28 May 2011

Coyote, Rattler, And Thunder

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllll Coyote, Rattler, and Thunder (28May11)

1000 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - today is the annual May species count for the city of Lethbridge, and I have been asked to participate by generating a list of all the birds, mammals, insects, herps, and plants in bloom that I observe along my usual survey at the confluence

1012 It has been raining non-stop for more than a week now, so I don't know how many insects will be encountered, and it's very unlikely I'll be able to log rattlesnakes on the list this year, but with the aid of a flashlight and a willingness to peek into holes, we'll see what happens

1034 I begin my count from the moment I walk out my door, where there are magpies and crows visiting our back yard. On the short one kilometer drive from my door to the coulee rim above the confluence, I observe rock doves landing in a stubble field, brewers blackbirds searching for seeds in the same fields, mallard ducks, northern pintails, blue-winged teals and northern shovelers inhabiting prairie potholes, a whimbrel walking the shoreline of one of the potholes, American robins hunting worms on the gravel road, and a western meadowlark singing from atop a powerline. With the window of my vehicle open, I also hear boreal chorus frogs and killdeer

1113 Arriving at the coulee rim, I hear other meadowlarks, as well as Canada geese in the distance. A grey partridge flushes from the grass, and a lone tree swallow flies by at close range. My attention, however, is mainly focused on the ground, taking in the flowering plant species as I start my way down the slope. In the short distance between the parking lot and the bench overlooking the flooded coulee, there are dandelions, two species of musineon, yellow prairie violets, blue penstemon, yellow pucoon, early yellow locoweed, Missouri milkvetch, a ground-hugging purple vetch, narrow-leaved milkvetch, prairie onion, moss phlox (with flowers playing out), goldenbean, butte marigold, colorado rubber plant (with flowers open but no petals yet), bastard toadflax, and tiny spikerushes. Some of the yarrow have buds, but they're not yet open. Pollinating almost every dandelion flower are tiny (photographed) two-winged flies

1155 From the coulee rim to the rattlesnake hibernaculum situated about half way down the slope, I observe more of the same plants as noted above, the only additions being a tiny yellow mustard with a slender stalk growing from a basal rosette of spatula-shaped leaves (possibly small-seeded false flax), plus skunkbrush sumac and cushion milkvetch, both of the latter nearing the end of their flowering cycle. The prairie groundsel is almost in flower, but not opening quite yet. There are several animals to add to the list: a clay-colored sparrow (heard but not seen), a ring-necked pheasant (heard but not seen), a seven spot lady beetle, whitetail deer and northern flickers on the slope, a herd of mule deer along the tree-line below, and a beautiful black widow spider inhabiting the third entrance to the rattler den. The widow not only has the classic hour-glass on her belly, but also yellow and red designs in a line up her back. Really amazing. Unfortunately no snakes though

1301 From the hibernaculum on down to the sagebrush flats and the trail through the brush where I keep my game-cam, the count feels to slows down considerably. I repeatedly observe all the same species as higher up. However, at the transition to the floodplain, there are some new flowers to note: golden currants, saskatoons, saline shootingstar, prairie smoke, white pussytoes, the first-flowering black medick, and a scant few yellowbells that haven't shifted to seed. All the prairie crocus are gone already. There are pink-rimmed sulphur butterflies moving around on the meadows of the sagebrush flat. At the base of the coulee slope, thick with goldenbean, there are Hunt's bumble bees pollinating. I find the larger Nevada bumble bees dormant in the grass, and a very few thatching ants out on the hive. Also nearby, among the dandelions, I see a second two-winged fly (one of the "flower-loving flies" I think) pollinating and find a running crab spider that blends in with the dry grass, waiting in ambush beside one of the flowering heads. As I watch, the spider takes out an unfortunate visiting insect, something like a small leaf-hopper

1340 The game cam had recorded visits by porcupines, coyotes, and several deer over the past week, none of which I suppose can be counted on my species list for today unless I see them myself, even though they have a permanent presence. After resetting the camera, I drop down to the river proper. The Oldman is so swollen, there are enormous trees floating by and the water is breaching the forest. I look around to see what other plants and animals I can add from this micro-environment. There are the leafy spurge, in flower and being pollinated by more flower-loving flies and hover flies. There are cabbage white butterflies flitting about. The trees themselves are in flower: balsam poplar, western cottonwood, narrow-leaf cottonwood. The Sun has come out briefly, and the birds are singing from the forest canopy. I hear and see yellow-rumped warblers, starlings, robin's, redwing blackbirds, and mourning doves. A few mosquitoes are about, not much of a bother, and I see some of the crane flies who are hunting them in the grass. I survey all the trees surrounding the mid-forest meadow, hoping to log the great horned owl family, but they are elsewhere this afternoon, probably perching somewhere along the flooded oxbow where they can take advantage of fleeing rodents. I can hear the approach of a bird that I'm sure nobody else will officially note today. It is Ksiistsikommiipi'kssi, the Thunderbird. No doubt there will be a drenching on the way, so I figure I might as well head back up to the sagebrush flats, and from there make my ascent of the coulee slope

1404 I emerge from the forest at the old cottonwood I call Grampa Tree. It's ancient and massive, with branches drooping to the ground that are larger than most mature trees in the forest. Just as I come into the sagebrush flat, a coyote begins howling and barking in greeting from nearby, low on the slope. I squat down and call back to animal, and it continues it's greeting. I stand up to walk closer, take two steps and stop. My next step would have come down right beside a dark, yearling prairie rattlesnake. It is basking on some grass beside a hole that it has chosen for it's summer den. I crouch down again beside the snake, who is perfectly calm. The whole scene is bringing a lump to my throat. The coyote continues to call at me, the snake rests peacefully within arms distance, and the Thunderbird is now roaring right overhead

1425 When the heavy raindrops begin, I walk. The coyote follows me, stopping now an then to call after me. I return the howls and yips. By the time I reach the path that will take me up the slope, the rain has turned to hail, and there's lightning clashes. I fairly march up to the coulee rim, looking arouforgery little. One final flowering species grows beside the trail in a wet pocket near the top. It is field pennycress. I take a few leaves to munch as I finish the climb, and soon reach my vehicle very pleased with the close of this visit

1427 This world is so beautiful, I've just got a lump in my throat. Twenty minutes ago, I was crouched down in the sagebrush flats at the bottom of the coulee, a coyote calling to me in greeting from low on the slope beside me, a perfectly calm rattlesnake literally within arms reach, and the thunder roaring overhead. It doesn't get better

Birds [22 species]: Black-Billed Magpie, American Crow, Rock Dove, Northern Pintail, Mallard Duck, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Blue-Winged Teal, Whimbrel, American Robin, Killdeer, Canada Goose, Tree Swallow, Clay-Colored Sparrow, Grey Partridge, Northern Flicker, Ring-Necked Pheasant, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Mourning Dove, Starling, Redwing Blackbird, Ksiistsikomiipi'kssi (Thunderbird)

Mammals [4 species]: Mule Deer, Whitetail Deer, Mountain Cottontail, Coyote

Herps [2 species]: Boreal Chorus Frog, Prairie Rattlesnake

Plants In Bloom [32 species]: Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), two Musineon species (one with extremely segemented parsley leaves, the other with far fewer segments, both described as Musineon divaricatim), Tiny Spikerush (species unknown), Missouri Milkvetch (Astragalus missouriensis), Wild Vetch (Vicia americana), Narrow-Leaved Milkvetch (Astragalus pectinatus), Early Yellow Locoweed (Oxytropis monticola), Prairie Onion (Allium textile), Blue Penstemon (Penstemon nitidus), Yellow Pucoon (Lithospermum incisum), Goldenbean (Thermopsis rhombifolia), Butte Marigold (Taxacum officinale), Colorado Rubber Plant (Hymenoxys richardsonii), Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata), Yellow Prairie Violet (Viola nuttallii), Moss Phlox (Phlox hoodii), Cushion Milkvetch (Astragalus gilviflorus), Skunkbrush Sumac (Rhus trilobata), tiny yellow mustard that might be Small-Seeded False Flax (Camelina microcarpa), Golden Currant (Ribes aureum), Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), Saline Shootingstar (Dodecatheon pulchellum), Yellowbell (Fritillaria pudica), Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), White Pussytoes (binominal unknown), Black Medick (Medicago lupulina), Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula), Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), Narrow-Leaf Cottonwood (Populus angustifolia), Western Cottonwood (Populus deltoides), Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense)

Insects/ Arachnids [12 species]: Unidentified Tiny Two-Winged Fly (pollinating dandelion), Seven Spot Lady Beetle, Black Widow Spider, Hunt's Bumble Bee, Nevada Bumble Bee, Flower-Loving Fly, Running Crab Spider, Western Thatching Ant, Cabbage White Butterfly, Mosquito, Crane Fly, Hover Fly

24 May 2011

Food, Intelligence, And Extreme Moisture

IIII ) lllllllllllll Food and Intelligence (18May11)

1142 Some scientists studying corvids propose that there is a link between their high (i.e. similar to us) intelligence and their omnivorous subsistence practices. Corvids locate, harvest, scavenge, cache, prepare and learn about a great diversity of food. I wonder what cognitive depreciations may occur when we rely on corporations to do everything but eat our food for us

IIII ) llllllllllllll Ponokaowahsin, Hover Flies, And Lessons From The Rattler (19May11)

0657 Two important lessons from the rattlesnakes yesterday, not so much emphatic "knowledge" as interesting things to consider. Curiously enough, both were mediated by humans

First, Darin noticed a secondary face in the rattler image I posted, a mask that is deceptively benevolent, meant to mimic, catch and hold the trust of rodent and/ or small bird prey. If we assume the obvious, that we too are a part of nature, and that the rattler's face contains this mimicry because it is adaptive, then should we not wonder whether there are predators employing similar ploys against us? I have long considered the notion that there are now two or more human sub-species, at least one of which is completely and purposefully abiotic in it's agenda. How ironic that an animal this vicious, parasitic sub-human hates most should reveal such a key strategy in the very deception our predators employ... to appear very much like us, while in truth intending to consume us, to feed off our energies, for their own short-term benefit

The second lesson came inadvertently through Cody who, in response to the reposted image with highlighted secondary face, noted that he respects and fears the rattlers. Having grown up so much around snakes, I don't generally identify with the fear of them. Though I have to admit, the first time I explored the rattlesnake hibernaculum and found myself amidst dozens of very camouflaged and poisonous serpents, it took some effort to calm my racing heart. They are powerful, but they are also quite delicate. Every time my anxiety would rise, so would theirs. I recognized very quickly that when I feared rattlesnakes, my anxiety transferred and created real danger. Following this observation, I began visiting them more frequently, and for longer durations, and part of my own work was learning to be internally calm in their close presence. I've mastered that, to a degree, but only by staying out of striking range. When on occasion a rattlesnake has approached me with the obvious intent of making friendly physical contact, as soon as it comes into striking range my anxiety goes up, the snake registers that fear and acts in kind, and both of us are suddenly in danger again. So I have been well aware of the manner in which my own fear can put me in danger. But when Cody mentioned respect and fear, my response was a kind of identification with the snakes. Our fear is exactly what distresses them. Why? Because when someone fears you, the potential for them to act in unpredictable, uncontrolled and violent ways on that fear rises. In other words, the ones who fear you are the most dangerous. This is something the snakes have been telling me all along, but that I've never quite been able to hear correctly. Think about it. If we extend this lesson into our human social affairs, it could be of considerable consequence

1710 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - the road out to the coulee rim is a sloppy mess this evening, owing to fairly continuous rain showers since last night. I'm heading down to snag whatever new images there are off RyeCam01, and to see whatever else I may given the dampness

1737 Though darkly clouded in all directions, there is no rain at present. But the ground and vegetation are fairly damp, enough so that, halfway down the slope now, I'm quite aware that one of my waterproof boots is in need of some repair. There is one insect dominating the scene today, and that is the blood-sucking mosquito. The birds sound pretty happy with the situation. Robins, meadowlarks, vesper and clay-colored sparrows, all are singing. I have noticed a few new blossoms of ponokaowahsin, or yellow puccoon, starting to open. Aside from that, the flowers are all the same. In the forest below, some of the poplars and cottonwoods are showing leaves

1833 I slog my way down to the sagebrush flats, and it is now raining again. At a couple locations on the way, I hear frogs near the trail and make unsuccessful attempts to locate them. Once at the bottom of the slope, I veer off toward the area where I have the game-can set up, but taking a slightly different route than usual. In doing so, I come across first a fairly freshly killed starling, and then a large den system that can only belong to the coyotes. There's no obvious sign that the den is presently in use, but I figure the dead starling is at least a fair indicator. In any case, the location is duly noted for future monitoring. Not far away, at the camera, I learn that the only animal to pass in the last few days has been a night-visiting porcupine. Now I am at the river, where the pelicans are huddled on what little of their island remains above water, and I'm aiming to head through the forest toward an alternate path back to the top

1909 Though thoroughly soaked, I'm glad I decided to route through the forest. It's given me the opportunity to hear the niipomakiiksi and kakkooyiksi, to learn that at least some of the mi'kaniki'soyiiksi are still mating, and to check in on the kakanottsstookiiksi. The owlets of the latter are fledged now, though one of them is standing in the nest, and the other (an ample flyer) is sticking close by. I'm just in time to witness one of the parents fly in with a rodent dangling from talon. The meal is brought to the nest, where the provider and the one owlet share in ripping it apart

1951 My hike back up the coulee slope follows a very grueling, vertical path. As I start out, there are small herds of deer grazing. The whitetails, three of them, depart when they see me coming from the forest. They follow a lateral path along the lower slope, moving downriver. The mules, thirteen of them not nearly as skittish, keep an eye on me as I climb. There is nothing of interest to note until I reach the last shelf before the rim. There, in a particularly wet area where canary grass grows, I find my harvest for the day in a batch of barely-flowering pennycress. I strip the green leaves off a couple dozen of the plants, filling a cargo pocket, and leave three or four times as many alone to develop. While at this task, I find a fly of some sort, a bee mimic, sitting dormant on one of the leaves. I'm easily able to get good macro photos of it for later identification [note: it is a hoverfly species]

IIII ) llllllllllllllll Ducklings And New Goose Nests (21May11)

1006 Sspopiikimi - It's been too long since I've surveyed the pond, a week since my last visit, and that was just a brief foray to collect motoyaan. Spending most of my outdoor time at the river confluence, I feel out of touch with the goings-on here. Hopefully this morning's visit will change that

1018 As soon as I get out of the car, my senses are popping. I hear clay-colored sparrows, robins, mourning doves, redwing and yellow-headed blackbirds, chorus frogs. I see cabbage white and pink-rimmed sulphur butterflies, the latter visiting dandelions, and the two sometimes moving together. I figure the first stops I'll make are at the thatching ant hive and along the north-pond cutbank where I expect to find garter snakes. But even before I get to my first destination, I hear and see in my periphery a bit of movement in the grass beside the trail. I look down in time to watch a stem of alfalfa greens being pulled down into a vole hole

1052 The thatchers at the large midpond hive are still in their mating swarm phase, with winged males and females emerging from the mound and climbing to the tips of the surrounding grass. The smaller colony on the north-pond cutbank, on the other hand, are not producing winged members yet. Their hive is seriously pocked from repeated flicker visits, I even find a discarded feather beside it. While I observe these north-pond ants, a stink beetle of some kind makes a mad dash across the surface of the hive. Immediately the ants are on him, and he races back to the safety of the grass. My hopes of finding wandering garter snakes along this same cutbank are unrealized. Apparently they haven't made their way here yet, having just emerged from their hibernaculum at the extreme south end of the pond last week. I do however see that the kingfishers have returned, that the currant bushes are in flower, the turtles are basking, and there's a robin collecting mud to craft the bowl of her nest in a cottonwood that - like all of the forest main - is now in leaf

1116 There are no coot nests in the north pond reeds this year, owing to the floods of last summer having flattened all the foliage they depend on for camouflage. The redwings and yellowheads are going to make a go of it with what few usable bulrush an cattail remain. Today, the redwing males are giving chase to females. No sign yet of the yellowhead females. I walk around this area to the northeast bank, where I begin searching the buckbrush for nested mallards. It is here where I encounter my first wandering garter of the day. The whole thing gives me flashbacks of this time last year when, in the exact same place, doing the exact same thing, I also observed the first garter to reach north-pond for the season

1153 Following the edge zone where the forest main meets the wet meadows, I continue my search for mi'ksikatsi nests. At this point, my interest is not in collecting their eggs for food. I know it's too late for that and, as I search, three drakes fly low overhead to confirm. I'm just interested in knowing where they are so that I can follow their stories this summer, since there's no indication yet that any goslings will be raised here. While conducting my search, I find an interesting, deadwood colored ambush-looking bug on a log. And this log itself overlooks the largest ant hive of the pond. They are not thatchers, these ones, but build instead with sandy soil. And their hive, raised only about eight inches off the forest floor, is easily six feet in diameter. I take photos of both the bug and the ants in hopes of learning their identification this evening [note: identification of Formica podzolica, the slave ant]

1236 There are a couple of new flowering plants at the forest edge, in addition to the others I've already noted over the last two weeks. The two I'm seeing newly blossomed today are the star-flowered solomon's seal and a little blue violet. Another new arrival at this edge zone is pookaa, the catbird. I follow the line until I'm above the big bulberry patch of the wet meadows, and here by the magpie nest I figure I'll at least find sign of local duck nests by the remains of eggs they've stolen. But nope, no duck eggs. And no magpie eggs for that matter. Their nest has been raided by someone who either has arms dexterous enough to reach in (raccoons), or a slender enough body (least weasels). Along the tunnel-trail leading through this brush, I do feather remains of two small birds who have been recently eaten, and half a robin egg. Judging the wingspan and coloration with the feathers, I'm tentatively thinking they belonged to swallows. It's just difficult to imagine many animals swift enough to catch one

1316 The water of the pond has risen, and I have a wet walk coming out of the meadows. At the same time though, there's so many changes going on that it is worth the damp socks. Coming out, I see a snipe, my first dragonfly for the season, a baltimore oriole and, only from the viewing angle of the meadows, I can see that the swainson mama is up in her nest. We are going to have hawk babies to watch again! Once out of the meadows, I continue my survey of the buckbrush from the hawk nest to the duck blind over south-pond. It was only a matter of time. Sure enough, I've located a mallard nest. Eight eggs in an easy site to remember

1347 South-pond has it's own interesting happenings going on. The water, as I noted, has risen. Indeed it's to the point that Big Island in the wide south pool is submerged, and the eggs from the long-abandoned goose nest there are the only thing showing. The big news though is that there is a new goose nest in the pool. A mother incubating on a pile of reeds she's set on what little remains of one tiny island near the peninsula. I really hope she succeeds. Summer would not be the same without goslings here. The coot of the south marsh is still incubating her nest as well, which I suspect has risen with the water in flotilla fashion. And there are now three pairs of redheads here, though none of them are Scabby. I wonder what happened to her

1356 Hold the phones! We have our first babies of the season! Seven mallard ducklings paddling in one tight group beside their mom in the south marsh!

1400 Before leaving the south, I gather as much asparagus as is available. It's been so long since we last checked on them that most of the plants are already branching out and past their prime as edibles. But there are enough you shoots still to make up the vegetable component of at least a few dinners for our family. I have started a natural foods diet, ensuring to eat at least something that I've harvested from the coulees every day. Thus far, only five days in, the foods I've eaten have merely supplemented my normal, toxic diet. But I am hoping that by the end of summer I am replacing at least two-thirds or more of what I consume with natural foods

1430 My hike back to the car on the shale trail along the west bank of the pond provides the perfect finish to my day here. I see the saskatoons are blooming now, as too the lens-podded hoary cress. The best thing I see on the route is that we have a pair of geese with two goslings. These must be parents from the river island. Also, there is another goose nested on the beaver lodge itself... first time we've seen this in the five years we've been watching them here, though we always wondered why none of them considered it before. Looks like we will have aapsspini families to keep us in summer company after all

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Extreme Moisture (23May11)

0951 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - Extreme moisture. We have had light rain off and on for several days, and at present it is pouring heavy. All the same, the green of our world has been renewed, so I've decided to come down to check on RyeCam01, and have brought along fishing gear to see whether I can catch whatever it is the pelicans have been feasting on

1022 I begin following a deer trail down the coulee slope, but it is so wet today that, after the third near slip, I cut over and use the established shale path the rest of the way. In this manner, the descent is quick. Along the way, I pick up about two dozen of the largest worms I see. They are not the huge night crawlers, but the medium sized species. The earth is so saturated, it is only with care that I manage my way to the bottom without killing many of the exposed worms. There are robins on the trail too, taking advantage of the easy meal. I can hear clay-colored sparrows in the sagebrush flat and mourning doves in the forest. My plan is to enter the treeline and follow the oxbow canal to the river. From there, I will fish my way upstream to the site of my game-cam, then climb the slope again. One large sunwise circuit

1209 The oxbow, save for robins and starlings, is quiet as I pass through, until the last little stretch. There in the dense willow patch, where the oxbow is now filled with water, thousands of chorus frogs sing. There will be no way to fish the route I had planned without wading through. And since I would already be getting wet anyway, I figured I might as well try to catch one of the frogs for bait. Even with thousands here, this is not an easy task. In order to even see these frogs, one has to wade in and hunt them down by their individual voices, moving heron-style through the water, one tiny muscle at a time. A frog-catching tai-chi. The frogs are incredibly wary though. Once you seem like a threat, which usually means as soon as they're aware of your presence, the nearest frogs stop talking, and all hopes of locating them are shot. Three times over the course of an hour, I manage to creep close enough to one of them that I could almost grab him. Almost being the key descriptive. Every reach I made, however fast, was met with an elusive dive. Normally, this would not be much a problem in shallows. But this water is above my knee, murky, so the frogs have ample space to evade me. After the third failure, I give up. I'm confident another hour would see profit, but it's also eating away the day

1323 I am glad the frogs eluded me. If I'd have caught one, it's life would have gone to waste. The Oldman is high, fast, and muddy today. I know at a glance that the chances of catching a fish in this condition are nil. Far more likely I'll snare a drift log as it floats down river in the semi-flood. All the same, I put a bright spinner on my line and lace it's hook with a worm, who is then promptly stripped off by the force of the current on first cast. I stubbornly fish my way upstream, making futile attempts every twenty-five meters or so until I eventually reach the black cliffs. Geese, mallards, and killdeer all move aside as I pass through, and for a little while the rain stops and the mosquitoes come out. If only the mosquitoes feared us like the other animals do. The pelicans, for their part, stand on their island at the confluence, watching me with what I assume is amusement. They're not fishing at the moment, but if they were I bet they'd catch something

1411 When I arrive at the game-cam, the rain is back on. It's a complete downpour. With three days having passed since I last stopped in, I'm expecting to find a couple dozen images on the camera. Instead, there are just two: one that seems to have missed the target entirely, and the other being my own legs just seconds before I opened it up. Curious that the animals have avoided this brush in the rain. There has been one visitor for sure though... an insect has secured patches of tiny, yellow eggs on both my lens and sensor. I clean the eggs off, replace the SD card, and hike my way back up the coulee rim wet, tired, but happy to have come out anyway

1608 Results of first field test of Scottish waterproof socks: they work well until wading into water deeper than the calf-high cuffs, after which they transform into bladder bags carried by the feet

18 May 2011

Phenology As The River Rises

IIII ) lllll Mystery Signal For Thatchers (10May11)

1750 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - it's ridiculously nice outside, blue skies, no wind. Though weary from a long day of meetings, I can't resist heading out into the coulee for a bit. The slopes are far more green now than yellow. If only the poplars on the floodplain below would let loose their leaves, it would truly feel like summer

1812 A meadowlark sings me down to the hibernaculum, where I'm a bit surprised to find only two rattlesnakes basking. One of them is a yearling, the other I'm guessing an older male, judging by the considerable number of buttons he carries on his relatively slender body. Not even the black widow is in view this evening

1826 Like the snakes, most of the insects seem to have already gone dormant for the day. I do see a couple cabbage white butterflies and naamooyiksi stopping off at the goldenbean blooms. I also notice redwing clickhoppers and the occasional ant on the path. But compared to my noontime visits, it is exceptionally quiet.

1836 I make it all the way down to where I've set RyeCam01 in the bush. It's been here two nights since I last checked in on it. Sure enough, there are two dozen images captured, including photos of mountain cottontails, porcupines, and deer. There are at least six or seven images where I can't see the animal on my little viewer, so I'm anxious to get these on a computer monitor later and search for small birds and rodents

1915 Before turning back, I decide to hike up one of the ridges I haven't much explored. A couple of my rock-hound buddies told me they've been finding scorpions when digging into the soil along the black cliffs. I figure if I turn over a few rocks on the ridge above, maybe I'll find some there as well. So I head up, and I turn probably a dozen flat rocks that look like they might have potential, but all I end up accomplishing is the disturbance of a few any colonies. I do, however, come across two tiny, brown beetles I've never seen before. And I also find, on the peak of the ridge, an ancient stone effigy of some sort. It's a rectangular box of stones about five feet long by a meter wide, with what appear to be a couple lines coming off, in an order I can't make sense of. Could be an animal effigy, could be a vision quest sight, or it could be a grave. Hard to tell. In any case, it's situated to provide a really nice view of the river confluence

1953 Before leaving the ridge, I register some movement in my periphery, and look over just in time to see a bald eagle make a few heavy wing beats moving between somewhere on the black cliffs upstream and the nearby forest. Then I start heading back, down the ridge and up the coulee slope to my vehicle. A redtail hawk soars high above, circling and circling, moving downriver. Toward the top of my climb, I come across another thatching ant event - a dozen or so ants all crowded around something on the trail. I'm sure it will be another insect of some kind, but when I kneel down to look, I can't make any sense of it. They seem very attracted to a little plant sprout and a tiny hole beside it. I figure it's a scent thing, but I don't know if it's a signal left by one of their own, because they don't leave. Their attention keeps them on the site. Then I figure maybe something's just below the surface. I take out my knife and pry up the soil at the point of their interest. The ants immediately rush into the small crater I've made, search around, and after a couple minutes scatter, never having found whatever it was they were after

IIII ) lllllll Suspected Fish Run (12May11)

1725 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - Came out to survey before the rains hit. It's been a very warm day and though a bit windy and overcast now, there's still a lot of insects out. I've hiked about halfway down the slope, almost to the hibernaculum, spotting among the new goldenbean blooms a sulphur butterfly (probably pink-rimmed) and a second naamoo species, the Nevada bumblebee, both of whom immediately depart as I approach. But I'm going to keep an eye on these flowers as I continue. The big news, however, is that I didn't need to go all the way to the hibernaculum before encountering my first rattler of the day. Apparently they are now on the move, as I just came upon a very nervous older male making his way uphill. I wouldn't have even known he was there, several meters away and well off the trail, if he hadn't notified me. And he continued to buzz anxiously as I climbed up to greet him

1743 Without even picking up my backpack, I decide to take a few steps off the trail downslope to look for pollinators among a goldenbean patch here, and immediately I come across another snake. This is a young one, so gender's difficult to determine at a glance. But I've startled this one, and it has found a makeshift escape down a rodent hole that's really far too small. The snake can't get the end of it's tail in. I've backed away a couple meters to sit on a boulder, watch for insects, and wait for the rattler to regain it's composure and pull out

1811 The snake must have found a chamber wide enough to begin turning around in, because it's tail eventually disappeared down the hole. Tiring of the wait, and fairly certain the snake would not consent to my following when it reappears, I make my way to the hibernaculum itself. Not surprisingly, it's empty. The residents have departed. Presently, I am atop the ridge overlooking the hibernaculum, and from here I can see there are at least fifty pelicans down at the river confluence. About half of them are resting on a small river island, while the others hunt for fish. They drift downstream in one large body, and when they get to a certain point fly back upstream and begin again. Obviously, there is a fish run underway. I'm going to hike over to the nearby cliff above the river for a better view

1847 On the way to the cliff, I stop several at several rocks where I know there to be ant colonies of two different species. Both are very small, with larvae far larger than their bodies. The one species keeps it's larvae clinging to the underside of the rock, while it's eggs (of the same orange color) are kept in a chamber below. The other species does not have it's larvae cling to the rock, but rather in tunnels right below it. In both cases, I wonder if the rocks themselves are being utilized purposely to keep the eggs and babies warm. Of course, when I get to the cliff after making these ant stops, those pelicans who were actively hunting are nowhere to be seen. The remaining birds are sticking to the island. There are several mallards just off-shore of them as well. And directly below me, laying on the riverbank, is a Canada goose. Strangely, it's partner lays on the bank of the opposite shore

1930 Coming back down off the cliff, I notice a relatively small thatching ant colony off the side of the trail. Looking closely, I see that some of them are busy maneuvering a caterpillar they've caught, trying to bring it into their hive through one of their entrances. I've seen thatchers collect this same kind of caterpillar before. Then, at the base of the coulee slope where I start climbing again, the goldenbeans that had been earliest to flower now comprise a significant patch of yellow blooms, and they are buzzing loud with naamooyiksi - both Hunt's and Nevada species. The Nevada's behavior is very different from the Hunt's. They make a hasty retreat when they see me paying attention to them, even if it's from a distance. The Hunt's bumbles, on the other hand, almost always make an attempt to chase me off with loud fly-bys toward my face

1953 The meadowlarks sing me back up to the coulee rim. Beyond their voices, and a hops of a vesper sparrow who scouts ahead of me up the last part of the trail, my ascent is quiet, literally and figuratively. No further rattlesnake encounters, no presence that I haven't already reported for this evening. I can see, when I reach the top, that I've narrowly escaped a shower. There is rain pouring down from heavy clouds to the east of me, and a thick rainbow

IIII ) llllllll Coots Nesting And Thatchers Swarming (13May11)

1128 Sspopiikimi - out to collect matoyaan (a.k.a. Nebraska sedge) for our sweat this afternoon. Unfortunately, I don't have time to really visit. But as I fairly march toward the south marsh, I'm noticing that the same cabbage white and sulphur butterflies are present here as at the river confluence. Also, I can't help but stop at the thatching ant nest, and I find there that the mating swarm has begun, the winged generation are crowding the grass tips, preparing to fly off and find one another again elsewhere to start new colonies

1154 Arriving at the southeast end of the pond, I find (as was fully expected) that, like the rattlesnakes, the wandering garters are also leaving their hibernaculum. In the marsh below where they winter, mi'sohpsski has done all the work for me in terms of gathering grass. There are several large flotillas they've constructed as feeding stations, and I don't have to impact them very much to quickly take all the matoyaan I need. From my perspective, this is preferable to pulling the sedge myself. The part that the muskrats eat, and will continue to eat, are the portion of stem at the very base of the plant. The rest just gets piled up, but is completely sufficient for my needs

1213 Since I'm already here in my waders, the temptation to survey the marsh for coot nests is too much to resist. I take a quick stroll around. Dozens of turtles, basking on dead cattails, dive as I pass. The reeds are alive with pike, frantically swimming away from me. And at the western edge of the marsh, I find what I'm looking for, a coot incubating seven eggs. This is a small clutch for the coots, and I'm curious to learn how many eggs the others here at the pond have this year, but I need to leave now

1238 My hike out along the levee walk is swift and purposeful. It kills me to be in such a rush, but nothing I can do about it in this instance. The only stop I make in returning to the car is to wait on a robin who is carrying a caterpillar and thrashing it around. Finally it swallows the meal, and the both of us go our separate ways

IIII ) llllllllllll The River Rises (17May11)

1315 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - On a whim this morning, I grabbed a handful of young dandelion greens from our front yard and ate them. They provided not only a slightly bitter breakfast, but also a strong reminder that NOW is the opportunity to seize the season and really make the shift to a natural foods diet. I feel motivated. So today I am walking this coulee not only as a lifetime student of phenology, but also as the omnivore I was born to be. They say there is a food shortage. Ha! The food is everywhere

1342 Given this renewed orientation, it takes me a bit longer than usual to get even halfway down the coulee slope, to the area of the hibernaculum. All the way along, I gather yellow prairie violets, almost filling one large cargo pocket on my thigh. These plants offer one of the more tasty greens. I don't over-harvest, just pick every third or fourth plant I come across in the line I hike. And I figure I'll take slightly different routes down and up from here out, so that I'm not gathering from the same area every time. I also see lots of musineon along the way, particularly up nearer the coulee rim. Musineon is a good starch root. I like to dig the larger, older plants. All the ones I've seen so far today are relatively small. Phenology-wise, there are some changes to note since my last decent survey. First of all, the goldenbeans are now flowered all the way to the top of the coulee. It's fairly windy today, so not too many insects, but those I've observed visiting the buffalo bean are still the Hunt's and Nevada bumblebee species I noted last week. On the dandelions, there are tiny sphaerophoria flower flies, excellent bee mimics. Some of the blue penstemon are starting to bloom, as also the early yellow locoweed

1436 It takes me even longer to get the rest of the way down the coulee to the floodplain, and the brush where RyeCam01 is set up. The reason for my delay is that now I'm digging roots, yellowbells and musineon, the former a kind of lily, the latter a parsley. There are also saline shooting stars in bloom here. I don't take many of the yellowbells, just a few, well aware not only of their struggle to survive habitat loss and botanic colonization, but also of the fact that Mahoney and Sheen will need to be picked up from work soon. While digging the roots, I notice that the onions are about to come into flower

1446 When eventually I arrive at the game-cam, I find that it's a good thing I'd come, the small SD card it holds is almost full with images. In the ten days since I left this camera out here, it has been visited by deer, coyotes, porcupines, rabbits, magpies, robins, and perhaps others (there were several mystery images where I couldn't spot whatever animal had passed)

1532 It has been a while since I've had an opportunity to visit the forest, and now I'll need to wait still longer. But before I begin my ascent back toward the rim, I hike at least down to the river. Among the potential foods I've yet to try are the freshwater clams and minnows. Today I brought along a bit if mosquito netting and some water shoes, envisioning walking along the rocky shallows in search of clams, scooping up any minnow schools that came my way. I know the latter have some interesting parasitic worms to be aware of, but I still hope to experiment with them, as I often see buckets of dry minnows in Asian markets. Today I find the river has risen quite high, resulting from snow melt in the mountains. It's silty brown, and there's no chance I'll spot either of my intended food sources. That experiment will have to wait. So I turn around and begin my climb, traveling a part of the slope I rarely visit, picking more violets along the way. When I near the hibernaculum area again, I spot a giant black widow in a badger hole. This is one of the largest widows I've ever seen, and I'm sitting with her now. When one learns to recognize the black widow's web, it becomes apparent that they have a huge population in this coulee. Practically every decent badger hole houses one

1601 A barely perceivable coyote and deer trail takes me up along the side of the slope to the coulee rim. As I pass the hibernaculum, I see there's still at least one rattler left at the main den entrance. This is not too surprising, because last year there was one who stuck around quite a while after the others departed. Further up the slope, I startle first a flicker, then a small flock of perhaps a dozen brewer's blackbirds, all of them insect hunting. These birds are the last encounter I have. I'm already looking forward to my next visit