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