05 September 2010

Goldenrod Spiders, Milkweed Beetles, And Rattlers Returned

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Goldenrod Spider (31Aug10)

1742 Sspopiikimi - taking the counter-sunwise stroll around the circumference this evening, and even in the wind we're having the shale trail is alive with cherry-faced meadowhawks, pale snakeskins, and road dusters

1750 There's a kingfisher chattering as we skirt north-pond. A little further south, near some bulrush hummocks, we can see four diving ducks. I'm hoping that at least one of them is the pied-billed grebe from last week. But when we get to where they're feeding, all four are coots. Like the other anomalous faces we see here infrequently - the wood duck, black-crowned night heron, or sora - the grebe was here one day and gone the next

1758 We sit down when we get to the south bench above the peninsula. In the wide pool before us, I count thirteen mi'ksikatsi in three groups, with the largest (eight mallards) on the big island and the other two families tilting their bums in the air, feeding. Above the forest main, one of the swainson's is soaring and occasionally crying

1806 I've been keeping a peripheral eye on the plants as we walked the west length. I'm waiting to see the various lady beetles who were here around this time last summer. But there are none, or very few, just the occasional seven-spots. There are, however, now two different aphid species hatched and feeding on the absinthe. There's the spiny ones I've noted the last little while, and a new hatching of smooth aphids as well

1826 We pick up and begin to move around the south marsh. I notice that the berries on the buckbrush are all turning white already. The same flowering plants are in bloom today as during our last couple visits - yellow sweetclover, showy purple aster, hairy golden aster, goldenrod, alfalfa, tufted white prairie aster. At one point, we come across two large, blue-spotted, variable darners on the trail. Both are hesitant to take wing, allowing us to get much closer (within three inches) than they typically do. Perhaps they are near the end of their lives

1847 We move down through the forest to sit on the edge of the cutbank near the blind. It's feeling pretty lonely. No peeps in the shallows, no sounds of catbirds or robins. We've not seen any yellow warblers, goldfinch, or swallows the last couple visits. They could all be gone already, and their absence leaves a significant void

1908 We decide to walk the edge-zone between the wet meadows and forest main, a route we avoided with the floodwaters and mosquito swarms. It's quiet, almost as though winter were here already, just green. As we walk, Mahoney picks bulberries and splits her take with me, tart red fruits. We'll have a good harvest once the frost comes

1937 Arriving at north-pond, we could easily cut up to the levee walk and move around to the truck, but we decide instead to switch back and walk south again through the forest main. I'm glad we do, because we soon come into some interesting insect activity. First of all, there are female mosquitoes in the forest still, and they're hounding us. But we find other things to distract us from their needles. About halfway through the forest, I notice that many of the apex leaves on the tall goldenrod are misshapen. Unfurling one, I find the leaf to be encasing the web of a tiny spider. And as we're learning about the existence of this resident, we notice others nearby - a hornet on some white sweetclover flowers and many meadowhawks perched on the sticky, green burrs of wild licorice

1951 I'm especially glad to see the hornet. Every summer we've had conspicuous hives in the forest main, but this year none. I was beginning to wonder if their queen survived the last winter freeze, but the presence of this single insect suggests that she did. In that case, it's just a matter that we haven't stumbled across their hive this season, which is good in some respects, but troubling in others. I'd rather be aware of their location in advance

2004 When we reach the path to the blind, we climb back up to the levee-walk and head north again. Immediately we are swarmed by male mosquitoes. The shadow of dusk has crossed the river and climbed the opposite coulee slope. The cottonwood leaves, from this higher angle, look to be on the brink of turning all yellow

2017 There has been a lot of beaver development in the north-pond wet meadows this season. Looking at it from above, we can see a dark green strip of bulrushes bordering a canal that runs from mid- to north-pond, severing a big section of wet meadows into island. Along this canal there are areas where the ksisskstaki have built walls retain new subponds. Whether they will last or not when the flood waters totally recede remains to be seen

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Rattlers Return To Hibernaculum (2Sept10)

1625 What an awesome closing day for the ethnobotany class. Visited one of my favorite places, the confluence. Dug ma's, aahsowa, and pisatsiinikimm. Observed and discussed dozens of other plants and insects, and had encounters with rattlesnakes and nighthawk fledglings. Can't beat it, my job rocks!

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll Garter At The Rattler Den (3Sept10)

1732 Straight from work to the hibernaculum, hiking down the side of the coulee now. Geez I feel toxic after a day penned in the office. Hoping a quick visit here and then dusk at the pond willserve to cleanse. Not really prepared, in just my runners, for protection against accidents at the den. I'll have to be extra careful

1748 Okay, entering the hibernaculum now. Have just a few short weeks to make an accurate count of who comes here, in what order, learn to identify them as individuals, observe any social or pre-hibernation behavior, and (hopefully) locate any similar sites in this stretch of the coulee

1815 Brief but interesting visit. There are still just two rattlers on site - a younger, darker one, and the older, lighter one who I filmed yesterday. Both of them hastily dropped into the burrows before I could snap any shots of them. They were using the first and third entrances, respectively. Curiously though, there was also a wandering garter on the scene. I've never seen a garter snake at the rattlesnake hibernaculum in the four years or so I've been coming here. In fact, I've never even seen one this high up on the coulee slope in this area. The garter snake is hanging around between the third and fourth entrances, where the large rattle has been, and also (memorably enough) where the black widows nested, and where I saw a chorus frog seeking its hibernation location a few weeks ago. Though all of these animals are among the sort the most frightening to us, I don't know of any reason why they would gather together like this. Could be just coincidence, or there could be something pretty extraordinary going on

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllll Milkweed Beetles (4Sept10)

1858 Sspopiikimi - the heat from this afternoon has disappeared, it's now on the verge of being something more than t-shirt weather, and I've tied my coat around my waist for our dusk visit to the pond. Already the shadow is crossing the water

1904 We surprise a mourning dove as we approach north-pond at the bat tree, and its flight startles a kingfisher in turn. Down below there is a cluster of five young mallard siblings dabble-feeding. They seem very small to us, and are perhaps a family that has recently moved in from elsewhere. At one point, two adult (or at least much larger) female ducks cross the pond to hide from us, but I don't get the feeling that either is the mother

1924 We climb up the levee and walk to the lookout over the Oldman. All the same flowers are blooming as last week, the sweet clovers and late-summer asters. A remindful thought sweeps through that once these flowers fade, there will be no more this season. Mahoney is concerned about this too, and at her call we stop to clip some more akspii to dry and add to our store for congestion medicine. It really is now or never for harvesting some of these plants

1929 There are lots of grigs around, just in time for the Swainsons to bulk up on before their migration to Costa Rica. As we clip gumweed, Mahoney finds a little bumblebee-ish creature asleep (or maybe even dead), with its head buried in one of the flowers

1932 There is a voice we don't recognize, an intermittent bird squawk, upstream on the big river island. We move down the shale trail to the bench to search for it, but as we walk it passes unseen (but heard) in the opposite direction. Further along the trail, we stop to look at dogbane and milkweed beetles, the former mating, the latter gathering to feed

1948 When we get to the blind and sit down on the cutbank overlooking the wide pool of south-pond, we find more mallards dabbling and resting on the islands. There are eighteen by my count, the numbers are slowly starting to go up. It has been such an odd summer for waterfowl at the pond, I wonder if the wigeons will stop back through for a period as they normally do by now. We haven't seen any of their benefactors this evening, the coots who usually feed them this time of year

1959 We sit still on the cutbank in a swarm of male mosquitoes. Three pelicans pass overhead, gliding toward the river. A pair of swainsons soar above the coulee rim. The shadow has engulfed everything, the Sun out of sight. I'm tense, in a way. I sense the end of the season looming too near

2021 We round the marsh and start making our way back along the west length of the pond. There's a new flower above the peninsula, something I don't remember having ever seen here before, but we'll have to come back out in daylight to photograph it. Somewhere up one of the draws of the coulee we hear a catbird crying. Still not seeing any beaver or muskrat activity, which is disturbing. It's been a while since we've seen any of the muskrats in particular... and just as I type this, one appears, swimming straight across to our shore as if it read my mind

2031 The ksisskstaki are now out as well, or at least one of them. As we pass by the lodge it whacks the pond's surface twice with it's tail. The male mosquitoes crack me up, swarming in thick clouds and following us as we hike, waiting for a female to ascend into their midst, but she's nowhere to be found