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