19 July 2011

Fledglings Galore

IIII ) lllllll Swainson Baby And Water-Beetle Mating (9Jul11)

1105 Sspopiikimi - we've had strong winds coming off the mountains since yesterday, which means it'll be a pleasantly cool walk this afternoon with minimal disturbance by mosquitoes or golfers

1133 We're moving counter-sunwise, starting with the shale trail along the west bank. Following this route, we pass two thatcher highways early on. At the first, we witness an ant hauling what appears to be a dung beetle across the trail. Oddly, there are few ants at the second crossing, so we check at the hive itself. At first it appears there's not much going on, but when I pull back some of the overlaying grass we find a lot if activity. They are keeping to the shade, and I get bit hard between the fingers to make this observation. Continuing on, we see four mallards in the reeds at midpond. I suspect it's the mother with her three ducklings, who have grown quite a bit. There's also a drake lounging on the ksisskstakioyis. While the river has receded, the pond remains significantly flooded, and the Four Square aapsspini family retreats to these waters when we approach them. They've come down off the golf greens, where there are lots of robins and flickers picking around. On the trail itself, we're finally witnessing the reappearance of a significant number of dragonflies, mostly cherry-faced meadowhawks, but there is also a lime green species I don't recall the identity of, perhaps a variable darner

1220 Before rounding south-pond, we decide to make our way through the tick zone, down to what in times of lower water is the peninsula. There are two events unfolding on the water here today. The first, just above the surface, is another round of bluet mating, where the damselflies are meeting one another, connecting, and moving as pairs back to the long grass of the shore. The second event appears to involve water beetles, hundreds of them, all whirling across the surface of the pond in a tight cluster. This too, I assume, is a mating swarm of sorts. Below them, underwater, but not paying the beetles particular attention, is a small pike, perhaps fifteen inches in length. It seems to be watching the shoreline, staying in place for a minute or two, then slowly moving over a meter and repeating the wait. Perhaps it's waiting for dragonflies

1240 Still surprised that none of the currants look near to ripening. About this time, we would already expect to be picking. The okonoki are getting close though. They will end up being our first berry harvest this year. Rounding south pond, we check both plants. There are redwings nested in some of the currants within the tick zone. We also see bohemian waxwings and goldenfinches, but they are sticking to the cottonwoods. The white sweetclover has come into bloom now, along with Canada thistle. No garters basking at the hibernaculum this afternoon. I wonder if they've finally all spread out. I imagine many are residing in the flooded wet-meadows, the perfect place to catch fish, tadpoles, and other choice bites

1333 Our next move is to drop down into the forest main, pass the swallow and wren snag where the feeding of hatchlings is ongoing, and head toward the edge-zone where treeline meets wet-meadows. There we can check on the ayinnimaiksi, and I can wade out to download this week's images of RYECAM02.  I'm happy to announce, our wait at the swainson nest is over. When we get within sight, we find mama hawk perched off on a limb nearby, and one very cute, fuzzy-white hawkling craning her head over the edge of the nest to see us. No doubt she was up there for the last couple weeks, but only now strong enough to make an appearance. Mom and pops are none too pleased with our visit. She takes to the sky and he appears out of nowhere to meet her. Together they soar overhead, scolding Mahoney and I as we follow the deer trail that passes beneath their nesting tree. Soon though, we are far enough away for them to calm down, and I wade out to check the camera in the bulberries while Mahoney waits sitting on a log on shore. There is another cluster of the beetles scurrying about on the water's surface here. I can't get close enough to them for a good look though. The bulberries, for their part, are full of redwing fledglings, and more upset parents as I pass among them to collect my images. The photos are, not to surprisingly, of redwings, grackles, and magpies

1411 We conclude our walk hiking out of the forest main, past the catbird nest, and then along the north cutbank. The single, week-old catbird hatchling is alert and surviving the danger. Maybe another week or so and he'll be ready to fledge. We're rooting for him. On the cutbank, once again there are no signs of the wandering garters. No large turtles basking in the pond either. With the heat we've been having, all of them must be in a routine of seeing cool spaces to pass the afternoons

IIII ) lllllllll Callippe Fritillaries And Promachus Robber Fly (11Jul11)

0945 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - my traditional foods students were supposed to join me again for the hard work of digging ma's and pisatsiinikimm, but only one showed up, so I let her off the hook. Stephen Harper is visiting Kainaissksaahko today, and I suspect that's where at least some have gone. As for me, I'll always take the coulee over a right-wing conservative politician, so I'm off to enjoy the hike

1044 It is a slow progression from the coulee rim to the rattlesnake hibernaculum about half-way down. What might take me fifteen minutes to hike is drawn out into an hour of fairly careful insect observation and photography. There's so much to observe in this season, and so many insects I've yet to learn to recognize. The butterflies are pretty straightforward, I am seeing spring azures, inornate ringlets, and callippe fritillaries, the latter probing mainly the blanket flowers and Canada thistles. But there are also a good number of bee, wasp, and bee/ wasp mimics. I take pictures of as many of them as I can, in hopes of later identification

1120 I'm expecting to start finding black widow egg sacks in the entrances of the hibernaculum, badger holes, etc. So I walk in toward the snake den to check it out. No widow eggs yet, but there is a pair of brown thrashers doing something in the nearby, short chokecherries. When they leave, I move to the brush to check things out. No nest that I can find, there must be some insects here driving their attention. Just as I'm finishing up my unsuccessful search for the food source, two of my students arrive. I hike with them up to the ridge where the roots are growing, and will leave them to dig as I continue my walkabout

1212 Once the ladies set to work digging, I walk up to the draw which I saw the thrashers fly into. There is a thick chokecherry patch here, and right away I spot the birds again. They dive down into the brush, and I'm tempted to crawl in after them... but I also hear loud buzzing that suggests a hive of some sort I do not want to disturb. I wait a bit to see if the thrashers will emerge again and, when they don't, I pack up and begin hiking down to the bottom of the coulee. I want to get this week's images off RYECAM01, and I'd like to go at least briefly into the forest to see if the owl neat is being utilized by hawks, as it has in previous summers

1235 At the base of the coulee slope, where there is some badland exposure, I come across a curious insect I've never seen before. My first guess is that it's a cicada, and I heard they might be around this year, but on closer look it turns out to be a large promachus robber fly. I then check the game-cam to find images of all the usual suspects: mule deer, porcupine, coyote. In fact, a mule doe who is bedding nearby startles at my approach to the brush, and hops uphill. Moving then even further down to the river, my presence provokes a kestrel into alarm. Now I'm wondering if I need to check the trees right around here for a hollow or cavity that might house it's nest

1324 Failing to locate the kestrel nest (although I'm sure it's here), I wade through brome, sweetclover and spurge, all nearly as tall as me, to check the old owl nest in the forest. It is unoccupied, but there are lots of dragonflies and bluets in the grass down here, as well as whitetail does who snort at me as they leap away and quickly disappear

1345 The hike back up the coulee slope is arduous as ever. There seems to be no season when it is not either too hot, too windy, too muddy, or too drifted over in snow to make the climb pleasant. I find the best approach is to simply march straight along, and enjoy a good rest at the top. I do, however, note a couple of things as I walk. Twice near the base of the slope I witness a small orange butterfly drop without apparent provocation from the sky and land at my feet apparently exhausted or dying. I have no idea what might be causing this to happen, but if I witnessed it twice in such a short stretch, I can only imagine it is going on all over the lower slopes. Near the rim, there's a different event underway. I'm noticing that many of the rose and morning glory flower pedals are riddled with holes. Looking around, the only culprits I find are grey blister beetles, and these are only observed on a single flower, so I wonder...

IIII ) lllllllllllllll Fledglings Galore (17Jul11)

0928 Sspopiikimi - heavy rain and thunderstorms last night, everything's damp, and I wanted to get out here to survey things phenological before the heat of this cloudless, blue-sky morning becomes uncomfortable

0953 Arriving at the bat tree of north-pond, I immediately encounter a redwing family, mother and fledglings, who are hunting the absinthe and alfalfa together. Within moments of my appearance, the mother goes into alarm, and the fledglings disappear below the plants. The prairie coneflowers are now in full bloom, and I inspect them as I walk the cutbank, finding tiny beetles, indigenous bees, and a spider awaiting the unsuspecting pollinator

1050 I am at a total loss now to explain the persistent absence of wandering garter snakes and large, mature turtles during our last couple visits. My start this morning was early enough that I fully expected to witness some basking activity, but again I see only baby turtles. It is, however, the time of youth. Between north pond and my drop down into the forest main, I encounter several bird families with fledglings being fed by parents. These include magpies, starlings, redwing blackbirds, yellow warblers, house wrens, and the single catbird baby we've been following, who is able of wing and presently collecting his own food, though mama-cat stays close

1139 Add to the list of fledgling families northern flickers, who I see, and tree swallows, who I infer by the absence of feeding activity at their cavity abode. Unfortunately, things are less certain for the swainson hatchling. When we saw her last week, she was nowhere near to fledgling. And today, she does not peek over the nest rim at all. Of course it could be that she is resting, but that seems unlikely for a curious baby hawk. We've had two incredible lightning storms with intense rain since the last sighting. To my mind, it seems entirely possible that something unfortunate could have happened. Still, distant calls from one of the parents, somewhere above the coulee rim, but no doubt able to see me, lends some hope. For good measure, I check around in the area under their nest. What I find, aside from a lot of white-wash, is that the spurge hawk moth larvae are starting to make their appearance. And by the duck blind, so too are the asparagus beetles

1219 I am busy watching a flycatcher perform amazing aerial maneuvers, including tight 360 degree backwards rolls to snatch it's prey from above the forest canopy, when a man arrives in a service truck, retrieves a weed-whacker from the bed, and begins a loud and unnecessary assault on the plants that line the trail to the duck blind, and all of the smaller animals residing in the same. This is my signal to leave. I can't stand to witness this kind of desecration in the name of an aesthetics completely foreign to the pond. It embarrasses me to be categorized in the same species with people like this, oblivious. I walk past the man, climb the levee, and head out along the shale trail that rounds south-pond and follows the west length. Showy milkweed is in bloom here, and there are dozens of cabbage white butterflies fluttering around, probably laying eggs on the stems of the lens-podded hoary cress that, at present, bear spicy seeds. It's hot out here now, so just as well that I be on my way. My last encounter, as I make my leave, is with the two aapsspini families - the older Four Square goslings, and the single parents with four younger goslings. They are all traveling together these days, and they enter the pond to give themselves a liquid buffer as I pass