19 October 2010

Bulberries Ripen

IIII ) lllllll Bulberries Ripen (16Oct10)

1708 Sspopiikimi - had our first real cold shot of the season last night, producing ice on shallow waters and frost on everything else. Out this evening to survey the pond and learn whether there have been any related changes

1711 The first thing we notice, walking in, is the absence of grigs. We heard one clickhopper move away in the grass as we passed. But probably the majority of the hoppers suffered and perhaps died in the freeze

1714 Walking the west length, we pass the lone coot of midpond once again. I suspect it is one who was born here this summer, but who hadn't become prepared to fly yet by the time his parents were ready to depart. In the water, we can see large algae bubbles, some more than two meters wide. And crossing the shale trail is a harvestman spider

1717 The ksisskstakioyis and beaver food cache continue to grow. There seems to be considerable work being done to build upon the north side of the lodge. Looking across at the forest main, at least half of the cottonwoods have dropped their leaves at this point. Yet there are still many with canopies of yellow, and even a few that remain green

1725 There are not as many mi'ksikatsi in the wide south pool as during our last visit. We're counting twelve males and three females today, which also a reversal of the gender ratio we observed previously

1750 Walking down toward the peninsula, we stop to check on the status of the mi'ksinitsiim (bulberries) and finally they are ready. In about fifteen minutes we're able to collect about half a grocery bag full, but our drop cloth isn't quite big enough, so we'll leave them for now and return in a day or two for a more thorough harvesting session

1830 With our bag of bulberries, we make our way around the south marsh and stop off briefly at the river bench. When we then start toward the forest main, there's someone waving at us from the levee. Turns out it's Cynthia Chambers and her sister, back to the pond for a first visit since her heart surgery a couple months ago. We stop and visit, but it's starting to get dark

1844 Letting Cynthia continue her round so she doesn't get too cold, Mahoney and I move down through the forest to the blind. The geese are starting to come in. A flock of six make a couple passes over the south pool, but they spot us and decide instead to relocate somewhere upriver. Then moving back through the forest and up on the levee again, Mahoney spots the first of the large, fuzzy brown caterpillars that always move around this time of year, eventually finding places to hibernate under old logs, bark and such. We still do not know what kind of moth begins it's life in this form

1854 Back to the truck now, with nothing really significant to note after the caterpillar. Beavers are out, collecting reeds from north-pond. Other than that, it's pretty dark and we're going to head out

IIII ) llllllll Last Kingfisher (17Oct10)

1142 Sspopiikimi - after finding last night that the frost had finally loosed the bulberries, we're out today to harvest

1146 We start off in the opposite direction as yesterday, moving sunwise around north-pond toward the forest main. Along the route, our foot-steps scare up several red-winged clickhoppers and other small grigs. Not nearly as many as there were last week, but that's to be expected with the cold

1147 On the north cutbank, we scare up a group of six grey partridge who were hidden in a patch of tall grass. Their sudden burst into the air startles us at least as much as we've scared them

1157 Oddly enough, there's still a kingfisher here. As we climb the levee at north-pond, it flies chattily overhead, and I think it's landed somewhere in the forest main

1203 We ourselves drop down off the levee into the north end of the forest main, where there's a good patch of young, female bulberry bushes, all laden with fruit. We'll get a start on our harvest here

1205 POD - nitaisoi'stsipikiaaksspinnaan (we are harvesting berries by knocking them to the ground)

1250 Going good so far. We've collected our first half-bag of berries. Knocking on the stems to shake the bulberries down, we also notice on our drop-cloth a large, reddish-brown assassin bug

1329 Having filled one grocery bag now, we're leaving this patch. There are still a lot of berries in the deeper, harder to reach areas. Presently, we're making our way south through the forest

1401 About half-way through the forest main, we come across a lone bulberry bush that is just absolutely burdened with fruit. The berries are so heavy, in fact, that one of the trunks that comes out of the lowest fork has broken completely off, leaving half the bush in the ground. We work this section and in no time at all get another full bag to carry

1416 When we work the fallen bush, a lot of small twigs covered in berries fall onto our drop-cloth. This gives us a good excuse to find a log, sit down for a break, and clean some of the wood out of our bag. When we get home, we'll throw everything into a tub of water, and in this manner clean our harvest of the leaves and other debris that shakes loose with the fruit

1427 Eventually we arrive at the blind overlooking south-pond. There are a handful of mallards dabbling on the surface. Also, we can see two lesser yellowlegs hunting the shore of a small island beneath us. Last year, when the waters were much lower, there were lots of shorebirds, but these are the first we've seen this go'round

1450 Climbing back up on the levee, having left the blind, we see several cherry-faced meadowhawks, a pink-edged sulphur, and some grigs. We were thinking that, with all the warmth, there might be some garter snakes basking near their hibernaculum. When we go to investigate though, there's nobody. The wandering garters are the last reptiles to emerge in summer, and the first to keep underground as we move into the winter

1500 As we round the south marsh, listening to magpie chatter from the cottonwoods on the golf course, I realize that our bags are so heavy that the fruit on the bottom is getting squished by the weight of what's above, ultimately leaking berry juice all down the side of my pants

1513 Hiking the west length on our way back to the truck, we see a lone mallard drake near the beaver lodge. Then, not too much further along, we spot the lone coot of mid-pond, still lingering yet. Other than that, the west length offers nothing save for some of the same insects (mostly grigs) that we've seen on the shale path elsewhere today

11 October 2010

Fritillaries Mate And The Drakes Return

III Fritillaries Mating (8Oct10)

1154 Pitaiiksiinaikawaahko - taking a quick walk down to the river before I have to pick Mahoney up from work. I've only got two hours to play with, and I want to make it all the way down to the shore lodge on the river cutbank, so I'm following the quickest route, a steep shale trail made - like all park trails in Sikoohkotoki - from the burnt, red colored tailings of the old coal mine

1158 As I begin my descent, it is to the seasonal soundtrack of cricket song, accented occasionally by the chirp of a chorus frog. The grig population is at it's peak, with dozens of small grasshoppers flying away from my every step

1206 About half-way down the shale trail, I cut away from the path to explore a bit of a saddle shelf on the coulee slope. I'm hoping to stumble upon another rattlesnake hibernaculum, as I suspect there's one over in this direction. But no success so far. I'm seeing very few flowers, just a smattering of low yellow sweetclover and wilted akspii

1210 One plant that is still flowering is the sagebrush. Some are played-out already, but most still have their tiny, inconspicuous yellow blooms. These plants are covered with aphids, the ants that are feeding off the aphids' nectars, and seven-spot lady beetles eating the aphids themselves. One plant also has a large orb-weaving spider who I don't recognize, waiting patiently on the edge of its web

1214 When I arrive at the floodplain, it becomes more apparent that the younger sagebrush in particular are the ones still in flower. There's also a few yellow salsify blooms still to be found here, and pink-rimmed sulphurs visiting some of these

1216 Crossing the floodplain to the forest edge, I see the sulphurs are stopping by another flower as well, this one a spindly plant with tiny blue blossoms that become burrs in their seed state. Here in the shade there are even some canada thistles still in flower, but the sulphurs don't seem to have much interest in these purple blooms

1220 Dropping down into the first eschelon of forest, all is familiar and yet incredibly changed. I haven't been down here much since the big floods early in summer. These waters left a significant silt deposit over the floor, and piles of drift-logs clutter the old trail. The flowers remaining here in this first moon of winter are showy aster and tufted white prairie aster

1226 It's quite warm today, warm enough to provoke me to go shirtless, which is strange given that we're starting the first winter moon. Not much for a bird presence in the forest. I hear a few magpies giving their wok-wok-wok calls, alerting everyone to my presence (if they were announcing their own presence it would simply be wok-wok). But other than the magpies, I see and hear no one

1228 It doesn't take me long to move through the three descending echelons of the flood plain forest, and drop down into the willow thickets nearer the river. At the edge zone between the two, there are many flowering white sweetclovers being visited by honeybees. In the willow tickets themselves, much change has occurred. The floods deposited immense driftlogs that pinned even the largest willows to the ground. Everywhere the willows are caked with mud, and many of the plants have been cemented together in clusters

1234 I've now made it to my furthest destination point for the day, the shoreline ksisskstakioyis along the river. This lodge was built last year, when the family moved upstream. It's a large dwelling, and I wondered what became of it during the flood. Now I have my answer. Like the willows and the forest floor, this ksisskstakioyis is caked in silt. All the wood embedded in the lodge is old, and there is no food cache and no sign of recent reinforcements to the walls. Although there are a few footprints and chewed willow twigs at a stop-off point used by visiting beavers beside the lodge, there's no indication that it's still occupied. I don't know whether the family died in the flood, or were able to reposition. From my position, I can't see any new lodges up or downstream. If they did relocate though, I would suspect to find them in the oxbow area downstream, near their old lodge, and where beavers have gone in previous flood years

1240 Leaving the beaver lodge, I begin following the river upstream. There are no birds on the water, no mergansers. I spot a few bronze tigerbeetles hunting the sands along the shoreline, but no sign of whatever insects they may be preying on. At one point, a drift log far off on the opposite shore appears to me like a deer. But as I get closer, I realize it is only an illusion. Haven't seen any deer yet today, which is odd. But then again, I've not really taken my usual route along the cutbanks that hide most of the animals and define the different echelons of the forest

1245 There's a really scattered smattering of sandrocket mustard with pale yellow flowers being visited by the pink-edged sulphurs. Other than that, the riverside is fairly quiet. Just a small grig or tigerbeetle here or there, and a few small, greenish meadowhawks, possibly pale snakeskins

1254 Finally some action on the riverbed. I've come across an area where several pairs of variegated fritillaries are joined in mating. Like the sulphurs, they face in opposite directions when in this vulnerable bond. And they are mating right on the rocks of the riverbank, enabling them to see approaching danger from afar

1258 Just past the area where the fritillaries are mating is a mud flat, and here there are several pink-edged sulphurs and drone flies. I wonder if the drone flies in particular are depositing their eggs here

1309 Leaving the riverbank, I start my way up the coulee slope, and right at the base there's a long stretch of exposed earth, some kind of dark shale where few plants grow. Right here I come across a lot of road dusters. I don't know a lot about these largest of the grigs, but I suspect their superior flight ability has some relation to why they select open areas like this to inhabit

1315 When I get up to the landslide area where I observed so many different insects the other day, I find that most of the white tufted prairie asters that attracted them here have played out. Now this stretch is fairly quiet, save for a handful of black blister beetles. This landslide is close to the rattlesnake hibernaculum, and though I don't really have time left to have a good visit there, I can't help but at least stop in to make greetings

1319 Interesting... although it is warm enough that I've moved around all afternoon shirtless, there are only two snakes basking at the hibernaculum. The rattlers are definitely spending more time underground. It's not surprising that there's at least a minimal presence above, but the compulsion for them to seek positions in the hinernacular chamber must be more related to Sun position than to actual temperature

1334 Back up at my vehicle now, with not much to report between the hibernaculum and the coulee rim. More of the smaller grigs. One thing that impressed me today though, and that has touched me on many previous occasions, is the manner in which all the residents of this coulee have everything they need right here. Their lives don't require the kind of environmental degradation that our comtporary ways produce. There's no reliance on importation, and the biproducts and/or passing of each species and season is timed with the needs of another

IIII ) l Mi'ksikatsi Drakes Return (10Oct10)

1027 Pitsiiksinaikawaahko - off to search this morning for the second rattlesnake hibernaculum on this bend of the river and, ultimately, to find out where the beaver family down here moved in response to this summer's flood

1043 It's another blue-sky warm day, with a potential for shirtlessness. This is good, because it means at least some of the snakes will be out, as well as what insects remain. I've already seen a melissa blue on a yellow salsify, and I haven't even left the shale trail

1049 Off the shale now, and making switch-backs across a saddle shelf about half way down the coulee slope. It's the kind of place a rattlesnake clan might select for a hibernaculum site, and in fact I once came upon a large stone effegy of a rattlesnake while walking in this area. I saw it just the once and was never able to find it again. I don't know if it has been concealed by the grass since, or whether somebody destroyed it, or if it was a spiritual thing... something shown to me that wasn't as physical as it appeared at the time. But though I've tried to locate it again on several occasions each year since, never have I seen it again. Today I'm not completely prepared to search for a hibernaculum. My footwear is all wrong, I have no safety stick to sweep in front of me, and I've been suffering from an eye infection which has left me having to wear glasses. My vision is so impaired that no glass can appropriately deal with it, so normally I wear contacts. With the glasses, not only is my sight unclear, but my peripheral vision is extremely warped and I get strong glares from the Sun

1110 No luck yet in locating a new hibernaculum. I've almost walked to the end of this shelf and am nearing the badland cliffs where there are exposures of ancient reptile bones, alligators and turtles. Moments ago, my approach into this cliff area frightened a swainson's hawk, who must have been perched somewhere above on the coulee slope. I haven't seen any of these birds, sikohpiitaipannikimm, for a couple weeks, and I've been assuming they left. As I watch the swainson's wing away, a small family of goldenfinch flitter out of some skunkbrush below me and head for the forest. There's still a lot more green on the trees here than there is at the pond right now

1125 The little boy in me can't help but stop at the fossil beds, because you never know what'll be exposed. Along with all the reptilian bone litter scattered over the ground, I find what looks to me to be the remains of a Pleistocene herbivore's tooth, fossilized almost crystal. That one I take with me to offer as a toy for my magpie

1128 I've now reached the sagebrush flat. There's a few yellow sweetclover plants here, and some insects visiting them - a couple honey bees and a melissa blue

1143 Crossing the flats, heading toward the edge-zone where the downstream cliffs meet the forest and willow thickets, I come across what I suspect is a clover looper, though I haven't seen any of these moths around since early summer. I just see the one. It's color patches are so dark, they're almost black. Not knowing the life cycle of these loopers, I'm curious now whether this is one of the first emerged, if we are going to have a lot of them appear before winter really sets in, and if they hibernate in their mature form

1145 At the forest edge, I notice that unlike the poplars and cottonwoods, and even the saskatoons, the chokecherries have dropped pretty much all their leaves, save those that are so attached that they'll probably remain all winter

1151 I walk past where the forest transforms to willow thickets, in an oxbow area that contains standing water in the worst flood years. I was hoping to fund the ksisskstaki family relocated here, but I can already see it's too dry right now for them to dare attempt to winter. The bulberry brush along this way has been stripped of almost all berries. Probably the waxwings took care of them. I'm surprised their flocks have not found the berries at the pond yet

1202 There is a lot of insect activity at the base of the cliffs overlooking the oxbow area. There are red-wing clickhoppers and road-dusters. I briefly spotted a green-morph cowpath tiger beetle. And above them all, making much more noise, are several crackling forest grasshoppers, hovering and rattling away

1225 There's some kind of wasp event going on here at the cliffs overlooking the oxbow. Several members of a certain yellowjacket species are here, moving back and forth between the long-leaf sage and the clay soil. When in the sage, they rub their back legs over their bodies. Then, when they land on the clay, they find a crevice and dip their abdomen into it. I suspect them of depositing eggs, but if so their eggs must be extremely camouflaged to the human eye, because I certainly can't spot them, even on close inspection

1245 I've finally made my way to the river's edge to check the old downstream ksisskstakioyis, which appears as abandoned as ever. There is no sign of any animals regularly entering the oxbow for willow harvest. I intend now to follow the cutbank upstream searching for signs, but I can already see that no new lodges have been built, and that therefore the beavers who had once inhabited this stretch are gone. The question now is whether they drowned in the lodge or drifted to another turn of the river somewhere, to establish a new home

1302 I walk along the cutbank from the old downriver shore lodge to last-year's upriver one, and sure enough find no food caches in between, no sign of any new dorm however hidden. There are areas where some beavers have come ashore to harvest sandbar willow, but there's not been too much of this activity, even given the rich willow thickets here with which to work. Now I'm sitting on shore contemplating two things. Firstly, I'm considering jumping in the river. I'm not appropriately dressed for it, but this may be my last chance of the season. Secondly, I feel compelled to open the upstream shore lodge and find out whether the residents drowned within. But I know it would be better to wait until I brought a crowbar for this

1308 As I sit pondering, cloud cover blocks my direct sunlight and the wind picks up. I decide not to bother with the swim, but instead to follow a deer trail into the forest toward the inner meadow where I keep a survival shelter of sorts

1321 I find the shelter much as I'd left it at the end of last winter, still in need of further fortification against the elements. Proceeding from there, I've now come to the furthest point of the forest upstream, from which I'll ascend the coulee slope again. All the way through, the forest was quiet. Save for the occasional sighting of a magpie, I saw no one. Even the deer are absent, which is very strange in this season, when they normally congregate here to evade hunters

1339 At the base of the slope is a patch of dark sediment where few plants grow. Here there are lots of road-dusters and other grigs. I'm seeing a curious number of dusky grasshoppers with only one back leg. I don't know if their other legs have been eaten off by predators or if it is a birth defect among this population. In any case though, it appears that the winter die-off is underway. I've just found a large stink beetle feeding at one of the carcasses

1345 The very, very few tufted white prairie asters still blooming at the landslide near the rattlesnake hibernaculum are absolutely crawling with black blister beetles. Obviously these are the last flowers on the slope that they've been able to find

1406 Of course I stop by the hibernaculum to see what's happening here today. As I walk in, I count ten snakes at the main entrance. Some of them look as though their getting ready to shed, and others are so brilliant I have to assume they've recently shed. Moving along, I find no snakes at the second entrance, but I encounter a large rattler in the tall grass nearby. It apparently was either hunting or moving between the dens, and when it sees me it retreats to the third entrance. I'm a bit shaken by this encounter, and the wind is so strong I wouldn't be able to hear a younger snake warning me if I came too near. So rather than continue my survey without the proper footgear, I make my way back out

1420 It doesn't take long to hike between the hibernaculum and the coulee rim. Here within view of the truck, I startle (and am equally startled by) a female ring-necked pheasant. She bursts impossibly out of some short grass in front of me and provides my final encounter of this afternoon's visit

1740 Sspopiikimi - hitting the trail for our dusk stroll around the pond, scoping out what's new at the turtle waters

1755 Just walked the length of the pond along the shale trail. We saw a lone adolescent coot midpond, and the food cache if the ksisskstaki family continues to grow. When we get to south-pond there are forty or fifty mallards, lots of males among them. Finally it seems the drakes have returned. They are skittish though, and have already flown off to either north-pond or the river. Still no sign of the expected wigeons

1811 Though the mi'ksikatsi have departed, we sit down on the south bench and look out over the waters. There is a muskrat below us. It's diving down to pull stalks of narrow-leaf bur-reed, hauling these to shore, and munching on the white bases

1813 Next to appear is a member if the ksisskstaki family. It paddles out in our direction, than dives down for milfoil, which it munches while floating on the pond surface

1832 Leaving the bench behind, we walk down toward the peninsula to check the status of the bulberries. They're still not dropping off when we give the stems a good shake. There are a very few cherry-faced meadowhawks down here, clinging to the plants. We also saw a single variable darner buzz past

1843 It's getting dark already by the time we move around the south marsh, following the levee, and sit down again on the river bench. From here we can see a small flock of aapsspini in the water beside the river island. Another small flock has just flown down from the coulee rim to land in south-pond. Apparently, this is going to be a night roost area until things start icing-over

1853 Excited about the geese, we've dropped down into the forest main and are currently at the blind overlooking south-pond. There are thirteen aapsspini all packed onto the big island. As usual, one of them is standing guard, two more are on half-alert, and the others are resting

1920 Continuing on, we walk the forest main north then climb back in the levee walk. It's really getting dark now, and there are more geese coming in. All we can see are their silhouettes as the pass near. We count nineteen descending to the river island, and a pair dropping in south pond. There are other flocks as well that we can only hear. It would be nice to come back out here at dawn and find out how many are spending the night

07 October 2010

The Canopy Is Falling While The Sulphurs Mate

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll First Mallard Drake Returns (29Sept10)

1807 Sspopiikimi - a bit late to the pond tonight, considering the season, but we came as quickly as we could after my class. If nothing else, we'll at least get a walk around, the minimum, but important to accomplish at least a few times each week. We're trying to at least make it out to the garter snake hibernaculum before the shadow of the coulée rim, cast by the setting Sun, falls over it

1813 The quickest route to the south river bench, below which the hibernaculum is located, is by taking the sunwise route along the shale trail and levee-walk. As we move, I see the late blossoms of all the regular flowers for this moon. The asters - tufted white prairie, gumweed, hairy golden, and showy. The clovers - yellow and white sweetclover, and alfalfa. Feeding at the flowers of the latter are pink-edges sulphur butterflies, one western white, and a fire-rim tortoise shell. We see redwing clickhoppers on the trail. And just as we come to the top of the levee-walk, a merlin swoops past at nearly eye-level, carrying something in it's talons, which it soon begins tearing apart from a perch atop a cottonwood that overlooks south-pond

1818 There has been a noticeable change in the number of a'siitsiksimm leaves that have turned color in the canopy of the forest main. A week ago, at least half had still been green, but now yellow is dominant. In addition, almost all of these yellow leaves have heavy brown spotting, as though they are already rotting or burning on the trees

1826 When we get to the south river bench, we sit down to enjoy the colors of the forest on the opposite shore, and their reflection on the surface of the Oldman as it darkens with dusk's shadow. There is kingfisher chatter coming from the owl wood behind us. Our arrival may have interfered with the bird's dinner prospects

1833 I've just checked around all the rocks of the garter snake hibernaculum, and it seems we're too late in the day for them. Not surprising, I suppose, given how shadowy it is now. There are still a lot of spurge hawk moth larvae around, four of them within view of the river bench. But as Mahoney has noted, their arrival has come after the leafy spurge seeded out, so their utility as a control agent for this invasive plant is minimal at best

1837 Continuing our round, we find ourselves once again surrounded by clouds of male mosquitoes on the levee-walk past the south marsh. They've been resurrected by the heat. Here also, the slope is colored with tufted white prairie aster and showy aster that I fully appreciate, knowing that they are the last flowers we will see for a while

1843 Arriving at the south-pond bench, we see in the wide pool five female mallards feeding together in a group, and one lone male mallard, off by himself, the first to return for the end-of-season assembly

1847 Just as we start to walk away from the south-pond bench, a flock of fifteen aapsspini fly in from downstream. It looks as though they might land here, but then they make a wide counter-sunwise loop and pass by again, this time really considering landing, but at the last minute flying back over the forest main to come down somewhere by the big river island. Probably our presence is what made them hesitate and, ultimately, move to an alternate site

1853 Making our way out, following the shale trail along the west length, we pass by another group of five female mallards dabbling, and not far from them three coots. Several members of the ksisskstaki family are up and moving around. One of them swims parallel to us as we walk, eventually dipping under the surface around the transition to north-pond

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllll The Canopy Is Falling (2Oct10)

1522 Sspopiikimi - out for our afternoon walk, on this breezy but warm day. We're early enough that we should be able to have some encounters at the garter snake hibernaculum. Who knows what else. Everything finally seems to be drying out now. Looking for some mysteries to learn from

1527 Our route is counter-sunwise this afternoon, and starting along the shale trail we're seeing lots of the usual small grigs (two-stripe grasshoppers and red-wing clickhoppers). There's also plenty of the pink-edged sulphur butterflies around, and western whites. Three coots are feeding midpond. A few meadowhawks and damselflies remain, and a big variable darner just flew past

1533 There are eight mallards within view at south-pond, all female, no sign of the drake today. Some are sitting on the islands, others dabbling in the wide pool. There's a turtle basking on one of the logs where usually there would be several, on such a warm day. I suspect some have already dug themselves deep into the sludge at the bottom of the pond

1551 Moving along the levee, rounding the south marsh, we note all the same flowers and insects that have been present the last couple weeks. The only changes seem to be that some of the redwing clickhoppers are mating, and that there seems to be more road dusters now

1603 There's a spurge hawk moth larva inching through the now-very-dry patch of leafy spurge in front of the river bench when we arrive there. We figure it is trying to locate a plant that's not already wilted. Checking in on the garter snake hibernaculum, I spot only one large snake coiled beneath a boulder that I can peek under by laying my head to the ground. I thought there'd be more out today, given the heat. But perhaps, like the turtles, most of them have already nestled into their winter shelter

1627 We've walked down to the blind overlooking south-pond, which was quiet, and are now making our way through the forest main. The leaves of the canopy are finally falling, littering the trail with crunchy yellow. Not much to speak of by way of a visible insect presence in the forest, an occasional dragonfly or damselfly. I stop at one point to photograph some of the grass before it completely dries out. I'm still a ways off from learning all the grass identifications here

1645 Hiked out of the forest at north-pond and made our way around to the vehicle without much event. More sulphur butterflies and road-dusters. The season's definitely winding-down here at Sspopiikimi

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllllll Pink-Edged Sulphurs Mating (3Oct10)

1129 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - another warm day in Sikoohkotoki, and I'm out here to stretch my legs and hopefully get some learning in. One goal is to take pictures of as many different species of grigs as I can find before their inevitable die-off

1150 One of the changes from my last visit that's immediately noticeable as I begin making my way down the slope are the flowers. The remaining broomweed blooms that had recently been host to so many insects are now completely played-out. There's the odd akspii flower still open, but these too are withering. Lots of small grigs underfoot, and of course I recognize the two-striped species among them. There's also a few of the pink-edged sulphur butterflies moving about. One of them appears in midair to be a white but, when it lands, a second and more obvious sulphur comes to mate with it. Once they're bonded, facing opposite directions (perhaps to keep a better eye out for predators), I'm able to get a close look at them and confirm that they're both pink-edged. The site they select for their intercourse is on a stem of buckbrush. Even close-up, they blend-in perfectly with the yellow-green color of the buckbrush leaves

1204 While scanning the buckbrush, I come across some kind of dark assassin bug, almost beetle-like in appearance, waiting from within a tiny earthen cave for it's prey to pass. I also see a dark-morph cowpath tiger beetle, which I seem to encounter far more frequently than the green variety, and also several of the fat, black ground beetles who look and carry themselves in all respects like stink-beetles, but with a body far more stocky

1302 I've just finished making a slow and careful survey of the rattlesnake hibernaculum. Walking through, I counted five snakes at the main entrance, one at the second burrow, three at the third, and none at the fourth. I've set up my video camera right next to the third entrance and left it there, walking back out. On my second pass, I came across a sixth snake making it's way to the main hole. All together ten adult rattlers within view. Haven't seen any of the younger ones, who must also be here. I suspect there are close to (if not more than) twenty others who are underground at the moment. And given this change in the basking population, combined with my observations of fewer garters at their hibernaculum this week, even though it's unseasonably warm, I wonder if the reptiles are responding more to the angle of the Sun than the actual temperature, and beginning their winter rest

1326 I'm sitting up on a small ridge immediately overlooking the hibernaculum, waiting a bit to see if I can capture any decent footage from my camera left at the third den entrance. I thought I might find some insects up here to watch, but no luck so far. A flock of small birds just passed by, high on the coulee rim, too far away for me to identify

1338 Got too bored sitting on the ridge, so I made my way back down to the camera. There appears to have been a bit of movement in my absence, but not what I was hoping for. There are snakes visible in the entrance, but I'm hoping they will come all the way out to bask. For now I'm taking the risk of leaving the camera in place and wandering away to continue my broader survey

1402 Not too far from the hibernaculum there's a section of coulee slope where we had a landslide at the end of last winter. Just at this landslide is a nice patch of tufted white prairie aster still very much in bloom. And given how few other flowers remain elsewhere on the slope, this patch is absolutely teeming with insects. Pollinators here include the ubiquitous black blister beetles and redbelted bumblebees, as well as variegated fritillaries, drone flies, Melissa blues, sphex thread-waisted wasps. Also present are several predators of these and other insects - ambush bugs, brown marmotated stink bugs, an unidentified yellow and orange crab spider, and a chorus frog

1428 Still hanging tight at the aster patch, because as far as I can tell this is the best gig around at the moment. I've been trying to get macro shots of all the critters engaged with these plants, which includes those I've already named as well as half a dozen others I don't recognize, mostly smaller bees and flies

1454 I've returned now to the hibernaculum again to retrieve my video camera. A couple more snakes have surfaced at the main entrance, but it doesn't look like a whole lot has transpired where I set up to record. I'm going to start making my way back up to the rim now. Still haven't had an opportunity to check out the forest and floodplain for a while, there's just been so much to take in with the insects above

1528 I'm back up by my vehicle, having made numerous stops along the slope to photograph some of the grigs I don't know, as well as others like the redwing clickhoppers and road dusters who I do. Think I've got a decent collection of insect photos connected to the late-summer flowers for this moon. Next we enter Iito'tsstoyii (When-Cold-Arrives). Of particular significance for me today was witnessing the mating of the pink-edged sulphurs, as the focus of traditional Blackfoot phenology is the mating cycle, rather than the first appearance

Note: The grigs later identified by photo were clear-winged and dusky grasshoppers. Also, film footage from the third entrance of the hibernaculum was better than expected. One snake remained visible in the den the whole time. Three others left the hole and moved very close past the camera. One of these three returned (which accounts for the two new arrivals noted basking at the main entrance before I left). At one point, a grasshopper scurried past the den and the resident snake came out quickly to inspect it