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