13 February 2012

Ravens And Borers

IIII ) llll Ravens And Borers (29Jan12)

1253 Sspopiikimi - Here for a short visit this afternoon. It's a warm ten degrees and cloudy, but we've got hurricane-force wind gusts underway. I expect most of the animals are going to be hunkered down. All the same, I can't resist taking a brief walk

1316 Though there are large puddles on the pond surface, it's still completely frozen over, so I don't bother walking the exposed west length. Instead, I begin by making my way around north-pond, climb the levee and drop down into the north wood. The ground is thawed, soft under my feet. When I reach to the edge of the wood by the river, I come upon a raven couple. It's an unexpected encounter. We don't noticed each other until I'm too close. Even backing away doesn't help, they take wing. But before the ravens depart, I note that one is on the ground and the other perched on a fallen log above. I suspect they have a carcass there, and once they're gone I move in to inspect. Turns out, they weren't scavenging. The log that the one had been perched on has been torn up at a certain point, chunks of its soft wood scattered on the ground below. I pull my little crowbar out of my pack and dig in. I only have to pry once at the log and I find five flat-headed poplar borer pupae. It's borer season again for the birds! A bit earlier than last year, but not surprising given the thaw

1332 While I photograph the pupae, a magpie glides past to check me out. It moves off into the north wood, and I decide to follow. Soon I'm amidst five magpies, moving low through the forest, at ground level, stopping here and there to poke in some leaf litter, or in the poplar bark. The magpies lead me south, eventually following the river cutbank, where they stop in the small canopy branches of a fallen tree. The site is a good windbreak, and they remain there while I pass by, hiking the shale trail

1341 Coming within sight of south-pond, I notice there are geese on the ice of the wide pool. I quickly make my way down through the forest main to the duck blind. There are two groups of aapsspini here, numbering twenty and thirteen members respectively. Individual couples are readily recognizable within these larger groups, and the ganders are acting typically alert. They're not too concerned about my presence. I suspect that most of these are birds who have known me for years. This is exactly the behavior I expect from them in this moon. The families are spending more time back at the nesting grounds. Soon the couples will split off and claim their sites

1406 Next, I head back through the forest and up the levee to check on whether there are any geese below the high-level bridge. There aren't, but I would bet these aapsspini are up on the stubble fields, and not among those at the pond. From my position on the levee, I can also see that the south spring is open again. I don't bother with the owl wood, but drop straight back down into the forest main an hike north, eventually cutting over to the wet-meadows to visit my camera trap. It's been seven days since I last downloaded images, and in that time there's only been one pass each by the pheasant rooster and a magpie. It's been a quiet week in the big bulberry brush

1420 It's been an hour since I frightened the ravens away, so I figure it's worth returning to the scene, in case they're back again. I move through the forest, up the levee once more, and out along the river cutbank. When I arrive within sight of the borer logs, there's no ravens. Almost directly across the river though, there is small raft of goldeneyes forming. At first, I count nineteen. But after a few minutes, four more drift in from upstream to join them. It's pretty unusual for me to see more than three or four goldeneyes together on the river this time of year. I thought six or seven was a lot a month ago. Now twenty-three? They must be gearing up for a departure

1430 Feeling as though I'd seen the major phenological events for the day, I decide to walk back to my vehicle. Perhaps tomorrow I'll swing by the confluence to see what's new there

IIII ) llllllllll Large Aapsspini Congregations (4Feb12)

1311 Sspopiikimi - Blue skies, no wind, and a comfortable (if unseasonable) eight degrees above zero. We've arrived to conduct our usual phenological survey, and the first thing to report in this regard is that there are six or seven car-loads of golfers on the neighboring greens, though the course itself is not officially open. We see a few of them climbing over the wire fence as we pull in. There have been other animals returning or awakening early in these coulees. They are all anxious for the breeding season ahead. What are the humans excited about? Hitting balls with sticks

1328 Given the presence of golfers, we decide to forego the shale trail anong west length, and move sunwise instead. As we round north-pond, two flocks of aapsspini numbering thirty-nine members arrive. They appear to be landing at the big river island, so we climb the levee and walk to the tall cutbank overlooking the Oldman to confirm. To our surprise, there are several hundred geese here today, gathered in small flocks along the shorelines both up and downstream, for as far as we can see. Though some of them must be those who've wintered here, I suspect that many are recently returned from the south. Trying not to disturb them, Mahoney and I walk over to check on the logs that the ravens had been feeding from last week. There's no evidence of any further visits or excavations by the couple. We ourselves, on the other hand, dig into the log and extract four more beetle pupae, to bring back for our corvids at home. As we gather these insects, a flicker slides by overhead, swooping into the owl wood. There are a couple magpies near as well

1402 From the borer logs, we hike south along the levee walk following the river. All the way along, there are geese. They seem tired. Most are sleeping with their heads tucked back, a few sentries remaining alert. When we get to south-pond, we stop at the bench over the garter snake hibernaculum. Here, a scout bee comes and lands on the ground by our feet. I stand up and move toward her, only to have her move away. We then continue along to round south pond and walk the edge of the owl wood out toward the base of the high-level bridge. The owl nest itself is empty, and there is no sign of the birds around. Given how close we are now to Piitaiki'somm, I'm pretty sure we won't have any kakanottsstookiiksi breeding here this year

1420 Walking along the river cutbank from the high-level bridge, we can see some people downstream and on the opposite shore. It is a couple, and they have three children who are picking up rocks and throwing them at the geese. If they weren't so far away, I'd yell at them. It's frustrating to watch. The couple stand back, arms around one another, observing the senselessness of their brood as if it were a thing of beauty. The geese, for their part, are prompted by the threat of stone bombs to fly to the big island and out of range. We continue on, eventually reaching the bench again, and here come under the close examination of two more scout honeybees. With the warm weather, they must be expecting flowers. We're still a ways off from that season though

1443 Before leaving the bench, a group of about fourteen goldeneyes pass by. We then make our way down into and through the forest main, eventually crossing over to the wet-meadows to check on RyeCam02. The images on this camera trap show that the bulberry brush here has been increasingly visited by magpies (who I suspect will start building a new nest here soon). There have also been visits during the past week by the male pheasant and one coyote

1505 We move again through the forest and up onto the levee, to make our way back around north-pond and toward the parking lot. As we walk, a couple groups of aapsspini from the river fly over and land somewhere out by the wide south pool. These are the birds who will be nesting here before long. We also see a single niipomakii scouring the canopy of the north wood. It feels like it's been a fairly uneventful visit today. But on the other hand, it's clear we are at the early part of the seasonal transition. Twice along our route we thought we might have heard mourning doves. With how persistently warm it's been, I'm expecting to see more of our returning summer residents any time now

IIII ) lllllllllll Optimistic Scouting (5Feb12)

1302 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - Like the scout bee, I'm here today to search optimistically for the first signs of new flowers and food. We've had such a warm winter. Though I know there are probably not enough hours of sunlight yet to trigger even the earliest plants to new growth, when the shoots do rise I want to be there. It's about ten degrees out here at present, with blue skies and very little wind. My plan is to search for emerging musineon and flowering phlox on my way down to the rattlesnake hibernaculum, stop in to see if any of my slithering friends have awoken, then continue down to the sagebrush flats to check for crocus blooms before entering the forest to learn whether or not the owls are nesting. And of course, along the way, download the most recent images from my camera traps

1322 I have no luck spotting musineon, which usually grows along the trails and ridges higher up. There are still plenty of good kinii (prairie rose hips), so I pick and pocket them as I move along. When I reach the snake den, all is quiet. There is, however, a semi-lethargic seven-spot lady beetle exposed (emerged) on a patch of moss phlox. The phlox is not yet flowering, nor does it have the vibrancy of a plant whose juices are flowing

1351 I follow a ridge-top the rest of the way down to the sagebrush flats, and scout around the area where the kippiaapi grows to no avail. Moving into the hawthorn brush where I keep RyeCam01, I'm surprised to find the camera has died and there are no images on its memory card. This is the second time I've had to replace batteries in this camera in less than a year, which is unusual. Something must be defective

1412 From my position by the hawthorns, I can see a couple hundred aapsspini down at the river confluence, all huddled along the mouth of the St Mary's. I can also hear a woodpecker in the forest just below me, so I follow the sound and soon find its source in a hairy woodpecker who is tapping away, high in the canopy, surrounded by a chickadee entourage. Continuing to the mid-forest meadow, I scare up two whitetail does, and I'm very aware of the loud sounds produced by my movement in comparison to their quiet departure. All is dry and brittle. Coming within view of the owl nest, there does not appear to be any occupants at the moment, and really there shouldn't be until sometime in the next moon. I'm just anxious for the season to turn

1433 Next, I make my way along the oxbow corridor to the site of RyeCam03, which is situated to survey the length of a fallen, but raised tree. The trunk slopes over a path, and in my imaginings I envisioned coyotes, owls, and others might use this vantage for hunting. There are images on the camera, but nothing more exciting than passing deer. The unit has been stationed here for at least a month, and at this point I have to concede that it's time to find a new location for it

1516 Collecting my gear, I head for the river, passing through forest and then willow thickets on my way. There's still a lot of ice along the slow-moving stretch that surrounds the beaver lodge. But downstream three-hundred meters or so, where the river turns and meets the sandstone cliffs, it is shallow and fast-moving, so that a large open crag is always maintained. Here there is sign that the beavers have continued to come ashore and gather willows through the winter, although none of the cuts look as recent as they did a couple months ago. I kind of wonder whether the beavers might be relying on the food cache at their house now and avoiding the extremely long swim that would be required for them to reach this site now. It is a question suitable for following-up with the game-cam. Probably the best way to confirm would be to set the unit up at one of the slides. But since it will be a week or so before I can get back out here, that positioning might just lend to my camera being stolen by the beavers themselves. Instead, I lash the unit to some willows, looking out over about the first third of the open water crag. In this manner, I hope to see beavers emerging on the surface or, at very least, images of the ducks and geese who are stopping here

1545 Following the oxbow corridor from the beaver slide site, through the willow thickets, and eventually into the forest and up on the sagebrush flats, I march toward and then up the coulee slope. Having nothing left that I want to check on specifically, I take a very direct and steep route. It makes for an arduous, exhausting climb, but soon I'm back at my vehicle. There were no encounters to report along the way. Like the pond, all seems fairly quiet here at the moment

IIII ) llllllllllllllllll Red Spider Mite (12Feb12)

1115 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - Overcast and zero degrees. Though unmotivated, I thought I'd best take a walk, but today I've saved myself the ascent at the end by driving to the river bottom downstream

Yesterday, I visited Sspopiikimi just before dusk and found it exceedingly quiet. Where there had been several hundred aapsspini on the river just last week, now there were none at all. The usual crew of goldeneyes were absent. There were no ravens, or eagles, or chickadees around. I heard a couple of magpies out on the golf greens, and caught a glimpse of a downy woodpecker passing overhead, but even my camera trap had no images of passers-by, not even the male pheasant. The only new phenological events I noted were that a pile of coyote dung showed that they had recently caught a white-tailed jackrabbit, and the male kakanottsstooki had returned to the nesting area of the owl wood. I was also collecting licorice burrs for a seed-sprouting experiment, and while doing so noticed that the sweetclover seeds had all fallen off at some point in the last month or so (they are always full of seeds still when I am on my holiday break)

1126 Right away, it's apparent that the quiet of Sspopiikimi hasn't carried upriver. Here, there are again hundreds of geese. As I walk along the bank, flock after flock rise in concern over my presence. The river is more frozen now that it has been all year. There is no longer an open stream below the sandstone cliffs. The last pool, right where the cliffs begin to rise, holds both geese and goldeneyes, eleven of the latter. They, like the aapsspini, take wing at my approach. I had hoped to gather more licorice burrs along this stretch, but it seems almost every clump have been clipped from their stems. I attribute this to the western jumping mice, as it seems only to occur on plants growing at the base of the cliffs, and my work earlier in the winter established them to be both the primary residents of this domain, and the ones who clip such seed heads to carry them into crags for safe eating

1143 The next bit of open water doesn't occur until I come to the upstream bend, at the mouth of the oxbow, where things open up into a large floodplain. Here again there are geese, an also two female mi'sa'aiksi. The geese depart, just as those downstream had. The mergansers are less skittish, but eventually they leave too, made nervous by the raucous calls and fly-bys of the fleeing geese. RyeCam03 has been tied to some willows, aimed at this water of this bend for a week. It'll be interesting to see who visited

1232 There are far too many photographs on the camera trap to survey on-site. In fact, the download itself eats away almost all the battery and storage space of my little compact viewer. I suspect many of the images are just of moving water. So while the download is underway, I gather the camera and move on. I walk the river's edge to the beaver lodge, then cut through the willow thickets to the forest, where I encounter a female hairy woodpecker and a group of niipomakii. The woodpecker is hammering high on the trunk of a cottonwood, where it turns to snag. The chickadees are surveying the canopy branches nearby. I keep moving, following deer trails until arriving at the mid-forest meadow. The great-horned owl nest is here, and I expect them to start this year's brood soon... but it's not happening today

[Note: When I get home and look at the images from the river, I find there are several beautiful shots of the geese huddled around this open water just before dawn. Most of the images are night shots, black... the camera registering those flocks who roost here

1255 I need to check on RyeCam01, at the far end of the floodplain. It's been having some problems maintaining a power supply. And sure enough, when I climb into the hawthorn brush today, I find it only took a few pictures before apparently running out of juice, though I refreshed the batteries last week. RyeCam01 is shot. I'll have to send it back to the manufacturer and see if they honor their products enough to repair or replace it. In the meantime, I've set up the third unit (the one I took from the river on my way in) a bit further into the brush. Here, I see that a coyote, or perhaps even an owl, has recently plucked a goose. It will be exciting to see the difference between what goes on deeper in the brush, and what the camera has caught along the relatively open deer trail a few meters away over the past nine months

1323 I have only an hour to get back to the vehicle, though it's taken me nearly two to hike in. Mahoney and Sheen are expecting me to pick them up downtown soon. Given this, I take the swiftest route downstream, which happens to be along the oxbow corridor, through the forest. I have no doubt there are many animals who watch me march past oblivious. All I see before reaching the end of the trees, and the beginning of the sandstone cliffs, is a fat, mature porcupine nestled high in the canopy. Almost directly below it, hugging the ground beneath the limbs of a diamond willow that has turned on end at the edge of the corridor cutbank, is a second porcupine. This one is a baby, smaller than any I've ever seen, with the exception of the fairly newborn at summer's close. It pushes itself tighter under the limbs when it knows I've noticed it. I am quick to make my leave

1343 My return hike along the base of the sandstone cliffs is similarly rushed. I stop only once, at a large boulder that seems to bear fossil material. While I'm trying to make sense of the imprints, a red spider mite scurries across my field of vision, the only insect I've seen today. Nearby, there is a narrow crag in the rock. I shine my flashlight into it, but find only abandoned spider webs. On a bit of sandstone overhang beside the crag, there are the ghostly exoskeletal remains of stoneflies. I hike on, and am soon back at my vehicle