28 November 2010

Breath Exchange And Burdock Maggots

IIII ) llllllllllllll Breath Exchange (23Nov10)

1257 Sspopiikimi - super cold today, hovering around minus twenty-five degrees. We've had almost a full week of constant, light snowfall, and walking in I see no sign at all of recent human presence. This afternoon I'll be watching the snow for animal signs, and starting a collection of seeds that I can use as a baseline for comparing against seeds I find in dung, corvid pellets, and rodent dens

1259 A set of coyote tracks crosses my path on the trail from the parking lot, and as I come into view of the pond I immediately spot the tracks' creator, or at least one of it's close relatives. There is a coyote over by the ksisskstakioyis. It spots me right away and trots off across the wet meadows, heading to the forest main. This is the first time I've encountered coyotes at the pond in the middle if the day. Normally, I only see them here in the early morning, or hear them at night. I know, however that coyote families elsewhere are sometimes active during the day, but I think the potential for human presence at Sspopiikimi usually makes them reluctant to approach. This afternoon, however, it's quiet and very cold here, so I'm sure they weren't expecting me, and with the snow cover they need all the hunting time they can get

1305 I'd like to observe the coyote in her hunt, but I've no doubt she's watching me right now from some hiding spot either at the edge if the forest main or in the big bulberry patch in the middle of the wet-meadows. My best chance at spotting her again is to move away from the area, until I'm out of view, and then to stalk up along a different flank and hunker down to watch the wet-meadow and pond. The levee that runs along the length of the river provides the perfect opportunity to conceal my movement. So I head to the far end of north-pond, away from the coyote, with intention to climb the levee and drop down into the forest on the opposite side. From there, I can easily move south without the coyote knowing it. But before I carry out the first part of this plan, I stop at the base of the levee, at the tartarian honeysuckle tree, where I notice a fine, fiber nest, probably from a yellow warbler. I blow the snow out of the nest cup, curious as to whether it houses a deer mouse food cache. It doesn't. I am, however, able to collect my first two seed samples here, honeysuckle and yellow sweetclover

1331 I've now passed over the levee and through the north forest to the river. Along the way, I stopped at a Russian olive tree to collect a few of it's seeds, then at a bulberry bush to graze on some of the frozen fruit, eating straight off the branches with my mouth. While grazing in this fashion, I noticed a nest hidden deep in the bush, a thick but shallow bowl loosely woven of grass and twigs. I suspect it is a catbird nest, from the family who we observed with their fledglings in this area during the summer. Blowing some of the snow out of the shallow bowl, I see that it contains a cache of bulberries, and there are deer mouse droppings here and there as well. I leave the nest and move toward the river, where I now stand at the forest's edge, just coming into view of the water. A duck, possibly a golden-eye, flew whistle-winging past a minute ago, moving downstream. And I suspect the bird flying by at the moment is the one that motivated the duck's scramble... a massive, adult bald eagle

1344 The Oldman is almost completely iced-over, though there is an open stream running it's full length. Behind the concealment of trees, I cross the levee again and drop down into the forest main. Here, at the base of a large poplar, I notice some feathery frost that suggests local humidity, possibly rising breath coming from a nested mammal

1405 I dig into the snow at the base of the tree, searching for some sign of whatever is producing the humidity. I find nothing, but the snow itself obscures quite a bit. There must be something living here, perhaps somehow within the tree itself. There's no other explanation for the feathery frost, which reminds me very much of the ice crystals that form around the vents on top of beaver lodges. I will be keeping my eye in this tree. For now, I'm moving on, out to the wet meadows, and into the big bulberry thicket here

1423 I crawl on my hands and knees following a coyote trail, to scurry with relative ease through the tunnels that permeate the brush. About half way through, I come across a pile of coyote shit that's larger than I would expect. I know it has to belong to a coyote though, because of how loaded it is with rodent and deer hair. I can also see that there are bulberries and other vegetable material in the shit. Given the objectives of my seed-collecting project, I figure it best to take a sample that I can disintegrate in water at home

1444 My mind is still on the feathery ice crystals at the base of that tree, and now I can't resist the temptation to climb the ksisskstakioyis and check their ventilation holes. Wave after wave of aapsspini pass, headed south, as I cross the wet-meadows. Soon I'm atop the lodge, and a bit surprised to see that the more intricate ice formations aren't really here yet. We need a more extended period of cold, perhaps. But the ventilation holes are completely apparent and snow-free. I put my face down close to one of them and after a few seconds get a warm waft of beaver breath, which I in-turn breath in. It's scent is a mixture of wood, earth and pond that's difficult to describe. It's another of the unique scents of nature, as immediately enjoyable as the smell of baby snakes. I keep my face down in the ventilation and direct a deep breath of my own back to the residents. A few seconds later, I catch the warmth of theirs again. It's a pleasant exchange

1452 Leaving the ksisskstakioyis, I head toward south pond, and walk casually out over the ice to check on the new muskrat lodge on the small island. There's no sign that the muskrats have come in or out lately, and it occurs to me that this could very well be just an over-sized beaver scent mound. Right now though, it's so cover with snow that it would be difficult to tell

1457 From the muskrat lodge or scent mound, I walk further south along the perimeter of the pond, keeping to the ice, and heading to the river-fed spring. When I arrive, there are all kinds of animal trails leading down to three small open pools of water. They're mostly coyote I think, hard to tell with the snow as powdery as it is. This would be a good place to sit and watch some evening

1505 Continuing on, I climb back up the levee walk and pass between south pond and the owl wood, toward the bulberry and currant patch above the peninsula. As I approach, a flock of about fifty small birds takes to the air from a starting point somewhere on the coulee slope. They split into two groups, one of which makes a surveillance pass low over me, then rejoins the other, and together the whole flock move erratically out toward the river. I suspect they are waxwings, but I'm not certain. Just as they're departing, I notice that The Blonde porcupine is back munching on bulberries. I'm going to try and move close without scaring her away

1546 I've been with The Blonde for a while now, watching her graze on berries and the occasional strip of bark not two meters away. There's a mountain cottontail who's joined us as well, but it's too deep in the underbrush for me to easily see what it's eating. While here, I've collected bulberry and buckbrush seeds, and I saw the large eagle twice more - first flying up above the high-level bridge, then back downriver again. It could be more than one bird, of course. Now my hands and feet are freezing from lack of movement, and I think I'll head back to the truck

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Burdock Maggots (28Nov10)

1156 Sspopiikimi - it's been snowing steady since last night, making the driving conditions treacherous. I'm forced to park in a neighborhood on the coulee rim and hike down rather than parking at the bottom. This is okay with me though. I have a pretty bad cold that's been trying to shut me down the past few days, but my thinking is there's few approaches to kick a bug that're better than a good workout in the fresh air

1219 It takes me twenty minutes just to walk from my car to where I begin dropping into the coulee by the high-level bridge. In the snow, this alone is quite arduous, and I wind up having to strip off my gloves and unzip my jacket just to regulate the heat so that I don't sweat. Along the way, I suck on hips of prairie rose to extract their seeds for my growing collection

1236 I'm drawn to a brushy area near one of the upper anchors of the high-level bridge. There are bulberries here, so I expect to find animals as well. And just as I'm walking in, I spot some movement on the ground, a rodent, possibly a meadow vole, dashing between subnivian entrances. I decide to park here briefly, to see if they'll continue to come out in my presence

1259 The voles stay hidden and, again for temperature modulation purposes, I decide it is time to move on. I don't have to go far, just crossing under the bridge really, before I see a mountain cottontail standing still and silent nearby. I watch and after a few minutes it proceeds to munch on a certain plant. I can't identify the food from where I'm at, so I begin to move closer, and of course the rabbit scurries away. But when I walk up to where it had been sitting, I find that the plant it was eating is a mustard species. It's nothing I recognize right away, but it's tall, with very slender seed pods, and the remains of white flowers. Should be able to narrow it down later. For now, I gather some of these seed pods, along with other samples from chokecherry, stinging nettle, and a catnip-like mint. Moving on

1324 Rather than heading straight down along the easiest route toward the coulee bottom, I decide to take the more difficult lateral route up and down different draws until I'm perched on a ridge high above the pond. I figure, if there are any coyotes or other large mammals around the wet meadows and such, I'd like to know about it before they see me. My best option is the height advantage. As I move, I gather more seeds, prairie onion and a blue flax. The canary grass and crested wheat long ago dropped their seeds, so I'll have to get those in a different season. Eventually, I'm in position to survey Sspopiikimi from above, but the animals I thought I might surprise are not apparent, save for a furry bundle in the bulberries above the peninsula who I suspect is The Blonde

1325 Before leaving the ridge, I pop a handful of skunkbrush berries in my mouth, puckering at the burst of citrus, and roll these around my teeth with my tongue as I walk, extracting the seeds and swallowing the flesh. When I'm about half way to the bottom, I notice there are a couple of recreational schmucks working their way around the pond perimeter on cross-country skis, with a husky dog running between them. A local magpie, one of Derrick's immediate family members no doubt, perches in a chokecherry tree beside me, and we both watch the oblivious couple and their equally unaware dog pass just below us

1402 Soon I'm down to the bench on the cutbank above south pond, and heading into the bulberry and currant stands to confirm whether the furry bundle is actually our porcupine friend. I pull one of the sticky seed heads off a burdock plant on the way, and I'm separating the seeds in my hand, when I find that there's a small white maggot in here, feeding off the burdock seeds. I can't very well put the thing back together so the larva could continue growing. I decide the best thing for this baby is if I take it home, along with some of it's favorite food, and try to help it reach adulthood

1434 As expected, the one in the bulberries is The Blonde. As I walk over to her, I flush one, then another, then a third ring-necked pheasants, two turkeys and a hen, each of whom take off in different directions. The recreators ski past again, this time noticing me and calling out a friendly hello that I recognize as being all too loud for this place. If any of the animals weren't aware of me being here prior to this gesture, they certainly are now. It's snowing pretty heavily, and I've made my way to the river bench. No ducks or geese here today, and no eagle sightings yet. I sit on the bench and separate a mullien head. It's seeds are tiny, like those of tobacco

1506 Already thinking about the pending darkness of sundown, I opt today for an exploration of the owl wood. This will lead me back toward the bridge, where I can start my ascent of the coulee slope again. One of the things I'm checking on in the owl wood is whether or not the oriole nest has dropped yet with the weight of this snow. It hasn't. It's still dangling perfectly from the tip of a narrow branch high in the forest canopy. I collect some tall goldenrod seeds at ground level beneath the oriole tree and move on, now scanning for any of the owls. None show themselves, but I do come across two more ring-necked pheasants, both roosters. They are sitting beneath bulberry bushes, no doubt pecking for dropped berries. When I reach the river again, by the bridge, there is a lone mallard drake in the open crag of water, watching me over it's shoulder as it drifts purposely away

1523 I take it back. The duck is not a mallard at all. As I finished typing that last bit of my notes, I saw it dive. Has to be a goldeneye. I got my camera out and waited for it to come up and dive again, then I ran to cover some distance between us and dove behind a cluster of licorice plants. This is as close as I could get without going right down onto the river ice, and that would be senseless, because the bird would see me right away and vacate. I'm able to get off several pictures between his dives without the goldeneye noticing me. When I depart, I use the same technique, waiting for him to be underwater before I make my move

1550 I want to follow the cutbank along the back of the owl wood, to return and look out over the pond one more time before I head up. So I do. Then I start the climb, hiking up along a brushy draw where I suspect I'll have more encounters. Indeed, when I come to the top of the first steep rise, there is a pair of niipomakii scouring a clump of low saskatoons. They're not interested in the berries, as far as I can tell. They want insects. And being as curious as they are, they don't mind my proximity at all. Rather, they flit several times over to bushes that are even nearer to me, for the purpose of checking me out

1617 Back up on top now, having scared up yet another pheasant and passed by another silent and still cottontail. What a brutal climb. They should make StairMaster machines with a setting for coulee slope with fresh powder over chinook-hardened drifts. People would be busting their ankles at the gym. I'm sitting for just a moment on the rim to catch my breath and cool down. The dusk is settling. I hope the snows continue

15 November 2010

First Ice, Bulberry Cleaning, And Dung Beetles

II Simitsiimiksi (6Nov10)

1631 Sspopiikimi - another comfortable evening for a survey at the pond. Nearly clear skies and a bit of a breeze, a cold night to come, no doubt, but pleasant at the moment

1646 We start with the west length, as usual, which today is absent of all but a handful of small grigs. When we're almost passing the ksisskstakioyis, we first hear and then see our first mallard, sticking close to the wet meadows. Then we see another duck moving north. This one seems a little small to be a mallard, it is more teal-like in profile. But even using glass I'm unable to confirm. Eventually we come to the bench overlooking the south pool, where there are twenty mallards, a mix of male and female, dabbling around the waters near the big island. We're also hearing a peep somewhere out in the shallows, but will need to get around to that side to identify the author

1707 Leaving the bench, we wind our way along the trail through the bulberry brush above the peninsula. It's a hot spot for small birds, which we often neglect to pay attention to. But since so many of the summer birds and insects have departed, died off, or gone to hibernate, this is now one of the places we focus on. This evening, our search is rewarded with the sighting of a house finch couple. No telling what they are up to, because they flutter into view from a low, obscure position when we approach, and then bounce around the bulberries attempting to hide momentarily, before finally winging off toward the forest main

1728 It's bohemian waxwing day in the owl wood, and this is one small bird call we easily recognize. There are about fifty of them clustered together in the canopy of a particular cottonwood tree. Below, their objective... a lone bulberry bush absolutely full of fruit. We've seen all this before in prior years. The flock will position themselves like this, then send a crew down to harvest. When their stomachs are satisfied and their beaks full with all they can carry, the team will rejoin the flock and a new expedition by others will be mounted. In this manner they can quickly strip a bulberry bush of all it's rewards. Mahoney and I walk down to the intended target and sit in some buckbrush to watch. This is an exercise we've done in previous years at this exact location with success. But today, no doubt because there are a great many berries still to be had along the river, the flock erupts with it's characteristic cricket calls and departs, moving in switchbacks to gain altitude high above the coulée rim, then heading upstream

1759 After the bohemians, our walk gets quiet. We cut down through the forest main to the blind overlooking the south shallows, but the peeps we had heard before are gone. From there we continue through the forest, all the way back to north pond, encountering nothing but the rustling hint of a deer mouse or vole scurrying under the fallen leaves. The trees are bare. Soon I'll have to spend a day taking a count of all the nests I can find, those that were invisible to us in summer

III Coyote Playground (7Nov10)

1418 Sspopiikimi - needed to get out and stretch my legs, and ground myself again in a less political, less human-centric reality. The pond is good for that. And I think, as an objective for the visit, I'll check in on whoever's around near the water, then climb the coulee slope to see if I can happen upon the coyote den

1425 Six of the mi'ksikatsi (a couple and a group comprised of three drakes and one hen) are midpond today instead of their usual southern haunts. They're dabbling and preening along the edge of the wet-meadows

1433 In the south pool itself, including a lone drake in the subpond canal, there are an additional thirty-one mi'ksikatsi, all dabbling or dipping, preening and resting. From my position on the bench, I can see several painted turtles, rising and diving in the deep milfoil pool just below. And I hear some small birds chirping from the currant and bulberry thickets above the peninsula, which I intend to walk through now

1502 Curiously enough, the small birds who I heard in the bulberries are silent when I move past them, and I do not see a one, if they are even around any longer. But my next best bet is that they'll be in the chokecherry brush up the coulee draw, and so I start my ascent in that direction. But again, no birds. I am now sitting about half-way up the coulee slope, already high above the brush, and here there is the abandoned entrance of a past coyote den. I know it's no longer in use, because it is thoroughly crisscrossed with the distinctly chaotic geometric webwork of black widow spiders, and I can see two of their egg casings attached within, positioned in such a manner that I'm sure no larger mammal has passed through this entrance in at least a couple months

1527 Just over the next rise, I'm led by way of faint trail to a nice, grassy shelf which is irrefutably within the active coyote home-zone. In fact, it appears to be their playground, littered with deer bones and objects they've found to use as chew-toys: pieces of tattered human clothing, bone-length sections of skunkbrush root, and tube of Tremsil silicone sealant

1554 Above coyote's playground is the highest knob of the coulee rim, sparsely vegetated and, when explored, found to be not actually naturefact at all or, rather, not in the manner of the rest of this landscape, which has been shaped over millions of years. No, this particular knob is a century old at most, and predominantly a human creation... the sooty tailings of Lethbridge's coal-mining history. Thousands of tons of black dust and rock, poured into one of the coulee's natural draws until it appeared itself to be a ridge like any other. I can't imagine that this is where the coyotes den, though it very well may be. But regardless, at the top I find another well-chewed tube of Tremsil

1622 I take a different draw back down the coulee, still hoping to find the active coyote den. This draw leads me straight onto the golf course and, before that, through a rather dense jungle of prickly rose. No den as far as I noticed, but I did scare up a small family of grey partridge, and I passed a couple flickers who were digging for insects on the steep cliffs. Now I am back to the truck, a bit sweaty, and headed for home

IIII ) lll Initial Ice-Over (11Nov10)

1403 Sspopiikimi - big news of the day, the pond has iced-over. It's thin, and the beavers have retained some open pools by their lodge, but there's no longer any doubt that the freeze is upon us

1413 For obvious reasons, there are no mi'ksikatsi at southpond or anywhere else, though I suspect a few will remain here all winter, in the bit of open water by the spring of the south marsh. Today, however, they have no doubt relocated to the river, which won't ice up like this for several weeks yet

1434 There are no juncos, robins, tree sparrows or the like in the bulberry thickets above the peninsula this afternoon, though it does appear they've made significant progress cleaning up the remaining fruit since our last visit. Making our way around the marsh to the river, we find the mallards as expected - fourteen of them, fairly evenly balanced between drakes and hens

1450 We follow a trail upstream, along the river's edge, past the bulberries of the owl wood, many of which have been stripped by the waxwings. At one point, we pass another abandoned ksisskstakioyis on the cutbank, bringing to mind again the question of what has become of all the river beavers. It looks like at least one family may have a lodge against an anchor of the high-level bridge. But where all the others have gone is a mystery

1513 From the bridge, we circle around the back side of the owl wood, where it meets the coulee slope. Here we find an especially dense patch of bulberries just absolutely draped heavy with fruit that, for one reason or another, the waxwings have left alone. This will be the patch I guide my traditional foods students to in the coming week

1533 Next we cut down into the forest main to walk the path beneath the trees. About half-way through, we stop to watch a magpie who is searching the high canopy for what we can only imagine to be frozen insects of some sort. Soon though we are again at the north end, back on the levee, and making our way to the truck

IIII ) lllll Dung Beetles (14Nov10)

1117 Sspopiikimi - after a freezing wind yesterday, things somehow warmed up last night, and as we walk in today we find the pond mostly thawed

1122 We decide to switch things up and move sunwise around north-pond to the forest first, rather than walking the length. Our first encounter is on the paved pathway leading toward the levee, where we find a small, fuzzy larva inching it's way toward some unknown hibernation site. Then there was another of the same just as we crested the levee. They are smaller than the large, fuzzy larva we recall moving about in this season last year. I've been thinking about the magpie we observed in the forest last week, how it moved from limb to limb in the canopy searching. And I compare this with our relatively quick stroll through, observing very little. The magpie offers clues on how to be aware of what we aren't seeing in our haste

1146 From the levee, we drop down into the forest main, then pass through the trees to arrive at the wet meadows. We want to confirm that a berry brought to us the other day by our neighborhood magpies is a Russian olive, and we're right. There's a magpie in the thick bulberry patch in the wet meadows, again reminding me to open my eyes. But I'm torn today between wanting to take it slow on the one hand, surveying the bark and leaf litter closely, and on the other to keep moving so that Mahoney stays warm and doesn't stiffen up

1212 Continuing along the edge zone between forest and wet-meadows, we begin to notice that many of the licorice plants have been raided by rodents for their seeds. This is something we've seen before in winter. The deer mouse (presumably, but not confirmed) climbs up the licorice stalk and clips it off just below a cluster of burrs. It then returns to the ground and opens each burr at one end to extract the seeds. In addition to the licorice-mouse event, I turn a few old, wooden beams, and under one of them I find a number of blackish beetles, a species I don't recognize (but photograph for research), along with an wolf-spider egg sack of an unknown species. The eggs themselves are a bright orange cluster, small pebble-sized, sandwiched between two translucent, circular sheaths. I photograph the egg sack too, and mean to take it with me to try and hatch at home, but a gust of wind suddenly blows it away

1221 When we near the blind above south-pond, there are mi'ksikatsi feeding in the wide pool. We count fourteen, all but two of them drakes. Out on one of the smaller islands there is what appears to be a new muskrat lodge. We've been watching it grow for several weeks, and I'm looking forward to the thick ice if for no other reason than it will allow us easy access to this new feature

1224 We stop briefly at the blind to have a cigarette and catch-up these notes. Here there is a dung beetle, somewhat reddish, clinging weakly to the blind's wooden wall

1249 Not until we're picking up to leave the blind do I notice that there's been another kind of fuzzy caterpillar sitting beside us the whole time. This one is a little larger and more yellow-ish of fur than the others we've seen today. I take it's picture and we walk on, climbing out of the forest again, onto the levee, and around the south marsh

1311 After a brief stop at the bench overlooking south pond, we make our way back to the parking lot along the shale trail of the west length. On this route, we find small, active dung beetles and several short, dark-colored centipedes that have apparently frozen. We should have warmed one up in our hands to see if it would become active again but, not thinking about it at the moment, we continued on

05 November 2010

The Casebearer And The Blonde

IIII ) llllllllllllll Casebearer (23Oct10)

1242 Sspopiikimi - our life has become so thick with work responsibilities this semester that we've had to push our pond and coulee visits to the weekend. Four and five sleeps pass between our visits, and it's no good for keeping up with things phenologically. We'll have to find a cure for this, but at least this afternoon we are out, making a counter-sunwise round

1247 We figure the afternoon, the warmest part of the day, will provide us the best indicator of who's still around, especially as insects go, and we're right about that. Although they're few and far between, we're still crossing paths with pink-edge sulphurs, red-wing clickhoppers and cherry faced meadowhawks along the shale trail that runs the west length of the pond

1301 Surveying the waterbirds from north to south, it appears that the lone adolescent midpond coot may have finally went to go join others of his kind. And the wide southern pool is typically, though not densely, occupied by mi'ksikatsi. I count twenty-nine of them, mostly male, dabbling in small groups along the wetmeadow shore and resting on the big island. As we approached the south bench, we witnessed a male and female mallard in some kind if display together, facing one another, extending and retracting their necks vertically. The female was putting her head up so high that she looked more like a grebe than a mallard. They continued this display briefly, then became suspicious of our surveillance and paddled off

1308 The ksisskstakioyis and the resident family's food cache have both grown considerably as we move closer to the freezing moons. And yet, even at the cusp of temperature shifts, there is still a brave painted turtle basking on one of the south pond logs

1326 Mahoney feels like she needs to move, and so leaves me at the south bench catching up my notes. Once done, I decide to walk down onto the peninsula, which turns out to be a bad move because it only upsets the mi'ksikatsi. They start to make noise and four of them take wing. Before they all fly off, I get out of there and walk through the brush toward the levee that runs between the pond and owl wood. Along the way, I pass an area thick with mi'ksinittsiim, which I am leaving for my traditional foods students to gather later this week

1336 I catch up to Mahoney on the levee and together we go to check the garter snake hibernaculum by the river. Unfortunately, none of our slithering friends are on the surface. It surprises me, but they seem less resilient in the face of cold nights than the turtles or rattlers, both of whom emerged much earlier this year and can still be observed on warm afternoons such as this

1353 Next we head down through the forest main to the blind overlooking the south shallows. We are hoping to find lesser yellowlegs there as we did last week. I was sure I had heard one of their calls when we were at the south bench. But failing to spot any of them, we proceed to the next most likely spot, the subpond. Again, the yellowlegs are absent. Oh well. There's a magpie giving a triple-wok alarm in the forest main. We'll see what's going on up there instead

1412 Once in the forest, we sit down on a long near where the magpie is calling. It moves in the canopy around us and is soon joined by a flicker who gives alarms as well. I don't know that they are protecting anything immediate here so much as just irritated with our presence. While we listen to them, there is a tiny crab-like spider in the buckbrush beside us. It has many invisible lateral lines across which it moves through the understory

1428 When the birds move on, so do we, wandering along the edge zone between wet meadows and forest main until we arrive at north-pond. Here, just as we are leaving the forest, we come across another (or possibly the same) magpie in a clump of diamond willow. It is using it's multi-bird song, and we respond with a double-wok that merely announces our presence. The magpie then dropped down to the ground, turned some leaves, grabbed something large, round and brown in it's beak and flew away

1441 On the trail above north pond and on the way to the parking lot, we come across perhaps the strangest critter we've ever encountered at the pond. We wouldn't have even noticed it had there not been a small caterpillar inching along beside it. The creature is totally camouflaged, appearing like a small, dark seed pod. It's moving at a snail's pace, and through my macro lens I see that it is very snail like in make. The seed appearance of it is only a shell made up of miniscule fragments of stone, inside of which resides a tiny worm-like insect (I say "insect" because it has legs). I can only see the head and a couple segments of this soil-centipede-colored creature as it pulls it's shell along, and when I pick it up it retracts into the shell. Later I learn that it is a casebearer moth larva. What a brilliant treat for the conclusion of today's visit

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Who Eats The Blazing Star (24Oct10)

1238 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - a good place to clear away the ugly sentiments of human-centric discourse and touch base with a reality that doesn't care about the social stations we claim to represent. The residents of this coulee at the confluence don't have their minds twisted by histories and futures. They're just aware of what's real right now. And hopefully, in their presence, I can learn something

1300 It's cold today, almost see-your-breath cold, and it's overcast. Definitely not snake weather. But I head out like last week in search of the other hibernaculum all the same. This time I walk the upper shelf of the coulee slope. And I figure, even if the rattlers are underground, which I'm sure they are, there will be ample signs of their residency if I do happen to come across a den entrance. When I get about half-way along this shelf, I do find something. But on close inspection it seems only to be a rodent dwelling. They have been clipping the seed heads off dotted blazing stars and munching them

1315 Soon I come to the downriver end of the shelf, where it meets vertical cliffs and a steep draw that runs down to the floodplains. There's evidence that a lot of deer have been bedding on this part of the shelf, and I'm curious as to whether I'll find them in the forest today, after having noticed their absence the past few weeks. I can hear agitated magpies in the trees down there. Perhaps they're already alerting the deer of my approach

1339 As I move down the draw, past patches of sunflowers which the deer have casually tasted, the magpies fly in the opposite direction, moving up the coulee slope. There are three of them passing as I reach the floodplain, and several more when I come to the edge of the forest. Here I also find - gathering in curiosity to greet me - a host of the smaller birds of winter, the niipomaki and downy woodpeckers. I decide to sit still on a log, just inside the treeline, to see what they will do

1356 It is the downy who lingers longest, tapping here and there in the bark if the cottonwoods, high up near the canopy. It leaps around into view only briefly a few times, sizing me up and then dodging out of sight again. When I decide to stand, it darts off toward the river

1417 I walk straight through the forest toward the river, and in the time it takes me to do so the clouds dissipate, and the Sun begins to warm the coulee. Just before leaving the forest, I hear the call of a bird I don't recognize. I stop and gaze in it's direction, and just then a mule doe leaps up and takes three heavy hops away. She moves into some bulberry brush, and the bird's song from the poplar above her shifts to reveal it's author as another magpie. The magpie remains, calling down at the deer, perhaps wondering why I don't take advantage of the tell to go after the animal. I'm sure these birds are extremely aware of our potential to provide them a feast

1458 I walk the length of the riverfront upstream, all the way to the black cliffs that separate this floodplain from the next. Along the route, I pass the abandoned ksisskstakioyis, still pondering whether the residents were trapped inside during the floods. I see that, past the lodge, beavers have been coming to gather sandbar willow and strip the bark off these stems at the river's edge. Beyond that, there is gravel, a few drone flies, and a noise that's so out of place here. Screaming and yelling. The voices belong to humans, three guys at the coulee rim over a mile away, with nothing better to do in their lives this afternoon than curse the river. Their existence depresses me

1521 Now I am half-way up the coulee slope. It's a lonely walk with no flowers and just a few dozen dusky and two-striped grasshoppers along the trail. I've not seen any road dusters today, nor pink-rimmed sulphurs, or melissa blues. Not even the black blister beetles remain

1543 I stop in at the hibernaculum, I can't help but do so. Surprisingly enough, given the cooler temperatures, there are five adult rattlesnakes above ground, huddled next to the main den. I don't want to disturb them, so I just pause briefly to take in the sight, these snakes I may not encounter again until winter's end

1553 Back up on the rim and glad to see that my vehicle was not vandalized by the bizarre crew who came here to scream profanities. Don't know if I accomplished what I set out to do here, though at least I've seen what's going on today, and I feel a bit more grounded. Now to go pick up Mahoney and head to the pond

1709 Sspopiikimi - the clouds are back, and with them the cool air of approaching dusk and a hint of mist. We're making our usual counter-sunwise round

1722 Our walk north to south along the length is quiet, not even the flickers are calling. Not until we get to the bench overlooking south pond do we find any of the animals... thirteen mi'ksikatsi dabbling and resting around the big island, and a single magpie among them

1736 We round the south marsh and make our way to the river. In the absence of flowering plants, their insects, and other animals, our conversation turns to the abundance of seeds and berries still here, because most of the smaller birds abandoned soon after the flood. It will be interesting to monitor how many of the winter birds gather here to take advantage

1823 For almost the next hour, we wander both the forest main and the small strip of trees along the river. We're not looking for anything in particular. We stop on occasion to eat rose hips and bulberries. Here, as at the confluence, the river beaver lodges have been abandoned. It's growing dark, and we stop to sit down above the river and talk about the significance of some of the origin stories. No geese have arrived to night-roost as yet

1842 We walk all the way around north-pond, get back in our vehicle, and drive up the coulee slope before the geese start coming. It's very dark now, and the moon is rising huge in the horizon. Large flocks pass over us noisily

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll Return Of The Blonde (26Oct10)

1641 Sspopiikimi - just enough daylight left for Mahoney and I to walk a lap around the pond, on this our first day of snow flurries. Still warm enough that nothing stuck, just a hint of what's to come

1659 We take our usual route, starting with the west length along the shale trail. Just across from the ksisskstakioyis, along our bank, there's a good patch of narrow-leaf bur-reed. As we approach, mi'sohpsski stops there to feed, then dives when it sees we're paying attention

1725 Oddly enough, there are no ducks on the wide south pool today. And at first it seems the only one present is a lone magpie, winging overhead toward the coulee rim. But when we pass by the bulberry thickets, there are tseeping voices, and with a bit of patience their authors are revealed as American tree sparrows. Then, because of our lingering presence, a small, silent flock of dark-eyed juncos flies out of some nearby bulberries and into another plant not far away. I walk down the side of the levee to photograph them, and at that point notice that our old porcupine friend, The Blonde, is here also. There are all kinds of animals enjoying the berry patch today

1756 We walk the south levee, drop down into the forest main and follow a trail north between the trees. All is quiet here, save for the occasional calls of magpies, and for the remainder of our hike back around north-pond and to our vehicle as well. We use this time to talk, to share stories about our day at our respective offices. It's a good way to pass the dusk, and we've worked up an appetite for dinner

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Mysterious Orange (30Oct10)

1338 Sspopiikimi - out for a midday survey and couldn't ask for better weather. Clear skies and low wind, just warm enough to walk with a thermal undershirt, no jacket. We've been having freezing nights

1353 We start off by walking the west length, along the shale trail. There are still the odd pink-edge sulphur and red-winged clickhopper about. Just past the entrance of the subpond canal, a group of ten mi'ksikatsi sticks close to the reeds. There is only one female among them. Past that, we're surprised to see a turtle basking on one of the logs, where the water opens to the wide, and otherwise empty south pool. Here, we sit on a bench. I inadvertently brush against some absinthe in setting my pack down, and the plant sheds a dusting of seeds

1435 From the south pond bench, we walk down into the peninsula and through the bulberry brambles. There is no sign or sound today of the tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, of The Blond porcupine. But there is an orange-breasted, almost robin-sized bird making an uprising chirp, almost like a partridge call. The bird flies away before we can get a really good look at it, and we search with no further success all the way to the river bench

1449 We figure there's not much use in exploring the forest main today. It will mo doubt be quiet. Our best opportunity for observing birds and such will be back at the bulberry brambles above the peninsula. So we make our way over, taking an seat on the levee-walk where we can watch from above. The mallard cluster is here now too, in the little pool beside the peninsula, and a small flock of aapsspini, six members in all, circle overhead a few times, considering whether to land, and deciding against it as an elderly couple walk by

1537 We sit for twenty minutes before I notice that there's a bird high up on the coulee slope, perched on some brush, watching us. I look through my 500mm lens and see that it has an orange breast, and this is enough to send me on a climb up one of the draws out of it's view, while Mahoney remains down below to inform me of it's movements by text. Of course once I arrive on top of the ridge between us, the bird flies off. Hiking down the other side of the ridge, however, I find not one, but several robins and a dark-eyed junco. The bird I'm looking for though is no robin, of that I'm sure

1602 Having now made our presence very obvious, we figure our chances of seeing the mystery bird again today are slim. So we walk back along the west length, the same way we came in, and call this afternoon's visit to a close

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll Few In The Bulberry (31Oct10)

1428 Sspopiikimi - taking a solo stroll this afternoon, while Mahoney promotes the Blackfoot Digital Library at the Confederacy conference. Really I just want to check in and see what birds are stopping by the south-pond bulberry patch, and the brush of the coulee draw above

1443 The doorbell rings, and the one who answers is dressed as the Frack Man, wearing a mask that looks like anyone. He gazes down with a smile and gives the children glasses of water mixed with diesel and radon, wishing them a happy spook day, telling them to trust it. This year the parents get a trick for the treat in their wallets, and it isn't even fun anymore

1450 I move straight along the west length following the shale trail, heading directly to the bulberries, and stopping only briefly at the south bench to jot down a Halloween scenario that crosses my mind. There are no mallards here today, no basking turtles, no lone coots. The whole of Sspopiikimi is in shadow of grey cloud cover

1512 Slowly I walk the narrow, grassy trail that winds through the bulberry brambles above the peninsula. There's a shuffling sound beside me, and I peer into the brush to see the wide eyes of a mountain cottontail looking back at me. From somewhere ahead, I can hear the twits and chirps of small birds. They're up in the young, narrow-leaf cottonwood tree at the end of the bramble. And when close enough I can look through my glass and see that the authors of these sounds are the same dark-eyed juncos we've observed here on our last two visits

1537 I sit on the levee overlooking the bulberries for ten or fifteen minutes, then sling my pack back over my shoulders and begin climbing the coulee draw. This is where I saw the robins and juncos yesterday. But this afternoon, the draw is occupied by just a single magpie and, further up, a blacktail doe

1552 At the top of a high ridge near the coulee rim, I sit down again and look out over the pond. From here I can see much of the network of beaver canals in the wet meadows, and the underwater courses through the pond. If it was sunny with less breeze, this view would be spectacular. I don't come up here enough. It's another dimension to Sspopiikimi I've yet to tap. Up here are the homes of coyotes, badgers, partridge and pheasant. But for today I've seen what I came for, and already it is time to make my way home

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllllll Oriole Nest (4Nov10)

1717 Sspopiikimi - walking in under the shadow of the west coulée rim, already over the pond and river. There's a bit of a breeze this evening, but the temperature is mild. Three mallards slip into the wet-meadow reeds midpond as we approach

1729 Arriving at the bench overlooking south-pond, we see there are two more mallards here, as well as three turtles surfacing in the deeper pool just below us and several pike swimming close to the surface around them. While we sit watching them, two more mallards come in to land, paddle near to the pair who were already here, then drift apart from them

1759 There are some surprises in store for us as we continue. We expect to find small birds in the bulberry brush, so we make our way through above the peninsula, but hear and see nothing. Climbing up on the levee over the south marsh, however, we hear a bird giving alarm calls from the owl wood. Searching the canopy for a source, we see what we believe might be a bird, but looking through glass it turns out to be the fine, dangling, fiber bag nest of an oriole. Nearby, the bird sounds off again, then flies away to the other side of the owl wood. From it's voice and shape, I suspect it is a robin. But seeing the nest, we can't help but think that the mysterious orange bird we saw here last week was a bullocks oriole. It probably shouldn't be here so late in the season, but there are equally odd things going on. There are still turtles out, for instance, and when we get to the river bench we're met by a kingfisher, though we thought we'd seen the last of them weeks ago

1823 Next we start our way back northward through the forest main. I don't know if it's the darkness or what, but I feel an owl presence, and I search the silhouettes of the canopy for any sign of it. This to no avail. Meanwhile, Mahoney is more focused on what she does see, and she stops half way through the forest to make sure I take note of how most of the sweetclover seeds have already turned grey with their dangerous fungus

1839 The rest of our walk is quiet until just when we're nearing our vehicle. Then, all at once, the geese begin returning. We count thirteen landing at south-pond and sixty five at the river, somewhere near the trestle, or perhaps even on it's concrete anchors