31 May 2010

Redstart, Hermit Thrush, And Redhead Washout

IIII ) llllllllllllll Redstart And Hermit Thrush (29May10)

1803 Sspopiikimi – it’s been a busy day with graduation events, baby-sitting, and other social matters. But I feel out of touch with the coulees after traveling north all week, and I’m unwilling to wait any longer while daylight continues to pass. I’ve decided to head down to the pond alone. It won't be as enjoyable without Mahoney, but it's cold and wet anyway, so maybe it’s better that she stayed home

1807 Once again, I find the access road from our side of town closed by the city due to flooding and (possibly) landslide risk. But rather than parking on the coulee rim and hiking down, as I did last time this happened, I drive around to an alternate access point off Hwy 3

1819 Walking in at midpond, three aapsspini families are feeding on the west cutbank. They are the Triplets with Miracle, the Big Island family, and a single goose with one gosling whose identity I'm unsure of. The ksisskstaki are out already for their evening rounds, and I can hear a kingfisher chattering from north-pond

1832 Moving next to the bat tree, I find several interesting little birds, including the common yellow-throats and yellow warblers. I am surprised also to glimpse amidst these branches a hermit thrush. Then, in the waters below, the cinnamon teal couple is present, along with one mi'ksikatsi drake. I’ve heard the coots in their reeds, and on the opposite shore there's an aapsspini couple, though I can't tell if they have goslings

1842 I’m wearing my waders this evening, so that I might check on the status of some of the nests in the reeds, and how they're faring given the rising waters and overnight freezes. On my way toward the north-pond coot and yellow-headed blackbird reeds, in amongst the grass I see the yellow flowers of ponokaowahsin or elk-food (a.k.a. yellow puccoon) emerging

1857 Before I can get around to the reeds, I stop at the far end of north-pond, because there on the driftwood is another congregation of small birds, all picking at what I assume are small insects on the logs. Most of the birds feeding here are spotted sandpipers and yellow-rumped warblers, though there are also yellow warblers chasing one another around the area

1908 Also at north-pond, beneath the large western cottonwoods, I notice the new stems and leaves of clematis are emerging - simultaneously from both seedlings and new starts on old vines

1912 Scabby and her husband have just arrived to feed at this end of the pond, surprising considering its distance from her nest, and there's a female yellow-headed blackbird flying back and forth between the bulrushes and the driftwood, gathering wet plant material left on top by the muskrats for use in a nest she's constructing

1922 A blue-winged teal drakes arrives, just as I am preparing to wade in and inspect the first nests, and the rain suddenly picks up. No bother, I'm here to get wet anyway. The surface of the pond, though, has certainly risen a lot. There's several more inches than there was just last week

1938 I take my time moving along the edges of beaver canals through the high bulrushes of north-pond. I'm almost up to my chest in water, and I have to hold my camera aloft and just hope I don't slip. All goes well though, and I'm pleased to report four eggs so far in the now-finished north-pond coot nest, two yellow-headed blackbird eggs in their nest we saw being constructed last week, and of course none yet in the new yellow-head nest being woven today

1754 The heavy rain continues, and I walk up to check on the progress of the robin's nest at the north end of the forest. Looks as though the babies have fledged. They're no longer here. I also check on the old robin nest where I noticed new grass being added last week. Looks now like it’s going to be a mourning dove nest. The classic platform has been built, and there is a dove lingering nearby, but no eggs as yet

2012 Heading back down from the forest toward the midpond cattails, I stop in to check the redwing balloon nest. It has one egg. Then, out on the water, I spot a small black bird with brilliant orange breast and wing-bars. I don't know this species, and later in the evening struggle to identify it as an American redstart. This is the first time I’ve seen one at Sspopiikimi

2037 As I approach the midpond cattails, I have to pass the recently expanded beaver canal area, leading to what might easily become another subpond. When I'm at the edge of this area, I see a wake at the entrance of the canal. A beaver is coming in. I crouch down to get a good look, and I watch it move up the canal to a little island where it proceeds to noisily munch on a bulrush root. Then it notices me sitting there, not at all far away, and immediately dives, resurfacing only once back in the main pond

2042 There are lots of yellow warblers in the reeds midpond and throughout the wet-meadows. They must have food out here of some kind. Today the wet-meadows are truly living up to their name. Without waders this exercise would have been very wet indeed. As I walk, I see the new mint plants growing almost a foot underwater

2047 Finally I reach the midpond coot nest. All is well here. The rising waters have not submersed it, and it appears perhaps that the coots have been adding material to insure this. All eight eggs are high and dry. On the other hand, I myself am now thoroughly soaked by the rain. And that would not be problematic, were it not for the fact that I'm carrying several thousand dollars worth of electronic gear on my back. Since I can't afford to replace it, I concede that it's time to abort. I'll have to return tomorrow to check the sub- and south-pond

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Redhead Washout (30May10)

1924 Sspopiikimi - the rain, at least temporarily, has stopped, the clouds having very recently broken. But not trusting it to stay gone long, Mahoney and I have come down with minimal equipment, no more than we can fit in the pockets of our rain jackets

1929 I've worn my waders again, and tonight we are heading to check the nests at south-pond, and whether they have been affected by the rising water-level of the pond. With no wind, the water is glassy tonight, reflecting the lush green of the forest and the grey clouds of the sky. A ksisskstaki is following us as we move along the west cutbank. It carries an old log up to the top of the ksisskstakioyis as we pass midpond, then comes down the opposite side of the lodge and continues to follow us until we reach the entrance to the subpond canal, into which it turns

1937 There are three aapsspini families at midpond this evening - the Triplets, the Big Islands, and a pair with two goslings, who could either be the Small Islands or Logs. The bank and tree swallows are skimming dinner off the surface of the pond tonight, flying just inches above the water and dipping their beaks in when they spot a catch

2000 When we sit at the south bench for a few minutes to take-in our surroundings, I notice what I think is a new mound of earth beneath one of the currant bushes on the cutbank. I'm imagining a den of some kind, possibly a coyote, badger, or fox. But when I climb down to investigate, it's only the old stems of the currant bush. They do, however, conceal the entrance to a muskrat den. In the water outside the entrance are the remains of bulrush stems and lens-podded hoary cress they've been eating

2005 Mahoney for her part has been watching a yellow warbler search the logs below the bench for food. And as she looks out on the pond's surface, she notes that most of the islands are now underwater, including even that which we call Big Island. The peninsula too is almost gone

2010 Leaving the bench and heading toward the south marsh, we walk through the bulberry and currant brush, confident that there will be no ticks around tonight. In addition to the yellow-rumped warblers and robins who are abundant in this brush, we encount a grey catbird working through its repertoire of mimicked chatter

2040 Making my way out into the marsh, I am sorry to find that both of the redhead nests I'd located last week are now abandoned. This is what I feared. The water has risen too high. While it has yet to sink the coot nests, or rise up to meet any of the blackbird nests at north-pond, at this south end there has been damage. All of the redwing nests I find have become water-logged, fortunately before there were eggs. The redheads were not so lucky. The nest with eight eggs is completely submerged. Scabby's nest, which I now see has ten eggs, is just barely above water, but abandoned none-the-less. And the redheads themselves, the three pairs who've been residents here, are nowhere to be found

2051 I meet back up with Mahoney at the blind and tell her about what I learned. As we sit up on the cutbank in plain view, a ksisskstaki swims by and stops at three places along our shore to bring up mud from the bottom and deposit scent mounds. We don't know if this is because its other mounds got submersed, or if it's concerned that more beavers might come into the pond with the rising waters, or if something else entirely is going on

2055 Still at the blind, a large (for this season) clan of aapsspini fly over, three groups of five all moving together, throwing the geese at our pond into an absolute uproar that continues long after this flock has passed. Then, just when the noise dies down, a caspian tern comes winging over the south pool. Apparently finding nothing, it continues on to north-pond, then out to the river

2123 Perhaps reminded that the river is now too muddy and raging, the tern soon returns and continues making sweeps along the length of the pond. At the same time, I notice that the beaver who made the scent mounds is now hauling a large willow or young poplar tree back to the ksisskstakioyis. I follow it all the way to the lodge, where it brings its leafy bush above the north entrance and proceeds to munch on its bark. When this beaver finally notices me beside it, she dives out in the pond and is quickly joined by two other family members to swim back and forth in agitation until I agree to leave

2133 It's getting dark now, but we still have a ways to go crossing the wet-meadows, moving through the forest, and around north-pond to get to the truck. Mahoney's in need of a break. So we walk to the edge of the forest and there find a soggy, rotten log to park on. We sit there for a while just listening to the birds sing

2154 Finally climbing out of the forest, onto the levee-walk, we stop to look out over the river. It's flooded and moving fast. The shore-line beaver lodge here is completely submersed, and the only visible evidence of the large island where the geese nested earlier is a narrow strip of sandbar willow. Everywhere the waters are up. Although the moons have not changed yet, it seems safe to say we're already in misamsootaa, the long-rains

27 May 2010

Red-Necked Grebes And Ruddy Ducks

IIII ) llllllllll Grebes of Leduc (25May10)

1712 Iimaohkominiiksiiniikimi (a.k.a. Telford Lake) - good thing Mahoney joined me on this expedition, because I had no idea there was a massive lake right in Leduc. So here we are, to check out what the water life is like in northern Blackfoot territory

1715 There are some familiar faces here, and some less so. The lake is surrounded by a wide belt of cattails, and we barely begin our walk when we see a mallard nested (strangely) amidst the reeds on a little island. There are also several coots, brewer's blackbirds, and the abundance of redwing blackbirds after whom we're calling this place Iimaohkominiiksiiniikimi (Redwing-Waters)

1721 A few more steps along a wooden boardwalk through the reeds and we are excited to see red-necked grebes, birds we've never encountered at home. There are two swimming together and stretching their necks high, making calls that sound either like sheep or like Crees saying, "Wah-waa"

1727 Just like at home, the female redwings here have new nests, and they protest noisily whenever we walk past them

1741 Now I feel stupid that I didn't bring any of my peripherals, my camera bag and raft would've been nice. At least I've got my Elph. There's several unfamiliar species of willow here, tons more mosquitoes than we've got at home yet, and we’re wondering why haven't seen any yellow-headed blackbirds yet among the reeds

1756 Making our way counter-sunwise along the south side of the lake, we pass aspen that are already shedding cottony seeds, and golden finch singing from within their branches. There's a lot of recreational infrastructure here too: a boat club, a community garden, signage with brief natural history descriptions of some of the local residents, and a bird condominium that appears to be inhabited by house sparrows

1811 We don't get too far around when Mahoney suggests we turn back. After the long drive, we both needed to stretch our legs and breath fresh air. But this need is juxtaposed, for her, with arthritic pain from the drive as well, and it's best we not over-do it

1827 Back on the boardwalk we have a closer look at the nested "mallard" and see immediately that it's actually a red-necked grebe. Now things are making sense. What's more, just behind her nest is a nested coot. They are close neighbors and could easily reach out and touch each other if they wanted to. As we watch, the male grebe paddles in and the two trade places, so that he now sits the nest while she gets in the water. After a couple dives during which she brought up wet plant material to give to her husband, which he promptly placed on the nest, she swims off assumedly to feed

1838 With that, Mahoney and I make for the truck with plans to return tomorrow evening to sit and watch the grebes again

IIII ) lllllllllll Ruddy Ducks (26May10)

1854 Iimaohkominiiksiiniikimi - back to the lake, our new “water away from home” when in the Edmonton area. Mahoney has given me use of her Canon Rebel, and we're hoping to make further observations of the red-necked grebes and find a wood frog

1907 Awesome! Seems we've arrived just in time for shift-change at the grebe nest. As we watch, the male drifted in from the lake, nudged his incubating wife a few times, and then they made the switch. Like yesterday, the female went out and gathered wet plant materials to bring to her husband who took over incubation. Their neighbor coot mama calmly looks on

1920 A couple kayakers have come too near. These people are not aware of the grebes, but the latter are certainly bothered. Out of caution, the male quickly covers their two eggs and gets in the water. They wait for the boaters to leave before the female, who still hasn't really had a chance to feed, gets back on the nest. We now realize their nest is just a flotilla of old cattail stalks covered with wet plant material from the bottom of the lake. The wetness binds it together, but they constantly have to add more to insure their nest doesn't fall apart from the movement of the waves

1939 We’re watching a brewer's blackbird, who's carrying some brown, glistening material, possibly a mouth-full of worms, to a secret location it doesn't want to reveal to us. Then a human couple who are also watching the local happenings motion us over to look at a muskrat who's stripping red bark from a twig it has carried into the reeds

2008 Making our way slowly around the south shore, there are a lot of frogs singing in the reeds. So far they all sound like the chorus frogs back home, so I'm not trying to stalk up on them. I'm listening for something different

2011 As we pass the boat club, we see there is another of the bird condominiums here we hadn't even noticed yesterday. This one is full of swallow residents

2028 There are families working in the community garden. We stop to check it out and talk to a husband and wife. They tell us that a plot 20 X 40 feet costs them $25 per year to rent. You have to supply all your own materials of course: fertilizer, seed, etc. They have water taps nearby, so most people keep a big barrel at the corner of their plot. It's very cool

2100 Moving on, we spot a little path into the forested strip beside the lake, it's white with cottony aspen seeds. Following the path, it leads us to someone's bird-feeding station. There are old sunflower heads and different kinds of feeders hanging in the trees. None of them are loaded, so I figure whoever put them here only works them in winter. Either way, I have no beef with people who feed birds. In fact, I think critics of this practice are living in a fair bit of denial, imagining a world where our lives don’t intersect with the animals and sometimes even shape their evolution. Though I don’t keep any feeders myself, I’d rather be practicing aatsimihka’ssin, giving something back to the non-human life we take from, than pretending like we’re somehow separate, as though our practice of destroying most of their habitats didn’t matter, as though we can just set aside a park for them consider that conservation

2128 As Mahoney and I begin to make our way back toward the truck, we stop at a viewing platform overlooking the lake. There is a raft of ten ruddy ducks passing, mostly drakes but a few females as well. The drakes swim with their tails erect and occasionally make little runs on the water while making clicking sounds. This is another bird we don't see at home

2145 Walking back past the boat club again, we're able to get a close-up view of one of the ruddy drakes. It is rubbing its bill against its breast to make a clicking noise. There's also a pair of aapsspini here and a lone western grebe diving in the deeper waters

2158 Just before reaching the parking lot again, there's an enormous ksisskstaki swimming in the lake. We never did find our tree frog, but we've seen things we never do at home, and the ruddy duck familiar from our bundle, so it was nice to encounter. We'll definitely be visiting this place again next time we're in Leduc

24 May 2010

Sora, Milfoil, and Baskets Over Water

IIII ) lllllll Sora (22May10)

1359 Sspopiikimi – Mahoney and I have just walked the length of the pond, along the west shore. Today, in addition to seeing what's new after several days absence for meetings up north, we're video-taping a lecture for my phenology class. It's overcast without too much wind, decent conditions for filming

1407 Much ado with the aapsspini here this afternoon, as always. At midpond, we encounter six couples, including the Log pair with their two goslings and the Small Island pair with their five (this is the first time we’ve seen the latter). There are also two couples lingering around the subpond canal, and five more on the golf greens. Entering south-pond, we pass the Triplet family with Miracle. And right now, in the south pool proper, there are two couples, and one of them appears to be making a new nest on the small island

1450 Since we're busy video-taping, there's less opportunity for taking notes, but I do want to jot down some of our important observations. While sitting at the bench above south-pond, Scabby redhead comes to dive and feed in the pool below us. A redhead drake approaches, probably her husband, but when she surfaces from one of her dives to find him there, it upsets her and she chases him off. Now he's lingering around the big island, watching her from a distance

1459 Also at the bench, we're able to get a good look at several bank swallows using the little snag above the peninsula as a perch between flights. These swallows are fairly abundant across the length of the pond today, soaring and feeding just above the surface on small insects we can't see

1503 All of the trees in the forest are now leafed-out, and things are changing with the okonoki and pakkii'p - the former are now mostly out of flower and beginning to form berries, the latter have burst into full bloom

1509 The coots seem to still be going well with their nests at both ends of the pond, though I've yet to confirm these suspected nests by wading in. When we pass the Marsh aapsspini mama, she's off her platform to feed. The Big Island family is occupying a grassy shoreline of the shallows. And as we're coming down into the forest toward the blind, we're sad to find that one of the blue-winged teals has had her nest destroyed. She herself is dead and partially eaten beside it

1512 Currently at the blind, we just saw a pair of muskrats pass below us. They are on their mating journey, swimming and diving together. Unfortunately, they don't linger here too long, but head off together toward midpond

1549 After coming across the destroyed blue-winged teal nest, we can’t help but feel compelled to check in on the nesting mi'ksikatsi mother near the blind. Sure enough, her nest had been ruined as well, but at least there's no sign that the predators killed her like they did the teal

1553 Next we make our way onto the wet meadows to check on one of the snipe nests, which we see has hatched out. Perhaps the most exciting note of the day, there's a sora in the subpond. This is the first sora we've seen in four years of study here. In Blackfoot, this bird’s name is ootohtoyi, or carrying-food. The old phenology lore says that when the first geese migrate out for winter, one member of the flock carries a sora on its back

1604 Mahoney's ankle has suddenly flared-up with pain from walking on the uneven ground of the wet-meadows, so we've climbed up to the edge of the forest to sit and rest on a log. Above us, we see that the swainson's hawk nest, completely torn apart during the last winter storm, when Miracle gosling's mother nested here, has been repaired and is looking stronger than the original ever had. No doubt we are going to have another hawk brood here this year. It would be nice to wait a while, to see if the swainsons show up, but Mahoney’s found a tick on her pant-leg and brushed it off onto the grass at our feet. We’ll move on before it finds us again

1628 There are a lot of songbirds in the forest today, small birds singing from up in the canopy. I recognize one song as that of a house finch, which we haven't heard much since sa'aiki'somm, so perhaps they are now going into their second breeding cycle. I also see and hear orange-crowned and yellow warblers up there. On one of the lower limbs, I spot and photograph a house wren. They’re singing a much more abbreviated song today than they do later in the season

1635 Mahoney tried playing the orange-crowned warbler song on her iphone, but was getting no answers. Then she tried the yellow warbler, and one began singing back right away. Meanwhile, the house finch close by tried to mimic every song she played, but always finished with its own high-pitched ending

1702 Arriving at the north end of the forest, I check-in on the robin hatchlings and they're coming along fine. There's also one of last year's robin's nests in the bulberries nearby, and it has curiously been replenished with a new cup of dry grass over-top of the old, mud and grass interior. I'll have to keep an eye on this one to see if it’s reused

1733 Exiting the forest and coming back around the bend of north pond, we find that a pair of midpond coots has come over to recruit the north-pond couple into an orgy with them. No idea why they require an orgy to do their thing, but it certainly seems that's their preference. After a quick mating round, the north couple return to their nesting reeds and the midpond pair go on their way

1740 Our last encounter of the evening occurs at the bat tree. We're sitting on the cutbank nearby when we notice some small birds hopping around, checking the flower panicles of this small western cottonwood. When one of the birds finally comes into view, we see it's an adult male, common yellowthroat. It hops around for a few more minutes, then chases a female north along the cutbank. No sooner does this bird leave than the yellow-rumped warblers fly over to take its place in the bat tree. They too are surveying the cottonwood flowers

IIII ) llllllll Milfoil Feast (23May10)

1310 Sspopiikimi - here with my Bella girl this breezy afternoon. Walking in at north-pond, we've come across the Triplet family, whose goslings are growing quick. The coots nested in the reeds here are present as well, and there are about a dozen painted turtles basking on the beams of the old boardwalk. Remembering discoveries of our last visit, Bella has been intently searching the grass for new snipe nests

1347 As we ascend, descend, and ascend again the stairs leading up and down the north-pond levee walk, we come across one of this summer’s Kainai Phenology participants, Dr. Cynthia Chambers. She’s taking a photo of the pink-blossoming tartarian honeysuckle at the base of the stairs. I’d like to walk with Cynthia and give her a bit of a tour of this pond I know so well, but I have a Bella to watch after. This girl is not so much interested in the plants and animals, however, as she is in the soil. As soon as she tires of climbing up and down the stairs, Bella sets to work collecting the red gravel that paves the public trail. She's fascinated by this material, bringing me handfuls and instructing me to touch it

1354 Next I'm told to "Mon!" and led by hand down the levee bank into the forest by the river. There we find rabbit willows in flower and tall goldenrod starting to raise new stems

1402 We wind along a path that takes us to the river cutbank. There Bella finds another kind of soil to investigate, the soft silt of the floodplain. I'm not paying enough attention, and start filming her before I notice she's digging her new discovery out of a rodent burrow. This is not wise practice in rattlesnake country, so I guide her over to some mounds pushed-up by a pocket gopher, and these keep her more than satisfied

1454 We are at the pocket gopher mounds for nearly an hour. When Bella sees there are tiny ants crawling on the mounds, she goes completely prone and puts her face down within an inch of them to have a close look. While she watches the ants and runs her hands repeatedly through the soft silt, I try unsuccessfully to take pictures of a small sparrow flittering from branch to branch in the trees above. Eventually, after Bella had followed the ants out onto the trail again, I convince her that we should move on

1518 Back on the levee-walk, we stop to sit on the bench overlooking the river and the canopy of the forest along the bank. Like yesterday, house finches and wrens can be heard all around us. But today I can't catch but the briefest glimpse of them. My Bella girl is getting tired, and is now insistent that we return to the truck

1946 Sspopiikimi - tonight Mahoney and I have brought lawn chairs and set ourselves up above the old north-shore ksisskstakioyis. We are waiting hopefully for the dusk appearance of the big brown bat

1949 The tree and bank swallows are swooping around just above our eye-level from the cutbank, the coots are moving in and out of their nesting reeds, where two male yellow-headed blackbirds are perches surprisingly close to one another, and there is a single ksisskstaki out here, diving and feeding on aqua-milfoil. This is the second night in a row we've noticed a lone beaver out this way, and it makes us suspicious that perhaps it is moving out of the main lodge

2010 Mama coot is still off her nest and a second, somewhat smaller ksisskstaki makes its way past us. This one is also eating milfoil, but its presence makes us second-guess our hypothesis about any move away from the main lodge

2017 Finally mama coot returns to her nest. A muskrat has emerged from somewhere in the bank below us (probably the old ksisskstakioyis. It swims south, making a wide arch around the bat tree. We see a lone pelican flying upriver, and the swallows continue their acrobatics above us. They come in waves, the swallows, but the pattern of their hunt is hard to discern

2028 I watch as the male coot drifts alone further and further toward midpond, along the wet-meadow shore. Meanwhile, the larger ksisskstaki makes its way back south, a blue-winged teal drake comes in for a landing in front of us, and the muskrat is floating in the middle of the water, eating with its tail held erect in the air behind it

2035 Soon mama coot is back out of her nesting reeds, following her husband. Just as she begins to move in his direction, there is angry coot chatter from midpond, and the male is chased back in this direction. Mama, seeing this happen, flies over to join in the fight. Once they have the defending male backing off, mama goes into the same kind of white bum-patch display we usually associate with mating. This display is short-lived. The couple move back toward their reeds, and mama (assumedly) returns to her nest, while the mid-pond defender retreats to its territory

2038 As the coot dispute was playing out, both the blue-winged teal and the small ksisskstaki head south. Then the large beaver returns, and this time swims switch-backs in front of the shore lodge and slaps his tail at us. Either he's upset because he wants something from up here where we're sitting, or we actually are too close to his new lodge. Several times, it seems he's dived down into the lodge, but quickly we see the tell-tale bubbles that tell us he's back out again

2044 Finally the shadow of dusk has blanketed the entire pond. Just before it does so, we see the north coots have a quick romp amongst themselves, the male biting the back of the female's neck. This is the first time we've witnessed a coot mating session that involved just two birds. There's a Wilson's snipe flying in display overhead now, and the large beaver has come back out of the lodge to eat milfoil by the coots’ reeds, but no sign yet of the big brown bat

2051 With the shadow fully upon us, a robin has begun to sing its night song from the bat tree. After just a couple verses, two more robins fly in. Perhaps this is one of their night-roosting trees. While we listen to them sing, a muskrat swims in from somewhere by the wet-meadows. It’s carrying plants in its mouth, and it dive into a burrow just south of the beaver shore lodge

2101 With the darkness increasing, gradual but steady, a number of turtles have begun to surface in the middle of the pond below us. The swallows are still flying around, but I don't imagine they'll continue to do so much longer

2114 What looks to be a female blue-winged teal just flew over from somewhere in the brush behind the wet meadows. She's hurriedly dipping to eat in the pond, like a nesting mother would. I'm watching and see where exactly she returns to when she’s done

2136 After watching the female teal intensely for twenty minutes, as she cycles between frantic bouts of feeding and preening, she finally takes wing. She doesn't go to where I thought she had come from, but rather crosses the levee-walk and dips down into the forest by the river. It's impossible to tell where she lands, but no doubt her nest is in that forest somewhere

2139 While watching the teal feed and preen, a spotted sandpaper flew in and picked around on the mud of the north shore ksisskstakioyis. It wasn't here long before it flew somewhere over in the wet-meadows at midpond

2150 At some point, the swallows go to roost. We don't notice exactly when. We do, however, register the sudden quiet that overtakes the pond at present, as most of the birds quit singing, bringing the sounds of the chorus frogs into relief. A mallard drake flies in from the river, and has landed in front of us to quack. These sounds seem to attract the attention of a redhead drake, who paddles in from midpond. Now both birds are heading south

2204 We've decided to call it a night. The bats have not emerged, but it could be because there's been a little temperature drop, and there really are very few insect clouds. Still, we've enjoyed sitting again, and will surely be returning for more of this kind of study soon

IIII ) lllllllll Baskets Over The Water (24May10)

0822 Sspopiikimi - just walked in to find the aiksikksksisiiksi up and about at north-pond and a lone aapsspini incessantly giving an alarm call on the wet meadows. This morning is probably our last opportunity to see the coot and redhead nests in the reeds before they hatch, so I've worn my waders and am prepared to hazard the leechy muck

0831 We are surprised at the very north end of the pond to find the cinnamon teal couple present. It's been a few weeks at least since we last encountered them, and my assumption was that, like in years previous, they'd already moved on

0912 So our first target of the morning is the north-pond coot nest. We know where they keep it in the reeds, surrounded by deep beaver canals and pools. While Mahoney waits on shore, I wade in. There are a number of yellow-headed blackbirds here, and it doesn't take long to spot one of their newly-woven basket nests. There are no eggs yet, but the nest looks fairly complete, so they shouldn't be long

0927 As I come within view of the coots, walking around in one of the bulrush hummocks furthest from shore, I step into one of the beaver canals and find it's just too deep to move through without soaking my camera equipment. So I back off and make a wide arch around to approach it from the opposite side, where I discover the waters are much more shallow. Now I'm able to get right into to coot lair, and what I find is that they've built a slap-shot platform, but no basket, and they have no eggs as yet. We thought for sure they'd be at least caching, but reflecting back on their behaviors observed the last couple evenings, it all makes sense

0933 Knowing now that there'll be more opportunities to follow the evolving coot nest, I'm even more curious to find out what's happening with the redheads. Following the wet-meadows, we start moving south toward the midpond cattail marsh

0941 About half-way there we come across a redwing blackbird female in the midst of putting finishing touches on her basket nest over dry land, amongst the Indian hemp. She's bringing in long, wet strands of cattail and bulrush, probably material left behind on the surface of the water by the beavers and muskrats. Interestingly, this redwing has also woven the plastic cord from a child's balloon into her nest. She did not, however, take to the balloon itself. It’s still attached to the cord, but has been anchored to a branch as far from the actual nest as possible

0942 We’re almost at the midpond cattail marsh when we come across a major ksisskstaki project. One of their canals has been expanded significantly, with rocks, mud, and plant material cast off to create a kind of levee along its edges. The canal goes back into the wet-meadows and opens into a significant pool which, with a bit more work, could easily become a second subpond

1018 Activities in the midpond marsh seemed much the same as those at the north end, at least as far as blackbirds are concerned. Here I encounter another yellow-headed family in the midst of nest construction. I’m photographing one of the blackbirds when I notice some movement below in the bulrush tuft it’s standing on. Here, in a beautifully woven reed nest, is mama coot

1026 She’s sitting on eight drab, dry-cattail coloured eggs, with a faint speckling of black just like the old reeds. She stays close as I inspect her nest, and several times displays her white rump patches toward me. Eventually her mate comes along, and she quickly swims out to join him. Then the two come over to find out what’s going on. They won’t climb back up on the nest with me standing there, but they keep protectively close

1050 Leaving the coots behind, I meet back up with Mahoney at the edge of the forest and we begin making our way toward south-pond. Along the way, we stop by the subpond in hopes of spotting the sora again, but it’s not to be

1054 When we reach south-pond, it is full of birds. There are eight aapsspini couples, two redhead drakes, one redhead couple, a male merganser, the cinnamon teal pair, a mallard drake, two spotted sandpipers, seven brewer’s blackbirds, and probably a host of others who I can't see hidden in the marsh. The brewer’s blackbirds, new arrivals to the pond for the season, are grazing (assumedly on insects) on the small islands. All the others are sleeping and feeding in their usual manner

1205 Amazing! Over the next your I wade through the south marsh. It’s everything I'd hoped it to be. Not only are there an abundance of redwing and yellow-headed blackbird nests, all presently in the midst of construction, but I’m also able to find two redhead nests. The mama of the first one I come across abandons early and stands off near the peninsula as I pass. Her bulrush basket, hanging just above the waterline, holds five cream-colored eggs

1214 I’m almost back to shore when Mahoney messages to advise me that I should check on the marsh aapsspini nest, because she can see eggs exposed from the levee walk above. I turn around and made my way back, and it’s a very lucky thing that I do. Unfortunately, the marsh goose nest has been flooded out. What remains of the platform is a wet flotilla with just three cold eggs

1215 But not far from the travesty of the goose platform, I spot another redhead sitting her nest. It's Scabby! I'm able to walk right up to her, practically close enough to touch her. The moment I see her start to get too anxious, I stop in my tracks. It’s as close as I’ll go, I’m not about to make her get off her eggs to do a count. For me, it’s just incredibly beautiful to witness her there, so much smaller at this range than I imagined

1215 While I'm out in the water, Mahoney for her part gets our first visual confirmation that the catbirds have returned. We've heard several as we walked the last couple days, but after the false alarm of last month with the mimicking starlings, we were not planning to announce again until there was visual. Well, today we have it, a fine little catbird photographed by Mahoney in the bulrush and currant thickets above the peninsula

1240 The last thing I want to check out before heading for the truck is the status of the magpie nest. Once again I go on hands and knees through the tick-infested rabbit tunnels of the bulberry and currant thickets to climb the magpie tree. The effort is worth it though. When I peer into the orb-shaped nest, I find a pile of bald, newborn hatchlings

1247 I make it back to the bench where Mahoney's waiting just in time to see another dramatic event in the lives of the resident geese. The grounds keeper of the neighboring golf course drove a cart out and went to chase the geese off their greens. In doing so, he separated a clutch of seven young goslings from their parents. The goslings, able to run through the chain-link fence on the perimeter of the course, made their way to the pond. Meanwhile, their parents ran to the end of the fence so they could cross. By the time they were able to come down to the pond as well, the goslings were surrounded by other adult geese. One of the latter took it upon herself to lead the babies back to their parents. There are seven goslings in this group, which means that the Small Island couple have adopted the two brought from the river by the Log parents

1253 I’m frustrated with the greens-keeper. But in the grand scheme of activity at the pond, he’s just a minor nuisance. This being Victoria Day, there’s all kinds of people walking around here with their dogs, and there’s a couple guys on the west cutbank midpond catching and releasing pike. I don’t know if Mahoney and I should be considered just as guilty of disturbing the lives of the residents here, perhaps. For me, it’s another reminder that we should better learn and act upon our long-time relationships with these others, that we are only really part of this place again if we engage it as a source of sustenance, instead of mere recreation, intellectual or otherwise

18 May 2010

Warblers, Bats And Hatchlings

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllllll Orange-Crowned Warblers (11May10)

1538 Sspopiikimi - it's a beautiful, warm day to start-off aapistsisskitsaato'si. Mahoney and I have come out to begin collecting the images and film for this summer's round of phenology

1545 Given the combination of the rise in temperature and a new group of students to train, we are bombarded right away, just walking from the parking lot to north-pond, with all kinds of plants and animals that require our attention

1551 First and foremost is paahtsiiksistsikomm, mistaken-thunder or the osprey, who is perched on his usual snag cottonwood at this end of the pond. This bird would have preferred us to stay home. Its threshold of tolerance for us requires that we keep a distance we've yet to perfect. Soon the osprey is gliding south over the water, not missing the opportunity to hunt for pike. I see him take one dive in south-pond, coming up empty. Then he circles back and gives a few cries as he passes overhead, moving to the river

1537 Once paahtsiiksistsikomm departs, I begin photographing everything - the variegated meadowhawks that land on the trail, the green foliage of the absinthe who've yet to send up shoots, the dandelions in flower and seed, chokecherry leaves and panicles that look curled as though they suffered in last-weeks freeze, and of course the painted turtles, after whom we call this pond Sspopiikimi. The turtles are rising to the surface from somewhere deep in the milfoil, taking a few breaths, then diving back down again

1610 As we start making our rounds, we hear the coot couple chuck-chucking and the chorus frogs buzzing from within the cattails at midpond. The redwing and yellow-headed blackbird males are singing from the tops of the same reeds the frogs inhabit. Mi'sohpsski, a muskrat, swims along the edge of the pond below us, while a redhead couple (though not Scabby and her husband) dive to feed on their way past us

1633 Straight across from the ksisskstakioyis, on our shore, is the Triplet family with Miracle. They enter the safety of the water as we pass. It does not look like the Canal mama is sitting her nest beside the lodge. There is, however, a pair of aapsspini at the entrance to the main canal. The Small Island goose is on her nest, and both south-pond ganders are here. The other resident geese in sight, twelve in all, are lazing and feeding on the golf greens

1640 As for sa'aiksi at south-pond, the two male mergansers are sleeping by the small island nest, and feeding on the water are the male shoveler, the green-winged teal drake, the blue-winged teal couple, a single blue-winged teal male, and Scabby redhead's husband

1643 Down by the peninsula, we see the yellow-rumped warblers are taking short flights from some snag brush, sweeping out over the surface of the pond, and back again. We wonder if they are feeding on an insect hatch. While we watch them, the mallard drake of the nest beside the blind comes in for a landing near that shore

1728 Mahoney works her crochet at the bench above the peninsula, and I hike up the coulee slope to get an idea of what's new above. Along the way I find skunkbrush, musineon, prairie smoke, saskatoon, blue penstemon and cushion milkvetch, all in flower. A lot of the buffalo bean, moss phlox, and of course the crocuses have lost their luster, and will perhaps now move toward seed. And there is a whole host of plants emerging in leaf. Even the prickly pear stems look fat and juicy

1757 When I come down off the slope, we take the levee-walk around south-pond to the blind and shallows. The triplet family follows below as we move, and we're able to confirm the Marsh mama's still sitting her nest. There are also a few mallard drakes out here in the shallows, and the cinnamon teal couple. I'm sure somewhere in the reeds, scabby redhead is sitting a nest

1818 We eat our dinner of sandwiches in the blind, waiting for the cinnamon teals to come close. They slowly feed their way in our direction, as the Triplet family departs for the peninsula. Eventually the teals come to a tiny island, where they climb out of the water, preen vigorously for several minutes, and nestle into sleep

1838 Leaving the blind, we start canvassing the forest again for new nests. The robins out at Red Crow College are already incubating, and it’s colder up that way, closer to the mountains. It would stand to reason that the robins and mourning doves would be nesting here at the pond by now. But by the time we've worked through half of the forest, we still haven't found any. What we do see, on the other hand, are starlings shooting out of the old flicker cavities ahead of us. And mama flicker is occupying her nest diligently. She doesn't even frighten off today when we stand below taking pictures

1921 Something crawling around in the poplar and cottonwood flowers is attracting the warblers. Just before we leave the north end of the forest, we come across a tree filled with niipomakii and orange-crowned warblers. Then we go up on the levee-walk, where we are closer to the canopy, and looking around soon find that many of the tree-tops are now host to small birds, mainly the yellow-rumped warblers

1929 We go to sit on the bench overlooking a few poplar trees and the river island. Out on the water, there are four pelicans hunting. They fly upstream and let the current carry them back. As they drift along, they dip their enormous beaks down to gather fish. And when they reach a certain point, they fly upstream once more and repeat the process

1936 I decide to inspect a few of the flowering poplar and cottonwood branches that are low enough for me to pull down to eye level. None of the panicles have any insects on them that I can see, so it is a mystery to me what the little birds are feeding on. Even some robins and redwing blackbirds are in on the act

1943 Using the iBird application on her phone, Mahoney starts playing through some of the other warbler calls. She's able to identify Wilson's warbler from the songs we hear around us. In fact, when she plays its song on the iPhone, the birds answer back

2005 Eventually we walk away from the bench and round north-pond, heading for the truck. The Sun, at its most extreme angle, soon to pass out of view over the coulee rim, illuminates the webs of several stretch spiders in the absinthe beside the trail. They seem to be the dominant orb-weavers at the moment

2013 The last familiar faces we see as we leave the pond tonight are Scabby redhead and her husband, shallow-diving in north-pond

I Magpie Eggs (12May10)

1814 Sspopiikimi - A warm cloudless evening and a couple hours to work with before sunset. It may be our last visit for the week, as we near our diving-out ceremony

1819 We've hardly left the truck, starting along the trail to north-pond, when we spot a new dragonfly. It's not one of the red variegated meadowhawks we were seeing throughout the frog moon. It's about the same size though, patterns of grey with yellow speckles. We do not know why the dragonflies perch on the paths. Mahoney hypothesizes that it's for warmth, but since they do this all day long, I wonder if it's to ambush flying insects that pass overhead

1825 Just after the dragonfly, Mahoney almost steps on a granulated carabid beetle who's rushing across the path, trying to get into the grass

1830 Walking the length of the pond, we see the male coot standing on its log in front of the same bulrush hummock they nested in last year. The Triplet family with Miracle are once again feeding on our shore at midpond, and as usual they swim across to the wet meadows when we approach. There's a single gander by the ksisskstakioyis, but we do not see the Canal goose sitting her nest there. Scabby's husband is alone again. He lands in midpond when we're out that way, then flies over to south-pond when we get there as well

1839 The Small Island mama and assumedly the Marsh mama are still incubating (at this point just a guess based on the fact that her gander's here). There's a pair of geese acting suspicious by the subpond canal, and another on the peninsula who're currently being chased around by the Small Island gander. The mallard drake, lone shoveler drake, and one of the blue-wing teal drakes are paddling around the south pools, and a male snipe is flying circles above in display

1845 Since we used the levee-walk yesterday, this evening we decide to go through the tick and cottontail inhabited bulberry and currant brush just above the peninsula, and then along the shore of the marsh

1855 About halfway through the brush, I start listening for movement from the magpie nest. The last time we came through here, I noticed one flush from there. I didn't check it out, because I'd gone through the ordeal of climbing through the prickly roses and thorny bulberry brush along rabbit trails to the nest on several occasions over the past month, and always for nothing. Today though, the magpie flies out of the nest for the second time in a row, and now I can't resist. I get down on hands and knees and make my way through this tick-infested area, then climb the brush to peek inside the small opening of the magpie's stick-woven orb. Sure enough, there are five, drab speckled eggs in there. It's the first time I've seen magpie eggs and I'm surprised to learn they're about the same size as robin eggs. Hard to believe these big corvids develop from something so small

1905 Climbing back out of the brush and continuing on, our nest encounters are with a white-capped sparrow who’s searching along the trail, and with a mountain cottontail who’s eating grass beside us as we cut down to the marsh. It's always surprising how close these rabbits allow us to come

1945 The chorus frogs are really going at it tonight in the marsh, as the shadow of the coulee rim creeps over the reeds. We move around to the blind and sit on the cutbank overlooking the shallows for a break, watching the redwings chase each other around below. A harvestman spider is crawling up my leg as I type this note

2001 In the horizontal glare of the setting Sun, all the orb-weaver spiderwebs come into view. As Mahoney works on some of her notes, I take a walk around the roses and buckbrush and find several stretch spiders readily snagging tiny, green gnats from the swarms hovering all around

2022 Next we move into the wet meadows to check on the suspicious aapsspini pair, as well as the seemingly abandoned nest of the Canal couple. Nearing the canal, we hear a snipe chuck-chuck-chucking in front of us. Eventually, it takes flight, but it doesn't go far. Where it lands, it starts up with the alarm call again. We are very careful not to step on any nest or hatchlings, if they happen to be here

2030 Continuing on to the geese we came out here for, we find that the suspicious pair and the Canal couple are one in the same. Their nest (the second for this pair already) has been ruined. All five eggs have been opened up on one side and the contents eaten. Now they are at work on a third nest, which they've just trenched out near the location of their first platform from earlier this season

2044 We stay on the wet-meadows all the way to the midpond cattails, which I search briefly for possible redhead nests... but no. This is also the second evening in a row with no sightings of the Big Island aapsspini family, so at this point we suspect they've moved away

2059 Coming up out of the wet meadows, through the forest, we happen across kai'skaahp, a porcupine, crawling into some bulberry brush to hide. It must have a den in there somewhere, because when I climb in behind it, the animal disappears

2105 Our last stop for the evening is at the cutbank overlooking the river island. The kingfisher is here, on its usual snag perch. And one of the beavers is out on top of its shore lodge. We watch, but can't tell what it's doing, and soon the beaver enters the river and lets the current take it downstream

2200 Just one tick on my leg this evening. Not bad, all things considered

III Big Brown Bat (14May10)

1715 Sspopiikimi - you know it's going to be a good evening when you're greeted at north-pond by not a bird, but a BAT! The first we've ever seen at the pond. It's hunting and swooping around us so close we could probably reach out and touch it. Then it lands on what will hereafter be called the Bat Tree, poses for some photos, and climbs into a hollow. Very cool!!

1728 There are four aapsspini couples midpond this evening, along with a lone goose. One of the couples is our Triplet family, with the visibly larger Miracle gosling. The lone goose is a mother as well, with two goslings. We suspect she's the Small Island mama, but haven't got far south enough to confirm that

1734 The two families are on our shore when we approach, but move quickly to the water as usual. The lone mama takes her two goslings over to the ksisskstakioyis. She is followed by the Triplet family, the mother of which purposely leads her goslings up to the younger birds. We are wondering if she's trying to take these two goslings away as she did Miracle, but eventually the new mother steps off the lodge and her hatchlings jump off with her

1750 There's also a coot pair feeding near the cattails midpond, a redhead couple sitting on the bulrush flotilla beside the ksisskstakioyis and, as we walk on, two more aapsspini couples exploring the subpond canal

1755 When we get to south-pond we find four aapsspini couples (including the Small Island geese), two redhead pairs and a mallard couple. Again we have ourselves a mystery as to the identity of the new lone mama with two goslings. She must have come over from the river. It could be the Log mama, whose gander always was a little absent

1812 We seem to be missing quite a few of the usual faces this evening. Though we haven't got around to the shallows or subpond, there've been no appearances yet by any of the teals, nor the shoveler, and the male mergansers may have moved on. Another conspicuous absence this evening are the kingfishers, who have otherwise had a constant presence the last couple weeks. Makes me wonder what's going on at the river

1827 Hiking around to the south-pool, following the levee-walk, we see that the Marsh couple are still coming along with their nest. Mama is eating buffalo grass when we first come within sight of her. Minutes later though, she flies back to her eggs. Papa is standing guard nearby

1831 Surveying the forest canopy, almost all of the younger poplar and cottonwood trees are now leafed-out, but very few of the mature, older trees have done so. We are still expecting the big leaf release to occur any day now

1857 Rather than heading down through the forest to the blind as we usually do, we continue along the levee walk to the bench above the river. Mahoney's ankle is bothering her, and with all the work we have to do for our ceremony this weekend, I want her to take it easy. So we sit, and we watch birds in the forest canopy. Tonight there are lots of tree swallows passing overhead to hunt at the river, and there are still yellow-rumped warblers picking (at insects?) amidst the cottonwood flowers

1920 Moving on from there, we walk to the cutbank overlooking the river island. Sure enough, Log mama is gone from her nest. At this point, I'm assuming that she's the one with two goslings at the pond. It makes sense for the river families to move over once hatched. Most of the river edge is made-up of forested cutbanks, rather than the open expanses of grass (not to mention the golf course) that occur at the pond

1948 Not wanting to over-do it, with the work ahead, we decide to call it a night and go get dinner. Our last encounter on the way to the truck is with a small weevil that lands on the brim of Mahoney's hat. We photograph it from several angles, then head for home

IIII ) ll Robin Hatchlings (17May10)

1320 Sspopiikimi - it's a nice, hot afternoon, and Mahoney and I have come to do our regular round. No specific agenda this visit, but I figure with the high temperature it'll be decent for insects

1331 We're greeted at north-pond by a lone coot (the male whose mate is nested in the bulrushes here) and two aapsspini couples

1334 At midpond, across from the ksisskstakioyis, are both of the aapsspini families who were here before - the Log family with two goslings, and the Triplets. There's also a non-breeding or unsuccessful pair, as well as a new family with three goslings. These ones look to be about the same age as the Triplets, and my guess is that they’re the Big Island goslings who’ve been missing from Sspopiikimi for well over a week now. If so, they’ve lost a couple siblings

1357 As we pass the big patch of lens-podded hoary cress, there are several insect encounters. One after the other in succession we see spring azures on the cress flowers, then variegated meadowhawks landing on last-years dry stems of grass in between the cress, then boreal bluets on the new grass leaves. And as we stand about watching all of them, we learn that there are mosquitoes here now as well

1407 When we get to the bench overlooking south-pond, we're surprised to find the Small Island mama is still on her nest. There are three other pairs on non-breeding or unsuccessful geese here too. And the sa'ai count is one redhead couple, one lone redhead drake, and four mi'ksikatsi drakes

1422 Continuing on, following the levee-walk, we spot two male blue-winged teals, and confirm that the marsh aapsspini mama is still on her nest. There's a coot feeding along the outskirts of the marsh, which makes me suspect they have a nest in these reeds too

1435 Soon we cut down into the forest, where all but the oldest trees are now leafing-out. The summer heat is going to take some getting used to. I'm feeling less comfortable than usual

1456 We are taking our time in the forest, checking out the starling and flicker nests, and scouting around for robin and mourning dove abodes, when a big flock of tree swallows comes gliding overhead. Second's later we see why. They are being followed by a medium-sized hawk

1535 The whole business of the lack of robin and dove nests is starting to confound and bother me. I've seen the mothers incubating on the reserve already, which means they must be nesting here as well. But search as I might, all I'm finding is last-year's weavings. That is until we reach the last bulberry patch on the north end of the forest. There at last I spot a robin sitting her nest, and when she flies up in alarm, we find that she's already hatched four babies. How I missed this nest in my searches of the last couple weeks just goes to show how inconspicuous and camouflaged they can be. And with this find, we conclude our visit