24 August 2011

Red-Fly Appears When Hawklings Fledge

IIII ) llllllllllll Hawklings Leave The Nest (13Aug11)

1639 Sspopiikimi - I'm sitting on the north cutbank, a feature I've yet to arrive at a better name for, where it seems like only yesterday I was watching insects on the coneflowers and thistles, now completely played out. The only blooms to see here at present are the occasional alfalfa, tufted white prairie aster, and inconspicuous absinthe

1645 Many plants are drying out, the grass already starting to yellow. There are at least some gold leaves on all the poplar trees. Walking in, I saw that the first leaves had even fallen, though compelled to turn and drop prematurely due to extra weight and lost nutrition associated with the development of petiole aphid galls. So many signs of winter's approach, but summer's not over yet. From where I sit, I can hear the hawklings of Ayinnimaoyiiyis calling for their parents, and I expect to find a mourning dove hatchling in the forest on my way to see them. There are lots of dragonflies in the air, and clinging to the tops of the absinthe around me. One of the nighthawks still calls in display above

1713 Moving on around the tip of north-pond, past all the floating wood from the old boardwalk, where a spotted sandpiper hunts for insects, I see other flowering plants. There are the two sweetclovers, yellow and white. There are tall goldenrods and rhombic-leaved sunflowers. And there are clematis. Only a smattering of the clematis flowers have started to seed. Most of them are still brilliant white, and being visited by honey bees and ants

1719 I have my eye out for painted turtles, but there are none basking on the north end. Those I do see are only briefly lifting their heads above the surface before diving back below. Mahoney and I released a turtle here a few days ago, one that - while perfectly healthy - had been deposited at a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Mohkinsstsis. We figure there must be a painted turtle population, unknown to the herpetologists, somewhere in that vicinity. In either case, it's living here now and, having memorized the unique broken pattern of one of the uppermost plates on it's back, we'll be looking forward to crossing paths with it again

1745 I drop down into the forest main and hike through to the wet-meadows so I can check my game-cam. Not to surprisingly, it hasn't been visited over the past week. It is positioned in a large clump of all-male bulberries, so there's no fruit to draw the animals. And since nesting season is pretty much over... I probably won't see significant action there until winter, when it becomes one of the few places at the pond for good concealment

1800 Leaving the camera and moving back toward the forest, I'm set upon by one of the parent hawks. This makes me suspicious, and when I come within view of the nest my thoughts are confirmed. The hawklings are not here. They are no doubt flight-training between trees in the forest, and I'll have to wait and listen for their cries if I hope to see them

1813 I sit patiently, waiting for the hawklings' begging calls, or for the sounds of a mobbing, and watching the canopy for any movement. At one point, I walk over to check on the dove nest. The pair of eggs are still being incubated. I notice that the spurge hawk moth larvae are gone, orobably off to the next stage of their development, subterrainian pupation. Sitting down on a log again in the shade of the forest, I hear a hawkling cry. They are north of me

1848 I hike slowly back through the forest main, taking just a couple steps at a time, scanning the canopy at every stop. I never hear the hawkling's voice again, nor does the parent bird return. All along the route there are house wrens, mourning doves, catbirds, yellow warblers, eastern kingbirds, cedar waxwings, and dozens of flickers. The latter are being scared up from the ground, where they must be feasting on some kind of insect. Climbing the levee again at the forest's north end, I even come across a yearling wandering garter snake, but no hawks

1909 Not wanting to give up quite yet, I follow the levee trail, watching the trees until I come to the bend around the wide south pool. Both of the aapsspini families are here. But as I arrive, the Four Square family in particular come flying down off the golf greens in a group. If what we have witnessed over the last five years visiting this place holds true, they will not be long for the pond. Also on the water, there are eight mallards, all with drab plumage, very likely one of the clutches born here this summer, only now these duckings are hardly distinguishable from their mother. There is a kingfisher hunting  the south spring, and robin fledglings picking their way along the mowed strip on either side of the shale trail. I have this sense that we've missed out on a lot of learning opportunities here this summer, that our study has stagnated, and I'm recognizing only the same general events we've witnessed before, on evenings when we took more time sitting still on the banks and watching

1947 Missing the good'ol days, as it were, I decide to conclude my visit this evening sitting by the water's edge across from the Ksisskstakioyis. It's not the same without Mahoney, but perhaps she'll do this with me tomorrow. I sit and watch a young member of the ksisskstaki family tow a good-sized willow sapling along the nearest canal and down in front of the lodge. It reminds me that they'll be building a food cache at this very location soon, if this willow is not itself among the materials being pegged in at the base. One of the parent hawks has returned, sitting in a tree behind me, above the golf greens, crying out to the fledglings, who could very well be in the trees above the greens themselves. I wait for more beavers to emerge, but none do. A large, blue paddle-tailed darner passes by on it's way south. The water tonight is calm and reflective, save for the little raindrop-like ripples made when the aquatic beetles surface, or the heads of turtles poking up now and then. This light, this calm, this seat, this is the pond that I love

IIII ) lllllllllllll Mi'ksoy'sksissi (14Aug11)

1751 Sspopiikimi - we're sitting on the west bank across from the Ksisskstakioyis this evening. The first beaver just appeared, and is swimming up the closest wet-meadow canal. We can see one of the three hawklings perched on a large branch a few trees south of the Ayinnimaoyiiyis, mostly red in color and occasionally crying. It's been a long time since we've come here and sat still

1816 When the beaver returns, he's towing three items - a poplar sapling, a rabbit willow, and a bulrush stem. Like yesterday, he dives on this side of the lodge, in the position where they usually build their cache. As he goes under, he loses the bulrush and it's left floating in front of the lodge. Just as well though if they are starting to make their winter store, because the bulrush layer can't be fixed until there are willows planted into the mucky bottom of the pond

1820 The hawklet has stopped calling, and Mahoney uses glass to look across to the edge of the forest main. It's still on its perch, and she thinks the other two are still in the nest itself. Meanwhile, I can see the mallard family and the smaller aapsspini family off in the wide south pool. No sign of the Four Square aapsspiniiksi yet. A turtle rises to the surface briefly below us, and some dragonflies amass in a little pocket of sunshine atop the prickly roses. A kingbird lands on the Ksisskstakioyis, sits for a minute or two, then flies across the pond and past us to the golf greens

1838 Where the kingbird lands, a family of flickers follow, four fledglings and their mother. Like the kingbird, the mama flicker alights on a wire running low between posts that demarcate (in human eyes only) Sspopiikimi from golf course. From this perch, she watches as her young ones search the grass for insect morsels. While they're eating, one of the hawklings in the nest begins crying out in begging fashion. A spotted sandpiper hunts briefly in the mud of the Ksisskstakioyis, and then the (same?) beaver appears again and moves back up the canal

1851 We're watching the Four Square aapsspini family, who've just come down into south-pond from somewhere on the golf course, when a raucous of hawkling cries breaks out. We look over only in time to see one of the parents depart from the nest, immediately mobbed by a few smaller birds. The parent hawk flies north, out over the river, and probably came in through the forest from that side too, which accounts for why we didn't notice right away. We don't know whether food was dropped off or not... the hawking out on the neighboring branch makes no effort to return to the nest, and her siblings continue to cry after the parent leaves. Now as the cries begin to wind down, the beaver has returned again carrying another poplar sapling, this one big and leafy, but still brought underwater and out of sight

1926 There is a period of quiet, when nothing more happens than a repeat visit of the sandpiper at the Ksisskstakioyis, who soon flies off to the south-pond peninsula. Then all at once the lull ends. It begins with one of the beavers swimming out toward our shore with a small, weathered log, which it leaves floating while dropping underwater. Then just a meter in front of us, Mahoney notices a strange insect alight on a flowering stem of buckbrush, a very large, furry, and bright-red fly the likes of which we've never seen before. It is Adejeania vexatrix, in the western science vernacular, but I think we'll just call it mi'ksoy'sksissi, or red-fly. It moves off before I can get a focused picture of it, so I stand up to pursue it, and at the same time Mahoney decides to take a walk back to the parking lot to fetch her sweater. Just then, two beavers come out of the lodge and swim over to investigate, floating like logs below us and sniffing in deep breaths. Not wanting to startle them, I sit back down, and no sooner do I than two female mallards opt to paddle past me and up the same canal the beavers have been using. They are followed by a huddle of seven grown ducklings, who themselves chose to take the old subpond canal. The two beavers are still floating around, occasionally rolling underwater. Unbeknownst to me, a third beaver slips up the canal after the mallards. I sit still, and can see that Mahoney is on her way back. As she approaches, one of the parent hawks glides in and lands on a power pole behind us, yelling out to her babies, who return the call in their own immature voices. Now with the hawk yelling and Mahoney walking the trail, the beavers start getting upset, and the one nearest Mahoney splashes the water with her tail. The hawk continues to scream as Mahoney reclaims her seat, and the annoyed beaver twice swims by to splash at us again. Meanwhile, the third beaver who'd gone up the canal returns with a big clump of rabbit willow, and the seven grown ducklings emerge again from the subpond. As we watch the ducks and beavers, the hawk cries cease, and when we look back again the parent is gone

2025 One of the ksisskstaki climbs up on the south wall of the lodge with another small weathered piece of wood, and sets it down against that wall. This action marks the beginning of another round of calm. Once the beaver slips back into the water, the only animals left to watch are the ducklings. They precede north toward us, but then cut into the reeds of the wet meadows, and slowly and sneakily move over land and under cover to pass around our position, not wanting to cross within direct view even though we're on the opposite side of the pond. As the shadow of dusk moves over the coulee, I make one last attempt at finding the red-fly, checking a larger patch of buckbrush behind us. Only a few of the plants are still flowering, and on one of these I catch a fleeting glimpse of the insect, but it has seen me first and wings away. Again a beaver climbs up on the lodge with a small, weathered stick, this time placing it on the north wall and, being as how all is on shadow, we determine to leave. As we walk out, we are lucky to observe one of the parent hawks dive down onto a wide, mowed pathway leading to the parking lot. Again I'm reminded that, while the mow outright killed many animals, it has at least facilitated the needs of a small selection of others

IIII ) lllllllllllllllll The New Dock (18Aug11)

1107 Sspopiikimi - it's a cool overcast day, and I couldn't see wasting it indoors, so I've come to the pond to take advantage of the opportunity and try to get some learning underway while it's so comfortable

1114 One of the first things I notice walking in is that a new feature has appeared at north-pond. The humans have been up to more of their nonsense, and have decided to construct a dock as an intrusion into the north-pond bulrush patch. It is sitting right over-top of the specific patch of reeds that the coots on this end have nested in every year since we've studied at the pond. It's open on its south side to one of the favorite little pools that the beavers created so that they could feed on bulrush roots while concealed by the cover of the surrounding reeds, and it exposes the turtles who bask on floating planks around this pool for the same protection it provides. The dock is made of metal, plastic, and PVC compounds whose colors, textures, and uniformity clash in relief against the nature-made backdrop of the pond. Obviously, I am not excited about the presence of this pontoon, but I suppose this is my perception, my biases, and we'll have to wait to learn how the animals will respond and adapt to it

1202 I sit on the dock for a bit, writing my initial impressions, and surveying this new feature. The plastic floats that serve as the actual dock itself must be giving off fumes of some sort. They seems to be attracting flies and yellow-jackets. On the upside, I'm finding already that this walkway will allow us easier access to study aquatic life. I can see beetles and snails from this vantage point that would otherwise require slogging through in waders. It also allows me a closer look at what some of the birds are up to. As I sit here, a cedar waxwing stops by, moving from reed to reed, plucking something off the seed heads of the bulrush. So I suppose there are benefits to having this dock here, at least selfish ones. I'll be curious to learn whether any of the coots or redheads dare nest here again though... or if they do, what kind of abuses they'll be subject to by human visitors

1225 Eventually I am drawn away from the dock, toward the voices of the hawk fledglings, who are in the trees at the edge of the golf course. Arriving minutes later at the scene, I find one hawlkling up in a tree, a second hunting grasshoppers on the ground, and a third calling from not far away. I'm sure it is by no coincidence that sikohpoyitaipanikimmiksi nest such that their fledglings begin moving out right in time with the peaking grig season. These birds will follow their grasshopper diet south and feed in this manner for all of what is our winter. So the fledglings needn't bother struggling learning how to catch small mammals just yet

1308 Eventually the hawklets cross back over the pond to the trees around Ayinnimaoyiiyis, and I start my quest to locate one of the mi'ksoy'sksissiiksi that Mahoney and I observed here a few nights ago. At that time, the red-flies were visiting buckbrush flowers, and so I've been walking the west length, carefully surveying all the buckbrush stands. Along the way, I've photographed dozens of insects, some I know and others I need to learn about. The buckbrush flowers themselves are being tended to mainly by honeybees and their drone fly mimics, but there are other bees and flies as well, and a whole host of grasshoppers, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies as well. Unfortunately though, none of the brilliant red-flies I'm looking for

1358 At the wide south pool, I move down onto the peninsula to learn what's new there. I find mating cherry-faced meadowhawks on the rocks, little orange european skippers in the alfalfa, and the largest group of water beetles I've ever seen. Not surprisingly, there are bank and tree swallows on the scene, swooping out over the water and plucking meals at their leisure. From there, I round the wide pool, following the shale trail along the levee, and am now down into the forest main to survey some of the buckbrush here

1444 Like the west length, the forest main produces no red-flies either. Perhaps it is an insect that prefers the dusk, or maybe it was just a rogue passer-through (we've never noticed them before). But what the forest lacks in red-fly, it makes up for in other ways. One of the things I've hoped to see are the hatchlings of the last mourning dove brood, and that has now occurred. Mother dove took off with such a start that one of the hatchlings was turned upside-down and unable to right itself, so I gave it a helping hand. The hawklings, for their part, on seeing me, took fairly graceful wing and moved yet again to the opposite side of the pond. And there were many insects, including what might be small moth cocoons and beetle pupae on the white sweetclover, as well as the recently transformed seven-spot lady beetles

1509 Coming out of the forest at north-pond, I am again presented with the sterile new plastic dock. It might not be so terrible in the long run. Maybe it'll grow on me. I can imagine Mahoney and I sitting out here during the evenings amidst the reeds, watching some of the nests of early summer. Still, I'll also remember sitting up on the north cutbank looking toward the nests in these reeds and not having to suffer the sight of such a foreign distraction

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Evening With Hawklings (19Aug11)

1855 Sspopiikimi - on a warm, calm water evening, Mahoney and I have set up our low chairs on the west bank across from the ksisskstakioyis, with one hawkling standing on a pole just behind us, and another calling from their old nest by the forest main

1906 Wow... we're only sitting here a few minutes when the hawkling closest to us flies down and lands on the ground right beside us, not ten meters away, and begins feeding on grasshoppers. After a couple bites, my rock-hound friend Duane from Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko comes strolling down the shale trail with his wife and daughter, scaring the baby away to a nearby tree. But the human family having passed, she's come back to land on the nearer pole and I suspect will come down beside us again

1931 The three hawk siblings call back and forth to one another from their respective perches. While we wait for another grasshopper to reveal itself to the hawkling nearest us, there are other things happening on the pond... a ksisskstaki emerges from the lodge and swims toward north-pond, two mi'ksikatsi females move past us in the same direction from the wide south pool, and the seven ducklings come toward us from mid-pond, moving in the same obtuse V formation they'd used when much younger, then switched to a near-shore line formation once they'd noticed us. A bald eagle passes high overhead, moving toward the river. And presently a second ksisskstaki has appeared, floating like a log between us and the lodge. There is no sign of either aapsspini family, it appears their flight training concluded and they've moved on

2008 One after the other, the hawk parents come to land at Ayinnimaoyiiyis for the night. When the first arrives, a hawkling flies over us from the golf greens to follow. Now there is only one baby still on our side of the pond, and it is perched on a pole back near the coulee slope in the other side of the golf course. The ksisskstaki who'd swam north has returned as well, towing a leafy poplar sapling and diving with it below the water in front of the lodge

2023 We're waiting for the remaining hawkling to move to the roost, but instead it drops down onto the golf greens, again to eat grasshoppers. No sooner does it come to land than a merlin appears out of nowhere on the pole near us, a mountain cottontail hops out of the buckbrush immediately behind our chairs, and three coyotes begin yipping and howling from the coulee slope. The hawkling finishes its grasshopper meal and flies again, landing on yet another pole just a ways north of us. Mahoney is walking over that way to watch her while I remain back at our seats, where the kingbirds have begun calling to one another and making short, dancing flights out from the cottonwood trees

2045 Eventually the last hawkling glides over the pond to join its family, and I'm almost sure the observations with them are complete for the night. But after ten minutes or so, one of the parents departs from the group, moving toward the coulee slope, and it is followed by the hawkling, who again lands on the pole just north of us. Meanwhile, from the nearer pole, the merlin has made two short flights out over the pond to snatch dragonflies invisible to us, until that is he lands again to eat them

2053 When the merlin makes his third successful dragonfly capture under dusk's heavy shadows, and the two hawks still haven't returned to the nest, we decide it's time to take our leave. It's been a wonderful evening at the pond, so inspiring that we may return come morning

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllll Grasshopper Parasites (21Aug11)

0954 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - arrived this morning in deep contemplation about the changes I'd like to make in my life, a bit at a time, all the small but significant decisions we make every day that ripple through our ecosystem. Just on the route from my house to the coulee rim, less than a mile distant, I noticed two discarded plastic water bottles on the roadside... one that looked like it was chucked out a window, the other standing straight as if it had just been set down. It's not the sight of litter that disturbs me, but the reminder of our disposable use of material culture. Across the road from here, a farmer is cutting hay in a field no doubt full of rattlesnakes, since this coulee is where most of this region's harmless reptiles are relocated. Why couldn't he wait for them to move back to the hibernacula, or at least employ some kind of system to have a couple hands walk out in front of the blades to ensure minimal damage to threatened species? It's these simple decisions, opting for responsible action, that we really need to start adopting

1013 The aapsspiniiksi are flocking up now. Arriving at the coulee rim, a group of twenty three passed overhead, moving between stubble-fields. The dominant color of the season is yellow: yellow sweetclover, broomweed, gumweed, and sunflowers, not to mention the burning blades of grass and turning poplar leaves. Today I remembered to bring my small root-digger (a.k.a. crowbar), so I can collect onions on the way down

1027 In less than ten minutes, still at the rim, I'm able to harvest enough wild onions that I can't hang onto the batch with one hand. Depositing these onions in my car, now I'm ready to start walking

1122 It's slow going, at least for me today. It takes a full to get halfway down the slope, stopping constantly to observe the insects who are tending to the gumweed. Most predominant are the black blister beetles and a small orange and brown butterfly whose name escapes me. There are also several varieties of bees and flies on these flowers, and they are what capture most of my attention, as I need photographs of them in order to research their identities. The road dusters are finally out in full force now, and the two-striped grasshoppers are fat with eggs, as I learn cleaning a few for later eating. Funnel-web spiders have taken over all the burrow entrances claimed by black widows earlier in the season. And the only birds I'm seeing or hearing are the western kingbirds

1154 Before I reach the river-bottom, the mid-day heat is on and I'm damp with sweat. It must be that the onions and dotted blazing stars have two blooms a season. Both were among the earliest flowers of summer, and both are out again at present. Walking through a patch of dry, played-out sweetclover, I can see that this might be an easier feature in which to nab grasshoppers. They're abundant here, and there's relatively few places where they can seek concealment. I leave them for now though, continuing on to the base of the slope, and the brushy draw where I keep my game-cam. The images for this week are all pheasants, cottontails, and deer. The fawns are growing up nicely. There is also a small, brown bird in one of the shots, but I'll have to identify it at home. All around the brush by the camera, there is maanikapii going to seed. I haven't picked any this summer, and will definitely want it should any viruses get in my system this winter. So I grab a decent bundle, and the. Continue to the river

1236 At the Oldman, I employ the "keep cool on a hot day trick"... I soak my shirt in the river, and put it back on for the climb upslope. When I again pass through the dry sweetclover, I'm able to catch quite a few grasshoppers while on the move. I notice a small lesion on the abdomen of one of the two-stripes, just a little red dot that suggests to me the work of an ovipositor. This is enough to prompt a release of the animal, because I certainly don't want to eat anything suspected to be full of parasites. It's a good thing too, because not five minutes later I find another with the same marking, and fairly zombified. This time, I pop off the head and, sure enough, maggots come climbing out of the body

1311 The sight of the parasitic larvae turn me off to the grasshopper idea, at least for the moment. I am noting how labor intensive their acquisition is, for the amount of potential protein gained. It would perhaps be better to invest the energy into catching fish, or something a bit higher up the food chain. But it's grasshopper season after all, and they're only here in any abundance for this brief period each year. I clean the ones I've collected and hike back up to my vehicle. The heat is tiring me out. I'm ready to seek shade and a cold glass of water. But I feel like I've accomplished something... I'm bringing home onions, maanikapii, and some grigs. And I've had an opportunity to further my phenology study at the same time. Who can complain?