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Rare Plant Rescue Signing Off

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This will be the last blog from the RPR crew this year. It's hard to believe that September is here. How quickly this summer has flown by. Although, with the weather being as variable as it can be in this province you can never count out the potential for a beach day regardless of what the calendar date says. We enjoyed the weather over the last few weeks and, although we always hope for rain in these dry years, we were also glad to not have been stormed out or encounter impassible roads this time around. In fact, we had a very successful field trip over the last couple of weeks searching for rare plant populations and monitoring past occurrences.

Thanks to some very useful habitat models we were able to find new locations of Smooth Goosefoot (bottom right), a threatened plant species that loves sand dunes, which was lucky for us because so do we. It’s always nice to get to explore the interesting dune habitat (bottom left) scattered across the province and I would recommend that if you haven’t been to the Great Sand Hills that you put it on your “must-see” list. We also found the Hairy Prairie Clover (top) populations that we were monitoring to be thriving, with several occurrences numbering in the thousands! This plant had been described to me as reminiscent of Sideshow Bob’s hair and after seeing it in person, I admit it is a great comparison.

Along with finding additional target species such as Small Lupine, Bur Ragweed, and Beaked Annual Skeletonweed, we found some beautiful Scarlet Gaura (right) still in bloom, lots of broomweed and rabbitbrush, and many dotted blazing star (middle) and blue lettuce plants (left) in flower.

We also saw some pretty cool insects such as Ten-lined June Beetles (right), whose large size, unusual appearance, and ability to hiss can be quite intimidating. As well, we were lucky enough to come across an adorable velvet ant (middle), whose plush appearance and misleading name are maybe not intimidating enough? Another common name for a velvet ant is “cow killer”. They are not actually ants but are wingless bees and although they do not actually kill cows, their name apparently stems from a reputation for having an extremely painful bite. I personally don’t care to find out what it feels like, though I must admit I am a little curious. Another neat find was a spider’s sand burrow (left). The tunnel was lined with silk and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the brave engineer that lived inside but unfortunately weren’t so lucky.

We are still waiting to hear about results of some funding applications and, therefore, we stayed at the lake with family for a few nights while in the field to try to stretch a buck. It was nice to be able to cool off at the end of the day by jumping into the water, and it didn’t hurt that beavers, herons, and these adorable little minks also call the lake home. We woke up to some beautiful views of fuchsia sunrises and mist on the water that our cameras just don’t do justice to.

The latest encounters: male antelope watching over their harems, currently full of mothers and their twins; extremely well camouflaged coyotes; and Golden and Bald Eagles; were welcomed. This summer has gone by in a blur. I have truly loved spending more time in the field this year, and enjoy and appreciate all the animal and plant species that call this province home. A huge thank you to all the landowners who allowed us on their property, we couldn’t do any of this work without you!

Until next year!

Ashley and Emily - Rare Plant Rescue

Voices from the Field: Fall Migration at LMBO

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The fall migration is in full swing here at Last Mountain Bird Observatory! We set up the nets Monday afternoon, and opened on Tuesday for our first day of coverage. We caught most of the usual suspects: American Robin, Yellow Warbler, House Wren, Least Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings. We also caught a large amount of Eastern Kingbirds. They normally do not get caught in the net very often. But much to the pleasure of our new banding assistant Laura, she got to band all of them. We also caught some migrant warblers: Wilson’s Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird. We also saw a lot of swallows and blackbirds starting to flock together for migration in the park. There was even a record of my nemesis bird, because I never see them, a White-winged Scoter. We also had a volunteer out our first week who was so excited to catch her first Common Grackle. She even signed our guestbook, “My first grackle! Yay!” The campers in the park were excited for the station to open again. A group of kids were kind enough to make us bird feeders for the station. They are hanging up around right now, and many birds have been visiting them. Our second week started off with some windy weather. We could not open the nets even to try to catch the Common Nighthawk that was hanging around. The next couple days we caught more migrants moving through. We caught an Olive-sided flycatcher, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Northern Waterthrush. Laura also got to band her first ever Barn Swallow. We also had our first big day with over 125 birds! There was over 50 birds in a single net run! We also got our first Bank Swallow and Swainson’s Thrush on our big day. We are still waiting for Orange-Crowned Warblers to come through, and we are looking forward to the waves of sparrows to come!


Canada Warbler, Photo credit: J. Rustad

Young Burrowing Owls are learning the tricks of the trade!

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Regina, SK – August 20, 2018 - After weeks of being fed by their parents, young Burrowing Owls are now able to forage for themselves and perch up on lookouts and fence posts. If you are traveling around southern and central Saskatchewan, it is a great time to spot a Burrowing Owl. However, vehicles can be dangerous for the young and inexperienced owls. Just like teenagers, the young Burrowing Owls have to learn the way of the world, and that includes learning the way of the road. “The juveniles often forage in roadside ditches, where they find small invertebrates and rodents that tend to congregate at dusk,” explains Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator at Nature Saskatchewan. “But unfortunately, the young can be killed by motorists while foraging along the sun-warmed road.”

The Burrowing Owl population has been steadily declining, making the survival of each and every juvenile owl critical for the ultimate survival and growth of the species. However, there are some things that we can do to help the juveniles survive this critical learning curve. “When motorists are driving in Burrowing Owl habitat, and especially near known nest sites, it’s important that they take a few extra minutes and slow down. This will reduce the risk of owl-vehicle collisions.” The owls are often found nesting in native or tame prairie that has been well grazed by cattle, as this shorter grass allows them to spot predators. They are often seen standing on their burrow, on nearby fence posts, or foraging in ditches.


Nature Saskatchewan has been involved with the protection and conservation of the Burrowing Owl for over 30 years, but its success would not be possible without the help of landowners, land managers, and the public. Operation Burrowing Owl works with landowners across southern and central Saskatchewan, and uses voluntary agreements in an effort to preserve the rapidly disappearing habitat that the species needs. The program works alongside landowner practices, and the land continues to be used in a way that benefits the landowner.


“If you see a Burrowing Owl, please give us a call on our toll-free Hoot Line, at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668),” Burrows mentions. “You will be helping to monitor the population and aid with conservation efforts.” Personal information is never shared without permission.

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:



Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9833


Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270



Nature Saskatchewan

206 - 1860 Lorne Street

Regina, SK S4P 2L7

Phone: (306) 780-9273 or Toll Free: 1-800-667-4668

Fax: (306) 780-9263; Email:

Photo credit: K. Borrows

Photo credit: J. Villeneuve

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)

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 for more information and to book your stay!


Until next time!


Kaytlyn & Rebecca

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:

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 







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






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

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

Photo credit: David Krughoff

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For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:


Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator    
Phone: (306) 780-9832


Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270


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:

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

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

Photo credit: Branimir Gjetvaj