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