20 September 2010

First Half Of Awakaasiki'somm

I Skunkbrush Berries Stripped Away (6Sept10)

1116 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - just starting to warm up outside, so I've headed over to the confluence to begin recording my introductory phenology lecture for awakaasiiki'somm and the new semester. Hope my slithering friends come out to catch some rays

1140 Off to a slow start. Got partway down the slope when it dawned on me that I should bring my crowbar to demonstrate how to dig ma's. So I left my pack and went back up for the crowbar. Returning to where I'd left my equipment, I then found that I'd somehow forgotten the lock that secures my video-camera to the tripod, so it was back up again to off-load the tripod (no reason to carry extra crap)

1213 Still haven't moved from where I originally set my pack down. Filmed a brief introdu
ction to the course series, then started right into introducing the species for this moon. There's a lot to look at right here - ma's, akspii, broomweed, salsify, and prairie coneflower just for starters, not to mention the pollinating blister beetles on the akspii and broomweed (the only two still in full flower), and several spiders and larva on the same who are new to me

1300 Wow, I've basically spend an hour and a half in this single location, documenting really just three plants - akspii, broomweed, and ma's - and the insects that are to be found on their flowers at present. Adding to the list of those already mentioned, I'm
also seeing quite a few lygus beetles and Riley’s tree crickets on the gumweeed

1340 Finally moved a ways further down the slope, to the hibernaculum, stopping along the route to look at ninaika'ksimo (prairie sagewort), and aokspiyipisatssaisski (prairie coneflowers), as well as a yet unidentified white butterfly who was working the gumweed. Now I'm headed into the snake den to see if anyone's awake, though it may still be a bit chilly for them with
today's cool breeze

1421 I've counted four rattlesnakes here this afternoon, twice as many as my last visit just days ago. They are definitely starting to come back. The large, older snake was situated at the main entrance, but slipped into the den as I approached, along with another who is nearly his size. The younger, darker one from my previous visit is by the third den, at the secret side door. There is also a very small rattler, a first year, at the far entrance. There may be more I've not seen, they're so camouflaged, but I'm staying near for another fifteen or twenty minutes, because I've set my video-camera up to record the large snake at close quarters when it moves back to its basking site

1441 The big snake still hasn't come back out yet, but there are now a couple people hiking in this direction down the coulee slope. I don't want to clue an
y strangers in on the location of this hibernaculum, so I've left the camera on site to record, low to the ground, and I've come back out to the main trail, where I can sit and wait for them to pass

1455 Oddly enough, the couple who were headed my way turned around mid-slope, almost when they'd reached this area, and are now moving back up the coulee. I've just checked on the filming, and found the large rattler starting to return. Hopefully I didn't frighten her as I backed away again. I suppose I'll go collect some gumweed from the trail as I wait

1523 My attempt to get the big snake to slide right past the lens of the video-camera has failed. She decided to bask a little closer to the edge of the den. I could set up the shot again, but I feel like I've bothered her enough for one day. Going to climb up on the ridge to check the nighthawk fledglings, then start making my way back to the truck

1537 On the way up the ridge, I stop to film and
photograph skunkbrush sumac, noting that the berries have mostly disappeared (i.e. been eaten) from the larger plants, but that there were still clusters of this citric fruit available on the younger ones that the birds are less drawn to land on. While at it, I figured I might as well introduce pincushion orange, the calcium-loving lichen that inhabits these plants, and compare it with elegant sunburst, a similar species that grows on rock

1553 Unfortunately, if the nighthawk fledglings are still around, they're not making their presence known. I've decided to head back up the slope toward the truck, so Mahoney and I can go next to Sspopiikimi

1608 I notice as I climb that there are occasionally cherry-faced meadowhawks on the trail who refuse to flee at my approach, a definite change in behavior. Fi
nally I stop to investigate and find a meadowhawk in considerable rough shape, its wings fairly tattered, lethargic. I suspect that what I'm witnessing is the die-off, those dragonflies who have survived the kingbirds and other predators now giving their bodies back to the earth

1649 Back home. Saw a swainson hawk o
n the ground during my drive back, obviously eating grasshoppers. Sure they'll start congregating by BTAP soon

1834 Sspopiikimi - back to our now quiet, fairly empty trees and water. Tonight we're out for just a short walk, counter sunwise, presently making our way around north pond, and doing more filming for my class. So far we've looked at absinthe (still in flower), western clematis (in seed), and alfalfa (flowering)

1856 When we get to the cutbank overlooking the
Oldman, our presence startles a kingfisher, and I can hear a wren chattering in some nearby brush. We stop to photograph and film damselflies, two-striped grasshoppers, and aahsowa (wild licorice). There is a long-legged brown beetle I've never noticed before climbing around on the seed burrs of the licorice. Another interesting insect to learn

1919 It is so strange to have so much green still on the floodplain, but very few birds. Clearly the feathered have not been fooled by the effects of our w
et summer. Almost all of those who are going to leave Sspopiikimi have already packed their bags and either headed out completely, or went to the rendezvous sites of their respective flocks

1931 Walking south on the shale trail, a mule doe
steps out of the forest main and onto our path. She looks us over, then cuts slowly down toward the river, grazing as she walks

1941 When we get to the owl wood, we stop to check the progress of the bulberries. Although we've had a little bit of frost, they're still not dropping off readily when we tap the branches. Down here, some of the bushes are just loaded with fruit. I hope we can get our share before the waxwing flocks stop by to clean them up

1950 Continuing on around the marsh, we can see in the wide south pool fourteen mallards dabble feeding and, oddly, a pair of aapsspini standing on the big island. I did not expect to see geese down here again for a while, especially an isolated pair

2014 Our last note on the way out through the darkness is that the ksisskstaki family still has not crested the surface with their food cache, if they've even begun stockpiling. One young beaver came out of the lodge to observe us as we stood on the cutbank. With how few of them we've seen lately, I actually wonder how many of them are left

III Dragonfly Waning (8Sept10)

1724 Sspopiikimi - this will be our last vi
sit to the pond for a few days, as I have to make a quick run down to Oregon. Tonight we're moving counter-sunwise, starting toward the north end, where there's a group of seven coots diving for milfoil and preening in the bulrush hummocks

1732 Moving along the length of the pond, we are closely followed by a hovering swarm of male mosquitoes. Now and then along the shale trail, we pass dragonflies who have slowed down to a stand-still - variable darners, pale snakeskins, and cherry-faced meadowhawks, all seemingly just waiting for the end. Of the three, there are more of the meadowhawks still active

1742 Sitting down on the bench above the peninsula, overlooking the wide south pool, we count fourteen mi'ksikatsi tonight. Looking back at my notes from this time last year, the males were starting to join them. Not so as yet this go-round, and no wigeons yet either

1800 We decide to switch-up our routine and walk behind the owl wood up to the high-level bridge. Along the way, we see all the same end-of-summer flowering plants - the yellow sweetclover, alfalfa, gumweed, showy aster, hairy golden aster, and tufted white prairie aster. Some of the canada goldenrod is still flowering as
well, but many of these plants are already in seed

1823 When we route back through the owl wood itself, the ground vegetation is lush, a jungle of tall goldenrod, wild licorice, buckbrush, leafy spurge, bulberry, and young cottonwoods. No doubt if the hornets
are nested on this side of the river, here is where they must be. It should be interested when winter comes to see what bird nests emerge from these thickets. Tonight there are two types of bumblebee working the flowers down here - the Hunt's bumblebee on the yellow sweetclover, and another with many thin orange stripes on the tall goldenrod

1836 Mahoney's ankle is bothering her a bit, so once we come out of the owl wood, we follow the smooth route of the levee-walk parallel to the river. It's going to be a short outing. Looking over the canopy of the forest main, there's now patches of yellow leaves on all th
e cottonwoods. Down below, the prickly rose are yellowing as well and the chokecherry leaves are turning red

IIII ) llllll Showy Aster Display (15Sept10)

1822 Sspopiikimi - what a treat to be here, standing on the cutbank over our faithful wetland school after a week's absence. Walking in, we passed two-striped grasshoppers, and we can
see coots diving for milfoil midpond

1838 Many of the same insects are still around as when we last visited... the previously mentioned two-stripe grasshopper with its dead grass camouflage
, a green grig of similar size who hides among the leaves, honey bees, black blister beetles, mosquitoes, and a fat, black ground beetle. Noticeably absent are the dragonflies

1850 Approaching the ksisskstakioyis, one of the adult family members emerges and paddles off toward north-pond. As it moved away, this year's pup came out briefly as well. This is the season when we always see the pups. But the big news is the ksisskstaki food cache has finally breached the surface. We were wondering if they were getting ready for winter yet. Now we have confirmation

1903 As far as we can tell so far, there's be
en no change in the waterfowl situation. Three coots and four mallards midpond, at least ten more mallards at southpond (but four or five more that are too far away to identify until we get to the other side). No male mi'ksikatsi yet, and no wigeons

1915 There are still a good number of flowers blossoming. Rounding the south marsh we see sweetclover, alfalfa, hairy golden aster, toadflax (a.k.a. butter-and-eggs), gumweed, tufted white prairie aster, and goldenrod. The big event at this time, however, is the showy purple aster. T
he south cutbank is blue with it

1922 From the blind we confirm that the ducks on this side are also mi'ksikatsi, seven of them, bringing the total to twenty-one. Already it's getting quite dark, in part because of the heavy cumulous clouds moving over

1928 Wow! I think we've got a soaking coming. The sky is gold with sunlight reflecting off the bottom of these clouds, a massive wind has just kicked up, and there is a sheet of moisture on it's way over the west coulee rim

1948 Indeed, we got dumped on, and of course it began when we were at the absolute furthest point from our vehicle. Luckily we enjoy the rain, and it was a privilege to see it sweeping golden through the forest, quickly calling up earthworms as we made our way out

IIII ) llllllll Otsstatsimaan (18Sept10)

1609 It's been too long since my last visit to this coulée. I'm feeling the need to revamp or renew my practice. I found myself almost prepared to dismiss even noting the swainson's hawk, two mourning doves, few lone magpies, half a dozen robins, and small flock of geese in flight that I observed on the short drive in. I think what's happening is that I'm all too aware of the ease of taking inventory. While notations of presence are import
ant, perhaps even greater value can be found in behavioral inquiry - what are they doing, and why?

1615 Another change I'm hoping to make is in my method of note-taking itself. Over the last couple years, I've always tried to type out my journal while physically in the field. I'm sure though that on days like this, when I only have a couple hours to work with, the notes have been a distraction. In an attempt to avoid this dilemma, I've recently downloaded a voice recording application to my phone, so I will try to rely more on quick voice notes that can be typed out later in the evening

1635 Hiking down the muddy slope today, I can see that there's been some change in the flora with the cold weather. The colors are shifting. While there's still plenty of blooming showy aster, tufted white prairie aster, sweetclover, blazing star and akspii, others - like the broomweed, canada thistle, prairie coneflower, black medick, and eveningstar - are almost entirely gone to seed

1645 There's a pronounced absence of insects. Other than one or two glimpses of a grig and a single fly in cold stasis on one of the few still-purple wavy-leaved thistle flowers, I see none of the six leggeds around. This is none too surprising considering the weather

1650 The hips on the short prairie roses are a deep red. I stop to test a couple plump ones, plucking them from the stem and squeezing them between my fingers to see if the seeds squirt out. They are definitely getting ther
e, nearly ready for harvest. The inner core of the fruits need to soften just a bit more, there's still a too much flesh sticking to the seeds

1703 I've walked into the hibernaculum, knowing full well that there'll be no rattlers out today. The last time I was here, a day before the cold moisture began, there were only four or five snakes returned, a fraction of the number who stay here each winter. I have no way of knowing whether the others made it back. At times like this, with such drastic temperature swings, I usually enter the area of the hibernaculum envisioning an encounter with a cold, helpless snake, and I begin formulating already my plan to bring it home, revive it, and assist it through winter. Of course today I find no such compromised animals. I never do. What I see instead are signs that the mule deer have been bedding near the den entrances, which suggests that my friends have not been out

1715 Before leaving the area of the hibernaculum, I search out and find several otsstatsimaan, the fruit of ball cactus. It is ripe and juicy, and I thoroughly enjoy exploding a few between my incisors. I also take note of the condition of a small patch of common burdock, where the leaves remain green while the seeding stems of at least the second-year plants have entirely dried. Then, just as I'm walking away, a flock of twenty-two robins land on a skunkbrush plant near the den, a move that would be ver
y dangerous if the snakes were about. The robins observe me looking at them and immediately take wing, eventually landing on another skunkbrush plant near the coulée rim. My assumption is that they're cleaning off the last of the citrus-sour berries

1740 My next move is to climb up on the ridge where the nighthawk nested during the previous moon. They are gone at this point, but my motivation to walk the ridge top is not to find them anyway, I'm searching for more otsstatsimaan. The ridge does not disappoint, and in addition to the ball cactus berries, I find the fruits of many prickly pears littering the ground. These have been pulled off and gnawed by small rodents, who seem to relish the seeds. Each winter I see this, the evidence of their cactus-seed feasts. I have yet to learn which mice or voles partake

1745 From far below the ridge, at the edge of the forest on the floodplain, I hear the agitated whistle of a whitetail deer. Looking down, I see two does leap out of a chokecherry patch and bound, tails waving, into the deeper wood. I'm surprised that they're acting so wary, because I'm pretty far away. But then again, it is hunting season, and they know it all too well. I find it curious also that they were in the chokecherries, and I want to go down and see if there's evidence of their feeding on these fruits, but it can't happen today. M
ahoney and I have an engagement to attend, and it's time for me to begin making my way back up the slope

1757 About half-way to my vehicle, I startle a northern flicker who was busy doing something on the ground of the coulée slope (likely eating ants). The bird swoops down and away, eventually landing in some chokecherry and wolf willow brush below. Several other birds come out of the brush to greet it, but it's too far away for me to see whether these others are flickers as well, though they're certainly the right size. A few steps further up the trail and I come upon a dead grasshopper. Surely there are many around, and this could just as easily be a clue as to what the flicker(s) are up to

1810 Back on top and heading home, it's apparent that the goose congregations in the prairie potholes and surrounding stubble-fields are growing. There are at least two dozen at ground level as I drive past, and another seventeen (in two groups) flying low above

IIII ) llllllll Spurge Eaters (19Sept10)

1639 Sspopiikimi - we're here for the afternoon, the rain has let up temporarily, and it's a
touch warmer than it has been for the past several days

1645 Walking in at north-pond, it's already apparent that the temperature change has been good for the insects. There are a lot more grigs hopping through the grass than yesterday, and we see both honey bees and flies that are bee mimics visiting the alfalfa flowers

1655 When we arrive at the cutback by the bat tree, overlooking the pond, we see two female mallards dabbling near the reeds of the north wet-meadows. Beside them is the pied-billed grebe. I'd thought this grebe had gone away after our original sighting of it a few weeks ago, but apparently not. All three make haste into the bulrushes when they spot us, the grebe diving as it does so

1657 We decide to sit down on the cutback and wait for the mallards and grebe to re-appear. It doesn't take too long for the mi'ksikatsi to move out, scooting quickly south. The grebe remains concealed a bit longer, and when it finally does leave the safety of the reeds, it seems to be unaware of our presence. We're expecting it to begin diving and feeding, but then I click off a couple photos, and that's all it takes to make the grebe nervous again. Like the ducks, it sets off to the south, paddling right up against the wet-meadow shoreline, where it is most camouflaged from view

1727 As the grebe departs, something else catches my attention - the chipping call of small birds further up our cutbank. Immediately I recall the first ice on the pond last winter, and the yellow-rumpled warblers who took advantage of it to feast on small insects frozen to the nebraska sedge. I get up to investigate, and my hunch proves correct. The chipping calls are coming from yellow-rumped warblers. There is a small flock of the moving between the canopy of a certain cottonwood and the absinthe along the cutbank. I walk over to look at the plants, expecting to find a good hatching of aphids or some such tiny insect. But all I see are two-striped grasshoppers, a few lygus bugs, and a single seven-spot ladybug

1743 The warblers eventually take off, three magpies fly by overhead (at about the height of the coulee rim), there's a pelican winging downstream by the river, a coot swims into north-pond, eating milfoil collected in short dives, and we pick up to hike around the bend and drop down into the forest main. As we move, the clouds break up, and it appears as though we'll have some sunlight to work with. In the forest, we stop right away at the bulberry brush to test whether or not they can be shaken off yet. They can't, and they're still very tart of taste

1820 About half-way through the forest, as we pass through a patch of tall goldenrod, I find a bronze-colored beetle poplar borer. A little further on, Mahoney spots a colorful caterpillar on a stem of brome. It's mostly emerald-green, with a single yellow stripe down it's back, black lateral bars that each hold two white dots, and a black horn on it's tail. It's almost like a spurge hawk moth larva, but smaller and greener, with yellow where the other has red. Looking around the immediate area, we find another one, and this caterpillar is indeed eating spurge leaves. Perhaps it’s a color-morph variety

1830 Now our eyes are trained on the plants. By the time we reach the blind above the shallows of south-pond, we've seen several cherry-faced meadowhawks and dark-colored damselflies perched in the grass, and have been chastised by a flicker. Out on the water below the blind, there are but seven mi'ksikatsi, only about half as many as there were last week

1840 We don't linger long at the blind. The Sun has already gone down, and the clouds are regrouping. Heading out toward the levee-walk above the south-marsh, we find two more caterpillars in the forest undergrowth. The first is a spurge hawk moth larva proper, a nice fat one. The other is eating wolf willow leaves and looks like braided leather

1903 Before rounding the marsh, we stop off at the river bench. There's a thick patch of spurge there, and we spot two more of the large, introduced hawk moth larvae

1918 Now it's really getting dark, and we make our way back toward the west bank. I notice that there are none of the swarms of male mosquitoes we've grown accustomed to. There are, however, still catbirds and kingfishers about, both of whom we hear as we pass by the bulberry and currant thickets above the south-pond peninsula

1935 The ksisskstaki are up and about, as are their mi'sohpsski allies. Both are swimming around the pond in their usual casual manner. The food cache at the ksisskstakioyis still looks pretty meager, but it's hard to tell, given that we can only see that part of it which happens to protrude from the water

1939 As we hike back to our vehicle in fair darkness, Mahoney directs my attention to the absinthe plants we're passing. Their stems are hosts to hundreds of grasshoppers, all of them settled in for the night