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