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