04 March 2012

Diamesinae Midges And Empty Owl Nests

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllllll Aapsspiniiksi Return To Pond (18Feb12)

1431 Sspopiikimi - It's a fairly comfortable seven degrees above zero, with clear skies. But there's a good wind today, making it feel a bit cooler. I haven't been out here in a week, so thought I'd take a counter-sunwise stroll around. I'm not expecting too many surprises though, given how quiet it's been, while we wait for Piitaiki'somm, the eagle moon

1437 Seems I'm just in time to catch the geese shifting over to south pond from the big river island. There are about thirty out by the marsh now, and another thirty or so in two flocks circling for a landing. Across the pond from me, as I walk the west length, I see that there's a small open pool in front of the ksisskstakioyis, right about where their food cache should be. The cache itself, a flotilla at this point, seems already to have drifted up against the shore to the north of the lodge (it must have done so a few weeks back, when there was an open pool there). This is really early for the flotilla to move. Normally it doesn't occur until the aapsspini nests are prepared, about two moon cycles from now

1452 When I come to the end of south-pond, I drop down into the owl wood. The male kakanottsstooki is still here at the usual roost, but no sign yet of the female. There is also a flicker who darts past, uncomfortably hear the owl, a magpie further along the trail, and a chickadee who comes to sing to me. The song is one I'm unfamiliar with, not the usual niipomakii winter calls. I record my own imitation of it, because I know Yellow Kidney (a past Beaver Bundle caretaker) used to pay a lot of attention to the niipomakii song sequence that goes through several changes during the season's shift. He used to be able to time the arrival of migrating waterfowl by it

1505 While I talk to the chickadee, I hear the unmistakable throaty croak of a raven out by the high-level bridge. Making my way there, I find only more geese. I then walk the river cutbank downstream, back toward south pond, stopping off along the way to check the owl nest proper for the female. She's still not here, and nowhere to be seen in the surrounding trees. Given that they shifted their nest location last year, away from this particular site, I wouldn't doubt if the male will be leaving again to join his mate elsewhere, if in fact she's still alive

1512 Just before entering the forest main, I catch a tiny bit of movement on the trail beside me. It's a small, grey running crab spider, the kind with a black diamond on its back (Thanatus formicinus), and it freezes motionless when becoming aware of my notice. I take the opportunity to get some macro photos and, while I'm down on my hands and knees, a large group of aapsspini move back to the river from south-pond. They're accustomed to crossing low over the levee when no humans are around, and since I'm down on the ground they don't notice me until they're flying over my back. If I stood up, I probably could have touched them

1525 Continuing on, I move through the forest, routing near enough to the hawk nest that I can check for the female owl (she's not there), and eventually reach the big bulberry patch on the wet meadows. Last week, my camera trap at this location hadn't registered a single passer-by. This week is different, or back to normal I should say. The recent images on its memory card include one coyote, frequent visits from a magpie, and a couple struts-through by the male ring-necked pheasant

1542 From the bulberries, I pass through a bit more of the forest main and again climb the levee. Up here, on the shale trail, there are two male flickers poking holes in the ground. They're gone before I can see what they're eating, so I take my crowbar to a couple of the holes they made, and come up with nothing. There is, however, a crab spider who comes to perch on a blade of grass beside me as I search one of the flicker holes, as if she were expecting a meal to dash out

1556 I follow the levee and river cutbank to the edge of the north wood. All along the way, there are aapsspiniiksi huddled along thin strip of open water on my side of the big river island. Toward the north wood, I'm also able to see three goldeneyes out on the other side of the river, where most of their fishing seems to take place. The big raft of goldeneyes is no more. Nor is there any sign of the ravens at their poplar borer log. That is my last stop before hiking back around north-pond to my vehicle. Just a quick survey, but worth it if for no other reason than to stay apprised

IIII ) l Diamesinae Midge (24Feb12)

1204 Sspopiikimi - It's a bit colder today than it has been recently, three degrees below zero at noon. The meteorologists have been predicting snow, but we've had none save for a touch that fell two days ago. It's been almost a week since my last visit, and I'm here once again to survey for new phenological events. I can see already that the aapsspiniiksi are still visiting south-pond in groups. Five are coming to land there as my hike begins

1212 Rounding north-pond, I get my first look at one of the changes underway. A lone pair of aapsspini have come to land on the ice here, near the cattail area that the midpond coot couple usually nest in. During my last couple visits, while the goose couples were easily recognizable at south-pond and along the river, they were still staying close to the larger collective. This pair is entirely removed. They are occupying territory that they'll soon be nesting at. I'm going to sit and watch them from a distance

1224 So far, the goose has been picking around in the reed hummocks while her gander stands sentry. Initially, she selected what appears to be a bulrush stem, dragged it out onto the ice and nibbled at its base end for a bit. But since then, I've seen here mouthing and swallowing some much smaller material taken from the hummock mud, perhaps old milfoil. While I watch them, another flock of aapsspiniiksi, with eleven members, come to land at south-pond. Although I haven't been sitting long, I'm getting cold and may have to move soon to warm back up

1234 A few more minutes, and I decide to climb the levee. As soon as I crest the top, I'm met with mamia'tsikimiiksi (magpies), three of them. They've been perched in the near canopy of the north wood, watching me. Now they fly ahead and land in the grass off the side of the levee-walk. Again I stop to watch. I can't see what they're picking at, but when looking through my binoculars I notice there's some kind of heat or gas event going on there. The air above the grass is shimmering like water. It's imperceptible to my naked eye, but I bet the magpies sense it. Soon a fourth bird lands close, scrutinizes me, then flies over to the others and seems to communicate something. All four fly immediately into the north wood, toward the river

1248 I follow the mamia'tsikimiiksi and find them in the forest canopy. Two are simply perched, while the other two investigate the folds of branches for hidden food. Of course they notice my surveillance, and soon all are off to the river. Again I follow, and find them picking around on the ice near their bathing area, where there's a stream of semi-open water (narrow pockets divided by bits of ice over which a little water flows and puddles). From here, I can also see the big river island. On and around it there are seventy-one more aapsspiniiksi and a mi'ksikatsi couple. At least half the geese are separated-off in distinguishable, fairly isolated pairs. The nesting season is indeed approaching

1309 I remain with the magpies. A fifth member has joined them, as well as a male flicker, and they're congregating around a large tree that has sluffed-off from the side of the cutbank, extending out to the open water pools. One of the magpies has been standing in shallow, freezing water for at least ten minutes now. This one is running around in a particular puddle area, eating something that I can't see from my distance. The other magpies are coming down to take samples of the same. Whatever they're eating, it seems to be distributed over a defined area on the ice. It's not goose poop, because I see them pass by a couple obvious droppings. There are a couple yellowish globs of foam that receive special attention, but most of the sources seem to be invisible on the ice

1315 I've just taken a close look through my binoculars, and there appears to be some kind of little insect being washed up onto the ice from the open water pockets. I'm going to have to find a way down off the steep cutbank to learn what it is

1336 It's treacherous, but I manage to get down to the site balancing on a branch of the fallen tree. The birds depart as I approach. I thought that, once down here, I'd find the insects to be isocapnia stoneflies, as they were among the first I observed when the ice began to break last year. But what I come upon is a new species to me entirely. They are minuscule flies, probably stoneflies, about half the size of a female mosquito. Many of them are stuck in the foamy globs previously mentioned, but the vast majority are on the ice, and collected thickly at the site where the one magpie has kept its feet submerged for so long. They are mating, and I take several pictures which I can use at home this evening to (hopefully) identify them

[Note: follow-up with the photos reveal they are not stoneflies at all, but a species of Diamesinae midge]

1402 Ascending the branch back to the top of the cutbank again, I hear and quickly spot a downy woodpecker off the side of the levee trail in the forest main. Just below her, picking through the leaf litter under some chokecherries and saskatoons, are the magpies. I suspect they're finding spiders, and I'd like to confirm it, but first I decide to hustle off to the owl wood, to check on the kakanottsstookiiksi. Unfortunately, the male who'd been here the last few weeks is absent at the moment. He may just be perched elsewhere, or he may have gone to join his wife at a different nest site. I wouldn't doubt the latter, as they nested in another location last year too. I was hoping to return immediately to the magpies and forest main, but my sister-in-law has messaged me, asking if I can pick her up from work, so I will head back and return again in a day or two

1416 I walk hurriedly north along the levee again, and back to the car. Along the way, I cross paths with the magpies again. They're no longer in the leaf litter, but back on the ice, taking advantage of the fly event that's underway. There are now two male flickers there with them. I'll try to get back out here around the same time tomorrow, to see if this continues

IIII ) llllllllll Empty Owl Nest (4Mar12)

1311 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko – Partway into Piitaiki’somm, and yesterday read the first Albertabird confirmation that someone had spotted a great horned owl incubating on a nest. I’ve also observed magpies beginning to build and repair their nests around my neighborhood and the university. So today, I’m heading down to the confluence to see what’s new phenologically, but especially to check on the owl nest above the mid-forest meadow. There are heavy winds, but it’s warm, about fourteen degrees above. No need for a jacket

1316 Moving down the coulee slope now, through the area where I would normally find musineon growing in season. None have shot out yet. A little further along, I’ll keep my eyes open for moss phlox and kippiaapii flowers

1324 Just before reaching the rattlesnake hibernaculum, I come across some coyote droppings comprised of vole hair, vole bones, and a plastic bag. I’m not anti-litter, because I don’t think piling our garbage in huge toxic concentrations is a good idea. But I am frustrated with the thoughtlessness of those who would toss a bag of food out for animals to find. Lucky thing it passed through this one’s system. At the hibernaculum proper, the snakes are still underground, and will probably stay that way for two more moons if all goes as normal. There are, however, lots of seven-spot lady beetles around, as well as blue-bottle flies

1341 When I get to the sagebrush flats, I climb a ridge overlooking the river confluence. Below, I count thirty-one aapsspini, with several distinct couples pulled away from the groups. There’s also about ten mi’ksikatsi, both drakes and ducks, and five male goldeneyes in a wide pool just downstream of where the St Mary’s comes in. There’s a couple magpies pecking around on the ice at the edge of this pool. I suspect they’re responding to the Diamesinae midges, just like at the pond, but I’ll need to get down there to confirm it. There are no kippiaapii or phlox flowers yet. Right now, I’m going to check on my camera trap

1404 During my last visit, I moved the game-cam deeper into the hawthorn brush. As expected, it has caught hundreds of images since. Most of them are of cottontails, but there are also visits from magpies, pheasants, and deer mice

1422 From the hawthorns, I make my way into the forest and out to the meadow to look at the owl nest. The forest is one big swampy mess today, and this is something that always occurs during Piitaiki’somm. Unfortunately, the owl nest remains empty. Like the kakanottsstooki couple at the pond, I’m beginning to suspect this pair may have selected a new nest to occupy. This is a large forest, and there are plenty of old magpie nests they could choose from. I’ll give it another week or so, and if they’re still absent from the old nest I’ll have to go searching. While I scope out the meadow, a large adult bald eagle glides in downriver and swoops over the geese. I’m going to make my way out toward the water to check out what’s happening

1445 When I come within sight of the water, the ducks immediately notice me and take wing. The goldeneyes only go a short distance, landing at the upper end of the open pool, but the mallards follow the Oldman around the next bend and out of sight. There’s still one magpie pecking around on the ice, so I walk out as far as it’s safe to go. Sure enough, there are more of those Diamesinae midges. As I crouch down to take a macro shot of one of them, the eagle returns. There’s nowhere for me to conceal myself, so the eagle spots me and makes a wide arch around the flood plain on the opposite side of the river, and I miss any opportunity I might have had to observe its waterfowl hunting

1523 With the eagle departed, I follow along the ice at the edge of the river, looking for the first isocapnia stone flies. There are none. Soon I’m at the black cliffs, and from here begin my ascent back up the coulee slope. I march up the trail, feeling drained, and almost in trance state, twice losing sense of how far I’d gone before cresting the top of the coulee. Obviously, in this condition, I don’t notice very much of anything around me, nothing new to report