around the south pool to the blind overlooking the shallows, passing our porcupine friend Peekaboo as I walk, still up in the same tree. Once in the blind, I see that the blue-winged teal is still here too, along with an aapsspini couple who must either be our failed parents or the late-arriving fifth pair who've not established a nest yet

1623 I take off my jacket and toque so I can cool down before I start sweating, and settle in for a bit in the blind. There's a spider here, beside my pack, almost like a harvestman. I take a few pictures to submit to the Spiders of Alberta website, whose designer will give me a speedy identification in return

1646 The gander of the shallows couple knows I'm here, and starts shaking his head in agitation every time I look out over the water. The mi'ksikatsi on the other hand seem to be completely unaware, and are sleeping away the afternoon. A ring-billed gull has come down to bathe. Naato'si himself, the Sun, makes an appearance, breaking momentarily through the stratus clouds. And finally my patience pays off with the teal coming to feed right off shore below me

1702 Next I'm off to look for the wood duck. But rather than approaching openly by way of the wet meadows, I cut through the forest and come down from the tree-line. I don't see it anywhere, which doesn't surprise me. But there are other worthwhile things to do down this way. For instance, I decide to turn over the mouse-skull log, always productive. Underneath, there are the usual meadow slugs and stone centipedes. But there's also a nice, bronze, granulated carabid beetle

1710 As I start wandering the wet meadows, looking under other logs, and wondering what I'll find next, my thoughts hit on the obvious... maybe the wood duck was simply forced to make an emergency landing here last night in the storm. It would make perfect sense. Why else would it show up when we've never seen wood ducks here before?

1735 While still wandering the wet meadows, where I find several ant colonies and yet another granulated carabid, I hear the call of the pheasant rooster close-by in the forest. I decide to move up and sit on a log to wait and see if I can pinpoint the call. Then I hear another sound, the cry-baby call of a grey catbird. Now I'm off to locate this new arrival

1756 As I walk through the forest, I stop to watch a tiny orb-weaving spider who has just caught a gnat in its web. It hurries down, bites the gnat, wraps it with a couple strands of silk, and hauls it up the web to the twig where it hides in waiting

1758 The forest is full of robins, starlings and flickers, all chattering and singing away. I am listening again for the catbird when I notice some of the starlings are hopping in and out of woodpecker cavities, some of the very same holes these starlings nested in last year. It doesn't appear as though they're sitting eggs yet. Both members of each starling couple I'm seeing at these cavities are just as often away as present

1817 My continuing path takes me through to the north side of the forest, over the levee, and down onto the riverbank. I never see or hear the catbird, but I know that it's around somewhere, there's no mistaking it

1834 I walk down the river shore, then back up, expecting to at least see some spiders scurrying around the rocks. Nothing. Is it too muddy? What I do come across is a single, all-red ant. Not your garden variety, red-headed western thatching ant. This one is just solid red, and I'm taking photos to learn its identity

1840 I could go back to the truck at this point. It's close, and it seems like a lot of the activity from earlier in the day is winding down. But it also appears as though I have enough sunlight remaining to make just one more loop around the entirety of the pond, and I think that's what I'll do, considering that I don't know whether we'll be able to get back out here again tomorrow

1902 Peekaboo was on the move, when I came around his way, waddling along on the forest floor and then easily climbing into the heights of another tree

1910 Rounding south-pond, there's a congregation of robins and starlings picking exposed worms off the side of the coulee slope, and using the single cottonwood tree at the end of the bulberry brush as their retreat for safety. I can also see that the ksisskstaki family is awake at the lodge. One of their members is swimming to shore right now

1924 I go to meet the beaver on shore, where it seems to be looking for a certain plant to eat. My presence at close proximity makes it understandably nervous. Soon it re-enters the water, floats off-shore for a few seconds looking at me, then slips underwater and disappears

1931 This ksisskstaki encounter is just what I needed to bring my visit to a close. Looking around, it's hard to believe we had such a massive storm last night. All that remains of so many inches of snow is the much-needed moisture in the soil. It will bring an explosion of new green in the days to follow