10 August 2011

Late Nests As Leaves Turn

I Leaves Begin To Turn (29Jul11)

1959 Sspopiikimi - it's a breezy dusk, and the shadow of the coulee rim has already crept over about half the pond, though we've enough daylight remaining to at least take a stroll around

2011 We are greeted by a depressing sight as we make our sunwise round... there are yellow leaves in almost all of the western cottonwoods. It feels like they only just unfurled their green canopies, and already all too soon they will drop. It is, after all, the beginning of Pakkii'pistsi Otsitsi'tsspi, the second to last summer moon. It seems we are to have no currants or saskatoons this year. All the berries are stunted, hardly existent at all

2053 Despite the turning leaves, the forest is otherwise lush and pleasant. There are tall goldenrod and clematis in bloom, as well as white sweetclover and maanikapii. In the trees and brush, we see house wrens, cedar waxwings, least flycatchers, northern flickers, and a fledgling downy woodpecker. The spurge hawk moth larvae are still at work eating the leaves and flowers off their favorite plants. We even find a couple on the sweetclover and brome. Many are bloated and fat at this point, but there are still others not long from the egg. They look so exotic in their bright colors, with the large red spikes at the base of their tails. Poisonous to eat no doubt, given their constitution for leafy spurge. All the same, I can't resist petting them. Of course we also check in at Ayinnimaoyiiyis. The hawklings are growing so fast. With summer nearing its conclusion, we'll be expecting flight training soon

2136 In true dusk's shadow, we walk the shale trail along the west length of the pond. The two aapsspini families are still here, though tonight we're missing one from the Four Square family, probably one of the yearlings who were helping their parents. My mind is still very much on the new mapping project, though this evening's hike has been a bit too hurried for the kind of reflection needed. Perhaps in the next day or two we can return and take our time

IIII ) lll Effects Of The Annual Mow (4Aug11)

1719 Sspopiikimi - it's been several days since our last visit and, pulling into the parking lot, I see that in our absence the city sent someone out here to mow large swaths parallel to the pathways. I guess my first focus of the evening will be to survey the damage

1822 It takes me an hour to hike the full course of the mow, which runs in a five-foot swath following the shale trail around the entire circumference of the pond. Fortunately, the death toll isn't nearly what it has been during such mows in previous summers. I find the remains of just one garter snake and one mouse, where usually there are several of each. As always though, it's difficult to even conceive of what the impact has been to smaller creatures. No doubt thousands of insects have met their end at this year's blade, and who knows how many deposits of their eggs among the plants. One of the large thatching ant hives has been mowed, and the survivors are busy rebuilding. I've seen no road dusters yet this season, and they are often one of the hardest hit. There are now two-striped grasshoppers, I saw a few on the path along the way. My attention was directed toward the clippings though, so I did not stop yet to make note of all the other live insects about. At one point, I crossed paths with both aapsspini families. The Four Squares are still short one adult, as they were when we last saw them. Also, I noticed that the ayinnimaikoaiksi are starting to call from their nest. Curiously, one of the parents swooped me when I was all the way on the opposite side of the pond from them. Now I'm entering the forest main, and headed purposely their way

1903 Now moving at a more appropriate pace, I'm hardly into the forest when my attention is drawn to the tall goldenrods. They are in bloom, and there are flies visiting their flowers. But there are also two other insect events underway here. The one is that some of them now exhibit the classic, spherical goldenrod galls, which means they are bearing the maggots of goldenrod gall flies. I've never seen one of these flies yet, to my knowledge, but I'll be on the lookout this evening. Secondly, and perhaps related, there is something causing the leaves at the terminal end of some of the plants to gather together and curl. I'm not sure what this is about. Like last year, I take the time to investigate a few of these, finding a small cocoon with a drab-colored worm hidden in just one of the leaves on only a single plant, but not in any of the others. All the while as I look at these plants, there are a couple house wrens chattering nearby

1942 I am sitting in the duck blind when I write the goldenrod notes. As I do, I notice that there are dark little bees with almost-white patches under their abdomen moving in and out of some of the cracks of the wood. These, I assume, are an indigenous species. Looking into the cracks they're entering, I see some yellow, almost lichen-looking material that nearly fills the gaps to the surface. I assume this is their hive, or rather where their eggs are being deposited, as there are too few bees here to really consider this structure a "hive" in the same way as honey bees, yellow jackets, hornets or ants. I sit on the ground to watch them at close range, as the come and go, and perform work I don't understand. Because I am sitting so low and still, the birds of the surrounding forest don't know I'm here. Twice I am visited by very startled birds, a pair of robins and a single flicker. Perhaps they know of these bees as well. And their appearance reminds me of the new mapping project... while this little nook may have been built to serve as a duck blind, in the minds of these bees and forest birds it is other things altogether

2012 Initially we saw but one... then we learned there were two... and now I can confirm there are three ayinnimaikoaiksi. I'm sitting down in the grass beside some buckbrush (which isn't nearly enough cover) watching the trio. They are now large enough to climb out, awkwardly unbalanced, onto the small branches supporting the nest. Every time their parents call from the distance, they take up a mimicked call themselves. I wait patiently a half hour or so, hoping to observe one of the parents bring in a meal. But when the moment does come, I am immediately spotted, and the adult bird wings off to sit in a neighboring tree and scream at me. I give it a few more minutes all the same, but the Sun is dropping behind the coulee rim now, and I don't want to keep these hawklings from their evening meal. Best to move on

2035 I figure I'll head home at this point, so I walk straight from my seat below the Ayinnimaoyiiyis toward the main forest trail. Along the way, I come across a patch of buckbrush with a small black currant bush growing out of it. Unlike so many of the other berries, these ones are large, dark and ripe. I'm popping a few in my mouth when out of the buckbrush flushes a mourning dove. It's the kind of escape flight that tells me right away there's a nest here. Sure enough, when I peek in the spot she came out of, there's a little grass pad between two logs on the ground, and a pair of white eggs. Pretty late in the season for these guys, must be a second or third brood

2056 From the dove nest, I move through the forest without further event, and climb out onto the shale trail on the levee at the north end. To my surprise, the aapsspini families are here too. They'd have never come up onto the levee, except now there is such a wide strip of mowed grass... they can see around them now, and so they're taking advantage of it. Another lesson in varying perspectives. As I pass them, a kingfisher darts over to the pond from the river, and a nighthawk begins to call from above. Soon I'm back at the car, and looking forward to visiting again in a day or two

IIII ) llll Lupine Bugs (5Aug11)

1821 Sspopiikimi - We arrived about a half hour ago and have just walked the west length, which is no doubt known by the majority of residents for the short grass hunting ground of the adjoining golf course, or the dense patches of lens-podded hoary cress along the cutbank (a wild mustard that is food and/ or breeding grounds to many)

1825 Along the path there are dozens of cabbage white butterflies flitting about, mating and depositing eggs on the hoary cress. There are also small golden dragonflies, the two aapsspini families, a single member of the ksisskstaki household paddling around near the lodge, and a pair of still-breeding redwings whose nest we're not going to disturb. Sitting at the bench beside the currant and bulberry patch at south-pond, the female redwing is making an appearance. She's arrived with a beak full of grasshoppers and, after brief hesitation, flies into the brush below us to feed her hungry, chattery hatchlings

1857 We round south-pond and cut through the forest main to sit again in the grass below Ayinnimaoyiiyis and observe the hawklets. Unfortunately, one of the parents is here when we arrive. He or she comes winging low overhead as we approach, but is quickly mobbed away by tree swallows, and is now somewhere out over the coulee rim, screaming in frustration. No chance we'll see a feeding. We won't stay here long. Besides, it is humid tonight with zero breeze, the mosquitoes are taking their toll

1932 With fair warning of the immanent storm, which we can now see forming over the coulee rim, Mahoney and I move down onto the wet meadows to download the images RYECAM02 has captured over the last couple weeks in the bulberry brush. The i'naksaapis plants surrounding the brush have grown tremendously. If I didn't already know where the entrances are, it'd be doubtful I'd find them. Also, the water that had created an island of this place through most of the summer has receded, and is now only ankle-deep. We are expecting to find a lot of images, given how long we've left it. Disappointingly, there are only five, and none with anyone identifiable at a glance. Over the camera's sensors, a spider has woven a thick screen of silk and attached eggs

1948 Moving again through the forest main toward north-pond, we wind our way carefully through the stands of white sweetclover, leafy spurge, tall goldenrod and brome, trying not to disturb any of the larger insects clinging to the stems. There are swollen spurge hawk moth larva, sulfur butterflies, thousands of damselflies, and a brown assassin species called a lupine bug that we recall seeing last year at this season. By the time we climb the levee at north-pond and are able to look a bit further west, it appears as though the storm has split and is going to pass around us. Still, we hike back to the parking lot and prepare to depart. On one of our car doors there awaits a huge promachus robber fly, a welcome sight to conclude this evening's visit

IIII ) lllll Wood Nymphs And Grigs (6Aug11)

1713 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - I've come out this evening prepared for a very slow trek down and back up the coulee, with one thing in mind, and that is gathering food. Though it appears our berries are going to be minimal to null this year, there remains all kinds of possibilities, especially for daring to experiment with omnivorousness in its fullest

1721 I'm hardly twenty meters from the parking lot when I spot a patch of medick black with seed. This will be my first stop, to pluck the seed bundles like berries. All around me there's a hum of bees visiting the still-flowering yellow sweetclover. And clinging to the stems of grass amidst the medick are seven-spot lady beetles, frozen in the midst of pupation

1805 I fairly clean all the seeds off the one patch of medick, leaving a neighboring patch alone, and then head downslope toward the hibernaculum. Along the way, I net grasshoppers, focusing particularly on the somewhat larger two-striped species. There are fewer grigs here than I'd expected, though in a few weeks they should be in their full glory. The majority of what I see flying around this evening are small golden dragonflies and common wood nymph butterflies. The latter are particularly dense around a patch of Canada thistle, which is also attracting black blister beetles, several species of fly, and the Hunts and Nevada bumble bees. I find, in some grass near the thistles, a pair of Hunts bumble bees mating. And as I sit here writing these notes near the hibernaculum, a large female Nevada bumble arrives, goes purposefully underground beside me, and surfaces again a few minutes later to fly away

1838 The ridges surrounding the hibernaculum are skunkbrush country. And though some of the bushes are already played out, others are still laden with their sticky, citrus berries. I wander around, collecting what I can. It's too bad I left my small root digging crowbar in the garage, because the onions are now perfect. Might have to bring my traditional foods students around this week to harvest some. While I wander, I notice several new plants in bloom - purple and white prairie clovers, and evening stars. The ma's is now completely dry, their stems soon to be detached from the root. A nighthawk is calling in display from above

1925 The skunkbrush keeps me busy for a while as I wind my way down one ridge, then another, until I at last reach the sagebrush flats. Here, in a pocket of hawthorn following a small draw down to the river, is RYECAM01. It's been at least three weeks since I last downloaded images off of it, and tonight I'm not to be disappointed. There are beautiful pictures of coyotes, pheasants, whitetail fawns, catbirds, porcupines, and cottontails. All the usual suspects, but still nice to see

2039 After my stop at the game-cam, I descend to the banks of the Oldman, and there set to work netting minnows. It would probably be easier to just set a minnow trap, and perhaps I'll do so next time I know that I can come down two days in a row. If made right, such a trap might also succeed in nabbing some crawdads. There are bird-eaten remains of these crustaceans littering the banks. Anyway... with a couple dozen minnows secured, I again ascend the coulee slope. Most of the insects, save for the bees, have already gone relatively dormant, clinging to the plants and turning round to the opposite sides of the stems as I pass by. I find, as I go, that it's probably more difficult to net grasshoppers in this state, at least this soon after sundown. They are keenly aware of my gaze, and in the split seconds it takes for my eyes to focus and confirm what I think I'm seeing, they register the threat and hop down toward cover at ground level