03 May 2010

The Snipe Nest And Triplet Family

IIII ) lllllllllllllll The Snipe Nest And Triplet Family (1May10)

1329 Sspopiikimi – Mahoney and I have packed lunch and are prepared to pass the cloudy afternoon here. Walking in at north-pond, we’re greeted right away by Miracle the gosling and its subpond parents. Our route today will take us sunwise, first toward the river, then around the pond

1345 As I’d predicted, there’s no night-heron at north-pond this afternoon. We pass right around, stopping only to gather another handful of asparagus shoots from the oldest plant on this end. When we climb the levee to look out over the river, the Oldman seems relatively unchanged from yesterday. At least some of the geese of the river island are still incubating. The waters around them are high and muddy. The only thing perceivably different is that the pelican congregation has moved, probably upstream to the weir below the university, leaving just one bird back here at the island to troll lonely off-shore

1405 Departing the river, we drop down from the levee-walk and through the flicker forest, heading to the subpond and wet meadows. I want Mahoney to get a first-hand look at what became of the nest in the hawk tree. I feel a bit off our game this afternoon, like we're moving too fast, missing the magic right before our eyes. When we get to the tree, we do another search for gosling remains around the two fragmented eggs, but all we find are a few old rodent bones in a piece of fallen nesting material, uneaten food from hawk residents past

1418 We decide to go eat lunch at the blind above the shallows. On the way, passing through part of the wet meadows by subpond, we roust a snipe from its nest. It has three greenish-yellow eggs, heavily speckled brown on one end, set together in a tiny, grass-lined cup on the ground. Given the number of mating couples we observed here the other week, we know that there are more snipes nested on these meadows somewhere

1422 Sitting down with our sandwiches at the blind, we can see out on south-pond that the two island nesters are still in place. I would not doubt if the big island goose now has one or more goslings beside her. Her eggs should be all hatched-out by Monday latest. Also present, just beyond the islands, are three male shovelers and a redhead couple

1442 While Mahoney pulls out her yarn to practice a new knitting stitch, I go off in search of pollinators. All around us there are golden currents and bulberries in bloom, with chokecherries very near to popping their blossoms as well. I’m just starting to take photos of an interesting fly I find on a currant flower when I hear an eruption of sound from the thick buckbrush nearby. The crashing is followed by a few quacks and wing-beats that tell me it's a retreating mallard mother. I enter the brush in search, and quickly find a beautiful nest of eleven eggs perfectly concealed. If she hadn't spooked, I'd never have seen it, even though we pass by this spot almost daily and have stopped here several times over the last few weeks to check asparagus plants. I text Mahoney right away about the find, and soon she’s there with me

1500 Walking away from the mallard eggs after getting a few photos, we notice something odd at the big island. There’s another pair of geese standing near the nesting mother, something that should never be allowed, and both redhead couples (Scabby included) are huddled in the waters just off shore from her. We’d observed this same behavior of the waterfowl last year at the pipping of the canal couple's first egg. It's a social event. We walk down to have a look, but don't see any yellow fuzzies yet, which doesn’t mean they’re not there. I bet we'll see goslings poking out from under this goose’s wings by tomorrow

1510 Heading further out on the wet meadows, toward what might be the new canal couple nest, I spot a colorful orange and black butterfly. It's a fire-rim tortoise shell, the third species we've come across this season, and another of the adult wintering anglewings, just like the mourning cloak. According to the literature, these tortoise shells are supposed to be rare for the prairies, but sometimes the books are wrong. There’s plenty of stinging nettle stands here in the coulees, and this is the favored food of their larva

1524 As we near the ksisskstakioyis, it becomes clear that my suspicions were correct. The canal couple rebuilt from scratch and has a new nest. We walk up to have a peek, but aggressive as this gander is, we can't move close enough to get mama standing for an accurate count. She does rise for a moment, and there are at least four eggs. But her man is fending us off proper and, oddly enough, three other geese soon arrive, seemingly as back-up. We wonder if these are her three that we watched grow up last summer

1538 We decide that we won't go near the canal couple's nest again unless we believe it to have been destroyed. We're afraid of the possibility that our scent could lead the coyotes here

1542 Leaving the new nest scene and heading north along the edge of the pond, we pass the ksisskstakioyis and are surprised to see a pair of geese running directly toward us. A split second later, we see why. They're chasing three goslings! Now things are becoming very convoluted. Where did this family come from? We know all the nests at Sspopiikimi, and all are accounted for. I've read that some geese will move their goslings to new locations during the summer, usually to deposit them with foster parents. But from what I understand, they don't usually do so this early in the season. The most likely scenario is that this family is from the river island

1615 With minds spinning, trying to guess at where this new goose family came from, we move up through the woods toward the river again. On the way, Mahoney pauses at a large ant hill. It's not the stick and straw assemblage of the western thatching ant, but a black-colored species who use sand, and their hive is ultimately larger than that of their cousins. I decide I'd better take some photos to have them identified. Probably the best picture though will be the one I took of Mahoney herself, using the new aspirator to suck a few of the ants up for collection

1621 After the ant hive, Mahoney waits at the forest bench on the levee-walk while I run our coffee cups and jackets back to the truck to get them out of our way. From her seat, she can see the river island and three of its nesting aapsspini couples, two of which would have been the only possible candidates for the newly-arrived family at the pond. So the triplets must have come from elsewhere

1632 When I get back to the bench, we discuss all the possibilities. Our best guess now is that the triplet family came from one of the nests outside of our regular survey up or downriver. Perhaps they are closely related to our regular geese in some way, former goslings of the pond

1705 Putting aside the goose family identification issue as unsolvable, we decide to walk the river cutbank, through the rose brush forest along this strip. Last year, this is where some of the first robin and mourning dove nests were found. But today, nothing. It's either a touch too early, or we're not searching patiently enough. I suspect, at least in part, the latter, because I have no doubt the starlings and house finches who've been here for a while now are nesting, and yet we haven't pinned down any of their locations either

1736 The skies look like they're going to bring rain soon, so we've looped back around south-pond and are on our way toward the truck. Just a few minutes ago, there was an osprey hunting here, slowly gliding high over the water, occasionally hovering and dropping straight down, only to rise again before hitting the surface. Both redhead couples are shallow diving nearby, and one of the shoveler drakes appears to now have a mate. We may be in for our most intense summer of duck and goose families yet

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Frog Encounter (2May10)

0730 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - I am greeted this morning at the coulee rim by the resident kestrel, who is perched on a fencepost having a splendid mouse breakfast. I have four hours to get down to the floodplain, search the willows for sapsuckers, check on the owl chicks, gather seven small beaver-chewed sticks for our upcoming ceremony, and make a quick visit to the rattlesnake hibernaculum on my way back up the slope

0757 Amidst the songs of a host of meadowlarks, I follow a deer trail in a sunwise route down the coulee, gathering yellow prairie violets as I go. It seems I'm not the only one who enjoys the taste of their spinachy greens. Many of the plants I take already have leaves clipped off, probably from the deer who use this trail. In the forest below, I can hear mourning doves, chorus frogs, a pheasant rooster, and the drumming of woodpeckers

0814 As typical of the season, there are some new plants on the rise, flowers and shoots that were not here even last week. Early yellow locoweed has gone to bloom, the distinct waxy leaves and stems of blue penstemon are on the rise, as are the first soft leaves of prairie sagewort. As I get closer to the floodplain, a small herd of mule deer amble cautiously away from the base of the slope, heading to the forest, and some of the woodpecker thrums seem to take on a sapsucker rhythm, which is as I'd hoped

0835 Still further down, I find other plants emerging - scarlet globemallow, ma's (Indian breadroot), blooms of skunkbrush sumac, and near-blooms of a small desert aster of unidentified species

0846 When I finally reach the floodplain and drop down into the oxbow corridor, I immediately come face to face with a coyote, who knows as well as I do that this is a good passage for finding all kinds of fauna. The dog looks up at me from about twenty meters distance, briefly stunned, probably wondering how I could have possibly come to be here without its knowing. Then it gets its wits, turns tail and runs as fast as it can into the forest

0911 I proceed along the oxbow, listening, and inspecting each clump of diamond willow for any new sign of my target sapsucker. The forest around me is dominated by starlings, whose apt mimicry makes it sound as though there are fifty different species here. Aside from them, I catch glimpses of robins and flickers. And at one point, I encounter a small herd of whitetail deer. My presence throws them into a complete sneezing frenzy, and soon they leave

1021 Continuing along the willow corridor, I eventually come to the lower end near the river. Here, the oxbow has actually caught some surface water, and the chorus frogs abound. Their song grows louder and louder until I am within sight of their slough, and then it abruptly stops. I use the awkward moment to get both my cameras ready, then I crouch and wait. After a couple minutes of silence and stillness, first one frog then another begin croaking. Within a few more minutes there are hundreds singing

1022 At this point I begin wading, slowly, inch by inch through their waters. It doesn't take me long at all to spot the first few frogs, and I head in their direction. I doubt many people can appreciate the patience it takes to move two meters in twenty minutes, but that is exactly what I do. I don't so much walk as I do carefully twist and torque my feet against the mud until I'm there, right beside them

1023 My approach has been so careful that I'm able to shoot a croaking frog from just six inches away, and I remain huddled over it until my muscles start to ache. It's a beautiful thing, the challenge to come so close to these frogs and have them remain comfortable. The buzz of their chorus becomes loud and hypnotic. Time passes, and before I know it I've been with them for an hour. Finally, I break away, and just like that the orchestra stops

1052 Unfortunately, I've now put myself in a position where I'm really going to have to hustle in order to get back to the house in time for my niece Isabella's expected arrival. With this in mind, I decide to travel the river shore. Besides the uneven cobbles, it's relatively free of obstacles, and it will give me an opportunity to search for the seven small pieces of beaver-chewed willow we need for our ceremony

1124 I find my sticks just upstream of the shore ksisskstakioyis and continue to move along, past an irate pair of killdeer nesters, and past dandelions being pollinated by several different bees and flies, as well as fire-rim tortoise shells. But by the time I reach the upstream end of this floodplain and the trailhead that will take me on the climb to the coulee rim, I'm already late for Bella. My planned stops at the owl nest and rattlesnake hibernaculum will have to wait for another visit

1155 The Sun is shining as I climb the slope, and it takes all my willpower to refrain from detouring to the snake den. But it's not in the cards today. My only stop the whole way up is to photograph some red bees who are scouring the trail. I'm sweat-drenched, very ready to change into shorts and head to the pond with my girl

1625 Sspopiikimi - passing thunder clouds this afternoon have kept us indoors, but now that it looks like things are clearing up, my two-year old niece Isabella and I are at the pond to try and get in a proper expedition

1641 We walk in to find that midpond is hopping at the moment. There's a trio of coots diving to feed, and there's a congregation of six aapsspini couples resting on our shore, including Miracle and his subpond parents, and the triplet family from the river. This is the first time Bella has seen goose babies, and as she walks over to them, giving a "hello bird" greeting, they head down the bank and move across the pond to the wet meadows

1656 We pass two muskrats enroute to south-pond. Once arriving at the bench there, we can see that all three nesters (the canal couple and the two of the islands) are still sitting their eggs. Also present are the two redhead couples, a mallard pair, two male blue-wing teals (now without mates), a third blue-wing teal couple, and three more geese (likely last-year's canal brood)

1715 Next we head down onto the peninsula, where we find that one of the spotted sandpipers has returned. I'm hoping to show Bella a turtle, but we haven't seen any yet. Instead, I settle for physa snails and water striders, both of which she enjoys looking at, but isn't interested in touching

1740 Unlike most novice hikers, Isabella Marie prefers to be carried along on the easy straight paths, but reach a hill or a brushy set of obstacles and she absolutely must do it herself. When we leave the peninsula, she guides me on a rough trek up and down hills and through the owl forest, eventually leading us out to the river

1801 We take a break on the bench by the high-level bridge just long enough to have a few swigs of iced-tea from my water bladder. Then it's my turn to guide, and we're going egg hunting. Our first stop is down on the wet meadows where, just as I'd hoped, the snipe flushes from its nest right at our feet. Squatting down, we find it now has four eggs, a full clutch

1810 Then we head up to the mallard nest. This one is hidden in such thick buckbrush that I have to carry Isabel through, and when the bird comes bursting out she's excited to peer down between the branches I part to see the many familiar-looking eggs. Finally, I take her up by the hawk tree to examine the broken goose eggs, and to point up instead of down to their source

1830 After thoroughly inspecting the goose eggs, and the little ants stirring around inside them, Isabella tells me she's tired, and I point the way to the truck. Off we march through the forest, up onto the levee-walk, and back down around north pond. Our last encounter of the day comes within sight of the truck, where we meet up with Stuart, a fifteen-month old grinning boy very much enamored with my girl. Bella's pleased to see him too, but only briefly. She wants to get to the truck and head home. So we wave goodbye to both Stuart and the pond, and are soon driving away