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