24 January 2011

Pike Misfortune

IIII ) lllllllllll Sick Coyote (16Jan11)

0926 Sspopiikimi - finally feeling well enough for a walk at the pond, after almost two weeks absence. Doubtful over this frozen period that very much has changed. Certainly the magpies who greet us at the north end have not. They must be relying heavily on food caches and coyote dung in this cold

0939 We're too late to see the geese this morning. They've already left the open water crag on the river, and the crag itself has closed up considerably since our last visit. As we climb the levee by north-pond, about thirty simitsiim pass low overhead, moving downstream. Several minutes later, they pass again in the opposite direction, and higher above the forest canopy

0949 As we approach south-pond and the high-level bridge, still walking the levee, we spot a coyote down on the river ice. It must have either heard us, or smelled us, or even just sensed our sudden attention, because without looking at us it stood up and began to trot across to the opposite shore. It was followed by another, then another, then another... five coyotes in all, an entire pack cross the ice and disappear into the forest on the other side of the Oldman

1009 Like with the river crag, were presently we see one goldeneye, the spring at south-pond is more closed than before, and here there is a mallard drake. The duck departs at our approach on the levee. The coyote pack we saw were evidently hunting the forest main. We may follow their tracks in a bit. First we want to check the owl wood. But there is interesting things even in the short bit of coyote trail we see. When we followed them a couple weeks ago, we found a very brown patch of urine. Today, one of the urine patches on the levee has red blood in it. Also, we find part of a dung pile, the other pieces having been stolen by magpies, whose footprints tell the story. I try to set my video camera up to catch the kingfisher breakfast at the spring, but unfortunately we left our gear in the truck overnight, and it's too frozen now to function

1030 The owl wood is alive with the crickety chatter of waxwings. A congregation of about a hundred of them are perched high in a cottonwood near the last remaining bulberries. Surveying the wood, all other patches of these berries have been cleaned out. All that remains is an occasional prickly rose hip. No sign of the great horned owl couple, they may be staying mostly in the forest main. The two raccoons are still hibernating away in their house. The only other sign we see are the tracks of deer

1117 Leaving the owl wood, we climb the levee again and drop into the forest main. There are pike rippling the surface of the spring as we pass. The coyote pack has woven paths all through the forest, from one side to the other, hunting apparently for voles. We find places where they've dug into the subnivian zone. From their dung, it's apparent they've recently eaten a deer... there are a lot of the hollow, grey hairs mixed in, and much of their dung is heavy with calcium from chewing the bones

1135 Considerably frozen, we climb back up the levee again at the north end of the forest main and make our way back around to the truck. My thoughts are on food, and I'm reminded of how much I've been slacking in our project to secure nourishment from these places, rather than the grocery stores. A big pike would go down pretty good right about now

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll Pike Death (22Jan11)

0157 Sspopiikimi - out for an afternoon walk on this relatively warm day. The chinook has eaten a lot of the snow, leaving the pond ice glaring and exposed. And we are greeted right away by a pair of niipomakii hunting in the silverberry and two ravens gliding overhead

1417 We take our usual route sunwise around north-pond and up on the levee to the cubank overlooking the Oldman. Out on the downriver side of the island there's a family of five aapsspini. They're right at re site where the Island Couple nested last year, and we suspect it is them with their goslings from summer. There's no open water near them, so they can only be laying early reclaim to their old nest site. This is the first hint of such behavior we've seen yet this winter, but it's to be expected. All will have to claim their nests in the next moon

1442 We sit briefly on the levee bench looking out over the river forest. A little ways upstream, there's a magpie giving rapid triple and quad calls from a bush on the edge of the cutbank. These calls, I recognize, are directed at us. There's something over there the bird wants to draw our attention to. So while Mahoney continues along the levee, I drop down into the river forest and toward the magpie. As I approach, it flies up to a tree branch to watch me. I'm expecting just about anything - a pheasant, rabbit, porcupine, some kind of animal that the magpie wants me to kill. What I find, however, is down on the river, just below the perch from where the magpie was calling, there is a new crag of open water against the cutbank. There are signs in the snow all around this bit of water that the pheasants, deer ad coyote have been stopping off there to drink. As I look down upon this scene, the magpie departs. I've seen what it wanted us to notice, what would be a perfect ambush site were we allowed to hunt here

1450 For once we are over-dressed, and just the walk through the brush and deep snow is enough to make me start sweating. I don't want to sweat. I've been too sick lately to risk evaporative cooling. So I climb back up the levee and we immediately take another break at the river bench. There, we find a coyote dropping that is comprised completely of grass. We wonder if it is the same animal with the kidney issues that has had blood in it's urine

1506 Something terrible has occurred in the pond. When we leave the river bench, before entering the owl wood, we believe we see dead fish in the south-pond spring. He hike around to take the easier route through the forest main and past the duck blind. When we arrive at the scene, we find eleven pike floating dead in the open water of the spring, which is no larger than our living room at home. They range in size from about ten inches to two feet in length. There's no telling how many others might be dead under the ice of the pond, possibly thousands if this was a pond-wide phenomenon. The remains do not look to be extremely recent, they may have died as much as a week ago. One had been almost entirely consumed by what I assume were the pike minnows, just a backbone with a tail. Off in the owl wood, the kingfisher is chattering, annoyed, waiting for us to leave

1520 It's possible that these fish got iced in at the small spring when it was twenty below last week. During our visit last weekend, I did note the water in the spring rippling from fish when I followed the coyote tracks down there. This seems more likely than a pond-wide kill, given that the water there is very shallow and that we had a good stretch of cold. Probably these large pike starved to death, confined in this small area

1540 Leaving Mrs Aapohkinniyi to her work, Mahoney returns to sit at the river bench, while I move into the owl wood to check on whether, with this chinook, the raccoons have risen. I don't have to go far into the trees before I find confirmation in the affirmative, a maze of raccoon, coyote and deer tracks that had to have been set down in the last day or so. Still, I want to peek in the coon house. As I go along, I purposely swing past the trees where I've been waiting all winter for an oriole nest to drop. It's hanging in there still. No sign of the resident owl couple. Soon I'm at the raccoon house, and inside I find just one still sleeping away. It's the larger one. It's partner, Curl, must be the one who's on the move. Perhaps she'll find the dead pike

1614 Mahoney meets me at the other side of the owl wood. She has walked above, scanning the treeline, but no sightings of Curl. The dusk shadow has crept over us, and the geese are already starting to return, so we'll begin to make our way out. To go easy on her knees, Mahoney is taking the levee while I hike north through the forest main. I stop at the spring again, and this time fish one of the giant pike out of the water, so that Derrick's magpie relatives can feast (if they aren't superseded by coyotes). Again I hear the chatter of the kingfisher as I linger at the water's edge

1629 About half-way through the forest main, I encounter one of the mule bucks. It still has it's antlers. I imagine the other two it travels with are bedded down just beyond where it stands, at the edge-zone to the wet meadows. Other than this deer, the forest is quiet. I reconnect with Mahoney at north-pond. We are planning to visit again at dawn tomorrow

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Mallard Increase (23Jan11)

0828 Sspopiikimi - dawn patrol under heavy, cold winds, the aapsspini families struggling to make their way up to the stubblefields on the coulee rim

0843 We quickly make our way around the end of north-pond and up to the cutbank above the river. The Sun is just cresting the horizon and the geese have already all departed, a sure sign that the coyotes are near. I'm sharing this thought with Mahoney, and just the she points upstream. A pair of coyotes are running our way along the ice. We sit down to watch them. They keep looking back behind them like something has frightened them. When the pair get directly in front of us, they cut into the forest on the opposite side of the river and disappear. A few minutes later, a jogger appears on the levee walk, probably completely unaware of the disturbance he's caused

0900 We hike the levee ourselves toward south-pond. I'm curious to see what has become of the massive pike I dragged out of the spring yesterday. As we near the area, we can already see magpies diving in that direction from various trees in the forest main. But as we come within sight of the spring, it's clear that I'll have to hold off on my fish investigation. There are ten mi'ksikatsi in the spring, more than we've seen here at any one time this winter. Eight drakes and two hens, and we don't want to disturb them. We'll go sit on the river bench for a break, and then head into the owl wood instead

0931 The owl wood is much the same as it was yesterday afternoon, a maze of deer, coyote, and raccoon tracks. We find evidence at one bulberry bush, ringed around and considerably stomped down with tracks, that Curl was able to find some fruit during her excursion yesterday. This morning she is back in the coon house with the larger animal who's most likely her sister. At one point in our walk through the wood, we also encounter a white-tail doe. She stands silently staring at us until we glance away, then hurries all too quietly through the trees away from us. Our only clue to her whereabouts comes from a magpie following her and giving triple calls for our attention

0957 We walk back along the river cutbank toward south-pond again, and the spring. The kingfisher is here, trilling from the canopy of the owl wood, waiting for the mallards to depart so she can take breakfast. We decide to set up on our log seats above the spring to watch, and our presence quickly convinces the mi'ksikatsi to leave. Soon, hopefully, Mrs Aapohkinniyi will come over and make her dive among the floating pike carcasses

1024 When the kingfisher refuses to come out of the owl wood after a half hour, we give up on waiting. Conditions are not ideal with the high winds, and we need to stay warm. We decide to do the same as yesterday... Mahoney will walk the levee back to north-pond, and I'll take the forest main

1036 The forest is as absent of any noticeable animal activity as it was yesterday. But before I walk through it, I stop down at the spring to look at the large pike I dragged out during our previous visit. It's still relatively untouched, though the magpies have definitely visited it. They took only their favorite morsel, the eyeball