01 October 2011

Golden Flies And Beaver Forecasts

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Many Skimmers And Mohkammii (17Sept11)

1600 Sspopiikimi - given the prolonged lull in significant phenological change after the hawklings fledged, we took a couple weeks away, and are now returned to survey anew in the strong wind this afternoon

1605 Walking around north-pond and down into the forest main, my initial impression is that not a lot has changed still. There's an absence of birds, or at least bird sounds, just two mallards on this end of the pond, no kingfishers or others apparent. The obvious insect presences remain with medium-sized grigs (two-stripes and redwing clickhoppers among them), smaller skimmer dragonflies, and a few pink-rimmed sulfur butterflies. The flowers still in bloom are mainly the hairy golden and tufted white prairie aster. All of the goldenrod and rhombic-leaved sunflowers have played out now and, in the forest, most of the showy asters have gone too

1643 At the edge of the wet-meadows we take a break so I can climb through the bulberry brush to check my game-cam. Finally, activity here is picking up. After the ducks of the flood season, all we were finding in the candid shots were redwing blackbirds and grackles. And then, after they departed, nothing for several weeks. Today though, we have a series of images, mostly of whitetail deer, but also coyotes and pheasants. Among the whitetail shots, there is a young buck who keeps returning. He shows up initially with velvet on his single-tine antlers, and later (just days ago) with the velvet sheared off. Another of the deer, a doe, has a large scar down her ribs, probably from where she was hit by a car

1715 On my way back to the forest main from the bulberries, I come across a paddle-tailed darner clinging to the low plants of the wet-meadows. I'm surprised it allows me so close, and doesn't do more than flick its wings a few times when I pet it. Then, continuing our hike south through the forest, Mahoney and I disturb hundreds, perhaps thousands of skimmers. Some of them are of a species we haven't noticed before - dark with a tail that bears narrow, yellow stripes, so small that two of them can fit together on the surface of a single buckbrush leaf. We stop and take pictures in an area particularly dense with them, where the chokecherry hugs the path. There are dark damselflies here too, and a large yellow and green darner. Eventually, we come to the duck blind above the wide south pool. The islands are filled with mallards today, far more than just the two families who had been here up until our last visit. I count twenty eight sleeping on the two main islands, and there are others around here and there. Nothing like the thousands that gather in Mookoan Reservoir, but still more than we've recently seen here

1740 Just before we depart the duck blind, I spot someone we haven't seen here since early summer. It is mohkammii, the great blue heron, hunting along an edge of the bulrushes. Mahoney and I then walk back through the forest and climb the levee to check the garter snake hibernaculum on the riverbank by the owl wood. As far as we can tell, the snakes aren't back yet. I guess they're using every bit of remaining summer we have

1818 Our walk around the south bend and along the west bank is without much incident. We see the mallards and heron again as we pass, the latter lifting heavily and crossing over to the subpond, out of view. Below the south-pond bench, we startle a kingfisher, who flies away chattering. We notice that the water has gone down quite a bit, enough that some small islands have been exposed between the Ksisskstakioyis and the west bank... this being the usual trend for end of summer, the golf course continuing to pump water out for their greens, and no rains to replenish. The beavers still haven't built their food cache up above the surface, but it appears that are at work at it, the entrance on that end of the lodge is crowded with floating bulrush stems

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllll Otsstatsimaan Absence (18Sept11)

1153 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - I arrived about a half hour ago at the coulee rim, diverted by residential construction that has my normal access road closed. It's another windy day, and I've hiked down to the hibernaculum to learn whether the rattlesnakes have returned yet. Several things have changed since my visit of two weeks ago, when the yellow-jacket workers were pestering and stinging me. Today there are none. Gone also are the blooms of broomweed, gumweed, and goldenrod that held so much attention from the insects. Now there are only the inconspicuous yellow panicles on the big sagebrush. The grigs are still thick here, though I've not seen any of the large two-striped females, and I suspect their eggs have long been deposited. Unlike the pond, there are no dragonflies or damselflies about. And the only birds I've seen so far were a couple song sparrows in some stunted chokecherries about a third of the way down the slope

1234 There are at least four snakes returned. I find two younger rattlers along with a large, probably pregnant female at the main entrance, and I hear another young one drop down into the far entrance as I approach. I still expect to see a lot more return before the serious cold arrives. Leaving the snakes, I've now climbed up a ridge and am in search of cactus berries as I follow this route down toward the floodplain

1317 I find none of the fruit I'm looking for, otsstatsimaan. It may be that this was a bad year for the cactii, just as it has been for the okonoki, bulberry, currants, and so many others. Misamssootaa was too long. I hope this is not what climate change has in store for us from here out. In any case, when I hit the dark sediment toward the bottom of the ridge, I stop to watch a large wolf spider that has run across my path. It climbs under some leaf debris below a dry, overhanging patch of buffalo bean. When I look closer beneath the same plant, I find an event underway... there are dozens of slate-colored assassin bugs here, and they are mating. Continuing on, I stop next at my game-cam in the hawthorn brush. It has collected images of all the usual visitors: coyote, deer, cottontails, and pheasants. In some grass below the camera, there is a huge wasp struggling to climb away. I think it may be a new yellow-jacket queen, and perhaps I've disturbed the area she's hoping to bed down in for the winter

1422 My return hike up the coulee slope is without much incident. I sit for a quick break at the Oldman riverbank, then select a more direct climb that takes me over shortgrass where I know there are ball cactus. Again though, there are no berries to be found. There are, however, still a lot of the tiny citric skunkbrush berries. These I suspect are what the song sparrows are eating, as I’ve come across several more of these birds in the sumac during my climb. Toward the rim, where the broomweed and gumweed has recently played out, the ground is moving with black blister beetles. Aside from the sparrows and beetles, I find nothing else of note and am soon back at my car

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllll Beaver Caches Against The Lodge Walls (22Sept11)

1139 Heading out the door and down the back alley, toward the coulee and hopefully a break to (not from) reality for the afternoon

1213 Though suburbia concludes a block away from my house at the top of the farthest reaching coulee draw, it's still a bit of a hike across a sort of transition zone to get to that part of "outside" that feels really outside. This transition zone is comprised of mixed grassland that was not very long ago farm field. It is now being reclaimed by native plants and animals, but the small gain will be short-lived... for the same reason this area was farmed, its relative flatness, it will soon also be developed to support more of the suburban sprawl. I feel like I have been all my life crossing these kinds of temporary transition zones to enjoy brief respites, and to access learning experiences that are more difficult to recognize in the areas like my neighborhood that our landscaping and architecture has so dramatically transformed. And I know that part of this is just my own psychological obstacle, because the synanthropic species like magpies and crows have little problem carrying out less imaginary ways of life amidst all of it. But on the other hand, many of them die there of bizarre causes that don't exist where I'm presently sitting, halfway down a coulee ridge, with my back up against a boulder, in the exact same place (judging by the flattened grass) where deer, coyotes, and others sit to rest and observe the surroundings

1255 Part of what I want to do in the relatively short time I have to enjoy here this afternoon is emulate those like our neighborhood magpies who come up to suburbia from their coulee roosts simply to be corvids in a place that is as much theirs as ours. If they are synanthropic, I want to be synbiotic... in other words, I want to be a human animal in this coulee that I belong to as much as I belong anywhere. And so what do the magpies do when they come up? They eat, and they explore, when it's hot they find shade. Even though the boulder on this ridge is cool against my back, it's getting warm. And just down the way, in the draw, there are chokecherries that offer both fruit and shade...

1343 Not too many strides away from the chokecherry patch is a cliff overlooking the Oldman River. I decide to walk out and have a peek before moving into the shade. When I reach the edge, I see straight below me a large cormorant standing on some boulders about a third of the way out into the river. The bird spots me immediately as well, and wings off upstream. I watch it go, then head back to the berries, and for the next while pick and munch casually, filling half a brown paper lunch sack with what I don't eat on the spot. It's comfortable in the brush, aside from the commingled burdock that, despite my attempts at careful avoidance, seems to swat at me with their prickly seed heads. When I feel cooled and ready for a change of pace, I climb the next ridge and again look over a cliff edge at the river. Now there's a great blue heron where the cormorant had been standing. It must be a good fishing spot. Like the cormorant, the heron is spooked. It flies downstream and across the river to land on the food cache of a large, shoreline beaver lodge

1453 Now my curiosity is piqued, and I can't resist climbing down the cliff and wading out to perch on the rock myself in the hopes of seeing what the heron and cormorant are so interested in. But alas, I don't have their eyes, or perhaps their stature, or stillness, or patience, whatever it is that enables them to successfully spot and acquire fish from this position. I’m reminded of the days my dad would take us snorkeling in the clear north-fork of the Santiam in the Valley Willamma. I could never see the trout from above, but with my face underwater they were suddenly abundant. Perhaps that is what's happening here in these far greener and hazy waters of the Oldman. The tiny minnows are enjoying it though. Every once in a while I change footing, dislodging small crumbs of goose droppings from this poop-encrusted rock, and the minnows swim right up and feast

1538 I haven't been down here, to the river just below my house, since probably the middle of last winter. I don't know what it is. I think in part it's just that I don't want to get too attached. With all the development going on up above, I'd be upset if I came to know this place well and then had my access blocked. But that’s not very synbiotic thinking. In any case, there's been a lot of growth in sandbar willow and cottonwood saplings since I last visited. Probably this is owing to two summers of fairly high water. But I suspect it's also connected to the work of the beavers who reside here. Having left my midstream rock and climbed back up an adjacent cliff, I can now see there are three large, occupied beaver lodges all within maybe a two-hundred meter stretch - one just below me on my side of the river, and two spaced out on the opposite shore. A beaver triangle. I know all these lodges are occupied, because each of these families have started a food cache for winter. And in every case, the cache is right up against the end of their lodge, which is curious

1629 I slowly make my way back up along the ridge, noting a few of the insects present along the way - dark morph cowpath tiger beetles, yellow jackets, and one of the elusive red flies. I have my eyes peeled for otsstatsimaan, the fruit of ball cactus, but I find only four plants, and just one with a pair of berries. Eventually I again cross the mixed-grass transition zone and arrive at the edge of suburbia. Here I am met by the local magpies, two or three families, all of whom know me, and some having even visited and explored the inside of my house. They are giving double and triple calls, rounding up all their members. There are robins here as well, and sometimes when one of the magpies takes a short flight, it is swooped by the smaller bird. No doubt the robins loath the egg-thieving corvids. Soon the magpies will head down into the coulee draw that I've just left. I stop and talk to them, and there is one who hurt his leg a few days ago who's begging, but unfortunately I haven't brought any of the beetle grubs we usually offer them. In any case, meeting them here at this edge zone seems the perfect conclusion to my day, and maybe they feel the same

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllllll Golden Dung Flies (24Sept11)

1658 Sspopiikimi - out for an evening stroll around the pond, and perhaps a dusk sit down with the beavers

1716 It's dry and hot today, as it has been most of the week. As we make our way around north-pond and into the forest main, it's clear the conditions, compounded with the watering regime of the neighboring golf course, is sucking the moisture out of everything. There are no longer any flowers to speak of, save for a few tufted white prairie asters and purple showy asters in the shade. The leaves of the trees have turned mostly gold, as have those of the willows and dogbane on the wet-meadows. The dragonflies, abundant last week, are gone. In their stead are golden dung flies who, though they may deposit their eggs in feces, mainly feed on other insects, and so are widespread in the forest, and hunting

1753 Our first real stop is at the edge of the forest main and wet-meadows, where Mahoney sits down on a log in the shade while I cross over to the bulrush patch to check on my game-cam. This week, it has been just a single whitetail doe visiting this brush. I have several images of her laying down to nap right in front of the camera, and one picture of her nose sniffing the lens. Continuing south through the forest again, we find more of the golden flies and a spider that is camouflaged to appear as a sweetclover seed. There are also lots of funnel-web and harvestman spiders about, and a few mosquitoes. We stop again at the quiet cathedral where the owls hunt, so I can catch up on these notes

1824 Between the cathedral and the garter snake hibernaculum, we come across several colonies of ants who are producing their mating swarms. All of these colonies are of the same species - a very small ground-dweller whose hive entrances comprise mere holes on the surface, with no mound. The winged generation appears to be of two sorts, many of them being about five times the size in body of the regular colony members, but others appearing smaller. I will have to research their species name. We stop off briefly at the duck blind to observe that the waters of the wide south pool have gone down even further. No sign of the heron tonight, and we've not seen the yellowlegs make their seasonal visit here yet.  There are also far fewer mallards on the islands this evening. The snakes, however, are starting to make their way back to the winter den. They haven't come to occupy the hibernaculum proper just yet, but Mahoney spots a young one as we climb the levee toward their site, so no doubt they'll be here soon. These wandering garters emerge later than the rattlers at the beginning of summer and, from what we’ve come to recognize, return later at summer's end

1859 Rounding the wide south pool, we cross paths with several mountain cottontails by the currant brush. The kingfisher is here, plucking baby pike from the water, and the merlin is present, snatching the last remaining dragonflies from midair. Eventually we take our seats on the west cutbank across from the Ksisskstakioyis. Like the river beavers, this family is building their winter food cache right up against the wall of their lodge. This is the first time we've seen them use this strategy. Usually, the cache is built at least a couple meters out. Makes us wonder whether they might be expecting some peculiar conditions this winter

1927 The light is fading, and both the beavers and mallards are congregating to feed just below us. There are seventeen mallards here, and more in north pond. There is also another water bird who flew past us toward south pond. It may have been a pied-billed grebe or ring-necked duck... we are accustomed to seeing both stop by at the pond this time of year. But with only shadow to work with, we couldn't make a firm identification. We are, however, able to distinguish one of this summer's beaver pups by its much smaller size. It stays close to the lodge and plays at the edge of the food cache before we depart