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Voices from the Field August 4

Hello from the Rare Plant Rescue Search Crew again! Michelle and I are excited to report back on our jam-packed summer. Our trips in the field have kept us on our toes and blessed us with breath-taking experiences, from the moment the rising sun peeks over the horizon to the crashing thunder and lightning that chase us back to safe shelter.

 

photo credit: Michelle Lang

 

In June we headed out for our Small-flowered Sand-Verbena trip. Searching on the shorelines of the South Saskatchewan River was a welcoming change of scenery – the calming sound of flowing water makes everything better, as does dipping our hot, tired feet into the clear icy water during our lunch breaks. After passing many unfinished and abandoned beaver lodges during our searches, we finally saw our first beaver of the summer. Completely oblivious, it swam happily through the reeds of a creek right next to us as we pointed with happy exclamations. We were also privileged with spotting a bald eagle family busily flying around their nest, and dozens of tadpoles swimming about in their awkward teenager-stage. During this trip we also found our very first target species – the endangered Small-flowered Sand-Verbena. Although at first glance it looks like Sand dock, these rare plants are fleshy, and can only grow in active sand dunes and river banks.

Sand Verbena, Michelle Lang

In our next trip we set out to the top of the rolling river valley, in search of Tiny Cryptantha. This species’ status has been recently downlisted from endangered to threatened as a result of previously unknown populations. This success story is an example of one of the reasons why we search for rare plants; a lot of them have been given their rare status partially because their population numbers are generally unknown. Our search crew efforts hope to change this by finding and tracking unknown populations so that we can contribute to future decisions based on more accurate numbers.

On our first day of this trip we were greeted with two rattlesnakes! After the initial surprise, we quickly got over our fear as we understood their shy nature, though we kept our eyes peeled after that! We certainly got a workout during those searches, walking up and down the juniper-covered hills, greeted with new views of golden grass at each rise.

 

Sunflowers, Catherine Boutin

 

In our most recent trip, we went back out to look at sand dunes, but this time for Smooth Goosefoot, a threatened member of the goosefoot family. As the temperatures climbed into the 30’s, we pulled ourselves out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to hit the road as the sun rose. Even without a cup of coffee, I’ll go on record to say that a sunrise is the best way to start a morning. Each day we spotted new mysterious tracks in the sand as the first morning light touches them, telling the stories of the goings-on of all sorts of creatures overnight. In other good news, we are currently in a flurry of tracking many new Smooth Goosefoot occurrences. Even though they grow best after a wet spring, it appears that in some areas the drought hasn’t affected them too negatively.

 

 

Smooth Goosefoot, Catherine Boutin

 

 

Prairie Coneflower, Catherine Boutin

 

Spending most of our summer searching through pastures in the Southwestern part of the province has shown us that our hardy native prairies are still productive and beautiful even in a drought summer. The brilliant fuchsia and yellow of cactus flowers will never get old (though their prickles sure do!), and the fragrant juniper and sagebrush fields kept our senses alert and excited all summer. We may be a little scratched up and sunburnt, but with cameras full of photos and eyes full of happy memories, who knows what might happen next. After all, there’s still a month of summer left.

 

Prickly Pear Cactus, Michelle Lang

 

 

Search crew hard at work! , Michelle Lang

 

 

By: Catherine Boutin

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