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Jul
31
Voices from the Field: Check in with the Rare Plant Rescue team

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Hi Everyone! RPR crew once again checking in to let you know about our latest adventures in the field. This past trip took us to the far far southwest corner of the province and if you’ve never been there we definitely recommend going! We were welcomed to the area with a spectacular storm system moving through, and thankfully we made it to shelter before the hail hit; as you can see from the picture below, the hail pellets were something else! With the storm moving out after the first day we were treated to fantastic weather while we searched for our target plant for this trip, the Dwarf Woollyhead (Psilocarphus brevissimus). Dwarf Woollyheads, as their name suggests, are diminutive, low-growing annuals that have flowers about the size of your fingernail. This plant is actually in the Aster family, so the flower head consists of a number of smaller fuzzy florets that give it the name Woollyhead. They like to grow in depressions that are wet in the spring and dry out over the summer, and as we were looking we soon joked that they seem to be a bit of a goldilocks plant, liking things juusstt right. While looking for such a tiny plant was tricky, we are happy to report that we have found several new occurrences while searching, as well as visited an older known occurrence that has doubled in size! These are our first new occurrences of the summer, and we are so happy to share the news with you!

Another Highlight of our trip was the abundance of wildlife, specifically the species-at-risk! While that area is known to be a hot-spot and stronghold for many struggling species in the province, it seemed like we were checking birds off our list everywhere we went! We saw two nests of Burrowing Owls, several Ferruginous Hawks, Loggerhead Shrikes, both McCown’s and Chestnut Collared Longspurs, and the highlight for sure, a Sprague’s Pipit foraging on the ground! Sprague’s Pipit song usually accompanies field work on native prairie, but the birds themselves are secretive and very well camouflaged, so to see one on the ground is extremely rare, most people never do!

All in all our week was fantastic, filled with new plants found and exciting bird sightings. We can’t wait to get out there again and see some more!

 

Until next time,

RPR Crew

(Emily and Ashley)

Jul
20
Voices from the Field: Check in with the Bird Specis at Risk staff

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Hello blog readers! It’s hard to believe we are over half way through July already! The summer always seems to fly by in the blink of an eye! We have been busy the past month taking reports of species at risk sightings, talking and visiting with our program participants, and learning new habitat monitoring techniques for Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and the Greater Sage Grouse.

 

Rebecca Magnus and the other workshop attendees learning habitat monitoring techniques for Sprague's Pipit. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows

 

In early June, we attended the Grouse, Grazing, and Grasslands workshop held in the east block of Grasslands National Park to learn these new habitat monitoring techniques. Depending on the type of site and species, monitoring techniques involved songbird point counts, measuring litter, estimating percent bare ground, forb cover, measuring droop height, and taking robel pole measurements. We also learned about native grass identification.

A couple of weeks later, we were ready to head out on our own to start habtiat monitoring! Every morning, we would get up with the sunrise and start the day doing songbird point counts. What a peaceful way to start your day! Listening to songbirds, particularly, Sprague’s Pipit and Chesnust-collared Longspur, and recording how often we hear them singing. We were extremely lucky with the weather as you cannot do point counts in the rain or if it’s windy but everyday we were able to complete our counts. We also took other measurements such as estimating litter, bare ground, forb cover, and robel pole measurements.

 

 

Rebecca Magnus listening for songbirds during a point count and setting up a transect. Photos credit: Kaytlyn Burrows.

 

One of the most challenging (and frustrating at times!) parts of the habitat monitoring is the native grass identification. This was our main focus on our second monitoring trip. We learned so much about what to look for and how to identify one grass species from the other. It requires looking at different grass parts such as the presence or absence of ligules and/or auricles, presence or absence of hairs, rough or smooth leaves, etc. It meant a lot of time spent on the ground (literally) getting up close and personal with our native grass species! Species we identified included Western Wheat, Northern Wheat, Needle and Thread, Western Porcupine, and Blue Grama.

 

Kaytlyn looking at grass parts with a hand lense. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus.                                        

 

 

Kaytlyn identifying native grass species. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus.

This time around, we were not as fortunate with the weather! We encountered a very stormy afternoon with tornado warnings! Safety comes first so we made the decision to leave the field but we managed to take a few photos of the swirling storm clouds as we drove down the road and it was unlike anything we had ever seen before. It was a little eerie but also very neat to see!

 

Large prairie storm looming over south west Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows

 

 

Our time in the field also came with other species sightings such as Pronghorn, Deer, Loggerhead Shrikes, Chestnust-collared Longspurs, Ferruginous Hawks, and one of our more exciting sightings, a Golden Eagle!

 

Golden Eagle perched on a fence post. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows.

 

It was a great couple weeks where we learned so much! We improved our native grass identification and were able to see the beautiful southwest Saskatchewan landscape and all the species that call it home. We are so grateful to be able to do what we do! We also want to thank Lucky Horseshoe Haven for housing us for the week! Dawn & Chris were so welcoming and provided us with a lovely place to rest our heads at the end of the day. We highly recommend staying there if you are in the southwest/Eastend area! Visit http://www.luckyhorseshoe.ca/haven.html for more information and to book your stay!

 

Until next time!

 

Kaytlyn & Rebecca

Jul
10
We Love Our Lakes -

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The Last Mountain Lake Stewardship Group and SAWS have prepared a series of information sheets regarding the drainage of the Quill Lakes. For further information please go to: http://www.lmlsg.ca/

Jul
3
Fun in the Sun…the hot, hot, hot Sun

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The Rare Plant Rescue crew spent the beginning of June aiding in the search for a rare orchid called the Small White Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium candidum). This orchid hasn’t been seen in Saskatchewan since 1895 and is thought to be extirpated from the province. Searching for this species was interesting as potential habitat included prairie fens that bounced underfoot, brush cover that released a minimum of 500 wood ticks on us, and hummocks that turned hiking more into leaping, as some of them reached nearly my height. Although we didn’t find the elusive Small White Lady’s-slipper, we were happy for the opportunity to survey some very unique habitat and found many beautiful Yellow Lady’s-slippers while we were at it.

 

Emily Putz stands on a hummock.

 

 

 

Sphagnum moss found in a prairie fen.

 

 

 

Ashley Vass poses with Yellow Lady’s-slippers.

 

We came across many other beautiful flowering plants during this trip, such as Marsh Marigold, Violets, Evening Primrose, Saline Shooting Star, and Blue-eyed Grass, just to name a few. We also saw or heard several interesting bird species, such as Sedge Wrens, Bobolinks, Sprague’s Pipits, as well as several different sparrows. We even came upon a few nests, one of which had me singing “one of these things is not like the others…”.

 

 

Clay-coloured Sparrow nest with Brown-headed Cowbird egg (left).

 

 

Saline Shooting Star.

 

Walking back to the car after we finished our last habitat survey, while picking clumps of ticks off our clothes and out of our hair, we came across mating Viceroy butterflies who were too busy to notice the paparazzi. These butterflies don bright colouring to indicate that they are poisonous and are often mistaken for the very similar looking Monarch. The easiest way to tell them apart is the black line that intersects the veins on the Viceroy’s hindwings.

 

Viceroy butterflies.

 

 

While completing range and riparian health assessments, we came across more interesting insects as pollen-covered bees were burrowing into the sandy side of a hill. Some had so much pollen that they could barely fit into their burrows and ants appeared to be taking advantage of the opportunity to steal pollen.

 

 

 

 

Ant potentially stealing pollen from a bee as it struggles to fully enter its burrow.

 

Then it was time to search for Tiny Cryptantha and Slender Mouse-ear-cress. While searching in challenging terrain, we managed for several days to avoid the half a dozen or so storms that encircled us to find ourselves in the burning sun and the lowest wind speeds I’ve ever experienced in this province. Our desire for water was answered with up to three inches of rain over night that made our site inaccessible for the better part of a day! It just goes to show you that the weather here is often unpredictable and the best advice is to just accept the moment and appreciate the beauty of the ever-changing prairie skies.

 

Encounters with Great Plains Toads, Common Nighthawks, a Sharp-tailed Grouse family, and a Prairie Rattlesnake kept us excited and the prairie landscape never disappoints. Colourful and bright Pincushion and Prickly Pear Cactus, Scarlet Mallow, Gaillardia, and Yellow Umbrellaplant flowers dotted the ground. Although we didn’t find the species we set out for, we did find one of our targeted rare plants, Small Lupine, as well as a few other provincial rares including Low Whitlowwort, and the very pretty, albeit ill-named, Clammyweed. 

Can’t wait to see what July has in store for us!

Ashley Vass and Emily Putz 

 

 

Clammyweed.

 

 

 

Pincushion Cactus (right), Gaillardia (middle), and Yellow Umbrellaplant (left).

 

 

 

 

 

Jun
28
On the road with our Important Bird Areas Staff

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I am back at it again this summer with the Important Bird Area program! In the past month I have managed to put over three thousand kilometers on my rental vehicle, and have seen 99 bird species. The first week of June I focused on IBAs close to Regina. The first day I went to Valeport Marsh near Craven, and forced my boyfriend and his visiting mother to come with me. The highlight of the trip was the number of American Avocets we saw. The next day I travelled to Pelican Lake, which is a part of the Thundercreek Heritage Marsh. There was a good variety of birds, and lots of cormorants. I even found a couple of male Bobolinks. On Friday, I headed up to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park to monitor Nicolle Flats with the caretaker. We hunted for some Yellow-breasted Chats, and managed to hear a couple of them. We walked through the marsh, and some native prairie, and saw 48 species of bird.

 

Photo credit: Val Thomas

 

The following week, I had planned to be on the road all week north of Regina. I started my week at Tobin Lake, and monitored it with the caretaker and a volunteer. We managed to find 51 species over the day. The highlight for me was finding fledgling Killdeer. The next day I had planned to monitor only Ponass Lake. Instead I did three different IBAs on my way back to Regina. I started at Ponass Lake. This IBA is also part of the Heritage Marsh Program, and you can get a lot of species just from the road. It was only about 1:00pm when I finished. The Quill Lakes was the next IBA I had planned to monitor. I drove to where the road ends, and walked around Big Quill Lake. I was lucky enough to see some White-rumped Sandpipers. The next IBA I had planned to monitor that week, only takes about half an hour to monitor. So I went down to Foam Lake and finished up my day by watching all the Franklin’s Gulls in the marsh. This past week, I was volunteering to help conduct brood searches for Sage Grouse near Grasslands National Park. Unfortunately we did not see any grouse, but we did see lots of Common Nighthawks, and two Yellow-bellied Racer. I also probably got stronger legs from all the hiking. In the upcoming week I am monitoring Big Muddy Lake, Coteau Lake, Eyebrow Lake, and Old Wives Lake. For the rest of my summer, I will be all over Saskatchewan monitoring IBAs and doing public education in provincial and regional parks.

 

Photo credit: Dorothy Wark

 

Until next time,

Jordan Rustad

Jun
25
WATCH OUT! School’s out for the summer… and so are Piping Plovers!

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Regina, SK – June 25, 2018

 

School is out for the summer, meaning time to head to the beach. “But please be careful. Families of endangered Piping Plovers are out for the summer too! While it’s a great time to see them along the shores, it’s also a challenging time. Late nesters may still be incubating or have young out and about, making them vulnerable to trampling,” explains Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “The nests and young are well camouflaged with the sand and stones, and the young are not able to fly for the first couple of weeks after hatching,” adds Magnus. “In order to give Piping Plovers the best chance of survival possible, we are asking beachgoers and anglers to keep watch around their feet along shores such as Lake Diefenbaker.”

Photo credit: David Krughoff

 

The Piping Plover is a small shorebird easily identified by its distinct black markings – a black band on its forehead and a single black band around its neck. Plovers also have a sandy body with a white belly, orange legs, and an orange beak with a black tip. Their look-a-like cousin is the Killdeer, which is larger, browner in colour, and has two black bands around its neck instead of one. “Like the Killdeer, Piping Plovers will do a broken wing display, looking injured trying to attract you to them. However, it is all an act and plovers will fly back to their young, which look like cotton balls on sticks, once they have lured you far enough away,” says Magnus.

 

Piping Plovers will be increasing their fat stores until early August, in order to complete their 3,500 km flight back to the winter beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. “Since Saskatchewan is a Piping Plover hotspot in Canada, we feel a great responsibility in giving these endangered shorebirds the best chance possible for breeding success before their great journey south,” says Magnus.

 

Nature Saskatchewan works with landowners and the public to monitor and conserve suitable shorelines for Piping Plovers. If you see a Piping Plover please call our toll-free Hoot Line at:   1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email outreach@naturesask.ca.

Photo credit: David Krughoff

- 30 –

 

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

           

Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator    
Phone: (306) 780-9832
Email: outreach@naturesask.ca

                

Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270
Email: mranalli@naturesask.ca

 

Nature Saskatchewan
206 – 1860 Lorne Street
Regina, SK S4P 2L7

Phone: (306) 780-9273 or 1-800-667-HOOT (4668)
Fax: (306) 780-9263; Email: info@naturesask.ca
 

www.naturesask.ca

Jun
7
Explore a local prairie during the Native Prairie Appreciation Week

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Join us in exploring the beauty and diversity of Saskatchewan grasslands during the Native Prairie Appreciation Week, June 17-23, 2018. Nature Saskatchewan and its local societies, in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan (NPSS) are leading a series of field trips to a prairie patch near you. Plant and wildlife experts will be present to help you spot and recognize elusive critters hidden among the grass. Trips are family friendly and casual in nature. Dress for the weather; bring sturdy walking shoes, snacks, a water bottle and mosquito repellent.

Saturday, June 16, 2018 - Reed Lake NCC property

A guided tour of NCC properties surrounding Reed Lake, a large saline wetland recognized as one of five wetlands in Saskatchewan to provide habitat for the endangered Piping Plover. Due to its importance during annual bird migration, Reed Lake is designated as part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. We will explore wetlands and gently rolling slopes with native and seeded grasslands.

The group will meet at the Morse, SK Esso gas station at 8:45 a.m., with the tour ending around lunch time. For more information contact the Southwest Naturalists at swnaturalists@gmail.com

Photo credit: Branimir Gjetvaj

Saturday, June 23, 2018 – Dundurn NCC property

 We will drive to a recently acquired NCC property west of Dundurn near the military reserve boundary and then hike looking for birds and wildflowers. The Dundurn property consists of 120 acres (48.5 hectares) of wet meadows and beautiful rolling sand dunes stabilized by carpets of native prairie and aspen bluffs. This land has high conservation value thanks to the pristine state of its diverse habitats, and connection to the large Dundurn military base which has vast areas of native habitat.

The Dundurn tour is led by the Saskatoon Nature Society and NPSS. The group will meet at 8 a.m. by the grain elevator at the Western Development Museum parking lot on Lorne Ave in Saskatoon. For more information contact Bob at (306) 343-8590.

Photo credit: Branimir Gjetvaj

Sunday, June 24, 2018 – Fairy Hill NCC property

Fairy Hill NCC property is located approximately 25 minutes north of Regina, in the beautiful Qu’Appelle River valley. It includes a 1,642 acre (665 hectare) network of native grasslands, woodlands, marshes and flood plains along Qu’Appelle. The diversity of habitats attracts a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species, many of them rare or threatened. Numerous ducks, geese and shorebirds gather in the valley wetlands.

The group led by Nature Regina will meet at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum parking lot for a departure at 8:30 a.m. For more information contact Gary at gseib@sasktel.net

Photo credit: Branimir Gjetvaj

 

Jun
4
It’s Good to be Back in the Field!

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The RPR crew headed out to kick off a fantastic field season looking for Saskatchewan’s rare plants, this time a dynamic duo team of Ashley and myself (Emily)! We started the summer off once again on the hunt for the elusive Slender Mouse-ear-cress (SMEC). This biennial plant in the mustard family has proven difficult for us to find in past years and seems to be continuing the trend. While we didn’t find our tricky target species this trip, we did see plenty of its many look-a-likes, including some great examples of Purple Rock Cress and Reflexed Rock cress, two species in the Arabis genus that look very similar to SMEC! Finding these guys boosted our confidence that if SMEC was out there our trained eyes would be sure to pick it out! In a few weeks’ time we will be once again looking for SMEC and we have our fingers crossed that we will be able to finally pin it down in our searches.

 

Purple Rock Cress, a SMEC lookalike. Photo credit: Ashley Vass

 

 

 

Lance-leaved Lungwort, a provincially rare species. Photo credit: Emily Putz

 

 

One of the best parts of being on the RPR crew is that we get to see the entire sequence of blooming plants while we are out working, starting with the early bloomers that most people miss in a season. The colours of choice for spring seem to yellow and blue and we were treated to a sea of these colours in every hue. While dodging some picturesque and breathtaking thundershowers, we were treated to the last of the blooming crocuses, Smooth Blue Beardtongue, Early Blue Violets and Nuttall’s Yellow Violets, carpets of Golden Bean, and my favourite, the lovely and rare Lance-leaved Lungwort. We were also lucky enough to be serenaded while we worked by a number of bird species at risk, including Sprague’s pipits, Baird’s sparrows, Chestnut- collared Longspurs, and Long-billed Curlews!

 

 

A late blooming Prairie Crocus. Photo credit: Emily Putz

 

 

Photo credit: Emily Putz

 

 

We finished off our week down in Grassland National Park’s East Block assisting with planting sage plugs. In an attempt to enhance existing Silver Sagebrush cover and increase habitat for Greater Sage Grouse. The goal was to plant 4000 seedlings by the end of the week; we are happy to report they reached their target! It was a great way to end the week and very relaxing to be out in the prairie planting these little guys. Our hard work was also definitely rewarded, as on the last day while driving to field site we were greeted by two Sage Grouse; which was quite a treat, as neither of us had seen one before! It was a nice cap to end our fantastic week and reinforced in our minds how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful and diverse province!

 

 

The RPR crew this year, Ashley Vass and Emily Putz

 

 

Hear from us again soon!

Emily Putz

May
28
Welcome back Burrowing Owls!

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Regina, SK - May 28, 2018 – After spending the winter in sunny Mexico and the Southwestern United States, one of Saskatchewan’s most iconic species at risk has returned to their breeding grounds for the season – welcome back Burrowing Owls! After migration, these endangered owls are busy! They are starting the mating process, finding a home, and laying and incubating their eggs.

 

Burrowing Owls are identifiable by their small size; they are only 9 inches tall! They have light and dark brown mottled plumage with white spots, a round head with large yellow eyes, and white ‘eyebrows’. One of their key features is their long featherless legs that gives the appearance of walking on stilts. Unlike some other owl species, Burrowing Owls are active during the day; especially in the spring and early summer when the male is busy gathering food for his family. During the nesting season, male Burrowing Owls can often be seen standing next to the burrow or on nearby fence posts while the female is in the burrow incubating the eggs. Burrowing owls make a few different chuckling or chattering calls and bob their heads to express excitement or distress.

 

To ensure the nesting success of Burrowing Owls, it is important to minimize human activity around the nests as much as possible. However, Burrowing Owls coexist with grazing very well. In fact, grazing is extremely beneficial to the Burrowing Owl. Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator at Nature Saskatchewan, explains why: “On grazed pastures, the shorter grass gives Burrowing Owls the chance to sight possible predators more effectively. Additionally, the owls use manure inside their nests to absorb excess moisture, regulate burrow temperature, attract insects for food, and hide their scent from predators.”

 

If you discover Burrowing Owls in your pasture, do not fear! There are many advantages to having these owls on your land, especially the free pest control. “Burrowing Owls eat huge numbers of insects, mice, voles, and grasshoppers,” says Burrows. “One nest of Burrowing Owls can consume over 1,000 or more rodents in a single season!”

 

Nature Saskatchewan’s stewardship program Operation Burrowing Owl works with landowners to conserve and enhance Burrowing Owl habitat, and monitors Burrowing Owl numbers at participating sites. “We are very fortunate to have so many passionate landowners participating in the program and keeping a look-out for Burrowing Owls,” says Burrows. Operation Burrowing Owl records sightings to help determine the population trend and distribution of the Burrowing Owl throughout Saskatchewan. The information can then be used towards efforts to restore the population of these amazing creatures.

 

“Without the voluntary efforts of landowners, land managers, and the general public, recovery of this unique prairie owl would not be possible” says Burrows. She encourages the public to “get out there this summer and explore, you never know what you will find.” If you are lucky enough to see a Burrowing Owl, Burrows asks that you call Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free HOOT Line, 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email obo@naturesask.ca. “When you report a sighting you are playing a very important role in Burrowing Owl recovery. Every sighting is critical!” says Burrows. Private information is never shared without permission.

 

For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

 

 

Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9833
email obo@naturesask.ca

 

Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270
email mranalli@naturesask.ca

 

 

 

Photo credit: Kim Mann


 

 

 

 

May
23
The Life of Bird Banders

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The bird bander’s day starts at 6:00am. They wake up to birdsong, and drink something caffeinated to kickstart their day. They make sure the banding equipment is clean, and ready for the day ahead. They also check the weather. If it is rainy or windy, she will not be able to open the nets. If it is rainy, the birds get wet and they can die of hypothermia. If it is too windy, the birds can be injured in the nets. At 7:00am precisely, they head out to the net lanes and open the 13 mist nets. After that they check the nets every half an hour. How many birds they catch will depend on a number of factors. If it is calm or if the wind is going the right direction, birds will migrate through. If there was a full moon last night, birds will keep on flying. Typically migrating birds will fly at night, and stop to forage during the day. The brighter it is at night, the more birds that will keep flying. Spring migration also tends to be quieter compared to the fall. Many birds caught at the Last Mountain Bird Observatory nest in the boreal forest. They rush up there in the spring to set up breeding territories so that they can start nesting as soon as possible. This spring there has only been one day where the banders caught over 100 birds. When the banders catch a bird they take it back to the station. They put a band on it, and collect some data on the bird. The bander will determine the age and sex of the bird, measure the wing, and weigh the bird. This data can be used to estimate population trends which can be used by conservationists to determine whether a bird species is increasing or declining. At 9:00am, the banders conduct a census. This means they walk along a designated route and count the birds they see. They continue to check the nets until 1:00pm. At that time, they close the nets. That is a basic day of one of the banders at Last Mountain Bird Observatory.

Of course, a day as a bander can be a lot more variable than I have described above. But it should give you a basic idea of what we do. We have had a typically quiet spring at the banding station. We have been catching mostly White-throated Sparrows, but we have also been catching lots of American Robins, and Tree Swallows. We have also been catching a variety of sparrows, thrushes, and warblers. We have not had any birds that are rare or uncommon yet this year. Stay tuned for more updates during the summer!

Jordan Rustad

 

Photo credit: D. Bonnet