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