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Field Blog - June 2024: Never a Dull Moment on Plover Surveys!

Hi there! I am one of Nature Saskatchewan’s Habitat Stewardship Assistants for the summer, Nathaniel Hak. Along with my field partner Kim Sowa, we’ve been busy as can be over the past month as our Stewards of Saskatchewan fieldwork got underway for the summer! This is my second summer with Nature Sask, and I’m super glad to be back! After a busy couple of weeks of office and field training with our program coordinators, Emily and Grace, Kim and I headed to Lake Diefenbaker at the beginning of June to assist the Water Security Agency (WSA) with their piping plover census! This year is particularly exciting, because a prairie-wide Canadian Piping Plover Census, led in Saskatchewan by Nature Sask’s Ashley Vass, is underway to find as many piping plovers on as many different water bodies as possible. The goal is to get a better understanding of how the larger population of plovers has been doing over the past couple of years.

Our week at Diefenbaker was a memorable one! On our first day, we had intermittent rain showers, which was a welcome change from when I did surveys last year in roughly 32 degree heat, with no wind. We found a couple of new/previously undetected nests that day, and were able to put some wire exclosures around the nests, which reduce nest predation. The second day, however, was more difficult - we quickly found that we were being buffeted by high winds and pouring rain, and eventually the rain was such that we had to stop surveying for the day at around noon - both for our own safety (to ensure our trucks didn’t get stuck on the way out!), but also for that of the plovers.

Day 3 rolled around, again without a dull moment! The rain had subsided, but we woke up to winds that were gusting near 80 km/h! After Kim and I took down our tents due to the high winds, we headed out to at least attempt our surveys. 5 of us: Kim and I, plus 3 technicians from the WSA crew, bundled up and headed onto the beach - only to be sand-blasted by the wind throwing sand and pebbles around! We quickly made our way back to our trucks, re-grouped, and moved the trucks - down a very bumpy, windy trail - to the other end of the beach, where we could at least walk in the same direction as the wind. That, paired with higher cliff faces on that side of the beach that provided at least some shelter, allowed us to safely survey in the high winds, where we found another small but mighty population of piping plovers! With the relentlessly high winds and rain in the forecast for that evening, Kim and I packed up and got some rooms in a nearby motel in Elbow - a welcome respite from the crazy weather!

The next day brought yet another extremely windy day, but we were nevertheless thrilled to find a pair of piping plovers nesting on a different lake! That day, at least, was quite sunny.

Week 2 of plover surveys brought more extreme winds (although only gusting to a comparatively mild 60 km/h), and more rain. I found an old, bright yellow rainsuit at home over the weekend, and I was able to put it to good use! We found about 6 more plovers that day despite the wind and rain, which was really exciting. Kim and I were happy to discover that the weather improved as the week went on, and we were eventually surveying a number of basins in southern Saskatchewan wearing shorts and t-shirts as the sun finally came out! We were kept company all week by scores of (very vocal) killdeer, willets, avocets, and other shorebirds, as well as the occasional common nighthawk and Sprague’s pipit!

I really enjoyed being able to spend a couple of weeks on the shorelines of Saskatchewan’s lakes and wetlands looking for the endangered piping plover. It was extremely rewarding to find as many adult plovers as we did, and it’s an incredible feeling to know that we were helping monitor the numbers and distribution of such a cool endangered species like these plovers. Saskatchewan hosts the world’s largest breeding concentration of piping plovers, with over 30% of the global population breeding here each year! So, it was really important to detect as many as we could throughout the survey period.

If you see a piping plover, or any other species-at-risk this summer, please call our toll free HOOT Line! Your observation helps us monitor the distributions and population numbers of endangered species in Saskatchewan, and every observation helps inform conservation efforts for the species that call the prairies home.

I’m looking forward to connecting with more of our incredible Stewards of Saskatchewan program participants as the summer goes on - see you in the field!

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