26 July 2010

Catbird Fledglings, Mosquito Seige And The Mow

IIII ) lllllllll Under Siege (21July10)

2006 Sspopiikimi - out for our dusk walk around, sunwise tonight, beginning at north-pond where there are four female mi'ksikatsi and two aiksikksksisi dabbling in the algae-bloomed waters. The wandering garter snakes of the cutbank have gone under to rest, while the mosquitoes for their part are rising

2017 We stop off at the red currant brush beside the bat tree to taste a few of the ripe, gently tart berries. On a snag beside us there's a bohemian waxwing perched alone, giving its cricket-like calls and making occasional flights out over the water and back again

2024 Rounding the north bend, up on the levee-walk, I'm struck again by the appearance of the forest on the river side, it's floor now a mud-flat from this season's floods. There's something attractive about the cracked mud, and I realize tonight that the pattern of the fissures gives the earth the look of flesh, magnified tremendously

2033 It's not likely we'll be here long tonight, just enough to make a single round non-stop. We are entirely under siege by ksisohksisiiksi, and have brought no repelant. All I'm wearing is a t-shirt, and there are dozens of them feeding of each arm

2043 Already we have rounded the south bend, seeing along the levee-walk catbirds, robins, goldfinch, and very much missing the mosquito-eating bank swallows. My arms are now pocked, absolutely rippling with the swellings of bites upon bites

2049 The sikaaatsisttaiksi seem equally agitated. They're not acting in their usual elusive ways, sticking to the high grass and thick brush. Rather, they're standing out in the open along the trail, refusing to return to protection until we are within a meter of them. For us, the mosquitoes are terrible tonight. Completely distracting. I don't want to imagine what they're like in the bush

2057 Back to the truck already, spattered with blood from the many needle-noses we couldn't help but brush-at. They're still bouncing off our windows. Not much good for our dusk visit. I noticed yellow evening primrose as a new bloom just before we cut to the parking lot. There was much though that we didn't have the opportunity to look at, or to engage with

IIII ) lllllllllll Catbird Fledglings (23July10)

1234 Sspopiikimi - with my previous agenda for this cloudy day cancelled, I've decided to come down to the pond for the afternoon. I have in mind a singular objective for my visit, and that is to be responsive. Lately, partially as a result of mosquito pressures, my explorations have felt rushed. Today I intend to allow the inhabitants of the pond to guide my attention

1248 It begins almost as soon as I step out of my vehicle and onto the path toward north-pond. My awareness is drawn to the plants. The most abundant grass of the absinthe field, aside from crested wheatgrass, has a drooping seed head that has turned a purplish hue as the season's worn on. There's a white flower whose identity I don't know, something like a fireweed, a small patch and no others. I search its foliage and flowers for associated insects, finding a tiny green beetle. In a nearby cottonwood, a robin is protesting my presence

1258 I continue to look closely at the white flowers. There are several of the small, sometimes green, sometimes grey beetles on their blooms. At one particular flower, a pair of these beetles are copulating. There is also a little black ant drawn to these flowers, but fewer of them than the beetles. The robin continues to protest, but less emphatically now, and it occasionally breaks into a happier song

1313 I remain patient, observant, the robin has quieted, I await the sound of chatter again while watching the insects. The ants are searching for something, crawling all around the flowering heads of these plants, not as much on the white blooms themselves, although occasionally they do dip in. The beetles, for their part, stay on the petals and stamens. There is also a lygus bug, like a small orange stink bug, a defining yellow V at the base of its wings, like the cape of a superhero. It is exploring the dry top of an old absinthe pant from last year

1322 It seems as though the robin has gone when I hear the chatter again, the sounds of several young voices calling for food. I begin walking slowly around the base of the tree, eyes up to the canopy. There is a nest up there, hatchlings, has to be. The robin starts in again, giving alarm, but I don't think this is its nest. I see the small flash of the grey bird swoop into the leaves again, hear the babies feeding. The nest is hidden in plain sight, and I can't locate it

1341 I'm still not more than fifty meters from the truck, remaining at the base of the tree. The mother bird continues to swoop in and feed her hatchlings, and through I'm now able to distinguish the branch where this activity's taking place, I've not been able to see it with my eyes. Joining me in the grass is a dark aapanii, with two prominent concentric circles on its upper wings, a white pupil inside a black iris with an orange halo, a common wood nymph

1347 A tour bus has pulled in beside my truck. A dozen elderly people walk down the path, past me, smiling. They go as far as the cutbank overlooking the pond, turn there and move back to the bus, rolling away again. I can now see the nest, or at least one edge of it, extremely well positioned at the fork of a branch high in the canopy, concealed almost all the way around by leaves

1357 After an hour without significant movement, my patience has paid off. I've found an angle from which to glimpse, when the leaves sway in the breeze, the faces of those hatchlings heard calling from above. When the parent (father) next glides in to feed them, I find that they are robins after all

1411 Since it's not far away, I return to the truck to toss my cap in the back seat. With the clouds lifting, it's making my head too warm. It's a trade off though, as now I have less shade. I then walk down to the cutbank and toward the bat tree. As I move, my presence disturbs mama aiksikksksisi of the north-pond nest, with her two babies. They must have been feeding along the cutbank. Now the mother is roughing-up her young, chasing them toward the reeds of the wet-meadows. Coot parents are not delicate. When they want something of their children, they're violently demanding, chasing and biting the backs of their heads. How unfortunate that my presence has provoked such abuse

1436 At the bat tree, I am challenged, tested. I stop to pick and eat a few ripe red currants, noticing as I do that there are ants crawling all around the currant stems, leaves, and berries. I almost move on, but then remind myself of my objective, response. For me to walk away from ripe berries and an opportunity to possibly see what the ants are doing here is no different than the behavior of the elderly tourists who just passed through. I'm not here to be a mere spectator. I'm here because we are a part of this place, because we need reacquaintance with the lives of our fellow inhabitants, because we need to foster the kind of awareness of them that they have of us, because we need to be re-educated in how to live sustainably with them, instead of following the ill-conceived Western notion of human ascendance and separation

1437 The berries are ripening, I am beside them. As a true human being, I need to stop and participate in this event, to harvest. In doing so, I'm fulfilling my purpose, and assisting the plant as well. I'm a firm believer that the surest means of conservation is to approach our food sources as just that. My harvest today will help in this plant's reproduction, and ensure more berries for it in the future

1454 Why are the berries so brightly colored? The red currants are just such a perfect example. It would be difficult for a person to pass by and not take notice of them. But many do. Some are just not practiced in seeing. Others glimpse the berries but don't have time for them. And yet, these plants are so obviously communicating with us. The drooping stems full of brightly colored berries are their call, "Come feed here!"

1503 I pick most of the ripe berries that are within my reach, without having to scale down the steep cutbank. The waxwings will take the rest, I assume. I hear their cricket voices coming in and out of the bat tree as I harvest. Moving on, my next stop is not far, twenty meters north where the coneflowers are blooming. Again I look to see what insects have been drawn to them. What I find is something like a leaf-cutting bee tapping the flowers with the end of its abdomen

1511 I expected to see garter snakes here this afternoon, but walking the length of the cutbank there are none. Only their cast-off skins. This absence prompts me to search the logs and such on the water for basking turtles. There is just one where I would normally see dozens. The reptiles are responding in concert to some condition I'm completely unaware of

1522 Along the north cutbank I encounter, in turn, a kingfisher who flies away immediately, an eastern kingbird who follows suit, and a goldfinch who, from high in a poplar tree, sings back and forth with me. The saskatoons of the far north end, on the slope of the levee-walk, are beginning to ripen. As with the red currants, I stop to harvest what's ready

1544 I cut down into the north wood to check on the flycatcher nest. The fledgling who had been here is now gone. There is, however, a catbird scolding me from nearby. I find the bird and then I begin searching for what it's protecting. I don't have to look far. On a low cottonwood branch having over the levee slope, I find one of the catbird's fledglings. At first it is unsure of how it should react. When the parent sees that I've spotted the baby, it cuts off its loud alarm cries and begins issuing hushed pleas. The fledgling then flitters up toward the canopy, and the parent rushes over to sit above me and resume its holler. Only now, as I write these notes from below, do I see the very camouflaged nest that the fledgling must have been in as I approached, higher on the same branch where I first observed it

1608 Soon the scolding parent led me toward some bulberry brush, where it was joined by the buzzing alarm of house wrens who were calling to their own fledglings. Heading over there, I again heard the change in tone of the catbird, and again saw that it was because I was very close to its baby. I decided to sit right there on the bank with these two families, watching and photographing them, hoping they would calm down and resume their regular activities. But they didn't, and eventually I got the call from Mahoney that she's waiting to join me out here. So I'm packed up and heading home to get her

1725 Sspopiikimi - back again to the pond, and now accompanied by Mahoney, walking the same route to start as I did earlier along the cutbank, excited to show her the north wood fledglings and move on from there

1734 Not much appears to have changed since earlier this afternoon. The robins are still bringing food to their hatchlings in the first tree along the trail, the coots can be heard chucking in the wet-meadow reeds, there's a strange absence of snakes and turtles. Suddenly though there's an abundance of a certain colorful deer fly. It's attracted to Mahoney's clothing

1812 Back in the north wood, we find the wren family in the same place they've remained the last week or more, in the bulrush thicket along the levee slope. The catbird family, however, seems (at least at first) to have moved on. We wander the woods, waiting to hear the parents' alarm calls. When they don't sound off, we step out of the woods, by the river, and start toward the main forest. As we're passing the same wren-filled bulberry patch, one of the catbirds gives itself away. Moving toward the brush we see at least two fledglings. The parent's voice changes tone. We're close to them. But soon the fledglings flitter off, following their parents into the poplar canopy

1825 With the catbirds away, we walk over to sit at the forest bench, on the levee-walk overlooking the river. We catch glimpses of yellow warbers, and I can hear waxwings and doves in the vicinity, but for the most part it's quiet

1838 We sat at the bench for a while, listening, noticing how different this particular spot is now from when it was alive with a variety of warblers and swallows earlier in the season

1846 Walking the levee south, we pass a goldfinch in the yellow sweetclover, and the rattlesnake mimic warning of another wren family. Out on the river, a family of five aapsspini have landed, possibly the Big Island couple in flight training. And in the dense, vine-like lower branches of a narrow-leaf cottonwood, a catbird calling "owee"

1903 There are, it seems, several more families in the brush along the river this way. We see fledgling and parent catbirds, yellow warblers, and wrens

1920 Coming around the end of south-pond, still up on the levee, we can see both the Log and Triplet aapsspini families in the marsh below, but no Big Island family. They must have been the ones we'd observed landing on the river. Finally the goslings are learning to fly. We also see the south coot mama and her single child moving in the marsh. The coot nests this year, though ultimately successful in spite of the flooding, were not nearly as productive as those of last year

1926 When we reach the south bench, it is to the surprise of a large hawk, who takes off from the ground with what looks like a muskrat in its talons. As it flies, a small bird hops on its back and torments it, I think it is an eastern kingbird. Not to sound cliche, but it all happened so fast. Too quickly for me to identify the hawk, or the meal it carried. The kingbird I'm more confident about, because it has now returned to the area, giving alarm calls... it must have a nest nearby

1945 Off we trek to find the hawk, who appeared to enter the trees bordering the golf course. But the nearer we came, the more obvious it was that the bird had gone to feast farther out on the course than we could go without risking encounters with those engaged in the important activity of slapping little white balls around a carefully sculpted environment. We give up and continue toward the truck. As we walk, Mahoney reaches up and scrubs my hair with absinthe leaves, then circles around me, observing. It's an experiment. She noticed that rubbing absinthe on her hands kept mosquitoes at bay. Now she wants to see if it works on the head, my head, and at least the short distance we have to cross before arriving at the truck, it seems to

IIII ) lllllllllllll The Mow (25July10)

2031 Sspopiikimi - dusk's shadow has just crept over the surface of the pond and tonight we're sitting midpond across from the ksisskstakioyis. The residents of this lodge are already out, paddling around their canals in the wet-meadows. And as we walked in, meeting Cynthia along the way, pisttoo was calling over the north end

2042 Although this is supposed to be a "nature reserve," the city has seen fit to mow a five foot swath on either side of the shale trail leading around the pond, disturbing, maiming, killing thousands, perhaps millions of plants, spiders, moths, grasshoppers, damselflies, bees, probably snakes and hatchlings, and who knows what else. Not that I'm an advocate for nature reserves, given that they reinforce the illusion of separation that's fundamental to so many of our eco-social ills. But I am a proponent for avoiding needless massacre, which is basically what this mow represents

2106 It's so peaceful down here, listening to all the birds singing their evening songs. The ants are glad we came. They're swarming around to cold perspiration coming off our cups of iced-tea. There's a robin that's been sitting on the back of the beaver lodge for the last half hour. Every now and then a single bank swallow glides over the water surface in front of us

2130 Taking a brief walk along the length to the peninsula and south-pond, I pass the aapsspini Log family. They are alone, and this answers my question of a few weeks ago as to whether the two other families would wait for them once their goslings were ready to fly. Soon we will be without geese on the pond, and they won't return until next nesting season, although we'll rendezvous with them on the river in winter

2143 Now the whole coulee is growing dark, the Sun is below the horizon. A ksisskstaki climbs to the top of the lodge, makes some repair, and moves back down to the water. Muskrats are swimming back and forth between our shore and the wet-meadows. The night-hawks continue to chirp, and every once in a while we can hear a male redwing who's not in alarm

2211 With the darkness upon us, the mosquitoes are ascending in swarms around us, and we decide to make our way back to the truck, brushing the ants off our cups as we pick up to leave. The moon is rising, almost full, just starting to wane. I wish I had the week off to pick currants

19 July 2010

Fledgling Wrens And Skunkbrush Berries

IIII ) lllll Fledgling Wrens (17July10)

1116 Sspopiikimi - it's been too long, four sleeps since I was out here last, encountering yellow warbler fledglings below the flycatcher nest. It's warm today, threatening to become hot. Mahoney and I are prepared to enjoy it

1122 We're going to move sunwise this afternoon. As we start off from the parking lot, we're met on the trail by a brilliant aapanii, black with a thick orange band along the edge of its wing, a fire-rim tortoise-shell. Mahoney also spots an interesting creature atop one of the absinthe plants, a small, brown, almost weevil-shaped bug, but somewhat larger than the other weevils we've seen here. The surrounding grass is full of bluets

1130 When we reach the pond, we find an algae bloom is underway. There's a thick coat of green around all of the milfoil, and from the north cutbank we can see straight down into this underwater forest. The garter snakes are out, basking along our route, so languid in the sun that we are able to approach very close to one without frightening it off. I see a couple of their shed skins pressed to the earth, it's clear they're eating well

1136 Mother coot is on her nest at north-pond, but moves off when we sit down to gaze. She's followed into the reeds by one of her growing babes, though I don't see any others. There are insects unseen mimicking rattlesnakes beside us. I don't know who they are, but intend to find out

1146 After a few minutes, mama coot begins to feed within partial view, in a pool on the wet-meadows. She has two chicks with her. They come rushing up whenever she rises to the surface, to pull eagerly from the food at her beak

1155 I want to get into the forest, out of the direct sunlight, so I suggest to Mahoney that we go check on the flycatcher nest. As we walk along the cutbank toward the levee, two dragonflies present themselves. One is black with white spotting, the other various hues of green and gold. Both are small, not much larger than damselflies. Across the pond, a muskrat is sitting on a log, nibbling the bottoms off nebraska sedge. Goldfinch flitter among the nearby snags

1203 From up on the levee-walk, we can see a small, female mallard congregation in the wet-meadows. Three ducks sitting together on a log. There is scat up here, probably from a coyote, a mixture of grass stems and rodent fur, and absolutely covered with small, thatching ants

1229 All is well at the flycatcher nest, the lady still incubating diligently. No sign of the yellow warblers, but there is a frantic chattering in some of the brush. Mahoney and I go to investigate and we find a house wren attempting to lead two fledglings away from the danger we represent. The babies are silent, taking small flights among low branches, while the parent bird calls wildly for them to move to higher wood

1244 The forests are thick with mosquitoes, especially in the more shaded areas. As we cross the levee from the north wood to the forest main, we interrupt a session of flicker fledgling training. Several birds shoot out from the grass into the trees, and we walk on, compelled by our needle-nose pursuers to do so. It's frustrating. I feel like we're moving too fast, rushing, cataloging. All around us are lessons in child-rearing that we're missing

1305 Arriving at the blind overlooking south-pond, we find that finally maanikapii, the wild bergamot, is in bloom. I've been waiting for it, but in a way it makes me sad. Summer is so short. Out in the marsh, I hear the chucking calls of one of the south-pond coots. I'm hoping that we will get a look at the babies, though if we do it will be from luck. Just as with north-pond, the waters remain high here, giving the birds ample opportunity to hide

1343 Leaving the blind to round the south bend, I make another search of the brush at the edge of the forest. There's a catbird nest hidden here, obvious by the ceaseless "owee" alarm the birds make every time we pass here. The one nest I know of is still empty, there must be another, but it's so camouflaged. There's also a yellow warbler fledgling somewhere abouts. One of its parents chips a scolding down at me as I take careful steps through their territory, trying to avoid leaving a defined trail that coyotes could follow, and watching the ground lest I step on a baby

1349 Overheated and mosquito swollen, Mahoney is ready to get to the truck and head out. We climb up on the levee-walk and move past the marsh, the coot family below still invisible to us. There is another one of the grassy coyote scats up here. Not much of the grass seems very digested. Our guess is that it's put through their systems as a cleanser

1355 The golden and red currants are on the cusp of ripeness now, perhaps only days away from being ready to harvest. We stop above the peninsula to sample a couple handfuls, tart and juicy warm. The three aapsspini families are nearby. They waddle down to the water as we pass. Now all of the goslings, even the two from the river log, appear just as smaller versions of their parents. I'm surprised, actually, that we haven't seen them engage in flight training yet

IIII ) llllll Skunkbrush Berries (18July10)

1514 Pitsiiksiikaikawaahko - no siestas for this non-cowboy. As a reward for being a good conformist to the make-believe economy of that ecologically disconnected society surrounding us, i.e. in figuring my taxes throughout the morning (albeit a few months late), I have decided that I deserve to pass the rest of the afternoon outdoors, with my first stop being a visit to coulee home of my slithering friends

1538 This is the first time this season that I've stepped out of my vehicle on the coulee rim here and not been greeted by meadowlark song. Perhaps it is too late in the afternoon for them, too hot to sit on fence posts. I don't know. There's a cool breeze just starting, and I see potential thunder showers approaching from the mountains

1551 I am once again, as often, reminded of how inadequate my familiarity with the grass is. I'm strolling the rim at present, photographing some of the varieties - crested wheat, thread and needle, others whose names I don't know. I figure this is also a likely area to encounter one of the rattlesnakes I hope to see. As I wander, a meadowlark finally presents itself, a showy male with a bright yellow breast and black v-neck. He's chipping in alarm from a fencepost. I may be near his lady's nest

1600 The bird may be protesting in vain. I have just come upon the bloated carcass of a fledgling, ant-covered and reeking of decomp up close, no obvious reason to be dead, but none-the-less...

1618 As I begin my descent off the rim, I see that the skunkbrush sumac now has its sticky red berries. I pluck a few and put them in my mouth, sucking and making a puckered face at the sour taste of the very strong citric acid coating these little morsels. Already I am planning to gather some on my way down the slope, enough to concoct a nice lemonade later. I also notice the broomweed, one of winter's more colorful plants here, is beginning to acquire its yellow hue. The canary grass, like all of the grasses this year, is tall. Some of it is over my head

1639 Not too far down the slope, where I'm stopped again to pick sumac berries and noticing the new blooms of goldenrod and purple coneflower, I pause to lick citric resin off my fingers and see, by my feet, two ma's plants in seed. Having brought along my little crowbar for just such occasion, I set to work digging them up. Both had nice thick roots, and one even had new bulbs forming off the sides. I reburied both these clones and some of the seeds in hopes of ensuring more plants on this spot next summer

1723 Nearer the bottom of the coulee, I couldn't help but stop in the badlands to see what might be newly eroding out of the slope. What I found was a sizeable section of an ancient turtle shell, ancestors of the ones at Sspopiikimi, slowly weathering away. Impossible to even imagine, from a human perspective, the expanse of time that has left these remains deposited here

1734 Thunder approaches close now, the rain will enter this coulee very soon. I am attempting to make it across the mid-slope over to the hibernaculum before it does, very curious as to whether the young bachelor serpent is still guarding home turf. I doubt that I'll get there in time though, the rumble is almost overhead

1759 Somehow, I made it, even after stopping along the route to photograph a brilliant, metallic-green bee feasting on the nectar of a thistle plant. The thunder is directly above me now, and almost as if in celebration of the rumble, there is now a pisttoo gliding, diving, and making his squeeking and farting noises just a ways upstream from me

1817 Well, if the bachelor stuck around, he's not stationed outside any of the den entrances at present. Not surprising really, considering that the skies have been growing darker over the last couple hours, there are thunder vibrations every few minutes, and it's beginning to rain. I did, however, catch a glimpse of the black widow, who has moved over two holes from the burrow she was hunting earlier in the season. She quickly darted down into the darkness as I approached

1840 It's raining good by the time I get back up to the coulee rim, and the clouds are dark toward the mountains as far as the eye can see. It feels as though the thunder always shows up when I'm trying to visit the snakes. Mahoney and I will have to bring umbrellas tonight IF we decide to go to the pond. For now, I climb in my truck and head for home, lightning in the skies

12 July 2010

Flycatcher Nest And Warbler Fledgling

II Mule Buck Gathering (10July10)

1838 Sspopiikimi - out for a stroll around the pond in the drizzling rain, checking in with the flowers, and birds, and berries on an eve that promises to be relatively mosquito-free

1849 We decide to do something we haven't now for a few weeks, that being to make our counter-sunwise course, starting with the length of the pond from north to south. Along the way, the bloomers I see include hairy yellow aster, showy milkweed, milfoil, Indian hemp, buckbrush, and yellow sweetclover. Some of the mustard seeds are ready for harvest, the pennycress and the lens-podded hoary cress. Many of the rose hips which should be green have turned a bright, hunter's orange, which I figure to be either a fungus or reaction to eggs laid by a midge, but don't really know

1855 There are robins foraging on the golf greens, and the Big Island aapsspini family are there as well when we first approach. No sign, however, of the Triplet or Log families. We pass a female mallard at midpond, hear a coot chucking from the cattails near the wet-meadows on the opposite shore. One of the hawks, probably a swainson, is gliding over the coulee rim

1904 We find the other aapsspini families in the pool behind what would normally be the peninsula. They are being joined by their relatives who were up on the greens. As we approach the south-bench, the mallard mother with three ducklings paddle away from our shore. I can hear magpies somewhere near, there are eastern kingbird males chasing their potential mates, and redwing families moving about. A redwing couple glides in near to us, the female disappearing into a tuft of grass while the male perches in view nearby, chipping

1915 While we sit on the bench to break, there are four large mule bucks making their way up the coulee slope behind us. The hawk seems to be lingering mostly above them, perhaps waiting to see if they'll scare up any rodents. I hear, but do not see, a belted kingfisher, somewhere near the peninsula. And there's a western kingbird sitting on a nearby fence, diving down into the grass on occasion, assumedly picking up insects

1931 We follow the voice of a magpie into the currant and bulberry thickets, and soon encounter a proliferation of mosquitoes. They swarm out of the grass and surround us in a needling cloud. There's nothing we can do about it, so we press on. The currants still aren't ripe, though plenty are turning now. When we get to the lone cottonwood, we find our magpie giving the staccato call we now know registers excitement or alarm. He is joined by a pair of what look to be fledgling flickers and the resident catbird of this corner

2005 Rounding south-pond, we find that the coot family here has left the nest. They are somewhere in the marsh, we can hear them, but they're out of sight. I can't resist going down into the forest to check the catbird nest. It's still empty, but there are several catbirds down here giving alarm calls. I suspect they have other nests hidden. I'm not about to thoroughly search though. The mosquitoes are launching a brutal campaign, and my clothes are getting soaked through, picking up water off the waist-high grasses

2021 I join Mahoney again on the levee-walk after checking on the catbirds. We're ready to head home, interested in whether the rain will bring up worms in our neighborhood, which we can collect for Derrick. As we pass by the north forest, we note again how much mud was deposited in the recent flood. For Mahoney, this event calls to question the findings of certain geo-cultural sciences. If an archaeologist in the future digs here, will he have any way of accurately knowing whether this deposit was formed in a single event, as it was, or will he believe it to have been the result of thousands of years? She's right, of course. As much as chemical analysis might supposedly reveal, in the end all the archaeologist has are stories constructed on meager evidence, which itself is also storied

IIII ) l Flycatcher Nest And Warbler Fledgling (12July10)

1334 Sspopiikimi - under overcast skies and heavy winds, I feel compelled - after reading student journals, and facing an overnight absence tomorrow - to come pass a few quality hours at the pond. Stripping down to my skivs in the parking lot, so that I can suit-up in chest waders, my mission for the afternoon is to survey the mud-flooded north and owl woods for tracks, to explore brush of the forest main for new nests, and to wade into the wet-meadows for a visit with the juvenile coots

1341 Entering at north-pond, I see the aapsspini families in the wet-meadows across from me and hear the chucking call of one of the coots there. I'm inclined to head straight over and enter the waters, but another voice reminds me that the north forest will be very muddy, and that I'd best visit there first, allowing the waters of Sspopiikimi to wash me off after

1354 Moving along the cutbank, I observe that most of the mustard plants of various species have gone to seed. Others - like the clematis, alfalfa, yellow sweetclover, hairy golden aster, and prairie coneflower - are only now in bloom. There's a small flock of about half a dozen waxwings on one of the snags over the water, a sure indicator that we've entered berry season

1408 Cutting over the levee-walk and down into the north wood, I'm surprised at how much moisture has been retained in the mud, weeks after the flooding. It's nearly impossible to walk through some sections, where I quickly sink down to about knee-level in a thick sediment that threatens to detach my waders from their gumboots

1426 I should have come to this woods prepared to hazard the muck a week ago. I can see that the floor, deeply fissured as it begins to dry, was absolutely covered with tracks of all kinds not long ago. Among them, I can make out white-tailed deer, coyote, domestic dog, ring-necked pheasant, duck, and a surprising array of the raccoons we never see by daylight. But there are many others here too, obscured already by weathering, some even have new sprouts emerging from them

1426 At one end of the woods, I hear a small bird chipping in alarm. My first thought is that it's a parent guarding a nest. I make my way very slowly toward the sound, until I'm sure it's right there in front of me. Searching around, I spot a brilliant white nest, very tiny, set up about ten feet high in a young cottonwood tree. The limbs are too fragile and small to support a climb, so I won't be able to see if there are eggs in there. I then begin searching again for the source of the alarm, still presumed to be a parent, but when I find it I'm pleasantly surprised. It's a yellow warbler fledgling, just at the point of development where it's able to take wing, but it doesn't want to stray far

1455 After spotting the fledgling, and perhaps because my eyes are now trained to the trees, I see in my peripheral vision two more nests, lower in the forest, and completely filled with flood mud. These are not warbler nests, but the classic cups of robins. I pull the mud out to learn if there were any eggs or hatchlings within. Luckily there weren't

1533 I stay a while with the warblers, long enough for the parents to return and to see that the white nest does not belong to them at all, there is a flycatcher up there. Climbing the levee again, my boots are heavy with mud. And though it's a cool day, I'm sweating. Now to get into the wet meadows and see what the coots are up to

1546 The amount of water still accrued in the wet-meadows blows my mind. I'm wading through hip-deep water, way back by the forest edge, at least fifty meters from the old shoreline. The area I'm passing through is all willows. I don't think I can even come close to the reeds without swimming, and I'm starting to sense that the likelihood of approaching anywhere near the juvenile coots is going to be unlikely

1555 As suspected, the coots are all spotting me long before I get to their position, and all it takes for them to avoid me is to casually slip into the deeper waters, dense with a wall of cattail and bulrush that is visually impenetrable. There are two mi'ksikatsi families employing the same strategy

1602 I'm almost to the subpond, wading through the pool that now surrounds the russian olive tree by the forest edge, peering down through the depths at the mint we would normally be gathering by now for our annual supply of tea, when Mahoney texts. We have to take a drive right away. So I'm cutting this visit off short, to return equally prepared for water and mud in two sleeps

05 July 2010

Okonoki Ripen

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Okonoki Ripen (2July10)

2029 Sspopiikimi - it's been too long since our last visit, four sleeps, and I'm sure there's much change we've missed. Hiking directly to set up our chairs at north-pond, past a recently shed garter snake skin, it feels a bit lonely. The snakes have gone under, if they were above at all today in the rain and cool wind. There are no sa'aiksi on our end at all yet this evening. The aiksikksksisiiksi have left their nest and must be near, though not in sight. And I'm pretty sure I spotted the aapsspini families in the south as we were coming in. Only the north ksisskstaki bachelor greets us as we settle down for dusk, and he too quickly leaves the milfoil patch and disappears

2043 We're watching what I suspect is an osprey, way out in the distance over the river, when there's a splashing sound near the reeds across from us. We look down to see a female mi'ksikatsi appear, as if she just popped out of the water. A drake then paddles in from midpond and we assume they are a couple, talking back and forth and edging toward one another. But then the lady moves to avoid him, swimming further back in the meadow waters. From out of the willows and grass far back there, four subadult ducklings emerge to greet her. The drake, for his part, returns midpond, and there we can see the other mallard mama with her eight ducklings feeding in some milfoil

2057 The osprey or hawk (I can't make it out) appears briefly again above the tree-line, and we hear a couple aiksikksksisi chucks from the reeds. She may be hunkered down with her hatchlings in the nest after-all, which would make sense. But we still can't see her. The bachelor ksisskstaki has also reappeared, rising out of the water in an attempt to clip low, leafy twigs off the overhanging bat tree. A pair of waxwings pass by overhead, and an eastern kingbird is hunting in the tall grass just beside us. Before it gets too dark, I think I'll take a little stroll

2106 Just as I'm preparing to get up, the elusive raptor comes into view again. This time she is as determined to get a fix on us as we are on her. It is sikohpiitaipannikimm, a swainson's hawk. She soars until she's directly above us, head hung low, glaring down, then arches and glides back toward the river

2118 When I get up on the levee-walk, I confirm that the aiksikksksisi is not on her nest, but that she has moved her little ones further back in the reeds, upon another pile of flotsom. I also see that the forest on the opposite side of the levee is still saturated from the flood, with large pools of standing water and significant expanses of quicksand. If I had more time, I would like to search the area for mammal prints. Perhaps over the weekend I'll do so

2128 If we were living proper today, I would be making good use of the roots along the river cutbank, where the flood produced so much new exposure. Along our little bend of the Oldman, much has changed. Gone are the bank swallows and the shoreline ksisskstakioyis. The kingfishers remain, but where they're nesting now I've no idea

2146 I move swiftly to the far south end of the pond, frightening a pair of white-tailed deer as I go. My aim is to find out how the okonoki are doing, particularly in the brush where the redwings are nested, as that plant seems the earliest this year to have berries. The redwings definitely remember me from our last visit to this end. Both parents are swooping in alarm long before I get to their nest. But ignoring them, I continue on and find to my delight a bush thick with ripened okonoki. What a sight. We rarely get many of these berries coming to fruit at Sspopiikimi, but this year the crop is beautiful. I pick a handful quickly with full intent of returning over the weekend, then start my way back through the forest to Mahoney

2159 I pass the same pair of awatoyi on my route through the trees. This time they are very upset and blowing loudly at me. Catbirds shoot up from the underbrush as I pass, making me wonder as to whether they are keeping low nests here. But it's far too dark to go searching. Naato'si passed out of view beyond the coulee rim an hour ago

2231 When I get back to Mahoney, she's visiting with Cynthia, who's making her rounds this evening as well. The aapsspini families have paddled their way to the north end now, and we sit for a few minutes comparing notes on these geese, the ksisskstaki and mi'sohpsski relationships, and other pond residents before packing up and giving way to the dark

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Erebid Moth (4July10)

1109 Sspopiikimi - today I'm hoping to conduct a more thorough survey, which is something we haven't really done since before the flood, concentrating instead primarily on dusk activities on the north end

1119 Though it's warm there's a good wind today, tossing the tall grass of north-pond as we walk in, the grass who's yellow flower has already played-out. Surprisingly, we're seeing no garter snakes. But there are plants in bloom that I haven't introduced to the class, alfalfa and prairie coneflower so far

1143 One of my interests for the day is to capture some six-legged food for Derrick. To this effect, I turn over several logs from the fallen trees of north-pond, but there's really not too much going on beneath. A few soil centipedes and the occasional ant colony. Most of the crawlers must be concentrated on their food plants now

1153 Climbing onto the levee-walk, I scan the pond below for the aiksikksksisi family. I'm able to spot one of the parents moving through the reeds, but not the other, and certainly not the chicks. I hope we're able to watch them eventually, before they're too far developed. We're missing the child-rearing rituals

1156 Sspopiiksi, by contrast, are not hidden at all. There are dozens of them exposed at north-pond today, basking in the sun. And when we reach the overlook above Oldman, we find first a shed garter skin, then the glossy snake himself, large and fast, slithering quickly through the grass

1210 There are several types of sage or sage-like plants here that I have to relearn each summer. I know fringed sage (aakiika'ksimi or women's sage), prairie sagewort (ninnaika'ksimo or men's sage), and sagebrush (aapatoyi or grass old man). But there are others. One of these, leafy sage, is currently host to a hatching some kind of aphid, on certain plants and certain leaves anyway, and these in turn are attracting ants, who must either be feeding on the aphids themselves or one of their byproducts

1215 We drop into the main forest next, to begin our survey there of nests, the developmental state of each okonoki bush, and whatever else we can find. Here, where there is less wind, we are immediately set upon by the female ksisohksisiiksi, gathering from us the bellies full of blood that they require for producing eggs

1239 For the most part, the okonoki in our forest main are slim, a few bushes spaced throughout, usually amidst larger stands of pakkii'p, and so far all with green or pinkening berries. About half-way through the forest, we come upon a gorgeous erebid moth (Euclidia ardita) who's roosted right on the sand of our trail, wonderful black and brown geometric designs. It allows me to kneel close and take a few photographs to use for identification later. But when we try to catch it, it flutters into the grass and very quickly disappears

1248 Reaching the blind over south-pond, we find other plant developments. There's showy milkweed, licorice root, buckbrush, and clematis in bloom here. Berries have formed on the asparagus, star-flowered solomon's seal, and prickly rose. And I've just spotted the first ripe golden currant. As we sit down to smoke, a pair of redwings flutter around us in alarm. They can't be the same pair as that which have the nest in the saskatoons at the far south end. These ones must have their hatchlings very near

1329 In the little stretch of forest remaining south of the blind, we encounter a catbird in alarm. Searching the wolf-willow thickets, we find a new nest of twig and straw. No eggs have been deposited yet, but we will continue to monitor it on future visits

1342 Before climbing back up on the levee walk, we gather a few handfuls of asparagus berries and okonoki, not much. Already the okonoki on the single ripe bush here are getting the white fungus in their navel, making them not completely inedible, but ensuring they'll clean the system. The full berry season has yet to start here at Sspopiikimi. But on the east side of the river, there are high bushes where the okonoki are hanging like grapes. We picked a good bunch yesterday, and will likely return as soon as we're done here for the afternoon

1355 Rounding south-pond on the levee-walk, we pass just in time to see papa coot returning to their nest here and passing a mouthful of food to mama, who in turn feeds it, a morsel at a time, to her new hatchlings. Also present in the marsh is a mi'ksikatsi mother with her three, fairly grown ducklings

1403 Coming around to the south bench, we check on the currant bushes and find that most of them are still green. It seems like it's been a long wait for these currants this year. Usually they're ready well before the okonoki, but not this time around. All is well though, we'll be enjoying their sweet flavors soon enough, and it looks like there will be plenty to be had by birds and ourselves alike

1410 Below the south bench there's a pair of cinnamon teals... no ducklings, but at least they survived the nest predators and floods with their lives. On the coulee slope behind us, we can hear western kingbirds singing, while their eastern counterparts dart around the bulberry brush by the edge of the pond. All three aapsspini families - the Triplets, Big Island, and Log goslings - are resting on the trail, opposite what would normally be the entrance to the subpond canal. The goslings of the Triplet and Big Island families in particular look as though they could take their first flight any day. It will be interesting to see if they leave the Log goslings behind when they're ready, or if they'll wait for them to mature

1420 Before leaving the pond, we heard and caught glimpses of the magpie family out on the golf course. We'd have liked to go watch them, to see how their fledgling is being taught, but we're unsure how well we'd be received by the golfers. We expect them to stay on their side of the fence, I'm sure they'd appreciate the same of us