06 April 2010

Reunion With Gosling Couple

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Easter Egg Hunt (4Apr10)

0726 Sunlight through yonder bedroom window breaks, signalling this non-cowboy to get out of bed, brew some coffee, strap on my waders, and make travel to the nesting grounds. Easter has arrived, and I'm on the hunt for eggs

0755 Sspopiikimi - greeted on the way in by the chatter of magpies and flickers, and the morning songs of robins

0756 Walking first toward my furthest destination, the big island of south pool, I see that all the aapsspini couples are at their respective nesting sites, not sitting them, but hanging close. The goldeneye pair whistle-winged away from south pool as I came on site, and the mi'ksikatsi presence is growing. Yesterday, there were nine mallards instead of six, this morning there are fourteen. Three of these are together at midpond, the remaining eleven in the south. Of these mallards, there are fewer females than males. Perhaps the boys are going to congregate here while their ladies incubate

0814 It was cold enough last night that the shallows of south pool have frozen over. I make my way to the wet meadows and am soon in place to wade out to the island nest

0823 Four sleeps have passed since I last checked this nest, and in that time I find the goose here has deposited four eggs. Her and her gander are very gracious as I wade out, paddling quietly just off-shore, watching me. At first, the nest appears to hold nothing. It looks like just a sneeze-weed platform. But lifting the top layer, I find concealed four wonderful white eggs. She will have more still before she incubates. Of the four, I take one, and it will be replaced. When I leave the island, the couple returns immediately to investigate. If they note the missing egg, they show no sign of it

0848 My next stop is at the subpond, where I find yet another mallard couple, as well as the resident aapsspini pair. Both take flight as I begin circling their little beaver backwater. The mallards head north, while the geese splash down nearby in the main pond. All the same, their behavior suggests that they haven't constructed a nesting platform here yet. Certainly I don't find one as I complete my subpond round

0917 After the supond, I moved straight over to walk the shore of the main pond, which would take me past the territories of both the canal and midpond geese. There didn't seem to be anything yet from the canal couple, who kept their distance the whole time. And when I waded in to check the flotilla, where we had seen the midpond goose exhibiting nesting behavior last week, there was nothing there either

0918 I'd almost given up, but decided I might as well continue to the cattail and bulrush stands in the northern limits of the midpond couple's territory. And it was a good thing I did, because that's where they're situating their brood this year. Playing a game of hot-cold, judging my proximity to the nest by the level of goose anxiety, I found a cache of just two eggs. They've only now begun. It was extremely hidden on the shore of the wet meadow, and if it weren't for the help of these geese, I'd have never found it. I took one of the two eggs, and hopefully they'll both replenish it and lay several more over the next week. It would be nice to see two successful nests here this year

1001 My last stop at Sspopiikimi is the big river island, only one shore of which we can normally see from our cutbank on the pond side of the river. This is where I'm very glad for waders. The water channeling around the island was deep and fast, nearly pulling me in. The trick is not to resist the current, to walk with it, and soon I am on the island. From our surveys, we had noted an average of three resident goose couples. This number is far short of reality. What I found were at least eight couples and three nests

1001 One of these nests belongs to a pair we've been watching, on our side of the island. They've deposited four eggs so far, of which I took one. At another nest, there were just two eggs yet. Neither of these were actually in the nest itself, they had rolled down the bank below. I took both of these, and hope the goose who lives there gets it together. The third nest I found was beside a log. It had five eggs, one of which had already been raided by a gull or magpie. It was broken open, the contents slurped out. The other four eggs were still cold, meaning that she hasn't started incubating yet, so I took one

1004 In total I've gathered six eggs from five nests at Sspopiikimi this morning. The timing, in terms of non-incubation, is perfect. Now I'm off to the second and final gathering site of the day, Aapsspini Mini (Goose Island)

1238 Aapsspini Mini - setting off across the familiar corn field toward the secluded little oxbow island where we got most of our eggs for the beaver ceremony each year

1239 When I visited last week, there was just one nest with four eggs. But prior experience and the number of other geese preparing platforms there told me it wouldn't be long before the island was full of incubating mothers

1241 I move as quickly as I can across the corn field to the native grassland strip that follows the oxbow's shoreline. There I travel along what is likely a coyote trail, past ball cactus and several huge wood ant hives, and overlooking waters full of mallards and goldeneyes. At one point, a western meadowlark stops near me and, standing atop an old fence post, sings one of its classic song

1243 I'm walking with a purpose today. I'm hiking. It takes me a solid half-hour before I come to within sight of the island, making only one stop along the way, to photograph the first, yellow, four-petalled bulberry blossoms. There are only one or two flowers at most from each bundle of buds, and for this reason perhaps, the bees have not arrived yet

1243 The island is full of geese as expected, but when I wade out to survey there are not nearly as many nests as I'd expect. In fact, I find just two nests and two caches. Both of the caches contain only one egg each, so I leave them be. One of the nests is that which I took from last week, so I don't want to gather more from that goose. I'm happy to see, though, that she made one additional egg. She did not replace to two I took, but at least now she's sitting on three

1244 The new nest had seven eggs. Perhaps I missed a cache here last week. I took one of the seven. I was also able to collect five additional eggs that I found just laying around, not part of any nest or cache. Most of these were on the island shoreline and must have been pushed out by ring-billed gulls, who even now circle overhead. There were several such other ejected eggs that I couldn't take because they had either been fractured on the rocks or completely gull-eaten

1244 Having gathered now a full dozen eggs this morning, the equivalent of about thirty duck or chicken eggs, I again hit the coyote trail to make haste back to the truck. My visits to Aapsspini Mini are done for the year. Though we don't have quite enough eggs yet to feed our ceremony, we won't need many more. The remainder I can collect from those birds yet to nest back at Sspopiikimi and its river island

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Reunion With Gosling Couple (5Apr10)

1221 Sspopiikimi - a beautiful, sunny day at the pond, nothing like the freeze of yesterday morning. So nice to be able to remove another layer of clothing

1228 As usual, for this year at least, there are no aapsspini or mi'ksikatsi at the north end. It will be curious to see if the coots, when they return, use this area. I can't understand the reason for the avoidance. The only thing that's changed is that there are no longer ksisskstaki inhabiting the north shore lodge. Yet those of the main ksisskstakioyis still gather bulrush at the far north. So it's curious...

1232 The midpond aapsspini couple are sticking close to their egg cache. In the cattails just beside them, we see the mallard drake. No sign of his duck. She could be feeding in some hidden canal amidst the cattails, but she also could be nesting. We will scour their territory today, when we get to the wet meadows

1237 We don't see the subpond couple, but they too could be behind their reeds. Both the canal couple and the island nesters are in their respective territories. The canal couple must have an egg cache too, we just haven't found it. There are thirteen mi'ksikatsi in the south pool today

1246 Of the mallards in the south pool, there are five drakes together on the tall island. All the others are couples behaving somewhat territorially. Sitting here on the bench above the peninsula, eating our lunch, we've seen two chases. One sent a couple to the subpond instead of the main pool (they were intruding into the space of a couple who have claimed the shoreline near the big island. The other chase was in the southeast, and ended with the pursuing drake and the chased couple all coming back to their original positions

1318 At the call of a house finch, we walk down to explore the peninsula and the brush above. Here, there are now more red and golden currants opening their leaves, while the neighboring bulberry buds remain completely closed. The wood tick hatch is underway, as I learn the first time I set my backpack down. There are also a lot of greenbottle flies around. Down at the waters edge, many wolf spiders and physa snails

1351 We know that some of the house finches nest in the bulberry and cattail brush above the peninsula. Last year we observed parents feeding their fledglings here. We should probably try to learn whether they are constructing or sitting new nests yet, but our thoughts are more consumed with the possibility of mallard nests in the vicinity. There's a whole chain of tiny islands in the shallows here, completely covered with bulrush and cattail growth. There are too many drakes on the pond, not enough hen ducks. Our guess is that they're here in the dense reeds of the shallows, or hidden in the wet meadows, or perhaps even in the absinthe field on the other side of the pond. Never, it seems, are we able to find these nests except by accident. This season, we hope to do better

1401 We set to work scouring the reeds in one of the areas we've seen a mi'ksikatsi couple are established in. Problem is, the couple is right here, so if there is a nest it will be an egg cache at this point, and even more difficult to locate. After a pretty thorough survey, we give up and head to the south bank. Just as we step on shore there, we encounter a butterfly, black with blue dots and a yellow border on the edges of its wings. We recognize it as one of the common residents here each summer, the mourning cloak, which is always one of the first to emerge because it winters as an adult. We'll have to check into what it looks like as a larva though, so maybe we can match it with one of the caterpillars or chrysalis cocoons we've photographed

1429 Its downright warm out here today, and just to confirm it, as we cross the wet meadows to the subpond, we find several painted turtles have emerged from hibernation. This means the babies will be making their exit from the bank-nests pretty soon. It also means we should expect to begin hearing the chorus frogs, and that we'd better go check the hibernacula of my slithering friends soon, as they'll be waking up. All of this is coming right on time in terms of our lunar calendar. Matsiyikkapisaiki'somm, the frog moon, is right around the corner

1432 We search all around the subpond again for the egg cache of the aapsspini who reside here. No luck. In fact, the couple haven't even been around at all today

1454 Leaving the subpond, we go into the treeline of the forest main to sit and have a break on one of the old logs. As we're sitting, my attention keeps being drawn to the old swainson's hawk nest high up in the canopy, overlooking the wet meadows. It seems like there's something in there. My first thought is of the kakanottsstookii pair, that maybe they'd decided to use it. But looking through my glass, all I can see it that it's something black. I almost convince myself that it's nothing, just part of the branch. But then, as I'm looking at it, I see definite movement. Not much, but it happened. Now I'm up on my feet with my telephoto, walking a wide arch around the tree and snapping shots from different angles. When I get to the side opposite of our log, the situation comes perfectly into view. There in the hawk nest is the subpond goose, peering down at me. She has stuck her eggs up in the forest canopy. Wild. Only time will tell whether this was a good decision

1542 Having had a good long break, we headed back out onto the wet meadows in search of the canal aapsspini cache. We didn't have too look long. I was busy trying to photograph freshwater shrimp in a puddle in one of the dry beaver canals, while Mahoney moved toward the entrance of the main canal. As soon as she got near, the canal couple came right up on shore after her. They did not behave like this yesterday morning when I came through myself, which can only mean that they've finally hidden their first egg

1547 We are very familiar with this couple. Every year they are the toughest parents in town. Two years ago when we found their cache, the gander flew up and totally attacked Mahoney. Unfortunately, their nest failed that year. Last summer, however, they nested on an unreachable island. The gander got in so many battles, he wouldn't let anyone close - goose, duck, beaver, muskrat, you name it. By the time their eggs hatched, with just three fluffy goslings, the gander had feathers sticking out all over the place. Still, he defended his goose through the rest of summer, until the family's departure

1600 Well, this season the couple is tougher than ever. They strutted hissing up to Mahoney, who whistled for my attention. I could tell she was getting intimidated, which would mean another wing-whacking and maybe some bites if she didn't play things right. So I suggested she back away and film as I checked the cache. As soon as Mahoney gave ground, the gander attacked. She used the butterfly net to keep him at bay, and then happily switched positions with me

1604 I then approached the cache site, and when I got near crouched down to eye-level with the geese. Both the gander and his mate were hissing, so I talked calmly to them. "You know me," I reminded them. "I was here with you all last summer. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm not going to take your eggs. I just want to see how many you have." All of it was true. Though we'd used one of their eggs last year to feed at our beaver ceremony, we'd grown too fond and respectful of them to do it again

1609 When I spoke, they calmed down. But they weren't giving any ground, and the goose in particular was guarding her hidden eggs threateningly. I could see exactly where she had them, the little mound of grass and moss she'd used to cover them. She stood right beside it, hunched over it, her head low down by where the egg must be. She was growling

1611 I duck-walked another step closer, and the whole cycle repeated itself. They hissed viciously, I talked them into a calm, the goose hovered over her eggs, growling. Every once in a while, she'd rip a grass stem off the top of her mound and toss it to the side, as iff showing me what she'd do to my fingers. I moved closer still. And closer. Tension, relaxation, tension, relaxation. Soon I could easily reach out and touch both geese and their cache. I put my hand out toward the grass and right away they flared their wings, becoming larger, more threatening. I talked them down and tried once more. No. They were not having it. The egg count on this nest will have to remain a mystery. One thing's for sure, there is no couple quite like this. They are by far our favorite

1633 We now know the location of all four aapsspini nests at the pond, as well as three other nests on the big river island close by. Now the long watch begins