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Citizen Science and the Great Backyard Bird Count

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Citizen Science! You have likely heard of this term but do you know what it means and did you know that you can get involved? In short form, citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research. While citizen science can be applied in many areas of science it becomes particularly useful when tracking bird migrations, looking at species populations and monitoring changes.

Once a year from February 15-18 people around the world count birds for at least 15 minutes as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count. By submitting data online, they contribute to valuable information about species health, population trends and more.
Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is fun, simple, and anyone can participate. It is a great activity for families and groups or simply by observing birds through your kitchen window while enjoying your morning coffee.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada, and is supported in Canada by Armstrong Bird Food and Wild Birds Unlimited. If you are interested in participating or would like more information, please go to

For further information, please contact:
Lacey Weekes, Conservation and Education Manager, Nature Saskatchewan 306-780-9481

Birds of Saskatchewan

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Please Note:

The first print run of Birds of Saskatchewan was an amazing success and we currently do not have any available stock for sale. We will be doing a second print run and order information will be available shortly. McNally Robinson Booksellers and Wild Birds Unlimited in Saskatoon have some remaining stock available and there will be a limited quantity available at the book launch dates in both Regina (February 26) and Saskatoon (January 29.)


A  full-colour, comprehensive look at all of the birds that call Saskatchewan home. 437 species of birds are documented in this 768 page compendium, a result of over ten years of work and several lifetimes of observation, research, and writing. This work celebrates Saskatchewan’s rich natural heritage, and acknowledges the efforts made to study and sustain each bird’s presence in the province. ​It is a record of change - of the birds who have come, those who remain, and those whose habitats are affected by changes in the environment​. Birds of Saskatchewan​ is indebted to the long-time editors of the project. Lead author/co-editor Alan R. Smith is the scientist, the keeper of data, and provincial documenter. Here he joins his mentors C. Stuart Houston, bird bander, history lover, and prolific author, and Houston’s long-time friend, collaborator, and editor J. Frank Roy, whose passion for birds, words, and images has helped to make this a publication that we hope readers will appreciate. Purchase price is $79.95.


Take a look inside...check out these Birds of Saskatchewan sample pages



Whooping Cranes Continue to Do Well

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In 1941 only 21 Whooping Cranes existed in the world and many thought North America's tallest bird was doomed to extinction. Through decades of dedicated and painstaking efforts the endangered Whooping Cranes now numbers some 650 in the wild. At least 500 of those Whooping Cranes survive in the Wood Buffalo Aransas Texas flock that migrates through Saskatchewan, the exact number won’t be available until after counts are completed later this winter.

Each spring and fall Whooping Cranes migrate through Saskatchewan to and from their wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast and Wood Buffalo National Park on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. This past fall, 151 were observed near Marcelin, north of Saskatoon. This is the largest congregation of Whooping Cranes sighted in one bunch in over 100 years. Production of young was lower than average in 2018, with only 6 young being spotted in that large flock, a total of 24 young fledged in 2018.

Over the years captive breeding of Whooping Cranes has been successful, with eggs or offspring being introduced in 4 locations in the United States to create additional populations of whoopers. Two of these re-establishment programs have failed (Idaho and Florida) while two others have achieved limited success (Wisconsin and Louisiana).

Currently there are about 100 birds in the Eastern Migratory Flock summering in Wisconsin and another 50 birds in a nonmigrtory flock in Louisiana. Another 15 remain in Florida. There are about 165 birds in captivity, with just over 115 of those being breeding birds that are producing offspring for the reintroductions. Those birds are located in Wisconsin, Calgary, Louisiana and Washington, DC. About 50 nonbreeders are scattered in zoos and wildlife parks in the United States


For further information, contact:

Brian Johns
Retired Wildlife Biologist  


Lorne Scott
Conservation Director, Nature Saskatchewan

*Both Brian and Lorne are Directors of the International Whooping Crane Conservation Association*

Photo credit: Val Mann




Interested in learning more about the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas

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This ambitious five-year project teams citizen scientists with professionals to deliver a province-wide account of the distribution and relative abundance of populations of breeding birds. A collaborative effort between conservation organizations, government, the private-sector, and the public, the Atlas will provide an invaluable tool for wildlife conservation, education, and research in the province.

Nature Saskatchewan is a proud partner of the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas project. More information can be found on their website at

Rare Plant Rescue Signing Off

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This will be the last blog from the RPR crew this year. It's hard to believe that September is here. How quickly this summer has flown by. Although, with the weather being as variable as it can be in this province you can never count out the potential for a beach day regardless of what the calendar date says. We enjoyed the weather over the last few weeks and, although we always hope for rain in these dry years, we were also glad to not have been stormed out or encounter impassible roads this time around. In fact, we had a very successful field trip over the last couple of weeks searching for rare plant populations and monitoring past occurrences.

Thanks to some very useful habitat models we were able to find new locations of Smooth Goosefoot (bottom right), a threatened plant species that loves sand dunes, which was lucky for us because so do we. It’s always nice to get to explore the interesting dune habitat (bottom left) scattered across the province and I would recommend that if you haven’t been to the Great Sand Hills that you put it on your “must-see” list. We also found the Hairy Prairie Clover (top) populations that we were monitoring to be thriving, with several occurrences numbering in the thousands! This plant had been described to me as reminiscent of Sideshow Bob’s hair and after seeing it in person, I admit it is a great comparison.

Along with finding additional target species such as Small Lupine, Bur Ragweed, and Beaked Annual Skeletonweed, we found some beautiful Scarlet Gaura (right) still in bloom, lots of broomweed and rabbitbrush, and many dotted blazing star (middle) and blue lettuce plants (left) in flower.

We also saw some pretty cool insects such as Ten-lined June Beetles (right), whose large size, unusual appearance, and ability to hiss can be quite intimidating. As well, we were lucky enough to come across an adorable velvet ant (middle), whose plush appearance and misleading name are maybe not intimidating enough? Another common name for a velvet ant is “cow killer”. They are not actually ants but are wingless bees and although they do not actually kill cows, their name apparently stems from a reputation for having an extremely painful bite. I personally don’t care to find out what it feels like, though I must admit I am a little curious. Another neat find was a spider’s sand burrow (left). The tunnel was lined with silk and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the brave engineer that lived inside but unfortunately weren’t so lucky.

We are still waiting to hear about results of some funding applications and, therefore, we stayed at the lake with family for a few nights while in the field to try to stretch a buck. It was nice to be able to cool off at the end of the day by jumping into the water, and it didn’t hurt that beavers, herons, and these adorable little minks also call the lake home. We woke up to some beautiful views of fuchsia sunrises and mist on the water that our cameras just don’t do justice to.

The latest encounters: male antelope watching over their harems, currently full of mothers and their twins; extremely well camouflaged coyotes; and Golden and Bald Eagles; were welcomed. This summer has gone by in a blur. I have truly loved spending more time in the field this year, and enjoy and appreciate all the animal and plant species that call this province home. A huge thank you to all the landowners who allowed us on their property, we couldn’t do any of this work without you!

Until next year!

Ashley and Emily - Rare Plant Rescue

Voices from the Field: Fall Migration at LMBO

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The fall migration is in full swing here at Last Mountain Bird Observatory! We set up the nets Monday afternoon, and opened on Tuesday for our first day of coverage. We caught most of the usual suspects: American Robin, Yellow Warbler, House Wren, Least Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings. We also caught a large amount of Eastern Kingbirds. They normally do not get caught in the net very often. But much to the pleasure of our new banding assistant Laura, she got to band all of them. We also caught some migrant warblers: Wilson’s Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Canada Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird. We also saw a lot of swallows and blackbirds starting to flock together for migration in the park. There was even a record of my nemesis bird, because I never see them, a White-winged Scoter. We also had a volunteer out our first week who was so excited to catch her first Common Grackle. She even signed our guestbook, “My first grackle! Yay!” The campers in the park were excited for the station to open again. A group of kids were kind enough to make us bird feeders for the station. They are hanging up around right now, and many birds have been visiting them. Our second week started off with some windy weather. We could not open the nets even to try to catch the Common Nighthawk that was hanging around. The next couple days we caught more migrants moving through. We caught an Olive-sided flycatcher, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Northern Waterthrush. Laura also got to band her first ever Barn Swallow. We also had our first big day with over 125 birds! There was over 50 birds in a single net run! We also got our first Bank Swallow and Swainson’s Thrush on our big day. We are still waiting for Orange-Crowned Warblers to come through, and we are looking forward to the waves of sparrows to come!


Canada Warbler, Photo credit: J. Rustad

Young Burrowing Owls are learning the tricks of the trade!

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Regina, SK – August 20, 2018 - After weeks of being fed by their parents, young Burrowing Owls are now able to forage for themselves and perch up on lookouts and fence posts. If you are traveling around southern and central Saskatchewan, it is a great time to spot a Burrowing Owl. However, vehicles can be dangerous for the young and inexperienced owls. Just like teenagers, the young Burrowing Owls have to learn the way of the world, and that includes learning the way of the road. “The juveniles often forage in roadside ditches, where they find small invertebrates and rodents that tend to congregate at dusk,” explains Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator at Nature Saskatchewan. “But unfortunately, the young can be killed by motorists while foraging along the sun-warmed road.”

The Burrowing Owl population has been steadily declining, making the survival of each and every juvenile owl critical for the ultimate survival and growth of the species. However, there are some things that we can do to help the juveniles survive this critical learning curve. “When motorists are driving in Burrowing Owl habitat, and especially near known nest sites, 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 predators. They are often seen standing on their burrow, on nearby fence posts, or foraging in ditches.


Nature Saskatchewan has been involved with the protection and conservation of the Burrowing Owl for over 30 years, but its success would not be possible without the help of landowners, land managers, and the public. Operation Burrowing Owl works with landowners across southern and central Saskatchewan, and uses voluntary agreements in an effort to preserve the rapidly disappearing habitat that the species needs. 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),” Burrows mentions. “You will be helping to monitor the population and aid with conservation efforts.” Personal information is never shared without permission.

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For further information please contact Nature Saskatchewan:



Kaytlyn Burrows, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator
(306) 780-9833


Melissa Ranalli, Species at Risk Manager
(306) 780-9270



Nature Saskatchewan

206 - 1860 Lorne Street

Regina, SK S4P 2L7

Phone: (306) 780-9273 or Toll Free: 1-800-667-4668

Fax: (306) 780-9263; Email:

Photo credit: K. Borrows

Photo credit: J. Villeneuve

Voices from the Field: Check in with the Rare Plant Rescue team

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Hi Everyone! RPR crew once again checking in to let you know about our latest adventures in the field. This past trip took us to the far far southwest corner of the province and if you’ve never been there we definitely recommend going! We were welcomed to the area with a spectacular storm system moving through, and thankfully we made it to shelter before the hail hit; as you can see from the picture below, the hail pellets were something else! With the storm moving out after the first day we were treated to fantastic weather while we searched for our target plant for this trip, the Dwarf Woollyhead (Psilocarphus brevissimus). Dwarf Woollyheads, as their name suggests, are diminutive, low-growing annuals that have flowers about the size of your fingernail. This plant is actually in the Aster family, so the flower head consists of a number of smaller fuzzy florets that give it the name Woollyhead. They like to grow in depressions that are wet in the spring and dry out over the summer, and as we were looking we soon joked that they seem to be a bit of a goldilocks plant, liking things juusstt right. While looking for such a tiny plant was tricky, we are happy to report that we have found several new occurrences while searching, as well as visited an older known occurrence that has doubled in size! These are our first new occurrences of the summer, and we are so happy to share the news with you!

Another Highlight of our trip was the abundance of wildlife, specifically the species-at-risk! While that area is known to be a hot-spot and stronghold for many struggling species in the province, it seemed like we were checking birds off our list everywhere we went! We saw two nests of Burrowing Owls, several Ferruginous Hawks, Loggerhead Shrikes, both McCown’s and Chestnut Collared Longspurs, and the highlight for sure, a Sprague’s Pipit foraging on the ground! Sprague’s Pipit song usually accompanies field work on native prairie, but the birds themselves are secretive and very well camouflaged, so to see one on the ground is extremely rare, most people never do!

All in all our week was fantastic, filled with new plants found and exciting bird sightings. We can’t wait to get out there again and see some more!


Until next time,

RPR Crew

(Emily and Ashley)

Voices from the Field: Check in with the Bird Specis at Risk staff

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Hello blog readers! It’s hard to believe we are over half way through July already! The summer always seems to fly by in the blink of an eye! We have been busy the past month taking reports of species at risk sightings, talking and visiting with our program participants, and learning new habitat monitoring techniques for Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared Longspur, and the Greater Sage Grouse.


Rebecca Magnus and the other workshop attendees learning habitat monitoring techniques for Sprague's Pipit. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows


In early June, we attended the Grouse, Grazing, and Grasslands workshop held in the east block of Grasslands National Park to learn these new habitat monitoring techniques. Depending on the type of site and species, monitoring techniques involved songbird point counts, measuring litter, estimating percent bare ground, forb cover, measuring droop height, and taking robel pole measurements. We also learned about native grass identification.

A couple of weeks later, we were ready to head out on our own to start habtiat monitoring! Every morning, we would get up with the sunrise and start the day doing songbird point counts. What a peaceful way to start your day! Listening to songbirds, particularly, Sprague’s Pipit and Chesnust-collared Longspur, and recording how often we hear them singing. We were extremely lucky with the weather as you cannot do point counts in the rain or if it’s windy but everyday we were able to complete our counts. We also took other measurements such as estimating litter, bare ground, forb cover, and robel pole measurements.



Rebecca Magnus listening for songbirds during a point count and setting up a transect. Photos credit: Kaytlyn Burrows.


One of the most challenging (and frustrating at times!) parts of the habitat monitoring is the native grass identification. This was our main focus on our second monitoring trip. We learned so much about what to look for and how to identify one grass species from the other. It requires looking at different grass parts such as the presence or absence of ligules and/or auricles, presence or absence of hairs, rough or smooth leaves, etc. It meant a lot of time spent on the ground (literally) getting up close and personal with our native grass species! Species we identified included Western Wheat, Northern Wheat, Needle and Thread, Western Porcupine, and Blue Grama.


Kaytlyn looking at grass parts with a hand lense. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus.                                        



Kaytlyn identifying native grass species. Photo credit: Rebecca Magnus.

This time around, we were not as fortunate with the weather! We encountered a very stormy afternoon with tornado warnings! Safety comes first so we made the decision to leave the field but we managed to take a few photos of the swirling storm clouds as we drove down the road and it was unlike anything we had ever seen before. It was a little eerie but also very neat to see!


Large prairie storm looming over south west Saskatchewan. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows



Our time in the field also came with other species sightings such as Pronghorn, Deer, Loggerhead Shrikes, Chestnust-collared Longspurs, Ferruginous Hawks, and one of our more exciting sightings, a Golden Eagle!


Golden Eagle perched on a fence post. Photo credit: Kaytlyn Burrows.


It was a great couple weeks where we learned so much! We improved our native grass identification and were able to see the beautiful southwest Saskatchewan landscape and all the species that call it home. We are so grateful to be able to do what we do! We also want to thank Lucky Horseshoe Haven for housing us for the week! Dawn & Chris were so welcoming and provided us with a lovely place to rest our heads at the end of the day. We highly recommend staying there if you are in the southwest/Eastend area! Visit for more information and to book your stay!


Until next time!


Kaytlyn & Rebecca

We Love Our Lakes -

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The Last Mountain Lake Stewardship Group and SAWS have prepared a series of information sheets regarding the drainage of the Quill Lakes. For further information please go to: