09 June 2010

Ibis Fever And The Damselfly Explosion

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll Muskrat Spin And Flycather Dip (1June10)

1848 Sspopiikimi - tonight we brought our chairs to sit up on the north-pond cutbank and watch the evening happenings on these swollen waters

1853 The first thing I notice walking in is not a presence, but an absence. We've still not seen any wandering garter snakes here this season, which is very strange. Normally they come out soon after the frogs begin to sing, and in previous years they were abundant on the north cutbank. There were so many snakes here, we thought there must be a hibernaculum nearby. Now we wonder if something didn't happen to them over the winter

1859 We're just settled in when the first ksisskstaki paddles over our way along the opposite shore by the wet meadows. It quickly disappears into the yellowhead cattails. The male aiksikksksisi is here as well, appearing suddenly from the northernmost ksisskstakiohsoko to feed in the middle of the pond. As it dives for milfoil, we hear his wife grunting from the cattails, the ksisskstaki probably having approached too near her nest

1908 The mama aiksikksksisi just came off her nest to feed. I'm trying with difficulty to sort out the soyiiksiinaa situation in the yellowhead cattails. There are definitely at least two prominent males, who I believe are associated with the two nests we've identified there so far. I make this assumption because they often perch near their respective nests. But one or the other might just as easily fly clear across to our side of the pond, and not always to chase other birds like on the occasion Cynthia noticed here last week. To complicate matters further, other yellowhead males not infrequently come in and out of this territory

1923 There is a least flycatcher picking food from the water. It watches from overhanging branches and makes quick forays to snag its meal off the surface. It makes its way in this fashion up and down the bank, and just as it leaves us I see a turtle's head ascend for a breath of air. The mosquitoes are starting to become intolerable, and it's just going to get worse. We'll have to invest in repellent again for our next visit

1935 I see what appears to be a muskrat swimming almost frantically in tight circles and repeatedly diving. A ksisskstaki then came to meet it and the two dove together. The beaver soon surfaced but the muskrat disappeared. Then the ksisskstaki proceeded over to the shore just beneath us, where it climbed out, seemed to be rubbing its body on the plants, then dove back in. It made several dives in rapid succession, almost as if trying to rinse itself, then paddled off toward the yellowhead cattails

1938 While my attention is on the ksisskstaki, two turtles come out to bask on a log near the coot nest, and two drakes swim in from the south - a mallard and cinnamon teal. There are yellow warblers flittering past now and then, and the flycatcher continues to glean insects from the pond surface

1952 There is a lot of muskrat activity here tonight. I watch one do its spins and dives for a few minutes, while others cruise the shoreline, and still others propel straight across the pond. Sootamsstaa is whistle-winging in display high above, the mallard drake has flown off to the other end of the pond, and a spotted sandpiper has arrived

2011 There is a mi'sohpsski burrow just below our seats and one of the residents has been coming out repeatedly over the last little while to gather grass stems from the shoreline and bring mouth-fulls of it into the den. It's coming in and out so often, it can't be eating the grass. It must be piling it up for bedding material, and since we saw some muskrat love the other week, my suspicion is that it may be replacing material soiled by birthing

2016 Announcing the arrival of this season's first eastern kingbird. It just came to perch briefly on a snag branch above the water, then quickly winged away

2021 The swallows have come to swarm overhead, flying high this evening now that the mosquitoes are out. We've noticed there have been no kingfishers around tonight, which is odd. And presently, one of the ksisskstaki is gorging on milfoil

2031 There is so much happening here all the time, it's difficult to stay focused on any one thing. Especially on evenings like this, where we've come out with no specific learning agenda. I find that I often note the beginnings of things, but that my attention turns before it concludes. The mama coot has long returned to her nest, the sspopiiksi abandoned their basking efforts, the swallows have moved on. I never witnessed any of this happen, only becoming aware of it after the fact

2036 Another mi'sohpsski is doing its spinning dives in the middle of the pond. At the same time, one of its relatives swam across the pond carrying an old, dry bulrush stem, which it brought into the burrow below us. Certainly this could not be food. Again I conjecture that they are renewing their bedding

2040 Feeling as though we've got the gist of what's happening here for this evening, Mahoney and I head home

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Scabby's Nest Salvaged (2June10)

1627 The apocalyse movies all suggest that animals will signal impending danger, that if you see an avian exodus you better follow suit. But the response of local animals to last week's rising waters told a different story. Whole colonies of ground squirrels drowned, ducks stayed on their nests until their eggs submersed. A lot of effort is being put toward monitoring wildlife for what they can tell us about impending dangers in the context of global warming. But what if they don't know? What if we're the ones who are supposed to be aware of the rapidly deteriorating vitality of our environment? What if we're supposed to be the first to respond?

1900 Sspopiikimi - doused in mosquito repellant, we are here to make a full loop this evening. Though we can't be out here all the time, it's important to visit frequently, because there's always something new happening at the pond. Tonight is no exception. Almost immediately upon arrival, we see a new white flower in bloom. It is the wild onion, pisatsiinikimm

1911 Hiking the length of the west cutbank, we pass in succession a muskrat feeding in the reeds, Scabby redhead diving alone, the three aapsspini families who've been sticking together, and a single ksisskstaki outside the main lodge

1920 The south pool seems so quiet now. Without its islands, all the geese who were here before, haggling over potential late-nesting sites, are gone. Most of the redheads have left, the blue and green-winged teals, the mergansers. All the action now is in the sky, where hundreds of bank and tree swallows swarm like the insects they feed on, and sootamsstaa seems constantly to perform his display

1926 Suddenly, three cinnamon teal drakes come rushing together from out of the marsh reeds. They are too far away for me to see exactly what they're doing, and by the time I get glass on them, they're separating, moving in three different directions, widely spaced on the south pool. I don't see the female who'd been here the last few weeks with one of these males. Perhaps now she's nesting

1937 A pair of sikohpiitaipannikimm pass by overhead, gliding toward the river. We've still not seen them at the old nest, though it appears as though they repaired it after its use by the goose and the storm that pulled most of it down

1950 I decide to enter the tick zone, the brushy thickets above the peninsula, to photograph what's new - the green berries emerging on the golden currants, the rising nettles, the now-resident catbird. While I'm moving slowly along, one of the swainson hawks returns to land on the side of the coulee slope, up high near the top. I wonder if maybe they're going to nest up there

2015 Mahoney joins me in the brush just in time to walk out onto what little remains of the peninsula. A muskrat and beaver watch us as we scout around. Then we move up to check on the magpie hatchlings. The rabbit path leading to this nest is becoming increasingly narrow, both vertically and horizontally as new foliage grows in. Up the thorny bulberry tree and peering into the twig dome, I find we are down to just two magpie chicks remaining out of the original five

2025 Climbing next up onto the levee-walk and passing over the south marsh, we're happily surprised to see Scabby back on her nest. When I'd surveyed the marsh last weekend, I'd assumed she'd abandoned it, since the water was so close and her neighbor's nest got submerged. I even touched her eggs, and though they weren't cold, they weren't particularly warm either. But here she is, so everything must be fine

2035 Just after looking at Scabby, we encounter three little birds picking around in the gravel of the levee-walk path. They are lark sparrows, and we're unable to see if they're eating the gravel itself, or seeds they might be finding within it. We could have watched them longer, were it not for the mallard drake that caught my eye, walking out of the buckbrush near the forest below. The drake sees us as well, and begins to waddle away. As he does, he's joined by his mate, who'd been "ducking" down. They enter the water of the marsh, and we in turn begin surveying the buckbrush for their nest, but to no avail. All the same, we suspect they have one here. Perhaps we'll see mallard and redhead ducklings this summer after all

2113 Since we're already down off the levee, we begin walking along the marsh bank toward the blind. On one part of the slope, Mahoney spots a painted turtle in a compromising position. She is in the midst of depositing eggs in a chamber she's wet-drilled into the sandy soil. We've seen the turtles lay their eggs here every summer, but it seems a bit early yet for this to be happening

2138 After a short and quiet break at the blind, we climb back onto the levee-walk and continue our round. Above the river, three flocks of pelicans are moving upstream, thirty-five members in all. Even higher, above them, there are thousands of swallows, more than I recall ever having seen here on any other occasion. A massive, swirling cloud that mesmerizes me until we're rounding north-pond and nearing the truck again

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll White-Faced Ibis (4June10)

0930 I don't normally go chasing after rare bird sightings, and I don't keep a life-list. But about five or six weeks ago, one of the students who finished the first semester of my phenology series and immediately got employment doing species surveys for Blood Tribe Lands texted me with a description of a rusty and black-colored bird, with white around its face and a curlew-like bill, which she and her co-workers had spotted at Innokimi (Long Lake) on the Blood Reserve. I told her it sounded like a white-faced ibis, but I thought it was a long shot. In the weeks to follow, I began seeing other reports of the ibis crop-up on the Albertabird network, with lots of sightings around Stirling Lake. So I started driving various routes to and from work, keeping an eye out. Finally, this morning, the fever caught me completely, and I set out for Stirling, and announced my intentions on Facebook. Marsha, my student who'd spotted the first one, suggested that maybe the ibis didn't want to see me, and that's why I hadn't come across it yet. But when I pulled off at the marsh overlook at Stirling Lake, there they were. I was too excited to make a good count. I'd say there were about twenty of them. They flew off right away and settled in a hollow a little south of the observation deck. Between them and I there was about twenty bee hives. Bees are my greatest weakness. We have a long-standing feud, stemming from the time I tried to wipe out a hive when I was six years old. Suffice to say I've been stung repeatedly almost every year since. Anyhow, I wanted a decent picture of the ibis, and the only way to get one was to pass the swarming hives. So I did, and miraculously without a sting. The ibis, seeing that their first line of defense failed, took to the air again and began moving to the southwest end of the lake. I got some shots off just before they took wing, and just after. Not the best, but decent. And I wasn't about to pursue them further. As I was watching them come for a landing in the distance, a perfumed odor wafted by, and I looked over to find a skunk not five meters away. Perhaps he was meant to be their second line of defense, but showed-up a little late for the game

1310 Mama robin returns to the nest with a single earthworm. Who does she give it to? She dangles one end down and it is snatched by the tallest chick in the pile. But mama doesn't let go. She maneuvers the other end of the worm into the open mouth of a second chick, and let's the two of them tug to rip it in half

1639 Ruddy ducks in Innokimi, pretty cool

1842 Just learned that the red shale gravel that paves the pathways of our parks is actually rock and impure coal that was once piled in the coulee by Galt Mine #8, spontaneously combusted, and burned for many years

0121 After my close encounter with aapiikayii, I can better appreciate who this animal is. I always thought of skunks as being raccoon and cat-like. But watching them move, how they turn about, and looking into their eyes, it's immediately clear that they are of the weasels, who I've lived with and know well

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Damselfly Explosion (5June10)

0822 Made another run to Stirling Lake this morning, where we saw hundreds of redwings, yellowheads, and franklins, and a whole island colony of cormorants. The ibis was being totally unsociable though, and the few that we observed were winging past at a distance

1342 Sspopiikimi - out here this afternoon to relax and learn. Last week, I pursued the question of how the heavy rains might be affecting those plants and animals who were already established here, blossoming and brooding for the season. Now that things have cleared up a bit, I look forward to learning about who was might have been waiting for these rains as their cue to get active

1354 Right off the hop, entering along the path that deposits me directly across from the midpond coot nest, I find a yellow warbler and two eastern kingbirds searching for some kind of food along the cutbank. I intend to follow them, but am immediately distracted by the appearance of a small fawn-yellow colored inornate ringlet butterfly and a new (to me) kind of damselfly, green and lavender in color

1419 Though the damselfly is easy enough to get close to, the ringlet is not interested in posing for my camera, and I have to pursue it for some distance around the absinthe fields, crossing paths with several other damselflies, including a brilliant boreal bluet, in the process. These ringlets are mating it seems. On some occasions when the one I'm pursuing stops in the grass, a second of its kind approaches it and the two flutter together briefly

1435 I've still not moved away from the absinthe and west midpond cutbank when I come across a dark morph cowpath tiger beetle. It seems to be hunting ants in the little clearings between tufts of grass

1445 After an hour in already, I finally make it fifty meters or so north to the bat tree. Along the way, I find several large aapsspini feathers, suggesting to me that they are already molting. I also see mi'sohpsski carrying bedding material, including old bulrush stems, into one of the burrows along the bank, just as they were doing a few days ago

1501 There are large blue dragonflies following the shoreline, so just beside the bat tree I climb down to try and get a better look. Of course, now they seem to be passing with less frequency, and those that do move by are fast to do so. But just below me, on some small rush stems above the waterline, I am witnessing the escape of a pinkish-colored damselfly from its alien larval exoskeleton. There is indeed a transformation underway

1522 Eventually I give up on the blue dragonflies, figuring that I'll have better success watching them if and when I get to the south marsh. Leaving the cutbank, I move rapidly around the north end of the pond, past its basking turtles, and climb the levee walk, heading toward the river. I can already see the waters of the Oldman are starting to descend again, leaving more of the big island exposed. I've come over here because I want to take a look at the steep cutbank, and hopefully learn whether the kingfishers or swallows are nesting yet

1537 There are indeed thousands of swallows swarming the cutbank. They seem to be moving in waves to and fro, between flying out over the river and rushing back to the embankment. I happen to find a kind of island where a small tree has broken off into the river with a lot of soil still clinging to its roots. This gives me a better vantage point from which to watch

1609 The swallows and kingfishers both have established cavities in the cutbank, but I have not been able to see whether or not they have eggs. I don't believe they have hatchlings yet, at least, because I hear no begging chatter coming from the cavities as the birds come and go. But part of what makes the whole task difficult is that the colonies depart each time I get close to one of the nesting areas. When I'm below the cutbank, on the river, I'm too conspicuous. I can sneak up on them from above, but as soon as they learn I'm there, they come bursting out of the cavities and refuse to return until I leave

1627 I have to concede that I'm not getting anywhere with these swallows. Their chosen nesting banks are very well protected: steep, heavily brush-lined, and always with the river flowing who knows how deep just below. I decide to climb back up to the levee walk and move toward the wet-meadows

1700 Whereas the river has come down, the wet-meadows by contrast have risen. While aiming to check on a redwing nest, the one with the balloon, I spot a turtle basking on some fallen reeds. Two steps toward it and I find myself thigh-deep in swamp water. It completely fills my gum-boots, and the turtle makes a hasty retreat. Already wet, I push on and find the nest, which was situated above land during my last two visits, but currently has a protective pool below it. Curiously though, it now has no eggs, where last week it already had one. The female is still claiming it, perching off a ways and giving an alarm call. Her husband is hovering and swooping me from overhead

1716 Heavy of boot and feeling pretty defeated, I'm about to call it a day when, to my delight, I come upon a new robin's nest with four turquoise eggs. I'm glad to see this because the other brood that had been nearby already fledged, and those at the college are about to leave the nest as well. This will give me another opportunity to continue following robin development. I’m particularly interested in the feeding technique I witnessed at the college over the past week, with the mother placing ends of a single worm into two hungry mouths, and the hatchlings tugging the ends to split the meal

1730 I am ready to go home, but before I do so I just want to visit one more area, the subpond. I don't know why I should need to go there. Really, all of the wet-meadows are subpond today. The aapsspini families and sspopiiksi certainly understand this. They are taking full advantage of the deeper beaver canals within this flood zone. But maybe it's just the principle of it. It would be a shame to leave without even stopping by the subpond for a glance. Sometimes the reward for doing so is a rare sighting. Earlier this season, for instance, we'd observed both a wood duck and a sora here. No telling who may be here today

1735 Even before I get to the subpond, there's a reward. Walking the edge zone between forest and wet-meadow, I come across a brilliant, fat yellow and black dragonfly. Real strong bee colors. I don't recall having ever seen this species before. Or if I have, I never noticed, which is odd considering that the bees and I are always highly aware of one another's presence

1755 Partway through the forest, I hear the familiar sound of starling hatchlings being fed. The chirps bring me to a snag tree with two starling nests set within old flicker cavities. The parents have a full-time job of collecting worms from the surrounding area, and flying them up to the waiting chicks. In a neighboring snag, mama flicker herself peeks out at me. She has been sitting here for some time now, and I would imagine she must have hatchlings by now. But if she does, she gives no sign of it, disappearing into the cavity, waiting for me to pass

1810 The rest of the hike back to my truck is uneventful, or perhaps I'm just tuned-out with physical and mental exhaustion at this point. But reflecting back on my original objective for the day, what have I learned so far about the beneficiaries of the heavy rains and flooding? Well, from what I saw today, it's pretty clear that the dragonflies, damselflies, and inornate ringlets needed this. They were a constant presence wherever I went. The mosquitoes, who were not too bad today, but were fairly thick immediately after the rains, were waiting for it. The robins and starlings, in their quest for worms to feed their hatchlings, probably appreciated it. The bank swallows, if they have eggs in those holes, certainly benefit from the high river, creating a formidable shield below them. Who else, perhaps tomorrow will tell

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll Parenthesis Lady Beetle (6June10)

1216 Currently sitting on the viewing pad along the edge of Stirling Lake, and we've been here for a half hour or so

1236 Just minutes ago the first ibis of the day passed overhead and landed in the marsh south-east of us. Across the lake, on the opposite shore, there's a massive congregation of gulls, and out on the small rock island the (nesting?) cormorants. There are hundreds of redwing and yellow-headed blackbirds in the surrounding reeds, and we can hear the "chuck-chuck" of a coot, the aquatic "glump" of a ruddy duck, and the "bip... bip" of a frog who's unfamiliar to us

1253 Another ibis passes overhead, this one continuing northeast. The few gulls who are moving around us are all franklins and thayers

1344 Eventually, we leave the observation deck and drive around some of the back-roads, trying to gain access to the lake from other angles. Along the way, we pass little potholes with mallards, shovelers, blue-winged teals and gadwalls. There are ground squirrels and grey partridges on the road. But there is no access to the lake, at least not without a connection to one of the local land owners. This is probably a good thing, as far as the birds here are concerned. It means no boats, or dog-walkers, or other recreation folk looking for a beautiful setting within which to carry out their human-centric activities

1539 Very cool, I just saved a parenthesis lady beetle from a pot of water it was drowning in out by the hillbilly couch. First one of its kind I've ever seen

1814 Sspopiikimi - received word that there are new cinnamon teal ducklings here today, so Mahoney and I have come for an evening visit. The conditions are perfect, high stratus clouds shading us, while retaining the day's heat

1835 Walking the length of the pond, from the parking area to the south bench, we see one of the ksisskstaki hauling a mud patch up on their lodge and, beyond that, the Triplet and Big Island aapsspini families. The goslings are growing up quick. Already the Triplets and Miracle, a few days older than the other three, are getting their white jaw patches

1839 While watching the goslings, we hear a mewing sound coming from the coulee slope. Looking up, we spot two porcupines walking together. They are far away, and the sound reminds me of the Blonde's baby from last year. So we are breaking briefly at the bench, then we're going to climb up for a look

1854 From our bench seat, we're seeing kingfishers and kingbirds hunt the waters and yellow warblers picking bugs off the logs. There's a redstart singing his "tweetie-bird" song from somewhere in the currants. Three cinnamon teal drakes just came in for a landing, while ten pelicans continue their flight in a line upriver. We hear the crow of a pheasant rooster from the coulee slope, he's standing as a silhouette on top of a ridge. He's calling for us to climb

1923 Seems we are not going to heed the call. Something's happening with Mahoney's camera, and by the time she's finished working on it, we figure the opportunity has passed. Instead of climbing, we'll go grab our chairs and sit at north-pond. But before we head in that direction, I walk over to check on Scabby redhead's nest, wondering if she could be the new mama rather than a cinnamon teal. She's not home, but I can see an in-tact egg from my position on the levee-walk, so I assume she's taking dinner

1950 Walking the length back to the north end of the pond, we don't encounter Scabby, nor the reported ducklings, though the wet-meadows are flooded now, so there's quite a lot we can't see. A couple ksisskstaki are out by the main lodge. They've dragged some poplar branches out there, stolen off the compost pile at the neighboring golf course

1955 Settling in beside the bat tree, we're in decent company. The Small Island aapsspini family are here with their two goslings, feeding on an island of grassy wet-meadow. Near them is a cinnamon teal drake. And of course papa coot is strutting around

2012 Our stint at north-pond is short-lived. The wind has suddenly picked-up and it's brought rain. Things are fairly quiet here anyway, not even the swallows are bothering to fly tonight