30 December 2012

Christmas Bird Count In Sikoohkotoki

IIII ) llllllllllll Christmas Bird Count In Sikoohkotoki (26Dec12)

1011 Sspopiikimi - Today is the annual Christmas Bird Count for Sikoohkotoki. Mahoney and I have volunteered to cover the western riverbottom, from the pond all the way to Whoop Up Bridge. The temperature's about twenty below and, starting off, everything seems pretty quiet, but we'll see

1018 Hiking in, there are plenty of signs of life... aapi'si tracks galore, and therefore presumably a good number of subnivian rodents, though the snow pack is really shallow, and we haven't spotted any little critter trails yet

Our first live encounters occur before even reaching the ksisskstakioyis at mid-pond. First we hear, and then spot, three niipomakiiksi scouring the deep bark fissures of the mature a'siitsiksiistsi on the golf course. Then a single mamia'tsikimi wings toward the north wood. And just when we think that's it for the moment, a female omahkiitokii is flushed from the cutbank, gliding off toward the dense chokecherries below the coyote playground

1024 As we approach south-pond, a second mamia'tsikimi flies high overhead, this one heading toward the neighborhoods above the coulee rim. At our feet, there have been more tracks. Some of them belong to deer, probably the awatoyiiksi ('wag-tails' or white-tails) who reside down here in the wet meadows and forest main. The others belong, I'm fairly certain, to the western jumping mouse, and comprise a series of hops, with feet parallel, and tail dragging all the way, leading between favored seed plants like gumweed and wild licorice

1046 Reaching the wide south pool, we're surprised to find absolutely no birds in the currant and bulberry patch above the peninsula, nor in the brush leading up the coulee draw there. It's unusual that these areas, which usually offer some of the best birding for small passerines, should be absent of such life. The only ones here at the moment are sikaaatsisttaiksi, and we stop briefly to greet one of them

Then we move to the owl wood, spotting our third mamia'tsikimi flying high (again) just before we drop into the trees. Like last winter, the owl wood is the most quiet of places. No longer are the kakanottsstooki wintering here, nor the raccoons hibernating. The only tracks we find were left by a single aapi'si. There is no hint even of paahpakssksisiiki or simitsiiksi

1102 Passing under the high level bridge, I'm aware there are kakkoyiiksi up on the highest beams, but I can't hear them and will never see them either, unless a raven or eagle passes to scare them up

So much of the river is open that I'm concerned we might not find any waterfowl at all; they're usually easy to pin down at the small, flowing crags of your average winter. But a little ways down the trail, we see that a little ways ahead, at the bend before Whoop Uo, the opposite shoreline is thick with aapsspinii, and that there are quite a few kihtsipimiisa'aiksi diving in the river itself. Counting through the thick steam coming off the water, I confirm at least a hundred and eighty-four geese, while Mahoney gets a minimum of twenty-five goldeneyes

1130 A little further up the trail, along the steep coulee slopes, we become surrounded by a small foraging flock of common redpolls. I figure at least seventeen of them, but they are so small and swift it's difficult to know. They're stopping off at several seed plants, including prairie sunflower and wavy-leaved thistle. Most of the efforts, however, are focused on Canada goldenrod. Their bills are caked with the fluff from goldenrod seeds

From our position on the coulee slope, we can see even more aapsspini upriver. I count another eighty-four. Mahoney and are are splitting up at this point. She's going to head back to Sspopiikimi and the forest main, to ensure her legs don't give out while she's too distant from our vehicle. I'm continuing upstream

1159 I hike all the way to Whoop Up, crossing paths with three more mamia'tsikimiiksi and lots of omahkiitokii trails, but that's it. I'm going to explore the flats here a bit, to see if I can flush anyone up

Meanwhile, Mahoney's messaging me that she made it back to the river bench by the old garter snake hibernaculum. Sitting down to rest there, a mamia'tsikimi approached for a conversation. And in the distance, she's heard our first omahkai'sto of the day

1215 Hidden in the dense chokecherry shrubbery of this flat I'm surveying is a very small and secluded oxbow wetland, complete with cattails and bulrush hummocks. I walk across the ice, looking for mi'sohpsski push-ups, hoping to find evidence that a few of them are still getting around on the surface in this season. No luck. But I do find another, rather distinct and fresh trail. It leads me to a hollow under a shoreline pile of logs, a den no doubt originally carved out by a ksisskstaki, but presently inhabited by the terrestrial equivalent, kai'skaahp. Laying down on the snow to peer into the den, sure enough a thickly-haired, sloth-like face looks back out at me. We inspect one another quietly for a few moments, then the porcupine turns and moves deeper into the logs, beyond my vision

Mahoney is messaging me that, while hiking down to the duck blind beside the wide south pool, back at Sspopiikimi, she's come across two more mamia'tsikimi. And just as I'm responding to her text, the clucking sound of an approaching pheasant can be heard. It's a male, and he'd intended to land in the clearing formed by this small wetland where I stand. But seeing me, he turns abrupt, and glides to a landing closer to the Whoop Up Bridge

1238 Eventually, I make my way to the Oldman River and begin slowly walking the ice downstream, back toward the pond. Along the way, I attempt to photograph the kihtsipimiisa'aiksi. They're behaving surprisingly calm today, perhaps owing to either their numbers, the presence of so many geese, or the amount of open water. In any case, I'll allowed to approach as close as feels safe on the ice. The goldeneyes are using some of the same fishing strategies employed by the pelicans in summer. A few of them will fly a short distance upstream, then allow the currant to drift them over what I assume are the best fishing holes, where they dive vigorously in pursuit of their prey. When they reach a certain point, they repeat the process. Though they aren't working as closely together as the pelicans do, it seems at least that same-gendered birds are somewhat cooperative. At one point, I witness a female come too close to a male, which prompts a violent chasing. When the female ultimately escapes, the male cranes his head back onto his wings in display

Meanwhile, Mahoney is having all kinds of encounters at the duck blind by south-pond, and texting me with updates every few minutes. Apparently, a third magpie joined the other two in keeping an eye on her. And this trio may have brought Mahoney to the attention of others, because soon a female paahpakssksisi makes a close pass by her. Mahoney decides to play the downy woodpecker's calls with her iPhone, and this prompts an immediate return of the little bird, followed shortly by her mate. The two of them inspect Mahoney carefully, the female from plain sight, the male peeking frequently from behind one of the beams of the duck blind. Eventually, they fly away again, but are then immediately replaced by a curious mi'kaniki'soyi. And while Mahoney turns her attention to this flicker, a second raven can be heard calling overhead

I can't hear the raven from my position on the river, and I receive the play-by-play texts. I do, however, hear another mamia'tsikimi calling regularly from a nearby cottonwood

1300 As I put my camera away and start seriously hiking back, a cluster of aapsspini breaks off from one of the upstream groups and drifts along beside me, eventually joining the northernmost flock. Along with them come several goldeneyes, who obviously want to keep near the geese. I figure the latter offer safety in several respects. First of all, the geese are more conspicuous, and it's likely their main predators at the moment - eagles and coyotes - would focus on the larger, more obvious birds. Secondly though, so long as the aapsspini are near, the goldeneyes have many sentries to look-out for predators while they themselves are busy diving underwater

I ponder these relationships as I continue moving, soon passing back under the high-level bridge. Another magpie passes by. And somewhere ahead, in the forest main, Mahoney has come across the kai'skaahp we call Peekaboo

1335 Mahoney's sighting of our old porcupine friend is the last I hear from her. Even though warmed in my pocket, my phone has finally succumbed to the freeze and died

With communications cut-off, I hustle back toward our jeep. Soon, I too pass Peekaboo. He's asleep in the canopy of one of the large poplars of the forest main. As I came to the clearing at the north end of the forest, where the cutbank overlooks the big island on the Oldman, another male pheasant is flushed from the grass. I stop briefly at the cutbank to count goldeneyes on this downstream section of the river. There are nine who I can see, and no geese to accompany or protect them

From there, I round north-pond and quickly arrive at the parking lot, where I find Mahoney observing a group of ten niipomakiiksi, who are scouring the bark of a small cottonwood. These chickadees are the last we add to our contribution toward today's bird count. In total, our numbers are as follows:

Niipomakii (Black-Capped Chickadee) 13

Mamia'tsikimi (Black-Billed Magpie) 12
Omahkiitokii (Ring-Necked Pheasant) 3
Aapsspini (Canada Goose) 268
Kihtsipimiisa'ai (Common Goldeneye) 34
? (Common Redpoll) 17
Omahkai'sto (Common Raven) 2
Paahpakssksisi (Downy Woodpecker) 2
Mi'kaniki'soyi (Northern Flicker) 1

Aapi'si (Coyote) T

Awatoyi (Whitetail Deer) T
? (Western Jumping Mouse) T
Sikaaatsisttaa (Mountain Cottontail) 1
Kai'skaahp (Porcupine) 2