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