29 June 2010

Aiksikksksisiikoaiksi ki Ksiwawakaasiiksi

IIII ) llllllllll Coot Hatchlings (23June10)

1810 Sspopiikimi - with the floodwaters now receding, a whole new wave of life is on at the pond. We're here to do our evening round, Mahoney and I, and the very first thing I notice, just pulling into the parking lot, is that we're getting our summer snow. The cottonwoods are dropping their seeds, and they're accumulating all along the edges of the paths and the banks of the water

1814 I'm very curious as to whether any of the aiksikksksisi eggs have hatched yet. We decide to check the north nest first, and work our way along the cutbank south. The crested wheatgrass still hasn't flowered, but there is another grass species presently with small yellow blooms. When I brush the stems, pollen fills the air

1819 The kingbirds are nabbing insects off the water surface, while the kingfishers dive under for minnow pike. Three large garter snakes greet us at the cutbank by the bat tree, and we are not certain yet, but it appears the north coot nest does have hatchlings

1825 Confirmation… there are two orange cootling noggins poking up on this side of mama, and likely a lot more beneath her. They are tiny, tiny just yet. We're surprised that papa's not busy bringing them milfoil, but no doubt that will change. I see him making his way over now

1833 Papa coot returned with some food, which he passed off to mama. She fed each of the chicks, at least four of them now. Papa waited while she completed the feeding then got off the nest, which he took over tending while she paddles away. He's chuck-chucking for her return at the moment

1853 Moving over to midpond, we find that while the short crested wheatgrass is not flowering yet, the taller, duller green variety does have its purple blossoms. Here too we find yellow sweetclover in flower

1903 The midpond coot situation is more difficult to figure. There are two couples here now, along with a drake cinnamon teal and a drake mallard. One of the coot couples, that which we knew to have eggs even before the north-pond nest was set up, is acting defensive, chucking at others and showing their white bum patches. But watching them return to their nest and glassing the whole event, we cannot confirm hatchlings. It may be that their nest was damaged by the flood waters

1912 The ksisskstakioyis appears tiny compared to its former glory when the pond was lower. The three gosling families are looking more and more like a flock of geese. Crossing paths with another large garter, I follow it down the cutbank until it dives underwater and hides amidst the aquatic plants below. This is their strategy for avoiding danger here I suppose, which is why all the ones we see move quickly down the steep banks

1921 South-pond is just an entirely different scene now. With all of the islands and reeds sunk, it's more quiet here than we've ever experienced in summer. Though there are still the sounds of redwing blackbirds, they’re calling from the forests and brush. The yellowheads, it seems, have gone altogether. Sitting on the bench that used to overlook the peninsula, a mayfly has just molted into its adult form on my leg. Unfortunately though, predicting the same heavy mosquitoes of our last visit, we sprayed down with repellent, and the mayfly passed away immediately from its effects

1938 Add to the list of flowers in bloom the prairie and prickly roses. We are going to have a bumper crop of berries this year. The golden currants and saskatoons are well on their way

1943 Along the levee-walk of south-pond, we see the water in the owl wood has gone down more than expected. There's still a significant pool here though, and there's still a young ksisskstaki patrolling this end of the pond. Scabby is not on her nest, and I'm totally convinced now that she abandoned. The south coot couple are here, and the mama on this end is still incubating

1949 When we get to the Oldman, it appears to be almost back to the same level it had been at before the big flood. There are a lot of mosquitoes buzzing us, and crickets chirping along its banks. The sound of the crickets draws my attention to an absence I hadn't otherwise noticed... the chorus frogs are silent, their mating must finally be complete

2002 Cutting down through the main forest to check on some of the nests, our first stop is at the flicker cavity. Here we find mama flicker bringing food for her baby who looks about ready to make a first flight. This is the first time we've seen a fledgling flicker and watched a nest succeed here

2025 Our next stop is the tiny yellow warbler's nest. There must be several of them in the forest, but this is the only one we've found so far. And I'm sorry to report that the single egg that had been here last week is now broken in half on the ground below, our hopes of watching the warbler hatchling cycle at this nest dashed with it

2029 We've yet to find any catbird or kingbird nests here yet, though by the latter's recent behavior, I suspect it is not far to come. At the log where we usually sit to break on the north end of the forest, there’s a new fungus growing. It's something I don't recall having ever seen before, a neon-yellow growth flat against the log, almost lichen in appearance

2041 While I check around in the brush a bit, Mahoney climbs back up on the levee-walk and there finds the juvenile kakanottsstookii. Oddly enough, it's picking at insects on the trail. I climb up just in time to see it take wing and fly off into the forest

2055 With the setting Sun in our eyes, we round north-pond and move back to the truck, already looking forward to our next visit

IIII ) llllllllllll Redwing Hatchlings (25June10)

1925 Sspopiikimi - it's so nice to see the garter snakes returned to the cutbank of north-pond. Tonight, as we walk in, at least eight large snakes go slithering out of our way. One who doesn't move has the bulge of a recently eaten mouse in his belly

1930 All of the grasses are in their fertile glory... tall, green and limber, dancing at our thighs. The coot family is off their nest now. They've moved their bright orange hatchlings deeper into the reeds, where we hear them chuck-chucking at our approach

1938 It’s a deceit. The father coot is the one who was chuck-chucking from the reeds, calling our attention. The mother and her hatchlings are still in the nest after all, laying very low, out of sight except when she peeks up to either inspect us or search for her mate. She makes a single, hushed chuck, and he immediately answers with his own, a bit louder

1943 The muskrat residents of this shore are hauling heavy loads of milfoil to their den. They are pulling so much at a time that their movement is exceedingly slow. They might easily be mistaken for drift-logs it we hadn't seen them up close. I can't tell if it is one muskrat making several rounds, or if the pair is working at this project

2011 We pick up and move around the end of north-pond, climb the levee-walk, and drop down into the forest main. With the yellow warbler's nest we'd previously located now defunct, I want to search the brush for others. It is perfect weather this evening. Warm, but not too much so in the shade of the forest, a light breeze in the air

2017 The first area I check, on the north end of the wet-meadow swamp, is empty of brush nests. There are robins singing here though, and catbirds mewing. Three pairs of mi'ksikatsi look up from the waters below, surprised to see me and unsure if they should take flight. I depart from view before they can decide

2023 We don't have to move far into the forest before coming across the fledgling kakanottsstookii and one of its parents. The huge birds swoop between the trees ahead of us, the young one landing awkwardly on a medium canopy branch, and from there bobbing and swaying to watch us while pleading for its mother

2047 I continue to weave through the brush as we advance south, but all I find are old and recently abandoned robins' nests and many sticky spiders' webs. At one point, I scare up a lone white-tail deer, who bounds off toward the wet-meadows without a second glance

2100 Coming to the blind at south-pond, now fairly deserted of waterfowl, we see a swainson’s hawk gliding over the forest, with a redwing blackbird in pursuit. There's an eastern kingbird climbing and dropping in display above the pond, and it soon moves to an exposed perch high in a cottonwood at the edge. Out on the water, the muskrats have constructed a new flotilla of green reeds, a platform where they can take their meals

2115 Moving through the turtle nursery toward the south levee-walk, we see evidence of many pits where the reptiles have recently deposited their leathery eggs. We also observe that at least a couple of these caches have been dug up, and at one such site a canine paw print testifies to just who the culprit egg-eater is

2127 Coming out of the turtle nursery, a redwing male begins to swoop and issue his high-pitched alarm. Mahoney and I split up in search of the nest, but when I don't find it immediately, my attention is drawn instead to a saskatoon bush bearing lots of nearly-ripe berries. I quickly pluck and eat a few of the berries, and as I do the redwing swoops especially low in panic. I have inadvertently found the nest. Parting the thick brush and peering down into it, I find three tiny mouths on outstretched necks, awaiting drops of food. A fourth hatchling is half out of its egg, they have only just been born

2138 Tonight I have avoided using mosquito repellant, opting to donate blood instead. Yet stopping to rest on the south bench, amidst the mayfly swarms, it is Mahoney they land on to shed their skins

2150 Just before we leave, a single mayfly lands on my arm and drags itself from the sleeve of its old exoskeleton. There has been no sighting of the aapsspini families tonight. We suspect they've found a little island of grass somewhere out in the wet-meadows

IIII ) llllllllllllll Pisttoo (27June10)

2030 Sspopiikimi - just out for a dusk visit, sitting this evening on the cutbank above north-pond, where mama coot continues to keep her hatchlings on their nest

2039 Surprisingly, we received no garter snake greeting when walking in past the bat tree. Usually we arrive an hour or two earlier, and this may have something to do with their absence

2042 As we get our chairs set in place, I notice a line of bubbles go streaming away from our shore. When about half-way across the pond, a ksisskstaki surfaces and continues without a second glance into the wet meadows. It could be the one we've seen over here several times recently, and it's possible he's established a new shore lodge

2047 With the water in the wet-meadows receding, we are finally getting our first look at the cinnamon teal family reported by Cynthia a few weeks ago. There are eight fairly developed ducklings traveling with their mother. They move in single file with mama up front. This family paddles in from midpond and disappears behind the cattail and bulrush stand, but then soon come hustling back out, almost running on the water, and this time with the ducklings in the lead

2053 It may have been mi'sohpsski who frightened the teal family, because no sooner do they come rushing out than the muskrat too emerges from the reeds, hauling a mouthful of milfoil

2055 High above the pond, we hear the call of a bird less familiar. It is pisttoo, a nighthawk, someone we haven't seen here since about this time last summer. Soon it is joined by two others, circling well above and giving their chirping calls. Perhaps it is a family, parents out teaching their fledgling to hunt

2059 Another rare sight, a foot-long pike just hopped up on a log beneath us and sat there for a minute or two before kicking back out into the water. Meanwhile, the coot parents have switched out watching their babies

2120 Almost all of the old, dead seed-heads of last year's absinthe are now covered with some kind of cocoon-like, cottony webbing. I pluck a few to pry them apart, expecting to find a moth larva of some kind. What I encounter instead is a tiny, black spider, with a single, white stripe down its back. Two of the three samples I pluck have these spiders in them, which means there are absolutely thousands of them making use of the absinthe field behind us

2126 While I'm learning about these spiders, a blue-wing teal drake flies in to land at the wet-meadows across from us, and a pair of goldfinch sing from a nearby willow on the cutbank. The mosquitoes are swarming, but I'm resisting the use of repellant. I don't want my skin to be poisoned when I'm handling Derrick, our magpie, this evening. As I sit back down beside Mahoney, mi'sohpsski swims past with another mouthful. This time, he's carrying a whole dandelion plant, root and leaves

2141 Though we've not been out long, Mahoney and I feel we've donated enough blood for one evening. We're packing up and heading home. Tomorrow we'll wear more mosquito-resistant clothes

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Clematis Galls (28June10)

2045 Sspopiikimi - we've arrived even later this evening, after what has been a very long day. More than anything else, tonight I need the pond just to clear my head

2049 We're set up at the north end again, where so much of the action seems to be these days. The aapsspini families are feeding across from us in the wet meadows, and there are a few mi'ksikatsi there as well. Mi'sohpsski is coming and going from the shore den below us, the aiksikksksisi parents are still keeping their hatchlings to the nest, and there are pairs of aapohkinniyi chasing one another around in chatter

2057 One of the ksisskstaki is headed our way from midpond, but it remains to be seen whether it will make it all the way over. The water level has dropped low enough that the milfoil flowers are once again on the surface, and the ksisskstaki is floating amidst stands of it, eating mouthfuls as it goes

2106 The ksisskstaki has come all the way over now, and after pausing to munch more milfoil in front of us, it went behind the reeds where the aiksikksksisi are nesting. We're also getting a better look at the sa'ai mama with her eight ducklings. They are not, as suggested yesterday, cinnamon teals. They are mi'ksikatsi

2113 The relentlessness of the ksisohksisiiksi has pushed us too far already this evening. Now the gloves are off and the repellant applied on our persons. From our seat, we can see an introduced species out by the russian olive tree behind the wet-meadows. It is Dr. Cynthia Chambers, one of the phenology participants this summer

2140 The ksisohksisiiksi must send out some kind of signal to their sisters in arms when they identify easy prey. They were absolutely swarming us earlier, but now that we've sprayed down, there's not a one

2142 I've noticed that many of the clematis vines have something going on at the base of their leaf stems. They seem to be forming a kind of gall, and outside of this gall the flesh of the vine is covered in tiny orange objects, possibly insect eggs, except I wonder because they don't wipe off at the touch. I pick one of the galls and break it open to see if it's housing a larva, and it doesn't seem so, but maybe I just happened on a dud

2208 The aapsspiniiksi and mi'ksikatsiiksi have paddled off toward midpond. With the north end now fairly quiet and the darkness closing, we decide to pack up

21 June 2010

O'kakoyi - The Flood

IIII ) ll Milfoil Bloom (15June10)

1854 Sspopiikimi - here to sit a couple hours or so by the bat tree overlooking north-pond, and what a welcome we got. Just walking in, we passed four large garter snakes. The first one was basking stretched out across the trail, the other three were sitting a few feet apart from each other along the top edge of the cutbank. Very happy to see their return

1857 My guess is that the north-pond aiksikksksisi nest has not hatched yet. When we set our chairs down just past the snakes, we could see both coot parents out foraging. They don't have to dive for milfoil these days, its grown high and is blooming with white flowers above the pond's surface

1902 Some of the bank swallows are out, swooping over the water and returning to a snag branch below our seats. A mi'ksikatsi drake flew in just after we arrived, and soon flew back toward the south. There was a ksisskstaki briefly exploring the wet-meadow shore, and mi'sohpsski is currently heading into the cattails where the coots are nested

1913 Another mallard drake, possibly the same fellow as before, has arrived chasing a lady who wanted nothing to do with him. As they approached the levee-walk, she split toward the absinthe field while he circled the cattails and came in to land. She then flew back over him and landed far out on the midpond wet-meadows. Meanwhile, ominous clouds approach, threatening perhaps to rain us out this evening

1920 The north-end cinnamon teal drake, whose nesting mate we haven't found, has waddled out of the reeds to sit at the edge of the wet-meadows straight across from us. We see him standing sentry at this position quite often

1927 One of the male coots picking at milfoil tips makes his way over to the log that the cinnamon teal is occupying. When the coot begins splashing to bathe and preen, the teal takes wing and flies south

1943 A very pond-ish smell rises through the air, and we are suddenly surrounded by thundering clouds. The north-pond residents seem very quiet this evening, and in the interests of keeping our equipment dry we decide to cut this visit short

IIII ) llll Swollen Waters (17June10)

1823 Sspopiikimi - last time we were here, two nights ago, we had to cut our visit short due to the arrival of thunder storms. It's been raining ever since

We are in the moon called misamssootaa, and this kind of rain is what it refers to. Mi'ksskimmiisoka'simm told me that if the rains are heavy, it will last four days. If it's light, it will last two weeks. This is the way it works. Perhaps this is the conclusion of the two week cycle we’re experiencing now. It's a cleansing, moving the worms up and the trash down. And from my perspective, it's sacred, directly connected to the origin of sstsiiysskaan, the sweatlodge. It is, in fact, the ultimate sweat, conducted by Naato'si, the Sun, and observed by Ko'komiki'somm, the Moon, who looks in through the clouds when they part

I didn't bring my BlackBerry, given how wet it is, so these notes are being taken after the fact. Tonight, Mahoney and I have several intentions. First, we simply need to be at the pond, to stretch our legs and take-in the changes occurring with the constant rain. We also think it will be a good opportunity to gather worms, to feed Derrick, the magpie fledgling we adopted last week. Finally, we want to check on how some of the pond's residents are coping... Scabby, the redwing and yellowhead blackbirds, the coots, geese and magpies

Just walking in to north-pond, we pick-up our first couple worms, the mid-sized ones that Derrick likes to eat. The pond, we find, is quite flooded, even more so than after the last big rain. The white blooms of the milfoil that had been above the surface during our last few visits are now submersed. Most of the wet-meadows are underwater too. If the water gets much higher, it will look as though the pond merely stretches back to the edge of the forest

The aapsspini families don't seem to mind the flood. They are all travelling together mid-pond. And it's clear the parents are molting. Along the path on the west cutbank, we find dozens of their large black feathers strewn about

There's one mi'ksikatsi drake on a little bit of exposed land on the wet-meadows north, and a drake and hen couple on another bit of earth midpond, as close to the ksisskstakioyis as they can get, given the conditions. The beaver lodge, usually right up against the wet meadow, now appears to be in the middle of the pond. It hasn’t actually moved, of course, but the water... the water. One of the ksisskstaki is packing extra mud on the north wall of the lodge, and we can see they've added several freshly bark-cleaned poplar boughs to the works

The situation at south-pond is similar. Here, there is no longer a peninsula, and most of the logs that the turtles like to bask on are sunk. We walk into the bulberry and currant thickets above what used to be the peninsula, to check on the magpie nest. The fledgling here is able to come out onto the brush now and, like Derrick, this one has recently begun to leave adult-like droppings (as evidenced in the once-clean nest bowl). Unlike Derrick, who gives singular calls, it is crying in the staccato caw of its mother. To make up for disturbing it, I leave a fat night-crawler in the nest bowl, a nice contribution to the evening meal

From the magpie nest, Mahoney returns to the levee-trail to continue around the south bend. I have my waders on, so I decide to cut across the marsh instead, so I can check on Scabby and the blackbirds. The water is so high, I almost can't make it to Scabby's nest, not without filling my chest-waders anyway. When I do get out there, I find the eggs still above the pond surface, and covered with some reeds, as if Scabby herself just went to eat (which is likely the case). There is one egg caught in some flotsam nearby, but I suspect it belonged to the nest that was sunk with the last flood

Moving on, I come across a muskrat standing on a mat of reeds he'd cut. I want to take my video camera out, but in order to do so I have to remove my fishing gloves. The fabric of my glove makes a squeaking sound that the muskrat apparently mistakes as the call of one of his own, because he dives into the water and swims directly over to me. When, at close range, he realizes that I'm not another muskrat, he turns and swims away. Then I purposely make the glove squeak and he turns and swims back. Again seeing that it’s only a human being, he dives and disappears. I remember my friend Kiitokiiaapii telling me about this, how muskrats will come to you if you make squeaking sounds, sucking your lips. This is the first time I’ve actually experienced it

Wading toward the east shore, I'm wishing I could go further out in the reeds to look for the coot nest I know to be here, the only one at Sspopiikimi I've yet to see. And then suddenly, to my surprise, there it is... not at all where I'd suspected it to be, hidden in the thick cattails like the other coot nests. This one is right in the open, surrounded only by a handful of bulrush stems. The mother is sitting in it, and she hops out as I approach. Her nest, lined with a few fresh cattail leaves, holds nine eggs

There are no redwing or yellowhead nests in the marsh, or at least in that part of it which I can still access, though this has been a major breeding-grounds in prior years. Any nests that had been here are underwater. Only the top ten or twelve inches of the tallest bulrush stems are breaking the surface

Near the shoreline, I find a piece of beaver-chewed poplar that looks like it has a cluster of barnacles growing on it. When I pick it up and look closely, I see that the cluster is made up of tiny snails. There are probably fifty or more, all packed tightly together in a little circle

Climbing to the duck blind, I meet up with Mahoney again. She has collected more worms, and reports that there are massive logs floating down Oldman River. There is a redwing male swooping us by the blind, which means there's a nest nearby. But since both of us are getting soaked through, we decide not to conduct a search

Together, Mahoney and I hike back to the levee-walk to continue our round. Here, between the wooded river cutbank and the main forest of the pond, we collect one worm after another, making our way north. Like those near our home on the coulee-rim above, there seem to be three worm species here. The most populous is a small, slender worm with a bright pink band. They account for perhaps as much as eighty percent of the worms that have been washed to the surface. The next most numerous are mid-sized worms that look like small night crawlers. These are the ones that Derrick prefers – they’re small enough for him to handle, but big enough to give him that sensation of having a full belly. And then there are the night crawlers themselves, some as large as juvenile garter snakes. These seem to be far more rare, accounting for only about two percent of the worms we find

When we get to the lookout over the big river island, there is no island to speak of. All that remains are the tops of the willows growing there. We can see several massive trees, old deadwood probably cut by beavers, floating downstream. The beaver shore lodge here is totally submersed. And if the water gets any higher, the kingfisher and bank swallow cavities will be filled as well

1954 We round north-pond and make it back to the truck. In the hour and a half we've been out here, we collected just forty-six worms. In comparison, I was able to gather one hundred and five worms in under a half-hour the evening before, in our neighborhood, where the concrete keeps them out on the surface. At neither location, however, do the birds seem to be taking particular advantage of the wormy situation. While I do see some picking them up here and there, they are not as busy at it as I would expect

IIII ) lllll The Flood (18June10)

1805 Sspopiikimi - we've arrived, again in the rain, to find not only the main access road closed due to flooding, but also the gate to the parking area locked shut. No matter though, we'll just park outside the gate and walk in

1816 We've hiked around north-pond, passing papa coot on the way, and climbed the levee-walk to find the Oldman swollen massive. Its waters have spilled into the forest (good for the poplars) and risen quite a ways up the levee itself. The river’s so high, only the tops of the russian olive trees are visible, and it's probably a good eight to ten feet higher than the waters of the pond, just on the other side of the levee

1824 Strolling to the overlook on the river cutbank, we find the Oldman almost ready to come up over-top. There is now no evidence to the big island's existence, not even the tops of the willows show. The cutbank where the swallows and kingfishers were nesting is sunk far below

1842 I'm amazed at how much the river has risen, and I'm grateful for what it will ultimately do for the forests, but definitely a lot of nesters are in mourning. Most of the brush up to the levee itself is underwater, and I'm sure in other parts of the coulee, without levees, the situation is even more grim. There is no sign yet of the hundreds of bank swallows who had been here. There are ksisskstaki tracks leading up the shore from beavers who've had to abandon some well-established lodges. No telling where they've gone

1851 We notice there are several small rodent burrows, possibly pocket gopher tunnels, open to the surface. I wonder if perhaps this is part of their flood strategy, to leave their exits open while the water is rising. Or have they simply evacuated? Also, the birds of the forest, and most vociferously the robins and starlings, seem to be in an alarm panic. There is non-stop shouting between them. We hear very few courting calls

1855 There is good reason for panic amongst the small birds. We've just found the source of their angst... a large kakanottsstooki

1902 Check that! We don't have one great-horned owl at the scene, we have a whole family of them. So far, we have seen the two parents and one of their fledglings. We suspect, of course, that the owl wood has been flooded out, and that this is what has brought at least some of them here to the forest that is protected by the levee. We're making our way south to the owl wood now to find out

1925 Before arriving there, we decide to cut down into the main forest. The possibility that many animals have come here for sanctuary lures us. Walking through, we find both the starling and flicker parents feeding hatchlings in their cavity nests. Toward the north side of the forest, we stop to check the fine little fibrous basket nest we found in some brush the other week. Finally the first egg has been deposited, small and whitish with dense brown spotting on its wider end, becoming sparse at the narrower side. The egg cinches it as a yellow warbler’s

1936 Aside from the robins, starlings, owls and flickers, we see catbirds, yellow warblers, and wee house wrens. A snipe is winging his display overhead. And by the blind at south-pond there are redwing blackbirds, a cinnamon teal drake, the male coot of this water, tree and bank swallows, and a kingfisher. There has been a mosquito hatch. The ksisskstaki, for their part, are doing exactly as they had last time it flooded, making their rounds to survey the shoreline and put up new scent mounds

1955 On the way back out of the forest, I cut into the brush and flush a mourning dove from her nest platform. It's set safely up about ten feet in a poplar tree. Then we climb the levee again and move over to the owl wood. As predicted, all but the canopy is completely underwater. The Oldman, surging up over the tall concrete anchorings of the high-level bridge, has pushed a lot of flotsam into the woods, and several western kingbirds, yellow warblers, and catbirds are making use of it as a source for finding bugs

2011 Now from the levee-walk I can see both mama coot and Scabby's nests. Like yesterday, Scabby is absent. It's a bad sign. I hate to do so, but at this point I have to assume she's abandoned the project

2036 Moving around to the west cutbank, I locate Scabby. She’s swimming side by side with a mallard drake, of all characters. And just a ways up from them, across from what used to be the subpond canal, are the three aapsspini families, happily feeding on our cutbank

2048 Continuing along the length of the pond, heading for the truck, we come across several more exposed rodent tunnel entrances. Now I am sure they belong to the pocket gophers, because the area they're positioned in is criss-crossed with their normal works

2100 Coming out of the park, we are approached by a man who is parked at the barricade. He was there when we came in as well, but we simply walked through before he could pester us. This time, he's waiting to tell us that the area is closed by police orders. Since I doubt the flood waters are going to recede over the weekend, tomorrow I guess we'll either have to visit the police station seeking permission, or hike in from a less guarded point… irritating

IIII ) llllll Young Rattlers Galore (19June10)

0751 As if the police and fire chiefs think they can keep me out of the coulee this weekend, when we're having such an awesome flood. Not likely

1233 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - we've come to check the flood situation out here where there is less authoritarian surveillance. From the coulee rim, we can see that the entire forest below is flooded, who knows how many active nests along with it, and it's likely my little lean-to shelter in the trees is a wash-out

1255 Walking down the slope, we pass lots of flowering plants... white morning glories, scarlet mallow, black medick, purple wild vetch, yellow salsify, creamy drummond's vetch, yarrow, butte marigold, and prairie onion

1332 We've stopped by at the rattlesnake hibernaculum, of course, to check on my slithering friends. Like last time, there's just the one younger snake basking. Our sense is that he's going to stay at the den site all summer, and it makes me wonder if perhaps they always assign this duty to one of their young warriors, keeping others from occupying the burrows so the clan has somewhere to return to in fall. We've now seen this snake at two of the den entrances, and the black widow is here today occupying a third. It has caught a beetle in its web meant to trap mice

1345 About half-way down the slope, there’s been a significant landslide, making passage treacherous. To avoid it, we chose a steeper part of the slope to descend. Both of us have itchy arms from mosquito bites, and Mahoney smartly starts chewing yarrow flowers and rubbing her skin with the juice. I follow her lead, and though the yarrow tastes awful, it relieves the irritation instantly

1407 Finally we make it down to the sagebrush flats, all sweaty and hot. We sit down for a break in the shade of grandpa tree. There are some little chipping sparrows flitting about, and there are gooseberries growing here, still green at present

1437 We're able to get down into the first echelon of the upstream forest, where the water has passed through, leaving the buckbrush caked in mud, but at the cutbank above the second echelon we encounter the flowing river. This is quite a distance from where the Oldman normally runs, and so what damp (not dry) land there is has filled with whitetail and mule deer. We just had a doe whitetail followed by a buck mule come running past us at close quarters, jaws open, obviously stressed. My lean-to, miraculously, has survived. It’s on a small island in the forest, surrounded by moving water

1517 There are a lot of the usual feathered suspects down here. The robins are singing away. One bird whose presence is pronounced today is the western kingbird, who is performing an aerial display in several locations at the forest edge, swooping up and down from open perches. As we sit to take our last break before climbing back up the coulee slope, I spot my first baltimore oriole of the season, brilliant orange and black as he wings over the water and through the trees

1539 About halfway up the slope we stop when I catch a glimpse of baby rattlesnake cutting across our trail and into the grass. Following this little beauty, I'm able to get a few close-up shots from hardly twelve inches away. It would have been nice to get some film footage too, but I figured I'd stressed out both the snake and Mahoney enough at that point

1539 Right at the top of the coulee, I spot the tail of another young rattlesnake under a step in the path. This one's a bit older than the baby we came upon, but still small. I wonder how many people have stepped right over this one on their way up and down today without even noticing

IIII ) lllllll Ksisskstaki Precautions (20June10)

1836 Sspopiikimi - today access to the pond is being blockaded by the Commissionaires, mall cops of Sikoohkotoki. Not wanting to have our vehicle towed, we're attempting a hiking route from the coulee rim upstream

1854 Vegetation along the rim from this side is much the same as that we recorded yesterday at Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko. Lots of wild vetch, butte marigold, and scarlet mallow. There's spear-grass here, which I didn't notice at the other site, and rice-grass, which I know to be around the snakes, though I didn't bother to note it yesterday

1923 We stop about half-way down the slope. The next part is extremely steep and, still sore from hiking down and up the coulee yesterday, Mahoney doesn't think it's a good idea for her to proceed. Down below, we can see that the Oldman has receded at least a meter from where it was two nights ago. The water in the owl wood is now land-locked, and there’s an osprey perched in one of the trees

1944 Mahoney says she'll wait for me if I want to conduct a quick survey, so I bound the rest of the way down the coulee slope and am presently squatting on the levee-walk between the waters of the pond and those of the owl wood. I just witnessed a large ksisskstaki cross this same levee, and slip into the waters of the owl wood. I'm waiting, at least for the moment, to see if he'll return. I wonder if it is one of the residents of the ksisskstakioyis at the pond, or if it was the kind of flooded-out infiltrator the pond beavers were warding off by putting up new scent mounds the other day

1957 I now suspect it was a river beaver, because though the animal itself has disappeared into the bayou of the owl wood, I've located a set of enormous ksisskstaki tracks leading from the river's edge into the owl wood waters. And when I come within view of the pond again, there’s another ksisskstaki swimming the levee shoreline on surveillance

2004 I stand corrected, at least in part. The larger ksisskstaki has just crossed back over the levee-walk to re-enter the pond. He was met at the water's edge by the younger sentry. The two came nose to nose and then spun around in a circle cheek to cheek. Then the older animal swam up to place another scent mound under the duck blind, while the younger beaver remained to guard this south access point

2015 Not wanting to keep Mahoney too long, since she so graciously agreed to wait, I've cut tonight’s observations considerably short and hustled back up the coulee slope to meet her. I'm sweaty, covered with mosquitoes, and itchy all over

2020 I never saw the osprey down in the forest, and Mahoney never saw it leave, but the canopy is all leafed-out and I could only get to the treeline before I was met with swamp. I did, however, notice a squabble between a couple eastern kingbirds. A pair of them were sitting together on a snag branch when a third one arrived. This provoked some furious chatter. Then one of the pair, presumably the male, chased the unwanted bird off, hollering all the way

2031 Sitting on the coulee slope, with Mahoney wiping away my mosquitoes, I find a wood tick on my leg. It hasn't dug in yet, so I flick it away and we start climbing again. Almost to the rim, we come across an ant event in-process. There's a stream of thatchers crossing our path in both directions. Their hive is easy enough to spot. It's a massive construct in high, fertilized grass on the downhill side. Some of those leaving the hive carry tiny, white, dry-looking objects. Those moving toward the hive, on the other hand, haul pieces of dry grass stems about an inch in length. Peering down at the hive itself, it's clear there is construction going on. Many small pieces of stick and grass stem are being shuffled around

2046 Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about the lives of ants here. I would like to choose a hive to visit regularly during our trips to the pond, to learn what their annual cycle is like

15 June 2010

Turtle Eggs And The Garter Snake Return

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllllll Turtle Eggs (8June10)

1843 Sspopiikimi - we've been here about a half hour now, and have just arrived at the south bench after walking the length of the pond. It's still extremely flooded, and so far we've encountered a lot of the usual residents

1848 There's a stronger redhead and mallard presence here than there has been since the flooding began. I couldn't know where they went in the interim. I'm hoping this evening to see the reported cinnamon teal with her ducklings, but so far no sightings of their kind at all, which seems odd until considering that so much of the wet-meadows is now pond too

1851 It's really bothering us at this point that we've not come across any wandering garter snakes. In previous years there were so many out here. Last fall, we witnessed their exodus over the levee-walk at the south end of the pond, but assumed they were heading to their usual hibernaculum. Now that they've failed to return, it makes us wonder

1925 Leaving the bench, we walk around to the other side of the pond, passing Scabby on the way... she's still sitting her nest. Once on the opposite shore, we return to the site where we observed a painted turtle depositing her eggs last week. Using a photograph of the event still on Mahoney's camera to relocate the concealed nest site, we slowly remove soil and soon come across the egg cache. There are fourteen in all, leathery white, and oval in shape. Though we've seen the mothers at work on these nests many times, we've never laid eyes on the eggs themselves. We are careful to cover them back up as protectively as we found them

2007 Over by the blind, we notice two asparagus plants have been broken off and dragged into the water. At first I suspect ksisskstaki, though we've never known them to eat the asparagus before. When I fish one of the stems out of the water though, it appears to have been broken lengthwise on its stem, roughly, not like the relatively clean snip of beaver teeth. When on the bench at the opposite shore, we'd seen a group of scouts out here. Finding the matching asparagus base, it is wet as though recently broken. Our assumption is that an irresponsible scout master was showing the boys these edibles, failing to teach them that they're too fibrous when they've grown almost to seed, and that it’s better to leave them to produce more plants

2016 We’re walking through the forest now, passing the starling and flicker trees. All is quiet, fledging must have occurred. Mahoney is whistling, trying to call the flicker out, if she's still in there. Suddenly my BlackBerry spontaneously plays the call of a pileated woodpecker. This is very odd, because I hadn’t even used that application recently. The burst of electronic woodpecker noise causes a robin to shoot out from the trunk-hugging branches of a narrow-leaf cottonwood beside us. Peeking between the scraggly branches, we find her nest with three large hatchlings, nearing fledge. At the same time, mama flicker appears on her tree, carrying nothing we can see, and dives down into her cavity nest. She must still be incubating, and was just out for a quick bite of dinner

2031 The robin's nest on the north end of the forest still has not hatched yet, and I've given up on the one dove nest… their platform is coming apart at this point, and they never produced eggs

2041 Approaching the truck, I'm reminded that we still haven't seen the teal ducklings. It may be that I need to put my waders back on for another exploration of the very wet, wet-meadows

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllllll Comparative Snaking (9June10)

1720 Pitsiiksiinaikaawahko - perplexed over the absence of wandering garter snakes at Sspopiikimi, Mahoney and I have come down to the coulee at the river confluence to check on whether the rattlesnakes are still at their hibernaculum. If they are, perhaps the same would be true of the garters

1729 Because this is more of a grasslands area, the flora constellation here is quite different than that of the pond. More vetch and onion, sage and various yellow asters. The meadowlarks are here, and the canary grass in the dips of the rolling hills is already growing quite tall

1811 The answer to our inquiry comes pretty fast, as it doesn't take long before we're walking into the hibernaculum site. Just outside of the area they inhabit, I find and photograph ma's, a.k.a. Indian breadroot, one of the dietary staples of the past that most people can't even identify today. A few steps beyond the ma's and we come within sight of the first den entrance. We walk slowly, checking four or five of these holes, and encountering only one young snake. Ordinarily, if the clan were here, we'd see at least a dozen with the Sun out like it is. Clearly these snakes have left the site to find individual summer dens throughout the coulee

1826 Leaving the hibernaculum, we climb up on the ridge above so I can show Mahoney the stone effigy that's there. I still don't know what it is, but there are curious lines and arcs on its flanks, and the elegant sunburst and other lichens cover the surface of the stones in a manner that tells me they've been here a long time

1856 We make our way off the ridge and down to the river. As we come out of the trees at the water's edge, a whitetail deer way over in the brush on the opposite shore begins snorting in alarm. This provokes two aapsspini families with goslings near the deer to enter the water and swim upstream. As the geese moved away, a flock of fourteen pelicans flies past, also moving upstream, quite a stunning vision as they wing calmly just over the surface of the river

1931 Off in the forest we check on the kakkanottsstooki oyiiyis. The last time I was down here, before the rains, the owlets were just puff-balls of white down. Now they are fledged and gone, roosted somewhere in this broad floodplain forest

1936 From the owl nest, I take Mahoney to show her my progress on the lean-to shelter I've been slowly building since the start of last winter. When it was snowy down here, I lost an arrow on the edge of the meadow beside this shelter. I'm telling Mahoney about it, and there it is... sticking conspicuously out from a log pile. The razor tip is buried deep in the wood and visibly broken, but I'm able to unscrew and retrieve the shaft

1942 As we walk through the green forest, full of purple-flowering lupine and gold-blooming buffalo bean, we talk about how we'd like to start camping out in the coulees for the weekends, maybe even invite groups of students to pick berries and accrue ethnobotany course credits

2024 Moving up through the buckbrush echelon of the forest to the sagebrush flat, we pay visits to both grampa and grandma cottonwoods, the two oldest living trees here. Both have neat hollows, and grandma in particular seems to have legs, arms, and a head. Not far from them, there’s another tree bent over to appear like a bear with legs and a white face

2054 Hiking back up the coulee slope, there are western kingbirds and gray catbirds calling to us from the brush. We can't resist making one more survey of the rattlesnake hibernaculum, but this time find nobody out at all

2113 Finally back up on the coulee rim, I'm already looking forward to a future visit. This coulee brings my thoughts back to hunting, and I'm conscious of the fact that we're not taking good advantage of the season's fresh greens and bulbs. It's something I'd like to change

II Garter Snake Return (11June10)

1516 In the interest of rekindling the Niitaowahsin Project, I've hiked into the Oldman River coulee just out my back door, to survey for potential edibles, and possibly harvest the same

1535 As I walk the top of one of the ridges, with a meadowlark singing from an old fencepost nearby, two plants present themselves right away. The first is pisatsiinikimm, the ubiquitous prarie onion. They are growing in close clumps of four or more plants together, with shallow bulbs that make it a simple matter to pry them up with my eight-inch crowbar (a.k.a. root-digger). In ten minutes I'm able to collect about forty onions

1539 The second plant, which I've not come prepared to deal harvest, is otahkootsis, the prickly-pear cactus. Their paddle-shaped leaves are thick and succulent right now, and it appears as though they'll be in flower soon. Better to wait for the fruit to form

1554 Looking around as I hike along the ridge, I see ground plums (which I plan to harvest later), drummond’s milkvetch, and butte marigold. There are several plants in bloom that I just have not learned to identify yet, other asters, purple vetches and a white flower like penstemon that I really should learn

1600 I've just come across a man and his son. They are dropping baseball-sized field rocks down a vertical hole, the opening of which is perhaps the diameter of a fence post. This strange hole goes a ways down, three or four meters by the sound of the thump when the rocks hit bottom, and it really is a mystery what might have created it

1624 When I come to the end of the ridge and begin my more rapid descent toward the river, I come across ma's, the prototypical starchy root vegetable, otherwise known as the prairie turnip. These roots are set deeper than the bulbs of onions, and it takes a bit more digging to unearth a clump of five of them. They are unfortunately small, like those bite-sized white potatoes you can buy at the grocery. I've dug up others in the past that were far larger, but I've not yet learned to judge by the appearance of the plant above what to expect below

1646 The next ma's I come across is a singular plant with a bit larger root, but still not as thick as could be. While I dig, a savannah sparrow sings from atop a nearby tuft of skunkbrush. It has a very distinct song, and I can hear others of its type elsewhere in the coulee

1706 Turning around at the cutbank above the river, I see that the draw from this point and almost all the way back up is thick with pakkii'p, okonoki, saahsiipakksinisimaan and other berry plants that will ripen later in the season. Then, as I begin climbing again, I'm finding all kinds of ma's I hadn't seen on the way down, perhaps because the angle brings the earth closer to my eye

1719 I've got a pond date with Mahoney to keep, so I don't make any stops on the way back. But I'll definitely be returning soon for more harvest. Chewing on some of the onion as I walk, I wonder what it would do for our bodies if we had such foods in our diet every day

1805 Sspopiikimi - back for another evening at the pond, and we are met at the trailhead from the parking-lot by this season's first giant stink beetle. He lifts his rear end high when we approach, pauses for a moment in that fashion, then begins scrambling for the safety of the grass

1810 As we step onto the cutbank overlooking north-pond, I can see the water has gone down a bit, but the wet-meadows are still very marshy. There are two mallard drakes here, and the usual cinnamon teal drake by the beaver canal near the north coot nest. Little white flowers on top of the water are the blooms of water milfoil, and mi'sohpsski has just brought one back to his den

1822 We’re going to walk sunwise around the pond today, beginning by rounding the north end. The asparagus plant on this side is now taller than me, and there are still good shoots coming up. The plants here typically do not get this tall. We believe it’s the result of Mahoney's work, clearing off the old growth

1836 The constant presence of the cinnamon teal drake at this end of the pond makes me suspect that his mate may be nested nearby. While Mahoney moves to check out the river, I walk the brush-line around the north-pond bend, and just before I come to the forest, I spot a broken duck egg. Looking under some dead branches nearby, I find the nest. It is like so many other mallard and teal nests this year, destroyed by predators. No sign of the hen, and I don't know the cinnamon teals well enough to verify if this nest is theirs, but if it is I suspect the lady has fallen victim to coyotes

1845 As I scan the remaining siinikskaahko before the forest, I'm pleased to encounter not one, but two large wandering garter snakes. They have returned after all. I think I even hear a third one, but when I check the grass I find nothing, and turning back toward the other two, I'm unable to locate them again in the thick brush

1857 I meet back up with Mahoney in the woods, we stop to take a break on our usual log. We can hear house finches and yellow-rumped warblers singing around us

1917 As we resume walking again, through the forest now, I find a beautiful little fiber-woven basket nest in some chokecherry brush. There are no eggs in it, and I don't know who made the nest. As I'm taking pictures to help me identify it at home, we hear child-like cries from further up in the forest. It's not a catbird. We suspect it's a porcupine. But as we begin to search, the cries stop

1940 We never find the source of the cries, though we climb the levee-walk and scan the forest on both sides. Unfortunately, in doing this we've bypassed a lot of potential bird-nesting brush. But to make up for it, I suggest we check the owl woods, which we haven't gone into for a while. So we're breaking on the river bench, and then in we go

1957 The owl woods live up to the name we've given them. We don't have to go too far in before we see a large kakanottsstooki flying silently between the trees. Stalking up on one of her flanks, we hear her give the usual call, and then watch her preen for a bit before she glides quietly away again

2013 Nothing else too momentous occurs in the owl woods. We hear a catbird in there, along with others we don't know by sound. I lift a plywood board and find what appears to be a queen yellow-jacket oddly affixed and squirming on one side. She has not been squished, at least not by us, nor as far as we can tell. But something is happening here, and I will hesitate before I dare lift this board again

2017 Soon we are at the south-pond bench, where the waters are full and quiet. A mi'ksikatsi couple is resting on the peninsula before a stray drake flies in and gives chase to the female. All three fly off in chase and avoidance. Across the pond, the Triplet and Big Island aapsspini families are interrupted from feeding on the cutbank by a couple who've come to peer out the blind

2032 Many of the flying insects are finding perches for the night on the siinikskaahko and old absinthe stems. I move around and photograph some of the flies. The goose families have now made it over to the peninsula, and we see that the Log couple is among them

2052 The Triplet and Big Island goslings sure are growing up. Their adult coloration is really coming in, though they're still much smaller in body than their parents

2103 Soon we are cutting away from the pond and back up toward the truck. We've still not seen the mama with ducklings, but again there is a lot of wet marsh to work with now

IIII Asparagus Beetle Love (13June10)

1646 Sspopiikimi - a very hot day, compared to others recently. No clouds and almost no breeze. The bluets are mating, coming together in heart-shaped form. The large blue dragonflies are out, zooming along parallel to the shore. And the kingbirds and yellow warblers are in place to make the best of it

1650 Walking the length of the pond, we pass the three aapsspini families, who are moving toward the wet-meadows. There is also a lone redhead drake, drifting north near the mouth of the subpond canal. The waters of the south pool are still up above the old nesting islands. And there are a pair of mi'ksikatsi drakes here, swimming together near the peninsula

1724 We walk down onto the peninsula to try and photograph the large, blue dragonflies. Several of them pass, but all at such accelerated speeds that we don't stand a chance

1732 Up on the levee walk, we see Scabby taking a frantic dinner break down by her nest. On the other side of the path, at the edge of the owl forest, I spot a wandering garter snake lifting its head high above the grass. We wonder if it's dining on damselflies as well, and we intend to watch and find out, but after a minute or so it knows that we're aware of its presence, and it slowly retracts back into the grass. We wait three or four minutes longer, and when it doesn't emerge again we check the grass. It's gone

1739 Over by the river bench, the cutbank is greenish-yellow with blooming spurge. It's also swarming with honey bees. The only other plant we've seen such a concentration of honey bees on is the bulberries, when they first come in bloom. As we sit and watch them work, a catbird cycles through a repertoire of mimicked songs from the understory of the owl forest behind us

1811 Making our way toward the blind, we pass another garter snake, this one probably no more than a year old. It crosses our path in a hurry. Curious they waited so long to come out. After this snake, and just before cutting down into the forest, I find a gold poplar-boring beetle. It's something I've never seen before, and I lay prone on the ground to photograph it

1818 We don't spend too long at the blind, in fact we walk right by it. There is an insect event underway at the asparagus plants. The aptly-named asparagus beetles (like lady beetles, but longer of body) have come here to mate

1843 The forest is beautiful this time of year, all lush green and full of birds and insects. We stop at the flicker tree, but see no sign of the mother or her fledglings. Nearby though, a starling brings a mouth-full of worms to its young. Further along the trail, we check on the delicate little basket nest we found during our last visit. Still no eggs yet, but the interior has been lined with a white down that wasn't there before

1908 Up from the north end of the forest, we cross the levee walk and look out over the river island. Though the Oldman still looks swollen, we can see by the extent of island visible that the waters have dropped. There's a spotted sandpiper bobbing on a sandbar here. The swallow colonies are still swarming at the cutbanks, but we haven't seen much of the kingfishers. And just in the big rocks at our feet there's a pair of large garter snakes, making four so far today. This is what we'd expected weeks ago

1922 As we round north-pond to approach the truck, I scan the reeds that house the two nearest coot nests. It's entirely possible that at least the mid-pond nest has hatchlings now, but I don't see the parents bringing milfoil. I don't see the parents at all. Perhaps during our next visit, we'll sit and watch these nests