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