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Jun
21
Share the Shore Piping Plover nesting season is here again!

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Schools out and its time to hit the beach! As families head out to our provinces beautiful shorelines for some R & R, they should be on the lookout, as this is also the time when the endangered Piping Plover will be hitting the beaches for a different reason…to nest!

Piping Plovers, listed as Endangered since 1985, are masters of camouflage and nest directly on the shoreline; above waterline and below the vegetation growth. Saskatchewan boasts the largest remaining breeding population in the world each summer on our beaches. Because they prefer sandy open beaches, Piping Plovers are often threatened by human activity, since we too favour these types of shorelines in our recreation. “Since the Plovers nest on the ground and mostly rely on not being seen, activities like ATV traffic and loose dogs on beaches are a risk to them,” Emily Putz, Coordinator for Nature Saskatchewan’s Plovers on Shore program explains, “limiting these kind of activities on beaches where they are known to nest can go a long way.”

In June, Piping Plover females will lay four eggs in a shallow scrape in the sand lined with pebbles. Over the next 28 days, both parents will incubate and fiercely defend their nest. “They make fantastic parents,” says Putz, “especially the males who stick around a bit longer in late summer with the fledglings. During the breeding season they will both defend the nest, leading predators away with broken wing displays or false scrape incubation.” Peak hatching occurs in mid June to early July, and the babies are up and moving within the day. “It’s just being mindful that we are sharing these spaces with these small creatures that can use our help,” further explains Putz, “something as insignificant as a deep footprint to us can mean life or death if a small chick falls and is trapped in it.”

Adult Plovers look very similar to the common Killdeer, with sandy grey backs, white bellies, and orange bill and feet. Where they differ is in their face markings, Piping Plovers will have a black headband marking and one black neck band marking, opposed to the Killdeer’s two neck bands. If you think you’ve seen a Piping Plover, please report your sighting to Plovers on Shore through Nature Saskatchewan’s toll free hoot-line, 1-800-667-HOOT (4668). All caller information is kept private and every sighting goes towards helping learn more about these Endangered shorebirds.

Nature Saskatchewan, in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Service, also just completed the 2024 Prairie Piping Plover Census across the province. The survey window closed on June 16th and the data is pouring in. We are excited to see how the Piping Plovers are faring and would like to extend a big thank you to our many partners and volunteers that contributed time and effort to make this census possible, as well as landholders that gave access permission to their shoreline during the survey window!

If you have any questions about the Plovers on Shore program, or would like to learn more about this species, please contact Emily Putz at 306-780-9832 or outreach@naturesask.ca.

photo credit: E. Putz

May
29
Hoot, Hoot, Hooray! Burrowing Owls are back!

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It’s that time of year again when the endangered Burrowing Owl returns to the prairies from their wintering grounds in southern Texas and Mexico. By now, the males have chosen a burrow and stocked it up with mice and other prey to impress their future mates. From mid-May to mid-June, these little owls are starting the mating process, finding a home, and laying and incubating their eggs.

Burrowing owls are identifiable by their small size (approximately 9 inches tall) and light and dark brown mottled plumage with white spots. They have a round head, with large yellow eyes, and white ‘eyebrows’. Another characteristic feature is their long, featherless legs, which gives them the appearance of walking on stilts. During mating season, females will listen for the “coo-coooo” call of the males. Burrowing owls also make a chattering or chuckling call.

Despite their name, Burrowing Owls do not dig their nests themselves. Instead, they use abandoned burrows that have been previously used by burrowing mammals such as badgers or ground squirrels (gophers). Burrowing Owls choose to nest in several different habitat types. Most nest burrows occur in grazed native or tame grassland pastures, but they have been known to be found in cropland. “Grazing is very beneficial to the Burrowing Owl”, Grace Pidborchynski, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator at Nature Saskatchewan explains. “On grazed pastures, the shorter grass helps these owls detect potential predators more effectively. In addition, the owls use manure in and around their nests to absorb excess moisture, regulate burrow temperature, attract insects for food, and hide their scent from predators.” During the nesting season, male burrowing owls can often be seen on lookouts next to their burrows, or on nearby fence posts while the female incubates the eggs.

Burrowing owls are generalist predators, meaning they will prey on anything small enough for them to catch. They will hunt prey that is most readily available to them, such as mice in the early spring, and grasshoppers in the late summer. Burrowing owls are most active during the day; especially when the male is busy gathering food for his family in the spring and early summer. There are several techniques to which Burrowing Owls hunt, such as hovering above the ground and pouncing, perching from a fence post or mound, running after insects, and catching insects mid-air with their talons. A Burrowing Owl family can eat 1,800 rodents and 7,000 grasshoppers during a single summer, making them great pest control!

Each spring, female Burrowing Owls will lay between 6 and 12 eggs. Because there are thought to be less than 300 pairs nesting throughout Canada, the success of each nest is important to the survival and recovery of this species. Nature Saskatchewan’s stewardship program, Operation Burrowing Owl, works with landholders to conserve and enhance Burrowing Owl habitat and monitors Burrowing Owl numbers at participating sites. “We are very fortunate to have so many passionate landholders and land managers participating in the program and keeping an eye out for Burrowing Owls,” says Pidborchynski. Operation Burrowing Owl records sightings to help determine the population trend and distribution of the Burrowing Owl throughout Saskatchewan. “Without help from landholders and the public, recovery of this unique prairie owl would not be possible,” says Pidborchynski. If you are lucky enough to see a Burrowing Owl, she 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 an important role in Burrowing Owl recovery. Every sighting is critical!” says Pidborchynski. Personal information is kept confidential and is never shared without permission.

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

Grace PidborchynskiHabitat Stewardship Coordinator
Phone: (306) 780-9833
Email: obo@naturesask.ca           

Rebecca Magnus, Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270
Email: rmagnus@naturesask.ca

 

 

photo credit: Grace Pidborchynski

 

May
22
Loggerhead Shrikes- Back and on the Attack!

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Keep an eye out for returning Shrikes this May! Spring has sprung and that means many of our birds are back on the prairies to once again raise their families. In this busy time, Nature Saskatchewan asks everyone to keep an eye out for the threatened Loggerhead Shrike.

This fierce bird is often seen perched on tall branches near open spaces. When looking to ID this bird watch for a slate grey back, white belly, and black wings and tail. They also have a striking mask that extends across their face to behind their eyes. When in flight, watch for the flash of hidden white patches on their black wings. “These birds have the unique behaviour of impaling their prey,” Emily Putz, Shrubs for Shrikes coordinator for Nature Saskatchewan explains, “they will find sharp points such as a thorny branch or a wire barb to hang their prey, then rip small pieces off with their hooked beak. Pairs will often hang prey on branches near their nest as a larder for later as well, living up to their nickname as the Butcherbird!”

Prey can often be seen hung in areas with shrikes, especially in the spring when the males return and try and impress the females with their hunting skills. Prey can include insects such as caterpillars and grasshoppers, birds, amphibians and snakes, and rodents such as mice and voles. They have even been known to take larger prey such as a young gopher! “Thorny shrubs such as Buffaloberry and Hawthorns are especially attractive to nest in and great shrubs to include in your yard site if you are trying to attract shrikes for their pest control abilities,” further explains Putz, “but in yards or shelterbelts, Shrikes might also use prickly conifers or caraganas as substitutes.”

Loggerhead Shrikes populations have been on the decline since the 1960s, with up to 80% of the population lost across their range. Habitat loss and degradation is the leading cause of their decline, both of their prairie hunting habitat and the shrubs they call their homes. Shelterbelts are becoming things of the past which further contributes, as their adapted shrub habitat also becomes sparse.

While the prairie Loggerhead Shrike is listed as Threatened in Canada, Saskatchewan, at the heart of their remaining range, still has the largest population of breeding pairs in the country. Nature Saskatchewan’s Shrubs for Shrike’s program aims to keep Saskatchewan’s population strong by getting more eyes and ears our looking for these unique birds and contributing to their population monitoring. The program also works directly with landholders and land managers that may have spotted them nesting on their land, by conserving their habitat and reporting their sightings through our annual census.

If you happen to spot a Loggerhead Shrike this spring, please report your sighting to Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free HOOTline, 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or email Emily Putz at outreach@naturesask.ca. Every sighting helps with tracking the population and range of this iconic prairie bird. All Caller and program participant information is kept confidential.

 

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

Rebecca Magnus, Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270
Email: rmagnus@naturesask.ca

 

Photo credit: Kim Mann

 

Mar
20
Know your Butcherbird- Telling our Seasonal Shrikes Apart!

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As the sun starts to stay with us longer each day, and the spring weather starts to arrive, migration starts to begin to kick off another breeding season! This is an exciting time for birders, as they can spot species stopping by on their way up north and species showing up to scope out space for the breeding season. For two similar species, however, this period can bring brief range overlap that makes IDing very tricky.

The Northern Shrike (Lanius borealis) and the Loggerhead Shrike Prairie subspecies (Lanius ludovicianus excubitorides) both spend significant portions of their time in Southern Saskatchewan each year. The difference is that the Loggerhead Shrike is our summer shrike, they spend their breeding season here raising their young and their winters down in Texas and Mexico; the Northern Shrike is our winter shrike, they breed up across Northern Canada where the boreal forest meets the tundra and come spend their winter vacation down in balmy Southern Saskatchewan each year. During migration in the spring and autumn, there are a few weeks’ overlap as one species is arriving and the other is heading out. This wouldn’t be a problem, but both Shrike species look very similar and display similar behaviours (such as prey impalement!). So how do you tell who you are watching? Subtle differences help when you are playing the look-a-like game!

The Loggerhead Shrike starts arriving in April, with the males arriving first to stake out territories that will impress the gals. As the Males start to arrive you will hear more vocal territory calls and may see groups as they work out who gets what. Loggerhead Shrikes have crisp colouring; a grey back, a white belly and throat, black wings and tail with white markings, and a crisp defined black bandit mask extending right over their eyes past to their ears. Loggerhead Shrikes also have the sharp black beak that allows them to be such fierce hunters! “This species is also at-risk,” explains Emily Putz, coordinator of the Shrubs for Shrikes program, “with number declines continuing each year, they are listed as threatened, so we want as many people out there able to ID them and report sightings as possible. Every bit helps!”

Northern Shrikes, as denotes their name, have a bit frostier colouration. They share the sharp black bill and general grey/white/black colours, however their markings are less defined overall. Their mask extends through the eye instead of over it and narrows towards the bill. Above their bill, they often show a band of white extending above the eye. Their white belly can have a slight grey barring pattern that breaks up their shape. These shrikes will start arriving in September and will often be seen in the wintertime scouting out bird feeders to hunt and impale sparrows or hunt small rodents drawn by dropped seed. Both male and female Northern Shrikes are known to sing all winter long, unusual for a winter songbird, and the male sings with more frequency towards the end of winter. Though boreal species are often hard to track, numbers for Northern Shrikes appear stable.

“While having either shrike is sure to brighten your birdwatching season, if you think you have identified a Loggerhead Shrike, please let us know,” continues Emily Putz,” we would love to hear about it and discuss our Shrubs for Shrikes program. If you are unsure on your ID we can also always help you if you have a photo!” Nature Saskatchewan’s voluntary stewardship program, Shrubs for Shrikes, works directly with land stewards to conserve habitat for species-at-risk and monitor population numbers in Saskatchewan. Sightings are recorded to help determine the distribution of these species throughout the province, which can then be used towards efforts to help these species. Anyone can report their sightings of a Loggerhead Shrike, along with any other species-at-risk, as they are out this spring enjoying Saskatchewan’s natural beauty. 

If you would like to learn more about the Loggerhead Shrike, please join us this Thursday, March 21st, in Milestone SK for a free dinner and night of presentations, including one all about Shrikes! For more information about this dinner or our programs, please call Nature Saskatchewan’s toll-free line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668), text (306) 780-9832, or email us at outreach@naturesask.ca. Private information is never shared without permission. Please also feel free to share photos, as we love to see them!

 

For further information, please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

 

Emily Putz

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

Rebecca Magnus

Species at Risk Manager
Phone: (306) 780-9270
Email: rmagnus@naturesask.ca

 

Mar
8
Spring Migration Birdwatching Challenge from Gateway Nature

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The contest is open from April 1 to May 31 and the rules are simple:

Individual Challenge - Count as many species as you can during the challenge period and return your form to Gateway Nature by email or by dropping it off to the Moosomin Library. Spring Migration Challenge Entry Form

Classroom Challenge - Classrooms will compete as a group and tally all of the species they see during the challenge period and return their form to Gateway Nature by email or by dropping it off to the Moosomin Library. Spring Migration Classroom Form

Not sure what birds to look for? This video will help you.

 

 

Feb
26
Burns, Bees and Butcherbirds!

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This FREE event will be held on Thursday March 21 at the Elks Hall in Milestone, SK. There will be a free locally catered supper at 6pm and following supper you will hear from some great presenters:
 
  • Prescribed fire as a management tool (Canadian Prairies Prescribed Fire Exchange)
  • Saskatchewan's Bees (Royal Saskatchewan Museum)
  • The Loggerhead Shrike (Nature Saskatchewan)
  • Habitat Management Agreements (Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation)
 
This event is FREE but pre-registration is required by March 14. To RSVP please call/text 306-780-9832 or email outreach@naturesask.ca
 

 

Feb
8
Badgers and Pastures: A Habitat Management Workshop

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Join Nature Saskatchewan and our partners Prairie Conservation Action Plan, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Foundation and Sodcap Inc. for Badgers and Pastures: A Habitat Management Workshop.  This workshop is geared towards landholders and managers with hands-on activities and case studies. Workshop also includes snacks, coffee and supper!

 

Two dates and locations to pick from:

Val Marie, SK - February 27

Eastend, SK - February 28

 

Please RSVP in advance by emailing obo@naturesask.ca or by call/text to 306-780-9833

Feb
8
Saskatchewan’s Newest Nature Society forms at Moosomin

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On January 18, four members of the Indian Head Natural History Society (IHNHS) were invited to Moosomin to participate in the inaugural meeting of Saskatchewan's newest Nature Society, aptly named Gateway Nature. This newly minted group is ready to offer nature lovers in the South East part of the province with nature based learning tools and events. This inaugural meeting was well attended by Moosomin and area residents. 

The Gateway Nature group was initiated and chaired by local Moosomin resident Kendra Parrish, who is an avid nature lover and enthusiastic and supportive citizen scientist in that area. As chair of the newly formed group, she explained the reason for the name: “…nature enthusiasts from Moosomin, Rocanville, and Redvers met in Moosomin to create Gateway Nature. The name symbolizes our general geographical location near the Manitoba border (the gateway to Saskatchewan) and how we aim to be a gateway through which the public enters into a love of the natural world”.

Kendra helped facilitate the inaugural meeting and started off by asking those in attendance what they would like to see as the focus for their newly created nature society. This group is off to a great start with amazing ideas and a positive energy. They agreed to focus on the following areas/objectives: 

  • Engaging community members of all ages in directly observing nature

  • Gathering data on local wildlife for use by researchers

  • Building bonds of friendship and fun among nature enthusiasts

  • Promoting eco-friendly practices among local residents

  • Encouraging landowners to explore easement options

  • Teaching ourselves and our neighbours about nature through lectures, videos, and pamphlets

During the meeting, using these 6 objectives as a guideline, this enthusiastic group of people decided on a list of activities and events to do in the next 12 months. How amazing is that! Their list of activities include hosting several nature walks and species identification expeditions in the Moosomin, Rocanville & Redvers areas. They also plan on promoting pollinator-friendly practices through the distribution of ‘Bee Friendly’ signs as well as the growing and distribution of native plants for area residents. Other ideas they discussed included birdwatching contests, fundraising events as well as targeted lectures, including their first event which will be held on February 29th at the Moosomin library to hear Dr. Cory Sheffield, from the Royal SK Museum, talk about bee conservation.

This was an impressive meeting amongst an equally impressive group of talented people. Gateway Nature has formally registered and been accepted as a local chapter/branch of Nature Saskatchewan. The group will be run by the following individuals: Chair - Kendra Parrish; Vice-Chair - Lana Shaw; Secretary/Webmaster - Coral Wiebe; Treasurer - Jody Blyth.

We wish them all the best and we look forward to seeing all the good things that will be completed by this new group.

Note:

The roll of the IHNHS committee members (Lorne Scott, Laura Poppy, Bruce Neill & Dora Nichols) at the inaugural Gateway Nature meeting was to offer support and answer questions for this newly formed neighbouring Nature group. The IHNHS has been an active nature society and local chapter of Nature SK since the early 1970’s. Even more special, one of the group’s original members and founders, Dora Nichols, was able to attend the Moosomin meeting to offer support and wisdom. Dora has consecutively served as the secretary for the IHNHS since its beginning! That’s over 50 years of service to nature and her local society! Also of interest, two of the IHNHS members in attendance at the Jan 18 meeting also serve on the board of Nature Sask:  Lorne Scott (president) and Laura Poppy (Vice) wore two hats while attending the meeting in Moosomin. 

By Laura Poppy 

(on behalf of the Indian Head Natural History Society & Nature Saskatchewan)

 

Interested in being part of Gateway Nature? You can contact them here.

 

 

Dec
5
Come work with Nature Saskatchewan!

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Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
Application Deadline: January 2, 2024  

Location:         Regina, Saskatchewan
Start date:       January 22nd, 2024
Position:          Eight months full-time with the possibility of extension
Wage:             $4,407 / month

 

Nature Saskatchewan requires an enthusiastic individual to deliver our Rare Plant Rescue program. Initiated in 2002, the program raises awareness about rare plant species and engages landowners in conserving the plants’ unique habitats through voluntary agreements, educational programming, and landowner workshops. The coordinator will work under the supervision of the Species at Risk Manager, closely with other Nature Saskatchewan staff, and together with other agencies involved in complementary and related activities.

Click here for more information on Nature Saskatchewan and Rare Plant Rescue.

Tasks and responsibilities:

  • Plan and deliver program activities; work with other agencies with shared goals
  • Arrange and deliver on-site visits with current and potential program participants
  • Hire, train, and supervise five summer field staff
  • Plan and conduct searches and monitoring for target plant species throughout Southern Saskatchewan
  • Promote stewardship through printed materials, newsletter articles, displays, presentations, media releases, and stewardship workshops
  • Manage data, including mapping locational data
  • Prepare funding proposals and reports
  • Manage and monitor budgeted expenditures

Qualifications:

  • Post-secondary degree in biology, agriculture, natural resource management or other related environmental studies.
  • Experience hiring and supervising field staff
  • Experience in stewardship and/or wildlife work is an asset
  • Excellent communication and writing skills
  • Self-motivated, organizational skills, resourcefulness, and ability to plan project work
  • Valid driver’s license and willingness to work flexible hours at times

Please email a resume and a cover letter in one pdf by January 2nd, 2024 to Rebecca Magnus at rmagnus@naturesask.ca. Please include in the subject line “RPR Coordinator” and your name.

 

Sep
8
Call for article and photo submissions

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Nature Saskatchewan is looking for article and photo submissions for our Stewards of Saskatchewan (SOS) Newsletter and Species at Risk (SAR) Calendar!

The annual newsletter and calendar is sent out to all of our program participants (over 1100 land title holders and managing stewards) as well as our funders and partner organizations. The newsletter will also be available to the public through our website. It features updates on our programs and other topics related to SAR or land management. 

In general, we are interested in articles on:
- Recent research on wildlife (including plants!), especially SAR (e.g. from University students, etc.),
- Programs that our landholder participants may be interested in
- Grazing, production, livestock
- Research relevant to native prairie and grasslands
- Weed management
- Land management
- Invasive species
- Collaborative Conservation Projects

We are always looking for a way to connect and build relationships with our local, transboundary, and international partners, and love hearing how our SAR (such as Loggerhead Shrikes, Burrowing Owls, Piping Plovers, Sprague’s Pipits, Ferruginous Hawks, Monarchs, etc.) are doing in other parts of their range. Therefore, we would love to include interesting stories from other organizations, or current research and programming from within, as well as outside of Saskatchewan.

If you are a landholder, manager, or an SOS program participant and would like to write a perspective piece, we would love to feature your article! The topic can be anything that is important to you and that you feel other program stewards would have an interest in (e.g. your land management/business practices, your experiences with the programs, interesting species observations, etc.).

Article Guidelines:
- Must be between 250 and 500 words (1/2 to 1 page)
- Write at a level relevant for the general public (e.g. leave out scientific jargon)
- Focus on a topic relevant to landholders and producers, particularly those who have SAR on their land
- Provide a photo or two to go along with your article, include photographers and suggested captions

Calendar Photo Guidelines:

The calendar photos should be clear and high resolution (300 dpi minimum). As always, we welcome and appreciate any photos of SAR and are able to offer tax receipts for photos donated to Nature Saskatchewan that are used in a print publication. 

The species for consideration for the calendar this year are:

Insects

Western Bumble Bee
Dusky Dune Moth
Gold-edged Gem

Herpetiles & Fishes

Snapping Turtle
Bigmouth Buffalo

Plants

Tiny Cryptantha
Western Spiderwort
Plains Grape Fern
Upland Evening Primrose

Birds

Loggerhead Shrike
Burrowing Owl
Piping Plover
Sprague’s Pipit
Greater-sage Grouse
Rusty Blackbird
Canada Warbler

Please send Calendar photo submissions to Rebecca Magnus at rmagnus@naturesask.ca and article submissions (with accompanying photos) to Ashley Vass at rpr@naturesask.ca by Friday, October 6th, 2023. We will be happy to provide a copy of the printed newsletter and/or calendar to those whose photos/articles are included. If there is an article that you would like to submit but are unsure of whether it is relevant, don’t hesitate to email me! Please feel free to share this email with anyone you think may be interested and contact us with any questions you may have.