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