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