08 July 2011

Mosquitoes Feed Baby Birds... A Mantra

I Mosquitoes Feed Baby Birds (29June11)

1954 Sspopiikimi - out for a brief dusk stroll, moving sunrise along the trails lined with yellow-flowering brome. We've stopped at the north-pond redwing nest, where the hatchlings are now open-eyed, nearly ready to fledge. Within the next week or so, we should find them exploring the surrounding buckbrush and currants

2007 Similarly, we drop into the forest main to check the catbird nest of this end. The mosquitoes punish us for the intrusion, all too happy to exact their toll. But it's worth it for the reward of seeing mama-cat safely incubating

2024 The mosquitoes make life all too uncomfortable, swarming us in the long grass of the forest. We trudge on south, spotting two more eggless catbird nests along the forest trail, and breaking briefly again at the duck blind, where there are fewer blood-suckers. Here, the redwing fledglings have already left their nest. They are hidden in the brush somewhere near, their parents chucking at us as we sit and rest and swat

2044 Mosquitoes feed baby birds, Mosquitoes feed baby birds, Mosquitoes feed baby birds, my only solice tonight

2110 We hike, it-it-itching, around south-pond and along the shale trail. An oriole flies past us by the owl wood. A baby cottontail zooms through the grass near the tick zone. One of the swainson parents is crying above, pesked by a little redwing. When back at north-pond, we see the Four Square aapsspini family off in the wet-meadow reeds. But tonight, they are no longer living up to their name... just the single pair of parents accompany the four goslings. I am inordinately relieved when we reach the safety of our car

III Damselfly Mating (1Jul11)

1350 Sspopiikimi - a blue sky day with just a few, light cumulous puffs of cloud and a gentle breeze. We start off counter-sunwise, beginning with the north-pond cutbank, where all of the bluets are engaged in love, chasing one another, or clinging to grass stems, locked in their heart-shaped embraces

1409 There are no garter snakes on the cutbank this afternoon and, despite the warmth, there's relatively few turtles basking down by the water. Mahoney and I round the north end, climb the levee, and take a seat in the crested wheatgrass and yellow sweetclover, on the slope above the active redwing nest

1427 Below us, both mom and pop redwing are bringing food in for the hatchlings, dragonflies by the looks of it. Some of their efforts are thwarted, however, by an eastern kingbird who takes the good perch nearest the nest. From this stand beside the water, the kingbird watches the pond, our slope, and the air. He takes short flights to retrieve what again appear to be dragonflies, sometimes nabbing them off the grass, other times plucking them right out of the air

1505 Leaving the redwings, we cut down into the forest main to check on the catbird nest. Here, incubation has concluded, but there is a mysterious absence. Out of the five eggs mama-cat was tending, there is only one hatchling and no sign of anything else. I check the ground all around below the nest, nothing. And given the difficulty of access, with dense branchlets surrounding the nest, we can only assume the work of a very sly predator is at play. Magpies perhaps, or possibly one of the least weasels we know to be here. Given that the predator knows the nest location, I will be very surprised if this newborn makes it to fledge. If so, I would have to conjecture that the predator is being purposely generous or conservationistic, allowing one to live

1514 From the catbird nest, Mahoney and I split up, she heading along the main path to the south-end duck blind, me going to wade out to the bulberry patch on the wet meadows to download images from RYECAM02. Crossing the thigh deep water, I again came across a small piece of floating log with a tight cluster of giant waterbug eggs attached. The defending mother I could only see by bending down to look through the water at the underside of the wood. There were images captured by the game-cam, but I've had no chance to look them over. While downloading them to my little viewer, I could hear voices back on shore. I hurried out of the brush to find a few mountain bikers passing through the forest main right where I'd cached my backpack holding thousands of dollars worth of photography equipment. Needless to say, I moved quick to wade back across. But I was never in need of much concern. As blind as the bikers are to the ecology of this place, they didn't even spot my large pack beside the trail. I picked it up, hiked quickly to the duck blind, and have now reunited with Mahoney, who has brought me a late asparagus shoot to snack on

1530 Before leaving the forest main / duck blind area, I walk over to check on one of the other catbird nests we found. This time, the mother didn't even come around to cry at me, and again there were no eggs. Either this nest failed before we found it, or it is an old nest and the bird has been using it to direct our attention away from her current brood

1554 As per our usual routine, we have a look at the big rocks around the garter snake hibernaculum next. Like the north-pond cutbank, there are no snakes out today. Something must be going on in the reptile world. Mahoney and I are discussing it as we walk the levee around south pond, and just then I hear something all too familiar... it is the buzz of hundreds, maybe even thousands of bees. I hold my arm out to block Mahoney from proceeding down the trail and ask, "Do you hear that." Both of us freeze, scanning the sweetclover patches surrounding us, then looking up. Just above us, and at head level, in fact flying past our faces, are the bees. Honey bees. My first instinct is that we've somehow disturbed the nest, and in that kind of situation I'm accustomed to being repeatedly stung. There are too many bees in front of us to run that way, so we turn and go back about ten meters the way we've come. Out of the swarm, we turn again and can see the cloud of bees moving away from us along the trail. He hadn't disturbed a nest, the colony is moving to a new hive. The swarm had passed right through us. As quick as we can, we get our cameras out and follow after them, but we're too slow. They've already moved to the west side of the pond and up the coulee slope. Amazing experience. It's not every day you stand amidst an entire colony of bees on the move

1615 Continuing on, our next encounter is with the Four Square aapsspini family, who are eight together again. They are out in the pond as we approach, but then paddle up to our shore right below us, where the older mother and goslings begin to feed. The main gander watches them briefly, then darts out and bites his wife in the butt as if to say, "What are you, crazy? There's humans right there!" The goose and her goslings are startled away from their meal, and the whole family moves on

1626 Our walk concludes with a sighting of one of the ksisskstaki, who swims up and climbs ashore below us as we pass the lodge. She grabs a large dirt clod and slips back into the water. The dirt dissipates and, when she surfaces again it is empty-handed

IIII Swallow And Wren Hatchlings (2Jul11)

1329 Sspopiikimi - we into the hottest part of a full summer day, blue skies without a cloud, and hardly a breeze to speak of. Like yesterday, Mahoney and I are taking a sunwise route around the pond and, at least on the north end, encountering none of the garter snakes we're accustomed to seeing here, and few of the turtles. I suspect it may be the heat

1347 In this part of the season, when the cottonwood seeds are drifting through the air, and the absinthe spiders wrapping their white silks around the tips of last year's tumbleweeds, there comes a peculiar growth on the recently leafed-out clematis vines. It has the shape of a gall, with swollen stems and pocked on the outside by bright orange blisters, which could themselves easily be eggs. Cutting these growths open, I find no larvae. It is another mystery needing to be understood, and today I'm taking one of these growths home to mature or die in a jar, in the event that it is an insect related phenomenon

1435 The damselflies are not in anywhere near the kind of mating frenzy as we witnessed yesterday, and there are still very few dragonflies around... though enough to feed the kingbirds and growing redwing fledglings apparently, as this is what was revealed from images we took yesterday afternoon. As we round north-pond, we see that the three mallard ducklings who had been alone here about a week ago have reunited with their mother. Again, I suspect the brief separation to be part of their training. Cutting down into the forest main, we note that mama-cat is still tending to her sole hatchling of two days old. Perhaps this is indication that the predators who took her other four are going to leave this last one be. Then, making our way through the forest to south-pond, I scour the trail-side brush for more catbird nests, as well as those of yellow warblers and eastern kingbirds. With the exception of one catbird nest that has a single egg broken on the ground beneath it, I find nothing. But we know they're here

1514 At the junction of the two main trails leading through the forest main, there is a small poplar snag with three cavities constructed by woodpeckers. As we pass by, I just happen to notice, the two cavities highest up are being nested by two different species. We stop to watch and learn that the one on top is a tree sparrow. Both parents are attending to feeding their hatchlings within, bringing beaks full of small insects at a rate of about a minute and a half per feeding (I timed it), and carrying out their white packets of poopy as needed, to drop elsewhere in the forest. The second cavity is occupied by a house wren family. The wrens are more skittish about revealing their presence. The parents will not feed their hatchlings while both Mahoney and I stand below watching. They wait patiently off concealed in nearby brush until one of us walks away

1533 The mosquitoes are not bad here this afternoon, compared to the situation a few days ago. For some reason, those that are lingering in the forest grass seem especially attracted to Mahoney, possibly because of the lotion she put on earlier. The combined effect of mosquito assaults and the heat have sapped her will to continue our study today. So after the cavity nests, we climb out of the forest, onto the levee, and make our way back without further event to the car

IIII ) l Forest Cathedral (3Jul11)

1316 Sspopiikimi - taking the counter-sunwise this afternoon, starting with the west length, and stopping early on to drop a bit of frosting by the big thatcher hive (complements of Starbucks lemon raspberry loaf). The thatchers are few on the highway and exposed parts of their mound. The clouds of earlier this morning have dissipated, and the heat is bearing down again

1326 Cottonwood seeds continue to float in the air, piling up on the edges of our path alongside pockets of shed brome flowers. The Four Square aapsspini family continues to fare well. Their goslings are now all grey, with just a hint of yellow on their heads. This year's absinthe are now nearly as tall as last summer's dry remains. The hoary cress is in seed, and the wild mustard golden in bloom

1402 We hike around the wide south pool and past the very lush owl wood to drop into the forest main. Along this route, we notice that the buckbrush is now in bloom, and that the saskatoons appear to be nearer to ripening than the currants, something that's never occurred in previous summers. Already we are feeling overheated, so we decide to seek out a shady log where we can sit and watch the trees for the possibility that some of the birds will reveal the locations of their canopy nests

1421 The area where we chose to sit is the kind of place a new-ager might look at and perceive as a vortex. It is a grand forest cathedral, where all of the tree trunks around a wide central clearing angle sharply toward one another, and come together to create arches overhead. But it is nothing too mysterious. The central open area is the key. All of these trees have bent in their convergent directions to bring their leaves access to maximal sunlight. I wish those people searching for supernatural answers could one day appreciate that the greatest force of creation on this planet is and always will be the Sun. Just consider, here it has bent the largest of trees permanently with but a glance

1433 Though we can hear the cricket-like calls of waxwings high in the canopy above, the only nest we're able to locate in watching the trees of this cathedral place is that of a house wren couple, using an old woodpecker cavity in a dead snag. That makes two wren nest locations we're presently aware of in the forest main. Like the wrens from yesterday, the two residing in the cathedral are hesitant to bring food to their hatchlings while we are present. In the fifteen minutes or so we sit here, they make only one quick, stealthy drop. Aside from these wrens, the scene is fairly quiet. Too much midday heat, we figure. Taking a cue from this widespread inactivity, we decide to hike back to the vehicle and call it a day, seek shade indoors