24 April 2011

Rattlers Awaken To Tiger Beetle Mating

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Claiming Mi’ksikatsi Teachers (21Apr11)

0901 This morning's story about the negligent killing of the whooping crane by an adolescent, who perceived it as nothing more important than a big, white, feathery target was a strong reminder of how flawed our public and popular education systems are. Our children go through so many years of useless exposure to "educators" who, for the most part, can hardly be considered exemplary thinkers or worthy role-models. Under such guidance, they are forcibly subject to countless exercises of short-term memory - training in the ability to read, comprehend, and recite on cue incredible amounts of trivial garbage that they will never need in subsequent years, and that in no way helps them appreciate or realize their potential as human beings embedded in local ecological systems. We're living in an era when university graduates with biology degrees can speak at length about cell structures and replication processes, but can't identify, and usually don't even see, the birds who visit their backyards. Is it any wonder we're facing so many environmental crises?

1523 Sspopiikimi - a nice afternoon for a pond visit, cloud-covered but warm. Mahoney and I walk in at north-pond and take the counter-sunwise route along the shale trail, stopping along the way to check on the thatching ants, who continue collecting short sections of grass stalks and hauling them down the entrances to their hive

1538 The Mid-pond aapsspini couple whose nest was found ruined a few days ago are still lingering near it, and today there are seven couples keeping close to the ksisskstakioyis. Our favorite Gosling Couple at the mouth of the subpond canal are incubating safely. In the south pool, there are five aapsspini couples, in addition to the incubating Big Island and South Marsh nesters. There are also more coots here now, at least three that we've seen, enough for the orgies to begin. Some of the redheads too have finally returned, two drakes and a duck. We're too far away from them to tell if the duck is the one we call Scabby

1553 We're currently sitting on the south-pond bench. All but the nesting geese have moved off toward the ksisskstakioyis. But now mi'sohpsski

is here, feeding on milfoil right in the middle of the wide south pool

1612 We hike over to the next bench, by the river, moving along the levee-walk and passing the owl wood. A pair of flickers move together through the trees. There's a different quality to the air today. Mahoney senses it, and I agree. It feels like winter's gone. Soon, we expect, the forest canopy will erupt in leaf

1700 Our walk north along the levee, following the forest main, is quiet. There are a few female robins around, and a redwing male chipping from high in the canopy, but little else to note before north-pond. Here, we have the resident mi'ksikatsi couple, the ones we've observed acting territorial over the past week. Mahoney and I have decided this pair are going to be our teachers over the next couple months. The mallards are so skittish and elusive here at the pond, it's been difficult for us to learn much about them. But perhaps if we focus on spending time with this specific couple...

1724 We pass about half an hour with the mi'ksikatsi this evening, watching them paddle around north-pond skim-feeding. The female seems to be the lead, determining where they will go. At one point, she dives underwater, something we don't see mallards do very often. It makes us wonder whether she might be a hybrid, or if this is just the way mallards normally bathe. While we watch, an aapsspini couple arrives. They too begin paddling around, dipping to taste this and that. Another goose couple shows up and are immediately chased away. Once gone, the initial couple make their way into the reeds and the female waddles up on a bulrush tuft to check on what we presume may be another cache. She scopes it out quickly, and then the two paddle away from shore again

1737 As we round north-pond to leave, the mallard couple follows us. A second pair is making their way in from the south, and when our drake sees them he takes off in flight to chase them off, pursing far out over the river before turning to come back. Meanwhile, his wife hides in the reeds and waits for him to land. When he does, she begins giving a quacking call to let him know where she's hidden, and he paddles over to meet her

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll Ant Dramas By The Bat Tree (22Apr11)

1204 Sspopiikimi - it's a warm, blue sky day. Mahoney and I have walked in to sit by the bat tree at north-pond and check on our mi'ksikatsi couple. The resident pair are far over this afternoon, feeding near the midpond cattail stand, but we expect they'll come back this way

1209 From where we're sitting, we can see a large painted turtle basking in the north reeds. There's a hawk of some kind, gliding on thermals at an impossible altitude above us. And right beside our seat on the cutbank is a thatching ant colony whose hive is deeply punctured in several places from flicker raids

1240 The flickers aren't the only predators to this thatcher hive. As I watch one of the entrances nearest me, I notice a fight is underway with a single intruder of another species. Ultimately, this raider wins the battle, slays his enemy, and drags his carcass away, right past all the other thatchers. I follow, and the victor leads me about a meter further down the cutbank. Here there is a colony of his own kind. Their hive is not at all conspicuous. Even their entrances seem nothing more than tiny, natural fissures in the earth. It is into one of these crags that the slain thatcher is taken. Other of this second species are hauling in small winged insects, midges of some kind. While I observe this, a hungry female flicker comes to land on a branch of the bat tree. She inspects us briefly, then flies away

1301 We have lost track of our mi'ksikatsi couple, who never returned from the midpond cattails. So we decide to walk, today taking the sunwise route. We stop off briefly at the extreme end of north-pond, where one of the older asparagus plants lives. None of the new shoots are up yet, but we clear away the old tumbleweed stems in preparation for their arrival. From there we climb up on the levee-walk, where we can get a bird's eye view of the beaver canals leading from north-pond to the midpond cattails. There are several turtles basking along this stretch, and we catch a brief glimpse of a muskrat, but still no sign of the sneaky mallards. Strangely, Mahoney has found a giant water beetle floundering around on the levee. How or why it got up here, we haven't a clue

1320 Since we can't see the mallards anywhere, I decide to cut down through the forest main to the wet meadows to scope things out, while Mahoney continues along the levee. Just before we separate, we find a green-morph cowpath tiger beetle hunting the open shale gravel of the levee. The sight of this beetle, compounded with the presence of basking turtles, has me itching to go visit the rattlesnake hibernaculum. They are associations I have with the snakes awakening

1400 Down at the edge zone between forest and wet meadow, I make a cursory inspection of the thick buckbrush where the north end mallards usually nest. There's no indication yet, as far as I can tell, that they're caching. While moving along, I notice two things. The first is that there are now fire-rim tortoise-shell butterflies around. The second is that there's a pair of mamia'tsikimiiksi lingering around the old nest in the big bulberry patch. I can't help but go check on them, as thorny as this exercise is. But what I find is that the old nest has been re-twitted in such a way as to be absolutely impenetrable. What very little opening there is to the globe has been situated facing the forest, and there's no way to climb up and peek in without bringing the supporting bushes down. The only way I will know when or if these magpies actually use it will be when they start incubating and the female flushes

1434 Mahoney and I rendezvous again at the trail leading to the south-pond duck blind, and we hike down that way together. From this point above the wide south pool, we can see that the three incubating aapsspini nests have survived another night. For the Marsh Couple, they're about half way through the ordeal. In two weeks or so, we should see all the waterfowl congregate to greet their new, yellow goslings. Normally, this Easter weekend would be the first opportunity for us to locate caches. But this has been an odd winter, with Saommitsiki'somm, and so in spite of the Gregorian calendar, which doesn't account for the occasional thirteenth moon in it's tokenized twelve month system, the geese are right on schedule

1501 Rather than continue around the west side of the pond, we figure we'll turn back and retrace the same route back. Most of what we could see from the other shore are the geese, coots, and ducks we've already been able to check on from this side. Before turning back though, we hike a bit further south to peek in at the garter snake hibernaculum by the owl wood. No surprise, these late sleepers are still a no-show. I've no doubt the rattlers are basking this afternoon though. Perhaps tomorrow I'll have a chance to confirm

1527 We're both tired at this point and, not having bothered with breakfast, hunger is becoming a distraction. All the same, we do make several stops along our walk back north, coming across mourning cloak butterflies, clover looper moths, and noting the emergence of buffalo bean shoots. When we arrive again at north-pond, the turtles are still basking, but our mi'ksikatsi couple have not returned. Strange that they should be gone so long after we've observed them on several occasions defend the site. Why would they spend their midday elsewhere?

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Rattlers Awaken At Tiger Beetle Mating (23Apr11)

1218 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - it is with much anticipation that I arrive at the coulee rim above the confluence on this blue sky afternoon, greeted by the songs of meadowlarks, and ready to hike down the slope to the little shelf where I expect to find my rattlesnake friends awakened

1243 There's still a few hard-packed snow drifts yet to melt in the shadows of the coulee rim, and all of the grass is flattened toward the earth. At close range, there appears to be very little green emerging. No flowering phlox, no pale, feathery leaves of musineon. Just a few shoots of new grass, no more than an inch or two high. But when I cast my sights wide, taking into view the coulee slopes as a whole, I can see where there is more moisture, and a green that is swelling beneath the dry winter yellows

1324 This summer, I would like to begin a phenological sketch journal of some of the designs and patterns nature has created here in my back yard. I am stopped for this purpose to study the very young leaves of a thistle plant, just beginning to climb above the flattened, grey-dead foliage returning to earth from the previous year, when close by a coyote begins barking and howling. I look over and see that it is sitting on a grassy shelf a little ways below me. Sitting down, I wait and watch the dog. It cries and howls for a bit toward the forest below, perhaps expecting a partner to return. But when no others respond or come to meet it, the coyote begins slowly moving away along the rim of the shelf. I follow, and it leads me past the hibernaculum, then up and over the ridge where the nighthawks nest. As the coyote passes over the ridge, I lose sight of it. And when I myself crest the ridge, the animal finally sees me, and quickly trots off over a large hill in the distance. I will never catch up to the dog now, but on the side of the hill that it has passed over, I believe I see what could be a den. Perhaps after checking in with my slithering friends, I will hike over there and have a peek

1423 For the next hour, I am with my snakes. They are indeed awake, as anticipated, or at least some of them are, the prime adults, neither senior nor juvenile. Our visit is calm, relaxing even... and reassuring. There is no anxiety, no tail shaking or neck-curving as I walk among them. At the main entrance, several of the reptiles bask, and the one on top of the pile casually moves through the grass to approach me, raising his head to lick the air from a couple feet away, tasting my presence, before just as calmly returning to the basking ball to find a new, warm position in the bed. At the far entrance, there is just one snake, lumpy with a vole-full belly. She allows me to move up and stand right beside her, never once becoming tense. I view them as such delicate neighbors, and I worry for their safety. But every time I see these snakes emerge after surviving another prolonged winter underground, or when they return at the end of their summer wanderings to have babies, it gives me hope

1528 Departing from the hibernacula, I again climb the ridge that the coyote led me up earlier, and begin hiking toward the potential den site on the other side of this drainage. The area is all natural shortgrass prairie, and here I find that there are a few phlox flowers beginning to bloom, as well as a white, ground-hugging townsendia. There are also new green vetch and violet leaves. When I eventually reach the suspected den, it turns out to be a shallow and dry spring below some chokecherries. There is a thatching ant nest nearby, a dome, but it's not the common species. These ones are all black with a single silver stripe. They look more like those that we observed raiding thatchers at the pond yesterday. Eventually, I hope to recognize all the ant species here

1612 Since I'm already on the far side of the drainage, I decide to continue on over the hill in the direction the coyote took. This brings me ultimately to the grey ammonite cliffs, and though I still can't seem to locate the coyote den, this is territory I don't cover very often and there are events underway here that are worth witnessing. Here, the musineon is out and starting to bloom. On several occasions, I see stink beetles scurrying about on the exposed earth cliffs. And their are field crickets in the same areas, inhabiting shallow tunnels. The main event, however, is the mating of the cowpath tiger beetle. Everywhere along the trail I come upon them, couples of both the green and black morph varieties, the female held tight in the gripping embrace of the male's mandibles. I had wanted to check in on the owl nest in the forest, but with so much insect action underway I think I'll continue following these ridges instead

1704 My shadow is growing long already. It's hard to believe how quickly the day slips by out here. I continue following the cliff edge toward the confluence, and then hike downhill toward the path that will take be back past the hibernacula to my vehicle. I'm starving hungry. On my way down the hill I encounter many more tiger beetle couples. There's one here I've never seen before, all black with no striping at all. On the same hill, I also find in bloom kippiaapi, prairie crocus flowers. And pollinating them are the first honeybees of the season

1719 Reaching the trail, I march fairly non-stop up to the coulee rim. By brow is beading with sweat when I reach the top. Surprisingly, given that there's still a couple hours of daylight remaining, I encountered very few insects along the way, and those I did see were more of the same. About halfway up I heard the distinct call of a chorus frog coming from the slope above me. I stopped walking, and the frog stopped singing. Soon it will be Matsiyikapisaiki'somm, and the frogs will be making their way down to the floodplain, gathering by the hundreds and thousands in the shallow oxbow still-waters on the downstream end of the forest, for their own mating celebrations

20 April 2011

Synergic Engagements

IIII ) lllllll Redwings And Shovelers (12Apr11)

1729 Sspopiikimi - out for an evening walk with Mahoney, brought her chair in case her knee gets tired. There's a pair of flickers and a robin in one of the trees leading to midpond, and we stop to check on the thatching ants, who still seem to be occupied only with bringing sections of grass stem down through the entrances to their hive

1744 Straight across the pond from the ant hill, in the wet meadows, an aapsspini raucous breaks out... a couple is chased away by a gander. We squint to search the reeds and eventually spot a goose back in there. This is the pair who chased off the heron over the weekend, but departed when I approached. I assumed, from this behavior, that they had no cache. I searched the shore all the same, but missed it, because it turns out they're positioned on a small, self-constructed island in the reeds, surrounded by water. It looks like the goose is incubating now

1748 The couple who has been chased go to a different location, the grassy area of the wet meadows between the aforementioned nest and the ksisskstakioyis. Including this couple, there are five aapsspini pairs and one oddball on the grass strip. With the arrival of this chased pair, one of the other couples fly over and appear to be protecting an area near one of the beaver canals. I wouldn't doubt they have a cache there now

1759 Coming in toward south-pond, we find four aapsspini pairs and an oddball feeding on the golf greens. We can't see anyone at the Gosling, Subpond, or Big Island couple's nests, so I figure they're still caching. None of the eaters on the golf green seem hurried enough to be incubating. There's also a mi'ksikatsi couple near the subpond nest. The female is calling incessantly, even though the drake is sticking close to her

1812 The quacking mallard and her drake paddle out into the wide south-pond pool. There, they converge loosely with two other couples who paddle out from opposite sides of the pool. Then the loud couple take flight and make a big loop out over the river then back around and off toward north-pond. One of the other couples nearest us then takes up with the quacking, and soon they too fly off toward the river. Not so mysterious, I think this behavior is a result of our presence. Meanwhile, the Big Island aapsspini couple return from the golf greens, and we watch the goose go to check her eggs. She's definitely caching, but not yet incubating. We can see, from the south-pond bench, the Marsh mama sitting her nest, with her gander standing guard in the shallows below the duck blind. The lone coot is also still out this way. He (gender assumed) paddles off toward the peninsula

1901 Rounding south-pond, Mahoney continues alone along the levee-walk while I move to survey the shore of the wet meadows, or at least those areas I can access without gumboots. I find no new caches, even in those sites being fairly heavily defended by aapsspini couples against their own kind. Unfortunately, when I go to check on the subpond cache, I learn that it has been dug-up and raided, probably by raccoons, or maybe the heron. There's nothing but shards remaining. But it's early yet, the couple can easily try again, and the site was pretty damp to begin with. Any sense of loss was for me balanced by gain when I arrived at the cattails toward north-pond. Here I find that the first redwing blackbird has returned. No sign of mohkammii today

1917 I rendezvous with Mahoney on the levee-walk above north-pond, and she reports that the mi'ksikatsi on this end are still chasing off other couples. We then head around the bank toward the path to our vehicle, passing along the way a house sparrow (odd for this place) and the first pair of returned shovelers

2328 The first year we took the time to become familiar enough with the geese to locate and gather a few of their eggs before incubation began, there were just three couples at the pond, and only one succeeded in bringing their clutch to term. Two years later, as we continued to stay engaged, there were six couples nesting at the pond, and three of them hatched their eggs. This year, there are eleven pairs of geese attempting to nest here, and nine more on the neighboring river island. It will be interesting to see how many goslings are raised this summer, but in either case it seems clear to me that when we enact our natural role in ecology, everyone benefits. The mainstream conservation ethics of disengagement is mistaken and condescending. It treats timeless relationships as dead or in need of artificial improvement, it pretends that wild places are different than human places, and it presumes that we are incapable of responsible engagements

IIII ) llllllllllll Pelicans, Turtle and Osprey (17Apr11)

1119 Sspopiikimi - it's a very wet and snowy morning, but in spite of my battle with what feels to be the onset of a wicked throat and lung cold, I could not see putting off my visit for another day. The snow that's falling now is trailing moisture from makoyisttsomo'kaan, the wolf cap that arrived a few nights ago. I need to check on the aapsspini nests and caches to see if any have been abandoned

1140 The birds are in rare form, apparently very hungry. Walking in at north-pond I'm set upon by robins of both sex, dark-eyed juncos, house sparrows, magpies, even the male redwings. There are probably a hundred birds following me. I have never seen birds at the pond behave like this, and I can't just ignore them. This is our place together. Mahoney and I gain a lot from these feathered associates of ours, and they're asking me for food. I'm turning around to go buy them some

1224 I return with $20 worth of mixed fruits, nuts, and seeds, a jar of peanutbutter, and some beef liver. I dump the latter on a log for the magpies to find, and spread about half the mixture of the remainder along the shale trail at north-pond. The rest I pack in my bag in the event that I encounter similar circumstances at south-pond

1259 Not wanting the birds to think I'd arranged some kind of entrapment, I walk away just as the juncos arrive, figuring I can move to south-pond and work my way back through the wet meadows. As I hike along the levee-walk in that direction, the first pair of pelicans for the season pass overhead, following the river upstream. When I get to the trail leading out to the duck blind, I cut down into the forest and head straight to the south marsh. There, I find the Marsh Couple diligently incubating still, despite the fact that there's a wall of snow built up on the rim of their nest. I wade in to get a picture of the mama laying low on her snowy mound, and in passing through some submersed sedge grass I encounter a small sspopii, one of the painted turtles after which Mahoney and I named this oxbow pond. It's probably a few years old, though nowhere near the size of some of it's elders. I pick the turtle up out of the water to have a good look, and she's really beautiful. No signs of battle or prior attacks by any of the herons and such who visit this place. Just a perfect little beauty, with bright red designs across her belly

1329 Now I begin my survey proper, moving north along the wet meadows. I already learned, about four days ago, that the Subpond Couple's egg cache had been located and raided by predators. I'm glad to see, however, that the Gosling Couple's nest is now being incubated, and that it's quite securely surrounded by water (at least for the time being) near the entrance to the subpond canal. I'm tempted to go near, so that she'll stand up and show me how many eggs she has. But even with the water as it is, I don't want to do anything that might bring predators her way. So I continue on. There is a pair of aapsspini acting semi-territorial by the ksisskstakioyis. This may be the Subpond Couple preparing to give it another go, or it could be new nesters altogether. Either way, I find no sign of a cache. The lone coot is out this way, along with several mi'ksikatsi pairs in the wide south pool. I don't think any of them will start hiding eggs until at least the trees begin leafing out. I notice also that the ksisskstaki are eating a lot of rabbit willow, something they've mostly abstained from until later in the summer the past few years

1403 Of course the ksisskstaki are also dining heavily on their normal seasonal fare as well - the bulrush and cattail roots that abound. I'm aware that in many places, though not necessarily here, the starch from these roots comprised part of a traditional indigenous diet. So when I arrive midpond to a pool within the cattail stands where the ksisskstaki have been pulling and eating these plants, I decide to pick up one of their discards, split it in half lengthwise, and give it a go. What I find is that, flavor-wise, it is much like the musineon biscuit root that grows on the coulee slopes, just a pure white starch with relatively few fibers. Better yet though, there are good pieces of it floating all around in the water, discarded by the beavers, making for very easy gathering. Luckily for me, I have a grocery sack, and it takes no time at all to fill it

1432 Near to where I gather the roots is the Midpond Couple aapsspini nest, a small island among the reeds that Mahoney and I had assumed (by our view of it four days ago from the opposite shore) was a muskrat lodge. Wading out to it today though, I learn that it is constructed by the goose herself from small bits of reeds very likely discarded by the beavers. Unfortunately, whether by predator or by the big snow, this nest has been abandoned. The couple remain near, but there are only two eggs, both in the water, and one clearly eaten-out by a gull. The second egg is in good condition, and it quickly sinks, so I will be taking it home on the off chance that it's still viable for eating. As I walk away with it, paahtsiiksiistsikomm, an osprey, comes to hover briefly over north-pond in search of fish

1509 Though I didn't bring my raft today, the potential for finding abandoned nests and caches on the river island is playing on my mind heavily. I don't want to miss the opportunity. So I decide to go ahead and attempt wading out there, wrapping my phone and cigarettes in a plastic bag and leaving the rest of my gear on shore. It takes a while, and I have to go through fairly strong currents up to my stomach, but I eventually find a route that doesn't require swimming, and it's so worth it. Making a sunwise circuit around the island, I find that the aapsspini residents there now have a whopping SEVENTEEN nests... way, way more than in all the years prior we've been doing this, almost double the usual amount. Only two of these nests were abandoned in the storm, and I'm able to collect seven eggs from them, making eight total today. When combined with what I collected last week, this alone is enough for our ceremony, if they are all still viable, which I suspect most are. I didn't even have to take from any active caches. These I collected today are all salvage eggs, and I think maybe that's why I clued into gathering the beaver's discarded roots too. There's an important lesson in today's visit, about traditional foods, and the potential for minimal impact

1537 Strangely, when I get back to the main shore and cross over to north-pond, it doesn't appear as though the food I brought compelled much interest from the birds whom I'd interpreted as desperate and begging. Even the liver has been left alone. All I can figure is that this has been another aspect of the overarching lesson for today's visit. I'm back at my vehicle with eight aapsspini eggs (the equivalent of twenty chicken eggs) and a heavy sack full of edible, starchy roots, and I didn't have to detract from the life of a single plant or animal to accomplish this

1543 Returned from today's visit to the pond with eight goose eggs (the equivalent of twenty chicken eggs), a heavy sack full of edible cattail roots, and wicked inspiration. I was able to get all of this food without having to detract from the life of a single plant or animal. Not that subsistence killing is in any way wrong. Just that it feels pretty good to be familiar enough with the seasonal behaviors of the animals here, that I can take advantage of brief but predictable windows of opportunity and gather up food resources that they, of necessity, are abandoning. High synergy, this mode of engagement, something to aspire to more often. Could we ever become so connected, aware, and responsive that we're able to carry out our lives - feed ourselves, build our houses, fashion our clothing - in such a synergic manner? This is my challenge for the human race

11 April 2011

Gathering Eggs

IIII ) llll Aapsspiniiksi Nesting (9Apr11)

0746 Sspopiikimi - second day back from Scotland and it's dawn at the pond for me, with full expectations that the aapsspini will by now be establishing egg caches, if not incubating. I can only hope for the former, as we will require some of these for our upcoming beaver ceremonies, and once they're sitting on them it's far too late. Even driving in, I'm seeing lots of gulls, the appearance of these raiders is a sure sign of nesting season. I'm certain there've been many developments in our two weeks absence, and I'll need to work hard the next few days to get up to speed. Unfortunately, Mahoney is recovering still from all the pavement pounding we did, so for now I'm on my own

0751 The big question right off is where to start. As I walk in at midpond, there are two aapsspini couples on the water, spaced out from each other by about fifty meters. This is a good sign for us, because obviously they're not incubating yet. There's also a goldeneye couple here, so the winter birds have not departed. But I can hear robins singing in the forest main and, as I walk the cutbank toward the river - planning to conduct an initial survey of the island - I come across mohkammii, a great blue heron. It is standing still in the reeds at north-pond, near where one of the coot families usually nest, with a mi'ksikatsi couple feeding nearby

0826 I make my way up over the levee-walk and out to the river cutbank, where I count at least eight aapsspini couples as well as several gulls. None of the geese seem to be incubating, but I've no doubt they have egg caches. However, the Oldman doesn't look like it's going to grant me easy access this year. The water is high and brown from the melt of last week's blizzard, which was probably makoyisttsomo'kaan. I make an attempt at crossing anyway, but when I get waist-deep before even nearing the trench that runs along the island perimeter, I know the only way to get out there will be either to swim (not a good idea with all my equipment in tow) or to bring my raft before sunrise tomorrow. I'll opt for the latter

0834 Back up on the levee above north-pond again, and just in time to witness a revealing event. The heron has been slowly walking toward midpond. As it comes to the dogbane area before the cattail stand, two of the midpond geese fly over to meet it, and usher the larger bird away from shore, out into the bulrush tufts. Again, this is a good sign that they have an egg cache somewhere near that dogbane, so I'll drop down there now to find out

0857 I'm moving slowly through the wet meadows now, which are really living up to their name, having retained quite a bit of the flood waters from last summer. As it turns out, there's no cache yet near the dogbane. Both the heron and the aapsspini couple give way at my approach. If there were any eggs here at all, the geese would stay near. I bend down to inspect the ground in several places, an act that normally produces an anxious response in the aapsspini if they're caching, but it's just not happening yet, or at least not where I'm looking. Interestingly, the mi'ksikatsi couple of this end are also starting to act territorial. They give a looping chase to another couple who happen to fly low over north-pond. The female returns to the water first, while the drake continues his charge for a bit. I know they won't be caching their eggs until after the geese are sitting their nests, so no need to scour the forest brush quite yet

0938 Seeing as how the caching's obviously not in full swing yet, I'd like to scout around for insects. But I realize things may be a bit different toward south-pond, where the Gosling Couple and several generations of their daughters and sons-in-law rule. So I continue on, carefully inspecting the shoreline. The beavers' bulrush flotilla (the remains of their winter food store) has already floated to shore, as it does each year. And this time around nobody has tried to set eggs there. I'm always surprised that none of the couples attempt to nest atop the ksisskstakioyis itself. A little beyond the lodge though, at the entrance to the subpond canal, is Gosling Couple territory. And sure enough, they are defending a cache! As I arrive, the pair comes noisily ashore. Mama goes to stand right on the cache, which is concealed with a pile of grass. Her brave gander, without straying too far from his wife, approaches to fight me. Five other aapsspini couples paddle over to watch, these being likely their descendants. Mahoney and I have known this couple for four years, and they are so strong. Unlike most of their kind, the Gosling Couple will definitely lay down their lives to protect their eggs. There's no way I'll even be able to make a count, none-the-less steal an egg from them. They're too strong. If I reach down into the grass to check what they have, someone is going to get injured... maybe me, maybe the gander as I try to protect myself. It'll be bad news. This pair and their children have taught us so much, I'm not willing to risk the offense, nor the danger to them or myself, for the sake of the single egg that I might profit

1006 Leaving the Gosling Couple, I follow the canal back toward the subpond, where there are two other pairs residing. The first of these who I encounter are also caching eggs, as they tell me right away by coming ashore when I approach. It's quite a search for me to locate their cache, hidden very carefully under a padding of grass plucked from the immediate area. While defensive, they are nothing like the Gosling Couple. I am able to secure one of the three eggs they've stashed without incident, other than a bit of scolding. And when I cover the two back up and walk away, they come to check on things are don't seem upset that one is missing. My hope is that they will replace it to make their full clutch before incubation. Given that there are only three yet, this is indeed the optimum window during which to gather in order to minimize my impact on them

1021 The second couple of the subpond have no eggs as yet. As I approach, they move off over land to the wide south pool, which is where I'm heading as well. Like last year, there are just far too many aapsspini residing here for the number of island nest sites available. Many of them will have to either use inferior sites on the main shoreline (as is already happening), or wait their turn to use islands and risk being flooded out before their eggs hatch. This is even more the case this year, with the high waters already covering most of the south pool islands. On the other hand though, the added water in the wet meadows may help them in using the beaver canals as boundaries to protect them from at least the raccoons. Coyotes and humans can still get around these canals fairly easy, and of course the nests are all vulnerable to crows, magpies, gulls and herons

1055 Aside from the egg caches, the other big news at south-pond, thus far anyways, is the emergence of mourning cloak butterflies and the return of aiksikksksisi, the first pair of coots. I still have a lot of area to cover in search of more goose nests, but I've been sitting out on the wet meadows waiting for a couple birders to pass in their casual, individual tours of the south-pond perimeter. While I wait, I lift a few boards in search of insects, and find only a couple of the usual suspects - paederus rove beetles and sidewalk carabids

1116 I may be in for a considerably long wait. One of the birders has taken a seat on shore near the south pond spring. Not far from him, in the thick reeds, I can see a mother goose incubating a nest that she's positioned on a self-crafted island of bulrush stems. I want to at least get a count of her eggs so that we can follow her family's story this season, but I dare not approach while this person is around. Many naturalists and birders subscribe to the dead conservation approach to our relationship with animals. They insist that we should be hands-off, simply observers. My take on things is that, to the contrary, it is our disengagement with the lives of plants and animals that puts them and us in considerable danger. Egg-gathering for the beaver ceremonies is a practice that has helped to maintain an active awareness of our interdependence for thousands of years. And I suspect similar egg-gathering practices have an ancient history worldwide. This is the reason why Easter involves an egg hunt, and to me it's sacrality extends beyond the equinox. In order to successfully gather cached eggs, one must come to know waterfowl intimately, both as species and as individual birds. Anyone engaged in this practice cannot help but care deeply for these and many other animals, and act on that awareness in ways that are mutually beneficial to ourselves and non-humans alike

1214 With nothing to do but wait, I drop down into the owl wood and root around in an old log to see what insects I can find. The log appears to have at least at one time played host to some of the poplar borers, but digging in I find another kind of larvae altogether, a very small orange beetle grub. I also find a red and black click beetle who, though encountered before, I'm not all that familiar with. Finally, there is a single red egg sack and a colony if wood ants. The owls are absent altogether, which tells me with certainty now that they've decided to nest elsewhere this year. And when I eventually return to south-pond the birder has departed and I'm able to wade out to the one visible nest. The goose, very likely the same lady who sat a late nest here in the reeds last summer, and who was flooded out as a result, this season is the first to incubate at Sspopiikimi. She has five eggs set upon a muskrat lodge far from shore, and I think it's very likely she will succeed in hatching them

1244 The Sun is high now, and the dog-walkers are beginning to traffic the area. I make my way back along the shale trail to north-pond and my awaiting vehicle. On the way, I pass a bit of flicker raucous, and find that the females have returned. It's courtship season for them. So much will be unfolding here over the next couple moons, daily changes in the race to successfully raise young during the short period of warmth that summer provides. I'm very excited to be a part of it

IIII ) lllll Crows Nest-Building (10Apr11)

0724 Sspopiikimi - I've set out at dawn again, this morning without my camera pack, but toting a raft instead. I've just finished floating across the silty runoff waters to the river island, and here am intending to survey the aapsspini nesting situation, get a good count of those being established this year, how many eggs each one has, and hopefully acquire a few for our ceremony as well

0807 Okay, it's taken me about half an hour to survey the island and get back to the main shore. Walking south to north I found nine nests in total. Five of these were already being incubated, so we're just a bit late in our gathering efforts with these geese. However, I was able to acquire one egg from each of the four non-incubating caches. With the one I got yesterday by the subpond, we're just under halfway to having enough for our ceremony. There are still several nests to come at the pond itself, judging by the number of resident couples there. The reason the river geese are so far along is that these waters opened sooner. Each of the nine nests/caches on the island had the following number of eggs, from south to north: 4, 3, 1, 5, 5, 5, 4, 3, 3. While all of those with five were being incubated, it's interesting that the remaining two each only had three eggs. The fours were all caches. I've seen as many as seven eggs in a goose nest. Five seems to be the optimal number

1332 Parked by the Safeway gas bar, watching a pair of crows build their nest

1355 What a treat! I noticed this pair flying across busy University Drive yesterday with sticks in their beaks. I knew that if I checked the conifers that the Safeway landscapers had planted, I'd find them. And sure enough, they're building in a tree in a corner of the parking lot near the gas bar where few people ever park. In fact, there's still a big pile of snow here now blocking up most of the spaces. Anyway, the pair is traveling together into the neighborhoods on the other side of University Drive to get their materials. In the half hour I've been watching, they've made four runs, and seem to be using all sorts of different resources, from sturdy twigs, to long vines, to something that looks like wet grass. They are busy, busy... and I'd be happy just to sit here all day watching them. But I also want to get some more phenology work in at the pond

1414 Sspopiikimi - back again for my second visit today, third this weekend. Still trying to catch up phenologically with what's underway here. Yesterday I needed to focus on the waterfowl nesting situation. This afternoon, I'm hoping to concentrate more on insects

1424 I figure a good place to start is with checking on the thatching ants, those that build the massive, dome-shaped lodges above ground in the grass and low brush. There's a couple colonies on my way in to midpond that I know of, and as I suspected they're awake now and busy as ever. I know very little about the lives of these or any of the other ants who reside here... only that they and their larvae are favored food sources for mi'kaniki'soyi, the northern flicker, and perhaps a delicacy I might try sometime. I also know that a generation with wings hatches at some point, and I've observed these colonies on marches across the shale trail and cleaning up the grig carcasses at the end of summer. But I'd like to look in on them during my visits throughout the season this year and see if I can learn more. So at present, as I watch, I'm trying to sort out what those above ground are up to. I see lots of them coming and going along routes through the surrounding grass. Here and there, one will return dragging a piece of grass stem maybe two inches long. These stems are hauled nearer and nearer to one of the many entrances on the dome, and at these gateways there are ants working to push and pull the grass stems below ground, often having to bring them back up, resituate, and try again several times before succeeding in getting them all the way under. What becomes of the stems from there, I have no clue

1447 Leaving the thatchers, I walk the shale trail to south-pond, passing several aapsspini and mi'ksikatsi couples as I go. The Gosling mama is not sitting her eggs yet, but it looks like the Big Island goose (whose nest I couldn't get to yesterday) might be. If so, she'd be the second incubator, the other being the South Marsh mama. It won't be long before I need to start checking the thick brush along the edge-zone of the forest main for mallard caches. Mahoney and I usually wait too long to do so. Hopefully we won't make the same mistake this year

1511 By my estimation, we should still have a few weeks before any of the reptiles emerge from hibernation. All the same, when I get to the wide south pool, I walk down to check the turtle nursery near the peninsula. The bank doesn't look as though any of the hatchlings from the end of last summer have crawled out of their subterranean nests yet. As I survey this nursery, I notice that there are small water beetles out now, though for all I know they may have been active all winter. The bulberries above the peninsula are not yet blooming, therefore no bees. One of the coots is lingering alone in the little pool here, which makes me wonder where it's mate is. And I can see across the pond, by the wet meadows, a single goldeneye drake

1558 Up over the levee-walk from the peninsula, I drop into the owl wood. Here I find there are hatchings underway. The wood is filled with greenbottle flies and micro-moths. I also find single both a baby lygus bug and a tiny wasp that I suspect has emerged from out of one of the many goldenrod galls down here

1627 The wind has picked up, and leaving the owl wood I recognize how tired I've become. My ability to pay close attention to my surroundings and pursue even the basic question (what are they doing?) is waning. It's time to make my way home. I cross the levee again and walk north through the forest main. The niipomaki are singing their "Here Sweetie" song, and I notice in passing that the lone mohkammii from yesterday is still here, hunting in the subpond

0031 Night comprises the shadows or spirits of ourselves and everything in our environment, entangled