16 June 2011

Misamssootaa... The Long Rains

IIII ) llllllll Flooded Pond (10June11)

1656 Sspopiikimi - it's been a long absence, two weeks since my last visit. And during that time, and for at least a week prior to that, misamssootaa arrived, the long rains. And as might be expected, the pond and river have flooded. This evening I want to begin surveying, as well as I might, the response... who has suffered, who is benefitting, and why

1706 Even before I come within sight of the water, on my walk from the parking lot toward midpond, I find the robins have weathered the storm, though perhaps with some loss. In the cottonwood alongside the path, a robin couple has a single fledgling exploring the branches. Typically they would have four, but it is difficult for me to know whether the other three were lost to the wet and cold, or to predators. The nest is high enough that I can't peek in

1720 Leaving the robins, who are too alarmed at my presence to make further observation productive for now, I move to the bat tree at the cutbank of north-pond. From here I can see just how much the water has risen. It is like last year, all the way up to the forest edge-zone. Below me, there is a muskrat swimming back and forth along the bank, making a soft squeaking call. Soon he is joined by a mate who swims up beside him and is willing to receive his mount. The coupling looks awkward, with the male quickly sliding off and the female disappearing underwater. I continue to watch, as the male goes back to swimming and calling. Several times more, the female appears, he attempts to mount her, and rolls off unsuccessful. Finally, swimming out to deeper waters, I witness the efforts pay off. It's a brief but effective affair, and when it's over the female swims away to the opposite side of the pond, while the male returns to just below where I'm sitting, climbs up on a floating log, and cleans himself thoroughly for several minutes before sliding back underwater and out of sight

1752 I expect to find wandering garter snakes along the top of the cutbank, and in this I'm not mistaken. I come first across a large shed skin, then two snakes of equal size. All along the way, I see ponokaowahsin, the yellow puccoon, is in high bloom, as is the tartarian honeysuckle. Asparagus is just coming into flower. The golden currant and saskatoon have played out, and are now forming small, green berries. There are still some goldenbean in bloom, some in seed. On the opposite cutbank, below the levee, I see redwing blackbirds, and when I walk over to them I quickly spot one of the nests. It is in the buckbrush along the shoreline, and the male gives it away by dive-bombing me. The couple have five eggs, but aren't incubating yet. I'm pretty sure this would be their second attempt this season. No doubt they would have built their first in the reeds that are now, all but the tips, submersed

1826 The female mosquitoes are all about stabbing and sucking blood today. I'm not wearing poison on my body, so I try to just ignore them and let the ladies have what they need from me. Climbing up the levee, I see that the north wood is flooded out, the water having risen over the top of the river cutbank. There will be no bank swallow nests here this year, as last, and I've yet to see or hear any kingfishers today. Those I do encounter, when dropping into the forest main, are yellow warblers, catbirds, eastern kingbirds, and cedar waxwings. The latter are perched in a Russian olive tree in the wet meadows that is completely submersed at the trunk. From their perches, the waxwings are flittering down to nab things (insects presumably) off the surface of the water. I've never seen them do this before

1903 I have brought a game-cam with me today (RYECAM02), to set up in the dense bulberry thicket of the wet meadows. This clump of brush is at present an island completely surrounded by extension of flooded pond. I have to wade out through thigh-deep waters to reach it. Before I do, I wait for the mallards who are congregated here to depart. There is a mother with a single duckling, another mother with a small group of ducklings (perhaps six or seven), and another female who, when I initially arrive, is being gang-raped by four males. When these ducks become aware of my presence, they paddle away toward south-pond. I enter the water, and almost immediately see a little head pop up about ten or twelve meters away. I figure it for either a turtle or a snake, until it begins slithering through the water straight toward me, and then I know for sure it is a garter. The snake comes to me, investigating my leg. Then, realizing that I am a human being, in dives under the water and conceals itself none too well in some scouring rush. The snake is confident in it's hiding place, and doesn't move even when I crane my body overtop for a good look. I have no idea what was going on in this snake's mind. It obviously confused me with something else, but I have no idea what it could be. I leave the garter and continue to wade out to the bulrush island, find a good position for the camera along the tunnel trail that runs through the brush, then return to the main shore following a new beaver canal

1934 Continuing along the edge zone of the forest main and wet meadows (now pond), I pass at least half a dozen more dive-bombing redwing males. I don't bother making a nest count. I know they're there, and I will attend to that later this week, along with surveying the brush of the forest main itself, where there are no doubt a variety of nests. There is a notable absence of yellow-headed blackbirds, who prefer even more than redwings to place their nests over the water. On some of the submerged wet-meadow willows, there are both eastern and western kingbirds perching in close proximity to one another and, like the waxwings, plucking morsels from the pond surface. With the kingbirds though, this behavior is expected. I am noticing some damselfly bluets about, but no dragonflies yet. The beaver family is out, a couple of their members carrying big piles of mud to add to the top of their lodge, another munching on rabbit willow in the very wet meadows

2003 The last thing I check on in the wet meadows and forest main is the swainson nest. Sure enough, I can just see mama hawk peeking over the edge. Incubation is underway, and we'll be able to watch baby hawk education again. Leaving the forest, I climb the levee and move over toward the garter snake hibernaculum area by the river. Surprisingly enough, there's still a good number if snakes here. One is basking on a rock when I arrive. I turn another rock and find a young snake there, and while I'm looking at it a third, very large and ready to molt garter swings by to investigate. No doubt there are others still here as well. It's a good place, I suppose, to occupy year-round... lots of rock crags and rodents, southern exposure and close proximity to the river, but out of flood's normal reach. Speaking of floods, the Oldman is raging high, but the owl wood is relatively intact. Far more so than during last summer's event

2028 I finish my round with a walk along the west length of the pond, following the shale trail. The whole while, there is a redhead drake flying low, back and forth, from one end of the pond to the other. He eventually lands in north-pond, but only after making at least a dozen laps. On my route, I see the mallard mother with five or six ducklings. I also come across four geese who are together with four goslings. Two of the adults are slightly smaller, and I take them to be perhaps of last-year's brood. There is a coot couple at midpond when I pass, but no chicks. Their nest, probably the one from the south-pond marsh, must have sunk. I also spot a blue-wing teal drake, but no female. My final stop is at the thatching ant hive. The breeding swarm is over, and it's back to business as usual here, which tonight, at this moment anyway, consists of nothing more than the usual thatching activity

IIII ) lllllllll Nighthawk Display (11June11)

1948 Sspopiikimi - Mahoney wanted to take a post dinner walk, so we're out at the pond, making a counter-sunwise round. The dusk shadows are already coming over the water, and the mosquito presence is heavy

2021 There's so much going on here tonight, as we walk the shale trail along the west length, that it's hard to justify stopping to take notes, and so I don't... at least until we get to the bench overlooking the wide south pool. Like yesterday, there are robins and redwing blackbirds galore, yellow warblers singing in the trees, beavers carrying material up the lodge to increase it's height, and the thatching ants are still thatching. There is also a nighthawk in display above the pond this evening, and we encounter two goose families - the group of four adults and four goslings that I saw yesterday, and a single set of parents with another four goslings. We see the mother mallard with six ducklings, same as yesterday. But something I didn't note before was that there's a huge puddle of water down in the dip by the pump-house that runs the golf course sprinkler system. The chorus frogs are singing here as we approach, and then we notice there's also a mallard mama here. Her brood is large, maybe nine or ten ducklings. They scatter frantically across the water to hide in some half-immersed absinthe as we come near. When they hide, a magpie swoops in and perches above them, telling us where they are, waiting for us to act like real animals and kill one or more for food that they might share. With exception of the magpie, it occurs to me that this puddle use by the mama duck is incredibly brilliant. The greatest predator of ducklings here are the pike, and there are certainly none of those freshwater sharks in this puddle. So long as she can keep the wee ones from being hit by coyotes or hawks, they can feed here until a little larger, and greatly decrease the odds of becoming pike dinner when they again enter the pond

2130 We round south-pond, cut down to the duck blind (where we find another redwing nest with eggs), then hike through the forest main. There are hundreds of tree swallows gliding and swooping overhead, and the nighthawk continues to fly by in display. The swainson mama is diligently incubating. Her husband perches not far away, in the forest, constantly under mob attack by the redwings. A few of the plant events I failed to note yesterday... the star-flowered solomon's seal and leafy spurge are still in bloom, just as they were two weeks ago. The cottonwood and poplar panicles have played out, and they now have berries. The chokecherry are in full bloom, and there's purple wild vetch flowering in the forest. When we come back out onto the levee-walk at the north end, there is a killdeer on the trail. They don't have any river shores at present to nest or feed at. We sit down on the river bench for a quick break, and while I'm typing up these notes, listening to the robins and yellow warblers, a kingfisher passes by, flying low above the river, moving upstream

2154 Post-dusk darkness is setting in as we finish our route around north pond and back to the vehicle. A whitetail deer that had been laying down in some brush by the river startles and runs up and over the levee just a little ways in front of us, heading down into the forest main. At north-pond there are muskrats moving around in the reeds. The nighthawk dives and makes the fart-like noise after which his Blackfoot name, pisttoo, derives. We are lamenting not having spent more time out here already this summer, missing some of the details. Perhaps that will be amended from here out

IIII ) llllllllll Giant Water Bug Guards Eggs (12June11)

0920 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - I have only a couple hours to make a round-trip hike down to pull the last couple weeks of images off RYECAM01, so rather than noting everything, I'll stick to observations of the changes since my last visit

0959 From the coulee rim down to the rattlesnake hibernaculum (about halfway to the bottom), I'm aware mainly of some of the botanical differences since my previous survey. The dandelions near the rim are mainly in seed now, and there is far more wild vetch from this point down. I see the first blooms of yellow salsify and hound's tongue. The ma's, or prairie turnip, is almost there. Blue flax has erupted tremendously all over the place, as have the onions, butte marigold, black medick, narrow-leaf milkvetch, and missouri milkvetch. Some of the blue penstemon are generating seeds now, others are still in flower. The early yellow locoweed is starting to lose it's luster. All of this flowering and seed generation is going on, but I find surprisingly few insects. Those I have been seeing, primarily, are the butterflies. There are four of them with a strong presence: a sulphur (probably pink-rimmed), spring azure, a brilliant little orange butterfly that I've not been able to photograph yet for later identification, and (most prominently) the inornate ringlet

1051 From the hibernaculum, where I find no snakes, but a flattened bit of grass beside one of the den holes that suggests a large basker, I move onto the ridge above, follow it down to it's base, continue to near the flood plain, where I keep the camera, and return along the same route. Again, I take principal notice of the plants. The goldenbean has gone into seed production. The ball cactus is showing hints of flowers to come. Lower on the slope and in the meadows at the base are blooming yarrow, yellow sweetclover, blue-eyed grass, and prairie smoke. I also direct some attention toward the birds. There are three bald eagles moving in a wide circle above the coulee rim upstream. All around me are eastern and western kingbirds, the buzz of clay-colored sparrows, and the mews of catbirds. I flush a grey partridge, and I hear a ring-necked pheasant in the forest below. The one thatching ant hive that I usually check near the camera has been destroyed, a large pit dug straight into it. A few ants are on the scene yet, but hardly the scene it used to be. In the meadow grass, I find a very strange (suspected) fungus. It is a yellow mass, sponge-like in appearance, but far more damp and flimsy to the touch. I don't see that it has a grounded base, but it seems too large a mass to be insect eggs (note: checking my photographs from this moon last year, I found the same fungus growing on the trunk of a poplar tree). When I get to the camera, I learn that the little trail through the hawthorn brush is still being visited regularly by deer, coyotes, and porcupines. I also have my first image of a male pheasant, and several "empty" photos that will require further inspection on a wide monitor back home

1123 As I hike the rest of the way to the coulee rim, my only objective is to get a good photo of the small orange mystery butterfly. All of the species described on my way down are in the midst of mating. Eventually, near the top, the brilliant little one comes to land very close and seems almost to position itself purposely for the perfect posed photo, and just as quickly flutters away when I have done my job. (note: I identify it in the evening as Pearl Crescent)

1640 Sspopiikimi - it's such a warm day, we couldn't resist coming out for another walk. But the temperature has it's drawbacks too, and already, on our subwise route, we are neglecting to look very closely

1652 We've stuck to the shale trail, making our way around quickly to the shade of the forest main. Here perhaps we'll slow things down. Along the way, my eyes have been fixed to the trail, and any insects who happened to be crossing at our feet. There are many thatcher ants about today. One of them we saw carrying what appeared to be a segment of grub. We also came across two sidewalk carabids before we got to the forest, and one water beetle crossing the levee in about the same place we saw and photographed another at the beginning of summer. How they know there's a pond on one side and a river on the other is beyond me, separated as they are by the high levee. Perhaps we need to post a small "water beetle crossing" sign here. The bluets are out, though few of them yet, and there were at least thirty turtles of various age basking on the floating wood around the north-pond marsh

1748 Mahoney moves through the forest heading to the duck blind, while I wade out into the thigh-deep water of the wet meadows to access the small island of bulberries where I situated another game cam two days ago. This time, no garters come to meet me as I enter the water. I arrive on the island thankfully without leaches, and climb through the tunnel trail to my camera. It has taken several images that include mallard drakes, an unidentified small mammal in the night, crows and grackles... a cool assemblage, far different from what I'm getting off my other camera at the confluence. On my way back to the shore after downloading the pics, I came across the king insect of the pond - a giant water bug. It is huge, resembling a large cockroach. It is sitting atop a floating piece of wood, right beside and guarding a cluster of eggs. In all our years coming here, the only sign of these bugs we've seen are their backs, rising up like heavy raindrops on the pond surface. To find one exposed like this is a huge thrill

1848 Mahoney and I rendezvous at the duck blind, and then head up toward the garter snake hibernaculum. There is a large snake basking when we get there, but it quickly slithers out of sight. I then lift the same small rock where I found a young garter a few days ago. Nothing. Not even the small lasius pallitarsis ant colony who were hidden here before. As we walk away from the hibernaculum though, I have to stop short to avoid stepping right on top of a very young snake, one that must have just been born at the end of last summer. We continue around south-pond and along the shale trail that runs the west length, passing both goose families as we go. No sign today of the mallard mamas and their broods, but there's plenty of partially submerged grass and reeds to hide in. Near to where we turn off the trail to go to the car, there's a wide but shallow puddle. And to our surprise, this afternoon it's occupied by a large painted turtle. This is the time of year when they lay their eggs, while the ground is still soft from the rains. I suspect this turtle mama is planning to dig her nest here at the puddle's edge. Unfortunately, there are service vehicles that drive over this area. I pick her up and bring her back down to the pond, so that she can select a different site