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Aug
3
Young Burrowing Owls Are Learning the Ways of the World!

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Regina, SK – July 26th, 2021 – Saskatchewan’s Burrowing Owls are reaching an important stage in their life cycle – the young are now starting to leave the burrow and forage for themselves. The juvenile owls have been fed by their parents for many weeks, and they are now becoming more independent. If you are out and about during late July and into August, it is a great time to spot Burrowing Owls in rural Saskatchewan, but at the same time, it can also be a dangerous time for these inexperienced young owls.

Just like kids, the young Burrowing Owls have to learn the way of the world such as flying and hunting, but also must learn the way of the road. “The young owls often forage on grid roads and in ditches, where they find small invertebrates and rodents,” explains Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator. “Unfortunately, many of these young owls are at risk of being struck by motorists whilst foraging along the sun-warmed roads.”

The Burrowing Owl population has been steadily declining, making the survival of each and every owl critical for the ultimate survival of the species. However, Kaytlyn Burrows says there are some things that we can do to help the juveniles survive this critical learning curve. “When motorists are driving in rural areas, particularly nearby pasture land, 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 any nearby predators. They are often seen standing on or next to the burrow entrance, on nearby fence posts, or foraging in the ditches.

To identify a Burrowing Owl, there are some key features to watch for. Look for mottled brown and white feathers, white ‘eyebrows’, and long featherless legs that look like ‘stilts’. They are also small in size – Burrowing Owls are only 9 inches tall (about the size of a Meadowlark). Despite its name, the Burrowing Owl’s burrow is not dug by the owl itself; rather, they use abandoned burrows dug by badgers, ground squirrels (gophers), and other burrowing mammals.

Nature Saskatchewan has been involved with the protection and conservation of the Burrowing Owl for over 30 years, relying on the help of landowners, land managers, and the public. Operation Burrowing Owl partners with landowners across southern and central Saskatchewan to conserve habitat and monitor the Saskatchewan population through voluntary agreements. 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) or email obo@naturesask.ca,” Burrows mentions. “You will be helping to monitor the population and aid with conservation efforts.” Information provided is never shared without permission.

 

For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

 

Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9833
obo@naturesask.ca

Melissa Ranalli,  Species at Risk Manager
mranalli@naturesask.ca

Photo credit: James Villeneuve

Jul
9
The Voice from the Field - July 9

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Spencer

This trip was a bumpy one that is for sure, the weather was up and down, and the wind almost knocked me to the ground. The entire ten days of the trip were spent near Eastend Saskatchewan where we searched for Dwarf Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus brevissimus). It was within the depressions of the prairie’s rolling hills where we spent most of our time looking for that small white puffy flower. Dwarf Woolly-heads are about the size of a dime and grow in sporadic clusters or as individuals. It was a good year for this species and the majority of the individuals observed were quite healthy despite the region being incredibly dry.
 

 

This is what a successful search looks like. Lots of flags means lots of dwarf woollyheads (plenty of counting to do)

 

Ash

Looking for such a small plant species has been challenging but we were lucky enough to come across several new populations of this rare species. Let me tell you, we had fun counting thousands and thousands of these tiny individuals out in the hot prairie sun. I really do feel honoured though to have the opportunity to see this incredibly rare species first hand. After all, it is only found in the very southwest corner of the province and these tiny fuzzy plants only occur in ephemeral wetlands. I didn’t know what the word ephemeral meant before this trip and now it is one of my favorite words. This trip has been ephemeral but the memories made with my awesome field mates will last a lifetime.

 

 

A cluster of beautiful looking dwarf woollyheads we found while out searching. These ones are actually pretty big in size (the size of a dime). Often we find clusters where individual plants are no bigger than a pea.

 

Gillian

Hiking between these ephemeral wetlands was a chore not to turn an ankle because the series of used or abandoned badger holes threaten to engulf your whole leg. That is when you are not tripping over bleached white bones of cows past. A welcome break to examine the remains and get creative.

 

Spencer and gillian jamming with their new bone instruments

 

Ash

Our search team has grown from two (myself and Spencer) to three. Having Gillian join us has been a blast. The three of us have bonded over our common struggles with ADHD. We often joke about how easily we get distracted and are always making up games to keep things interesting during long searches. The abundance of fascinating things to see helps keep our minds active nonstop as well. One afternoon, on our lunch break, Gillian spotted a dung beetle out on the dusty gravel road. I had no idea we had dung beetles in this province! The poor thing was desperately trying to roll a piece of gopher dung back to its family but every time it made progress, the wind blew it miles back. Being immersed in nature has allowed me to witness so many cool insect phenomena. While hiking to a search location, I happened to take a closer look a thistle. What I witnessed was a group of ants harvesting honeydew from aphids that were happily feeding on the plant's sap. So neat to see.


 

We saw a lot of shining arnica in bloom while out searching on this trip

 

Spencer

This part of the adventure was certainly interesting as we finally found the target species which was an awesome release of search tension. I doubled my plant and scientific knowledge with the double combination of Ashley and Gillian’s amazing capacity to communicate their ideas. The space this week allowed everyone to shine and find balance as a team despite the fierce wind and scorching heat.

 

 

A stunning pincushion cactus 

 

Gillian

We had the distinct pleasure of being dive bombed by willets during our work in one polygon. The Willet makes a call like will-will-willet, similar to the naming calls of Pokémon. Beside the call, Willets can be identified by their black and white wings while in flight. On the ground they look like large plovers that feature long beaks and legs. Many of the polygons we searched had nesting birds who enjoyed the water present in the ephemeral wetlands. Beside the Willets that disapproved of our visit, we saw pairs of Red-winged Black Birds and unidentified ducks. Both of which were not too happy about us stumbling upon their hidden nests.

While the animals of the air appeared in and out of sight, the animals of the ground provided a much more pleasant viewing experience. Several field mice flitted in and out of holes in the old folded grass covered in dried pond scum. In and amongst our feet slithered plains garter snakes with bright orange and yellow stripes amidst black scales. One of the largest individuals which we observed promptly escaped into the local dugout to hide amongst the algae.

 

 

A garter snake we saw out for a swim in the local dugout

 

Spencer

Each direction you look here contains millions of unique treasures. This time around I noticed more snakes, more nests, and more bones. The capturing of these finds and the rewarding learning experience has made the challenge of the long days not so bad. Especially searching for a speck in the vast prairies it’s nice to have a team to grow and have fun with.

 

 

scarlett guara -- another species we had the delight to see blooming while out searching on this trip.

 

Ashley

All in all, it’s been another successful trip with plenty of adventurous challenges and I am once again overjoyed by all the new plants I’ve learned and curious natural phenomena I’ve seen. Looking forward to a nice rest before heading back out :)

 

 

when life gives you ground plums, you.... stick them in your nose? Sometimes the scorching heat really gets to us while out in the field....

*all photos taken by Ashley Mills*

 

Jul
7
Young butcher birds are on the loose!

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Regina, SK – June 28, 2021 – “Young Loggerhead Shrikes - threatened, prairie songbirds - are going to be out over the next couple of weeks near their nests, learning to perfect their hunting and impaling skills,” says Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “This is probably the most fascinating time to observe shrikes as the young may be in groups of 4 to 7, clumsily hunting and impaling prey, not going too far from their nests”.

Butchers hang their meat to dry, and so too does the Loggerhead Shrike. Magnus explains, “instead of storing their meat in a meat locker as a butcher would, these birds impale and hang their prey on barbed wire fences, thorny shrubs, and trees, affording them the nickname ‘butcher bird’”. The shrike’s prey items include beetles, grasshoppers, garter snakes, mice, voles, frogs, and even other smaller songbirds. Similar to birds of prey Loggerhead Shrikes have hooked beaks; however, unlike most birds of prey, shrikes lack strong talons, and instead must impale a prey item in order to secure it during feeding.

The Loggerhead Shrike is slightly smaller than the American Robin. Shrikes have a black mask that extends from the black bill past the eyes. These birds earn the “Loggerhead” part of their name because they have relatively large heads, and the “Shrike” part of their name because they have a high-pitched shriek for an alarm call. The Loggerhead Shrike has a grey back with white underparts, and black wings and a black tail with characteristic white stripes on the wings and the edges of the tail. These traits are easily seen when shrikes are in flight.

To learn more about the Loggerhead Shrike, or if you have Loggerhead Shrikes and would be interested in an on-site visit from the Shrubs for Shrikes Habitat Stewardship Coordinator, please contact Nature Saskatchewan at 1-800-667-4668. Nature Saskatchewan is asking anyone who sees a Loggerhead Shrike to please report the sighting. By reporting Loggerhead Shrike locations, you are providing valuable information used to assess population size and distribution in order to help direct the conservation efforts for this threatened bird. Information will not be shared without permission.

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan: 

 

Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9832
outreach@naturesask.ca

 

Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270
mranalli@naturesask.ca

 

Photo credit: May Haga

 

           

Jul
5
Voices from the Field - July 5

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Hi, we are the Nature Saskatchewan Rare Plant Rescue team members Ashley Mills and Spencer Lyons. We recently joined Nature Saskatchewan this summer to search for species at risk in southern Saskatchewan. Spencer has dabbled in both archaeology and biology and is really into bones while Ashley’s background is mainly biology and she is especially interested in plants and birds. Between the two of us, there were always little treasures catching our eye as we embarked on the search for the rare Slender Mouse-ear-cress (aka. SMEC). Our first trip was a 10-day scorcher and wow what a tremendously fun way to kick off the field season. We found ourselves “SMEC” dab in the middle of a heat wave in Leader to begin and the week ended with wonderful rain showers in Eastend, SK. Every day, we found ourselves learning more than we could have ever imagined about Saskatchewan’s prairies and we both sat staring at the ceiling each night wondering what fascinating find we would uncover the following day.

 

 

The Rare Plant Rescue Search crew 2021, Ashley Mills and Spencer Lyons

 

This first search period consisted of looking for the elusive rare plant SMEC, a brassica (i.e, mustard family) that is rather tall and dainty with a spattering of small white flowers on top. This plant has not been located in a couple years and so we were excited to see if we could crack the case. To pass the time on our long transects we made up songs replacing words with SMEC and laughing until our guts hurt. After a weeks’ worth of searching we came up empty handed with no SMEC to show for our efforts. However, along the way we found multiple patches of the provincially rare Small lupine, as well as a Northern Blue Eyed Grass, Prickly Milk Vetch, and the stunning Gumbo Evening Primrose. We were out star gazing on Jone’s peak near Eastend when we happened to spot this beautiful white flower. It was fascinating to find such a big flower out on the prairies and especially one that blooms at night. What a treat!

 

 

In our off time we found the quietness and friendliness of the small towns to be quite enchanting. Visiting with the locals and landowners was a rewarding experience that brought both of us out of our shells and allowed us to feel like we were right at home. There was plenty of time in the evening to explore and no shortage of hidden gems to uncover. Checking out the life-size animal statues in Leader was a definite highlight, while the unique views from Jones Peak and Pine Creek Regional Park left us feeling like our little adventurer hearts were full to the brim. 

 

Our time in the field was never wasted and we found ways to take our mind off the frustrations of ending the day with no target species to show for it. After washing away our woes in a wonderful creek, we filled our cameras with countless plants, mushrooms, lichens and even an ant super city with “ant highways”. Ashley’s previous ID skills came in handy as she showed Spencer how to properly ID birds and plants while she learned about bone and lichen ID from him. Our happiness must have been at an optimal level since Ashely said and I quote, “my happiness is equally proportional to the amount of pictures I take per day”. We were definitely happy campers then because both our phones were full of pictures of the awesome adventure. After ten straight field days we are certainly ready for a well-earned rest which will hopefully fly by so we can get back to our rare plant search mission.

 

 

 

Note: All photos credited to Ashley Mills and Spencer Lyons

Jun
22
Voices From the Field - June 23

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Hello from your summer 2021 Habitat Stewardship Assistants, Rachel Ward and Carmen LaBelle! We have returned from our first trip of the summer where we were helping out the Water Security Agency (WSA) with their annual Piping Plover Census!

 

Carmen (left) and Rachel (right) taking a short break on the beach. Photo by Carmen LaBelle

 

Our home-base for the week was a small private campground near Elbow, called Coyote Springs Campground. We arrived the day before the census to set up our little row of tents, along with the Coordinators and a couple volunteers. From there, we set off in small search and monitoring crews to look for and track our target species, the Piping Plover. This species is endangered in Canada and migrates north to our gravelly or sandy shorelines in mid-May to lay eggs and raise their young.

 

The Nature Saskatchewan team's campsites. Photo by Carmen LaBelle.

 

It was a privilege to learn from and help the WSA this season with their census. We were instructed how to find Piping Plovers by sight and sound while out on the beaches. They blend in much more than you might think! Often you hear them first, then have to stop and look around for them. By the end of the first day our eyes may have been a little strained from the binoculars, our feet a little tired from the walks on the beach… but our ability to spot them was increasing quickly!

 

A pair of Piping Plovers. Can you see both? Photo by Rachel Ward.

 

For the census, we were helping to count birds in pairs or singles. This involved watching the birds for a while once they were spotted, to see if there was another plover nearby and how they interacted. We saw many pairs but also got to see some territorial displays when a single plover or one from a separate pair would wander too close to the other. We also helped the WSA to locate nests, which they will be monitoring throughout the summer to help prevent losses due to flooding and predation. The WSA also tracks nests lost due to human disturbance from activities like driving along the beaches. Due to nesting on open beaches, Piping Plover nests are very well camouflaged and can be easily driven over without the drivers noticing.

 

Census work, with everyone spread out the width of the beach (left). A group picture of the crew (left). Photos by Carmen LaBelle.

 

We saw lots of cool things in addition to the plovers over the course of the week, including some bones, a pike jaw, and lots of mare’s tail. There was a lot of wildlife around such as pelicans, many species of waterfowl, double-crested cormorants, bank swallows, many shorebirds and an osprey or two! There was even a large pike eyeing up Carmen when she was dunking our buffs in the lake to help us keep cool!

 

Some bones on the beach (left), a pike jaw (middle) and a couple of Mare’s tail plants (right). Photos by Rachel Ward

 

 

A large Northern Pike looking at Carmen. Photo by Rachel Ward.

 

Along with having a great week of census work, we were able to get to know our fellow workers and enjoy a great bonding experience at the beginning of the season! From the campground we had easy access to a beach where we could enjoy wading into the lake, skipping stones and walking along the beach. Every evening the neighboring 3 deer would walk past and stand silhouetted against the sunset. Finally, we can't forget to mention our friendship with the campground donkey, Josie, who loved all our carrots, apples and scratches!

Until next time!

Rachel & Carmen

 

Gillian and Carmen on the beach near the campground (left). A sunset by our campsite with Josie the donkey (right). Photos by Rachel Ward.

 

Jun
14
Beach time is here - for us AND the endangered Piping Plover!

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Regina, SK – June 14, 2021 – With the summer time near, it is time to head out to the beach on the weekend and bask in the sun along our beautiful Saskatchewan shorelines. Be on the lookout though, as this is also the time when the endangered Piping Plover shorebird will be on those same shorelines for a different reason…to nest!

The Piping Plover was designated as endangered in 1985, and remains listed as endangered due to low population numbers; ~750-800 plovers were seen in Saskatchewan during the 2011 and 2016 international census, down from ~1,435 in the 2006 census. “There are a number of factors contributing to their low numbers”, explains Rebecca Magnus, Plovers on Shore coordinator, “and one of those is human activity along shorelines”.

In mid-May the female Piping Plover lays four, well-camouflaged eggs along many of our Saskatchewan shorelines such as Lake Diefenbaker. The eggs are speckled, and blend in with the surrounding gravel and sand. Both parents incubate the eggs over ~28 days. The peak hatching occurs in mid-June. “Since Piping Plover eggs are very difficult to see and easy to accidentally trample, we are asking the public to watch carefully as they enjoy the sunshine along our shorelines during this critical time”, says Magnus.

 

You may also see the Piping Plover adult first, before you see any eggs. They have distinctive black markings - a single black neck band, a black band on the forehead, and a short black-tipped orange bill. “While similar, they can easily be distinguished from Killdeer based on their smaller size, the single neck band versus the two bands found on Killdeer, and their lighter colour”, adds Magnus.

Additionally, you may hear a Piping Plover calling for your attention and when you look over you may observe it running away, faking a broken wing. The Piping Plover is one of the few shorebirds to display this action, which it uses to distract predators away from its nests in order to protect it.

If you come across a nest site or think you may have seen a Piping Plover, please call our toll free Hoot Line at: 1-800-667-HOOT (4668).

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan: 

 

Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9832
outreach@naturesask.ca

           

Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270
mranalli@naturesask.ca

Photo credit: James Villeneuve

           


 

Jun
8
Our Goldilocks of the Grasslands is back - Sprague’s Pipits arrive back in Saskatchewan

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Regina, SK - June 7, 2021 - Sprague’s Pipits are back and on the lookout for their just right native mixed-grass prairie habitat. The middle of May is when the Sprague’s Pipits arrive in Saskatchewan after their long migration from their wintering grounds in Texas and northern Mexico.

This threatened species faces numerous threats ranging from habitat loss and fragmentation, invasion of exotic species and woody vegetation, as well as haying during their breeding season.

Pipits are most commonly found on blocks of native prairie larger than 160 acres (65 hectares). They require vegetation that is not too tall and dense nor too short and sparse, with some litter. Examples of preferred sites include lightly to moderately grazed, or periodically burned fields. “It is by knowing how particular they are with their breeding grounds that they are a very important identifier of ecosystem health and habitat change”, says Rebecca Magnus, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator at Nature Saskatchewan.

Once pipits find their preferred nesting area, they begin to weave dry grasses together in a cup shape on the ground and hide their nest by forming a dome of long grasses over top. The females then lay eggs between mid-May to mid-July, incubating 3-6 eggs for 10-12 days. The young then leave the nest 10-14 days after hatching. By mid-October all will have left for their winter destination in the warmer south.

Pipits are secretive songbirds and are rarely seen out in the open, often only identified by their song; a sweet, thin jingling series of notes that descends in pitch: ‘shing-a-ring-a-ring-a-ring-a’. “Fun Fact! Pipits can sing as high as 100 metres in the sky for up to 3 hours at a time”, says Magnus.

If you are a lucky Saskatchewanian and get not only to hear their song but to witness them on the landscape you will be able to identify them by the following features: they are small (15-17 cm in size) with brown and white streaked plumage, their breast is composed of a necklace of short streaks while their belly and flanks are unmarked, their head is characterized by a thin bill and relatively large brown eyes, and they have contrasting tail feathers with outer white and inner brown ones which are best seen during flight.

Nature Saskatchewan would greatly appreciate it if you see a Sprague’s Pipit or own land that contains their ideal mixed-grass prairie habitat that you please call our toll free HOOT line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668). By reporting sightings to Nature Saskatchewan’s Stewards of Saskatchewan banner program you are helping to monitor the population and providing valuable information for the conservation of species at risk in our province. Your personal information is never shared without your permission.

 

For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:

           

Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator   
(306) 780-9833
obo@naturesask.ca  

Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270
mranalli@naturesask.ca

 

          

May
13
Notice of the Annual General Meeting

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Nature Saskatchewan will be holding the Annual General Meeting virtually again this year due to the ongoing pandemic. We invite you to join us on June 21, 2021 at 7pm via Zoom. 

If you are interested in attending, please register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_9a92l22uQAmET47uZ1uXFQ. All registrants will be emailed the necessary documents prior to the meeting.

If you would like to receive the meeting documents but do not wish to attend the meeting, please feel free to contact ebouvier@naturesask.ca and they will be sent out to you when they become available.

Apr
8
ANNOUNCING Nature Saskatchewan’s Latest Publication

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AVAILABLE NOW!

 

Offering a wealth of information and illustrated with beautiful photographs taken by backyard bird enthusiasts from across the Prairies, this new 112-page publication is the ideal resource for anyone, veteran or novice, who longs to attract and enjoy birds at home year-round. In addition to advice on how to attract birds with food, shelter and water, and how to handle challenges should they arise, it includes detailed accounts of the species most likely to visit Saskatchewan yards and their feeding preferences. Sidebars with fascinating tidbits and trivia add interest and insight into the remarkable lives of wild birds. Whether you live in town or country, this beautiful new book will help you bring the colour and music of birds into your yard.

For more information and for a peek inside click here.

 


 

You can purchase Backyard Birdfeeding: A Saskatchewan Guide from a number of retail locations across Saskatchewan in addition to directly purchasing from Nature Saskatchewan. Check back often for a current list of retailers:

Saskatoon

- McNally Robinson Booksellers
- Wild Birds Unlimited
- Turning the Tide Books
- Early’s Farm and Garden

Moose Jaw

- DDK Pets

Esterhazy

- Pharmasave

Regina

- Penny University Bookstore

Last Mountain Regional Park office

 

 

Feb
10
Nature Trivia Night

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Nature Saskatchewan is excited to be partnering once again with Mystery Mansion Regina for an online trivia night on March 4 at 7pm. We have all new questions and category themes. Rounds will focus on Species at Risk, Climate Change and Canadian Nature Facts, with some fun music and picture trivia thrown in. Registration is FREE but space is limited to 20 teams. Register your team today by going to: https://forms.gle/ZJhD4vSjbXSAX8Ej7