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Apr
11
YFBTA Organizes Earth Day Event

By Kathy Morrell

A giant owl floats on silent wings through the boreal forest as it seeks something to eat, mice, chipmunks or other small mammals. The bird is a dapper fellow dressed in a grey suit and bow tie. Harold Fisher, an expert in hawks and owls, recognizes it as a Great Grey Owl. A retired math teacher from Prince Albert, he will talk about owls at an Earth Day event organized by the Yellowhead Flyway Birding Trail Association (YFBTA).

Fisher calls himself a citizen scientist. He has been interested in nature and owls since he was child growing up on a farm south of North Battleford. As a boy, he would take a nestling from a nest, climb down the tree trunk, and hand it off for banding to his mentor, Spencer Seeley. Fisher hasn’t changed much over the years. He still climbs trees and nesting platforms in order to band birds.

In addition to banding nestlings, Fisher uses a net in the winter to capture and band adult saw whet owls.

“They’re elusive,” he said. “You can spend your entire life in the woods and not see a single one.” He bands 250 – 300 Saw-whet Owls a year; 3000 in the last ten years.

Fisher keeps careful notes of the bird’s weight, dimensions and location during migration and breeding seasons. He also notes the age, a fact he can determine if the owl has been banded as a nestling. His data, along with that of other birders, is valuable for research about the species of birds and the fluctuations in their populations. Scientists use the data to analyse the effect of climate change and human intervention on bird populations.

Scientists know the Fisher acreage as the Nisbett Banding Station. The name and location allow them to locate the source area for the data. Every fall, people come to observe and help with the banding. Girl Guides and 4-H groups visit to discover the joy of banding birds.

“People are fascinated with owls,” Fisher said. “I’m not sure why. It may be that they have these big eyes. It may be the contrast between the birds as creatures of the night and human beings as creatures of the day.” 

As much as people may be captivated with owls, they seem less taken with snakes. Ray Poulin, another Earth Day presenter, is the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. He finds that, although adults may be nervous, generally children are fascinated.

“The Bull Snake,” he said, “is, at six to eight feet in length, the largest of the nine species of snakes found in Saskatchewan. Although its size might make it look a little threatening, it’s really not.”

“There are four species of rattle snakes in the southwest and southeast of the province,” he adds. “They use that rattle to tell you they’re out and about. Just back away and they won’t pursue you.”

Poulin is the curator of Snakes Alive, an exhibit that features all the snakes found in the province. A few weeks ago the museum was happy to announce the arrival of a “family” of nine little garter snakes.

“The museum has seen its largest attendance in the last 20 years.” Poulin said, “probably because of people’s fascination with snakes. Through the exhibit, people learn not to judge a species until you know something about it. That’s an important factor in promoting conservation.”

Ray Poulin is an enthusiastic advocate of the natural world, a direction that began as a child growing up in southern Ontario.

“I’ve been collecting critters since I was four years old,” he said. “I think I was born a biologist.”

As a university student, Poulin’s first summer job was working with a biology professor at the University of Windsor. His responsibility was to look through a microscope at aquatic insects, Even though others might find the work tedious, he loved it.

“That was a good indicator what I was to do in my career.”

Poulin continued as a student at the University of Regina and then at the University of Alberta. On completion of his studies , he obtained his dream job at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, where he has studied Mayflies, Burrowing Owls, lizards and that most fascinating of insects, the Dung Beetle.

At the Earth Day event, Kelsey Marchand will introduce participants to the turtle. The turtle is a reptile “cutified” in the cartoon world of the Ninja Turtles and Disney’s Robin Hood. After all this animated charm, we’re simply programmed to like turtles.

“Turtles are fascinating in that they can persist in a variety of environments,” she said. “In Canada, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find reptiles and amphibians, let alone turtles, because they spend the majority of their lifetime trapped under ice during the winter. Their active season, where they will bask, forage and mate, is only about four to six months every year.”

Marchand, a Master’s student at the University of Regina, adds that there is a stereotype that turtles are slow moving and in some cases, that is fact but it is also true that some turtles can move incredibly fast. That is one fact that people might learn from Marchand’s discussion about turtles.

“I love to do talks like the one in Yorkton,” Marchand said. “It gives people an opportunity to learn about wildlife in a way that they may not have had the opportunity to do before. In addition, I'm able to share my passion for turtles and the outdoors, in hopes of inspiring other generations to do the same.”

Marchand developed a love of the outdoors, playing in her back yard and going on hikes and camping trips, but her love of turtles and field biology really began in her second year of college when she had a co-op work term with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

The topic of the fourth presentation is the conservation of an environment that allows all three of these species to thrive. The speaker, Kenton Lysak, is Senior Interpreter with the Meewasin Valley Authority where is actively involved in developing environmental education and stewardship programs in Saskatoon.

Lysak grew up on a three-generation farm outside Theodore. His mentor in all things nature was his grandfather, Glenn Wiseman.

“I was always at the creek, my hands muddy, my eyes focused on the birds, animals and insects. At Cherry Dale Golf Course, I had to be told to pick up my club and quit looking at the ants.”

Like Poulin and Marchand, Lysak’s interest in the environment as a career began with his first summer job working at an Ecology Camp for children in Saskatoon.

“I kept returning to the Camp,” he explained. “I continued to learn so much about nature and I was interested in passing on my enthusiasm to the kids.”

Lysak completed an honours degree in biology at the University of Saskatchewan and then moved on to further studies.

“I worked on Sable Island during the summer of my Master’s degree. My job was to study the food web of the area. I tried to figure out how the 350,000 seals brought nutrients to the land, how those nutrients were used by the plants and how those plants then contributed to the success of the wild horses on the island.” 

“I developed a special relationship with the herd. I could identify each of the horses on the island. When the foals were born, the mares brought them to me, as if showing off their new offspring. It was something I’ll never forget.”

From his studies, Lysak has learned the importance of habitat conservation.- particularly prairie habitat.

“Grasslands habitat is the most endangered in the world. Seventy percent of it has changed in the last one hundred years. Without that habitat, prairie plants, animals and insects are threatened. We need to protect their environment if we are to see positive conservation in Saskatchewan.” 

 

Celebrate Earth Day with the YFBTA

St. Gerard Parish Hall, Yorkton

April 22, 12:30

Presentations:

Kelsey Marchand: Turtles

Kenton Lysak: Grasslands

Ray Poulin: Snakes

Harold Fisher: Banding Owls

Supper

 

More Information and Registration: www.yfbta.com

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