21 February 2011

Two Fruitless Searches

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Two Fruitless Searches (20Feb11)

1115 Sspopiikimi - very much needing to take a walk at the pond today. For the next week or so, I'll be in Marie Winn's territory, hoping to catch a glimpse of that famed redtail Pale Male along 5th Avenue in Central Park. But I would probably not be at all aware of such alternate tourist opportunities were it not for the influence of Sspopiikimi

1132 We are back to cold temperatures, with the pond completely frozen over again, and snow covered. I head immediately toward the owl wood, hiking the shale trail along the west shore. I can hear the magpies calling from the forest main, alerting everyone of my arrival. I can also hear niipomakiiksi, and there are lots of deer mouse and coyote prints around. But the burning question for me this morning is whether the raccoons have returned to their winter lodge since the temperature dropped and, if not, where they've gone. The recent snowcover should help me resolve the latter, should it come to that

1154 I'm greeted at the edge of the owl wood by a young bald eagle. Darkly colored, I didn't even notice the bird until I was practically right below it and heard the crunching of branches as it departed, moving with heavy wing beats out across south pond, over the forest main, and eventually to the other side of the Oldman

1206 When I drop down into the wood, I immediately see the resident owl couple. They are perched low on a tree right alongside my path, and don't seem to mind my presence at all today. They look at me sleepily as I walk by within a few meters of them. I notice though that the tree they're using has a pedestal nest set against the trunk at a place where it bends almost horizontal. It's not a large nest, but we've known this couple to incubate on minimal surfaces before. They may have even built this one, because I can't imagine any magpies would have used this exposed tree, and it's far too low and small for the redtails and swainsons to have bothered with. The pad of small sticks has owl written all over it

1208 The raccoons are not home, though I really didn't expect them to be. I suspect they are in the forest main, if not the north wood. So I plan to arch around by the river, giving the owls their privacy, and cut over the levee to see if I can pick up their tracks on the other side

1232 Following through, when I initially cross the levee, I swing down to check out the south pond spring. I'm surprised to see there's very, very little open water here right now, even less than there was when the temperatures dipped to minus twenty. I thought there might be raccoon tracks here to follow from, as I know the animals are still cleaning up the remains of the pike die-off from that aforementioned cold shot. But the only evidence of recent visits here are from magpies and coyotes. So I start into the forest with a plan to hopefully chance upon coon tracks while also searching for logs that house poplar borer grubs, and maybe wandering past the large bulberry patch on the wet meadows to see if there's any magpie nest-building or repairing activity underway

1306 After a good half hour or so of entirely unrewarding search for grubs in about a half-dozen logs, I'm beginning to appreciate the woodpecker's gift for locating borer larva. All the logs I test have evidence of previous borer use, but none of them have been recently visited by the birds. I should perhaps reserve my energy until I find a log that has. Meanwhile, there's definitely some territoriality being exhibited by the magpies at the bulberry brush. I'm here now, sitting on a log at the forest edge to watch. As soon as I sat down, one of the resident birds swooped in noisily and flew right to the old net that is in best condition. I may go down there and have a peek

1351 There's nothing too interesting to see in the bulberries, at least so far as I notice. I do however take advantage of the opportunity to collect another bundle of i'naksa'pis, which grows really tall all around this brush. I then continue making my way north through the forest in search of logs with woodpecker sign. All that I find are old, and when I dig in the logs there's nothing to indicate that the borers haven't already eaten their way to adulthood and departed. I know they're here somewhere though. All the logs have evidence of their activities. It's just no easy matter to find them without my hoary guide. What I do come across at the far north end though, is a log with a very narrow hollow occupied by deer mice. They have caches here of chokecherry pits, licorice burrs, and other seeds I can't identify

1436 Leaving the forest main at it's extremity, I again cross the levee and cut down into the north wood. Still no sign of raccoon presence at all, and the situation here is no different. Moreover, there are very few logs in the north wood, and the ones that are here show no sign of woodpecker activity. I wonder if these birds locate the grubs by smell, or if they hear them? Either way, I'm giving up for this afternoon, going home to my Derrick magpie without any of the sweet-flavored larva I promised him

13 February 2011

A Delicious Lesson From Hoary Woodpecker

IIII ) lllllll Catch And Release Rove Beetles (12Feb11)

1336 Sspopiikimi - it's been a week since our last visit, and most of these have been warm chinook wind days. A lot of the snow has melted, with exception of the larger drifts and what remains in the shady bits. The pond itself is still iced-over. We walk the west length and see that there are significant puddles collecting above this ice, the kind of surface melt that will refreeze during the next cold shot, the first major event in the two-stage ice thaw recognized by the beavers

1415 When we get to the peninsula at south-pond, Mahoney decides to take us on a path over the ice and across some of the puddles. There are places where the ice is particularly dark that we stay away from, but for the most part even the ice that's underwater is still strong, and we cross the pond without incident. As soon as we reach the other side, I find a nice old beam to turn over. Underneath there are vole tunnels and a whole host of active insects and others - several centipedes, a small worm, a dozen or more meadow slugs, a wolf spider, two different kinds if sow bug, a handful of black and red paederus rove beetles, and an all black large rove beetle that I've never seen before. As we watch them, a number of chases ensue, with centipedes going after the rove beetles. But it's all catch and release. Rove beetles must not be good centipede food

1437 Since we're so nearby, we head over to check happenings at the spring. The raccoons have continued to feed on the dead pike here. Now only two fish remain, and they are too far out into the water for re coons to reach without taking a swim. There's also been an owl feeding here, as we find when we walk up the bank, move into the forest main, and find a bit of flicker wing remaining from a recent meal. The raccoons have gone through here too, walking the same trails as we do

1513 We walk a little ways along the trail in the forest main, but then lose the raccoon tracks. Mahoney wants to double back and check for them at their home in the owl wood, so we turn around. But in climbing the muddy slope up to the levee, she realizes that her ankle won't handle a tour of the owl wood today. I'm sent in alone to check the house. All I have to do to get into the owl wood is step onto the muddy slope and surf the wet, moving earth to the forest floor. Walking through, I angle over to check the oriole nest bag, which is still clinging by it's fibrous thread to a small branch in the canopy. Then I move directly to the coon abode, but neither animal is in there. This is the third week of absence in a row, so they must be staying in a hollow somewhere else, probably in the forest main. Heading back to Mahoney, I wind through the woods scanning the trees. There I find, on a relatively low perch, one half of the resident great horned owl couple, the male, smaller and darker. In the high winds, he's reluctant to leave his perch and allows me to walk closer than usual as I pass. Then, not far from him, I'm approached by a single niipomakii. I suspect the little bird is in awe of my bravery in treading so near the owl

1541 We follow the levee-walk back to north-pond, looking out into the canopies of the forest main and north wood as we go along. We're looking for hollows in snag cottonwoods that might be large enough to host the raccoons, but we find nothing. There's coon sign all along the way - tracks and scat - so they could be anywhere. We're going to have to make it our mission to get out here when we the next fresh snow falls and relocate them

IIII ) llllllll Sweet, Sweet Poplar Borer Grubs (13Feb11)

1113 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - with Mahoney off to visit the nieces, I plan to pass the remaining daylight down here at my church of the confluencing rivers. It's cold and wind-gusty, cloudless skies and a lot more exposed earth than during my last visit, all expected conditions for this moon

1144 The hike down the coulee slope is absolutely brutal, all surface water and mud, with wind so strong it shoves me sideways several times. Since the ground is exposed, I decide to stop by the rattlesnake hibernaculum on my way down. Not that I expect the reptiles to be surfacing yet, my main concern is to see if there are any signs that their dens have been molested this winter. But all seems well, and I continue struggling on toward the floodplain

1209 When I reach the sagebrush flats, the first echelon of the floodplain, I follow a drainage path thick with hawthorn and chokecherry, looking for dry stems of saa'kssoyaa'tsis that I might collect, bundle together, and set beside the trail to haul up with me on the way back to my vehicle later. I'm still going to need lots of natural twine for the food sovereignty practice I'm intending to adopt, and stinging nettle is one of two plants here that's perfect for the job. Unfortunately though, I'm not seeing any of it as I move along, and eventually I find myself on the riverbank, gazing out across it's still iced-over surface, completely empty-handed

1222 After a short break at riverside, I figure I'll retrace along the line of brush for another shot at the saa'kssoyaa'tsis, and then - succeed or fail - head into the forest to check on the kakanottsstookiiksi and find out whether they've begun to nest again. When I came through last, the porcupines were all up in the canopy. I'm guessing that this afternoon, with the high winds and snow-cleared ground, they'll more likely be found on the forest floor

1253 This time, I'm able to locate the nettle patch without difficulty. I didn't find them on the first pass, because the plants are situated deeper in the brush than I remember from gathering them in previous years. But that had always been in the summer, when I was taking them for their greens rather than their fibers, and in that season they're far more easy to spot. In any case, it doesn't take me long to gather what's available today. And I don't worry much about taking every old stem I see. It's not going to hurt the nettle community any, because they'll be sending up all new shoots. The only impact it might have is on the fire-rim tortoise butterflies who, if I remember right, set their eggs in nettle and nothing else. I should do some checking to learn more about their life-cycle, and thereby more about conscientious timing for nettle gathering

1305 While deep in the brush pulling the bare saa'kssoyaa'tsis stems, I notice two other things. The first is that there's been a porcupine here recently, feeding on hawthorn bark. So from what I've observed, in addition to their poplar mainstay here at the confluence, kai'skaahp also enjoys the bark of skunkbrush sumac and hawthorn during Piitaiki'somm. The second thing I notice here is a beautifully constructed magpie nest with an entrance right on top. I've never seen this particular nest before, though I can't say it's new, because it's so well concealed that I'd likely pass right by. One of it's owners isn't exactly pleased at my find though. Soon it comes to sit above me, giving double and triple calls that I respond to in kind. It's not in full alarm, because it's not protecting anything... just annoyed at my proximity. To show my good intentions, I fetch a piece of peperonni from my pack and drop it into the clay bowl in the nest. Now I know it's not a new house, because I see the bowl is also full of fallen leaves from earlier in the winter

1330 Depositing my bundle of nettle stalks in a wind-break between some brush by the trail, I cut toward the forest, dropping down onto the second and then third echelons of the floodplain. When I descend the bank and row of trees marking the latter, a herd of mule deer rise from the grass before me. There are eleven of them, all does and last-year's fawns. Their direction of retreat just happens to be the same as I am taking to get to the owl nest, so my seeming pursuit makes them a bit nervous. I angle off to give them more space, but follow all the same, and they take me almost directly to the tree where the great horneds keep thir platform. The owls aren't home, they're not using it yet. What's interesting though is that the deer came here to seek protection from a lone buck, who's sitting below the owl tree. When the buck sees me, he stands up and begins to usher - with body language and his own movement - his herd back toward the second echelon (which includes the forest edge-zone, thick with buckbrush). This deer has only one antler, which is something I've been looking out for, the shedding. But when I look more closely, there is still a piece of the absent left antler attached. Moreover, this buck has a really swollen upper lip on the same side of his face. He’s been injured

1352 Continuing in through the forest, heading for the downstream end that's so densely populated with mountain cottontails, I catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. It's kai'skaahp. Sure enough, he's been on the ground, and is now attempting to quickly climb a tree. It takes me a second or two to make the decision to go after him, to respond to the situation and opportunity. In just moments he will be too high up the tree to pursue. I try to break into a run, but the mud beneath my feet has other plans for me, and I haven't gone three steps before I sprawl out in a faceplant. Still, I try to roll with it - pulling my rabbit stick, dropping my pack and rushing forward. But when I get to the tree, it's too late. The animal is too high for me to knock down with the stick, and it doesn't look like I'll be replenishing our supply if porcupine meat today

1443 The downriver end of this forest has a very defined oxbow corridor running just inside the treeline off the sagebrush flats. The corridor itself is dotted with thick clumps of diamond willow, many of them checkered with intricate sapsucker designs. But on the cutbank above the corridor, it's all old forest, and here there are an incredible number of hollow logs and mountain cottontails galore... or at least it seemed so during my last visit, when the contrast against the white snow revealed several rabbits. This time through, I'm finding none of them. I wind my way slowly through the brush, over fallen trees, peeking with my little torch into every hollow I come across. Nothing. No doubt they are sitting still, watching me cautiously as I pass clumsily among them

1600 I follow the oxbow corridor without event to where it meets the second echelon of the floodplain upstream the area that's largely buckbrush. At that point, the corridor cuts toward the river, but I continue following the edge-zone of the treeline. I'm almost back to where I stashed the saa'kssoyaa'tsis when I come upon a male hoary woodpecker hard at work on a log that's on the ground. He allows me to get very close, and to photograph and video-record him as he digs fat, pale-yellow grubs out of the log. I stay with the woodpecker a good while observing him, until finally he's had his fill and wings away into the forest. My curiosity is piqued though and, when the hoary departs, I get my knife and pry a few of the grubs out myself. They are a beetle larva, very likely poplar borer, though I don't know for sure because I only ever encounter those beetles in their adult form. But it makes sense... they are boring through the fallen stump of a poplar tree, leaving sawdust in their wake. How do they taste? It's a good question. Can't be all too poisonous if their systems are full of poplar wood. I pinch the head of one of them and bite off the body, give it a couple grinds between the teeth, roll it over the tongue, and down the hatch. They taste sweet, a very pleasant sweet actually. They’re good enough that I eat another right away. Very nice. I figure to play it safe, I'd best wait to see if there are any ill effects before going for more, but I do grab another few to take home for my Derrick magpie

1630 I pick up my bundle of nettles at the trailhead to climb the coulee slope, and begin my ascent. The Sun is almost gone behind the coulee rim, and the Moon is already high in her pursuit. As I climb, I hear the call of kakanottsstooki in the forest below. Can't be too much longer until they're nesting again

1715 Quick internet search confirms poplar borer larvae, and Derrick loves them even more than me. I feed them to him straight from my mouth

07 February 2011

Did You Know Some Mosquitoes Hibernate?

IIII Granulated Carabids And Hibernating Mosquitoes (5Feb11)

1304 Sspopiikimi - we were going to try and walk the big coulee at the confluence today, check on the owls and find out if they're nested yet, but the access road was closed, and no way I'm making Mahoney hike the muddy slope. Another thaw after another flash freeze, and we're back for a spin at the pond

1316 We stroll around the end of north pond first, climb the levee and head over to the cutbank looking out on the river. No goose family today on the big island, haven't seen them there since our visit two weeks ago. We hear niipomakiiksi in the north wood though, and Mahoney wants to scout around in there a bit before we move on

1341 We don't spend too long in the north wood. It's open and quiet, and we're distracted in philosophical conversation, which we carry with us back to the levee walk and toward south pond. When we near the trail that goes down to the blind, we find a beaver-chewed cottonwood stick. Nothing recent, just exposed by the thaw. All the same, we take it as a sign that it may be time to collect our seven sticks for the end of winter ceremony. So we are ambling off toward the ksisskstakioyis

1402 Out on the wet meadows, I begin turning logs... at least those that will roll. It's a bit colder than during my last visit, most wood is cemented to the earth with ice. One log I try to turn breaks easily in half. Inside, we find a few spiders and hibernating granulated carabid beetles. When we get to the ksisskstakioyis, it's apparent they still haven't broken through. We'll just have to keep an eye on things in the weeks to come

1426 Our next destination is the big clump of bulberry brush at the end of the wet meadows, close to the tree-line of the forest main. Again, on the way, I turn wood. Under one log, I find meadow slugs, wolf spiders, and a single, small unidentified ground beetle. Under another, I find the skull of a small pike, either brought by a rodent or a victim of last year's floods. When we get to the bulberries, I crawl through the tunnel between them to check out the magpie nests. There are two here - one that would require a lot of fixing, but another in really good shape. Perhaps this year they'll use it

1505 We sit down to eat the sandwiches we've brought at the edge of the forest main, and when we're done we begin turning logs on our way through the trees. It's strange that we never seem to find inhabited vole or mouse nests. Most of the logs we look at are rotten, all kinds of molds and funguses, or turned to sawdust inside by ants. I'm surprised at one of these crumbly logs to find two mosquitoes scurrying for cover. We can hear a raven calling by the river, and our kingfisher by the spring

1539 We come out of the forest, climb the levee, and head toward the spring. When we come into view of it, we can see why te kingfisher's trilling. There's a mallard drake occupying her little bit of open water. Rather than disturb them, we drop down into the owl wood to check on the raccoons. They are not in their house today, which isn't surprising, given the relative warmth. But where they might be is a mystery. This time of year, all we can imagine them living off would be insects in rotting logs, or perhaps the dead pike at the spring (which we'll have to get a close look at). As we walk along, we talk about how strange it is that we don't know any Blackfoot stories that feature raccoons. We've never seen any in the bundles. We don't even have a name for them. Were there no raccoons in Blackfoot territory until recently? And if so, what brought them here?

1610 The raccoons have almost definitely located the stinky dead pike. Our last stop before returning to north-pond and our vehicle was at the spring. In addition to the remains of the one large pike I hoisted from the water a few weeks ago, there were four other fish eaten. Three of them, including one extremely large one, had only the eyeless heads remaining. The other had been skinned, in a sense, and all the choice meat and guts removed. This is the one that suggested raccoon behavior especially... I can't see the coyotes either fishing them from the water, or skinning them so carefully in this manner. Perhaps the work of magpies, but again how would they get a ten pound fish out of the water? It has to be the raccoons. With the snow gone, there were no tracks to confirm

IIII ) l Pursuing Sikaaatsisttaa (6Feb11)

1320 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - feeling a bit dark and depressed today, a sense of failure to move significantly forward in our proposed project of dietary transformation, food-sovereignty, and increased engagement with and dependence upon the plants and animals we have become so familiar with and owe such change to. Hoping a walk in the big coulee at the confluence will brighten my disposition, while also offering something real to grow with

1353 Perhaps the thoughts that are troubling me today are here as reminders, in itch of sorts. It's very difficult to take the kind if project we're proposing very far when beginning in the winter, although we surely could have taken it further than we have. At present, however, we are at the cusp of the explosion of another season of reproduction, when all of the foods will be presented one by one. In this lunar cycle, Piitaiki'somm, the owls and eagles will start incubating the first eggs, while the geese claim their nests for the moon to come, Insects will awaken and hatch, and new plant shoots will grow unseen beneath the earth and snow. Maybe my feelings are a call to ready myself to fully engage in this life, in order to bring the project into active practice. These are the thoughts (excuses? motivations?) coming to me as I walk down the coulee slope, moving toward the downriver end of the floodplain. On the slope, I pass by patches of prairie and rhombic-leaved sunflowers, dry and open. The birds have picked off them all winter, and still each head holds a few remaining seeds

1437 I continue down the slope until reaching the bottom, passing along the way an area where a porcupine has been stripping the bark off skunkbrush sumac. Once on the floodplain I head immediately to the forest, and just as I enter come across a hollow log that's being used as shelter for a mountain cottontail. The log has just a single opening on one end, making for a snare site that would almost certainly be successful, a place to commit to memory, since I have no snare-setting materials with me, and would not be able to even check it frequently in the next few days. I use my flashlight to peek inside, to see if sikaaatsisttaa is home. If he is, I can't tell, but I can only see partway down. He'll be close though, in any case, probably watching me right now from some hidden location in the chokecherry brush, maybe where the magpie is calling from down the way

1537 Turns out this thicket of chokecherry and aged cottonwood growing along the cutbank drop to the second echelon of the floodplain is thick with homely rabbit hollows and of course the animals themselves. It is not long at all before I spot one, and I feel compelled by it's presence to at least try to follow through on the opportunity. We have benefitted amazingly, in terms of thought, from the long-term phenology study we undertook when we began to collect eggs for our ceremonies. What more could we be brought into by expanding the traditional hunting and gathering? This has been a constant consideration for at least a couple years. Today, I've come down here after dwelling darkly on our reluctance to follow through and, in a frozen season without plants to harvest, almost immediately encounter a black rabbit. How would one hunt such an animal without snares, which I don't have on hand? Blunt force trauma is the method that comes to mind. I start scanning the chokecherries and within minutes find one that's straight and tall. I cut it down, keeping most of it as potential spear-making material to work with later. But the heavy base I cut off separately, a piece about sixteen inches, a good piece to throw, and I set off to relocate the rabbit. It's still pretty much where I saw it the first time. Now, however, it can see that I'm after it. The rabbit wastes no energy. It sits still in a tight thicket until I am distracted moving around a log obstacle, then it darts away to another thicket and stops again. I continue the pursuit, and this time when I get close it waits to dart until I take my eyes off it. I follow again. Now I wait by where it is hiding, I wait for the rabbit itself to come out, to expose itself in the open. And when it eventually does, I take aim, trow, and miss. The rabbit scrambles, running to a fallen tree not too far away, but further than it's run previously

1622 The rabbit, having considerably more experience at evading predators than I have at being one, disappeared. I sit within view of the fallen tree to let it calm down, and my own relaxation allows the animal just the opportunity it needs to silently and invisibly slink away. When I proceed, it is gone, and so I pick up my gear and start slowly walking through the brush. I don't have to go too far when I catch glimpse of another rabbit ahead. This one disappears even before I reach it. The whole area is a maze if rabbit runs between fallen trees, hollow logs, and thick brush

1732 Eventually I spot a third rabbit attempting to conceal itself in the middle of a tight triangulation of large trees. I drop my gear and get my throwing stick ready. When I approach, the animal makes a fast dash out of the trees, over one log, and into the hollow end of another. I've got it. I quickly pick some old poplar bark off the ground and stuff it in the end of the hollow, then check the rest of the log and find another exit point, which I likewise close with bark. Between the two holes is about three meters of hollow tree trunk. The rabbit could stay in there for a while, but I've got a plan. Using the only string I have available, I quickly rig up a snare at one end with my boot-lace. I remove the bark as I do so, leaving that escape open again. Then I cut a long, flexible switch, a chokecherry sapling, and poke this into the other end. The rabbit flushes as planned, but somehow manages to push the snare loop aside, and dash off into the forest. It was so close, and clearly the fault is mine. There's no reason I should have missed, it was a sure thing. No doubt I should have spent more time positioning and securing the snare just so. But it's a good lesson all the same, because now I'm quite sure if I committed a full day at this place, I'd come home with meat. In a way, I'm satisfied for at least having made the attempt. As I leave the forest to head back up the slope to my vehicle, I see not one but two fat porcupines high in the forest canopy