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