26 March 2011

Wigeons And Killdeer

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Wigeons And Killdeer (25Mar11)

1303 Sspopiikimi - grateful that we've managed to get out here again, for another afternoon before our two week absence. The pond, though still iced-over, is full of aapsspini couples, spaced out in territorial claims. And walking in, we pass dozens of tree sparrows, singing away from concealed positions on the ground beneath thick absinthe

1335 It's a fairly even split between aapsspiniiksi north and south of the ksisskstakioyis - twelve in the former, thirteen in the latter. The oddball is hanging around two of the couples by the entrance of the subpond canal. As we walk the shale trail, we can hear flickers giving staccato calls from the forest main, and somewhere overhead single shrieks that remind me of a killdeer

1356 With most of the snow melted, and just very light flakes falling at present, much of the subnivian vole networks have been exposed - a great labyrinth of tunnels, bedding areas, and waste chambers. It does seem they try to keep all their droppings isolated in hollows, cleared of grass for this purpose

1401 We drop down to explore and survey the owl wood. As we walk through, I'm sure now that I can hear killdeer out at the river, in addition to more geese. Oddly enough, no sign of the small male kakanottsstooki, though we search the trees pretty thoroughly. This is the second week in a row he's been absent, so it seems likely he's moved, perhaps to nest, elsewhere

1420 Mahoney sits down on a log in the owl wood to rest, while I continue on to check out the river. As I'm leaving, there's a magpie giving double calls at Mahoney, and she told me afterward that it continued to do so as she rested, and then while she searched nearby logs for beetle larvae. Meanwhile, I confirm, the killdeer have returned. There are several of them on the ice. There are also seven pairs of aapsspini claiming the anchors of the high level bridge, several more couples on the ice downstream and, when Mahoney comes to meet me we begin hearing wigeons. There's a cluster of then downriver, near the opposite shore

1436 They are five American wigeons - three drakes, two hens, and they're following a mallard couple. Seems to me their arrival is a bit earlier than normal. I've never seen them here with the water still so iced-over as it is. In fact, this is the first I've ever seen them on the Oldman, owing no doubt to the lack of open water at the pond

1451 Walking down to look at the wigeons, as best I can from across the river, I find there are also four goldeneyes down here. They spot me right away and take wing. I then climb back up the levee to join Mahoney, and we drop down the other side into the forest main for our hike back to north-pond. Save for a couple flickers, the forest is quiet today. We don't even encounter the starlings, so I figure they must be arriving in the evenings to roost

1504 Back at north pond, we take a few minutes to look from the cutbank out over the big river island. Only three pairs of aapsspini there who we can see, but no doubt by the time we get back here again, two weeks out, they'll be caching eggs

21 March 2011

Jousting Flickers

IIII ) lllllllll Pintails Return (15Mar11)

1610 A prairie falcon swoops low over a pothole of snow-melt water where the first pintails have landed after their long return flight from Mexico. The falcon comes to perch on a power pole beside the water. I stoop my neck to look up out my windshield at the bird. The falcon, in turn, leans low to glare in the windshield at me. We lock eyes, as we have on more than one occasion. I know this falcon, with his rare grey specked breast. This falcon knows me too, the strange human who always notices him when others pass oblivious. The mutual gazing is too freaky for the pintails, aware as they are that both of us are predators. They take wing, all but one drake who wants to claim this pothole as his own, use it to attract a lady, and live happily-ever-season. Thus begins my drive home from work today, but still no sign of the swans

IIII ) lllllllllllll Jousting Flickers (19Mar11)

1554 Sspopiikimi - out for a late afternoon stroll around the pond, see if there's any new migration arrivals, and whether I'toomisttayi Ksisskstaki will come out again

1609 We set up a video camera by where the beavers have been feeding in the reeds, but there's a lot more open water along the west edge, as well as by the ksisskstakioyis proper, so no telling if our guy will come up on cue. Just behind the lodge, at the entrance of the subpond canal, there are two aapsspini couples. One of them is no doubt the Gosling Couple, as this is their established territory. They make low alarm calls as we near, even though we're on the opposite shore. We also hear and see a lot more flickers than usual. These are definitely recent arrivals

1625 One of the flickers passes overhead giving a staccato call. It lands in a cottonwood behind us and is followed by another. We backtrack to have a look at what they're doing, and we find the two birds engaged in a dance that's like fencing with their beaks. They're so high, I can't tell if they're male and female (and this is courtship), or whether they are both male (and this is territorial). In any case, Mahoney snaps some pictures while I jog back to retrieve the video-camera. Of course the dance is concluded by the time I get back, and the flickers are winging off in separate directions. But it's a good thing I've grabbed that camera anyway, because now ensues an intense battle between two aapsspini ganders - a loner and one that is likely our Gosling Gander. The battle drags out onto the icy surface of the pond, and it's so intense that four other geese eventually arrive to break them up, with some difficulty. When all is done, the loner cringes in the grass to recover, the two couples in the wet meadows return to their proposed territories, and an intervening couple from south-pond departed completely

Note: Examining the photos later, it’s learned that the jousting flickers were indeed both male

1635 We're now at the wide south pool. Here there are two more aapsspini couples - the Big Island Couple, and a pair way back by the duck blind. I suspect either the latter couple or the second pair in the wet meadows are the Tree Nesters

1717 When the geese calm down (at least temporarily), we drop into the owl forest to search for the small male kakanottsstooki. He's not here this evening, it seems, unless we're missing him somehow. We do, however, come across a log that looks right for borer larva. Mahoney suggests I dig in, and almost as soon as I do we find a flatheaded borer grub. We keep at it a few minutes and collect another before moving on, climbing the levee to see that the river has thawed completely downstream, but remains iced to the south. The line of demarcation between ice and flowing water is bizarre, running straight across the Oldman from one side to the other

1748 We can also see, from atop the levee, that there are no ducks in the south-pond spring today, no one at all. We drop down into the forest main and begin hiking north again. Mahoney seems as hooked as I was with the early larva success, and she has me checking several logs as we move through, but so far all to hard or too decayed. Like last week, there are a number of starlings around. We saw seven in a treetop cluster on the way in, and now it sounds like they've spread out, singing all kinds of mimicked and mechanical songs

1814 The raccoons have left tracks all the way through the forest main from south to north along the principal trail. We have no idea where they're bedding at this point, but we know they've not returned to the little abandoned bike jump in the owl wood, where they hibernated. In any case, by the time we're out of the forest main and rounding north-pond, it's beginning to lightly snow

IIII ) llllllllllllll Isocapnia Stone Flies (20Mar11)

1443 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - grey introspective day, and I'm headed down the slope on what could well be my last visit before Sa'aiki'somm. Reluctant as I am to pull away even temporarily from the happenings during this crucial period of migration and the commencement of nesting, duties call us to the UK, and I can only hope that our work there ultimately results in the repatriation of more of the crucial ritual links between human beings and the animals of Kitawahsinnoon

1451 Driving along the edge of the coulee rim on my way over, I can see there's going to be an impressive view once I get down to the river. The snow is gone and most of the Oldman is thawed, but there are blockages, areas where the surface is still frozen, and where the icebergs have piled impressively. I'm wasting no time in getting there, descending a straight path to the floodplain, my eyes scanning the earth around me for those first blooms of moss phlox, yet to appear

1500 When nearly to the sagebrush flats, I stop off at an area where there has been a recent landslide. I make an effort always to explore such exposures, because one never knows what the earth may turn up when it shifts. Today what draws my attention is the terraced pattern produced by the landslide, the way sections if soil held fast by the root systems of prairie grass do not slide down all as one piece, but break apart in parallel, horizontal lines... the typical erosion pattern seen all over local coulee slopes and hillsides. Some have suggested that these lines are the ancient trails of bison. But while these animals may have followed them as they grazed, this landslide is testimony that they did not create this pattern as such

1537 I cross the sagebrush flats, drop into the first echelon of forest, and follow the oxbow corridor a ways. With the snow gone, kai'skaahp has finally come out of the poplar canopy, down to feed in brush closer to the ground. I encounter one such porcupine sleeping away in the branches of a diamond willow clump overhanging the oxbow. The ground here is completely saturated from the melt, making for a heavy, muddy hike. I'm keeping my eyes out for a good grub log, one with signs of recent selection by the hoary woodpeckers. Of course I have an ear alert for the sounds of drilling by these birds as well

1640 Eventually, I transition from forest, through tall stands of rabbit willow, across a sweetclover flat, and out onto the riverbank proper. As predicted, the iceberg pile-up here is awesome, in the true sense of the word. The usual pair of aapsspini who best here in the vicinity of the now-abandoned shoreline ksisskstakioyis have returned. It is great to see them waddling across the frozen wreckage. I arch wide around them so as not to send the geese flying, the set my pack down and enjoy the opportunity to explore. How often does one get the chance to play on a flotilla of icebergs? Here in Kitawahsinnoon, maybe once a year. I wasn't about to walk away without taking advantage. After a while though, I began to pay attention again, specifically to the number of very small isocapnia stoneflies crawling around on the ice with me. The sight of them brings be back immediately to phenology and the day last year, when Mahoney and I first noticed them appearing. Then too it was toward the end of winter, maybe just a bit later than this. I remember we were out looking for cached goose eggs

1728 Moving away from the river, back toward the forest, I first cross a kind of silt and sand-dune area, thick with sweetclover and poplar saplings. Here I encounter tree sparrows. I haven’t seen them for a while, so I assume they’re newly returned, and also soon to depart, tundra nesters as they are. There are at least a dozen of them, maybe more, loosely sticking together. They keep their distance from me, but when I do on occasion close the gap, I find them probing the silty sands. From their position, I can also see the kakanottsstooki nest in the forest. I walk over the check, and sure enough the mama is diligently incubating. The forest is alive with flicker and starling calls

1814 Soon the male kakanottsstooki kicked in his song from somewhere not too far away, and I come across a log that appears to be of interest to the woodpeckers. I dig into it and soon begin finding borer grubs. Many of them are two young yet for my purposes, so I leave them to continue growing. But before I depart the forest to make my ascent back up the slope, I collect a handful of the grubs that are of decent size, perhaps three years into their development

1836 The climb is as arduous as ever. Again I watch the ground for any emerging blooms of phlox or musineon, but nothing yet. Not surprising, given that I'm still expecting a bit of snow and at least one good blizzard before winter's end. All the same, it feels like the Saommitsiki'somm we had has thrown things off somewhat. It'll be interesting to see how it's all progressed when we return from overseas

15 March 2011

I'toomisttayi Ksisskstaki

IIII ) llllll Magpie Roost (12Mar11)

1614 Walking out the back door and heading down for a dusk excursion in our home coulee. With today's warm weather, I just can't sit inside any longer. But I feel a bit naked, having determined to travel light and leave my camera gear back home. Only so much an iPhone can do in that regard

1632 It was a sloppy, muddy mess walking along the dirt road to get out here on the coulee ridge. But as soon as I got onto the grass, that all changed. Along the particular ridge I'm walking, there are several lichen-covered stone cairns. Impossible for me to know whether they were set like this pre-colonization, or whether a farmer who used to work this ridge piled them here. I suspect the latter because they are all at edge of drops into the coulee draws, they're not grown over with sumac, and they don't seem sunken enough. Still, I'm just a short walking distance from an ancient turtle effigy with some of the same ledge-side characteristics. And if the farmer did put them here, no doubt these rocks belonged to tipi rings or other effigies in the past

1706 I head to the farthest draw first, the one dropping down from the turtle effigy, because this is one area I haven't scoped out too often, and I'm always hoping to come across one of the coyote dens. It's a massive area though, this draw, and would require many visits over a period of years to get to know thoroughly. It's walls are fairly steep, though not by appearances. Only in trying to descend do they reveal their true nature. My drop into this draw begins on a brushy drift, where I come across a white-tailed jackrabbit, still very much in his winter fur. Below this brush is an area of tall canary grass, which means there's plenty of moisture. It's probably where the drainage from the rim comes close to the surface. On the lower outskirts of this canary grass, I flush four gray partridge into flight. They are moving in pairs, so I suspect them to be couples

1742 Running along the bottom of the draw is a dense ribbon of chokecherry and hawthorn. It's hard to navigate with my large body, but there are signs that the ring-necked pheasants have no problem maneuvering through. When I first hit this brush, I encounter three female redpolls, and as I cluts my way through, a chickadee follows, giving alarm calls. Right before the chokecherries open to the river at the base of the draw, I find several trees in a tight cluster that are obviously serving as the night roost for some bird, I suspect Derrick's magpie friends. The slender, lower branches of these trees are just dripping in white dung stalactites

1813 At the river, I move downstream, stopping by the shoreline beaver lodge before heading up the next draw. The Oldman is still pretty much iced-over, though there are a few, small open holes, and there's significant puddling on the surface. There are no open holes at all by the beaver lodge

1835 The draw closest to the beaver lodge will lead me straight back home. The climb is a bit more forgiving than the one I descended. But there's a deep crevasse at the bottom for the first third of the way up, thick with chokecherry and dogwood. At the top of this crevasse is a small spring. I'm checking out this spring when I notice a lot of magpie calls suddenly erupting just a little ways above me. It's Derrick's friends, coming in to a communal night roost in some brush by the coulee rim, about half way up the draw. I try to sneak up for a closer look, using a hill to shield myself from their vision. Of course they eventually notice me though and take wing, twenty or more birds, passing over into the next draw, the one I descended. I wonder if they're at those poo-covered chokecherries. A few minutes after they depart, a lone bird comes looking for them, giving triple calls. When they don't respond, it glides away down to the river, giving more calls, in search of them

IIII ) lllllll I'toomisttayi Ksisskstaki (13Mar11)

1449 Sspopiikimi - even though it's only been a week, feels like I haven't been here in forever. Today's the first occasion since winter started that I haven't felt the need to wear snow pants. Not that it's especially warm... I've just walked the west length of the pond and it's still entirely frozen-over. But after the chill we've experienced, a degree or two above zero feels pretty comfortable

1525 I move immediately to the owl wood, thinking that if they're not here today, perhaps I'd walk upriver to the next patch of forest, to see if I could find them nested there. The owl wood is fairly flooded with snow melt, a good test of my waterproof hiking boots. And when I get to the leaning tree, sure enough there's one here. I think it is one of last year's babies, either that or the skinny male. He's small for a great-horned, and he allows me to pass very close underneath him. No female though, that I can find, certainly not on the nest. All the more reason to suspect that this is one of the yearlings

1543 As I move through the owl wood, there are quite a few geese passing over head, small groups of twenty at most, sometimes only a single couple, but many waves. From the direction of the high-level bridge, I hear a familiar sound - the aapsspiniiksi are fighting over claims to each of the eight concrete bridge anchors that are far enough out into the river to have appeal as nesting sites. Indeed, when I arrive on the scene, there are seven couples all shouting out their respective claims and raising an uproar at any of their kind who pass overhead

1623 A male merganser, miisa'ai, flies low over the squabbling aapsspini just before I walk away from the bridge. It appears he's headed far downriver, so I move back into the owl wood to explore a rotting log I'd noticed on my way through the first time. Finding nothing of interest in a cursory check of the outer layers of the log's wood, I continue on and eventually pass over the levee to the south-pond spring. Here I find not only the merganser, but two male goldeneyes as well. They're all fishing, the goldeneyes faring a little better (I suspect) than their returned arrived friend. While the merganser paddles about in the small expanse of shallow springwater, ducking his head under to look for fish, the goldeneyes take long dives under the ice to the north of the spring. Several times as I watch, I see the merganser observing the goldeneyes, swimming up to the edge of the ice where they're diving, and even dipping his head to have an underwater peek at their activities. Why the merganser doesn't give it a go himself, I've no idea. Probably he doesn't like the idea of having ice over his head

1641 The sight of the merganser at the spring gets me curious as to who might be found along the ribbon of open water at the cutbank where I suspect the kingfisher is living (though I haven't seen or heard from her for at least a month). I walk over that way, dropping down from the levee to find more flooding. They coyotes took down a deer here recently, and the magpies cleaned it, nothing but tufts of fur remain. As I come into view of the water ribbon, I startle a goldeneye pair. They whistle-wing across the river to another open site, and there they land close to two male goldeneyes

1705 With the overcast skies, daylight in the coulee is already dimming, and along with it the birds are beginning to sing. It sounds like there are many species in the forest main, but when I again cross the levee and drop down into the trees I find just one - the European starling. The forerunners of the migration have returned. They are mimicking the songs and calls of catbirds, redtail hawks, killdeer, and a whole assortment of southern birds I don't recognize

1734 I hike through the forest main and back up onto the levee at north-pond. Fro

This vantage, way across the ice I spot what appears to be I'toomisttayi, the first to dive, a beaver at a little hole an impossible distance from the lodge. This I have to see up close! I rush to circle around north-pond and get over to that bit of open water. At some point when I'm not watching, the beaver slips back under the ice. But indeed he was here. I find freshly chewed pieces of bulrush at the site. Hoping he'll emerge again, I set up the video camera and move toward south-pond, where there's a lone goose vociferously laying claim to big island. Yes, yes, yes, the seasons are absolutely shifting

1751 On my way back from the goose, I count my strides from the point where I'm parallel with the ksisskstakioyis to the bit of open water. If my stride is a meter long, Iitoomisttayi swam more than two-hundred and seventeen to reach this access to open air. An incredible accomplishment!

1801 Well, doesn't appear as though he's going to dare that swim again right away, so I'm heading out very satisfied with the events I've witnessed