30 August 2010

Ksikkomahkayiiksi Akaissko'tooyaa

IIII ) llllllllll Meadowhawks And Road Dusters (22Aug10)

1642 Sspopiikimi - seems crazy, but it's been an entire week since our last visit. We almost didn't come out this evening either, with the wind and passing showers. Already there are patches of leaves in some of the cottonwoods turning yellow and preparing to fall. It has been a wet summer, and it shows, the cattail and bulrush stands are thicker than we've ever seen them

1655 Walking the length of the pond to the south bench, there are constant cries from the forest main on the other side. A juvenile sikohpiitaipannikimm swoops in and out of the trees while what we assume is one of its parents silently hunts the wet meadows. We see, on the water, the occasional female or juvenile mi'ksikatsi, and the shale trail is busy with cherry-faced meadowhawk dragonflies

1709 I take a little stroll away from the bench to photograph the meadowhawks. There is also a large blue species and a small yellow one (probably pale snakeskin), but they are far fewer in number. Among the absinthe stems, there are still pockets of the as yet unidentified, spiny, aphid-like insects, always with ants visiting them to collect the nectar they produce as they feed off the plants

1734 I take another little stroll down to the peninsula, searching the flowering and fruiting plants for insects. There is second aphid hatch on the burdock, not the spiny species of the absinthe, but something different. They too have ants relying on them. I see the occasional honey bee on flowering alfalfa, a wasp (possibly yellow-jacket) in the buckbrush flowers, as well as hundreds of bluets and all three of the afore-mentioned dragonflies. In the brush, the goldfinch seem to be feeding off the still-sour bulberries

1752 The juvenile hawk is still crying from the forest main, and when I join Mahoney again at the bench we talk about how, despite the presence of these others, the pond is a bit depressing after the geese leave. We go through this lonely passage each year here. Our relationship to the waterfowl through the Beaver Bundle sets the tone of our visits for most of the summer

1801 As we leave the bench behind to start rounding the south marsh, we cross paths with two road dusters, the first of these large, flying grasshoppers we've seen here this year. I also stop to photograph an interesting bumble-bee, or possibly a mimic, on the goldenrod flowers. Then, continuing on, Mahoney directs my attention to the owl wood, thick with ground foliage, unlike the north wood even though the two experienced similar flooding

1818 We drop down into the forest main amidst a feast, the robins are swarming the chokecherry brush. Unfortunately, I didn't bring a bag to collect berries in tonight. There are lots of pakkii'p ready, and the mi'ksinittsiim though tart are very welcome. We eat handfuls as we walk

1854 Halfway through the forest main, we come to a bulberry bush whose berries are just the right blend of sweet and sour, and we can no longer help ourselves. I have a canvass drop cloth in my pack and we make quick work of it. For the price of a few pricks on the finger we fall enough berries in a half hour to fill at least one large freezer bag, probably more

1909 Coming to the north end of the forest, I note that the maanikapi here must be completely done flowering. I recall passing significant patches the last time we walked this path, but today none. This means we'd better locate the seeding plants and gather what we want to keep as cold and flu medicine for winter

1931 The rest of our walk back around the north bend and to the truck is taken in conversation, frustration at local development projects that focus so strongly on short-term resource mining and the cultivation of introduced domestic species, rather than feeding our local ecology with investments in sustainable reliance on local species and renewable energy

IIII ) lllllllllll Pied-Billed Grebe (23Aug10)

1917 Sspopiikimi - walked in at north-pond to see, in addition to a few coots and mallards in the reeds by the wet meadows, an unusually small duck of some sort. I spoke a greeting to it and it dove very un-duck-like, resurfacing a couple meters away. Now it really had our attention, and looking closer we've identified it as a pied-billed grebe, the first of its kind we've ever seen at the pond

1931 As we watch it, the grebe disappears into the reeds. I notice that there are dozens of gulls soaring high over the pond, and they seem to fade away into the sky before I can confirm their identity. There are more mosquitoes tonight, and several kingfishers chattering, flying from perch to perch. It's cool out, with almost zero wind

1938 The dry seed heads of the crested wheatgrass are host to roosting flies this evening. I take pictures to later identify the species. The spiny aphid / ant / absinthe symbiotic drama is still underway. Somewhere in the forest main, the young sikohpiitaipanikkimm is calling

1948 It doesn't take long to move around the south marsh to the chokecherry trees we were looking at yesterday. This time, we've brought bags, and we settle in to harvest

2018 After a half-hour of vigorous picking, during which we clean off about half the fruit from the clump of bushes we're working, we decide to take a break. We sit above the river, it's waters drifting calm under dusk's shadow. There's a beaver riding the current along the shoreline with a mouth full of rabbit willow. I wonder if their winter caching has begun. We've seen no sign of it by the lodge on the pond, but then it could be building up underwater

2043 Our break extends, and as the full moon rises we decide to make our way back to the truck. There is a pisttoo chirping over the pond, and eastern kingbirds flying in short loops from their perches in the forest canopy, assumedly feeding off insects. I wonder if they're eating from the swarms of male mosquitoes, like the cloud that follows us, waiting for the blood-engorged females to leave us and join them. I struggle to photograph this massive swarm as we walk, and they only leave us when we get to the truck

IIII ) llllllllllllllll The Call To Flock (28Aug10)

1803 Sspopiikimi - moving sunwise this cool, clouded evening, taking note of what's new, or passed, or absent

1814 There are no garters along the cutbank of north-pond at the moment, not surprising given the temperature. In flower are absinthe, hairy golden aster, alfalfa, yellow sweetclover, canada goldenrod, tufted white prairie aster, and clematis, though most of the latter are in seed. The kingfishers are still here, chattering in annoyance at our approach. A couple flickers have flown off the cutbank to wait us out from the top of a nearby cottonwood, I suspect they were eating ants

1816 The cherry-faced meadowhawks remain abundant, along with the pale snakeskins. And a new insect has appeared on the absinthe, something like a salbug, but lengthier and with orange spots. Mahoney has hypotesized that these are grown versions of the spiny, aphid-like creatures we'd been seeing on the absinthe in previous visits

1818 Up on the levee-walk, looking over the north wood, the rhombic-leaved sunflowers on the slope have mostly played out, though on one that still has a flower we find a beautiful tan and cream-colored moth. The flood mud of the forest is vibrant green with new grass, but not yet completely covered over. The mosquito swarms are still at large here, yet not nearly as brutal

1843 We go to lookout over the Oldman and it's big river island, searching for signs of new ksisskstakioyiistsi since the floods swept away the one that had been established over the last two years. We didn't see anything, but we know there must be something along the cutbank. As we scanned the area, a pair of ring-billed gulls flew in to pick at something in the shallows. Perhaps they were looking for freshwater clams

1847 From the lookout, we move along the levee to the river bench. There are recognizable sounds in the forest main, the cricket-like calls of simitsiim, the owlish hoots of a mourning dove, and the crunching sounds of a deer taking cover in the bush. It is still very green here in the shadows of the trees, but the berries of kinii and siinikskaahko are already in place, suggesting that winter's not long to come

1855 We can hear a light, irregular tapping in the trees bordering the river, directly in front of where we're sitting. I look, but at first can't find the source. Meanwhile, the whitetail doe that had been crunching in the forest comes up on the levee-walk to look at us, then moves further south along the trail before re-entering the trees. Again there is the tapping sound, and I finally spot a small, female downy woodpecker clinging to the bark of one of the cottonwoods nearest our position. She's digging more than hammering, just below a small dead branch

1910 As we near the blind, we can hear one of the swainson's crying from up toward the coulee rim. Out on the wide pool of south-pond, there are two mi'ksikatsi families, numbering eleven in total, all females and this year's juveniles. There is no sign of the great blue herons yet, nor the lesser yellowlegs, both of whom were frequenting south-pond last year around this time, when the shallows were even more so

1920 As we leave the blind, we again encounter the whitetail doe. This time she is very close, and her behavior suggests to me that she has a young one hidden nearby. It is why she keeps approaching us to investigate and possibly fight off the danger we represent. We stare at each other for a few minutes, then she walks slowly away and so do we

1933 Heading back to the levee-walk, at the extreme south end, we stop again at the chokecherry trees, unable to just pass by these ripe berries as if they aren't here. As we pick, a small family of aapsspini come down in south-pond, honk for several minutes, then fly away. We saw this exact same behavior last year after the geese had been absent for weeks. Although it is total conjecture, one of my suspicions is that the parents are sending this year's goslings back for one last look at their breeding grounds, and that what they are saying is something like, "Take a good look at this place, remember it, pay attention when we leave. This is where you girls will bring your husbands next year to make nests. And this is where you boys will come if you happen not to find a mate for next summer season"

1950 The other possible rationale for this aapsspini behavior, and probably the more likely, is that they are making sure they leave no one behind. Last summer, we were certain this was the case when a pair of geese came calling for a half hour or so, searching for the single gosling who'd been abandoned once its siblings learned to fly. This year, it was the Log family who were latest to develop. And at this strong matrilocal breeding ground, it's entirely conceivable that what we just heard were members of the Big Island or Triplet families coming to ensure that the Log family made its way back to the larger tribe that will either fly south together, or roost communally through the coming winter nights

2013 We've picked chokecherries from this single, small cluster of bushes on two occasions now, and our bag tonight is heavy again. Still, there are more berries remaining. It's getting dark though, and we can't work for too long in one session, otherwise Mahoney will pay for it in joint pain the next day, so we're headed around the marsh to the south bench

2019 Interesting... there is a goose on the Big Island of south-pond, standing tall and honking. There's another, we can hear, at north-pond. They won't be here long, if I am correct in assuming that this is more of the same behavioral complex I've been writing about this evening. We've not seen any of their kind at the pond for several weeks, and after tonight, if we want to find them, we will have to go to where the large tribes are gathering in the lakes and stubble-fields

2023 The goose from the north end is swimming this way, making slow switch-backs along the length of the pond, honking at a rate of about one call per second. It's partner on the big island is giving a similar call intermittently. And somewhere, out of sight, downriver, there are hawks screaming

2027 When the goose from the north comes within sight of the other on the island, it makes a few more rapid, higher-pitched calls, the getting ready to fly call. But then, perhaps because the other does not respond, it turns and begins search-calling and moving north again. When it gets to the ksisskstakioyis thous, it makes the flight call again and then takes wing. The one on the island then makes its flight call and leaves as well. Both fly downriver

2032 I've noticed that here on the south end, there's a purple showy aster blooming. With the geese gone and darkness upon us, we walk the length of the pond back to the truck. Curiously, we see no ksisskstaki along the way. It's odd that they wouldn't be awake yet

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Ksikkomahkayiiksi Akaissko'tooyaa (30Aug10)

1054 POD: ksikkomahkayiiksi akaissko'tooyaa - trumpeter swans have returned [after being away all summer]

1209 Awesome phenologic synchronicity - first real snow on the mountains overnight and the simultaneous return of trumpeter swans. This is right on schedule. We always know we've got one moon of the season (summer or winter) left when the swans appear, and indeed awakaasiiki'somm (the deer moon, last of summer) is just a couple sleeps away

17 August 2010

Symbiotic Nectar Feedings

III Symbiotic Nectar Feedings (11Aug10)

1920 Sspopiikimi - we arrive under cloudy skies to the sounds of young catbirds and the local nighthawk. I wonder if the latter is a father, like the one upriver, alerting his nesting wife to our presence

1932 Tonight we're walking counter sunwise, starting with the west length of the pond. Mahoney sticks to the shale trail while I walk along beside her in the recently mowed strip. It's definitely the time of year for grigs. Grasshoppers leap aside with each of my steps. I stop to take a picture of one that struck me as unique by its patches of white. We've notice though that there are no road-dusters as yet, and if memory serves there were many here toward the end of last summer when they mowed this way

1957 We linger for a while at the south bench. Here, amongst the absinthe leaves, there's an insect drama playing out that we have no understanding of at all. There are tiny, black, spiked critters the size of aphids in tight clusters at the base of some leaf stems, as if they recently hatched. Then there is a certain kind of ant scurrying around on the same plants. I follow some of these ants, and they seem to be surveying the entire plant, but then pausing at the spiked critters to collect nectar

2016 We eat our way toward the south bend, stopping for a handful of golden, red, or black currants at each easily accessible bush. We are grazing. So too the mountain cottontail on the path in front of us. But rather than berries, the rabbit’s tasting several varieties of ground vegetation

2030 When we get to the river, there is a complete rainbow arching north to south. It seems a few bank swallows have recently returned. They're zipping past about five meters above the surface of the water. The bulberry bushes on the skirts of the owl wood are bright red with fruit that we'll soon be harvesting

2043 Our walk along the levee, looking across the canopy of the forest main, is fairly quiet. We hear robins, catbirds, redwings. Still no orioles. Beneath the canopy, the goldenrod is brilliant yellow and the bergamot a pink-purple in bloom. The flood-mud floor of the north wood is turning a mossy green with new grass sprouts, and the beavers have been down there knocking over choice trees, now that they can reach above the old wire shields

2053 A kingfisher flies chattering by as we round north-pond. There are several chokecherry-rich raccoon scats, even though the berries aren't ripe enough for our preference yet. They might clean up the bushes here at the pond before our time comes. It's been a short evening for us here, but we have a long day ahead at Mookoan Reservoir as the ethnobotany session, my last course of summer, begins

IIII ) ll Franklin Migration (14Aug10)

1440 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - it's a drizzly, breezy afternoon, succeeding two days of fairly constant rain. The ground should be nice and soft, so I am out for a short while to dig more ma's, and of course check in on the black widow and nighthawk nests

1456 Right when I pull off the road to park on the coulee rim, heavy rain and hail begins pounding down. I'm sit tight in the truck for about ten minutes, waiting patiently for it to subside, and soon it does. But from the appearance of the sky to the west, I don't think this will be the only storm to pass this afternoon

1504 I don't have to walk too far down the slope before it occurs to me that it was a silly decision not to wear gum boots. The ground is absolutely saturated and slick, the grass is wet, and already my shoes and socks are starting to soak through. In any case though, I have to start paying attention. The first item of note is that there's far more gumweed blooming than in my visit last week. And despite the rain, many of them are hosting black blister beetles

1517 There are a lot of grasshoppers leaping away with each step I take, and I know I need to be more mindful of them. The two most prominent species today are an all green, very camouflaged one, and a somewhat orangish-colored two-striped grasshopper, the latter a tad larger than the former. Neither seem prone to flight

1547 The first ma's begin to reveal themselves just as I enter the area of the hibernaculum. I stop and make a payment, tell them why I'm uprooting them, and set to work digging my first four. It's not easy to get these roots out of the ground, nothing like the shallow pop of a prairie onion. As each one comes out, I clip off the taproot and rebury it, then leave the seeding head on the ground to deposit anything it hasn't dropped already. I've given myself a quota. I want to pick at least 100 of these roots before they dry up and their stems form tumbleweeds - 50 for our bundle closing, and 50 to add into our regular diet over the winter

1610 After the first four roots, I take a break from digging to check on the widow nests, situated at the entrance burrows to the hibernaculum. Both of the glossy black ladies responded the same way to my appearance, quickly moving to hang upside-down from their large egg sacks, using these bundles as a sort of shield to conceal themselves. In the same area of these nests, I find evidence that someone has been eating the prickly pear fruits. The otsstatsimaan, or ball cactus fruit, is not quite ready yet

1653 I dug one more root before leaving the area of the hibernaculum to head up hill, climbing to the top of the ridge where the nighthawk nests. On the way up, I dig six more ma'siksi, a couple of these having already broken off their tumbleweed stems, an indication that I don't have too much longer before the season for these roots is gone. Luckily, I can usually locate the break-off point when they've initially fallen

1658 I expect to find the pisttoo mother with her two growing hatchlings right where they were last week. But to my surprise, they're not here. Hard to believe that they could have fledged in such a short period. But perhaps with how exposed they live, they've got other strategies for concealing themselves once they can scoot about. As I type, I hear a scratchy voice not too far away that might be a begging nighthawk. I'll continue digging roots and moving toward the sound

1731 I've hiked up the hill where the begging call seemed to have sounded from. Although I've seen a white-tailed jackrabbit, a family of western kingbirds, and two adult nighthawks, I've yet to spot the hatchlings. But wait... just as I've been typing this note, one of the nighthawks has come in for a landing, on the same ridge where she'd nested, but a different position. It's less than a hundred meters from where I now sit, and I'm going to check it out before I head home

1755 Wow, amazing camouflage these pisttoo babies have. I know roughly where they must be, from seeing their mom land and take-off, but I can't spot them

1813 Okay, having taken three passes up and down the slope, I'm conceding defeat. The baby nighthawks are too well concealed, and I need to get back up to the rim, have dinner, and go to the pond with Mahoney. Total number of ma's dug this afternoon, sixteen

1947 Sspopiikimi - phenological event of the week, we step out of the truck to witness thousands of Franklin's gulls leisurely following the currant of Oldman River. The sky is absolutely filled with them for about ten minutes, and then all but the odd straggler are gone

2003 There has been a significant drop in the algae level here since we last visited. Much of the pond's surface that had been overgrown now reflects the sky. Dozens of tree swallows glide over it, chirping and snatching mosquitoes from the air

2007 The ksissskstaki family is awake and paddling around, the mi'ksikatsi and aiksikksksisi are dabbling, and sspopiiksi can be seen raising just their heads out of the water. As we walk the length toward the south end, we hear the familiar cry of sikohpiitaipannikimm, a swainson hawk, loud and very close. But as we look in that direction, an entirely unsuspected character come gliding low around the edge of the golf course cottonwoods, a merlin who disappears into the trees behind us. The screaming hawk calls again, and it is perched on a pole even closer than we'd thought. It's growing nervous at our approach and leaps off and wings past in the direction of the merlin

2017 We sit at the south bench to catch our notes up, then look around at the absinthe plants that only days ago were coated in pockets of a tiny aphid-like critter and the ants who feed off their nectar. None remain. Were they all washed away with the recent rains?

2038 Our currants are almost completely played-out. We've brought a sheet to test the ripeness of the bulberries, but they're still sticking to the branch, and they remain very tart. No frost yet, we're jumping the gun to even try, but we don't want to miss the opportunity when they're ready

2106 We walk through clouds of male mosquitoes as we round the south bend, the members of these swarms rising as we pass, ricocheting off us. Just on the other side of the bend, at the edge of the forest main, we see a chokecherry bush heavy with black fruit. A taste test proves they're sweet and juicy, and so we remain there picking until the female mosquitoes, drawing blood, become too overwhelming. We have perhaps four or five pounds of berries when we move on. It's a start

2127 As we walk in the dark toward the truck, rounding the north end, the early crescent Moon can be seen falling behind the coulee rim, following the path of the Sun, and the coyote family who lives on that slope have begun howling

10 August 2010

Widow Eggs

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllllllll Magpies Sleep Alone (7Aug10)

0524 Nookoowa - I promised myself that if Dottie Dog woke me up before dawn, I would hike down to the coulee below our house and try to learn where the family of magpies who come visit Derrick and I each morning spend their nights. Sure enough, Dottie came calling at just the right time, and now even though I'm wicked tired still, I have to follow up on the promise

0549 Couldn't leave the house without a cup of coffee, and even keeping the lights off Derrick still heard me and came flapping out of his apartment to perch on the base of one of the dining-room chairs. I know he's still a bit groggy himself though, because he didn't utter a peep while I collected my gear and moved out the back door

0554 I hope Derrick's magpie friends are equally slow at rising. As I cross the single block of suburbia to bring myself to the coulee edge, the dawn is very near. A mule deer looks up at me in surprise from the grass on the rim, stunned it seems that a human being should be out here at this time. The last crescent of okonoki otsitsi'tsspi has risen in the eastern sky, and Naato'si is not far behind. I move as quickly as I can toward a ridge that will take me out above the brush where I suspect the birds might camp. The mosquitoes are swarming

0617 I have no idea where I need to be to witness the magpie awakening. As I hike the ridge, I hear in turn savannah sparrows, catbirds, then crows. The larger corvids are already on their way to the neighborhood. The magpies won't be far behind. In fact, when I get to the end of the ridge and start descending the slope of the upstream and most brushy drainage, where I hope these birds will be, I think I might have heard them briefly. If so, they are one draw over upstream, which is a considerable distance. These coulees leading down to the river are massive. A coyote passes below me, tiny by comparison to the landscape

0629 Naato'si, the Sun, has just come over the eastern horizon, and now I hear a single magpie giving a double call just below me. I leave my pack on the slope and head down with just my camera to check it out

0643 I don't have to go far when the magpie I'd heard wings its way up my slope, over the rim, and out of sight. I can hear another magpie in some brush on the opposite slope giving the same inquisitive "wokwok" call. And as the deer move off the rim and down into this drainage to hide, I see magpies above them as well. My socks are filled with the sharp seeds of needle-and-thread grass, and there's a lot of rice grass down here too. As Naato'si rises, changing his paint from red to orange, I return to my pack

0654 Because I'd observed the neighborhood magpies calling to one another, gathering together, and moving as a collective down to the coulees at sundown, I'd assumed that they shared a communal roost. Apparently, that may not be the case. Back at my pack, I sit and watch as a mule doe and her fawn emerge from the gully in the draw below me and begin hiking uphill toward a large patch of brush I assume are saskatoon. Another lone doe is already there feeding. There's a coyote following the mother with fawn, but it sees me and returns immediately back down to where it can conceal itself in the gully at the bottom of this draw

0713 I'm sure by now the magpies are already up in the neighborhood, and probably waiting in my back yard for breakfast with Derrick. As I begin climbing the slope again to walk the ridge back home, I come across a coyote den right above where I've been sitting. I don't know if this den's still active or not, but I'd be interested in keeping an eye on it to find out

0725 I don't visit this place in my back yard often enough. The last time I was here, all of the milkvetch and onions were in bloom, there were flowers everywhere. Now, although it's still very green, and the first gumweed blossoms are just beginning to open, the prominent flower is dotted blazing star. We are indeed approaching the end of summer

0733 Returning to the neighborhood, what strikes me is the noise. There is a pervasive hum of automotive sound, so different than the quiet that prevailed before dawn. The rumble reminds me of airports, the sound from the tarmac. The magpies are indeed making their way toward my house. They are at the very edge of the neighborhood, surveying lawns, moving inward. There are mountain cottontails on these lawns as well. I'm sure these birds recognize me, the one we call Tuft just looked me in the eye. I have some liver in the fridge for them. Breakfast awaits

0746 Arriving home, Derrick greets me with the same "wokwok" his friends used when they initially woke up. Mahoney too had a double call for me as she emerged squinty-eyed from the bedroom, two words... farmer's market

1941 Sspopiikimi - not much daylight remaining this evening, but we've decided to come out, touch base, and perhaps pick more berries

1952 We enter, as usual, at north-pond, the surface of which is still covered with algae. We can hear catbirds nearby giving their alarm calls, a nighthawk above peeping, and there's a sizeable family of redwings - adults and juveniles - fluttering around the bat tree

1956 The flowering plants of the north end include absinthe, yellow and white sweet clover, alfalfa, and hairy golden aster. There are two-spot lady beetles on the absinthe and black blister beetles on the alfalfa

2003 Up on the levee-walk, above the big river island, it's definitely sunflower season. It is the rhombic-leaved variety. The plant has reddish stems, opposite leaves, and often more than one flower, each at the terminus of a leafless stalk

2009 We stop briefly to sit at the downriver bench. Here, I notice the licorice root in flower, and the early green berries on both the buckbrush and prickly rose. These will be winter berries, for the deer, ourselves, and others. The nighthawk is still in display above, occasionally diving to create the croaking sound after which its Blackfoot name “pisttoo” is derived (flatulence)

2031 It doesn't take long for us to move past the forest main and wind our way around south-pond to the bench by the currant bushes. We have harvesting in mind. Along our route, we passed several lone waxwings, which to me suggests there may be nests. The chokecherries are near to ripening, right on time as we are coming into their moon. Both goldenrods are still in flower, while yarrow is playing out. And the female bulberry trees are draped with bright red fruit

2036 I have not seen the aapsspini Log family this evening. They may have moved to start congregating with what will be their winter clan. Both the north and south coot families are still around, as are the mallards, but I'm unsure as to whether any teals remain. Also, I've not seen any orioles this season, save for one during the flood at Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko. I wonder now if they will return to Sspopiikimi at all this summer

2112 We pick for the next half hour, not getting nearly the quantity of berries we did in our last session here, but not allowing ourselves as much time either. Many of the currants are already playing out. I noticed as I picked that some berries were falling just from the movement of the branch, and I wonder if these ones are not too spoiled. They would be easy to collect with a ground tarp, and could be useful for jelly. The ants didn't appreciate us working their bushes at all. They climbed all over us, and a couple of them managed to get their mandibles into me, but most were too small to do so

2121 It's dark as we walk back to the truck, waving mosquitoes away

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllllllll Widow Eggs (8Aug10)

1401 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - out on this breezy day with the specific intent of visiting the pisttoo nest, seeking another lesson in efficiency. If I happen to bump into any of my slithering friends, or chance upon some insects whose lives are connected to the late summer flowers, these encounters would be welcomed too

1418 Hiking down the slope toward my destination, I'm inspecting all the blooming wildflowers, and finding that the yellow blister beetles are just as apt to feed off broomweed and gumweed as they are sunflowers. There are black blister beetles on the broomweed as well, and though few gumweed flowers are open yet, there are some just crawling with a miniscule insect, smaller-than but shaped-like rove beetles, dark with three white stripes laterally across their back. The gumweed stems are also host to a black, weevil-like creature

1435 Continuing along, I start to notice that the black medick, and even some of the yellow sweetclover plants, have gone to seed. It would be a good time to gather these grains, before any of the grey mold sets in. I munch on some as I walk. There's a lone, scraggly bulberry bush near where I pick the seeds, and a family of about six or seven western kingbirds are perched and chirping there. I stop to see if they are eating the berries. They're not. Most of them are fledglings waiting on the bush while their parents gather other food, insects I presume. Each time a parent brings a load, the fledgling who's being fed (all of whom look mature enough to feed themselves) erupts into begging chatter

1502 Eventually I make it down as far as the hibernaculum, and although I don't expect to find any rattlesnakes here today, not even the bachelor, I can't help but pay a visit. I'm glad I do. As suspected, the snakes are still gone, not to return until summer's end. But the black widows are here. I had thought there was only one widow, shifting her hunt between two of the den entrances of the hibernaculum. Now I have determined that they are two spiders, and each of them have enormous egg sacks they're attending to

1512 I hustle back to where I've left my camera bag, just outside the hibernaculum, so that I can retrieve my macro lens. When I return to the widow who will be the easiest (though still difficult) to photograph, I find also present what I at first suspect is a spadefoot toad, but turns out to be a chorus frog. It hurriedly hops down into the den, just beyond the widow web, and although I may be brave enough to sit close to these spiders and their snake allies, I'm not about to reach through the web to retrieve the frog

1523 In addition to the widows, I find funnel web spiders set up at two of the other den entrances. In all instances, my lingering presence has frightened the animals - frogs and spiders - to retreat into the earth. I will now go check on the nighthawk mama and perhaps return to these others again afterward

1540 In order to get to the pisttoo, I need to climb up to the top of the narrow ridge where it's incubating. As I do so, I make two stops. The first is at the canada goldenrod flowers, which are covered with insect droppings perhaps left by the yellow-and-black striped skeletonizing leaf beetles I find here and there. The second stop is to harvest more ma's. I also notice that there's another flowering of prairie onion underway

1556 Presently sitting about six feet away from the mother nighthawk and her two beautiful hatchlings. I spoke to her reassuringly as I approached and am trying not to act stealthily or predatory at all, and as a result she has let me extremely near and is sitting here with her eyes closed, sleeping

1612 Babies of course have to eat, a lot, and seeing as how mama's just sitting here I suspect papa is the one bringing all the grub. He may not be daring enough to stop by with me around, and there's nowhere to conceal myself. I've backed off and am sitting tight a few minutes in the off chance that he braves it. But if not I'll soon leave this little family alone

1622 A bee has just flown by and slapped me on the back of the head, which I'm taking as a signal to get a move on. If I have an opportunity, I'll return to visit these birds again before they're fledged

1643 I walk immediately back to the spider nests, where I find the widows and funnel-webbers once again tending to their eggs. The toad is nowhere to be found, probably well concealed in the snake den. Now I'm starting my way back up the coulee slope toward the truck. I'd still like to visit the pond and gather more currants this evening, but I need to get some food in me to replenish my energy

04 August 2010

Pisttoo Incubating And Blister Beetles

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll Pisttoo Incubating (29July10)

1245 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - to the coulee for an afternoon lesson in life and, if I happen to get down to the river, a cool swim in the Oldman. Of course I'll be hoping to encounter some of my slithering friends along the way

1258 Just as at Sspopiikimi, there are many common wood nymphs out, fluttering around the grass on the coulee rim. But that characterization of their behavior, I know, is not good enough. They are up to something, and if I hope to learn I'd better keep an eye on them. In the meantime, I'm noticing some of the plants - the salsify in seed, the broomweed turning yellow, the gumweed growing close to bloom, and some of the sunflowers already there

1311 Taking a picture of one of the sunflowers, I notice a narrow blister beetle on its bloom, colored almost the same yellow as one of the petals. Obviously this is a relationship that has grown over vast ages. Similarly, I'm noticing on the ground-hugging rose blossoms metallic green rose chafer beetles, about the size and shape of a lady bug, and one of the rose blossoms has a grey blister beetle along with the metallic ones. This beetle is a bit larger than his cousin on the sunflower

1322 I come to a long patch of prairie coneflower. At first there are three sulfur butterflies moving over them, but they depart immediately. I begin looking for any of the whitish leaf-cutting bees I'd seen on these flowers at the pond. There were none. In fact, no interested pollinators at all, aside from the sulfurs. There was, however, one of the wider species of coneflower hosting a bug I've not previously encountered, something like a stink bug, but brown, inornate, and less rotund

1409 Eventually I make it down to the hibernaculum, hoping to find the bachelor around. He wasn't. None of them were there, not even the dependable black widow. I walk over to the landslide section of the slope, nearby, and sit down to write these notes. As I type, a clickhopper flies noisily beside me. Then out of nowhere, a western kingbird swoops in and, in a little flurry, snatches the grig in mid-air

1428 My next move is to climb the slide, up to the ridge above, and walk that down toward the river. About a third of the way along, I luck across a nighthawk sitting on a pair of dark, marbled eggs. Really beautiful. The mama has hopped off and taken flight, and I've backed a ways up the slope, waiting, hoping she'll soon return

1442 It didn't take mama too long to return. She swooped around below me for a few minutes, then glided four times over the nest in inspection. Though I'm right out in the open, I'm sitting still, and on the fourth pass she came to land again. Her site is exposed ground on the ridge, smack dab in the middle of an artery used by deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits alike. No nest to speak of, just a little padding of dead moss phlox, still anchored by roots, but pushed flush with the ground

1454 Inching ever so slowly forward, keeping myself seated on the ground, I've managed to halve the distance between us. She's very aware of my proximity, of course. I'm curious to find out where she draws the line for her comfort

1506 Her comfort went to two meters, at least at the speed I was moving. Perhaps if I'd had been even a bit more patient, the nighthawk would have allowed me closer. But I wasn't, and tempted as I am to repeat the exercise, I figure she's had enough, and I'd best continue on to the river

1511 I envy this nighthawk, her life so efficient that she doesn't even have to construct a nest, she just sits right here on this ridge and for the time being, this is her home. It has everything she needs right here in its natural design. We could only hope to ever evolve to her level

1536 I walk down to the river in a kind of daze, just floored by both the nighthawk encounter and the height of the flora in the floodplain forest. By this time I've received a message from home that my magpie is lonely, that I need to come keep him company. So I quickly wade into the Oldman to get a few dunks in before I start ascending the slope again. As I put my shoes back on, a juvenile spotted sandpiper walks past me, very close, completely unconcerned. I on the other hand am growing wary... of the thunder clouds building in the skies above the rim. A wind has picked up quite suddenly, the forest is swaying, and there's a small sandstorm on the bank upriver

1610 Straight from riverbed to coulee rim I walk, non-stop, breathing heavy, mouth ajar, lower lip flopping up and down with every step. The thunder crosses the river somewhere downstream, missing this floodplain altogether. All the same, I've been called home, so I needed to head out. I might have to start bringing Derrick the magpie with me if I want to be able to lengthen my expeditions again

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Out Of Bird-Body Experience (31July10)

1202 Something interesting just occurred. I was outside with Derrick, because Mahoney had been sewing and didn't want him stealing and hiding her needles. But we'd already been out back for most of the morning, and Derrick was ready to be inside, and a little frustrated to be compelled to stay out with me. So we're sitting out there, and Mahoney whistles from inside in the way she does when she's calling me. I asked, "Are you calling me?" She said, "You might as well come inside, Derrick's sleeping on the back of the couch." As I walked up the stairs, Mahoney watched the bird on the couch take three hops, then drop down onto the floor, out of sight. Only thing was, the real, physical Derrick had been outside with me the whole time, and came hopping into the house when I started my way up the stairs. Seeing him enter, Mahoney became confused and said, "Unless it's another bird?" Then we looked around and there were no other birds in here. I figure either Derrick was out of bird-body travelling, or she was seeing one of the magpies from our Beaver Bundle

1846 Sspopiikimi - just like that, on seasonal cue, as we slide further toward the disappearance of okonoki otsitsi'tsspi, beyond the climax of summer, everything begins to look dry

1853 Tonight we move counter-sunwise, strolling first the length of the water. There is algae covering the entire surface of north-pond, and we notice the yellow primrose and white sweetclover are now in bloom. With no wind, the mosquitoes are about, but tonight we've brought repellant to ward them away

1900 At the ksisskstakioyis, we come across the mama mallard with two, now fairly grown, ducklings. We watch them, and even though they are on the opposite side of the water, it makes them nervous that we're here. The two ducklings take off in flight just over the pond's surface and their mother follows. The take-off seems awkward, as though they're still not used to their wings, and one of the ducklings lands long before the other, the mother following the one who's gone more distant

1906 There is another mallard family of three at south-pond, way over below the blind. The aapsspini Log family are still here as well. They were on the cutbank just south of the ksisskstakioyis as we approached, then paddled out to the security of the marsh. Below the south bench, where we presently sit, there's a golden currant bush draped with ripe berries, and there are turtles surfacing, feeding in the deep pool just under us

1915 I can't just continue past these berries without gathering. To do so would be almost criminal. I search my camera pack for anything I can put currants in, and come up with a plastic grocery bag. While Mahoney waits at the bench, the cutbank too steep for her to descend, I go after the fruits

2025 We are now more than an hour into picking, and I still have almost half my bush to clean. Mahoney is working on red currants. For me, this is the epitome of being a real human being and truly engaged with this place. It is interesting what happens when picking, the shift away from inquiry. It is different, I think, than what occurs with animals, who seem just as aware of everyone else in their environment when feeding as they do otherwise, perhaps even more so. I notice the sound of a catbird alarm in the bulberries down the way, the chatter of a kingfisher flying by, chucks and runs by the coots in the marsh, a nighthawk gliding above the pond. Of course I can't help but notice the cannon fire of some silly reenactment at Fort Whoop-Up, a crew of joggers talking over heavy breath as they pass, the completely unengaged. And I am covered with ants, the small ones who scurry about on the currant bushes. I don't know what they are doing here, and that is a problem for me. I don't stop to watch and learn. I'm harvesting. I should have watched them closely before we reached this stage of ripening, when now I have no ethical choice but to immerse myself in the harvest

2053 The Sun has gone down and it's beginning to get dark by the time I finish picking from my bush. Between Mahoney and I, we've collected half a grocery bag full of berries, which is not too bad for currants. There are still dozens of other ripe bushes here for us to return to. There is something happening with the swainson hawks. As we came back to the bench, we saw a small bird, probably a redwing, chase one of the hawks to the coulee slope, where it landed and began to call out. Two other hawks responded, one in the forest main and another in the owl wood. By the sound of their pleas I would guess them to be juveniles. Perhaps they're wondering what happened to the parent who was guiding them on their hunt

2115 The ksisskstakiiksi are out, floating silently on the surface of the water along the edge of the wet meadows as we make our way back to the truck. I see some plants beside the trail that I should photograph for the both myself and the phenology students, but it's too dark now to do so. The days are getting noticeably shorter. I'll have to return tomorrow afternoon

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Black Blister Beetles (2Aug10)

1116 Sspopiikimi - this is my last visit to the pond for the summer semester's phenology, which doesn't mean I won't be back here again in a day or two, continuing to build on my engagements, familiarities, and awarenesses here. What it does mean is that whatever I encounter today will be the last I'll share with the students for this term, then some will continue on visiting their sites and learning, while others will never bother with this study again

1130 My first stop is at the white, tobacco-like flowers below the first cottonwood trees on the trail leading toward north-pond. The upper flowers are already spend, developed into seed pods, and there are still tiny beetles and ants moving around on the lower flowers and stalks. Perhaps next week I'll take a seed pod and plant these next summer at the house

1134 There are no robin alarm calls at the tree today, and as far as I can see there's nobody in the well-concealed nest. The hatchlings must have fledged out. I'm taking pictures of the western cottonwood leaves, and I'll get others from the narrow-leaf variety and the balsam poplar so my students can see the difference. In Blackfoot they are all a'siitsiksimm, and this makes sense because there are many hybrids to be found between the three

1143 When I get to north-pond, passing a few wood nymphs along the way, I stop at the bat tree to eat a few red currants. There are house wrens with fledglings in this small balsam poplar, chattering in alarms that suggest rattlesnake mimicry. I hear another such mimic, an insect in the grass, but can't find it. There is a nighthawk calling from above the river, and the northern coot parents with their two young ones are feeding in the milfoil this end of midpond

1154 I stop at the patch of prairie coneflowers along the cutbank. About half of them have lost their yellow petals and are now in seed. On some of those that remain blooming today, there are black blister beetles. I watch through my macro lens as one of them dips into a flower and comes out with mandibles yellow from pollen. It then flies a short distance into some grass, where there's another of its kind waiting. The two scurry on, and are soon climbing up to reach the purple flowers of a neighboring alfalfa plant, where I see still more of these blister beetles at work

1205 While continuing to photograph the beetles, I notice something tucked tight between a few leaves at the terminal end of a clematis vine. Peering in, I find it to be a colorful spider, who has pulled these leaves close, almost like a tunnel, and secured them with webbing. She feels completely safe in there. Even when I manipulate the leaves a bit, she doesn't budge. As I'm doing so, a man and two children pass by on the nearest trail. Apparently they've just found a butchered garter snake in the strip that was mowed last week

1213 When the man and children move on, I go up to investigate. Sure enough, there's a dead snake here. And not just one, but two. The first one, which they'd spotted, has several lacerations across its belly. The other one, which was probably sitting with the first snake at the time, has been cut in two. I don't know what motivated the mowing of a five-foot swath on either side of the trails, probably something as simple as European aesthetics, but it seems to me a vicious, completely needless, act of stupidity

1234 Coming up onto the levee-walk, I pass under a narrow-leaf cottonwood. Now I have the images I need of all three a'siitsiksiistsi. On the other side of the levee, there are sunflowers in bloom, and I see that someone has set up a dome tent beside the bulberry bushes in the north wood that hosted a yellow warbler family with new fledglings just a couple weeks ago

1240 I drop down into the forest main and sit in the shade for a break, not too long lest the mosquitoes claim me. Nearby I can see that the tall goldenrod are finally in bloom, and that the chokecherries and bulberries are a brilliant red. The nighthawk is calling from the sky above me, and I'm hoping to see an oriole before I get to the south end

1301 It's getting hot, and about a third of the way through the forest I stop to look at the wasps who are moving around some goldenrod flowers, and manage somehow to dump the drink I'm carrying in the process. Now I'm hustling along to get to the blind, where I can dispose of the sticky cup. The dirt trail has many holes punched in it, and at one point I come across a flicker making such a hole. I suspect it's hunting ants, though I suppose it could be another kind of insect

1313 I'm sitting at the blind, writing these notes, when suddenly I hear a loud whap, followed by cries that sound like those of a crow. I look up to see that a swainson's hawk has nabbed something large out of the air and is flopping down into the forest with it. It's so large, it could even be another hawk. And another large swainson is following them down. I pick-up immediately to follow

1323 I move through the forest toward the alarm calls of catbirds and wrens, and they lead me directly to the hawk, which takes wing again as I approach. This time it is not carrying another large bird, but it does have something. Perhaps the body of a magpie or crow, or maybe a rodent, I can't see. I should have went to search where it landed first, but instead I follow it over the levee-walk and soon lose it altogether. I suspect what I originally witnessed were two swainson youths fighting over a rodent

1337 Rounding the south pool to begin making my way back to the truck, I pass by two of the mallard families (females and grown ducklings only), as well as the aapsspini Log family. Along the west cutbank, the cabbage whites are fluttering around the seeding patches of lens-podded hoary cress, which makes sense, seeing as how they deposit their eggs in various mustards

1348 I arrive back at the truck hot, tired, ready for a glass of cold water. And so ends another semester